The Mouse That Roared – Part 1







Thursday 24th November

3 pm CET

Villa dei Mille Fiori, near Sentua.

As she sat on the terrace, looking out over to the lake and to her daughter’s home on the far shore, Francesca di Cambrello smiled.  She had arrived earlier that morning to find Maria and her staff already well ahead with preparations for the weekend, allowing her to relax and relive fond memories.


The late autumn suns hone down on the crystal blue water as she smiled, and closed her eyes.


“Forgive me, Marchesa, but you have a visitor?”


Opening one eye, she saw Maria standing there and said “who?”


“Father Richmond – shall I bring him through?”


“Of course – and some refreshments for us please,” Francesca said as she stood up, brushing some lint from her cream dress as her housekeeper left, returning with Alex Richmond in his “uniform”.

"I hope you don't mind me dropping in unannounced Francesca?" he said as he kissed her on both cheeks.

"Not at all Alex,” Francesca said with a smile, “though I thought that you'd perhaps be in New York celebrating Thanksgiving your family today."

"Alas not," the tall priest smiled, "I had business this week at the Vatican to deal with.  I will speak to them later – after the parade."

"Ah I understand.  We each have our duties and calls to answer to.'

"I just hope I'm not disturbing the preparations for this weekend?"

"You aren't," the blonde woman smiled, "my staff from my house in Rome are used to organizing events like this, they really don't even need me to supervise."

"I suspect they would say different," Alex smiled, "so Shirley and the others will enjoy themselves?"

"I very much hope so.  We expect them on Friday afternoon, at about the same time – coaches have been prepared for them.  Why don’t we go inside and have some tea?"


“A truly wonderful invitation.  By the way Francesca, if this is your idea of a mere villa, what is your definition of a mansion or palace?" Alex smiled as he glanced around the sumptuous drawing room.

"You know a lot of people have asked me that over the years," Francesca laughed as her housekeeper laid the tray down.  “Please, have a seat.”


Alex nodded a she sat, and accepted a cup, before he said “I presume Charlotte is flying over with the UK flight?”


“Indeed – Piet’s parents are visiting, so hey will look after Francesca while the man do manly things,” she said with a smile as she heard footsteps.


"Francesca dear did you see that magazine I was reading?" an elderly woman asked as she wandered in.

"No I haven't Aunt Maria."

"Oh dear I wonder where I put that?" the newcomer noticed the visitor suddenly. "Oh I didn't realise you had a guest dear."

"Aunt Maria, please meet Father Alex Richmond from New York."

"It's a pleasure Father," Maria smiled as he stood and kissed her on the cheek.

"You met Aunt Maria's son at Shirley's engagement party Alex."

"Ah, your son is Dr Riva the plastic surgeon Signora Riva."

"He is indeed.  Ah there it is…"


"So are you helping with the arrangements for Shirley Xavier's party Signora?"

"Please call me Maria Father."

"Only if you call me Alex," the priest laughed lightly,

"Alright Alex it is." Maria used her stick to gently lower herself into an armchair, "and I'm here because Francesca offered me a safe haven for a few days from my husband and son fretting about my health."

"Aunt Maria needed a break for a few days and I thought she'd enjoy meeting some new people this weekend," Francesca added.

"I understand perfectly," Alex smiled again.  “I take it you are retired?”


“In many ways – and not in others,” Maria said with a smile.  "Is your friend going to drop in later?"

"You are expecting another guest Francesca, now I do feel guilty for dropping in unannounced," Alex shook his head.

"It really isn't a problem Alex, Valentina is an old friend of mine who recently retired and is trying to write a novel. I loaned her a place to work, and she's only dropping in for tea."

"It was nice that you could offer her somewhere quiet to write Francesca, I've never written fiction, only non-fiction, but I know that being in the right environment certainly helps the creative urge."


“And here she is now,” Francesca said as Maria ushered in a red haired woman wearing a jumper and slacks.  “Valentina this is Father Alexander Richmond.  Alex, my friend Valentina di Medici.”


“A pleasure,” Valentina said as she was kissed by Alex, and took a seat while the housekeeper handed her a cup of amber liquid.


"So what is your book about Valentina?" Alex asked as the redhead sipped her tea.

"It's in part a spy novel,” she said with a smile, “and in part a whodunnit."

"That sounds interesting. what gave you the idea?"

"I used to work as a civilian administrator in the Guardia di Finanza in Genoa," Alex smiled at the cover story La Citadella had created for her, "so I got to see a few things that I can't even tell a priest Father, and I had this idea of a detective in the Guardia who investigates a murder that might have links to the intelligence agencies."

"It sounds like an intriguing idea."

"Well the publishing house I own thought enough of it to give Valentina a nice advance," Francesca smiled, "and that wasn't because she's a very old friend of mine, she actually has a talent for this."


Sipping from her cup, Valentina said quietly “How is your hip today, Maria?”


“It is not so bad today,” the older woman said with a smile.


“Would it be impertinent to ask…”


“Arthritis,” Maria said as she looked at Alex, “it comes to most of us eventually.  You seem remarkable sprightly for an older man.”


“How do you know I am older?”


“Experience – you played a sport?”


“College football – but then I was sent to Vietnam, and – well, the Father had a different path in life planned for me.”


“But you still play?”


“Occasionally – and unlike some of those I have played with, my mind is sharp and healthy.  But let us not dwell in the past, not with this scenery to enjoy…”



5 pm CET


“Well, I must thank you for the tea and the conversation,” Alex said as he put his cup down and stood up, “but I had best be on my way.  I have a midday flight back tomorrow, so I suspect Nessa and I will pass in the airport.  I will see you at the wedding, Francesca, if not before?”


“Of course,” Francesca said as she looked at Maria.  “Please escort Father Richmond out.”


Alex bowed to Maria and Valentina before he walked out, Francesca smiling as the doors were closed, before he said “well, that worked well.”


“Was I being tested?”


“Not really, Valentina,” Maria said, “but Francesca has told me of her friends, and Father Richmond is a very perceptive man.  Now, we need to discuss who you may meet this weekend.”




“I believe she is coming,” Francesca said quietly, “but there will be others…”



Just one thing I forgot really to include myself, that Maria has an arthritic hip which is why she has the cane, and that maybe a few words between her and Alex the perils of growing old?

Oh also Alex would not have come out of Rome for those few moments so maybe a mention that he leaves after they have spent say 40 minutes taking tea, eating fancies, and giving the sense time passed? A reference to light conversation might help.



Friday 25th November

Noon CET

Villa dei Mille Fiori, near Sentua.

Francesca stood at the main entrance and smiled as the bus drew up, the doors opening as Paulie van Roon and Nessa Richmond stepped out in tailored trouser suits and blouses.


“Welcome to my home,” Francesca said as she hugged and kissed both of them.  “We have refreshments ready for all of you inside, and I am sure you will wish to refresh yourselves while we discuss who will stay where for the next few days.”


“Thank you for agreeing to host us,” Nessa said with a smile as they walked in.


“I had the pleasure of a visit from Alex yesterday,” Francesca said as they walked to the drawing room, “I promised I would see he had been.”


“He should be on the flight back now,” Paulie said with a smile.  “He also missed the games yesterday – Gus is collecting him and he has them Tivoed.”


“For which he will be grateful – oh my…”


“Why on earth am I here,” Alexis said as she got off with Juliette and Carina.


“To enjoy a weekend away,” Janine said as she followed, “and hopefully get some sleep without nightmares.”


“I really hope so,” Alexis said as she glanced at Gale Callaghan.  She hadn’t slept on the flight over for fear of screaming, but somehow she wasn’t tired, as if she had been refreshed in some hidden way.





“Oh lord,” Veronica said as she walked into the drawing room and looked round, “this is amazing.”


“It certainly is,” Gale Callaghan said with a smile, “a very different ladies weekend.”


“Well, I get to have some coffee at least,” Eleanor said as she hugged Francesca, “and thank you for allowing both of my friends to come with me and Jan.”


“Katherine could not make it?”


“She is watching Katy, Kylie and Judith,” Jan said with a smile as she accepted some coffee.  “So where are the other groups?”


“The European party is in transit – and the guest of honour is coming later this afternoon with Penny and Lily.”


“Ah – you have arrived safely, Carina.”


“We have indeed,” Carina said as Natalya and Sigi came into the room.  Gale looked over and nodded as well in recognition.  “A weekend away – just what was needed before exams.”


“You’ll ace them,” Annie said with a smile.


“Of course I will, Monster Momma,” Carina said as she kissed her.


“Well, this is certainly new,” Emma said as she and Maddie sat down.


“It is indeed,” Maddie said as she looked at her phone.  “At least we’re not expected to do anything for this weekend.”


“Oh?  And what were you and Sandra discussing last night before we left for the airport?”


“Nothing, nothing…”


“Emma – you’re not doing anything this weekend, are you?”


“Nope,” she said as she looked at Denice and April, “except maybe sleep and relax…”



“Suki,” Kelly Rochermann said as they looked out of the window, “stop worrying.  I told you nobody here was going to judge you for Buffy.”


Suki McGeorge shook her head as she said “I know, but to find out she had been…”


“I can’t judge her, and nobody else here will.  In fact…”


“You knew, and you were protecting me?”


“Honestly?  I didn’t know – but my darling daughters…  Nell and Ally told me last night…”


“How could she though…”


“Don’t take the blame,” Claire Morse said as she joined them, “the choice was Buffy’s, and at least she has accepted the consequences…”





"For those of you who are staying in the main villa, I have bad news," Francesca laughed, "Natalya and Sigi by arriving last night grabbed the best guest room with its fabulous personal terrace and views over the lake."

"Hey not fair," Maddie laughed as well.

"That was cheating," Carina giggled.

"First come, first served," Sigi laughed, "that might not be completely a legal term, but there is no way we are giving that lovely room up."

"We have squatters rights," Natalya laughed.

"Natty has stayed here before," Francesca smiled, "she knew that the early bird gets the worm so to speak.  Juliette, Okay at the risk of creating a Van Roon family war, are you okay rooming with Liz, Pussy, Frieda and Tracey?"

"I guess I can tolerate them for a weekend," Paulie laughed, “after all I survived Thanksgiving with them all in New York."

"There is a four bedroom cottage down on the lakeshore, it's pretty self contained, but only a two minute walk up here to the main villa."

"It sounds ideal," Tracey smiled. "Now how do we get our luggage down there?"

"Giuseppe will take it down and show you the way in a few minutes.  Juliette – we have a four bedroomed villa for you, Diana, Sandy and Heather – and Nessa?"


“Sounds good – Alexis, Janine, join us?”


“Sure,” Alexis said with a smile.  “What about Carina and Annie?”


“We may join Charlotte across at her place – and where is she anyway?”


“Right here.”


“The next group have arrived Marchesa,” Maria said as she stood to the side, Charlotte coming in with Mandy and Olivia as she said “I hope there is plenty of tea and coffee available.”


“Of course, my darling,” Francesca said as she hugged her daughter. 


“A truly beautiful home darling,” Mandy Carrow drawled as she accepted a cup of tea, while Catriona, Sandra and Maisha joined Maddie and Emma.


“Indeed,” Agnes said as she and Tamsin came in with Paula and Kay Cornwall.


“Sandy – you made it,” Maddie said a sshe stood and kissed the greying brunette.


“Well, she needs her supporters here, doesn’t she?  Emma – you look amazing.”


“So do you – and who is he?”


“He?  What he?”


Maddie looked at her old friend, and said “whoever it is you are stepping out with, Sandra Kirk.  Who is it?”


“Helen – how are you,” Marina said as she joined her Sensei, who had just arrived with Cathy Lu.


“I am – centered again, and I have dealt with what happened,” Helen said quietly, “save one thing.  I owe you and Kylie a very personal apology.”


“No you do not,” Marina said quietly, “it was our honour to be there for you when we were needed.  I am glad you are yourself again.”


“Indeed – as is Penny…”




“So how far behind is she,” Marianne asked Charlotte as she stood with Helga and Karen.


“She should be landing now – another of Mama’s servants is meeting them at the airport.”


“Which is why Maisha came with Catriona?”


“Indeed – they brought her bags with them as…  Ah.”








"Alright who the hell organised all this?" Shirley shook her head as Penny and Lily led her into the crammed drawing room.

"Oh a lot of us can plead guilty to that," Catriona smiled, "but most of the work was done by Juliette."

"Not really," the American blushed as she hugged Shirley, “but the key thing is you are here now.”

"I was just about to start assigning rooms," Francesca smiled. "Shirley you of course have the room beside mine."


"If no one has claimed it, can Lily and I claim the gatehouse?" Penny asked. "Charlotte told me once how cute and quaint it is."

"You can if you wish," Francesca wrote on her list.

"Is there room for a third?" a rather bedraggled Caroline asked as she made an entrance.

"Hey I thought you were stuck in Reykjavik?" Charlotte cried out as she hugged her friend.

"I finished my scenes early, and grabbed the only available flight out."

"Well you are in luck there is room for another in the gatehouse," Francesca made another note.


"So did Ama make it to Scotland okay?" Juliette asked.

"Yes, and thanks for having her for Thanksgiving yesterday Ju."


“It was our pleasure…”


"Now, before I forget…  The whole point of the weekend ladies is FUN!" Francesca smiled at all her guests, "and to that end once we get everyone into their accommodation can I say that I've had Charlotte close the dining room at the Imperial Hotel in Sentua tonight, and we will all eat there."

"Sounds ideal darling," Mandy drawled, "but where will the guests eat?"

"Room service only," Charlotte smiled. "Now who wants to stay in my castle rather than here?"


“We’re in,” Annie said as Carina nodded.



“What the hell are we doing here Catriona,” the woman standing with her said.  She was tall, with greying blonde hair, and was with two other women – a brown haired woman and a smaller woman with dark hair.


“To spend a weekend with an old friend, who you have not seen for some years?”


“True – but is she really the same Shirl we danced at discos with.”


“Indeed – Ladies can I present our hostess?" Cat smiled, "Francesca can I present Zoe Bolton, Hannah White and Claire Teal, old friends of ours from school.  Girls, this is Francesca di Cambrello.”

"Welcome.  Please relax and enjoy yourselves," the Italian said as she kissed each woman on the cheek.


“Oh my – is that really you?”


“We could say the same thing,” the dark haired woman said, “Shirley?”


“It is Hannah – and Claire, you look well,” she said as she looked at the brunette.  “Zoe as well?  Maisha – come and meet some of my school friends.  Girls, this is my adopted daughter, Maisha.”


“A true pleasure to meet you,” Maisha said with a smile, “Mum does not say very much of her schooldays.”


“Really,” Zoe said with a smile, “then let us tell you…”  They took Maisha to one side while Shirley and Catriona watched.


“I haven’t seen Claire since…”  Shirley looked at Catriona, who nodded as she said “she may want to talk to you later.”


"Just so many friends," Shirley smiled as she sat down and one of the maids passed her a cup of tea. "This really was the last thing I was expecting."

"Sorry we got you here under false pretenses," Penny smiled, "but it was only a little white lie."

"You are forgiven," Shirley took a deep breath, "I'm going to enjoy every moment."


“And no work?”


“And no work…”




"Alright," Juliette stood up and spoke, "there will be just one rule this weekend and that is that you all leave all work and other cares aside."

"So if we catch anyone...and I mean you Missy," Merlin laughed, "on her phone talking business then you will face the direst retribution."

"And she means that," Denice laughed.

"Damn straight I do."


“What could you do,” Missy said with a smile.


“I am prepared…”


“We will help you to relax,” Francesca said with a smile.  "Amongst the other amenities I have here in the compound, there are a swimming pool, a sauna cum spa, and a gym.”

"As well as a couple of boats for sailing," Natalya added.

"Stables to go riding," Maria also spoke.

"and probably any other thing you can think of doing," Charlotte finished.

"So if anyone complains about being bored this weekend they have only themselves to blame," Francesca laughed gently.

"I'll be conducting workout classes at seven each morning..." Helen spoke.

"NO WAY!" the ladies shouted in unison.


“Cowards,” Marina said with a smile.



"So why is it called the Villa of a Thousand Flowers Francesca?" April said as she stood with the Marchesa.


"Because when my Great Great Aunt built this place and created the gardens, April, she initially planted 1,000 different types of plant."

"From what I saw as we drove up, I suspect there are far more nowadays."

"Yes I think each owner has planted more. I for example created the South African garden to house blooms I'd seen growing in Africa."

"I will have to go look later."

"Take Helga with you, she's the expert on African flora and fauna."

"I'd hardly call myself an expert," the Swedish woman spoke softly.

"And as always she is being modest," Karen Kumalo smiled.




"How do we get to your place Charlotte?" Carina asked as she stood by the window.

"I've got a motor boat that will act as a ferry Cari."

"Sounds good." Annie said as she finished her tea.


"So does everyone know where they are going Mom?"

"I think so Carlotta my love. Most of the younger women will be with you."


“Are you sure you wish to come with us Maisha?”


“I do – I think it is important that Mum has plenty of time with her friends here.”




“The Marchesa felt this would be to your liking,” Giuseppe said as he opened the door to the lakeside chalet, Helga and Karen nodding as they looked in.  “There are four bedrooms, and the path will take you back to the villa.”


“Thank you,” Liz said as the servant took the cases and started to take them to the bedrooms, while Marianne looked out to the lake shore.


“I always wondered what this place was like,” she said quietly as Karen stood beside her, “but it is truly…”


Karen looked at Marianne as she fell silent, and followed her line of sight to the shoreline, a red headed woman in jeans, a jumper and a padded jerkin walking along the path.


“No,” she whispered quietly, “it cannot be…”


“Who can it not be,” Karen said as she looked at the woman.


“She’s dead – she died in America…  Dear lord, was John right…”




Shaking her head, Marianne smiled as she said “sorry, she just looked so much like an old friend…”




"Okay Sandy and I have the room at the end," Heather looked at the plan and pointed down the corridor. “You and Diana have the one on the left Ju, and Janine and Alexis the one opposite."

"Which leaves the single room for me," Nessa smiled.

"Would you mind putting our bags in our rooms?" Diana smiled at the manservant pushing the trolley.


“Of course, Contessa,” he said with a bow as he took the first bags and walked to the room, Sandy noticing Heather looking at the screen.


“You were told, lover, no work…”


“It’s Tommy.”


“Oh – you know, when you and Sands told me who Krys was, I was amazed.  But it helped him and Holly start to work things out?”


“It did – but we have another problem.  Krys is part of him now…”



"This really is some compound," Veronica shook her head as she, Jan and Eleanor, opened the door of the pretty cottage set in the hillside.

"I thought what Nessa had at Curragh Park was impressive," Jan signaled to the maid to put the bags down inside the door, "but this is even more."


“Amazing,” Eleanor said as she went into the main room, and looked out of the window.  “So, do we dress for dinner tonight?”


“I don’t think so…”




“Gale,” Natalya said as she passed the American in the corridor, “may I have a word?”


“Of course,” Gale said as they slipped into her room, Natalya closing the door before she said “let us talk, cousin.”


Gale nodded and took a deep breath, before she said “hello, cousin, how may I help you?”


“Have you noticed young Miss Bronheimer?”


“Alexis?  I noticed she has not slept, and she has been looking at my host.  Is there a problem?”


“Yes – I will have need of your help tomorrow night.”




“The guests have all arrived?!


“Indeed Aunt Maria,” Francesca said with a smile, “they’re dispersing to their rooms, the villas, Carlotta’s home – but we will all meet again at the hotel.  Are you sure you will not join us?”


“No thank you,” Maria said with a smile, “I have a dinner engagement with our mutual friend…”


“I still can’t get over this place.”


"So is the room to your liking ladies?" Francesca asked as Kay, Aggie, and Sherry joined her and Maria back in the drawing room.


"Very much so," Sherry smiled, "It's given me an idea my husband will hate."


"Oh and what is that?" Maria asked.


"Just how I want to redecorate our bedroom in our house in West London."


"Ah I understand," the elderly lady laughed gently.


“Sue decided to stay with the others at Charlotte’s home,” Agnes said as she sat down, “I think she felt she was a little too young for us…”


"Do I need to make further introductions?" Francesca nodded for the women to sit down. "I know that Kay for sure knows my Aunt Maria."


"I indeed do know Signora Riva," Kay said as she leaned over and kissed the old woman on the cheek.


"Yes,” Maria said with a smile, “the Commander's path and mine have crossed on the odd occasion."


"And from that it's obvious what business you are in Signora," Sherry smiled.


"Used to be in, my dear," Maria smiled. "Nowadays I'm just a retired civil servant with a bad hip."


"You may speak freely in front of these ladies Aunt Maria,” Francesca said quietly as she sat down.  “You also met Agnes while we started the debrief in Paris, and Sherry was also there when we rescued the Mouse."


"I was," Sherry winced slightly as she remembered the shock at what happened at the racetrack.  “That was staged to get her out of a lethal situation?”


“Extreme, I grant you,” Francesca said quietly, “but effective.”


"Is she safe?" Agnes asked.


"Indeed she is," Francesca's eyes sparkled, "in fact she's very nearby."


“She is?  She has a new cover?”


“Indeed,” Maria said, “and it is our hope if she meets any of you this weekend, that the cover will hold.”


“You might need to consider one possibility,” Agnes said quietly, “Marianne Vosloo.”


“This is why she is staying with Helga, Karen and Liz,” Francesca said quietly, “I anticipate some questions will come from her…”





“I’m shocked – shocked I tell you, at the level of deceit and duplicity shown by my staff today.”


Sandra laughed and shook her head at Shirley’s comment while she was in the bathroom.  “So what tale did they spin you?”


“That I had to accompany them to an important luncheon – I stepped out of the office to see the car waiting, and Lily holding my passport.  Apparently, John also knew.”


“And he said nothing?”


“Like I said,” Shirley said as she came out, “I am shocked.”

"So who are the three women that came with Cat?" Maddie asked as she sat on the end of Madame's bed and watched her friend change clothes.

"Oh we were all at Footscray Lodge together, and Hannah was also at Cheltenham with me." Shirley slipped her shoes on. "We were a pretty tight knit group back then."

"So how comes I've never heard you talk about them?"

"Because,” Shirley said as she sat forward, “as I keep saying, when I became Madame I tried to cauterize my past life. I deliberately cut ties to people who'd known me before the kidnapping."

"Including Cat?"

"Yes, but Catriona being who she is refused to be left out of my life.  I knew she recognised me at the funeral, but it took a little while before I contacted her."

"Indeed, and she's always been there hasn't she?" Maddie asked with a slightly sly look.

"Well you didn't know she was Lady C either," Shirley laughed, "she really has been an incredible friend all my life."

"And these others?"

"I guess I'll find out this weekend if there are still things that unite us."


“Well, they are here,” Sandra said with a smile, “so that’s the first step…”





"Is all the land we can see your family's property Charlotte?" Maisha asked as the group heading for the opposite shore sat in the small saloon of the motor cruiser.

"A lot of it is," Charlotte replied as she looked out of the window, "There are some private homes, but a lot of the villas and cottages are leased from my personal company."

"It really is beautiful," Annie whispered as she snuggled up against Carina and smiled.


“It doesn’t beat Ardray,” Sue said as she sat on the other side of the cabin, “but it comes close…”

"Do you also own property in Sentua itself?" Cari asked. "It looked beautiful as we drove through."

"It is beautiful, and I own some buildings, but unlike the countryside over which my ancestors were the feudal overlords, the town had a measure of freedom and independence."

"The pattern is similar in Furtstenheim," Carina spoke seriously. "My family was often in conflict with the townspeople."

"From what Mamma told me it was a pattern over large parts of Europe," Charlotte looked serious, "a conflict between the towns and the countryside, the clash between the feudal aristocracy, and the rising urban classes."


“A lesson from history,” Mary Thomas said as she sat in the bow, “as it ever was, as it ever will be.”



6.30 pm CET

Villa dei Mille Fiori.

As the ladies started to gather to head into Sentua, Francesca’s servants serving drinks, Shirley slowly walked out onto one of the terraces to look out over the lake as the sun started to set.  She was wearing a grey jacket over a blue dress, and smiled as she looked on the waters.

"Have you got ten minutes for a private chat Shirl?" Hannah asked as she followed Madame out, looking round to see if anyone else was there.

"For an old friend who I've shamefully neglected for all these years,” Shirley said with a smile, “I have a lot more time than that."

"Cat has kept me in touch over the years,” Hannah said with a smile, “so I never totally lost contact."

"She's been a great friend, I guess," Shirley said quietly.

"She was telling me that at long last you are going to build on the site of your family's old house in Wheathampstead?"

"Yeah - John saw an old house drawing I'd sketched and he talked me into maybe building a house to my old design."

"Well it will have to look better than the old house whatever you do,” Hannah said as she shook her head. “I used to think it was so ugly."

"You know I always did," Shirley laughed, "Gothic revival was never my taste."

"Even when the building was designed by Pugin himself?"

"Yes," Shirley laughed again, "even when it was listed as a building of historic architectural significance.'"

"Hey.  Do you remember the state you were in when you got back to school after your interview at Cambridge?'

"Oh do I," Madame rolled her eyes, "I was sure that I'd blown any chance of getting in after I told that tutor what I actually thought about Pugin's work."

"How were you to know the guy had literally written the book on Pugin," Hannah laughed, "and he certainly jumped to conclusions that when he saw where you lived on your application that just because you lived in a house built by his idol that that made you a fan as well."

"Did all that really happen quite so many years ago?" the auburn haired woman shook her head, "In my mind Han it feels like just yesterday."

"I feel sometimes just where has my life gone?" Hannah spoke softly. "Do you still think about the fire?"


“Not as much as I had done,” Shirley said as she turned round, “but Maisha seeing that drawing, that brought it back.”


“Your daughter?  She seems a nice young woman – where did you meet?”


“New York – and yes, I have been remembering it.  All of it?”


“You know, I never quite found out how we managed to get out before the fire really took hold.  The three of us got extremely lucky.”


“Yeah – we did…”




"Where did I go so badly wrong with Buffy Kel?" Sukie said as she dabbed at her eyes with a Kleenex. "I look at yours and Claire's girls and I wonder just what the hell happened?"

"What makes you think we did any better?" Kelly asked.  “I mean come on – the New York Sluts?”

"Yes, but consider the fact that Nell is now engaged to Mick, and that Bobbi is marrying Simon."

"After she already got pregnant," Claire laughed.

"True, but it only speeded up what was going to happen inevitably any way." Sukie dabbed at a few more tears. "It frightened me when I worked out that I don't know if my daughter even has a boyfriend? I'd always assumed that she was seeing so many guys that she was just playing the field, it never occurred to me that they were paying for her company..."

"And to have sex with her?" Kelly interrupted.

"Yes that as well," Sukie cried some more.

"Just remember my daughters are nicknamed 'The New York Sluts'?"

"Neither Bobbi or Becca exactly have spotless reputations you know?" Claire added.

"But at least none of them ever sold it."

"Hopefully," Kelly said quietly. "I did hear whispers about Nell at one time."

"That was just malicious gossip," Claire looked at her friend.

"I know, but it still had me worried.”

"Well I'm dealing with the reality of my daughter being a whore, and I have no idea what I'm going to do?"


“But you still love her?”


“Of course I do – but…”


“Then let that be the first step,” Kelly said quietly, “talk to her when you get back, and remember – she at least pled guilty.”





“So you have fully recovered?”


“Recovered is not the correct word,” Helen said as she sat with Cathy and Juliette, “but I am at peace, and focused again.  May I ask – what is wrong with Alexis?  She seems to be very tired.”


“I’m hoping this weekend will revive her,” Juliette said as she looked at her assistant.




“We have a late arrival Marchesa,” Maria said as the older woman walked in.


“Roberta – I am so glad you made it,” Francesca said as she kissed her on the cheeks, “You just have time to freshen up before we go for dinner.”


“Oh lord,” Catriona said as she came in, “we are in real trouble now.”


“Why,” Shirley said as she and Hannah came in, and then she said “oh lord…”


“It was hard enough resisting the temptation to write Cat and Shirl up for demerits when I saw them together, but all five of you together?" Bobbi Gresham-Fox laughed as she embraced all five of the women. "You know this really must be the first time I've seen you all together since Footscray Lodge."

"It probably is," Chloe smiled, "and can I just say it's lovely to see you after all this time, and an ambassadors wife no less."




"It's so lovely to see her this relaxed," Penny watched Shirley laughing with her old friends.

"It is," Lily smiled, "And I think a lot of that has to be attributed to you Juliette."


"Yes you," Penny smiled, "it was really meeting you that helped her start to come out of her shell."


“Has she ever told you about when we first met each other?”


“She told me,” Caroline said as she joined them, “breaking into your apartment shocked you, by all accounts.”


“True – but even then, I knew there was a really wonderful person under there.  A person who had been hurt a great deal – she said then we were both sides of the same coin, and it urns out she was right.”


“I can imagine that is true,” Aggie said as she joined the growing group, “but during my own exile, I discovered what a generous woman Shirley Xavier really was, behind that façade.”


"You know, I overheard her talking to one of her friends about something that happened when they were at school,” Caroline said quietly, “and Shirley said it felt like it happened yesterday."

"I can understand that Caroline," Juliette smiled slightly, "it was like when I saw Klaus again after all those years, it was like the intervening period had all in many ways been just a dream."

"You said something similar when you got your Mum's letters Caroline," Lily reminded her.

"True," the tall blonde looked reflective, "I guess in some ways we have been lucky enough to be able to go back to the moment of trauma that shaped our lives, and this time at least deal with it."

"That is rather profound," Penny looked deep in thought for a few seconds. "I guess..."

"That you really need to settle things with your father," Aggie interrupted.

"It's still a festering wound love," Helen spoke quietly. "I'm trying to deal with Andre's betrayal of my family and you are being wonderful, but isn't it about time you helped yourself?"

"You are all right I suppose." Penny let a tear go.


“Coming back to Shirley though," Madeline spoke, "she can't make the kidnapping, and what happened afterwards just vanish, but she can stop suppressing the fact that she had a life before that event and she can now reclaim some of that old life."

"She won't become a professional architect, but she has the financial resources that will allow her to dabble in the craft she once wanted to make her career," Agnes smiled broadly. "Maybe I need ask her to design some of the new affordable housing I want to build at Ardray?"


“You can certainly try…”





"What is this I hear on the grapevine darling, Jeannie has invited Spider to do an evening at St Angela's in the new year?"

"She has Mandy. After meeting her at the funeral, and then at the two shows in Ireland my daughter decided to ask her," Barbara glanced in a nearby mirror to check her outfit out.

"Well the evening with Eve was a huge success," Grace also looked at her own reflection, "and Jean is from a slightly different generation of models with a different range of experiences to talk about. Hopefully it will be just as successful."

"It also give my daughter and Jeanne a chance to do a segment for their new bit on model history."

"I suspect all of us will at some time be asked to share our experiences for that," Karen Boyd joined the little group.

"The first interview is going to be with Carmen next month. As my Jeannie put it, she's the last of 'The Untouchables' still working."

"That's true," Grace laughed, "and yes I know they looked untouchable in their pictures, but I met enough of them in my life to know that if the public had just known what they getting up to away from the cameras."

"Missy you knew Eileen Ford darling," Mandy looked at her agent, "is it true that back then Eileen Ford spent half her time hushing up scandals?"

"So the story goes," Missy smiled at her friends, "but like the story that she turned Grace Kelly down as a model because she didn't look classy enough, Eileen always denied that story."


“It is true though – Carmen confirmed it,” Olivia said with a smile.






"So are you going to be okay?" Janine asked Alexis as they stood in the hallway of the villa as everybody gathered.

"Okay with what?"

"The dreams. You were mumbling some odd things while you slept on the plane."

"I don't know Janine," Alexis shook her head, "at times I think I'm losing my mind."

Shaking her head, Janine whispered "I warned you all that Jack the Ripper shit would mess with your head.'

"I know you did, but I thought it was just a harmless hobby till..." suddenly Alexis grabbed at her friends sleeve. "Who is that woman over there with the boss?"

"Who is..." Janine looked, "that's Natalya Buchenwald, she's Juliette's aunt by marriage."


Janine suddenly looked at her friend and said "Why are you asking?"

"Because hers is one of the faces I see in my dreams, and what scares me is that I've never met her till now."

"Actually you might have seen her in the office a couple of times,” Janine said quietly, “she has dropped in to see Juliette occasionally."

"Well I don't remember her," Alexis shook her head, "but in my dreams I've seen her carry out the most horrific murders."

"It can only be a coincidence, you saw her face and somehow remembered it. She is quite striking to look at."

"Maybe," suddenly Alexis’ voice was very jittery.


“Right – forget that now, let’s join the others…”


"Can I have a quiet word Maria?"

"You may Commander, or I suppose I really should call you Kay shouldn't I?" the older lady smiled and laughed gently.

"You should," Kay smiled as well.  "I wanted to ask if there are security patrols out there?" she gestured to outside the villa complex.

"There is a security presence from my country yes,” Maria said quietly, “and I'm told they are working with a team from the Sisters of Maisha."

"The who?"

"Commander you disappoint me," Maria laughed again, "I know very well that you know who the Sisters are and that Carlotta is very involved with that organization."

"Alright you got me,” Kay said, “and yes I was aware there were 'connections'."

"And that some of your friends have similar ties?"

"Again I might have heard a few things."

"I suspect several people here are involved in some way or another," Maria looked around, "anyway our people have an agreement with the Sisters to both provide discreet security both for the di Cambrello family..."

"And the Mouse," Kay whispered.


“And her – you may see a redhead around.”


“Francesca,” Marianne said as she came in with the other women, “a word?”


“Of course, my old friend - what is it?”


“Are there other guests here?”


“I am letting another friend use a villa while she is writing a book, why?”


“A red headed woman?”


“Yes, Valentina has red hair – did you see her?”


“I think so – will she be joining us this weekend?”


“Not sure – but she is otherwise occupied tonight…”







"By castle standards it's not huge," Charlotte said as she waved for her guest to follow her out on the terrace, "but it's a pretty magical place."

"Indeed.  I can see why your grandparents loved it so much and wanted it to be yours," Maisha looked southwards across the lake as the sun started to go down away to the west. "It is a beautiful location."

"Schloss Alkel has a similar location," Ingrid said as she took a deep breath of the mountain air, "but that's a ruin that my family haven't lived in for centuries."

"I'll show you some pictures of how bad a state this place was in when my great great grandparents decided to start restoring this place if you like Ingi?"

"Maybe tomorrow.  Tonight is for relaxing."

"How long did it take to restore then?" Annie asked.

"Over 80 years."

"That is a long time," Maisha nodded.

"So what is it that I hear about Shirley building a house Maisha?" Carina asked.

"Well what she has in mind is nothing like this,” Maisha said with a smile, “but she owns that land that her family home once stood on, and she wants to design and build somewhere we can go to at weekends when we want to get out of London."

"Who would have guessed that Madame underneath was an architecture lover?" Susan asked.

"Actually if you piece together all the clues and hints she's dropped, then it's actually pretty obvious," Charlotte started to count heads to make sure all her guests were there.  “Okay then – the cars are outside…”



7.30 pm



The city of Sentua stood by the side of the lake, still surrounded by the fortified worlds put in place by the Marchesa at the time to fight off the approaches of the Holy Armies under the Borgia family.  Outside the city walls a number of small villages had spread to such an extent that they were now considered part of Sentua by the government, but to locals only those buildings within the city walls were part of the city itself.


Within the walls could still be found many of the narrow streets and cobbled roads that were part of the old town, but in more recent times a number of wide roads had been built to allow access to the city itself, and one of those roads came through the main gates – a road that a number of cars were now approaching as the late autumn sun started to set, a warm glow reflected from the buildings onto them.


“What an amazing place,” Sandra said as she sat in the back of one car with Maddie and Emma, Shirley and Francesca sitting opposite them.  “I feel like I’m in a Victorian novel.”


“Except that would have been horse drawn carriages, not cars,” Maddie said, and then she looked at Francesca.


“We were tempted, but – well, security,” she said with a smile as they drew up in front of a tall building, the front decorated with marble pillars.  “Here we are – our venue for tonight.”


As the driver opened the door, Francesca got out to see a smartly dressd man come out of the building.


“Marchesa – you and your party truly honour us with your visit tonight,” he said as he kissed her hand, and then saw Charlotte get out of a second car as the others got out.  “And you as well, Signora Carlotta.”


“Thank you for accommodating us tonight, Carlo,” Charlotte said with a smile.


“This way – please…”



"I thought we said NO BUSINESS!" Merlin looked over her friend’s shoulder as Missy glanced at her phone while they were all being shown to their tables.

"This isn't business as such,” Missy said as she put her phone away, “it's a message from Rhenia saying that she heard via a couple of girls that Eva Eckholm has been reading that old book of Michael Gross's 'Model' and she is freaking out that I'm even thinking of bringing Mel into the profession."

Shaking her head, Mary muttered "that thing really should carry a health warning."


"Mary you are an insider dear, you know as well as I do that 90% of what is in there was true."


"That's the key word though, 'was'. We've cleaned up our act as an industry since those days."


"Yes,” Missy said as she sat at the table, “but there is still mucky shit going on out there. How do I convince Eva that Mel will not become a victim?"

"By pointing out how Abigail and the others are looked after." Mary Thomas took a deep breath, "and then sending her to talk to me, Ju, and some of the others who survived the really bad years so we can explain what happened to her."


“Do you think that might work?”


“I don’t know – you’re bumping up against Lutheranian sensibilities as well here…”


“What are Missy and Merlin talking about,” Sandy said as she looked over.


“A blast from the past – the Gross book,” Juliette said as she looked at the menu.


"Why virtually alone among the 'Supers' did you not talk to Gross for that book Ju?" Diana asked as they both sipped some water.


"Because I knew just who was talking to him, and I felt I had little or nothing to add," Juliette took a breath, "plus I knew he was sniffing round in case I had skeletons in my closet as well, and I didn't want him raking over my affair with Klaus, and the circumstances of Carina's birth."

"You had little to interest him really though Ju," Grace spoke. "Yes you were modelling from a young age, but you'd kept yourself out of the hands of the sexual predators, and you didn't do drugs."

"Unlike so many of our friends, darling," Mandy looked serious. "You navigated both New York and Paris and came out unscathed."


"Well virtually unscathed." Juliette suppressed some bad memories.  “It just makes it so important I get Fiona’s book out as the counterpoint – I was reading the text, and she doesn’t pull any punches about that time.”


“Fiona doesn’t?”


“No – but she focuses on the impact on the models.  I think she must have talked to Sweets about it…”





"So when Simon and Simone set up Norstar Missy where were you?" Paulie asked from the other side of the table.


"At Ford's,” Missy said, “and I was getting antsy over some of the things that were happening, so when S&S started looking for bookers to staff their new agency I guess they knew I'd be fairly east to recruit."


"Did you take any Ford girls with you when you left?" Nessa asked.


"A couple, but I wasn't one of those bookers who when she changed agencies took half the girls with her."


"How did Jerry and Eileen react when you left?"


"Better than they did with a lot of bookers who walked out. Jerry took me to dinner and tried to persuade me to stay, but I wanted out too much."



"I've been listening to a couple of conversations about the troubles in the model industry in Paris in the eighties and nineties,” Caroline said as she sipped her drink, “at least you and Shirley were out of that Madeline."


"Who says we were totally Caroline?" Maddie took a drink, "Master might not have been directly involved, but he knew many of the people who were, and he attended a lot of those infamous parties."


"I never knew," the tall blonde shook her head. "You and she have never talked about it."


"With good reason," Maddie shivered involuntarily, "it wasn't only young models being abused you know?"


“All three of you?”


Maddie shook her head as she said “I only stayed – well, unsullied because I had a reputation for servicing in other ways.  Shirley – I don’t know, and Sandra did have a few encounters…”




"Now as Shirley's oldest friend, I think that the time has arrived for me to talk to you all about the lady who we are all here to give a last incredible weekend to before she settles down to happy matrimony," Catriona smiled as she looked around the room.

"Hear hear," a couple of female voices were heard to say as everyone looked at the barrister.

"Most of you have only had the pleasure of knowing the grownup Shirley - Zoe, Hannah, Claire, and I, however knew her before she even became a teenager, and while others this weekend will talk about the Shirley became later, tonight I'm going to talk about the Shirley I knew back then."

"Oh now I'm in trouble" Shirley rolled her eyes.

“As Bobbi will testify, when we all met at Footscray, we became firm friends, and possibly a slightly – disruptive influence.  I have to declare, in the interests of openness, how pleasant we could be on the hockey field.”


“No,” Bobbi laughed, “not that pelasant…”


"How many of you know that Shirley back then had a deep passion for all things beautiful?" Cat smiled again. "A lot of you know she wanted to be an architect, but how many of you know that she also had dreams of being a model, and appearing on the cover of Vogue, or CS?"

Catriona paused as the group looked at Shirley, who was now blushing.

"Well she never did become an architect, but she did make it on to the cover of CS courtesy of John her fiancé and the memorable photo he took of her and Diana de Ros that I'm sure you've all seen."



As she listened to Cat talking about her, Shirley’s mind was thinking over what she had overheard in the conversations about Paris in the nineties, and her mind could not help going back to those days, and what happened to her when she was there with Maddie and Sandra – and him.


It wasn’t a subject she liked to dwell on – the way he had used all three of them as his toys for his “pleasure films” was bad enough, but there were the parties as well – the things she had been forced to do as part of them.  Maddie had already come out at that point, so she was spared the worst of the games.  But she and Sandra…


She looked across the table to each other and she saw Sandra nod.  She was obviously thinking much the same thing, and feeling much the same way.  The three of them always had their own personalities – Maddie the fighter, Sandra the carer, and frightened little Shirley who had to grow up very quickly.


And then there were others – such as Lucia…






 "Why did you say in this month’s CS that you don't really consider yourself an original 'Supermodel' Juliette?" Rachel asked.

"Because by the time I hit it really big in the second half of '94,” Juliette said, “they'd already been using the term about Naomi, Christy, Linda, Stephanie, Claudia and the others for about 5 years."

"But most people do include you in with them in their memories Ju," April spoke.

"You, and Kate Moss." Claire Morse added as she sipped some wine.

"Yeah Kate and I were over time included,” Juliette said as she looked at Diana, “and most people forget we were late additions."

"Why were you never considered a "Super' Grace?" Tonia asked as she looked across the table.

"While I guess I was a star,” Grace replied after she had swallowed some food, “I wasn't quite up there in their league."

"You were close Gray," Pippa looked serious, "And just like Mandy, Alice, and Karen, a lot of publications referred to you as a supermodel."

"That's when the term started to get overused though," Grace smiled, "and we'd already founded PTA by then as a way of sorting out who were top girls, and who weren't."

"The point of my article was that 'Supermodel' as a term really only works if you give it context,” Juliette said, “and it's only in the 90's it really had meaning."

"If in fact it ever had meaning at all, and wasn't just media hype," Mary Thomas spoke softly.

"Exactly Merlin."


“How did Fiona describe that time, Juliette?”


“Put it this way,” Juliette said quietly, “one of the chapter headings is ‘I’m Part of The Union’.  What does that say to you?”


Mary shook her head as she said “she always had a good ear for a tune…”





"Are things really much better today?" Sandy asked the group at her table. "You all heard what our new 'Commander in Chief' said on that 'Access Hollywood' tape."

"I'm afraid that even today powerful men think that celebrity and wealth means they have a license to do whatever they wish to women." Nessa spoke softly.

"Not all of them Ness," Paulie looked at her friend, "most men aren't pigs and bastards."

"But enough are, and thanks to their money, and mutual protection pacts with other sadists, rapists, etc, they get away with every conceivable kind of crap...And I know that from experience," Diana looked angry as she thought.

"In modelling, far too many girls were either too concerned with their own lives, or too frightened to go to the authorities about men having sex with underage girls." Karen spoke. "We all knew it was going on, but unless you wanted to ruin your own career then you looked the other way."

"Were you?" Sigi asked gently.

"Yes," Karen grimaced and took a drink of bottled water, "I'm not using it as an excuse, but the drink and drugs were in part a way to screen out the reality of what was going on."

"Most of us were aware of it," Alice looked sad, "but a lot of us really just said thank God it isn't me, and got on with our own lives."


"Was my Mother abused when she was underage Aunt Charity?"

"No she wasn't Caroline," Karen took another sip of her water. "A lot of bad things happened to Stella, but at least before she went full-time when she was 17 a combination of Dan and your father had prevented her getting used and abused before then."

Shaking her head, Caroline whispered "I forget they were childhood sweethearts."

"She was very in love with him from what I learned later, but there were already signs of trouble ahead.”  Karen shook her head as she continued “she told me once about the huge fight they had when she said she was quitting school."

"Dad told me that, how he pleaded with her to think what would happen after modeling if she didn't get her A Levels and go to university," Caroline looked sad.

"Or if she got pregnant and couldn't model," Karen said softly.

"Why didn't they get married when she did get pregnant with me, and why did she give him full custody when I was born Aunt?"

"I didn't really know her then, and she hated talking about it, but I think she wanted you to have a normal life, and not be raised in the insanity she was already part of."

"You know it has always given me huge rejection issues?"

"I know Caroline, and I also think it didn't help that he kept your surname as Jameson, and didn't change it to his."


“I wonder how Ama would have felt about being called Ama McCartney?” Caroline laughed.


“Proud, I suspect,” Karen said with a smile.




"So what was Norstar like when you joined them Missy?" Barbara asked.

"Well, Simone was still modeling herself,” Missy said, “and at first it was little more than her and a handful of more or less beginners."

"You know my daughter would be fascinated by this?"

"I know she would," Missy laughed, "anyway new agencies basically burn through money trying to build up their list and trying to establish themselves. Simone still being a top girl at least meant there was some income, and me, Simon, and the other booker he'd hired worked our butts off trying to get bookings for the rest of our board."

"So how did it survive and prosper?" Elaine Colman asked.

"Basically because Simon had a great idea for new talent and found a half dozen or so new girls, and a handful of reasonably well established girls decided to sign with us." Missy paused, "within a few months several of our girls had attracted notice and I had something to offer to potential clients, and as an agency we started to book a lot of work."

"So when did Juliette sign?"

"Ju had been a star teen model, but she was just transitioning to adult editorial work and her previous agency wasn't getting her the jobs she wanted. She literally walked in the front door one day with her book and asked if we would represent and manage her."




“Oh yes – she’s always known her own mind, that girl.”


"So how did you end up booking Mandy?" Denice asked.

"Norstar had an arrangement with her agency in London that we booked their talent in New York in return for them booking our models in the UK," Missy smiled.  “That, and Fiona’s recommendation.”

"Karen and I were principally managed by an agency in Paris that had a similar arrangement," Alice added.

"It sounds complicated."

"In a way it was, in a way it wasn't," Missy paused, "Even the mega agencies like Ford or Elite, usually didn't have their own offices everywhere and had to have alliances with locals. It was only after a lot of years that we finally established Norstar in Europe."

"What about you Grace?"

"Oh my agency worked with Ford."

"And you Diana?"

"I was with Elite in Paris, but that was a largely distinct company from Elite New York."

"I need to make notes for my daughter," Barbara laughed as she sat back.




As Natalya came out of the booth, she saw the grey haired woman standing there and smiled.


“You have arrived then?”


“Indeed – although room service was not on my agenda, so I ate out.  A party?”


“A friend is getting married,” Natalya said as she washed her hands and then turned round.  “It is good to see you Mistress – may I have the honour to introduce you to our cousins tomorrow?”


“I would be honoured, and the young lady in question?”


“Is here – you will know when you see her.”


“Then I will watch from the bar, and learn…”



"Who was the message from Shirley?" Sandra asked as they waited for the next course to be served.


"Lucia,” Shirley said with a smile, “she's coming to join us and should be here by lunch tomorrow."

"Who is Lucia?" Zoe asked.

"An old friend of mine, Maddie, and Sandra. She's Italian, but for many years now she's lived in Victoria in British Columbia."

"She's a surgeon," Madeline smiled, "and I think we are all rather proud of her."

"Yes," Shirley for a second looked lost in time, "who would have thought that is how she would end up when we met her at that party in Milan."

"Who indeed," Sandra saw the look on Shirley's face and knew she was remembering that awful night.

"I've met her, and she is a wonderful person," Charlotte smiled. "I'd invited her but I didn't think she could make it."

"Well it seems her schedule changed and she's on her way," Shirley mentally gave herself a shakeup “and it seems she is on her way.  Excuse me a moment."


As she stood and walked towards the powder room, Maddie and Sandra exchanged a look.  “Excuse us as well,” Maddie eventually said as she kissed Emma, and then walked off, Sandra following her.


As they entered the restroom, Sandra checked the stall doors while Maddie watched Shirley, then nodded.


"Alright we are alone now.”

"What is it that you need say, Maddie, that you are going to all this fuss?"

"You know very well Shirley Xavier," Madeline looked hard at her friend.

"I saw the look on your face when they were talking of the bad things that went on back then, and especially your look when you got the message Lucia is coming," Sandra put an arm round her friend, "and the person I saw wasn't hard-as-nails Madame X, it was the poor, scared, little Shirley we knew back then."

"I don't know what you mean..."

"Stop trying to bullshit us Shirley," Maddie shook her head, "we were there remember, we know that our lives were just as terrifying as any underage model being used and abused by an older man."

"They were nasty and evil men," Sandra put an arm round Shirley, but Master was even worse, and just as they live with their bad memories, we live with ours."

"I was just remembering that night in Milan," Shirley started to shake and cry.



“Ladies and Gentlemen!”


The assembled group turned at the sound of the male voice, while a group of young women stood at the back of the room.  All of them were wearing white long dresses with halter necks, and black chokers round their necks, a look of fear clear in their eyes.


“Are you all right, Shirley,” one woman, a red head, said to the young brunette standing next to her.


“No, Madeline, I am not – but we have no choice do we?   Robert asked if I was all right afterwards – and I will endure.


“I have to.”


The girl on the other side of Shirley nodded as she said “See him – the bald headed one?  Another mark against Master for forcing me to service him.”


“He smells of putrid flesh, Sandra.”


“you’re been too kind,” Sandra whispered back as the man at the front in the dinner jacket smiled.


“I wanted to thank you all for coming today, and I did promise something very special for you, my friends,” he said as the women watched.  “I have a special auction today – bring the lot in.”


Shirley and the others watched as two of Master’s men came in, carrying a girl between them.  She could not have been more than fourteen, her eyes wide as her head darted from side to side, the fear clear in them.  She was wearing a shite short sleeved blouse and a short denim skirt, as well as white shoes – but her arms were pinned to her sides with bands of rope, that stretched her bra over her chest, her wrists behind her back, and her ankles and legs were similarly bound – not to mention the length of rope that went between her legs and hiked her skirt up.


“A true Catholic Virgin,” the man said as he put his hand on her shoulder, “for the highest bidder.  Do I hear fifty thousand Lire?”


“My god,” Maddie whispered, “they must have snatched her today.  Why on earth…”


“You’re looking for a reason beyond his own depravity and greed,” Shirley said as the bidding went up. 


“I have two million Lire, any other bids?  No?  Sold!”


The girl screamed into the cloth that was tied between her lips as the bald headed man walked up and lifted her onto her shoulder, then took her out of the room, Shirley watching as he did so.



An hour later, the girl looked up from the bed she was on, sobbing as the door opened and Shirley came in with Maddie and Sandra.


“Do not be afraid of us,” Shirley said quietly, “we are the same as you, and we have been assigned to look after you.”


“You…  You were kidnapped as well?”


“and made to do things we did not want to do.  My name is Maddie, this is Sandy and Shirley.  What’s your name?”




“Well, Lucia, I wish I could say you are going home now,” Shirley said quietly, “but you are with us now.  We will look after you – come to the bathroom…”







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