The Women in White – Part 4









2 pm

The Speakeasy, Downtown Buffalo.

She sat at a table to the back of the main floor, watching the proceedings around the area.  There were a few customers in, but not many – which was fine.  The main business was always in the evenings here.


She had short blonde hair, and wore a tailored jacket and skirt in grey, with a black blouse underneath.  A pair of black four inch heel pumps completed her outfit, as she looked to the door and the two women who walked in.  They also were smartly dressed, and smiled they walked over to join her.


“Ladies,” she said in a deep voice, “be seated.”


“Thanks,” the younger blonde said.


"Okay Boss, I know you love the whole Capone/Dillinger thing, but why are we meeting here?" the redhead asked as she gave an order to a waitress dressed as a twenties flapper.

"Because we now own this place, I bought it this morning, on rather advantageous terms." the mature stylish blonde spoke.

"You mean Nick Capetti actually sold it to you?" the young woman with the blonde ponytail asked.

"Let us just say I made him an offer he couldn't refuse," the woman purred, "right before he left town...for ever."

"Oh where did he go?"

"Eventually,” she purred, “I have no clue, but he's currently under the ice in Lake Ontario waiting for the thaw and the tide and currents to decide."

"Nice," the redhead whistled.

"Well this place is so me, it had no right belonging to someone else."

"So are you going to change the name to say Miss Panther's Place?" the younger blonde asked mischievously.

"No I think The Speakeasy will do."


“So who else are we waiting on?”


“The other three cannot make it, but they will be here tonight – apparently someone is wondering why news of our activities has not got past the police in Buffalo.”


“Well, if they knew why, they would back down,” the redhead said.


“Still, I think we need to send a message.  Here’s my plan...”



4 pm



As she closed the door of her loft apartment, the tall blonde looked round, breathing a sigh of relief as she placed her handbag on her side table, and slipped off her heels.


Walking to the kitchen, she opened the icebox and looked in, and then closed it again.  She needed to change, clean herself up before she did anything.


Walking to her room, she sat at her dressing table, smiling as she removed her earrings and necklace and carefully put them away.  She then looked at herself in the mirror, before she removed the blonde wig from her head, and placed it on the stand, then removed the makeup before standing up and removing her clothes, carefully hanging them or placing them in a laundry basket. 


She then reached round and removed the bra, hose and panties, pausing to look at the mirror, as the cock was released from the pressure.


“That’s better,” he said as he headed for the shower...



Twenty minutes later, he stood in his kitchen, wearing a polo shirt, jeans and slippers, when there was a knock on the door of the apartment.  Walking to the door, he looked through the spyhole, and then opened the door.


“Come in – I wondered if you would come round tonight.”


“Well, I heard you had taken on a new enterprise.”


“Indeed – you must come round some time, Agent Welsh.”


“I may take you up on that, if we can find a babysitter,” Peter Welsh said as he accepted a drink after they went into the front room.


“I don’t have long – I need to get ready to go back to work, and I’m expecting the rest of the girls to join me.  As you know, I have been busy.”


“Oh I know – two months now I’ve been running interference, stopping the reports if they get through to us.  So how is it going?”


“Faster than I had hoped,” he said as he sat opposite Peter.  “Sporetti is going to pay for everything he’s done to my family.”


As they sat back and talked, his mind went back to autumn, and the call he had received to go to the hospital.  The police officer had said his sister had been injured, but it was only when he got to the hospital he heard she had been through a far worse ordeal.


He shuddered as he thought of what she had been through, the agony of the ropes, not to mention what the dealer had done to her physically – and something had just snapped in him.  He’d sat by her bedside, holding her hand until she opened her eyes and looked at him.


“Hey,” he remembered he had said, “What can I do to make it better?”


“Kill him.”


And so it was he had gone shopping.  They knew him, they knew what he had done in the past, so he created a new persona.  It wasn’t the first time he had dressed as a woman – he was actually very skilled, and could pass quite happily as a woman – but this time it was with revenge in mind.


Finding him was easy – but he had put up a struggle.  The last thing he had expected was the chloroform soaked rag over his mouth, and he had fought like mad, thinking he was a mere woman – but he was wrong, and over the next twenty four hours he had taken great delight in reminding him of that fact, as he tortured him, made him tell all he knew – and then killed him, setting his body on fire.


That hadn’t been enough however – he wanted Sporetti to pay with everything he had.  It was the reports of the Pussycat gang that gave him the idea – a group of women pretending to be them would distract Sporetti from the truth, and allow him to continue his work.


But first he needed to gather his team.  His sister had to be told what he had done, and then she threw her lot in – along with her girlfriend, an Irish firebrand with flaming red hair.


He had also called on two friends from his other life.  One was a detective on the force – and he had lost his brother to the mob, when he had refused to pay tribute.  The other worked for a gun supplier – very useful for getting the firepower they needed.


The sixth person was a friend of his sister’s – a dark haired psychopath, who took great delight in killing, and passed for the infamous Miss Lynx.


They had started small – robbing a number of the illegal bookmakers Sporetti maintained, killing all the staff in them.  From there, over the last three months, they had moved up, in more recent times hitting his brothels.  The last one had been particularly satisfying – hearing the men squeal, and the women scream.


“Penny for them?”


He looked at Walsh, before smiling and saying “sorry – memories.  So how did you hear of the interest.”


“Friend of mine from the Academy – Agent Janice Carter.  She’s on the NY Pussycat Task Force – apparently word had got to them of Pussycat activity in the area by unofficial means.”


“I see,” he said as he took a drink, “and have you stymied her?”


“For now – she thinks I’m arrow straight, so she’s left it with me.  Jan never was the brightest kid in the class.”


“Good – well, you had best be on your way.  I need to get ready for the meeting tonight.”


“No problem, I need to get home anyway,” Peter said as he stood up.


“Before you go,” he said as he went to a drawer, and took an envelope out, “your fee.”


“Thanks,” David said as he looked in the envelope, “I’ll keep you posted.”


As he showed the agent out, he was glad he had the foresight to cultivate him.  He knew of Walsh’s little – hobby, but he had never needed to use it.  Peter Welsh had no love for the Sporetti family either.


But he had work to do, as he put the beer bottle down and walked to his room.  Time to become Miss Panther again, and meet the ladies.


Thursday 14th January

10 am

Xavier International


"Madame I just had Sporetti on the phone again, he is seething and demanding Pussycat blood." Susan said as she entered.

"More outrages?"

"His bookmaking operation is taking a big hit." Susan sighed, "he's saying, and I quote, ‘what is the fuckin' use of me payin' you tribute, if you can't get rid of these fuckin' bitches?’"

"Did you explain that we are investigating Susan?"

"I did,” Susan said, “but he's DEMANDING action."

"So a recommendation please?"

"We send up someone to hold his hand."

"And do you have someone in mind Susan?"

"Lou, I mean Louise from the LA office, I know his sister, I mean her sister, I will get it right. And she assures me that this is just the sort of job that Louise can do."

"Well she's recovered from her operation," Madame mused, "and the reports from Tokyo were amazing..."


“We get her there to act as Heather’s right hand woman for her trip, and arrange a meeting with the two of them and Sporetti for Friday.”


“Agreed – make the arrangements Susan, and tell Louise to pack for an extended stay.”


“I already made a booking for her in the same hotel as Heather,” Susan said.


“Excellent – and I will call Victor personally.”


2 pm

The Waldorf Astoria


“There you are,” Trina said as Mary Clarke came in, wearing her old faded jeans and sweatshirt, “thanks for coming over and meeting up with me.  I know you only just got back, but trust me – you’re going to have fun.”


"Explain to me,” Mary said as she hugged Trina, “why I'm back here in New York Trina...Please?"

"Because Mary darling now that you are a full-time model your wardrobe just will not do, and I have a social commitment here so rather then go shopping back home I thought why not you join me here?"

Mary stopped for a moment and looked at Trina, in her designer dress, and shook her head.  "Trina I can't afford new clothes."

“Oy Mary,” Trina said in an exasperated tone, "Did you not see how much the advances were on the contracts you signed?"

"But that has to go to other things like a sister who needs braces on her teeth, new winter shoes for everyone..."

"I know you have family things,” Trina said with a smile, “but honestly Mary you do need better clothes for yourself as well."

"I can do without."

"No you can't young Mary," Mary Thomas said as she caught up with them with the luggage. "If I have to dress you from the CS wardrobe, you aren't going back to San Francisco looking like that."

"And you don't argue with Merlin." Trina giggled.


“All right I give up – but only a few things, and mainly for my work at the hotel.  I suppose I can’t be their spokesperson looking like a chambermaid, can I?”


“Spoken like a true trooper – get checked in and your case in the room.  We’re not giving you a single chance to get cold feet.”


“What have I let myself in for,” Mary said as she shook her head...



3 pm

APCO, 5th Avenue


Mary looked round as they got out of the cab, and then at the store front as Merlin paid the fare.


“What is this place?”


“Nirvana for the model and society,” Merlin said as she opened the door, “shall we go in?”


"Alright - basic wardrobe for a successful high fashion model." Trina smiled as they entered APCO. "You just need so much Mary."

"At these prices?" Mary gulped as she looked at a price tag.

"That isn't what you'll pay Mary love...Alice gives very generous discounts to top models." Merlin spoke.

"It helps that we are seen in her's all great publicity for the APCO chain." Trina said as she started looking though a rack of dresses.

"Even with discounts,” Mary said as she looked at a blue chiffon dress, “do you know what I could do for the kids with what just one of these dresses costs?"

“Mary, trust me – you can still all that after this,” Merlin said as an ash blonde woman walked over, and looked at the tall girl in the jeans and sweatshirt.


"I take it this is our reluctant shopper?" Betsey the manageress said as she approached.

"It is Bets love," Mary Thomas turned and kissed the woman. "This kid is going to be a huge star, give her the clothes she needs please."

"Well I can see why they predict such big things for you Mary," Betsey walked round the model looking at her from difficult angles. "Size 2...34 B bust...Six feet tall...Am I right?"

"Sounds about me." Mary nodded, “how can you tell just by looking?”


“It’s a gift,” Betsey said with a smile.   "Well Mary I think you can wear just about anything in this store with a body like yours."

"That was my thought Betsey." Trina pulled out a dress and added it to the little pile she was creating for Mary to try on.

"She needs so much Betsey, we are going to be here a long while, any chance of coffee?" Merlin asked.

"I got Nadine to put it on when I saw you coming in the door."


“Right – no arguing young lady, in here with me,” Trina said as she pushed Mary to the changing rooms, “the re-invention of Mary Clarke begins now.”



4 pm


As she sipped her coffee, Merlin watched as Mary looked at herself in the mirror, Trina looking as well.


"Okay those jeans are perfect." Trina decided. "We will take them in regular, black, and stone-washed please Betsey."

"Three pairs...”  Mary looked again and said “I think they look good, but why do I need three?"

"Oh just keep quiet Mary," Trina grinned, "just trust me that you do."

"What about the leather pants we talked about on the phone?"

"I have them ready for her to try on Mary."

“Excellent – onwards then,” Merlin said as they heard the buzzer which indicated someone had come in.


"Hi, I was asked to bring over some swimming costumes," a voice called out.

"In here Cherry love." Mary Thomas called back.


“Cherry?  Who’s Cherry?”


Mary and Trina looked over as the tall manageress of Canyon Beachwear came in.

"Hi Mary, Hi Bets," Cherry said as she came in and kissed the two women she knew, "and you must be Trina and Mary?" she turned and looked at the two models, "oh wow aren't you both so beautiful."

"Swimming costumes?" queried Mary Clarke, "in January?"

"Well while we were here I thought I'd get Cherry to drop over, and besides – you’re both California girls, so you'll need them."


“I hate to ask, but...”


“We’ll take them – inside Mary,” Trina said as she pushed her friend back into the changing room.


“I haven’t got another Ama on my hands here, have I,” Cherry said as she looked at Merlin.


“I think you have – so we’re going gently.


“Well, a little more gently.”


“Coffee Cherry?”


“I won’t say no,” Cherry said as she accepted a cup.  “So come on, what’s her story?”


“Literally?  Missy saw her working at a hotel she was staying in in San Francisco, and the story started from there.  She’s in the next three issues of CS at the very least, but she and her dad give everything for the younger kids.”


“Hence the shopping trip,” Betsey said quietly.  They looked as Trina and Mary came out in their swimsuits, looking at themselves in the mirror.


“On yes – good choice Cherry.  Right – trousers on Mary.”


5 pm


“And I think that is everything,” Mary said with a smile as Betsey handed over the last bag.  "Send the bill to Missy will you please Betsey?"

"I can do that Mary."

"I'll pay the tab for the swimwear." Trina said as she reached for her check book.

"Are you sure I can both really afford all this, and that I need this much stuff?" Mary Clarke said as she looked at the boxes and bags round her.

"Oh this is only the start Mary." Trina grinned as she signed and handed the check to Cherry. "We still have lots of shopping to do yet."

"But first treat."

"Thank you Merlin dear." Trina smiled again.

"What about you girls?"

"I have a husband to get home to." Cherry looked at her watch.

"As do I." Betsey spoke, "but thanks for the invite."


“So where we going to eat?  Somewhere expensive?”


“Nope – downtown.  Let me make a call, and we’ll drop these off at the hotel first.”



7.30 pm

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel


“What are you thinking,” Mary Thomas said as she and Trina sat  in the lobby.


“Anyone else I know would have jumped at the chance of a shopping trip like this,” Trina said, “but Mary?  Mary wonders about what else she could do with the money.  She needs this treat, Mary.”


“I agree,” Merlin said as the lift doors opened and Mary came out, wearing a black cocktail dress with capped sleeves that came to her knees.


"Well that cocktail dress is perfect, just like I said." Trina said proudly as her friend came into the hotel lobby.

"I know,” Mary said as she shook her head, “you were right and I was wrong."

"She certainly was right love," Mary Thomas smiled. "Trina has impeccable taste."

"Well coming from the Style Director of a top fashion magazine, that is quite a compliment." Trina beamed.

"Well it's the truth."

"Okay Mary,” Trina said with a serious face, “did you phone your Pop?"

"I did, and I told him I'd been shopping...”




“He actually said good for me."

"Well look on these clothes like the uniform you used to wear Mary," Mary Thomas spoke again, "these are the essential things you need to wear to do your job."

"She does still need more though."

"Quite right Trina, she does,” Merlin said quietly, “so shoe shopping in the morning?"


"Do I need more shoes?"

"Mary darling a woman can NEVER have too many shoes," Merlin put her arms round the young model, "now let's go eat, I'm hungry."



8 pm

The Speakeasy, Buffalo




The other three looked up at Miss Panther as she walked in, wearing a long grey fur over her blue knee length dress, her blonde hair falling down over her shoulders.  With her were Miss Leopard and Miss Puma, Miss Leopard wearing her long black coat over her jumper and trousers, Miss Puma with her brown hair falling onto her great coat.


“Miss Lynx,” Miss Panther said as she looked at the young dark haired girl, wearing the black silk blouse and leather trousers, “how did the collection for today go?”


“We had a little trouble with one runner,” she said with a smile, “I had a little word with him.”


“How little?”


“He won’t be walking for a while.”


“Very well – Miss Tigress, Miss Cheetah?”


“Well Si...  Sorry, Miss Panther,” the blonde said, “we got the man you wanted to talk to.  He’s out the back.”


“Excellent – shall we?”


The six ladies stood as one and walked across the club floor, their bodies moving in perfect motion as they made their way out into the back yard.  There, hanging by his wrists from a beam, was a grey haired man, slim, eyes of grey steel looking at the six women.


“Well, who have we here,” Miss Panther purred.


“Vittorio Scirrori – Sporetti’s accountant.”


“Oh how nice – we wish to know where Sporetti’s accounts are,” Miss Panther said.


“Go to hell.”


“Oh you’ve got the wrong idea,” Miss Panther said as she picked up an iron pipe, “you’re already there.”


Sciorri groaned as he was hit between the legs, the other women picking up their own iron bars and beating him to try and get him to talk...


9.30 pm

Mary Thomas’ Townhouse


“That was amazing,” Mary said as Merlin opened the front door to her home, “how did you know of that place?”


“You live here long enough, you learn,” the Welsh woman said as she closed the door behind Trina and Mary.  “Denice, Erica, you still up?”


“Yeah – want some cocoa?”


“Can you make it for five?”  Mary smiled as she said “Denice and her daughter Erica have been staying with me while their new home is finished.”


Mary looked at the African American girl as she came out.


“Erica, this is Mary and  Trina, two of our new models.  Girls. Meet Erica Burton, a future genius.”


“Hey,” she said as she looked at them, “come on through.  Mom will bring the drinks through.”


“Wow,” Trina said as she sat down, “it’s like a shrine to fashion in here?”


“What, these?  Some mementos, that’s all,” Merlin said as Denice came in, carrying a tray with steaming mugs.


“There we go – I guess you’re not from this side of the country?”


“West coast, and thanks,” Mary said as she took a mug.  “Now this is how a day should end.”


“So what brings you to NY?”


“I’m one of the debs this year,” Trina said, “and Mary?  Mary needed some clothes.”


“So they keep saying,” Mary whispered as she shook her head.


“Too big a job for the cave Merlin?”


“No – this required the hands on approach,” Mary said with a smile.


“By the way, much as I hate to say this Mary, Sandy called.  The apartment will be ready next Wednesday.”


“Ai – it will be sad to see you both move out, but you need your space now,” Mary said with a smile.  “And besides, I’m off home next Friday for a week.”


“Bring us back some lava bread, will you?”


“If I could, Denice, I’d bring some proper lamb back, but I’ll try the bread,” Mary said as she sipped her cocoa.


10 pm



He lay in bed watching the old movie. That was really where 'she' had come from, ever since the age of about 10 he had fantasized about the dames of Film Noir, the gun-molls, the vamps, the femmes-fatale.


As Lauren Bacall lit the cigarette of Humphrey Bogart, he looked back on his own life.  He's begun cross-dressing when he was about 11, putting on his mothers clothes, especially her gloves and furs, and fantasized about being a 'bad girl', he'd never really stopped doing it, but now he was doing it for real.


Even when he had been at the Academy, he had gone out at times at night, nobody realising who it was they saw at the local bars.  He had been a couple of years ahead of Welsh, and played the game well.  Almost as well as Welsh – he had to admire the way he had kept his own secret hidden.

Crime was a deadly serious business, but he loved the whole thing of doing it as 'her'. He loved the lustful looks from men, he loved the clothes, but above all he got his sexual kicks from committing evil. Funny that everyone had him pigeon holed as this straight arrow FBI man...well if they only knew.


Correction, they must never know, 'her' freedom and that of his sister meant too much to him, but oh it would be just so perfect if his shocked colleagues ever knew that it was him taking over the Buffalo underworld, step by step.


He smiled as he remembered the screams of the money man, before he had died.  Now, he could squeeze Sporetti even more, but for now, he had his movie – and tomorrow, he would be at work, smiling and playing the game...



Friday 15th January

10 am

Saks, 5th Avenue


As the assistants looked over, Mary Thomas walked in, followed by Trina and Mary Clarke.  While Mary was dressed in her usual cardigan and skirt, Trina was wearing a v-necked sweater and black pants, while Mary wore a white roll neck sweater and grey leggings.


“Miss Thomas,” the head assistant said as she came over, “how can we help you today?


“My friend here,” Merlin said as she looked at Mary, “needs to buy some shoes, and Trina is going to help her pick.  Girls, go and have a look round, and see what catches your eye.”


“Right – let’s start with everyday shoes.”


Mary looked at the price tag on a pair of low-heeled shoes, but before she could say anything Trina said “don’t – just come and look...”


"So Miss Thomas,” the head assistant said as she saw the girls looking round, “who is she?"

"One of the next top girls in modeling,” Merlin said, “but she comes from poverty and she's not used to spending anything on herself."

"How top?"

"She has spreads in the next three issues of CS."

Letting out a low whistle, the assistant said "and she normally wears?"

"Beat up sneakers."

"I get the picture," the assistant nodded. "I do have some rather special shoes that we can show her."

"Well she's an 8 regular." Mary smiled.


“Leave it with me,” she said as she walked off.


“Right,” Trina said as she came back with Mary, “we need these in an 8 regular please.”  She handed half a dozen shoes of various styles to the assistant, who went off as Mary looked at both of them.


“Oh no – it’s part of the uniform,” Merlin said as she watched the assistant bring some boxes over.  Opening one, she took out a pair of Jimmy Choo black pumps, and helped Mary to slip them on.


As she stood up, she stopped for a second, and then walked round, looking at herself in the mirror.


“Nice,” Trina said, “How do they feel?”


“Tall,” Mary said, “and I feel like my arches ache.”


“You get used to it – right, we’ll take them.  Next?”




11 am

New Haven


As she opened the door to her rooms, Cari walked in and looked round, Judith sucking her thumb as she waited in her mother’s arms.


"Well we are back darling," Carina said as she put Judith down.

"Do I go to nursery tomorrow?" the little one asked as she took her coat off.

"You do,” Carina said, “and you get to see all your friends...  What will you tell them about?"

"Kwistmas and Wusha." Judith paused to think, "and PONIES!" she clapped her little hands.

"You have a lot to talk about don't you?"


"Well now do you want your juice, or do you need take a nap?"

"Juice please."

"Okay, and where do we keep juice?"

"In the fridge." Judith walked towards the tiny kitchen.

"Hey you are back," David came out of Judy's room.

"UNCA DAVID!"  Judith toddled over to David as he swept her into his arms.

"So when did you guys get here?" Carina asked as she poured Judith's juice.

"Last night, Judy had a class already this morning, but she let me sleep in."


“Fair enough – here you go darling.”


“Fank ew mommy,” Judith said as David put her down, and she took her cup.


“I’ll give you a hand with the bags later – how’s Abby?”


“Nervous as anything – they head up to the Country Club tonight, and gala night next Monday.”


“Oh how she will love that,” David said with a smile.  “I need to go down on Friday next week with Judy – you coming?”


“Mom’s taken a table in support – it’s going to be a fun night...”



11 am

Comfort Suites Downtown, Buffalo


Heather closed the door of the room and looked round – she had selected the hotel for two reasons.  Firstly, it was quiet, cheap, off the beaten track.


And second, she could hack into a network to do her work with complete quiet and without been tracked.  The hotel had the benefit of proximity to the FBI and Police headquarters as well.


As she plugged in her laptop, she picked up the copy of the local paper she had collected in the lobby and glanced over it.  One thing caught her eye – the badly beaten body of an accountant found on waste ground.


She sat down and then caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror – her hair hidden under the dark wig, the high collared jacket and deep red lipstick.  Although she was wearing tight pants and knee length boots as opposed to the usual micro skirt and stockings, she was going to be her alter ego for the next two days...


A knock on the door caught her attention – one short, a gap, one hard knock, and two soft ones.  Checking her reflection in the mirror, she put her sunglasses back on and looked through the spyhole, then opened the door.


The young woman standing there was wearing a brown leather jacket over a roll neck sweater, tight blue jeans and short brown boots.  Her long blonde hair fell loosely over her shoulders, as she smiled and said “My name’s Louise – I was told you were expecting me?”


“Do you know who I am?”


“All I know, darling, is Maddie sent me to help you and do all i could for that.  If you know the people I think you know, I am told to mention Tokyo to you.”


“You helped there?”


Louise nodded as she said “and now, I am fully a member of Madame’s organization.  May I come in?”


Heather stood to one side as Louise came in, and removed her jacket.  “My room’s next door, so a knock on the wall will get me – or a call on the phone.  So what do I call you?”


“How about boss?”


“You got it Boss,” Louise said with a smile.  “First job?”


“Look at this,” Heather said as she handed Louise the paper.  “While I get set up, can you do a search through the local press, see if the name comes up in any other context recently.”


“Vittorio Scillori – got it boss.  Anything else?”


“Two coffees, black, strong.”


Louise smiled as she went to the door, returning a few minutes later with the cups and her laptop.


“Let’s see,” she said as she sat on the bed, while Heather used the table.  “Vittorio Scillori – the local press has him at charity functions, supporting local groups.  Single, late fifties, and...  Ah.”




“Known associate of Sporetti.”


“Ah – it would appear they have struck again,” Heather said quietly,  “Time for me to see what the PD has on him.”  She typed on the keyboard, and then smiled as she scanned down the screen.


“How did you do that?”


“My secret,” Heather said with a smile as she looked at Louise.  She liked this young woman, especially when she remembered the role she had played in Tokyo.


“He was Sporetti’s head bookkeeper,” Heather said, “well known to the PD.  Something to work on after this.”  She picked up her cup and took a drink, and then looked at Louise.


“How did you?”


“Madame gave very specific instructions,” Louise said with a smile as she looked at her watch.  “We have a one o’clock appointment.”


“So I understand.  Okay – start taking notes...”



1 pm

The Inn on the Park


“There you are,” Juliette said as Diana came in with Olivia, “I was beginning to wonder what had happened.”


“Apologies, mon Cherie,” Diana said, “we had to discuss the travel arrangements for tonight with Charlie and Papa.”


“Oh yes – the Country Club ball.  I had forgotten that was tonight, with Cari going back off to Yale and Ingy going the other way.”


“So you and Klaus have the apartment all to yourselves again,” Kelly said with a smile.


“I know – a nice thought,” Juliette said as she looked across the table at Kelly and Rachel.


“I’m just glad we don’t have to do that tonight – remember last year Juliette?”


“Oh yes – the worst snow of the month,” Juliette said with a laugh.


“Hey,” Sandy said as she joined them with Nessa, “Heather sends her apologies – she has been called away to do something for me, but she’ll be back Sunday.”


“Well, Vanessa Richmond,” Rachel McNally said, “what are these rumours of you been seen around the city on the arm of a toy boy?”


“Moi?”  Nessa laughed and said “he’s not a boy, I can tell you that much.”


“Too much information, Mom!”


“Oh let her be, Sandy – we’re just glad she has someone,” Clare Morse said as she sat down.  “So looking forward to tonight Mandy?”


“Much more to next week, if truth be told darling,” Mandy said, “but it should still be fun.”



1 pm

Red Jacket River Front Park


As Victor Sporetti walked along the river, his two bodyguards a discrete distance back, he took in a deep breath.  This was his city, no matter what those bitches may think, and he was determined to hold on to it.


“Excuse me sir – would you happen to have a lighter?”


He looked at the thin blonde, and said “Sorry – I don’t smoke.”


“That’s all right – neither do I darling.  Would you come this way please – I assure you, it is safe and secure.”


Sporetti followed the blonde behind a group of bushes, where Heather was sitting on a bench, looking out over the river through her mirrored sunglasses.


“Mister Sporetti,” she said as she looked at him, “please, take a seat.”


“So who am I talking to,” Sporetti said as he sat beside her.


“Well, my real name is a security issue,” Heather purred, “but you may have heard me referred to as The Hidden Hand.  As one of my many roles, I act as a cyber security consultant for Madame X, and she asked me to spend some time here looking into your problem.”


“I heard of youse,” Sporetti said, “but why send a tech first?”


“Because the start to the answer of our mutual problem,” Heather purred, “lies here and in the record systems of the local PD and FBI.  First, however, my condolences on your loss.”


“Yeah – he was a good man.  One to add to the list I want to discuss with these ladies.”


“I appreciate that,” Heather said, “but I am neglecting my duties.  Allow me to introduce Louise – she is here to act as our on the spot liaison between you and Madame, and is empowered to take all necessary steps to help you to a resolution of your problem.”


Sporetti nodded at Louise as she smiled.  “So, found anyfing?”


“Quite a bit, actually,” Heather said with a smile.  “Examining the records, I believe I may have identified a potential mole within the Buffalo PD – a name keeps appearing in their reports on the hits on your properties and men.”


“It’s a small department,” Sporetti said.


“True – but when he is meant to be on leave and he appears on the scene?”


Sporetti looked at Heather as she smiled.  “Madame promised you a complete package, so forgive me if I do not give full details yet but be assured – before I leave tomorrow, you will have a complete package.  Financials, contacts, everything.  I will continue to use this, if it proves to be a productive thread, to unravel and end your problems.  Consider what I give you a gift.”


“And this gal?”


“Could probably rip your balls off if she wanted,” Louise said quietly.


“She is trained to Madame’s exacting standards.  We have another proposition – can you find her a place to stay.  Quiet, discrete, and not associated with you in any way?”


“I can make calls to friends of friends.  Why?”


“An establishment of a rival of yours was taken over yesterday by new owners – The Speakeasy?”


“Capetti’s joint?  Oh sheesh – have they gone for him as well?”


“Perhaps – but we intend to insert Louise there as a worker.  So she will need a place to stay after tomorrow.  If we are correct, it is a second line of inquiry?”


Sporetti nodded as he said “I’ll sort it out.  How do i contact youse?”


“I will contact you tomorrow,” Heather said as she stood up.  “Madame promised she would deal with your problem – I trust you are satisfied we have begun?”


“Bring me the head of one of thems, then we see.”


“We will be in touch,” Heather said as she and Louise left, Sporetti looking out over the river and shaking his head...


2.30 pm

Comfort Suites Downtown, Buffalo


Heather walked over as she heard the knock on the door, and let Louise come in.




"The manager hired me Boss." Louise took off her coat. "I start later tonight."

"Good," Heather nodded.

"I kept my eyes open like you said, but I saw no clue regarding the new owners."

"Pity, but just keep watching...So what did they hire you as?"

"Cocktail waitress. I've done the same job at clubs back in LA at times, I know what I'm doing."

"So hopefully you'll just fade right in."

"I hope so Boss.  Now what?”


“I want you to look over my notes, see if I’ve missed anything...”



3.30 pm

Hobart William Smith


“Home again,” Jo said with a smile as she opened her room door, and walked in, putting her kit bag down on her bed.  Walking over to the window, she looked out across the lake, and then took her cell phone out.


“Curt?  I’m back in residence – you still free tonight?”


She smiled and said “good – give me a couple of hours to settle back in, and I’ll be ready.”


Ending the call, she turned as the door opened and Hope Johnson walked in.


“Hey – welcome back roomie,” she said with a smile, “how was your Christmas?”


“Busy – ran in the Central trials and qualified for the finals, and did a couple of shows, as well as having a break and going to a few parties.  You?”


“BIG family gathering,” Hope, said as she sat one her bed, “I got back yesterday.  So what are you down for this semester?”


“Apart from German?  Need to do my social sciences course and another elective,” Jo said as she opened her bag, and tossed a package over to Hope.


“You remembered – thanks.”


“Well, Jeannie was happy to do me a favour,” Jo said with a smile.  “Right – I’m going to get my bags.”


“Want a hand?”


“Won’t say no...”



8 pm

The New York Country Club


The sounds of Cole Porter standards being played by the orchestra, mingled with the excited conversation as the debs, their escorts, parents and friends entered the clubhouse.

The girls in the long white dresses and gloves looked round constantly checking out who had arrived, and who hadn't.  Brigitte and Samantha smiled as Abby and Tony came in, accompanied by Fiona and Mick.


“So you made it,” they said as the two young woman walked over, their gowns reflecting the bright lights.


“Yeah – at least it’s not snowing,” Abby said with a smile.  “All right, Tony – let’s dance.”


“Of course,” he said as Diana, Guy and Valeria looked on.


“I meant to say that I heard from Alain today,” Guy whispered to Diana, “he would be honoured to come and be your partner next week.  He said it would give him a chance to spend time with his namesake.”


“Thank you for asking him, Father.”


“Well, he says he has some news for us anyway,” Valeria said.  Both she and Diana were wearing dark blue gowns, Guy in his evening dress, while Olivia was wearing an emerald green ball gown.


“Now this looks like a gathering of minds,” Ally said as she and Nell came in with their mother and father.


“And for good measure,” Nell said, “I know Buffy is not coming tonight, so you can relax for once.”


“Good – ready?”


“Ready,” Nell said, “Let’s Par-TAY!”




“It’s all right, Dad,” Sharon Kennedy said as she came in with her father.  “I know you still feel a bit funny coming out like this, but it’s important you’re here for me.  The kids are safe with my aunt, and nobody is going to hurt them.”


“You’re right Sharon,” Alan Kennedy said quietly, “and I know you are easily one of the most beautiful women here tonight.  You’re so like your mother, you know.”


Sharon smiled as Victoria Gordon walked over.


“Mister Kennedy, I’m Victoria Gordon,” she said as they shook hands.  “My husband and I would be honoured if you and Sharon would join us at our table, and allow us to introduce you to some of the other parents.”


“Thank you,” Alan said as Sharon went to join the others.




"I see we got a number of the International debs here this year?" one of the officials spoke to another within Diana's earshot.

"In a way it’s a pity, means one less local girl."

"Yes but they generate enormous publicity and prestige."

"True, but as I said don't they have their own balls?"

"Well I can always take Abigail home," Diana interrupted the private conversation.

"And you know we didn't mean Abigail Diana," one of the officials blustered.


“If you speak of one of them, you speak of all – and I remind you that includes a Royal Princess,” Diana said quietly before she left, the two officials looking at each other.


“Problem, Diana,” Valeria said as she returned to the table. 


“No – just a reminder needed,” Diana said as she sat and watched Tony dancing with Abby.





"Does this dress show too much?" Ally looked down at herself.

"For a New York Slut or for a debutante?" asked Charly.

"No I guess for once for me, for Ally Rochermann."

"Well,” Charly said with a smile, “I personally think it suits so wonderfully."

"You think? I look at your dress Charly and it feels all wrong."

"It's nothing of the sort Ally."

"Is that Ally Rochermann I hear doubting herself?" Abby joined the conversation, "it's been a long while since I heard that."


“Well, I had to grow up at some point – hey Trina, I thought you weren’t going to make it for a moment.”


“Sorry – Mary Thomas and I had to see a certain friend off with some excess baggage.”


“Oh yeah,” Abby said, “the shopping trip.  How did it go?”


“Well, you won’t recognise her when you next see her,” Trina said, “trust me on that.”




“Look at them,” Kelly said as she sat with Olivia and Charlie, “I still see them in braces and pigtails, you know.”


“I can understand that,” Olivia said quietly, “they grow up so fast.”


“Tell me about it,” Will said as he sat next to Daniel, “what happened to the little blonde who was going to Roedean for her first term?”


“She grew into a beautiful young woman, darling,” Mandy said as she sipped her drink.  “And next week, they will be the stars of the ball.”


“So when does Angel get presented?”


“March I think – so this, then Vienna, the one in California, and London.”


“Has she decided what she is going to do next year yet,” Daniel asked.


“No, she is keeping her cards close to her chest,” Will said, “but I think she’s leaning towards Oxford.”


“Not taken with the idea of heading north,” Charlie said with a smile.


“Why did Fiona pick Newcastle over London?”


“Good art school, and a fair way from us I think – she wanted her independence.”





"Your Papa and Valeria make a nice couple Diana," the Queen commented as they stood to the side.

"Oui,” Diana said, “they seem to be truly be making each other happy."

"It's more than my husband and I are currently,” her friend said as she looked round, “this security is a bit stifling."

"Just grin and bear it, you'll soon be home at that lovely chateau of yours."

"You know I cannot wait for that Diana darling."

"Enjoying yourself Diana?" the King said as he walked over.

"Very much so Rudy, I was just saying to Terri though that both of you look like you'd happily drop everything and return home to France."

"Because of our shadows," the King nodded, "it will be wonderful just to be able to go shopping on my own again."


“Alain will be joining us next week for the ball.”


“He is?  It is a long time since I have seen him, this should be fun.”



8 pm

The Speakeasy, Buffalo


“That’s a good look on you,” the waitress said as Louise pulled the flapper style dress down her body.


“Why thank you dear,” Louise said with a smile as an older woman came in.


“Louise, come over here please.”


“Of course,” she said as she walked over, “how can I help you?”


“You need to see the layout - those are your tables," the assistant manager said as she showed Louise the floor diagram.

"Okay,” Louise said as she nodded her head, “I think I can handle those."

"You sound like you've done this before?"

"Yeah back in LA."

"Please explain to me why a girl from the sun of LA moves to Buffalo in mid-winter."

"Oh a few boyfriend issues, you might basically say I'm hiding out."

"Been there, done that," one of the other girls said as she checked her flapper costume in a mirror.

"So any tips? Anyone I need watch out for? Guys who think they are God’s gift? Men with hands they can’t control?"

"Yeah you have done this job before," the other waitress smiled, "I’ll point out the potential trouble."

"In the meantime go back and do your makeup in the dressing room," the under manager spoke again, "we start getting busy soon."

"Right," Louise said as she wiggled away.  Sitting at the table, she carefully applied her lipstick and eye shadow, taking note of everything in the room.


8 pm

Hobart William Smith


Jo watched as Hope went out, and then turned on her laptop, outing her key fob to her eye and then opening a chat window.


"Hey Big Sis," Jo smiled as she saw the face on the secure screen.

"Hey Little Sis," Heather smiled back. "So settled back in?"

"Yeah, just about,” Jo said, “I’m meeting Curt in a few minutes.  So what's going on in Buffalo?"

"At the moment not a lot,” Heather said as she leaned back in her chair, “but we have got Louise in undercover."

"I told everyone that you were visiting family up here just like we agreed."

"Okay, that really makes it seem normal."

"The kids hate you being away though."

"I know Jo, but sometimes it’s necessary."

"Well they did accept you haven't seen the family in quite a while."


"So any chance of me seeing you?"

"I could maybe drive down if the weather co-operated, it all depends on what happens, and what we learn, I might need you to come here though if I need some extra muscle."

"Shirley briefed me,” Jo said, “and i did bring some extra 'toys' with me."


“Well, let’s hope it’s not needed – right get going.  I need to talk to Shirley.”


Jo looked at her phone, and said “I gotta go.  Talk to you tomorrow.”




In her hotel room, Heather looked again at the bank records she had uncovered.  This detective, Robert Harkness – too many payments and too many coincidences.  He was worthy of notice...



9 pm

The New York Country Club


"Nell is making a lot of girls jealous." Trina whispered in Betsy's ear.

"Oh why?"

"Because that's her third dance with Mick Harron."

"I hadn't noticed."

"Oh but so many others have." Trina giggled.

"Well I saw more then a few envious glances at your latest movie star Trina?"

"You mean Shane?"

"Who else?"

"He's actually just an acquaintance, but I heard he's filming here, so I asked him to be my escort."

“Oh?  What is he filming?”


“Some film with Cassandra Stone,” Trina whispered back.


"O What it is to have such power." Sharon Kennedy laughed.

"Who me?' Trina giggled, "by the way Sharon I like your Dad."

"Yeah he's not enjoying himself, but he's doing his best for my sakes."


They looked over to where Alan Kennedy was standing with Victoria.


“Alan, may I introduce you to Diana de Ros?”


“You are Abigail’s mother,” Alan said as he shook Diana’s hand.


“That is correct,” Diana said with a smile. 


“You must be very proud of her – she is a very talented young woman.”


Diana’s mind flew back to the previous April, and Alan trussed in his apartment, while Sharon was flogging her stepmother as she was tied to the back of the couch.


“I am, indeed, very proud of her and her talents,” Diana finally said.


“Well, I feel as proud of Sharon,” Alan said with a smile.  “Excuse me, I am being summoned.”


As he walked over to where Sharon was talking to Charly Elphberg, Victoria said “there is great sadness in his eyes.”


“Yes – Abby told me he and his family had a horrific robbery last year.  It must affect him still.”





"So Charly you finish your economics course in Munich after the deb season, and then start your history of architecture degree in Paris in the fall?" Sharon asked.

"Yes, Papa had hoped I'd move on to another German University and continue studying either politics or economics, he really does think one day we Elphbergs will be invited back onto the Ruritanian throne, and he thinks those subjects would help make me a queen."

"And you aren't that interested your Royal Highness?" Alan Kennedy asked.

"Not truly,” Charly said, “I could do them, but the beauty of Architecture, and the chance to be back in Paris has more appeal...and Sharon Cherie what did I tell you to tell your father?"

"She prefers just plain Charly dad," Sharon giggled.


“Forgive me,” Alan said, “but it is difficult.”


“So you have practiced for next week?”


“I hopefully will not show Sharon up,” Alan said quietly.



9.30 pm

The Speakeasy, Buffalo


“Sorry, but I’m new here – don’t want to upset the boss,” Louise said as she smiled at the group of men, and then walked to the bar, her beaded dress swaying with her hips.




"That guy tried to paw me, but I calmed him down," Louise whispered to another waitress as she stood waiting for drinks.

"Yeah,” she said as she looked over, “I should have warned you about him, he tends to think we are fair game.  But the way it’s Billie."


"Louise.  Well now I know," Louise said as she glanced round.  "WOW who's the dame in the furs?' she whistled as she saw the manager escorting a tall blonde and some other women to a booth.

"The new owner...and yeah what I'd do to earn an animal like that..."

"You and me sister," Louise whistled as she took mental notes.


"Who's the new waitress?' the new boss asked the manager as they sat down.

"You mean Louise,” the woman said as she looked over, “nice kid from California, she's clearly worked this job before, and I think the patrons already like her."

"Well she certainly has amazing legs...So why here?"

"As I understand it she's on the lam..."

"From the law?"

"No as I understand it a psychopathic boyfriend, she figures Buffalo is one place he will never look."

"In that she might have a point," the new boss said.  She made a note to at least check the new girls record out, even though she had no doubt as to her story being true, but a wise woman took no chances.


“When she’s free, have her bring the drinks over.  We can wait.”


“Got it, M’am,” the manager said as she walked over, the group of women looking over.




“Yeah boss?”


“Got an order for you to take over there – and make a good impression.”


Louise nodded as she waited for the tray to be loaded, and then carried it over.


“Thank you – Louise is it?”


“It is, M’am – thank you for the opportunity to work here.”


“Why do you say this to me,” the blonde purred.


“I heard you owned the joint – it seemed the right thing to say.”


“And it was – thank you,” she said as Louise smiled and walked away.


“Yeah, great legs,” the younger blonde said.




Saturday 16th January

8 am

Comfort Suites Downtown, Buffalo


“Morning Boss,” Louise said as she came in, wearing a a pair of jeans and a jumper, “got the Danishes.”


“Great, get me another coffee will you,” Heather purred as she held up the empty cup, and then smiled.


“So what’s on the wire?”


“E-mails of a person of interest – and a problem.  One I will have to deal with before I tell someone,” Heather said, Louise noticing the frown on her face.


“From what Maddie and Tracey say of you East Coast contacts, if it’s worrying you, it must be serious.”


“Possibly,” Heather said, and then she smiled again.




"Louise, someone is trying to check out your cover story."

"They are boss," Lou yawned as she reached for the coffee pot.

"Means that at least someone noticed you last night..."

"And that is good why?"

"Because I've planted a perfectly good cover story out there that will stand up to any scrutiny, but it's something of a Trojan Horse, in that someone looking at you enables me in turn to chase down whoever is looking, and believe it or not no one can hide from me on a computer for very long." Heather looked please as Louise passed her another cup of coffee.


“Won’t they find you?”


Heather looked at Louise and smiled.  “No-one will know, trust me on that.  All I need is the ISP and...  Now that is very interesting.”


“What is Boss?”


“The IP – it’s at Buffalo PD.”


“That good or bad?”


“Ask me later – let’s see who’s using that computer.”


“You can do that?”


Heather smiled as she started to work on the keyboard.


10.30 am



The two girls walked in and looked round, the taller blonde wearing a black leather jacket and jeans, the brown haired girl a denim jacket and skirt with a blouse underneath.


“Looks like we are first here today,” Betsy remarked as she and Sharon eased themselves into a booth.


“This place is great,” Sharon looked round.


“Yeah it’s an ‘Angels’ hangout because it was so close to school.”


“Makes it convenient I suppose…”


“…and a place I really should not be seen dead in,” the short, but stunning blonde, spoke as she took a seat.


“Have you guys met?”


“Not that I remember.”


“Okay,” Betsy said, “Holly meet my cousin of a cousin Sharon from Philadelphia, she’s doing the season with me. Sharon meet Holly Berryman one of last years star white dresses.”


“Nice to meet you Holly.” Sharon shook hands.


“It’s mutual.”


“So why shouldn’t you be here Holly?”


“She shouldn’t be here because her parents were misguided enough to send her to Sacred Heart,” Betsy shivered at the fault.


“The same place I went…” Nell said as she swept in.


“Where’s Ally?” Betsy asked.


“I haven’t got a clue…Mick dropped me off, I haven’t been home yet.”


“You slept with Mick Harron?” Sharon asked in awe.

“Yep,” Nell smiled then buried her head in the menu.


“Did you hear about Nell and Mick?” Betsy asked, as Abby, Charly, Fiona, Trina, and another string of girls entered.


“We had,” Angel came in last after paying off the cabby.


“I’m amazed the paparazzi aren’t stalking you Nell.” Abigail eased into a booth.


“Give it till after lunch, and by then I bet they are.” Trina also grabbed a menu.


“They have to find me first,” Nell said, “and I can disappear into the background if I need to.”


“Excuse me,” Holly said as she and Abby looked at each other, “you?  Disappear into the background?”


“Well, I’ll visit with Charly – let the Secret Service do the job,” Nell said as Ally came in.


“Oh THERE you are,” she said as she sat and looked at Nell, “have fun?”


“Can’t complain,” Nell said without looking up.  “Did Mom ask where I was?”


“No need – Olivia called her and said you’d have breakfast with them...”


“Oh – right.  So Mom and Dad know?”


Ally looked over and nodded, the most serene smile on her face.


"Well for those of you who are Catholics, let me say we raised another nearly 100 grand for Notre Dame Hospital last night." Abigail looked proud.

"How did we do that?"

"Very few people say no,” Abby said, “when double teamed by a Queen and a Countess asking for donations Fiona.”

"My Mother, and Abby's got a few people to open up their pocket books," Charly laughed, "one guy I swear moths flew out it hadn't been opened up in that long."

"I had one that when the president on the banknotes emerged into the light he put on sunglasses," Abby giggled.

"Girls those jokes are so old, even my great-grandfather knew them," Brig Karonsky said as she arrived and took a seat.


“It’s the way it’s told that matters,” Charly said.


“So who are we waiting on?”


"Sorry I went to the wrong eatery," Samantha Gordon said as she ran in looking flustered.

"Well we haven't really started yet,” Fiona said, “we are still gossiping."

"Oh anything interesting Charly?"

"Nell here slept with Fi's brother...."

"WHOA? YOU DID?" the Scottish girl said as she looked at the American.


“I am not going to be allowed to forget, am I,” Nell said as the waitress came to take their orders.


“No – no you’re not,” Betsy said as they ordered their food.



11 am

The Speakeasy, Buffalo


Miss Panther smiled as the brunette came and sat next to her, the brown leather knee length boots going under her log velvet skirt.


“Two drinks,” she called out to the manageress as she passed, before she said "So - our new waitress at the Speakeasy?"

"Just as she said,” the brunette said in a deep voice, “she has a restraining order on a boyfriend who put her in hospital a few weeks ago. I talked to a local cop worked her case, she said Louise fled in fear of her life...That she's no angel, but the boyfriend is a nuts when he drinks."

"I thought as much,” Miss Panther said ,”the story rang too true not to be so...”  As the manageress brought their drinks over, she said “Louise, the new girl.  What did you think of her work?"

“May I sit down?”


Miss Panther nodded and indicated the seat.


"Well, she's cocktail waitressed before, she got a lot of tips, two marriage proposals, and another so indecent even the other girls blushed when they told me."

"A fairly normal night then for a waitress?"

"Pretty much."

"Well then keep her on, she's decorative, she knows what she's doing, she's just the type of girl we need working out there."


“Got it boss.  By the way, i need to warn you – our liquor supplier called today, trying to squeeze more money out with a new owner in place.”


“Hmm – leave that with me, if you supply the details?”


“I’ll get them for you,” she said as she walked off.





11.30 am

Sovereign Court, Buffalo


Edie Corben lowered her mother into the wheel chair and tucked the blanket over her lap as she said “there you go Mom.”


“Thank you Edie,”  the thin brown haired woman said, “can I have the remote?  I’ll watch some television until Lily comes to collect me.”


“Sure,” Edie said as she handed the remote control to her, and then returned to the table, turning on her laptop as she took a drink from her coffee mug.  She watched as her mother pressed the buttons, and then smiled.


She didn’t mind living here and helping care for her, but it meant she didn’t have much of a life outside of home and work.  So as she waited for the laptop to start, she wondered how she would spend the time between her going and coming back from her sisters.




Edie blinked as she saw the blue window, like a chat window, suddenly appear on her screen, and then looked again as another line of text appeared.





“Who is this?” she typed into the window and pressed return.





Edie stared at the screen, and then typed “Why should I believe someone who won’t say who they are?”




“Again, why should I trust you?”




The window disappeared as quickly as it appeared, but Edie saw a document on her desktop.  Opening it, she read the contents, and then looked up as the doorbell rang.


“Mom?  You ready?”


“Hello Lily,” Edie said as her sister came in, “I’ll get her bag for you.”


“So what are you going to do in your downtime?”


“I might take a trip down to the lakeside – get some fresh air...”





3 pm

La Salle Park, Buffalo NY


As Edie walked along the path to the baseball diamonds, she kept wondering if she was doing the right thing.  Maybe she should have called Peter or her supervisor, but something in her wanted to know if this was a practical joke or something else.


She was in white – a denim jacket over a cowl necked sweater, joggers and sneakers, blending in with the other people using the facilities.  But it was quiet, the park bare, and the baseball diamonds empty...


“Not the most uplifting of sights at this time, is it Agent Corben?”


The deep rich voice took Enid by surprise, as she turned to look at the brown haired woman next to her.  She took in the important details – what there was, the large sunglasses hiding her eyes, the gigh bollared jacket, the tight leggings and boots.


“You have the advantage of me, Miss...”


“Enid Corben, 27 years old.  Graduate of Penn State, then the academy at Quanticate.  Based in the Buffalo field office since becoming an agent three years ago, junior partner to Agent David Welsh.  For someone who graduated second in her class, and could have had the pick of postings, it was a surprise to many you came home.  But then, your mother had her accident – and it fell to you to move back in and help care for her, because your younger sister Lily has her own family.”


“How the hell do you know...”


“You like country music, and your favourite food is Spaghetti Alfredo.  You prefer white wine to red, and you keep a reasonable cheque account balance in case of emergencies.  By the way, your insurance payments could be halved, and you need a new cable deal.  I’ve taken the liberty of arranging both on your behalf.”


“Who the hell are you?”


The stranger turned and smiled as she said “your look is so like that of Agent Janice Carter in New York when we first met.  It must be one they teach you in the academy.  You would know me as The Hidden Hand – a pleasure to meet you.”


Enid stared for a moment at the woman, before she said “I’ve heard of you, but the rumour is you never show your face.  Why now?”


“Well, that is a very interesting question, and one that requires me to ask you one first.”  Looking at Enid, she said “if I tell you why I am here, would you feel honour bound to tell your partner, your superiors?”


“Your message said there is a mole at the Bureau.  What makes you think that?”


“Agent Carter sometimes asks me to do her some – favours.  She recently heard of activity by a group in this area, claiming to be the Pussycat Gang.  As Agent Carter is a member of the Pussycat Task Force, she was naturally curious that they had not heard this in their office.”


“So she asked one of the most notorious hackers in the world to look into it for her?”


The Hand smiled as she said “Agent Carter and I have worked together before, particularly if she needs information in a – less than official manner.  Her concern was someone was preventing the reports getting through, so she asked me to look into it.”




“She is right to be concerned,” the Hand said quietly.  “I am collating information, but she needs someone she can talk to here.”


“She and my partner were at the academy together – maybe she should ask him.”


“She did,” the Hand said quietly, “and I think she should talk to you as well.  Will you do that for me – on the QT, as you youngsters like to put it?”


“If I do, and I say you contacted me...”


“Ask her how I first established contact with her,” the Hand said with a smile.  “Despite what you may believe, Agent Corben, I prefer my law agents to be honest.  It makes things so much easier.”


“So why me?”


“I also prefer working with women,” the Hand said with a smile.  “And besides – what I learn of you tells me you are clean and straight.”


“Okay – but if there is a problem, I need a thread to look into.”


“Consider The Speakeasy, Agent Corben, and consider the recent ownership.  Follow the threads, and tread carefully – I so would like to talk with you again.  Talk to Janice Carter – her number is on your cell phone.”


“I’ve never talked to her,” Edie said as she took out her cell phone, and then saw Jan’s name in her contacts list.


“Hey,” she said as she saw the Hand walk off, “how do I get in touch with you?”


She turned round, and smiled before she said “Be seeing you, Agent Corben,” and saluting before she went round the corner.


4.30 pm

Park Avenue


“Thank you for coming,” Shirley said as she showed Juliette and Jan into her den, and closed the door.  “Heather should be contacting me in a moment.”


“Has she given any hints,” Juliette said as Shirley poured the coffee.


“No – although I do know Louise has arrived safely and is in position at a place of interest.  We had word a nightclub had changed hands at very short notice, and that the previous owner had mob connections.”


“Not under your protection?”


“No – a different group, else I would have to intervene personally,” Shirley said as the screen flickered into life, and Heather appeared with Louise.


“Ah – there you are,” Shirley said as the others watched.  “Louise, it is a pleasure to finally meet you, if only by means of the call.”


“Nice to meet you as well Madame,” Louise purred, “the Boss wanted me to be in on the first part of the briefing, before I leave for my shift.”


“Very well then – the two ladies with me are colleagues with contacts inside various agencies here.  You may proceed.”


“The Speakeasy has been bought by a woman – very classy, very well dressed, likes furs and heels.”


“Could she be the person of interest then?”


“I believe so, yes – she arrived last night with a group of five others, all equally well dressed.  Three younger, two the same age as the owner.”


“Did you hear her name?”


“No – I only took drinks to them once, but they obviously noticed me.  I did notice one thing, however?”


“And that was?”


“The two other older women weren’t women.  They tried their best, but their Adam’s apples were visible.  Which does beg a question in my mind?”


“Are the others?”


“The three younger ones, definitely.  As for the woman in charge – no way of telling.  She likes to wear scarves.”


“Very well then – we need details of the new owner.”


“Working on it,” Heather said in her disguised voice.  “Orders for Louise?”


“Continue to observe and report back,  The Hand will furnish you with a laptop keyed to the secure network, through which you can contact Madeline, Susan or myself.  Has accommodation been arranged for after tomorrow?”


“In hand.”


“Good – Louise, good work so far.  Go and prepare for tonight – the rest of the briefing is confidential.”


“Of course, Madame, Ladies,” Louise said as she walked off, Heather watching as the room door opened and closed, and then removing the voice modifier and glasses.


“Long day,” Jan said.


“Yes, but productive.  The deeds to The Speakeasy, the nightclub, are in a shell company, but I’m trying to trace the money.  Let’s talk personnel – but Jan, I’m going to upset you a little bit.”


“That sounds ominous – what’s up?”


“When I traced who was checking up on Louise – and thank Maddie for making sure one of her contacts in the LAPD was ready – I traced the link back to a detective in the Baltimore Major Crimes Unit.  His name is Mark Judge – ten years in Buffalo, five in New York before that.”


“I see – we shall see what we can find here.  What else have you found out?”


“That he was Senior Officer for a number of the raids on Sporelli.  He also has an old friend at the FBI – Andre Baughman.”


“That’s Peter Welsh’s supervisor,” Jan said quietly,


“Exactly – and it appears he, Welsh and Judge have been meeting regularly.”


“Heather, have you run financials?”


“I have – and there are some suspicious money transfers I need to pin down.  In the meantime, Jan, you’re going to get a call from Welsh’s partner.  I think you may need to take a double approach, just in case...”


“In case Peter is no longer as straight as an arrow?”


Heather nodded, Jan grimacing as she said “how will she call me?”


“She has your number – I talked to her today as the Hand, and gave her Judge’s name to look into, on the pretence that information was not getting to the Bureau.”


“Okay – I’ll expect the call.”


“Heather,” Juliette said, “while you’re there, look into the First Niagara Bank.”


“Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking Ju?”


“We may have to pay a visit to do the final clear up,” Juliette said, “best to start preparing.”


“When are you heading back?”


“Tomorrow with any luck – I may come back via Jo, depending on the next few hours.”


“Well, keep safe,” Shirley said, “and thank you again.”


“So what now,” Jan said as Shirley ended the call.


“Come back to my place,” Juliette said, “Cassandra is coming round anyway, and she wants to talk to you about a suggestion she has.  We can get Cari on the line, see how she is settling in.”


There was a knock on the door, and as Shirley unlocked the door Maisha came in.


“My apologies, Aunt Shirley, but you did say to remind you when it got to five thirty.  You have the appointment with Uncle John.”


“Indeed – forgive me ladies, but I need to change.  I will see you both tomorrow.”


“Come on Jan, we’ll catch a cab,” Juliette said as they left the den.




6.30 pm

The Huntingdown Apartment


“So that’s definitely location shooting complete?”


“That’s it,” Cassandra Stone said as she accepted the glass, “we ship back next Friday – JD has already caught a plane back.”


“Maddie’s looking forward to seeing her tomorrow,” Juliette said as she sat down.


“So why ask me over – apart from the excellent wine.”


“We had a chat with Heather and her assistant today – Louise, the assistant, is convinced half of the possible gang are men.”




“Really,” Jan said as she took her cell phone out.


“Jan Carter?


“Agent Corben – I was told you might call.


“Oh yes – she put a video clip on my personal laptop and left no traces, so that does sound like her.  What can I do for you?”


As Jan walked to the kitchen, Cassandra looked over and said “I’m going to meet up with Maddie when I get back again.  We need to do some work with JD in the studio, but we’ll coordinate schedules.”


“Abby and Diana are coming out to San Francisco some time in February for work and a ball – a nice little break for them.”


“So she is presented here next week, and then Vienna?”


“Indeed – and at some point this week, Missy is going to hit them with the Fashion Week schedules.  That’s when you will hear the screams...”


“You all right Jan,” Cassandra said as she came back in.


“Not really – I need to talk to Adam and Tom in the morning.  So where were we?”


“Hey – someone wanted a chat?”


“We did indeed – wanted to bring you up to date darling,” Juliette said as she looked at Carina on the screen.  “Where’s Judith?”


“Believe it or not, at a sleepover with a friend from nursery.  So what’s up?”


“Get comfy,” Juliette said, “this may take a while...”




"So guys hiding as women?" Carina asked.

"Yeah,” Juliette said, “it's a very effective disguise if done well, especially when those you are trying to deceive are guys, none of them seem to question that a great looking chick might be a man under the clothes and the makeup."

"Well I get that Mom, but it makes our job rooting out these rats even harder. At least when we knew they were women all men were eliminated from the hunt."

"Here's a thought for you," Cassandra spoke, "and I've seen this in a movie script, how about a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman."

"Oy - if we go that Victor/Victoria route everyone can be a suspect." Jan looked heavenwards.

"No, from what Madame said, Louise knows just what she's looking at. If she says they are men in drag I think we can take that as 98% certain."

"So we are looking for men now with grudges against Madame's Buffalo affiliates?"

"Or just plain hoods on the make Jan." Juliette added.


“The question becomes, just who has Sporelli upset enough to think of doing this?”


“I’ll get a search started for all cases involving Sporelli or his men over the last year, see if any names come up.”


“Good Jan – in the meantime Cari, we’re starting to lay the groundwork for a potential visit to Lake Erie.”


“With Abby and Diana busy, and me and Jo away?”


“Like I said, the groundwork.”


“So what’s Heather doing tonight?”


“Would you believe,” Juliette said as she looked at Cassandra, “going for a drink?”



8 pm

The Speakeasy, Buffalo


The woman walked in, wearing a sharp suit and silk blouse, and sat herself down at a table, her green eyes visible under the glasses, her black hair cut neatly in a bob to frame her face.  She sat down and looked round, as a waitress in a grey flapper dress walked over.


“What will it be, darling?”


“Manhattan,” she said as she looked round, taking in the atmosphere as the crowd started to grow.  It seemed a friendly enough club, with good waiting staff and friendly people. 


At the bar, she saw a brown haired woman, wearing a classic Dior style jacket and skirt – obviously the manager, from the way she was talking to and directing the waitresses.


She then saw the blonde walk in, wearing a long sable coat, and watched as she talked to the manager, before walking over to the booth.  She was joined by three younger women, a blonde, a redhead, and a dark haired girl who looked round with a grin on her face.


She looked at the woman for a few moments, and then sat in the booth, talking quietly with the others.


“Your Manhattan.”


“Thanks,” she said as she paid for the drink, and then sipped from the glass.




She looked up to see the dark haired girl looking at her.


“Can i help you?”


“Dangerous place to be on your own,” the girl said as she sat down.   And girl was the right word – barely nineteen, wearing a top cut low and tight pants.


“Who says I am on my own – I was waiting for someone.”


“Don’t see anyone here,” the girl said as she sat down, “so what brings you here tonight?”


“Curiosity – I’m a student of American history.”


“The dark haired girl smiled as she said “I could teach you a few things...”


“L – we’re needed.”


The visitor looked at the redhead and blonde as the dark haired girl stood up.


“Maybe I’ll see you another time,” she said as she walked off with the other two.


“Count on it,” she whispered as a young brunette sat next to her.  “Hey – you made it?”


“Well, 20th Century American History is one of my subjects this semester,” the new arrival said.  “Problem?”


“No – I’m just taking everything in.  Glad you could make it Jo – I feel a bit happier now.”


“Guess I get your floor Big Sis.”


Heather nodded as she whispered “you getting all this Susan?”


“Clear as daylight,” Susan said from the offices in New York, “facial recognition programs at work as we speak.”


“What do you want kiddo?”


“Beer,” Jo said as she watched the waitress walk off.


Sunday 17th January

8.30 am

Comfort Downtown Suites, Buffalo


“Better,” Heather said as Jo towelled herself off.


“Yeah – when does the remarkable Louise tend to show her face?”


“She goes to get some pastries while I sort the coffee pot out,” Heather said as she stretched up.  “When do you need to head back?”


“I’ve got an 8.30 tomorrow, and it’s a two or three hour drive, so by about five I reckon.  You?”


“I head back at about three – once we know my able assistant is in her own place and nothing else can be done here.”


“Any word from Susan on the facial recognition yet?”


“Not yet – better get the wig on before she gets here.”


Jo nodded as she slipped the wig on, and looked at herself in the mirror.


“What’s up?”


“Sorry – just wearing this makes me think of Megan.”


Heather nodded as there was the coded knock on the door.  Heather went to open it, Louise coming in and saying “Morning boss, got...  Oh ho, another colleague?”


“Louise, meet Megan,” Heather said, “one of Madame’s NY operatives.  She’s here to give you a hand moving in today, and also to find one or two things out for me.”


“You look familiar – cute, but familiar,” Louise said as she put the bags down, “and it explains why you asked me to get extra.  So where’s my base to be boss?”


“Bit further downtown – we’ll get to that later.  Tell us about last night...”



10 am

FBI Field Office, New York


“What’s this – you’ve been left holding the baby Tom?”


“Har de har har,” Tom Callaghan said as he rocked Allen in his arms.  “Gale’s busy this morning, so I had to bring him in with me.  Any idea what this is about?”


“Nope,” Adam said as he sat down, and sipped his coffee.  “Jan was out last night.”


“Hi guys,” Jan said as she came in, wearing a pair of jeans and a jumper – one which fitted her more tightly than those Tom and Adam were wearing.  “Sorry to drag you out this morning, but I wanted to update you on Buffalo.”


“So what’s happening?”


“It’s more what’s not happening – I had a call last night from our mutual non-friend, and then from an agent at the office – Enid Corben.  She’s my friend’s partner – and the Hand talked to her.  What she said was there isn’t just one block – there’s a series of them.”


“You mean someone at the PD and the office are stopping the info getting through?”


Jan nodded as she sat down.  “Enid has offered to use her personal contacts, see if she can get some examples of incidents which should have come our way, but i told her to tread carefully.  In the meantime, we got a name on the Buffalo PD – Detective Mark Judge.  He used to be in the NYPD – Tom, I may need to pull his records from here.”


“I’ll see if I can get you access to them.  What else?”


“A nightclub in Buffalo just changed hands – very quickly.  It may be related to that, but Corben is going to have a look at that as well.”


“I don’t like this,” Adam said, “I think we need to call IA in.”


“On what evidence, Adam?  We need to tread carefully.”


“I can give you a little more latitude,” Tom said, “but not much.  The moment we have anything solid, we call them in – and you step back.  I do not want you caught in the backdraft.”


“Understood, Tom,” Jan said as Allen yawned. 


“Finally – now to let him sleep,” Tom said as he put him in the carry chair. 







10.30 am

Comfort Suites Downtown, Buffalo


“So were you sent up yesterday,” Louise said as Jo watched her pack her bags.


“Yeah – Susan called me in and asked me to come up for a quick visit, to help you settle in and also provide additional assistance to the Hidden Hand if needed.”


“So what’s your background?”


“Small time gangs, then i was spotted and recruited.  You?”


“Longer story – I was asked to help out with an issue in Tokyo, and then they paid for me to be able to fit more – comfortably into the organization.”


Jo looked at her, her head to one side, and then she smiled as she said “ah – we heard something of that.  What happened to the other two?”


“Still living with me in LA – they also underwent the operation, and Madame’s group is employing them in our LA offices.  We became very close friends during that time.”


“I understand – you’re probably one of the bravest people I’ve met in that case.”


“Oh no – I know far braver people,” Louise said as she closed her case, and the door was knocked on.  Jo went and opened it, as Heather came in.


“The keys and address for your new apartment.  Before you go,” she said as she placed a laptop on the table, and opened it, “I need you to look into this.”


As Louise looked into the retinal scanner, Heather worked on the machine, and then handed the keys to Louise.  “Please, put your eye to the keyfob now.”


As she did, Louise saw the desktop change.


“This is the secure intranet,” Heather said, “built to Madame’s specifications.  I want you to log into it, for which you need the key fob, at 2 this afternoon for a conference call with Madame and Madeline.  If you lose this, call Madeline or Madame.  If it is damaged, call Susan or Madame.  Do you understand?”


“I do – and thank you,” Louise said as Heather put the laptop into a large bag and handed it to her.


“Safe journeys, and thank you for your help so far,” she said as she hugged Louise, and then nodded to Jo.


“Right – here we go,” Louise said as she took her case, Jo nodding as she followed her out of the hotel.







“For we’re living here in Allentown,

And it’s hard to keep a good girl down...”


“I would never have pegged you for a Billy Joel fan,” Louise said as she opened the door to the small apartment, Jo following her in with her cases as she looked round.


“Well, be it ever so humble, this is your home for the moment,” she said as she looked at the kitchen area.  “Main room, bathroom, bedroom – not quite the glitz and glamour of LA, but it will do for now.”


“I don’t intend to use it for more than a place to sleep,” Louise said as she checked the bedroom, “which may be a good thing.  I don’t suppose they have any coffee here?”


“Doesn’t look like it – there was a 7-11 down the block.  I’ll go and get a few things in for you.”


“Thank you darling,” Louise said as Jo slipped out, and she took her suitcase to the bedroom while the front door was closed.  She spent the next few minutes unpacking, but when she came back into the front room she was greeted by a stranger.


“Hey Chickie,” the older man said as he looked at her.  He was balding, and wore a white t-shirt with a sweat stain under the arms, and old jeans.


“Oh lovely,” Louise said quietly, “you must be one of my neighbours.  I’m Louise – and you are?”


“Someone who wants to get to know you a lot better,” the man said as he walked towards her.


“Ah – yes, I can see you are darling,” Louise said quietly, “but I usually find a mug of coffee works more wonders than the approach you seem to be taking.  Perhaps if you take a seat...”


She saw him start to run towards her, and sighed as she caught his arm, and flipped him over onto the floor, pulling his arm straight up as she pressed the sole of her shoe into his armpit.


“Let me put it another way darling,” she whispered, “try that with me again, and I’ll break your arm in places it can never properly mend.  Do I make myself clear?”




Louise looked up to see Jo standing in the doorway, her hand in her purse as she held a paper bag with her other arm.


“Oh no Megan – I was just thanking this kind gentleman for his offer, but informing him it was unnecessary for him to help.  Isn’t that right?”


He nodded as Louise let him go, and he scampered off, Jo watching and then closing the door behind him.


“I think you’re going to be just fine,” she said as she took the bag to the kitchen.


“Oh I think the message will spread – what did you manage to get?”


“Coffee, milk, bread, some meats – enough to get you through today at any rate.”


1.30 pm

Comfort Suites Downtown, Buffalo


“And away we go,” Heather said as she saw the flashing icon on her screen, and opened the window to see Susan and Shirley at the New York offices, as well as Charlotte and Penny in London.


"Madame," Heather said as she looked at her screen.

"How are things proceeding?"

"As always...very slowly unfortunately."

"That is a pity, my man is demanding blood, and I was hoping you might be at least able to give me someone for him."

"The problem is that Janice also wants to do this the legal way."

"I know Heather, and we are caught in the middle so to speak."


"So what if anything can I tell him?"

"Only that you have a security team in place and that hopefully that team will soon rid him of his problems."

"It sounds pretty much what I've been telling him for days Heather."

"I know, but it's the truth.  It also ties with what I told him when we spoke yesterday.  How about the facial recognition Susan?"

“Nothing on file for the blonde, but we got a name for the dark haired one.  Xandra Craig – juvie record as long as your arm, and her psych report makes for disturbing reading.”


“So she could be their Miss Lynx?”


“Possible, we’re checking her known contacts.”


"Would extra troops help?" Shirley asked as she removed her glasses.

"Not really, we are just waiting for the baddies to make a detectable move, further troops though will not accomplish that any quicker."

"If I might interrupt," Charlotte asked, "has anyone thought of trying to draw these people out into the open?"

"As in how Charlotte?" Madame asked.

"A target too tempting for them not to hit..."

"As in what?" Madame broke in.

"A huge cocaine shipment coming across the border at Niagara on the Lake, we let the message regarding the delivery just somehow filter out...."

"Our baddies might smell a trap Charlotte."

"I know Heather, but I'm sure we can find a way."


"They try and seize all those rotten drugs, and we spring an ambush."

"And we catch the rats in a trap...It has possibilities Charlotte," Shirley took her glasses off to clean.


“Worth considering – if we can get the details in place.  In the meantime, Louise will continue observation – I’m convinced the owner is involved somehow.”


“Yes – I tend to agree.  Well, all we can do now is set our traps up.  When do you return Heather?”


“Later tonight.”


“Then safe...  Susan?”


“Sorry – the blonde Heather.  We got a name – Elaine Baughman?”


“Baughman?  That’s the local FBI supervisor name.  Related?”


“Checking that now – we may just have a break...”



Monday 18th January

1.30 pm

St Angela’s


As the girls stood at their lockers, sorting their books for the afternoon and evening, the conversation went around a familiar topic.


"So after school what do our two star models have to do?" Nikki asked.

"Well Miss Star is being photographed for a Cosmopolitan cover," Doc looked at Jeannie, "while humble beginner me, is doing a catalog shoot for school uniforms."

"Rather you then me." Pepsi laughed.

"So what are you girls doing?" asked Jeannie.

“Well, I’ve been asked by Jack if I will go with him to a family night out,” Pepsi said with a grin.


“Oh – what?”


“The opera – Angel and the other debs are going to the gala night at the Metropole, and...”


“Hang on – Nicola Broadhurst, Opera lover?”


“And what are you doing,” Pepsi said as she looked at Becca Morse.


"HOMEWORK!" Becca rolled her eyes, "I really do need to master these equations for math."

"And I'm going to go try and show her how they work." Ama checked she had the right book in her backpack and closed it up.

"That just leaves you Nik?"

"Well,” Nikki said, “I am going to the movies with Kenny."

"That's a third date, rare for you Nikki."

"I know Jeans,” Nikki said with a smile, “but he's fun to be with."

"Don't say the Nikki dating problem problem is solved at last?" asked Pepsi.

"Who knows?" Nikki shrugged, then giggled.


“Right girls – next class,” Grace said as she walked along, smiling as Kate joined her.


“I just approved the time off for your trip in two weeks time,” she said, “family birthday?”


“That and a reunion – I haven’t seen many of them for some time.”


“Looking forward to it?”


“Yes – and no,” Grace said with a smile.




1.30 pm

The Waldorf Astoria

Business Centre


Angel, Fiona and Charly were looking through their itineraries for the week as they waited for Trina to join them.


"What's all the paper Trina?" Angel asked as her friend came out of the office.

"Lecture notes.”  Trina looked at the sheets, sorted a few into order and then stapled them.  “My roomie has been collecting while I'm away being social, but she sends me them every couple of days so I don't lose too much ground."

"Well I've solved the problem of one of my lecturers," Fiona laughed lightly, "I figured out he lectures precisely from his notes for his book, so I just read the book and saved myself having to go each week...I'm not missing any new material he's added since writing the book."

"Hey that's cheating!" Trina laughed back.


"Anyway changing subjects,” Charly asked, “did you hear how Mary was doing Trina?"

"She had a full day of go-sees in LA, and she hated every moment Charly."

"Well does anyone like doing them? It's just something you must do, you go in, let them see your face, let them see your book, you walk for them, maybe they have you try an outfit or two, you finish with some small talk, then in a cab and onto the next one and repeat the process."

"I know,” Trina said, “it's boring as hell, but you have to let people see you, mine have generated a few bookings already darlings."

"Well speaking as someone who rarely does need do the rounds now, I think you can really say it's a 'rite of passage'..."

"And if you dare say it makes you a better person suffering doing that, then I'm throwing something at you Ange." Fiona looked up.


“She had some company at least – Missy got a contact of hers to go and sit along, and they apparently spent the whole day talking music and books.”


“So, who’s going tonight?”


“Gala night?  I’m going with Mum and Dad,” Angel said, “we went last year and it was amazing.”


“Pass,” Samantha said, “We have a function at the British Consulate.  Fi?”


“We’re going with Abby and her family, and I believe Juliette is coming as well with Klaus.”



1.30 pm

Complete Style


As Juliette walked into the office, she was a woman with a mission. 


“Boss is back,” Alexis whispered to Janine as she walked towards them,


“Janine, Alexis, my office please,” she said as she walked in, taking her coat off and putting it on the rack.  The two assistants looked at each other, then followed her in.


“Close the door please,” Juliette said as she stood by her desk, drumming her fingers as she waited.


“Something wrong Juliette,” Janine said as she looked at her boss.


"Okay girls,” Juliette said, “I hate doing this, but what is going on with Anna?"

"What do you mean Juliette?" Janine asked.

"I mean that she's had maybe 10 meetings with VERY senior management in recent days, that she hid a file when I went into her office earlier, and that I've never seen her so distracted...will that do?"

"Why ask us?" Alexis spoke.

"Because in this place PA's know what is going on LONG before people like me do...So spill, what is the gossip?"

"Well," Janine paused to look at Alexis, "there are rumors doing the rounds that Anna is leaving the US edition of CS."

"There are?"

Both Alexis and Janine nodded.

"Don't say those bastards at corporate level are pink-slipping her?"

"That's not what I'm hearing..."

"Oh,” Juliette said as she folded her arms, “so what are you hearing Janine?"

Taking a deep breath, Janine said "The scuttlebutt is that she might be moving upstairs."

"To do what?"

"Well the details are sketchy,” Janine continued, “but with the new startups in Germany, Russia and China for the magazines, I'm hearing they want her to take over worldwide editorial oversight, co-ordinating all the different editions."

"I have heard they want her to be titled 'Worldwide Editor'." Alexis added.

"Whoa!" Juliette blew out air. "That would be some job to have to undertake."

"Well I can add some credence to that theory.  She cornered me the other day, and asked me about Marina's skills as a PA..." Janine's voice trailed away.

"Oh yeah?" Juliette thought a second, "well I could see that making sense.  It also explains why she contacted Catherine in Hong Kong."



1.45 pm

New Mode


"Belinda darling can you clear all my appointments for Friday afternoon please." Pippa Ashley came out of her office and spoke to one of her PA's.

"I can try," the girl with the very long hair replied.

"And can you see if Mario can fit me in to get my hair done at eleven that morning Serena?" Pippa asked the other girl.

"I'll get right on it Pippa."

"Thank you," Pippa looked distracted as she wandered back into her office.  The phone call had taken her by surprise, but at the same time, if it was true, it may be too big an opportunity to miss...



1.50 pm

Complete Style

"So are you hearing a time frame for all this Janine?"

"I'm hearing they want a new editor in here by August, and Anna to be ready to go in her new job by then."

"So any clues as to who replaces Anna?"

"I hear something about there already being a shortlist of three candidates."




“And External – you probably could guess at the names Juliette.”


As she nodded, Juliette said “yeah – and no, before you ask, not me.  I’m too busy with other things.  So let’s wait and see, deal?”


1 pm Pacific Time

Los Angeles


“Here we are,” Maddie said as the trhee women made their way over.  Maddie was wearing a grey jacket and skirt, black sweater and heels, while the smaller Vietnamese woman wore a white blouse and trousers.  Mary Clarke was wearing a cream coloured dress with a linen jacket and heels – her uniform, as she was determined to call it.


"Oh my God, this place looks EXPENSIVE!" Mary shook her head as they were shown to their table for lunch at Spago.

"Well it's not cheap," Maddie smiled, "but it's perfect for a little celebration before you fly back to San Fran."

"What are we celebrating?"

"A handful of bookings already for you Mary," Cathy Huan spoke, "and I'm expecting further callbacks after this morning’s visits."

"Wow!" Mary shook her head.

"Bertram,” Maddie said as the tall, faintly aristocratic man walked over, “I have someone to introduce..."

"I am already aware of Miss Clarke," the legendary waiter said as he clicked his heels and smiled.

"Of course you are," Maddie said as she smiled and shook her head, "I should have known better."

"Aware of me?" Mary looked bemused.

"A friend at Conde Nast sent me your picture as a face I should learn Miss Clarke," Bertram said as he gave each woman their menu.

"Bertram prides himself on knowing stars...BEFORE...they become stars." Cathy  smiled fondly at the waiter.

"That is amazing," Mary shook her head.

"Now ladies what can I get you today?"



4 pm

Jack Linklater’s Studio


“All right, where has my little Welsh muffin got to,” Jack Linklater called out from the depths of his work area.


"I'm here Jack." Mary Thomas yelled out.

"Good," Jack said as he walked out into the main body of his studio, "and I see you brought plenty of goodies."

Mary smiled as Jack looked at the rack Mary’s assistant was wheeling in.


"I did,” she said, “lots of things for young Miss Katy to try on."

"Thank you dearest," Jack gave the Welshwoman a peck on the cheek. "I want to explore if she really is as good as those first photos I took of her suggest she might be."

"I'll admit to being interested as well."

"When is she due?" Luke asked as he came in with some of the other assistants.

"In about 15 minutes," Jack looked up at the clock, "so chop chop people."

"I'll go hang the clothes up," Mary nodded.


4.30 pm


“There you are,” Jack said as Katy walked in with Jan, “welcome back to my little place.  Now, you go with Mary my dear, and we’ll get started as quick as we can.”


“Coffee, Jan?”


“Oh yes,” Jan said as she took a cup from Luke, “I’m going to need this aren’t I?”


“I know you’ve got concerns, but come on – it’s me and Jack, Mary is back there.  It’s just a book shoot really.”


“I still can’t believe she’s doing this,” Jan said as she shook her head.


“I advise you to go with the flow, Jan – and remember we’re all looking out for her.”


“I know, but...”


Jan looked at Katy as she came back in, no longer in her school uniform, but in apair of tight jeans and ankle boots, the top buttons of her blouse open.


“Okay Katy – sit on the stool and smile for me,” Jack said as he picked up his camera, Luke adjusting the lighting as he started to take the pictures.


As Katy started to laugh, Jan watched her daughter as she stopped being the thirteen year old middle schooler, and became a young model, Jack capturing her freshness.


“Okay Mary – next outfit please.”


Katy ran off, returning in a white sundress and a pair of white heels.  Jack got her to pose on a swing, as Jan sat down and waited for the task to continue...



7 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Truly magnificent,” Guy said as he watched Diana descending the staircase, Valeria following her.  Diana’s dress was black velvet, with a side split for the skirt, a double of rows around the high collar.  Valeria wore an emerald green gown with a pair of matching opera gloves.


“I must agree, father, they are magnificent.”


“Coming from you, Alain, that is an amazing compliment,” Diana said as she kissed her brother on both cheeks.  “Thank you for coming over this week.”


“Well, it is not every day my favourite sister has the honour of her daughter been presented – and I had so much fun last year, how could I refuse the invitation?”


“Of course you could not,” Diana said as she looked to the staircase, Edith beaming as she stood to the side.


“Mon dieu,” Valeria said as Abigail de Ros walked down the stairs, the skirt of her white sleeveless dress moving in soft waves as she descended the staircase.  Her white gloves came up over her elbows, and a silver tiara sat on her blonde hair.


“Do I look all right,” Abby said, Diana nodding with a tear in her eye.


“Lord and Lady Treharran and family,” Edith said as Olivia and Charlie came in, Olivia wearing a long grey fur coat and Fiona in a brown coat.  Both Mick and his father, like Guy and Alain, were in formal evening dress.


“The limousine is here Madame,” Edith said as she stood by the door.  Guy helped Valeria and Diana into their coats, while Alain helped Abigail into her white fur.


“Thank you, uncle,” she said with a smile.


“You look wonderful,” Alain said with a smile as he and Guy put on their coats, “let’s go and show them who the belles of the ball will be.”


“There you are,” Juliette said as she and Klaus moved over, John holding the door open as they got in.


“You look wonderful as well, Juliette,” Valeria said as she sat down.


"So what are we seeing?" Alain asked as they climbed in the car.

"Die Fledermaus." Valeria replied, "one of my favorites."

"And mine," Juliette nodded.

"Well we should have a great time then." Abby said as she again pulled her mirror out to check her face.

"I know it properly means 'The Bat',” Juliette said, “but somehow I always translate it as 'The Flying Mouse', and that automatically makes me think of Sigi."

"Oh I get the connection," Valeria for once allowed herself an unladylike laugh.


“It is a good thing my sister has a sense of humour,” Klaus said.

"If you'd seen her fence then flying mouse is even more appropriate, she was so tiny, yet so quick and nimble." Guy recollected.

"Why didn't she really continue as a senior?" Abigail asked.

"Well first her children,” Klaus said, “but most importantly at that level her speed and agility could not quite overcome her lack of reach."


“I can understand that,” Abby said quietly.


“We are all called to bear our burdens,” Alain said quietly.




7.45 pm

Lincoln Arts Centre


The cars pulled up one by one, allowing their occupants to step out and make their way through the front doors and into the lobby of the arena,


“Daniel, Kelly,” Diana said as her party came in, “How are the girls feeling?”


“Nervous,” Kelly said as she looked to where Ally and Nell were standing with Trina, all three in sleeveless white dresses and opera gloves.  Nell looked over and smiled shyly at Mick as he smiled back.


“I never thought I would see the day when the New York Sluts attended the opera,” Abby said as she and Fiona joined them.


“We do occasionally seek the higher things in life,” Ally said.


“Plus, Mom and Dad insisted,” Nell said.  “Of course, there are benefits...”


“Never,” Trina giggled as some of the other ladies in white arrived.


“Abby, why are we here,” Betsy said as she came in.


“Tradition – I think the only exceptions to us gathering here are Sam and Charly.  Sam has an appointment she could not get out of.”


“And Charly?” Sharon asked as she looked round.


As the lobby bell rang for the first time, Abby said “she gets the worst entrance of all of us.”


“What do you mean?”


“You’ll see,” Diana said, “come along – our boxes are waiting.”


"You know darlings this is rather my idea of heaven," Mandy drawled as her husband, Jack and Pepsi, David and Judy, Billy and Angel took their places.

"I'll never get over you being both a punk and an opera fan," Pepsi shook her head.

"I know,” Mandy said with a smile, “it confuses everyone darling."

"Well Mummy is a patroness of all kinds of music," Angel played with her fan as the orchestra started tuning up.  “Ask her about her music videos some time...”


 “Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding for King Rudolf, Queen Teresa and Princess Charlotte of Ruritania.”


The audience stood and looked to a box as Charly and her parents came in, and they stood for the anthem before sitting down, everyone else following.


“Now I see what you mean,” Trina whispered to Nell and Ally as they took their seats.


"So this special debutantes gala raises a lot of money for charity?" asked Sharon.

"Usually a VERY large amount," Diana whispered back, "and with the Elphberg's as guests this year they both raised ticket prices, and totally sold out."

"Well it's all for a good cause then." Fiona looked round the auditorium with her opera glasses trying to see is anyone she knew was here.

"I understand the production has played to rave reviews?" Olivia asked.

"Well I never saw a bad one," Juliette answered, "I was going to see it before Christmas, but when I heard it had been selected for this gala I backed off so I would see it tonight fresh."


The conductor came out to applause, as the house lights dimmed, and the overture started...



9.15 pm


"Strauss isn't meant to be taken as serious opera," Juliette sipped her champagne, "his music is like this drink, light, refreshing, and full of froth and bubbles."

"Well I know I'd far rather watch this then Wagner." Angel laughed, "I remember having nightmares as a youngster after being taken to Bayreuth."

"You had an over active imagination darling." Mandy nibbled at her food.

"Well whatever it was,” Angel said, “I still prefer light opera and operettas."

"What is your opinion Judy as our resident music major?" Will turned and asked.

"Oh don't ask me,” Judy said with a smile, “I like virtually all forms of good music."

"That's a diplomatic answer darling." David kissed his girlfriend.

"Well as someone who lacks a great deal of musical sophistication, let me just say I think this is FUN!" Pepsi giggled. "Mind you, having studied Shakespeare so much recently I can see clearly where the basis of the swapping of roles and comical misunderstandings comes from."

"Yuck, I'm starting Shakespeare this term," Billy shook his head. "Becca would have liked this though."

"Well her homework and school came first darling."

"I know Mother," the young aristocrat sighed.

"Alright another bottle of fizz," Klaus forced his way from the bar, "did I miss much?"

"Only my baby brother lamenting his bachelorhood tonight," Angel accepted a topup to her glass.


“Oh joy – that time already,” Will said with a laugh.





"Thank you your Royal Highness," the manager bowed from the waist.

"Oh dear God save us," Rudy looked upwards, "I just want to escape all this formality."

"Well see if this helps," Diana said as she pressed a glass into the Kings hand.

"It might help a little – thank you," Rudy said as he took a sip.

"Look,” Diana said as she looked round, “I just spotted a man can maybe help, do you mind if I bring him over."

"Please do Diana.  Anything to end this..."

Quickly Diana grabbed a passing man and his wife.

"Your Majesty may I present Congressman Thomas Morse of New York and his wife Clare, two very dear friends of mine."

"Delighted, any friends of Diana's..." the king smiled.

"It's a pleasure to meet you sir," Tom bowed as his spouse curtsied.

"Look Tom, this formality is strangling Rudy, as an ex-deputy mayor of the city, and as a congressman can you tell the right people to relax slightly?"

"I can try?"

"Well anything has to be better then three 'minders' following me when I took a piss."

"I understand sir," Tom smiled as he left to chat to a couple of people.

"So are you enjoying New York sir?"  Clare asked.

"I'm enjoying it at times, and to friends I'm Rudolf or Rudy..."

"And I'm Therese or Terri," the queen interrupted as she held out a hand.


“A pleasure to meet you as well,” Clare said, “so your daughter is one of the party this year.”


“That’s right,” Terri said, “and thank you.  I’m looking forward to some privacy again.”


"So what is this project we are helping support in part tonight in Ruritania Rudy?" Tom asked as he accepted a glass.

"It's the restoration of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in a little place called Alorenstadt. It's the resting place of St Dolfrus, a very early missionary to the then pagans of the region."

"That sounds a thoroughly worthwhile cause."

"It is,” Rudy said, “the damn place got knocked all but to the ground by the Nazi's and Soviet's fighting over it. With the fall of the Peoples Republic of Ruritania, I got it into my head that somehow it could be restored."

"So how did the Met get involved?"

"Well one of the committee was visiting Alorenstadt, saw the works going on, saw our appeal and asked that it be one of the charities supported tonight."

"Well good for them." Tom smiled.

"So we are here to be seen, and just hopefully the rebuilding fund benefits," Therese finished her sandwich.

"Oh I'm sure it will." the congressman nodded.



"Your Mom is acting as a lady-in-waiting Abigail," Trina said as she nodded towards the royal party.

"She is,” Abby said, “but she's enjoying herself, they are old friends of hers."

"And are you having fun?" Mick Harron said as he turned round and brought over a tray of drinks.

"I am, it's beautiful to look at, and the music doesn't make my head hurt." Abby giggled as some bubbles went up her nose.

"Well I'm enjoying myself immensely," Olivia took a glass, "I've decided we don't get out enough Charlie, and we should go up to town more often."

"I've been telling you that for years," he said as he kissed her.

"YUCK!" Fiona looked disgusted, "parents should not be allowed to perform public displays of affection."


“She loves us really,” Charlie said, “as she will tell you by Friday.”


“Ah – the bell.  We need to return,” Abby said as she put her glass on a tray.



10.45 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Thank you,” Pepsi said as Edith handed her a glass of lemonade, while she sat with Jack.


“That was an amazing performance,” Diana said as she sat down, “most enjoyable.”


“True, darling,” Angel said, her mother raising an eyebrow and smiling as she looked at her.


“So there is nothing until Friday now,” Fi said as she sat with her parents.


“Nope – just school for me,” Abby said.


“Ah the joys of school,” Olivia said.  “I remember it well.”


“Sir,” Edith whispered as she looked at Diana, “there was a telephone message while you were out.”  She handed the paper to Alain, who looked at it and then nodded.


“Thank you Edith – I will deal with it,” he said, Edith nodding as she returned to the side of the room.


“So what exactly happens on Friday,” Fiona asked.


“We gather at The Pierre between seven and eight,” Diana said, “and progress from there.  This is one of those occasions where Vanessa Richmond comes into her own, as one of the organising committee.”


Angel continued, “we are formally presented, and the first part of the evening is a formal ball – but after midnight, it becomes time to let yoru hair down – and that’s when we will...”


“Surprise everyone,” Abby said quickly.


“Yeah – surprise everyone,” Fiona said with a nod.


“As for we men, we don the white gloves and formal dress,” Guy said.


“It is truly a sight to behold,” Diana said, “and you are all going to enjoy the night.”


“I think we will as well,” Charlie said as he sat with Olivia.



9.30 pm Pacific Time

Oakland Hills, San Francisco


“Is that the youngsters asleep,” Dave Clarke said as Mary came in, wearing her sweatshirt, joggers and slouch socks.


“It is – they’re almost as beat as I am,” Mary said as she flopped into the old settee.


“Here – this will help.”


Mary nodded as she held the mug in her hands.


"So was it worthwhile going to down to LA Mary?" her father asked as they sat having a drink of warm milk before heading for bed.

"I guess so,” Mary said as she put her mug on the coffee table, “I have several good work offers that Maddie and Cathy assured me are not to be sneezed at."

"Mission accomplished then?"

"Oh yeah,” Mary smiled, “I think that's a definite yes."

"So what's praying on yer mind?"

Raising an eyebrow, Mary turned and put her head on her hand.  "Is something?"

"Poppit I'm yer father,” Dave said with a smile, “I can tell when something is buzzing round that head of yours."

"Well we went for lunch to this real fancy place, and this waiter he already knew my name..."


"It seems he has contacts everywhere alert him to new stars in all forms, he has this phenomenal memory, and supposedly he forgets nothing."

“Ah,” Dave said as he laughed, "the famous Bertram at Spago's."

Staring at her father, Mary said "how the hell did you know that Pop?"

"I saw about him on a cookery show on TV aint the only one pays attention to things Mary."

"I guess not...”  Mary smiled as she said “but I guess it blew my mind that someone had deliberately set out to know who I was, like I was some sorta celebrity."

"Mary are a celebrity," her father said as she put an arm round her. "You just have to get used to the fact that from now on people are going to know who you are."


“Still – that reminds me.  That ball Trina wants me to go to.  I don’t want to go alone – would you come with me Pops?”


“Oh no – I need to be somewhere else that night.  Ask David – I’m sure he can be a good escort.”


“David?  In a Tuxedo?”


“Practice for his prom.”


Mary laughed before she said “all right – I’ll scare the heck out of him in the morning.”


Taking another drink from his mug, David said "so what is on the schedule for tomorrow Mary?"

"The hotel Pop. I have to go be fitted for a uniform like the girls who work on reception, etc, wear. Then later they are taking pictures for a new promotional brochure."

"Well all your friends will be glad to see you."

"And me to see them. I just have so much to tell 'em."

"Kiddo, I don't say it enough, but I'm so proud of you..."

"Thank you Pop, that means so, so much."







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