Monday 1st September
The Carter Home
“Here,” Janice Carter said as she passed a beer over to Adam Ball, “you’re going to need this.”
“Thanks,” Adam Ball said as he sat in front of the coffee table, “but I don’t get it. What’s so important that you needed to call me over tonight?”
He watched Janice as she listened to her daughter having a bedtime story read by her grandmother, before closing the door and sitting down. Opening her laptop and switching it on, she said “I didn’t want to spoil Katy’s day, and to be honest I’m not sure what the hell to do about this, but you need to see what I saw.”
“What the hell did you see,” Adam said as he looked at the desktop, and the video file that said, “Watch me.”
I switched my laptop on this morning to find this file on my desktop. I have no idea how it got there, or who sent it – I’ve tried looking at the load history, but all it has is this morning’s date, and the time I switched my laptop on.”
“Funny – you ran the usual scans?”
“Of course I did – I mean, this is my personal laptop, but still… Anyway, it came up clean, so I thought it was just some dumb download that Katy had picked up when doing some work for her new school.”
Janice said nothing, but started the file, Adam watching the caption cards.
GOOD MORNING, AGENT JANICE CARTER
WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE IS A RECORDING OF AN EVENT THAT TOOK PLACE YESTERDAY AT A SECRET LOCATION IN THE CITY
IT HAS NOT BEEN EDITED, AND YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO USE IT IN A LAW COURT, BUT IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU VIEW THIS AND BEGIN TO ACT ON IT.
THE PEOPLE YOU WILL SEE ARE DEPENDING ON YOU AND OTHERS – HELP THEM.
Pausing the video at that point, Janice stopped and looked at Adam, taking a drink from her beer.
“What the… This was sent to you specifically wasn’t it?”
Janice nodded, and said “by someone who could hack into my personal computer and leave it, with no trail.”
“You need a forensic sweep done on this.”
“Agreed – I’ll take it in tomorrow, but right now – just watch.”
Adam sat back and looked as some sort of social function appeared on the screen. “All right, so far so good, it’s a…” He then sat forward and said “That’s Cohen – who the hell is he with?”
“I recognize the Chinese woman – that’s Chen, the one whose restaurant I visited last week. I don’t recognize the others, but I really want to know.”
“That was some heavy security whoever is filming this passed through – how did they fail to detect a hidden camera?”
“Bloody good question – given they also managed to plant this and leave no trace. Recognise any of the people there?”
“Some of them,” Adam said, “but where are they?”
“Here we go.”
They watched as the tall African woman welcomed the guests, and talked about the two-stage auction.
“So this is an auction house? I don’t… Oh sweet god in heaven.”
“Now you know why I wanted you to see this first,” Janice said as the ring of girls was walked round.
“Someone is translating this,” Adam said as he heard the soundtrack. “Could this be Langley saying sorry?”
“I have no freaking idea,” Janice said as a tall young girl was spoken to, and then whoever was filming asked how much.
“It’s a fucking slave auction,” Adam Ball said as he put his beer down, and watched the girl been taken away before the woman walked out, talked to the African woman, and then approached Cohen and another man.
As the money was handed over, Adam said, “Shit – we thought Cohen was into gun running, but this… And all those people…”
“It gets better – watch.”
They listened to the argument between Cohen, Chen and the other man, before Cohen stormed off.
“Slaves, Guns, Diamonds – this is way way outta our league Janice.”
“Tell me about it,” Janice said as they observed the main auction begin, and then the woman left, exchanging pleasantries with the African woman before she was escorted to collect the younger girl. The film ended with the hooded girl being escorted to a door, before the captions appeared again.
THE GIRL YOU SAW BEEN BOUGHT IS NOW FREE, AND UNDER OUR PROTECTION. SHE IS HELPING US TO GATHER MORE INFORMATION.
THIS NIGHTMARE TRADE WILL END. DO WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO IN YOUR CAPACITY. WHAT WE HAVE GIVEN YOU WE KNOW IS ONLY A START FOR YOU, BUT WE HAVE FAITH YOU WILL DO WHAT IS RIGHT.
DO NOT LET THEM OR US DOWN, AGENT CARTER.
The screen want blank, as Adam looked at Janice.
“You know Callaghan is going to go apeshit when he sees this?”
“He is? For God’s sake Adam it looks as if there is a very large, well organized conspiracy involved not just in arms smuggling, but people trafficking. If this is true, a lot of very powerful people will be in trouble. Shit, if this is Langley, then they’re seriously asking for our help.”
“Does that scare you as much as it scares me?”
Adam nodded silently, as he said “I’ll call Callaghan – tell him we need to see him tomorrow first thing. Bring the laptop – and brace yourself for a rough ride.”
The Brewster Townhouse
Abby was curled up in an armchair, Jeannie reclining on one of the couches, as Missy Auerbach looked at both of them.
“With all the fuss over the Christening, Missy, the fact the Fall fashion weeks are coming up completely slipped my mind – what are the dates again?”
“New York is 4th to the 11th,” Missy said quietly.
“The Fourth? Thursday?”
“Yeah – it slipped my mind as well, but I have the invites for your shows here. My real problem is the invites for the following weeks. London is the 12th to the 16th, Milan 17th to 23rd and Paris 23rd to 1st of October.”
"Missy you know we both have school?" Abby
reminded her agent.
“I know – and I appreciate that, but the invites are there.”
"No way we can do London." Jeannie looked at her diary.
"How about flying weekends for Milan and Paris?"
“Milan? Missy, you won’t be there either – the christening, remember? Not even Juliette is going this time – I heard she’s handed that and London over to Fiona, and Fiona has delegated to her staff so that she can come over here.”
“I know, Jeannie, I heard the same thing too – what about Paris?”
"Most of the time we'd be in the air Missy."
"I can always ask Miss Tennant?" Missy looked hopeful, but as Jeannie pushed herself up she wondered if she had said the wrong thing.
"Missy our Mums will have a bloody fit." Jeannie raised her voice.
"I can always ask."
"Goddess save us from our agents." Abby
rolled her eyes.
"Missy the deal with my mum is school comes FIRST!"
“All right, all right – the three are out, but here in the city?”
“Go on,” Abby said as she held her hand out, “what does the schedule look like?”
Missy handed the list to the two girls, who glanced down it and then looked at their diaries.
“Oh boy,” Jeannie said quietly, “this is going to be tough. I can’t do the show on the 7th Missy – I have the Vanity Fair shoot at the Metrop all day.”
“So noted – we’ll decline that one. Abby?”
“I’ll get our mothers,” she said as she stood up. “In theory, fine, but we’ll need some help from your grandfather Jeannie.”
“Tell me about it – two shows a day most days? I hope I can get some assignment extensions…”
Tuesday 2nd September
FBI Field Office
“All right,” Tom Callaghan said as he entered the conference room, “What’s so important we could not do this in my office?”
Adam and Janice looked at him before Janice said, “We want to show you a video file I was sent anonymously yesterday. Only Adam and I have seen this, and after we have shown you it I will take a copy on encrypted stick for evidence purposes, before I submit my laptop for a full forensic examination. Phil is coming to collect at my call.”
“Sent anonymously? By what means?”
“Direct transfer to the desktop on my personal machine.”
Callaghan looked at both of them and said, “Play it.”
“All right,” Janice said as she started the file, watching her commander’s face as he viewed the film. She could tell the exact moment when he realized what was going on – he had been taking notes, and then dropped his pen as he mouthed “what the f…”
He looked over at Janice, who nodded and said, “Keep watching.”
“Well,” Tom said, “I recognize Cohen, and the Chen woman, but not the other two. But the people that are there – they could not have been there unless they knew… There are at least three senators in there!”
“I know,” Adam said as he began to redden, “keep watching.”
Tom watched the film to the end, and then sat back in silence.
“Call Phil,” he eventually said, “and then we’ll talk.”
Janice put a memory stick into her laptop and saved a copy of the file while she made a phone call. Five minutes later the tall, bearded form of Phil Majewski of the Computer Labs came in.
“This file,” Janice said as she pointed to her laptop, “appeared on here yesterday. We need to know how.”
“Give me an hour,” Phil said as he left, closing the door behind himself. Tom stood up and walked to the window, looking out onto the street.
“It’s fucking incredible,” he said, “that film suggests a highly organized group, with some very heavy personalities involved, involved in diamond smuggling, arms supplying and buying, and slave trading? At the very least?”
“And they are doing it for the most select of people,” Adam said quietly. “We could spend at least a week identifying everyone on that film. But where the hell do we start?”
Tom picked up the telephone. “Gail? Clear my diary for today, and tell Director Mackay I’m on my way up to see him – urgently.”
“You’re going to see Jock Mackay?”
“Adam, this is out of my league – possibly even his. I need to show him this – passkey?”
“Katy05,” Janice said as she passed him the stick.
“In the meantime, I want an exact report of what happened from both of you, on my desk in the hour, then find out what Majewski found. I’ll call you when I need to speak to you after that. Go.”
Janice and Adam left Tom as he picked up the phone. “Get me Langley – FBI Liaison Brooks.”
An hour later, Janice tapped on Phil Majewski’s office door and said, “Knock knock.”
“Come in you two,” Phil said as he waved them over. “I’ve been over your laptop and the activity logs Janice, and…”
“I can tell you that you logged onto your laptop just before 9.31 am yesterday morning.”
“Because the only damn thing I can tell you about this file is it was downloaded to your desktop at 9.31 precisely, and whoever did it managed to bypass the source location information. When I look, it just has the date and time of creation. What’s more, your activity logs stop at 10 pm on Sunday, and then restart at 9.30 tomorrow with the booting up – no record of how the file got there.
“I would put good money on some form of directed internet hack, but beyond that – bupkiss.”
“Who has the knowledge and ability to put a file on my machine without leaving a trail? I thought everything got recorded somewhere on these things?”
“It does,” Phil said as he sat back. “As far as I know there is just one person on earth good enough to do this Janice. We know him or her simply as the Hidden Hand, or as Van Gogh.”
“Yeah, Adam, Van Gogh. This prankster used to leave pictures by Van Gogh as evidence of where he or she had been along with copious notes on how to improve the security of the computers that had been hacked.”
“So this Van Gogh is not malicious and destructive?” Adam asked.
“No - just incredibly smart, and able to do almost anything with a laptop.”
“Question - Could this Hidden Hand be a Langley asset?” Janet asked.
“I used to think so,” Phil replied, “but events over the past couple of years make me think he or she is a freelance, that they do what they do primarily for fun. They managed to hack Langley a year or so back.”
“We’d have heard about that wouldn’t we?”
Phil just smiled. “Mind you, though, I’ve heard rumours the Hand might have some criminal links.”
“Criminal?” Janice asked.
“That big bank heist in Connecticut where they got to a data storage facility.”
“Yeah.” Janice sat forward.
“Just something about the way they got into the system reminded me of the Hand.”
“Are you saying the Hidden Hand is part of the Pussycat Gang? … That he’s a she.” Janice asked.
“I don’t know,” Majewski sat back in his chair, “there was just something so remotely familiar about the work. Mind you, there are others who may have recruited him or her – any of the friendly intelligence agencies for example.”
“What about the unfriendly ones?”
“Let me tell you a story – might give you an idea of Van Gogh. You know the Chinese have been behind several cyber attacks of major systems and corporations?”
“Well, that was the rumour,” Janice said.
“It’s fact – well, what is not as well known is a year ago, someone hacked into the Chinese Ministry of State Security computers, and programmed them to play the Star Spangled Banner at 8 am Washington time every day. Took them over a month to find the code in their systems, and sources say it still happens on the more remote outposts.”
“I think so, although I could not possibly comment.” The telephone rang and Phil picked it up.
“Yeah they’re here, I’ll tell them.”
“What’s up,” Janice said.
“Callaghan wants you in his office – he’s got a visitor he wants you to meet.”
“We’d better get up – thanks Phil.”
“I’ll get this back to you later – it needs a major tune up. On the house.”
“Thanks,” Janice said as the two agents left him to his work.
“You wanted to see us,” Adam said as he and Janice came in.
Tom stood up, as did another man. He stood about five seven, with short grey hair, but Adam had him sized as ex-military despite his regulation suit, shirt and tie.
“Rupert, meet agents Janice Carter and Adam Ball. Janice, Adam, this is Senior Supervisor Rupert Brooks, our Langley liaison.”
“OH,” Janice said as they shook hands, “come to tell us what happened last Saturday?”
“Yes – and no,” Brooks said. “Sit down, please.”
“Yes and no – were you in the Intelligence Corps?”
“I was, Adam – but I’m not trying to be obscure. Tom has shown me the video you were sent Janice – it tallies with certain other information we have received from our sister agencies.”
“You know,” Janice said, “I’m getting a little sick of double speak. I just want some straight answers!”
Brooks sat down, removed his glasses and wiped the lenses, then looked at all three of them.
“Tom, Adam, Janice,” he finally said as he sat up, “what I am about to tell you was never said, if you ever ask me to repeat it I will deny everything.”
“Okay Mr. Brooks you’ve made yourself perfectly clear, so can you tell us what the fuck is going on?” Tom sounded more than just a little angry.
“The reason we at Langley were able to deny Cohen’s kidnapping was one of our ops was exactly because it wasn’t.”
“Oh come on Mr. Brooks I saw those bitches, they were damn CIA.” Janice growled her displeasure as she looked at him.
“I’m not saying they weren’t Agent Carter.”
“But you just said it wasn’t a CIA op.” Janice looked confused.
“What he’s saying Jan is that while they might have been Langley people it wasn’t a sanctioned job.” Adam spoke.
“A rogue element in the agency, Mr. Brooks?” Tom asked.
“Actually,” Brooks said, “we think it’s more like a coalition of the willing recruited on a need to know basis.”
“In other words someone is unofficially using CIA resources to attack these people.” Callaghan nodded.
“We don’t think it’s just CIA Tom, we have heard rumours that MI6 are involved, the French Sûreté, some people within your own agency here, and even certain criminal elements.”
“You are damn well joking,” Adam said as he looked at Brooks. The man shook his head, and said “You will have heard that the Australians have issued an arrest warrant for one of their diplomats, Dominic Rice?”
“I saw the notice,” Tom said quietly. “He was in their UN delegation, and then one night disappeared?”
“That’s the official version – the truth is someone broke into his house, tied up and gagged his housekeeper and maid, killed his private secretary cum bodyguard, and took Rice with them when they left with the contents of his safe. He hasn’t been seen since.”
“How the… You were monitoring him, weren’t you?”
Brooks nodded. “They were five women – two came in on an upper floor, three the front door. No, not your Pussycats – they claimed they came from Gravitas. The name is known to us. One of the big criminal players – only get involved in major things.
“The really interesting thing is, within 24 hours his house had been cleared, and his housekeeper and maid were seen flying to the west coast – and since have disappeared as well. Add to that the fact that the ASIO...”
“Australian Security Intelligence Organization,” Tom said to Janice and Adam.
“They were sent a dossier detailing Rice’s involvement in the smuggling of blood diamonds and arms, and – well, you get the picture. The dossier came from a source known to have connections with major criminal organizations. Hence the feeling they are involved as well.”
“Now why the fuck would all those people agree to work together?” Tom asked.
“Because they are all women.”
Janice spoke quietly, “They are mothers, daughters, grandmothers, that’s why.”
“And how did you come to that conclusion Agent Carter?” Mr. Brooks asked.
“Because when I saw those pictures of that slave market, something deep in me wanted to do anything I could to stop and hurt those bastards doing that to young innocent girls… Mr. Brooks your coalition of the willing is a coalition of very angry women who will do anything to stop this vile trade.”
“You’re saying that these women have reached out to each other and come together just for this one thing Janice?” Callaghan asked.
“I’m saying that if they had asked me and shown me this evidence I would have joined them.” Janice again spoke quietly.
“So the reason they contacted you… ?” Adam murmured.
“Was because I’m a woman, and a mother, they knew exactly what my reactions would be.”
“Janice you know this is all totally illegal, that everyone of these women is committing a crime.” Tom reminded her.
“I don’t think it matters to them, anymore then it would have done to me if I’d been invited in on this party.”
“They’ve chosen you precisely because you are clean and straight as an arrow Jan.” Adam looked her in the eye.
“I know,” Janice spoke, “And I agree with them, everything is put aside till we get these bastards.”
“So you are willing to act as our link Agent Carter?” Mr. Brooks asked.
“You’re damn fucking right I am. With my boss’ permission of course?”
“Brooks, “Tom said, “You know the profile of the Pussycat Gang. In your eye, if this is a coalition of angry women, would they have reached out to them as well?”
“Possibly – if they needed heavy hitters in the New York area.”
“That’s all the justification I need,” Tom said. “Janice, if they contact you again, tell them you are helping. Adam, watch her on this one, this must not become personal.”
Adam nodded. “What about the video?”
“We’re analyzing it to identify as many as we can. We’ll share all we have if you share all you have. I will tell you one thing though, for free.”
“The tall grey haired man? That’s Sir Winston Twining, the head of the UK delegation at the UN. If this proves to be true, we have a major international and diplomatic incident on our hands.”
“Fuck,” Adam whispered under his breath.
“I’ll be in touch,” Tom said as he shook the hand of Brooks, watching as he left. “Well, I was hoping for a busy month anyway,” Tom, said. “Jock has said you report direct to me on this, and me to him. No one else. Janice, you all right?”
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
“I’m just wondering – are we Churchill, Stalin or Roosevelt in this?”
“If this gets screwed, and people suffer, we may end up being Hirohito. Get going.”
“Want to get together for a drink after work,” Adam said as they left the office.
“I can’t – I gotta go to Sandy’s.”
“Another girl’s night out?”
“Hardly – more like practical driving 101, we are sorting out the morning milk run. Come on – let’s see what the canteen has to offer on Murder Row today.”
“The official word,” Tom said in his office to Adam and Jackie, “is hands off. Unofficially, we’re continuing our gun operation, given it is tied into this.”
“So what is the current word on Cohen?”
“He’s been at home all day – no visitors. The phone tap says he has spoken to some woman called Angel twice today, both short conversations.”
“Angel – could that be the African woman?”
“Possibly – they spoke Queen’s English. No accent. Anyway, we’re keeping an eye on him. Anyone else at this point is hands off – their security clearance alone means if we approach them, the Pentagon gets nervous, never mind our Virginia friends.”
“If you’re right about this being a Mothers United thing, Janice, they’re going to contact you soon. Let us know when and we’ll provide back up.”
Janice nodded as she stood up. “I’ll be back in a minute –should not have had that burrito,” she said as she walked quickly to the toilet.
A few minutes later, she was washing her hands when the cell phone went off. Looking at the screen, she saw “Caller unknown” and answered it.
“Look,” she said abruptly, “I do not appreciate…”
“Good afternoon Agent Carter – I take it you received my film?”
“You? You sent that film?”
“I did.” The voice sounded smooth, deep, almost cat like. “I hope you have already taken action concerning the content?”
“Who are you? Why me?”
“Because you are a brave and resourceful woman, Agent Carter. My colleagues spoke of a woman who tried to intervene last Saturday – you were easy enough to identify after that.”
Janice looked round before she said, “All right – what do you want?”
“To meet and talk to you – alone. No guns, no bugs, no agents within half a mile – and especially not that handsome partner of yours.”
“How do I know you won’t harm me?”
“Because you need our help, and we need yours.”
Janice swallowed and said, “All right – where and when.”
“Tonight, 8 o’clock, there’s a bar on W 57th called O’Malley’s. Be in the centre booth by the wall. I’ll recognize you. Any sign of support or guns, and I don’t show.”
Janice heard the click as the other person hung up, and thought for a moment, before heading to the meeting.
“Everything all right?”
“Yeah – I need to avoid that in future. We good here?”
“Yeah – go do what you gotta do.”
The Richmond Mansion
As Sandy came back into the mansion from an appointment with a client, she thought for a moment that Carina was back with Jude and the others, such was the level of noise.
As she walked into the kitchen, however, she stopped and said “What the crap?” She recognised Abby and Jeannie and guessed the other girls in the St Angela’s uniforms were fellow freshmen. She also saw Katy with her two children, and guessed the other strangers talking to Barbara were the other mothers.
“Sorry my fault Sandy,” Heather said as she looked over, “I called a meeting so we can work out car-pooling arrangements.”
“Want a coffee Sandy?” Janice held up the pot.
“Okay everyone I’m Heather Smith, and I’m Sandy’s nanny.”
“Hi Heather,” some of the people said
“I’m going to be running Little Sandy, George and Katy to school every morning.”
“You don’t mind bringing Katy home with you?” Janice asked, “Just till I can collect her.”
“No problem Janice.” Heather smiled.
“Okay I’m Heather’s sister Jo.” Joanne spoke up. “The original intention was that Abby and I would drive alternate days and take Jeannie to school.”
“We changed ideas a bit when we were at the pool on Saturday.” Jeannie spoke.
“Ally here,” Jo pointed “says we might as well use her jeep as well. So Mrs. Colman, Mrs. Broadsmith, Mrs. Carlton, Mrs. Morse, if you trust teenage drivers enough, we are offering to pick up Nikki, Pepsi, Anna and Becca and take ‘em to school in the mornings. We’ll need to decide who take who from where – we can thrash that out later.”
“Getting home might be more of a problem - we all have different schedules, but I think we can work it out.”
“Well if the girls can get here, I can watch them till they can be collected.” Heather offered.
“Darling I thought my house was going to be LESS of a teenage club house this year.” Sandy whispered in Heather’s ear.
“Patience – it’s not as bad as it sounds,” Heather whispered, as there was general agreement.
“Right – girls, with me to the front room, and we’ll plot routes on the map.”
As the girls went into the front room, Barbara said “Don’t worry – if my shifts allow, they can come back to my place. Jeannie will tell them that in a minute.”
“So how was your first day sweetheart,” Janice said as she looked at Katy.
“Fantastic, Mommy. I made lots of new friends.”
“By the way Sandy, my lawyer said the contract was good – you’ll have it back tomorrow morning.”
“Excellent, we can discuss timings when you pick Katy up tomorrow.”
“Come on sweetheart,” Janice said, “we have to go. Mommy has to go and meet someone tonight.”
“All right Mom – bye Sandy.”
“Bye Katy – see you tomorrow,” the little girl said as Katy went off with Janice.
“How funny is it to see Jo taking charge, Heather,” Claire Morse said as she sat at the kitchen table.
“I’m actually proud of her,” Heather said with a smile. “Anyway, how’s the job Barbara?”
“Tiring – it’s taking a while to get used to the way you manage your medical records over here. You must be Anna’s mother.”
“Is it that obvious,” the small blonde haired woman said, wearing a pair of faded jeans and trainers with a blue jumper. “I’m Emma Carlton, you’re Jeannie’s mom, right?”
“Barbara Brewster,” Barbara said as she nodded.
“I recognized you from the issue of Complete Style – you arrived in the country a few weeks ago, right?”
“Yeah – still getting used to the culture shock,” Barbara said with a smile. “So Anna is the Jamie Kirkham scholar?”
“That’s right – it was a huge surprise to us when she won it, but we’re so proud of her.”
“And so you should be,” Claire said, “She’s a very bright young lady, and Becky is already a firm friend.”
“This is just overwhelming,” Mrs. Broadhurst said as she joined them, “to think little Pepsi was at Grant Junior High, and then…”
“Sorry – it was her nickname when she was a toddler. I’m April Broadhurst.” She was dressed in a boho top and long flowing skirt, with brown laced ankle boots and a shawl tied round her waist.
“Well, she seems to be fitting right in.”
“Forgive me, Miss Richmond.”
“It’s Sandy, April.”
“It’s just for the daughter of a florist from the village to make it in St Angela’s, never mind becoming friends with a supermodel or two, and to be at the home of one of the richest women in the city, it’s a little overwhelming.”
“Tell me about it- and I’ve known this lot for a few months,” Barbara said, the rest of the table laughing.
“What abut you, Elaine? How does it feel to have a girl at both schools?”
“Confusing,” Elaine Colman said with a smile. She worked as a property agent for one of the realtors, and was one of their top workers – allowing her to afford a reasonable lifestyle. She also dressed in a business style, with a grey fitted jacket and skirt, and a blue silk blouse.
“I don’t understand why you didn’t send Nikki to Sacred Heart as well?”
“Honestly, Claire? It was a compromise made some years ago. You remember my mother in law?”
“The Gorgon.” Claire Morse rolled her eyes.
“Well she was a Nun, but I was an Angel, as you know. So while Nikki’s sister went to one, Nikki is going to the other.”
“Talked to Kelly yet?”
“Oh yes – she gave me some pointers.”
“Listen,” Barbara said, “if our girls are going to be friends, I’d like to get to know you all as well. Let’s make this a regular thing, all right?”
“Got it – you going Heather?”
“Yeah – need to make sure my charges do their homework,” Heather said as she kissed Sandy. “Then I’m off to see a friend for dinner. But let me know when the next coffee clutch is, all right?”
Janice walked in, her black leather jacket zipped up tight as she looked round. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she wore a pair of black ankle boots with her jeans.
She noticed the booths along the far wall, and smiled as she saw the middle one was free. Slipping into the seat, she leaned back and looked round the other customers.
“What will it be,” a waitress said as she came over.
“Small Guinness and a serving of wings,” Janice said as she looked at her.
“Coming right up,” she said with a smile as she walked away, Janice wondering if this was just a big joke.
“Hello Agent Carter.”
Janice suddenly looked up to see a woman standing beside her. She wore a high collared black jacket with an embroidered front, and Janice could see the red lipstick and expertly applied make-up on her face – even with the veil that covered her head under the black leather cap, and the large dark glasses covering her eyes
Looking down, Janice could see the black leather miniskirt, more like a belt than a skirt, the fishnet stockings and the four-inch black leather pumps.
“Well, your invitation was intriguing,” Janice, said, “Why don’t you take a seat?”
“Thank you,” the woman said as she sat, her black-gloved hands folded on her lap as the waitress brought Janice her food and drink.
“Can I get you anything,” she said to the stranger.
“Long Island iced tea,” she said with a smile, her voice deep and smooth. As the waitress left, she turned and said “thank you for agreeing to our terms, Agent Carter.”
"Are you the one they call Van Gogh?" Janice
"Oh are they still using that name about me." Heather's voice came back a sexy purr. "Personally I've always preferred the Hidden Hand. But yes, I am that person."
The waitress returned with the drink, Janice watching as Heather fed the straw through the veil and took a long drink.
“I have to ask what your first thought was when you saw the video,” Heather said as she put the drink down. In response, Janice picked up one of the wings. “Let me express it this way,” Janice said quietly. “We were watching Cohen, because he was suspected of involvement in a gun smuggling operation. When I saw him in that video, and what he was doing…” Janice snapped the wing in two, and put it back on the plate, Heather nodded.
“Of course you did – you are a mother, as are many of my associates. We wish to end this trade, and eliminate the cancer that causes such things to fester. We have banded together to do so, and now we are reaching out to you. Will you help us?”
“I need to know who is involved in this.”
“I can only give you general details, but I am sure you have already figured much of this out- I heard about last Saturday, and the incident with Cohen. We regret the way that was done – had we followed out plan, he would have simply disappeared when he went to the rest room.”
Janice nodded. “So you approach me to what – provide the US support?”
“Alongside others, yes. I am also only a worker, a contributor – I am not one of the leaders. They felt, however, you may be more open to speaking to the one who sent you the proof.”
“Just how many are you?”
“Enough – we have spent considerable time collecting intelligence. In return for your cooperation, we would be prepared to share the intelligence on Cohen with you. –And one other, one you have not identified yet. One who is in the inner circle of the conspiracy.”
“How can I trust you?”
Heather took another drink and said, “You cannot. But you came to meet me, didn’t you? I think you are willing to help us.”
“I am – this sickens me.” Janice took a drink of her beer, and said, “So what happens now?”
Heather reached into her jacket pocket and took out a data stick. “The girl you saw in the video is under our protection, and has told her tale. So has another girl who was sold in this way. Watch these – and we will contact you to talk again, soon.”
“What do you expect me to do in the meantime,” Janice said.
“Enjoy your wings,” Heather said as she finished her drink and stood up. “Continue your investigations, all you find will lead you the right way. As I say, we will be in touch.”
“One more question,” Janice, said as Heather started to leave. She turned and purred “yes?”
“Are you on the side of the angels or the devils – as a rule?”
“In this case,” Heather said, “angels and devils are working together to deal with a greater evil than you have faced before. What does that tell you?”
Janice nodded as Heather walked out, moving her body so that the men turned and stared as she walked across the bar floor. Janice looked at the stick, and then ate another wing, slipping the storage device into her purse.
Wednesday 3rd September
Carina yawned as she checked her secure e-mail, while she gave baby her two o’clock feed. So far Judith was an angel, she and Judy had not really had that many disturbed nights and she was never a problem being dropped off at the nursery while Carina went to class.
“So what has everyone been up to today?” As she said this to herself, she read both the reports from her own people and from Madame X’s. It appeared the opposition was all very worried indeed – she particularly enjoyed the transcript of a meeting between this Angel and Twining as they discussed which agency was after them.
She had also seen a copy of the video of the auction, and as Judith sucked on her breast she knew she wanted to do something to end this. Somehow Carina felt a little out of things and detached being up here in New Haven, but she also realised distance was maybe giving her a little perspective on things.
“All that money from the auction - where is it being hidden?” she typed into the group chat.
“That’s a good question?” she was surprised to see Susan still up.
Carina smiled as her friend typed back “Hey Cari.”
“It’s something I need to chase up.” Heather joined in.
“Why aren’t you both in bed, at least I have an excuse… lol.” Cari typed.
“My husband SNORES!” Susan typed.
“Sandy fell asleep, but I was still wide awake.”
“Well as long as it wasn’t while you were making love to her.” Cari typed in.
“Hey I’ve had that happen…” Susan typed.
“Poor Susan…lol” Cari commiserated.
“Heather we need, in the immortal words, to follow the money.” Susan typed.
“I started… two minutes ago.” Heather typed.
“So ready for the Christening, Cari – two weeks to go,”
“Vanessa called me today – the reception has been booked for after the service, and I need to give Alex the godparent’s names tomorrow.”
“So who are the lucky few?”
“Jude’s one,” she said as she looked at her sleeping roommate,” and Aunt Mary has agreed as well.”
“And the godfather?”
“I called Adam Ball today, and he accepted. Alex is going to talk to all of them over the weekend – he’s coming up to see us on Friday.”
“Well, we’re looking forward to seeing you.”
Cari smiled as Judith let go. “Well baby needs burping, talk tomorrow.” Cari closed down her computer and stood up, walking with baby over her shoulder.
The Carter Home
Janice tossed and turned in bed, before she sighed and threw the covers back, putting on a robe over her gown and heading to the kitchen. As she put the kettle on and dropped an herbal tea bag into a glass mug, she kept thinking over the events of the day.
This whole situation had turned her moral compass completely round. As she poured the water in, and watched the pale green swirls emanating from the bag, she realized her own mind was moving from one side to the other. When she was satisfied the drink was strong enough, she put the bag in the trash, held the mug in both hands and went to sit in the darkened front room.
She was certain in her own mind that some of her new allies were the very murdering bitches she'd been trying to catch, while others served the forces of law and order. Taking a sip of the tea, Janice thought about the offer she had received. Could she? Should she? Put aside her personal quibbles about working with thieves and murderers if it helped solve a larger evil?
Moral relativity had never been one of Janice's strong points; something was either right or wrong. Shades of gray she had always left to other people. Yet, here she was, in that very position. Brooks had called it a coalition of the willing, and by God she was willing, but still…
The thing was she knew she had done wrong by not reporting the contact from the Hidden Hand, but she wasn’t sure that as men they understood the visceral response all this had brought out in her. Part of her felt that she was betraying Tom as her supervisor, but particularly Adam as her partner.
The whole question really was whether the people she had seen on that video, those good, supposedly upright and honest people were really better than those who were at least honest in their greed and criminality.
Putting her cup down, she looked out of the window onto the street. Was there a greater morality that could allow her to work with those who espoused crime and wrongdoing as a lifestyle, if it stopped the evil that these supposedly good people had visited on these innocent children?
Or should she forget that while some of her allies were from the dark side, and remember that at least some were members of the police and security services?
Janice shook her head. If the Pussycats were helping these people, then she was associating with those she had said she would bring down, for torturing and killing innocent people. People like those in the film… Surely those who were on her side in this had had the same argument in their minds?
But what guarantee that some of the authorities were involved as that of good? Wasn’t it just as possible that police and national security people were in on this heinous conspiracy?
Were the only people in this world one could honestly trust ones true friends? Was everyone else potentially suspect?
Janice finished her drink and walked back upstairs. Had she misplaced her faith all these years in the basic goodness of people, and the validity of the system? She knew she could trust Adam, she knew she could trust Tom and many others, but what of those she didn’t know, how many of them truly espoused in their hearts the morality that came from their lips?
Looking in Katy’s room, she saw her fast asleep, clutching her teddy bear. Reaching over, she stroked her hair back and gave her a gentle kiss on her head.
That she had seen Senators, supposedly men who debated in their lofty chamber the fortunes of this nation watching and probably buying child slaves disgusted her. If one could have no faith in their goodness, what could one really have any faith in?
“No.” Janice thought as she climbed back into bed, there are things I believe are right and what is wrong. The enslavement of children was WRONG! She imagined if being sold on an auction black was a fate that might befall Katy… No she told herself, I may be compromising some of my ideals but my belief in the justice of what these women are doing is greater, I’m in this till the end, come what may.
She slowly drifted off to sleep, hoping Adam would understand…
The Richmond Mansion.
Heather put the fresh cup of coffee down at the side of the laptop, and then started to search.
“Now then,” she said to herself, “we have four names. Legault, Xantu, Chen and Twining. Let’s start with their personal banking details.”
She started to look into the personal details of all four, making notes on the pad beside her as she hacked into the bank computers and pulled up the personal account details for all four. She then examined their transactions in the last week, and crosschecked with the other members of the inner circle.
“Hmmm,” she said after a while, “no obvious large transfers of cash between the four, but I didn’t think they’d be that stupid. How about payments received?”
She checked carefully through the deposits made to each of their accounts for the last few months, noting their diplomatic salaries as well as income from other sources. At first, she struggled to find any connection, but as she went to re-fill her coffee mug something struck her.
“What about family and company holdings,” she mumbled as she sat down and looked at their personal histories. Starting with Twining’s wife, she found two accounts – her personal checking account, and an investment fund with Credit Suisse. Looking at the investment account, she saw there were regular transfers of funds into the account, and then invested in two companies.
“Now, who would be on the board of directors for those companies,” she said as she sipped her coffee, and searched the business records. “Well well well,” she said as she noticed the name of Oliver Cohen on one of the company’s board of directors, and then Francois Legault on the other one. “Let’s see what we can find out about these.”
She scribbled furiously on the pad as she dug deeper, bringing up their tax records as well as the company accounts – the official version of them.
“Not much profit in either of them,” Heather mused, and then she noted the banks their accounts were registered with. One was the same branch of Credit Suisse as the wife of Twining used; the second was a branch of HBSC near Central Park.
“Hmmm – cashflow seems healthy enough – but there were large deposits and withdrawals made on Monday. I wonder if these are the shell companies – and if so, where did the money go?”
Selecting a transaction at random, Heather brought up the record of who and when the transaction was made by. She also hacked into the security cameras of the branch of the HBSC bank, and smiled when she saw the view of the lobby at about the time of the transaction.
“Hello Ms Xantu,” she said to herself as she watched the tall African woman shake the hand of a bank official, and then walk into a side office. She watched for a few minutes, checking the time clock against the transaction record, before they walked out and headed to the rear of the branch.
“Okay, so you made the withdrawal,” Heather said quietly as she sipped her coffee, “so you go and collect the money – which would normally mean a case and an escort. Take, what, ten minutes?”
She fast-forwarded for ten minutes, only to see Angel Xantu walk out empty handed.
“Huh,” Heather said as she stood up and re-filled her cup, “so was it couriered to her later, or…”
She suddenly stopped and put the mug to her lips, drinking the coffee again before she smiled. “Of course,” she said as she returned to the laptop, and examined a schematic of the bank. She then accessed the secure footage of the private vaults she had noted, and sure enough two minutes after leaving the office she saw Angel and the bank official come in, followed by a man wheeling a small leather case.
“There is no trail out of the bank because it never left the bank,” Heather said as she watched Angel enter one of the vaults, and then leave after the bag was deposited. “You clever clever little bitch. Now, do we have a reference number?”
She went back to the bank records and worked for some time, eventually finding the vault records and soon identifying the one with her name against it – alongside that of Francois Legault.
“Now,” she said as she went back to Credit Suisse, “for ten thousand dollars, who has a private vault at this branch? I’ll say Twining, Bob.”
“And you just won ten thousand dollars,” she shouted out as she found a vault in the name of Twining at the bank. “Now, for twenty five thousand dollars, when was the last visit made to this vault?”
“Can I play the bonus card, Bob?”
“You may, Heather.”
“I’ll say Monday or Tuesday this week, after a transfer of funds deposited earlier to this company.”
“Let’s see if you’re right…” Heather looked at the vault records and CCTV tapes, before she banged the table and said “Gotcha.”
Standing up, she walked over and switched the printer on, before she began to look at the records for both vaults over the last three years, and the current inventory of contents…
Jo woke to the sound of her radio, and got out of the bed, stretching and yawning before she put her slippers on and walked down to the kitchen.
Walking to the fridge, she opened it and poured herself a glass of orange juice, only to notice the empty coffee pot and the dirty mug.
Turning round, she saw her sister frantically arranging printouts and putting them into clear folders. She was still wearing the t-shirt and joggers she had changed into after returning last night, and it was obvious she had not been to bed.
“Hey,” Jo said as she sipped from her glass, “what have you been up to all night?”
“I was going to ask the same question,” Sandy said as she came in, her robe wrapped round her and tied with a sash. She looked at the empty coffee pot, and said “So, what was so interesting it was a better thing to do than sleep with me?”
“The money – I followed the money.”
Heather smiled at both of them as she shut down and closed her laptop. “They’re good, but I’m better,” she grinned before saying “Sandy, if you’re making a fresh pot I need more coffee. Jo, can you wake George and Sandy and get their breakfast for them? I need to get showered and changed.”
“Now what on earth has she been doing,” Sandy said as she looked at one of the folders, and then looked at Jo. “Better do as she says,” she said with a smile, “I think she’s found out something big.”
“Oh,” Heather said as she popped her head back in, “someone contact Susan and tell her I’m coming over to see them after the school run.”
“I do believe she has,” Jo said as she finished her drink and put her glass down.
The Waldorf Hotel
“So they are confused, would that be a fair assessment Charlotte?”
“It would Madame,” the red headed young woman said as she sat round the conference table with Penny, Susan and Dominique. “Twining is under the impression it is MI5 that is onto him, and is very nervous indeed, but putting up a brave public face. Chen is – well Chen. Legault is definitely nervous, as is Cohen, but neither of them is doing much at the moment.”
“And the file?”
“It was sent to Heather – I am hopeful she can update us as to how it has been received within the agencies when she comes.”
“Late night Susan,” Dominique said as she caught her friend yawning.
“Clint snoring again – on which point, he informs me that Kimba has indeed arrived. He drove him from Twining’s abode to the Mazengwean consulate, and then to the UN yesterday.”
“Penelope, the history check on Twining?”
“This gets even more interesting,” Penny said as she looked at some papers. “Lillian sent the information through last night. It turns out Twining’s ancestors had strong ties to what is now Mazengwe - his great grandfather was actually the Governor of the country at one time. They have a great deal of land out there still – and guess what sits on part of it?”
“I’m going to go out on a limb here,” Charlotte said, “and guess a diamond mine?”
“But I thought the current regime nationalized all that land some years ago?”
“So did I,” Penny said, “so Lillian dug a little more. Turns out some of it was not.”
“Politics and greed make strange bedfellows,” Madame said as the door opened and Heather came in. She was wearing a short sleeved blue blouse and a pair of grey slacks.
“Sorry I’m late – do you have any coffee,” she said before she started yawning.
“When did you get to bed,” Susan said as she poured a cup and brought it over.
“I didn’t – but more on that later. Where do you want to start?”
Madame smiled, and said, “Let us begin with Janice Carter.”
“I think she’s in,” Heather said, “I met with her last night, and I think she’s as outraged as any mother would be. She was certainly graphic in her description of what she would like to do to Cohen now.”
“You met with her? In disguise I hope?”
“And using one of these.” Heather opened her purse and showed them a small round device. When she put it near her throat and said “And now what do you think,” her normal upstate voice was transformed into a deep, rich accent.
“Voice modification – very useful,” Madame said. “So do you believe she will aid us from an agency perspective?”
“I believe so, but I sweetened the deal as you suggested, offering Cohen and Legault to them. I also gave her a copy of Charlotte’s conversations with Ama and Maisha – I think they will tip the balance.”
“I find her a very interesting woman – strong moral ideals, and uncompromising in her pursuit of the truth. I feel she will require careful handling.”
Heather nodded as Madame sat back. “Further contact?”
“I will call her in the next day or two – but I now take her daughter to and from school, so there is social contact as well.”
Madame nodded, and said “I will be dining with Juliette tonight, so we will discuss that matter as well. What else have you to tell us?”
“I followed the money.”
Susan sat up and said, “Don’t tell me you’ve found where the auction takings are?”
“Better than that,” Heather said as she put the clear wallets down, “I know where the takings from the last three or four years are.”
“Indeed? For very intelligent people, I thought they would cover their tracks properly.”
“They did,” Heather said with a smile, “but they’re not me. I traced it through a series of shell companies in the names of the family and partners of the inner circle, as well as trust funds and such like, but ultimately…”
“The funds from the auctions are sitting in two private vaults – one in the name of Mister and Mrs. Twining at a branch of Credit Suisse, another in the names of Angel Xantu and Francois Legault at a branch of HSBC. In these folders,” she said as she handed them to Susan, “are the access and transfer records for both vaults over the last five years – who got entry, what was put in, what was taken out. I’ve kept encrypted copies. The last transactions were made yesterday.”
Susan looked briefly at the transcripts, and said “In plain English, Heather.”
“In plain English, these two vaults hold the funds they use for day to day operations – I’d say bribes to the right people, ready access to cash if needed, and so on. The security on these vaults is meant to be the best of the best of the best.”
Heather turned to Dominique and said, “How much is currently in the vaults?” She looked at Susan, who was examining the last page of both transcripts. She then looked up at Heather, and said, “You have got to be joking.”
“I’m not – there is about ten million US dollars currently resident in there.”
“No,” Susan said quietly, “each. Twenty at least in total.”
The group looked round the table at each other, before Madame stood up.
“I feel such levels of funding need to be deprived to them, but it will take time. Heather?”
“Part of the security issues with these vaults is they cannot be closed without a week’s notice. I’ve placed a bit of code on the systems of both banks to alert me if a closure notice comes in. If it does, I’ll let you know, but they won’t know that I have hacked in.”
“I can believe that,” Dominique said. “But if we are to liberate these funds, we cannot do one and then the other – a raid of that size would put everyone on alert. We need to plan.”
She suddenly stopped and looked over at the young blonde woman. “Oh no,” she said quietly, “It can’t be…”
“Dominique?” Madame looked at her chief enforcer as she stared at Heather.
“Heather I don’t know why this has never occurred to me before, but something just clicked in my brain… Are you Van Gogh?” Dominique asked.
Heather blushed and giggled modestly as she nodded her head. Madame and Susan looked from one to another, as Charlotte rose to shake Heather’s hand.
“Van Gogh?” Madame asked.
“Madame I always thought Heather was good, I never realized till just now that’s she’s the greatest.”
“Who the hell is Van Gogh?” Susan asked
“I always thought you were an urban legend.” Charlotte mouthed the words.
“Madame we are in the presence of true genius.” Dom smiled.
“Well we all know Heather is very, very bright.” Madame responded.
“Not just bright Madame.” Charlotte looked at her boss. “Stellar.”
“The greatest hacker of them all.” Dominique spoke admiringly.
“Well growing up in a small upstate town you can get a bit bored.” Heather didn’t reveal the true reason she had hidden on computers so much.
“Bored?” Charlotte laughed.
“Okay will somebody please explain?” Madame said a trifle impatiently.
“Madame you’ve heard of the trouble the Chinese had with the Star Spangled Banner?” Charlotte spoke.
“You’ve heard of that huge dump of secret Vatican files on the role of women in the early church?” Dominique added.
Madame thought a second. “I did hear rumours of both events – the Chinese certainly tried to keep the former quiet, and the latter was mildly amusing, but also very informative of how they tried to put women in their place. But…”
“Both were known to be the work of an external hacker, who somehow managed to break into some of the most secure systems in the world. Someone who knew how to circumvent their firewalls and blocks, and do maximum damage without leaving a trail.” Dominique was beaming as she said “Someone who knew how to baffle any sensors, and managed to insert code and files with no record of ever being there. Sound familiar?”
“Yes we do.” Charlotte laughed as she clapped Heather on the back. “She revealed the true records of the de Klerk regime. Salange himself cites her as a huge influence on his crusade.”
“I heard they were the work of a group called the Hidden Hand.” Susan stated.
“I also thought that,” Charlotte looked at Heather obviously in awe, “She’s just one person, and she’s known as both Van Gogh and the Hand.”
“Am I to understand all that was the work of just one person?” Madame asked.
“Yes.” Charlotte smiled.
“So it was just one woman who caused all that to happen?”
“Yes Madame,” Dominique put her arms round her friend. “Heather the Nanny has been hiding her light under a bush.”
“Does Juliette know?” Susan asked.
“No, or Sandy, I guess I never got round to telling them.”
“Well, it does help explain how an Arts major is so technically gifted – Heather, my thanks. You have gone above and beyond the call of duty. What may I do for you?”
“Well, one of you could drive me home – I’m pooped.”
“Let me,” Penny said as she stood up.
“Dominique, I want you to contact Annie, and ask her if she is free this weekend. Charlotte, Penny, I want you both to clear your calendars as well.”
“May I ask why, Madame?”
“I will inform you after I have consulted with Juliette – but I fear you may be in for a rather uncomfortable weekend.”
Susan looked at them and smiled – she knew what was coming.
“I’ll walk out with you,” Dominique said as Heather and Penny left. Closing the door, she said “Heather, may I ask a personal question?”
“Of course – what?”
"Heather I've heard from Sandy you were living in
your car when you applied for the job as her Nanny." Dominique spoke.
"Jo also told me you were contemplating the ultimate act of
"I was." Heather nodded sadly.
"Ultimate act?" Penny asked.
"But with your skills anyone would have hired
"I wanted to work in the art world, and besides
to prove my bona fides I'd have needed to show my skills. Apart from the likes of the CIA, who's going
to hire someone the police in virtually every country have a warrant out
"We would have." Dominique smiled.
"There's been an open invite for you to join us for years."
"I know." Heather grimaced, "But after High School and Yale I was determined to play things straight. It's why the Hidden Hand has been relatively unobtrusive."
“Well, I for one am glad she is on our side,” Dominique said quietly as Ama came out. “Forgive me – I promised her I would take her to the Metropolitan today?”
“I’ll be careful,” Dom said as she took Ama by the hand…
Complete Style Magazine
Juliette was reviewing the plans for the latter part of the year when there was a tap on her door, and she looked up to see Mary Thomas standing there. She looked as she usually did, in her waistcoat over a blouse and skirt, but she also looked nervous.
“What is it Mary,” Juliette said as she put her papers down, “you look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Only in the nicest way,” she said, “John just dropped off the baby photos. I presume you’d like to see them?”
“Of course I would – why didn’t John bring them to me personally?”
“I think he was afraid you’d kill him with gratitude – they’re beautiful,” she said as she placed the album in front of Juliette. She watched as her old friend flipped through the album, and then handed her a tissue.
“You’re right, I would have,” Juliette eventually said. “We’re going to need quite a few copies of these.”
“He’ll have them shipped to your apartment whenever you want – certainly for a fortnight Sunday,” Mary said, “on which point – have you any idea how an old Methodist like me feels being asked to be one of Judith’s Godmothers?”
“Delighted and proud?”
Mary smiled and said, “Dammit woman, you’re too good for me. What the heck am I meant to wear to a Catholic christening though?”
“I understand clothes are usually the norm – and you are meant to be very good at that Mary…”
She ducked as the palm of Mary’s hand passed over her head. “You damn well know what I mean – and I need to warn you now, Fiona’s going to be here that weekend.”
“Oh lovely – have you seen the guest list yet? It already reads like a Who’s Who of fashion. I had Stella McCartney on the phone offering to supply matching outfits for me and Carina.”
“And you refused?”
“Only because Cari would kill me. It’s going to be some day.”
“Yup – and you and Carina get to be the supporting act. Anyway – conference time. Come on – before Anna puts one of these photos on the front cover.”
The Richmond Mansion
John sat at the kitchen table, looking at maps of the island and the schedules by his side.
"John, are you sure you are up to running the girls round, combining shows and their school?" Sandy asked in a concerned tone.
"I think so." John gritted his teeth, "I've looked at their schedules with Missy, Mary and Miss Kelly, with luck… "
"And your driving skills." Sandy reminded
"As you say with my driving skills, then I think
we can do it."
"Fashion Week isn't exactly schoolgirl friendly,"
Heather looked up from her computer.
"Yes but how many schoolgirls are also
Supermodels?" Sandy asked.
"Not many." Heather smiled. "When I see them round the house looking so normal, I forget they have a whole different life as well."
“Don’t forget one of them is my granddaughter – and a year ago I was looking forward to the fact she might just come and live here.” John sat back and rubbed his eyes.
“This happens again in the spring, right?”
“Yeah – but hopefully with a lot more notice.” Sandy looked at Heather as she said “Things have just been incredibly hectic this month, haven’t they?”
“A slight understatement,” John said. So, tomorrow?”
“From school to Central Park marquee for 4, then pick them up at 6.30 to get to the Crowne Plaza Time square for seven.”
“Well, let’s get that one under our belts first,” John said with a smile.
The Richmond Mansion
“Okay so what is so damn urgent Heather?” Carina’s face stared out from the computer screen at all the others assembled in Sandy’s drawing room.
“I have a little secret I maybe should have told you all a long while ago.” Heather spoke quietly as she looked at the screen.
“Oh my Goddess - Sandy has got you pregnant.” Carina laughed online.
“No.” Heather smiled as the others all laughed, “Nothing like that.”
“Well lover, what?” Sandy put her arm round her girlfriend.
“Have you ever heard of Van Gogh?”
“He’s that artist you love so much.” Jo spoke.
“No,” Heather said quietly, “another Van Gogh.”
There was a chorus of no’s and general shaking of heads.
“What about the Hidden Hand?”
“Oh them I do know,” Carina smiled, “a secret group of hackers… Come to think of it now I do remember Van Gogh, an amazing hacker.”
“So what do these hackers have to do with you Heather?” Juliette asked.
“Well,” Heather smiled weakly and said “They ARE me.”
“WHAT?” Carina shouted down the computer.
“What are you saying lover?” Sandy looked puzzled.
“I’m saying,” Heather said with a smile, “that long before I even met you all, I was already a wanted woman.”
“Carina help me.” Juliette looked towards the computer.
“What she’s saying Mom is that she’s the world’s most infamous hacker. Which, come to think of it, explains a hell of a lot.”
“My sister the wizard,” Joanne said with a smile as she hugged Heather. “So you’re a genius computer hacker? Want to change my grades?”
Delmonico’s, Beaver Street
“Miss Huntingdown – a pleasure to see you again.”
“Thank you Bernard,” Juliette said as she stood with Shirley, “I trust we have a quiet table?”
“This way,” the maitre d’ said as he led them to a quiet corner of the busy restaurant, and handed then the menus.”
“Alphonse will be your waiter,” he said as he bowed and left them alone.
“I have heard of this place,” Madame said as she sat down, “so I was glad when you suggested it.”
“Ladies,” Alphonse said as he came over, “a drink while you decide?”
“Make that two,” Madame said as the waiter walked off. “So, have you heard from Carina?”
“She’s working hard – and she’s sorry she missed you last weekend.”
“Well, I was otherwise occupied – but I think we may need her assistance soon. In fact, we may need all of you?”
“Oh?” Juliette smiled as she looked at the menu, “for what?”
“To empty their working accounts from the slave auctions.”
Juliette raised an eyebrow as Alphonse returned with the drinks.
“Are you ready to order ladies?”
“Yes,” Juliette said, “I’ll have the Tuna Tartare, and then the Veal chop with classic potatoes. Shirley?”
“The crab cakes, and then the wild bass with corn and Zucchini.”
“Very good ladies – may I suggest the Semillon Chardonnay with your meal?”
“Why not,” Juliette said as the waiter retrieved the menus and left. “So, you have managed to locate the accounts?”
“In a manner of speaking – they like to maintain a healthy amount of readily available cash.”
“Oh, how much?”
“At least twenty million as of this morning.”
Juliette looked at Madame, and slowly lowered her glass to the table. “I did hear you correctly? How do you know this?”
“Heather traced it – it is apparently held in two secure private vaults at two separate banks in the city. We have a monitor in place, but can you imagine what they would do if that money was, to oh I don’t know, be stolen by an armed gang?”
“I can only imagine,” Juliette said as their appetizers arrived, Alphonse allowing Juliette to taste the wine before he poured it. Once they were alone, Juliette said “I can get the pertinent information from Heather later, but if I understand you correctly, you are proposing the Pussycats go to work and rob both banks.”
“At the same time,” Madame said as she cut a cake and put the slice in her mouth. “Oh this is divine.”
“So is this,” Juliette said as she swallowed some of the tuna and took a sip of her wine. “We would need to combine forces.”
“Would Carina be available?”
“Given enough notice, yes. Jude keeps saying she’ll look after Judith for a day is Cari needs a break. So that’s seven.”
“Dominique, Susan and I can come in. You can also use Penny and Charlotte.”
“What about Annie?”
“We’ve sent a message for her to keep her weekend clear – Penny and Charlotte too.”
“Oh? Are you suggesting we give them over to Diana and Jo for the day?”
“I am – if they can look convincing, it will help. Annie said she wanted to stop this – I am sure she will oblige.”
Madame took another slice of the crab cake, but as she ate it she noticed Juliette playing with her food.
“Thirteen - I’ve always had a genuine fear of the number thirteen.” Juliette confessed.
“Oh why?” Madame asked.
“Well for starters I got engaged on a Friday the Thirteenth, and exactly one month later on another Friday the Thirteenth I found out he was a three-timing bastard and broke it off.”
“Oh, that must have hurt.”
“It did.” Juliette grimaced, “I’ve just had an awful lot of bad things happen that are connected to the number thirteen. I guess you can say I’m a genuine triskaidekaphobe.”
“So we need a fourteenth girl on the raids?”
“Who then? I’m not sure there is anyone more in my inner circle I want to know who you all really are.”
Juliette sat back and thought for a moment, before a smile crossed her face.
“Last time I saw that smile we hit that convenience store. What are you thinking?”
“You’ll hate it,” Juliette said as she finished her tuna.
“Probably, but say it anyway.”
“Don’t bite my head off Shirley, but I was thinking of asking Jan.”
Madame slowly put her knife and fork down and looked at her friend. “Please, repeat that, Juliette?”
“I think the fourteenth woman should be Janice Carter.”
“YOU WHAT!” for a moment Madame lost her customary cool. “You want to take the woman sworn to catch you all along on a Pussycat raid? Have you lost your mind Juliette?”
“No.” Juliette looked serious. “I think it’s important that Janice as an unimpeachable source, sees where that money is hidden, and how much there is. Heather’s right – she wants to be part of this, so let’s bring her really in.”
“Well that at least makes sense.” Madame calmed down slightly. “But it is a big risk you’re taking. She knows your voices, your stance – even the way you lower your voice and change your stance as Miss Panther may not be enough.”
Once the plates were cleared away, Juliette said “I’ve seen Heather’s latest little toys.”
“I take it you mean her voice altering devices.” Madame thought carefully.
Juliette nodded. “Everyone wears masks round Jan at all times, and uses the voice boxes. We blindfold her to take her anywhere sensitive. We lie to her and let on some of us are the law and security services. Most importantly though we are all ultra damn careful what we say and do. I want Janice there but to leave with her scruples intact, so everyone gets strict orders to avoid bloodshed.”
“Your daughter’s not going to like not having her usual fun.”
“Carina will have to suck it up. Janice is a friend, if I didn’t think it necessary to take her along I wouldn’t. But I certainly don’t want her traumatised by what she sees.”
“So you are going to rely on the formidable reputation you’ve built up to keep people in line and co-operative?”
“I think we have to.” Juliette nodded seriously.
“It has merit, but we would need to assign the two teams carefully.”
“The bass,” Alphonse said as the plate was placed in front of Madame, “and the veal. Bon Appétit, ladies.”
As they started to eat, Juliette thought over the people involved.
“Two teams of seven – you lead one, I take the other.”
Madame nodded as she ate the fish. “This is exquisite,” she said before she took a sip of wine. “Despite your wise words of admonishment on the need to curtail the bloodlust, I think we also need at least one person on each team who can do it if necessary. Quickly, Cleanly. I suggest you take Carina, and I take Diana.”
“That sounds fair. I take it these private vaults are very secure?”
“I would imagine so, but Heather can inform you.”
Juliette nodded, and said “then one safe expert on each team. If I can have Dom, you take Heather.”
“So far so good,” Madame said as Juliette ate some veal. “Let us discuss those who will need support.”
“Annie and Charlotte?”
Madame nodded. “I think Annie will be more confortable with you and Carina, and Charlotte with me. I also wish to assess Susan, so unless you have any objections I would take her, and you take Penelope.”
“I want Janice where I can see her – and Sandy to supervise her.”
“Which leaves me with Joanne and Abigail.” She placed her knife and fork on the plate, and sipped her wine. “Sounds a fair balance to me.”
“We can finalise once we know more of the targets – I’ll start on it in the morning. I also want to talk to the ladies tomorrow, and explain the proposal with Heather.”
“Agreed,” Madame said as Juliette sat back. “You will ask Diana about the weekend?”
“I’m sure it won’t be a problem – I also need to contact Tommy. Tell me, what are Susan and Penelope’s motor skills like?”
“I’m not sure – I’ll have to ask them. Why?”
“Vehicle acquisition. Dessert?”
Thursday 4th September
"With Fashion Week on Janine, It's all hands to
the pumps." Juliette said as she swept into her office. Janine looked up and nodded as her boss said "You've
got the diary, just try and not overbook me with phone calls or visitors, I'm
going to be out of the office a lot."
"Yes." Janine fumbled with her notes. “I’ll get right to work on it.” As she walked out, Juliette out her head in
her hands and sighed.
"This is when PA's earn their bonuses darling." Anna said as she came in the door.
"I know." Juliette sighed. "With the christening as well I have so much going on."
“You’ve delegated most of the shows to your juniors, right?”
“I have – I’ll attend the major ones each night, and then I have conference meetings booked for seven every morning.”
“And do you trust Janine to be an effective guard door for you?”
“Now I do – she’s learned a lot in the last six months.”
“Well then,” Anna said, “Fiona has Milan and London covered – and you’re going to Paris once the christening is out of the way for the closing weekend. Relax, Ju – it’s all sorted out, and we’ve got your back.”
“Thanks, Anna,” Juliette said as the phone rang.
“Yes Janine? All right, put him through.” She waved to Anna before saying “Oscar, darling – it’s been a long time…”
The Waldorf Hotel
Annie walked into the suite to find Charlotte and Penny waiting for her.
“How’s the school,” Charlotte said as Annie sat down and put the bag she was carrying on the floor.
“Ask me after I have marked these first assignments,” Annie said as she accepted the drink from Penny. “I also had to get Abby and Jeannie out of school early.”
“Ah yes,” Penny said, “I saw on the news this morning that fashion week had started. Planning to attend any of the events?”
“When am I getting any spare time recently,” Annie said. “So why us three? And why did Susan say I had to keep my weekend free?”
“We’ve been told the same thing,” Charlotte said. “I think we may have to take a trip somewhere.”
“Thank you all for meeting here,” Dominique said as she came in. “Annie, have they had a chance to bring you up to speed yet?”
“Ten second version,” Dominique said as she sat down, “we’ve traced the funds the targets raise from slave auctions to two vaults in city banks. We intend to empty them.”
“Bank raids? How much are we talking about?”
“Twenty million dollars.”
Annie looked at all three of them, and said, “You’re kidding right?”
“We’re not joking,” Penny said. “Madame briefed us on the idea today – the Pussycat Gang is going to hit both banks at the same time, and they need us to form part of one of the teams.”
“I won’t kill,” Annie said.
“You won’t have to – the role of you and Charlotte will be to provide support. But you need to be able to look the part, and appear as if you can do what the Pussycats can do when pushed.”
The three of them looked at each there, before Penny said “So what are we doing this weekend?”
“Boot camp – meet in the lobby at seven on Saturday morning, and wear outdoor clothing. A word of advice from Susan.”
“Don’t wear heels.”
The de Ros Mansion
“Hey Cari,” Abby said as her best friend appeared on the screen, “quiet night?”
“Baby’s sleeping and Jude’s at organ practice,” Cari sat as she sat back. Abby and Jo could see she was wearing a blue Yale sweatshirt.
“Abandoned the Angels already?”
“Hardly – I was at a discussion group before dinner. How was your day?”
“Hectic – two shows tonight, and I only got in ten minutes ago. Jeannie worked her socks off, but that’s the joy of this week, I guess.”
“Hey, you chose the lifestyle,” Carina said with a smile. “So, what’s up?”
“We’ll get started when Sandy and Heather get here,” Juliette said as she sat down. “When is Alex calling to see you both?”
“Tomorrow afternoon – no classes,” Cari said as Sandy and Heather came in. “Hey Cari,” Heather said as she sat down. “Working hard or hardly working?”
“Har de har har,” Cari said with a smile. “I heard you had a long night yesterday.”
“Which is why I brought us together,” Juliette said. “Heather, tell us what you found out.”
The ladies listened as Heather outlined the work she had done, and the location of the two vaults. When she had finished, Cari let out a low whistle and took a drink from her glass.
“That’s some ready cash,” she finally said.
“In two private vaults in the basement of two banks,” Diana said quietly. “Challenging.”
“But not impossible,” Heather said, “not if we target the right people. But we could only hit one – we would need full firepower for that.”
“Which is why, when Madame and I discussed it yesterday, we thought a coordinated attack on both was required.”
“Cut off their cash supply in one fell swoop? I like the idea,” Joanne said, “but how do we do it.”
“Janice has already been seeded with the idea there is a confederation of several parties going on here,” Heather said. “We can build on that – mix the teams up, different accents.”
“I’m glad you said that,” Cari said, “but who from Madame’s group could we use?”
“Everyone who knows us – Diana, can you and Jo hold a class this weekend?”
“Charlotte, Penny – and Annie.”
Abby sat up at that. “Annie? Do we have to involve her?”
“We do,” Diana said quietly, “to make up numbers and look the part. I presume you will allocate skills appropriately?”
“So Diana and I are on separate teams?”
“That’s right darling – and Dominique and Heather split as well. Once we have the intel we need, we can allocate the two teams of seven officially.”
“Hang on,” Sandy said as she did some mental math. “Even with all of Madame’s team who know us, that’s thirteen. Who’s number fourteen?”
“Can Maddy fly over?”
“Nope,” Juliette said to Sandy, “we need to fully exploit what we have started.”
Heather looked at Juliette, and said “No – no way. Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?”
“Are you hacking Ju’s mind n…” Diana suddenly looked at her friend. “Janice? Agent Janice Carter?”
“Before you say it, I know it sounds ridiculous, risky, possibly a fatal mistake…”
“Actually,” Diana said as she sat back, “I think it’s a move of genius.”
“Mother, have you lost your mind as well?”
“No – we have pulled her into a conspiracy of what she believes are criminals and intelligence agents. She already believes the CIA is involved, with Madame and the others that means MI5, Dominique speaks fluent French, Charlotte can speak with a South African accent…”
“And the rest of us?”
“The voice boxes – we all use the voice boxes under our scarves.” Heather smiled before saying “I assume we take all necessary security measures?”
“Of course – and it means we prepare early. The thing is, if we pull this off, we do it our way – with one change. Minimum bloodshed.”
“Damn – I was looking forward to some fun,” Cari said as she sat back.
“I’m sure you will have some – but shoot as a last resort. Whoever is with me will have to watch Janice as well – so we all go the same way.”
“All right,” Cari said, “but promise me some fun later.”
“If we do this right, Cari bear, then we go after the big guns next – and I have you in mind for that.”
“Okay – when?”
“We need to do the research first – Heather, personnel.”
“Already started,” Heather said with a smile.
“Diana, I’m calling Tommy and placing an order. In the meantime, you and Jo take the three girls upstate on Saturday – do what you did with Susan?”
“Our pleasure,” Joanne said as she looked at Diana.
“Sandy, routes from the Farm to the banks, and any addresses Heather gives you.”
Sandy nodded as Juliette looked at Abby and Carina. “I need you two to do something for me this weekend – Abby will come up and see you Cari. I want this done off site.”
“Sure – what?”
“Everything you can find out about Janice.”
Friday 5th September
Crowne Plaza Times Square.
“Abigail is modeling a full length gown in the flapper style, with floral print on grey silk, and a matching silk scarf for the cool spring evenings.”
Abby made her way down the catwalk, stopping and posing in the Anna Sui dress as the photographers took their pictures. Turning, she walked back down, her blonde hair sleeked back, and turned to smile one more time before she ran off.
“See you in ten,” she called out to Jeannie as the announcer said “Jeannie Brewster is modeling a Chinese style jacket with matching slim pants, and shoes by Jimmy Choo.”
She wheeled herself out, covering the walkway gracefully as the fashion press took as much as they could, and then returned, two assistants hustling her to the changing area and helping her to change.
Ten minutes later, John was standing with the read door of the SUV open, Abby pushing Jeannie out and waiting for her grandfather to list Jeannie in before she folded the chair and stowed it in the trunk.
“How long have we got,” she said as she strapped herself in.
“Twenty minutes – I need to get you two to the Rockefeller. There’s water and snacks in the back.”
“Thanks,” Jeannie said as she opened a bottle. “Sometimes I wonder if the reason why so many models suffer from eating disorders is as much how little time we get to eat as other pressures?”
“What have you got tomorrow Jeannie,” Abby said as she took a drink from another bottle.
“McCartney at 2, and then the shoot Sunday. You?”
“Lander at 11, then I’m heading up to see Cari about something.”
She pushed a handful of dried fruit into her mouth, and said “Once we’ve done this, what do you say we grab a pizza and head back to your place?”
“Sounds good to me – can we order one on the way back, Granddad?”
“Well, your mother’s out tonight, so that seems a good idea. Once I get the nod, I’ll order it and get you back before the delivery.”
John pulled up outside the entrance, as two assistants came out.
“Miss de Ros, Miss Brewster – welcome, come with us,” one of them said as Jeannie was lifted into her chair, and then pushed into the changing area.
“Stick and BS – so glad you could join us,” Lily said as they came in.
“All right, all right – we have other lives as well you know,” Abby said with a smile.
“Yeah – and I am coming in two weeks time. No way am I missing that one. So, ready to show them how Calvin Klein will look in the spring?”
“Sure,” Jeannie said with a smile, “let’s do this.”
Saturday 6th September
The Waldorf Hotel
Annie entered the lobby; wearing a quilted jerkin over a blue Fair Isle sweater, combat pants and high top sneakers.
“You look dressed for bear,” Charlotte said as she stood up, the hems of her joggers covering her training shoes. Her matching jacket was zipped up to her neck, covering the polo shirt she had on underneath.
They both watched as the elevator opened and Penny came out with Susan. Penny was wearing an old checked shirt over a grey jumper, jeans and hiking boots. By contrast, Susan wore a white silk blouse and knee length skirt, her heels clicking on the floor.
“Well, you’re dressed more suitably than I was,” Susan said with a smile. “Dinner at my place tonight for all three of you – Clint’s going to cook something up.”
“Why won’t you give us any hints of what is coming,” Annie said as she looked at Susan.
“Not a chance – you need to enter this with eyes wide open,” she said as Diana drew up outside. “Go – enjoy?”
“Did anyone ever tell you that you have a real mean streak, Susan,” Dominique said as she came from the coffee shop, watching the other three get in the car and drive off.
“Moi? Come on – Madame’s briefing is in ten minutes,” Susan said, grinning as they walked to the lift.
Near the Farm
“Quiet – nice,” Annie said as the party reached the hollow. Diana had led them down, dressed in a shooting jacket, dark pants and boots, while Jo wore a padded jerkin over her Angel’s hoodie, joggers and hiking boots.
“Wait here,” Diana said as she unlocked the cabin, bringing out a bag and several pairs of ear protectors. Placing the bag on the ground, she handed each of them a pair of the protectors, then opened the bag and took out three sawn off shotguns.
"So what experience do you all have in carrying
firearms on a job?" Diana looked the women straight in the eyes.
"And have you ever used one?" Jo backed up
"We aren't talking about just carrying it and
waving it around, I need to know if you've fired a weapon in anger, whether
you've fired sawn-off shotguns, and what you feelings are on these
"Diana you know my views on killing." Annie
"Annie we are going into a situation where there will be armed guards who will not think about shooting you should they get the chance." Diana looked at her hard.
“All right,” Annie says, “I’ve carried small arms, and never used them in anger – but I came bloody close to shooting Twining when I saw how he treated the girls he had bought.”
“I expected as much,” Diana said, “so today my goal for you, Annie, is to get you to a stage where you can fire the gun, and carry it – and then we cross the bridge. Penny?”
“I’ve used a full bore in a raid a few times, and fired it into the air, but never a sawnoff,” she said as she held the shortened weapon in her hands.
“Show me – that target over there.” Diana pointed to a target set up on a hay bale. Penny pulled the safety back, put the gun to her shoulder and fired – hitting the target, but having to jump back to steady herself.
“Well, she didn’t fall over,” Jo said admiringly. She then saw how Charlotte was holding the gun in her hands.
“You know how to hold this?”
“It’s been a long time,” Charlotte said, “I was fourteen at the time. Dad and I were at a mine when raiders attacked – it was a no-win situation.”
“You had to fire it?”
Charlotte nodded. “It sent me flying backwards the first time, but I wounded one of the raiders. Dad helped me up and then stood by me as we fired again and again. I remember I wasn’t afraid – Dad was there.”
“I understand,” Diana said as she looked at Charlotte. “What we need to get you to do is aim and shoot the right way. So listen up – we have a long day ahead of us, so pick your weapon and load up.”
As they each picked up a gun, Jo showed them how to stand and hold the gun, as Diana set up targets.
“Remember, Keep them close to your sides and brace your legs,” Jo said as she and Diana put on their ear protectors. “And – fire!”
Jo watched their expressions, the quite pride in Charlotte’s. The fear in Annie’s and the concern in Penny’s
"Madame told me she thought that despite looking
so fragile Charlotte was pretty tough." Diana whispered in Jo's ear.
"She grew up round mines and miners, she lived in the bush for extended
periods, I don't think we have a lot to worry about with her.”
"No," Jo whispered back, "but Penny's
been riding a desk, and Annie certainly needs work."
"Yeah, you think we take them deer hunting
"Yeah I think that will tell us a lot." Jo paused. "When are you going to break it to them about Jan, and how they'll be expected to work round her?"
“I figure we get them used to holding and firing the guns, and then we tell them. That should tell us a lot as well,” Diana said as they fired again at the targets. This time their stance was firmer, and the dust and straw showed their accuracy. Two exploded cleanly, one shattered at the side.
“Relax, Annie,” Jo said as she stood with her, showing her how to hold the gun. “Imagine that target is the state inspector, and she just gave you a really bad rating for AP Math.”
“No,” Diana said, “Imagine that is Twining.”
Annie nodded and stared at the target, grinning as she fired and hit it dead centre.
“You need the focus, so use the anger,” Diana said, “Again.”
This time Annie fired the other barrel, sending the straw flying into the air as the other two clapped.
“Now,” Diana said quietly, “comes the real fun. Jo – fetch the heels.”
"Okay Girls that's been a productive morning." Diana said as she led the way back to the farmhouse.
"I hope you packed sandwiches like we suggested." Jo spoke.
"We did." Penny answered as they entered the
"Okay, well you can eat as you change
darlings." Diana smiled.
"Change?" Charlotte looked suspicious.
"There is camo gear for all three of
you," Diana looked appraisingly at each woman's figure, "I think I
got the sizes right."
"You mean camouflage?" Annie asked.
"Yeah we are going deer hunting this
afternoon." Jo smiled knowingly.
"Why do I get the feeling I'm not going to like this?" Annie whispered under her breath.
“Relax – it will be fun.”
One hour later, they sat round the table as Diana brought her hunting rifle out.
“Ladies – the Browning BAR mark II. Designed with hunting in mind, autoloading. Gas operated, so much less of a kick. This particular one is a .308 – ideal for these woods. Take it, feel it in your hands.”
She passed it round the table, the girls feeling it and looking through the sights.
“Now,” Diana said as she took it back, “Let me show you how to load…”
Penny quietly groaned as she tried to get comfortable lying
on the ground. No wonder that bitch Susan hadn't told them what to expect. The
morning session had been bad enough, but hiking into the woods, then crawling
on their bellies till they were in the hides was worse.
Charlotte smiled at her, "Penny you don't get out
"Charlotte, I run an office."
"Ja and I work for you, but I still try and keep
"Sssh," Jo spoke softly, "We don't want
to frighten the deer."
Jo smiled as Annie lay next to her, and then Diana. “This is not how I wanted to spend my Saturday,” she said as she looked across the field.
"This reminds me of going shooting Springbok in
Botswana with my father." Charlotte was clearly relishing the occasion.
"Our deer here are maybe a little shyer." Jo
"There about 400 yards to your left Jo."
"Damn your eyes are good." Jo said as she put down her binoculars, “even I didn't see that one."
She watched as the deer slowly crossed the clearing, unaware of their presence. Glancing to her side, she saw Charlotte smile as she placed the rifle to her shoulder, looking through the sights and then setting off a single shot.
The crack ripped through the quiet countryside, as Jo looked through the glasses. “Wow,” she whispered under her breath, “clean kill. A little to the left, perhaps, but clean.”
Diana took the glasses and looked for herself. “Jo, take Charlotte with you and fetch it here. We’ll take a break while you do so.” The two young women set off through the bush as Diana opened her backpack and took out a flask.
“Where on earth did she learn that,” Annie said as she accepted the drink.
“Her dad, obviously,” Penny said as she took a long drink. They were then surprised by Charlotte and Jo carrying the young deer between them, hanging from a pole.
“Good thing we brought some twine,” Jo said with a smile as Diana examined the head wound.
“You were right Jo – a little to the left, but not bad at all. Now, which of you two ladies is going to be next…”
Annie and Penny looked at each other and eased their way back into the hides as Jo and Diana laid the deer down before taking a drink.
“While they’re in there,” Jo said, “I’d better tell you something about the job. We’re going to have an extra pair of hands.”
“OH – anyone I know,” Charlotte said with a smile.
“Not sure – her name is Janice Carter.”
“Carter, Carter… The FBI Agent?”
“That’s the one.”
“Huh,” Charlotte said with a smile. “Takes all sorts, doesn’t it?”
Jo smiled – Charlotte was going to be all right.
“Right,” Diana whispered, “About one hundred yards to your right, ladies, see the young doe?”
“Yeah, I see it,” Penny said as she took aim. Annie looked through her scope as well, as both women took a deep breath and fired.
The twin shots rang out as Diana looked through the field glasses. “Well, you hit it,” she said quietly, “but we need to go and finish the job. Come with me ladies.”
She and Annie eased out, and waited as Penny slowly wriggled back and pushed herself up. Diana helped her to her feet, and then marched them to the clearing.
The young deer lay on its side, looking up as Annie saw the wound in the flank, and another in the neck. “There there,” Diana said quietly, as with one movement she cocked and fired the rifle into the head.
“Bring that branch over,” she said as she took some twine out, “we need to take it beside the other one.
“And then,” Penny said as she looked at Diana.
“You never leave the body in the open – we need to give it respect, and deal with it.”
“Deal with as in…”
“Skin, gut and remove the meat.”
“Doorbell, darling,” Clint shouted through from the kitchen as the bell rang insistently.
“I’ll get it,” Susan said as she went to the door, and looked through the peephole. “Oh man, she really did it to them,” she whispered before she opened the door.
“Susan I hate your bloody guts.” Penelope leaned on the doorframe for support as Susan opened the door to her and Clint’s new apartment.
“Oh dear,” Susan giggled, “did I forget to tell you what a little Saturday outing at Diana’s farm involves?”
“You damn well know you did.” Penelope looked in pain as Clint took her, Charlotte, and Annie’s coats. “I hurt, I got wet, and I had to help skin and butcher two deer.”
“What are you complaining about, I thought you loved venison Penny?”
“I did, but now I’m seriously contemplating turning vegetarian.”
“Come through, I’ll pour you all drinks.” Clint laughed. “A double for you Penny?”
“Make it a damn triple and forget about any mixers.” Penny winced as she eased herself into an armchair.
“Well how was it for you two?” Susan kissed both Annie and Charlotte on the cheek.
“I enjoyed myself.” Annie smiled, “I wasn’t so sure about butchering them, but you should see this one wield a knife.” She looked at Charlotte.
“Oh.” Clint asked as he brought in the drinks. “I wasn’t aware you had hunted before, Charlotte.”
“Trust me, she is an international woman of mystery,” Annie said as she accepted the drink, and watched Penny down hers in one. “I don’t know why we had to do it there and then, though.”
“You can’t leave the beasts out there to rot Annie. Skin off, meat packed and then taken for preparation and storage, the rest you leave as a gift to mother nature.”
“Do you hunt Clint?” Charlotte enquired.
“Not as much as I used to, but my father gave me my first rifle when I was seven.”
“We were using the Browning today.” Charlotte spoke, “A lot better than the old Mauser my father taught me to shoot with.”
“Yeah Browning make a nice hunting rifle… so have you ever hunted any real big game in Africa Charlotte… “
“If you two are going to talk damn hunting and shooting can you do it somewhere private, I hurt too much…” Penny sat herself up and then held her back.
“Poor Penny.” Susan laughed as she sipped her sherry.
“So what are we eating Susan, it smells delicious.” Annie sniffed the air.
“It’s a French venison stew, Diana gave me the… “
“What!” Penny shouted.
“Don’t worry Penny, she was just winding you up, “ Clint smiled, “It’s my take on Boeuf Provencal, and I cooked it she didn’t.”
“Spoilsport.” Susan laughed at her husband.
“Susan one day you and I are going to have a serious talk about your evaluation…”
“Hey can’t threaten me now Penny,” Susan said with a smile.
“Yeah,” Charlotte said, “Madame told her she’s on the same level as you on the corporate ladder now Penny.”
“Damn…” Penny looked serious then suddenly burst out laughing. “Ah who cares – I knew you’d come good some day, Susan.”
“Anyway it’s Diana’s evaluations we have to worry about.” Charlotte looked round.
“What have you got to worry about? … Teachers Pet.” Annie giggled.
“Yeah, you could tell you impressed the hell out of her.” Penny nodded.
“Now me on the other hand.” Annie looked a little worried.
“You are in the same situation I was in a few months ago Annie.” Susan sat down on the arm of Annie’s chair. “I had to learn that having chosen a criminal career… “
“And enjoying to the full the benefits… you should see how much she spends on clothes a month?” Clint interrupted.
“That having chosen crime,” Susan resumed, “I needed to learn it’s not a game, it’s deadly serious, and while the rewards are high,’ she looked down at her expensive Italian shoes, “the punishments are harsh.”
“I’m the least experienced, but even I am facing serious prison time if I get caught.” Said Charlotte.
“We all are.” Penny looked at each of them in turn.
“So I guess today I learned that maybe my residual scruples need to be scrapped.” Annie spoke quietly. “I’ll shoot to guard my friends, to defend myself, but I’m still not going to shoot anyone who doesn’t present a threat.”
“I think that’s all you need to think.” Penny smiled.
“Okay dinner is served.” Clint grinned as the stove timer went off.
“Please sit down everyone.” Susan invited.
“Can someone help me up, I’m STIFF!” Penny moaned.
“Come on,” Annie said as she and Charlotte helped Penny up, “I can recommend a good gym, you know…
The Waldorf Hotel
“Well Diana?” Madame cast her eye across the table in
the private dining room she’d reserve.
“How did they shape up?” Dominique asked eagerly.
“Better than I expected,” Diana savored the caviar on her cracker. “Mmmm.”
“Oh was that the girls or this caviar?” Madame asked with a light giggle in her voice.
“Both.” Diana put her napkin to her lips. "I and Joanne put them through their paces today."
"That I can believe," Dominique said. "They were exhausted when they went to Susan’s."
“Okay," Diana said, "May I start with Charlotte?”
“Please do.” Madame put some caviar in her own mouth.
“Charlotte is amazing.”
“She’s really that good Diana?” Juliette asked, unaccustomed to hearing such superlatives from her best friend's lips.
“She looks like a good breeze would blow her down, but that’s deceptive. She’s far stronger then she looks; she backpacked out the largest share of the venison. She’s not squeamish, even I was impressed how she started to skin and butcher the animal. She’s clearly comfortable handling firearms of all type, and she let it slip in the morning that albeit in self-defense she has killed before."
Dominique exchanged glances with Madame. "All right, don't say it," Dominique eventually said with a smile.
"Dominique was somewhat dismissive of Charlotte when they first met."
“Madame you have yourself a true star there, cherish her.”
“Thank you Diana I will.”
“Alright Darling, what about Annie?” Juliette asked.
“Pretty much what I expected Ju.”
“Meaning?” Dominique asked.
“Annie will be alright, she needs just learn to overcome some residual squeamishness.”
“Meaning what? Madame asked.
“That in the right circumstances Annie would kill a person without a second thought.”
“Right Circumstances? I don’t like that.” Dominique put down her wine glass.
“Mention Twining and you can see the blood boil.”
“We need her prepared to shoot anyone at anytime Diana.” Juliette mentioned.
“Don’t worry when her adrenalin is pumping she’ll be fine. All she needs is some positive motivation."
“Which leaves Penelope.” Madame looked up.
“Madame can I be honest?” Diana asked.
“Please do be dear.”
“You and your senior staff need to get out in the field far more often.”
“Oh!” Dominique’s look challenged Diana.
“Penelope was I bet once a top class armed robber, but she’s sat behind a desk too long. If I had my way I’d have Dom and I take her out the next two nights and hit small targets.”
“What are you saying Diana?” Madame asked.
“Just as with sportsmen, there is fit, and game fit. Penelope is not game fit.”
“I hate to say it, but I concur Madame, I think some warm up games so to speak might do us all some good.”
“I’ll think on it while we eat.” Madame's brows knitted.
The Huntingdown Apartment
Juliette was sitting looking at some records Heather had found when she heard the incoming Skype message. Opening the screen, she smiled as Carina appeared.
“Hey Mom – still up?”
“Things to do – how was your day?”
“Abby’s on her way back now – we went to that bar and had the steaks. I prefer the Irish stew.”
“So what did you find out?”
“Well I may not quite be in Heather’s league as a hacker,” Carina looked pleased with herself, “But Mom I think we found out an awful lot that you’ll find interesting.”
“Go ahead darling.” Juliette looked at the screen.
“Well she was born in Hempstead out on the Island, where she still lives with her mother and Katy.”
“Till they move into that apartment Sandy found for them.”
“Right.” Carina looked at her notes, “local schools, a cheerleader, A grades, pretty much the model student.”
“College?” Juliette asked.
“She got a full ride at Hofstra.”
“So she went to college in her home town.”
“Yeah Mom, Pre-Law major, she got accepted at Columbia Law, but her pop died and the families financial circumstances got bad, that’s when she joined the FBI.”
“Okay darling I knew most of that already… Surprise me…”
“Did you know Katy has an older sister?”
“No - that I didn’t know,” Juliette said, “though come to think of it Janice once said something about her first pregnancy, you don’t say that if you’ve only had one child.”
“She was fourteen, she had a little girl the summer before she started High School. The baby was given up for adoption.”
“Oh my Goddess… Poor Janice.”
“The adoption was done through the church, the records are sealed up pretty tight, I could try looking but I’m not Heather, if you want to know more you better ask Heather to do the looking.”
“I’ll think about it… Any news on the father?”
“Mom,” Cari said quietly, “Janice was gang raped… she was still only 13 when it happened.”
“Oh fuck!” Juliette spat out the profanity. “How many?”
“According to Janice’s testimony she thought at least ten.”
“Yeah, bikers, they kidnapped her off the street on a Friday night and had their way with her all weekend. Janice escaped when they got drunk on Sunday. She was in a pretty bad way, reading between the lines of her statement, I think these guys could teach the beast something.”
“Were they ever caught?”
“No.” Carina shook her head
“Does the FBI know?”
“I don’t think so, because Janice was a juvenile the records were sealed, she certainly doesn’t ever seem to have mentioned it again.”
“Who can blame her,” Juliette muttered “Okay darling what else did you find?”
“Well, Janice is another Sandy.”
“She likes driving fast, and she’s good at it.”
“Well she has a string of speeding tickets just as impressive as Sandy’s. But she also supplemented her income in college racing a friend’s car, primarily at Riverhead.”
“Janice was a racing-car driver? I would never have known.”
“I was looking at old race reports, she was pretty damn good.’
“Well Janice you have been keeping secrets.”
“Mom, Katy’s father was Janice’s mechanic, she was pregnant when he joined the military, I get the impression he never even knew she was pregnant before he was killed in action.”
“Goddess that must have sucked.”
“Tell me about it. I’m amazed she held it all together – although…
“Okay anything else?”
“I read something in the Hofstra student newspaper. It was published anonymously, but everything in it suggests to me it was Janice wrote it.’
“It’s about a good Catholic girl who had lost her faith and was suffering a crisis of conscience about her religion.”
“Well if what you say is true, I think my faith might have been destroyed.”
“There’s a follow-up letter a month later though, where the writer describes getting her faith back thanks to the writings of some un-named priest, and of her being re-baptised.”
“Well good for Janice, but why’s that important?”
“Because in the first letter the writer goes into extreme details as to the punishments she’d like to have inflicted on those who caused her to lose her faith.”
“Poor Janice, she must have lived through hell.”
“I think it explains why she sees things in such black and white terms.”
“So what else?”
Carina looked down at her notes. “Janice wears contacts, she’s a certified markswoman, she applied to become a nun before the FBI accepted her, she belongs to the Daughters of Erin…”
“Hold on, Go back one darling, Janice wanted to become a nun?”
“Mmm yeah, one of the teaching orders…” Carina glanced down again.
“Oh and I read something from Adam in her personnel file, “Seems he’s suspected more than once that Janice has a drink problem.”
“That doesn’t surprise me, haven’t you noticed when Janice drinks? …”
“That she drinks to excess, yes I had… The interesting thing is that Adam’s report may have cost her a promotion.”
“Oh - Janice would not like to know that.’
“Well anyway Mom that’s all that Abby and I could find, you want more, you need ask Heather.”
“Good work Darling, you and Judith sleep well, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Juliette ended the call at her end, and sat back for a moment. She felt she understood Janice Carter a lot more now – and had even more sympathy for her. One thing bothered her – should she try to trace her first daughter?
Eventually, she opened a chat window.
"Heather I need a favor." Juliette typed
into her computer.
"Certainly Ju, what can I do?"
"I had Carina checking out Janice's background
today. It seems that aged just 13 Janice was gang raped by a motor cycle
"SHE WAS WHAT?"
"Yeah it sounded pretty horrendous, anyway that
summer she had a daughter who was given up for adoption."
"Oh Artemis… Poor Janice."
"Yeah, well anyway Carina didn't feel confident
to try to hack the church's adoption records."
"Yeah they use some pretty stout firewalls to
protect that information."
"Can you have a look and tell me more?"
"Give me fifteen minutes?"
"Sure you don't need longer?"
"Juliette! … really?"
"Okay, lol… I'll keep this open, ping me when
you've found out something."
Juliette smiled as she closed the lid, and went back to the papers she was studying. One photo showed a man in his early forties, next to his blonde haired wife and eighteen year old daughter.
“You are going to have a visit,” Juliette said as she went to fix herself a drink.
"You have mail Juliette." Ju heard her
computer go off as she returned from the kitchen. Juliette sat down and flipped the screen
"Hey ten minutes, not bad going Heather."
"Juliette I'm not really a believer in
coincidences and fate, but this might have me change my mind."
"Now that sounds intriguing."
"Janice's daughter was adopted by a childless
couple called Broadhurst who lived in Greenwich Village, they called her
"That's a nice name. So where does coincidence
come into this?"
"I've met her."
Juliette stared at the screen for a moment, and then
typed "Heather you can't be serious."
"She won a scholarship to St Angela's."
"Oh dear lady."
"She's one of a group of Jeannie's friends, that
Jo and the others are driving to school."
"Oh dear sweet Goddess, has Janice met her?"
"Yes. But of course Janice has no idea who she
is, the other girls call her Pepsi."
"Now are you sure this Pepsi is the right
"Am I ever wrong Juliette?"
"No….sorry… my apologies. Heather I need to think on this, please keep it quiet."
"Okay I'll let you know what I decide tomorrow."
"Okay, talk then…. Byeeeee."
Juliette switched off the computer and walked to the window, staring out onto the park…
St Angela’s Academy
“Okay, is who ever devised my timetable a sadist?” Jeannie moaned as she wheeled herself into Miss Kelly’s classroom. “Math first period on a Monday morning should be illegal.”
“Hey it’s not that bad.” Anna Carlton looked round happily. “I think it gets it out of the way.”
“So says the girl with the scholarship who will be a doctor one day.” Jeannie groaned. “I’m not bad at math, but my brain needs time to warm up.”
“So was Miss Supermodel out partying with her friends last night?” Pepsi teased.
“I wish.” Jeannie looked round at her. “I was shooting a spread for Vanity Fair yesterday, we started at ten and didn’t finish till nearly midnight.”
“And that’s hard work?” Anna asked.
“You girls have no idea.” Jeannie sighed, “One day soon I’ll take you all along on a shoot, see how un-glam it really is. I’ve still got two more shows tonight, and a big gala event tomorrow.”
“That sounds like it might be fun.” Nikki said as she eased herself into the chair next to Jeannie.
“Bobbi said it was when she went to see Abby at work,” Becky said as she took her pens out.
“Good Morning class.” Annie Kelly spoke as she entered her classroom.
“Good Morning Miss Kelly.” The girls said back in unison.
“Okay girls this morning we are going to see what you know about trigonometry and geometry. I’ve prepared a little quiz for you all.” Annie paused at the sounds of groaning from her students. “It’s not that hard… “
“In whose opinion Miss?” a girl asked from the back of the room.
“In mine Brooke, and remember in this classroom mine is the opinion that counts.” Annie smiled. “Okay Nikki and Pepsi can you give one of these to each girl.” She pulled a sheaf of papers from her briefcase.
The two girls got up, and taking half the pile each started laying the tests on peoples desks.
“See what I mean,” Jeannie glanced at her paper and whispered to Anna, “The God of schools is definitely a sadist.”
“Would you like to share that remark with the class Jeannie?”
“No Miss.” Jeannie smiled.
“Okay,” Annie smiled, “get your calculators out girls, just to do the calculations, no cheating, no looking at each other’s answers, there is no pass or fail on this, It’s just so that I can know what you know.”
“Okay you all have 40 minutes, from… Now.” Annie glanced up at the clock.
Quietly the girls got down to work as Annie sat at her desk. She was still tired from Saturday’s exertions at the farm, but at least here in her own classroom all this was just routine and easy. Inwardly she was worried though, worried about upcoming events, and she didn’t mean here at school. The upcoming robberies were bigger and more challenging then anything she had done to date. Inside she wondered if she’d measure up.
“Miss! Brooke is chewing gum.” A voice from the back of the room disturbed her thoughts.
“Brooke you know the rules, up here and in the bin please.” Annie stood up and walked round. “Any questions Girls?”
As she looked down, she smiled to herself – nobody seemed to be having too much difficulty. With luck, she could have a quiet day and an early night.
NY FBI Field Office
“There you are Janice,” Adam said as his partner arrived. “Callaghan was looking for you.”
“Sorry – I had to talk to the removal men this morning.”
“So when are you moving in,” Adam said with a smile.
“Next Monday – How was your chat with Father Richmond?”
“Illuminating – would you and Katy care to accompany me?”
“We’d love to – but you get to stand at the front on your own, Adam,” Janice said.
“So, any word from Van Gogh?”
Janice looked over at Adam. “She sent a message asking for a meet – I haven’t had a date or time yet.”
“Well, remember – when it comes, I’ll be there,” Adam said as Janice looked at her computer. As she opened her mail, she was shocked to see a chat window open.
“Good Morning Agent Carter – we need to meet.”
“How on earth did you?”
“Please, Janice. 8 pm, O’Malley’s, tell no-one.”
And the window closed.
“Nothing,” she said as she looked at Adam. “Let’s go see the boss.”
East Side Gym
Annie pulled herself up the wall, enjoying the freedom of being able to climb freely.
“Bit slow today Miss Kelly.”
“Har de har har,” Annie said as she caught up with Dominique, ”you didn’t spend the day with Commandant de Ros, did you?
“No, but I have done in the past,” Dominique said. “Anyway, don’t sweat it – she was quietly impressed by you, but felt you needed a little motivation and practice.”
“She’s right,” Dom said as they lowered themselves down. “We can help with the former at the time, but the latter… I want you to meet me and Penny tomorrow, at nine – come dressed for work.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I’ll tell you then,” she said as she removed the safety harness. “Now, you’ll have to forgive me – I have a meeting to attend.”
Somewhere in Manhattan
“You know I ought to have bought some shares in the companies that make makeup remover and cleansers.” Barbara smiled as both Jeannie and Abby removed the last makeup from their previous show.
“I have never worn as much makeup in my life.” Jeannie groaned.
“More to come yet BS.” Abby looked in her mirror to check her face. “How are we doing for time John?”
“We’ll be fine.” John said as he dodged in and out of the traffic.
“Thank you Granddad.” Jeannie smiled, “In the spring I’m telling Missy I’m doing less shows.”
“You say that now Baby, you wait till she puts the thumb screws on.”
“Yeah I know.” Jeannie relaxed for a few seconds, “’You gotta do this show, he’s such a hot designer’, or ‘Jeannie I owe this designer a favour and I promised him you’d walk his show’.”
“Yep that’s our Missy.” Abby smiled as Barbara laughed.
Jeannie’s phone rang. “I know we should be in hair and makeup.” She told the person on the other end, “We are… “ Her grandfather held up 5 fingers. “Five minutes away… yes please have someone outside to help.”
“Are they getting antsy?” Abby asked.
“Yeah, but all shows start late anyway.”
“How are we going to survive this and get our lives back to normal?” Barbara moaned.
“Oh don’t worry love.” John reassured her. “It’ll soon be over.”
“For a few months.” Abby and Jeannie both laughed.
Janice was not a happy woman. She hated the way the Hidden Hand could get into and out of her computer at will. She resented the way the Hand had summoned her to a meeting tonight. She had had to park her car two blocks away and then walk through the rain to get to this bar, Janice loathed getting wet. Above all though Janice was sick with envy of the three women she saw coming towards her, they all looked like they were damn models walking down a catwalk in their oh so chic suits, the beautiful hats and veils that masked their real identities, the long, long sexy legs shown to beautiful advantage by their short skirts, and above all their stilettos, that even to Janice screamed the name Manolo Blahnik. What kind of expense accounts were these bitches on to afford shoes like that?
“Agent Carter,” the Hand spoke in that same effortlessly sexy tone that Janice also resented. “May I introduce Odette and Sarie… Ladies say Hi to Agent Carter.”
“Bonsoir.” The taller of the two spoke.
“Goeie aand.” The shorter one spoke.
“Odette here is shall we say French Foreign Intelligence.” The Hand indicated the taller woman. “Sarie is with the South African Secret Service.” The Hand smiled, “Obviously, Agent Carter, these are code names, but I can tell you that Odette is an assassin, while Sarie is a specialist interrogator.”
“Agent Carter if you were to contact either of our embassies they would of course completely deny our existence even to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Odette glanced round as a waitress approached.
“Okay ladies what can I gets ya?”
“A Pernod.” Odette smiled.
“A Gin Sling for me.” Sarie whispered.
“A Manhattan.” The Hand ordered.
Janice gulped. “Better make mine a large whisky and ginger ale.”
“Okay cummin’ right up.”
“Now where were we?” the Hand purred.
“You’d just done the introductions.” Janice stated a trifle huffily.
“Oh yes… “ The Hand smiled. “These ladies are part of what shall we call our… confederation?”
The two foreign agents nodded.
“Agent Carter I asked you… “
“You mean you summoned me.” Janice interrupted.
“Asked… “ Again the Hand smiled, “because we have discovered where the profits of this vile trade are being held.”
“Oh?” suddenly Janice was very interested.
“We have found they have Twenty Million dollars being held in cash in two banks here in the city.”
“We think that money will be better used liberating the girls who are their real victims and aiding them to find new lives.” Odette spoke with a slow sexy French accent.
“It’s where?” Janice whispered as the waitress brought their drinks.
“In two banks.” Sarie had a melodious South African accent.
“You are going to rob these banks?” Janice asked half in disbelief.
“Yes we are,” Odette nodded as she sipped her drink. “We have some allies who you might know who are specialists in this kind of thing.”
“Oh no,” Janice said quietly, “you can’t mean the fuckin’ Pussycats?”
“We do.” Odette nodded. “They are just as appalled by this trade as you are.”
Janice sat visibly shaking, “Ladies I catch bank robbers, I don’t work with them.”
“Agent Carter do you wish to punish these slavers?” The Hand asked.
“Well then,“ Sarie spoke, “You now work with bank robbers.”
“They share the same revulsion as we do,” the Hand said, “and have pledged to help as only they can. We need their skills to crack the vaults the funds sit in.”
“But they have warrants out for murder, armed robbery, extortion…”
“And I have outstanding warrants in 87 countries across the world – including the one I call my home,” the Hand whispered. “I told you, Agent – we use those we know and trust to do the job.
“We will be in touch.” The Hand spoke as all three women stood and walked slowly and sexily out of the bar.
“What just happened?” Janice said as she sat there stunned. The news was overwhelming, and the bitches had stiffed her with the bill.
Tuesday 9th September
The Carter home
Janice was doing her housework, and slowly packing
things away for the move when the doorbell ringing made her jump, nearly
dropping the vase she was holding.
“Who the hell is that?” She groaned as she trudged to the door in her old grey sweats, and beaten up sneakers.
“Janice its Father Alex Richmond,” the shadow figure on the other side of the frosted glass door called out as she approached it.
“Alex,” Janice looked more than a little stunned as she opened the door and saw the priest standing outside. “You’re a long way from your home parish.’
“That I am,” the priest smiled, “May I come in?”
“Oh of course - where are my manners.” Janice smiled and indicated the way to the sitting room. “Pardon the mess Alex, we are in the process of packing up and moving into one of your families apartments in the city.”
“I know, I believe my niece found you rather a nice one.”
“Way beyond my dreams, and well the cost… “
“Occasionally our family likes to help friends.” Alex smiled as he sat down.
“There’s nothing wrong is there?” For a second Janice panicked, remembering that visits by priests to a home often boded ill news.
“You tell me Janice? All I know is that I got a call from the daughter of an old friend late last night and she suggested I come and call on you.”
“Oh!” Janice blanched as she sat opposite. “Ummm Father may I ask what this woman does for a career?”
“Strange question Janice," Alex said, " but I believe she works in Military Intelligence.”
Janice nodded, “I guessed something like that.”
“Janice what is going on?” Alex leaned forward.
“Alexander,” she said as she stood again, “can we discuss this while I make coffee, I think we both may need it.”
Janice led the way back out into the kitchen and flipped the coffee pot on.
“My friend's daughter told me to mention that she’d been in contact with the Hidden Hand.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.” Janice whispered as she took a long breath. “Father this isn’t the confessional, but can you promise to treat what I am going to tell you as though it was?”
Alex looked long and hard at the young woman, before he said “that’s unorthodox Janice… “
The priest caught the desperate look in the FBI agent’s eye.
“Okay then, I’m invoking the privilege of the confessional then… What do you to have to tell me Janice?”
“Alexander you know of the kidnapping of Oliver Cohen?”
“Yes, I did hear of it. Thank God he was found safe, I heard you tried to stop it?”
“I did.” Janice looked at Alex before saying “but now, I wonder if I should have ever tried.”
“Now what has happened that you need to say that.”
Janice walked into the living room, and returned with a laptop computer, putting it in front of him. "Alexander there is something you should watch while this coffee brews."
Alexander nodded as Janice turned on the computer and pressed the appropriate buttons.
GOOD MORNING, AGENT JANICE CARTER
WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE IS A RECORDING OF AN EVENT THAT TOOK PLACE YESTERDAY AT A SECRET LOCATION IN THE CITY
IT HAS NOT BEEN EDITED, AND YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO USE IT IN A LAW COURT, BUT IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU VIEW THIS AND BEGIN TO ACT ON IT.
THE PEOPLE YOU WILL SEE ARE DEPENDING ON YOU AND OTHERS – HELP THEM.
Janice made the coffee, watching the variety of expressions on Alexander’s face as he watched the video, turning from interest to horror.
“Here… I think you need this.” Janice thrust a hot mug of coffee into the Priest’s shaking hands.
“Janice… Janice… “ Alexander struggled for words, “Was that what I think it was? Were some of those people who I think they were?”
“Yes… and Yes.” Janice nodded.
“How did this come into your possession?” Alex looked stunned.
“The Hidden Hand put it on my computer.”
“Not they Father,” Janice, said as she drank her coffee. “She… The Hand is just one young woman.”
“Okay - no wonder I was asked to mention them, sorry I mean her, to you.”
“Father,” Janice said as she sat next to him at the bar, “you know of course who the Hand is?”
“Some call her the worlds greatest cyber terrorist, others call her the world’s greatest freedom fighter.”
“And your opinion of her Alexander?”
Alex held the coffee mug in his hands, shaking his head. “I think given her extraordinary skills she could be the world’s greatest destructive force, but from what I know she’s either been on the side of the greater justice, or she’s simply amused herself embarrassing the great and the good. Having said which, I do know certain people at the Vatican are not very happy with her.”
“She reminded me last night there are outstanding arrest warrants for her in 87 countries including this one?”
Alexander let go of his mug and looked at her.
“So you met with her in person?”
“Janice have you told your superiors at the Bureau this?”
“No, I’ve not even told Adam.”
“Okay,” Alexander shook his head, "I think I’m getting the picture as to why I was asked to contact you.”
“Alexander,” Janice said quietly, “at my meeting last night there were two other women, both heavily veiled, just as the Hand was.”
“Okay, go on… “
“One of the women identified herself as ‘Odette’ the other identified herself as ‘Sarie’.”
“Those are code names I presume?”
“Yes.” Janice nodded. “Odette identified herself as an agent of the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure.”
“The French spy Agency?”
“Right, Sarie said she was with the SASS.”
“South African Secret Service.” Alexander speculated what the acronym meant.
“Yep,” Janice again nodded.
“Okay so we have a hacker most of the world wants caught, an FBI agent, and two spies… Normally that would be the beginning of a very bad spy novel, but given that video you showed me, I take it that it has a lot more to do with that?”
Janice nodded and looked at the older man. “Alexander, a large, I’m not sure how large, group of woman have bolted the reservation.”
“Arrgh I see daylight, neither of those spies was there in her official capacity… “
“Neither was I.” Janice interrupted.
“Okay let me take an informed guess.” Father Alex paused, “A group of shall we call them concerned women have become aware of this trade in Diamonds, Arms, and Children.”
“Due to the stature of those involved they have felt unable to work through normal channels to bring all this down, and bring those involved to justice.”
Again Janice nodded.
“So on an individual contact basis, using just women they knew they could trust, and who they were sure would be just as revolted as they are, they have put together a network of women to do something to stop all this.”
“That about sums it up Father.”
“Phew!” Alexander sat back in his chair. “My first reaction Janice is that these women must respect your integrity highly to approach you even to join this conspiracy.”
“I sort of worked that out myself.”
“Well I’m naturally supportive and I’ll offer whatever aid I can… “
“Father I don’t think that was why you were asked to contact me?”
“Oh?” Alexander’s interest was really piqued.
“Father I have severe doubts about working with some of the people involved in this.”
“Well in various forms they all work for governments, and law and order organisations, I … “ Alexander paused as he saw the look on Janice’s face.
“Oh!” he steadied himself, “Can I take it some of those involved come from the so-called ‘other side of the fence’.”
Janice clenched her teeth and nodded.
“Let me take a wild flyer and say including members of the Pussycat Gang?”
Janice simply nodded her head.
“Father how can I forget what those bitches have done, and work alongside them?”
“Situations produce strange bed fellows Janice.”
“I know…" Janice wrung her hands, “I’m just not sure I can compromise my principles enough to do this.”
“Janice let me ask you a question. You are smart enough and have access to enough back channel sources that you ran background checks on the two women you met last night as soon as you got home.”
“Odette is a top French Government Agent, works
covert, a known assassin. Sarie is an interrogator, an old school South African
“You mean she uses torture?”
“Let me ask you a basic question Janice,” Alexander sat back and paused, considering how to phrase it correctly. “Why are you accepting of working with these two women, but not the Pussycats, they are all killers and torturers.”
“But agents do it at the orders of their governments.”
“Does that automatically make it morally right?”
The question caused Janice to pause.
“This girl Sarie - if she’d done what she did under the pre-Mandela, pre-democracy South Africa, would you have still found her actions acceptable?”
“Of course not,” Janice said, “apartheid was morally wrong.”
“But she would have still been an agent following the orders of her government.”
Father Richmond’s arguments made Janice think quietly as she drained the remains of her coffee. Was right and wrong as clear-cut as she had always believed?
After a couple of minutes Alex interrupted her thoughts.
“Janice in your best estimation how many people have your Pussycat Gang killed?”
Janice jumped slightly as his words broke her thought.
“We think between 60 and 70.”
“My platoon killed four times that amount in one afternoon in Vietnam.”
“But you were soldiers, they were soldiers.”
“Are you saying you massacred civilians father?”
“I’m saying I have no way of knowing. In a war where children as young as five were taught to use weapons, where women fought alongside their men, where a soldier could be 8 or 80, the party we caught in an L shaped ambush coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, we still have no idea how many innocents we killed alongside real combatants.”
“I came back from Vietnam with a faith still, but my belief in moral certitude destroyed.”
Janice looked hard at her visitor. "Alex did you write a book called ‘The Priest within the Soldier’?”
“Now that’s a blast from the past,” Alex said with a smile. “I did…. Don’t tell me you read it?”
“I did in college. It helped restore my faith.”
“Yes.” Janice nodded. “I haven’t said this aloud in nearly 15 years… “ Janice fought hard to keep the tears back. “When I was 13, Alex, I was attacked and raped by a biker gang.”
“Oh Dear God Janice.” Alex stood up and put his arms round her. "To have lived through such a thing at such an age. Were they..."
“They were never caught, and I convinced myself that if God had allowed that to happen to me, then he couldn’t exist.”
“And my book helped how?”
“It taught me that there is even now good and evil in this world and that God wants good to win.”
“Janice I think you misread it slightly. I meant that God knows there is good and evil in each of us, and that he wants God to win in each individual.”
“Oh.” Janice looked shocked.
“Janice within your allies in bringing down this vile edifice there is both good and evil. Even the Pussycats in associating themselves with this are proving that we can all potentially reach a higher morality.”
Janice shook her head. “So you are saying that I should forget all their past crimes because they are doing right now?”
“No, I’m saying that until you know their reasons for doing this, or anything; don’t weigh people so simply in the scales of Justice. We are called not to judge, but to take people according to their words and deeds. Even the most evil of people have the capacity to do great good, if they so choose.”
The father looked at his watch, “Janice I must run, I just hope I’ve given you something to think about?”
“You have Father, you have.” Janice showed Alex to the door, and watched him as he headed down the road. When she was contacted again, she would say she was in – if nothing else, she would meet the enemy.
The Metropolitan Gallery.
“We’re here at the red carpet for the gala show here at New York Fashion Week – a chance for the designers and models to showcase the very best of their collections in a more informal surrounding.”
Jeanne Beckman was in her element, hosting a live show for the Fashion Channel as various celebrities arrived.
“I can see Victoria Beckham arriving – her show last weekend certainly raised a few eyebrows – and coming up the carpet now are three ladies who recently graced the pages of Complete Style Magazine in the much praised Mothers and Daughters edition. Juliette, can you ladies spare a moment?”
“Let me do the talking,” Juliette whispered to Barbara and Diana as they walked over. The three women were dressed in Ralph Lauren trouser suits, Barbara a little nervous at the gift Diana had made to her of the new clothes.
“Pleasure to see you as always Jeannie,” Juliette said as they came over.
“First of all, congratulations on the birth of Judith – how does it feel?”
“Well, Jeanne, it was Carina who did the hard work, but I am proud of both of them – and I am very much looking forward to the Christening a week on Sunday.”
“Indeed – it is already been talked of as one of the social events of the year. Tell me, Juliette, is there any truth to the rumours you may be returning to the catwalk?”
“As my friend Diana would say,” Juliette replied as Diana inclined her head, “Never say never – I am doing a special shoot to raise funds for Massachusetts General, in thanks for what they did for my daughter and granddaughter, but honestly – I’m a writer now, not a model.”
“Well, thanks for stopping and saying hello, Juliette.”
“My pleasure Jeanne – enjoy the evening,” Juliette said as the three women walked into the main hall.
“I was so scared she was going to say something to me,” Barbara said as she took a drink.
“Jeanne knows the rules – me speaking keeps her bosses happy,” Juliette said as they looked round. The room was filled with local celebrities, designers and models. Barbara could see Jeannie with Abby in one corner, talking to a group of reporters. Both wore leather trousers and fitted jackets.
“She looks happy,” Diana said, “but I will say with confidence now, that come Thursday night she will collapse exhausted into bed, and wake up late on Friday.
“You have no idea how much Dad and I are looking forward to the weekend,” Barbara whispered. “By the way, Diana, I meant to say thank you.”
“Backing me up with Missy?”
Diana smiled. “Always remember, Barbara, Missy respects it when you argue clearly and strongly. And their education must always come first.”
Barbara nodded slowly as she looked round. “I must admit, I do like this side of it…”
“Hello Trudie,” Juliette said as she kissed the tall blonde on both cheeks. “I haven’t seen you for a while – thank you so much for the gift to Cari and baby.”
“Hey, it was my pleasure – how is she settling in?”
“Very nicely, thank you – she has a routine set up, and Judith seems to be thriving. You’re coming, of course?”
“Wild horses could not keep me away – you must be Barbara, Jeannie’s mother. I recognize you from the show. I’m…”
“Trudie Styler – it’s a pleasure, honestly.”
“Gordon said you were a charmer – I can see where Jeannie gets her looks from,” Trudie said with a smile. “Well, I need to circulate – talk to you later?”
“Of course,” Juliette said as she walked off.
“I am never going to get used to something like that happening,” Barbara said as she sipped from her glass. “When did you, Juliette?”
“Who said I did – I just learn to accept it,” Juliette said with a smile as the announcer said “Ladies and Gentlemen – please, take your seats for the show.”
As they went backstage, Jeannie and Abby saw a tall, well built blonde haired woman walk past.
“Is that Kate Upton,” Jeannie said as they went in.
“Yeah, that’s her – the queen of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. I hear she’s doing the VS show in December as well.”
“Ever wish you were like that?”
“The build or the religious views?”
“The build – I know I’m filling out a little, but I wonder sometimes what it must be like to look that good in a swimsuit.”
“Heck, you look good in anything.”
“Flatterer,” Abby said, but she hugged Jeannie and went off to prepare for the show.
E 22nd Street
The black sedan was parked outside the liquor store, the three women looking at the windows and assessing the situation. All three wore black leather jackets and jeans with boots.
“Okay ladies just do it like we planned.” Dominique glanced round from the drivers seat. “Penny you take the clerk and the till, Annie you do crowd control… looks like there are about four customers in there, and I’ll keep watch at the door.”
“Is this really necessary Dom?” Penny checked that her 9mm was loaded and that the safety was off.
“What was the last time you actually pulled a job Penny?” Dominique asked.
“Not that long ago.”
“Penny I looked it up, it’s over three years since you were last out in the field.”
“Wow that long… how time flies when you are having fun.” Penelope fiddled with the woolen hat she wore.
“Alright girls.” Dominique took three deep breaths, “The masks come down as we go in the door…remember, hard, loud, and let’s not dawdle.”
“Okay.” Both Penny and Annie answered.
“Let’s go.” Dominique led the way out, pausing at the stores door to pull her ski mask down over her face and to take the 9mm from her jacket pocket.
“Ready?” She whispered as Annie and Penny both nodded in reply.
“NOW!” Dominique yelled as she pushed the door open and the three women bandits rushed in.
“Down, Down, all of you down on the fuckin’ floor.” Annie brushed by Dominique and pointed her gun at the three customers. “Face down Motherfuckers!”
“You… Bitch.” Penny put her gun in the face of the young female clerk. “This is a fucking robbery, do just as I fucking say and you might just live to tell someone all about this.”
At the door Dominique smiled, perhaps this was like riding a bike. Penny certainly looked like she knew what she was doing still. The clerk was terrified, raising her hands as she short sleeves of her blue blouse fell down.
“Okay empty the cash and put it in this bag.” Penny passed the black sack she carried to the bitch. “No tricks, nothing stupid.” She screamed at the traumatized clerk.
“All of you stay real still.” Annie walked round making sure the customers did as they were told. There was an older woman in a long skirt and jumper, and two kids in sweatshirts and jeans. “Keep those hands where we can see them, and you get to tell a story to your friends.”
“Go get the security disk.” Dominique nodded to Annie.
“Okay folks I’ll be gone a couple of seconds,” Annie drawled the words trying sound as calm as she could, “You all stay down there and keep comfortable, my friend at the door enjoys killing people, I’m sure she’d love you to give her a reason.”
Annie ducked into the back room, looking for the computer and ejecting the DVD from the recorder, before planting a stick in and downloading some software to erase the memory.
Dominique walked over and covered the customers on the floor. Out of the corner of her eye though, she saw the clerk try and grab Penny’s gun. For a split second Dom could tell Penny hesitated, a split second that could have been fatal.
“Stupid Fucking Bitch!” Penny screamed at the clerk as she stood back making sure she still held the gun and not the clerk.
“No!” the clerk screamed as Penny lifted the gun to her head.
“I fucking told you not to be stupid.” Penny giggled as she put a bullet in the woman’s brain. The shot made the older woman scream as the girl’s lifeless body fell to the floor.
“What the fuck?” Annie came racing from the back room and saw what had happened.
“I got the cash.” Penny grabbed the black sack.
“Okay all of you stay down on the fuckin’ floor and don’t get up for five minutes.” Annie pointed her gun at them as she regained her composure and followed Dom and Penny out the door to the getaway car.
“Been nice meeting you folks,” Annie laughed as she exited and jumped into the back seat of the car. Dominique gunned the engine and headed off.
“Okay do I pass the test?” Penny asked as she pulled her mask off.
“Just about.” Dominique smiled, but your timing needs improvement, the bitch nearly got the gun off you.”
“I know, I know.” Penny reflected. “Perhaps I am rustier then I thought.”
The Waldorf Hotel.
Madame X looked up as the three women walked in.
“Well,” she said as she looked at Dominique.
“I think they’re ready,” Dominique said as she sat down. Annie sat opposite her as Penny went and looked out of the window.
Dominique looked at Annie, before she said “one fatality.”
“Annie? Did someone threaten Dominique or Penelope?”
“Not me,” Annie said as she looked to the window. Penelope was still looking out, but Dominique could see that she was starting to shake.
“Oh God,” she heard her whisper, and then she started to cry, great heaving sobs as Dominique walked over and held her.
“Annie,” Madame said quietly, “would you think it rude of me if I asked you and Dominique to let me have some time alone with Penelope?”
“Not at all,” Annie said as she stood up.
“Come,” Dominique, said, “we’ll go to my rooms. Ama should still be up and there is someone I wish you to meet.” She guided Penny to the seat before leaving with Annie.
“So what happened Penelope?” Madame handed her old associate a stiff whisky.
“I guess I was rustier then I thought.” Penelope noticed her hand was shaking as she took the glass.
Madame looked hard at her friend.
“At first I was elated I’d done it, that I’d passed whatever the test was to go on the big job, but now I’m upset and I think I need to cry.” Penny sipped the whisky.
“It sounds to me like a textbook case of shock – the adrenaline wears off, and you realize what has happened.”
“I guess I lost my concentration for a second,” Penny said as she stared ahead, “I briefly had to wrestle her for the gun.”
“That was a trifle sloppy Penelope.”
“I know,” Penny, whispered, “I could feel Dominique’s eyes on me, I could almost hear her tutting her disapproval. I felt as if I had to do something…”
“So you took a step back and shot the woman.”
“Yes.” Penelope nodded with tears in her eyes. “I didn’t need to, I’d got the gun, and I could have just taken the money and run… And now an innocent is dead at my hand…”
Madame nodded before saying “But you felt that you needed to prove yourself?”
“I guess so… Oh I don’t know,” Penny, said as she put the glass down and ran her hands through her hair. “I guess I just thought I needed to do it to prove to myself that I still belong, that I’m still relevant, that I’m not just an office manager.”
“Your pride has been hurt by recent events? I know you have been running the office and acting as co-ordinator, but this is why I wanted all of you to spend time in the field.”
“I guess so,” she said as she looked at her friend and mentor. “Seeing how capable and cool under pressure both Charlotte and Annie were on Saturday I suppose didn’t help.”
“Another?” Madame noticed Penny had drained her glass.
“No… No Thanks… I’ll be okay, it was just the shock I guess.”
“Penny,” Madame said as she took her hand, “we have known each other how long?”
“Too long.” Penny replied with a smile. “But I don’t regret a single day of it.”
“Well we have both seen and done some pretty bad things in that time. You are entitled to be upset, you killed a woman, but I understand why, I know Dominique does as well.”
“She doesn’t think that it was just an old bitch killing to prove she still could?”
“No,” Madame said quietly, “I think she knows you got caught by surprise, you’d either react by panicking or by doing something like you did.”
“Well at least I didn’t panic.”
“No Dominique would have said if it were otherwise. In a strange way, I’m proud of you.”
“But you hate violence as being unnecessary.”
“Just occasionally it needs to be done.” Madame smiled, “I think this was perhaps one of those times.”
“Well I relearned an old lesson about never letting your concentration slip.”
“Good,” Madame said as she stood up. “Then in the coming days as we do what we need to, that woman gave her life to make you better, I think in the balance the good we are doing for these children will outweigh tonight’s deed.”
“I hope so Madame.”
“I know so Penelope. Now, have another drink, and then go and rest – we need to make plans tomorrow.”
Wednesday 10th September
The Waldorf Hotel
As Charlotte arrived in the suite, she was surprised to see both Ama and Maisha walking towards her, wearing bathrobes and sandals on their feet.
“I’m taking them to the spa,” Dominique said as she followed. “Hopefully my French is up to the task of translation. The morning report?”
“Yeah – Susan and Penny are in conference, so I brought it myself. Is she in the office?”
“She is – and she was going to ask you to call anyway. Might as well kill two birds with one stone,” Dominique said as she nodded to the room door.
“She wanted to see me? What about?”
“You won’t know unless you go in and ask – I have these two to deal with,” Dominique said as she left the suite. Charlotte took a deep breath, knocked on the door and heard the familiar deep, rich voice say “Come.”
“Good morning, Madame,” Charlotte said as she entered, again struck how when even dressed casually, she had an air of command around her. Of course, casual for Madame meant a roll necked sweater and designer pants – normal office wear for the young South African.
“Ah Charlotte,” Madame said as she looked at her, “you have the morning report?”
“I have Madame,” she said as she handed the papers to the older woman. Madame glanced over them, and said “excellent – I will review in a moment, but for now, please, sit. There are some matters I wish to discuss with you.”
“Of course,” Charlotte said as she sat, “I trust there are no problems with my work.”
“Quite the opposite, in fact,” Madame said as she sat and poured two coffees, handing one to Charlotte. “I wanted to compliment you on your input on this project. I strongly suspect that when I sent you with Dominique to Geneva, you never thought it would lead here. Am I correct?”
“That would be an understatement, Madame,” Charlotte said quietly, “but as you know, I joined you in order to help fight what we uncovered, so I consider it an honour to be involved.”
“Indeed,” Madame said as she sat back, “but your input has proved invaluable. Would you like to hear what has been said about you?”
“The question is, Madame, do you wish me to hear?”
“Well put,” Madame said as she put her cup down and picked up a paper. “Susan says you have helped to organize and make the listening post a model operation. Dominique not only compliments your work on the diamonds, she also has heard Ama and Maisha spoke fondly of you, and how much Maisha in particular felt you helped when you talked to her of her experiences.”
Charlotte blushed slightly, and then Madame said, “What is most pleasing, however, is the input of others. Heather has told me of your part last night, and also of the way you have worked with her. And as for Diana…”
“Diana? What did she have to say?”
“She said, and I quote, that you are a rising star and I should cherish you. She was impressed with your skill last Saturday, and also your willingness to be open as to your past experiences.”
“I… I tend not to wish to dwell on the past, and look to the future,” Charlotte said, “but it was a pleasant afternoon. I am not sure…” She suddenly looked at Madame and said “Sorry, I do not wish to speak out of turn.”
“Charlotte, I encourage my senior staff to be open and honest with me and with each other.”
“Well, that may be the case, Madame, but…” Charlotte suddenly looked at Madame as the full implications of what she had just said hit her. “Forgive me, but did you just give me a promotion, Madame?”
“I think it is well earned – once this business is finished, we need someone to oversee whatever changes Heather recommends. In fact, we have been in need of an IT manager for some time, and it will take one load off Penelope’s plate. You will be at the same level as a team leader, and report directly to Penelope. Do you wish to accept the post?”
“I… I don’t know what to say?”
“Yes would be a good start – there will, of course, be a suitable increase in the compensation package, and Dominique has intimated she would appreciate your help in the future with both Ama and Maisha. We can deal with the paperwork at a future moment, but the appointment starts on a handshake.”
Madame stood and extended her right hand, Charlotte grasping it and saying, “Of course I accept, Madame. But what will Penny – sorry, Penelope say? After all, I got the feeling she was not very happy on Saturday.”
“Ah – thereby hangs a tale,” Madame said as she sat down, indicating Charlotte should do the same. “How much so you know of Penelope’s career?”
“She started out as a high end home invader, at some point she helped form the China Doll Gang, moved over to planning their jobs, and then was recommended to you by John Jacobs.”
“That is all true – but has anyone ever told you the story behind the formation of the China Doll Gang?”
“No,” Charlotte said. “I know their style and reputation, but not how they adopted that format.”
Madam sat back and looked at Charlotte. “Some years ago, Penelope decided to expand her horizons, and began to target sub-post offices. Her modus operandi was actually very similar to the Pussycats – she would break in the night before, secure and hold hostage the family of the postmaster or mistress, then force them to open the safe.
“After some time, she was starting to consider moving up to small banks, but she knew she would not be able to do it alone. She had two friends who, for various reasons, needed money, so she recruited them and held the family of a local bank manager hostage overnight. They then forced the family to the branch and made the father open the safe.”
“A security guard turned up for work early, and tried to attack one of them. Penelope shot him in the stomach – he died later in hospital. The family were shocked, and daddy played along after that.”
“So Penelope has killed before?”
“Indeed – but she was concerned that they could use the voices of all three to overcome any disguise. Over the next few visits, they grew more proficient at using printed instructions and threats to get their point across – but there were occasions when they had to set an example. I know Penelope personally was not fond of this.”
“So she moved to planning and administration to avoid that?”
“That – and the fact she herself was shot in one raid by one of the people they were robbing. He was shot himself, but Penny decided to take the planning role from then on – and the Dolls fully embraced the philosophy of silent threats with a new member.”
“I think I understand,” Charlotte said, “This has brought back some old memories.”
“Perhaps – more I feel she recognizes how important this is, and wishes to give it her customary 100%. At any rate, do not worry – she will be fine come the day. On which subject, I must go – I have a lunch appointment with Juliette. Would you kindly inform Heather to expect us at eight tonight?”
“Yes – the thirteen of us need to meet tonight.”
FBI Field Office
“She made contact with me.”
“She,” Tom said as he looked at Adam and Janice.
“Van Gogh – definitely a she, and she has asked for some intel on some people. I’m preparing a package to send to her, which I’ll run past you first.”
“Any word on whether or not the bitches are involved?”
Janice looked at Adam and said “Not as such, but they indicate they have specialist help. She said they had managed to trace some of the funds raised at the auction, and had plans to liberate them. She would not share any further details, however.”
“Fair enough – keep us informed Janice. You’re off duty all weekend, aren’t you?”
“Yes – I move house Friday, and Katy is spending the weekend at the Richmond mansion to give us a chance to sort the place out.”
“Well, good luck with that,” Tom said as she and Adam left the office.
“Feel strange to be moving to Manhattan?”
“You have no idea,” Janice said as she shook her head. “I think I’m going to be experiencing a whole range of new experiences in the next few days.”
“Janice,” Adam said quietly as he took her arm, “you’d tell me if you were getting involved in something wouldn’t you?”
“Adam I tell you everything.” Janice crossed her fingers behind her back and said a silent Hail Mary as penance for her lies. “You’re my partner, what use is a partner who doesn’t know what’s going on?”
Adam smiled as Janice walked towards her desk. Slowly he walked towards the coffee station. He knew Janice was lying to him, things were going on, and she was involving herself in events that were at the least dubious, and probably outright criminal. Janice had been badly shaken by that video of the slave auction. Adam just hoped she wasn’t allowing her outrage to cloud her judgment, and to take on risks that could ultimately hurt her.
Janice sat at her desk idly scanning crime reports while she nursed a cup of coffee. It looked routine, a liquor store holdup by three women, one clerk shot dead, briefly caught her attention, but her mind kept drifting to what was to come. How would she finally react when she came face-to-face with the Pussycats? She guessed they’d be masked or disguised, but she still wasn’t sure in her own mind that she wouldn’t just pull her gun and try to arrest them.
Complete Style Offices
“Right,” Anna said as she, Mary and Father Richmond marched into Juliette’s office, “we need to talk to you Grandma Huntingdown.”
“How to win friends and influence people – nice, smooth,” Juliette said as Janine watched from the other side of the desk.
Mary looked at the young girl, who stood up and said “I’ll sort that out for you, Juliette.”
“All right, what do we need to talk about,” Juliette said as she sat back.
“The Christening,” Anna said quietly, “have you reviewed the list of people who have said yes yet?”
“No – why?”
“We’re gonna need a bigger church,” Mary said as she handed Juliette a list. Glancing down it, she said “No – but we are going to need an extra room at the reception. I’d better let Vanessa know.”
“We also need to discuss the small matter of the paparazzi and press – Jeanne has been on the phone three times already.”
“Well, Alex you’ve said you won’t allow anything near the church, so it would have to be at the reception – let me talk to Vanessa on that one as well.”
“No,” Alexander shook his head, “we need face facts Juliette this will not be the family and friends Christening we planned.”
“Juliette,” Alex said with a smile, “can I make a suggestion?”
“Please do Alex.”
“I think we need switch this to St Patrick’s.”
“To the cathedral? … Surely not?”
“Look at that list.” Mary interrupted.
“Oh dear Goddess,” Juliette looked down closely at the three full pages of names.
“And we are getting more and more acceptances and requests for tickets all the time. Face it love, this christening is going to be one of THE events of the fall here in NYC.” Mary looked happy.
“I’m sure we can trim numbers down somehow…”
“Where Juliette?” Anna asked accusingly, “From her friends, your friends, people in the fashion world who have known Carina all her life.”
“Just face it Juliette, we need change plans, and quickly.“ Alex smiled he hoped reassuringly. “We can do this.”
Juliette groaned and a look of resignation passed over her face. “Okay so how much extra work am I looking at?”
“Surprisingly little.” Mary smiled.
“By switching to the Cathedral we can unload press and PR onto the press office of the Archdiocese, they are used to dealing with all that stuff.” Alex spoke.
“And that should stop my phone ringing constantly.” Anna noted.
“Once we’ve passed the press buck to them, we can start on the more enjoyable aspects of a Christening…”
“There are enjoyable aspects Mary?” Juliette asked as in shock.
“Turns out there is.” Mary grinned.
“The Waldorf is prepared to give us a very nice rate if their name is mentioned nicely in reports… “
“Anna that sounds like I’m almost selling the rights to my Granddaughter’s christening.”
“It doesn’t have to be blatant, you know they are discrete, but it means we can afford to have 700 at the reception afterwards, at the cost you were already paying for the other place.’
“Well I do like that idea financially.”
“Now Ju, have you made a decision who is going to dress you and Carina?” Mary asked.
“No,” Juliette’s eyes rolled, “with all I have going on I’ve not really dared raise it with Carina.”
“I’ve got a suggestion.” Anna spoke slowly, “You know you are doing that double with Cecilia Chancellor in de la Renta a few days before the Christening?”
“Oh shit, I’d forgotten all about that…”
“Well,” Anna resumed, “You’ve always looked superb in Oscar’s clothes…”
“And he has offered.” Mary added.
“And he’s prepared to even travel to New Haven to do Carina’s fittings…” Anna’s voice trailed off.
“Alex ever feel like you got ambushed?” Juliette laughed, “Okay tell Oscar if Carina likes his ideas, then he can do our outfits.”
“Ladies if you are going to start talking clothes, I need to hustle along and see the Archbishop’s secretary to confirm all this.”
“Okay Alex,” Juliette rose and kissed the priest on the cheek. “Keep me in the loop please.”
“Okay Good – now we can talk about other outfits…” Mary started.
Juliette closed her eyes, her already crowded timetable just got worse, she’d need talk to Shirley and Heather and see if they could help a little with the planning of the jobs.
“I’m only back a week, and already I’m exhausted.” Abby sat with Ally and Jo at the table, and started to pick at her salad.
“Well, must be those new options you picked,” Ally said with a smile. “So what’s your weekend like?”
“I’ve got a shoot all day Saturday, and then Jo and I are going up to see Cari on Sunday. Little Sandy is having a sleepover with Katy Carter and a couple of other school friends, so we’re having some down time and staying well clear of the place. You?”
“Not much – we got tickets for a show Saturday night. So what’s the shoot?”
“January fashions for Elle magazine. I’ve also got a new script to memorise for the Memories Christmas campaign.”
“What about Jeannie?”
They looked over to where Jeannie and the others were comparing notes.
“Karen Gillian is visiting – it got held over for a couple of weeks.”
“Hey oldsters,” Jeannie wheeled herself to the table.
“Hey Baby.” Each of the friends said in sync.
“Look - you know the Principal and Mr. Kirkham asked us to become patrons of the Jamie Fund Abs?”
“Yes,” Abigail looked up from her salad.
“Well I sort of have an idea for a way to raise some funds… How about we put on a school fashion show?”
“Won’t raise a lot Baby, beyond the families of the girls and a few of their friends, who is going to pay to see this lot strut their stuff?” Jo gestured to indicate all the girls.
“Not many, but how about if we pair girls, moms and teachers with some of our friends from the modeling world?”
“Then you might have a show… “Abby thought hard.
“Stick, just think of the talent that’s in New York for Fashion Week and staying on for the christening, we twist a few arms… “
“And we get Mary on board.” Abigail started to get excited at the idea.
“You should ask Father Richmond to present it.” Ally chipped in.
“He’d be perfect.” Jo smiled.
“Will Tennant go for it?” Ally asked.
“Okay two problems,” Abigail paused, “A venue, and who is going to hit up designers to donate outfits.”
“Well it’s not huge, but I was thinking the gym might make a showroom.” Jeannie made a proposal.
“I guess we could make it work,” again Abby thought, but we are really going to need help getting the clothes.’
“Ask Miss Huntingdown to help?” Ally spoke.
All three girls looked round at her.
“Well she’s a trustee of the fund…”
“You know you aren’t as dumb as you look Ally.” Jo grinned at her friend.
“I’m sure Juliette will help,” Jeannie smiled, “Which leaves us one huge problem… Who from this lot has any potential to model?”
“Let me get Juliette and Mary on board first – let’s go to the CS offices after school…”
Complete Style Offices
“Hey Mom.” Carina’s face popped up on Juliette’s computer screen “Bad time?”
“No,” Juliette took her glasses off and smiled. A call from her daughter on the non-secure line was a rare treat; at least it meant this was just going to be a friendly call. “What can I do for you Cari?”
“Mom I need a name adding to the guest list.”
Juliette groaned inwardly, maybe not such a friendly call. “Who darling?”
“Judy and Judith are competing for the attentions of the same man.”
“Yeah Judy has a new boyfriend, and baby adores him as well, and he’s so good with her.”
“Okay he sounds acceptable to come to the christening.” Juliette smiled, “as long as Judith and Judy don’t end up fighting over him… ‘
“Okay,” Juliette said as she picked up a pen and found a piece of paper, “so who is this paragon of male virtue?”
“He was at Harrow, he knows Tony, and his name is Lord David Fitzstuart. Fancy Judy hooking a real live lord… “
Carina’s speech was interrupted as her Mother nearly spilled her own cup of coffee in her own lap. She stared at Carina as her daughter looked back,
“Did you say David Fitzstuart darling?”
Carina was surprised when her mother collapsed off her chair laughing.
“Okay what’s the big joke I’m missing?”
“Sorry…” Juliette fought hard to suppress her giggles.
“Why does David trigger that reaction in you?”
“Do you remember that picture of you and a little boy stretched out together on a sheepskin rug, you are both about a year old?”
“Yeah you always threatened to show it to all my boyfriends.”
“Well David… “ Juliette started laughing again.
“Oh no you aren’t saying the little boy is him?” Carina groaned.
“Yeah that’s David.” Juliette tried to stop laughing.
“Darling, tell David to tell Tufty to get her ass in gear and over to New York, and to TRY and drag Will away from his beloved pigs.”
“Okay why do I think I’ve walked into another supermodel ambush?”
“Because you have Darling.” Juliette giggled more. “You remember who Mandy Carrow was?”
“Yeah, striking redheaded punk model, got famous doing grunge.”
“Well when she got married she became Lady Amanda Fitzstuart, the wife of the 9th Marquess of Ordford.”
“And she’s David’s mom?”
“But why the reference to pigs?”
“Their estate in Yorkshire, her husband Will is a pig famer… “
“As well as being a Marquess?”
“Yes, well anyway tell David to get his Mom over, tell him to tell her we are having a reunion, that should get her.”
“Okay I will.” Carina looked doubtful. “Hey Mom Baby’s crying she needs her feed.”
“Okay Darling you go feed her, and just remember to tell David to tell his Mom precisely what I said.”
“Tell Tufty to get her ass in gear and over to New York, and to TRY and drag Will away from his beloved pigs.” Carina repeated.
“You got it Darling.”
“Okay must run Mom… Bye”
As she ended the call, Juliette started laughing again.
“What’s so funny,” Mary said as she looked in.
“Another coincidence,” Juliette said with a smile. “Mandy Carrow might be coming.”
“Mandy… How on earth are you going to get her away from the Somerset Old Spots?”
“Because, my dear Merlin, you remember David her son?”
“Yes I remember young David.”
“ Well he is dating Judy McNally, and is at Yale.”
“Oh my goodness,” Mary said with a laugh. “Well, if you’re in a good mood, they may as well spring this on you now.”
“Come on in girls,” Mary said as she stood to one side, Juliette watching as Abby and Jeannie came in.
“I know that look,” Juliette said, “what are you thinking of?”
“Well,” Jeannie said, “we wondered if we could get some of the guests for the christening to do a teensy tiny wee favour on the Saturday night?”
“What sort of favour?”
“Take part in a fashion show at St Angela’s for the Jamie Kirkham fund – do the catwalk with some of the students, teachers and parents?”
“Oh?” Juliette sat back and put her fingers under her chin, before saying “and who gets to do the management.”
“Well,” Abby said, “Carina is asking Father Alex, Mary has offered backstage support, but…”
“They need outfits,” Mary said, “so, time to get your little black book out?”
“Me, no – JANINE!”
“Yes Juliette,” the young assistant said as she looked in.
“Time you took on more responsibilities,” Juliette said as she looked down the list and underlined some names. “Call these people, and ask models if they will take part on a charity event the day before, and designers if they will contribute outfits. Co-ordinate with Mary. Venue?”
“The gymnasium at St Angela’s.”
“You two – we need volunteers. Ask the girls who are walking shows with you this week”
“We’ll work on it – when do we need names by?”
“Friday – so start ringing round. I have other things to attend to.”
The de Ros Mansion.
“Nice place,” Penny said as she looked round.
“I like it,” Diana said with a smile. “This way.”
She showed Penny into the front room, where Madame and Juliette were talking to Heather round the coffee table.
“Hey,” she said as she walked over to Charlotte, “What’s this I hear about a promotion?”
“Indeed,” Dominique said with a smile, “no hard feelings I hope?”
“Not at all – you get to report to me now, after all.”
“CARI!” Joanne and Abigail ran over and embraced their friend as Heather took Judith’s car seat from her.
“Thanks for coming down, darling,” Juliette said as she looked at her granddaughter.
“Important meeting – better I’m here,” Carina said with a smile. “So, whom are we waiting on?”
“Me I’m afraid,” Annie said as she came in with Diana. “Your idea has got the staff room buzzing, Abby – I have a list of volunteers from the staff already.”
“Oh – what id