Heroes and Villains – Part 1
Monday 17th October
“Strap in girls,” Pepsi said as Erica and Melinda climbed into the back of her car, “time to be back at the grindstone of education.”
“After all that happened yesterday,” Erica mumbled as she stifled a yawn, “I now have to face English Lit first thing this morning?”
“Could be worse Erica,” Pepsi said as she looked in her mirror at the girls sitting in the back seat, “you could have math with Miss Kelly like Mel.”
“Math I can always cope with. Chaucer though is a whole different thing.”
“Yeah math even after yesterday isn’t a problem,” Mel looked up from checking her bag.
“God save us from Kirkham winners,” Pepsi looked sideways at Ama sitting in the front seat.
“I know,” Ama giggled, “I enjoy the subject, but after a day like yesterday I think I’d find the prospect of first period Math a little daunting.”
“You two were the same girls I was with at that little victory party last night? You did also spend half the night driving home and got as little sleep as I did? You…”
“Yep,” Erica and Pepsi laughed as they interrupted at the same time.
“And yet you can still talk calmly and positively about math,” Pepsi shook her head. “I swear, I am definitely on a different planet sometimes…”
“Well I have Italian this morning with Mrs. Brand,” Ama announced, “and as she was with us at Pocono, just maybe she will make it a little easier today?”
“No chance,” Pepsi laughed. “On the other hand, I can think of someone who is possibly more upset.”
“Oh,” Erica said, “who?”
“Doc – she has Psychology first thing…”
“Good morning everyone,” Eleanor Ball said as she came into the conference room, her right arm in a sling and her left holding a sheaf of files.
“Are you sure you should even be here Captain?” Francesca asked as the various department heads sat down for their Monday morning conference.
“I’ll be fine Admiral. And besides, should you not be with your own daughter and granddaughter?”
“I tried to tell her to stay in the hotel and rest, but would she listen to me?” Veronica said as she looked up at the ceiling.
“I’m fine,” Eleanor sighed as she rolled her eyes, “it was bad enough my family telling me I should have stayed in the hospital overnight, but as I told them things are starting to move and you need me here doing my job.”
“Just don’t push yourself too hard old friend,” Francesca looked over the top of her glasses and smiled, “but it is true yesterday does seem to have been a day when things got shaken up.”
“If you look at these brief reports from my field teams,” Caroline started to pass round papers, “then you’ll see what happened has started to have reverberations in places far from Pocono.”
“I can see,” Francesca quickly scanned the documents. “I note in particular the street murder here in New York – and who it was.”
“the police have no leads, is my understanding, but I have suspicions,” Caroline said as she looked round the table.
“Has there been any political fall-out yet Commander?”
“Too early to tell Admiral, I’ll know more when we see the latest electronic intercepts this afternoon.”
“My daughter-in-law has a meeting with her tame ‘fixer’ later, we should get some important information from that,” Eleanor added.
“Alright,” Francesca took her glasses off, “before we proceed there is something I need to say. Yesterday we hurt them, and they hurt us. The game just got raised to a whole new dangerous level, warn your people that from now on they need be doubly vigilant. I’m not sure what our enemy’s next move will be, I just know though that they will make something happen.”
“What about Charlotte?”
“There is a guard at Carlotta’s room side, and the Umlimo is in residence. Be assured, she is perfectly safe where she now is…”
“I want a very careful watch put on him,” Francesca said, “yesterday, we had to brief an asset we have kept very much in the background as to what is going on. She is taking it – personally.”
The Waldorf Astoria
“I know Bram and Dana went straight there,” John Vosloo said as he hailed a cab, “but we both needed a shower and a coffee.”
“I know – and a change of clothes,” Marianne said as John held the door for her to get in. She was wearing a brown jersey dress, dark hose and heels, while John was in a light jacket and pants with a white shirt.
“Where to mac,” the cab driver asked.
“Temple Hill,” John said as he closed the door, looking round as the cab moved off.
“You know, I thought we’d be needing to go to Pennsylvania to see Roo and the baby John? I had visions of Piet bundling us into a car and driving all four of us there.”
“We both did,” John Vosloo smiled at his wife, “what both of us forgot though is Francesca’s riches means she can make things happen.”
“Like hiring an ambulance and nurses to bring Charlotte to New York where she can be under the care of her doctor friends?”
“It’s amazing what you can do when you are seriously rich,” John laughed lightly.
“Why are you folks going to the hospital?” the cab driver asked as he tried making conversation.
“The daughter of two of our oldest friends unexpectedly gave birth yesterday,” Marianne smiled at the driver, “we are on our way to go see her and the baby.”
“Hey that’s nice,” the driver grinned as he looked over his shoulder, “often I take people to the hospital it’s because of summut bad, nice for once it’s a happy event.”
“It’s a VERY happy event,” Marianne smiled again.
“Well pass on my congratulations to da parents as well.”
“We will,” John answered.
“Okay,” Karen Boyd said as she looked at the chart, “all looks good, you and Frances managed to survive the journey down here, and Helen will come and check on you in a few minutes. The nurse will bring little one once the checks are – Pietre, good morning.”
“Did you find them,” Charlotte said as she sat up in the bed, Piet grinning as he stood to one side and allowed his parents to come in.
“Where is she,” Dana van der Byl said as she looked round, “I thought…”
“Did someone in the room ask for a baby to look at,” Helen Reichmann said as she came into the room, a nurse following with the baby girl in her arms.
“Dana, Bram,” Charlotte said as Piet stood next to her, “this is Frances. Frances, these are your other grandparents.”
“May I,” Dana said, the nurse nodding as she gave her Frances.
“How are you feeling Roo?” Bram van der Byl asked as his wife gently held the tiny infant.
“I think I’m still a little in shock,” Charlotte smiled. “Giving birth quite like that was definitely not something I planned.”
“James would have been over the moon if he could have held her,” Dana looked up from staring at her latest granddaughter, “you know I can see so much already of him in her.”
“I know,” Charlotte propped herself up slightly, “everyone says she is a true Gordon, I think both Piet and my Mama are a little disappointed that they can’t see either van der Byl, or di Cambrello in her.”
“Give it time, babies can change a bit,” Bram laughed softly.
“So what will it be, Frances or Francesca Roo?”
“Mama says she doesn’t mind, as long as we don’t end up calling her Fran, she thinks that is completely beyond the pale Dana.”
“I take her point.”
“Personally I don’t mind which version of her name they use,” Charlotte said as she held Piet’s hand, “as long as Mama gets to be part of her life in a way she never could be part of mine.”
“And on that I think we all agree,” Bram nodded.
“I am sure we all do. Where is Francesca?”
“She had to attend a meeting, but she will be along shortly. So, sit, tell us how the others have reacted…”
2.30 pm BST
“Peri,” Sue said as she saw the secretary come in, “more information for Agnes?”
“Not this time – I take it you have heard the news?”
“We have indeed,” Agnes said as she came out, “another girl?”
“Indeed – so Amanda asked me to come and see if we are going to pitch in with the office pool for a gift. The IT group are doing something separate. Agnes?”
“I’m sorting out something with Donnie and the girls. On which note – are you sure you’re all right babysitting them tonight Peri?”
“I told you I was Agnes – you need to be at the charity event with the others.”
“Oh yes – the burlesque night. I managed to grab a ticket for that.”
“It should be interesting – now, when is the board meeting Sue?”
“Five o’clock our time – I’ll remind you then…”
As she looked across the lobby, Francesca smiled as she went to join John and Marianne.
“You made it then,” she said as she kissed each of them.
“Of course we did,” John said, “Dana and Bram are playing the doting grandparents, so we wanted to wait for you.”
“So how are you feeling Francesca?” Marianne asked as they sat in the hospital’s coffee shop.
“Will it sound strange if I say just like I felt the day after I gave birth to Carlotta?”
“Not to me darling,” Marianne smiled.
“Just as I dreamed back then what life would be like with my daughter in the years to come, now I’m having similar thoughts and dreams about my granddaughter?”
“That’s natural, and in a way it’s like karma that you’ll at long last get the chance to have the family life that was denied you back then.”
“I know, I just have to remember that I’m the Grandmama not the Mama and give Carlotta and Piet the space they need.”
“Oh I think they both already have worked out that Frances will have a very indulgent Gran very much in her life.”
“Two actually,” Francesca said as she smiled, “I must just remember to not spoil her completely.”
“Oh I think you are allowed to spoil her just a little bit Francesca,” John also smiled, as he brought the coffees to the table.
Nodding, Francesca sat tall and proud. “I will try and act just as I think my Mama would have if she’d have been able to be with Carlotta.”
“From all I know about Dona Carlotta that sounds a great idea.” Marianne sipped her coffee.
“Which reminds me, we brought this,” John said as he held up a large brown teddy bear.
“Oh my word – you kept that?”
“We did – I suspect she may have other gifts up there, but this was definitely coming…”
As she walked
into the large office, Caroline looked at Hannah as she stood by the desk, and
said "Where is the Admiral Hannah?"
the hospital with Charlotte Caroline,” Hannah said as she put the file down. “Can
I be of help?"
to tell her about a meeting that seems about to start at the Russian consulate,”
Caroline said as she sat down, “a lot of the people we have under surveillance
seem to be making their way there."
right that could be significant," Hannah paused to think, "I don't
want to disrupt her family time though."
understand, but what do you think we should do?"
"Keep monitoring the situation, and alert our sources to try and get information on what is being said in there." Hannah stood up from behind her desk, "Even if the Admiral was here I'm not sure what more we can do then that?"
“Probably nothing else – by the way, did I see Helen earlier?”
“You did, but she went out again – said something about needing to check something…” Looking at her watch, Caroline said “and I need to go, Shirley is having a board meeting at noon.”
The Waldorf Astoria
“Why do so many people call Little Mother Charlotte, yet her own mother calls her Carlotta?” Anouska asked as she and Selena enjoyed a leisurely, late breakfast, in the hotel’s restaurant.
“I don’t know the full story,” Selena sipped her coffee, “but from what I understand her parents separated shortly after she was born, and though it had been agreed she would be called Carlotta after her Italian grandmother, her father in an act of revenge called her Charlotte instead.”
“That was cruel of him,” Anouska took a bite of her eggs, “it sounds like something done from pure spite.”
“From what I understand,” Selena said quietly, “Charlotte’s parents’ divorce was particularly messy.”
“That is still not an excuse for him to deliberately hurt his wife by changing their daughters name like that.”
“I do rather agree with you on that,” Selena nodded as she finished her coffee.
“There are enough people in this world causing hurt and harm over important things without creating problems where there perhaps need have been none.”
“Anyway have you told your superiors what I overheard yesterday Selena?”
“I typed up and sent a report before I came down for breakfast.”
“I’m not sure what if anything in all that I told you is important, but…”
“Often the little things we think aren’t important when put together with other bits of information turn out to be vital,” Selena smiled as she interrupted.
“I suppose we will see what happens?”
“That is all we can do.”
“Thank you for joining us for this meeting John,” Shirley said as she walked with John, Susan and Penny into the conference room.
“It’s a pleasure – and you did say it was important,” John said as Maddie stood up.
“Emma is going to see Charlotte and the baby,” she said as they sat round, “so what’s this about Shirley?”
“I was going to ask the same thing,” Juliette said as she came in.
“All in good time,” Shirley said as the screen lit up, and Beverley appeared on the screen.
“Good afternoon Madame – Mistress Catherine will be here in due course.”
“How is the training going Bev,” Penny asked.
“It is – illuminating. She is here now,” Bev said as Catherine Lu sat down. “Ladies – and John – what is happening?”
“I had the same question,” Agnes said as she appeared in a second screen with Lily.
“Well, now that the board members who can attend are here,” Shirley said as she sat down, “I can begin. I will go and see Charlotte and Francesca later to inform them of what I am about to say, but it is important as the directors of Xavier International you are informed of some structural changes I am going to make.”
“What sort of changes,” Susan asked.
“As you know, with John and I not only marrying, but also adopting Maisha formally as our daughter, it seemed appropriate for me to look at the way the top management of the company works.”
“Shirley, you’re not retiring are you,” Agnes asked quietly.
“No – not in that sense, but John did say I should look at how much I was doing, and I think it is time I tried the fine art of delegation a little more.
“Consequently, I have decided that, will I remain as Executive Director and Chairman, most of the day to day responsibility for our three main offices should be more centralized there. Accordingly, I am proposing to name Maddie, Susan and Penny as Directors, Los Angeles, New York and London respectively.”
Susan looked at the other two, as Shirley said “I still wish to remain in an overall role, but most of the regional operations will be left in your more than capable hands. You will need to appoint a PA for yourself – Penny, I recommend Lily to you, as well as in her Special Projects role.”
“Works for me, if you’re in agreement,” Penny said as she looked at Lily.
“Maddie, I presume you wish to use Tracy?”
“Oh yes – what about you Susan?”
“Time for a promotion for Pamela I think,” Susan said quietly.
“Excellent – I will approve stock options for them, and you can discuss changes in their terms in due course. Catherine, I spoke to Nicky Abatta earlier, and told her I am formally appointing her as Xavier International’s lead contact in the Eastern regions. She will work closely with you in that role.”
“Excellent choice – I will arrange for her and Beverley to begin meeting,” Catherine said with a smile.
“John, I wish you to continue as our lead role for the African offices. Charlotte, Francesca and Agnes will all stay in their current roles, while Juliette retains her position as a minority shareholder. So, any questions?”
“So what will you be doing,” Maddie said with a smile.
“Enjoying life, just as you do…”
“Ouch,” Poppy said, rubbing her ear as Erica and Dawn sat next to her, “did you really have to shout like that?”
“Course I did – had to make sure you were still with us,” Erica said with a grin. “So, everything set for Wednesday?”
“Yup – best excuse for missing out on watching the joyfest that is another presidential debate, have my Sweet Sixteen,” Poppy said with a smile.
“Well, I got my costume sorted out, and I even got Mel sorted out – you’re going to love it,” Erica said with a smile. “Any idea what your mom has got planned?”
“Nope – I know Gran and Aunt Maggie are coming over tomorrow, but beyond that, not a thing…”
“Yes, Alexa, what is it,” Grace said as she looked at the secretary.
“My apologies, but I think you need to see this.” She pointed to an envelope that was sitting on the desk, addressed to the St Angela’s Soccer Team.
“Left on the desk outside. What do we do?”
“Call the police – I don’t like this at all…”
“Hey – am I interrupting lunch?”
“Nah, she’s still asleep,” Charlotte said with a smile as Sandy and Heather came in. “So when exactly did you guys get back?”
“About three this morning – there is one very, VERY tired young Alexandra Richmond at school today,” Sandy said with a smile. “So this is young Frances?”
“It is indeed,” Charlotte said as Sandy tickled the baby girl’s chin.
“Let me guess, the grandparents have been taken to give you some peace?”
“Mainly – John went to a board meeting, so Marianne is doing some shopping.”
“Oh – any idea what the meeting was about?”
“I do – Shirley came and told me earlier. Basically – she’s stepping back a bit, and giving Penny, Susan and Maddie total autonomy for their three areas.”
“Good for her – giving everything else that is going on, she needs to let some things go,” Heather said as she looked at some of the flowers. “I see the girls from the London office sent some flowers as well.”
“Indeed – and others,” Charlotte said with a smile. “But I’m glad you came in…”
As Caroline came along the corridor, she nodded to the two cleaners who were working in the corridor, and smiled as she saw Karen sit outside the door.
“Concern for a friend,” Karen said with a smile. Caroline nodded as she opened the door and said “well, if this is your way of getting out of work…”
“I wasn’t expecting this – but I’m glad you dropped by,” Charlotte said as she fed Frances.
“Had many visitors today?”
“One or two – a few flowers as well,” the petite redhead said as Frances detached herself. “Would you like to hold her?”
“If that’s all right,” Caroline said as she put her bag down.
“So - how was work today?” Charlotte asked as she passed the baby to Caroline.
“A lot quieter than I thought it was going to be this morning,” the blonde smiled as the little one seemed to gurgle.
“Meaning what? Mama was being very secretive so as to spare me stress she said.”
“I think,” Caroline said as she rocked the little baby, “both sides have used today to think about their next moves.”
“So nothing much happened?”
“Nothing that needs to disturb you and this adorable one,” Caroline said as she made a face at the baby.
“Dom!” Charlotte hissed the name quietly, “if you also treat me as though I’m made of glass and need protecting then I swear I’m going to scream.”
“Honestly, today has been a lot of talk and analysis.”
“Why don’t I believe you?”
“Suspicious nature? All right – a Russian Consulate media liaison was killed in a street mugging last night.”
“We think so – and we think we know who did it. Some of your people are not happy at all about trying to snatch you, and we have heard the Russians are very nervous about what happened and about the Sisters.”
“So Dancer is in big trouble? Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” Charlotte said as she looked over.
“Mrs van der Byl?”
“These were just delivered,” the nurse said as a large bunch of flowers came in, “but the message was a little cryptic.”
“What did it say?”
“For the one and only little mother?”
Charlotte smiled as she said “thank you – I know who these are from.”
8 pm BST
Chez Georgette, Soho
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Graham Norton said as the audience applauded, “Gorgeous Georgette, kicking off our night of burlesque. Wasn’t she amazing?”
“She was,” Agnes said as she sat with Catriona and Sherry.
“Now, we want to welcome an amazing young talent from Chicago. You may have seen her at the Complete Style show in Sydney, and we are so glad she could come here tonight. Please, welcome to the stage, Sarah Rogers!”
“Break a leg, Sarah,” Tracy said as Sarah slowly walked out onto the stage, her hair hidden under a red wig, wearing a black backless dress with diamante neckline, and long white gloves. She stood nervously on the stage before the drummer of the band played a drum roll, and she nodded, looked up and swung her hips in a circle, her hands raised, before doing a forward thrust, the audience applauding.
“Britt Ekland in the Night They Raided Minsky’s?”
“Indeed George darling,” Mandy drawled, “she felt as the youngest, this was the best one.”
“I knew Norman – lovely man, very underrated, that was probably his best film you know.”
Sarah smiled as the drummer called out “do it again” and started the drum roll, moving her hips until she thrust forward and smiled again, walking in time to the drums to the far end of the stage and moving her hips again before she thrust them forward, turning and repeating the process as she blew a kiss to George and Mandy.
“GO on, Sarah,” Tracy called out as the band started playing, and she moved with a fluidity to the centre of the stage, reaching up and peeling one of her gloves off before she twirled it and threw it to the crowd.
“You say she’s only seventeen?”
“Oh yes,” Tracy said, “so I hop the licence covers it.”
“Let’s just say I talked to a few people,” George said as she removed the other glove and threw it away, then bent forward and gripped her skirt on the other side to the opening, taking it by the hem and seemingly slowly ripping it as she called out “More?”
“MORE!” the audience called back as she ripped it to the top and pushed her leg forward, smiling as the crowd cheered. Reaching behind her back, she untied the ends of her white scarf and slowly, tantalisingly pulled it through behind her, before holding it up and stepping to the side, then throwing that into audience as well.
She then stepped back as the band played, blowing kisses before she deliberately stepped on the hen of her dress, the fastenings giving away as planned so that she stood in her black basque. The audience cheered as she shimmied again, blew them a last kiss, and then walked quickly off as the band ended the song.
“Great work, Sarah,” Tracy said as she handed the young woman a robe, “we’ve got them warmed up now!”
As the band played, the dancers gathered back stage to prepare – and talk…
"Burlesque is one of the few things in this modern world where old fashioned glamour and sexiness are not considered to be outdated darlings," Mandy looked in the dressing mirror as she did her makeup, "we get to dress up in amazing costumes and to put on a really great show."
"The audience seems to be getting into the spirit of it," Sarah sat in a dressing gown, "my little routine went down well I think."
"Sarah my love I think you can safely say it went down rather better than just well," George kissed the young dancer.
Tracy started to put her hair up, "you've both given us a high standard to
"Agreed," Mandy stopped applying mascara for a second and smiled. “Right – my turn I think…”
“All right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the next act.”
“You did tell Pepsi you would be here, right Jack,” Will said as he sat at a table with his son, alongside Charles Treharran and Donald.
“Of course I did – I’m not that stupid,” Jack said with a grin as Graham Norton said “for our next dancer, please welcome international modelling superstar, Mandy Carrow!”
The audience cheered as Mandy came onto the stage, wearing a see through black dress with sequins over a black short sleeved top, a long underskirt, and carrying a short mink jacket. Her arms were in over the elbow black opera gloves, and as she shimmied onto the stage she had a cigarette holder in one hand.
Dropping the jacket on the stage, she walked slowly across, her hair under a black wig as she moved her arm with the cigarette holder over the audience, and then turned, showing the backless aspect of her outfit as she did a little bump and grind.
Raising her hand and arching her back, she pretended to take a puff, and then walked along, her long legs in the dark stocking emerging from the skirt, and then turned, moving her hips in slow circles as she dropped the cigarette holder, turned her head and smiled, then turned, opening the front of the skirt up and moving it round as she continued to move across the stage.
She turned and smiled as she slowly rolled one glove down the arm, and then spun round, moving as she used her teeth to ease it off her hand. Swinging it round, she dropped it on the floor, then removed the second glove before bending over, smiling a sshe looked back and ran her hands up her bottom to the cheers of the crowd.
She then gyrated to the cheers as she adjusted the zips on the side, and with one fluid motion pulled the dress down, revealing the top, panties and stockings. The garter belt was next, before with a swivel of her hips she removed her panties to reveal a thong underneath.
“David would have a fit,” Jack said as he clapped and cheered with his father and uncle.
“You should step in,” Catriona said as she sat with Agnes at the bar.
“No – I’m secure enough with Donald to allow him his fun,” Agnes said with a smile as Mandy then removed her top, to reveal the bra underneath, moving in time to the music and the cheers. Reaching down and picking up the jacket, she held it in front of her with one arm, as with the other she removed her bra and threw it into the audience. She then twirled round, and let the jacket drop to reveal the tassles covering her modesty, before she waved and walked off the stage.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Mandy Carrow,” Graham said as he applauded her. “Now, some music – please welcome Courtney Pine with the house band!”
“Fiona MacKenzie – you look tired,” Margaret Harker said as she welcomed the CS editor.
“It has been ae long day,” Annie said as she sat down, and accepted a whisky. “Ae thought ye’d be on yer way to the US by noo – young Poppy’s birthday?”
“Amy and I are flying out tomorrow morning – taking a few presents out from the girls here.”
“Well, pass on mae guid wishes – I need tae be here this weel, I hae a few things tae take care of…”
“Can I grab you for a moment Aggie?” Catriona asked as they stood at the bar.
“You can Cat. What’s on you rmind?”
“I heard about the news of the changes at Xavier’s. I need to ask you if you knew about Shirley’s decision to scale back her involvement in her businesses in advance.”
“Well… She’s been dropping hints for a while that she wanted to free up more time to be with John and Maisha,” Agnes said quietly, “but I’ll admit the scale of the changes she announced took me a bit by surprise.”
“Look darling - am I talking to you as Catriona Shirley’s old school friend, or as Lady C?”
“Both I guess.”
“Okay, well talking to Cat, just remember what you told me about what you are trying to do in rebuilding a relationship with both Lizzie, and Elizabeth.”
“I know,” Cat nodded as they both applauded a new dancer took the stage.
“But as Lady C, can I warn you dearest don’t let what you are doing as her take over your entire life as Shirley once let being Madame take over hers.”
“I know – I’m keeping the balance so far, but I can understand why she did what she did – then…”
“Well I never thought that I’d attend a night of striptease,” Kay shook her head.
“Just remember that it’s for a great charity,” Sherry said as she looked up at the dancer on the stage, “and as one of my husband’s DC’s reminded me earlier, “these girls hint and suggest a lot, but they actually show a lot less then my son for example can see in a lot of the films he’s allowed to go watch.”
“That’s true,” Agnes said as she sat down, and took a sip of her drink, “as Mandy says what they do is all about hints that leave the brain thinking they are actually doing something far naughtier then they actually are.”
“Anyway whatever is going on up there on that stage this place is a great place for us to have a little talk.”
“About what Kay?”
“Sherry darling,” Kay said with a smile, “you know very well what I want to talk about.”
“Actually you know it could be about many things,” Sherry smiled, “but I’m presuming it’s about these matters you’ve had me and Aggie looking into?”
“It is,” Kay took a deep breath, “I got called into a meeting today with the Director General and the head of the German financial fraud investigation service.”
“That sounds interesting?”
“Oh it was very interesting Aggie, the German was both upset at what I’ve been doing, but also grateful for the information that you girls have helped me generate.”
“Meaning what?” Sherry applauded as the dancer finished her routine.
“That I’ve been given ‘unofficial’ permission from the Germans to continue, and warned that their own people are now taking this very seriously and that I need be careful not to interfere with their investigations.”
“Okay that makes sense,” Agnes thought for a second, “given that this is still all off the books, have they given you an ‘unofficial’ contact to work with?”
“Oh you might say that,” a fourth voice spoke.
“Girls if you don’t already know her, meet Sigrid, the Baroness von Manschen.”
“I haven’t had the pleasure,” Sherry said as they shook hands.
“We met at Charlotte and Piet’s wedding – on which note, where do I send flowers?”
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Graham said from the stage, “our next performer literally arrived this afternoon from New York, but she is ready to entertain you. Please Welcome – TRACY!”
As the band played, the lights came on Tracy, wearing a red feather in her hair and a red feather boa, a long pale cream dress with a red petal pattern on the skirt, and elbow length red gloves with a fur trim. With a red boa in her hand, she raised and lowered her arms, before turning and smiling as she flicked the boa.
She started to do the Marilyn Monroe shimmy as she walked forward, pouting as she heard the cheers, then lowered herself and stood straight again, the boa over one shoulder as she smiled. Walking round the stage, she moved the boa over her shoulders, then across her bottom as she teased those watching. Eventually, she held the boa out and dropped it, then twirled round as she reached up removed her hair pin. Running it between her lips, she dropped it on the floor, and then threw her head forward, her hair falling free as she stood up and held her arms up.
The gloves were next, taken slowly off and twirled round as Tracy leaned over, and handed them to two women near the stage. She walked round, stopping and raising the skirt of her dress to reveal the red high heeled and strapped sandals she was wearing, then letting the skirt drop as she wagged her finger. She swung round the threads hanging from strategic points of her dress, caressing her chest as she blew kisses, before she reached round and pulled on one thread, lowering the zip at the back of her dress and letting it fall to reveal her red bra, basque and panties.
Picking up the boa, she danced and moved across the stage, using it over some of the band members as she bumped and grinded on the floor, Removing the basque, she started to move with snake like movements on the floor, before kneeling with her back to the audience and slowly pulling the straps of her bra down. She then turned and sat with her legs apart, the tassels strategically positioned as she smiled and twisted round, and then stood up, walking off – but not before she turned her head and blew a last kiss to the audience, then leaving the stage…
“There you are,” Victoria said as Mandy came and joined the table, “you were spectacular earlier Mandy.”
“Thank you, thank you,” Mandy said as she sat down, Will kissing her.
“So what did the Bishop have to say about Martha coming to this event tonight Mandy?”
Mandy laughed as she looked at a nearby table, and said “I heard that Clive basically said that he didn’t truly approve, and that for heaven’s sake she must at all costs not let herself get photographed by the press darling.”
“I wondered why she was wearing the wig and dark glasses,” Olivia smiled.
“An elementary precaution darling.”
“Anyway she does seem to be enjoying herself.”
“I know, being a clergyman’s wife means she doesn’t get a lot of chances to truly let her hair down.”
“I know, I’ve known Martha several years and inside she’s just a little bit of a wild child.”
“Agreed,” Mandy nodded her head. “So you’re all enjoying it so far?”
“Why the long face Aggie?” Paula asked as she saw her friend sitting alone at a table in the bar area.
Agnes looked up, smiling as she said “Is it long?”
“Exceedingly darling.” Paula sat at the table next to her, and said “So what the hell are you thinking about?”
“I was thinking about all the changes in my life in the few short months since Royal Ascot.”
“Because,” Agnes said with a sad smile, “even now, Your Grace, I sometimes wakeup in the night wondering if all this hasn’t just been a dream, and that in reality everything is still just as it was.”
“One day,” Paula said quietly as she put her hand on Agnes’ one, “you’ll need to sit down and tell me just what life was like for you all those rotten years.”
“Oh it wasn’t all totally bad darling, I had a few friends, and of course I had my work with the children.”
“Margaret Harker was saying that you are actually trying to expand the school?”
“Yes,” Agnes said quietly, “we definitely need both more space, and extra volunteers to help. I’m looking for a suitable building near the main one.”
“I’m in Dublin far too much to be offer any real help myself.”
“I know Paula,” Agnes said, “but I do appreciate the financial contribution that you and Tom made.”
“It’s our pleasure. But you were saying about still wondering if this is a dream?”
“Oh I guess that’s because I always thought it would need a miracle for me to ever be rehabilitated enough to even be able to show my face at an event like this without being shunned.”
“Aggie I can assure you it’s all very real,” Paula said with a smile as she hugged her friend. “You are going to marry Donald, you have two amazing daughters, your business is starting to be successful, but above all you have proved to the whole world just what an amazing person you are.”
“And I will definitely second that Lady,” George smiled as he sat down.
“Thanks – I needed that. So George – who has the finale?”
“To be revealed soon…”
“You know I can remember the day they were both born Tam,” Catriona sipped her drink as she watched Agnes talk to Paula.
“I’ve heard the story Cat.”
“Your mother and Lady Shillford both went into labour at the same time…”
“I remember Daddy telling, with great glee, the story about how he broke every speed limit getting them from the New House to the hospital in Oban.”
“My father was cursing as he tried following them with several of the guests from Ardray in our old Land Rover,” Catriona chuckled.
“As I’ve said I’ve heard all the stories,” Tam laughed aloud.
“I forget how many times I told Aggie during her ‘exile’ that she should at least talk to Paula, the circumstances of their birth always gave them a certain link.”
“So why didn’t she?”
“Because I think your sister was ashamed of herself, and she was afraid of both embarrassing Paula, and fearful that Paula might simply snub her like everyone else was doing.”
“Me included,” Tamsin took a deep breath. “I’m the one needs to be ashamed, not Aggie. I really should have known that whatever she did it was for the best of reasons, and stood by her.”
“We all let her down,” Catriona spoke softly.
“At least you made sure she got released from Holloway Cat, that was more than anyone else did.”
“I could, and should, have done more,” the lady barrister took a deep breath, “but my head of chambers warned me off about helping Aggie, and like a coward I listened to him to advance my career rather than being the ‘big sister’ I should have been.”
“We were all cowards in some way or another Cat. At least we have had the chance to try and make up for that now…”
“Can I ask a question? What was Aggie like before all the troubles Olivia?” Sue watched as the near blind model stared through her thick glasses at the dancer on stage.
“In what way?”
“Well… I’ve only known her as this more than slightly sad woman, driven to help homeless kids, and sacrificing so much of her own life to do so. What was she like before she became that Agnes?”
“You’ve probably heard other people say this Sue,” Olivia said as she turned round, “but she was the ‘golden girl’. She was the girl all her friends wanted to be like.”
“In what way?”
“She was immensely clever, stunningly beautiful, and she truly didn’t have a nasty bone in her body. If you’d have asked me on the day before that article came out I’d have told you that she didn’t have an enemy in the world.”
“Well you didn’t know about Lady Catherine.”
“Or it seems others,” Olivia shook her head, “I guess because we were all her friends, none of us realized that anyone might be jealous of Aggie.”
“The Aggie that I’ve known would quite literally give a child in need the shirt off her back.”
“Oh she always had compassion for others, but I think she also had a touch of arrogance about herself that she could do whatever she set her mind to. I don’t think she ever thought she could fail at anything.”
“She was blind to what was going on round her? And I apologise for using the b word.”
“You are excused Sue,” Olivia laughed. “But yes – so when it fell, it was a crushing blow…”
“Well, it’s been a wonderful evening, but we come to the last act – and we are so glad to welcome Dita Von Teese!”
As the audience clapped, the stage went dark, and then the spotlight went on the raven haired beauty, sitting at a table shaped like a cocktail glass, with one in her raised gloved hand. She was wearing a black dress, the straps pulled down over her shoulders, the skirt split to reveal the tops of her black stockings, and a top hat as she danced round the stage, her dress threatening to fall at any time.
“Great, I made it in time,” Tonia said as she sat with the others. “This will be an education for you Sarah?”
“What is she doing?”
“One of her most famous routines – the Absinthe Glass Dance.”
Dita put the glass on a side table and twisted round, the dress slipping still further to reveal her breasts, before she slowly pulled her gloves off, one with her hand, the other with her teeth, twirling them in the air and tossing them into the audience, before she sat in a seat by the glass, and lifted her leg up, placing the high heel of her shoe on the edge before she lowered it and stood up again, bumping and grinding to the music.
Raising her skirt to show her black garters and panties, she walked seductively forward, and then turned and walked back, looking at the audience and smiling as she wriggled, then pulling the skirt off and dropping it to the floor as she blew a kiss.
Removing her hat, she sat down and stretched her legs out, Sarah watching and applauding as she ached her back and swayed in the seat. Holding her chest, she smiled as a glimpse of the pasties over her nipples was seen, before she stood and walked round – only to remove the top, revealing the straps were bra straps, a black lace girdle also revealed as she ran her fingers through her hair and smiled.
Standing in front of the glass, she released the fastening on her bra and covered herself as the garment slipped off, and then turned her back to the audience, gyrating as she started to loosen the laces on her girdle, hiding her chest as she moved round.
Turning side on, she released the garter belt from her stockings, as Mandy watched Martha whoop and cheer. She never went full frontal, smiling coyly as her hands moved over her body, and then pulled the girdle away to wild cheers.
Sitting down, she removed her shoes while shaking her chest, her legs wide apart to show her thong, her nipples covered, and then she removed her stockings, before standing up and slowly pulling her thong down. She then stood on the chair, as Martha whispered “No…”
“Oh yes, darling,” Mandy said as Dita got into the glass, spinning herself round in the white liquid and then using the sponge which was representing an ice cube to soak up the liquid, then squeezing it over herself. As the music built to a crescendo, she gyrated round, her legs over the edge, and then knelt and waved as the music finished, taking a bow in the glass before the lights went down.
“Wasn’t she amazing,” Graham said as he came onto the stage. “Well, that’s the show for tonight, but before we go we have a small presentation to make. Tonight was organised to help raise money for two worthy causes.”
“Two causes?” Agnes turned and looked as Graham said “the first is the East London Homeless Trust, which supports families struggling in the city, and I’d like to ask the Honourable Dame Margaret Harker, MP, to come to the stage please.”
As Margaret walked up, the audience clapped while Graham said “and the second, is one some of you may not have heard of, but for decades it has been a lifeline for young runaways in the city, providing help, clothing and a place they can think of as home. Agnes McAdam, as the founder of that school, please come up.”
Tamsin and Paula led the cheering as Agnes walked up, looking at Maggie as Graham said “Thanks to ticket sales and donations, we wish to present to each of you, a cheque to your respective groups to the value of £5,000. We know you will make sure they are put to good use.”
Agnes stared at the cheque as Maggie put her arm round her, and said “Thank you on behalf of the Trust, and my speechless friend here, the Angel of Soho!”
“So any news that I must be aware of Mama?” Charlotte asked as they waited for the nurse to bring Frances back.
“Well according to multiple reports the burlesque night is proving a huge success.”
“Good,” Charlotte said as she sat, her knees up to her chin, “but you know very well that’s not what I meant.”
“I want you to relax and not get stressed out darling.”
“I’m going to get more stressed Mama NOT being told anything.”
“Okay,” Francesca said quietly, “it’s against my better judgment but there are a few things I can tell you.”
“Thank you Mama.”
“For starters,” Francesca said as she sat down, “the work Kay has been doing tracing how the money is being routed through German banks has piqued interest in both Berlin and Frankfurt, and the German’s have agreed to co-operate unofficially with her.”
“That still doesn’t mean they’ll actually do anything about it.”
“I know, but the fact they’ve briefed Sigi to act as a liaison with Kay at least shows they are taking it seriously.”
“And Sigi isn’t the type to just let something drop if she knows about wrongdoing.”
“As you say,” Francesca thought for a second, “it’s a development that might not yield instant usable results, but in the fullness of time I’m pretty sure this will all unravel due to the financial crimes that are going on.”
“Political crimes are hard to make stick, but everyone understands fraud and tax evasion. Just ask Al Capone.”
“Exactly Carlotta my darling.”
“I’ve never asked,” Charlotte said as she sat forward, “but are ‘our’ tax affairs kosher?”
“Are you asking if we have ‘Italian’ standards on the paying of taxes?” A merry look came into the Marchesa’s eyes.
“I guess I am.”
“Well,” Francesca said quietly “back in your Great-Grandfather’s day maybe we did play fast and lose with taxation, but under my Papa, and Uncle Claudio we shifted to a policy whereby we don’t just obey the letter of the tax laws, we go beyond that standard and our accounting is done to meet international standards.”
“So I won’t get prosecuted for tax fraud myself?”
“No, Papa realized that as an international corporation we had to be squeaky clean, and I’ve always agreed with that.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“Adam – and the rest of you,” Charlotte said with a grin as Adam and Jan came in with Eleanor and Katy.
“So where is she?”
“Right here – would you like to hold her Katy?”
“Oh yes,” Katy said as she sat in a seat, and the nurse put Frances into her arms.
“How are you doing Eleanor?” Charlotte looked concerned as the older woman held her arm.
“We’ll go and find that husband of yours,” Adam said as he led Jan out.
“I’m doing fine, so please don’t worry yourself Charlotte.” Eleanor looked round as she said “I just got the doctor to look at it and it’s starting to heal.”
“What she’s not saying is that he also told her to take things very easy,” Katy looked up from cradling the baby.
“MERMAID!” Charlotte looked reproachful.
“I’m fine,” Eleanor rolled her eyes, “it’s a simple, clean, bullet hole. Why is everybody so worried?”
“Because we care about you Gran.”
“Exactly. As Katy says there are an awful lot of people worried about you Eleanor.”
“I’ll be fine…Promise.”
“You’d better be,” Charlotte looked hard at Eleanor, “we can’t afford to lose you.”
“Thank you, but as I said I’m fine, and according to Jan’s fixer contact a lot of people are screaming about what happened to us both yesterday for bringing unwanted attention on to all this.”
“I heard the Russian Consulate had one of their staff killed – the Sisters do not like what’s happened. What about…”
“He hasn’t left his apartment all day,” Eleanor said as she looked at the flowers. “African Violets?”
“You can guess who sent them…”
As Charlotte was reading some cards, she heard a slight cough and looked to the doorway.
Diana,” the redhead said as she looked at Diana, standing in the doorway
wearing a white jacket and trousers with a black blouse, “I didn't expect to
see you tonight."
allowed to start doing a few things now,” Diana said with a smile as she walked
slowly in, “and I had to come in and see Helen, so I thought I'd bring you
"They look lovely," Charlotte smiled at the large bunch of flowers the elegantly dressed Frenchwoman was carrying. “And thank you, I do appreciate it.”
"I'll put them on the side here," Diana said as she laid them gently down, and then took a seat.
Charlotte said as she stroked Frances’ cheek while she slept, “has Helen given
you the all clear?"
about. I still have to take it slightly easy for a few more days, but basically
she says everything looks good."
"I'm glad. That is the part of your past you needed to
leave behind, after all."
"True, mon Cherie. So where are Piet and your Mama?"
"They've gone to eat with his parents, and the Vosloo's."
celebrate this one’s sudden arrival," Diana smiled as she looked at the
baby laying in Charlotte's arms.
it in one." Charlotte smiled again, "would you like to hold
course." Charlotte passed her over
and placed her in Diana’s arms as the older woman looked at her.
really is beautiful."
till you hold your own granddaughter Diana."
day I suppose Abigail and Tony will make me a grandmother."
the odds were pretty high on that," a voice said from the doorway.
"Should I run a book on just when?"
"Hello again Sandy," Charlotte laughed, "and did you have to payoff on my daughter’s sudden arrival?"
“I will have to, but not to my mother for once. I got a call from someone a few days ago – Karen Kumalo?”
Andre Kannenikov’s apartment
As he sat in his armchair, a drink by his side, Andre was still trying to comprehend what had happened. The attempt to gain a bargaining chip had failed, and two good men had been killed – one shot, the other his neck broken. He had expected to be summoned for a meeting, but nothing – no calls, nothing.
The heavy knock on the door took him by surprise, as he stood up and walked over. “Bolshe moi” he said quietly to himself as he opened the door, the two men walking in and checking the room before they left, and a grey haired man walked in.
“Comrade,” Andre said quietly, “this is a unexpec…”
“You will be silent,” the man said as he sat down, “and let me speak. You were told not to be concerned with Jameson Security, were you not Dancer?”
“I was Sir, but…”
“And also to do nothing to raise suspicions with the Marchesa di Cambrello, no?”
“So – explain to me why I had to fly here today, to clear your mess up.”
“I had to do something, to divert from another operation going wrong, I chose a target who was minor…” Andre looked up as the man laughed and shook his head.
“Minor? Dancer, you could not have picked a worse target to hit, save for the Marchesa herself. And now we have lost three fine operatives.”
“Three? I know of and regret my two, but…”
“Your handler,” the man said quietly, “was stabbed and killed last night, according to police records by a mugger. That was not the case however – have you heard of the Sisters of Maisha, Dancer?”
“Rumours, but I assure you, I have done nothing to…”
“We believe Charlotte van der Byl is a senior leader for that group – and not only did you try to take her, she is now a mother?” Standing up, the man said “you have one month to conclude your business here, and then you return home.”
He left without saying another word, Andre shaking as he closed the door.
Tuesday 18th October
“Okay, that’s the diary,” Alexis said as she sat with Juliette, wearing a red jersey dress and boots. “I’ll confirm with Missy for the formal start of the new comptroller.”
Juliette said, “next item, Alexis. Do
you have a shortlist of candidates for my approval for your assistant?"
Juliette,” Alexis said as she picked up a file. “Can I say that I've found one
particular applicant that stands out way above the rest, and that I'm
suggesting that you endorse my choice?"
Juliette looked up in surprise.
it's not how things are normally done, but this woman has just the right
combination of skills I think, and she even comes with references from a couple
of your friends."
"She does? Such as?"
"Well, Jane Molloy for one."
"Alright if Jane is recommending her then she must be at least reasonably good, tell me about her please."
"Her name is Tricia Warren,” Alexis said as she opened the file, “and she has a degree in journalism from City College. Jane mentored her at the Times where she did an internship during her final year, and then briefly worked at the Times preparing copy for Births, Deaths and Marriages. From there she went to Rotten Apple as a junior member of the reporting team, and now she's hoping to move into fashion journalism eventually."
“Rotten Apple? Not my favourite site, Alexis?”
“I know, but I
called a few people, and apparently she actually managed to get them to tone
down some of their more virulent reviews, so diplomacy is ticked off.”
at the file as Alexis passed it over. "She
does know that she won't get a lot of chances to write at first if she comes
Alexis said as she nodded, “but she seems to have done her research and knows
that Janine has moved onwards and upwards thanks to the experience that she got
in this office, and that you've let me do a couple of pieces for the magazine
already. I think she sees this as a place where careers can get made."
also know that working for me and you will entail her doing work for my private
her that, and she understands."
Juliette paused for thought, "well she seems to have made a huge
impression on you Alexis, and since she will basically be working for you
she and I can be a good team."
when can I see her?"
"How about later Juliette? I can have her call in at two, say?"
“Sounds good,” Juliette said as she looked at the file.
“I already cleared an hour for you,” Alexis said as she stood up, “and thank you Juliette.”
As she closed
the door behind her, Juliette sat back in the chair. She was impressed, that much was true. "Alright why did you sound
familiar?" Juliette whispered to herself as she looked at the resume of
the girl Alexis was recommending.
Jane mentioned you at some time? She certainly has written a glowing
For a couple of
minutes Juliette stared at the young woman's picture.
"I'm pretty sure I've never met you, and I'm good at remembering faces, but something inside me is saying that I do know you from somewhere."
“Boss,” Alexis said over the phone, “Caroline Jameson wondered if she could have a word?”
“Of course,” Juliette said as the door opened and Caroline came in. “Sorry to intrude, Juliette but…” She stopped as she saw the photo on the file and smiled, saying “well, well, well…”
“You know her?”
“Tricia? She was a barmaid at the Altamont when… When Doc was working. In fact, she was one of the girls – when we cleared that mess up, Madame arranged a scholarship for her, so long as she worked in the press. Why have you got her resume?”
“Alexis is recommending her as her new assistant. So she is trustworthy?”
“And well out of the game. Anyway – I wanted to ask if you can get this to Pippa? It’s Ama’s present to Poppy.”
The Ashley Apartment
Pippa was working at the table, looking at the screen as she said “well, the re-launch of the website looks as if it is ready to go. Organise a meeting with me for Thursday to give the green light.”
“Got it Boss – Anna wants you to pop in later this afternoon if you have time.”
“I’ll ping you the answer to that in a few minutes,” Pippa said as she heard the knock on the door, “my houseguests have arrived.”
“Good luck, boss,” the blonde said as Pippa closed the chat down, smiled and stood up, brushing some crumbs from her pastry off her pants before she walked over and opened the door.
“You made it safely then,” she said with a smile as she stood to one side, and Lady Amelia Ashley walked in, taking off her cream kid leather gloves as she did so, followed by Margaret Harker, and the concierge with the cases. “Just put them down there Gerald – I’ll sort them later.”
“Of course Miss Ashley,” he said as she closed the door behind him, and turned round. Amelia had taken off her coat, revealing a cream twin set and linen skirt, while Margaret was wearing a grey jumper and jeans.
“I see the contrast is still there?”
“Not quite so much,” Amelia said as she hugged her daughter, “but I understand Maggie had a late night last night.”
“Yeah – but one heck of an evening,” Margaret said with a smile, “so I take it Poppy is at school?”
“Oh yeah – it may be her sixteenth tomorrow, but she’s not getting out of classes. After all, none of last year’s group did.”
“Quite right too,” Amelia said as she looked out of the window.
“How was the flight anyway?”
“Mercifully short – do you have some coffee brewing Philppa darling?”
“Some things don’t change too much,” Pippa said with a smile as she and Maggie went to the kitchen.
“By the way, I’ve got some things in my case, presents for Charlotte and Frances?”
“Ah yes – Charlotte van der Byl gave birth over the weekend. I was going to go and see her later – she’s been discharged today, but she and her daughter are going to be staying with Diana de Ros with Piet.”
“Well, we can tag along if that is all right,” Maggie said as Pippa put the coffee machine on. "So are Poppy and her friends looking forward to all this our Pippa?"
"In one word...YES!" Pippa laughed, "St Angela's girls take their partying very seriously."
Shaking her head, Maggie sat on a stool at the breakfast bar. "Didn't you once tell me their motto is 'work hard, and party harder?"
Pippa laughed again, "When we were at Wycombe Abbey we seem to have barely
had a social life in comparison."
did go to a boarding school."
Pippa said as the aroma of fresh coffee drifted across, “but even allowing for
that they do lead a totally different life to the one we lead."
"I bet all this is costing you a pretty penny Pip?"
"It's not cheap, but thanks to contributions," Pippa smiled, "and the fact I had been saving up, I can afford it. I think the one with the real worries is Denice – Erica’s comes next month."
“Ah, well, I am sure she will manage a great party for her,” Maggie said with a smile.
did the burlesque thing go? And did you manage to drag Mum there Aunt
"It went exceedingly well, and we raised a nice amount for charity. We even surprised Agnes with a donation to her school."
"That's good,” Pippa said with a smile, “but still, what about Mum?"
"No," Dame Margaret laughed, "despite the fact she'd have loved to be seen with some of the people there, our Amy still thinks striptease is beyond the pale."
the dancers are peeresses, billionaire's wives, and celebrities?"
"Even then," Maggie laughed.
“Philippa, darling, may I have some camomile tea instead?”
“Go talk to her, I’ll bring them in…”
“It does appear a little chilly,” Amelia said as she sat in the armchair.
“It’s not winter yet Mother, you know that,” Pippa said with a smile.
we missed any good gossip our Pip?" Maggie asked as she brought in the
little I suspect Aunt Maggie, I hear that you are pretty tuned in to the world
of the Saintz and Sinnerz."
let's put it this way I do talk to Nessa regularly."
"So Sandy told me. You and her mother have become great friends."
“So, I know they won the series again, and of course young Charlotte is a mother…”
“The thing you may not have heard about was Diana de Ros has been unwell. She underwent a major operation, but is recovering now, so if we do visit tonight?”
“Go gently, I understand,” Amelia said with a smile.
Juliette looked up as the door opened, and Alexis said “ready to meet her?”
“Go on – and get some coffee for both of us,” Juliette said as she walked round her desk, Alexis showing in a young dark haired woman wearing a white long sleeved tunic over a peasant style brown skirt, and brown ankle boots.
“Juliette, this is Tricia Warren.”
“It’s a real pleasure to meet you, your highness,” Tricia said as she inclined her head. Juliette looked at Alexis, one eyebrow raised as Alexis tried not to giggle as she left the room.
“Mrs von Furstenheim will do,” Juliette said as she shook Tricia’s hand, “please, take a seat.”
“Thank you,” Tricia said as she sat down, Juliette looking at the other side and picking up her file.
“So you’re a Journalism graduate?”
“Yes, from CCNY – I was lucky enough to land a scholarship for my degree, part of which was I worked in the industry for three years.”
“Well, you certainly have followed a well trodden path,” Juliette said with a smile, “and that tells me you have the passion. A lot of good people started off in the BDM area of a local paper.”
“That’s what Jane told me,” Tricia said with a smile.
“You spent some time there in an internship?”
“That’s right – part of my scholarship conditions was doing volunteer work, and Jane offered me the three month post when I graduated. The BDM position came after that.”
“And then you moved to Rotten Apple? May I ask why?”
“I was aware of their reputation when I applied, but I hoped I could make a difference. I think I did – even if, sadly, it was often overcast by other things. They deliberately set out to provoke – and I know they often have not had good things to say about this magazine. Personally, I disagreed.”
“Nothing wrong with disagreeing, so long as it does not prevent you doing the job,” Juliette said with a smile. “You do know if I offer you this position, it can be demanding.”
“As I understand it, you effectively run or have an influence in three businesses – the magazine, Huntingdown Silks, and the controlling interest in Missy Auerbach’s company. On which note, I hope she is recovering?”
“She is – and we are strictly silent partners in that one,” Juliette said quietly. “Working as an assistant to Alexis, you will be expected to assist her in managing my diary, and ensuring I don’t get overloaded.”
“I understand – but I am interested in a career in this branch of the industry, and I hope you will give me opportunities to shine.”
“You understand the hours could be long?”
“I am prepared for that,” Tricia said with a smile.
“Okay – I know you wish to be a writer, but that will come in time.”
“Again, I understand that – but you have to learn a business to be able to work in, and write in it. That was why I did DBM – to learn from the bottom up, and – well, I see staff who have worked for you in top positions. I was reading yesterday that article in New Mode by Magda de Bris – she worked for you at one time, didn’t she?”
Juliette smiled and nodded. “She did indeed – all right, I think we can put you on a trial basis, and see how things go. ALEXIS!”
“You hollered Juliette,” Alexis said as she came in.
“Take Tricia here down to legal, make sure they go through the necessary steps – and then take her to Merlin on a tour. If she’s going to work here, she might as well meet her and Casey – Casey is doing an internship as well.”
“I think Kylie’s in the building as well,” Alexis said.
“Kylie – Kylie Mitchell? Here?”
“Go – I’ll see you when you start,” Juliette said with a smile as they went out of her office…”
The de Ros Mansion
“Welcome,” Edith said as she held the door open, Charlotte carrying Frances in her baby seat as Piet and Francesca followed. “Madame is in the drawing room – if you would like to go through, I will take your bags to the room I have prepared for all of you.”
“Is that our guests,” Diana called out as Francesca opened the door, Charlotte coming in as Diana slowly stood up.
“I can’t thank you enough for allowing the three of us to stay here,” Charlotte said as she set Frances down, Valeria leaning over and looking at her.
“It is my pleasure – with Alain and Claude in the city as well, I am enjoying the company,” Diana said as Edith brought coffee in. "And I think it will be nicer that you all stay here again, rather than in a hotel like you have been."
"Are you sure Diana?" Francesca asked with genuine concern, "you're only just getting over surgery yourself, and really the hotel has looked after us rather well up until this point."
"But that was before this lovely thing arrived," Diana smiled at Frances, "No I will not take no for an answer - you are all moving in with me right now."
"You sound just like Mama saying that," Charlotte laughed.
"I certainly heard echoes of myself," the Marchesa smiled. "As long as we aren't putting too much strain on you and Edith Diana."
"Strain or not, we will cope, and as I said I'm not taking no for an answer Francesca."
"Yes Countess," Francesca laughed, "I suppose I needs return to the hotel and pack then?"
“Indeed – Abigail will be home soon…”
Doc,” Juliette said as Anna Carlton looked in, wearing her school uniform, “and
please close the door behind you."
"Okay Juliette,” Doc said quietly, “that either means I'm in serious trouble, or you need my help to put someone in serious trouble."
"For once it’s neither," Juliette smiled, "sit down please, I may just have created a problem for you myself."
Anna lifted an eyebrow.
hiring an assistant for Alexis, and it turns out someone you know."
"Ah," Doc froze in place.
"I take it
you remember her?"
I do, Tricia is a lovely person, and her getting into prostitution is one of my
big regrets about my time as Madame Angel."
seems to have emerged from it largely unscathed, and indeed she's started
building a career for herself in journalism."
she wants the experience of working in your office Ju?"
"Exactly. Have you spoken to her since Angelic Escorts
were wound up? Would she still recognize you as Madame Angel?"
of course she would...She's probably seen my pictures anyway."
never approached you?"
"I told you Ju she's one of the good ones."
“Okay – you are bound to cross paths sooner or later, so be prepared…”
The de Ros Mansion
“Miss Ashley,” Edith said as she opened the door, “are you here to visit Madame or Miss Charlotte?”
“Both actually – this is my mother and aunt,” Pippa said as she came in.
“Of course, Lady Ashley, Miss Harker – if I may take your coats?”
“Thank you,” Amelia said as Edith hung their coats up, and then said “this way.” They walked to the drawing room, Edith opening the door and saying “Miss Ashley and her family to see you Madame.”
“Pippa – come in,” Diana said as she looked over. “As you can see, we are having a baby admiration session.”
“So I see – how are you Charlotte,” Pippa said as they took a seat and looked at the redhead holding Frances on her lap.
“Slowly coming to terms with been a mother.”
“Don’t worry, we get there in the end,” Pippa said with a grin. “And how are you Diana?”
“I feel better every day,” Diana said as Abby came in. “So are you prepared for tomorrow?”
“I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for that,” Pippa said with a smile, “how was Abby’s?”
“Oh mine was a delayed party – I was on a shoot in Europe that day…”
“Oh dear lord – I should have guessed.” Pippa shook her head as Maggie handed Charlotte a gift bag.
“Presents from Agnes and the girls – they asked me to say they are looking forward to seeing you in two weeks time.”
“Oh – of course, the party?”
“The party?” Amelia looked at Pippa and said “what party?”
“Our annual Halloween party,” Abby said, “this year the theme is Heroes and Villains.”
“Will you be able to make it Diana?”
“I should be able to attend for a short while – although I may not stay too long…”
Wednesday 19th October
The Ashley Apartment, 4th Avenue
“GOOD MORNING, NEW YORK!!!”
Poppy Ashley slowly opened her eyes and looked at the clock, before she heard the knock on her bedroom door.
“Yeah,” she called out sleepily.
“Happy Birthday darling,” Pippa said as she opened the door of Poppy’s room, wearing a dressing gown over her gown.
“Thank you Mom,” Poppy sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes.
“So how do you feel?”
Drawing her knees up to her chin, Poppy smiled. “Well… I don’t feel any older than
I did when I went to bed last night.”
“Doofus!” Pippa laughed as she sat on the edge of her daughter’s bed. “Really how do you feel?”
“Like I’m about to start a day that I’ll never forget.”
Nodding, Pippa stroked her hair and said “yeah. That sounds about right.”
“How did you feel on your 16th Mom?”
“Well back then in England,” Pippa said with a smile, “we didn’t make such a fuss about sixteenth birthdays, it was all about 18 and 21, but I do remember your Aunt Gray waking me up shouting that your Nan and Granddad were on the phone waiting to wish me happy birthday.”
“So it was just another day at school?”
“Pretty much, but I did have a small party the next time I got home.”
“That sort of sucks.”
“Oh it wasn’t that bad,” Pippa stood up. “So I’m preparing your favorite breakfast, you have 15 minutes Young Lady.”
Sixteen minutes later, Poppy came into the breakfast area to see her grandmother and Aunt sitting there already. “Happy birthday,” Maggie said with a grin, “so you’re an adult now?”
“Hardly, Maggie,” Amelia said, but then she smiled as she said “but you are certainly a beautiful young lady.”
“Thanks,” Poppy said as she blushed and sat down, Pippa putting a plate of pancakes with raspberries and cream in front of her.
“There’s some cards there for you already, and I’m sure once you turn your phone on there will be a few things, but we’ll give our presents tonight,” Pippa said as she sat with a mug of coffee.
“That’s fine mom – I have enough to think about with… Thanks Gran!”
“You’re welcome dear,” Amelia said as Poppy looked at her card.
“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday Dear Poppy…Happy Birthday to you,” Jeannie sung out as Poppy climbed into the van beside her.
“Thank you,” she beamed as she fastened her seatbelt.
“So how has it gone so far?”
“Well Mom made my favorite breakfast, and I had a pile of cards and messages to go through…”
“No presents yet?” Jeans interrupted.
“Not yet, my Mom is keeping them all for my party.”
“That’s when my Mum and me were planning to give you ours.”
“I prefer it that way – although I’d love to know if she’s bought me a car…”
“Not a one – she’s playing it closer to her chest than Ama, and that’s saying something…”
they going to get everyone to the party Grace?" Annie asked as they
watched Poppy climb out of Jeannie's vehicle.
hired two busses to take anyone not driving themselves to New London and
guy who is hiring out his museum realize this is for a teenagers party?"
Grace laughed, "and he's pretty confident can get broken or damaged."
famous last words you know?"
pretty sure they'll all respect the venue," Grace smiled as a bunch of her
friends crowded round the birthday girl. "is Carina driving over from New
"She is. Judy and her are coming with Dave – a friend is babysitting Judith."
“So, there’s that to look forward to,” Grace said with a smile as Poppy walked in.
“Here she is, the first of us,” Erica said as they high fived each other, “looking forward to tonight?”
“Oh yes – did you manage to persuade Mel what to wear?”
“Yeah – she’s going to be Osgood, you?”
“Wait and see,” Poppy said as Jess came over. “You bringing Lynn and Dawn with you Jess.”
“I am indeed – should be fun…”
Bishop Walden School
"So, what are you wearing to the party tonight bestie," Sands asked Katy as they collected their lunches.
"I asked Merlin for some help, and I know Erica did as well," Katy said as they sat at a table. "I've got a silver minidress and boots like one of the companions used to wear, and Erica is going as one of the more recent ones. What about you?"
"Mom has helped me adapt an old leather jacket so I can go as Ace from the original series. Any word on your neighbours?"
"I know Marina has a Sarah Jane Smith outfit, but when I asked Kylie, she just smiled...
is, and who isn't coming to the party tonight Pippa?" Mary Thomas said as
she stood in her cave.
of the usual suspects said they'd make it Mary," the editor said with a
smile as she looked up from the pile of photographs the style director had her
be a party to remember then."
"Ai – and thank you so much for asking your friends to be her surprise guests."
"It's not a problem, and the museum benefits as well because they are bringing memorabilia to donate to the collection."
I had no clue there was such a great Dr Who place in Connecticut."
either, but while I'm there I'm going to negotiate with the owner like I said
regarding us shooting a layout there."
asked Jeannie if she can have a private word with Karen Gillan about being the
model for that shoot."
Karen can still pass for a model even if nowadays she's only an actress."
Pippa raised an
eyebrow as she looked up. "Only an
"You know very well what I mean Pippa."
“I do, I do…”
"Why do I have a new Dwess Mommy?" Judith asked as Carina tried it on her, the skirt coming down to her knees.
"To wear at Aunt Poppy's birthday party tonight."
you do," Carina smiled she took a step back to look. "You know it's
as well that we have several things coming up you can wear this to, you are
growing so quickly darling."
is," a voice floated out of the air behind Cari.
Gwandma Lexa, look how pretty I look," Judith beamed as she looked behind
lovely darling," the apparition smiled.
does," Carina looked round at her ancestor. "And to what do I owe the
pleasure of this visit?"
to warn you Carina, events are unravelling and you need be on guard."
"From what Grandma?"
“Forces are lashing out blindly – be vigilant, and be ready, for you may have to play a very unusual role for you.”
“For me? And what role is that?”
“The voice of calm…”
"So Annie what are you doing with the twins tonight,” Sarah asked as they sat in the faculty lounge, “most of your usual babysitters will be in New London?"
Annie sat back, smiled and said "Wilhelmina is going to look after them."
"Wilhelmina....as in our Miss Tennant?" Sarah practically spilled her coffee.
Annie laughed, "and she's done it a couple of times before you know?"
has?" Sarah shook her head, "you know it’s the last thing I could
ever have imagined her doing."
many staff members going tonight?" Harriet joined the conversation.
few," Annie laughed, "I think several asked Grace to beg for
invitations just so they could see who Mary Thomas will drag along as surprise
"Well its always mind-blowing who does turn up," Harriet smiled.
“Indeed – it’s going to be very interesting…”
Caroline sat across from Francesca as she looked over a document.
"So… added security?" Francesca looked over the rims of her glasses.
Nodding, the blonde smiled and said "We are doing what we can without it being too obvious Admiral."
appreciate that Caroline, but it worries me that such overt threats are being made,
especially with so many innocents potentially in the firing line."
birthday parties should be firmly off limits," Eleanor looked serious.
"Well hopefully they think that as well Captain," Francesca paused, "but given their past behaviour we can't afford to take risks."
“We are making arrangements to provide security at all levels…”
The de Ros Mansion
“Thank you, Edith,” Diana said as her housekeeper set the coffee pot and cups down, and left the room, closing the door behind herself.
Heather said as she accepted a cup, “do we tell all 'our' people that they need
be armed Ju?"
"Can I be
honest Heather and say I really don't know?"
"It's not a problem we thought that we would ever need contemplate," Diana said as she stood up slowly, "the very idea of taking guns to a birthday party seems wrong."
"I know," Juliette paused, "and I know Dom will have as much security place as she can, but do we need to be looking at carrying weapons for personal protection?
Janice say Ju?"
she was taking her FBI firearm,” Sandy said, “but she wasn't going to let Katy
take a gun."
might be the best compromise Cherie," Diana said as she sat down again,
"let the grownups carry, and children not."
"So am I a child or an adult Mama?" Abigail asked.
Diana looked over and smiled, as she said “I know you are a young woman now, Abigail, I trust your judgement…”
“I can think of someone who won’t like this…”
after all this if Juliette thinks I’m going unarmed she has another thing
coming," Doc whispered to herself.
another thing coming?" Becca asked.
"No one," Doc quickly closed her phone. “Someone asking me to spill the beans on my outfit for tonight…”
Bishop Walden School
"So are we
all going to the party on the bus?" Shawnee asked as they went to
collect their books.
so," Sandy said as she looked in her locker, "my Mom and Heather are
going up with Katy's family in their car, but we thought it would be more fun
going with you guys."
could be an interesting party," Liz smiled, "for the first time my
Mom didn't complain that I've asked a boy to a party."
brother was going anyway so Katy always had a date."
about you Sands, are you bringing a boy?"
Sands hoped she hadn't betrayed her own secret in her face, "I'll be on my
own as usual."
"We really do need find you a boyfriend."
“No, you don’t need to,” Sands said as she closed her locker, “really…”
"So what will the food be like Birthday Girl'?" Lynne asked as they filed into their last class of the day.
"Not a clue," Poppy took a seat, "all I know is that my Gran and Aunt Maggie have organized it."
will be English food?" Jess looked pained.
English food isn't that bad," Poppy laughed, "but no if I know my
Gran it will be something terribly fancy and expensive."
such a snob."
"She's trying to get better Jess, but yeah she still finds it hard not to overdo things."
Penny quietly opened the door to see Helen where she had left her that morning, sitting in the lotus position on the floor, her hands palm up on her knees, her eyes closed – but it was obvious to Penny she was not at peace.
“Hey,” she said quietly, “have you been there all day?”
“Yes,” Helen replied quietly without opening her eyes, “I have been attempting to clear my mind, to calm myself, to allow myself to be my mistress’ servant.”
“And has it worked?”
Opening her eyes, Helen smiled – a sad smile as she shook her head. “It has not, I cannot process the fact that Uncle Andre may have been – no, is an agent of Russia, and that he was there when my mother and I escaped – that my father…”
Penny sat on the bed, her hands together as she looked at her lover. “We are needed tonight – Madame is concerned they may try something at Poppy Ashley’s party tonight. Will you be able to do that?”
“I will – but if Uncle Andre appears, keep him away from me. I am not ready for that yet…”
"Are we assigned to a particular bus Mrs Gresham?" one of the sophomores asked Grace as she stood in the school yard with a clip board in hand.
"Not yet,” Grace said as she looked over, “but I would like to know who is traveling on which bus, so one of the teachers will take names as you get on board."
"Thank you Miss."
needs know what time we will get back Miss?" another girl asked.
sometime between midnight and one."
"I will." She turned and dialled a number as Poppy’s friends came out.
"When are we leaving Miss?" Dawn asked.
30 minutes I hope," Grace glanced at her watch.
"Should we change into our costumes before we leave?"
“I would…” She smiled as a number of girls headed into the school…
have put a lot of time and thought into this haven't they?" Ingrid
whispered in Sarah's ear as the teenagers started to climb on the busses.
amazed, back home you'd barely see any attempt to dress up for a party like
"How we are going to help the guys in the Dalek outfits to New London I'm not sure though," Harriet smiled.
“I asked – they’re like old fashioned petticoats so they can scrunch up…”
“Pips how are things up there?”
“I wait with fear and trepidation as Mom handles the catering. How is it going down there Grace?" Pippa asked.
"Better then I expected," Grace switched her phone to the other here, "we will only be about 45 minutes late leaving."
“Right – well, I need to see how Poppy is…”
“Fair enough – I’ll get my costume on when I get there…”