The Ides of August – part 1
Friday 7th August
Xavier International, New York
“So,” Catherine Lu said as she sat in the conference room with Susan and Shirley, “we are agreed we need to deal with this issue urgently.”
“Agreed,” Susan said, “but we need a senior person on the ground in Tokyo to coordinate our efforts with your people. The question is, who?”
"Well, my initial thought was to send Dominique to Tokyo Catherine," Shirley spoke, "but I hear Caroline Jameson is now one of the most famous faces in Japan."
"That's what my contacts have said, and Helen is committed to doing that thing with the ladies. Which, with deep regret, means they cannot help in the time frame we have."
is in Johannesburg working on this trouble from there,” Shirley said as she
looked at her notes, “I'm running short of senior people to send to
is far too inexperienced." Catherine pondered.
"Well there must be someone free..." Shirley racked her brains.
“Have we considered a different approach,” Susan said. “Helen and Caroline are unavailable, but there is one other person who was part of the team in St Petersburg – do you think they would be accepted by your contacts, Catherine?”
“Natalya?” Shirley sat back and thought for a moment. “She is relatively new to the organization, but she has the right skill set. Perhaps she would be a good liaison?”
“It is possible – can we get her over here first to ask her opinion?”
“She has a flight ticket waiting for her on the first plane from Heathrow tomorrow, Madame.”
“Excellent,” Shirley said as she smiled at Susan. “Now, don’t you have to be somewhere else?”
“Indeed – if you will both excuse me, I have to collect Clint and April and go to a birthday party,” Susan said as she stood up and left the room.
“Has it really been a year,” Catherine said as she looked at Shirley.
“Indeed – I was in the suite at the Waldorf when we got the call from Susan. Quite a year, I assure you…”
“She’s asleep,” Carina said as she came down and took the glass of wine from her mother.
“Judith really seemed to enjoy today,” Jo said as she sat with her legs curled up under her.
“She did – she really did not want to take her dress off,” Carina said with a smile. “Still, she had a good day, and she’s asleep now.”
She looked round the room, with Doc sitting by Helen and Caroline.
ladies,” Juliette said, “I want to tell you now what the job is that I've had
Anna here researching for us. We are going to take Boston's State St. Diamond
mean the place where the diamond merchants come and buy from wholesale?"
wonder you've had Helen doing her bangs darling." Diana smiled.
estimate is that at any given time they have over $20 million in uncut stones
in their vaults. Madame and Catherine both think they know better places to
is the actual plan?" Abby asked.
"I'll turn the floor over to Doc and she can tell you."
“Our main problem is two fold,” Anna said as she sat forward, “we have a staffing issue, and we have an access issue. Let me deal with the former first.
“The diamonds are stored in three large vaults, at the rear of the building. The security system they have is rigged in such a way that it requires two people to open each vault, and only one vault can be opened at each time – which means using the staff to open the vault will take far too long. So we need a plan B – Helen?”
“Simply put, Anna’s suggestion is I use a controlled explosive to blow all three vaults at the same time,” Helen said, “giving unfettered access to the vaults. Doing this, however, is almost certain to trigger an alarm somewhere, so an initial objective has to be taking control of their security system, and ensuring the alarm is not raised prematurely.”
“Sounds like it fall in my bulwark,” Jo said, Anna nodding as she said “I have the schematics of their system. I can sit down with you and work through them, as well as how to block any major alarms.
“Problem two is timing – State Street is a main thoroughfare, so we need to use a back door. The exchange backs onto Butler Row, and from there onto Chatham Street. We go in and out of the back, as we normally would – which means we need the head of security and the manager under control. I’ve got Heather to start the work up.
“The idea is we go the weekend of Saturday 15th – the weekend of the Fisherman’s Feast, so the crowds are heading to the docks. We go early morning anyway, just in case. Get in, blow the vault, and get out with our usual style and grace.”
“Sounds easy in principle,” Abby said, “the devil is in the detail.”
“Which is why I’ve assigned roles if this is a go – the question is, is this a go?”
The women looked at each other and all nodded.
“Good – Heather, workups of the main players.”
“You’ll have them late tomorrow or Sunday,” Heather said.
“Jo, security alongside Dom here.”
“We’ll talk later,” Caroline said as she looked at Jo.
“Sandy, Diana – we need routes in and out from the farm.”
“Figures – but we can do that.”
“Abby, Carina – up for a little play acting?”
“Shop floor using special cameras?”
“Got it in one.”
“Suits me – re-convene?”
“Tuesday good for everyone at Diana’s?”
Everyone nodded as Juliette said “Good – now another problem. Cassandra and this film.”
“Jan and I are meeting her tomorrow in Boston,” Heather said. “Hopefully, we can at least delay her thinking.”
“And if not?”
“I’ll consider that tomorrow,” Heather said with a smile.
Saturday 8th August
“Thank you for coming over this morning Susan,” Shirley said as they sat in her den, “but this was something that could not wait.”
“Of course Shirley – Maisha was more than willing to look after April for a short while.”
“Yes, she does love her,” Shirley said with a smile, “but these are important matters we have to deal with. Would you see if the call can be placed please?”
Susan nodded as she dialed a number and waited a few moments.
“Madame X for the Honourable Oyabun Tanaka?
“I thank you – I will transfer you now.”
She handed the handset over to Shirley and sat quietly down.
“Mr. Tanaka,” Shirley said in her deep mellow voice, “thank you for taking my call.”
“As always Madame,” the male voice on the other end said, “it is a pleasure to talk with your esteemed self.”
“As it is to talk with you.”
“The purpose of this call, I take it, is to talk of the people mentioned in your e-mail?”
“It is indeed, as I wrote their activities in both Africa, and here in the United States are of some concern to me.”
“That I find very understandable, their actions at the very least may be described as deplorable.” For a second the heavily accented voice paused, “It might also be fairly said that the ethical standards of these people is not very high, and that other actions of theirs have also in the past caused concerns to my colleagues and myself.”
“That I understand,” Shirley paused, “In the light of our mutual concerns I was ready to enquire if I might have the opportunity to ask for your kindness in aiding one of my senior executives if she was to visit Tokyo in the near future.”
“I think you may take for granted our co-operation with your representative Madame. I would in fact ask that you consider my offer to accept my daughter Tamiko as the person to liaise with your executive?”
“That would be an extreme kindness on your part Mr. Tanaka, and one that I readily welcome.”
“We look forward then to the pleasure of meeting your representative.”
“Thank you again for your kindness Mr. Tanaka and may you and your family gain a million kindnesses from your action.”
“Thank you Madame, I look forward to our next meeting in person…Goodbye.”
“I thank you as well, and look forward to that august moment,” Shirley said before she replaced the handset.
“Alright Susan,” she said eventually, “can you arrange the transfer of one million dollars to the personal account of Mr. Tanaka please?”
“The million kindnesses?” Susan enquired.
“It seems a large price to pay for his co-operation?”
“It is,” Shirley said, “but without his help we have no chance in ourselves in making a move against the Death Dragons.”
“We might have done better also without Tamiko Tanaka looking over our peoples shoulder,” Susan said. “I met her in LA once and I am afraid I didn’t like her.”
“I’ve always had a similar reaction to her as well Susan, but again, her presence is part of the price of operating in their territory.”
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend?”
“Indeed – when does Natalya arrive?”
Susan glanced at the clock. “Her flight arrives at about one – Clint is bringing her straight here.”
“Excellent,” Shirley said as an icon started flashing on her screen. She double clicked on it, and smiled.
“Good morning Madame,” Charlotte Gordon said in the window.
“Well Charlotte, what news to report?” Madame asked on the secure video link.
“I wish I could say it’s good news Madame, but I’m afraid it’s not.”
“That sounds ominous.”
“My women on the ground believe that the troops guarding the operation are Chinese regular army, or at the best recently discharged soldiers. They are highly disciplined, very well armed, and from my observers view very good at their jobs.”
“Did you confirm their anti-aircraft capabilities?”
“We did, both guns and missiles, whoever is coordinating the security really does know their job.”
“Not the best of news for certain then.”
“From a military point of view, the best I think we can hope to do is hit and run operations, disrupting their communications and supply lines. But I do have another thought Madame?”
“Which is Charlotte?”
“These people are going to an awful lot of trouble to keep it secret, may I suggest that we take some journalists in to see and report?”
“Interesting – and do you know of anyone who can assist with that?”
“I’m having dinner with him tonight.”
“Excellent – keep me informed, Charlotte, and enjoy your evening.”
“And you enjoy your day,” Charlotte said as she ended the call.
“So,” Shirley said as she stood up, “coffee? We have some particularly nice pastries today…”
As they went out, Shirley saw John come into the apartment.
“I thought you were meeting Stephen today darling?”
“He cried off – not a good day, and Cassandra is off doing some research for this roll…”
The Kinsale Irish Pub and Restaurant
“What can I get you ladies,” the barman said as they walked up to the counter.
“Two Guinness,” Janice said as she stood by the bar, wearing her grey leather jacket over a green jumper and designer jeans. “And some wings if you have them.”
“Coming up – where will ye both be sitting?”
“Booth at the back over there,” Janice said as the barman sized up her companion. Taller than Janice, her red hair under a beret, she was wearing a denim jacket and shorts over dark leggings, and black ankle boots.
“Who’s your friend?”
“Out of your league,” Janice said as she took the two pints over to the booth, the other girl sitting opposite her.
“At least it’s not dyed green,” Janice said as Cassandra took a sip.
“It’s not bad actually,” Cassandra said as she lowered her dark glasses. “So how do we know she is here?”
“We’ll know when she announces herself,” Janice said as the bowl of wings was brought over, “if she even comes. This could be a wasted journey.”
“Oh I never consider it a waste of time to meet with you, Agent Carter.”
The deep voice took both of them by surprise, as they looked at the tall woman who had joined them. She had copper red hair down to her shoulders, and wore her usual high collared leather jacket, micro skirt, fishnet stockings and ankle boots. A pair of large sunglasses covered her eyes, as she took a seat next to Janice and looked at Cassandra.
“New look for you,” Janice said as she sipped her drink.
“Well, a veil does not sit well with a Boston summer’s day, does it,” she said as she waited until a waitress brought over a Long Island Iced Tea. “So, you asked for a meeting, Agent Carter. How may I be of assistance to you?”
“I won’t insult your intelligence by asking if you have heard of the projected film telling the story of some mutual acquaintances.”
“You are referring to the proposed film of the Pussycat gang? I have heard word of it,” the woman said as she sipped her drink, “but I do not see why it concerns me?”
“You will,” Janice said, “allow me to introduce Cassandra Stone, the actress who has been chosen to play the woman called Miss Panther. Cassandra – the Hidden Hand.”
Cassandra looked as the woman stared at her through her glasses, and then said “and she wishes to meet me because she is an admirer of my work?”
“Partly,” Cassandra said, “but mainly, because I need to learn as much as I can about these ladies – and the word is you have a way of talking to them.”
“Hmm,” the Hand said, and then she stood up, and made to leave. “Good afternoon, Agent Carter…”
“No – wait, it’s not like that at all. I believe to play a part, I need to understand the person I’m playing – know why they do what they do. And when it comes to these women, that’s even more difficult.”
The Hand looked again at Cassandra, and then sat down. “Continue,” she said as she sipped her drink.
“I want to understand what drives a woman to do what these women have done – is that so unusual?”
“Miss Stone,” The Hand said as she sat back, “I would have thought the last thing you would wish to do is try and understand why these women do what they do. I think you are safer reading the reports of their activities.”
“Oh,” Cassandra said as Janice picked up a wing, “so the rumours I hear they played a major part in breaking up that slavery ring last year – how does that fit with their image as the premier bitches?”
“I would not know – to be honest, Miss Stone…”
“Please, call me Cassandra.”
“As I was saying, Miss Stone,” the Hand continued, “these are not women you want to meet. They are ruthless, and they do not take kindly to being approached openly. I am sure Agent Carter has already shared her honest and forthright opinion of them.”
“I have, and she still wants to talk to them.”
“Then I fear you will not succeed, and you should explore other avenues to understand them.”
“So why did you work with them, last summer?”
“We had a common cause, that is all,” the Hand said as she finished her drink.
“Indeed – and that fascinates me as well. Is there no way you can help me get in touch with them.”
The Hand stood up, left the booth and then looked at Cassandra. “I offer only one piece of advice, Miss Stone – stop asking. If you persist, sooner or later their gaze may turn in your direction – and I will mourn you if that happens.”
As she walked away, Janice said “I did try to warn you…”
“Oh I want to talk to her again,” Cassandra said with a smile. “I just need to try different ways…”
“Natalya,” Shirley said as she stood up from the seat and embraced Natalya Kosolov, kissing her on both cheeks, “welcome to my home away from home. We have a room booked for you at the Waldorf, but I wanted to meet with you before you went there.
“It is my pleasure, Madame – and thank you for entrusting me with this mission,” Natalya said as she looked round, “this is a very nice apartment.”
“You might say it was tailor made for me – may I offer you some coffee?”
“Please,” Natalya said as they headed to the kitchen. “So, what can I do for you?”
“What did Penny tell you?”
“That I am to go to Tokyo as your official representative, to liaise with one of the local families there on a matter of great importance.”
“Mostly true,” Shirley said as she started the machine. “The matter is a little more complex than that. Have you heard of the Death Dragons?”
“Ah,” Natalya said as she sat down, “them I have heard of – and while I do not doubt your courage, Madame, they are, as you say, a tough nut to crack.”
“Agreed – but they are collaborating with some Chinese businessmen to strip mine and exploit the natural resources of the country of Mogola, and are also involved in the kidnapping of women to sell into slavery.”
“Hmm,” Natalya said, “then I understand your wish to end this. Who will I be liaising with?”
“The Tokyo Viper? What are my parameters of operation?”
“We will go over them tomorrow, but you fly to Tokyo on Monday to arrive Tuesday.”
“Would Dominique not be more suited to this task?”
“Dominique would be – but Caroline Jameson is one of the best known faces in the country now, and while useful for other things, if we have to take full measures I want her away from that. Helen is on another assignment – so can you do this?”
Natalya took the coffee and nodded. “I am here to serve – if I may have some time to unwind today?”
“Of course – join me for dinner tonight,” Shirley said with a smile.
8 pm Local Time
Browns of Rivonia
Charlotte laughed as Piet refilled her glass, and looked at her across the table. The young redhead was wearing a pale blue dress with short sleeves, and high heels, while Piet was in an open necked shirt, trousers and jacket, his beard for once trimmed and tidy.
“So how long are you in town for this time,” he said as he looked at her.
“Not sure – I need to visit the girls again, and take care of some business for Xavier International.”
“Well, if they pay you enough to eat here, I’m not complaining…”
Charlotte put her glass down, and looked across the table.
“Piet,” she said quietly, “I have some information to impart to you and please do not ask me where this came from.”
“Sounds intriguing Babe,” Piet said with a smile, “and this is from your non spy colleagues?”
“Piet please stop saying I’m a spy, I work in insurance…”
“Sure Babe,” he laughed, “And I’m the bloody Queen of Sheba.”
“Look,” Charlotte said quietly, “a Japanese-Chinese consortium is doing illegal gold mining in Southern Mogola.”
Piet suddenly stopped and looked at her, before saying “you’re joking, right?”
“Nope. They have soldiers and sophisticated arms to protect what they are doing. They’ve been enslaving locals, and shipping girl slaves to the US.”
“Oh God,” Piet said as he put his glass down. “Well alright Miss Non-Spy, why bring this to me?”
“Would you like the chance to go into Mogola and report this?”
“You bloody damn well know I do, but how can you make that happen?”
“Just let me say I know some people who know some people.” Charlotte chuckled. “So are you in?”
“Yeah, I’m always up for a challenge – who else?”
“Pick three more people, and I’ll tell you where and when,” Charlotte said as she looked over the table. “Right now, how about you pour some more wine…”
“Why not,” Piet said as he poured the red liquid.
In his apartment, Piet sat down and rubbed his eyes.
“What the hell have you got yourself into now Rooi,” he said to himself, before he picked up his phone and dialed a contact.
“John, it’s Pieter van der Byl,”
“Hey Piet long time no see Man.”
“John I need an extra special favour.” Piet paused and held his phone away from his mouth while he took a deep breath. “Is Charlotte Gordon one of your people?”
“Your ex girlfriend Charlotte?” the voice on the other end of the line sounded more than faintly amused.
“Yes that Charlotte.”
“Piet, you know I can’t say or deny the status of anyone who works for this agency, but come on Man - little Charlotte?”
“I know, everything says no, but she gets some very interesting stories from somewhere.” Piet paused again, “look this goes no further right, but Charlotte was a major source on the Mazengwe story.”
“Well she always did have good contacts up there…”
“Yes, but now she’s raising a red flag over Mogola, and she never did have contacts there.”
“What red flags Piet,” suddenly the voice on the other end was alert.
”Oh nothing specific, just mildly interesting…Hey I need to go, see you at Loftus soon. Bye man.” Piet hung up, and shook his head.
“Elizabeth!” Colonel John Vosloo of the South African Intelligence Service shouted for his assistant. “Do me a full workup on Charlotte Gordon, South African national, resident in London, works as an IT specialist for Xavier International, I want to know everything there is to know about her please.”
An hour later, John said “come” as the dark haired assistant came in.
“Well?” Colonel Vosloo asked.
“Not an awful lot Sir,” Lieutenant Elizabeth Egwegwe looked at her notes. “Small red-headed woman, degree in mining engineering from Wits, lives alone in London, father was killed in Mazengwe, works for Xavier International in IT…”
“Skip the personal stuff Elizabeth, I’ve known Charlotte for several years, I was a friend of her fathers, what don’t I know about her though?”
“She’s evidently considered a high-flyer by her company, rotates for them between their London, New York, and Los Angeles offices as an IT troubleshooter. Ummm let me see…personal friend of Miss Shirley Xavier the company owner, and most of the senior executives, on the fringes of New York high society via friendships with several celebrities. Involved with charities supporting the children enslaved from Mazengwe…Look to be honest sir, this is all public record…”
“I know, and I knew virtually all that. But then why is a journalist as good as Piet van der Byl asking if she’s one of our agents? And why is he suddenly interested in Mogola because of something she said?”
“Insurance companies keep their ears to the ground…maybe?”
“Xavier International insures art, antiques and similar items for the wealthy, why would they know about a backwater like Mogola?”
“That’s a good question Sir.”
“And we need good answers,” John said quietly. “Elizabeth get me a pair of seats for this weekend’s game at Loftus Versfeld, and send one to Piet van der Byl. I’ll personally pick Piet’s brain…”
“And in the meantime sir?”
“Dig deeper, put both Charlotte and Xavier International under the microscope, let’s see if they might be getting intelligence from somewhere.”
“Very Good Sir.” Elizabeth saluted as she left.
“Charlotte what are you mixed up in?” the Colonel talked to himself.
South of Pretoria in Johannesburg, Charlotte was sitting in her hotel room reviewing the latest reports from Mogola.
“Not good, not good at all,” she said to herself before there was a knock on the door.
Taking her gun from the table, Charlotte looked through the peep hole, and then relaxed as she opened the door, and two dark skinned women slipped in.
“We have plans to hit their next supply convoy, a distance from the main camp. A small move, but it will tell them someone has their eye on them.”
“And the other matter?”
“We await delivery of the explosives, but then we will move to destroy their satellite uplink.”
“Very well – keep me informed. For The Heart and The Strength.”
The two women nodded as they slipped out, and Charlotte opened her laptop.
“A magnificent home,” Natalya Kosolov said as she sat back in the leather armchair, “worthy of your standing, Madame.”
“Thank you,” Shirley said as she poured a vodka and handed it to her, and then a whisky to Dominique. “So, what do you think?”
“I agree entirely – and I will help in whatever way I can. I understand I will need to liaise with Tamiko Tanaka in order to ensure their support?”
“That is correct – what do you know of her,” Dominique asked.
“Enough to know never to turn my back on her,” Natalya said with a smile. “But I will also assume she has heard of me. On which note – why me?”
“I cannot go – as Caroline Jameson I am far too well known in Tokyo, and I do not wish to burn that cover. Others are engaged in other aspects of bringing this affair to an end – and frankly, I cannot think of a better person.”
“Helen will brief you tomorrow, and you fly out tomorrow night. How else can we assist you?”
“No need – tell me what it is you need me to do, and it shall be done.”
The door to the drawing room opened and Maisha came in.
“Forgive me, Aunt Shirley, but there is a call for you in the den.”
“Ah – excuse me a moment,” Shirley said as she stood up, “a matter I have to deal with.”
She walked into her den, closing the door behind her, and then picked up the telephone.
The voice that spoke was cultured, refined, and clear as it said “Good evening Madame.”
“My dear Lady,” Madame X said, “this is an unexpected pleasure.”
“Yes, I am sure it is,” the voice replied, “I understand you are looking into matters in a country in Southern Africa?”
“How did you find out?”
“Please – be aware, as with last year, I am ready to be of support if need be, but I also have interests of a legitimate bent in that area. I hope our paths do not inadvertently cross.”
“As do I – such a relationship is to be cherished, even as we face against each other.”
“Quite – I hope I do not need to use this number again.”
“As do I, my dear Lady.”
As the line went dead, Shirley rubbed her eyes, and then called a number.
“You know who this is – a possible conflict of interest may be about to occur. Be vigilant.”
Sunday 9th August
11 am Local Time
John looked out of the office window, still trying to work out why Piet’s call had got him so worried, when there was a knock on his door.
“Well Elizabeth?” the Colonel asked as his assistant entered his office.
“The reports are still coming in from round the world,” the young officer said as she stood at the desk, “but Xavier International it seems is far more then merely an insurance company.”
“They have interests in shipping and trucking, they act as bonded agents for a number of private clients in the movement of assets from place to place. They have an investment management branch in London, and even list a video production company based in LA amongst their assets.”
“So they have diversified into other areas?”
“Including modeling – they run a child model agency in LA, and have strong links with the Norstar agency in New York.”
“Well those are all perfectly respectable businesses.”
“Indeed Sir,” Elizabeth said, “but their name has cropped up in a few interesting places in recent years. That problem with the Russian mafia in St Petersburg? One of the shell companies had outbid Xavier for a security contract. Also, Miss Xavier herself was recently a house guest in Hong Kong of Catherine Lu…”
“Who, as we do know, has some very interesting connections.” The colonel closed his eyes for a few moments.
“Sir,” Elizabeth said as she consulted her pad, “I also had a word with a few well placed friends and Xavier International has cyber security that is better than state of the art. An acquaintance of mine in the US was in fact moved to say he wished their information was as well guarded.”
“All of which is very interesting but brings us no closer to answering our questions Elizabeth…What is Charlotte Gordon up to? And how presumably does the company she works for have an interest in events in Mogola?”
“Shall I authorise our people in London to organize an op on their headquarters Sir?”
“Well from all this I’d certainly like to know a bit more…” The Colonel looked at the reports on his desk. “Authorise a break in and intelligence gathering operation asap please.”
“I’m waiting for the report from our man in the embassy at Karobu if he’s noticed anything unusual going on in Mogola recently.”
“As soon as you have that Elizabeth let me see it please.”
“Yes Sir,” the young female officer said as she left the room.
John sat at his desk for a moment, before he picked up his phone.
“Hello? I need the destination for a recent arrival in the country – one Charlotte Gordon.”
An hour later, Charlotte was about to leave her room when the telephone rang.
“Uncle John – how did you know I was in the… No, daft question.
“Well, I’m combining business with enjoying a holiday – why?
“No, I’ll be happy to have dinner with you – Wednesday night?
“Fine – see you then. Bye.” Charlotte put the phone down, and said one word.
Monday 10th August
W 68th Street
“Okay – if you had told me last Friday, that today I would be standing in a street in New York, I would have laughed you out of town.”
Sarah Nightingale looked at the row of brownstones, her eyes wide as Harriet Craig stood next to her. Both women were wearing short sleeved dresses, with thin leather belts around their waists, and flat shoes as Grace paid the cab driver.
Harriet put her hand through her graying brown hair and looked round. “Okay, so Friday we talk, Saturday you get tickets, Sunday we arrive and stay at Jeannie Brewster’s place, and today…”
“Today, you get to meet the principal of her school.” She looked at them both and said “are you sure this is what you want?”
“Let’s see if it is feasible first,” Sarah said as they walked up the stairs and knocked on the front door.
The door was opened by a thin dark haired woman, who looked at Grace in her blouse and trousers, and then smiled as she stood to one side.
“Wilhelmina, thanks for agreeing to see us today,” Grace said as they came in, “May I introduce Sarah Nightingale and Harriet Craig, my colleagues from Downwood. Sarah, Harriet, this is Wilhelmina Tennant, the principal of St Angela’s Academy for Young Ladies.”
“A pleasure to meet you both,” Wilhelmina said as she shook their hands. “Please, come through – I have fresh coffee ready for all of us.”
“So how do you find New York in August,” Wilhelmina said as she set the tray down on the coffee table, and looked at her three guests.
“Hot,” Harriet said. “I haven’t felt this sort of heat since the summer of 1976.”
“I can imagine – I grew up in Queen’s so I guess I got used to it,” she said as she sat down and started to pour the coffee.
“It’s an amazing city though – I can see why Jeannie loves it so much,” Sarah said as she accepted the cup.
“Indeed,” Wilhelmina said as she sat back. “Well Grace, ladies, I will admit that I didn’t expect this after you won your case.”
Grace made a little smile. “Well, I did win, and they were forced to reinstate me, but the chairman told my lawyer a home truth.” She sipped from her mug, and then said “The Governors lost the battle, but war was declared Wilhelmina, not only on me, but on my allies as well. I…well we decided that making a dignified retreat was probably the right thing to do.”
“If what you’ve said is right,” Wilhelmina said quietly, “they would be looking for any little excuse to dismiss you from now on.”
“That is how I saw things. So, after the hearing ended, I talked to my friends here, and – well, here we are.”
Miss Tennant nodded, “I completely understand, and appreciate just how a career can be blighted by such meanness and vindictiveness.”
“So,” Grace said, “if your offer of the position of Dean of Students is still open…?
“Then I accept – I don’t think they will mind if I don’t work my notice.”
“They’d probably club together to pay your wages in advance.” Sarah said with a hint of sarcasm.
“Good – if you have time tomorrow, we can meet with my deputy, Kate Hardisty, and discuss terms.”
“I was also hoping,” Grace said as he looked at Sarah and Harriet, “that maybe the school could find positions for my friends as well?”
“Ah,” Wilhelmina said, “That might be more difficult. While we always welcome good teachers, in your case Sarah, there is the small matter of the division by a common language, as Churchill put it.”
“True,” Sarah said, “but I always preferred the teaching of literature to the teaching of language.”
“Hmmm – we could use someone to supervise the literature program, true.”
“Well I think they both offer a little extra that should increase their uniqueness as employees.” Grace smiled. “Didn’t I hear that your girls’ soccer team is pretty pitiful?”
“Indeed it is,” Wilhelmina said quietly, “soccer is certainly not up to the standards we set in other sports. Indeed, we have one outstanding player, a few passable ones, and – well…”
“Well,” Grace said, “Sarah here played for the English national team, and her girls she coached back home won the last three county championships.
“Now did they?” Wilhelmina Tennant raised an eyebrow, “That would mean an awful lot to both my board of trustees, and to our US Immigration people. Hiring so well qualified a teacher then should present no difficulties.”
“Harriet also brings extra to the table.” Grace smiled, “she is a science teacher by vocation, but she relaxes by playing a very fine clarinet. The school jazz band she put together at Downwood has launched several people to careers in music.”
“Oh!” Wilhelmina’s eyes sparkled, “that again is a big thing, we have many musical groups within the school, but a jazz club we lack.”
“So will you take all three of us as a package Wilhelmina?”
“Oh I think I’ll take the chance Grace. Why don’t all three of you come tomorrow – in the meantime, you may find talking to the new chair of the board of trustees a wise and prudent move.”
“Oh,” Grace said, “and who would that be?”
“Diana, Countess de Ros. More coffee, anyone?”
“Madame I think I may have attracted some unwanted attention.” Charlotte looked grim in the video window.
“Oh?” Shirley raised an eyebrow.
“Colonel John Vosloo called and invited me out to dinner Wednesday night.”
“And that is a problem why?”
“Because Colonel Vosloo is Deputy Chief of Operations with the South African Intelligence Service, and while I’ve known him for years and he was a friend of my father, Uncle John is not someone I ever hoped I’d ever be on the radar screen of.”
“Well if he’s known you all these years, might it just be social?”
“If it was social he’d be bringing Aunt Marianne along, and he made it clear that this was just him and I.”
“So your guess is?”
“That Piet went to him to verify what I told him, and Uncle John is far too good at his job not to be interested why Piet is asking questions about Mogola on my say so.”
“That indeed does not sound welcome news.”
“So what should I do Madame?”
“Just see what he says,” Shirley said as she sat back, “your instincts are good, see what he’s trying to find out, and just smile and just let him have enough that you calm his interest.”
“That might not work, as I said he is VERY good at his job.”
“Then,” Shirley said quietly, “we close down your involvement with Mogola and you go back to your routine duties for a while.”
“I do not want any Intelligence Service looking too closely at you and us Charlotte.”
“Alright then,” Charlotte said, “I’ll play it by ear, and smile my best little girl smiles at him.”
“That might just work. Let me know what happens.”
“Of course Madame,” Charlotte said as the call was disconnected. Shirley turned off the video link and pulled a book down from her den’s shelves.
“Let’s see… Colonel John Vosloo, born Salisbury Rhodesia, educated Lord Malvern School, former member of the Selous Scouts, joined the South African Defence Forces when Zimbabwe was created…medals….citations…overseas service…” Shirley paused and thought. No - Colonel Vosloo was not the type of person she wanted snooping.
Returning to her desk, she made another video call.
“Madame,” Penny said as she appeared in her kitchen, “to what do I owe the pleasure of an early call.”
“Possible trouble, Penny – I want you to raise the security level at the London office, and ensure extra security guards are on duty for the next few nights.”
“May I ask why?”
“I will explain in our regular call later, but make the call now Penny.”
“What I’d give for 10 minutes alone in that place…” Sarah sighed as she, Harry, Chet, and Anna sat eating ice cream in a café opposite the Diamond Exchange on Boston’s State Street.
“What you’d give?” Anna laughed, “You all have parents can afford to buy you things from places like that…I’m the poor kid remember?”
“I know, but my parents still frown on me having jewellery, and damn it - I like bright shiny things.” Sarah laughed.
“Don’t we all.” Doc joined in the laughter as she looked carefully at the building, her new camera glasses recording every detail of the building, and the comings and goings.
“What they have in there, though, you’d probably not want Sarah.” Harry looked tenderly at his girlfriend. “They sell raw uncut diamonds, they don’t shine till they are cut and polished, and as they have them they are just extremely hard, dull pebbles and little stones.”
“And how might you know that H?” Chet asked.
“From this…” Sarah laughed some more as she pulled the open guidebook from off of Harry’s lap.
“Hey reading is good they tell me.” Harry joined in the laughter.
“So my friend Kylie tells me,” Anna said with a laugh.
“Hey,” Juliette said as she opened the door, “welcome back Grace.”
“Thanks for the dinner invite,” Grace said as she came in, “You remember Sarah and Harriet from the fashion show?”
“Of course – come in, come in,” Juliette said as they all walked in, and she waved to John.
“Pinch me,” Sarah said, “a chauffeur driven ride out of the city?”
“Well, we wanted you to be here tonight,” Juliette said as they walked in. “You remember Carina of course, and Diana – but may I introduce our friend Sandy Richmond?”
“Pleasure to meet both of you,” Sandy said as they shook hands.
“So where’s Judith tonight?”
“Jo and Abby are looking after her with the other kids,” Sandy said, “so the adults – and Cari – can talk.”
“So what did the Tennant say,” Carina said as she handed them each a drink.
“Well, we’re meeting her and Kate Hardisty at the school tomorrow,” Grace said, “but they suggested we inform the chair of the board of trustees in advance of the proposed hiring of three new staff.”
“Oh? Well then – Diana, hiring three new staff?”
“I have seen their resumes, and the additional skills they bring – I have no problem with that,” Diana said as Heather looked in from the kitchen.
“Dinner in fifteen minutes – you are warned.”
“My nanny and partner Heather – Heather, Sarah Nightingale and Harriet Craig, Grace’s partners in education.”
“Hey – welcome to Massachusetts,” Heather said as she disappeared back into the kitchen.
“If we’re really going to do this, we need a place to stay as well,” Harriet said. “I mean, it will take time to sell up and move on, but I don’t want to spend time in hotels…”
“Don’t sell up then – get an agent, rent your house out. I can give you the names of several excellent ones through my contacts.”
“Possible,” Sarah said, “but over here?”
“Well, this is where I can help,” Sandy said. “We just had a Richmond Foundation property fall vacant, near where some friends of ours live – one of whom works at St Angela’s.”
“Really really,” Sandy said as she reached into a large bag, and took out a set of papers. “Have a look before dinner, tell me what you think.”
“Oh God,” Sarah said as the three of them sat down, “we’re really going to do this, aren’t we?”
“Looks like it,” Harriet said as she looked at the details.
“So they’re willing to come over with you,” Juliette said to Grace.
“They deserve a fresh start – I don’t want them to be dragged down with me. After all, isn’t this all about second chances?”
“The old man must be crazy.” Josias Swart said as he looked at the outside of the Xavier International building, “That damn place is a fortress.”
“He wants it bugged, and for us to copy as much as we can,” Gretchen Mitchell reminded her subordinate, “and don’t I remember something about him taking you out of gaol because you were the best burglar in Cape Town.”
“I was completely innocent of all charges…”
“Ja, at least that’s what his pardon says,” Mike Viljoen chuckled quietly.
“So what’s our best way in?”
“Over the roof from the kirk next door, and down from above.” Josias looked nervous.
“That church looks like a stiff climb.” Gretchen appraised the state of the masonry as they walked round. “Wonderful architecture, but still…”
“You’ve done harder,” the black clad Josias climbed up onto a low wall, pulling the other two up behind him.
“Along here and then up on top of that porch?” Gretchen asked.
“Ja,” Josias nodded, watching as his two fellow agents made it to safety.
“Well okay so far.” Mike whispered.
“The hard part is to come, up that drainpipe.” Josias pointed. “Look I’ll go first, when I’m up you follow me Sarge, then you Mike?”
“Seems like a plan to me,” Gretchen nodded.
The tall man started to make his way up the drainpipe, unaware of the security camera that was watching them…
7.30 pm EST
Maisha picked up the telephone and said “Xavier residence?
“One moment please,” she said as she went into the drawing room, where Shirley was reading a book.
“Aunt Shirley, it’s London, they say it’s urgent.”
“Thank you Maisha,” Shirley said as she took the offered phone. “This is Shirley Xavier.”
“Madame it’s Helen Alderson.”
“Yes Helen,” Shirley said as she turned the page, “what is wrong?”
“Monitors have picked up three people scaling St Bridget’s, from what I can hear from the microphones on the church, they are South Africans.”
“Wonderful,” Shirley said as she leaned back, “Colonel Vosloo’s people.”
“After what was sent over this afternoon I’m guessing so.” The Night Security Chief replied.
“We must really have pricked his interest.”
“I think so Madame.”
“The trick is to scare them off without giving them reason to suspect what we have to keep secret…”
“Agreed. We could put a night watchman on the roof, have him shine a torch?”
“That might scare them away tonight, but they’d be back.”
“But scare them away tonight, would give us time tomorrow to carefully prepare what they do actually see…”
Shirley slowly sat forward. “That is actually a very good thought Helen, okay make them think they had just a bit of bad luck tonight, I’ll call senior staff in, and tomorrow night we will be prepared for them.”
As she ended the call, Shirley said “Maisha, can you get Susan at home and ask her to come over, I need to ring Heather.”
“Alright Aunt Shirley.”
Dialing a number, she waited and then said “Heather it’s Shirley, what time is the first plane out of Boston to New York in the morning?’
Tuesday 11th August
2.30 pm Local Time
As Natalya cleared customs, she emerged into the crowded airport, looking round carefully. She had travelled in a white blouse and cream trouser suit; with her feet now safely back in her brown leather pumps, her Jameson bag over her shoulder as she wheeled her case.
She turned to see a Japanese gentleman next to her, who bowed and said “Miss Tanaka welcomes you to Tokyo, and asks if you will follow me?”
“Of course,” Natalya said as she bowed in return, the man taking her case as they walked to the road outside. A chauffer, immaculately dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and dark tie, opened the rear door of a limousine, and as Natalya got in she saw a dark haired Japanese woman sitting there, dressed in a jacket and skirt.
“On behalf of my father, welcome to Tokyo Natalya,” Tamiko Tanaka said. “Accommodation has been reserved for you at the Tokyo Hilton, and I hope you will do me the honor of joining me for dinner later today.”
“The honour would be mine,” Natalya said as she sat down.
“May I offer you some sake,” Tamiko said as the man placed Natalya’s case in the trunk of the car, and then sat in the front with the chauffer.
“Thank you,” Natalya said as she accepted the cup, while the car set off. She took a sip, and said “perfect.”
“This is your first time in our city, Natalya?”
“It is, and I look forward to a productive and mutually beneficial visit,” Natalya said as they drove into the city.
“Okay I can see why Dominique might not have been appropriate to send here to Tokyo,” Natalya thought to herself as she glanced up at the huge billboards carrying pictures of Caroline Jameson.
“How was your flight Natalya?”
She looked over and said “It was fine, but a trifle long Miss Tanaka.”
“Please call me Tamiko, I have a certain preference for informality.”
“Alright Tamiko it is then.”
“So how much has Madame X and your superiors told you, and what are your instructions Natalya?”
“I’ve been pretty well briefed thank you, and I’m really just here gathering intelligence.” Natalya had been firmly instructed to give the Japanese as little information as possible, and to play her cards very close to her chest.
“Oh I’d assumed that you had been given a degree of independent executive authority?”
“No, I have London and New York both keeping me on a tight leash.”
“Is that so?” Tamiko Tanaka slipped her sunglasses down over her eyes.
“Of course, should the need arise for a quick decision, I am authorized in that respect, but I am here to learn and to liaise with you, so that the best solution for all to our concerns can be found.”
“Of course,” Tamiko said with a smile, “we can get to know each other over dinner later.”
“I look forward very much to that,” Natalya replied. Both Penny and Shirley had warned her about this woman – and in one meeting, she could see why.
9 am Local Time
“Report from London is on your desk Sir.” Elizabeth spoke as the colonel arrived for work. “Sheer bad luck I think that a nightwatchman was on the roof having a smoke, they will make another attempt tonight.”
“Good,” the colonel glanced at the paper. “What news from our man in Mogola?”
“He still hasn’t got a clue what is going on that might be attracting attention sir. Karobu is still the sleepy cesspool of corruption he says it has always been.”
For a few moments the colonel leaned back in his chair. “Are there any big fish swimming in that cesspool Elizabeth?”
“Let me think…the Chinese have an economic stake in the place, but its miniscule compared to what they are doing in other countries…an American oil company has shown a little interest in a couple of test holes offshore…one of the Japanese tire companies has some interest in the rubber plantations near the coast. The big company of course has diamond dredging interests in the very far south of the country.”
“But basically it’s still an underdeveloped country with little in the way of resources to attract outsiders?”
“That’s my analysis sir.”
“So was Mazengwe – and look what happened there,” John said as he sat down. “We are missing something Elizabeth, I can feel it in my bones…”
“Sure it’s not just the cold morning air sir?”
“I may be getting old Elizabeth, but I’m not yet that bad.” John Vosloo smiled. “Look - try getting me any reports on ships and planes coming into Karobu, let’s see if we can see anything unusual there.”
“How far back sir?”
“Shall we say the past year?”
“Alright sir.” Elizabeth saluted and left.
“No country is that damn sleepy.” The colonel muttered to himself.
“Our biggest problem you know will be arrival and departure?” Juliette looked at Doc’s footage on the computer while she fed Judith her breakfast.
“It will be hard at any time of day to be standing out in State St. wearing stocking masks.” Anna commented. “And all staff are let in and out that one door.”
“Hence why you say that for once our target needs be the people who man the service entrance at the rear?”
“It’s the only feasible point of entry in my opinion.” Doc sipped her coffee, “I’ve looked at this, I’ve profiled the staff, Heather has done the same, our only real option is get let in the back by an inside person.”
“So whom? And bribery, or extortion?” Carina asked.
“Maybe both?” Doc smiled. “Heather has found out one of the security guards is in deep with a bookie with ties to the Irish Mob…with Madame’s contacts I’m sure we can apply pressure.”
“Alright.” Juliette nodded, “and the other pressure?”
“I say that Ron Esmond, the chief of security, gets a phone call from his wife that she and their three pretty daughters are being held captive, and that he needs co-operate or else?”
“I like your thinking Anna.” Carina smiled broadly.
“Well, we have to meet tomorrow now anyway – Heather’s been called urgently down to New York. So we meet at eight – and we decide then.”
“Welcome,” Wilhelmina said as Grace, Sarah and Harriett came into the entrance hall, “this is Kate Hardisty, my deputy principal. Kate, may I introduce Grace Brand, Sarah Nightingale and Harriet Craig, soon to be formerly of Downwood School in the UK.”
“Pleasure to meet all three of you,” Kate said, “especially you Grace – your care and concern for Jeannie was appreciated last year.”
“Not that she needed it by all accounts,” Sarah said as she looked at the plaque on the wall. “This is the award for the film you made, correct?”
“That’s right – why don’t I give you the tour of the building, and then we can sit and discuss terms.”
“Are many of the staff around at the moment,” Grace said as they walked into the assembly room.
“A few, mainly those who are taking responsibility for the freshmen class this year. We welcome them a fortnight on Thursday, but the rest of the staff will start coming in over the next week.”
“Any word on when Annie will be starting?”
“Not until Monday – she is still at the Track and Field camp until this Saturday and returns on Sunday.”
“Annie Kelly, one of our math teachers. I believe you visited Juliette Huntingdown last night for dinner?”
The two women nodded as Grace said “Annie is Carina’s partner. She lives in the Village, near the place Sandy told us about last night.”
“We’re going to have to pay a visit to this neighbourhood,” Sarah said as they walked into the library, and she looked along the shelves. “Any problems with access to certain books?”
“No – although technically we are a Catholic college, I do not condone censorship. We strongly believe to face life, you need to be aware of what is out there.”
“Good,” Sarah said with a smile.
“Now, why don’t I show you the Science labs?”
“So,” Kate said as they sat in the teachers’ lounge, “think you can contribute to our family here?”
“I hope so – and I can’t thank you enough for being so open to us coming,” Harriet said as she sipped her coffee.
“Well, you came approved by at least one of our most famous pupils,” Wilhelmina said. “I have already spoken with the trustees, and we welcome you with open arms, provided the green cards can be sorted.”
“I’m seeing someone later today who can help with that,” Grace said with a smile. “Can you give us an idea of the likely syllabi we would have to teach?”
“We suggest you take freshmen and sophomore classes for the first semester,” Kate said as she handed Sarah and Harriett some documents. “I hope these subjects meet with your approval?”
The two women looked through the documents, nodding as they did so.
“Grace, by becoming Dean you join Kate and myself on the management team,” Wilhelmina said, “but, as requested, we have a Spanish class for you taking the Junior year. Your duties as Dean, however, will include a fair amount of training in the first few months.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Grace said with a smile, “but anything I can get on with now?”
“Dangerous thing to ask – you may wish to familiarize yourself with the college application process, to aid our Seniors, and also the local legal requirements.”
“That’s enough to be going on with,” Harriet said with a smile.
“Now, about extra curricular activities…”
“The SAIS? Oh boy – not the sort of people you want calling on you at any time, never mind the middle of the night. What does Charlotte think?”
“She is naturally concerned,” Shirley said as she looked at Heather, “and I would not have called you down if I did not need your assistance, with everything else that is going on.”
“So what’s the game plan?”
“Well,” Susan said, “we’re going to work on the assumption that they want to find out why we are interested in Mogola, and why Charlotte is there on business from us. We’ve prepared a cover story that indicates we’re investigating some insurance issues for a client in the area, and setting up a local office, but we need the archives to properly reflect dates and so on.”
“Not a problem,” Heather said, “I can sort that out for you, but what else have you got in mind?”
“Penny and Lily are pulling together the paper version for our files, but we know they’re going to try and hack the system. The undernet is fairly secure, but can we point them in the right direction remotely?”
“Hmmm – create a local clone of the public server, and route the machines to that clone for the night?”
“Can it be done in…” Shirley looked at the clock, “six hours?”
“We use the daily backup,” Heather said as she stood up. “Susan, I’ll need access to the server here – and get Lily online. I need to tell her what to do at her end.”
“Oh – and Natalya has been in contact to confirm she has met our Tokyo liaison. She was mildly impressed.”
Sarah and Harriet picked up a pen each and signed the letters, then watched as Grace signed hers.
“Good – we now need the green cards sorted, but I invite you to start preparing now. When will you move over here?”
“We return on Thursday to the UK, but provided the apartment is ready we’ll be here for the start of term,” Sarah said.
“I’ll be staying with Juliette in Beverley, so I will be available to come in next week and meet the rest of that staff,” Grace said.
“Excellent – we’ll deal with the rest of the details when you join us permanently. For now, enjoy your stay and the rest of your time here,” Wilhelmina said as they shook hands, before Kate showed them out.
“No going back now,” Harriet said as they looked outside.
“Nope – right, I need to go and see my agent at 3. Why don’t we get something to eat – I hear there is a very good Italian place a couple of streets over…”
“Hello Grace,” Missy said as she walked round, embracing and kissing the blonde, “I hear you are moving here permanently now?”
“Looks that way – did Mother talk to you?”
“She did – we’ll do all we can to make things as smooth as possible for you. She’ll call you later with some contacts to take care of your home in England, and that of your friends as well.”
“I’ll thank her when I see her – but my friends and I are going to need your help here as well,” Grace said as she sat down.
“Oh? How can I be of service?”
“Missy,” Grace said as she leaned forward, “can I beg you to use your renowned contacts within the Immigration Department to not only get the terms of my Green Card changed so I can teach as well as model, but to obtain cards for Harriet and Sarah as well?”
“It’s a little out of my contacts line,” Missy thought, “but from what you described of your conversation with Wilhelmina Tennant, then I can maybe pull a few strings.”
“Thank You.” Grace smiled. “They both went to the wall with me, I feel I owe them this.”
“What about accommodation?”
“Sandy Richmond has offered me a three bedroom near where Caroline Jameson lives down in the village, from her description it’s a very nice apartment.”
“If it’s a Richmond Trust property then I know it is.”
“So to help pay the rent, what can you offer me in the way of model bookings that might fit round my teaching schedule?”
“Oh I think I can find you a few bits.” Missy looked at her diary, then at Grace and smiled. “Are you up to auditioning for New Mode tomorrow?”
“Hmm,” Grace said quietly, “is Pippa Ashley still the senior fashion editor there?”
“You know she hates my guts from way, way, back.”
“I remember the argument.” Missy smiled and said “But how many years has it been now?”
“Probably not enough for her. So what makes you think that she will hire me?”
“Well, there is the fact that the shoot is with Christian Wellmann…”
“Ah I see…as always there is method in your madness Missy,” Grace smiled, “do you think I can still talk Christian into wanting to photograph me?”
“Why not? You never had any trouble in the past, and I spoke with him quietly…”
“Has he forgiven me for walking out on him in Geneva?”
“He says that now he knows the full story he does.”
“Well I’ll go audition for them…What time?”
“Eleven tomorrow morning.”
“Much competition for the job?”
“A little, but irrelevant if Christian wants to hire you.”
“Well, may as well announce my new presence fully – at their offices?”
Missy nodded as she sat back. “So, the Village? Maybe you should drop in on Caroline while you are here…”
“Hello? Anyone home?”
“Oh hello Cassandra,” Juliette said as she came in from the garden, “did your parents get away all right?”
“They did – and dad’s looking forward to your words,” Cassandra Stone said as she came in. “Rick and the kids are getting settled, but I wondered if I could have a word with you as well.”
“Sure – what about?”
“How upset do you think Sandy would be if I asked her to remember what happened when the Pussycat Gang robbed that charity event she went to?”
“Still trying to get some background material?”
“In a way – I haven’t given up hope that Jan can use her contacts again to get some further insight.”
“When do you see her again?”
The Brewster townhouse
“I can’t thank you enough for giving the three of us refuge, Barbara,” Grace said as she collected the dinner plates.
“Hey – you were the backbone of Jeannie’s support in Harlow. This is repaying the favour.”
“We’ll leave you to discuss things,” John said as he helped Barbara to take the dishes through, while the three women went into the front room.
“Well ladies,” Grace said, “honest opinions…what do you think?”
“I couldn’t believe it when Wilhelmina apologised for the age of some of the equipment in the laboratories.” Harriet said as she shook her head, “those are facilities that are out of this world compared to what we have back home.”
“And a library of that quality, my university didn’t have one that good.” Sarah shook her head as well.
“I know you went to a posh girls school yourself Grace,” Harriet said, “but for those of us educated in ordinary comprehensives, that was a culture shock.”
“Well other then the facilities,” Grace said, “what else did you think?”
“I couldn’t believe that salary.” Sarah nodded, “That’s over twice what I make at Downwood.”
“I couldn’t believe that I get such freedom as to what I teach, that I’m not tightly bound by a set curriculum.” Harriet looked at some of the papers she laid out on the coffee table.
“The rent on the apartment is a little steep.” Sarah picked up what Sandy had given them.
“Not by Manhattan standards, that’s a friends and family rate, and split three ways I think we can comfortably afford it.”
“I agree Grace.” Harriet nodded.
“I can supplement it as well, but I really think we can make this work – so long as you don’t mind rooming with me.”
“No problem on my part,” Sarah said, “I get to be the kid in the house…”
“Let’s just ask ourselves what we are giving up back in Harlow?” Grace looked reflective. “Sarah you are giving up a championship team that you almost alone created, a boyfriend…”
“An ex boyfriend Grace, I gave him the boot when I found his porn collection….pervert!”
“I’m a widow Grace, and you’ve lived alone as long as I’ve known you.”
“The good doctor or not,” Grace said, “I’m giving up being a head.”
“But a headmistress with a very limited life expectancy, and I get the impression Wilhelmina is a very collegial leader, and you’ll be part of that team.” Harriet replied.
“And the fact that you’ve known the Head of the Board of Trustees since she was a young woman…that’s a plus too.” Sarah nodded.
“Still it’s very unfamiliar to both of you, I’ve lived here before, but this is a totally new culture for both of you…”
“I think I rather relish a new challenge at this time of my life.” Harriet interrupted.
“And coming back to my football team, I get a chance to build a new team, and from what Carina was telling me, in Ama Jameson I have a real star to build a team round.”
“And the theatre life, the culture, the music…”
“Well if we are all agreed?”
“Wouldn’t have signed the letter of intent if we weren’t ready.”
“She’s right,” Harriet said, “Time to move on. The school will survive without us.”
“Right then – you go back Thursday, and take my letter of resignation with you. I’ll come out the following week for a few days to pack my clothes and things, and we move in that weekend. It also gives us a chance to say goodbye to those we need to say goodbye to.”
“So,” Barbara said as she came in, “decided.”
“Yeah – when are you going to break the bad news to Jeannie?”
“Not yet – for now, let’s celebrate.” She produced a bottle of champagne and four glasses, smiling as she closed the door.
The skylight on the executive floor slid silently open, as the three black clad figures slipped down the ropes and stood still for a moment.
“All right,” Gretchen said as she looked round, the small light in her hand, “top floor, what have we got here?”
Mike looked round. “Executive offices by the look of it – There’s Charlotte’s office, one for a Penelope Harker, Lillian Harmon, and the boss lady herself.”
“Secretarial and other offices down this side,” Josias said, “and a meeting room.”
“All right – Mike, bugs in the main offices, meeting room and secretarial phones. Josias, you’re with me – and keep it quiet. We don’t want them to know we are here.”
“Good evening my friends,” Shirley said as she looked at the camera feed. “Facial recognition?”
“Working on it,” Heather said as Susan talked to Helen Alderson.
“That’s right Helen – keep Security off the top floor for the moment. As soon as any of them head down, consider them fair game.”
“The woman and one of the men have gone into Charlotte’s office,” Shirley said, “the other man is going to the secretary room. I think – yes, he’s going for the phones first.”
“Typical – no imagination,” Heather said with a smile. “We’ve got names… Sergeant Gretchen Mitchell, SAIS, Corporal Mike Viljoen, and Private Josias Swart.”
“Give me that last one again,” Dominique said as she looked at the screen, and then smiled.
“You know of him?”
“Come across him in the past – one of the best, in John Jacobs’ league. Wondered what happened to him when he was caught last time.”
“Well,” Shirley said, “let’s see what they do next.”
Placing the last of the listening devices on the phones, Mike made his way into the large conference room, and selected some hiding places for the tiny listening devices.
“Hmmm – video conferencing facility,” he said quietly. “I’ll let Josias know.”
In Shirley’s office, Josias was searching through the drawers and filing cabinets while Gretchen was checking her diary.
“Busy woman – she’s in New York at the moment, but she has a place in Chelsea as well.”
“Worth a visit?”
“Not unless she becomes of interest,” Gretchen said, “right now our targets are Charlotte Gordon and the company records. Anything?”
“There’s a file here about a possible agreement to insure some diamond shipments from the south of Mogola. I’ll take a copy.”
“Could be of interest. Now, let’s look in Charlotte’s office.”
They made their way back down the corridor and into the IT specialist’s office.
“Nice,” Gretchen said as she looked round, and sat at her terminal. “Let’s see if I can get in.”
“So she’s their tech specialist?”
“According to her record, yes,” Dom said as she looked at it with Heather. “So the moment of truth.”
Heather watched her monitor as a connection was made to the cloned system she had created earlier that day.
“Here we go – personnel files, appointments, diaries – and she’s into the copy of Charlotte’s e-mail account. Hopefully the fake entries we created will satisfy them for a while.”
“Helen, you still getting all this on film?”
“Copy that Dom – all nicely recorded and backed up.”
“Excellent – so what are they doing?”
“Well, she has spent quite a bit of time in South Africa over the last year, according to her diary.”
“Unsurprising,” Gretchen said, “the boss told me she is a patron of that charity that re-located those girls from Mazengwe. Full marks to her for that.”
“Probably what got her in Xavier’s high books,” Josias said as he photographed some files from her filing cabinet.
“What have you got there?”
“Proposals for a new branch office in Joburg – which explains why she is there now. But why the interest in Mogola?”
“Well, here’s one reason,” Gretchen said, “look.”
“She’s found it?”
“She’s found it,” Heather said, “now to see if she takes the bait.”
“And the other matter we discussed?”
“Working on that as well,” Heather said as she typed on her keyboard.
“So they want to expand their shipping operations to diamonds from the country? Why send her?”
“She’s an expert in diamonds, and in the area,” Gretchen said quietly, “I read her file. I think Miss Xavier learned of that, and uses that knowledge to advise her.”
“Well, can we get back-ups of all this?”
“What do you think I’ve been doing,” Gretchen said as she took a USB stick from the terminal.
“Can you access their videoconferencing software,” Mike said as he came in.
“I uploaded a patch while downloading the info. Devices?”
“In the relevant places. Find something?”
“A few things. We’re done here – let’s get out.”
The three turned off the equipment and made their way back to the ropes, pulling themselves up before the ropes disappeared.
“Well, the first part went well,” Dom said as she looked at Shirley.
“Helen, ensure only legitimate calls go through the executive office for the meantime – we’ll use the secure net for all other communications.”
“Understood Madame. Any other instructions?”
“Make sure the monitoring unit on the Chelsea house maintains twenty-four hour cover, and if necessary have an extraction team ready.”
“Understood – I will update you tomorrow, and thank your tech specialist for me.”
“Consider it done,” Shirley said as she ended the call. “Heather?”
The blonde smiled as she handed Dom and Shirley headsets.
“Lieutenant,” they heard Gretchen say, “We got in. You can start monitoring now, and we have some Intel we will send in due course.”
“Good work Sergeant,” a female voice said, “I’ll see you all later.”
“Honestly, who do they think they are dealing with here,” Heather said with a smile.
Rick looked in on the children, smiling as he saw them sleeping peacefully. This had been a great idea of his wife’s, to hire a house up here for the month while she was doing the background work, and he was polishing the script.
This project – he knew Goldstein only did quality work, but he had read the reports as well, and this bunch of women were absolute psychos – from what he had read, at least one of them was genuinely insane. Yet, the double robbery in New York last year was rumoured to be linked to the slavery scandal – had they played a role in shutting that down?
Walking out onto the balcony, he looked out at the dark water lapping on the shores. “Such a peaceful place,” he said to himself before he walked back in – and stopped dead in his tracks.
She was impeccably dressed, in a tailored blue jacket and tight knee length skirt, dark hose and four-inch stiletto heels. A blue and gold scarf was tied round her neck like a cravat, and he could see a gold pin on her lapel in the shape of a cat, curled up as it seemed to look at Rick.
“Don’t make a sound, you mother fucking puissant,” she growled as she caressed the sawnoff shotgun in her leather gloved hands, her short black hair pressed down by the dark stocking the covered her head.
“Oh shit – the kids…”
“My friends are making sure they behave themselves,” the masked woman purred as she walked forward, “but you – you’re mine. Your wife has been asking some very awkward questions about me – so I felt you both needed to be reminded that asking after Miss Panther and the Pussycat Gang is not conducive to your fucking health.”
“Cassandra – where is she?”
“Enjoying the company of Miss Puma and Miss Cheetah,” the masked woman said as she walked over, stroking Rick’s chin before she slapped it hard. “I’m sure the fucking whore will enjoy learning first hand what we can do – as will you, ass kisser.”
From somewhere else in the house, he could dimly hear Cassandra talking with two other women, and he could hear from the tone of her voice she was fearful as well.
Rick started panting, as the masked woman slowly looked him up and down. “Now, fuckwad, get on your knees and put your hands behind your back.”
“If you hurt one hair on her…”
Rick gasped as he was hit in the stomach with the gun, and dropped to his knees, while the masked woman opened a bag and took out several lengths of brown rope. Walking behind him, she reached round and placed her hand between his legs, squeezing hard as she said “hands behind your back, or I cut them off and use them to gag you.”
“All… All right,” he gasped as he slowly moved his hands behind his back, panting, trying to remain calm as he felt the rope digging into the flesh around his wrists, forcing them together as he felt the cords going around and between his arms.
“What… What are you going to do to us,” Rick said as he felt the masked woman pull the rope between his arms.
“None of your fucking business, shitbag,” the woman said, as he felt his arms been pulled together, the rope around his elbows almost making them touch – and then she wrapped it around his chest, pinning his arms to his back as it went around his stomach and his upper arms. At the same time, he clearly heard Cassie pleading “Please, does it have to be so tight…? No, no, please I’ll be good, don’t…”
He had never had this happen to him before, but the last thing he wanted to do was upset the kids, so he stayed calm, breathing heavily as the ropes tightened still more.
“Hmmm – you’re a strong little fuckwad, aren’t you,” he heard her say as the leather gloved hands reached around and caressed his chest, before pulling his shirt open, the buttons flying off as she pressed his body against hers, her chest forced against his back as she moved to and fro.
“What are you doing,” he gasped, only for her hand to reach down and grip his sac again.
“Did I say you could talk, pisser,” she growled as her hand massaged him, and then squeezed in a sudden grip as Cassie gave out a muffled moan in the other room.
“NNOOOOOO please,” he moaned, and then felt his head pulled back as she pressed the nylon covered lips against his.
“Open that clit sucking mouth of yours,” she said, Rick nodding as he did so, and then felt the taste of a dirty pair of panties as they were pushed into his mouth.
“Fresh from your fuck bitch,” the woman said before she produced a roll of duct tape, and wound it tightly round his head, sealing the silk into his mouth as he started to whimper.
“OH you little fucker – this is turning you on, isn’t it, fuckface,” the woman said, Rick nodding, unable to deny the way his cock was starting to throb. He was then pulled over onto his back, looking up as the woman stood astride him and squatted down.
“Let’s see just how much of a fuck machine you can be,” she said as she stroked down the inside of his legs with the gun, and then ran the cold metal up between his legs, before reaching down and unfastening his pants.
He was unable to stop her as she used the end of the gun to pull the pants down his legs, and then quivered as she slid the gun barrel into his boxer shorts, using it to pull them down as well. His wife’s voice has also become more muted, but she could hear the muffled pleas and gasps as well.
“Hmmm,” she said as she pushed his legs apart with the gun, and then knelt down, her leather gloved hand stroking his member, “this really is getting you fucking hard, isn’t you dirty little fucker?”
Rick nodded slowly as he saw her reach for the bag, and take out two more lengths of rope. Bending his legs, she tied his ankles to his thighs, and then slowly, sensually, started to stroke his cock, feeling the throb in her hand as she said “you want to fuck me, don’t you asswipe? I’m more of a woman then that sex bitch you call a wife will ever be, aren’t I?”
“Pllssstppp,” Rick moaned as she stood up.
With Rick safely trussed the bitch held her gun to his head. “Now where does fucking Miss Hollywood keep her jewellery?”
“Arrrrthhaaa” the terrified Rick nodded towards the open safe.
“Well isn’t that just fortunate for you that I don’t have to force you to open it mother fucker?” the thief started emptying the contents of boxes into a holdall. “Mmmm cash is always acceptable as well,” she said as she looked at a wad of notes before stuffing them in the bag as well.
“Now is there
anything more deserving of my attention?” the robber yanked Rick’s head back by
his hair and put the cold steel of her gun against his temple.
“Nnnnaaa!” he shook his head desperately.
“Well isn’t that lucky for you little man, “ she laughed evilly as she stroked his face with the gun barrel.
He heard her screams and called out “Shsmwffufkngswwwww”
“Watch your mouth, shithead,” the Pussycat said as she traced the gun up his chest, and place it against his throat, “or I make a new one. Got it? Now shut the hell up and see what a real fucking bitch can do for you.”
She continued to caress his cock, purring as she felt him getting harder and larger, the throbbing rising as she reached under her skirt and started to play with herself.
“Hmmgdddwhtrudngg,” Rick moaned as he closed his eyes, feeling how much the throbbing was beginning to build in pressure, knowing what was likely to happen, as she suddenly pulled her skirt up and moved across him.
“I’m so fucking going to enjoy fucking you, while my friends play with the cow next door,” she breathed as she slipped herself onto him, and gripped him, moving to and fro with him powerless to do anything other than move with her, feeling the pressure increase as she tightened her grip on him, pushing his legs out to the side as she thrust herself down on him.
He could hear Cassandra scream in the other room, even if it was muffled and muted, and he knew as this woman pumped herself up and down on him he would be screaming soon as well. She was making short gasps as well, and even through the nylon he could see her eyes glaze over.
“HswtjsssduknNNNNNNNNNN” he finally said as he came, his seed flowing into her as she opened her mouth and moaned, her body shaking as she came to a climax with him, and then looked down at him gasping, her eyes ablaze with fire.
As she came off, she reached up and pulled the stocking mask off, removing the black wig at the same time as she looked at him.
“Bloody hell,” Cassie said as she looked at her husband, “that was… Was…”
“Hmnkkw,” he said as he looked at her, and then at the ropes.
“Oh sorry,” she said as she stroked him, “let me sort that out…”
Standing up, she went and fetched a pair of scissors, cutting the band of silver tape away before easing the silk panties from his mouth.
“Shit,” Rick said as he coughed, “you really used a dirty pair of yours.”
“I was in character – it had to be right,” she said as she sat him up.
“So any insights Darling?” Rick asked as she removed his bonds.
“Oh it’s definitely a thrill,” Cassandra said as she removed her jacket, “it’s like you hold someone’s life in your hand and you can indulge in any fantasy that you’ve ever had.”
Standing up, Rick took the robe Cassie offered him, and said “How much of that was acting and how much was genuine?”
“It was all acting at first, but well then something inside took over…”
“I could tell.” Rick laughed.
“Even today, we women are taught that we are the gentler, nurturing sex, but well those feelings are neither, gentle or maternal. They are pure raw power, and I suspect you add theft and murder into the mix then the cocktail once sampled is irresistible.”
“So can I expect regular visits from the Pussycats?”
“Well maybe not regular,” Cassandra kissed her husband, “but to add spice to our life, yes I think I can promise you more.”
“Mmmmm that might be interesting,” Rick kissed her back.
“I really do now have a question I need answering by them.”
“And what is that?”
“Was crime originally meant to be a one off thing? And were they seduced by the thrills? And that’s why they keep doing it?”
“One tiny problem with that,” Rick said, “from what you told me of the trip to Boston, Jan’s contact is not up for playing ball.”
“Oh I’m going to try again,” she said with a smile, “now, fancy sharing a shower?”
Wednesday 12th August
10 am Local Time
Natalya looked out from her suite at the Hilton Tokyo, watching the morning hubbub in the city.
“Truly an amazing place,” she said to herself as she sipped her water, and then returned to the table where she was reviewing the briefing paper she had been sent from London. Wearing a short sleeved blouse with a wide black leather belt and leggings, she hoped she looked professional and casual at the same time.
“The South Africans are getting interested? This just gets better and better,” she said to herself as she read the document. The telephone ringing caught her attention, and as she answered she said “I am expecting them – ask them to come up please, and have coffee for three delivered.”
She closed down her laptop, and stood up, watching out of the window until there was a knock on the door. She opened it to welcome two women. One was the same height as her, wearing a short sleeved blue blouse and a knee length grey skirt, hose and heels, her dark hair held back from her face by a clasp. The other was shorter, with a blonde fringe, and wore a green smock over grey leggings and trainers.
“Hi I’m Jill Hudspeth,” the taller woman said, “I’m with the British Embassy…”
“At least officially she is.” The smaller woman broke in, “I’m Niki Abata, and I run Xavier International’s little branch office here in Tokyo.”
“Madame told me you’d be dropping in.” Natalya smiled as there was another knock on the door. She went and allowed the waitress to bring the drinks in, smiling as she signed the chitty and bowed before showing the waitress back out.
“Now, where were we,” she said as she poured the coffees.
“We both got the briefing documents, what can we do to help?” Jill asked as they sat around the coffee table.
“Well,” Natalya said, “you can fill me in with some up to the moment intelligence on the Death Dragons.”
“Hitaki Yoshimi is back from his little visit to Macao.” Niki answered. “Our contacts there mentioned he met covertly with an Assistant Deputy Minister from the Ministry of Foreign Trade called Xia Yang.”
Natalya frowned. “An Assistant Deputy doesn’t sound very senior?”
“We think he’s merely a go between for someone higher up in the ministry.” Jill answered. “I’m looking into the current People’s Committee structures, trying to trace likely suspects.”
Niki looked at her tablet. “The Death Dragons have their fingers in several pies, gambling, extortion, prostitution, the drug trade…”
“Just to name a few.” Natalya nodded.
“Our estimates have them knee deep in cash, but because of the hostility of older, better established Yakuza’s, with very few opportunities here in Japan to turn it into clean money.”
“As Niki says, we think they are financing the Chinese as a way of both turning dirty money into usable income, but also to curry favour in what they think might be a market ready for their type of operation.” Jill checked a small notebook she carried.
“I’ve seen similar groups at work in Russia.” Natalya nodded. “How many soldiers can the Death Dragons put in the field?”
“Maybe 250, plus say 25 more senior people who actually run and administer the foot soldiers activities.”
“Do they have any idea who we really are Niki?”
“I’m not sure…”
“That I do not like.” Natalya shook her head, “I am HOPING we have at least a certain cloak of anonymity to hide under.”
“I have a contact who might be able to tell me if they’ve heard of Madame X.” Jill spoke.
“Ask, but try and make sure no suspicion is aroused please.”
“Got it,” the British woman nodded. “So what do you think?”
“I think we should see Yoshimi-san for ourselves – do we know where he likes to unwind at the end of the day?”
“I will arrange a booking,” Niki said. “And what of Miss Tanaka?”
“I am meeting her this afternoon. I’ll tell her what we know – see if that particular old family can pinpoint the local field leaders. We meet in the hotel lobby at seven?”
“I’ll make the necessary arrangements.”
9 am Local Time
“The surveillance seems to be working now, sir,” Elizabeth said as she stood in front of Colonel Vosloo’s desk.
“No – just usual office chatter. The files the team sent indicate that Miss Xavier is aware of Charlotte’s specialist knowledge, and makes use of it in dealings in this area.”
“Smart woman, Miss Shirley Xavier,” John said. “Charlotte grew up round the mines in this neck of the woods – and she is a lot tougher than she looks.”
“So she’s here on legitimate business – why her involvement in the re-location of those girls?”
“Carrying on her father’s work – he fought to save many innocents before he was killed. This fund that was set up pays the bills – all accounted for. Xavier International were a major contributor.”
There was a knock on the door as an adjutant came in, and handed a sheet of paper to Elizabeth.
“Interesting,” John said as he looked at her.
“Could be – there have been a lot of heavy parts shipments to one of the Chinese concerns in the south.”
“Oh – what does the manifest say?”
“Farming supplies and labour. The other interesting thing is that the transports are large – Hercules, things like that – and they always arrive and leave in the early hours.”
Elizabeth handed over the files and watched as John glanced down them.
“Fascinating – keep me updated on any information you hear. I’ll be nice and civil with little Charlotte tonight.”
Elizabeth saluted, turned and left the room, as John sat back.
“Call on line two.”
John nodded as he picked up the handset.
“Good morning – how can I be of assistance to you today?
“I see – and you are certain of this?
“Very well – thank you your Ladyship.”
8 pm Local Time
“Interesting place,” Natalya said as she entered the restaurant with Niki and Jill, “I quite like it.”
“Well, if you wish to see the underbelly of Tokyo new style, this is the place,” Niki said as she sipped her drink.
“That’s Yoshimi.” Jill whispered as she and Natalya sat at a table in one of the alcoves.
“I see his taste runs to Caucasian women.” Natalya looked at the very decorative blonde on one of his arms, and the stunning redhead on the other.
“No,” Jill whispered, “his taste runs to pretty Caucasian boys, who dress to look like beautiful women.”
“Do they indeed?” Natalya looked closely at the two boy/girls in the tight evening gowns. “Do his cohorts know?”
“No, very well kept secret, one of his exes threatened to go public I hear, he was found floating face down in Yokohama harbour, and he’d been castrated.”
“So how do you know Jill?”
“Via a colleague at the embassy, he has shall we say similar tastes, he let it slip one night.”
“That might be our in Jill.”
“We are an organization of women Natalya, not one of transvestites…”
“I know, but I’m thinking under the circumstances Madame might just know someone who we can use, and put close to Yoshimi.” Looking at the menu, she grimaced and then said “help me – what is good to eat here?”
“Really?” Shirley allowed herself a little chuckle as she looked at Natalya on the screen.
“That’s their boss’ weakness Madame, and one I think we can exploit. Do you know of anyone we can put under cover?” Natalya asked.
“Well, I know a couple of very famous female impersonators, but both are celebrities…”
“Well from what I saw tonight we need someone absolutely stunning.”
“I do get that Natalya,” Shirley said as she leaned forward, her fingers under her chin.
“And I need them here in Tokyo like yesterday.”
“I’ll ring Madeline, if such a creature is to be found then Los Angeles is probably the best place to look. If we’re lucky, you’ll have your help Thursday your time.”
“You are going to be popular,” Natalya giggled, “just back from her honeymoon and you throw this problem at her.”
“I know, but as you say time is of the essence, and she certainly is best placed to help.”
“Good – Tanaka is pleased we are making progress, and is very interested in what we find.”
“I am sure they are – and if this lever works, that is worth the cost. Good work, Natalya – we will talk tomorrow.”
“Good night, Madame,” Natalya said as she ended the call. Nodding, Shirley looked at the clock.
“She is really going to hate me,” she said with a smile.
8 am PT
Xavier International, Los Angeles
“Welcome back Ms. Moore – how was the honeymoon?”
“Over too soon, Barbie,” she said as she walked past, and into the inner enclave, smiling as she walked to the lift and went to the top floor.
“Hey Maddie,” a dark haired woman said as she stepped out of the lift, “welcome back.”
“Thanks Rhenia – how was the office while I was away?”
“No problems – Tracey is back next Monday with the girls. I hear they are enjoying their vacation.”
“Good – ready to get started?”
“Not yet – New York have called. You need to call the big boss – secure network.”
“Really? Any idea why?”
“Nope – but she’s expecting your call.”
“What a great way to start the day,” Maddie said as she went into her office, slipping off her leather jacket before she sat at her desk, and opened her laptop. Putting the key fob to her eye, she waited for the background to change before she opened a video window.
“Good morning Maddie,” Shirley said as she appeared on the screen, “ready to go to work?”
“I am actually,” Maddie said, “but I was told you wanted to see me first.”
“Yes,” Shirley said with a smile, “I’ll brief you on everything more formally later, but I need you to do something for me first.”
“Oh – what?”
As Rhenia came in, she stopped as she saw her boss staring at the screen, her eyes wide open.
need me to find WHAT?" Maddie half screamed.
said find me a stunning transvestite, who is bent in more ways than one
here in the land of fruits and honey's that might be a tall order
your best,” Shirley said, “but Natalya really needs someone she can offer up to
Yoshimi, and put inside his organization."
can promise is I'll do my best." Maddie shook her head as she ended the
catch any of that that Rhenia?"
Madeline's temporary number two answered. "Actually, I might know
know my brother Lou?"
prefers being my sister Louise I think." Rhenia giggled. "A couple of
times I've caught him trying on my bras."
he's only 16..."
he's reliable, trustworthy, and I think we give him a full makeover, will more
then satisfy the Japanese taste."
it he is gay?"
“Right,” Maddie said as she looked at her watch, “Call him, tell him to meet us on Rodeo Drive at noon, and come prepared. Meantime – give me the Janet and John version of current activities.”
“We’re off to the beach,” Rick called out as he went out of the house with the children.
“Have fun,” Cassandra called out as she started her laptop, and opened a link in an e-mail,
“Morning Brian,” she said as the face of Brian Goldstein appeared on the screen, “how’s Hollywood today?”
“Hot as ever,” the producer said with a smile. “How’s the holiday home?”
“Very good thanks – the kids get on well with some kids of friends of Juliette’s.”
“Sorry I’m late – I was up editing all night,” a grey haired man said as he appeared on a second window.
“Glad you could make it Mike,” Brian said as he looked at Mike Babbage, the director.
“Important stuff here folks – lot to get sorted out.”
“Well how goes the research?” Brian Goldstein asked from his Hollywood office.
“Brian,” Cassandra said, “the script is going to need a lot of tweaking, from all I’m discovering we aren’t even remotely close to exploring the psychology of these women.”
“How so Cassie?” the director asked.
“This is as much about pure power as anything else Mike, we have them doing it out of greed, I think they are doing it simply because of the thrills and highs it gives them, yes they want the money, but it’s the events round the robbery, the sadism, the killing, that’s what drives them on.”
“Sounds as if you’re getting under their skin.”
“Getting there Mike – but it’s difficult. Janice Carter at the FBI has been an amazing help, but I would still love to talk to one of them face to face.”
“Cassie, are you aware of what you just said? You want to meet with the most wanted women in the US?”
“Yeah – if I can. At any rate, the script needs work – Rick has some ideas if you want to see them.”
“Send them over, we’ll have a look,” Brian said. “In the meantime, we’ll leave you to carry on becoming her.”
“That’s what you pay me for – I’m meeting Jan again this afternoon with her partner, so I may learn more then. Talk to you in a day or two.”
Ending the conference, Cassandra sat back and sipped her coffee. She needed to get Jan to let her talk to that woman again – she was the way in, she was sure of that…
“Thank you, we’ll let you know.”
Phillipa Ashley and Christian Wellman watched as the young brunette walked out of the room, both of them shaking their heads. Phillipa was wearing a well cut grey trouser suit with a loose top, while Christian was in a short sleeved shirt and jeans. Both had grey at the edge of their hair, but still retained the looks of twenty years before.
Christian looked at the next form on the pile, and then looked at his editor.
“Well, who is it?”
“Show her in,” Christian said, Phillipa looking at some notes as the tall blonde walked in.
“Hello Phillipa, Hello Christian,” Grace smiled as she was invited into the studio. “I hear you need me to model for you?”
“We are considering you modeling for us Grace.” Phillipa answered curtly.
“Well Pippa darling,” Grace said as she sat down, “my book is a little thin of current material, but what there is I think is good, and I’ve always worked well with Christian in the past.”
“A little too damn well,” the editor muttered under her breath as she glanced at Grace’s portfolio.
“You’ve lost nothing in your time away Grace.” Christian smiled as he looked at a couple of pictures taken by Jack Linklater.
“Why thank you Christian.” Grace smiled, shook her hair, and crossed her long legs.
“And I see you still sell yourself as you always did Grace?”
“Pippa darling,” Grace said with a fixed smile, “it was you taught me everything I know…”
“Look you two, can we drop the hostility please,” Christian stood up, “Pippa you know I’ll be using Grace for this shoot…Grace you know it will mean you working with Pippa…After all these damn years can’t the two of you finally settle this?”
“It was her damn fault.” Phillipa said petulantly.
“Look you were both two young models back then, I was stupid enough to be dating both of you…It was actually my damn fault.”
The two women looked at each other, and then at the photographer.
“He’s got a point you know,” Grace said.
“Well, I can be professional if you can,” Pippa said as she looked at her old ‘friend’.
“Good – that’s settled then. Grace, welcome aboard – Pippa’s assistant will give you the details of the shoot next week.”
“Thank you,” Grace said as she stood up.
“I heard you became a teacher.”
“Still am, Pippa – I just signed up as Dean of Students at St Angela’s Academy.”
“You’ve heard of it of course.”
“I’ll say so,” Pippa said, “Poppy is a freshman there this year.”
“Then we will be seeing more of each other,” Grace said as she walked out, and took the details from the assistant.
“How did your look see go Grace?” Harriet asked as Grace joined her two colleagues in Times Square.
“I got the job, and hopefully settled things with Pippa…hopefully being the operative word.”
“After all these years she can still hold a grudge that she thinks you stole her then boyfriend?” Sarah shook her head.
“I know…ridiculous isn’t it?” Grace looked round. “Now there used to be a decent little lunch place…yes over there girls.” Grace pointed.
As they walked in, they saw three young women sitting in a window booth. One of them looked up and beckoned to the new arrivals.
“Hello Grace.” Janine smiled as they entered, “you know Marina and Alexis don’t you?”
“Yes, of course I do. Girls, these are my friends Harriet and Sarah, ladies meet the backup team that does the real work that makes Juliette Huntingdown look so good.”
“Oh I wish.” Marina rolled her eyes.
“We’ll hold these seats while you get your lunches and we can chat.” Janine smiled again.
Five minutes later the six of them sat at the window bar, watching the world go by them in Times Square.
“This is so amazing.” Sarah shook her head, “that I’m here in Times Square and that this city will soon be my home.”
“It has a way of getting to you.” Marina said as she looked up from her salad.
“Grace was saying you actually are living in Hong Kong Marina?” Harriet asked.
“For another year…yes.”
“That must be exciting as well?” Sarah started her sandwich.
“It is…HK is a wonderful place, but I think I prefer New York.”
“So when do you head back?”
“A week on Wednesday – we’ll be back in November for a week, and then for Christmas for the holidays.”
“Now let me guess Marina,” Harriet said, “a London school then Oxford?”
“And what makes you say that Harriet?” Marina asked in an amused tone.
“Your accent…the tiniest hint of London, but those same vowels I’ve heard out of Grace’s mouth for enough years that I recognise them.”
“Well shall I just say I keep my life a secret.” Marina smiled broadly.
“Oh a lady of mystery?” Sarah smiled. “Why is it all you posh girls hate saying what you really are?”
“Leave the poor girl alone,” Grace said, but Marina was secretly pleased.
West Central Park
“Well, it makes a change to be eating lunch here instead of Murder Row,” Jan said as she cleared the plates away.
“Well, you are meeting with Cassandra again this afternoon,” Juliette said as she sat back, “and you may as well do it from home. She’s talking to both of you today then Adam.”
“That’s right – we’re going to go through the gory details of things like the armoured car raid, and the Greenford incidents.”
“Jo talked to her yesterday,” Janice said as she came back through, “she’s cool. I’ve got coffee brewing.”
“Well, I’m glad I got to fit in some time with you before you got started with her. By the way Jan before we start I’d better give you this?” Juliette passed a check to the FBI agent.
“It’s your quarterly dividend check from Huntingdown’s.”
“Is this legitimate?” Jan whispered.
“Is what legitimate?” Adam looked over her shoulder, “Oh wow!”
“Yes it’s perfectly legit.” Juliette replied with a smile. “Thanks to our deal with Alice and APCO our profits are up steeply, we all got a nice bonus.”
“I’ll say it’s a nice bonus.” Adam whistled. “You know I called her investment some names when she did it, but I now wish I’d had the opportunity to buy into Huntingdown’s as well.”
“And you said at the time our little jaunt to Hong Kong was a glorified shopping trip I seem to remember.” Jan twirled the paper in her fingers.
“Okay I take it back, you were there doing business.”
“Thank you.” Jan looked triumphant as Adam headed to the kitchen.
“And honestly Jan this is just your perfectly legit cut of profits, so I’m afraid it will be taxable.”
“There’s always that down side to honesty.” The FBI woman whispered back.
“Well it was your idea originally triggered this, and it really has been a huge success, so you can say you earned it fair and square.”
“True – and I will declare it,” Jan said as she stood up and put the check in a drawer.
“One other thing,” Juliette whispered, “we’re going to work this weekend, but we’ve left you out of this one, given the current situation. Accept my apologies now.”
“No problem – I understand, and I’m sure there will be other occasions, especially with Jo moving away.”
“There will – but with Cassie shadowing you, it creates too many problems if you disappear for a day, especially with Jeanne on leave.”
“Right – coffee,” Adam said as he brought the pot and mugs through.
“I’ll get that,” Jan said as she went to the apartment door, returning with Cassandra.
“I know I’m early, but my previous meeting got cancelled – can I have some of the coffee?”
“Sure,” Jan said as she went to fetch an extra mug, and Adam poured the coffee.
“I hear your research is going well,” Ju said as she sat back.
“Yeah, but it’s still missing something.”
“Oh – what?”
“I tell you what Ju, if these bitches offered to take me on one of their raids for real I could be awfully tempted.” Cassandra drank her coffee.
“You are the most honest person I know Cassie, yes I can totally see you committing a crime.” Juliette laughed.
“Hey a little secret even my dear husband doesn’t know - before I did Final Kill, I spent 10 days working the streets in LA, hooking my ass off so I could play the prostitute.”
“Cassie!” Juliette was genuinely shocked, “I know you are a method actress, but that’s ridiculous.”
“If it’s what I have to do to give a realistic performance, hey its what I do, and remember I got an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress out of that movie.”
“Even so…really whoring yourself?”
“Why not?” the actress shook her head as though it was no big thing. “You know Juliette for a woman who had a daughter out of wedlock you can be awfully prudish at times?”
“Yes really, you say I’m honest, do you know the last thing I can ever imagine you do is breaking the law…”
“You forget I do have a couple of speeding tickets.”
“Oh big deal Juliette.” Cassandra laughed, “That makes you such an evil woman.”
“Well, I still think it’s a dangerous thing to do – and from what I know of these women, this could be even more so.”
“Well, if that is what it takes…”
“I will pretend I did not hear that,” Jan said as she sat down.
“Well, I’d better get going,” Juliette said as she stood up, “I’m having the girls round tonight for dinner, Cari wants to plan something with Abby before Jo goes off.”
“Have a good trip back,” Jan said as she showed Juliette out.
“Well Jan I think I got some clues…”
Jan sat down, curling her legs under herself as she said “Oh how?”
“I attacked, then raped my husband.”
“Oh God…Poor Rick.” Janice paused to look at the expression in Cassandra’s eyes. “You are serious aren’t you?”
“I am, I made it realistic enough that there was a tape playing of me being attacked in the next door room.”
“Oh dear Goddess…poor Rick for sure.”
“Oh I think he enjoyed it in the end.” Cassandra’s eyes sparkled, just as her fathers did.
“Well other then the sex, what else did you learn?”
“That I still have a lot to learn. Are you sure I can’t meet The Hidden Hand again?”
“Cassie I think she made it pretty damn clear.”
“I know, I know.” Cassandra looked frustrated for a second, “I just need to confirm my theories that the money is only a small part of what these women get out of doing their raids.”
“Is motivation that important to you?”
“Yes! Look Jan did you see my latest film?”
“The one where you played the cop?”
“And what did you think?”
“Well I was frankly disappointed…It lacked something.”
“Exactly…And I will tell you what that something was, it was a convincing performance by me, and for me my problem was that because the LAPD would not let me go out with real cops, I never got a feel for the character…That’s why I want to met a real Pussycat, I want this part down just perfect when we start filming.”
“Oh boy,” Jan said as she ran her fingers through her hair. “Look, I’ll try again, but seriously – it may be a dead end.”
Shirley smiled as she saw Sandra on the screen.
“How are things at home, Sandra,” she said as she turned in her chair.
“Wet – August and all that. I wanted to let you know those two girls, Tracy and Beverly, have reported to the training office. We’ll draft up a schedule and let Lily and Penny have copies. Where will they go?”
“Lily’s taking them to the Farm to be support staff there at first. I think that’s a good starting point for them.”
“So, you said there was a question you wanted to ask me.”
“Yes, there is.” Shirley sat forward and said “so, Josias Swart - was he one of yours Sandra?”
“The name sounds familiar Shirley, let me look…” Sandra looked to one side and then said “oh yes Josias Swart, he’s what used to be called a Cape Coloured, a very, very skillful burglar until he went straight…”
“He didn’t go straight Sandra, South African Intelligence sprang him.”
“Oh did they now?”
“Yes, he’s working black ops for them in London now.”
“And you know that how?”
“We had a visit at head office from him and a couple of his colleagues.”
“Oh my God,” Sandra said, “I thought that place was burglar proof?”
“It is, but we let them in and made sure they only saw what we wanted them to see.”
“Well that makes more sense, but why let them in?”
“Their Deputy Chief of Ops is a friend of Charlotte’s, and inadvertently he’s on our trail, we just want to convince him that we are nothing to worry about.”
“Good luck with that,” Sandra said. “How did you make him?”
“Dom – she was here while we watched their visit.”
“Yeah, they’ve crossed paths in the past – maybe she needs to meet up with him?”
“A fall back position – can you send me his file?”
“You’ll have it within the hour.”
“Many thanks Sandra – talk to you soon.”
“There he is,” Rhenia said as a thin, tall youth sashayed over, wearing a black silk blouse and pants.
“Hello Rhe darling,” Lou said as he joined them, “so what did I do to deserve this summons?”
“Lou, this is my boss Maddie Moore,” Rhenia said, “she has a job for you if you are interested.”
“Actually,” Maddie said, “it is Louise I wish to offer the job to – if she is interested.”
“Oh – so you’ve been talking behind the bike sheds,” Lou said with a raised eyebrow. “All right, what is this job?”
“How would you like to spend a few days in Tokyo, all expenses paid?”
“Sounds divine,” Lou said as he put his finger under his chin, “what’s the catch?”
“We need someone to make friends with a Yakuza overlord, seduce him, get close to him – and then let us do something,” Maddie said.
“A Yakuza overlord? Sounds dangerous my dear.”
“It is,” Rhenia said, “but doing this would be a great favor to the boss.”
“Well, I do like your boss…”
“Actually, Rhenia means my boss.”
“Oh… OH. Well, if it is for Madame, I can but accept the challenge.”
“Good girl,” Maddie said, “First stop, a theatrical makeover for you, and then we go shopping.”
Two hours later, Maddie and Rhenia looked at Louise as she walked round in a white dress.
“Damn he makes a good looking woman,” Rhenia said as Louise looked at them.
“Right – we need a showstopper,” Maddie said as she grabbed a dress, “in here.”
“New wardrobe for her?”
“You have no idea,” Rhenia said as the curtains parted.
“If nothing else works then this will.” Maddie ushered Louise out in a green satin evening gown that hugged every curve of the boys’ new body.
“Wear it with these.” Rhenia passed her brother a pair of long over the elbow black gloves.
“I can help with some flashy but impressive jewellery,” Madeline appraised the gorgeous blonde in front of her. “Just remember I will want it all back please.”
“Of course darling,” Louise said, “so now what?”
“We pay and you pack – we can get a passport sorted at the office. We’ll get you on a flight tomorrow, to arrive Friday in Tokyo.”
8.30 pm Local Time
“Uncle John,” Charlotte said as she walked into the restaurant, wearing a light blue jacket over her white dress, “it’s been a long time. How are you?”
“Far too long,” John Vosloo said as he stood up. He was dressed what for him was casually, in a suit and shirt with no tie. He put his hands on Charlotte’s shoulders and looked closely at her.
“What? Have I got a smudge on my nose or something?”
“Not today, no – it’s just you look so different from the last time I saw you.”
“That was dad’s funeral – I wasn’t exactly at my best then,” Charlotte said as John held the seat for her, and then took his. “I was surprised to get your call though – how did you know I was in the country?”
“I happened to bump into Piet, and he said you were here on business – so as you were obviously busy, I decided to make sure we got together and caught up.”
“And Aunt Marianne?”
“Unavoidably detained,” John said with a smile. “I did have another reason for wanting to see you, however.”
“Oh,” Charlotte said as the waiter took her order, “and what was that?”
“To compliment you on your work over the last year in repatriating those girls from Mazengwe,” John said, “Wine?”
“Thank you,” Charlotte said as John filled her glass. “Well, when the scandal broke, I was in New York doing a re-fit for Miss Xavier’s offices, so I asked if we could help. We contributed to the fund, and I volunteered to help over here to get those girls who could come home do so.”
“I think your father would have been very proud of you doing that,” John said as the food arrived. “Have you been back there?”
“Mazengwe? I went when the first group of girls returned home, but not since. Work keeps me too busy.”
“So what brings you here now?”
“We’re looking to open an office here in South Africa – our firm has a good reputation for the bulk shipment of jewels, and with the big company here we want to have some local presence. I’ve come out to assess our IT needs.”
“Is that all?”
Charlotte put down her knife and fork, and said “Uncle John, what are you not asking?”
“I always liked that about you, direct.” John looked at her and said “Piet may have mentioned you alerted him to something in Mogola.”
“I told him that in confidence,” Charlotte said with a sigh. “I met an old friend of Dad’s last week, and he told me there were rumours of some underhand dealings in the south of Mogola. I tipped Jane Molloy of the New York Times off to the fact Piet was looking into Old Man Kimba when the scandal blew up over there, and now he thinks I’m some sort of secret agent.”
John smiled as he looked at her.
“Anyway, I know he still is interested in the illegal trade in diamonds, so I passed the tip onto him. That’s all there is to it.”
“You know he’s convinced you’re an agent for some organization.”
“Me?” Charlotte laughed and said “come on Uncle John – me?”
John laughed and said “all right – I believe you. I’ll see Piet on Saturday and tell him he’s got nothing to worry about.”
As he looked at his old friend’s daughter, however, there was one question he did not want to ask. Not because he feared the answer, but if he was right, then he might be stopping something that was actually doing some good.
Why did the English Lady C mention to him to ask her about the Sisters of Maisha?
“Grammy,” Judith said as she stood in front of Juliette, arms wide as her grandmother picked her up and sat her on her lap. Carina was sitting with Sandy and Heather, Diana with Jo, Abby and Anna, while Helen sat watching all of them.
“Catherine is ready to assist Madame in disposal,” she said quietly, “the question now is how we do this.”
“Doc, Carina and I talked yesterday,” Juliette said, “and we agreed the plan of attack. What we need to do now is walk through the details. Heather, the key personnel inside the exchange please.”
“The idea here is to get access to the building without attracting attention on State Street,” Heather said, “so to do that, we need to get access by that rear door and to neutralize the security threat. Which means we need to ‘enlist’ the help of these two fine gentlemen.”
“First up,” she said as she put on the table a picture of a young man in his late twenties, “meet Donald O’Shea. He’s worked as a security guard for the depository for three years, married with a young wife Mary. He also has some very heavy gambling debts – debts we are going to buy out. Not a major expense for us – but he is going to discover we did it to get him to work for us.”
“Nice guy,” Jo said as he looked at her, “and cute wife. So some of us visit him?”
“Two of us – to be determined. Next up, and key to the plan – Ron Esmond. He’s forty five years old, married with three girls - twenty, nineteen, eighteen.”
The group looked at the family picture, the fair haired security chief, the red headed wife, and the three girls, two with red and one with fair hair.
“Wife’s name is Soo, and the girls are Wilma, Jade and Carol, in the order.”
“Oh how nice,” Carina said as she looked at them, “such a lovely family…”
“All right, Anna,” Juliette said as she looked at the young girl, “walk us through it.”
“The idea is to hit the exchange on Sunday morning – while the street is at its quietest, but still with minimum disruption. So we gather here Saturday – core team, plus myself and Helen.”
“Helen,” Juliette said, “for this job, we wish you to take over as Miss Civet from Jan. She has to be with Cassandra – on which we need to talk later.”
“Well, we’re about the same size, so that might work,” Helen said.
“Helen, you need to have what you need packed and ready to go. Two of us head off in advance to visit O’Shea, the rest Esmond.”
“Whoever goes to O’Shea,” Juliette said, “needs to make it absolutely crystal clear to him that we, the Pussycat Gang, have bought out his debt, and if he wants to pay it off he has to help us.”
“In front of his wife,” Diana said with an eyebrow raised.
“Well, who says he’ll get home again,” Abby said quietly, “and if he did, who says she’ll take him back once the extent of his debts is laid out before him.”
“Do what is necessary – but he needs to report for the start of his shift at 7 am on the Sunday,” Anna says, “while Mr. Esmond usually arrives for work at six thirty.”
“The rest of us will be making sure he gets to work – and what will happen to his family if he refuses,” Juliette said with a smile.
“So standard operating procedure,” Sandy said with a smile.
“Oh yes – and yes Carina, if she needs some time out…”
Helen shook her head as she looked at them. “So what happens after that?”
“Heather, we’ll need two vehicles – one of them a SUV to seat ten.”
“Gotcha – Sandy and I can go car hunting on Saturday with Abby.”
“Good – there is a clear window of opportunity. Staff have to be there by eight thirty on the Sunday, to do stock taking starting nine. We get in at seven thirty, with the help of O’Shea and Esmond, through the back door.”
“What’s to stop Esmond shopping us?”
“Because we’ll be following him with his loving family in the back of the SUV with us.”
“We use the hour to subdue staff as they come in, disable security, and do whatever we need to do, while Helen sets things up. One of us needs to stand guard at the rear exit as well, make sure nobody sees anything.
“At eight thirty precisely, we blow the three vaults, and empty them as fast as possible, before we head out and away – making sure nobody can follow us. The family gets left behind as well – a parting gift, as it were.
“We’re meeting Tommy tomorrow to collect an order. Helen, your needs?”
“Already arranged, Juliette.”
“I wish Jan could join us – but there’s no way she can with Cassandra shadowing her, is there?”
“Not in an active role no – but hold that thought for now. Any other questions about the plan?”
“Escape routes in and out?”
“From the exchange to the farm, no problem. Here are the home addresses of both targets – I drove them when I was seeing the doc on Monday, and timed them, but we check again before Saturday.”
“What’s the weather forecast for Sunday?”
“Dry, light cloud cover.”
“Good – okay, cover stories?”
“Well, George and Orlanda are bringing up Jennifer for the weekend, and they’ve offered to take care of little Judith here for the weekend – give me the weekend off.”
“Okay – they’ve got the kids as well, so we’re off the hook.”
“Grace is around, but John has offered to do a set of book shots for her Saturday, and he and Shirley are taking her out Saturday night. Doc?”
“Caroline and Ama are having me over for the night with Kylie – Annie gets back Sunday morning, so with luck I’ll be back by then, to meet up with Chet and the gang at the beach Sunday afternoon.”
Juliette stopped talking as she looked at her laptop. Opening the window, she looked and said “Jan – problem?”
“I’m not sure – is everyone there?”
“The team for the weekend is here – why?”
“Cassandra – she’s not going to give up.”
“So I wasn’t persuasive enough,” Heather said as she sat next to Juliette.
“It looks that way – she told me she did a little role play with her husband. It’s just as well I’m not involved this weekend.”
“You may have to be – tangentially.”
“The computer’s on,” Jo said as Juliette closed her eyes.
“Ju, no – not again…”
“I’ll call you tomorrow Jan – why doesn’t Katy come up and join the other kids this weekend? I’m sure it will make George’s weekend…”
“Gotcha – let me know what you decide,” Jan said as she ended the call, and Juliette looked round the room.
“I know that look,” Diana said, “last time you had that look…”
“We have a real issue here,” Heather said, “I tried to dissuade her, but like it or not, this film is going to go ahead.”
“That role play,” Juliette said, “reminded me that when Cassandra takes a role, she likes to immerse herself in it.”
“Look this movie is going to be a hatchet job on us whatever we do.” Abby spoke.
“We are the bad guys, we know it, and the movie will show it.” Carina said as she played with her daughter.
“I’d still like to personally get it stopped.” Diana looked up from what she was reading.
“There is no way that will happen, Brian and the studio have far too much invested in it already.” Juliette tried to explain.
“The best that we can hope for is that Cassandra somehow can bring out the fact that under the murderous criminal is actually a person.” Carina added. “That she somehow makes the role more than one dimensional.”
“It sounds like you’d all like to tell Cassandra who you are in many ways.” Helen looked serious.
“No she can never know.” Juliette shook her head. “But…”
“Look no movie is ever going to put us in a positive light, we knew from that first night we had found evil within ourselves, and that we liked it.” Sandy spoke for the first time. “We made a decision, we made a choice.”
“And what it sounds as if she is trying to do is understand why,” Helen said. “So you have a choice – ignore her, or show her.”
“If we ignore her, she’ll keep on hassling Jan – she’s already asked me to talk to her again.”
“Then we need to show her,” Juliette said, “and hope that it both means she stops, and also makes sure we don’t appear as caricatured psycho bitches in this film – no offence darling.”
“None taken,” Carina said as she looked at her mother.
“So how do we do this – a repeat of Jan?”
“But in a way that gets Jan off the hook – I’ll think about it overnight…”
Thursday 13th August
Dusty Miller, Harlow
“There they are,” Dennis Law said as he saw Harriet and Sarah walk in, “how was New York?”
“Amazing and frightening in different proportions,” Harriet said as she took a seat, and looked at the other teachers who were sitting round.
“Still jet lagged?”
“A bit,” Sarah said, “but it was important we saw you all today. There’s something we have to say to you – and especially you Dennis. I’m afraid we’re going to create a bit of a problem for you.”
“What sort of problem,” Jean Brooks said as Tom Stennit brought the two new arrivals a glass of wine each.
“Well,” Harriet said, “as soon as we got back today, we showered, changed, and then delivered by hand to the chair of the Board of Governors Grace’s letter of resignation as head of Downwood School.”
There was a stunned silence round the table, before Jean said “but – she won?”
“The battle,” Sarah said, “but not the war. The last thing Grace wants is for the school to be ripped apart by an undeclared war between her and the governors, so she’s resigned.
“And so have both of us.”
“Oh no,” Dennis said, “Bad enough Grace felt she had to go, but you as well?”
“We’ve been fingered,” Harriet said, “so better we bow out as well. Don’t worry though – we all have new jobs lined up. Just not around here?”
“Oh – where,” Tom asked.
“New York – in fact, at Jeannie Brewster’s school. We’ll be teaching English Lit and Science – and my goodness, that is going to be different – and Grace is the Dean of Students.”
“Dennis, you’ll hear this afternoon officially, but the three of us are out with immediate effect – the official term is notice paid, I believe. Congratulations – you are acting head, and Grace says she hopes you go for the job on a permanent basis.”
The teachers looked at each other, before Jean Brooks started clapping, the others joining in.
“For what it’s worth,” Dennis said, “I’m sorry it came to this, but I think Grace has done the right thing for herself. Though how I’m going to replace her and you two – when do you head over?”
“Next Saturday – so we’re going to be busy arranging to rent our houses out and packing,” Sarah said. “Grace is coming back next Wednesday to sort her place out – but I think we should give her a proper sendoff next Friday afternoon, if you’re all up for it.”
“Leave it with us,” Dennis said. “The GCSE results come out next Thursday, and I want her there for that. Tell her I want her there, no excuses, to say goodbye to those kids.”
“We’ll tell her,” Harriet said, “now, what’s happened while we’ve been away…”
“Forget that,” Dennis said as he stood up, “I propose a toast – Grace.”
“And in my first act as acting head,” Dennis said, “I propose we name the refurbished library the Grace Brand Library – and screw the governors.”
As they downed their drinks, and Dennis Law went to the bar, Jean said “So what will Grace’s new job entail?”
“Basically she will be in charge of student discipline, counseling, admissions, and welfare.” Harriet answered. “St Angela’s have been doing without a dean for two years and from what I can gather from Wilhelmina and Kate, their job loads have increased significantly in taking up the slack. I think both of them will be happy with Grace taking over those duties.”
“Oh in addition she will be teaching both French and Spanish, and I know she’d eventually like to introduce Italian into the curriculum.” Sarah said as she took her glass of wine from Dennis.
“Well I know Grace has always like interacting with her pupils, and while I know she doesn’t like having to discipline kids, it basically sounds like she wrote the job description for herself.” Dennis nodded as he sat down.
“It will suit her down to the ground - Kate Hardisty as deputy principal is in charge of what gets taught, and staff matters, while Wilhelmina Tennant runs everything overall, and handles finance, budgets, fund raising, relations with parents and alumnae…”
“Basically she’s the CEO, and with the size of St Angela’s endowment she has to be a business manager as much as anything else.” Sarah interrupted Harriet.
“So none of our budgeting problems?”
“God No.” Harriet laughed, “Wilhelmina basically told me just to give her a list of what I need and she will provide it.”
“So Harriet gets to teach some of the chemistry experiments she never was able to do at Downwood.” Sarah emptied her glass; “While I get to choose the texts I want my kids to read, they aren’t chosen for me by some civil servant.”
“Well I envy you both the academic freedom,” Jean said as she shook her head.
“It’s more than that – although right about – now, a certain Jeannie Brewster is about to get the shock of her life.”
The Brewster Brownstone
“Good morning,” Jeannie said as she came into the dining room, and saw Grace sitting there in a grey trouser suit, a cream blouse under the jacket.
“Good morning Jeannie,” Grace said as she drank her coffee, “so what have you got planned for today?”
“Not much,” Jeannie said, “so are you on a shoot today Palomino?”
“Well – no,” Grace said as she stood up, “I have a meeting with my new bosses today.”
“New bosses?” Jeannie poured some cereal into a bowl, and added some milk. “So you’re going to be staying in New York?”
“I’m afraid so, BS,” Grace said with a smile, “and we’re going to be seeing quite a bit of each other.”
“Oh – why?”
“In your Spanish class - Soy tu nuevo maestro, Jeannie.”
The young model looked over at Grace, as she stood up. “You’re looking at the new Dean of Students at St Angela’s – and there will be two new teachers to warn your friends about as well. See you later.”
Jeannie watched, the spoon in her hand as Grace picked up a leather case and walked out.
“Morning Jeannie,” Barbara said as she came in, “want some coffee?”
“Yeah,” Jeannie said quietly, “right after you throw some cold water in my face.”
“Did I just hear Mrs. Brand say she was the dean of students at my school?”
“Hmm? Oh yeah – she is, as well as Miss Nightingale and Mrs. Craig joining the staff. Did I forget to tell you?”
“Oh it’s worth it just for the look on your face,” Barbara said with a laugh.
“Oh god,” Jeannie said as she shook her head, “what are the girls going to say?” She then looked up and said “where is she going to live?”
“I believe they are all going to rent an apartment a few streets down from Annie, Caroline and Ama – do you think Pepsi will like that?”
Jeannie put her spoon down, and wheeled herself out.
“Hey – where are you going?”
“To shower and change – I’m calling the girls round to warn them…”
Tommy the Fish pulled up into the barn, and looked round, smiling to himself as he got out.
“Well, I guess it’s been a while,” he said to himself as he looked round and saw the black Daimler, and then the two women who got out as well. Sharply dressed as ever, wearing black tailored jackets and skirts, black stockings and those four-inch heels.
“Hello Tommy,” Miss Panther said from under her stocking mask, “I trust there were no difficulties with our order.”
“None whatsoever, ladies,” Tommy said, “in the back as always.”
Miss Leopard walked round, smiling as she looked inside and examined the weapons.
“Wonderful as always Tommy,” she said as she came back round, “all markings removed?”
“Of course, ma’am,” Tommy said, “shall I load for you?”
“Please do,” Miss Panther said, watching as Tommy transferred the guns and ammunition to the car.
“Your payment – and a little something for the baby,” Miss Panther said as she handed over a bag to Tommy, “and give our regards to Annie.”
“Sure, ma’am,” Tommy, said, “I leave first?”
“Of course – and thank you Tommy.”
As he drove off, Diana removed her mask.
“So, to the farm.”
“Yes – and we start to prepare for Saturday and Sunday.”
The Brewster Brownstone
“Barbara, isn’t Sandy Richmond’s uncle a priest?”
“Yes Alex is a priest…why?’
“This e-mail I got from Wilhelmina…it seems one of my first duties is to find a new school chaplain.”
“Yes Father Dominic moved to Chicago didn’t he…Hold on Grace are you even Catholic yourself?”
“Nope, if I’m anything I am a nominal Anglican.”
“Definitely talk to Alex then.” Barbara smiled, “even if he doesn’t feel up to taking over the job himself, I’m sure he knows someone who will.”
“One of the few things we didn’t talk about was religion.”
“Well St Angela’s is nominally a Catholic school, but it takes students from every religion.”
“Is it true that you’ll be the new dean Mrs. Brand?” Nikki asked as she and the other girls wandered into the kitchen.
“Fraid so.” Barbara smiled.
“Don’t worry I don’t bite,” Grace said as she looked at them.
“It’s not you I’m worried about,” Jeannie said, “it’s Miss Nightingale. Her lit tests are going to be horrible…”
Friday 14th August
3.30 pm Local Time
“Louise?” Natalya laughed slightly as the leggy blonde with the long red fingernails approached.
“You must be Natalya?” the vision replied with a voice that only had the barest hint of maleness in it.
“Well I’d heard Madeline had taste, but if the rest of your wardrobe is up to this standard I’m sure you’ll have no problem attracting his attention.”
“Oh I know I won’t darling.”
“I have a cab outside…”
“Okay, lead on please,” the blonde signaled the porter with his/her luggage to follow, and then walked slowly after Natalya, wiggling the hips that the padding in the rear end had helped create.
“We’ll talk when we get to the hotel – you need to get to work tonight, we need to have you in place with him ASAP.”
“I am ready and willing darling,” Louise said, “lead me to him.”
6 pm Local Time
“That’s better,” Lou said as he stepped out of the shower, drying his hair and dressed only in a bath robe. “I slept a bit on the plane, but I needed that.”
“My pleasure – have a seat and something other than airline food to eat,” Natalya said as she indicated the platter on the table.
“Okay tell me about him, and my competition please?” Lou sat down on the couch next to Natalya, the only sign of Louise being the long painted fingernails.
“Alright, his name is Hitaki Yoshimi.” Natalya said as she passed Lou a photograph.
“Hmmmm,” Lou said as he looked at the Japanese man, “he’s actually sort of cute…”
“If your idea of cute is a murderous ruthless bastard.” Niki interrupted.
“Isn’t that a bit of the pot calling the kettle black darling?”
Natalya raised an eyebrow as she said “first rule when you deal with my level, darling – don’t make jokes like that. With Dominique, maybe. With me, or Penny, or any of the others – don’t.”
“Just a little joke,” Lou said as he laughed.
“Concentrate please.” Natalya said as she showed Lou the pictures she’d surreptitiously taken in the restaurant. “The blonde goes by the name of Charlene. He’s Dutch, 20 years old…”
“Okay, he’s not bad, but I’m better.”
“The redhead calls himself Victoria. As far as we can trace he’s Canadian, and we think maybe only 14 years old.”
“Yoshimi likes his meat fresh.” Lou studied the picture hard. “This one is really great, I’d never pick him.”
“I certainly couldn’t tell either he was a male.” Natalya replied.
“You wouldn’t have seen that I was either if you hadn’t known in advance.” Lou smiled.
“VERY TRUE!” Natalya laughed.
“So I suspect it’s young Charlene I need to ease on down the road,” Lou said before he ate a celery stick. “Alright, so how do I meet him?”
“Jill also has a friend who likes boygirls. She’s going to arrange for you to go with him to a club which specialises in this kind of thing…”
“Run by a Thai?”
“Yes….how did you?” stuttered Niki.
“Informed guess, they run these kind of clubs in LA as well, it’s - rather their speciality.”
“Well we know Yoshimi will be there tonight, do you…?”
“Natalya darling you get me where he can see me, I’ll do the rest.”
“Then finish eating, and make yourself fabulous – your date arrives at eight.”
7.45 pm Local Time
“Well do I pass inspection?” Louise emerged from her bedroom looking like a blonde goddess in a tight, knee length, cocktail dress, wiggling provocatively on his/her 5-inch stilettos.
“I’ll say you do,” Natalya shook her head, “your breasts look real, how do you…?”
“A pushup bra, and some padding underneath to force my man boobs into looking like this.”
“Well the illusion is amazing.”
“Thank you.” Louise retouched her lipstick. “You know having a sister in the organization, I’ve grown up dreaming of working for Madame. Now I’m getting a chance.”
“You know that we only have women fully inside though?”
“I know, but that’s my payment.” Louise smiled happily, “Madeline has booked appointments for me in Trinidad Colorado…”
“She’s what? I don’t understand.”
“Trinidad is the sex change capital of the USA darling, Maddie is bankrolling my transition for me doing this. Within a few months and with surgery and hormones, I really will be Louise.”
“Well I’m happy for you.” Natalya smiled at the look of pure joy on the face of the young man.
Her mobile started buzzing, as Louise added a chiffon scarf to her outfit.
“Okay,” Natalya answered her phone and spoke, “I’ll send Louise down.”
“Yes, he’s downstairs in the bar with Jill…Look Louise you can still back out, this could turn very nasty and very dangerous.”
“I know.” Lou looked very serious, “but the rewards are worth taking the risks for.”
“As long as you know.”
“Oh I do.” Louise smiled as she picked up her fur jacket and purse and sashayed out the door, blowing a kiss to Natalya as she did so.
“He’s either one of the bravest men I have ever met, or the biggest idiot – probably both,” Natalya said as she looked out over the city.
9 pm Local Time
“Well, this is the place,” Godfrey said as he opened the door of the nightclub, allowing Louise to walk in in front of him, “what do you think?”
“Godfrey, darling, it is magnificent,” Louise said as she looked round, “I cannot thank you enough for showing me this place. I would offer to hug and kiss you, but I understand you are meeting someone here as well?”
“That I am – so why did Jill ask me to bring you here?”
“Oh to see what I could find – her sister and mine are very good friends, and this is a real adventure for me. I hope you don’t feel too disappointed?”
“Not at all,” Godfrey said as a redhead in a tight leather dress walked over, “you can find your own way from here?”
“I can, and thank you a million times again,” Louise said as she kissed Godfrey on the cheek, and waved to his companion as they walked off.
He walked over to the bar, oozing confidence, and noticed Yoshimi sitting in a side booth, Charlene and Victoria either side of him.
“What will it be?”
“Singapore Sling, extra lime,” Louise said, glancing over and noticing Yoshimi was already looking at him.
“There you go,” the bartender said as he placed the cocktail in front of her, Louise smiling as he handed a note over.
Sipping on the drink, Louise sat and looked round, drinking in the atmosphere. She knew Tokyo was a place of great excitement and great danger, but this was so real, so vivid.
“New to the city aren’t you?”
Louise turned to see the blonde who had been sitting with Yoshimi standing next to her, signaling to the barman.
“Is it that obvious,” Louise said with a smile.
“Only to the trained eye – and you are good. You are very very good – almost as good as my friend Victoria back there?”
“Why thank you – I’m Louise.”
“Charlene – so are you here with anyone in particular?”
“No – a friend of a friend brought me here, but he met someone else. Why?”
“Our friend wondered if you would care to join us.”
“Your friend,” Louise said as she turned and looked at Yoshimi.
“Yes – he is a very good friend to those he likes. So, will you join us?”
“Why not – I have nothing to lose,” Louise said as she picked up her purse, pressing the clasp before she walked over with Charlene.
“We have audio, Natalya,” Niki said as the associate nodded, typing as she listened to what was happening.
“Good – ah, Tamiko, welcome. Thank you for joining us here tonight.”
Niki looked at Tamiko Tanaka as she came in, the other associate closing the door to Natalya’s suite before taking up her position.
“Your invite sounded most intriguing,” she said as she removed her coat, revealing her tailored blouse and skirt, “so you are making progress?”
“I believe tonight will be most interesting – Niki is Madame’s field representative here in Tokyo, and these are two of her workers.”
“I am honoured to make your acquaintance, Miss Tanaka,” Niki said as she made a small bow, Tamiko smiling in response.
“So, what are you doing?”
“We have an associate currently in the act of getting herself into a close and personal position with Hitaki Yoshimi,” Natalya said, “and we have a listening device in close proximity to him.”
“And how have you managed that? I know his security is discrete, but very good.”
“Forgive me if I do not reveal our methods quite yet – would you care to listen to the conversation?”
“So what brings you to Tokyo Louise?” Yoshimi asked as he poured some champagne into the glass.
“Well,” Louise said as she accepted the glass, and took a sip, “things got a little complicated with my parents back in LA regarding certain of my habits shall we say, my sister and a friend of hers bought me a ticket to come here and just told me to wait till the heat died down with my folks.”
“And where are you waiting?” Charlene asked in a kind of lazy drawl.
“At the Hilton darling...where else?”
“As you say…where else?” Yoshimi chuckled as Louise watched his eyes rove up and down her body.
“Well when one is used to the finer things in life, or wishes to be accustomed to those things…well I’m sure you understand Mr. Yoshimi.”
“Oh I do. And may I say you look magnificent?”
“Why thank you,” Louise said as she looked at the other girls.
“Your mink is real, those rocks are too, your dress is Rodeo Drive,” Victoria spoke, “they aren’t cheap…”
“Victoria darling,” Louise said, “let me just say I have some very generous gentlemen acquaintances.”
“You girls go dance.” Yoshimi ordered as his telephone rang…”Now!”
“Come with us,” Charlene said as she took Louise’s hand, “when he speaks like that, best to be really far away.”
“Fascinating,” Tamiko said, “from the way they talk, I suspect they are…” She suddenly looked at Natalya, who simply nodded.
“Alright Louise, you are close,” Natalya said to herself, “but not yet safe. He’s probably doing checks on you right now, just pray to the deity that Madame’s people are as their reputation.”
“You make a pretty sizzling woman,” Charlene asked as the three hot looking girls gyrated and moved with each other, turning heads and drawing lustful looks from other patrons.
“I try to look my best,” Louise said as she swiveled her hips, smiling at the attention she was getting.
“I think Taki likes you,” Victoria said.
“Oh so he is Taki to you is he?”
“To you he is Yoshimi-san until he says otherwise – you really do not want to make him angry,” Charlene said as she looked over.
Yoshimi nodded as he put his phone away, and then watched as two young men came over.
“Hey ladies,” one of them said, “want to go to a party?”
“Do yourselves a favour little boy,” Victoria said, “turn your attentions elsewhere?”
“Oh,” the other boy said as he put his hand on Louise’s shoulder, “why should…”
Their feet didn’t touch the ground as they were carried away by two large gentlemen.
“That’s why,” Charlene said as Yoshimi beckoned them over. “I think he’s ready to welcome you properly now…”
11 pm Local Time
“I feel pretty, I feel pretty…”
Louise walked into her hotel room, to find Natalya waiting for her.
“Well Louise?” Natalya asked.
“Oh I think it is safe to say he wants me.”
“Yes,” Natalya said as she took her coat off, “the way his bodyguards dealt with the man paying attention to you, I think it’s a pretty safe assumption.”
“He was saying he wants to take his three beauties out to dinner then dancing tomorrow night, I said he should send a driver to pick me up.”
“I noticed you wouldn’t let him kiss you goodbye?”
“Darling I don’t want to seem too eager or easy, if I was I’m sure he’d smell a rat.” Louise carefully removed her wig, “And by the way you are a genetic woman, I thought you knew all these little tricks naturally?”
“I am too much my father’s daughter,” Natalya chuckled, “I never mastered, or saw the point in playing hard to get.”
“So if you want something…?”
“I just take it Louise.”
“Alright,” she said as she stretched, “I better remove my makeup and get out of this, I need a nice long sleep.”
“You’ve earned it Lou.”
Leaving the room, she returned to her suite where Tamiko and Niki were talking.
“How very useful to learn of his predilections,” Tamiko said. “I will treasure that information for now. I apologise, Natalya – you are indeed a masterful planner.”
“He wishes to see her again tomorrow night – let us meet then.”