Ladies Choice – Part 1
Tuesday 23rd February
The Refectory, St Angela’s
“So how does it feel to be back down to earth again,” Letty said as she sat with Abby.
“Oh I’m getting back into the swing of things,” Abby said as she bit into her wrap, “and I’ve caught up on the school work. So from now on, with the exception of Spring Break, we’re going to have fun all the way.”
“Listen,” Letty said in a low whisper, “the head girls are starting to consider the thorny question of our charity stunt for this year.”
“Tough one – especially after what Jo and the others pulled off last year.”
“Tell me about it,” Letty whispered, “and of course I can’t officially ask you for help. But still...”
“What do you think they’re talking about,” Doc said as she looked across at the seniors.
“College applications, probably,” Pepsi said as she sipped her drink. “Anyway, young Brewster, I received your invitation today. Florida?”
“Well, it is Spring Break, and the RCM team are racing down there that weekend...”
“And let me guess,” Doc smiled, “Missy has booked you on a shoot down there hasn’t she?”
“Quite a few of us actually – based on a motor racing theme. Only Caroline and Jo are definitely not booked, because they have the shoot in Ireland instead.”
“Funny – I haven’t heard...”
Doc looked at her cell phone as it went off, and said “on the other hand...”
“So what are you guys going to be doing for Spring Break?”
“Road trip,” Erica said as she looked round the table. “With Mom on the support staff of RCM racing, we’re driving down to Pocono at the start of the week, and then flying back on the Sunday with the Razinskies.”
“We have to go back to Spain for the week,” Jess said, “but one advantage is that, with Ama there, we can get together one day.”
“Well, we’re stuck in the city except for flying down for the race,” Poppy said, “with Mom taking on her new job, she needs to be here for a couple of meetings.”
Bishop Walden School
One thing Katy had
definitely noticed was that, in the short period since Fashion Week had ended, far more people recognised her. She had even been stopped and asked for her
autograph by a couple of teenagers. The egotist in her loved it, but the
criminal recognised that she would now need to work far harder to maintain her
anonymity. The offer by her mother over breakfast to take her and go buy some
wigs definitely was a great idea.
"Are you ever
coming in this pool Katy?" Shawnee yelled, "this
is supposed to be our PhysEd class, not a sitting on
the edge looking dreamy period."
"Oh sorry...I was
miles away." Katy slipped down into the water.
obvious." Liz re-fixed her hair under her swimming cap. "Still
dreaming of George?"
giggled, "just about how to go unrecognised when I'm out on the
the price of fame."
word was followed by a sharp whistle, "Width swimming please....NOT
"Yes Miss Anderson," the girls said as they began to swim across the pool, Katy wondering how she would look in a red wig. She knew how she looked in a black one, but the possibilities were endless...
RoideMer, Fulton Fish Market
Philippe Aumont was not a happy man. As he sat in the office of the company, he looked out of the window, and brushed some imaginary lint from his expensive Saville Row suit.
“Have they made any demands, given any reason?”
“No sir,” one of the two men sitting opposite him said, “merely walked out. It may be in protest at recent – unpleasentness.”
“Invite the head of the union to meet on neutral ground – we cannot allow a dispute to hold up our timetable,” Aumont said as he looked over. He was in his early fifties, with short brown hair, and still had something of his youthful looks about him. The years of service to his house, and the things he had done, had left little mark on him.
“And the other matter?”
Before he had a chance to say anything, the telephone rang, the second man picking it up and saying “yes?”
“Yes, Monsieur Aumont is here. Who shall I say is calling?”
Philippe looked over as the man stood up. “One moment please,” he said as he looked at his boss.
“Who is it?”
“A representative of Madame X.”
Philippe nodded as the man put on the speaker phone.
“This is Philippe Aumont. Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?”
“My name is unimportant,” the deep cultured voice said, “suffice to say I act as Madame X’s representative in New York, and speak with her authority.”
“And what may I do for you this evening?”
“Madame asked me to contact you to discuss the situation in the Fulton Market.”
“I see,” Aumont said, “So does Madame X have a tribute demand from us as well? We were led to believe that we had squared the right people at the Fulton Market."
"No Madame has no interest in exacting tribute from you," Susan spoke through the online system. "Her organisation does though have connections within the market, and can we say that we are interested in maintaining a fair equilibrium amongst the traders Monsieur Aumont?"
"A fair free
market is in everyones interest." the Frenchman
smiled as he replied to the disembodied voice.
"Well can I say on
Madame's behalf that your company's actions since entering the market have been
causing a lot of people a certain amount of pain."
"If you are referring to that regrettable death, can I honestly assure you it had nothing to do with us...In fact I might suggest a couple of Italian names you should talk to."
“Be assured, we are having similar conversations with the other possible parties. No, I refer to the reports we have of undercutting your competitors. Surely a fair free market is not served by such activities?”
“It is unfortunate certain other businesses here have been unable to compete with us.” Philippe said, “but that is the nature of business.”
“As I said, Monsieur Aumont, I merely wished to raise my concerns. It is mine, and Madame’s, very real wish that we do not feel the need to discuss the matter further.”
“I understand your concerns, and I hope such a need does not indeed arise.”
“Very well – thank you for listening.”
“And thank you for calling,” Philippe said as he nodded, and his man ended the call.
“Madame X? I did not think we would have to deal with her.”
“Indeed,” Philippe said, “indeed...”
"My day just gets
better," Aumont said quietly as he shook his
head, "first this strike, then I learn that Madame X has an interest in
the selling of fish."
"Might the two
things be connected?"
tentacles of Madame's empire it would not surprise me."
"So the strike
"Merely her first warning to us of her power." Aumont paused. "I must urgently phone Marseilles, get me a secure line please."
“Well,” Susan said as she looked at Shirley.
“Aumont – now where have I heard that name before? Susan, have a full profile on my desk by tomorrow morning.”
“As you wish, Madame,” Susan said as she picked up the phone.
The Richmond Mansion
“Hey – anybody home?”
“Hi Jo,” George said as he came out of the kitchen, “what are you doing back?”
“Overnight stop only – I need to touch base with Abby on something, and I have to do it face to face,” Jo said as she put her bag down.
“Hey little sis – fresh coffee in here.”
“Sounds good,” Jo said as she walked through – and saw Serena Greb with Heather.
“Hey,” Jo said with a smile, “was I interrupting a session?”
“No, we had finished,” Serena said with a smile. “How is college going for you?”
“Very well so far – but i will admit I am looking forward to Spring Break,” Jo said as she poured herself a coffee.
“And the examinations after that?”
“I was trying not to think of that,” Jo said with a smile.
“Right,” Serena said, “I have to go. I’ll see you next week Heather.”
“Looking forward to it – let me show you out,” Heather said as she showed Serena to the front door, Jo watching as she took a drink of her coffee.
“You seem to be making progress,” she said as Heather came back.
“I think I am - right, want to give me a hand making dinner?”
West Central Park
“Hi Mom,” Pepsi said as she opened the door to the apartment, “come away in.”
“Hello April,” Katherine said as she looked out from the kitchen, “go on through. The food will be ready in a minute.”
As she went in, she saw Ama setting the table. “Ah – hello Mrs Broadhurst,” she said with a smile, “may I get you a drink?”
“I’ll have it with my
food - And thanks for letting Pepsi eat here again," April said as she
took off her coat, "with Grant working late, and me out on the island most
of the day at Paulies..."
"How is that going
by the way?" Katherine interrupted.
"Fine, but telling
the guys doing the actual job what I want them to do always seems to take longer
then I budget time for."
"Well Gran’s Irish stew is better for me then me cooking myself,”
Pepsi said as she went into the kitchen, “and Ama said Caroline has something
"So she settled on
eating here instead." Katherine smiled.
“It seemed a logical choice,” Ama said with a smile.
"Where are Jan and
wig shopping Mom."
Pepsi bought in a bowl of stew for her mother as she sat at the table.
Katy can disguise herself occasionally from the snooping eyes of the
understand...her newfound fame...” April
put a forkful of the stew into her mouth and chewed, a smile growing on her
face. “And can I add Katherine this is
"I can understand why my daughter eats here so often."
“Well, she does frequent us as well,” Ama said, “but this is a truly delicious meal, Mrs Carter.”
Annie watched from the couch, her legs curled under her and a bowl of ice cream on her bump, as she watched Dominique preparing for the evening.
“At least it’s not chilli,” the dark haired woman said as she looked over.
“That was Cari, not me...”
Dom shook her head as she packed her rucksack.
"You know you
didn't need drag Jo all the way back to the city Dom."
"Oh like you can
climb up the outside of a building currently...” Dom looked over and smiled. “Also, how and when I meet my end I want it
to be quick, Carina would literally skin me alive if I took you on this
"So when is Jo due
over?" Ama asked.
"Shortly I hope," Caroline glanced at her watch.
“That might be her now,” Annie said as she heard the front door, standing up and holding her back as she walked down.
“Hey coach,” Jo said as she and Heather stood on the other side of the door. “Someone asked me to help her tonight?”
“So I heard – come on up both of you,” she said as she held the door open.
“Ah there you are,” Dom said as they came in, “ready for a little night work?”
“Well, that’s why I’m here,” Jo said with a smile. “I caught up on what’s been happening – fish wars?”
“More serious than it sounds – the last thing we need is a war between the business owners and the French and Italian families. So we go in, see what we can find, try and figure out what they’re really doing there.”
“I thought you’d never ask...”
The Brewster Brownstone
"What are you
watching?" Barbara asked as she put her head round the door to see if
Jeannie was asleep.
"Newsreels of old French fashion shows," Jeanne said as she looked at her laptop screen.
"Can I ask why?"
"Because I love
all that glamour,” Jeannie said as she looked round, “but also because Nick Wu
asked me to send him any of my ideas for his infomercial."
"And do you have
any?" Barbara sat on the edge of the bed.
"And in how many
of these ideas do you star?"
"Only a couple
Mum...” Jeannie stretched before she
said “I know I have to share the spotlight occasionally."
"Oh I love that
dress." Barbara pointed to the screen.
"So do I,"
her daughter sighed. "This is a Balmain show
from 1955, the Jolie Madame line."
"All of which
means nothing to me."
"But you did spot
the sheer style of it all though."
"Well you don't
know how much I'm looking forward to this."
"Well remember you
first have a lot of school... So switch
it off - time for sleep young lady."
"I'll dream of being back then." Jeannie turned her computer off and let Barbara lift her into bed.
New Fulton Market
“When does it start to get busy around here,” Jo said as she looked out of the car window.
“According to Tommy, first catch tends to come in about three, so we have a few hours before people really start milling round,” Dominique said as she checked her bag.
“Well, it shouldn’t take more than an hour,” Jo said as she smoothed her gloves over her hands.
"Heather are you sure you can control the alarms and electronics from
out here in the car?" Dominique asked.
"Is there suddenly
a rash of doubt about me," Heather laughed, "everyone
is questioning my abilities."
"Well are there
problems Big Sis?"
opened her laptop and said “I am still the best in the business,
as long as you two are careful in there no one should ever notice you were even
"Well its reassuring to know," Dom pulled her hair up on top of her head, then pulled the black nylon stocking down over her face. “Ready?”
“Yeah – let’s do this,” Jo said as she pulled the stocking down her own head, and the two of them got out of the car. Walking quickly across the yard, they stopped at the building RoideMer were housed in.
“I’ve got the cameras in your area neutralised,” Heather said in Dominique’s ear, “happy hunting.”
“Already on it,” the young woman said as she picked the lock on the front door, and then let both of them enter the dark building. Dom took a pen flashlight out of her pocket and shone it around.
“Something strike you as fishy?”
“Is that meant to be a joke?”
Dom smiled as she said “no – I would expect... Ah.”
She pointed up as a camera slowly panned round, Jo nodding as they flattened themselves against the wall. They controlled their breathing, waiting until the camera panned the other way before they quickly made their way across the floor and up the staircase at the far side.
“How long do you need to get into the office,” Jo whispered as Dom felt round the edge.
“Got that circuit breaker?”
“Oh lovely – the door is wired?”
“Oh yes,” Dom said as Jo handed her the box, a bulldog clip hanging on wires at each side. She watched as Dom attached the box, and then opened the door. The two masked women made their way in, Dom closing the door behind herself.
“I’ll take care of the security system,” Jo said, “you take a look round and see where we need to probe.”
She walked over to where a computer terminal was set up on a table, sitting down and starting to type on the keyboard as Dom quickly surveyed the room.
“Okay – I’ve stopped the recording in this room,” Jo said as she took a black box from her bag, and plugged a cable running from it into a USB port. “Heather, I’ve put the HD in.”
“Good – that should set up a timed loop from ten minutes ago until ten minutes after you go, based on the system time stamp. Is the red light flashing?”
“Yup – you’ll get a copy of whatever is on here,” Jo said as Dom opened a filing cabinet, and looked through the contents. She placed some on the desk, Jo and her beginning to photograph the files.
“Did you bring the devices?”
Dom nodded as she replaced the first set of files, and opened the second drawer.
“Well now – what do we have here?”
She lifted the black wooden box out, and placed it carefully on the desk, Jo working on the lock before the hasp opened, and they lifted the lid.
“Gold dubloons? Why on earth would a fish wholesaler have gold dubloons?”
“That’s not all they’ve got.”
Jo looked over as Dom held up a plastic wrapped white block.
“Shit – is that what I think it is?”
Dom nodded as she put it back, and then replaced the closed and locked box. The two of them continued their search, taking copies of documents and receipts, before closing and locking the cabinets.
“Check the desk,” Dom said, “I’ll set the devices up.”
Jo nodded as she sat behind the desk and carefully unlocked the drawers, looking through and photographing any documents she could find before she replaced them as she had found them.
“They’ve got files here on all the business owners – including Tommy.”
“Fuck – what do they have on him?”
“His public face only, thank the Goddess – but we need to keep an eye on him and Annie.”
Dom nodded as the light on the box attached to the computer turned to green. Jo put the last file back, closed the drawer, and then locked the desk before she stood up.
“Think we’ve got everything?”
Dom nodded as Jo disconnected the box, and put it back into her bag. The two girls left the office, and made their way down to the main floor of the building.
“Sis, we’re on our way out. How does the scene look?”
“Quiet and clear – but be quick. I think a few workers are starting to arrive.”
“Copy that,” Dom said as they slipped out of the building, and across to where Heather was waiting in the car.
“We got everything we could,” Dom said as she pulled the stocking away from her head, “let’s head back to my place for a nightcap.”
“They must have gone to bed,” Dom said as they came up stairs. “Let me make some coffee.
“Well, we have all we could find out,” Jo said as she sat down, “after this, it’s down to what you can find out from this and the surveillance.”
“True – but at least we got in and out without alerting anyone.”
“Here we go,” Dom said as she handed the coffee mugs round.
"I'll set up an
automatic monitoring station at home." Heather sipped her drink.
"These bastards though are into far more then fish."
"I have an idea of
what might be happening,” Dominique said, “but I need to run it past Madame
"That they may see
the Fish Market as a great, and soft, port to bring their crap in from offshore?"
Jo broke in.
"It was in my
surely the Coast Guard patrols and other surveillance?"
"I know they are
good Heather, but what if these bastards have worked something out?"
the market might be a top option for them."
"Ask Madame to investigate if they operate in the fish markets of their own part of the world?”
"Good idea Jo," Dom smiled, "I'll get her looking asap."
"I hate to use
this pun, but yes we need know more on what Madame's French
Connection might tell us." Heather looked up from checking the
screen. "Well everything does seem to be functioning."
"Okay, you get Jo home to bed,” Dom said, “I know she has an early flight to catch."
“Hey –I’ll catch up on the plane,” Jo said with a smile as she stood up.
Wednesday 24th February
Eleanor Ball was sitting at her breakfast bar, drinking her coffee as she read the morning paper, when she heard her cell phone ring.
Looking at the caller ID, she smiled as she answered the call, and said “Good morning, Madame.”
sorry to disturb you before breakfast, but I have need of your services."
Eleanor said, “and what can I do?"
"Can you find me
out all you know on a French wholesale fish company operating out of New York
"Here let me jog
that down?" Eleanor reached for a pad and wrote on it, "and when do
you need information?"
the end of business today if possible."
"It will be tight, " Eleanor glanced at her watch, "but I was planning to drive into Washington today anyway. Let me talk to my contacts."
“So business or pleasure?”
“A little bit of both. I will call you tonight Madame.”
“I look forward to hearing from you.”
As she put the phone down, Eleanor shook her head. “Twice in a week someone asks about the fish market in New York? Don’t say it Eleanor, don’t say it...”
Douglas A Monroe Coast Guard HQ Building
St Elizabeth’s Campus, Washington
The uniformed guard waved the car down as it approached Gate 6 of the secure campus, watching as the window would down.
“Good Morning M’am,” he said as he looked at the woman behind the wheel, “may I see your credentials please.”
“Of course,” Eleanor said as she handed the guard her card. He looked at it, looked at Eleanor and then handed it back, saluting as he said “welcome, Captain Ball – you may park in the street by the entrance over there.”
“Thank you,” she said as she waited for the barrier to be raised, and drove through. One advantage of her – position – was the right to access these areas without pre-booking, and use the VIP parking areas. So as she pulled into the road on the right, she got out and put on the jacket of her dress uniform, smiling before she put her hat on and walked to the entrance to the CGHQ building.
As she walked into the visitor’s entrance, the two guards stood to attention Eleanor saluting as she walked past and approached the reception desk.
“Captain,” the woman behind the desk said, “how may I help you?”
“Would you inform Commander Veronica Joyce that Captain Eleanor Ball is here?”
Eleanor handed her card over, the lieutenant looking at it as she said “thank you Captain Ball. If you will take a seat?”
“Of course,” Eleanor said as she went and stood to the side, looking at some of the pictures hanging on the wall.
She smiled and turned as she saw her old friend Veronica approaching, her dark hair up in a bun as she wore the long sleeved dark blue shirt and trousers. On her collar and shoulder epaulettes were the oak leaf clusters that signified her rank.
“Veronica,” Eleanor said with a smile, “I trust I find you well?”
“I can’t complain – I know you could walk these corridors without an escort, but I have a new CO, and he hasn’t learned the ropes yet, so I need to be 100% formal today.”
“I would expect no less.”
“Good – come on through and we’ll go to my office.”
As they cleared the security gates, Veronica said “so how is life after retirement?”
“Oh I keep myself busy – this and that,” Eleanor said with a smile. “And how is life behind a desk?”
“Boring at times, but you have to go where the service takes you – you should know that better than anyone,” Veronica said as she opened a door, and they walked into an outer office, Eleanor noting Veronica’s name and position on the door.
The uniformed young man behind the desk stood to attention, as Veronica said “at ease Lieutenant. Can you rustle up some black coffee for Captain Ball and myself?”
“Yes M’am,” the officer said as Veronica opened a door, and they went into her office.
“Nice,” Eleanor said as she sat down.
“Did I hear on the grapevine somebody took a shot at you in New York?”
“Some idiot with a gun,” Eleanor said, “I was meeting a friend for lunch, and they decided to do a drive by where we went. Nothing serious.”
“So old ‘Iron Balls’ lives to fight another day?”
“Oh, for several more days,” Eleanor said as she smiled, and there was a knock at the door.
“Ah – thank you Lieutenant,” Veronica said as the young officer carried a tray in.
“I have to remind you of the Command Briefing in thirty minutes, M’am.”
“Thank you,” Veronica said as he walked out. “Do you still take it black?”
“So,” Veronica said as she poured the coffee, and handed Eleanor a cup, “what can I do for the former head liaison with USNI?”
“I am retired you know?”
“Right – so what can I do for you?”
Eleanor smiled as she said “well, allow me to remain in your office when you go for your meeting.”
“Do I want to know why?”
“Better you don’t,” Eleanor said with a smile. “But I did want to ask if you’ve heard anything about unusual activity in the New York area.”
“Oh? You’re not doing favours for that son of yours are you?”
“No – it’s just something I heard on the grapevine, through friends. Apparently there’s been a bit of trouble at the local fish markets around a company called RoideMer.”
Veronica had been about to take a drink from her cup, but as Eleanor mentioned the name she stopped and put her cup down. “Now that is a name I have heard of,” she said quietly. “We had a request from the French authorities to inform them if we heard of any activity from them.”
“Oh? What should I not be aware of?”
“Rumours – the company itself seems legit, but there are rumours of connections with the Marseilles families. We seized a couple of boats two months ago as they tried to come into the harbour here. Why is that name being bandied about in New York?”
“As I said, trouble in the fish market. Without going into the details, however, there has been some less than helpful shipments uncovered in the city, and the question is whether or not they may be involved. Let’s just say my former bosses asked me to see what I could find out – on the QT of course.”
“Of course,” Veronica said as she stood up. “I have a briefing to attend, but if you can stick around, we can go and grab some lunch afterwards.”
“Sounds good to me – and thank you Veronica.”
“For what?” Veronica put on her jacket and left the room, Eleanor waiting before she sat behind her desk and logged into her computer.
“Now then,” she said quietly, “what can I find out from here...”
Thirty minutes later, Veronica came back in, smiling as she saw Eleanor finish her drink.
"So,” she said as
she removed her jacket, hanging it and her hat up, “did you find out
"Enough to know
that I may well have to brief you soon...
Unofficially of course."
Veronica said as she sat down, “so are these people dirty?"
"They look that
way to me." Eleanor paused, "certain of their activities have
interested the NYPD, the FBI, and Interpol Veronica, but as Chief of Coast
Guard Criminal Intelligence, might I suggest you also add them to your work
"I have already. The very fact you are interested was enough
“So – I promised you lunch?”
“Has the galley improved?”
“A bit,” Veronica said as they stood up. "So who are you working for Eleanor?"
"Let me just say I could give you several people in the hierarchy to talk to, shall we?"
"And I thought
you'd retired to that house of yours overlooking the Chesapeake."
"And I believe there are fairies in my yard Eleanor."
“Well, you never know,” Eleanor said with a laugh as they left her office.
Eleanor looked round as the Army lieutenant came into the room. “My apologies for the delay Captain – these are the records you wished to review.”
“Thank you Lieutenant,” Eleanor said with a smile as she took the file and sat down.
“If I may ask...”
“You may not Lieutenant – please wait outside and I will call you when I am done.”
“M’am,” he said as he left and closed the door. Emma sat down and opened the file, looking at the picture of Malotti and saying “now what can we find out about you, hmm?”
As she read the contents, she smiled. The good officer had an interesting forces career, a very interesting one...
“Thank you Lieutenant,” Eleanor said as she left the room, “you may return the records to the archives now.”
“M’am,” the officer said as he went in. Eleanor smiled as she strode down the familiar corridors. There were times she missed being here on her posting, but now she was free to act in a different way, a different style.
As she handed her visitor badge in at the reception desk, Eleanor put her hat on and walked out, saluting the guards as she did so. Walking to her car, she took a moment to reflect on how she had ended up in this role.
It had started the previous October – she had opened the front door of her home and being surprised to find Bernhard Erasmus standing there. She knew him from – well, that was another story, but the surprise was a good one. He had come in, and over a drink he had told her of his recent exploits in Mogola.
They were old friends and confidants, so he knew she could keep a secret – but what he told her firmed up the rumours she had heard though other contacts. That there was a group of women, who had banded together to fight the evil that could not be tackled through normal channels, and had the resources and planning to be successful.
A group she felt an affinity with, so when Razzie had left, she asked if he could point her in the direction of someone she could talk to. He had just smiled, and said he would see what he could do.
And that had been that – until a fortnight later, when she was invited to a meeting with someone who identified herself as a person in the sisterhood. A young voice, with a South African accent, but she mentioned people she knew – Razzie, John Vosloo, and Liz Egwegwe for starters.
Which led to the most unusual dinner invitation she had ever had – and she had had a few strange meetings and dinners in her career. She had flown to London, and over a sight-seeing weekend had accepted the invitation to dine in a private room above a bar in the Soho area. It was there she had met the woman who had called her – and her boss, Shirley Xavier.
This was a woman who had impressed her immediately – her voice, her manner, her demeanour, identified her as a leader, and as they talked Eleanor was given the briefest of outlines of the Sisters, the role they played, and the way they worked. She had followed the events in New York the previous year, and the way that had been unwound and handled. It didn’t even bother her too much that some of the people they associated and counted as partners were wanted criminals – work in the intelligence community long enough, and you realise the world, the real world, did not operate on polarized principles.
She also knew she wanted to be part of this movement, to help in any way she could. Which was when Shirley offered her a very particular role. One or two of the Sisters, whom she would not name, were placed in positions where they could offer very particular and specialised help – and, as she put it, Eleanor was most certainly one of those people. Their identities were only known to Shirley, and Charlotte, the young South African woman – and not even to each other.
As Shirley had put it at the time “the question I want you to ask yourself, Eleanor, is if you think you can operate in that way for the greater good?”
It had taken her all of thirty seconds to agree, and so Mermaid was brought in. She only reported to Madame, as she was known now, and helped with very – particular duties. The events recently in New York had almost made her go public, but Madame had dealt with that very efficiently and quickly. So she remained in the shadows – exactly as she liked it to be.
“Now then,” she said to herself, “a quick call to one other person, and then I can prepare to pass on my findings.”
Shirley looked up from her desk as her secretary came in.
“I have a call for you on the private line.”
“Ah – I have been expecting this,” Shirley said with a smile, “put it through, and see that I am not disturbed during the call.”
“Of course, Madame,” she said as she went out and closed the door. Shirley smiled as she picked put the handset.
“Mermaid – and what have you managed to find for me?”
“Enough to let you know you may have a serious fight on your hands, Madame,” Mermaid said. “RoideMer have appeared on the radar of a number of our own security organizations, as well as our foreign partners. It is almost certainly, or as certainly as these things can be without concrete proof, a front of one of the larger Marseilles families. They tried to open an operation in Washington, but were shut down before they even began.”
Shirley nodded. “I did wonder, some of my own operatives visited their offices at the Fulton fish market, and found certain items which were not within the normal remit of a fisheries company.”
“Do I want to know what items?”
“At this stage, no – but if you have good relationships with the Coast Guard...”
“Let us say they have gone on their watch list. I did a bit of digging, behind the scenes, found out who the main contact at the Marseilles end was.”
“Intriguing, so the man in charge here is not the real man in charge?”
“Oh, Philippe Aumont is highly placed – he would have to be to be sent to take on this responsibility – but my own French Intelligence contacts tell me his boss is actually a man called Alain Rey.”
Shirley suddenly stiffened. “Alain Rey? Are you sure Mermaid?”
“One hundred percent sure. Why – is the name known to you?”
“Oh yes, it is known to me,” Shirley said quietly. “Mermaid, will you let me have your complete report by the usual channels?”
“On its way to you now, Madame. If I can be of any further help?”
“As we find things, I may pass them to you to alert the appropriate authorities by subtle means. In the meantime, I thank you for this, Mermaid.”
“I serve the Heart and the Strength, Madame. Have a pleasant evening.”
“Thank you,” Madame said with a smile, as she ended the call. Sitting back, she put her fingers under her chin and thought for a moment. She then opened a chat window on her laptop.
“Shirley,” Maddie said as she answered the call, “to what do I owe the honour?”
“Not an honour, not really,” Shirley said. “I just heard a name from the past, and I thought I should inform you immediately.”
“Oh? And that name was?”
Shirley watched as Maddie’s face froze. “Have you told Sandra yet?”
“No – are you coming this weekend?”
Maddie nodded as Shirley said “I’m going to get Sandra over as well – we’ll talk over the weekend.”
Thursday 25th February
The Ashley Apartment, 4th Avenue
Poppy carried the two mugs of coffee through to where her mother was sitting, the laptop on the low table playing a live stream from the BBC News channel.
“So what are they saying,” she said as she sat next to Pippa.
“Well, they think the count is over,” Pippa said as they looked at the screen. Margaret was there, wearing a grey jacket and skirt with a blue blouse, and a blue rosette pinned to the lapel of her jacket. She was talking to a couple of other people who were also wearing rosettes, as she walked towards the side of the stage.
“And it looks as if the candidates are coming together,” the voice of David Dimbleby said. “This has been a most closely contested by-election, with personality playing a fair part, and candidates having full and fair debates. But I can see the mayor of Stortbourne coming to the stage now, as the candidates line up...”
“Here we go,” Pippa said as she held Poppy’s hand.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the mayor said, “I, Howard David Corbett, the Acting Returning Officer for the seat of Stortbourne-South Harlow, hereby give notice that the total number of votes given for each candidate at the election of date was as follows...
“Alexander Monroe, The Christian Democrat Party, 506 votes
“Margaret Harker, Conservative Party, 19,568 votes.”
Pippa and Poppy cheered as they watched Margaret smile and nod in acknowledgment.
“Donald Andrew Lees, National Party, 48 votes
“Alison Norton, Liberal Democrat Party, 8,322 votes
“Robert Simpson, Labour Party, 15,328 votes.”
As a number of candidates were given a small number of votes, Pippa whispered “come on, come on...”
“William Wright, UK Independence Party...”
Poppy gripped her mother’s hand...
“And that Margaret Harker has been duly elected to serve as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Stortbourne-South Harlow.”
The two of them clapped and cheered as Margaret shook hands with the other candidates, and then walked up to the microphone as her supporters cheered.
“I’ll be brief,” she said as she looked round. “My thanks to the other candidates for a spirited election campaign, to my supporters for all their hard work, and to you for electing me to represent you. I pray I will do right by you and thank you for this great responsibility.”
“Short, and to the point, very like she has been throughout the campaign,” David Dimbleby said, “one of the most moderate of the Tory MPs, it will be interesting to see how she approaches her work in Parliament, particularly with the predicted budget cuts...”
“I see Gran was there,” Poppy said as they saw Lady Ashley come onto the stage and hug her sister.
“Of course she was – as if wild horses could keep her away,” Pippa said with a smile.
Friday 26th February
The Richmond Mansion
“Here you go,” Heather said as she handed Sandy and Diana a mug of coffee each. “So is everything in place?”
“The ladies are gathering as we speak,” Sandy said, “we’ll head up after the coffee club, and George has picked up Sands and George.”
“Excellent – who is coordinating at that end?”
“Shirley went up earlier today with – one or two others,” Diana said with a smile. “More than that, I cannot say.”
“And as for Juliette herself?”
“Ah – that I am leaving to the two most qualified people to do so – at least, once one of them has dropped her daughter off.”
“What are the other girls doing?”
“Well, Grant is keeping an eye on Pepsi, and Caroline has had to cry off because of work commitments – so between them, they have the girls covered. John stays with Jeannie as well.”
“And as for the menfolk?”
“I am leaving that to Klaus...”
Stowe, the Huntingdown Lodges
“Shirley? I think we have the first arrivals.”
Susan opened the front door and looked out as the first car drew up, the doors opening as Mandy, Eve, Penny and Sandra got out.
“Welcome – welcome all of you,” Shirley said as they came in, Susan helping them with the bags. “I’m so glad you could all make it.”
“How could we refuse the invitation, darling,” Mandy said with a drawl. “So where are our hosts for this most prestigious of weekends?”
“Right here,” Nessa said as she and Sigi came out of the kitchen, “welcome all of you.”
“Sigi, Nessa, allow me to introduce my old friend Sandra.”
“Pleasure to meet both of you, and thank you for allowing me to come along,” Sandra said as she hugged and kissed both of them. “So how many are we expecting?”
“Oh a fair number,” Nessa said as Sigi brought through some mugs of coffee, “the vast majority will only be setting off in about an hour – but the star of the weekend? She should be starting to be collected right about now...”
The Huntingdown Mansion
“So Judy is all right looking after Judith for tonight,” Ingrid said to Carina as they sat in the drawing room.
“Yeah,” Cari said as Juliette came in.
“And there is no way this can wait?
“Oh very well then – I can be there in a few hours. I look forward to seeing you then.”
“Problem Mom,” Cari said as she put the phone down.
"Girls I need to
drive to Stowe, it seems there has been a partial roof collapse at the lodges.
I tried to put it off, but the lady from the local insurance office was
insistent that I must go up and inspect the damage." Juliette sighed.
"Want us to drive
up with you for the company?" Ingy asked.
"But don't you
both have dates with your respective partners this weekend?"
"Nothing that I
can't put off with Adam..."
"...and I wasn't
seeing Annie till Sunday anyway, she has a track meet she has to go scout
"Okay...and I must admit I wasn't looking forward to the drive on my own." Juliette turned and headed to the stairs, "I guess we had better pack overnight bags."
“We’ll come and grab some things once we put the coffee mugs in the dishwasher,” Ingrid said as Juliette slowly walked up the stairs.
"BINGO!" Cari smiled as she whispered to her sister. "I knew that Aunt Natalya's 'American' voice would fool her."
“Right – Pops won’t come back until six anyway, and if she calls he has his line ready. Let’s go get our not at all prepared bags together.”
Thirty minutes later, Juliette pulled on her coat as Carina picked up their bags.
“Right – let’s go and see how bad the damage is,” she said, “I just need to let Sandy know where I am, and get her to call Diana.”
The Richmond Mansion
“Yeah, it’s a pain, but I can understand why she’s called you up there Ju – I’ll call Diana and let her know. Drive safely.”
Putting the phone down, she looked at Diana and said “she fell for it.”
“Excellent,” Diana said as she looked in the room. “Abigail, you are sure that you will be all right this weekend?”
“With Tony here Mamma? I think I can manage.”
“Excellent,” Diana said as she took out her cell phone.
“Thank you,” Nessa said as she looked at Paulie. “Most of the others have arrived, but we’ll make sure everything is ready here.”
Ending the call, she looked at Natalya, and said “it worked – they’re on their way now.”
“Good,” Natalya said as Karen helped Alice to hang some banners up. “Then we have enough time to complete our preparations.”
“Hey – I take it we’re not too late?”
“Not at all,” Shirley said as Maddie and Emma came in, “the guest of honour is only now departing New York, so we have time. Did you get what we asked for?”
“Oh yes – it’s in here,” Emma said as she patted her case. “So what can we do?”
“Give me a hand in here please,” Sandra said as she looked out from the kitchen, “we need to make sure certain things are properly packed before they go outside to be chilled.”
“Sounds good to me,” Maddie said as she hugged her old friend, and then followed her outside.
Mary smiled as the door opened to the building, and she saw Juliette’s assistants come out, walking towards her car.
"Okay girls hop in." Mary looked at Janine and Alexis, "I heard she's just getting underway and we need to beat her to Vermont."
"Coming," Alexis yelled as she pulled hers and Janine's small suitcases, whilst Janine carried two large garment bags.
"I think we have
everything," Janine smiled as she laid the bags carefully on top of the
suitcases in the trunk of the car.
"Well if we don't it's too late to go back now." Mary pulled into traffic as the girls buckled themselves in.
“And she really has no idea what’s going on?”
“Oh no – and we don’t just have a car with Carina in it to beat. Others are going to be on the way soon...”
The Richmond Mansion
“All right, ladies – we need to get underway,” Sandy called out.
“Once everyone’s gone, we’ll lock up,” Katherine said as she looked at Abby and Katy.
"Are you going to
be okay staying at Erica's darling?" Pippa asked
"Yes, and don't
worry about us, we have Jeanne there to watch us all."
"I still don't
know," Pippa shook her head, "a heavily
pregnant lady trying to supervise an apartment full of teenage girls..."
"What can possibly
"It's thinking of those very possibilities that has me worried."
"Look you and
Aunts Grace and Anna go have fun, we will be okay."
"Why do those sound like famous final last words." Pippa shook her head.
“Don’t worry,” Abby said, “Letty and I will drop in as well tomorrow and Sunday, let Jeanne get some rest.”
“And Mom will be a call away as well,” Ama said.
“Okay then – WAGONS ROLL!!!”
The Burton Apartment
"I do not envy you
Jeanne," Denice shook her head as she pulled her
case to the door, looking at the girls sitting and laughing in the living room.
"We will be fine, and if they misbehave I have this," she laughed as she opened her bag to show her gun. "Now there's Kelly," she smiled as she heard a horn from below.
“Yeah – have fun girls,” Denice said as she carried her case down to the car, Tonia holding the trunk open as Rachel and Claire sat in the back.
“Right – I may have to drive like Sandy to get us there on time.”
“I’ll cope with being late,” Claire said as Tonia and Denice got in, and they merged with traffic.
The Burton Apartment
“So how are we going to spend the evening,” Poppy said as she finished her slice of pizza.
“Well,” Jeanne said, “I have an idea for a game we can play off and on over the weekend – but only if you want to play.”
“And why would we not,” Erica said.
“Well, it’s a kind of acting game. It involves you either been a crook, or someone the crook catches and had to hold hostage.”
“What – really hold hostage?”
Doc and Katy looked at each other as Nikki nudged Becca. “Remember when you and Doc did it?” she whispered, Becca nodding.
“Well, I will be supervising,” Jeanne said.
“So how does it work?”
"Okay,” Jeanne said, “I got Mary Thomas to drop off a range of outfits for this game. At random I will choose both the victim and the crook. The crook gets 15 minutes to 'play' with her victim, and she can either leave clues as to her identity, or maybe plant red herrings, but the idea of the game is the victim works out and names her tormentor."
"This could be FUN Jeanne." Katy laughed.
“The rest of us will go into the kitchen and play some board games while the contest is underway. So, who is in and who is out?”
“Forgive me if I am out,” Ama said, “I hope you do not mind.”
“I’d be amazed if you did Ama,” Jeanne said quietly, “so perhaps you can help me with the games?”
Ama smiled and nodded as the girls made their way through to the kitchen, but as Katy went out Jeanne whispered into her ear, and then took her to one side.
“I lied,” Jeanne said, "with this monitor, we can all sit and watch in the kitchen and award marks and demerits to the crook for style or lack of it."
As Jeanne fixed the cameras in place, they saw Katy come into the front room. She was wearing a long gypsy dress and off the shoulder top, a patterned scarf tied over her hair, and brown short boots.
“Now, we draw a marble from here – and whoever gets the black one goes and dresses up. Ready?”
Katy sat in the armchair, wondering when someone was going to make a move, when she felt a hand placed on her shoulder. As she turned her head, she saw someone dressed head to foot in black, including the balaclava over their head, and the black gloves on their hands.
“Oh my god,” Katy said in a frightened voice, “who are you?”
The masked figure said nothing, but instead indicated to Katy she should stand up. As she did so, she saw the lengths of cord in her hands, and whispered “what do you want me to do?”
The figure twirled her finger round, Katy doing so as she felt her wrists been moved behind her back, and then held together as the rope was wrapped round them. It wasn’t as tight as Katy knew she could do it, but she knew better than do say anything, and played along as she said “Look, just tell me what you want and...”
She fell silent as the figure pushed her over to the chair, and indicated she should sit down, before kneeling down and binding her ankles together, followed by a length of rope around her legs, gathering the skirt around them above her knees.
As she did so, the figure looked up at Katy, who had to stop herself from giggling as she said “so what do you want from me? To know where my money is?”
The silent figure nodded, as Katy grinned and said “I will never tell you.”
Which was when the figure started to tickle her sides with her gloved fingers, taking her by surprise as she started to laugh out loud. This went on for about five minutes, before Katy said “ALL RIGHT!!! ALL RIGHT, I’LL TELL YOU!!!”
They stopped and looked at Katy, as she said “In my handbag – over there.”
The figure smiled, and then picked up a large headscarf, rolling it into a band and pulling it taut between her hands.
“You are going to use that?”
The figure nodded as Katy opened her mouth, letting the intruder use it as a cleave gag, closing her lips over the silk as the ends were tied at the base of her neck. As she did, Katy inhaled the scent, and smiled.
The intruder then picked her handbag up and walked out of the room, Katy starting to work on the knot holding the rope round her wrists with her fingers. It didn’t take her long to get free, and make her way into the kitchen, Ama smiling as the others applauded.
“Not bad, not bad at all,” Jeanne said, “so who do you think it was?”
“Well, at first I thought it was Poppy,” Katy said, “given she’s the one who was robbed by a silent intruder, but then I smelt the perfume – a very particular perfume, isn’t it...
“Okay, she got me,” Pepsi said with a smile, “who’s next?”
“So these are the lodges,” Alexis said as Mary stopped beside the other cars. “Nice.”
“Ah good – you made it,” Sandy said as she looked out.
“You beat us here? You left after us?”
“Yup – and picked up her usual gift from George,” Heather said as they came in. “Anyway, thanks for parking round the back.”
“Well, we can’t have Juliette knowing what’s going on until...” Sigi looked at her phone, and said “ten minutes people – kill the lights. It’s nearly showtime.”
“Well, here we are,” Juliette said as she pulled up outside the lodges. She looked at the snow covered buildings, and said “the damage must be round the back.”
“So where did the insurance rep say she would meet us Mom,” Ingrid said as they got out of the car, and pulled their coats around themselves.
The three of them looked to the door, to see a woman in a long coat standing there.”
“That’s right – thank you for coming up. I think it’s best if you come inside and see what’s happened.”
“Why is it so dark inside?”
“I’m afraid the damage knocked out the power, but I have a torch,” she said as she shined it in their direction, temporarily blinding them. “If you will follow me?”
“Better do what she says Mom,” Cari said as the trio walked towards the lodge, and into the darkened interior.
“This way,” Miss Brown said as she led them into the main room.
“Oh lord – not the main room.”
“Please – this way.”
Juliette didn’t notice Cari quietly closing the door as she walked in, saying “so where is the damage?”
Juliette blinked as the lights went on, and the assembled women called out “SURPRISE!!!”
“What the heck,” Juliette said as she swung round, and saw Natalya remove her coat beside Cari and Ingrid.
“Hey,” Sigi said as she and Nessa came to the front, “glad you could make it.”
“To your bridal shower weekend,” Mary said, “so take yer coat off lass – this is a party!”
“A... A party?” She turned to Cari and Ingrid, and said “you knew, didn’t you?”
“Of course we did Mom,” Cari said, “so sit down, take a glass, and just relax – the one rule about this weekend is you are the guest of honour.”
“I really am not getting a say in this, am I?”
“No you’re not,” Sandy said as she handed Juliette a glass of champagne.
“My advice to you,” Grace said as she came in with Pippa and Anna, “is enjoy.”
“Well, you got me good and proper,” Juliette said with a smile. “Does Klaus know what’s going on?”
“Oh he does,” Sigi said.
“I’ll kill him later,” Juliette said as everyone held their glasses up.
“There are still more to come, but for now, ladies – Juliette!”
“I guess I just have to submit to everyone else – for how long?”
“Oh all weekend,” Sandy said as she and Diana sat beside her. “This weekend, is like most other weekends here – with one notable exception.”
“And that is?”
“We are the youngest girls here,” Ingy said as she and Cari clinked glasses. “One other rule, ladies – what is said in Stowe...”
“STAYS IN STOWE!”
“Sorry we’re late,” Rachel said as she, Claire, Kelly, Denice and Tonia came in. “It’s starting to snow again out there.”
“Okay – so what are the sleeping arrangements?”
“This time, the double rooms go to the older generation,” Nessa said, “the rest of you – it’s the dorm.”
“So we get to be teenagers again?”
“Oh I am going to like this,” Grace said with a smile.
“Well, we’re getting some food delivered,” Mary said, “and we have all the drink we need cooling.”
“Just tell me,” Juliette said as she looked at Natalya, “where did you learn that accent?”
“I may tell you one day.”
“So, apart from the fact there are no real teenagers around here – what is the plan?”
“Not telling you.”
“We’ll see her Sunday, but she is looking after Judith tomorrow.”
“That will be the food,” Grace said as she and Sigi made their way to the door, returning with several large pizzas and boxes of sides.
“All right, one in, all in,” Nessa said, as the ladies started to eat.
“Did I hear that Maggie won her election,” Anna said as she sat with Pippa.
“She did indeed – I talked to her on the phone today, and she gets sworn in next week,” Pippa said as she sipped her wine.
“Well, I’m looking forward to recess – get Tom back for a few weeks,” Claire said as she threw herself into the seat.
“More than you can imagine,” Claire said with a laugh as she grabbed a slice of pepperoni. “I need him back again...”
“Aw poor Claire,” Diana said, “just imagine the joy in you when he comes back...”
“Oh I can, I can...”
“It really is just like old times,” Tonia said as she and Kelly grabbed some slices.
“Pity Liz can’t be here,” Kelly said, “or we could have some real fun.”
“Oh – who says I’m not here?”
The two turned to see Liz, Pussy and Frieda coming in the door.
“LET THE PARTY START!!!”
“This was a great idea,” Sigi said as she and Nessa brought some more bottles in.
“Get everyone together for the weekend, and let the games begin?”
“I’m so glad you could make it over Sandy,” Shirley said as she and Maddie sat in one of the rooms.
“Well, how could I refuse – but what else is going on?”
Maddie looked at Shirley, as she said “A blast from the past – Alain Rey.”
“Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time – what’s...”
“THERE you are,” Juliette said as she looked in, “come back and join us – we’re getting the karaoke machine out!”
“This is going to be different,” Sandra said.
“You have no idea – Emma brought it...”
“Hey,” Grace said as they came in, “we were just wondering who has the most unusual middle name.”
“Or the most embarrassing,” Grace said, “although I think it has some to go to beat Jeannie L Brewster.”
“Oh yeah,” Carina said, “she’s very very reluctant to spill what the L stands for. What will it take for either you or Grace to spill, Barbara?”
“A threat far greater than any of you can offer,” Barbara said as she refilled her glass.
“Ditto – no way,” Grace said – before she was covered in a shower of cushions.
“Or,” Karen said with a smile, “we could tell the story of the time we all ended up in the nightclub in Berlin, and...”
“Okay – Karen first,” Juliette said as she started the player, and handed her the microphone.
The Burton Apartment
"Has Missy talked
to you yet Poppy?" Ama asked as they sat awaiting the next 'crime'.
would she talk to me?"
said, “this growth spurt you are on is making you look more and more like a
"Oh I hardly think
I'm the type..."
"Oh come off it
Poppy...you are PRECISELY the type of girl who models." Katy laughed,
"now me I got a lucky break, you they've all just been waiting for you to
get to the right height and age."
"That is what my
Mom says." Ama sipped her tea, "and I heard her discussing you with
Anna Wintour at one of the shows."
"Really?" Poppy questioned.
"Face it Poppy you
are an industry brat, just look round currently how many of the best young
models had Moms, or Grans who were in the biz at sometime." Doc added her opinion.
"I want to be a doctor remember?" Poppy spoke softly.
"So do I, but as
Karen Boyd proves the two worlds aren't mutually exclusive you know?"
"And as Doc has said before, the money if put away will come in useful down the road." Katy added.
“Hold up,” Erica said as they looked at Bobbi, who was wearing a pair of tight leggings with over the knee boots and a jumper, while Nikki came in wearing a black leather jacket, jeans and a bandana tied round her head.