The Ides of August – Part 3
3 am PT
Off the coast of Tofino
“Report,” the steamer captain said as he came onto the bridge.
“We’re about one hour from landfall,” the boson said, “we’ve got a man on lookout. The cargo?”
“Quiet – just the way I like it,” he said with a death’s head grin. “Let’s make this a good…”
“Ship approaching from the Starboard,” a lookout called.
The captain looked out of the bridge and saw the small boat approaching at speed.
“They’re hailing us,” the radio operator said as he looked up, “Coast Guard.”
“Dammit – someone go and make sure the cargo stays quiet,” he barked out, two crewmen heading down to the hold as he went to the radio.
“SS Mogola Princess,” a female voice said, “cut all engines and heave to. Prepare for inspection.”
“Can we outrun them?”
“No sir – they’ve almost intercepted us.”
“Very well – cut engines, and let’s hope they don’t ask too many questions.”
“Probably just looking for the usual payoff,” the boson grinned as the boat came to a halt, “radio ahead, inform them we will be delayed.”
“Ay ay,” the radio operator said as he placed the call, then squinted as a bright Krieg light shone into the bridge.
“Attention vessel,” a female voice called out, “heave to and prepare to be boarded.”
The cutter drew up alongside the steamer, as crew hands caught the ropes and the two boats stayed side by side. The captain stepped out as four Customs officers came on board, led by a woman in a captain’s uniform.
“What can I do for you, Madame,” the captain said with a grin.
“We have reason to believe you have drugs on board,” the Customs officer said. She wore the uniform of a Coast Guard officer, as did the four crew that boarded with her.
“I assure you, we have no drugs on board this ship.”
“Then you won’t mind if we check will you. Manifest?”
The captain took the file from the boson and handed it over, the Coast Guard officer looking at it and then handing it to her four crew.
“Full inspection,” she said as they went below decks, the bosun and some of the crew following them.
“Captain, may we talk on your bridge,” the officer said, the captain nodding as they went up, the Krieg light still shining in.
“Does it have to be so bright, my friend?”
“I prefer it that way – where did you depart from?”
“South Africa – direct to here. My men are looking forward to seeing dry land again.”
“I can imagine,” the Coast Guard officer said with a smile. “How many crew?”
“Ten including myself.”
“I see – the remainder in the engine room?”
“Correct – why?”
The sound of shouting came from below decks, and then what sounded like gunshots.
“What was that,” the captain said.
“That would be my crew killing yours,” the Coast Guard officer said as she produced a silenced pistol from her jacket, and shot the radio operator, his head falling forward before she turned her gun on the captain.
“Oh shut up, you little piece of shit,” Madeline said with a smile, “I know exactly what you are carrying by way of cargo, and I’m here to liberate them.”
As they talked, six more crew boarded from the clipper, armed with Mauser's as they swarmed over the ship.
“You are not Coast Guard?”
“Oh no,” Maddie smiled sweetly, “we are not Coast Guard. We do not talk nicely, or take kickbacks, and we take a very dim view of your trade.”
“Yes,” Maddie said without turning round.
“We found them – the guards have been eliminated. Twenty alive, but in a terrible state.”
“Very well – get them on our ship, and prepare our leaving present.”
“Yes Ma’am,” the woman said as she left, and Maddie smiled.
“You have no idea who you are dealing with,” the Captain said as he looked at Maddie.
“Neither have your masters,” Maddie said, “we are the people who ended the reign of tyranny of Old Man Kimba, and freed the children of Mazengwe. We are attacking your masters now, and we will end their plans.”
“And why do you tell me this?”
“Because you will never tell anyone,” Maddie said as she shot the captain between the eyes, watching as he fell to the ground before she left.
She watched as her crew helped the emaciated girls and young women to board the cutter, before her crew followed.
“Charges set, Ma’am.”
“Right – cut the lines and get us a safe distance away.”
As the crew cut the lines, the cutter slowly moved away, the twenty women watching from the deck.
“We want you to see this,” Maddie said to the women, who looked at each other before the boat came to a halt a few hundred yards away.
“For The Heart and The Strength,” Maddie said as she pressed a button, the women watching as the steamer exploded, the flames rising into the night air as they cheered.
“Take them below,” Maddie said, “give them blankets and water, and let’s get to the landing stage so that they can have rest.”
The three women watched as the boat exploded on the screen, the clipper moving away.
“Report,” Shirley said into the microphone.
“Twenty recovered – heading to the staging area, will contact later.”
“Understood, and congratulations.”
Susan looked at Shirley, as she said “Charlotte has been in touch – Piet and the others are in transit back to Pretoria.”
“Good – now, it’s over to Natalya and friends.”
“What state will those girls be in,” Susan said as she sat back.
“Goddess only knows – Maddie packed basic provisions and medical equipment, but…” Shirley then stood up, walked over to her desk and looked in an old fashioned rolodex.
“Susan,” she said as she removed a card, “can you ring this number please?”
“What do I need to say Madame?”
“Tell Dr. Bianchini that the Shirley she once knew in Paris many years ago needs a favour, and that because it is me who is asking that she will understand this is done on a nothing seen, nothing heard, nothing remembered basis.”
“Tell her to drive to Tofino as safely, but quickly as possible. And tell Lucia the broad outline of what she will find.” Madame paused. “I’ll ring Madeline and tell her the doctor will be there in about four hours to help look at the women.”
“Alright Madame,” Susan said as she left the den.
“Any official chatter yet Heather?”
“Yes Madame, Canadian Maritime Safety noted that the ship had vanished from screens, they are sending out a search helicopter to look.”
“Well Madeline has insured they will find nothing.”
“Yes.” Heather nodded. “I wonder what their contacts on the island will say.”
“I’m sure we will find out soon enough,” Shirley said quietly as the doorbell to the apartment rang.
“I’ll check,” Susan called out, returning with two guests.
“Hey Lover,” Sandy came in accompanied by Annie, “we brought in breakfasts.”
“Alexandra you are an angel.” Shirley stretched in her seat.
“Were we successful?” Sandy asked.
“We were – twenty rescued. As to how they are…”
8 am PT
The car pulled up outside the beachside hostel, the driver getting out and looking at the clipper moored at the pier before she walked to the door and knocked three times.
She looked around, waiting as the door was opened and she saw the tall woman standing there, grey tinging the red.
“Lucia,” Maddie said as she embraced the doctor, “thank you for coming out to us. Let me look at you.”
“Madeline,” the dark haired woman said, “It has been far too many years.”
“It has, and I understand it’s Doctor Bianchini now Lucia?”
“It is. I am a surgeon at Victoria General Hospital. And I hear you are a very successful business woman in your own right. Xavier International?”
“Yes – and yes it is Shirley. A lot has changed in the last year or two.”
“A lot has changed since we first met,” Lucia said as she came into the hostel. “Those days in Paris…”
“Well,” Maddie said as they walked down a corridor, “unfortunately, what I’m about to show you might bring back some very unpleasant memories.”
“Shirley’s girl gave me an outline, and there was no need for a warning, I know Shirley operates from good motives.”
“Well the situation we were all held in, what these girls have experienced is even worse.”
Lucia nodded as she said “well then, let me look at them please.”
“All right,” Maddie said as she opened the doors to what was a gymnasium or meeting room. The twenty women from the boat were sitting on roll mats, wrapping the blankets they had been given as they looked out through hollow eyes. They were all ages – some as young as fourteen or fifteen, but all were emaciated, and slowly sipping water as Maddie’s team handed it round.
Lucia stared at them as Maddie said “we think several more died in transit and were simply thrown overboard. These – these are the lucky ones.”
“Madre di Dio! Che tipo di mostro farebbe questo?”
“That’s a really good question Lucia – one Shirley is devoting resources elsewhere to.”
“Alright,” Lucia said, “now let me get to work Madeline. If some of your girls could fetch the bags from my car… Do any of these girls speak?”
“This one speaks some English - she can translate for you, Doctor.”
“I was a schoolteacher.” The woman said slowly as she came forward. “I will do what I can.”
“Good, and now you can help me please.” Lucia smiled. “I want to quickly examine each of these women, and yourself, to see if there are any immediate issues that need addressing. I have antibiotics and rehydration packs with me to give to each of you as well – Maddie, we need some broth or something liquid and nutritious.”
“In hand Lucia – I will leave you to your work. You two – with me.”
4 pm local time
The four got out of the jeep and looked round, before Piet said, “You got a room booked here?”
“I should have – I think we all do,” Jane said as they walked into the lobby of the hotel.
“Miss Molloy – welcome. Your luggage and that of your cameraman has been placed in your rooms,” the receptionist said as she handed two keycards over.
“Join me for dinner tonight – say 8.30?”
“Sounds good – but right now I have to get to work,” Jane said. “What about you?”
“Liz and I need to get our stuff down as well – I’ll see you later,” Piet said as they walked to the lifts, Jane and Greg taking their rooms as Piet showed Liz into his room.
As she nodded Piet fetched two glasses from the bathroom, and poured some whisky into both of them. Raising his glass, they said a silent toast and drained the glasses.
“I need to get to work – and I suspect you need to get back to Pretoria?”
Liz nodded as she connected the camera to Piet’s computer, and downloaded the pictures. “Any good?”
“Perfect - what are you going to say to John?”
“The truth – but I would like to see you again. Perhaps at the weekend?”
“Socially – if you don’t mind Charlotte being there?”
“I want to meet her,” Liz said quietly as she stood up. “Do us both proud, Piet.”
“I will do my best,” Piet said as he showed her out, and then retrieved his cell phone. Looking at the missed calls and messages, he sighed as he dialed a number.
“Hey Boss – I see you’ve been trying to find me.”
“Piet – where the hell have you been? Nobody’s seen or heard from you since Sunday – what’s going on?”
“I’m sorry I dropped off the grid boss,” Piet said as he sat down, “but when you read what I write, and see the pictures I think you’ll think it was worth it.”
“It’s a story as big and just as nasty as Mazengwe.” Taking a deep breath and looking upward, he then said “we are sharing it with the New York Times.”
“We are?” Piet’s editor shouted, as he moved the handset from his ear.
“Jane Molloy and I have worked the story together, you aren’t happy with the arrangement I’m sure the NYT will give us a joint byline.”
“That is blackmail Piet.”
“I know, but just as on Mazengwe there is enough shit for both us and them to report.”
There was silence for a few moments, before he said “I’m not happy, but go ahead.”
“The arrangement was in place whether you liked it or not boss.”
“So outline Piet?”
“Illegal gold mining using hill stripping water cannons in Mogola. Cyanide extraction to get the gold out, slavery to work the mine. Chinese and Japanese shady figures running the show.”
Piet waited as his editor considered what Piet had just said. “That sounds huge again Man.”
“And if I’m right that is only the tip of the iceberg.”
“Good Lord Piet!”
“Still unimpressed that I was out of touch?”
“Stop being a smart mouth Piet, get me words and pictures as soon as possible.”
“You let me go and I will.”
“Then go to it.”
Piet ended the call and sighed as he started typing, hoping Charlotte would not call until later.
10.30 am PT
“Well?” Maddie asked as Lucia came into the room.
“Malnourishment, dehydration, a host of other things…”
“What do we need to do Lucia?”
Lucia looked out of the window Maddie was in front of. “I’ve instructed your girls in how to use the rehydration packs, and the woman is telling them antibiotics will help. Ideally I’d like to hospitalize them all, but since that is not possible…”
“Would an entire floor at the Empress Hotel suffice?”
“Yes,” Lucia said as she looked at her old friend, “but how?”
“Don’t worry, Shirley already has it booked.” Maddie smiled.
“What about transport to Victoria?”
“I’m hiring a fleet of minivans.”
“And papers, identities…”
“Just leave that to us,” Maddie said, “we have someone on tap who is rather good at doing those things. They will be a group visiting Vancouver for a respite visit.”
“I ought to have guessed,” Lucia said as she shook her head. “Shirley always was very efficient.”
“Can you organize nurses, equipment, anything else you need Lucia?”
“I can… I do take it they need to be very discreet?”
“Of course.” Madeline smiled.
“When do you anticipate arrival?”
“We’ll move them tomorrow – so late afternoon?”
“Gives me the time I need to set things up.” Lucia looked round. “What you are doing is a good thing, Maddie – but why do I get the feeling they are only a tip of an iceberg?”
Maddie looked at her and said “Trust me, you do not wish to know the full extent – not yet anyway. But for this, I thank you.”
“Well, I’ll meet you at the hotel tomorrow,” Lucia said as she embraced Maddie. “We can talk of the old days then.”
“I’ll look forward to it,” Maddie said as she showed Lucia out, and then returned to the dorm.
“My sisters feel better,” the teacher said, “they are asking who you are.”
“For now, tell them – tell them we are the same people who freed Mazengwe from tyranny, and we have turned our eye on their oppressors. For now, they need know only this – they are free, and we will care for them until they are strong enough.”
“Then I for one thank you – but what can you do against the Eastern devils?”
“Wait and see – I must go and consult with my colleagues. Rest now.”
As she nodded, Maddie went back to the room, and sat down, opening up her laptop.
“Morning Maddie,” Rhenia said on the screen, “how did it go?”
“A success – but these women, when you see them…”
“Was it that bad?”
Maddie nodded slowly and then rubbed her eyes. “Okay, any word?”
“Someone was making enquiries at the harbour masters Maddie.”
“Okay, I do hope you’ve…?”
Rhenia smiled as she said, “We have a very discreet tail on them.”
“Good let’s see who they might lead us to.”
Yawning, Maddie said “sorry. Now before we continue with all this, what is there urgent from the office I must deal with?”
“Not a lot. Most of it is just routine things that will require your signature when we return home.”
“Well that is a relief at least.”
“I’ve been updating New York, and they are saying that Tokyo just got news that their ship and its cargo has vanished.”
“Have they now? Well this is when things start getting very interesting out there I suspect.” Madeline stared out across the Pacific Ocean westwards towards the Far East.
2 pm Local Time
“So how are tricks?” Abigail asked as all three models sat in the shade awaiting their next call.
“Not bad,” Beth smiled, “certainly better since I kicked Carlo out of my bed.”
“I heard he was stealing from you?”
“That he was Itch.”
“Oh Goddess! What are you doing about it?” Abby asked.
“Nothing…My agent says it isn’t worth the time, money, and bad publicity to try get it back…but I’m warning every girl I know to resist that damn smooth Italian charm, he’s a bloody user.”
“I’m having the same problem you had Stick with unlicensed pinups.” Olga looked very serious. “I was laying on a beach in Cannes last summer…some bastard must have been taking photos.”
“What do your lawyers say?”
“That eventually I might stop them being published, but I’ll never see a kopeck of the money they made off of me.”
“This business can stink at times.”
“Tell me about it.” Beth watched intently as Rick supervised his crew. “At least you have your Mum watching out for you Abs.”
“Did you ever get that business settled with that club in Sydney Kooks?” asked Olga.
“Eventually.” The Australian sighed, “I thought they were clean and legit, it’s why I agreed to promote the damn place. Little did I know it was a shop front for the drugs trade.”
“Ouch.” Abigail spoke.
“Yeah so I get hauled in for questioning by the drugs squad. It was pretty clear luckily that I was innocent, that I had no financial interest in the damn place, but it’s made me pretty careful about controlling my name and image now.”
“PTA has helped clean up a lot of the problems, but there is still a lot of shit out there.’
“Tell me about it Stick…and still a lot of girls getting themselves in trouble.”
“Okay Miss Pollard, he’s ready for you.”
“Our master calls.” Beth took off her robe and headed out into the sun.
Thursday 20th August
5.30 am local time
“Nmmmgoaway,” the young Russian said as she stirred in the bed.
“Sorry, Natalya, but the shit just hit the fan.”
Natalya opened her eyes to see Niki standing there with a cup of strong coffee, and a smile.
“I take it our side…?”
“Rescued all the girls and sunk their ship?…Yes.”
“And the news has reached Yoshimi?”
“Some of his underlings just woke our man with the news,” Niki said as Natalya sat up, “he is not very happy.”
“What are they saying happened?”
“They don’t know. One of his men was speculating the ship just blew up, but a couple think that maybe the Chinese are pulling a fast one on them.”
“They don’t suspect a rescue?”
“Not as yet.”
“How is Louise?”
“As of now still asleep…Big Man is letting his little harem sleep.”
“Alright - you go out and listen some more Niki, I’ll join you as soon as I’ve showered and dressed.”
Twenty minutes later, Natalya came out, wearing a blue polo shirt and jeans, and drinking her coffee as she joined Niki.
“This is becoming fun.” Niki grinned, “He just got a very irate call from China asking what the fuck his gangsters were doing?”
“Oh dear.” Natalya giggled.
“He in return replied, what the shit were the Chinese up to?”
“Well as long as they suspect each other, then we are in the clear.” Natalya paused “Niki can you get New York for me?”
“The other computer, the link is open, Madame is expecting you.”
“Ever thought of transferring back,” Natalya said as she sat at the monitor.
“I take it things are beginning to get heated over there?”
“It would appear so Madame – recriminations are already flying. How are the women?”
“Maddie has them at a safe haven, and will move them tomorrow to a secure location so that they can receive the treatment they need. Your agent?”
“Blissfully unaware of what is going on. Shall I brief Tamiko?”
“Do so – and keep me posted.”
“You look tired – have you rested yet?”
“Not yet – I will sleep in a little while. I will talk to you tonight Natalya?”
Ending the call, Natalya dialed a number.
“Jill? Arrange a luncheon booking for you, me and Tamiko. We need to move to the next phase.”
Wednesday 19th August
8 pm Local time
“Now who could that be,” Marianne Vosloo said as she and John heard the intercom from the entrance gate buzzing. Walking to the screen, she looked at the picture the security camera was showing, and then opened the gates.
“Who is it,” John said as he walked into the hallway, holding his glass in his hand.
“Your assistant – she looks as if she has been travelling for days,” the grey haired woman said as she went to the front door, while John returned to the sitting room and refilled his glass, standing by the fire.
“I’m sorry to drop in unannounced Sir.” Elizabeth spoke as Marianne ushered her into the sitting room.
John looked at her, in her travel stained clothes, before he said “You just got back?”
“Yes sir, I came straight here to report…” She looked at her superior as he raised an eyebrow before she said “look sir we probably have minutes till this goes public…”
Liz looked at Mrs. Vosloo, unsure of whether or not she was to continue.
“My wife knows how to keep her mouth shut Liz. What’s going on down there?”
“Well Sir, the main thing is illegal gold mining in Southern Mogola.”
“Show me where?” John said as he went to his desk and retrieved a map. Spreading it out, Liz looked at it and pointed to a particular location.
“In here Sir. We were taken to the border and introduced to – well, a guerilla unit, who took us across and to the location.”
“As well as Piet, a reporter and photographer from the New York Times – Jane Molloy?”
“That makes sense – she and Piet won awards for their work together exposing the Mazengwe situation. So this is a big operation.”
“Massive – we hiked through the jungle, with two stops, but we could hear the operation for an hour before we reached the site. They’re using high pressure water cannon – and they are using slave labour for the mining.”
“Dammit – farm machinery,” John whispered to himself as Marianne sat down. “I should have realized – someone should have.”
“That is not all though sir,” Liz said, “we saw women and girls being herded onto trucks – the person who guided us said they were been sold as slave labour.”
Marianne put her hand to her mouth as John looked at his assistant.
“It was disgusting…” tears ran down Liz’s cheeks.
“Lieutenant,” John said quietly, “you are reporting.”
“I’m sorry Sir,” Liz tried to pull herself together, “but what those bastards are doing to those poor people.”
“And Japanese Sir, it looks like certain elements in both Japanese crime, and the Chinese bureaucracy are doing this as a private enterprise.”
John sat down and rubbed his head, then looked at Liz. “Drink?”
“If I may sir?”
He nodded to his wife, who left as he indicated Liz should sit down. “Your guides – who were they?”
“A platoon of women from various tribes and countries – they were part of the movement you mentioned, the Sisters of Maisha. Piet confirmed as much, but they made no attempt to conceal it from us.”
“How did they strike you?”
“They are formidable – driven, determined, and well trained. Their leader was exemplary – concerned for them, but ruthless when it came to their enemies.”
“So a guerilla unit, in effect?”
Liz nodded. “Twelve with their leader – sentries on two hours on, four hours off. We moved at night, slept during the day. I saw how they dealt with their opponents – they showed no mercy.”
“And their leader?”
John waited as Marianne handed Liz a drink, before she took a sip and said “South African, but a natural. As I said sir, they come from many places, but they share a common goal.”
“All right,” John said as he rubbed his eyes, “when does this break?”
“I imagine in tomorrow’s paper – but the online editions should be available now for Piet’s paper.”
“Let me look,” Marianne said as she went out.
“All right – brass tacks time Liz.”
“Charlotte saw us on our way – she is the public face of these women, or at least very well connected with them. Which means Shirley Xavier has to know.”
John nodded as Liz said “they made me as well – I guess you can’t take the soldier out of me – but they did not expose me. They accepted I was there for a reason, and hid nothing.”
“Now why do you think they did that?”
Liz was silent for a second, before she said “I think they want us as an ally, not an enemy sir.”
“I had already begun to suspect as much – all right, Liz, we’ll do a full debrief in the morning – if we get that long,” he said as the telephone rang. Picking it up, he said, “Yes?
“Sir,” he said as he stood up, “I am debriefing her now.” Looking to the door, Marianne nodded to tell him what he needed to know. She placed the laptop on the table in front of him, and took Liz over to a seat.
“Did you see what your friend Piet wrote?” the General thundered down the phone.
“Just looking now…” John scanned down the article, and the accompanying pictures, before he said “damn…”
“Why didn’t I get a heads up?”
“What do you mean no time John,” Hennie roared, “it’s my job to know these things before they hit the internet.”
“I know Hennie,” John said, “Liz has only just finished her report to me here at home.”
“Is it as bad as it sounds?”
“You know Liz Hennie…how easily does she cry?”
There was a moment’s silence before he said quietly “That bad eh?”
“Moral outrage would be putting it mildly.”
“Get her and yourself into my office within an hour, and no uniforms, the Minister and the boss are both coming to be briefed.”
“We will be there.” John looked at his wife who was comforting Liz.
“She will be fine.” Marianne mouthed the words to her husband.
Nodding, John said “I’ll see you then General.” Putting the phone down, he said quietly “they want us Liz – do you need a moment?”
“No, Sir,” Liz said as she stood up. “I am ready to report.”
“Good – let me get the car keys, and we’ll go in together.”
“Okay Catherine I take it you are up to date with events?” Shirley asked as she handed Cathy Lu a drink.
“I am Madame. This is not pretty and as it unwinds a lot of people are going to hopefully face justice.”
“That is my hope.” Shirley nodded. “So have you made contact with anyone?”
“I am putting my trust in a man called Wei Chen, he’s a senior prosecutor, an old time true believer in communism, and absolutely incorruptible.”
“The kind of people involved in this scheme, he sounds like their worst nightmare.”
“I would suspect so. He and an Assistant Commissioner of Police called Lei Lu are not people I would normally do any business with, but in the circumstances their absolute honesty is going to be an asset.”
“I will send you materials as they become available Catherine for you to forward.”
“That will be a good arrangement…By the way when will the news from Mogola break?”
“Should be any time,” Shirley glanced at her watch. “I imagine both Piet and Jane are at their computers right this second.”
“Was it like this last year, when you were dealing with the situation here?”
“The tension, knowing the dam is about to burst?” Shirley nodded slowly as she held her drink. “We were gathered in the base we had set up, watching as Jane broke the story of the auction – and the aftermath.”
The door opened and Maisha came in. “Is it all right if I join you Aunt Shirley?”
“Of course,” Shirley said, “we were talking about last year, and how we helped you to be free.”
“Ah – I swore to be with you then, and I still keep to that oath,” Maisha said as she sat down.
Catherine looked at the young African woman, before saying “You remind me a lot of Helen when I first met her. You strike me as a woman of talent and purpose – I shall watch your progress with interest.”
Maisha inclined her head and smiled as Shirley looked at her. “We rescued twenty women today, Maisha – our work continues.”
“Good – I hope we meet them one day.”
10 pm local time
SAIS headquarters, Pretoria
Liz sat and watched in silence as General Botha, the minister for security and the president watched the presentation of the photos she had taken.
“My god,” the minister eventually said, “and this is going on on our doorstep?”
“Yes, sir,” Liz said quietly, “it is my belief the Mogolan government is totally unaware of this, but from the men I saw guarding the compound, they are or were Red Army regulars. The Leader of the group that escorted us said they had defenses.” Standing up, she went back to one picture and said “if you look here and here, those are anti-aircraft guns.”
Henrik looked closely and nodded. “Agreed – so this is a military occupation of a sovereign territory?”
“Difficult to prove,” the minister said, “without proof of who is financing this operation. What do we know?”
“The one they called Leader said it was Chinese and Japanese backers, based on their monitoring of visitors. Piet and Jane were also told more information would be forthcoming – I presume from the same sources that helped them last year.”
“John, this daughter of your old friend…”
“With your permission, Sir, I wish to handle that myself. I think she is more to be thanked for alerting us to this than anything.”
“I concur sir,” Liz said quietly, “she has acted for the good of the people caught in this situation – and those who have been removed from it.”
“That does disturb me,” the President said, “human trafficking – is there anything we can do to aid?”
“Anything would have to be covert sir,” John said, “It is a neighbouring country, after all.”
“In addition sir – and this is a personal observation – I suspect they will not accept help from a man.”
“They are a sisterhood sir – any aid offered has to come from a woman. For that reason, I believe Charlotte Gordon is a contact to be nurtured, not brought in for questioning.”
General Botha looked at John, who nodded in agreement. “Very well, Colonel, Lieutenant – step outside. We need to talk.”
“Sir,” John said as he stood up and escorted Liz out.
“Did I speak out of line,” she said as they sat in the outer office.
“No – I can see your passion on this,” John said quietly.
“What are you thinking about Sir?”
“What may happen next…?”
“John, Elizabeth, step back inside,” Hennie said as he looked out of the office. The two officers came in and sat at the table.
“Lieutenant,” the general said, “the force that escorted you to the site. What would you say the total contingent was?”
“I would guess they have between 40 and 50 fighters in the area Sir; they are quite well armed with small weapons, and in a limited contact I would imagine are very formidable.”
“Their problems though?” the Minister asked.
“Complete lack of air support, their supply and reinforcement chain is over extended, and as much as they’d like to take them on, they are faced with an overwhelmingly numerically superior, and better equipped enemy, who have total air superiority.”
“So they are effectively fighting a guerilla war?”
“Yes sir – and in my opinion, they are picking targets with care. They try to impede as much as possible, and they are a unit in all forms.” Liz paused, and said “the one they called Leader herself said if they could end it themselves, they would, and they grieve that they could not.”
Liz watched as the minister nodded.
“And outside Mogola?” the General asked.
“I get the impression they have no shortage of volunteers who find their way to them, and I suspect that thanks to contributions from people, possibly like Shirley Xavier, they have both good facilities for training somewhere, and the support staff they need.”
“And yet they can only get 50 fighters in the field?” The Minister asked.
“If they had transport I believe that number could be increased very quickly Sir.”
“Lieutenant may I ask a personal question?” The Minister spoke.
“If you could, would you be fighting right this second along these women?”
Liz looked at the four men in the room, nodded and said “In a heartbeat Sir.”
“Your candor does you credit Lieutenant,” General Botha said. “We have discussed the matter, and feel that we need to do something – but until we have the clear line of who is funding this, we cannot move overtly.”
“But we can move to let them know we are ready to support them,” the minister said. “Lieutenant Egwegwe, we have an assignment for you – we are ordering you to resign from the South African Intelligence Service.”
“Hennie, are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?”
General Botha nodded. “Lieutenant, we need you to contact this group, and offer your services as an unofficial liaison between us and them. You cannot do that as an officer in the service, in case you find yourself in a position that compromises our rules of engagement. As a free agent, you can do much more.”
“General,” the minister said as he looked at John, “we need a complete profile on Shirley Xavier. Authorize a visit to her London home, see what can be discovered.”
“Sir,” John said as he nodded.
“Do you accept the assignment, Lieutenant?”
“With honor and pleasure sir,” Liz said as she stood and saluted. “I will start in the morning.”
“Lieutenant, Colonel – dismissed.”
“See me tomorrow John,” Hennie said as he escorted them out.
“Liz, are you sure you want to do this?”
“Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“You can drop the sir bit now – speak freely.”
“John,” Liz said, “it has been an honour to learn from and serve under you, but I need to do this. I need to help these women.”
“I know,” John said quietly. “Come on – I’m taking you home. I want you in my office at 1000 hours tomorrow, in dress uniform.”
“This is an honourable discharge, Lieutenant – there is a protocol to observe.”
Thursday 20th August
9 am BST
Downwood School, Harlow
“I always liked this time of year,” Sarah said to Harriet as they stood in the assembly hall, watching as the year 11 pupils came in and collected the envelopes containing their GCSE results.
“Miss Nightingale – is it true?”
“Is what true Alan,” Sarah said as she looked at the young man standing before him.
“That you, Mrs. Craig and Mrs. Brand are leaving?”
“I’m afraid so Alan – so how did you do in English?”
“B in Language and Literature – I’m down to do the AS in English Literature, but if you’re not teaching it…”
“Don’t worry Alan – Mister Brown is a very good teacher, and so long as you express your views with evidence, he will be fair.”
“Miss Nightingale is right, Alan – you will do well with him.”
“Mrs. Brand,” Alan said as he looked at Grace, “where are you going?”
“Well, we’re going to a completely different place to teach, Alan, and we’re going to miss this place – but this is the right thing for us, and the right thing for the school.”
As she talked, the pupils and staff gathered round, as Dennis Law came over from the desk where he had been standing. As he joined them, he started clapping, the staff joining in and then the pupils as Grace looked round.
“Three cheers for Mrs. Brand,” he then called out, and as the room cheered Grace started to blush.
“Thank you all,” she finally said, “and good luck to all of you. If you will excuse us…”
She took Harriet and Sarah by the arm and walked out of the room, tears starting to flow as they went to her old office.
“I didn’t think it was going to be like this,” Grace said as she closed the door.
“You should have been here earlier,” Harriet said, “A few pupils were asking, and some of the younger pupils have stopped us and asked us what’s happening.”
“Well, I think the governors are getting the idea of what’s happened,” Grace said quietly as she picked up a box, and started to put her personal items in. “How have you two done with your homes?”
“The agent your friend suggested was amazing,” Harriet said, “we both have the firm coming to pack up the things we’re taking Friday. How’s the apartment?”
“Furnished with what we need – they’ll take things tomorrow, we hand in the keys first thing Saturday morning, and a car’s been booked to take us to the airport after that.”
“Our cars are going to be looked after by Dennis until we can get them shipped over,” Sarah said.
“Good – I’ve got a lease car sorted out in the interim.” She stopped loading her box and went to look out of the window.
“Absolutely none – you two?”
As they both shook their heads, Grace smiled and said “so, what are they planning?”
“We’ll pick you up tomorrow at noon – you need know no more than that…”
10 am Local Time
SAIS headquarters, Pretoria.
John stood up in his full dress uniform as Elizabeth marched into the room, standing to attention and saluting her commanding officer, as Henrik Botha stood to one side.
“Lieutenant Elizabeth Egwegwe,” John said as he stood before her, “you have a message for me I believe.”
“Sir,” Liz said as she reached into her inside pocket, and drew out a slim white envelope. “It has been an honour to serve in this unit, but I find that at this time I must formally submit my resignation from the service, for the reasons stated in this letter.”
She handed the letter to John, who opened it and read the note inside, nodding as he replaced it in the envelope and placed it on the table before he stood at attention.
“Lieutenant Egwegwe, I have read your request to resign from the service, and find the reasons to be valid and sound. Therefore, and with deep regret, I accept your resignation, and record that from 1000 hours on this day, you have received an honourable discharge from the South African Intelligence Service, with full honours.”
Turning, he picked up a certificate and handed it to Elizabeth, smiling as he said “may you find good fortune wherever your road takes you” as he shook her hand.
“Thank you Sir,” Elizabeth said with a smile as she held the certificate.
“You are formally dismissed Lieutenant,” John said.
“Sir, thank you sir,” Liz replied as she turned and saluted General Botha, and then Colonel Vosloo.
“At ease, Liz,” John said as he sat on the desk, “now for the next part. What have you done?”
“I head to Jo’burg as soon as we finish here, sir…”
She saw John raise an eyebrow and said “sorry – I’m meeting Piet and Charlotte at one. From there – I do not know, but I will keep you informed.”
“Good,” General Botha said, “Because we have a message to give to the Sisters of Maisha through Miss Gordon.”
“She also says she’s coming to see you at home at four, John.”
Nodding, he said “I’ll make sure we’re both there then. Although you have left the service, we will continue to pay your wages – you need something to live on and buy supplies after all, in return for acting this role. God speed, Liz.”
“Thank you, John, Sir,” Liz said as she turned and walked out of the room.
“There goes one of the bravest women I know,” John said.
“And chances are, nobody will ever know.”
“Well, Piet, it would appear you’ve created quite a stir – you and Jane both.”
“Tell me about it – my boss didn’t know whether to lynch me or give me a bonus,” Piet said as he drank his wine, “whoever your source is has also given us evidence confirming the involvement of Chinese officials misappropriating party funds for their own purposes, and links to Yakuza families. We go public tomorrow.”
“Well watch your step, you big lunk – I don’t want to lose you again,” Charlotte said with a smile, before she saw Liz approaching. “Your junior’s here.”
“So I see,” Piet said with a smile as Liz sat down.
“Did you manage to get some sleep?”
“I did, eventually Piet, thanks,” Liz said with a smile.
“The photographs you took were amazing, Liz. I had no idea it was such an awful thing happening down there.”
“None of us did,” Liz said quietly, “none of us.”
Piet’s phone started ringing, and as he looked at it he said “Damn – I need to go call my boss inside.”
“I’ll pay,” Charlotte said, “if you buy dinner tomorrow.”
“Deal,” Piet said as he kissed Charlotte, and headed back into the hotel.
“Another iced tea – and for you Liz? Or are you still on duty?”
“I’ll have the same – and a club sandwich,” Liz said as the waiter nodded and set off. “I think we need to talk, Charlotte – woman to woman.”
“I agree – how is Uncle John?”
“In shock, as I was – when did you know?”
“That you were SAIS? As soon as I realized Piet had spoken to Uncle John, I knew he would send someone. I am just glad it was a woman – it meant you saw what they saw every day.”
They stopped talking as the waiter brought the two drinks, Charlotte taking a drink as she said “So, what do you want to know?”
“Do you finance the Sisters of Maisha?”
“No comment – but I am their commander in chief, if you like. Do you think Uncle John will arrest me now?”
“No – and neither will I. I resigned today.”
Charlotte raised an eyebrow and said “why?”
“So that I can be where I’m needed. I wish to join the sisterhood.”
Putting her drink down, Charlotte said quietly “does John know about this?”
“He should do – I was ordered to do so in his presence. Charlotte, I am now free to aid in any and all ways I can.”
She fell silent again as the waiter brought her sandwich, Charlotte watching the whole time.
“Piet is convinced you’re some sort of secret agent,” Liz said as she swallowed a bite, “Are you?”
“Not in the way he thinks – but the Sisters are one of many ways we fight to free those oppressed.” Rubbing her eyes and replacing her glasses, she said “if you want in, you’re in all the way – and I’ll get Uncle John up to speed, before he does something stupid.”
“Trying to find out about Shirley Xavier for one thing.”
Liz smiled as she said “now there is a woman he wants to know about. I hear she has a nice home in Chelsea.”
“Yes, she does,” Charlotte said, and then she looked at Liz. “Oh no, don’t tell me…”
“Do you want to warn her?”
Liz was surprised to see Charlotte smile and shake her head. “No – let them find out for themselves, and better you don’t know. I will tell you this though – we intercepted the latest delivery of female slaves in Canada, and liberated them. They will be taken later today to a safe haven, where food and medical supplies are waiting.”
“Do I want to know what happened to the bastards taking them?”
“No,” Charlotte said as she looked at Liz. “So let me guess – you would be our unofficial liaison with the SAIS?”
Liz nodded as she looked at the young redhead.
“Liz can you serve two mistresses at once?” Charlotte asked.
“I love my country,” Liz said as she wiped her mouth, “but I joined the military to serve its people, all of its people, but especially I joined up to protect those unable to protect themselves. The Sisters of Maisha are doing that in a way that as an Intelligence staffer I can’t do, but this way I get to both fight and hopefully serve my country as well.”
“Alright, I can very much understand that.”
“I bring offers of help and material assistance from our government, it’s unofficial assistance, but it’s still assistance.”
“Oh,” Charlotte said, “and what might that aid consist of?”
“Say six helicopters that officially are being scrapped, but just somehow they and their crews are in limbo because the paperwork got lost.”
“Well isn’t that typical of government bureaucrats…” Charlotte laughed.
“And while they are in limbo?”
“There is a place in Botswana that they might get parked.” Charlotte wrote some map co-ordinates on a piece of paper. “Tell the pilots to fly in low from our border, keep under the radar.”
“Oh that is where…?” Liz smiled.
“Alright I’ll get on this right away.”
“Something else – we managed to locate the embarkation point for those Chinese soldiers, where their supplies come in, and where the women go out. It is in South Africa, and until I and others talk to John, we cannot act ourselves. Your former comrades, on the other hand…”
“Tell him yourself tonight.”
“Good… Oh and Liz?”
“Can you drive to those coordinates in under 36 hours?”
“I might just be able to do that Charlotte.”
“Good – I will send word to expect you. They will begin your training and tell you all you need to know – and you can brief the crews on how to train them,”
Liz nodded as she said “they may just have some supplies, army surplus, you could make use of.”
“Liz, this may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” Charlotte said quietly.
4 pm Local Time
“Charlotte darling,” Marianne said as she opened the door, waiting as Charlotte got out of the car and walked up to the door before she embraced and kissed her, “I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to see you last week.”
“That’s all right, Aunt Marianne,” Charlotte said as she came inside, “I know you were busy.”
“Let me look at you,” Marianne said as she closed the door. “This job you have is doing you good – you seem completely at ease.”
“I don’t know – this expenses lifestyle…”
“I keep fit, Uncle John,” Charlotte said with a smile.
“So do what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?”
“Can’t I just call?”
“Oh leave the poor girl alone,” Marianne said, “I’ll sort a drink out.”
“Come into the study,” John said, Charlotte following him in.
“So, Uncle John – cards on the table?”
“Cards on the table?”
“I saw Liz – she is on her way to the training camp the Sisters of Maisha use, and they thank you for the help.”
John nodded as he sat down. “Sit – you are a very clever young woman, you know that?”
“I serve, as they do – I have some info for you.” Taking a piece of paper, she handed it to John.
“The port they’re using to bring supplies in and ship the women out. You may wish to ensure someone goes there?”
“Why wouldn’t I go myself?”
“Uncle John, I was thinking you and Aunt Marianne deserve a holiday you know.” Charlotte smiled. “How about ten days in New York City - my treat?”
“And other then your aunt spending my hard earned salary what might I be doing in New York?”
“Oh,” Charlotte said quietly, “meeting with certain people who I think you might find you share mutual interests with.”
“And when might it convenient with me to meet these people with mutual interests?”
“Say in 24 hours time?”
“Well these are busy people and there is a lot going on right now.”
“There is?” John Vosloo raised an eyebrow.
“There is – but I cannot tell you it all. You need to hear this from my boss – and you need to hear why. You’re both booked on a flight from Jo’burg to London at 9.30 tonight, and then to New York tomorrow morning. I’ll drive you both to the airport.”
“Charlotte, what are you – really?”
“I’m an IT specialist employed by Xavier International,” Charlotte said with a smile. “You’ll arrive in New York in time to accept a dinner invitation from Shirley Xavier tomorrow night – she wishes to thank you personally.”
“What are you two talking about,” Marianne said as she brought some drinks in.
“Marianne, darling,” John said as he stood up, “pack a case. We’re going on holiday.”
“What – now?”
“Tonight – I need to make a couple of calls though. Charlotte will tell you all about it.”
Marianne looked at Charlotte as she smiled and said “surprise – you’re going to have fun…”
“These women really did know how to put the haughty in ‘Haute Couture’.” Carina looked up from the vintage magazines she and Judith were looking at, Judith giggling as she looked at the pictures in them.
“Didn’t they just.” Juliette smiled as she sat down. “They have this unapproachable, so superior look.”
“From what I’ve read though a lot of them led private lives that seem to belong more to modern times then that era.”
“That’s true darling, I’ve met a few of them during my life, and they certainly knew what sex was, even back then.”
“It’s going to be fun doing the shoots though.” Carina smiled.
“I think so.”
“Are you coming to the beach party Mom?” Cari asked, changing the subject.
“If your father doesn’t hate me in my bikini…”
“Oh come on, you know he’ll adore you in it.”
“Well I hope so, but it should be a great evening, everyone we know gathered on a beach before you all scatter to schools, and we adults go back to work.”
“One last get together before we scatter to the four winds.”
“Are you talking about the plans for Saturday night,” Doc said as she came in.
“We are – are Chet and his friends coming?”
“Oh yes – the girls are coming up, and we’re going to dance the night away.”
“Talking of which, I need to confirm some of the others.”
“Before I forget, Chet says Blair and the others are coming as well.”
“Excellent,” Carina said as Juliette walked into the hallway, and picked up the phone.
“Hi Jan – it’s Juliette.”
“Hey Ju – what can I… Adam, that’s wonderful thanks.”
“Adam – cooking? No, we’ve got Chinese in. So what’s up?”
“Are you coming up for the beach party Jan?” Juliette asked.
“I am, if Mom and I can deal with this crisis first.”
“Oh what crisis?” Juliette felt her body tense.
“Katy’s bathing suit.” Juliette smiled as she heard Jan’s sigh. “Mom and I feel a one-piece is appropriate still, she’s fighting us for a bikini she saw in the window at Canyon.”
“Oh…” Juliette relaxed, “well she’s growing up Jan, her figure is starting to develop…”
“And she wants George to see her in it.” Janice laughed. “Was Carina like this?”
“No! At least Katy is asking you, my dearest daughter just borrowed my credit card when she wanted something and went out and got it, my permission or not.”
“Yes I’ll admit that does like sound like Cari.” Jan paused a moment, “so honest opinion Ju should I let her or not?”
“If you want to keep her coming to you for advice? Then yes.” Juliette smiled. “And while you are in there ask for Cherry, drop my name, and get something for yourself that maybe Adam will like?”
“What’s wrong with my existing bikini?”
“If I need to tell you, then you aren’t the Jan Carter I know…”
“Alright, alright, I’ll get a suit for myself as well.” Jan laughed.
“So has Cassie been in touch?”
“Not much,” Jan said quietly, “Have you seen her?”
“No. When I rang the other day, she said she and Rick are working on the script. I figured after…”
“Well we did interview her extensively while we investigated up there, but her story was she and Rick were kidnapped. She kept me out of it.”
“Anyway the kids have been playing with Sandy’s a lot, and Sandy says she and Rick are coming to the beach party.”
“Well maybe we will learn more then, Ju?”
“I hope so - I just hope everything is alright.”
“I think we’d know if she wasn’t all right…”
11.30 pm BST
“Well I’ll give the woman credit – she has taste, and a real sense of security,” Josias said as they looked up from the river to the terrace of the house Shirley and John lived in. “This was the only way we could get in without compromising our own security too much.”
Gretchen nodded as Mike rowed the boat to under the balcony, then tied the boat to a ring set into the wall while Gretchen and Josias threw ropes up, the grapple hooks at the end hitting the metal railing and holding firm.
“Guess everyone is watching television,” Mike said with a grin as he watched Josias and Gretchen pull themselves up the river wall, and then tied two rucksacks to one rope, pulling himself up with the other one as Gretchen raised the bags.
“What do you think,” he said as he watched Josias look at the lock of the doors that led into the drawing room.
“Sturdy enough, but not a major problem,” he said as took a set of lockpicks from his pocket, and soon picked the lock, “so let’s do this quickly and get out.”
Opening the door, he let Gretchen and Mike walk in first, before he looked round.
“See any alarms?”
“There’s a couple of sensor boxes over there – but I can soon sort those,” Josias said with a wink as he made his way to the hallway.
“So where do you think her office is?” Mike said, before they heard a soft thump in the hallway.
There was no reply, as Gretchen drew a gun. “I thought you said this place was empty?”
“It should be – both of them are in New York at the moment,” Mike said as they walked slowly across the room, standing either side of the door as Gretchen looked in.
Josias was lying unconscious on the floor, breathing normally, but he was definitely out. Mike looked slowly down, and then made his way across the floor, kneeling and feeling his pulse.
“Something knocked him out,” he said as Gretchen came over, and then looked at a slightly open door that was on the opposite side of the hallway. Nodding, she pushed the door open and walked in – as Mike felt a sharp stabbing pain in his leg, and looking down saw the dart in his flesh.
“Mike,” Gretchen said as she turned round and walked into the corridor, heading for the set of three light switches and flipping them all on at once. She wasn’t ready for the cloud of gas that erupted through some vents at floor level and quickly rose, her head starting to swim as she also fell to the ground.
From the kitchen a dark clothed woman, wearing a gas mask, came out and looked at all three of them before she touched her ear.
“Helen? Three to pick up, and I think someone needs to go on the river – I’ll standby…”
6 pm PT
The Empress Hotel, Victoria
The hotel receptionist looked up to see a woman standing there, her red hair graying slightly, dressed smartly and smiling.
“Miss Madeline Morrison – I’m escorting the group on behalf of Xavier Holdings who are visiting this fair city?”
“Of course,” the receptionist said, “we have the keycards ready for you, and your advance party is already on the tenth floor. Will you be needing help with luggage?”
“No thank you, we have that in hand,” Maddie said as she took the envelope, “but our request for complete privacy?”
“Of course – you need this key to stop any lifts on the tenth floor for the duration of your stay.”
“Very kind – we appreciate the security,” Madeline said, “and meals?”
“We will contact you on the courtesy phone on the floor for collection. Will you require anything tonight?”
“No – thank you,” Maddie said as she walked to the lift, and turned the key. As it rose, she said quietly “allow me fifteen minutes, and I’ll come down for the first group.”
“Roger that Maddie,” a voice replied as she stepped out onto the floor.
“Lucia,” she said as she embraced her old friend, “how are the preparations?”
“Complete – come with me.”
She escorted Maddie into the first room, where a group of six nurses were waiting.
“When I asked for volunteers, there were plenty to arrange three eight hour shifts.”
“Ladies, on behalf of my employer, thank you,” Maddie said quietly. “Lucia has explained the situation?”
They nodded as Lucia continued “we will bring them up in batches of four, two nurses at a time with Madeline here. Note very few speak English, and all will be nervous and unsure, so simply show them to the rooms they will occupy and allow them to settle. We start medicals only when they are all settled.”
“I cannot emphasise strongly enough the need for security,” Maddie said, “they need to be safe, and we need to protect them, so some of my associates will be staying on the floor as well to provide security and general support.”
As they nodded again, Lucia said, “Courtney, Elaine – with my friend please.”
The trio went to the lift, Maddie pressing for the basement car park as she said “First four please.”
Courtney and Elaine gasped as the lift doors opened, and four women, one a teenager, walked slowly in, dressed in tracksuits, thin as rakes and looking nervously round. A fifth woman came in, and nodded as Maddie said “translate for me please.”
As the lift doors closed, and they started to move up, Maddie said, “This is where you shall rest, and receive treatment. These two are nurses, and the doctor who saw you yesterday is waiting.”
As the former teacher spoke, the four women nodded, and as the lift doors opened they walked out to see Lucia waiting.
“Take them to the first two rooms,” she said as two more nurses came in, and Maddie pressed the down button again. “You never told me your name,” she said as the lift descended.
“It is Marigold.”
“Marigold, I know this is hard for you as well – but you have my thanks.”
“Unnecessary – you saved us from hell, and I will repay with all I have.”
The doors opened again as four more were brought in.
As the last four walked out, Lucia said to Marigold “I wish to examine you first – then, you may translate for us as we look at your fellow women.”
“Thank you, but I am recovering…”
“Please allow me to be the judge of that,” Lucia said as the last four walked to their rooms, and the lift doors opened, Maddie’s colleagues coming out.
“Two here, two at the rear exit, everyone else where you can see each other – and one of you man the phone at all times,” she said, the group nodding as they split off.
Friday 21st August
3 pm local time
“Now that was an experience,” Charlene said as the three girls emerged from Wako, “I think he’s going to love the earrings we all bought.”
“I hope so darling,” Victoria said as she put on her sunglasses, “Who wants to visit the Apple store, see if the new watch is worth it?”
“I’ll come but I’ll pass on buying it,” Louise said with a smile as she patted her Dior bag, “I think I’ve bought more than enough for now.”
“Well, why don’t we grab a drink before we head there,” Charlene said, “there is the most divine little café bar just over there, and we can watch the world go by and admire us.”
The three girls walked across, their bottoms wriggling in their skirts as they did so and the passing men looking at them. Louise smiled – she was getting more used to this, even though she knew it was only temporary.
“Three white wines,” Charlene said as they sat at a roadside table, looking through their glasses.
“He was in a really strange mood this morning, wasn’t he,” Louise said as she sat at the café, sipping her drink as Charlene and Victoria sat opposite her.
“He has been since yesterday – you didn’t do anything to upset him Wednesday night did you,” Victoria said as she looked across the table.
“By my recollection, we all pleased him on Wednesday, correct?”
The three girls laughed as they sat in their designer jeans and tops. Their spending spree had been very helpful a few days before, but Yoshimi had asked them to spend the afternoon in town again – watched from a distance by two of his ‘close personal friends’ as Louise had started to call them.
“Look – can I clear the air a bit with you two,” Louise said as she leaned forward, “I’m sorry if my coming in has upset any cozy arrangements.”
“It’s all right,” Charlene said quietly, “girls come and girls go. He likes you though – a lot. Victoria, you have no need to be jealous – there is more than enough of him to go round.”
“That is certainly true,” Victoria said with a smile.
At the hotel, Natalya was sitting with Tamiko, looking at the New York Times.
“It would appear whoever you have working in Mogola have done an excellent job in alerting the public to what is happening,” she said as she looked up, “and this new information of the Chinese links without naming the Death Dragons will certainly upset him more.”
“Looks that way,” Niki said, “his generals are discussing options with him.”
“And your contact…”
“Enjoying a lazy drink with her friends,” Niki said with a smile as her colleague nodded.
“So what happens now?”
“How soon can your father have his men in position?”
“We require maybe thirty minutes notice, unless a real emergency happens – then we have shock troops standing by…”
“It’s really busy out here today,” Louise said as she looked at the people walking by.
“Yes,” Charlene said as she stood up. “Well, I need to go to the little girls room, I’ll be…”
Louise turned as she heard the noise, and saw the moped coming along the road, both of the people on it wearing bandanas over their noses and mouths, and dressed casually.
She turned her head away, and then looked again as she heard the moped mount the pavement. Charlene looked at them as well, as she said “Honestly, those idiots…”
“Shit,” Louise whispered under her breath as she saw the pillion passenger reach into his pocket, and then she shouted “GET DOWN!” She jumped over the table and pushed Victoria to the ground as Charlene stood there, not moving – until the bullets ripped into her, as the moped sped away.
The crowd of shoppers were screaming and running in all directions, as Louise looked at Victoria and said “are you all right?”
She nodded mutely, and then stared at Charlene, who had started to fall to her knees, looking down as dark red stains started to spread on the front of her pink top.
“SOMEBODY CALL AN AMBULANCE!!”
Louise stood up and looked over, the bodyguards lying on the ground as Victoria started crying. “Shit,” she said to herself as she held Victoria, hiding her eyes from the sight as sirens were heard in the distance.
“What is it,” the Russian said as she and Tamiko looked at Niki.
“Shooting – three dead. But our person was one of the intended contacts.”
“She and another of Yoshimi’s girls are unharmed. The other took several shots to the chest.”
“Dammit,” she said quietly, “where have they gone?”
“Tell me en route,” Natalya said as she grabbed her coat. “Forgive me…”
“Go – I will consult with Father, see if he knows who may have done this.”
1 pm BST
Dusty Miller, Harlow
“Look you two, I have a removal firm coming to collect my things at 4, do I really have to come in here,” Grace said as she got out of the car.
“We’re in the same position,” Sarah said as she and Harriet looked at each other.
“I’m getting that feeling I should not be going through this door,” Grace whispered as she was taken by the arms, and marched into the bar.
“There she is, the woman of the moment,” Dennis Law said as Grace saw the faculty of Downwood School standing in the bar, clapping and applauding as Grace looked at them.
“Did you honestly think we’d let you go without saying goodbye,” Jean Brooks said as she and Tom Stennit escorted Grace to a seat, “after the best results this school has ever had? We know why you’ve done this, but we damn well are going to give you a good send off on behalf of us, the pupils, the parents – everyone.”
“Damn right we are,” Dennis said, “sit down, Mrs. Brand or Glorious Grace or whatever you want us to call you…”
“How about just Grace,” she said with a little smile.
“Anyway, we all wanted to make sure we said goodbye in the right way so we had a whip round – and then some of the parents heard and sent some donations – and then some of the kids…”
“So that we hope all three of you find a use for this in your new jobs and home,” Jean said as she handed over an envelope, “at least in a way you can all appreciate.”
Opening the letter, Grace looked at it, and then handed it to Sarah and Harriet. “That… That is too much,” she said quietly as she looked round, “but thank you – thank you all.”
“It means we can get some duty free to take with us,” Sarah said with a smile, “to christen the new apartment with.”
“And there is a pile of cards and goodbye messages – so we put them in this album for you,” Dennis said as he handed it over. “Now, I know you three have appointments later, so let me just say good luck, we will miss all three of you – and Downwood’s loss is St Angela’s gain.”
1 pm BST
The Farm UK
“Oh my head,” Josias said as he slowly opened his eyes, “what the hell hit me?”
Slowly sitting up, he looked over to see Gretchen and Mike lying on cot beds, still asleep – and then he looked round the room they were in.
“This is not the hallway of Chez Xavier,” he said as he looked round the high bare walls, and noticed the thin windows at the top. He felt his thigh, and then realized their equipment was also missing.
“Ooookkayyy,” he said slowly to himself, “You have one hell of a security system, Miss Shirley Xavier – why?”
“Oh god,” Gretchen said as she slowly sat up, “gas? What sort of person has a gas system as a home security measure?”
“Lucky you – I got hit by a dart – and by the look of Mike, he got one as well.”
“Where the hell are we,” Mike said as he too woke up – but before the others could say anything, the door to the room was opened and an armed female came in, standing to the side as two more women came in, dressed in business clothes. One was a young blonde – the other an older woman, and one Josias recognized.
“Good afternoon,” the blonde said, “our apologies for any slight confusion you may be feeling, but you were caught trespassing on the property of Miss Shirley Xavier, and under our security contract with her you were removed from the premises.”
“Removed…” Gretchen tried to stand up, and then sat down again.
“My apologies,” the blonde haired woman said as a second woman wheeled in a trolley. Handing each of them a bottle of water, she said “Drink – the symptoms will soon pass.”
“You have no right to hold us like this,” Mike said, “You are not the police.”
“No – we’re not,” the blonde said with a smile, “but we were about to call them. After all, you were trespassing, and based on the equipment we found with you, we believe you were planning to rob her home.”
Gretchen looked at Mike, and then said “I believe we are entitled to one phone call.”
“If we were the police, you would be, but as I say we are a private security firm.”
The older woman was watching Josias, who was quietly chuckling as he sat on the bed, drinking his water.
“And what are you finding so funny,” Mike said as he looked at his colleague.
“Sorry, sorry – I think we have just been made fools of by one of the cleverest women alive,” Josias said as he stood up. “Number 17 – it’s been a long time.”
“It has indeed Josias,” the woman finally said, “we heard you had gone straight.”
“I had – in a way. So just whose home did we rob – don’t tell me she’s number 1?”
“No she’s not – but she is a very, very important lady, who values her privacy.”
“Oh god,” Gretchen said as she rubbed her head, “this is someone from your past, isn’t it Josias.”
“Very much so,” the older woman said. “Our client would rather the police were not called – we think it would save embarrassment on both sides. For now, please, eat and drink – we’ll take you somewhere to rest and relax until we have a chance to allow you to talk to your superiors tonight.”
“Please,” the younger woman said, “no more questions. We will be back to escort you somewhere more comfortable when you have eaten and refreshed yourselves.”
The two women left the room, the armed guard smiling as she followed and closed the door.
“All right, Josias, who is she,” Gretchen said as she turned round.
“Number 17 is one of the Burglar’s Association Council,” Josias said as he stood up and walked to the trolley, uncovering a platter of sandwiches and picking one up. “Whoever Shirley Xavier is, she has contacts at the highest level of the criminal fraternity – but notice, we are unharmed. I suggest we eat and relax – if they meant us harm, we would not have woken up.”
Mike shook his head before saying “he’s right – better to relax Gretchen. If they call the police, and we have no ID on us…”
“Also, the BA are protecting her – which means she either knows Shirley Xavier personally, or knows what it is she does. Either way, we may as well enjoy the down time – I think we’ve been outsmarted on this one.”
Biting into his sandwich, Josias raised an eyebrow and said “if nothing else, the food is good…”
1 pm EST
“Are you sure she’s all right?”
“As far as I can ascertain, yes,” Natalya said from her darkened hotel room. She was in a three-way conference with Susan and Shirley in New York and Rheina in LA. “Charlene is in a critical state, and in intensive care. Louise and Victoria were treated for shock, and interviewed by the police.”
“So is she still with him?”
“By her choice – I got a chance to have a word with her, as a family friend, and she said if she left now, it would look suspicious. Besides, and I quote, ‘Victoria needs me.’”
“God, that does sound like Lou – he always looks out for others,” Rheina said as she shook her head. “Just get him out if it gets too hot.”
“The panic signal is still active,” Natalya said. “If it’s pressed, we go in.”
“What word from Tanaka?”
“He stands ready to assist take down the Death Dragons,” Natalya said to Shirley. “The articles posted by Piet and Jane do put the heat under China and Japan – I think they are ready to war on each other.”
“I suspect today was the opening salvo,” Shirley said quietly. “Rheina, the word from Maddie?”
“The women are settled and receiving both treatment and counseling. We traced the people enquiring at the harbor master to a company based in LA – we’re gathering Intel now, but I’d be willing to bet they have a holding facility somewhere.”
“I’d back Rheina on that.”
“Tracey,” Susan said as she saw the redhead sit next to Rheina, “how was the holiday?”
“Invigorating – Rheina brought me up to speed, and I talked to Maddie. If this is where these women are going, we stand ready as a warm up exercise.”
“Excellent – Rheina will keep you posted. Charlotte reports our volunteer from SAIS is on her way to the training camp, and the helicopters have arrived.”
“Which raises the question – when are you going to talk to him?”
“He should arrive soon at JFK – he and his wife will be taken to the hotel, and picked up to join me and John for dinner. Ama and Caroline will be joining us as well.”
“Sounds like you have a fun evening planned.”
“It should prove – instructive.”
“John,” Marianne said as they made their way through customs, and into the arrivals area, “I know we both need a holiday, but this quickly, and on Charlotte?”
“I know – this is her way of saying thank you for what we did when her father died,” John said as he pushed the luggage trolley through.
“But round tickets via London – this is too much…”
“Take it up with her when…”
John stopped as he looked along the line of people holding names up. One particular man, dressed as a chauffer, was holding a sign saying “John and Marianne Vosloo.”
“Er – have you been sent to meet us,” John said as they walked over.
“Mister and Mrs. Vosloo – Charlotte has arranged for me to take you to your hotel. My name is Clint – may I help with your luggage?”
“A chauffer? Well, I don’t think we are in a position to refuse,” John said as he took his wife’s arm, and followed Clint out.
“Miss Xavier has asked me to welcome you to New York on behalf of Xavier International, and to say I will collect you from your hotel at seven to take you to her apartment for dinner.”
“Oh,” Marianne said as they approached the car, “and who will join us?”
“As well as Miss Xavier, I understand her ward will be in attendance, as will her partner John Hammond. Miss Caroline Jameson and her daughter Ama will also be joining you.”
“Caroline Jameson, the model?”
“Major John Hammond?”
Clint smiled as he opened the door. “Please, make yourself comfortable,” Clint said, “We will be underway shortly.”
“We’re in New York,” Marianne said as John sat next to her, “and he addressed you as Mister Vosloo. Why?”
“He’s a UN driver – they are ordered to refer to visiting military personnel out of uniform without their title. Security – isn’t that right Clint?”
“Quite correct Colonel,” Clint said after he closed the door. “Forgive the insult if one was felt.”
“Not a problem – you acted in the correct manner. So, how far to the hotel?”
“About twenty minutes – please, enjoy the drive.”
6 pm local time
Near the Botswana border
As Liz drove down the dirt track, she noticed the two women walking slowly down the track, pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with materials. Checking her Sat Nav, she knew she was near, and rolled down the windows, saying “Would you like some help with your load?”
“Thank you, but no,” one of the women said, “but the offer is appreciated. You are off the beaten track, sister.”
“Yes, I am, sister,” Liz said, “because I come to serve The Heart and The Strength.”
The two women looked at each other, before the other woman said “you are expected. Two miles further down the road.”
Nodding, Liz drove on as the two women resumed pushing the wheelbarrow. Eventually, she saw a small collection of buildings appear on the horizon, with groups of women mingling round.
As she got close to the first building, a woman armed with a sub-machine gun waved her down. Liz stopped the car and wound the window down as the woman looked in – and she was shocked to see she was only eighteen.
“Do you have some form of identification?”
Liz showed her passport, the woman nodding as she said “leave all identification with me – it will be stored and returned if required. Here we are one sisterhood, without barrier of country or background.”
“I understand,” Liz said as she looked round. “Where may I leave the car?”
“The motor area is over there. Teacher will come to meet you.”
Liz drove over to where a number of vehicles were parked, getting out and looking round as she saw someone approaching.
“You must be Teacher,” she said.
“Hello Liz, I’m Helga,” the tall tanned white woman strode forward with her hand extended. “Charlotte said to expect you.”
“Hello Helga.” Liz shook the other woman’s hand, and started to look round.
“Don’t let first impressions stick Liz, it’s actually even worse than it looks.”
“She said you were Teacher?”
“A lot of the girls call me that – mainly because I coordinate the training. I don’t mind either way.”
“I see the copters arrived.” Liz noted as she saw them hidden under huge camouflage nets.
“Yes, and when you get a chance, please say Thank You to your friends for donating them.”
“Where are the pilots?”
“In town at the hotel. We have told the locals they are here to do some hunting, and it makes sense for them to be separate from here until they come to teach.”
“I guess in a way they are.” Liz smiled. “You know this from the air must look like just any other little village.”
“And that’s how we wanted it to look. So people do the daily tasks they would normally do…”
“And in addition?”
“Well you’ll be the judge.” Helga smiled.
“I didn’t expect to see any men though?” Liz nodded at a small man talking to a little group of women with what sounded like a language made up entirely of clicks and whistling sounds.
“That’s Zan, he’s a San, you know a bushman? He just wandered in one day and made himself at home. He teaches bushcraft and tracking, and oh what we’d do for a couple more people like him. We take whatever is provided and use it.”
“Are all your people just volunteers Helga? Have you all had bad experiences?”
“Yes.” The white woman stood and paused a second. “I guess you have to have had one. After all, who would chose to do this otherwise? We have all had experiences that have brought us here, and together.”
“Forgive me if this is too personal, but…”
“I was a teacher at a missionary school in Nigeria,” Helga said, “and then one night we were attacked. I survived by mimicking death, but so many of my young charges…”
“Ah – forgive me…”
“It happened, Liz – I was eventually found, and physically healed, but the memories of what happened led me to here, and now I serve The Heart and The Strength.”
“I heard that so much – what does that phrase mean?”
“A tale for later. Alright Liz, let me tell you what these are.” Helga indicated the handful of brick buildings. “Radio Room, Arsenal, over there is the Magazine,” she pointed at each in turn. “The school, well is our school, that is our cookhouse, and this is our rest and rec room.”
“Okay,” Liz said as she looked round, “and where do I live?”
“Wherever you chose Liz…you can build wherever you like really.”
“Now you didn’t think that we’d provide accommodation did you?” Helga smiled. “I’d get to it Lieutenant, out here on the edge of the Kalahari it can get pretty cold at night.”
“Okay.” Liz grinned. It was becoming clear how you trained here, you learned by doing. “Let me rephrase the question – where have the others erected their shelters?”
“A better question – there are a few spaces over there, and we have some basic materials until you can get something from the bush. We gather for food at dusk.”
“Then I’d better get to it,” Liz said as Helga looked at her.
“You’ll be just fine – after all you need to teach us as well,” Helga said as she walked off, Liz heading to the stores.
An hour later, she had made a makeshift tepee, with large branches lashed together, wide enough for her to sleep in and store some things. She had retrieved her bag and sleeping bag from her car, and was laying it out when she heard footsteps outside.
“You okay Liz?” Helga said as she stuck her head in Liz’s improvised shelter.
“Getting there. It will do until I sort something more permanent out.”
“Well come and meet Poison.”
“Poison? Who’s she?”
“Our cook, and when you eat one of her meals you’ll understand why we call her that.”
“You know you can always cook your own food Helga.” Liz heard an Australian accented voice outside.
“Come on – she won’t kill you – at first.”
As she emerged from the tepee, Liz was slightly surprised to see a one legged Aboriginal woman with a second prosthetic leg.
“G’day Liz, me real name’s Sunburst.” The beaming woman extended a friendly hand and gripped Liz’s firmly.
“Sunburst McRae.” Liz shook her head, “this is indeed an honour.”
Sunburst laughed as she said “Meeting me’s a bloody honour…”
“Most women soldiers round the world know who you are. The Black Angel of Basra.”
“Ah,” Sunburst said, “that was just me bein’ a stupid bitch…”
“They don’t give people the George Cross for being stupid. Rescuing those kids that way under fire…”
“Then being dumb enough to step on an anti-personnel mine,” she said as she tapped her prosthetic leg with a spoon.
“While going back to try to save their teacher.” Liz shook her head. “You are a true heroine.”
“Well if I may interrupt,” Helga smiled, “Poison as well as being our cook teaches shooting and small unit tactics.”
“Only trouble is with this many recruits…”
“I’d be honoured to work alongside you.” Liz nodded.
“Good – come and give us a hand,” Sunburst said, “and then we can eat and talk with the others…”
“I heard she had disappeared,” Liz said as she walked back with Helga, “Charlotte has amassed a formidable force here, how did she do it?”
“Well, the sisterhood started small,” Helga said, “we’ll tell the story after dinner…”
8 pm local time
Liz stood by the schoolroom door as the other women came in, talking and smiling as they passed her, sitting at the tables before Helga came in.
“Tonight, we welcome a new recruit – Liz joins us with experience with firearms and in the army, and seeks to learn from us as we learn from her. Let us eat together, share together, and live together, for The Heart and The Strength.”
“For the Heart and the Strength,” they said before they came up, taking the meat and vegetable broth that Sunburst doled out and bread before they sat at the tables, Liz joining Helga and Sunburst as they ate.
“I’ve eaten worse,” Liz said as she looked round the room.
“Well, thank you,” Sunburst said, Helga shaking her head.
“So how did you end up here Sunburst?” Liz asked as they ate.
“Well,” Sunburst said as she took a drink, “after Iraq, the army gave me a commission and a desk job in Canberra. But be honest Liz do you see me as either an officer or riding a desk?”
“Not really,” Liz said as she shook her head.
“So I ended up going home, and well I wasn’t really ever fitting in there as well, so I just climbed in me ute and drove all over Australia, me pension covers me expenses, and well eventually someone told me about all this, so I flew to Harare, and via a friend of a friend of a friend I fetched up here.”
“And we are so glad she did.” Helga smiled at the Australian.
“They needed a cook, so I cook, they needed someone who knows weapons, and I know them buggers, so I just made meself useful.”
“I think that is the important word, Liz…useful.” Helga paused a moment. “A lot of us have reached rock bottom in life, we feel that nobody wants us, nobody is looking out for us, that nobody cares. The sisters do though, we care for each other, we look out for each other, and being here gives our lives back a purpose.”
“Amen Teacher!” a couple of other women smiled.
“I guess that’s why I’m here.” Liz smiled, “I am, or rather I was, a damn good Intelligence Officer, but if I’m being honest sitting behind a desk in Pretoria was beginning to become very boring, with the sisters I think I can actually feel that I’m making a difference, that I’ll be a real soldier again.”
“Well, we can use all you can give,” Helga said, “but we also must teach you.”
“So who are the Heart and the Strength?”
Helga looked at Liz, before saying “the sisterhood was formed by some of those who were liberated in the United States last year, when the full breadth of the depravities of former Vice-President Kimba of Mazengwe were revealed. They swore an oath that never again would they stand by and see people oppressed in the way they were, when they learned that one of them was the one that killed Kimba.
“So they approached one of the group who had liberated them, and the Sisters of Maisha were formed.”
Liz nodded as she said “I have met that person, haven’t I?”
Nodding, Helga said “in the sisterhood, she is known as Little Mother. As more women came, we founded this place, but we are many in number. Most return to their villages, watch, and call if we are needed.”
“The group who took me and the others into Mogola?”
“Volunteers all. At any rate, I suspect you can now tell who The Heart and The Strength are?”
“Well, one anyway – we are the Sisters of Maisha, and Maisha was one of the girls whose story was told by Piet and Jane – now the ward of…”
Liz suddenly put her spoon down and said “oh… OH!”
“The Strength showed us the way, The Heart reminds us to look for each other and help each other – so we do this for…”
Sunburst was interrupted as the door was thrown open.
“The first four are coming in,” an excited woman came to the door of the dining hall and shouted.
“Come on Liz we have to go and cheer.” Helga beckoned, “the food will be here when we get back.”
“The first four what?” Liz asked.
“Recruits!” Sunburst grinned her broad smile. “For her graduation each recruit is taken out about 80 miles as one of a group of four, they have rations for 24 hours, water for 36. They are given two map references they must visit, so they have a map, a compass, and a pack. As a four they must work together to get food, water, shelter, because it’s usually going to take them 4 days or more to complete their task and return home.”
“It’s not enough for the individual to come home alone, to be graduated they need to make it as a team.” Helga said as they stood outside, before she started clapping as 4 weary looking women started walking proudly into the camp to the cheers of their sisters.
“So they are only as strong as their weakest link?” Liz asked.
“Yes, and we turn out like this for every group, so you may get woken up a couple of times in the night.” Helga walked out and shook each of the returnee’s hands. “This is a big, huge, moment in people’s lives.”
Liz watched as the women crowded round and started singing, the Song of Maisha she had heard in the bush, as they embraced the new arrivals. Suddenly, she knew she was at home.
7.30 pm EST
“Colonel Vosloo, Mrs. Vosloo,” the maid said as she opened the door to the apartment, “Welcome. If I could take your coats, Miss Xavier and her party are waiting in the drawing room.”
“Thank you,” John said as he helped Marianne out of her coat, and then removed his own to reveal a dark suit, white shirt and dark tie. His wife was wearing a long sleeved cream dress, with high heels.
Hanging their coats, the maid said “this way,” showing them into the drawing room. John saw the tall brunette, and standing next to her the equally well dressed man.
“Colonel Vosloo, welcome,” the brunette, said as she stepped forward, her voice deep and warming, “I am Shirley Xavier. Thank you for agreeing to come to dinner tonight – may I introduce John Hammond, my partner.”
“An honour sir,” John said as the two men shook hands.
“The honour is mine, Major Hammond. My wife Marianne.”
“Please, let us not stand on ceremony tonight,” Shirley said as she took Marianne’s hands. “Charlotte was kind enough to inform me of your visit, and I make it a point to meet those my senior staff consider friends.”
“Indeed,” John said, “Shall we agree to first name terms, as I offer you a drink?”
“Scotch, single if you have it,” John said as the door opened, and Caroline walked in, accompanied by Ama and Maisha.
“Ah – girls, allow me to introduce John and Marianne Vosloo, Charlotte’s family friends from South Africa. John, Marianne, May I introduce my friend and security consultant, Caroline Jameson, her daughter Ama and my ward Maisha.”
“A pleasure,” Marianne said as she hugged them. John looked at them – the tall, almost Amazonian blonde in the white evening dress, and the two African girls, both about fifteen, both watching with careful eyes.
“Indeed, a pleasure to meet you both,” John said, “I read your stories when events happened in Mazengwe last year. You were both incredibly brave.”
“Thank you,” Ama said quietly, “it was important our stories were told.”
“So you have made your home here with Caroline now, Ama,” Marianne said.
“Indeed – mom takes very good care of me.”
“And you Maisha?”
“No, I live in London with Aunt Shirley, and learn there.”
“Excuse me, Miss Xavier, but dinner is ready.”
“Thank you,” Shirley said as she nodded to the maid. “Well, shall we?”
“A wonderful meal,” Marianne said as coffee was served in the drawing room. “Do you always have this number of staff?”
“Not normally, but tonight was a special dinner, and I wanted to be hostess rather than cook,” Shirley said with a smile. “So what plans do you have for this week?”
“None really,” John said as he sat back, “I probably will look into a few things.”
“Well, I intend to do some shopping – and get my husband to a couple of shows as well. He could use the downtime, even if he won’t admit it.”
“Marianne is my conscience,” John said with a smile. “When Charlotte saw us yesterday, she said things were going well for her in your company.”
“Yes, she is a very talented young lady,” Shirley said with a smile. “I understand you have an interest in the works of Lowry, John?”
“I do indeed – why?”
“I have a collection of early sketches in my den I think you will enjoy seeing – perhaps you would like to do so now?”
“On you go John,” Marianne said, “These two delightful young ladies are keeping me company.”
“John, will you be all right?”
“Of course,” John Hammond said with a smile, “Caroline and I need to discuss a shoot next week anyway.”
“Good – well, if you will follow me,” Shirley said with a smile as she stood up, John saying “if you will excuse me,” as he accompanied Shirley to her den, waiting as Shirley closed the door behind them.
“May I offer you another drink, Colonel,” Shirley said as she opened a cupboard. “A fifteen year old Glenmorangie, perhaps?”
“Green label – I see Charlotte told you a lot about me.”
“Not really – a lot of this is public knowledge,” Shirley said as she poured two glasses and handed one to John, both of them sitting in the leather armchairs. “But I suspect what you would prefer to discuss is private knowledge.”
John looked at Shirley, assessing her before he said “I suspect you are a woman who appreciates honesty – so may I be honest with you?”
“I think we need to be honest with each other, John, if we are to understand each other – so please, ask away.”
“Do you finance the Sisters of Maisha, and if so how?”
“No – but I am one of several who oversee their funding, through my company. Before I forget, my first piece of news for you – your former assistant has arrived at our training facility, and has conveyed their thanks for the support you were able to offer.”
“Believe me, if we can do more, we will – but how did Charlotte get involved?”
“Actually, they approached her – the original Sisterhood was formed of those who had been taken by Kimba, sold into slavery, and wished to fight for others who were undergoing the same trials they had.”
“And you would know this because?”
Shirley smiled as she said “because I was one of those who freed them.”
“I am in regular contact with a certain English lady,” John said as he sipped his drink, “who said I may meet her Moriarty, even as she told me about the Sisters of Maisha.”
“I spoke to her today,” Shirley said, “because of some information I wished to impart to her, and then to you.” Leaning forward, she said “Charlotte says I should trust you, and you have shown good faith. Before I do so, however, there is a small matter we need to discuss.”
“And that would be?”
Shirley stood up and dialed a number on her telephone. Putting the speaker on, she waited until a British voice said “Madame?”
“Put them on.” She waited a few moments before she said “Sergeant Mitchell, Corporal Viljoen, and Private Swart, this is Shirley Xavier speaking. My apologies that we have not spoken until now, but I hope you have been enjoying my hospitality.”
John listened as he heard Gretchen say “we could hardly refuse – but we are comfortable and well.”
“Good – I have your commanding officer, Colonel Vosloo with me. If I was to ask him why you broke into my Chelsea home last night, what would his answer be?”
There was a moment’s silence, before Gretchen said “I do not know.”
“Sergeant, this is Colonel Vosloo. I take it your assignment was unsuccessful?”
“Regretfully, sir, we were overpowered and removed from the premises. Miss Xavier has a unique home security system.”
“Indeed – you and your comrades will stand down, Gretchen.”
“In return, we will return you to London tomorrow. Please, enjoy your stay. Oh – and Private Swart?”
“Yes, Miss Xavier,” John heard the former thief says.
“Dominique says better luck next time.” Ending the call, she sat and looked at John, with a look that said ”Well?”
“It would appear I underestimated you,” John said as he raised his glass, “so if you are the Moriarty to this lady’s Holmes?”
Shirley merely smiled as she said “the problems in Mogola are only part of the issue, however, and Charlotte felt it was important you were made aware of the wider picture – who is behind the mining, and what has happened to the ladies that have been forcibly taken. Tell me, what happened about the coordinates you were given?”
“I checked when we arrived – something is indeed going on there, and we have the place under observation. How did you know of the place?”
“Does it matter if the information was accurate?”
“That makes it sound like a question I should not ask,” John said quietly, “so who is behind it – The Chinese or the Japanese?”
“Both – in the sense of a Japanese Yakusa family is working alongside someone in the Chinese government. We believe we know who both are, and some of my staff are gathering evidence in Japan and China – evidence which will be turned over to the appropriate authorities.”
“Charlotte hinted there was a lot more going on,” John said, “but if you are who you say you are, I begin to understand how that may be possible. So what else is happening – if you can tell me?”
“Currently in Tokyo one of my senior associates is working alongside one of the older families to prepare to deal with the Japanese paymasters. At the same time, information and names are being fed through other contacts to people in the Chinese government who we know will take action.”
“We know you are friends with Catherine Lu,” John said, “would those be one of the other contacts?”
“She would certainly be very well placed for such a task, true?”
“True,” John said with a chuckle. “Which raises a question – you knew we were raiding your main offices, didn’t you?”
“Again, you stray into an area I cannot comment on – but you discovered nothing illegal, correct?”
“Correct. So you are dealing with the cause of the problems in Mogola – what about Mogola itself?”
“In time, John – first, I need to update you on our other activities. Another group of my associates have rescued the latest group of women sent into slavery. They are currently resting and receiving treatment, and in due course we will ensure they are repatriated to their home country – just as we did with those girls we helped to rescue from Kimba and his associates.”
Nodding, John said, “I would very much like to hear that tale, at some point, my concern now is how we end this.”
“Then consider this,” Shirley said quietly. “We have the names in China and Japan. You have the place in Africa these bastards are supplying the mine in Mogola from. We have the people in this country who were managing the supply of the slaves to this country – and the Sisters of Maisha now have a way to take over and close down the mine.”
John leaned forward, and said “You are suggesting a coordinated assault, correct?”
“I am suggesting, Colonel Vosloo, that there are mutual benefits to working together on this. In return for helping us on this, we forget the little incidents at my offices and home. You also have a dedicated liaison with the Sisterhood now – again, I believe to your mutual benefit.”
“Even if it is unofficial?”
Shirley nodded as she sipped her drink.
“Even though, technically, I should arrest you for supporting what is in essence a terrorist organization?”
“More a freelance collective of fighters, who pick their targets – and ask yourself, what would Charlotte’s father say of what she does?”
“He’d be horrified and proud at the same time,” John said. “I presume Piet knows nothing of this?”
“Not to my knowledge – the public face of Xavier International and my private work stay separate.”
John placed his glass down. “Strange thing, the intelligence game – it makes comrades of strange bedfellows. I presume you also wish us to end our investigation into you and your staff?”
“Especially Charlotte - she is doing a good thing, and should be allowed to continue.”
“Very well then - when is this move planned for?”
“Soon – we need to have clarity on one or two things first.” Shirley finished her drink, and said “besides, it would not be the first time you have formed such an alliance, true?”
Smiling John said “one question – who are the Heart and the Strength?”
“You have already met them – and we really should rejoin them.” Shirley stood up and held her hand out. “Do we have an agreement, Colonel?”
“We do, Madame,” John said as they shook hands. “What would Major Hammond say if he knew who you are?”
“Not a question I wish to ask – shall we?”
Saturday 22nd August
1 pm Local time
“Hello Louise,” Natalya said as she stood to greet the young women who had just arrived, “and you must be Victoria. A pleasure to meet you as well.”
“Thank you for allowing me to come,” the young girl said as they sat down, “ever since the shooting, I haven’t wanted to be alone. So you are a friend of Louise’s sister?”
“I am – she asked me to pass on a message on her behalf, and make sure you are all right.”
“Tell her I’m fine, darling,” Louise said with a smile, “if a little shook up. What is the message?”
“It should be safe for you to return home in a week or so, if you wish to. The choice, however, is yours.”
Louise smiled as she said “Buy us both lunch, Nat – we can talk over that.”
6 am local time
Liz stood and clapped with the others as another group of four came in, Helga greeting and hugging them.
“Go, rest – we will honour all of you tonight,” Helga said. “Now the rest of you – to your morning duties. Liz – with me.”
They headed to the Radio Room, the woman there smiling as she handed over the headset to Helga.
“Teacher, this is Little Mother. How goes it?”
“The last group just returned – we will honour and celebrate tonight.”
“Good – message for your latest recruit. Tell her all is well with her mentor, and they are watching the place with interest. We are now as one.”
Liz nodded to show she had heard, as Helga said “good news. I talk with Leader at 1000 hours. Any messages?”
“Tell her we move soon, and she is not alone.”
“Understood – next contact.”
“Radio silence until final orders.”
“Understood, thank you Little Mother.”
As Helga looked at Liz, she said “right – let’s see what you are down on the duty roster for today.”
3 pm EST
The cab pulled up outside the two storey building, Sarah and Harriet stretching as Grace went and unlocked the door, before coming back as the cab driver unloaded their bags, and she paid him.
“Well, this is it,” Grace said as the cab drove off, and they grabbed their cases, “shall we?”
The three women walked up the stairs and into the main room of the apartment, putting their bags down as Harriet went to close the door. Sarah took off her jacket and looked round.
“Not bad – did you manage to get some things in?”
“Yeah,” Grace said, “but we could do with some fresh bread and things. I’ve got your sets of keys locked in my bedroom.”
Before she took a step, they heard the bell for the front door ring. “I’ll go,” Grace said as she sat down and opened the door.
“Grace Brand? I’m April Broadhurst, and this is my husband Grant. I own Greenwich Florists a couple of blocks over, and my daughter Pepsi goes to St Angela’s.”
“Oh – hello,” Grace said, “what can I do for you?”
“Sandy Richmond and Caroline Jameson asked us to come round,” Grant said as he held up some brown grocery bags, “she felt you may appreciate a welcome basket, but we brought other things instead.”
“Very true – come up please,” Grace said, allowing them to walk up the stairs. Grace was wearing a white short sleeved blouse and shorts, while Grant had on a polo shirt and jeans. As they came in, they saw Sarah in her jumper and jeans, and Harriet in her coat dress.
“Girls, this is April and Grant Broadhurst, the welcome wagon. April, Grant, this is Sarah Nightingale and Harriet Craig.”
“If that is food and milk in there, you are more than welcome,” Harriet said with a smile.
“Well, bread and milk at any rate – Caroline said she would show you round the area tomorrow, but she’s gone to a party up in Manchester today with Annie and Ama. Can you point me to your kitchen?”
“Through there,” Grace said, “I’ll come and make some coffee in a minute.”
“I was telling Grace my daughter is a pupil at St Angela’s,” April said, “I understand you are teaching there from this semester?”
“Indeed,” Harriet said, “I teach Chemistry and Sarah English Literature.”
“Pepsi – Nicola – is a sophomore this year. She’s one of Jeannie Brewster’s friends.”
“Well, I may have her for Spanish,” Grace said as she came back in, “and thank you for the supplies.”
“You may find these of use as well, especially tonight,” April, said as she took a sheath of takeout menus and laid them on a coffee table.
“Sit down,” Grace said as Grant came back out, “I’ll bring some coffee in a minute.”
“So welcome to New York,” Grant said, “looking forward to living and working here?”
“Actually, I’m petrified,” Harriet said, “I’ve got today and tomorrow to get over the jet lag, and then we report for duty on Monday morning.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve laid the groundwork,” Grace said, “You’ll only want to kill me by Monday coffee.”
“Oh joy,” Sarah said with a laugh. “Actually, it means we do get a chance to get ourselves settled – the rest of our personal belongings are arriving tomorrow afternoon, and we can work from that.”
“Oh – looking forward to watching your DVDs?”
“Yes – why?”
“Different Zone – will they play?”
“Yes they will,” Grace said, “I bought a special all zones player last week, so panic ye not, your Dangermouse box set is safe Sarah.”
“I told you that in confidence,” Sarah said with a laugh.
“It’s all right,” Grant said, “April does not know I know about her Sid and Marty Kroft collection…”
“H R Puf’n’stuf, Harriet,” Grace said, her friend nodding as April blushed.
“Sounds like we need a childhood throwback night one night soon,” Grace said as she went to the kitchen, returning with mugs of coffee on a tray.
“That’s better,” Sarah said as she took a sip, ”so what do you do Grant?”
“New York Transit Authority – with a bit of racehorse training on the side.”
He laughed as Saran and Harriet looked at him. “We’ll explain later – right now, tell us about yourselves…”
“Not much to tell really – unlike Grace here, we’re just two jobbing teachers,” Harriet said as she drank her coffee, “who both felt we needed a new challenge.”
“And stood by me, which made them targets,” Grace said as she brought some biscuits through.
“I wondered if you remembered to bring some Rich Tea – I am going to miss them,” Sarah said as she dunked one into her coffee.
“No you won’t – there’s an English grocery store a few blocks away,” April said as Grant went to the bathroom. As he came back, he stopped at the music centre and looked at some cases.
“Who do the Artie Shaw compact discs belong to?” Grant asked.
“They are Harriet’s…to her he’s something approaching her god.” Grace smiled.
“Harriet you are a lady of infinite taste.”
“Are you a fan as well Grant?” Harriet asked.
“I’m a fan of big band music in general. My father used to play it in the stables, he claimed the horses liked it.”
“Oh your father was a racehorse trainer?”
“Yeah, a good one, but not overly successful.”
“Didn’t I hear from someone that you are a part owner of a very, very good two year old?” asked Grace.
“Yes Saintz and Sinnerz, he’s won 4 out of his 5 races so far.”
“Do you play him music?” Sarah asked.
“No,” Grant laughed, “I’m not sure our trainer or my partners would understand.”
“Well coming back to Artie Shaw, I play clarinet myself, and Wilhelmina is keen we start a jazz club at St Angela’s.”
“So maybe before the end of the school year, we might get a jazz concert?” April asked.
“Hopefully.” Harriet smiled, “if I can find the right people.”
“That won’t include Pepsi, I’m afraid – Music is not her strong point,” April said with a laugh. “I think she’s only really enjoyed one music lesson this year, and that’s when Elly-Mental took the class on Operation Takeover day?”
“Operation – Takeover?”
“Kate told me about that,” Grace said. “Every year the senior girls pull a charity stunt – this year they sent the entire faculty away for the day, and drafted in alumnae to take classes.”
“Hmm – who do we see about arranging that this year,” Sarah said with a laugh.
“We don’t get a say in the matter,” Grace said. “Still, that’s not until May – we have the Freshmen induction to get through first.”
“Oh that’s fun – I remember April coming back from her first day. She was so excited to meet Jeannie and the others…”
“First day at a new school, always exciting,” Grace said with a smile.
The music was blaring out of the CD player as a group started to dance to the music…
I can think of nothing better
Than dancing on the beach
See a girl, you can go and get her
Your troubles will be out of reach
On the beach
You can dance to a rock 'n' roll
On the beach
Hear the Bossa Nova, played with soul
On the beach
You can dance, twist and shout
On the beach
Everybody hear me come on out
On the beach
Come on, everybody, stomp your feet)
On the beach
You can dance with anyone you meet)
'Cause your troubles are out of reach
On the beach
Umm, this is fun
Umm, won't you tell me
I'm the one you're gonna dance with
Yeah, Bossa Nova!
Umm, this is fun
Umm, now I know
I'm the one you're gonna dance with
Yeah, twist and shout now!
You can do the dance that you want to
With anyone that you meet
And if the Bossa Nova doesn't get you
The twist will have you on you feet
On the beach
You can dance to a rock 'n' roll
On the beach
Hear the Bossa Nova, played with soul
On the beach
You can dance, twist and shout
On the beach
Everybody hear me come on out
On the beach
Come on, everybody, stomp your feet
On the beach
You can dance with anyone you meet
'Cause your troubles are out of reach
On the beach
“Hey this isn’t bad.” Carina said as she danced with Judith in her arms, her bikini clear proof of her warning to Holly a year before hand that she would give her competition this year for being the most statuesque beauty at the beach party.
“The song is by Cliff Richard and the Shadows from a sixties movie I had a tiny, tiny, part in.” Eve Stone smiled as she watched, wearing a light blue bikini with a shawl wrapped round her waist.
“Well it’s very appropriate, and it’s just so great that you and Uncle Stephen could come.”
“Well,” Eve said as he looked over to where Stephen was standing by the barbecue, “he had a few more sitters to shoot, and well we both think it’s important he spends time with the grandchildren.”
“I understand.” Cari nodded.
“Especially after their parents ordeal at the hands of those terrible women.”
“Agreed Aunt Eve.”
“Hey – is this the baby disco before the main event gates underway?”
“Sure is Karen,” Carina said as Karen and Ken Boyd came over, little John not looking so little now in her arms.
“My goodness he has grown,” Carina said as Judith waved at the baby.
“Tell me about it,” Karen said with a smile as Juliette walked over with Klaus.
“Look who finally made it,” Juliette said as Ingrid waved from behind them.
“Sorry – the flight was ridiculous,” Ingrid, said as she took off her t-shirt, revealing a white bikini. “I just want to kick back and relax now.”
“You keep away from the barbecue unless it’s your turn on,” Susan said as she arrived with Marina, Kylie, Clint and April.
“Don’t worry, we have the schedule worked out – I don’t go on until later, George and John drew the first shift.”
“Good – you and me can dance with April and the other youngsters,” Susan said as Marina and Kylie made their way over to where Doc was sitting with her friends.
“Anna darling,” Kylie said, “so this is the last night of our holiday?”
“I’m afraid so,” Doc said as she looked at the two young women in their bikinis, “when do you fly back to Hong Kong?”
“Wednesday – when do you head back to Chicago Chet darling?”
“Sunday I’m afraid,” Chet said as Henry and Sarah looked on, Sarah with her hair cut short and wearing a new bikini herself. “Blair stays however – Blair, this is Kylie Mitchell and Marina Sokowski. Kylie goes to school in Hong Kong, where Marina works.”
“A pleasure,” Marina said as they shook hands. “I understand you’re doing a degree in design?”
“That’s the idea – what do you work as?”
“A translator mainly…”
“Hey – how was Barbados,” Juliette said as she hugged Diana, while Abby hugged Carina and Jo.
“Lovely,” Abby said with a smile, “no baking on rocks this time.”
“Oh – what happened?”
“Mother sent Essie Lowenstein to watch proceedings,” Abby said, “listen, a few of the girls are coming as well, if that’s all right?”
“That’s fine,” Juliette said as she saw Sandy and Heather walk over with the children, “The more the merrier. Alex, Vanessa, you came as well.”
“Indeed – although I claim the right to forego the bikini briefs,” she said as she stood in a grey bikini top and shorts, “as has Paulie.”
“Stephen, how are you,” Alex said as he walked over to see Stephen Stone.
“I’m fine Alex – keep working, doing good,” Stephen said as he sipped his drink. “A good turnout so… Jack! I see you made it?”
“Well, I was promised a few good looking guys,” Jack Linklater said as he joined them, “and I see it wasn’t a false promise.”
“Most of them are taken,” Alex said with a smile as Stephen looked at another new arrival.
“Well dear Holy Mother,” he said as Lily Cole came over, “what are you doing here Lily darlin’?”
“I’m a friend of Abby’s.”
“That explains it then.” Stephen chuckled, “It’s rare to see such a gathering of the model tribe as this.”
“Well it helps that all the photographers here are off duty.” Lily laughed, “if the paparazzi knew just who was here none of us would be enjoying ourselves.”
“So I hear that your book on disabled women is coming along fabulously?”
“And how would you know that Miss Cole?”
“We share an editor,” Lily smiled, “he showed me some of the pictures last week, they are truly amazing.”
“Yes,” Stephen smiled, “the girls are really grasping very quickly what the concept is.”
“The ones of Jeannie blew my mind.”
“They should do, she’s an amazing young lady.”
“Yes she is.” Lily watched as Tony lifted the English model onto a blanket.
“I take it young House is in California?”
“So I hear, this was one party he couldn’t get permission to come back for.”
“A true sign summer is ending – Excuse me a moment,” Stephen said as he walked towards a new arrival, Eve and Juliette coming from a different direction.
“Hey,” Cassandra said as she and Rick walked over with the children, “sorry I haven’t been in touch for most of the last week – Rick and I have been locked away.”
“How are you Cass?” Eve said as she looked at her daughter.
“Better – we channeled most of how we felt into the script, and we sent it back to LA this afternoon,” Rick said. “So tonight, we’re going to relax, eat, drink, dance, and forget about this film for one night.”
“Good for you,” Juliette said as she hugged Cassandra. “Come on – we’ll get you both a drink.”
“You go and join the others,” Cassandra said as the kids ran off, and then followed Juliette and Rick.
The music of the Beach Boys was starting to play, as Pussy and Frieda arrived, both wearing black bikinis.
“Hey, you made it,” Heather said as she came over and hugged then both, “how are you?”
“Positively blooming,” Pussy said with a smile, “positively blooming.”
“I see everyone is getting into the spirit of the night,” Frieda said as she looked round, “even the younger generation…”
“This is actually good music,” Nikki said as she and Becca danced to the music, Ama and Pepsi watching as they sat with Doc and Sarah.
“So what are you going to tell your mother when you get back,” Pepsi said as she sipped her drink.
“About H? I’ll work out what to say – as to the new hairdo and clothes, I’ll just say I fancied a change, and see what happens.”
“Just be honest,” Ama said, “and everything will be fine. Hello sister.”
“Hello sister,” Maisha said as she sat with them, “Aunt Shirley and Uncle John have joined the others, so I thought I would sit with you.”
“Yes – he asked me to call him that, and he makes Aunt Shirley happy, so how can I refuse,” Maisha said with a smile.
“Dear Artemis, that is some bikini Tasha.” Heather shook her head as Natasha and Willy came over, Willy carrying Alain in his chair. “No danger you need borrow one of mine this year.”
“No, I think I pass inspection,” the French diplomat looked down at herself and smiled.
“More then pass inspection.” Abigail kissed her aunt. “Is that from Canyon?”
“No Mama bought it in Cannes for me…”
“Grandmother is giving you bikinis now?”
“I know, hasn’t a lot changed in the past year?” Natasha giggled softly.
“Indeed – a great deal,” Abby said as she looked round.
“So when do you start back at school, Stevie,” George said as they sat and watched Capricorn, Leonora and Little Sandy dancing on the beach.
“The first. You?”
“The day before – last year in junior high.”
“Same here – I’ve enjoyed this month though, even if mom and pop have been locked in conference all week.”
“It must be funny, not seeing your mom for weeks at a time. When mom goes racing, Sandy and I go to be part of the pit crew.”
“I know it seems funny, but it means we enjoy time together like this month all the more – hey who’s that waving?”
George looked over at the young girl, her blonde hair flowing as she ran in her new pink bikini.
“Hello George, Stevie – so what do you think?”
“Okay everybody, be careful, the law just arrived.” Jack Linklater grinned.
“We are all strictly off duty Jack.” Jan smiled as she walked over in her new outfit. “You do know Tom and Gale Callaghan of course?”
“Yes,” Jack shook Tom’s hand and he kissed Gale.
“And this is Henri Marais, and his daughter Jeanne.”
“This is an honour.” Jack smiled as he kissed Jeanne and shook Henri’s hand.
“Henri, you made it?” Father Richmond approached.
“I did Alex.”
“Well I have a secret for you, there are some good bottles of Chateau de Ros under the table if you don’t want beer, tell them I sent you.” Alex tapped his nose.
“Ah I understand.” Henri smiled back.
“And how comes I didn’t get to share in this secret of the wine?” Jack pouted as he stood hand on hip.
“Because I know you Jack, and I saw you bring your own Glenlivet and have them put it aside.” Alex laughed.
“Oooh God save us from priests with big eyes.” Jack laughed.
“Hey Holly that is UNFAIR!” Carina shook her head as the other shortsighted blonde approached in the barest possible baby blue bikini that kept within the bylaws of the beach.
“Well I needed to up my game with you not being pregnant this year.” Holly grinned happily up at Tommy walking arm in arm with her, “besides he loves me in this,” she giggled.
“I cannot tell a lie,” Tommy said with a smile.
“Holly do you need a robe?” Sandy asked, shaking her head in awe.
“Not yet,” Holly giggled, “but I think a few guys might need their eyes popping back in later.”
“A few guys? I think there might be some other women who will need that as well Hol.” Heather laughed.
“Oh dear goddess Holly.” Kylie smiled as she came over carrying some cold beers, “I have to know where you got that darling, I have to have one as well.”
“I can give you the address Kylie.”
“Oh dear Goddess - you might just have been trumped Holly.” Sandy whistled as Mandy and Angel came down the path in matching gold bikinis, if possible even more daring then Holly’s.
“Yeah – let’s admit defeat,” Carina said as David looked over and said “MUM? SIS?”
“Why thank you darling,” Mandy said with a smile, “the compliment is accepted.”
“Save it lover,” Judy said as she took his hand, “just go with the flow…”
“So how was it Sarah?” Anna whispered.
“Painful the first time, but we seem to be getting the hang of it now,” the Chicagoan laughed.
“The hymen is Mother Nature’s way of trying to persuade us to abandon sex before we’ve really tried.”
“Well now it’s gone, and he has worked out it takes longer for me to have my orgasm then him, as I said we have sort of figured it out.”
“You do look beautiful by the way Sarah.”
“Thank you, those makeup tips have really helped.”
“Yes, but I’m going to see my doctor when I get home, I really do need birth control.”
“You do…I’m on it.” Doc smiled at her friend.
“Mom is going to have a fit, but you know what – I don’t really care.”
“No, you will,” Doc said with a smile, “so just be honest, all right?”
“So who is that with the Sluts?” Ingrid asked her sister.
“Two of Adam Cabot’s cousins. Seems that they have already turned their eyes towards Boston.”
“How many eligible men are there in Boston Cari?”
“Probably not enough to occupy them both for four full years of college.”
“What was Harvard thinking of?”
“I know.” Carina shook her head.
“Well I’m looking forward to Princeton.”
“Did you get a modeling schedule from Missy?”
“Yeah, I can fit most of it in, Fashion weeks are the problem.”
“I know,” Carina nodded, “I can’t believe I’m already being booked for shows.”
“Hey,” Marnie and Maggie said as they came over, “did you get a missive from Missy today?”
“Yeah – Jo?”
“I got a list of possible dates but until I know my training and meet schedule this semester, I can’t say one way or the other.”
“So,” Cari said as she looks at them, “this time next week, you’ll be at college. Scared?”
“Oh god yes.”
Cari turned to see Ally and Nell standing behind them. “Doesn’t it terrify you as well?”
“Of course it does,” Maggie said, “but we’ll be close together, Marnie’s at her new place, and you’re in the north Jo.”
“Marina, bring some of those bottles over will you,” Jo called out, smiling as Marina bought over the beers.
“My fellow angels, a toast – to the future.”
They raised their bottles and nodded as they took a drink.
“Hey – how are you,” Jan said as she joined Cassandra and Rick, watching the kids.
“Getting there,” Cassandra said with a smile, “how are you?”
“I’ve faced those women a few times now – and they scare the crap out of me every time I meet them. Adam wants to kill them just for threatening me or Katy.”
“He really is in love with you, isn’t he?”
“Cuts both ways,” Jan said as she took a drink.
“What did Tom say when he talked to you?”
“Nothing – for some reason, you both said I was knocked out with Rick at their hideout when you went with them. Why did you do that?”
“If I had said otherwise, it would have caused you a few problems,” Rick said. “We like you Jan – and what would be served in the greater scheme of things by hurting you as well?”
“I guess I should be grateful – even if it’s a secret I have to keep.”
“Oh I get the feeling you’re very good at keeping secrets,” Cassandra whispered under her breath, and then said more loudly “look at it this way – the experience gave me what I was missing, and the script is amazing now.”
“If Brian will take it,” Rick said.
“Oh I think he will – and I think we’ll be seeing more of you when we film this later this year, Janice.”
“Hey Doc,” Heather said as she looked at Selma, “thanks for coming.”
“So how are you doing?”
“I’m happy – and I’m ready for next weekend, I think.” She looked over at Jo, who was dancing with her fellow graduates. “Look at them – not a care in the world, and their whole future before them.”
“As it should be – just remember, you talk every day, as if she was here, and it won’t be so bad.”
“I know – and we’ve booked regular flights back for her.”
“Good – you are getting better, Heather, and I will see you through this. Now, what does a girl have to do to get a drink around here?”
“I’m gonna miss you like crazy, Monster Momma.”
“It’s only for a few weeks,” Annie said as she looked down at Carina, “I’m booking regular weekend trips up to New Haven this year, and we’ll talk on Skype as well.”
“Momma” Judith said as she held her arms out for Annie to pick her up.
“Especially if the signs are right for you to have a little brother or sister, isn’t that right little one?”
Judith grinned as she hugged Annie, and then held her arms out for Carina to take her.
“I hope the nursery are ready for you, baby,” Carina said as she tickled Judith’s nose. “Look at Ama – hang on, that’s never Alex with her, is it?”
“Do you know, I think we may have brought him with us as well,” Annie said with a smile.
“So how did you do in the exams, sis,” David said as he sat with Jude and Angel.
“Two A’s and a B – enough to be looking at a few places next year, while I do other things.”
“Oh – what sort of things?”
“Just my dream modeling assignment,” Angel said with a sigh.
“What – St Moritz? Paris? Milan?”
“No – Horse and Hound. Modeling stylish wear for the horse loving woman…”
Judy and David burst out laughing as Abby walked past with Tony.
“So you start Monday?”
“Yeah – as a foreign student, I apparently have to do some additional induction classes.”
“And how did Ingrid get away with not doing them?”
“Apparently, Princeton have waived most of them for her – and she’s entering as a sophomore, not as a freshman.”
“So you get the joys of Cornell for an extra week?”
“Guess so – when do you start back?”
“A week Monday – but I have the annual torture of buying a new uniform to go through first, and apparently I have to sit down with the new Dean of Students to make sure I’m not missing out with all the trips I need to do this year.”
“Yeah – I had to inform my Student Counselor as well. You should have seen his face when I mentioned Paris, Vienna and London.”
“I’ll bet – but you forgot New York.”
“No I didn’t,” Tony said, “I took that one as a given.”
“So what did he say?”
“Not to fall too far behind – his daughter is one of the New York class as well.”
“Ready for the new year, Kittycat,” Doc said as she and Kylie sat by the shore, watching the waves go back and forth.
“I am Kitten – so much has changed, but I know this is the year that will set everything else up for me. I am determined to do my best – in everything.”
“As am I – whatever that may be,” Doc said quietly.
“I will be back for Christmas though – that should be fun. And we can talk when you like, allowing for the slight time difference.”
“Just remember I’m not a morning person, all right?”
“And I’m not either – we should be just fun at midnight and noon then…”
Do you remember back in old L.A.
When everybody drove a Chevrolet
Whatever happened to the boy next door
The sun-tanned crew-cut all-american male
Remember dancin' at the high school hop
The dress I ruined with the soda pop
I didn't recognize the girl next-door
The beat up sneakers and the pony tail
Beach baby, Beach Baby give me your hand
Give me somethin' that I can remember
Just like before we can walk by the shore in the moonlight
Beach baby, Beach baby there on the sand
From July 'till the end of September
Surfin' was fun, we'd be out in the sun every day
Mmmm, I never thought that it would end
Oooooh oooooh, mmmm, and I was everybody's friend Ooooh ooooh
Long hot days
Cool Sea haze
Juke box plays
But now it's fading awaaaaay
We couldn't wait for graduation Day
We took my car and drove to San Jose
That's where you told me that you'd wear my ring
I guess you don't remember anything
Beach baby, Beach Baby give me your hand
Give me somethin' that I can remember
Just like before we can walk by the shore in the moonlight
Beach baby, Beach baby there on the sand
From July 'till the end of September
Surfin' was fun, we'd be out in the sun every day
“Whoever put this mix together needs either congratulating or shooting,” Diana said as she stood with Emma and Juliette.
“Oh come on – look at the youngsters dancing to it,” Emma said as she sipped her drink, “even the grandkids are getting into it in a big way.”
The sun was starting to set, and the fire was burning brightly as people moved around, some of them sitting by the warmth as others stood round and talked.
“So how do you feel the race season has gone,” Gus said as they stood and watched the others.
“Well we need a few points more to be guaranteed a place in the final of the NEASC series.” Henri sipped his wine, “but with three more qualifying races we should do it easily.”
“You know at the start of the season I was doubtful, but the girls have really done well haven’t they?”
“They have Nessa,” Guy said with a smile. “All three have genuine talent as drivers, and with a first class backup team, they have earned their successes.”
“Did I hear something about a chance to race at Sebring next year?” Gus asked.
“We’ve been invited to run in the privateer’s class, and I think if we can make it work with the girls schedules we should accept it. At the very least it will give them a chance to see how the top professional teams do it.”
“Well it will also give us all the excuse to take winter vacations in Florida as well.” Paulie smiled.
“There is indeed that added benefit – I had not thought of it that way,” Henri said with a smile.
“I’d like to sign up Torware as additional sponsors for the team.” Augie said as he poured he and his wife fresh glasses of wine.
“I’m sure that can be arranged.” Vanessa smiled. “Give Sandy a call when you get back.”
“It’s been so lovely this summer, up here, meeting everybody.” Tracey van Roon smiled as she watched the youngsters dancing. “It’s given us all a chance to just relax and be ourselves for once.”
“And on top of everything else I got another piece of van Roon silver.” Augie laughed.
“You and your beloved silver.” Tracey rolled her eyes.
“Well I think it will be dolls, as the youngsters say, having Blair here in the city.” Paulie sipped her drink. “Staying with Pussy and Frieda and with Liz back in the city as well just makes it feel as if we are all together again.
“And just hopefully you and Uncle Gus will become grandparents again,” Augie said as he looked at his cousin and Frieda dancing in their bikinis.
“Well my hope is Jeanne can find a partner who will make her as happy as Pussy and Frieda are…or even…?”
“Oh – do I sense a hint of grandparent envy there,” Gus said as he looked at Henri.
“No – just an old man who wants his daughter to be the happiest woman in the world,” Henri said as he looked at her.
“Hang on,” Tracey said, “do you see what I see?”
“I think I need to go and collect my winnings from my daughter.” Nessa laughed as they watched George tentatively kiss Katy as they danced a slow dance.
“How the hell does she do it?” Paulie asked, “She got it right almost to the damn second.”
“I have absolutely no idea,” Alex said, “but I would not have it any other way.”
“A penny for them,” Klaus said as he put his arm round Juliette’s arms.
“I was just looking at them,” Juliette said as she looked over at Cari and Ingrid. “This time last year we were getting used to the idea of her being a mother, and a freshman student, and now a year on, I would not have things any other way.”
“You do know they still think we will marry one day?”
“Hmm,” Juliette said as she felt Klaus kiss her on the back of her neck. “But you will be spending more time over here this year, won’t you?”
“Oh yes – and Sigi will be coming over regularly as well.”
“Well, if that’s all right with you, I can live with that,” Juliette said, “we don’t need a piece of paper, do we?”
“No – no we don’t,” Klaus said as he gently kissed her…
“Did George just kiss your daughter?”
“Do you know, I think he did – should I start asking Sandy about inheritances?”
Cassandra shook her head as she watched the kids.
“You never did tell me how Capricorn got her name Cassie?” Janice asked as she stood in a group with the actress, her mother, and Gale Callaghan.
“Oh I’m to blame for that.” Eve laughed.
“My mother’s first reaction when she first saw her granddaughter was to say she reminded her of an old goat they used to have on my Grandparents estate.” Cassandra shook her head at her mother.
“Well,” Eve said, “in my defence, she did look like Robert.”
“Well my idiot of a husband started calling the baby the goat…”
“Oh poor child.” Gale laughed.
“Oh you’ll soon learn Gale, naming a child is not easy.” Cassie smiled ruefully.
“Well I suggested they call her Roberta.”
“Which we gave her as her middle name Mother.”
“But why Capricorn?” Janice asked.
“Because by pure coincidence, she was born under the sign of the goat.” Eve smiled.
“So our goat daughter was named Capricorn.”
“Well I’ve heard worse reasons for giving a child a name.” Janice reflected.
“And she didn’t grow up to look like a goat.” Eve looked proudly towards her red headed granddaughter dancing with one of Alice’s kids.
“They’ve really enjoyed this break anyway,” Cassandra said quietly. “I almost regret the fact they have to go back to school, but it is important they learn as much as they can.”
“True for all of them.” Jan smiled as she saw Katy and Sandy talking to Orlanda.
“Excuse me – I need another soft drink,” Gale said as she walked over to the bar, and asked for a soda.
“Just remember – once junior arrives, you can drink again in moderation.”
“Hey,” Gale said as she saw Cari standing next to her.
“How are you doing Gale?” asked Carina quietly.
“The doctors say both baby and me are doing beautifully.”
“I didn’t mean in that way…how is ‘she’ doing?”
“About as well as can be expected from an impatient psychopath.” Gale dropped her voice.
“That I’m dreaming her dreams, having fantasies.”
“I guessed you might be.”
“What do I do about it Carina?”
“I suppose we find someone for you to kill.” Carina smiled.
“How the hell do you say that so calmly?” Gale hissed back.
“Because I have long since accepted that the beast in me needs to be satisfied. Gale you need to learn the same. Yes it is wrong, yes it is evil, but if you can’t relieve the pressure by killing someone, I hate to think what the consequences might be.”
“Alright, so who and when do I do?”
“Wait till we are back in the city, I have an idea that might see us both let some steam out.”
“When do you have to be back at Yale?”
“I’ve got a week – let’s fix some time for next Monday. Think you can hold out until then?”
“I’ll manage – somehow,” Gale said as Tom came over.
“Hey – how’s my favourite lady?”
“I’m fine, but don’t let Gale hear you say that,” Carina said with a smile before she walked away.
“Funny – very funny,” Tom said as he kissed Gale.
“Did father tell you of the invitation,” Jeanne said as she stood with Sandy and Heather?”
“To race in Florida? I know – an interesting idea for a winter break, if we can get schedules to work out,” Sandy said, “and a great honour. We’ll need to see if we can work it out.”
“I am sure Jan and I can make arrangements with Tom, so it becomes an issue with your calendar I think Sandy.”
“Well, I’ll look into the dates and try to work round it.”
“I hear you had fun in LA,” Abby said as she sat next to Jeannie.
“Almost as much fun as you had in Barbados, I’ll bet,” Jeannie said as she smiled in reply. “The only difference was House and I could not meet up this time.”
“It’s tough, but doable,” Abby said with a smile. “So, back to school in a week.”
“Yeah – but new school mates and a new Dean.”
“True – one on our side though. I thought she might have come out tonight.”
“I asked her,” Caroline said as she sat with them,” but as she rightly pointed out, the three of them have to set up their home over the weekend. They’re coming to our place tomorrow for brunch – pass on the tradition when we were shown round by Pepsi’s parents.”
“What are they like as teachers?”
“Oh they were good teachers, I just wish they had left under better circumstances.”
“I know,” Caroline said, “but it means their loss is our gain. And I understand Grace is very keen to talk to you both about an idea she has for a Jamie Kirkham event.”
“Oh? Any clues?”
“Nope – she just said it was something you would both enjoy.”
“Hey Cara, Hey Poppy, better late then never,” Carina said as she kissed the Delevingne sisters on the cheek.
“Blame Behati, her damn car broke down on the freeway.” Cara pulled her top off.
“Don’t ask,” the Namibian model shook her head as she too approached, “just point me in the direction of some decent beer.”
“Then head that way – tell them you need three cold ones,” Cari said as she waved them towards the bar.
“What was that about?” Willy de Ros asked as the three top models wandered towards the bar.
“Behati Prinsloo’s car broke down as they were driving up here. Sounds like a rough journey.”
“Hmm – Clint, damsels in distress require your help.”
“Oh,” Clint said as he looked at Willy, “who?”
“Behati – her car has problems.”
“Allow me,” Clint said as he went and talked to the model, and then went to her car.
“So do you know any of the freshmen this year?”
“Nope,” Becca said as she sat with the others. “Doc, any idea who the Kirkham scholar is this year?”
“All I know is she comes from the Washington Heights.”
“Well, we find out in a week,” Ama said, “I for one can wait until then.”
“Amen to that,” Becca said, “apart from the shopping next week for new uniform and supplies, I don’t want to think about school.”
“Easy for you to say,” Pepsi said, “we now have four of them living within walking distance of my place.”
“So? Extra free tuition?”
“I very much doubt it,” Ama said, “Annie does not coach me for math.”
“But Miss Nightingale will coach you and me for soccer, by all accounts?”
“That is different,” Ama said, “that is fun.”
“This is fun.” Cassandra said as she walked over to join Juliette.
“It is – a good way to end the summer,” Juliette said with a smile as she looked at the party.
“Listen – got a minute? There’s something I need to say to you in private.”
“Oh? Should I be worried?”
“No,” Cassandra said as they walked down to the sea, the firelight glinting off Juliette’s ring before they went into the dark,
“I don’t know – which is better, the Atlantic or the Pacific?”
“Depends on your point of view. Like this film – I think whether you like or loathe me is going to depend on your point of view of these seven women – and why they do what they do.”
“You’re the one who’s spent more than five minutes with them Cassie – the one time I met them they ziptied me and tried to rape a friend in front of me with their fingers.”
Cassandra nodded as she took a deep breath. “I read the case file – that was a masterstroke of planning on your part.”
“On my part?”
“Juliette, I know you are Miss Panther.” Cassandra smiled.
“Oh Cassie now you are being just plain stupid…”
“Am I?” Cassandra smiled as she turned and looked at Juliette. “Darling, I am a professional actress - I’m trained to look at how people walk, how they talk. You altered your voice somehow, but you can never change the walk, the mannerisms. Oh you tried – accentuated it, used it to enforce your leadership, but it was you.”
“Cassandra for once and all…I AM NOT A CRIMINAL!”
“Oh but you are Juliette, and a very great one,” Cassandra whispered, “but you also made a mistake.”
“That ring on your finger, it’s quite distinctive - and I saw the outline of that stone through Miss Panther’s gloves when we were taken from the house. It was gone when they went to work, but I saw it there – Miss Panther.”
“Shit!” Juliette thought to herself suddenly.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn you in,” Cassandra whispered, “you or any of the others, I can guess who they are….nor Janice…”
“Jan? What about Jan?”
“Oh she’s one of you – she tried to hide it, but I knew. Look, I just ask one thing.”
“All right,” Ju said quietly, her voice dropping as she tilted her head to one side, “and that is?”
“Include me in your future plans? I have to feel that incredible high again….over and over.”