The Mouse That Roared – Part 4
Sunday 27th November
10.30 am CET
them?" Sandy asked Diana as they both ate a late breakfast in the large
for what?" Diana said distractedly.
thoughts that have let you permit a perfectly good cup of coffee go stone
"Did I?" Diana picked up her cup and sipped to check, "sorry I was distracted."
"Which is what I was asking about. So who, or what, has you thinking so hard?"
this doctor friend of Shirley's, for some reason I think I've met her."
given she's a friend of Charlotte, a Sister, and..."
"No, not recently, I get the feeling I knew her many years ago, but for the life of me I can't think where."
“If you have, it will come to you eventually,” Sandy said as Heather came in, looking at her phone.
“Sorry – text from the US. I’ll deal with it later – let me get some food…”
"Have you noticed how many women here link to each other through schools Mom," Carina looked round. "There are an awful lot of Angel's, plus a lot of women went to the same school in England."
"I had noticed," Juliette smiled.
"Then there are several girls here who went to Esperance House," Sigi noted.
"That's true as well, including our hostess," Juliette looked across the room at Francesca who appeared to be staring at Shirley's friend Lucia, and then she suddenly noticed that Diana was staring at her as well.
links and threads as someone wrote," Carina laughed slightly.
"Now why are they staring at the doctor?" Juliette's brain now wanted to know.
"Why do I
suddenly wish I was at home and had both my old films from school, and my
yearbooks?" Diana asked herself. "Why is something in my brain
screaming the words School, and Lausanne?"
For a second the Frenchwoman tried to collect her thoughts. "Who was at school with me who is here?"
She then walked over to Francesca, and said “you’re thinking what I am thinking, aren’t you?”
“Where do we know Dr Lucia from?”
“Yes – if we’re both thinking the same thing, then what are the odds she was at Esperance?”
“Fairly high – but I get the feeling I know her…” Francesca suddenly stopped as she whispered “oh no…”
“Come with me,” she said quietly as they both walked towards Lucia. “Dr Bianchini, I have been neglectful in my duties as a host, especially to a fellow Italian.”
“It is not a problem, Marchesa,” Lucia said as she inclined her head, “you have a large party to act as host for.”
“May I introduce you to Diana, Countess de Ros,” Francesca said as Diana shook hands with Lucia, “we were talking about our days at Esperance school, and – well, forgive me, but did you attend there as well?”
Lucia blushed as she said “I did for a time.”
“Really,” Diana said, “what class were you in?”
“I didn’t complete my education there,” Lucia said as she looked at both of them, before Francesca whispered “no, you didn’t – Giovanna.”
Diana looked more closely at the doctor, before she whispered “can it really be you? I remember the tales – you were kidnapped, presumed dead, but…”
Lucia looked quickly round as she whispered “Giovanna di Matello died many years ago – it is better it stays that way.”
“No,” Francesca said as she took Lucia by the arm, “you know my history, so you know I can never accept that as an answer – especially from a fellow Sister. We will talk outside – all three of us…”
"You look well today Alexis," Carina smiled as her Mother's assistant piled the food on her plate.
"I actually feel great," the mid-Westerner said before she paused for a second, "and for some reason I feel I need to say thank you Carina...Isn't that odd?"
"Well I don't think I did anything to help, but I always take thanks," the shorter woman smiled to herself.
"I can't describe it, but somehow I feel different."
"It's probably just the change of scenery."
“Yeah – a new start, perhaps…”
“Maria,” Francesca said as Diana and Lucia slowly sat down, “would you bring us some coffee please?”
“Of course,” the housekeeper said as she walked off, Francesca sitting and putting her hand on Lucia’s.
“I remember when you were kidnapped,” Diana said, “we held a prayer vigil for you, but then it was assumed you were killed. Your parents, your sisters, they all mourned you.”
“There were times I wish I had been killed,” Lucia said quietly. “I do wonder, on occasion, what my life would have been had I taken a different route back that night…”
you change your name Giovanna?"
"Initially Diana?" the doctor took a deep breath, "It was because I thought the people grabbing me were Red Brigade, and they were taking me because they knew I was the daughter of a man who ran a major company with defence industry links. I thought if they thought I was someone else they might just let me go."
"I get the logic," Francesca nodded. "But why Lucia Bianchini?"
me outside the church of Santa Lucia on the Via Bianchini. It was the first
name that popped into my head."
Diana handed a
tissue to Luca, before she said "were the people who grabbed you
"No," Lucia shook her head, "they were something far worse, far more vile."
“They… They were slavers, Diana, the men who kidnapped me worked for a monster. I was taken to a villa, and then sold like chattel. Then…”
Diana and Francesca looked at each other, before Francesca said “who was it?”
“I only ever knew him as Master,” Lucia said quietly, “but that night my innocence was stolen – violently – from me. Afterwards, three others came and comforted me, and we became friends.”
Lucia looked at the two women, and said “Shirley… Maddie… and Sandra. How much… How much do you know of their story?”
“I knew of Shirley,” Diana said, “and knowing the strength of their friendship, I see now how it developed. May I ask…”
“How long? Two, three years – and then they broke free with Robert, and brought him down. We were all freed from our bondage that night, but we needed counselling, we needed each other…” Lucia then looked at Diana and said “you are a Sister as well? In what way?”
“A story, perhaps, for another time,” Diana said quietly. “For now, know I help support them financially. But what happened after you were released? Where did you go?”
"Several of us who survived...Master...vowed to stay together and give each other mutual support as we tried to build lives for ourselves." Lucia played with her hands, "Some of us were eventually reunited with friends and family, but in my shame at what I had done I felt it better that Giovanna stayed dead. That way I would never have to tell Mamma what happened," a tear started to drop.
“So you became Lucia Bianchini?”
“Yes – some old contacts set up my identity, and I would have stayed hidden, except…”
"Somehow Aunt Maria found you didn't she?" Francesca whispered.
Lucia nodded before she whispered "Si."
"And let me make a wild guess - it was at the time Andrea was kidnapped?"
"You always were the cleverest girl in Xeta House," the doctor smiled, "it was why I always doubted you were really La Bionda Idiota."
"You came to Rome to help find her, and of course you knew enough to head straight to your Godmother."
Diana looked at
both of them as she said "Signora Riva is her godmother Francesca?"
"I didn't go to her actually,” Lucia laughed. “She spotted me following you Francesca in a surveillance video. I had heard a rumour that you were in Naval Intelligence and I thought just maybe knowing our family as you did that you might be involved in the hunt for Andrea's kidnappers."
“We were – me and – another friend,” Francesca said.
“I saw her when you released her,” Lucia said, “and I was ready to disappear back into the shadows. Aunt Maria stopped me, made sure my new identity was solid, and helped me enter college. We have – kept in touch over the years.”
know that both Andrea, and your parents are in Rome?"
Lucia looked at
Francesca as she said "does that mean they have finally accepted her
"No," Francesca shook her head. “After they discovered about his wife in Pretoria, they cut all ties with her.”
"Oh what a family we are," Giovanna cried some tears, "one daughter presumed dead, the other disowned. At least they have Caterina and her family... they... they... have one daughter of who they can be proud."
"I think they would be proud of you," Diana said slightly. "I know of your work as a surgeon both in Canada, and for the Sisters, they would have much to be proud of you for."
they ask why I have never married,” Lucia cried, “and I have to explain that I
dread intimacy, that even the thought of a man holding me both scares, and
them you are a lesbian," Diana saw the look on Giovanna's face at the
"I can't let another woman touch me either," the doctor sobbed, "everyone who knows me thinks I'm a frigid, virgin, bitch. How do I explain why I'm like this? As I said, what do I tell Momma?"
“The truth? Lucia, take it from someone who had to lie half their life,” Francesca said quietly, “the thing we fear most is rejection if people know who we really are, what we have done. My father almost went to his grave not knowing the truth about me, but he asked forgiveness. Mamma – I hope one day she will understand as well.”
“Tell me – is she happy?”
“No. Giovanna may I ask both a question, and depending on your answer, a huge favour?"
"You may ask," Lucia asked as she tried to stop her sobbing.
this as a fellow sister. Would you go talk to Andrea?"
As she looked
suddenly up, Lucia said "are you asking this of me as her sister, or as A
Francesca smiled slightly, "I'd not ask, but the life of another sister
might be in danger, and Andrea may have information we need to help save her.”
case what do you need me to do?" the surgeon said as she started to pull
aware of Andrea's relationship with Peter Hope?"
aware that he is a spy?"
worked that out yes."
also he had another wife?"
"She was killed recently in Los Angeles?"
"Actually she wasn't," Francesca took a breath, "Alex was an agent of ours codenamed Mouse, and we did all that to get her away safely."
Giovanna paused a second, “and this leads to what?"
here on the Villa estate, and we think Peter is here with a squad of thugs
because he isn't convinced by the charade we mounted in LA."
"And you want me to talk to Andrea and try get her to tell me what he knows, and what his plans are?"
“Yes – I know it will take great courage, but it is essential, and time is short.”
Nodding, Lucia stood up. "How am I to get to Rome Francesca?"
"I'll have a helicopter here in 15 minutes to take you,” Francesca said, “and you'll have a team from La Citadella watching over you."
sure Andrea is there? She might not see me you know, and if she does will she
accept my resurrection from the dead and open up to me?"
risk we have to take."
shotgun," Diana said firmly, "Andrea knew me at school, she will
hopefully accept my word that it is you, and that you and she need talk."
sure Diana?" Francesca asked.
"You know I can handle myself Francesca, just give me a gun please. I know the risk I'm taking."
“Very well – come with me…”
As Diana and Lucia went to get a coat, Francesca spoke into her own phone, then looked to the doorway of the room.
"Francesca dear I need to give you a heads up," Maria Riva walked slowly in using her walking stick and glancing at her phone.
"About what Aunt?"
Peter Hope's men hired a car, a Mercedes. It was picked up 40 minutes
looking at the traffic cam information to see which way they were
a computerized search of the visuals going on as we speak."
"We need to
know also just who is in the car."
"Francesca dear is there something you wish to tell me?" Maria asked as Diana and Giovanna re-entered dressed for travel.
“Okay – short version, Diana and I finally recognised who Lucia really is. She’s heading to Rome with Diana.”
“To Rome? Surely you’re not thinking?”
“Desperate times,” Francesca said. “Diana, on the way out, will you ask Karen and Itsy to come in please?”
“Of course,” Diana said as they headed out of the room, Maria raising an eyebrow.
"Is that a helicopter I can hear?" Shirley asked as she sat having coffee in one of the drawing rooms.
"Sounds like it," Marianne looked up as she laid out her hand for Sherry to play.
arriving, or leaving," Veronica asked as she laid a card.
"Shall I go ask?" Sue stood up.
“No, let it be,” Agnes said with a smile as Eleanor played her card, “if it is urgent, they’ll let us know…”
“He’s on his way,” Maria said as Itsy and Karen came in and sat down.
“You wished to see us, Francesca?”
“I did, and forgive the shortness. Leader, I have word that Peter Hope and his team will be in Sentua in about 20 minutes time,” Francesca looked at the Zulu princess, “can you have some of your people there to see what he does when he arrives, and at last tell me where this woman agent of his is?”
“On it,” Itsy said as she stood up.
“I wouldn’t worry about Tina Morkel,” Karen smiled as she stood, “you can safely say she will not be intervening, or telling him anything.”
“Oh?” Francesca’s beautiful eyebrow lifted. “What…”
“It’s better you don’t know,” Karen interrupted, “just let it be known her final act in life helped free another.”
“Will she turn up?”
“I don’t know, does Lake Trevali usually give up its secrets?”
“Alright,” Francesca shook her head, “you are right I don’t want, or need, to know, BUT I do need you and your team in Sentua Leader, and NOW!”
“Yes Admiral,” the black woman by instinct saluted and ran to the door.
“So this is where you are hiding out.”
Sukie McLean looked up to see Kelly Rochermann, Rachel McNally and Clare Morse standing in front of her seat in the Italian Garden.
“Damn, you found me,” she said with a faint smile, “what gave it away?”
“We didn’t see you at breakfast,” Rachel said as she sat next to her, “and we were worried.”
“Yeah – I needed some time to think some things over, and I spent some time in the private chapel,” Suki said as she looked out over the flower beds.
“Kelly, the girls have done some – interesting things in the past. Did they ever overstep the line with you?”
Kelly rubbed her arm as she said “define stepping over the line.”
“You said you suspected Nell once…”
“I did – but it turned out just to be a rumour. I do get what you mean, though,” Kelly said quietly, “Buffy has been caught, but she has pleaded guilty.”
“And that is to her credit,” Rachel said. “I know she’s hurt you and Robert a great deal, Suki. But she is your daughter.”
“Yeah, she is,” Suki said as she looked at them and smiled. “I’m going to stand by her, but what sentence is she likely to get?”
“I asked Brooke and Tom,” Clare said. “They reckon given it’s a first offence, and she admitted her guilt, a fine and a deferred sentence. So she would effectively be on a good behaviour bond.”
Suki nodded as she said “well, all we can do is let the process run the course. Girls, thanks – I needed this space to clear my mind, and it’s worked in that sense.
“This way,” Maria said as she opened a door, Maxine Bonnier nodding as she handed the housekeeper her coat and gloves. Juliette stood up with Mary Thomas as Maria left the room.
“Thank you for seeing me Your Highness,” the elegant woman looked around the room that she had been ushered into.
“It is my pleasure. You know Mary Thomas of course?” Juliette smiled as she indicated for them all to sit.
“Indeed I’ve known Mary many years,” the visitor smiled, “we are old acquaintances.”
“We are,” Mary nodded. “We are indeed.”
“Now can I offer you coffee Madame Bonnier?”
“Please, and I hope you will call me Maxine?”
“If you call me Juliette,” the princess smiled as she motioned to the maid to bring them all coffee.
“This villa is magnificent.”
“I know, Francesca and her ancestors created something magical here.”
For a couple of minutes the three women made general conversation until the maid arrived with the coffee.
As Juliette poured, Maxine said “I suppose I ought get to the point of my visit shouldn’t I?”
“You want to know what Fiona put in her book about her relationship with your husband?” Juliette asked as she handed her a cup.
“To be blunt… Yes.”
“She never uses his name,” Juliette said as she sat back, and took a sip from her cup, “she only refers to him by the letter P, but she makes it clear how much she loved him.”
“Does she make any scandalous revelations?” Maxine said as she stirred the hot liquid in her own cup.
“Well the news that he enjoyed eating haggis might upset some French susceptibilities,” Juliette laughed.
“That it might,” Maxine laughed as well.
“Maxine you knew Fiona, you knew she loved Pierre, and you know that she did all within her power to keep that secret. Do you think in death she would blacken his name, or yours?” Mary spoke at last.
“She was discretion personified…”
“And she tries to be still in her book,” Ju interrupted. “A lot of people will suspect P was your husband Maxine, but if they are looking for scandal they won’t read it in Fiona’s book.”
“How does she describe the relationship then?”
“With tales of nights at the ballet, or opera. Of long walks in the country, and quiet nights in her flat.”
“The sort of things I never overly enjoyed,” Maxine smiled again.
“She tells one marvelous anecdote of him explaining to her a Frenchman’s idea of what looked good both on a woman, and on a man, and how that changed how she looked at fashion.”
“She told me that herself,” Mary sipped her coffee.
“Most of all though you get the sense from her writing that she knew that Pierre loved you above all Madame Bonnier, and that if push had come to shove he would never have left you.”
“Truthfully?” the Frenchwoman dabbed at a tear.
“She always knew that she had his love, but she also knew she shared that love Maxine,” Mary spoke softly, “she would have loved him to herself, but she accepted what he could give her.”
“You can read the manuscript Maxine,” Juliette put her cup down, “and I will make such changes as you might think necessary.”
“No I trust your judgment Juliette. Yes I will read it, but I think I can live with the world knowing about Fiona and Pierre, and I don’t think this will unduly damage his reputation.”
11.15 am CET
“Does anyone have eyes on them?” Leader asked into her com as she sat in the car.
“I do,” a voice answered in Itsy’s earpiece. “They are in the café on the main square. They look as though they are waiting for someone, and by the way they are looking at their watches, whoever it is is late.’
“Roger that. Maintain watch, inform me when they move. For the Heart and the Strength.”
“For the Heart and the Strength.”
“Admiral we have them sitting in a café,” The tall black princess spoke into her mobile, “they look like they are waiting for someone I’m pretty sure isn’t coming.”
“How long do you think before they work that out?” Francesca asked.
“Not sure, but from what I’ve heard of this man, patience is not one of his virtues.”
“That is what I’m thinking,” Francesca paused, “look I’m going to send you a sister who is an expert car thief I’m told.”
“You are thinking if we steal their car that will slow them down further?”
“Will the thief need support?”
“No just let her do her thing as the Americans put it.”
“I will do, and in the meantime I’ll report any movements.”
Charlotte said as she looked in, “Mamma needs you to do a job for her."
me grab my laptop..."
needs one of your other talents," Charlotte smiled, "there is a car
she needs stolen."
Heather stood up.
Sentua, can you be ready to go in five minutes?"
me grab a jacket and tell sandy I'll be back in a bit."
"Okay, what the hell is going on?" Juliette sat in an armchair obviously unobserved and hidden from the two younger women. "First it's something about Doctor Lucia, now it’s a car needs stealing?"
11.45 am CET
“Where the hell is she,” Peter Hope growled as he looked round the square at the people passing by. He, and the three men seated at the table with him, were wearing tailored suits with shirts underneath, their shoes highly polished – obviously not tourists, no matter how hard they tried to blend in.
“It’s not like Tina, boss,” Dirk van der Westhuizen said as he sipped his third coffee. He was bald, massive, and had a look in his eyes of steel as he glanced round.
“No it’s not,” Barry Geldenhuys said as he leaned forward. “Do we try calling her again?”
“No – we give her a little while longer. Danie, what have you found out?”
“There’s some sort of mass party at her home,” Danie Miller said, “the locals are all talking about it. It’s spilling over into her daughter’s place as well.”
“Any idea who is there?”
“None – Tina was gathering that intel. But there are a lot of models in as well, from what I have seen.”
“Is this going to cause us a problem,” Dirk said quietly.
“No – we just need to prepare for some helpless women to be left unconscious. We’ve got enough darts with us.” Peter looked down at the brown leather bag at his feet.
“I still don’t like this about Tina.”
“I agree – drink up, then we’ll go to her hotel…”
"It's the silver Mercedes," Charlotte pointed to a vehicle. "Can you do this Heather?"
"If it's a standard rental with the usual safety features then give me about 30 seconds."
your people still have eyes on our subjects?" Charlotte spoke into her
are still there Little Mother, but they are starting to look restless I'm told.
'He' actually shouted at the poor waitress after she slightly spilled his last coffee."
Heather it sounds like you better do it now before they make a move."
nanny slipped out and walked to the Mercedes.
"You know watching Heather steal cars is truly watching a thing of beauty," Charlotte whispered to herself. Two minutes later, she watched as Heather drove past, and followed her out…
Villa del Mille Fiori
“So what exactly is the arrangement for the wedding weekend, Shirl,” Kay asked as the woman sat round the room.
“Well, the wedding itself is on the Saturday, so we’re asking as many as possible to be there by the Thursday night. Alex Richmond, who is officiating, wishes to see us for a rehearsal on the Friday morning.”
“Me and John, Ama and Maisha, Cat Maddie and Sandra,” Shirley said with a smile. “John and the men are decamping to the Waldorf on the Friday night, so I’ll host a cocktail party on the Friday night.”
“Do we get to meet the remarkable Kylie then,” Zoe asked with a smile.
“I imagine Kylie will be there, along with a few more of my close friends,” Shirley said with a smile. “Which reminds me – I said to be there by the Thursday, especially for your three – we have final fittings that morning.”
“And what, pray tell, is Major Hammond wearing?”
“Full military dress – as for Jack and Luke…”
“Jack and Luke?”
“Jack Linklater and Luke Heller – they are his groomsmen for the day. They will be in tails. A lot of the world’s finest photographers are going to be there as well as guests.”
“I heard a rumour,” Agnes said as she sipped from her cup, “about those two.”
“It’s not a rumour,” Mary said with a smile, “they are going to get married, date to be arranged.”
“Good for them,” Kay said with a smile.
“Then the reception afterwards at the Waldorf. It should be a wonderful day…”
12.30 pm CET
“I’ve had enough,” Peter said as he suddenly stood up. “Dirk, Barry, head to the hotel and find out where our friend has got to. Danie, you’re with me.”
The two men nodded as they walked quickly off in one direction, Peter and Danie heading to the car park.
“So what is going on with you and the little lady,” Danie asked.
“She’s getting above herself, that’s all. Bringing her here may have been a mistake,” Peter said quietly.
“You haven’t been back here since that mission, have you?”
“No – I’m amazed they let me in, but maybe they have forgotten – how many government changes have they had since then?”
“More than us,” Danie laughed, “and probably about as good as ours. Hang on…”
“What is it,” Peter asked as he stood with the bag in his hand.
“The car – I parked it right there, and now it’s gone.”
Peter stared at the empty parking space, before he said “Eers raak sy vermis, nou die motor - wat fokken gaan hier aan?”
“Geen idee nie, baas - maar dit is tweehonderd rand in die drein.”
“Fok dit - laat ons saam met die ander by haar hotel gaan kuier. Ek wil voortgaan met hierdie ...”
“Peter, finish your meal,” Andrea said as they sat just inside the small restaurant.
“Mother,” the tall young man said, “what is going on with you and Father? He has been so angry these last few days – is it the fact he is not able to go to his job?”
“In part,” Andrea said with a look at her son, “but he had to go away on business today, so we must amuse ourselves. What do you wish to do?”
“I have some shopping to do,” Peter said as he wiped his chin, and stood up, “and that would bore you. I will meet you at the hotel in a couple of hours?”
“Of course,” Andrea said as he leaned over and kissed her head, then went out as she sipped her wine.
“Andrea? Is that you?”
She looked up to see the tall, silver-blonde haired woman standing there, in a designer trouser suit, and said “I’m sorry, do I… Diana? Diana du Grechy?”
“It’s Diana de Ros now,” she said as she sat down, “I was just passing and happened to glance in, and saw you there. How are you?”
“I am – as well as can be expected,” Andrea said quietly, “so what brings you to Rome?”
“I am attending a weekend party at a friend’s home in Sentua, but wanted to take care of some business in the city here.”
“Sentua? But that is where Peter and his friends have driven to today.”
“Yes,” Diana said as she looked round, “I know. That is the other reason I am here – me and a friend from the party.”
“Oh? Where is she?”
Andrea stiffened as she heard the third voice, and slowly stood up, turning to see Lucia standing there, before she whispered “No… Giovanna?”
“It is – sit down, sister, we need to talk…”
Andrea physically shook, "How can this be possible? You've been dead for all these years?"
"So I let
the world believe," Giovanna tried to smile.
"I'll try and explain in a minute, but first do I get a hug and a kiss?"
"Of course," Andrea stood up, obviously stunned and confused. For a few seconds she hesitated, then as the tears started to flow put her arms round her sister and kissed her.
"I have so missed you," Giovanna said as she started to cry as well.
“But how has this miracle happened? Diana, did you know?”
“Truthfully? I only met her for the first time in decades yesterday, and it was only this morning I realised who she was. I assure you, I was as shocked as you were.”
"What happened to you, it drove Mother and Father crazy with worry. They were devastated, and Caterina… You know she is a mother now?"
“I have watched from afar, so yes, I do know – and I know you are a mother as well.”
Andrea nodded as she said “yes, Peter – he may be the only good thing to come out of what I have done with my life…”
“I’m not here to judge,” Lucia said quietly, “I’m hardly in a position to anyway.”
“Why not? Giovanna, what really happened to you?”
"I was kidnapped and held prisoner," Giovanna took a deep breath,” and to survive I degraded myself terribly. When finally I was freed I was too ashamed to come home and tell you all what I had had to do to survive."
"Oh dear Mother," Andrea put a hand over her mouth.
“But, somehow, I survived, and eventually I rebuilt my life to some degree, but that shame never went away, so I put on a face to hide it. Then, I found a new purpose that drives me.”
purpose? So now what do you do?" Andrea whispered as Lucia held her hand.
surgeon would you believe?"
"You are a
"I am, I
live in Canada and work as a consultant there.
I’m actually back in the country for a celebration before the wedding of
an old friend."
“Surely not you Diana?”
Diana laughed as she shook her head. “No, not me – but the person concerned is a mutual friend of ours.”
Lucia squeezed Andrea’s hand as she said “I also know you miss our parents as well. I have to know, Andrea – are you happy?”
“I thought I
was,” Andrea said, “but these last few weeks…
Why, after all these years are you here Giovanna?"
"I need you to listen to me, Andrea, and say nothing, do nothing until I have finished.” As her sister nodded, Lucia said “I also play another role – I am a member of a group of women who protect the innocent, and seek to stop others going through what I did.
“What we both did, Andrea. Forgive me, but – why did you marry him? I heard from others he was the man who kidnapped you.”
“He was,” Andrea said, “but at the time, you had disappeared, thought dead, and our parents were distraught. Caterina tried to help, but she had her own family, and I… I felt as if I was slipping through the cracks, been ignored. When I was held, Peter was the one who showed me kindness – or so it seemed.”
“Did he hurt you?”
“Not then, no – and I was so desperate for love that I latched onto it. A few months after I was returned, we met up, and he proposed. I accepted, and left with him.”
“Did you know he was already married?”
“Not then, no. I only learned his real job after I had gone to the US, and by then Peter had arrived. I was so much in love, I just accepted it – but recently, I fear I have seen the real Peter Hope, and…”
“It scares you. Andrea, the group I represent, they know Peter is in Sentua today, and they fear he means harm to someone. I need you to tell me what Peter Hope is really doing in Sentua?"
Andrea rubbed her head as she said “all he told me was he thought his wife was not dead, and was been sheltered by ‘a bitch he once knew’.”
“Francesca,” Diana said, Andrea looking over and nodding.
"I think he is fixated on Francesca Giovanna," Andrea sniffed, "I think his plan is to somehow kidnap her daughter and force her to tell him just what happened in Los Angeles, and whether Alexandra is still alive."
"Why did I think it might be something like that," Diana was the first to reply.
"He would put a woman through the hurt of being kidnapped...YET AGAIN?" Lucia snarled.
he thinks she played a large role in freeing me all those years ago, and I
think his fixation on her has become utter madness now."
know how he plans to do this Andrea?" Diana asked quietly.
"Not totally, I know he had one of his female agents there to try and determine just where the daughter would be, and when. He was going to decide exactly what to do when he had that information.”
“A female agent?”
Andrea nodded as she looked at Lucia. “I… I have made a terrible mistake, what do I do?”
“Stay here,” Lucia said as she looked at Diana, “with me. Diana?”
“I’ll make a call,” Diana said as she stepped outside…
1.30 pm CET
Mille Fiori, near Sentua.
“Valentia,” Francesca said as her friend was shown in, “come in please.”
“Has there been any word?”
“As I understand it, the advance agent has been - dealt with,” Francesca said quietly.
“What’s the but?”
"Okay Alex darling can you please sit down," Francesca indicated the chair next to hers. As Alex took a seat, Francesca said "Peter and his 'friends' are in Sentua."
"Alright," the Mouse took a deep breath, "so he's made a move on the chess board, what is our next one?"
already making it. Did you hear the helicopter arrive and depart?"
"Yes. What was that about?"
in Rome, so I've sent a couple of people to talk to her." the Marchesa
smiled, "to use your chess analogy he has left his queen
proposing to take her out of the game?" Alex whispered, "If
a victim just as you are, and still truly an innocent.” Francesca smiled as she put her hand on her
friend’s. “I've sent Diana de Ros, who knew her at
school, and Andrea's sister, to talk to her."
sister Caterina? I had no idea she was a
Alex stared at Francesca. "But… Giovanna is dead?"
"In a plot twist that surprised even me, it turns out she wasn't," Francesca smiled, "fate ordained she is actually a friend of Shirley Xavier's and she was here under my roof as a guest."
“You’re kidding me!”
“I assure you, I am not – and they should be talking to her now.”
“But what of her? If Giovanna is alive, surely her parents should be told?”
“I agree – once this crisis has passed.”
"Alright," Alex paused to think, "you are hoping then Andrea might be able to tell them what Peter's plans are?"
Francesca nodded as her phone rang. She held her hand up and said “Diana? Were you successful?”
“I see. She is sure?
“I understand. Tell Lucia to stay there – Aunt Maria will send support. Get back here as soon as you can.”
“What’s happened,” Alex said as Francesca chose a contact.
“Carlotta? Gather the others – we need to talk and to plan.”
Carina and Gale smiled as they sat with Natalya, looking at Alexis laughing with Lily and Janine.
“She does seem to be more relaxed now,” Gale said as she looked at Natalya, “but I have to know…”
“She contacted me when I was a young woman,” Natalya said quietly, “because I was the first in the direct line after Birgitte, she took a special interest in me and was fully honest. She knew to try and change me was impossible – I had fully embraced who I was at that point – but, well, I was family.”
“She would not tell me – suffice to say she is condemned to walk the earth, to see what her family do, but also to seek her redemption in other ways. Do not be surprised if you see her again, without warning, but as I learned, do not approach her first unless, like this weekend, it is an emergency.”
“And how would we contact her anyway,” Carina asked.
“I will tell you when my time comes – as the direct descendant, you will take my place in that…”
“Mamma,” Charlotte said as she came in with Kay and Maria, “what has happened?”
“It appears Peter Hope has – lost his mind? He intends to try and…”
“Leader has called me,” Karen said as she came in, “the men have discovered their vehicle has disappeared, and they are trying to discover where their advance scout has disappeared to.”
“If you are right, they are not going to find her,” Francesca said quietly.
“But where are they coming?”
“Here – he’s going to try and use leverage on me.”
“Leverage – what sort of… Seriously? His plan is to try to force you to tell him what has been going on by kidnapping me?" Charlotte looked amused. "He doesn't exactly understand di Cambrello women does he?"
"He always was a 'blunt force' kind of man," Francesca smiled a little smile, "most of those Stratkom old-timers always preferred violence to subtlety."
"And I don't think he is entirely playing with a full deck anymore, if I might use the vernacular?" Alex looked slightly grim.
“Francesca, what is going on,” Shirley said as she and Caroline came in with Helen. Both the other women then looked at Alex, before Helen said “it is good to see you well. May I presume the problem is related to your guest?”
“Very much so –
Peter Hope and some friends of his are planning to use Carlotta to get to
me. It would appear what happened last
year is not a deterrent to them on that count.”
is our strategy Mamma?"
For a good two
minutes there was silence while Francesca thought.
"Look I think we have two basic options, and they both have severe drawbacks," Francesca finally spoke.
"And they are?" Kay said.
stop them with violence ourselves."
kill them all?" Alex asked for clarification.
the Marchesa nodded, "or we somehow convince them that Mouse is not here,
and that she did actually die in Los Angeles."
kill them then Uncle Hennie for one will start thinking that maybe Peter Hope
was right after all?" Charlotte speculated.
can make it look like an accident?"
"Bruin darling, a second unforseen type of death? That's going to trigger Hennie's alarm bells just as much as killing them openly in the street would."
“True – but they cannot be our only options?”
The others looked at Charlotte as she said “there is a third way, but we’re going to need some help. We need Helen and Caroline in here – and Maisha and Shirley.”
“We’re going to give him what he wants – and we’re going to do what we did with Kimba.”
“Are you sure, Carlotta,” Francesca said, “I mean, when Dancer tried it…”
“Frances arrived – but no, I’m not alone this time, am I?”
"The villa is too public, there are far too many innocents here," Shirley put her glasses back on, "if we are to do this we need do it in a place where we can control just who is there."
"Where then Mum?" Maisha asked.
castle," Charlotte spoke, "there is just one road in, and we can also
control access from the lake. If they want to come and try to kidnap me, let’s
make it hard shall we?"
logical," Helen nodded.
sounded just like Spock there," Caroline laughed, "but yes it is
pretty perfect, and those security updates I had installed before your
honeymoon will also help us Charlotte."
"Alright we have a location for the game," Francesca looked at faces, "just who do we deploy to actually play the game?"
"And just where do we position them?" asked Shirley.
do we get them to the castle, not the villa?"
awaiting a new hire car correct?" Maria spoke. "What if the driver
remarked that he was sorry for the delay because he had to ferry a car to the
castle for a guest of Carlotta's, and that he'd seen Carlotta there?"
"Wouldn't he smell a setup?" Helen asked.
“If Andrea is right, he’s not thinking about that,” Francesca said, “as to who – we need seasoned, quiet professionals.”
“Leader is with the team following them,” Charlotte said. “Shirley, we need to bring Mermaid in.”
“Agreed,” Shirley said, “her and Pathfinder. Caroline, Helen, with them would you need anyone else?”
“Penny – she needs a distraction.”
“Tech support,” Charlotte said, “we’ll get Heather over there early as well.”
“Very well – let us lay our plans…”
"How good are your contacts in the Carabinieri detachment in Sentua Francesca dear?" Maria asked.
"Pretty good, the officer in charge has been my guest here a couple of times for things. I think he thinks it prudent to stay on my good side."
"So if you
talk to him he is likely to take your word?"
clear it with Rome, he's a pretty by the book type, but yes I think he would do
what I asked, and believe my reasons for requesting aid."
don't worry about Rome," Maria tapped her stick, "I'll phone Carlo Fanucci
and warn him to expedite things."
"Yes it will be General Fanucci, he will contact," Francesca smiled.
“I will take care of it now,” Maria said as she slowly stood up and walked out.
Shirley looked at Helen and Caroline. “Gather who you need, and meet with Charlotte and Heather when she gets back. Is Diana returning?”
“She should be back in a half hour,” Francesca said, “Maria arranged for someone to babysit Lucia and Andrea in Rome.”
“I will talk to her when she gets back – but for now,” Shirley said as she stood up, “we have guests to entertain. Keep me informed, Caroline.”
“Of course,” Caroline said as she watched Shirley walk out, Maisha stopping and saying “do you wish my assistance as well?”
“How’s the foot?”
“It is better,” Maisha said with a smile.
“Then yes – I want you with Charlotte, as a line of last resort.”
“I understand,” Maisha said quietly as Maria came in. “They are informed,” she said quietly as she leaned on her stick, “I leave this in your hands.”
“Thank you,” Maria said as the room emptied, Caroline and Helen staying with Charlotte and Maisha.
“I need to be somewhere else,” Alex said quietly.
“Allow me to accompany you,” Karen said, Helen nodding as they walked out of the room, Penny coming in with Eleanor and Veronica.
“Shirley said you need our help,” Eleanor said as Veronica closed the door.
“We do – let me bring you all up to speed…”
“Captain D'Agostino,” Francesca said as she held her phone, “this is Francesca di Cambrello,"
"Good day Marchesa."
"Oh dear God I can practically see him snapping to attention and saluting," Francesca laughed to herself.
"And good day to you," Francesca actually replied. "Look I hate to bother you, but one of the servants at Castel San Pietro thought she might have spotted intruders in the woods. My daughter thinks she was probably just seeing shadows, but given the importance of some of my guests this weekend, and the fact that some are staying over there, would it be imposing if you had one of your cars do a couple of sweeps along the road please?"
"Of course Marchesa."
“Thank you,” she said quietly as she ended the call. "Now we give the car something to see, and get the good captain to call Rome and ask for tactical backup," Francesca looked at Shirley.
“Can one or two of your men do the job?”
“They will relish it…”
4 pm CET
Castel San Pietro
“Diana,” Charlotte said as she walked into the front room, “I am glad you made it back. How is Lucia?”
“In shock slightly,” Diana said as she removed her coat. “She is staying with Andrea and some intelligence people while we deal with what is happening here. Do we have an idea of a plan?”
“We do,” Charlotte said as she looked round the room, Eleanor, Veronica, Penny, Caroline and Helen nodding in agreement. “We’re going to do what we did to save Fergus McLean.”
“And what is that,” Eleanor asked.
“Genie in a Bottle.”
“How the fuck has she vanished,” Dieter said as they sat round the table, “all her stuff is in the room, but she hasn’t been seen, and her bed wasn’t slept in.”
“Could the bitch have got to her,” Dirk said quietly.
“She wouldn’t know who Tina was,” Peter said, “we just have to assume she’s had to go underground for some reason.” He spread out a large-scale map of the town and the surrounding area on the table. “Alright if the car hire guy is right then the bitch’s daughter is here.”
“Just one road in and out boss,” Dirk mumbled as he stroked his beard, “this doesn’t look good. It smells like a trap to me.”
“How the fuck can it be a trap Man?” Peter slammed his hand down on the table and glared at his colleague. “They don’t even know we are here.”
“I’d be happier if Tina was here to confirm that,” Barry said softly.
“Since when did all of you turn chicken?” Peter sneered.
“We aren’t cowards Peter,” Danie shifted slightly uneasily in his seat, “but if you are right and LA was just a huge illusion to cover them lifting Alex, then I’m not sure what they may have done to protect her.”
“I am bloody right, it makes no sense otherwise. The coincidences are just too big.”
“So you don’t think they are waiting for us?”
“No, they think they got away with it. I’ve seen this before, I’ll bet you they’ve let their guard down.”
“Look how about I drop you about here,” Dirk pointed to a spot on the map. “Then I’ll drive up to the castle and pretend I’m lost. They don’t know my face. If it all looks cool, I’ll come back and pick you up and we can sort out our next move.”
“It sounds the best plan to me,” Barry agreed.
“At least we managed to get a second car – where the hell that first one went I have no idea.” Peter smiled – an evil smile as he stood up. “All right – let’s get going.”
As they walked out, the two women at a nearby table looked at each other, before one of them made a phone call…
Castel San Pietro
“Understood, Leader – make sure you have the exits blocked once they finally pass as a last resort.”
“Are they on their way,” Eleanor asked as Charlotte ended the call.
“Looks like it – we may have a visitor in a while. We’ll let him come up to the castle and make enquiries, and I’ll call Mama – places, ladies…”
“Everyone out,” Dirk said as he pulled up outside the tavern, the other three getting out as he looked at them. “Give me an hour.”
The three men nodded as he drove off in the black Daimler, Peter rubbing his chin as he said “I really hope she’s there – we need to settle affairs…”
“Inform the Marchesa,” one of the women said to the other, “the game is afoot.”
As Dirk drove up the approach road to the castle, three other men appeared from the bushes at the side of the road, and waited as the official Carabinieri car drove past them…
“Impressive,” the bearded man said as he drove through the gates and up to the front door of the castle. He looked at the entrance, assessing it with his expert eye before he saw a small red haired woman walking round from the side of the building, a basket of flowers on her arm.
Winding down the window, he called out “excuse me – I seem to be a little lost.”
“Really? Didn’t you realise this road was a dead end,” she said as she came over, Dirk noticing the slight hint of Afrikaans in her accent. “Right now, you’re on private property.
“Your property,” he said with a smile. “Forgive me, in that case, Miss…”
“Mrs – Mrs Carlotta di Cambrello Gordon van der Byl,” she said with a fixed smile. “May I ask where you were heading?”
“I was due to meet a friend in Sentua.”
“Ah – well, if you go back the way you came, and take a left turn at the first junction, that road will take you directly in.”
“I am grateful for your help, and apologise for the intrusion,” Dirk said as he drove off, Charlotte watching as Caroline and Helen came out of the house.
“Diana is taking up position, we should be ready for them…”
“The Marchesa sees shadows, and we end up having to spend the afternoon driving up and down this rotten road,” Private Dante Bonaduce grumbled as they made their way along the road again.
“Given the people she knows in Rome do you want be the one to tell her no we won’t do something when she makes a request?” Sergeant Giuliana Caleffi smiled. “All her money and connections, she sneezes and half the establishment offers a handkerchief.”
“It still feels like a waste of time…”
“Or maybe not,” the Sergeant interrupted as they both saw three men get off the road and into the trees.
“Do we follow them?” suddenly Bonaduce was fully alert.
“In those trees?” the attractive blonde sergeant tried to see if she could still see the men, “no we radio the Captain and we ask for instructions.”
“Now who the hell is he?” Bonaduce asked as a car slowly passed them coming from the castle.
“I don’t know, but get that license plate and phone it in. It seems maybe that just maybe this isn’t a wild goose chase.”
“On it,” Bonaduce scribbled down the license, and watched in his rear mirror as the other car drove away in the direction of Sentua.
“Get in,” Dirk said as the other three came towards the car, “she’s there – a small woman, weak, insignificant.”
“What about bodyguards and security?”
“I couldn’t see anything, it looked like she was just pottering in her garden.”
“She probably relies on this place being so inaccessible to protect her,” Danie gave his opinion.
Peter smiled as he said, “good – I want Barry and Danie to get out and head up through the woods. Dirk, you and I will drive further up the road, ditch the car, and make our own way in.”
“There’s a spot about a half mile from the gates we can take the car off the road – should be easy enough to carry her down there,” Dirk said as the last rays of the sun set over the group. Barry and Danie nodded as they took the guns out of their jackets and checked them, before the car moved off…
As Dirk drove along the road, he failed to spot the police car hidden on a side road, Dante Bonaduce and Giuliana Caleffi looking at them heading up.
“It’s the same car,” Caleffi said as Bonaduce picked up the radio.
“Control, this is 613. We’ve just seen the car noted earlier drive past again on the road to the castle. Any update?”
“It’s a hire car – local firm – two South African gentlemen paid cash. We’re waiting records for confirmation.”
“Orders in the meantime?”
“Back up is being dispatched – follow at a distance, do not engage, call in when they stop.”
“Something’s going down, that much is for certain,” Caleffi said as her fellow officer put the radio back, and then started up the car, following at a distance.
“It still feels like a waste of time…”
“I’m not so sure – keep your distance…”
“This light is starting to go,” Bonaduce looked upwards, “it’s twilight now, it will soon be totally dark.”
“I know,” the blonde woman looked out the window, “but you know the captain, he consults Rome before he decides even to change his boots.’
“Well if this isn’t a waste of time then we need orders to move in…right now.”
“How is the night vision equipment working?” Caroline asked over the com network.
“Fine,” she heard Penny reply, “these bastards I don’t think factored in quite how dark it can get in a little forest like this.’
“They do seem to be acting rather impulsively,” Eleanor spoke.
“Well that all adds to our advantage,” Caroline chuckled to herself, “I really think they thought we were just amateurs at this.”
“They are about to learn better,” Penny laughed a trifle grimly.
“Here – there’s a path up through the trees to a low point in the walls,” Peter said as he looked carefully at the map, Dirk stopping the car as Barry and Danie got out, then drove off again. The two men looked at each other before they started to make their way through the woods, unaware they were been seen by two pairs of eyes looking through night-vision goggles.
“Understood,” Caroline said into the headset, “maintain position, in case by some quirk of fate they come back your way. For the Heart and the Strength.”
“For the Heart and the Strength,” the voice replied as Caroline looked at the room.
“We’ve got two guests coming in the back way. Eleanor, Veronica – they are yours.”
“Understood,” Eleanor said as they moved out, Charlotte nodding as Caroline said into her headset “Diana, are you in position?”
“I am Cherie,” Diana said as she squatted in the bushes by the entrance gate, looking at the approach road through a pair of high-powered night-vision binoculars. “I can see headlights approaching – two sets, some distance apart.”
“Which means the Carabinieri have spotted their car pass,” Caroline said, “this might just work. Charlotte, you and Maisha need to be in the drawing room. You have what you need?”
Maisha nodded as she went out with Charlotte.
“Helen, Penny – prepare to greet our guest of honour.”
Villa del Mille Fiori
“If, as I suspect the plan is, that Mr. Hope will not survive what is going to happen Francesca, I think it might be opportune if it was leaked that he was considered a major suspect in the kidnapping of Andrea di Matello all those years ago.” Maria Riva eased herself gently into an armchair.
“I hadn’t thought of that Aunt,” Francesca paused, “but it would help muddy his name in a way that might help discourage wondering just why he was here, and what he was doing.”
“It sounds like an idea to me,” a deep, rich, voice, spoke from the doorway.
“I’m sorry if this is disrupting your weekend Shirley,” Francesca smiled at her friend.
“No, strangely enough it has not,” Shirley said as she sat down. “I’ve enjoyed myself, and anyway anything that helps two Sisters to find closure on the hurts of their past lives, has to be considered worthwhile.”
“You mean both Alex, and Giovanna Madame?”
“It’s going to take me forever to think of her as other then Lucia Signora Riva,” Shirley smiled, “but yes I think what we have done, and are doing, will help them both find peace, and give them a chance at happiness in the future.”
“Amen to that sentiment,” the old lady smiled as well.
Castel san Pietro
“Nice woods,” Barry said as he and Danie made their way up the hillside, “I do like a walk in the trees.”
“Like that time in Zim?”
“Yeah – approaching those beasts with no warning in the moonlight,” Barry said with a smile as they approached the wall. “Look – there’s a low part over there.”
“Well, I would have enjoyed the climb, but any port on a storm,” Danie said as they got closer, then he cupped his hand and gave Barry a push up so that he sat on the wall. He could see the lights on in some of the rooms of the castle, but the grounds were in relative darkness.
“Funny – I would have expected some sort of patrol,” he said as he pulled Danie up to join him.
“Why? She’s secure in her own way – let’s just get into the house and await the signal.”
The two men dropped down onto the other side as Eleanor and Veronica watched from the shadows.
“Big, aren’t they?”
“Yeah – but you know what they say. The bigger they are…”
“The harder they fall?”
“Precisely – let’s follow them…”
“Here – this is a good spot,” Dirk said as he pulled into the side, turning off the lights before he killed the engine.”
“Leave the car unlocked – once we’ve got her secured, you can come back and bring it up to take her away,” Peter said, a grin on his face as they both got out of the car, walking up to the entrance gate as Caleffi and Bonaduce watched from their car.
“Control,” Bonaduce said, “two occupants of the car have got out, heading to the castle. Where’s that back-up?”
“En route – but there may be an imminent threat. Follow on foot.”
“Understood,” Caleffi said, the two officers looking at each other as they got out and walked up after them.
“Where the hell is that Carabinieri tactical response unit?” Caroline asked over the network. “This isn’t going to work as we want it to unless they are on scene.”
“Aunt Maria just heard that Rome approved their use and that they are on the way,” Francesca’s voice came through ear devices.
“Well they better get here soon,” Eleanor spoke, “the two officers on scene I think are outmatched by these bastards.”
“They are certainly out-gunned,” Veronica added. “And this dark is not going to help.”
“We can always intervene if we have to,” Caroline spoke again, “but unless we do have to intervene to protect the lives of our own people, or the Carabinieri then we play this as we planned it…Right?”
“Right,” a chorus of voices answered.
“Caroline – the other guests are approaching on foot, Carabinieri officers following on foot. Showtime.”
“Acknowledged, Diana – maintain radio silence unless you hear gunfire or see other officers approaching. In that case, execute your part of the plan.”
“Understood,” Diana said as she put the field glasses down, and checked the rifle lying on the bag next to her.
Eleanor watched the two men as they stood in the doorway, then growled to herself as she saw Danie take out a large knife and lay it to the side.
“We need to even the odds up a bit,” she whispered to Veronica, “take one of them out permanently.”
Veronica nodded as she said “so, plan?”
“We get closer, then wait until they make their move and gain entry. I’ll take the one with the knife out – I’d lay good odds the other one will wonder where he’s gone, but put the mission first. When he enters, you follow him, and be prepared.”
Veronica nodded as the two women moved silently closer…
Barry took out his phone as it vibrated and looked at the message.
“They’re at the front – let’s go,” he said, Danie nodding as he worked on the lock on the rear door, and then opened it. Barry nodded as he went in first – and then turned to see the open grounds behind me.
Danie stared up into the sky, not quite sure if what had happened as he was quietly pulled into the shadows. There had been a sudden pain, and then he had felt limp, felt the warmth in his back as he fell back into the arms. As he looked up, he saw the grey haired woman who smiled at him as she pulled him back, her strength and skill the last thoughts in his mind as his eyes slowly closed.
“Danie? Danie? Waar de duiwel is jy, juffie, is dit nie die tyd om speletjies te speel nie?”
Barry looked out into the grounds, then looked down, the light too dim to see the drag marks on the grass as he stepped back out.
“Nice – very gothic,” Peter said as he and Dirk walked through the gates and up the road to the castle entrance, both of them drawing their pistols as they got closer. He put his gloved hand on the door handle, smiling as it opened inwards, and the two men walked in.
“Shit,” Bonaduce said as he and Caleffi walked more quickly, drawing their own weapons as they did so.
“Fok hierdie,” Barry said as he walked back into the rear of the castle, closing the door and making his way along the corridor, unaware of who was behind him.
“In there,” Peter said as he and Dirk heard women talking, the two men nodding as Dirk opened the door and Peter walked in, saying “Hande in die lug, albei - moenie beweeg nie.” He looked at the two women sitting there – the redhead in the floral dress he recognised as Charlotte di Cambrello der Byl, but the young African woman was unknown to him.
Charlotte looked at the two armed men, and said quietly “what is the meaning of this? Maisha, call the police.”
“Don’t – a pretty little thing you should not be hurt,” Dirk said as he leveled his gun at Maisha, the look of fear on her face clear as she said “Aunt Charlotte, what is happening?”
“Your aunt is coming with us,” Peter said, “and if you behave, you get to give her mother a message verbally. Of course, we could always shoot you – nog 'n dooie swart teef pla my nie.”
“And why would I do that?”
“Where’s my wife?”
“Alexandra Verde, Alex Green, or whatever the hell she’s calling herself now – where is the whore?”
“She’s not here.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Diana heard the approaching vehicles and took aim, smiling as she saw the two people carriers coming along the road. She took in a slow breath, and then fired.
The driver screeched to a halt as the projectile hit the bullet proof car, and then the driver watched as a second bullet hit the side of the parked car that was illuminated in the headlights, the officers in the vehicles getting out and running up the hill.
Barry heard the rifle fire, and said “what the hell?”
He whirled round to see a woman standing behind him, a pistol raised in her hand as she said, “you’ve got five seconds to decide – surrender or die.”
“I don’t need five seconds to deal with you,” Barry said as he raised his own gun – then grunted as the bullet entered his shoulder, exiting through his back as Veronica stepped forward.
“That was your only warning shot,” she whispered as he dropped to his knees, “want to try again?”
Barry looked up at her, and then fell forward as Eleanor hit him on the back of the head with a club.
“We need at least one of them to survive,” Eleanor said as they both heard shouting, “come on.”
“Move it,” Bonaduce said as the two officers now ran to the door, their pistols raised.
“Wat de fok - was dit geweervuur?”
Peter kept his gaze on Charlotte and Maisha as he said “find out what’s going on?”
There was no reply.
“Dirk - wat is verkeerd? Hoekom kyk jy so na my?”
He looked at the bearded man, his eyes wide open before he slowly dropped to his knees, a woman behind him dressed in black save for the gap where her clear blue eyes could be seen.
“Wat die hel is jy?”
“Haar naam is Silent Death”
Peter suddenly turned, his gun still raised as both Maisha and Charlotte stood up.
“Your wife is not here, Peter Hope,” Maisha said quietly, “but her wish will soon be granted. We call this Genie in a Bottle – her wish and your wish has been granted, soon ours will be.”
“What the hell are you talking about, you little bitch?”
“She speaks the truth.”
Peter suddenly looked to the side as he saw Penny standing there, a grim expression on her face as she said “you’re alone now, Hope – the Sisters of Maisha have dealt with them.” He followed her as she walked over to stand with Maisha, Peter sneering as he said “so you do exist – and she is alive.”
“Why deny it,” Charlotte said as she heard the footsteps, “it will not be of any benefit to you.”
Charlotte nodded to Maisha, who suddenly shouted “NO! Please, don’t hurt us, we’ll do whatever you say. We’ll come quietly.”
“Carabinieri - inginocchiati e metti a terra la pistola.”
Peter whirled round to see Bonaduce and Caleffi standing behind him, their arms raised as their pistols were pointed at him.
Peter turned and aimed at Charlotte, as Penny and Maisha jumped to the side – only to fall as the two officers fired their own pistols, his lifeless body falling to the floor as there were more footsteps behind them.
“In here, Captain,” Caleffi called out as Captain D’Agostino came in with the squad of officers.
“Charlotte, are you all right?”
“In here Caroline – was there anyone else?”
The officers turned as Caroline came in, dragging the unconscious and wounded Barry behind him. “Captain, this is Caroline Jameson – our security consultant. She was with us when she thought she heard something, and went to investigate.”
“I found him, wounded him and knocked him out,” Caroline said as two of the officers took Barry away. “Who is this?”
Captain D’Agostino looked into Peter’s face, his lifeless eyes staring back. “We had word from Rome to watch for him – his name’s Peter Hope, a known foreign agent. Signora di Cambrello, I trust you are unhurt?”
“A little shaken, but we are unharmed – your officers were quick and decisive.”
“Search the grounds – see if these are the only three,” the Captain shouted out before he said “I will inform the Marchesa the danger is passed.”
8 pm CET
Villa del Mille Fiori
“Forgive me, Marchesa,” Maria said as she went into the room where the women were sitting and having dinner, “Captain D’Agostino wishes to speak with you.”
“Of course – excuse me for a moment,” Francesca said as she put her napkin down and left the room, leaving the door open as Shirley listened.
“Captain – how may I help you?
“I see – were any captured?
“One – well, at least one can answer for any charges. The others?
“I understand – I would appreciate it if you would call at the villa tomorrow and give me a full briefing. Thank you, Captain.”
“Is everything all right,” Shirley said as Francesca looked in.
“They are fine – but I need to step out for a few minutes. Please, continue without me,” she said, Shirley nodding as she left and closed the door.
Leader stood up as she heard the knock on the door, Alex and Karen looking at her as she opened the door slightly.
“Marchesa,” she said as she opened the door to let Francesca in, “you have news?”
“I do,” Francesca said as Alex stood up. “It is over – he will not try to find you again.”
“He and two others. I am sorry.”
“It’s all right,” Alex said quietly, “I guess he’s been dead to me since Los Angeles. So is Alex Green – Valentina di Medici can write her book in peace now.”
“I can ask Marianne to come down if you want…”
“No – I will not disturb your guests any more tonight. But perhaps we can meet for breakfast…”
Alex suddenly sat down and started crying, Leader and Karen sitting with her as Francesca nodded.
Andrea sat, holding her son’s hand as he said “you’re not joking are you? This woman really is my aunt.”
“She is,” Andrea said quietly, “Peter, I fear we both have been misled terribly by your father, and I know that is hard to understand…”
“Can I be honest?”
“Always,” Andrea said as she looked at the young man.
“I know he is my father, but in truth, we never really knew him, did we? What happened in Los Angeles made me look at him in a new light, and I have to confess, I did not like what I saw. And when he slapped you last night, I would have hit him if his ‘friends’ had not led him away.”
Andrea looked at him before she heard the door open, both of them looking over as Lucia came in.
“Peter, Andrea,” she said as she sat down and looked at them, “I have just had a message from Sentua.”
“What sort of message,” Peter asked.
“I’m sorry,” Lucia said quietly, “Peter and the others were indeed trying to kidnap the daughter of the Marchesa di Cambrello. The local Cabanieri spotted them and intervened, and…”
The whisper from Andrea made Peter look at her, as Lucia nodded and said “I’m so sorry – they shot him when he was threatening to shoot her. Two of the others are also dead, one wounded and captured, and one missing.”
Peter looked at her mother as she started crying, and put her arms round her as Lucia watched.
Eventually, she looked up at her sister and said “so it is over?”
“The police want to talk to you tomorrow, to get your side of the story – you as well Peter.”
“I don’t know if I can tell them anything,” the young man said.
“I know – just answer their questions,, you have nothing to fear.”
“So what next Giovanna?” Andrea looked into her sisters eyes. “Where do I go?”
“I think you need then to ring Mamma and Papa,” Giovanna said quietly, “and tell them that Peter is dead, how it happened, and tell them you want to come home. If I know them they will be overjoyed at rebuilding things with you, and their grandson.”
“And what about you?”
Lucia shook her head as she looked at her sister and nephew. “You forget you saw me, I return to Canada, and I resume my life while you resume yours.”
Andrea shook her head, a determined look in her eye. “Do you honestly think I’m going to let that happen?”
“You must,” a tear came to Lucia’s eye, “I can’t ever return home…my shame is too great, and it’s better ‘they’ continue to think I’m dead.”
“Really? Can it be worse than admitting I was in a bigamous marriage with a psychopathic spy who once kidnapped me?”
“Oh it’s many times worse then that,” Lucia tried to smile. “And though I can see that look in your eyes sister, no I’m not going to tell you what happened. Just remember me the way I was before it happened…please.”
For a good two minutes there was complete quiet.
“No it will not do,” Andrea broke the silence, “I refuse to let you just disappear again, and no matter just what you did to survive, you owe it to our parents to tell them what happened, and that you are alive.”
“They are better off not knowing…”
“RUBBISH!” Andrea threw her arms up as she interrupted, “that is rubbish, and you know it is such. You cannot tell me to go to Mamma and Pappa, Giovanna, and tell the truth about me, and yet lie about you? No – this cannot be the case.”
Looking at Lucia, Andrea finally said “will you at least stay tonight? We can sit and talk.”
“I can do that,” she said as she stood up. “Let me make a call and inform someone.”
As she stepped out, Peter looked at his mother. “What are you thinking of doing?”
“Making the choice for her…”
Villa del Mille Fiori
“Will you interfere to ensure that Lucia is reconciled with her family Maria,” Shirley asked as the two sat together on a sofa.
“If she will let me,” the older woman nodded. “It would be too cruel to allow this opportunity to pass.”
“You know her first instinct will be to run and hide?”
“Just as you did for all those years Shirley?” Maria smiled, “and yes in researching you I think I put together a pretty good picture of your life.”
“I’ve no doubt,” Shirley took a deep breath, “can I ask why you never have used that information? You know very well what I do…and have done.”
“Yes I know what Madame X has done with her life, but I also found out a lot about a wonderful young girl called Shirley Xavier who cruelly had her life snatched away from her by a force of almost unspeakable evil. Yes you are responsible for much evil Shirley, and given my faith I believe one day that God will make you pay a price for that.” Looking into Shirley’s eyes, the older woman then smile and said “however, I also believe that sometimes one must understand the causes of an evil, and balance the good acts against the bad.”
“That I think in your case the circumstances, and the good you have done, have entitled you to a chance to live at least in part that life which was taken away from you.”
“Thank you,” Shirley cried a couple of tears, “I’m not sure what I did to deserve this, but I am grateful.”
“Well you can repay me in part by inviting me to your wedding,” the older lady laughed, “it will do me good, and it will do my husband, and son good to see I’m not quite at death’s door yet.”
“I think we may manage to squeeze you in,” Shirley said with a smile.
“Lucia is staying tonight,” Francesca said as she came into the room, “the helicopter will bring her back tomorrow.”
Andrea looked up as there was a knock on the door, Peter looking at her as she slowly stood up and brushed down her skirt.
“Are you ready, Mother?”
“No,” Andrea said quietly, “but it is best done quickly. Open the door Peter.”
The young man nodded as he opened the door and said “please, come in.” Andrea was shaking as an elderly couple walked in – the man still tall and erect, in his suit, shirt and tie, the woman wearing a blue wool dress with a black jacket.
“Mamma, Pappa,” Andrea said as she stood with her head bowed, “thank you for answering my call. I…”
Her words were stopped as Giovanna di Matteo, her mother, walked quickly forward and hugged her, the tears coming as she said “Andrea – how are you?”
“I am… I am sorry, that I have caused you so much hurt,” Andrea said as she hugged her mother back, “I was blinded and a fool, and now I see clearly.”
“Where is he,” her father Claudio said quietly.
“If you mean the man I married, the man I thought loved me, the man who kidnapped me…”
“He… He was the one who kidnapped you all those years ago,” Giovanna said as she held her daughter.
“He was, and I want to tell you everything, but right now I need to do two things. First to tell you that he is dead – he was killed this evening while attempting to kidnap the daughter of the Marchesa di Cambrello.”
“Francesca’s daughter?” Claudio looked at her as he said “who was he really?”
“A spy, Pappa – a spy for South Africa, and a tyrant. He was a bigamist – you were right in that – but his wife died in the States a month or two back, and he was convinced she had been spirited away by various parties.”
“Did he hurt you?”
“In some ways, but I have two people to introduce you to tonight. Peter, these are your grandparents. Mamma, Pappa, my son Peter.”
Giovanna looked at the young man, then stood and walked to him, embracing him and kissing him on both cheeks as he looked at Andrea.
“Welcome to the family, Peter,” she said as a tear fell down her cheek.
“You said two people,” Claudio said as he looked at Andrea, then turned as the door opened and Lucia came in.
“No ... Per il Santo Padre, non può essere ...”
Giovanna looked at the second woman, who was standing there, the colour draining from her face as she said “Mother?”
The older woman looked at her daughters, before she quietly said “how… How can it be? Have my prayers been answered, that my family is fully reunited. It is you, isn’t it?”
Lucia swallowed before she said quietly “Andrea, why?”
“Because I know you, Giovanna, and I know you are afraid of what they will think, but you need that push.”
Claudio slowly walked over and looked at the dark haired woman, before she found herself in his embrace, tears coming from both of them as he said “we thought you were dead, but you are returned to us. Where… Where have you been? What happened to you?”
“Father, Mother,” Lucia said as soon as she was free, “I… I could not come home, because I was afraid of what you would say if you knew the truth. I was kidnapped, but not by terrorists. I was… I was taken by white slavers, in effect.”
“What did they do to you?”
“They abused me, and others – and when I was finally freed, I heard you thought I was dead. At the time… Well, ever since, I felt it was better Giovanna di Matteo was considered dead, and I became Lucia Bianchini – Doctor Lucia Bianchini, if truth be told.”
“Did you know about Andrea?”
“Not until earlier today when – certain friends told me of her troubles, and I felt I had to come and help. Please, forgive me…”
“Sit,” her mother said as she took her hand, “we are not judging, we just need to know the truth…”
Villa del Mille Fiori
“Hello, Mum,” Maisha said as she came into the room, “I came to tell you all is well across the lake.”
“How is Charlotte?”
“Little Mother is fine – the police are still there,” Maisha said quietly as she looked at Shirley. “Is there something you wish to discuss?”
“I saw you talking with Cat and the others earlier today darling,” Shirley said as she patted the seat for Maisha to sit next to her. “Don’t believe half of what they tell you that we got up to.”
“Oh I think it’s pretty much accurate,” Maisha giggled. “You know I once said that I found it hard to imagine you as a teenager because you are so perfect now?”
“I remember,” Shirley smiled, “when we were arriving at Dunmarnock.”
“From all your old friends have said,” Maisha laughed, “I now wish I had known more about you way back then.”
“Hey it isn’t that many years ago Miss.”
“Well to me it seems a long while ago,” Maisha paused, “but it was nice to hear what you were like before you were kidnapped.”
“Do you think I was that different darling?”
“In ways yes,” the black girl looked serious, “but I think part of that Shirley is still in you. I’ve glimpsed her when you’ve been talking and laughing.”
“I have Mum, and it will be nice if you show her more. Not just to me and your friends, but to Dad as well. He knows you hide a lot, but he loves you too much to make you tell him things. I think you should though.”
“When did my daughter become this wise?” Shirley put an arm around Maisha. “You are right of course I do need to tell him a lot, I just need to gloss over some of the bits I don’t even think your father would understand.”
“He desperately wants you to build your house,” Maisha said with a smile, “I think he sees it as a way of linking to the past.”
“And in that he’s right,” Shirley took a deep breath, “but I first need to come to terms with what happened when the old house burned down.”
“Was it that bad?”
“In some ways – imagine how you would have felt if you had been in your home village when the soldiers came, and burned it down. I felt something like that that night…”
“Are you still trying to come to terms with what we were discussing earlier?” Natalya asked as she caught Carina standing in a corner with a faraway look in her eyes.
“Is it that obvious?”
“To my eyes? Of course it is.”
“I was trying to think what, if any of this, I can tell Annie.”
Natalya nodded and said “it’s safest you tell her nothing.”
“I know, but I hate to secrets from her, or from Mom. They’ve both kept me grounded as I’ve learned more and more about my ‘inheritance’.”
“It’s actually a good word for it,” Natalya took a sip. “But I think you owe it to Mistress that you do keep her secret, and let her proceed as she has done towards what she hopes will one day be an end, and a redemption.”
“I cannot imagine being cursed to repeat this over and over again. It actually blows my mind.”
“it’s a punishment for her evil far more terrifying then first the purgatory that awakes the evil with us Carina, then the fires of hell.”
“I know, to see everyone you ever love die, knowing that she will have that pain for eternity.”
“It’s why in her own way she tries to help, to protect, and to try stop the so-called normal ones from destroying themselves, the way she destroyed herself.”
“Now what is that bitch up to now?” Missy put her phone back in her handbag.
“Which bitch darling?” Mandy drawled.
“Ellen de Angelo,” Missy knitted her brows, “she just sent me a message asking if I have Krystle Ernst’s phone number.”
“The gorgeous blonde who is an old college friend of Heather’s?” Alice asked.
“The same,” Missy paused, “how the hell did she hear about her? I thought I was the only agent who knew who she was.”
“Obviously not,’ Juliette looked up from something she was reading.
“It’s frustrating enough that I can’t sign her, there is no way I’m letting ellen have her.”
“Someone needs tell Sandy to start a book,” Caroline laughed, “I saw something very like this in the battle for my signature on a contract.’
“Well don’t bet against me being unable to sign Krys Ernst.” Missy gritted her teeth.
“What about Krys?” Heather asked as she wandered in.
“It would seem that Missy is not the only agent pursuing her Cherie,” Diana looked amused.
Sandy nodded as she walked out to the hallway, and dialled.
"Hey Mom, how are things going in Italy?" Sands asked brightly on the other end of the call. "Are you and Gran keeping out of trouble?"
"So far," Sandy laughed, "providing we keep this way we should be home late tomorrow as scheduled."
"Okay I'll see you then."
"Before we get home though Princess,” Sandy said quietly, “there is something i need you to do."
very quiet word with Tommy. You need to
warn him that not only is Missy now on Krys's case, but that another agent
called Ellen di Angelo has somehow found out about her, and is in hot pursuit.”
“That might be my fault Mom..."
"What did you do now?" Sandy interrupted.
Holly had to go out of town with her parents yesterday, and Katy and I needed
someone adult to help get us in to the Marble Pavilion last night."
rang Tommy, and let me guess, he dressed as Krys, and Ellen di Angelo saw
exactly Mom," Sands took a deep breath, "more like one of the guys in
the band spotted Krys dancing, dragged her up on stage, and today her picture
is in all the papers."
“Yeah – I’ll try and see him tomorrow… Sorry Mom…”
“Okay – what’s done is done. I’ll tell Heather – but be prepared for some questions tomorrow.”
“Why did you HAVE to go there last night?”