Lead and Old Lace – part 1
Saturday 5th December
West Central Park
Katy Carter was dreaming – a wonderful, vivid dream in which she and George Richmond were walking by the side of a lake, flamingos flying in the background, the warm sun making the air feel and look hazy.
They sat on the grass, enveloping each other in their arms, their tender kisses allowing them to share their passions as Katy started to feel warmth between her legs, and she placed her hand on his crotch.
She allowed herself a soft moan as he stroked his hand between her legs, before he pulled his head back, looked at her and said in a strange, deep female voice “wake up.”
“Who is George? Wake up – now.”
Katy suddenly opened her eyes to see two women standing by the side of her bed, dressed in grey overalls with balaclavas over their heads and leather gloves on their hands.
“It is time to go,” the taller one said, “get up, and put on the clothes there for you.”
Katy glanced at the clock, before saying “You have got to be...”
“No, we’re not,” the smaller one said, “you have five minutes or you fail at the first test.”
“The first...” Katy suddenly realised what was happening, as she got out of bed and removed her nightdress, putting on the underwear and the black boiler suit, before sitting on the bed to put on the socks and trainers, and then the leather gloves.
“Put on the balaclava,” the taller woman said, “it must remain on until you return.”
“I understand, where are we going,” she said quietly before gasping in surprise as a black scarf was tied over her eyes.
“You will see,” she heard the second woman say before she was walked out of her bedroom, Jan holding the apartment door open and waving after her as she was escorted out, and then closing the door behind them.
Katy knew she was going down in the elevator, and then heard a car door open before she was helped to sit in.
“Do not speak unless spoken to,” she heard the woman say, before there was the pressure of the seat belt on her, and she felt the car move off...
Katy felt the car stop and the engine noise end, before the belt holding her in place was unfastened and she was helped out of the car. “Do not speak until spoken to,” she heard one of the woman say as she was walked along, the cold wind on her face even with the balaclava until she felt a concrete floor under her feet.
As they stopped moving, she stood silently, as she heard more feet, and other people coming in. Katy wanted to ask who they were, but the admonishment to stay quiet was still ringing in her ears. All she could do was wait, as she heard the breathing of the other women.
Eventually, she could hear the doors opening and closing, and three sets of footsteps coming towards her.
“Thank you ladies,” a deep voice said, “you may return for them at the designated time tomorrow.”
Several sets of footsteps walked out, across the yard and into the farmhouse.
“Anyone want some coffee,” Juliette said as she took her mask off.
“I’ll take some,” Susan said as she sat down. “I need to go and collect two girls from the airport this afternoon, so I need the boost.”
“I’m having dinner with Catherine tonight,” Juliette said as she started the coffee machine. “And you have to make the final preparations for tonight, Dom.”
“I know,” Dominique said as she let her black hair fall, “One way or another, I don’t think any of us are going to get much sleep tonight.”
“Do you think Penny and Helen got much sleep these last few days?”
“Hey – Penny has been in the office every day,” Susan said, “eventually...”
“Easy for you lot to say,” Carina sighed as she looked at Judith asleep in her chair, “I have exams next week...”
“Good morning sleepy head,” Juliette said as she lifted her granddaughter out, “Want some milk?”
“All right ladies – you may remove your blindfolds.”
Katy reached behind her head and untied the scarf, blinking as she looked round the barn she found herself in. Next to her were three more women, slightly taller than her, who blinked as they looked over through the eyeholes of their balaclava masks.
“Front and centre, ladies.”
Katy turned her head to see three women standing in front of them, dressed in combat fatigues and wearing black combat boots, in addition to the black leather gloves on their hands, and the black balaclavas that only allowed them to see their red lips and eyes.
“Welcome,” the one in the centre said, “to the Farm. You have been sent here by your sponsors, to allow us to assess your strengths and weaknesses, and to allow them to use our feedback to make an informed decision on your future career development. I am Miss Leopard, to my left is Miss Puma, to my right Miss Lioness. You may be familiar with the names.”
Katy nodded along with the other three – she knew this meant Diana and Sandy were two of the three women, however well their voices were disguised, but she felt sharing that knowledge was not conducive to passing. But Miss Lioness – who was she?”
“As you may have gathered by now,” Miss Leopard continued, “we are members of the Pussycat Gang, and as such we will be assessing you against our own standards, our own requirements. For these next two days, you will refer to us by name or as Miss, do you understand?”
“Yes Miss Leopard,” they replied, the girl next to Katy as loudly as she did, the other two mumbling.
“Perhaps I did not make myself sufficiently clear,” Miss Leopard said as she walked down the line, “DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“YES MISS LEOPARD.”
“Better,” Miss Puma said as she walked forward. “In this course, you do not share personal details, and you do not share names. You will instead answer to these names.” Walking down the line, she said “A... J... P... and K. You will not remove your balaclavas or your gloves until the end of the second day, and you are returned to where you came from. Do you understand?”
“To this side,” Miss Lioness said as she looked to the side of the room, “are food and coffee. You have twenty minutes to eat and drink before we begin. Go.”
The four women looked at each other as they went to the trestle table, eating and drinking in silence. Looking at the other three, Katy knew she was easily the youngest, but she was determined not to let that stop her.
“All right Ladies,” Miss Leopard said after a few minutes, “line up in front of me.”
As they lined up, Miss Puma came forward carrying a sawn off shotgun in her hands.
“Our first exercise this morning will test your familiarity with guns,” she said as she looked down the line. “How many of you have used or held a gun before?”
She nodded as all four held their hands up.
“And have any of you killed?”
Katy raised her hand, not surprised as the other three looked at her.
“That is fine,” Miss Leopard said as Miss Lioness set up a target on the far side of the barn. “This is an assessment course, and we would not expect you to have done what K has admitted to. We need total honesty from all of you, in order to provide the assessment your sponsors have requested. P – step forward.”
The other three watched as Miss Puma handed the masked young women the gun.
“I want you,” Miss Leopard said, “to fire at that target over there.”
Nodding, P pointed the gun at the target and fired – flying back several feet and landing on the floor as the target disintegrated.
“As you can see,” Miss Puma said, “there is a right and a wrong way to do this. Do not worry – we work our way up to this. Miss Lioness?”
As the girls looked on, Miss Lioness opened a bag and laid out four handguns.
“K – show us our skill on this target, please.”
Katy walked forward and picked up a handgun, weighing it in her hand before she took her stance and fired a shot into the target a few feet away.
“Eight,” Miss Lioness said as she looked at the target.
“It felt unfamiliar to me, Miss Leopard,” Katy said as she looked over.
“Understandable – not all weapons are the same,” Miss Leopard said. “Each of you, in turn, take the weapon and fire one shot at the target.”
They walked up in turn, P massaging her bruised bottom before taking aim and firing, the other two following suit.
“A nine for P, sevens for the other two.”
“Good,” Miss Leopard said as four targets were set up. “Take a pistol each, get used to the weight, and then fire six shots each into the target. We will then move on to larger weapons, to see how you handle a range of weapons.”
The four women looked at each other, nodding as they each held their weapons for a moment, and then took aim.
“Excellent,” Miss Leopard said as she looked at the sheets. “Now we move up.” From a long bag she took out a hunting rifle and laid it in front of them.
“Browning,” A said as she looked at it. “My fa... That is, I learned to shoot with this.”
They watched as A cocked the rifle, put it to her shoulder and shot at the target in a smooth movement.
“Bull’s-eye,” Miss Lioness said as she looked.
“So you are more comfortable with rifles than handguns?”
“At the moment yes – but I am willing to change.”
“Good – bring a bag each, and follow me,” Miss Leopard said as they picked up a bag and followed her out of the barn, Katy looking round as they walked through the light rain to a clearing, where a firing range was set up.
“I want you to take a rifle each from your bags,” Miss Leopard said as she looked at them, “and show me your skills from the prone position. Begin.”
The four lay down and started to fire the rifles at the cans, Miss Puma and Miss Lioness taking mental notes as they did so.
“I’m beat already,” J said as she took a drink from the canteen, and handed it round.
“What time did they wake you up P?”
“Just after four – I have no idea how she got into my apartment, but she got in.”
“Same for me – except two woke me,” Katy said.
“Less chatter, ladies – it is time for you to see our signature weapon again, and learn how to hold and use it. Remember – this is a weapon that will kill. We do not use this lightly, but we use it for maximum effect. Miss Puma, set up a straw bale, will you?”
The women watched as Miss Lioness picked up the shotgun, and braced herself, the butt sitting against her hip as she fired off a single shot. They then looked at where the straw bale had been, only to see a slowly descending cloud of dust and straw.
“I remind you,” Miss Leopard said, “these are lethal weapons. They will kill, or severely injure, and are the weapon of choice for us.”
“They may not be the weapon of choice for you,” Miss Puma said, “but to use these is to show a willingness to do what may need to be done.”
“One by one, you will come forward and allow us to show you how to hold and use these, before you fire them – and then one by yourself. Your objective is simple – do NOT fall over.”
Macys of 5th Avenue
“What do you get the woman who seems to have everything,” Erica said as she and Poppy looked through the racks of scarves, Ama and Maisha looking at some gloves.
“From what little I know of Mary Thomas,” Poppy said as she looked at a fur wrap, “it is the thought and sentiment behind the gift she would appreciate more than the gift itself.”
“I know – but I want it to be something special,” Erica said as she looked round.
“Then can I make a suggestion? This may not be the place to look.”
“Where would be then?”
“Ama – what say we get something to drink, and then head down to the fair?”
“We can, when Maisha and I have made our purchases,” Ama said as the two older girls made their way to the sales counter.
“Hey – Mom would love these,” Erica said as she picked up a pair of kid leather gloves, “and I can actually afford them.”
“Go for it then,” Poppy said as she looked round. A moment later, she turned back and said “let me go to the counter with you.”
“I’m not sure – but there’s a man standing over there who’s looking at me in a funny way.”
Erica looked in the glass behind the display, and nodded as they made their way over. While Erica paid, Poppy talked quietly to Ama and Maisha, the two older girls nodding before as a quartet they left the store and jumped into a cap.
“Hester Street,” Ama said, “and I will pay twenty extra if you take the fast route.”
“Got it lady,” she said as Poppy took out her cell phone.
“Mom? Can you come and meet us at the market? Someone’s following me...”
“All right, ladies,” Miss Leopard said as she led them back into the barn, “you will find soup and sandwiches over there. You have thirty minutes.”
Katy walked over and opened a flask, pouring the hot broth into cups and handing it round before she took one herself.
“You’re good, K,” P said as she looked at her, “although J has the edge with a rifle.”
“I’m exhausted already,” A said as she held the mug in both hands. “What do you think they will have us doing this afternoon?”
“Whatever it is,” Katy said, trying to sound older, “I’m sure it’s for our own good.”
“Katy did as I felt she would,” Diana whispered, “but I am impressed by all three.”
“Agreed,” Shirley said, “young Julia in particular surprised me with her rifle skills.”
“Well, now we exhaust them,” Sandy said, “got your route planned Diana?”
“Oh yes – and look, it’s started snowing. How nice...”
Hester Street Fair
“Now this is what I’m looking for,” Erica said as she showed Poppy a leather bound volume. “Music magazines from the seventies. I think she will enjoy this.”
“There you are,” Pippa said as she came up behind the girls. “I thought I might find you here.”
“I’ll go and pay for this,” Erica said as she walked off with Ama and Maisha.
“Is he still here,” Pippa said quietly as she leaned next to Poppy.
“Over there – by the posters.”
Pippa looked up and said “right – wait here with Grace,” before she walked over.
“What’s going on Mrs Brand?”
“Nothing for you to worry about, Poppy...”
“I thought I told you to stay away from my daughter, Martin.”
“Our daughter,” Martin said, “and I will get to meet her – eventually. See you around Pippa.”
As he walked off, Ama took a photo on her iPhone and then started talking quietly to Maisha in French...
The Richmond Mansion
"So what are the
odds for tonight Big Sis?" Jo asked Heather as they ate lunch together.
"Well,” Annie said
as she swallowed a bite of her sandwich, “you are the favourite, Annie the
"And how did Sandy
set those odds?" Jo said as she shook her head.
"Purely weight of
money, you are the girl attracting most of the money."
"I guess that's a compliment." Taking a sip of her drink, she said “so who are the umpires – any hints yet?”
“Nope – and none of us are asking. We,” Heather said as she sipped from her glass, “are observing the rules and conventions of the challenge.”
“Well, she certainly has it all planned out?”
"So,” Heather said as she wiped her chin, “what plans for this afternoon?"
"My training run
in the park, and then maybe a lovely bubble bath and a nap before this
"Sounds like a
plan to me Jo."
"I'm going to see
how the work on Sandy's dresser is progressing."
"You know she's
going to adore that for Christmas?"
"I think she will.
Andrew thinks that I got a rare bargain on it and that restored it will be a
truly nice piece of colonial furniture."
"Which as we all
know is Sandy's favourite."
"Right." Heather nodded. “So, you wash up and then get changed, and I will see you later.”
“It never fails,” Clint said as he looked at Susan, fidgeting in her coat pockets, “every time they fly in you get nervous.”
“Can you blame me,” Susan said with a smile as she looked at April. The baby girl was in Clint’s arms, looking round as she gurgled happily.
“I must say, Clint, you do make a good father.”
“Nice of you to say that Marina,” he said as he saw the young redhead standing next to him, “and how did you manage that?”
“She’s been taking lessons darling – as have I?”
“Kylie,” Susan said as she turned and hugged her, “how are you?”
“Tired darling – but so much better for seeing you.” Kylie was wearing a fox fur bomber jacket over a white jumper and pants, the legs tucked into matching fur boots, while Marina was wearing a long tan wool coat over a brown dress, and long leather boots.
“My apologies for my tardiness, Susan – I was arranging a trolley for the luggage,” Cathy Lu said as she walked over, followed by a young uniformed man pushing the luggage trolley. “Hello April – you are getting bigger aren’t you?”
“Do you wish to go straight to the hotel, Cathy?”
“If that is all right – it will give me time to settle and unpack.”
“Will you join us for dinner tonight Cathy? Juliette will be coming as well.”
“In that case, I accept with grateful thanks. Helen?”
“Is preparing for tonight, so she sends her, and I quote, ’humble apologies for her non-attendance this evening.’”
“It is all right,” Cathy said with a smile, “I will see her tomorrow morning. For now, let us leave – I find myself needing some properly made coffee...”
“I must concur, darling,” Kylie said as she looked at April through her large glasses, “some coffee would be divine.”
“And the holidays start here,” Clint said, shaking his head as they made their way to the parking area.
The four young women came running into the courtyard, Miss Lioness taking notes of times while Miss Leopard looked at them.
"Okay so this is
'The Farm', is it?" Katy thought to herself as she stood gulping for
breath with her hands on her knees after finishing the cross-country run.
"No wonder Mom said nobody enjoyed it."
"Okay ladies -
that wasn't too good was it?" Miss Lioness asked.
the trainees replied in unison.
"Let's see if you
can do any better in a mental test. In the barn are set up 4 puzzles, each of
you must complete one within 20 minutes or you will be required to go run the
cross-country run again...Do you understand?'
"Alright you have 20 minutes from...NOW!" Shirley clicked a stop-watch.
The four girls went into the barn and picked a table, Katy looking closely at the arrangement of blocks on her table before she started to try fitting them together, Miss Puma watching all of them closely.
Grace looked out of the window of the apartment, deep in thought.
“Penny for them?”
She turned and smiled as Harriet stood in the kitchen door, holding two mugs of coffee.
“Thanks,” Grace said as she took the mug and sat down. “Harriet, you remember the conversation we had about Pippa and Poppy a few weeks back?”
“Yeah – what about it?”
“I think the time’s come for that help you offered at the time. When’s Sarah’s training tomorrow?”
“Eleven I think – why?”
Grace nodded as she said “I’m going to invite a few people round afterwards to talk things over – you two had better be here as well.”
“How serious is this getting?”
“Listen in,” Grace said as she put the loudspeaker on for the telephone, and pressed a speeddial number.
“Wilhelmina, it’s Grace. Can you make it to my place tomorrow for a late lunch?"
"We need to work
out a strategy for dealing with Poppy's father, he is becoming a
Harriet looked at Grace
as she heard Wilhelmina say "Oh I'll certainly make it."
"Good can you
invite Kate as well?"
"I'll ring her
when we hang up. So who else will be there?"
"My flatmates, and
I thought I'd invite Caroline Jameson as an expert on personal security and
Annie...Oh and Judge Hutton is coming as well to give us legal advice."
"As well as
Philippa I take it?"
"Yes. About two tomorrow?"
“We’ll see you then – and thanks,” Grace said as she ended the call.
“I’d better go and get some more supplies,” Harriet said as she put her mug down.
“No – let me. I want to invite Caroline and Annie in person – let them know what’s happened.”
“Yeah – I’ll meet you both there at eleven,” Caroline said as Annie showed Grace in.
“Just someone I’m meeting later tonight for a contract,” she said as she put the phone down, “what’s up?”
“Actually, Caroline,” Grace said as she sat down, “I need your professional advice.”
“You need my professional advice?” Caroline sat down as she said “What about?”
“It’s a rather delicate matter, Caroline.”
“Okay, that’s my cue to leave,” Annie said as she started to stand up.
“No – you’d better stay Annie. One, I may need your help as well, and two, I think Ama already knows something.”
“This is to do with the man this afternoon, Mrs Brand,” Ama said as she appeared from the kitchen.
“It is Ama,” Grace said, “may I speak with Caroline and Annie on their own?”
“Of course,” Ama said as she headed to her room, Grace waiting until she closed the door.
“Okay,” Caroline said as she sat back, “I am going to presume this is about either Erica or Poppy, and if it was Erica you would have headed to Mary’s place. So this is about Poppy.”
Grace nodded as she said “I need to tell you a story – and then, Caroline, I – well, Pippa and Poppy may need your advice...”
“That – was horrendous,” A said as they stood in the barn. “You didn’t have to run with us again K.”
“No – but I was not part of the team if I stayed and you all went,” Katy said, “I get the feeling this is as much about us as a team as our individual assessment.”
“Line up,” Miss Leopard said as she came in.
“YES MA’AM,” they said as they stood in line.
“Strange as it may seem in these masks, we dress for dinner here girls. In the barn you will find boxes each with your code letter on containing a dress, shoes, etc.. You have 30 minutes to dress and remember again to protect your own identity with the mask.” Diana spoke. “Is all of this clear?”
“Good, now go dress girls, dinner as I said is served in 30 minutes.”
She turned and headed back to the farmhouse while the four trainees headed back to the barn. As they entered, they found the packages on a trestle table, each locating their own.
“How on earth did they know our sizes,” A said as she held up the evening dress.
“They cannot be serious?” P said as she held up the shoes with the 5” heels.
“Why not? These aren’t too bad.” Katy smiled as she held up the stilettos provided for her.
“I’ve never worn anything near this high.” J said as she shook her head.
“Well unless you want to fail this course and live with those consequences, then you’ll wear them tonight I guess.” Katy shrugged her shoulders as she stripped out of the boiler suit, removing her socks as well before she put on the off the shoulder electric blue dress.
“How can you be so matter of fact about this K?” A said as she looked at the masked girl with the large bust.
“I guess because I regularly wear heels like this.” Katy slipped the shoes on and demonstrated the sexy catwalk walk that Mary Thomas had taught her.
“Okay one day you teach me to walk like that.” P shook her head.
“Well not before dinner, but maybe afterwards.” Katy smiled.
“So?” Sandy asked Shirley as she came down the stairs, wearing a high coloured crimson gown, “any impressions?”
“I’ll reserve judgment till tomorrow after the shooting test,” Shirley said, “but at the moment no one is really failing.”
“Tomorrow is the key day, see how they react after an awful night of trying to sleep.” Diana nodded as she walked over. Both she and Shirley were wearing dark blue dresses, smiling before Diana went to the table.
“Yes, when they have been stressed even harder.”
“Okay ladies, looks like our guests have dressed…Pull your masks on.” Sandy looked up from the monitor.
“Welcome,” Miss Leopard said as the four young women walked in, “please, take your seat at the table. We will start immediately.”
The Richmond Mansion
Heather looked on as Jo double checked her equipment, and started to pack it into her rucksack.
"I hope you've not
handled anything you are taking tonight with anything other than with gloves
"Heather,” Jo said
as she looked round and smiled, “I'm not an amateur."
"I know,” Heather
said as she walked in, “but as Juliette always says, just one little mistake is
all it takes."
"Oh you know I
don't take risks nowadays." Joanne looked up. "So is Caroline
supplying the weapons?"
"Any clue as to
whom she has umpiring yet?"
"No but I know the umpires will each wear a pair of my new camera studs." She opened a box and showed Joanne the gold ear studs.
"How the hell did you get everything so tiny?" Jo stood in awe at her sister’s technical genius.
things? They are hardly hard to make."
"So do you want
your supper now?"
"I guess so,” Jo
said as she closed her bag, “I probably shouldn't burgle on an empty
"How about I order
in some Thai?"
"Go for it." Jo smiled in approval.
Susan and Clint’s Apartment
“Juliette – it is good to see you again,” Cathy said as she embraced her old friend.
“And you Cathy – how was the flight?”
“As always, bearable – but I am pleased to be here again,” she said as they sat at the table, April in her high chair as Kylie talked to her. The teenager was now in sock covered feet, while Marina was sitting on the couch, stretching her long legs out.
“Marina – you ready to pinch in at the office?”
“As you wish, boss – So long as I get the holiday weekend off.”
“We all do, Marina, we all do,” Susan said as she came in. “Clint will be ready to serve up in a few minutes. I hope you don’t mind a casserole Cathy?”
“That will be fine – after a day in an airplane, good food is most welcome,” Cathy said with a smile. “So I understand we are meeting Alice next week?”
“She’s coming down to see Diana – and also to come to a reunion dinner I’m throwing. Karen and Caroline will be coming with Pru.”
“A most illustrious gathering – and the reason?”
“Olivia Savage will be in town.”
“Olivia Savage? I have heard Mary talking about her darling,” Kylie said as she looked over. “She was a model who retired?”
“Forced to, more like it – she has a serious eye condition. Her daughter is one of the debs here next year, so they’re coming to sort that out, attend some of the tea parties, and also see old friends.”
“In which case, all well and good,” Cathy said with a smile. “I understand you also wish me to do some measuring as well, Juliette.”
“Yeah – we have two recruits that may need fitting out in the future.”
“Indeed? Who has joined the illustrious group?”
“Well,” Juliette said as she sat back, “I genuinely think you’ll be surprised.”
“Oh? So, the first is?”
Both Marina and Kylie looked over at the mention of that name.
“Cassandra Stone? Award winning actress, currently playing you – well, your alter ego in the film shooting in New York?”
“Indeed – she has assisted the West Coast team, and joined us in Montreal.”
“Foods on the table,” Clint said as he carried a large casserole out. “Kylie, give me a hand with the baked potatoes?”
“Of course, Darling,” Kylie said as she went back to the kitchen with Clint.
“Our other new recruit,” Susan said in a low voice, “is Katy Carter.”
Marina had rarely seen Cathy surprised in the time she had known her, but as she sat there, the raised eyebrow told its own story.
“Katy Carter? It seems only yesterday Janice was buying the dress for her in Macau, and now...”
“I know – trust me, it happened quickly, and Jan is still trying to come to terms with it,” Juliette said as Kylie carried the bowl of potatoes in.
“Well, I could see Katy tomorrow.”
“No, you can’t,” Juliette said, “she’s at the farm this weekend.”
“Who is enjoying the joys of a weekend with Diana then, darling,” Kylie said as she sat down.
“Katy? Katy... Katy Carter?” Kylie looked at Susan, and for a second the old Kyles appeared as she said in a broad North London accent “cor blimey...”
“Oh thank the goddess – she is still in there somewhere,” Marina said as everyone else laughed.
“Sorry darlings,” Kylie said eventually, “but you surprised me. Is that why I had to do that emergency fitting a few weeks ago Catherine?”
“I imagine so Kylie – but I suspect you may find out by meeting with her during your visit. Shall we eat?”
“May I say something Miss Leopard?”
Katy looked at the older woman, waiting until she nodded before she said “thank you for an amazing meal.”
“You are most welcome, K. It is important for you all to realise what we do here is not just assess your abilities, but also your capability to adjust to different situations. Now, let us take coffee in the seated area.”
The seven women stood and made their way through, while Miss Lioness carried a pot of coffee in, and Miss Puma brought the cups and milk.
“Now, as we drink,” Miss Leopard said as the coffee was poured and passed round, “we will discuss a number of scenarios and get your responses to them. Answer quickly, as if you have to make a quick decision.”
The four younger women nodded as Miss Puma sat down. “You are holding a family hostage in their home, when there is a knock on the door. A quick glance through the window informs you it is a relative – what do you do?”
“Is the house lit or in darkness?”
“If in darkness, you may wish to wait it out, and see if she persists.”
“That would only work if there was no sign of anyone outside either,” A said, “or if she was unexpected.”
“So you ask when you first get there if they are expecting anyone,” J said.
“I’d bring her in and take her hostage as well, if there was any risk at all of her raising the alarm.”
Miss Lioness nodded as she said “Second scenario – you are responsible for double checking the area around a target, when you notice a new couple have moved into the house next door. What do you do?”
“Abort the operation – you need further information, reassurances as to who they are.”
Miss Leopard looked at A, and then said “this is the window of opportunity – aborting of the action is not an option.”
“Find out as much as you can of the new neighbours – and be extra aware of the increased risk.”
Miss Lioness nodded as she looked at J, before Miss Leopard continued. “You are raiding a store, and you have the staff and customers covered, when you hear a noise in the back room. What do you do?”
“Are all the staff and customers secured?”
“A very good question,” Miss Leopard said, “Assume they are.”
“Send whoever is closest in to see what’s caused the noise – at high alert.”
Nodding, Miss Leopard said “when you go in, you find a twelve year old girl cowering in the corner.”
“Bring her out and make her join the others – she’s either a customer, or a relative of the customer or a staff member.”
“How much force do you use?”
“As much as is necessary,” K said quietly.
“But isn’t a screaming kid worse?”
“So we use whoever the parent is – threaten them to make the kid stay quiet.”
“Or just silence them all – use cloth or tape or something.”
“That assumes you have the materials to hand,” Miss Lioness said, “so use whatever method is easiest, short of actual bodily harm unless you have to.”
Susan and Clint’s Apartment
"Kylie if I can
have a quiet word." Susan said as she cornered her young friend in the
darling. What may I do for you?"
"Madame has a bank
job lined up for this coming week and has asked if you wish to
Kylie grinned as she
said "You need to ask, darling?"
not." Susan smiled. "Anyway keep it under your hat, and don't tell
either Marina or Cathy."
is the likely take?"
million...split 6 ways."
"Very nice, that
should at least pay for Christmas presents for everyone."
"So what are you
two whispering about?" Marina came in and asked.
"Oh nothing darling, just exchanging Christmas ideas."
“Oh right – don’t spill the beans on our plans for April, got it?”
“All right ladies,” Miss Leopard said as she stood up, “It is time to retire for the night. We start again at seven tomorrow morning. Sleep well – and remember, masks on at all times.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” the four candidates said as they stood up and walked to the barn.
“Look at them,” Shirley said as she watched them on the monitor, looking at the beds in the barn, “they look as if they are ready for a good long sleep.”
"This is too
easy." Katy said as she looked at the beds that had been prepared for
them. "No way they will let us sleep all night - not their style."
"Katy is bright
and perceptive." Shirley said as she looked up from the monitor to her two
"This weekend is
all about stress,” K said as she sat down, “I'll give you odds we are rousted
out of bed about two to do something."
"You are a cynic
K," J stripped out of her clothes.
"No I just think I have a handle on what this weekend is all about."
“Well, you have the right idea, but we can be far more cruel than that,” Diana said as she held up the silver disks.
“Oh yes – they are going to love this.”
“When does the concert start?”
“Twenty minutes after they fall asleep...”
"Ready to go
Annie?" Ama asked. "Mom says she thinks its time to go."
said as she checked her sack one more time, and then looked at her outfit in
you need?" Caroline called as Annie entered the living room.
"I think so."
Caroline said as she came in, tucking her black hair under a cap. “This is supposed to be fun."
"I know Dom,”
Annie said quietly, “but I always get nervous like this before a
"I had noticed." Caroline smiled. “Right – let’s go. Ama, we will see you tomorrow morning.”
“Enjoy your evening,” Ama said as they walked out, before she curled up on the couch and started the Monty Python DVD.
The Richmond Mansion
“Come on in,” Heather said as she opened the door to Dominique and Annie, “Jo’s in the front room.”
“Hey,” Jo said as she stood up, “Ready for this?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Annie said as she put her bag down, “so who are we waiting for?”
“Them,” Dominique said as there was a knock on the front door. Both Jo and Annie looked to the door as she went to open it, and then returned with the two new arrivals.
"Okay I should
have guessed." Jo smiled as she saw Helen and Penny.
guessed what?" Penny asked.
"That you'd be the
girls Dominique brought in to umpire tonight,"
"And protect your
asses." Helen smiled.
"Remember you only
intervene ladies if the threat to the girls is obvious and imminent, otherwise
they need clear up their own mess."
Dom," Penny nodded.
"Well I at least feel happier having one of you two watching my ass." Annie picked up one of the silenced Walther's that Dom had laid out on the table.
“Call Jo – Heads or Tails?”
“Heads,” Jo called out as Dom flipped the coin in the air, and then caught it on the back of her hand.
“Annie, you have the choice.”
“Helen, want to watch me at work?”
“So you get me kiddo,” Helen said as she clapped her hand on Jo’s shoulder.
"Okay girls you
all need to wear these earrings." Heather said as she carefully picked
them out of her box.
"Will these work
with stockings over our heads?" Annie asked.
"They did when I
tested them." Heather said as she started to pin the first studs in Jo's
ears, "one gives video, the other gives audio."
"It means we can see and hear all four of you and watch what happens." Dominique switched on a computer, "and so can our friends and associates."
“Great – prime time television,” Penny said as she looked at the girls.
“Okay – when you’re ready, we head to the apartment blocks, and you start at Midnight. It only remains for me to wish you both good luck and good hunting.”
Sunday 6th December
2 am Local Time
The Training Compound, Botswana/South Africa border.
“Hey Helga – up and at them!”
The blonde Swede looked up, opening one eye as she saw Sunburst McCabe standing over her.
“Who have we got coming in?”
“You’ll want to be here for this one,” Sunburst said as they walked out of her cabin, joining the other students as they danced and clapped. The quartet slowly walked in, grinning as they looked up and made their way through the welcoming crowd.
“I hate you both,” Liz said as she embraced her fellow teachers.
“Usual reaction,” Helga said, “but you made it. All of you made it – so now you rest.”
“Are we the last ones to get back?”
“Not quite – two more groups due in. But it means later tonight, you all take the oath.”
“And that makes you officially one of us,” Sunburst said as she clapped her hand on Liz’s shoulder.
“All right – Annie, you get the block on the left, Jo on the right. Enjoy.”
Dom got into the car and drove off as Annie and Jo looked at each other.
Helen and Penny nodded to each other as they followed the other two, circling round the back of the blocks before they started to make their way up the fire escapes, moving noiselessly on the metal.
“So we’re starting at the top and moving down,” Helen said as she looked at Annie.
“Yeah – how’s your climbing?”
Annie smiled as she left the fire escape on the second floor, using the pipework to climb to the top floor, Helen following her until they crouched on the sill of a window. As her partner watched, Helen took out a thin blade and used it to force the lock on the window, slowly easing it up and thanking the Goddess it wasn’t squeaky.
She slipped through the gap, landing noiselessly on the floor of the main room, and held it up for Helen to follow her in. Closing the window behind them, she shone a penlight round and listened for any sound.
“So far so good,” she said with a smile. “No sign of an external alarm, but just in case...”
She shone the light around the main room, looking for any signs of an alarm box, and then smiled as she shone it along the skirting as well. Helen had already assessed the room, but said nothing as Annie said “no alarm” and started to look carefully round the front room.
“Well now, what have we here,” she whispered to herself as she looked at a row of CD cases, and then ran her thin blade round the edge of six of them, smiling as they popped out to reveal a hidden safe. Taking a small bulb from her bag, she sprayed the keypad with a fine powder, and then started to type combinations of numbers, succeeding on the third attempt in opening the safe.
Helen nodded as she watched Annie take out the velvet bags inside, and empty the contents into her own bag, before she closed the safe and replaced the cases. She then looked round again, before she slipped the stocking down over her head, and made her way towards the bedroom.
The middle aged woman was asleep on the bed, wearing a pair of silk pyjamas as she snored gently. Annie smiled as she carefully, quietly, searched her drawers and wardrobe, finding more pieces of jewellery and adding them to the velvet bag in her rucksack, all the time checking to make sure she did not wake up the occupant.
Helen was impressed at the way she worked – silently, efficiently, knowing the right places to look and the right places to leave alone. As Annie picked up the gold wrist watch and slipped it away, she looked down at the sleeping woman and said “thank you” before the two of them walked to the door.
“Where now,” Helen said as Annie rolled up her stocking mask.
“Third floor – that apartment has an alarm, so I need to go in a different way...”
Penny watched Jo as she worked on the window opening, and then sprayed some liquid from a metal can on the sides before she began to lift it. Nodding in approval, she watched as Jo held the window open, then looked at her and said “wait here.”
As Penny held the window open, Jo crouched on the edge, and then jumped onto a nearby seat. She then jumped to a three seater couch, and then onto the back before she stepped onto a side table taking care not to knock anything over. Penny wondered for a moment why she had done this, until she saw the younger woman use a screwdriver to disable an alarm box on the wall, and then step on the floor.
“Well spotted,” she said quietly as she stepped onto the floor, and closed the window behind them. As she did this, Jo stopped and quickly pulled down her stocking mask, indicating to Penny to do the same before she pulled her gun from her jacket.
The woman who walked past was in her early thirties, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, and wearing a white nightdress with capped shoulders. The two women watched as she walked to the kitchen, and they heard water running, before she walked back in – only to see Jo standing in front of her, pointing the gun at her as she said “Please, no noise – lie face down on that couch, and put your hands behind your back” in a Canadian accent.
She looked at Jo, and then at Penny as she stepped forward, before saying “oh God, not again,” and lying down, putting her hands behind her.
“This has happened to you before,” Jo said as she knelt by the couch, taking a length of cord from her bag and using it to bind the woman’s wrists tightly together.
“Yes – please, don’t hurt me...”
“Then do as you’re told,” Jo whispered as she pulled the rope tight between her arms, and then took it round her waist to fix them against her back. “Kneel.”
As she made the woman kneel on the couch, Jo produced a long length of rope from her bag, and proceeded to bind the woman’s arms tightly to her sides. “I’m going to rob you,” she said as she pulled the rope around her chest, “so make it easy on yourself – do you have a safe?”
“In... In my bedroom, how did you know?”
“Lucky guess, eh – the alarm system you have and no safe? Combination.”
“I’ll ask again,” Jo said as she pressed the end of the barrel of her gun against the woman’s head, “combination.”
Penny watched as the woman shivered, and then gave the combination starting to cry softly as Jo tied the ropes off, and made her lie face down again as she bound her ankles, and then pulled them back, securing them to her chest ropes before she took a cloth from her bag.
“Open wide – breath through your nose, and you’ll be fine.”
The woman nodded as she allowed Jo to push the cloth into her mouth, and then used a rolled scarf to cleave gag the woman.
“Now stay still, or it will be worse,” Jo said as she left the woman on the couch, Penny following as she went into the bedroom and found the safe. As she opened it, she had a thought, and then looked over in the drawers.
“I thought she was a bit too helpful,” she said to herself as she found the recorder, and removed the DVD from the machine, pulling the plug from the back as she did so.
“Smart girl,” Penny said to herself before she went back to opening the safe.
“Hey – how’s it going?”
Heather looked up as Dominique came in. “Well, Annie had an easy first apartment, but Jo’s had to secure the occupant of hers. Also, she found a hidden camera recorder.”
“Okay – let’s see what happens next,” Dominique said as she sat down.
“Naughty naughty,” Jo said as she waved the disc in front of the woman, who merely groaned and shook her head. “Now you get to take a nice long nap.”
The woman’s eyes opened wide as she pressed the chloroform soaked rag over her nose and mouth, before her eyelids fluttered and she fell asleep.
“Shouldn’t have done that,” Jo said as she used a scarf from the woman’s bedroom to tie the cloth over her mouth, and then signalled to Penny to follow her.
“Interesting – extra points for ensuring she doesn’t wake up for a while?”
Dominique nodded as she made a note, and then smiled.
“Cari sends a note – tell Jo she should have used tape.”
“Nope – note it’s not too tight. That way she can still get some air.”
Helen kept a watch out as Annie worked on the small box on the wall by the front door, taking her time before the lights turned from red to green.
“Okay,” she whispered as she used a set of lock picks, and the door opened, “let’s do this.”
Turning the door handle, she looked in and moved silently forward, Helen following as she moved into the hallway of the apartment. Looking quickly at her watch, she saw it was just after one, and smiled as she walked quietly down the hallway – then stopped as she heard whispers and giggles behind a door.
“Hey – how are they doing?”
Diana looked round as Sandy came down. “Well not much sleep. They just got a burst of Bat Out of Hell which elicited some choice comments.”
“And on the other screen?”
“They’ve moved on the second apartments – Dom drafted Penny and Helen in as umpires. Jo’s got a nice quiet place for her second.”
“Not so much...”
The two young women were cowering at the end of the bed, looking at the two masked women standing at the end of the bed. The redhead was wearing a Knicks t-shirt, and the blonde a blue man’s shirt.
“Catch,” Annie said as she threw a roll of black electrical tape at the redhead. “Tape your girlfriend’s wrists together behind her back.”
“Do it,” Annie whispered as she pulled back on the Walther and aimed it at her. The redhead nodded as she whispered “I’m sorry” and folded her girlfriend’s arms behind her back, taping her wrists to her elbows.
“Let me guess – you play kinky games from time to time?”
She nodded as Annie told her to tape the blondes’ arms to her sides, while Helen had a look round the room. Under Annie’s orders, she then taped her girlfriend’s legs together at her ankles, knee and thighs, before she taped her own legs in the same place.
“Very very good,” Annie said, “now, tell me two things. First, where are your valuables?”
“There’s a safe in the front room, behind the picture of me, and jewels over there.”
“Very good – and where are your toys?”
She whimpered and pointed under the bed, Annie smiling under the mask as she taped her arms as well. Reaching under the bed, she took out a box, and removed two vibrators, as well as several rolls of duct tape and a special item. It was two large rubber balls, each one with straps on either side, and a chain linking the two balls.
“Kneel facing each other,” Annie said with a smile, “we’ll help you pass the next few hours – pleasurably...”
Jo silently closed the safe door, and replaced the display cabinet, thankful it was on oiled castors, and then looked in on the woman, sleeping peacefully with her husband.
“Right – on to the second floor. We need to go into there for outside.”
“So darling how did your meeting go?” Diana asked her daughter as she sat watching the laptop.
“My Catholic Debutantes Group?”
“Pretty well.” Abi took a sip of her coffee, and said “last year’s girls though have left us with a pretty impressive fundraising total to beat.”
“I told you we had.” Carina interrupted.
“Did you decide which charity you are going to support?”
“We did, Notre Dame Hospital is raising funds for a new clinic and support centre for single mothers, and we thought all the money we raise could go to that.”
“A very worthwhile charity.” Diana smiled.
“So do the trainees like my taste in music?” asked Cari.
“At this moment not overly much. Katy was making some severe threats against who ever had done it.”
“I better stay out of Katy’s way then,” Cari giggled.
“Talking of music aren’t you filming a video later today?” Diana looked at her watch.
“I have, but I was going to stay up and watch Annie finish.”
“I told you that just letting us sleep was too easy.” Katy yelled as she tried pulling the pillow over her head to silence Abba singing Waterloo.
“If I don’t get some sleep soon, I’ll never be able to function…”
“That’s what they are trying to find out, if you can do things while stressed and tired J.” Katy gave up with the pillow just as the music finished.
“How long till the next song?” A asked.
“I haven’t a clue,” P answered, “but probably just as well all drop off.”
“The one consolation is that they are having to sit up and set the music going.”
“You think so J?” Katy shook her head, “I’ll give you odds they are all nice and tucked up in bed and this is being done on a timer.”
“You think so?”
“The sadistic bitches.” J whispered under her breath.
The two women groaned as they wriggled on the bed, taped together from neck to ankles, the ballgags tightly strapped into their mouths and the vibrators working inside them, while Annie turned the light off and the two moved to the window, opening it and slipping on to the fire escape and then heading down one floor.
Looking at the window, Helen wondered why Annie was feeling round the window – and then saw her following a wire to a small metal box. From her rucksack, she took a small box with two bulldog clips, and fastened it either side of the wire by the window, before she cut the wire between the box and the window.
Sliding the window up, the two women slipped in, Helen watching as Annie shone her pen light round the room. She stopped as she looked at a small print, hanging on the wall, and took a good look at it.
“Very nice isn’t it?”
Annie turned to see a grey haired woman standing in the doorway, pointing a small gun at her as she smiled with her head cocked to the side. “It is actually – a genuine Picasso?”
“It is – a pity you will only see it for a few moments before the police arrive. Who shall I say broke in?”
“Well,” Annie said with a smile, “I believe the police refer to me as the Black Cat.”
“Indeed,” the woman said as she walked forward, “I should be honoured. How did you disable the alarm?”
“Sorry – trade secret – but I can tell you one thing.”
“Oh? And what is that?”
“That if you do not put the gun down, my friend will be forced to shoot you.”
The woman stopped for a moment as she heard Helen pull back on the safety, and said “ah – that would be regrettable.” Raising her hands, she watched Annie as she walked forward and said “Now, turn round, put your hands behind your back, and then we can discuss what else you have that I may take – starting with the painting.”
Jo and Penny entered the hallway of the apartment, Jo shining the penlight round the hallway and stepping carefully forward. As she did so, she saw a door open, and she turned the light off, both women standing against the wall as a ten year old boy walked out of the room, and down to the toilet.
Both of them stayed perfectly still as they heard the toilet flush, and then the boy walked back, going back to his room, both women waiting as they gave him a chance to get to sleep.
“Not that room,” Jo said as they walked past, looking at the sign on the door that said ‘KEVIN’S ROOM’.”
“There now – I trust it is not too uncomfortable?”
“No – you are skilled,” the woman said as she looked at the bands of rope holding her upper body to the chair. She was wearing a pale blue silk top and bottoms, the white rope visible as it held her wrists to the back of the chair, her body in an upright position, her legs to the front legs.
“Your friend is very quiet?”
“She doesn’t say much – but she does provide some very useful help,” Annie said as she looked at the woman. “So, do I have to strip the place down, or will you cooperate?”
“Well, since you asked so nicely – in my room, top drawers of the bureau. In here, there is a safe but I will not tell you where or how to get in.”
“Of course – so, open your mouth please.”
She nodded as Annie pushed the balled up sponge into her mouth, and then wrapped white micropore tape round her head, before she blindfolded her with a second band.
“Right,” she said as she looked at Helen, “first things first – thanks.”
Helen nodded as Annie looked round the room, and then looked at a large portrait – and then at the floor.
“I wonder,” she said as she rolled back a rug, and then felt around the floorboards, before she took her thin blade out and ran it through a gap. She smiled as a panel lifted up, revealing a floor safe.
“Both Jo and I have these,” Annie said as she took a small metal box from her bag, and placed it next to the keypad, pressing a button before she made her way to the bedroom.
Helen looked at the box, the red lights flashing, and smiled as she followed Annie.
“Very nice,” Jo whispered as she held up the diamond necklace, and put it into her sack, along with the coins and the rolls of bank notes. Closing the door to, she closed her rucksack, and then made her way to the master bedroom.
The couple were lying in the bed, their eyes closed, peacefully sleeping as she searched through their drawers, removing jewellery and money as she did so. Penny watched carefully as she took every effort not to wake anyone up.
“This girl has real skills,” she thought to herself as Jo closed the last drawer, and then smiled as she left the room, the two women letting themselves out by the front door.
“Well, thank you – enjoy the rest of the night,” Annie said as her captive nodded, and she turned the light off, heading out of the door.
“One more to go,” Annie said quietly, Helen nodding as they made their way to the first floor.
Jo opened the front door of the apartment, looking over the hallway to the box on the opposite wall. Taking a deep breath, she ran across the carpet, trying to make as little noise as possible as she opened the door and used wire cutters to disable the alarm.
Turning, she nodded at Penny who walked in, closing the door behind herself as she looked into the kitchen. She noticed the light on the kettle going off, just as Jo noticed a door opening.
The woman who came out was in her early twenties, and wore a white nursing top with grey pants. She stopped as she saw Jo standing there, smiling under the stocking as she said “not a word, young lady. You’re going to be late for your shift – back into the bedroom, and lie face down on the bed please.”
The young girl turned round and lay face down on her pink coverlet, shivering as Jo started to bind her, Penny watching the whole time.
Annie was looking through the display case in her final apartment, helping herself to some silver snuff boxes, while Helen watched her. Once she had closed the door, she and Helen checked the spare bedroom, and then made their way into the main bedroom.
A woman in her late forties was asleep in the bed, the covers over her body as she lay on her back. She seemed to be in a deep sleep, as Annie started to look through her drawers.
Susan and Clint’s Apartment
“Hey, hey – there you go,” Susan said as she watched April finish her bottle, and then winded her, walking up and down the floor of the main room of the apartment as she did so.
She smiled as she felt her daughter relax, and looked at her before taking her back to the nursery, laying her down and covering her with a blanket before turning the light off.
Heading for the kitchen, she poured herself a glass of milk, and then saw the light on under the room door.
“Are you still up?” Susan said as she quietly knocked on Kylie’s door and then opened it.
“Yes, I’m still on Hong Kong time I guess, I was watching the burglary game.” Kylie sat cross-legged on her bed with her computer in front of her.
“I think I’ll watch the edited highlights,” Susan said as she closed the door, “watching live just makes me wish I was there.”
“It’s been an interesting night so far. So what can I do for you darling?” Kylie said as she muted the sound.
“I just wanted to chat about how school was going.”
“Well the school is predicting excellent results for my GCSE’s – even the maths.”
“I know,” Susan said with a smile, “I get the reports from them.”
“You know,” Kylie said as she took off her glasses and looked at them, “a few months ago, honestly - who would ever have thought I’d be looking at doing this well?”
“Kylie, I always told both Marina and yourself you weren’t dumb.”
“I know you did, but I guess being unable to see to concentrate for very long I talked myself into believing I was.”
“I suspect you did.” Susan shook her head. “So for next year are you set on Godolphin and Latymer?”
“Pretty much, my only alternative in my mind is St Angela’s here, but I do sort of miss London.”
“I can understand that – but it also depends on where Marina wants to go, true?”
“True – we make a very good team together, along with Helen – who seems to be approving of Annie.”
“How much longer?”
“Not too long I think – they’re both in their last apartments now.”
“There now – don’t move,” Jo said as she smacked the bottom of the nurse, who was lying on her side, tightly hogtied, tape over her mouth and holding in a large headscarf behind her lips.
She was forced to watch as Jo found her valuables, and then pulled a bag out from under the bed.
“Oh – what do we have here,” she said as she opened the bag, taking out several tightly rolled bundles of hundred dollar bills, and then several bottles of pills.
“I’ll take these,” she said as she put the notes into her bag, “as to these, you have twenty four hours to lose or return them, or the police will be told. Understand?”
The nurse nodded as Jo said “Good – I’ll be watching. Let’s get out of here.”
“Strange – not a lot of jewellery here,” Annie said to herself as she closed the last drawer, and then looked carefully at the woman on the bed. As she shone the penlight on her mouth, she had to stop herself giggling as she saw the clear tape over her lips.
Motioning Helen over, they gently pulled back the coverlet to show the ropes around her arms, and her wrists which were crossed on her stomach, then went down to her legs and finally her ankles.
“We’re not her first visitor,” Annie said, Helen nodding as they covered her, and then left her in her exhausted sleep, as they slipped out of the back door.
“Have a good time?”
“An interesting one,” Annie said as she looked at Jo, taking off her stocking mask as she did so, “now what?”
“Back to my place for all four of us – sis, if you’re listening, some coffee would be nice.”
“I’ll do some soup as well,” Heather said as she stood up, Dom nodding as one by one the viewers signed off.
“Good morning Ladies,” Miss Leopard said as she walked into the barn, “I trust you managed to get some sleep?”
She smiled as the four women sat up and looked at her, their eyes red, Katy staring at her.
“Excellent – please dress quickly. Breakfast is in thirty minutes, and we have a full day ahead of us.”
As she walked out, she turned and said “oh – it is starting to snow. You may wish to wear a jumper as well – they are in the box over there.”
“If we ever find out who she is, I am going to kill her.”
“No you won’t,” Katy said as she looked at J, “because she’d kill you first.”
As they ate their pastries and drank coffee, the barn door opened, all four turning as Miss Leopard and Miss Lioness walked in.
“Good – we need to make a start,” Miss Leopard said, “otherwise we may have a slight delay in dinner.”
“Why, Miss,” Katy asked.
“Because you will be catching it – follow Miss Leopard and take the bags you will find outside with you.”
Mary Thomas’ Apartment
Mary walked out of her bedroom, pulling her dressing gown round herself as she made her way along the corridor.
“The tea is on Mary.” Denice called out.
“Thank you for that.” Mary walked into the kitchen and slumped into a chair at her wooden table. Denice was at the work top, preparing some tea, while Erica sat at the other end of the table.
“A rough night?”
“Oh just a late night, I hope I didn’t disturb you coming in?”
“Not me.” Erica smiled as looked up from her computer.
“Nor me. I slept like a log.”
“Well that’s good.” Mary smiled.
“So what kept you out?”
“A couple of old friends from art school,” Mary said as she stretched and yawned. “They had a joint show on in the Ivory and they got me to go along.”
“No Denice,” Mary shook her head, “far too many posers and pretentious bastards for my taste.”
“Oh THAT sort of art exhibition.”
“You’ve got it Erica darling,” Mary shook her head again.
“Well, this may make you feel better,” Denice said as she passed steaming mugs of tea round.
“Ah – that is better,” Mary said as she took a drink. “Well, at least I have the day free of...”
The telephone ringing made Mary groan as she got up and walked over. “Mary Thomas?
“Well hello there – how are you?
“I could be – but I wonder if you mind if my houseguests come along. They may find it interesting to watch.
“Good – see you at four then, and have the kettle on.”
“Who was that,” Denice said as Mary came back in, “and what are you inviting us to?”
“Hmm – oh just an old friend who is doing something in the city this week, who’s having a few friends round for tea this afternoon. Want to come?”
“Well we’ve nothing planned – who is it?”
The Huntingdown Apartment
"Aunt Sigi was
telling me more about this famous Can Can you did at the Moulin Rouge
Moms." Ingrid smiled as she turned off her phone, "she says you
were really great."
"Did you ever
consider being a showgirl rather then a model Mom? After all you had the
height." Carina asked.
"Maybe for 10
seconds." Juliette sat on the stool at the kitchen bar and took her coffee
from Carina. "I really wasn't a good enough dancer, despite what Sigi
"Well you look
pretty great in some of the music videos you're in." Ingy interrupted.
"Yeah but how many
takes did it take for me to get the steps right? Have you considered that
"Hey Moms,” Ingrid
said as she sat down, “I bet you were perfect first take, the perfectionist in
you wouldn't let you be anything else."
"She has you there Mom." Carina gave Judith her toast and milk. Juliette shook her head as she drank her coffee.
"By the way girls
aren't you both booked to do the Much of Nothing video this afternoon?"
Juliette looked at her watch. "Shouldn't you be there rehearsing
"Oh Crap!" Carina
looked at her watch and then stood up. "Mom can you finish giving little
one her breakfast please?"
"We really did
need to be out the door ten minutes ago Cari."
"Take a cab, not
one of your cars." Juliette called out as the two girls ran for their
holdalls and the door. "There was some snow last night."
"If I'm going to have an accident it's more likely while I'm trying to dance." Ingy called back over her shoulder.
“Your momma and aunt are going to have a real fun day, aren’t they?”
“Yes gramma,” Judith said as Carina kissed her on the head, and then ran out with Ingrid.
“All right then young lady, do you want to go for a walk in the park later, and see the lake?”
Judith nodded as she sipped her coffee, and then went to the apartment door as she heard a knock.
“Missy – come away in,” Juliette said as she held the door open for her agent.
"Did I see the
girls climbing into a cab?" Missy asked as she took off her coat.
"You did, they were running late for rehearsals for that music video they are doing this afternoon."
"Oh? Well they shouldn't be too late." Missy looked at her watch.
“Please,” Missy said as she came through to the kitchen, stopping to talk to Judith as Juliette poured a fresh cup.
"So how did the interviews go?"
"The Princess is
considering the offer I made. I think the King is quite impressed, the Queen
though wants her to talk to a couple more agencies."
approval from her lawyers."
"Well, I don't
think that any agency will give Princess Charly a better deal, so I'm confident
you'll sign her as well."
"She's seeing Abby
for lunch and I think Abby will pitch Norstar." Missy took some coffee.
"She had better."
Drinking her coffee, Missy said “So, Olivia and Fiona. Do you have any idea what Mary is planning?”
“Not really – although I did hear her talking to Amanda Swafford when I dropped into the cave on Friday.”
“Really? Now that is interesting,” Missy said as she held her mug.
Susan and Clint’s Apartment
“Is that eggs frying I can smell?” Marina said as she came out of her bedroom, following the scent.
“It is.” Clint called from the kitchen.
Marina walked in and sat on a chair, looking at Clint. “You know among the good things Sooz has taught you Clint, cooking a hearty British Sunday breakfast has to be one of the best.”
“Can’t you get them in Hong Kong?”
“Oh in a few places,” Marina said as she poured some coffee, “but I prefer to eat at home Sunday morning. The only trouble is Catherine and Helen both eat local food, and Kylie is usually up late after partying with her friends on Saturday night. Hardly seems worthwhile just cooking for myself.”
“I know that feeling,” Clint looked over his shoulder as he stood at the stove, and smiled.
“Mmmmm I smell breakfast darlings.” Kylie came into the kitchen wearing a Chinese silk sleeping kimono that showed her far from poor legs.
“You want the full works, Kylie?”
“Well, I will indulge just this once,” Kylie said as she sat down.
“Lovely,” Susan said as she brought April in and sat her in her chair, “I am starving. So when did they finish Kylie?”
“By about 3 – so I got some sleep,” the teenager said with a smile. “Ama woke me to invite me to her apartment and meet the girls later.”
“Fair enough – Helen will ant to see you both this afternoon, but after that should be fine.”
Katy wasn’t sure which was worse – the fact she had only got a few minutes sleep the previous night, the damp under her as she lay in the prone position under the hide that Diana had brought them to, or the interminable waiting with the rifle by her side.
“I trust that is not you falling asleep, A,” Miss Leopard said as Katy glanced to her right, and then saw the movement in the clearing ahead. J had seen it as well, the two girls looking at each other and taking aim with their rifles.
The twin reports made the birds fly out from the trees, as Miss Lioness looked through the field glasses.
“Not bad – go with Miss Leopard ladies, while we prepare some hot drinks for all of you.”
Both K and J moved out of the hide and walked over with Miss Leopard, who checked the young deer as it lay on its side, the eyes staring out into the void.
“One of you got it in the head,” she said as she pointed to the hole, “and the other in the neck, but a clean kill none the less.” Looking round, she found a large branch and quickly secured the legs to the wood.
“Carry it between you,” she said, K and J stopping and putting the branch on their shoulders before they carried it back. As they approached, they saw P and A drinking coffee from mugs, the steam rising into the cold air.
“We have plenty of time for you both to achieve the target,” Miss Leopard said as she hung the deer by its hind legs off the tree, and accepted a mug of coffee from Miss Lioness, “so finish your drinks, and then resume your positions.”
“So you made your kill,” P said as she looked at J, “how does it feel?”
“Not bad – this is good hunting territory. I presume we need to do the necessary after this, Miss Leopard?”
“Indeed – but finish your drink, and you work together on that. You can direct K as to the correct procedure.”
“The correct procedure for what Miss?”
“To skin, cut and remove the meat from the carcass,” J said as she sipped her coffee. “It won’t be venison for dinner, will it?”
“No – this needs to hang first – but it is important you show us that you can both kill and respect the animal,” Miss Leopard said as she took out a hunting knife, while A and P went back into the hide. “You may begin when ready.”
“No time like the present,” J said as she took the knife and slit down the abdomen, Katy watching as she started to skin the beast and said “You got any plastic bags?”
“In the rucksacks – make sure you get everything in.”
“Why do we need the bags?”
“Some for the meat, some because the one thing you do not do is leave the guts lying around,” J said as she looked around, “there may be bears in the woods.”
The Richmond Mansion
“Hey,” Heather said as Jo came in, using a towel to dry her hair, “how are you feeling?”
“Not bad, now I’ve had some sleep. Any word from Caroline yet?”
“Nope – she’s going to meet with Shirley and the others tomorrow to review. She has another issue she needs to deal with today?”
“Oh – anything interesting?”
“Worrying more than interesting,” Heather said as she sat back. “Doc had me look into someone who was trying to hack into the computer system at St. Angela’s – someone who Grace and Pippa know, but they’re not saying why.”
“Why would someone want to hack into the school records – I mean you wouldn’t for me...”
“And I didn’t need to, did I? Still, the issue with this guy was how did he get into the US if he had a conviction in the UK for fraud?”
“He can’t – unless someone helped him to get a visa through the back door.”
“Okay,” Jo said as she poured herself some coffee and sat down, “and how does that happen?”
“I’m not exactly sure – anyway, I’ll talk to Doc this afternoon. Fancy some brunch? There’s some smoke salmon and bagels around here somewhere...”
“Welcome back,” Miss Puma said as the hunting party came in, “place the rucksacks in the cold store there, and then there is some soup in the barn for your lunch before we begin the afternoon session.”
The four women walked into the barn, P pouring hot soup into the bowls as K shook her head.
“You’re not bad for a first timer,” J said as she clapped the young girl on the shoulder. “Good eye as well.”
“Thanks – I think. So why did we leave the skinned carcass?”
“Always give back to nature – although the bears are a problem, the other animals appreciate a meal as well,” she said as she took a bowl of soup.
“I – am bushed,” P said, “what are they going to have us do this afternoon?”
“who knows – who cares,” A said, “I just want this over and done with.”
“So how were they,” Sandy said as they talked in the farmhouse.
“My concern is with A – I think the stress is getting to her,” Shirley said as she looked at the monitor.
“I concur,” Diana said as she sipped her soup, “but she is trying to cope, which is something. Otherwise, they all did well.”
“So after lunch?”
“We do the loading and rapid fire exercise, and then the IQ tests, before providing them with a good meal,” Diana said, “their drivers are due here at 5 to take them back.”
“So what was the purpose of us freezing our asses off laying in snow to kill a dear that we will probably never get to eat?” A asked.
“That’s pretty simple,” Katy paused eating for a second. “The deer is symbolic of Bambi, most beloved of creatures, if you can kill then dismember Bambi, then chances are you have the guts and intestinal fortitude to kill another human being.”
“Christ is that what this is all about?” J shook her head.
“It’s pretty obvious.” Katy said as she looked at them. “Short of finding a real life candidate for you to put a bullet in, this is maybe a good a test as it gets.”
“And you’ve done it for real already K?”
“I have P. It’s not nice, it wrenches your guts, but in the context of a situation it is often the only option available.”
“Well just hopefully I’ll not have to learn that in a hurry.” A shook her head.
The Inn on the Park
“Hey Charly,” Abby said as she stood up, and kissed Charlotte on both cheeks. “Welcome to New York.”
“Thanks,” Charly said as she sat down, taking off her long coat as she looked round. “Interesting place.”
“Well, it’s a good place to meet up and talk,” Abby said as she and Charly accepted the menu. “So I presume you’ll be coming on Wednesday?”
“Indeed – these tea parties are part of the tradition yes?”
“I’m afraid so – but it gives you a chance to meet up with some of the other Americans who will do the ball next year, in a more relaxed setting.”
“So who else will be here?”
“Angel is coming over, as is Fiona – and Brigitte is staying at my place. Trina is going to fly over, and I heard on the grapevine that Sam is coming as well.”
“And then there are your friends from New York?”
“That’s right. Anyway, that’s only one of the reasons I wanted to meet with you today.”
“I can imagine,” Charly said as the waiter took their order. “You know my father has talked to Missy, but my mother wishes me to talk to one or two others?”
“So I heard,” Abby said, “but honestly? Go where you think you’ll be happiest. I think you’ll be happiest with Norstar, and a few friends of mine think so as well.”
“Ingrid and Carina von Furstenheim?”
“Klaus’ daughters? I hope I get the chance to meet them while I am here,” Charly said as she sipped her drink.
“Well, since you asked – if you are free tonight, come round and I’ll get some of the girls together. You can chat with them then.”
“Well – go on, just for an hour or so.”
“Excellent,” Abby said as their meals came to the table, “they’ll be there at six.”
"So how do you
manage all the things that you do in life?" Charly asked. "Your school, your modelling career, your
charity work, and most importantly your social life as well."
"By having very
supportive people around me who work with each other to ensure that I have as
little in the way of scheduling conflicts as possible." Abigail looked up,
"but I guess it's mainly down to Mama looking out for me and ensuring that
I get to do everything I enjoy in life."
"So you have
don't ask me that question when I am getting up for school at six when we have
been shooting till nearly three in the morning and I have hardly slept."
"Yuck! I think I'd
be stressed out as well."
"Well I am hoping
that college will not be as bad."
"Didn't I hear
that you are leaning towards doing a degree in Photography?"
"Yes if Cooper
Union will take me. I'm applying to Cambridge to do Mathematics as my main
"Wow those are two
different fields of study."
"Well Math comes
easily to me, but photography excites me. What are your university choices
"I really want to
do the diploma in Social Work at the Sorbonne, but my parents are trying to get
me to do something more heavy weighted like Politics."
"And why is
"Oh because one
day I'll be Queen in my own right, and Papa dreams of an Elphberg restoration
in Ruritania. He thinks Politics might be of much more use to a regnant
"Well it sounds like a pipe-dream to me, just like the thought of putting one of my relatives back on the Imperial throne of Russia."
Media City Studios
"I've never seen
myself as a Goth." Carina looked carefully through her glasses as the
makeup artist finished affixing the stick-on tattoos to her arms.
"It's not a bad look for you." Ingrid looked over from where her hair was being done.
"I wish I'd had a couple more chances to rehearse those steps."
"Why? You had them
"Oh I guess I'm
just nervous, this is the first major record video I've done."
"Mine too," Ingrid looked carefully at her heavily made up eyes in the mirror.
“Okay ladies – places please.”
“Who’s that,” Ingrid said as Cari looked at her phone.
“Abby – are we good to stop off at her place at 5.30 before we head back? She wants us to meet someone.”
“Fair enough,” Ingy said, “let’s go dance.”
“Wilhelmina, Kate,” Grace said as she opened the door to the apartment, “welcome to my home. Come away up – the others are already here.”
“Thank you Grace,” Wilhelmina said as they headed back up the stairs, coming in to see the group assembled in the room. All were wearing various combinations of trousers, jumpers, blouses and boots as they sat around the room.
“Hello Brooke,” Kate said as she embraced the judge, “I saw John Oliver’s piece last week on judicial appointments – he didn’t mention you by name, but it was clearly in support of you.”
“I know – and that seems to have tipped the edge. I’ve been summoned before the House Judicial Committee next week for a little chat.”
“Okay folks,” Grace said as she looked round, “we’ve got some food set up in the kitchen, so grab some food and then come back in, so that we can start talking. Brooke, this is Philippa Ashley.”
“Thanks for coming today, your honour,” Pippa said as they shook hands, “any help you can give today would be fantastic.”
“Well, let’s see what everyone else has to say, and then I can give what advice I can...”
“All right,” Grace said as they sat round the room, “I think everyone knows everyone else in the room, except perhaps for you Brooke.”
“Hi – I’m Brooke Hatton, a Justice in the Family Division – I guess I’m here because this situation involves a minor?”
“Yeah,” Pippa said as she put her plate down, “my daughter, Poppy. She’s fourteen, and...” She looked round the room, and said “Grace, you’d better start.”
“Okay – we recently installed a new set of cyber security measures on the school web site, and as soon as they went live it registered that someone was trying to access the school records – specifically, those relating to Poppy Ashley.
“As part of the security upgrade, it recorded the ISP used to try and hack into the site.”
“Wouldn’t that normally be useless,” Caroline said as she swallowed a forkful of beef, “any hacker worth his salt would mask it.”
“Who said this hacker was any good? Our resident tech expert traced the ISP back to a local hotel, and found out which room the attempt was made from.”
“So what is the problem? Report it and get him arrested.”
“Well – that’s where it gets complicated. His name is Martin Peverell, and...”
“He’s Poppy’s biological father,” Pippa said as she looked round the room.
“I see,” Brooke said after a few minutes, “does his name appear on the birth certificate?”
“No – this is where it gets – well, messy to use Grace’s term.” Pippa took a deep breath as Annie looked at Sarah. “He is – or rather was – also my uncle.”
“Are you sure you want to do this, Pippa,” Grace said as she held her old friend’s hand.
“Yeah – because after this, I need to tell Poppy the truth,” Pippa said as she took a deep breath. “We need to go back to the millennium, and I was working in Devizes...”
“... so that’s the story. He showed up at my door, and now he’s following Poppy round.”
Grace looked at Brooke, who had her hands together under her chin. “Okay – three things. First, how did he get into this county if he has a criminal conviction for fraud?”
“Good question,” Caroline said, “he could be travelling under a false passport, or somehow he got a visa under his real name. The latter is not impossible, the former is easier – but the only way to check is to get a look at the record of his passport at the hotel, and that needs a warrant.”
“We could raise one purely on the hacking line,” Brooke said, “but that would mean explaining how they traced the ISP back to that room. Something tells me that is something you want to keep hidden.”
“I would argue, most vehemently, it compromises our cyber security,” Wilhelmina said, Kate and Grace nodding in agreement.
“Which leads us to the second thing – can he prove he is the father by documentary method?”
“Nope – he was arrested the day after – well, the day after, and by the time Poppy was born he was in prison. There is no paper trail – nothing in hospital records, or anything like that.”
“So the only way he could claim parentage is a DNA test?”
“Which I will not give permission for,” Pippa said quietly.
“Okay,” Brooke said “which brings me to question three.”
She nodded in response to Caroline’s comment, as Grace looked at them.
“I wish I knew – unless this is what he decided to do when he got out of jail.”
“Caroline, without revealing any details, would you be able to find out where he was held, anything about his prison record?”
“Without revealing details? I can get it within twenty four hours.”
“Okay – so let me sum up the situation as I see it,” Brooke said, “you don’t want Mister Peverell near Poppy, but to get something like an injunction needs the revelation of some rather sordid family secrets?”
Pippa nodded as Brooke said “Philippa, I know this is an awkward question, but...”
“Why didn’t I have him charged with rape back in the day? Same reason – to save the family from the shame. Besides, I’d had the best part of two bottles of wine that night – I’ll never know if I was willing or unwilling.”
Brooke nodded and said “Right – well, under New York law, we start with stalking in the fourth degree – penal code section 120.45. The problem you have is the legal definition.
“To quote, a person is guilty of stalking in the fourth degree when he or she intentionally, and for no legitimate purpose, engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person, and knows or reasonably should know that such conduct:
1. is likely to cause reasonable fear of material harm to the physical health, safety or property of such person, a member of such person's immediate family or a third party with whom such person is acquainted; or
2. causes material harm to the mental or emotional health of such person, where such conduct consists of following, telephoning or initiating communication or contact with such person, a member of such person's immediate family or a third party with whom such person is acquainted, and the actor was previously clearly informed to cease that conduct; or
3. is likely to cause such person to reasonably fear that his or her employment, business or career is threatened, where such conduct consists of appearing, telephoning or initiating communication or contact at such person's place of employment or business, and the actor was previously clearly informed to cease that conduct.”
Looking at Pippa, Brooke said “the problem is you need to prove that, at this stage under the first point. It needs a police officer to move on from that, or evidence to get a cease and desist order.”
“I figured that might be the case,” Pippa said, “and in the meantime?”
“Well, as far as school goes, I’d look to call on Wilhelmina and her staff here to keep an eye out for him, if you can supply a photo.”
“Caroline, what can you do about personal security at Pippa’s place?”
“With her permission, I can install some hidden cameras, record all visitors – and I’d ask her to keep a log of all telephone calls and e-mails. It’s a case of building the evidence trail, Pippa.”
“And in the meantime?”
“Let me talk to you and Poppy tonight – discuss some personal alarms and approaches if he approaches either of you again. There is one other thing I can say, Pippa – tell her the truth.”
“I know – it’s long past time anyway.” Pippa let out a sigh and said “so if we do this, and he keeps bothering us?”
“Then we have a chance – if you are sure you want no part of him.”
“I don’t – he hurt my family more than I can say, and I want nothing to do with him.”
“Well, it’s a waiting game,” Caroline said as she looked round the room, “but we’re behind you all the way.”
“Catch,” J said as she threw a sack at K, the young girl catching it in both arms and walking quickly with it to the wheelbarrow, loading it on top of the others and turning round.
“K – unexpected arrival of right flank.”
She stopped and turned to her right, holding her hands out like a gun and saying “Freeze, bastard – on the floor, hands behind your head.”
“P – one of the staff is moving towards their bag.”
“Don’t even think about it,” P growled as she walked over and kicked another sack.
The girls finished loading the wheelbarrow as Miss Puma checked her timetable.
“Good – now, follow me to the main house,” she said as she looked at them.
“OH god, not another run,” A said as she stood with her hands on her knees.
“Nope – some tests we wish you to complete on paper...”
The Richmond Mansion
Heather looked up a number in Sandy’s little black book and picked up the telephone. She waited a few minutes before she heard a young male voice say “McKinnon Residence.”
“Oh hi – can I speak to your mother please?”
A few moments later, she smiled as she heard “this is Alice McKinnon. Can I help you?”
“Alice it’s Heather Smith, sorry to disturb you at home.”
“Not a problem Heather,” Alice said, “what can I do for you?”
“Well to get to the point, it’s maybe what I can do for you.”
“That sounds intriguing.”
“Okay, I’m having a dresser from the 1720’s restored by a guy called Andrew McFadyean, as Sandy’s Christmas present.”
“Knowing Sandy she will love that.”
“Well,” Heather said, “we were chatting yesterday at his workshop when he showed me what his workers had found in a locked chest that he’d brought at an estate sale in Greenwich.”
“You’ll think so Alice,” Heather said as she sat down. “Yards of top quality, Andrew thinks imported, late 18th or early 19th century Belgian lace.”
“WHAT!” the dress designers’ scream would probably have been heard without a telephone.
“I thought that might have excited you.” Heather giggled.
“Oh dear Goddess Heather…is it?...can I see it?...How much does he want?”
“That we can all decide Alice, I left a deposit with him to ensure it’s ours, and when you can fly down then we can go look and make the decision if you really do want to buy…”
“I can be on the next plane this afternoon,” Alice interrupted.
“No be fair, let Andrew have his Sunday, but we can go see him tomorrow after I’ve done the school run if you like?”
“Well, I was coming tomorrow anyway to meet Ju and Cathy, and the surprise a certain old friend – I’ll just catch the early flight, and see you tomorrow. Be at your place for ten?”
“See you then,” Heather said as she put the phone down.
“All right,” Nikki said as she and Becca climbed up the stairs, “what wonderful surprise do you have for us, O wise and wondrous Ama?”
“You will find out shortly,” Ama said as she handed them a drink, “after all, Jeannie has to be elsewhere at six.”
“Abby wants us to meet a possible new model – Charly Hapsburg or something.”
Doc almost choked on her Coke as she looked at her friend. “Hapsburg? You mean Princess Charlotte of Ruritania? I saw her in the supplement this morning at the ball in Paris.”
“Really? This could be a fun night,” Jeannie said as there was a knock on the door. “Excuse me a moment,” Ama said as she went down, and then came up with the last arrival.
“Hello darlings – have you missed me?”
“KYLIE,” Doc said as she sprung up and hugged her friend, “when did you get back into town?”
“Yesterday,” she said as she took her coat off, dressed as the others were in jumpers and jeans, “but I needed time to recover before I came to see all of you. You all look so well.”
“So do you – Hong Kong really does suit you,” Pepsi said as she hugged her. “Is Marina over as well?”
“She is indeed – she has gone to see someone else this afternoon. So, what gossip have I missed?”
Katy was sitting at the table, watching as Miss Leopard collected the test papers and looked at all of them.
“That concludes the formal part of this weekend,” she said with a smile, “but gloves and masks must remain on until you have returned home. Miss Lioness?”
“We have some casserole ready for you, as well as potatoes and bread,” the tall masked woman said as she and Miss Puma brought plates and cutlery through, “you may help yourselves and eat while we discuss our thoughts about this weekend.”
“Thank god,” A said as she sat down, waiting for the food to be brought through before she served and passed round the plates, “I have never felt so sore and stiff.”
“Perhaps not,” P said, “but I get why they did this – to test us and see how we cope under stress, and with hardly any sleep.”
“Do you think we passed?”
“Who can tell,” J said, “but I am starving.”
Katy didn’t know what was worse at the moment – the way her body ached, the extreme tiredness, or the hunger. At least the casserole was good, as she savoured every mouthful.
“Very well then,” Miss Leopard said as she, Miss Puma and Miss Lioness reappeared. “We have had a discussion, and reviewed both our thoughts of the last two days, and the results of the assessments and tests you have undertaken. Detailed reports will be forwarded to your sponsors in the next twenty four hours, but essentially – you have all passed.”
The four girls grinned and nodded as Miss Puma said “However – you each have areas that need work, and these will be reflected in the report. For now, you will be blindfolded, and taken back to where you were collected. We wish you good luck and good fortune with your future endeavours.”
Miss Lioness walked round the table and blindfolded all four of them, before Juliette, Susan, Dominique and Annie came in, escorting each of them to a waiting car.
“So,” Diana said as she removed her balaclava, and passed around plates of food to Sandy and Shirley, “another group of graduates.”
“Indeed,” Shirley said, “I am very impressed with Katy. Very impressed indeed...”
West Central Park
Jan watched as Juliette pulled up, and helped Katy out of the car, smiling and nodding as she got back in and drove off.
“All right Katy,” she said quietly, “you’re home now, you can take off the blindfold and mask.”
She watched as Katy pulled the scarf and balaclava off, shaking her blonde hair as she looked at her mother. “Mom – any chance of a hot shower and a whole day’s sleep?”
“Yes – and no in that order,” Jan said as she out her arm round her daughter’s shoulders. “Come on.”
“Ow – you know what they did out there?”
“Oh yes – so straight into the shower, and then we will talk...”
Twenty minutes later, Jan looked up as Katy walked slowly in, a bath robe wrapped around herself.
“Yeah – what were you going to watch?”
“Mamma Mia – want to sing along?”
The look on Katy’s eye was priceless as Jan burst out laughing. “Sorry – I heard that was on the playlist for last night.”
“Who... Who has a taste in music from Black Sabbath to the Birdie Song?” She watched as Jan raised an eyebrow, and then said “Cari – right?”
“Uh huh – want some hot chocolate?”
“Please,” Katy said as she sat down, waiting as her mother went into the kitchen, and returned with a steaming mug.
“So – now that you’re back, what did you think of the introductory course?”
“The... You mean it gets worse?”
“It can do – I’ll introduce you sometime to someone who did the advanced course. I said you had to go in eyes wide open – now you know why.”
Midnight local time
The Compound, training centre for the Sisters of Maisha
“All of you,” Helga said as she walked round the group of women, the fire burning behind her, casting her in shadow as she looked at each of them, “have learned from us, shared with us, and now you are ready to carry on the fight for us. I could not be prouder of you – all of you – and of what you have become. The time has now come for you to speak the oath, as all before you have done, and all who come after you will do. As I have done, and as the first did.
“When she addressed those who were freed, the Strength told them that they would be supported by the women who freed them, and they should trust them. Do you now swear to be supported by your sisters, to support each other, and to trust them and each other?”
“We do so swear,” the group said as one.
“She told them that the women who had freed her and The Heart from their bondage did this from a sense of natural justice, so do you now swear to show that same sense of natural justice?”
“We do so swear.”
“She also told them that she had slain the tyrant who had caused her to suffer, and told them to tell their daughters and their daughters’ daughters. So do you swear to spread that message to your daughters, and their daughters and all those who need to hear?”
“We do so swear.”
“Will you swear to seek out those who will threaten the innocents, and bring them to the same justice the Strength demonstrated?”
“We do so swear.”
“And to you who watch,” Helga said as she looked outside the inner circle, “will you also follow in their footsteps?”
“WE WILL” Sunburst and Marigold called out with the others as they looked on.
“Then in the name of The Heart and The Strength,” Helga said, “I charge you to go forth, fight alongside your fellow sisters, and protect those who cannot fight back. May you know success, and may you know peace as you do your work.”
The outer group cheered as all sixteen women grinned in the firelight, Liz with the biggest grin on her face.
“From here,” Helga said, “most of you will return to your homes, your villages, your cities, and await the call, all the time keeping a careful watch. Some of you,” she said as she smiled at Liz, “will remain to help to teach and train others. Remain vigilant, and greet each other in the name of The Heart and The Strength. May the Goddess grant you safe journey and passage, and when we meet again, may it be in love and sisterhood.
“Now – let the feast begin!”
“Come here, you little ripper,” Sunburst said as she embraced Liz, “we are going to have a drink and a toast.”
“May I join you?”
“Leader,” Liz said as she embraced the tall Zulu, “How did it go?”
“It went well – I counselled my sister to remain and honour our family, but I also told her, if she wishes to join us, who to contact.”
“And do you think she will?”
“I do not know,” Itsy said with a smile, “but it was good to see her again.”
“Well, come on then,” Sunburst said as the girls stated singing, “let’s party!”