Friday 1st January
New Year’s Day
The Holiday Inn Express
“Good morning darlings,” Kylie said as she saw her mother and aunt come out of the lift, “I trust you slept well?”
“Actually, I did luv,” Sami said as she looked round. She was wearing a pair of jeans with an old rugby shirt, while Kerry had put on a grey jumper and leggings. Kylie herself was wearing a white jumper and designer jeans, her feet in a pair of black ankle boots. “I really do feel good.”
“Wonderful,” Kylie said, “well, Karen is in the coffee lounge. Shall we go and join her?”
They made their way across the lobby to where Karen Boyd was sitting in a booth, sipping her coffee. “Good morning,” she said as she saw them walk over and stand up, “why don’t you take a seat, and I’ll get some more coffees over.”
“Fanks,” Sami said as she sat with her cousin, while Kylie sat with Karen. They waited as the waitress brought three more coffees over, Karen watching as they left, before she smiled and said “so how are you feeling today Samantha?”
“If I said I wos scared, would that surprise you?”
“Nope – I remember the first day I went into Rehab. I had never been so scared in my life – I’d been using the drink and drugs as a crutch for so long, that I had no idea what I was going to do.”
“Yet you managed it – ‘ow did you?”
“Because the alternative was worse – a good friend died, another disappeared, so I knew I had to do something. It wasn’t easy, but I made it – and as Kylie will tell you, I’ve been clean and sober ever since.”
“As has Rose, darling,” Kylie said, “but the first thing you need to realise, mum, is you can’t do it alone.”
“I understand Rose is willing to act as your mother’s sponsor?”
“She is, Karen.”
“I’ll be there as well for ‘er,” Kerry said, “whether she wants me to be or not.”
“I couldn’t stop you if I wanted to, could I?”
“Nope,” Kerry said with a smile.
“This,” Karen said as she handed over an envelope, “is the name of a support group, attached to the clinic Rose went to. Go and see them, they’ll tell you what’s needed.”
“And, if you will allow me Mum darling, I’ll pay what is needed. I have a bonus from Alice, and I cannot think of a better use to put it to.”
“Thanks,” Sami said as she wiped a tear away, “I don’t deserve youse as me daughter, Kyles.”
“Oh I don’t know, there is always hope,” Kylie said with a smile.
“So when do you head back?”
“Sunday, I fink,” Sami said as she looked at Kerry.
“Yeah – Sunday. Fink we can go for a walk after this Kyles – talk over a few things.”
“I would like that very much darling,” Kylie said with a smile.
The Richmond Mansion
“Well, the menfolk are all out,” Sandy said as she sat with Heather, “thank you all for coming.”
“It sounded important,” Caroline said as she and Annie sat with Carina, Judith playing on the floor, “but why are we here?”
“I was going to ask the same question,” Cassandra said. “I mean, I’m new to the group, but...”
“So am I,” Katy said as she sat with her mother. “What’s going on Aunt Ju.”
“I think Dom may already know,” Susan said as she looked over, “but last night Shirley had a call from one of the main leaders of the community in Buffalo. It seems an all female gang are muscling in on his territory – took out eight of his foot soldiers yesterday.”
“Yeah – and?”
“Well – they claimed they were us.”
“I beg your pardon,” Jo said as she sat forward.
"According to an
acquaintance of Shirley's some women upstate have been taking our name in
vain." Juliette looked grave. "They are engaged in trying to take
over the business of a local boss who owes Shirley tribute."
"That's not our
Juliette shook her head, "but he has called in his marker with Madame to
ask for her to kill the Pussycats."
someone has been keeping secrets then we know it wasn't a real Pussycat."
"Which means to
use a term, somebody is 'pimping our gig'."
"It looks like
it." Heather spoke for the first time.
"Well as always
the first thing I did was to get Heather to run checks online."
"Which I've done Ju."
"And you have
found out what Cherie?"
"Not a lot more then whispers, but yes a female gang is definitely trying to muscle in on local organised crime, and isn't afraid to kill people getting in their way."
“Jan, anything on the wires?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Jan said, “which in itself is interesting. Local police are meant to send word down if they have any Pussycat contact.”
“Which begs the question – why haven’t the authorities in Buffalo contacted you?”
“Perhaps the police are turning a blind eye – and if so, why?”
“Most of you were not with us the last time someone took our name for their own purposes,” Juliette said, “but it was a very personally painful time for all of us.”
Carina picked up Judith and hugged her as she nodded.
“We made it clear then how we felt,” Diana said quietly, “I see no reason to do otherwise.”
“One minute,” Heather said as she went to the door, returning with Anna.
"Oh you've arrived
at last?" Juliette looked at her watch and then at the young girl.
"Ju,” Doc said as she took her coat off, “you got me out of
Diana looked at her watch, "surely not?"
"Just think how
often I get to see Chet Diana...?"
"Oh!...now I understand." Diana smiled.
"What is so important as to drag me away from my man this day?" Doc took a cup of coffee.
Doc looked round the room, and then said “another gang claiming to be the pussycats? To be us?”
“Precisely,” Joanne said, “so we need to do the background study, right Ju?”
“Indeed – Susan, Dom, you will liaise with Madame for us?”
Both women nodded as Heather said “I’ll see what I can find out. Jan, on the official line?”
“I’ll say there’s been some scuttlebutt about Pussycat activity upstate, see what I can see. The local police?”
“Let’s see if anything links the activities so far apart from this boss,” Juliette said. “Doc, you still going up to Buffalo on Sunday?”
“First thing – why?”
“We may ask you to convey a message for us. See if that helps. Right now, I have one other thing to say.
“Our last visit has proved incredibly successful – so successful, we’re giving everyone a share, not just the core group. Check your accounts – now, let’s try and find out who these bitches are.”
“Good morning Uncle John,” Maisha said as he came into the kitchen, “I have just made some fresh coffee, if you would like a mug.”
“Thank you,” John said as he looked at the young African girl. “Did you enjoy yourself last night?”
“Very much so – and certainly more than last year. I felt much more at home.”
“Well, a year will do that,” he said as Shirley came in, her gown tied round her body.
"Well how does it feel to be Sir John officially?" Shirley said as she kissed her man.
"Not as good as it feels making love with you dearest, but still pretty special."
"I'm amazed that
I've not heard reports of men with severe hangovers today after that fine
Scotch you were all drinking last night."
"You might yet,”
John said, “we've agreed to meet this afternoon at the club and swap tall tales
of what happened last night."
"And men have the
cheek to say women gossip..."
know, we are pretty two-faced." John poured her a cup of steaming hot Turkish coffee. "But
I've no doubt all of your women friends are already swapping texts and calls
"Oh there maybe
has been a few." Shirley laughed melodically.
"You know I think
I got as much pleasure from hearing that Margaret Harker
was being knighted as from anything. She's really the type who deserves honours
- I just take photos but she's out in the real world trying to help
"Well I was happy
to hear she's being adopted as the Tory candidate for the by-election, she'll
make a first-rate MP."
"I almost feel like ringing some of my Conservative Party acquaintances and congratulating them on for once choosing a really first-rate candidate."
“Well, don’t tell her – there are rules against that sort of thing in the UK.”
“Ah but I am in New York at the moment – and I may wish to wish them a good new year as well,” Shirley said with a smile. “So what are your plans for the rest of the day, Maisha?”
“Kylie and Marina have invited Ama and I to join them for a meal later, unless you have something else you wish me to do?”
“No – but I was wondering if you would be able to come with me on Monday night? I have a work meeting to attend, and I think it would be a useful experience for your Business Studies tutor if you sat in.”
“Of course Aunt Shirley,” Maisha said with a smile, “I would be happy to attend.”
“Hey you two,” Poppy said as she opened the door, “come on in.”
“Thanks,” Erica said as she and Jess came in, “how are you feeling this morning?”
“I’m fine,” Poppy said as she closed the door, “Mom and Gran are talking to Aunt Maggie in the front room, so let’s go to the kitchen.”
“How are you feeling this morning,” Jess said as she and Erica took a seat.
“I’m fine – but I didn’t drink that much last night. Anyway – I wanted to talk to both of you about Ama.”
“What about her?”
“Well, it is her baptism next Sunday – we’re all going right?”
The other two nodded as Poppy said “Well, she’s been a good friend to all three of us in different ways, and I think we should get her a present. Any ideas?”
The Richmond Mansion
any of us proceed, do we know just what businesses this mob
in Buffalo run?" Jan asked as the older ladies sat and ate a
leisurely lunch after the younger women had departed to meet their friends.
"A lot of them are
businesses we don't subscribe to, but when that split occurred last year in the
New York gang that had traditionally run Buffalo as a sub fiefdom, we took them
under our wing." Susan spoke.
doesn't undertake control of their operations?"
"No we just take a
cut as tribute...and Jan why do I feel slightly uncomfortable telling an FBI
agent all this?"
possibly comment." Jan laughed. "From what I remember, don't most of
Southern Ontario, and cities like Syracuse and
Rochester also fall under the control of Buffalo?"
"They do,” Susan
said, “but as I said since we took them in, we don't really exert much
that Madame would not like?" Diana chewed some lettuce.
marijuana in from Canada, brothels, a few other things that we ourselves don't
"Alright Susan, we
get the picture." Ju looked up from her food.
"Can I take it that these businesses are lucrative?"
We have no wish to rock the cradle, but somebody is testing the relationship."
"Okay so we have
very profitable businesses on a trans-national basis." Juliette closed her
eyes. "I can see the temptation to people in the know."
"It occurs to me
that could someone from the previous family to which they owed allegiance be
trying to reassert control?"
"I already jotted that idea down lover." Heather nodded to the pad besides her plate.
do you have anyone you'd trust implicitly in the FBI's Buffalo office?"
"There's a guy I
went through Quantico with, he's a pretty straight shooter Dom."
"Why did you ask
that Dominique darling?" Diana asked.
information isn't being passed along in any chain of command, then somebody is
"Are you saying
these faux Pussycats have someone in the FBI?"
"It wouldn't be
exceptional Diana, just think of the corruption in the Boston office that kept
Whitey Bulger protected all those years."
Jan breathed in, "then I need to cultivate my friend and see what he knows
about potential rotten apples?"
"It might help
Jan." Juliette nodded. "Heather can you run financials and
"On all members of that FBI office, already on my to do list Ju."
“There you are Holly,” Jo said as the blonde came into the restaurant, “come in and sit down.”
"Oh after the
party food and hanging out here," Holly laughed, "you know I enjoy
this almost more than the party itself."
"I know, it’s fun for me to just relax and talk with all of
you." Abby smiled, "with most of you in college I don't see nearly
enough of you all."
"Well when we are
in town, you are usually away filming somewhere glamorous." Nell looked up
from her coffee.
true," Bobbi nodded.
"So where have
most of you dumped your boyfriends?" Carina asked as she sat down.
"Well mine has
been invited to join the 'men' at the club this afternoon." Holly looked
at the menu.
"Tommy is going to
hang out with a lot of photographers?" Ingrid asked.
"They weakened him
with single malts last night." Holly giggled.
"There was far too
much of that drunk last night." Cari replied.
"Well my mother
and the other 'oldies' were cracking that fine Napoleon brandy," Judy came
in and sat down.
"Even my mother
had a hangover courtesy of that." Letty slumped
into the booth. “So I think honours are
"Honestly we can't take our parents anywhere can we?" Ally laughed loudly.
“So,” Bobbi said, “not long now for you. When do the rest of the White Ladies of 2016 get into town?”
“I think most of them are coming over this week,” Ally said. “We have some more tea parties to go, and then the ball itself.”
“Missy has booked us all to do a model shoot for Complete Style,” Angel said, “and I think she’s flying Mary Clarke over for it as well.”
“A new girl Missy discovered in San Francisco,” Ingrid said to Ally, “completely different from the rest of us, but with just as much talent.”
“So when do you head back?”
“Two more weeks of holiday,” Jo said, “with two shoots in there as well.”
“Any of them with Sir John?”
“One of them, but he’s still just John as far as I’m concerned.”
Central Park West
“Good afternoon Katherine.”
disgustingly healthy Rose," Katherine blinked at the light as she let her
friends into the apartment.
"Well I wasn't drinking brandy last night was I?" She looked at her friend, the dark shadows under her eyes as they went into the kitchen.
"Don't rub it in sister." Maeve looked the worse for wear.
"Did John take you
home?" Katherine asked.
"No she spent the
night at his place, the dirty stop out." Maeve tried a little laugh.
"Well I'm glad one
of us got to..."
"I saw Toddy
wasn't there Katherine." Rose was enjoying being the one without the
"Yes he's down in
Florida with his horses."
"So who else is coming over for a late lunch?" Maeve looked happier as Katherine passed her a mug of coffee.
“Nessa and Paulie said they would come over,” Katherine said as the doorbell went, “that’s probably them now.”
She went to the door, returning a few minutes later with the other two women.
“How do you manage it,” Maeve said as she looked at them.
“Manage what Maeve?”
“To look so good the day after.”
“Years of training,” Maeve said as Katherine took the flan out of the oven, “or be teetotal.”
Rose laughed as she sipped her coffee.
The Graham apartment
“Thanks for inviting us to stay last night, Dad,” Sands said as she sat in the armchair, “We wanted Mom and Heather to have some time together.”
"So did you enjoy
yourself darling?" George senior asked his daughter.
"Yes, it was
"I saw you dancing
a lot with the von Manschen boy," Orlanda remarked as she played with Jennifer on the floor.
"He's sorta cute, but..."
"Oh I'm still not
really into boys yet."
"You are getting
there though," George junior looked up from his phone.
not in the way that Katy is into you brother."
"Yeeaaah - I'm sorry about that." George blushed a bright shade of scarlet.
"Well we all know
that you and Katy have a sex life George, I just didn't expect to find her in
the bathroom this morning." his father shook his head.
"She was a little
underdressed to be walking about George," Orlanda
"I know, I told her she needs remember other people aren't just like she is."
“Well, remind her to at least put on one of your shirts,” George said as he tried not to smile.
Mary Thomas’ house
"What are you
reading Mom?" Erica hung her coat
up on the rack as she looked at the book in her mother’s hands.
"Oh, just some light reading...”
"The Manual of Automotive Safety Regulations is not exactly what I’d call light reading," Mary said as she brought in some drinks. "That looks awfully like hard work."
"It sounds it
too." Erica shook her head as she sat down.
"Well you both
have serious reading that you enjoy, I am actually enjoying this."
us," Mary looked skyward.
"Well most of it
is common sense, and stuff my Dad told me even when I was a kid, but I want to
be prepped for both my studies and the new job."
"You really are looking
forward to all that aren't you Mom?"
an awful lot.” Erica closed the book and smiled at her
daughter. “Can I say without hurting
your feelings darling, it feels like I'm getting my life back on track, and I
don't mean that at all nastily, I will NEVER regret having had you."
"I know Mom, but
yeah I do appreciate that just as I dream about medicine and helping people,
you have the same dreams about engines." Erica giggled, "and I’m not sure I phrased that awfully well."
"Hey I do have
another life as well. We can't all be lucky enough to have attracted someone
who is both a Boston Lodge, and a New York van Roon."
"Simon is just a
friend." Erica blushed.
"Who thinks the
suns shines out of your..."
"Aunt Mary, you
know he doesn't."
"Have you talked to her about boys, because if she doesn't think he's not totally besotted with her?" Mary winked at Denice.
“Mary, did it really take Ama nearly a year to admit she was going out with her boyfriend?”
“Point taken,” Mary said with a smile as she sipped her drink.
The National Arts Club
Grammercy Park S
“So come on John,” Jack said as they sat round in armchairs, “how long ago did you know?”
“Honestly?” John swirled his drink around in his glass, “I got the letter at the beginning of November. The only people I told were Shirley and Maisha, having sworn them to secrecy.
“So how is Mandy this morning Will?”
“Still on cloud nine,” Will said as he sipped his whisky, “but an awful lot of money went to a good cause. I hear Sandy paid over the book she was running.”
“Indeed, so a good sum – on which note, I should tell you Shirley and I will be taking a table again this year. After all, we are good friends of at least two of the debutantes this year.”
“Good to hear,” Guy said as he sipped his drink. “We, of course, will have a table for the whole family as well, and I understand Juliette and Sandy will be doing likewise.”
“I thought Sandy would have to, given Nessa is still on the organizing committee,” Gus said as he looked at Alex. “On which note, why the civvies today, old man?”
“It’s my day off,” Alex said with a smile, “and besides, I did not want to intimidate any of you. On which note – how are the heads today?”
“Well, while I cannot speak for any of you,” Will said, “the boys and I found our usual hangover cure was most efficacious.”
“And what would that be,” Jack Linklater said as he nursed his head, “because I do not mind admitting, I could use a little something right now.”
“Well, it is a little late in the day,” Will said with a smile, “but I suspect a full Irish could be ordered here as well.”
“Oh no,” Jack groaned, “I’ll settle for the other failsafe cure.”
“Another drink, Stephen my man,” Jack said as he indicated to the waiter.
“You must forgive my friends, Tommy,” Guy said as he looked at the young man, “but we are glad you were able to join us today.”
“I thank you for inviting me,” Tommy said, “although I still don’t think I’ve sobered up yet...”
“Then take it gently, young man,” Alex said with a smile. “Now, Klaus, to turn to other matters.”
“Oh – and what other matters do you wish to discuss, Alexander?”
“We only have three months to your upcoming nuptials, and in my book I think that requires a serious discussion between serious men.”
“About what,” Klaus said as he glanced round the room.
“About,” John said as he leaned forward, “how we menfolk are going to see you pass suitably into wedded bliss for the second time.”
“Oh – and what makes you believe I have something in mind? I do not even know if Juliette has any plans.”
The room turned as one and looked at Grant as he said “as in, April has been in deep conversation with Jan, Diana and Sandy. I therefore conclude something is happening, and they are organising it.”
“Any idea when?”
“Not until after the season, so I imagine sometime in February, but if Sandy and Diana are involved, the first we will hear about it will be after it has happened. The only thing I know for certain is it is happening in Stowe – and if I hear this has leaked out...”
“Oh you’re safe,” Will said as he clapped Grant on the back. “So, Klaus, what are we going to do with you...”
The Richmond Mansion
"What are you
working on Lover?" Sandy said as she looked at the large book of paper
that Heather was scribbling in.
"I'm just trying
to work out an organizational chart for this Buffalo operation. From Shirley, nominally at the top, to the soldiers out on the
streets doing their various things."
"I can see, but that
"It's not really,
it's all about money though, people at each level take a cut of the proceeds
and pay off the next rank above them till right at the top Shirley gets her
"So someone buys a
bag of dope..."
Heather nodded. "Then the seller takes a small bit and
pays his source, the source takes a cut then pays off his supplier, the
supplier pays off the smugglers, and they both pay off an under-boss, he takes
his cut, so does a capo, then the Buffalo boss, then Shirley gets her
"That sounds like
an awful lot of hands for the money to pass through...what if someone gets
greedy, or refuses to pay off?"
"How do you think
Dom has made her living all these years. The guys down
the chain have to be scared of retribution from the top." Heather smiled.
"Likely in our group we are all partners and no one is expected to give
say Ju a rake-off."
"I get that Lover." Sandy nodded.
"Have you never
asked what the fundamental difference between us and Dominique is?"
"No, go ahead and
tell me Lover."
"When we kill,”
Heather said, “we are getting sexual satisfaction and other jollies from it. On
the other hand when Dominique kills there is no passion involved, she kills
people because it's her business."
"Ouch! That makes us sound like monsters?"
"I suppose it
does, but it’s why we inspire one kind of fear in people and she inspires a
totally different fear." Heather kissed Sandy. "I once overheard Bev
and Tracey saying with total relief that they'd survived a meeting with
"People are that
scared of her?"
"Oh yeah, hers is a name that resonates in the underworld. I know she does not like to admit what she is capable of, but she lets her reputation do the speaking for her as much as possible, and only when it is unavoidable will she use her full skills."
Sandy nodded as she kissed Heather. “Come on – let’s sort out dinner, and we can have some time together...”
The Brewster Brownstone
“Come on Stanford!”
Alex smiled as he heard the shout from the front room, John shaking his head as he closed the door behind him.
“I take it Jeannie is enjoying the game?”
“I think she might be,” John said as the two men walked in, Jeannie seated on the couch and wearing a Stanford sweatshirt and cap.
“What’s the score?”
“Tied at ten-all – Michigan State are having more of the play, but Stanford are holding their own. Any chance of another Coke Granddad?”
“Can I get you a beer, Alex?”
“That would be good – where is Barbara?”
“In the kitchen, trying to stay out of the way,” John said as Alex sat down.
“How is Winston doing?”
“Not too bad, but he’s...”
The two fell silent as the Stanford quarterback threw the ball forward, Winston rising to catch it and running before he was brought down ten yards from the line.
“I agree – he had a good chance there,” Alex said as John came back, handing him a bottle and Jeannie a glass.
“Barbara wondered if you would stay for supper Alex?”
“Thank you – I’ll just call Martha and tell her,” Alex said as he took out his cell phone, and then looked at a message he had received.
“No – just an old friend,” Alex said as he called his housekeeper.
“Thanks for inviting us round,” Marina said as she and Kylie relaxed on the couches, “We could do with the down time after the last few days.”
“It was my pleasure,” Ama said as she stood in the kitchen door. “Mom is out, and Annie is dining at Juliette’s apartment, so it gives the four of us a chance to just relax.”
“Indeed,” Maisha said as she nursed her bottle, “are you sure you do not wish for something stronger, Kylie?”
“Not tonight darling,” Kylie said as she looked at her soda, “I need to be as much of an example to my own mother for now as anyone else.”
“I hope she does manage to come through this, as Rose did,” Maisha said as she sat back.
“We Mitchells are made of strong stuff,” Kylie said with a smile, “but then you both know that, don’t you darlings?”
“Oh they know that,” Marina said as her cell phone went off. She looked at the text message and smiled.
“Now let me guess – that would be James, the young man you met last night?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“Only if you know what to look for darling,” Kylie said with a smile as Ama brought the dish over to the table. “Now that smells divine, what is it?”
“A recipe Mom gave to me,” Ama said as she went to the kitchen, returning with a bowl that had baked potatoes in it. “It has chicken, bacon, onions, and a selection of herbs, and is cooled in cider with cream added at the end.”
“It sounds and smells delicious,” Marina said as she sat down, “shall I play mother?”
“Well, you re the oldest person here darling,” Kylie said, before she started laughing.
“Now that is what I wanted to hear,” Marina said as she handed out the potatoes with some casserole, “you haven’t really laughed since you heard your mother was coming, Kylie.”
“I know, darlings,” Kylie eventually said, “but it does feel good to laugh again.”
Susan and Clint’s Apartment
“Well what is all this?” Rose asked as she found her daughter sitting on the floor surrounded by books and papers.
“It’s called studying Mum, and I know you never saw me do it before.” Susan looked up from what she was reading. “I have an exam coming up.”
“You know love, all this makes me just so proud of you.” Rose picked up a book and looked at its title, “just what is hidden cost analysis?”
“A concept that I’m having difficulty with…”
“It sounds like time I made some coffee for you,” Maeve said as she finished hanging up coats.
“Oh Aunt Maeve you are an angel.”
“Talking of angels, where is my granddaughter?” Rose looked round.
“Asleep in her cot, and don’t disturb her please Mum, I can’t be parent and student all at once.”
“Understood.” Rose smiled. “I’ll look in on her later.”
“Is that all as hard as it looks Susan?” Maeve called from the kitchen.
“Well it isn’t easy,” Susan yawned and stretched, “but with Clint having to go work, the girls down in the village, and the little one co-operating I reckoned this was a good time to do it.”
“And we are disturbing you love…”
“No Mum I really do need a coffee break.”
“Well here it is.” Maeve pushed a mug into her niece’s hand. “and tea for you and me Rose.”
“Perfect,” Rose took a sip.
“Mum – thanks for offering to sponsor Sami.”
“Well, it’s part of my program as well,” Rose said, “and besides, it means young Kylie has one less thing to worry about.”
“I know – she’s got her own exams to go back to,” Susan said as she sipped her coffee.
“So has she decided where she wants to go to next year?”
“Well,” Susan said, “she is also talking to a couple of schools, but it now depends on her GCSE results. Not that I’m worried, but – well, it’s all provisional until then.”
“Any thoughts on where she will live when they come back?”
“Lily’s looking into that side of things,” Susan said with a smile.
Saturday 2nd January
Anna Mitchell looked up from her desk as she heard the knock on the door, and then smiled as she saw Juliette put her head round the door.
“Hey – come on in,” she said as she stood up, walking round and hugging Juliette as she said “Happy New Year, Juliette.”
“And to you,” Juliette said as she kissed her boss on both cheeks. “So how was your New Years Eve Anna?”
“To be honest,” the editor said as she sat down, indicating the chair on the other side for her old friend, “the quietest I’ve spent in years Ju.”
“You were invited to Shirley’s party remember.”
“I know, but actually Wilhelmina Tennant came over, and we had a nice time just chatting.”
“That sounds fun.”
“Actually it was…but anyway it’s a new year, and I have some new challenges to throw your way.”
“Well,” Anna said as she picked up some photos and looked at them, “I’m still not happy with the furs layout for the March issue.”
“How did I know you were going to say that?” Juliette sighed. “It’s going to cost us a fortune to reshoot.”
“Not if we move fast,” Anna said as she looked across the desk. “Look Ju - I’ll put this in basics, what I want, why don’t you and three models of your choice fly to St Petersburg for three days, shoot the furs in all that divine snow and wonderful architecture, and please me in the process?”
“Can I book Dimitri Amkov to shoot it?”
“Yes, and I know that fulfils an ambition for you. Also can you take your adorable granddaughter, I think seeing her in little furs could add interest to the shots.”
“Okay how long do I have to audition models, etc.?”
“Honestly? If you can be in the city by Wednesday...”
“I know, but I need you here for the Ball shoot the week after next.”
“Okay,” Juliette said as she stood up, “I need to get Missy over her, and Carina. At least she’s not due back at Yale for two weeks.”
“I need to see if one girl in particular is available – can you call Dimitri, see if he is available while I get to work?”
“I’m on it,” Anna said as Juliette made her way back to her office, taking her cell phone out.
“Missy? Fancy an impossible task before lunch?
“Good – tell me if Mary Clarke is free next week...”
FBI NY Field Office
“Tom can I have a word please?” Janice put her head round her superiors’ door and smiled.
“Sure come in Jan,” Tom said as he sat back, “now is this business or pleasure.”
“Work and very much so…”
“Sounds serious,” Tom cracked his knuckles.
“It could be…look Tom like most agents I hate questioning the work of my colleagues.”
“I hear a but coming.”
“Yeah it is, I’m hearing from an outside source rumours of Pussycat Gang activity up in Buffalo. Now if I’m hearing this, then the local office should have had it days ago…” Janice took a deep breath, “so why have we heard nothing through channels?”
“I get your point Jan…so what do you want me to do?”
“I think that to protect my sources that an enquiry should go out from headquarters regarding rumours of activity. If nothing comes then I think we begin to suspect something is wrong in the state of Buffalo.”
“Which really is the remit of Internal Affairs to work on, as you damn well know Jan.”
“Yes, but from our point of view if we can discover the rotten apple and turn him or her…”
“Then if the Pussycats are involved in something it might be the closest we have ever got to them…I like your thinking Janice.”
“Thought you might,” Jan said with a smile. “Anyway I know a guy called Peter Welsh, we were at the academy together. He is so straight it’s painful, but if Buffalo is rotten then do I have your permission to contact him?”
Tom thought for a moment, and then said “go on – but watch your step Jan. The last thing you need is IA on your back.”
“Trust me, I know,” Jan said as she got up and left the office.
“Wednesday? This is going to be good,” Missy said with a smile. “Has she got Dimitri?”
“Apparently, he said he would be honoured,” Juliette said, “so we need the models. I spoke to Carina, and she’s up for it. We need two more – and I think Mary will be perfect for this.”
“Well, I agree – time she moved into the majors,” Missy said, “but I hoped we’d have a little while longer. Still – let’s do this.”
Juliette nodded as she pressed the speaker button on the phone.
“Janine, get me the housekeeper at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco please.”
“On it,” Janine said, as Missy looked at Juliette.
“Want to handle this?”
Missy nodded as a voice said “Housekeeper.”
“Good morning – this is Juliette Huntingdown and Missy Auerbach from Norstar. Is Mary Clarke on duty this morning please?”
There was a moment’s silence, before she said “one moment please.”
“Nice musak,” Juliette said, Missy smiling before a voice said “Hello?”
"Hello Mary - sorry to disturb you at the hotel?" Missy spoke.
"Well I hope it's okay,” Mary said as she went quiet for a moment, “what can I do for you?"
"Do you have an up
to date passport?"
"No I've never needed one,” she said quietly, “what chance I'd ever
leave the US?"
"Next week if you
want,” Juliette said, “you can?"
"Modelling Mary dear," Missy laughed. "Juliette wants you to join her shooting furs in St Petersburg Russia, and it’s a rush job..."
"But what about my job here?" Mary broke in.
“Mary,” Juliette said, “how much holiday time are you due?”
“But you want me in New York in two weeks – my supervisor...”
“Thinks you should do this,” they heard the housekeeper say in the back. “Mary, you need to do this.”
“And the kids?”
“Your dad and the neighbours will manage. Girl, you have got to do this.”
There was a moment’s silence before she said “I need to talk to my dad – and how can I get a passport in time?”
“You let me worry about that,” Missy said. “I have everything you will need on file here. Talk to your father, and I’ll call you at home tonight, all right?”
“Okay – and thank you Missy, Juliette.”
“Bye Mary,” Juliette said as she ended the call.
“She’s in,” Missy said as she stood up, “I’ll fly out to San Fran tonight. We still need one model though.”
“I’ll think about it, first I need an assistant.” Picking up the phone, she smiled as she said “Cathy? Could you ask Helen to drop round please?”
“Juliette? Helen York to see you.”
“Thank you,” Juliette said as she stood up and welcomed Helen. “Come in, sit down.”
“What can I do for you Juliette,” Helen said as she sat down and crossed her legs.
“Well, I have been asked, at extremely short notice, to organise and front a shoot in St Petersburg.”
“I see – and you are telling me because?”
“Helen,” Juliette said, “I hate to ask something so mundane, but you’ve worked with Dimitri Amkov, you’ve worked with the locals, can I beg you to come along as my assistant on this shoot?”
“You will need to ask my Mistress Juliette,” Helen said quietly, “and let’s be honest - it’s not my usual gig.”
“I know, but Anna wants this done quick, which means I need people who can hit the ground running.”
“Well,” Helen said, “he adored Caroline and Natalya as well.”
“I know but I think Shirley might object if I took both of them as well.”
“Ask her please Juliette, if they say yes then I’m in as well.”
“Actually, Caroline might work – all right, Helen, let me talk to Catherine. It may be she has other business that requires the attention of you over there as well.”
“I live to serve my mistress,” Helen said, “although there is also the question of Kylie and Marina. But perhaps, given Kylie’s exams, a focus on mental rather than physical discipline would be appropriate.”
“Good – come to my apartment tonight. I’ll talk to Shirley before then.”
The Huntingdown Apartment
“Anna doesn’t mess around, does she?”
“Nope,” Juliette said as she put her hand over the receiver. “Sorry, Mary – that’s all been cleared?
“Good – Missy is flying out now and will meet you tomorrow at the hotel. We need to get your passport sorted out, and she knows how to get that processed, as well as the access visas to Russia. And thank you again – I promise you, you will not regret it.”
Ending the call, Juliette said “I need to take this in the office,” and went upstairs, the two girls listening as she said “Shirley – I need a favour...”
"So we get to go
to Russia for a lightning visit darling." Carina hugged Judith, "Say
"Hey that's not
too bad an attempt." Ingrid smiled at her niece. "So
Pops and I get to rattle about in New York while you guys take off."
said, “but you have at least two other shoots this week that even I'm aware
"Yeah, I couldn't
have done the trip even if Moms had asked."
"And Pops has to
give a speech at the German-American Heritage Council."
"Which rules him out of coming too." Ingrid lounged into
an armchair. "So who else has she in mind taking?"
"Well Helen worked
that shoot last year that Caroline did with Dimitri Amkov last year on behalf of Huntingdown's,
and Caroline has both worked with him and looks stunning in fur. The real problem is she'd like to borrow one
of Shirley's people, a girl called Natalya who did press and publicity for that
"Well if she can't
get her, why not ask Marina, she's a Russian speaker
and I'm sure she'd leap at the chance."
"Hey sometimes twin sister you aren't so dumb for someone attends Princeton." Cari giggled. “As you heard, that new girl Mary Clarke is also on board.”
“She’s nice – quiet, but stunning. This could be real fun for all of you.”
“All right, Ju – I’ve cleared my calendar, but I need to be on the first plane out on Saturday.
“Oh has she? Well, that certainly makes it more manageable – and it means we’re all guaranteed to be back in good time for Sunday.
“Right – let me know the time and place, and I’ll get myself there. Talk to you soon.”
last time you visited St Petersburg Mom I was worried I'd never see you again." Ama fretted as Caroline put the phone
"Yeah - but then I
was there principally as Dominique, this on the other hand is a Caroline trip,
no 'action' so to speak, just a routine model job."
"Well as long as
that is all it is."
"Yeah I understand that darling, and I know you worry, but truthfully - Anna Mitchell has decided she really hates the layout they had shot, and Juliette has called for the cavalry to come to the rescue."
"So are you working with that photographer you so admired?" Ama asked.
"Yes, it will be a
pleasure to both work with and see Dimitri
"Well he must be
good,” Ama said with a smile, “because the only modelling shot of you on our
walls is one he took."
"I know, and what
a time we had getting it," Caroline laughed at the memory, "it was
only by Shirley calling, and John being able to help with a suggestion, that we
got any pictures didn't look like I had jaundice."
"Well all that yellow in the background." Ama smiled. "Alright I'll sleep a little easier maybe, but I will still worry a bit."
“I know you do – but do you think anything would keep me away from your special day,” Caroline said as she kissed her daughter’s head. “Annie will be around anyway – so you can look after her for both me and Carina.”
“I guess so,” Ama said with a smile as her mother’s call phone went off.
“Caroline, it’s Pippa Ashley. Are you available next week?”
“Ach – sorry Pippa, if only you’d called a few hours earlier, you might have been lucky and saved my daughter some worry. But I’m already booked for the whole week.”
"Well if it’s not a secret can I ask where you are going Caroline?" Pippa asked.
"I don't think it is, CS are doing a last minute fur shoot in Russia, and Ju booked me for it."
"Damn," Pippa sighed on the other end of the phone, "I wanted
you for something similar, I've torn up a section that I think is wrong, and I need someone to do a double with
"Well sorry I
can't be of help Pippa."
"It's not your
fault, this is ‘that’ time of year when editors come back from their holidays
and decide they hate half the March and April editions."
"Oh well that
explains it," Caroline laughed into her mobile.
"So do you have
another girl very like yourself to recommend?"
the blonde Amazon type."
"I'm not sure if
that's flattery or not Pippa," Caroline laughed
again. "But let me think...Hmmm that's not easy."
"Exactly, why do
you think that you are in such demand Caroline darling, you are fairly
"Well - she's not
a professional, but have you considered Ingrid Mueller from St Angela's?"
"Yeah she's done
some good work in the school calendars."
"You know Caroline
that is an idea, and it helps she's a friend of
"Well glad I can be of help."
“Enjoy Russia anyway.”
“Well, I did last time, so hopefully this will go well too.”
Sunday 3rd January
Hilton Union Square, San Francisco
“Look Mary,” Missy said as she sat in the lobby of the hotel, “I realise this is a big step up for you, but I think you are ready for it. We’ve sorted out the passport, and the visa...”
“It’s not that,” Mary said quietly, “Dad...”
“He said he could manage for the extra few days – and the fee will help a lot as well.”
“It’s not that – look at me,” Mary said as she looked at her old sweatshirt and jeans.
“You look fantastic – and Juliette will be there with you as well...”
"Missy I can't do
this," Mary complained, "I looked up the weather for St Petersburg, I don't own anything even remotely appropriate
for such cold weather."
"Which is why I'm here."
Mary looked round as Trina
Culver came in carrying a suitcase. "Mary you and I are virtually
identical in size, so I've packed as if it was me being lucky enough to get
this job, and am lending you my clothes."
"You should and
you will Mary."
"Why is everyone
so keen I go to Russia?"
"Because a shoot like this is an amazing opportunity for a young model." Missy smiled. “Even your dad said so, Mary – and we have an additional treat.”
“Oh – what?”
“Given the urgency of the shoot, and the need for Caroline Jameson and Juliette’s family to be back by Saturday night, we fly out Wednesday and back Saturday by private jet. Believe me Mary, it is the right thing for you to do.”
“You can give me the case back when I come to New York the following week – you’re doing the shoot with the rest of us then anyway,” Trina said as she put her arm round Mary’s shoulder. “Welcome to the big leagues, girl.”
“This... This is just still so new for me,” Mary said quietly.
"And, lucky girl,
you will be working with a living legend of photography," Trina looked
excited for her friend.
"Is that such a
"Well given that Dimitri Amkov is now in his 80's
one day in the future you might think it’s a very big thing when your grandkids
see the photos." Missy looked in Trina's suitcase.
Russia's premier photographer." Missy looked up, "now we need to add
your own underwear, etc. Mary."
"And her toiletries and makeup." Trina added.
“All right I give in – we’d better go and tell Dad I’ll be away this coming week as well.”
La Salle Park
“I still can’t believe Anna is doing this,” Emma Carlton said as she stood in the background, a coffee in her hand as she watched the photographers and assistants move around, “or that I’m here.”
“Well, the law now calls for a responsible adult,” Jo said as she drank from her water bottle, “but I don’t count, so I’m glad you could come as well.”
“Well, Missy asked me to come to answer her questions,” Jo said as Anna looked round.
"There are 12 feet
snowdrifts outside,” she said as a dark haired woman in a jumper and jeans
walked over, “and we are in here shooting summer tops."
"Welcome to the crazy world of catalogs," one of the wardrobe people laughed. "I'm Liza by the way, and I'll be helping you with dressing, hair and makeup today."
"Hey Liza, I'm Anna, but you can also call me Doc,” the model held out her hand."
"It's because I want to be a doctor one day."
"Impressive. Have you met Karen Boyd?"
“Yeah – she did the
show at St Angela’s when I first modelled.”
Looking round at the other models, Doc said "So how comes we are
shooting all this in a loft in Buffalo?"
"Well because the
company has its base here, and this is how they always do it."
"It would be
easier doing this in, say... Miami?"
"Not for Schulmann's, they are a Buffalo company and proud of it. Now, let’s get you into your first outfit."
“And away she goes,” Jo said as Emma watched her daughter walk to the changing area.”
"Are these type of shoots always this hectic?" Anna asked one of
the other models as she stepped into the brown leather pixie boots.
"Compared to some
I've done,” the small redhead said, “this is actually reasonably relaxed."
"Damn I'd hate
doing this if the pressure was on." Anna tied the brown leather jacket
round her waist with its belt.
"Anna you are
up," a voice shouted out from outside the dressing room.
"On my way."
“Good luck Doc,” Jo called out as she stepped in front of the photographer, Emma proudly smiling as she posed for the shot.
“Oh that’s good,” Doc said as she slowly drank the hot liquid.
"Coffee through a
straw is not a good idea darling." Emma looked at her daughter and said,
"didn't I teach you that years ago?"
"Yes, but if I
ruin these lips Liza will kill me."
"Oh I see,"
Emma shook her head, "I've got a lot to learn about all this haven't
"No more than Heather had to when I started." Jo spoke. "At least Sandy had been a model herself. When you and Barbara next meet for coffee, ask her to tell you about when Jeannie came over a few months before settling here."
“Doc – we need you to get ready for the next set.”
“Coming,” she said as she walked over.
“Did Heather ever get used to it?”
“If she does, I’ll let you know,” Jo said with a smile. “It’ll probably happen about the same time I get used to being called one as well.”
“That’s right Anna, arms together and smiling,” the photographer said as they watched her hook arms with another model, and look into the distance.
“Right – next,” he called out, Doc and the other model running over and starting to change.
"So which agency are you signed with Doc?" Liza said as she fussed
over her charge.
impressive thing, you are on the expressway to stardom then?"
"Probably not, but
if I can earn some spending cash before going to college then I'm willing to
"Well Norstar don't sign nobodies."
“I know – I count a number of their models amongst my friends, and my teachers.”
“Oh yeah – you go to the school Grace Gresham is on the staff of?”
“That’s right – and Abby de Ros is a senior there.”
“All right everyone, we’re done – good job today people,” the photographer said as the room clapped.
“We done,” Doc, said as she looked at Jo.
“When the man with the camera says we done, we done,” Jo said as Liza came over.
“You did a great job today Doc – I’ll be sure to let Missy know. Where is she today anyway?”
“San Francisco,” Jo said. “Anna Mitchell needed a re-shoot done fast in Russia, and Missy needed to go and sort out travel documents for one of the models.”
“The life of an agent – like I said, good job Doc. We’d like to use you again some time.”
“Did I just get a repeat booking?”
“Ask Missy when you see her,” Jo said, “right now, get changed – we got a journey ahead of us.”
The Carlton Home
Steve Carlton smiled as he saw the headlights through the windows, and went to the front door.
"So how was your first 'real' day on the job?" Doc's father said, hugging both his daughter and wife as they came in from the cab.
"Long and tiring," Doc said, looking very sleepy as she yawned.
"She worked her
socks off," Emma said as she removed her coat.
"Well I prepped
you both a late supper..."
"Dad, would you be
offended if I just got a glass of milk and headed to bed?"
Doc kissed him on the cheek and headed to the kitchen.
"Did she enjoy
"I think so,” Emma said as they watched their daughter walk slowly up the stairs, “but having seen what they do close-up now, don't let anyone tell you modelling isn't real work my love."
"And how was it for consenting adults?"
"I know to take a book next time. Jo had brought some of her college things, but try as hard as I did, a textbook on Psychology is not easy reading."
“I can imagine – come on, let’s get something to eat and drink inside you.”
Monday 4th January
10 am PT
Hilton Union Square, San Francisco
"You know Mary you
are so lucky to have this opportunity," Brenda the housekeeper at the
hotel smiled as Mary Clarke stood with her.
She was supervising the re-loading of the trolleys for the maids to
prepare the rooms.
"Well,” Mary said
quietly, “I'm just worried that I'm going to lose my job here Miss by taking
too much time off."
The Housekeeper stopped
for a moment and looked at the tall blonde.
"You are still worried about your job here Mary?"
"Well this is my real
"Just listen to
this girl." Brenda laughed as she looked at one of the assistant
"Mary you are
quickly becoming a top model, not a maid!" Heletia, one of the
other maids, shook her head as she loaded the trolley.
"Well what if it
suddenly stops? What if I never got offered another modelling job?"
"Oh don't say
that," Brenda laughed again.
"I guess I can't help it Miss." Mary looked down at her feet. “After all that has happened, I still think of this as a dream that I’m going to wake up from...”
"Anyway, it probably ought to be me calling you Miss now, and you calling me Brenda.”
"She's right you
know Mary,'" Heletia nodded in agreement.
"Oh no, that just
wouldn't be right," Mary shook her head as she looked up.
never spoil you will it girl?" Heletia grinned.
"So when do you leave?" the assistant housekeeper called out as she handed Heletia a pile of sheets.
“Tomorrow – I fly to New York, and I’m staying for the night with one of the other models before we fly on to St Petersburg on Wednesday.”
“Oh – who are you staying with?”
“I have it written down here – Caroline Jameson?”
“Oh wow – now she is famous,” Heletia said. “So tall...”
“Well, she has offered me a bed, then when I fly back I stay with the other models for the shoot in New York.”
“Well, I’m sure Carmelita will still get you the best burger.”
“I’m sure she will as well,” Mary said with a smile.
The Altamont Hotel
“Can I just say that this is still mildly ridiculous?”
“I agree,” Shirley said as she looked at herself in the mirror, “but it does seem to be a requirement in this area. I am grateful that you were able to attend tonight as well Dom.”
“Well, I think Susan would kill me if I was not here,” the tall enforcer said as she adjusted the fit of her jacket. She was wearing a black roll neck sweater under her trouser suit, her dark hair flowing over the shoulders of her jacket.
Shirley, by contrast, was clothed in white – a fitted jacket and trousers, with a silk blouse underneath, and a white scarf tied as a cravat round her neck, to allow the voice modifier to sit against her throat.
Susan was also dressed in white – a long jersey dress under a white jacket, with high heels. She was adjusting the black wig that covered her own hair, as Shirley tried on her own long black wig.
“So remind me of how this works,” Shirley said as she applied some lipstick.
“I will bring people in one by one,” Susan said, “and they will – well, come up and kiss your ring after I announce them. They will seek favours, which you may choose to grant or not.”
“What about Victor Sporetti?”
“We are ready for when he comes as well,” Dominique said. “The key thing is, whoever comes in, they are meeting Madame X, not Shirley Xavier.”
“Oh very well,” Shirley said as she put on the half face mask, covering her eyes and forehead before she walked into the small ballroom. Looking at the ornate seat on the raised dais, she shook her head before she sat down, Dominique putting on the dark glasses and standing behind her.
“You will be all right,” Shirley said as she looked at Maisha.
“Of course,” Maisha said. She was wearing a black jersey dress, with knee length boots. “I will watch and I will learn.”
“All right then,” Shirley said as she slipped the voice modifier under her scarf, and settled in the seat, crossing her legs, “let us get started.”
Susan nodded as she walked to the door on the other side, and walked through, closing it as she looked at the men and women assembled there.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen,” she said as she looked round, “I will call you forward in turn, and bring you to meet Madame. I hope the refreshments are to your satisfaction for the moment?”
“Very much so – so who is first?”
“If you will follow me, Mister Mayor...”
Susan walked the man into the darkened room, closing the door behind them as he looked at the two women at the far end. “Mister Mayor,” Shirley said, her voice deeper and richer than usual thanks to the voice modifier, “thank you for coming tonight.”
“The honour is mine,” he said as he came forward, kneeling as he took Shirley’s gloved hand and kissed the ring. “While in public I must condemn some of the actions of people like you, I know in your case you are honourable, and have compassion for others.”
“I also know that you walk a difficult line,” Shirley said, “it is my fervent hope that we may never need to cross paths.”
“Indeed – I share that hope,” he said as he stood back, looking at Dominique.
“Be assured, your honour, I will not oppose your legitimate activities. It is if I uncover something that works against my moral code, as did the trade the summer before last, that I offer support and resources to those who fight such things.”
He nodded as Susan took him by the arm and led him out, returning with a mousy blonde woman wearing a black dress and boots.
“Madame, may I present Mandy D’Onorio, the head of the New York Food Handlers Union 208.”
“An honour Madame,” she said as she dropped to one knee and kissed the proffered ring, “I hope I can be of service to you in my new position.”
“You already have been,” Shirley said with a smile as Dominique nodded. “I look forward to our continued working relationship.”
"Be assured we appreciate your help in Albany Senator," Shirley grimaced as yet another member of the New York state legislature kissed her ring and withdrew.
Susan caught the look in Shirley's eye, but inwardly she was happy that this ceremony showed Madame how far the organisation had penetrated public life in both the city and the surrounding areas.
“I suppose I should be glad that Tom is not here,” Shirley whispered to Dominique, “nor Brooke.”
“Indeed – we were careful to screen out friends – ah...”
Shirley turned and looked as Victor Sporetti came in, dressed in a smart suit, bowing and taking her hand as he kissed her ring.
“Victor – I am so glad you could come tonight,” Madame said, “you are, of course, safe in my presence.”
“I thank you for your protection Madame – the matter we discussed last week? Have you discovered anything?”
“Indeed – Dominique, would you ask my guest to join us please? Victor, please forgive the lack of notice, but I think you will appreciate meeting this woman.”
Victor watched as the tall, dark haired woman walked to a rear door, opening it as a fourth woman came in. The heels of her four inch black leather stilettos clicked on the floor, as she walked in, her knee length skirt rippling with her very step. The matching jacket was buttoned up, with a black scarf tied as a cravat round her neck. On her lapel was a jewelled brooch in the shape of a panther, and a black stocking covered her head, smoothing down her short black hair.
“Mister Sporetti,” she said as she extended a leather gloved hand, “Madame has been kind enough to inform me of your problem.”
“And you would be?”
“Miss Panther. The Pussycats and Madame have worked together in the past, and when she told us of the women claiming to be us, I wished to personally offer our resources to deal with our – mutually offensive problem.”
Sporetti looked at the masked woman, before saying “why should I trust youse?”
“Because this is not the first time someone has infringed our trademark, if you will – we took exception then, we take exception now.”
“So dese ladies, they are not youse?”
“Mister Sporetti, we researched your recent troubles. One hit was on the 27th of last month, correct?”
“Yeah – why?”
“We were engaged at that time in the Albany area – you may have read about it. Our other ladies were all – ALL – employed elsewhere. We ask, as a favour to Madame, to be allowed to deal with this issue for you – it would be most pleasing to us.”
Sporetti turned to Shirley, who nodded and said “I promised I would deal with your problem, Victor. This is my way. They will deliver to you, personally, the person who is responsible – alive. Others you will be informed of.”
“I accept your offer, Madame,” he said as he bowed. “I look forward to a speedy resolution.”
The group walked into the ballroom as Madame and Dominique came down from the small stage.
"Ladies and Gentlemen,” Susan said as she walked round the group, looking at them, “you are bound together now by a pledge of eternal obeisance to Madame and our organization. Betrayal of your vows will bring swift and terrible retribution on you and your loved ones. Know that having pledged yourselves to us, you are committed to eternal silence and to service as long as we find you of use. For betrayal there is but one penalty...death!"
Susan smiled as she looked at their faces, and continued.
"In return for
your loyalty you will receive our support in your battles, and our material
gratitude." Susan paused again, "just have etched in your mind this
Everyone watched in
silence as the two gagged and blindfolded prisoners were brought into the
“These two,” Susan said quietly, “have consistently felt they could ignore our requests and suggestions. They thought there was nothing to fear. They... Were wrong.”
Dom whispered as she withdrew the silenced gun from her pocket and walked over
to stand behind the two victims-to-be.
"Know ye this fate will come to all who betrays their oaths." Susan spoke again as Dominique shot first one, then the other captive in the back of the head.
“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Susan said quietly, “and thank you for your attention.”
They watched as the group walked slowly out, while two masked women came in, placed the bodies in black bags and then in a laundry basket, and wheeled the basket out.
"I can see why the
New York division has shown such healthy revenue growth now Susan,” Shirley
said as she removed the voice modifier and mask, “you
have been very industrious."
"Well we still
trail London and Los Angeles by quite a margin,” Susan said as she poured
herself a drink, “but we are narrowing the gap."
"And within our
traditional guidelines you have opened up several new markets."
"Well I've been
trying my best." Susan blushed slightly. "I'm particularly pleased
with the increased profitability of the legitimate businesses though."
"Indeed, Maddie and I were talking about those things earlier, she is going to try out some of your ideas in her
"Well that is the
"Anyway enough business, how are things going with your mother, Sami, and the girls?"
“Well, Marina and Kylie saw Sami and Kerry off today, and my mum and Maeve fly back on Friday. With luck, she’ll make it through as well. I need to thank you for suggesting Marina goes with Caroline and Helen this week as well.”
“Well, Natalya is needed in London this week, but I think it will give Marina valuable experience as well. Besides, Helen knows she can trust her implicitly.”
“Indeed,” Susan said with a smile, “although it means Kylie returning with Catherine on the Saturday alone.”
“A necessary thing,” Shirley said.
"How was your
business function darling?" John said as he greeted Shirley at the
Shirley smiled as he took her coat.
"Well Maisha and I watched a documentary on PBS about Italian
art, then she had an early night."
"Good for you
two." Shirley smiled as she took off her gloves. "My night was spent
talking to a lot of our clients and suppliers, and while I admire the work
Susan has done putting into building up the New York business, the next meet
"...Is hers to do
alone." John laughed as he finished the sentence.
"Well I have a
nice glass of brandy already poured for you as a nightcap in the drawing
"John darling whatever would I do without you," Shirley said before she kissed him.
Tuesday 5th January
"So press and PR -
what will I be doing exactly?" Marina said as she sat looking over Times
Square with her friends from Juliette's office.
handling the local media," Janine replied before she ate some salad.
"The Russians are going to expect access to the models, so you will have
to write press releases, arrange interviews, and other crap like that."
e-mailed me her contact list from last year, I'm
hoping that will help."
do," Alexis nodded. "I have to say I envy you this trip..."
Alexis," Janine laughed and shook her head, "take it from me, I've
done flying visits like this, they are a pain in the ass."
what?" Marina asked.
"Meaning you'll be
working an 18 hour day while you are there, will not get a chance to see
anything other than where the locations are, and will just be so glad to get
"The voice of
bitter experience," Alexis laughed.
"You know it girl. Still – you go back to Hong Kong with Helen from there, right?"
“Not quite – Helen and I are coming back to New York when Ju and family fly back with Mary. We fly on a day or two later.”
“Nice – but you stay in touch,” Janine said as she nudged Marina. “I know it’s an early Easter, but it’s still a way away.”
The Brewster Brownstone
“That’s not a problem Doc – come along and see how the shoot goes tomorrow,” Jeannie said as she sat at her desk in her room. “I know Missy’s back today, so I’ll make sure she’s cleared it as well.”
“Jeannie – can you come down please?”
“Gotta go Doc – the older generation is calling,” Jeannie said as she ended the call, and wheeled herself over to the lift, humming a tune to herself as she waited for the lift to come up. As the door opened, she turned and reversed herself in, smiling as she closed the door and pressed the down button.
As the cage slowly lowered to the first floor, she saw John and Barbara standing in the hallway, Barbara grinning as the lift stopped and Jeannie opened the door.
“All right – you look like the cat who got the cream Mum. What’s going on?”
“Nothing – nothing,” Barbara said as she smiled. “I want you to come into the front room.”
“All right,” Jeannie said as she looked at both of them, “but if Ashton Kucher is in there, I am not signing the waiver.”
She wheeled herself towards the front room, wondering why the curtains were drawn and it was dark, but when she heard a familiar voice saying “Hey Baby,” she wheeled herself round and smiled.
“Hey big boy – got the ring?”
House smiled as he showed her the ring awarded to the winning team, and then said “the guys thought you might like to have this for an auction.”
He handed her his top, signed by the winning team, and leaned over to kiss Jeannie.
“Hmm – keep going,” Jeannie said with a smile, “you’ve got a whole holiday week to catch up on.”
“Shall I get started then,” House said as John slowly closed the door.
“Hey Mrs B,” Nikki said as Barbara opened the door, “is Jeannie busy?”
“Well, Winston has called to see her...”
“Oh well then,” Ama said as she looked at the others, “perhaps we should...”
“Oh no – come away in and take your coats off. I’m sure she’ll be pleased to see you.”
“Won’t we be interrupting, Barbara darling,” Kylie said as she removed her leather jacket.
“Trust me – they will appreciate it,” Barbara said as she opened the door, “go on in.”
The girls walked in, before they burst out laughing at the sight of Winston and Jeannie, looking at books and taking notes on their pads.
"You two should be
ashamed of yourselves," Pepsi laughed as the girls came into the
Brewster's sitting room. "All this time apart and we
come and find you both studying yet?"
"I know -
disgraceful isn't it?" House grinned as he held the book he was reading in
one of his huge hands, "but spending all that time with the team, I have
an important political science test almost as soon as I get back on
"And remember all
that reading for English Lit we were assigned for the break? Well, when else am I going to do it,"
Jeannie said as she adjusted her reading glasses.
"I thought you did
that while you were waiting at shoots Jeans." Nikki laughed as she sat
"With this amount
of reading, AND my trip to England, I have to catch up. Too much to take on the
“And a Kindle?”
“On a plane,” Jeanie said with a smile. “So why the quiet approach?”
"Oh, we were
thinking you were having wild sex darlings." Kylie laughed as gracefully
sat in an armchair.
"No such luck." Winston laughed.
"Well not since
this morning," Jeannie giggled.
"So are you ready
for Hong Kong again Kylie?" Winston asked.
"As ready as I'm
going to be," Kylie said with a smile.
“Catherine and I are flying out soon, while Marina and Helen head the
other way to Russia."
"I heard that Anna
had wanted a last minute shoot." Jeans smiled.
"From what my Mom
has been doing, turning down other shoots, it's been an idea at magazines all
over the place." Ama spoke.
"Yeah I've had a
couple of offers, but with this," she held up her Shakespeare, "I've
had to turn them down."
"Quite right too." Barbara came in with a tray of hot drinks. "She's a student/model, not the other way round."
“Well, may I say it is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Sowkowski. It is a pity the divine Natalya was unable to come, but she speaks very highly of you.”
“Eto bol'shaya chest' dlya menya, chtoby uslyshat' , otets Amkov”
“Akh - YA vizhu, vy govorite moy rodnoy yazyk”
“Nadeyus', dostatochno khorosho, chtoby byt' v sostoyanii sdelat' svoyu rabotu”
"So switching back
to English" Dimitri Amkov
smiled at his computer screen, "I can tell you aren't a native Russian
"Is my Russian
that bad?" Marina stared at the screen with concern.
"No, not at all,"
the old gentleman smiled, “people will certainly understand you here."
Marina sighed, “for a moment there I was worried I
would have to rely on Helen.”
"But let me guess
that you have Ukrainian rather than Russian roots?"
"My father was
Ukrainian, my mother Polish, and they argued in Russian," Marina laughed.
explains your accent then," Dimitri laughed.
"Helen says I
speak Russian with an English accent.”
"Oh no, I can
definitely hear the Ukraine in there."
"Well turning to
my job, did your PR people tell the locals we are coming?"
"Yes,” Dimitri said as he looked to one side, “and they will be
sending you over a list of requests from the Russian media before you get on
"Okay and I can then talk to the girls and see what they want to do."
“It sounds good. I have you due to arrive at the hotel early on Thursday morning, so I will arrange for breakfast to be ready for your arrival. YA s neterpeniyem zhdu vstrechi s vami togda.”
“Do tekh por Zasluzhennyy Ottsa.”
As she ended the call, she turned to see Helen standing in the doorway.
“Good – the correct level of respect, even if Dimitri is a big pussycat. Time you went home to pack.”
"These clothes are
Miss Culver's not mine," Mary stood nervously whilst Caroline checked to
see if anything needed adding to the west coast girl’s luggage.
"Well Miss Culver had great taste," Caroline unfolded a
mohair sweater in light blue, "this is amazing."
"I'm going to be
afraid of putting any of it on in case I damage it."
"I used to think
of that about my own clothes." Ama looked into the case as well. "And
mom is right, these are great."
“You were afraid you would damage your own clothes.”
“It is a long story,” Ama said as she looked at Mary, “and if you wish I can tell you later.”
"I just hope I don't let anybody down." Mary fidgeted as she looked on.
"You'll be fine," Annie called from where she was setting the table for supper.
"It was so nice of
your friend to collect us at the airport like that," Mary spoke quietly
again, "that limo was quite the contrast to my Dad's old van that he
dropped me off at San Francisco International in."
"Well John is a friend, I simply asked his employer could I borrow him and the car. Another friend will take us to the airport tomorrow."
“So you attend school here, Ama?”
“I do, although we are still on vacation,” Ama replied. “I am busy, however, reading Henry V for my English Literature class.”
“Enough,” Annie said, “come and eat.”
As they walked in, Mary looked at the young teacher, holding her stomach.
“Hmm – oh, about five months,” Annie said with a smile. “I hope you like lamb.”
Mary Thomas’ Townhouse
“Where are you Mom,” Erica said as she closed the door.
the front room. So how did your little group date go?" Denice asked as Erica let herself into the room.
"Oh it wasn't
really a date Mom."
"Well Simon takes
you, and Stevie takes Poppy to the movies, then for cokes, that sounds like a
date to me."
"I suppose it
does," Erica grinned.
"So how was the
"Not bad, the guys
liked all the shooting and killing, but there was enough real plot to please us girls as well."
"Sounds like a
decent date night movie then." Mary came into the room, her head in a book
Yeah, it was," Erica said with a grin.
"Well I'm going to
do drinks before bed...Mary can I tempt you?"
"Ovaltine please Denice."
"And you darling?”
“Oh I'll just have some
milk and some cookies."
"Well I might as well join you in the Ovaltine then Mary." As Denice went to the kitchen, Mary looked at Erica and grinned.
“Young love, true love,” Mary started to sing, “filled with deep... DeVOTION...”
The Huntingdown Apartment
It was a scene that was played out in a million homes across the country, but for this particular mother it was a new experience.
"You will put this
on and go to bed young lady." Carina was getting angry as she held
Judith’s nightdress in her hand.
Judith stared at her mother with fire in her young eyes and her arms folded.
"It's bed time darling."
"What's going on
here?" Juliette asked as she and Klaus let themselves into the apartment.
"Little Missy and
I are having a little disagreement about bed time." Carina looked up.
"She looks like
she has the demon in her tonight," Klaus smiled at the look in his
that..." Carina and Juliette said in unison, with identical worried looks
on their faces.
"Look I'll see if I can put her to bed." Klaus took Judith's little hand, and started walking up the stairs with her. “Come along little one...”
“Okay Grappy,” Judith said as she walked along with him.
"How comes he can do that and I can't?" Carina asked.
“Don’t worry – she’s overtired that’s all,” Juliette said. “With luck, she’ll sleep a bit on the flight tomorrow.”
“I hope so,” Carina said, “I really hope so.”
“It’s a ten hour flight – packing done?”
“Very much so – so when do we leave?”
“At about midday – gonna be a long day. Caroline is picking Mary up and coming to the airport with her.”
Wednesday 6th January
La Guardia Airport – the private Departure Lounge.
“Thanks for bringing us over, Clint,” Caroline said as the limousine stopped outside the building, “tell Susan I’ll thank her when I see her on Sunday.”
“I’ll pass the message on,” Clint said with a smile as he took the cases out. “A real pleasure to meet you Miss Clark.”
“Thank you,” Mary said quietly, “and thank you for allowing me to stay at your place last night, Miss Jameson.”
“Caroline, Mary,” the tall blonde said with a smile, “My name is Caroline.”
“Miss Jameson,” the uniformed co-pilot said as he came out, “and this must be Miss Clarke. If I may take your cases, I will arrange for them to be screened and loaded for you.”
“Thank you,” Caroline said, taking Mary’s arm as she said “come in and meet the rest of the team for this shoot.”
Mary looked round as she walked in.
“Ah Mary – thank you for coming,” Juliette said as she came over and kissed the young model. “This is my daughter Carina and my granddaughter Judith.”
“It’s a real pleasure to meet you both,” Mary said as she shook Judith’s hand.
“Ingy said you were a charmer, she wasn’t joking,” Cari said.
“This is Helen, who will handle wardrobe, and Marina, PR and press.”
“On which note,” Marina said, “we have to discuss some requests for interviews we received in advance.”
“Help yourselves to coffee ladies,” Juliette said. “Marina, begin.”
"Marina and Helen just belong to one of Juliette's own private companies," Caroline whispered to Mary, "she's simply borrowed them from herself to help out on a Complete Style shoot."
"Okay, now I understand...I think." Mary poured some coffee into the mug and then sat down as Marina looked at her list.
“Russian Cosmopolitan wish to interview you, Caroline, while their version of Vogue would like to interview you, Juliette, as the business woman more than the model.”
“We’re very much the juniors on this trip, I suspect Mary,” Carina said as Judith played on the floor. “From what I understand, the Russian glossies tend to focus on the women in power as opposed to the models.”
“Well, I’m really glad of that,” Mary said quietly, “I really don’t like talking to strangers that much. It makes me nervous.”
“Well, you may not get off that easy,” Marina said. “The St Petersburg Times want to do an article as well. I’ve already arranged some shots for them to use from your portfolios, but I wonder if given them the exclusive rights to an interview with all four of you will remove the need for a press conference?”
“Good thinking Marina – talk to Dimitri when we get there, see if that can be arranged for first thing Friday. Now – television?”
“Don’t panic Mary,” Caroline said as she smiled at the young girl, “Marina?”
“Have any of you guys heard of Ivan Urgant?”
The four models looked at each other as Helen said “He is Moscow’s equivalent to Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert. Apparently, one of the things he does is an equivalent of The Daily Show – in that Alla Mikheeva acts as an inexperienced reporter. When they heard we were coming, they asked if we would act as the base for a report by her.”
“I’d want clearance of the final cut,” Juliette said.
“Understandable – but it would mean her at the shoot on Thursday late, filming round us.”
“We’ll think about it on the flight over,” Juliette said as the pilot came out. “Okay – time to board.”
“Where is the plane,” Mary said as she picked up her shoulder bag.
“This way,” Caroline said as Carina carried Judith out to the waiting Lear jet. “As I said, some luxury on the way over...”
Somewhere over Greenland
"What are you
watching?" Helen asked as she found Marina giggling at something on
sure," Marina paused the show and removed her headphones, "it's a
Russian sitcom, sort of like that old American show 'The Golden Girls' I was
just listening to try remember the rhythms of speaking Russian."
"Oh I've seen that
show," Marina laughed, "and yeah I get your point...” Helen sat down and looked at the young
woman. “You know Marina I'm so
impressed, you really have stepped into this so well."
"I take that as a
huge compliment...Thank you Helen."
"Well Press and PR
is outside what you've been training to do..."
"Yes, but it's
still basically liaising and facilitating for my boss, so it's sort of what I
already do, but it's just with the media instead of clothing suppliers."
"I suppose that's
a point." Marina paused, "Xavier will be getting a wonderful member
of their team when you return to London, I'm going to
miss you and Kylie."
"Well let's be honest my future is still up in the air Helen,” Marina said, “London was the plan, but our superiors and Kylie might yet work out a change of direction."
“I think Kylie does want to return, but I take your point. Hope for tomorrow, but live for today?”
Marina nodded as she looked round. “Exactly, Helen, exactly.”
Somewhere over the North Atlantic
“That was wonderful – thank you,” Caroline said as she handed the uniformed woman a coffee cup.
"Have I been to St
Petersburg before Mom?" Carina looked up from checking on the sleeping
Judith. "I remember going to Moscow."
remember if you've been to such a place?" Mary asked slightly in awe.
Carina smiled and shook
her head. "I got dragged all over
the world while Mom was modelling, a lot of the places I can't even
"Well you wouldn't
remember St Petersburg, you were only the same age as little one here,"
explains it...what did you shoot there?"
movie with Michael Caine."
"The one you have
about three lines in?"
"The one I
"You were in
movies Juliette?" asked Mary.
"She was, but she
isn't a good actress." Carina laughed. "She did look very decorative
darling,” Juliette said as she rolled her eyes, “and yes Mary I was in two or
three movies in small parts."
"The best film
she's in is that documentary they made about putting together a fashion
"You only say that,
Cari my love, because you appear in it."
"What can I say -
I'm brilliant at playing myself," Carina giggled.
"Oh I could listen
to you two tell stories all day." Mary smiled. "You've both done so
"Well don't worry Mary it won't be too long till you have a fund of your own stories to tell."
“What about you Caroline – how was it when you came here before?”
“Very hectic and very busy,” Caroline said with a smile, “but Helen helped pull it together.”
“How can they sleep at a time like this,” Mary said as she looked at the other two, dosing in their chairs.
“Practice – they need to be awake and alert from the moment we land, hence the sleep now.”
Thursday 7th January
4 am Local Time
Somewhere over Finland
"Trust her to wake
up just as we are approaching our destination." Carina looked up as she
heard Judith moving.
"Well just be glad
she's been this good on the plane." Caroline got up. "I'll go look
"Well if you don't
"No, it's sort of
what I missed out on when I adopted a teenager, I
missed the whole baby thing."
sounding a little broody perhaps?" Helen laughed.
"Hey when do I get the time to have a baby of my own? Besides, Annie will need my help as well. Hey there little one – feeling awake?"
“Right then – come with me and we’ll get you ready...”
5.30 am Local Time
Pulkovo International Airport, St Petersburg
“Welcome to St Petersburg ladies,” the pilot said as the jet touched down, “we’ll taxi to the private customs clearance, and I understand cars have been ordered to take you to the hotel.”
“Do we still need to go through standard passport control and customs?”
“I am afraid so, Miss Huntingdown, but it is early, I do not foresee any problems.”
“Well,” Helen said as the plane taxied to a stop, “let’s get this part over and done with.”
“Welcome to Russia Miss Clarke – you may join the rest of your party.”
“Thank you,” Mary said as the immigration official handed her passport and visa back over, and she walked through to join the rest of the party. Helen had found a trolley, and was placing the cases on them.
“Well, hello there, beautiful lady.”
Mary turned suddenly to see a thin, well dressed man with dark hair standing next to her.
“Are you here with the family there?”
“Yes, yes I am – why do you ask?”
“Oh I guessed - you are a beautiful young woman, and you should be careful round here. I may be able to offer help.”
“I’m sorry – but who are you?”
“Oh my apologies, sweet lady,” he said with a smile, “my name is Viktor Kornyak, and I am...”
“A pest who should take a long walk from here, very quickly.”
Viktor stiffened, and turned to see Helen standing behind him.
“My dear, how nice to see you again,” he said, “you did not say you were with Huntingdown’s, sweet lady.”
“She’s not the only one Viktor – now, you were?”
“Leaving – a pleasure dear lady.”
“Who was he,” Mary said as she watched him walk quickly away.
“Caroline and I used him as a driver last time – he’s not the nicest of people. Come on, I’ve got the cases loaded up.”
“Who was that,” Marina whispered to Caroline as they looked over.
“Oh boy – we had to run into the Weasel in the first ten minutes,” Caroline said as she shook her head. “Don’t worry – I’ll deal with it.”
“I’ll explain later,” Caroline said as a uniformed chauffer came forward to take the trolley.
Twenty minutes later, the two cars moved into the traffic.
"You know I never
for a moment dreamed I'd ever get to leave the States, or ever see this much
snow." Mary peeped eagerly out of the limo window.
"See much in the
way of changes since you were last here Ju?"
more traffic, even this early on a dark winter morning Caroline."
"Da," the driver spoke, "everybody gets up early
thinking they will beat the traffic jams and this," he honked his horn at
a silver Mercedes, "is the result."
"I'd far rather
catch the metro then try and drive in this city." Helen shook her head,
"I might be a local by birth, but the way these people drive I'll never
understand...It's as bad as Rome."
"No drivers are as
crazy as those in Rome." Caroline suppressed memories of numerous fender
benders in that city.
"Well to me it's
all MAGICAL!" Mary grinned.
"Talking of magic
ladies," the driver looked round, "we have been getting some amazing
"What are white
nights?" Mary asked.
"The Aurora Borealis," Carina looked up from her guide book, "and yeah they sound like something we must see if we get the chance."
“Well, I am sure the concierge will be able to inform you,” he said as Judith looked out of the window.
“Snow, momma! Snow!”
“That’s right dear – and we will be in it today and tomorrow,” Carina said as the cars drew up outside the hotel. Even at this early hour, there was some press around, Marina and Helen running interference as the others walked into the lobby.
“Miss Huntingdown, Miss Jameson, we are honoured to have you stay again,” the concierge said as he welcomed them. “Everything has been made ready – we have the suites ready for you now, and the media office has been set up in the room for Miss Sowkowski.”
“Thank you,” Juliette said. “We are eager to change and refresh ourselves after the flight. Helen, Marina, once we have been shown to the rooms will you arrange for breakfast for us?”
“Of course, Miss Huntingdown,” Helen said with a smile as the porters brought their cases in, and they walked to the lifts.
“There you go Judith – some cold milk.”
“Fank you,” Judith said as she sat in the large chair, drinking her milk as the others talked over coffee and pastries.
“The media centre is all ready to go,” Marina said, “and I’ve talked to the TV producers. They’re willing to give you the veto over the final cut.”
“Excellent,” Juliette said as she looked at her watch. “Dimitri is meeting us at nine thirty, so we can get a little break – enough time to unpack and other things.”
“If you’ll excuse me a moment,” Mary said as she walked towards the toilet, Juliette watching until she closed the outer door.
"Now while Mary is
out of earshot I need to say a few words." Juliette looked up from her
coffee. "Caroline can you do discreet security sweeps and check out if we
are being listened to?"
"Helen, can you
just at least cast an eye out for if we are being tailed?"
"Not going to be
easy with all the press and paparazzi."
"Well as pesky as
they might be, we can't frighten them away, I was thinking more of the local criminal
"I guessed you
were Ju." Helen nodded.
hotel has a very discreet VIP exit Ju, so I've
already asked the manager for the key again."
"Good, and well thought of Caroline." Juliette looked round, "Girls I know this is a routine modelling trip, but given our history, and the fact that this city is an underworld dominated place, let's all remember to be careful please."
9.30 am Local Time
Dimitri Amkov smiled as he stood up, brushing down his suit as the group of women walked over to him. All wore jumpers, skirts and boots, the youngest looking round as if this was all new to her.
No – the youngest woman. The little girl in the smallest woman’s arms had the honour of being the youngest.
“Dimitri – how long has it been,” Juliette said as she smiled at him.
Juliette," Dimitri smiled as he kissed her and
presented her with flowers.
"It is just so
wonderful to see you again Dimitri, and at LONG LAST you're
finally going to photograph me."
"I remember you
saying all those years ago it was one of your ambitions," the old
gentleman chuckled, "But until now our schedules never seem to have
introductions, you already know Caroline?"
"Of course I do,
welcome back," she blushed as he kissed her.
"This is my
"This is little
Carina?" Dimitri shook his head, "it seems
just yesterday that she was no bigger than this little one."
"Well the little
one is my daughter," Carina smiled. "Say hello to Uncle Dimitri Judith."
"Lo Unca Mitri." Judith whispered as she shyly hid her head.
"Oh she is DELIGHTFUL!"
"And this is Mary
Clarke our other model."
"Oh this lady I
will adore photographing, you have an amazing face..."
"So everyone tells
me." Mary blushed.
"And of course you
"And I've talked to the divine Marina on line," Dimitri kissed both. “Welcome – come, sit, and let us talk of my thoughts.”
“You know we have a tight schedule, Dimitri.”
“Of course – when the divine Anna called, she made it clear, so let me reassure you we have worked hard to prepare. Marina, Helen, my assistant wishes to discuss matters with you.
“If you will excuse me,” Marina said as she walked with Helen to one side.
“We will start here in the hotel this morning – the manager has kindly given his permission – and move on from there.”
“Sounds good,” Juliette said as she watched the other girls talking.
"We are basically
using the same team we used last year." Helen said as she returned from
chatting with Dimitri's assistant. "Same
make-up artist, same hairdresser, etc."
"Well I could not
fault their work last year." Caroline looked happy.
"Okay I think we
have all the filming permits we need." Marina came back from chatting with
the PR man from Dimitri's office, "and I've told
the local press what you will and won't do."
good," Juliette nodded, "now have you also thought to type up
"That should be
them coming off the printer right now."
"Very efficient Marina."
“Excellent – so let us prepare! Juliette, we will use your suite for wardrobe fittings for the next hour or so, and reconvene here at eleven to do the first shoot in Palace Square.”
10.30 am Local Time
"May I come
in?" Dimitri called from outside the room as he
opened the door.
"Yes but not in
the bedroom," Caroline shouted back, "we are doing wardrobe fittings
in here, and even a gentleman of your age will I think panic Mary whilst she's
understand," Dimitri chuckled as he came in.
"I just dropped in to say that dinner tonight is on me. There is a
fabulous new restaurant here in the city that even in my opinion serves the
best Arctic Salmon I have ever tasted."
"Oh that sounds like a recommendation," Carina came out of the bedroom. "I love great salmon.”
“Excellent – I anticipate this will be a great day.”
11 am Local Time
“Ah excellent,” Dimitri said as the door opened and Juliette led the group
in, “Juliette, ladies may I present my grandson Alexei. He will be our gofer as
you put in in America."
"Nice to meet you
Alexei," Juliette smiled as he shook her hand.
"Can I say what a
big honour this is to meets you all." the young man replied in halting English. He had a full head of blonde hair, and looked
overawed by his surroundings.
indicated he would like to be a photographer one day," Dimitri
smiled, "but I've told him that just because he is family he gets no
special privileges, he needs learn as I did, from the bottom up."
"Well I can't
imagine a better person to be apprenticed to."
"Caroline you are being too kind. So, I trust your schedules are agreeable to all?"
"May I sit here pleases?" Alexei indicated the space between Mary and Helen.
"I have told him
that he needs to learn better English, it is after all the international
language of photography."
"Didn't I once
read you saying photography needs no language because it's really just about
"You did Juliette,
but it's also a business, and a business that is
largely done in English out in the wide world."
"That's true I
"You are all very
beautiful ladies." Alexei blushed as he spoke.
"And you are a
very nice young man." Carina smiled across the table at him.
"And my daughter
is falling in love with you Sophia," Carina looked down the table to where
the hairdresser was making gurgling noises to make Judith laugh.
"Well this little
one brightens a whole room when she laughs."
"Yes but you
should hear her temper when she loses it and starts shouting," her mother
"No, little Judith is always an angel," Sophia made some faces causing the youngster to laugh even more.
“So, we have the coats ready for the first shoot, Marina?”
“Loaded in the van Dimitri,” Helen said as a maid came in and handed Marina a sheet of paper. “Please excuse me for a moment,” she said as she stood up, “the television crew have arrived.”
“Of course,” Caroline said as she left the room. “So if we are all ready?”
1 pm Local Time
The stunning front of the Imperial Palace glistened in the sunlight as Dimitri looked round the Palace Square.
“Excellent – Alexis, fetch the lamps and erect them as we discussed. Ladies, my crew awaits.”
“Let’s do this,” Caroline said as she led the way, Marina and Helen following as a blonde woman with a camera crew followed them. As they walked along, Helen glanced from side to side.
“Not so far,” Helen whispered to Marina, “the usual hangers on and press crews. Have fun with them.”
Marina nodded as she moved to the side and went to the reporters, while Helen went to the wardrobe area.
“Mary’s up first,” she said as she looked in, Juliette nodding as Carina sat with Judith while their hair was done. A few minutes later, Mary joined Helen, wearing a white silk sweater and long red pants, the legs tucked into thigh length brown leather boots, her hair built up on her head.
“Right, we’re going with this first,” Helen said as she held up the brown brocade coat with a dark brown fur lining. Mary ran her hand down it, nodding as she pulled on a pair of brown leather gloves, then had the coat put on her by the assistant.
“Ready to go to work,” Juliette said as she joined them.
“I think so,” Mary said with a smile as they walked outside, Mary going with two of Dimitri’s assistants as Juliette joined the photographer.
"So tell me of
Mary please Juliette, this is all very new to her isn't it?" Dimitri whispered as the assistants fussed over the model.
"Yes, she's my agent Missy Auerbach's great new discovery."
"Yes, Missy was holding an open casting in San Francisco, and other then one girl we'd already seen and knew about none were up to standard..."
of all things the chamber maid.
She came to turn down the bed, and well you can see what Missy saw in
Dimitri snapped a couple of frames to check the
camera, "so now she is a big-time model?"
Juliette smiled a little, "she's still working as a chamber maid, and I
don't think she's convinced herself yet that modelling is a real career."
"Oh my!" Dimitri shook his head; "well I'll go very gently with her then."
“Please do – I need to get ready for the family group shot.”
As Juliette walked back, Helen watched over the crowd that had gathered, and then she looked again, before walking into the model area.
“Caroline,” she whispered quietly, “call the Weasel and get him here – now.”
2.30 pm Local Time
“That is beautiful, keep going,” Dimitri said as Juliette and Carina posed in deep black mink coats, Judith in Carina’s arms and wearing a jacket made of the same material as they pointed to the buildings round the square.
“Yes,” she said as she turned to look at Alexei.
“There’s a Viktor Kornyak here to see you – something about a delivery?”
“Oh yes – he’s a specialist provider for local materials. I’ll come out and see him.”
The thin blonde followed the young man out, and then walked over towards the nervous looking man, as the Huntingdown’s went back into the changing area and Caroline came out.
“My dear Helen,” he said as she approached, “I was not expecting to hear from you or your divine co-worker again. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“You assume this is pleasure, Weasel?”
“Well, I assume you are taking some sort of pleasure from this...”
“While we’re talking,” Helen said, “look at the crowd on the other side of the area. See anyone that would give you pause for concern?
Viktor smiled as he looked over, and then said “I presume you are talking about two of Gormyko’s workers over there?”
“I thought so,” Helen said quietly, “They need to be reminded of the displeasure Madame felt over out last visit. Dominique and I would appreciate it if you would inform them of that?”
“This I can do, and if they wish to continue watching?”
“Then we will talk again,” Helen said as she signed the piece of paper he held out, and took the parcel. “What is this anyway?”
“Caviar – my way of apologising for earlier.”
“What were you doing there anyway,” Helen said.
“I just got back from Japan – a small trade visit. Let us hope, with all sincerity, we do not need to talk again.”
“I hope so – for it will be a pity if Dominique had to get involved. Stay safe, Viktor.”
As he nodded and walked off, Helen walked back and joined Caroline.
“It’s the Gormyko family – and a peace offering,” Helen said as she held up the parcel.
4 pm local time
"Oh yes that is
magic," Dimitri smiled as Caroline and Juliette
walked towards him swinging Judith between them. "Those fur parkas look
wonderful and the little ones looks as you swing her are making these
"She's going to
want me to buy her that little fur parka you know?" Carina spoke to Mary.
"Well she does
look beautiful in it," Mary said as she stooped to let the makeup girl
work on her face.
"Yeah and if we
are going to be going up to Stowe a lot, then I guess I can justify the
"It's up in the
Green Mountains, north of New York, Mom has a ski lodge up there."
"Wow I envy you that, I'd love to have a place to go to in the
"Join us some
"No," the Californian shook her head, "with the time off I've already booked, I'll be working every day to make it up."
“Mary,” Carina said quietly, “you do realise it’s coming to the point where you will be established enough to think of giving up that job?”
“That’s what my boss says,” Mary whispered, “but I still feel I need that to go to, for when this fails.”
“Well, that settles it,” Carina said, “one weekend in February, you and your family are coming over. Our treat.”
“So what can you tell me about this area, Carina?”
“The centre of Russia until the revolution? Well, we’ve got the Winter Palace over there, on the north side then on the south the Building of the General Staff.”
“The redbrick building that looks like an arch?”
“Yeah – believe it or not, it’s a triumphal arch from the war against Napoleon. On the east is a later building, for the Guards Corps, and the west leads to the Admiralty Square.”
“Where we shoot on Saturday before you return,” Dimitri said. “Mary, my dear, it is your turn again.”
“Of course,” Mary said as she put her own camera back in her bag, and walked off.
“She’s enjoying this isn’t she?”
“She’s not the only one, is she,” Carina said as Judith ran into her arms.
"It gets dark so
early here." Marina stood watching as Dimitri
took shots in the quickly fading light with the street-lamps and falling snow
adding so much to the atmosphere.
"Well we are a
long way north," Helen nodded. "So how are things going?"
"I have to say
having Alexei to do all the running round has
"Yeah he's an eager
kid, one day he'll probably be a successful shutter snapper himself."
"I get that
"Well I'll be glad
to get back to the warmth of Hong Kong," Helen shivered.
Russian girl who doesn't like the cold?"
"Oh no, give me tropical heat...ANYDAY!"
6 pm Local Time
"Well if Anna
isn't satisfied with at least some of these she can blow me." Juliette
slumped onto her bed and sighed.
"Oh come on she's
going to be over the moon," Caroline smiled. "That was arguably the
best shoot I've ever done today."
said as she sat up, “you did look great Caroline."
the ageless wonder lady."
"Oh the makeup
needs be a bit thicker now you know."
"So how was
"Eager to hear all
about this city, you know she researches every place I go to?"
"Well it's a great
way to learn things."
"I know,” Caroline
said as she poured a drink, “I just wish that I'd been as bright as a kid to
think of it."
"Well I tried when
I was first modelling, but it soon overwhelmed me."
overwhelmed Ju, I have to say Marina hasn't been at
"Yeah she's been
one thought ahead of her job all day."
"In a way she was
a makeweight in the deal to get Kylie, but she's become a star in her own
"Tell me about it...I really would love to keep her with Huntingdown's after her time in Hong Kong is up."
“You may have a three way fight on that – Helen says that Catherine speaks very highly of her, as does she, and I know Shirley is very pleased with her.”
“What about Kylie though? She still set on coming back to London?”
“I think so – so come July and August, we have an interesting discussion ahead.”
“Yeah – we may need to have it earlier that that. Right – let’s get ready...”
6.30 pm Local Time
Mary looked out of her window, over the snow covered streets, the bright lights in the windows as the people walked by, and sipped her coffee. She hadn’t had much down time since arriving, but this last half hour, with a bath and now a hot drink, had been bliss.
Her room telephone rang, and as she picked it up she said “Yes?”
“Miss Clarke – we have the international call you asked for?”
“Thank you,” Mary said as she sat down, smiling as she said “Hey Dad.”
“Hey there – how are you coping?”
“I am exhausted – we’ve been on the go virtually since we arrived, and I am ready for my bed, but we’ve still some things to do.”
"So what is Russia
snow-covered Dad, but you should see the downtown area, some of the buildings
are like real castles. It’s so different
from the Golden Gate and Chinatown."
"Well take lots of
pictures,” her father said, “the kids want to see 'em."
"Will do Dad."
"Did you meet the
"Oh yeah, we’ve
been shooting most of the day, and he is wonderful. Juliette told me he's 85
years old, but he reminds me a bit of that character played by Maurice
Chevalier in that movie Mum loved."
"You mean Gigi?"
"Yeah that's the
one, he's just so charming. Helen our
wardrobe lady has worked with him before and she calls him an old
pussycat." Mary looked at her watch, "he's taking the entire crew out
to dinner tonight to some fancy restaurant that he says serves great
"Well it sounds
like you guys are getting the five star treatment?"
"Yeah even I've
got to do some interviews."
"How? You don't speak Russian?"
but Marina our PR person does, so does Helen, they'll be translating."
"Sounds good..." there was a pause, "you know Mary your Mom would be so proud of you."
“I hope she would – it may sound crazy Dad, but this is becoming less of a dream now. Actually, I was asked – well, told you’re all to come out for a weekend in New York in the snow soon.”
“All of us? I don’t know...”
“I know, Dad – but you could do with a holiday as well, couldn’t you?” Looking at her watch again, Mary said “I have to go, Dad. Give me love to everyone, and I’ll call again tomorrow.”
“All right – stay safe, Mary.”
“Always Dad – love you.”
As the line went dead, Mary stood up and walked out the wardrobe. Trina had loaned her a grey cowl necked woollen dress, which she pulled on along with woollen tights and a pair of long boots, and then she collected her purse and coat before locking her door, walking past two more doors and then knocking on Juliette’s door.
“Hey – come on in,” Carina said as she opened the door, “Mom’s just sorting herself out.”
“Hello Aunt Mary,” Judith said as she sat on the bed, Juliette turning and smiling as she fixed her make up.
"Is that Maggie?" Carina asked as her mother listened to a programme on TV.
"It’s the BBC world news,” Juliette said, “and they were just announcing the candidates for her election in early spring."
Maggie?" asked Mary.
"Dame Margaret Harker, she's the aunt of a friend..."
"And rival don't
"Who has been
tempted to run in a forthcoming by-election for Britain's House of Commons."
"I'll never get
over all the people you know," Mary shook her head.
"Well you are
bound to get to know her niece Mary,” Juliette said as she stood up. “Pippa Ashley is an
editor at New Mode - you are bound to cross paths."
Carina said as she slipped a coat on Judith, “I'm doing something for her in a
"And you don't
mind her working for the enemy so to speak Juliette?"
"Mary, like you
Carina is a professional model, she owes no loyalty to
Conde Nast just because I work for one of their
"Okay so I'll be
maybe be getting offers from people other than
"Oh I think you can count on it Mary. Missy already phoned saying a couple of Russian magazines want to book you for shoots on what they've seen today."
“Oh yes – you can talk to her about it next week. Right now, Dimitri is expecting us – and Caroline has the special key.”