Training Day – Part 2
Sunday 11th September
The Huntingdown Apartment
It was a rare occurrence now all three were at college, but Abby smiled as she sat with Jo and Carina, Judith playing on the floor in her pyjamas.
telling you girls,” she said as she sipped her coke, “cerise is going to be a
huge color on the runways for the next couple of
Abs?" Jo asked.
to what some of the people were saying at my shoot this morning."
according to that piece in the Times this morning," Carina added.
"I haven't seen the newspapers yet,” Jo said as she sat back, “Big Sister and me were busy teaching Lily and her trainees the fine art of the virgin burglary this morning."
"How did it go?" Abigail asked.
all bad, it helps that many of them have advanced breaking and entry skills
"That helps," Carina said as she lifted Judith on to her lap.
“Still, they had something to learn – and they did a good job on their test this afternoon for Madame.”
“So what happens to them now?”
“A good night’s sleep – apparently, they were woken up a lot the last couple of nights by music. Would you know anything about that Carina?”
“Moi? What gave you that idea?”
“I heard Tracy making dark mumblings about whoever mixed the Dangermouse theme with Steppenwolf…”
as she said "so what time is your flight back Jo?"
Thirty. I'll be back at school in time to get at least a few hours good
returning to what I was talking about,” Abby said as she sat forward, “cerise..."
blood red going to become fashionable again?" Carina interrupted.
you asking that?" Jo looked quizzical.
imagine how much less messy looking it would be if my victims were already
wearing that color?"
is SICK!" Abby started to laugh.
"I hope it was Judith," Joanne shook her head.
“Anyway, we face another week of joy – let’s face it with a smile, right?”
“Face what with a smile,” Juliette said as she came in.
“Oh – I thought you meant Fashion Week…”
“DON’T SAY THAT!” As the girls shouted out, all four heard their cell phones go off, announcing a new message…
“And another week beckons,” Poppy said as the ferry doors opened, smiling as the tall blonde girl walked off with her bag.
was the journey?" Erica asked as she, Ama and
Poppy greeted their friend as she walked off the gangplank.
"Long enough that I'm glad I'm not having to do it every day," Mel put her bag down and hugged her friends. “I guess this is my Sunday afternoon now of the next few weeks.”
"Some days it seems to take forever just driving from the Village to school, I can't imagine commuting all the way from Tottenville." Ama said as she picked up the bag, and they started to head towards her Mini.
I missed the trouble yesterday," the tall young blonde spoke quietly.
Ama looked at her as she said "how did
her when I rang her last night Ama," Erica
"I nearly ripped the stupid bitches’ heads off," Poppy spoke. “They were so ignorant…”
"She didn't thank the Goddess," Ama smiled at the memory. “Perhaps if they were nuns, that would be further justification, but it is not worth the cost or the effort to fight them.”
"But I did tell them that I was an immigrant from England and did they have any problems with me because of that?"
"I'd have told them my Dad came here from Sweden," Mel shook her head.
“When you consider it, there’s only one person in our group who can claim to be even partly a true American,” Poppy said as they got into the car.
“Oh – who?”
“Lynn – she has Cherokee blood, so she is at least Part American. I wonder how those idiots would react to that?”
“Find out tomorrow…”
The Astoria Waldorf
“Was it a good flight over,” Shirley said from the laptop as Francesca and Charlotte sat in the hotel room.
“Not bad – so what has been done so far,” Charlotte said as she rubbed her bump.
“We had Lily’s team do a surveillance sweep on our suspect’s apartment – the devices all seem to be working well, but if we are right he won’t be doing much talking there.”
“Agreed,” Francesca nodded, “but still worth a try.”
“How have they done on the course,” Charlotte asked.
“Interesting – we will fully debrief them tomorrow. Teacher and Liz are here, and they will meet Admiral Preminger tomorrow, while the Hidden Hand will supply some tips on monitoring for sources of newsfeeds and other attack ads.”
“When tomorrow,” Charlotte asked.
“Ten – can you both be in the office for one, and we will meet to confirm plans after that?”
“If we wanted to get someone close to Kannenikov Francesca, does your research indicate what his sexual orientation is?”
“He’s bi-sexual Shirley and from what I seem to remember hearing very choosey regarding his partners.”
“Any reason why?”
“Because like most people who lead secret lives he’s terrified of letting someone close who might find out the truth about him.”
“That’s not going to make things easy.”
“True – I suspect the person he would let get closer is Helen, but given she is all but married…”
“It’s unlikely as well. Still, something to think of for tomorrow…”
“Look, it’s been a while since I did this Shirley, are you sure you wouldn’t be better off having John Vosloo handle this part of the operation? It’s been a long while since I was a case officer examining raw intelligence like this. John’s experience is more current.”
“Much as I appreciate having John with us Francesca,” Shirley said quietly, “he is still unaware of the activities of a huge part of my operation and I would rather not have to explain to him what some of our methods are, or who some of our sources are.”
“I appreciate that Shirley…”
“I have every confidence in your training Francesca, please survey all the materials, then tell us what is worthless, what we can deal with in house, and most importantly what should we show to Admiral Preminger.”
“I can try, but Charlotte and I have talked, and I have read in a trusted person to assist me.”
“Oh – and that is?”
“Hannah. I’ve come to trust her instincts for picking out details in legal matters, and I’m worried that my personal dislike of the target might cloud my judgment. She is here with us, and as a Sister it falls in her remit as well.”
“I agree. Alright I trust your judgment Francesca, if you feel you need Hannah’s aid I respect your decision.”
“Who is handling our signals, and electronic intelligence gathering?”
“Heather. When you have access to the very best then you use her.”
“Agreed – and Carlotta has confirmed she is assisting.”
Shirley nodded and said “she’s also probably using a protégé of hers who is both highly skilled and utterly trustworthy.”
“Good,” Francesca leaned back in her seat and stared at the computer screen.
“Do you want Charlotte to personally brief you on what they find?”
“It would help. If I’m to do this right I need to know both sources, and how the intelligence was obtained. My darling daughter knows how bad I am around computers, at least she can explain it all to me in terms I’ll understand.”
“Good – we will talk tomorrow,” Shirley said as the screen went blank, and Charlotte answered the knock on the door.
“Am I formally in?”
“You are,” Francesca said as Hannah sat down.
“So do you think he realizes that we have him in our sights Francesca?” Hannah said as she looked up from reading the notes.
“He’s been playing ‘the game’ enough years that I’m sure he realizes that I’m aware of him, and I’ve no doubt he’s either had me fully checked out, or they are in the process of doing so.”
“So we don’t have the advantage of anonymity?”
“I don’t, but I am pretty sure that he doesn’t know I have access to all parts of Madame’s organization, that I can use The Sisters, or that Admiral Preminger and the Americans are sniffing round just what his masters are up to.”
“That gives us an advantage?”
“In a way then yes. We may not be as large as the FSB or the CIA Hannah, but we have access to some remarkable talents. I don’t think we are out of our depth in all this.”
“Very well – and other business matters?”
“We fit them in… But I need to make a call in the morning…”
Monday 12th September
The Huntingdown Apartment
“Thanks – so we know more later today,” Jan said as she sat at the coffee bar.
“We will – but in all this mess ‘our’ work continues Jan.” Juliette passed the FBI woman her cup of coffee. “We will aid the appropriate people as and when we are asked, but at least as Pussycats we are still career armed robbers, and I enjoy what we do too much to put aside all my plans.”
“So we move forward with that schedule you sent me?”
Juliette smiled as she sipped from her mug.
“Indeed we do.”
“Can I ask who gets assigned to which job, and what our likely time schedule is?”
“We have to fit it all round the girls’ educations, modelling gigs, other real life things, but I’m hoping that by Friday I’ll have at least dates for the first couple of jobs.”
“You know I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if only Tom and Adam knew exactly what some of the things are that need factoring in when the Pussycat Gang plans its raids,” Jan smiled.
“I’m rather happy they don’t,” Ju took a sip.
“Can I ask a question?”
“Are we bringing my mother-in-law in on all of this?”
“Eleanor? Do you think she wants in Janice? Is she going to be too busy working the Intelligence affair?”
“I think she would appreciate both challenges…
The Waldorf Astoria
“I think that you are actually enjoying all this stuff Mama,” Charlotte smiled as she watched her mother pouring over the raw intelligence that Lily’s team, and Heather’s electronic intercepts had generated.
“I’m not sure I’d use the word enjoy darling,” Francesca said as she looked up.
“Well I would, I can see the enjoyment in your eyes.”
“Alright,” Francesca laughed, “I’ll admit that this was the kind of work that excited me when La Citadella approached me all those years ago, and it was the opportunity to do such analysis that enticed me into joining them. When I was in place as a case officer in Pretoria I could happily spend hours going over what my agents were feeding me, and I guessed that I later missed doing it when I was forced to take reassignment and retraining.”
“So why do you find it so fascinating?”
“I guess it’s the same reason that I love being a lawyer. It’s the eternal quest to determine what is true and important in what seems often conflicting, and contradictory reports. I love checking, then cross checking every detail, evaluating every single word to make sure I miss nothing.”
“Mama why didn’t you request a desk job in Rome as an analyst at Citadella headquarters when you were expelled from South Africa? It would have suited you far more.”
“I know darling, the cerebral aspects of intelligence work were where my talents lay.”
“And yet in the end that razor sharp brain of yours was put aside, and you ended up with a career that required you to be and act as the blunt instrument enforcing your superiors will.”
“I know Carlotta my love.” Sighing, Francesca said “I was more damaged than I had realised I guess…”
The Metropolitan Museum
Ed Preminger smiled as he walked round the exhibit – it was a rare occasion when he had time to enjoy and appreciate art. And this was not really one of those occasions – but when Eleanor had suggested he took in the exhibition, he knew something was going on.
As he looked at the Reubens, he smiled as he heard a voice say “Such a beautiful painting, but what do you think?”
“I think he was well taught,” a voice said in accented English, as Ed looked to one side and saw the tall, dark skinned woman, and then the blonde on the other side.
“Possibly, but I am not sure I fully understand the intention,” he replied.
“Perhaps we can help – would you care to join us for some coffee?”
“Thank you for agreeing to meet me,” Ed said as they sat in a quiet corner, “I know this is an unusual request.”
“Perhaps – I am Teacher, my friend Thinker,” the blonde said as she sipped her coffee. “We understand you wish to ask for assistance from the Sisters of Maisha.”
“I do – but I would understand if you could not help me…”
“Perhaps, if you explained the situation,” Thinker said, “we can advise.”
“All right – I have heard rumours a foreign third party is going to attempt to influence our upcoming election. I fear we cannot stop it at this end, but…”
“You are aware the Sisters only intervene when the freedom of those who cannot fight back is endangered,” Teacher said quietly.
“Let us say I understand that – but I fear the possibility of a puppet leader, under the influence of a foreign party, and the damage that could wreak.”
Nodding, Thinker said “I can understand that – but how do you believe we can help?”
“I am led to understand you have eyes and ears globally – all I ask is, if you hear of such actions, that I hear as well.”
The two women looked at each other, before Thinker said “and in return?”
“In return, should we hear of – situations that would fall under your purview, we provide intel that we may have.”
“You are presuming we do not already have contacts in your intelligence community?”
“I think you do – but I do not want to know who they are. If anything, they are your reality check on anything we say.”
“We can help in that way, but be aware we play no part in the internal politics of a country unless they cross our own lines.”
“I understand, Teacher, and I accept those terms. How may we contact you?”
“The Hand will let you know.”
Ed looked at them and said “she is a Sister?”
“A consultant – enjoy your day Admiral.”
“I will,” Ed said as they stood and walked off, shaking his head as he said “and thank you, Lieutenant Egwegwe…”
The doors to the conference room opened, Lily and the girls standing as Shirley and Susan came in.
“Please, be seated,” Shirley said as she took a seat at the head of the table, the others sitting down again as she said “I trust you have managed to get some rest?”
“I will be honest, Madame,” Louise said as she looked round, “I had a hot bath, lay down - and woke up for breakfast this morning.”
“As did all of us, I suspect,” Lily said with a smile.
As the group nodded, Susan said “we have evaluated the reports from your instructors, as well as our own observations from the weekend.”
“On which note, my apologies for my shortness the other morning,” Shirley said as she looked round, “I am not a morning person. What you did, however, was necessary – and you did it very well.”
“So do we pass,” Tracy asked.
“Yes – but we have identified further training opportunities for each of you, and we will inform Lily in due course. This has been a very different weekend, and did not start the way I had anticipated.”
“If I may ask, Madame,” Frances said, “when did you know about…”
“I received the information while you were flying over – the only three I could trust were, as Lily knows, her, Tracy and Louise, because I was completely aware of their paths into the organisation. I have to say, you did handle it well, however.”
“I guess we’re glad we pleased you in that,” Evey said, “but it was still a wrench…”
“I know,” Shirley said quietly, “from personal experience what it is like to be betrayed by someone close to you. Suffice to say this was the least painful way of dealing with it – but as I say, you have passed, and already been a great help in a problem we are now facing. For the moment, I invite you all to spend the rest of this week relaxing – I am sure there are things you all desire to do in this city – but remain on call.”
“Thank you Madame,” Lily said, “on behalf of all of us.”
“Go – relax, I will talk to Lily tomorrow with our suggestions,” Shirley said with a smile.
Inn on the Park
“Hilary or him? Seriously, that’s the choice?”
“I’m afraid so,” Claire Morse said as she looked at the menu, “according to what the party people are telling Tom, you can trace a lot of this back to the banking crash in the last year of W’s term Ju.”
“Meaning what Claire?”
“That at least according to a lot of the professional analysts it destroyed many peoples faith in this country’s institutions, and made them hate people, and I hate to say this, to hate people like us, the so-called elites who they think have undermined and destroyed all the certainties that these people have spent their whole life believing in.”
“It is actually that bad?”
“According to what my husband says his colleagues are saying.” Claire shook her head.
“My brother says they want someone to come in and both change everything, and hurt those they feel are responsible for what kind of nation we have become.” Nessa said as she looked up from reading her menu.
“Alex says that?”
“Add to that how deeply unpopular Hilary is thanks to the constant drumbeat of rumors and innuendo about her in the right wing media. My husband says his analysts are telling him that one truly misplaced piece of information could bring about the calamity most of us I think fear.” Tonia sipped her wine.
“But she’s well ahead in the polls darling,” Liz smiled, “we have nothing to worry about.”
“I don’t know, the report his people gave my husband spooked Roy, and you all know that’s not easy.”
“Can we please avoid politics for the rest of our lunch?” Rachel pleaded, “just thinking about all this is putting me off the idea of eating.”
“Of course,” Sandy said as Diana came in. “Are you all right, dear?”
“In a way – I need to take a short vacation soon… Well, more a rest cure.”
“Are you ill?”
“No – just a past problem that needs to be dealt with…”
Smiling, and looking out of the window, the blonde said “Kay its Francesca di Cambrello.”
There was a short laugh on the other end of the line. “Now you are the very last person I expected to hear from,” the voice had those posh vowels that so many of Francesca’s English friends had. “I heard you’d retired.”
“And I heard you’d been promoted darling. Deputy Head on the Russia Desk someone told me. For once the Department has got it exactly right and promoted the perfect person…Congratulations.”
“Thank You, and similarly I’m hearing everybody in the legal world is discussing the brilliance of your scholarship.”
“They are all being far too kind.”
“Nonsense,” suddenly the tone of the Englishwoman’s voice changed, “now I know that you didn’t call me at work to just indulge in idle chatter Francesca, just what exactly can I do for you?”
“Well if I throw a couple of names at you then you might get an idea. Ed Preminger, and Andre Kannenikov?”
“Now that is a very interesting pair of names Francesca,” Kay said quietly, “and they connect how?”
“Admiral Preminger made a point of talking with me at a party in New York very recently. A party at which The Dancer was also a guest.”
“So are you doing a guest gig for the Americans?”
“More like the Admiral asked me to keep my ears open.”
“And if I’m guessing correctly then you’ve heard some interesting things?”
“I think so Kay.” Francesca paused, “as one old colleague to another is it possible for us to have an ‘informal’ chat sometime in the next few days?”
“Where are you at the moment?”
“New York – why?”
“Always wanted to see the Fashion Week there – I’ll call you Wednesday morning…”
“When do Maddy and her team do the hotel operation Madame?” Susan asked as she sat in the conference room.
“This next Sunday night.”
“Are they all set?”
“As of when I spoke to her earlier,” Shirley said as she played with her glasses, “then yes.”
“Will New York be asked to provide any support?”
“No I think they can handle it entirely from within their own resources. Is there a particular reason that you asked Susan?”
“We are a little stretched thin here,” the London woman crossed her legs. “after the unpleasant surprise we found in Lily’s team I’m wary of taking on new recruits until we can be totally sure of our vetting procedures, and in the meantime we have an awful lot on our plate.”
“The plans that you’ve put into action have been highly successful Susan, I have to say that despite a couple of reservations regarding the use of brute force, that you’ve done a wonderful job.”
“Thank you Madame.”
“But I understand – so we need to discuss after,” she said as the door opened, and Charlotte came in with Francesca.
“Hannah will wait outside until she is called in,” Francesca said as she took a seat, and Penny joined the meeting.
“The room is secure,” Susan said quietly.
“Good – Hannah and I have completed our initial assessment, and we are ready to brief. How have other meetings gone?”
“Teacher and Liz met with the Admiral, and have agreed to share intel,” Shirley said. “So, what is your informed opinion Francesca?”
“Based on the intel we have, the man we shall call Dancer is indeed an active agent for Russian intelligence, and does appear to have been sent here to work on the election.”
“I’m sure,” Charlotte said, “and so is Mamma.”
“There’s more…” Francesca looked at her notes as she said “he’s not acting alone Shirley. If I’m reading this right then he’s one of several agents they have in place currently.”
“Testing public sentiment, floating ideas, seeing what works and what doesn’t.”
“It’s that vast an operation?” Penny said as she looked over.
“I think so…No in my guts I know so. This is all part of a huge campaign to discredit their perceived enemies and foes, and to promote the interests of those they see as being more amenable to seeing things their way.”
“And using cyber techniques – I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so sophisticated or directed.”
“So the obvious question…”
“I do not know,” Francesca said, “and I do not want to ask that question. I believe we have a clear objective, and I should not be distracted from it.”
“Is this a brave new world,” Penny asked.
“It’s different in so many ways to when we were young people learning all this Penelope,” Shirley paused to focus her thoughts. “Myself, Maddie, Francesca, Admiral Preminger, even slightly younger women like Agnes, we date back to a world in which the computer was not omnipresent in our lives. We go back to a time before there were security cameras everywhere, back to a day when you didn’t have this extraordinary surveillance that is the norm now.”
“There are ways round it Madame.”
“I know Penelope, and thankfully as an organization we have some extraordinary people to allow us to run countermeasures, but I do rather miss the days when your biggest fear when robbing a bank was that someone might recognise you, or that someone would turn rat.”
“Can I ask what has got you thinking about all this Madame?”
“Would you believe reading classic spy fiction, and watching old shows like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Game Set and Match, as I try and bring myself up to speed on how the Intelligence agencies think and work.”
“Actually I would believe it Madame.”
“I guess I’m just getting nostalgic for an era when it was all about people, and not about machines.” Sighing, Shirley said “bring Hannah in – time to get her impressions.”
“Alright Hannah,” Shirley asked as she looked at the young South African, “given that I hope you have no preconceptions and prejudices, what is your opinion?”
“From a purely legal viewpoint Madame? Because if you want that you’ll have to give me a couple of days because I’m not sure I know all the relevant US law.”
“No, for now I just want a straight out opinion is there something going on? Or are we merely getting frightened by shadows?”
“No I don’t think that Madame, the Russians are certainly engaged in some kind of very sophisticated misinformation campaign that is designed to undermine both certain political parties, and faith in the US institutions. From what I’ve seen that at least to me is very clear.”
“And is Kannenikov part of all this?” Penny asked.
“He’s a small part of it all I believe Penny.”
“If this all comes out can it be done in a way that doesn’t destroy his relationship with Helen? She thinks the world of him, and speaking totally personally I will do everything I can to protect Helen.”
“I know that’s important,” Shirley mumbled softly.
“All that isn’t in my remit Penny,” the South African girl looked a little nervous. “All I was asked to do by Francesca was to look at the evidence and give an opinion on a broad question. Personal, and operational matters, are not my business.”
“I know, and I appreciate your candour,” Penny said. “I just want us to be sensitive to all this.”
“And we will be,” Shirley said quietly. “All right – let’s formulate a plan.”
“First things first – given the nature of what we are investigating, I want to keep ‘our’ use of computers to a minimum Shirley.”
Putting her pen down, Shirley said “in this modern day and age that won’t be easy Francesca.”
“I know, but even with the Hidden Hand on our side protecting our security, so much of what I think we are investigating is to do with manipulating computers that I will feel safer if we do this the old fashioned way with paper files kept under ultra secure lock and key.”
“And where do you see this all being based?”
“I have asked Carlotta to ask Dominique if she can find us a suitable space.”
“Alright, I’m sure that Dominique will find something.”
“The next big question Shirley is finding the staff this project will need. Also the finance, it will not be cheap.”
“I’m willing to use some of my personal fortune,” Francesca interrupted.
“No, we will finance this totally through the organization.”
“Thank you Shirley.”
“Now if we can return to staff, just who and what are you looking for?”
“Some Russian speakers obviously, but not Helen, she’s too intimately involved with our prime target to be of use to me.”
“That I agree with you upon. I will consult with Natalya and others, and get back to you.”
Annaplois – Eleanor Ball’s home
“Ed we need to talk?” Eleanor said as she gave her guest a coffee while they awaited the arrival of Leroy and Veronica for their weekly bridge night.
“About what Eleanor?”
“Whatever is going on that has you using me to talk to some of my friends and contacts, but then keeping me out of the loop. Why won’t you tell me what is going on Ed? Aren’t I deemed trustworthy enough to be included? Or am I actually one of the targets of suspicion?”
“No you aren’t under suspicion Eleanor. I promise you that.”
“Well Thank God,” Eleanor said quietly, “I was starting to get worried.”
“The problem is we can’t as yet prove if anything really is happening. All we have are suspicions and vague rumors, and I want to keep this as compartmentalized as I can in case it does turn out to be absolutely nothing.”
“Ed I was once told that in ‘our world’ most everything starts out as just a whispered rumor and a suspicion. I spent half my career chasing down those tiny hints of trouble and I know they often don’t pan out. I do know how this works.”
“I know, but this is different – if I need your help, I will ask, but for now, trust me – best you are out of this.”
NuBlu Classic, Avenue C, Alphabet City
“Here we go,” Marina said as the cab pulled up to the sidewalk, “The perfect place for a night out.”
“So what are the plusses? And what are the minuses on this place Marina?” Lily asked as the five women got out of the cab. Marina and Tracy were wearing leather jackets and trousers with t-shirts underneath, Lily, Frances and Louise in short sleeved tops, mini-skirts and heels.
“The plusses are easy, a plentiful supply of single men.” As Marina paid the cab, she continued “the downside of that abundance though is that most of them either work on Wall Street, or in places like the law firms that make their livings from advising the Wall Street guys.”
“Crap,” Louise shook her head, “I know the type, we get similar guys in LA except there they bore you talking about their jobs in the entertainment business, and how great they are at their jobs…”
“And how much money they are making,” Frances shook her head as she interrupted.
“You know the type,” Marina laughed as they headed towards the club entrance. “oh and one warning girls, when James arrives hands off please…He’s mine.”
“Good evening Miss Sowkowski,” the doorman said as he opened the ropes to let the group through.
“Alright you get in just like that Rina?” Tracy whispered in her old friend’s ear.
“It’s a perk of being ‘someone’ in the fashion media Trace,” Marina laughed again. “It’s amazing the doors that open up because people know I work for Anna at CS.”
“This place isn’t bad Marina,” Lily looked round slowly, her eyes getting used to the flashing lighting, her ears adjusting to the pounding music, while she also surveyed the other patrons, “do you come here often?”
“Occasionally,” Marina shouted to be heard, “it was Janine and Alexis who introduced me to this place.”
“I like it,” Tracy said as she caught a tall black man looking her up and down. “Nice people too…”
“Well after the weekend you all had,” Marina said with a smile, “I rather figured that you would want to let your hair down.”
“You are right there,” Frances checked out a couple of guys checking her out. “If we can fight our way to the bar ladies the first round of drinks is on me.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Louise looked like she was already having fun. “Which way?”
“Forward,” Marina said as they made their way across the floor.
“Hey bud,” Frances called out, “five Manhattans…”
“Not your usual tipple Marina?”
“No – but I go with the flow when with my friends. Girls, meet Dr James Razmov - for his sins he teaches at New York University.” Marina made the introduction, and then let him kiss her on the cheek.
“Now I can definitely see what you see in him Rina,” Tracy whispered to herself as the thin man with the slightly unruly blonde hair shook hands.
“So where did you guys meet?” Frances asked.
“At Shirley Xavier’s New Year’s Eve party,” James answered, “some colleagues of mine from NYU introduced us…”
“And he started talking to me in Ukrainian just to confuse them all,” Marina smiled at the memory.
“By the way James,” Marina said with a smile, “the girls all work for Shirley in London.”
“Really? That must be an interesting way to earn a living?”
“It’s not bad,” Louise smiled as she sipped her drink.
“So can I be buying you all drinks?”
“We only just go these,” Lily indicated her glass, “but you can buy the next load.”
“Deal – come on, let’s find a table to sit at…”
Half an hour later, the girls were with James on the dance floor.
“I think there are a lot of guys in this place currently envying me a whole lot,” James yelled in Marina’s ear, “dancing with five gorgeous women all on my own.”
“As long as you remember you are with me,” Marina said as she moved her hips to the music.
James smiled as he said “Now why would I even look at anyone else?”
“I think some of these guys must be basketball players Lily,” Louise said as she danced with her boss.
“And what brings you to that conclusion Lou?”
“When you are as tall as I am, wearing 4” heels, and yet are still looking upwards at men that’s usually a fair indicator.”
“Okay I’ll give you that,” Lily laughed.
“You know there’s a guy over there he’s been checking you out since we arrived?”
“Is there? I hadn’t noticed”
“Okay I had seen, I’ve tried smiling at him, he is sort of cute in a buttoned down, lawyer looking, way.”
“So what are you going to do about it?’
“This,” Lily said as she walked with Louise towards the young man standing at the bar.
“Hi I’m Steve Chernak,” the fair haired man said as he looked at her, “would you like a drink?”
“Please, I’m Lily Harmon.” As she spoke, she waved Louise away, the Californian smiling as she walked to join the others.
“With an accent like that” Steve said as he signalled to the barman, “you aren’t local.”
“No I’m from North West England.”
“Do you work in New York?”
“A little,” Lily said as she accepted the glass, “I work in management for Xavier International and occasionally get to work out of the New York office.”
“That’s an impressive company, so are you working here now?”
“No the girls I’m with, most of them work in my department, we were over for a training course. Now it’s over, we can let our hair down.”
“Well, you look like you are all having fun.”
“Oh we are… So what do you do to earn an honest crust Steve?”
“I work for the DA’s office here in Manhattan.”
“You are a lawyer?”
“Yeah I’m an assistant prosecutor in the organized crime division, and believe me that sounds a whole lot more glamorous then it actually is in real life.”
“Oh I don’t know – it can be very interesting…”
“It’s busy in here tonight,” Janine said as she and Caroline walked in, followed by Dan and Henri. The two girls were wearing leather jackets over white blouses and jeans, while the men wore sports shirts.
“I’ll see if I can find us all a table back there somewhere,” Dan pointed, “away from the dance floor so we can at least hear ourselves think.”
“It might be an idea,” Henri smiled.
“Honestly you two are becoming stick-in-the muds,” Caroline laughed, “the hottest club in the city, two beautiful women as your dates, and your first thoughts are finding somewhere quiet to sit?”
“Indeed,” Dan said as they crossed the floor.
“They are getting old Caroline,” Janine laughed as she checked the room out.
“I know, we may need find ourselves some new guys Janine,” the tall Englishwoman laughed as well.
“Plenty of beautiful women here as well who might just find Henri and me a pleasant change from all these Wall Street types,” Dan said as he returned and joined the laughter as well.
“This is very true,” Henri said as he caught a redheaded girl looking at him.
“Changing the subject,” Janine said as she stared daggers at the redhead, “is that Marina over there with James and some other people?”
“Over there Caroline darling,” Dan said as he pointed.
“You know it is, that’s Lily and some of the girls from Xavier's Shirley has had over doing a training course.”
“Shall we go and say hello?”
“Go on – maybe they have room,” Caroline said as they walked over, Marina looking up and saying “Hey Janine - you had the same idea as us?”
“Looks like it – so who is here?”
“Alright I guess I better do the introductions,” Marina grinned, “though I think most of you know each other already.”
“Pretty much.” Tracy said as she exchanged a glance with Dominique.
“For those of you who don’t.” Marina took a breath, “this is Dan Amatrescu and Caroline Jameson. Janine Holden and Henri Marais. Guys this is Lily, Tracy, Louise, and Frances, all of whom work for Xavier’s in London.”
“Before she forgets me, you’ll probably remember I’m James Razmov,” the academic grinned as well, “just occasionally she forgets who I am.”
“Do not,” Marina gave him a gig in the ribs. “Guys you better introduce yourselves.”
“I’m Steve Chernak,” the lawyer shook hands.
“I’m Remma Cooper, and this is Troy Henderson,” the two basketball players shook hands as well.
“And you both play for the Knicks,” Dan looked impressed.
“I feel like a damn wallflower,” Frances laughed, “I’m still the only one flying solo tonight.”
“Hey – want to dance?”
“On the other hand,” Frances said as she was taken onto the dance floor by a tall dark haired man, Marina shaking her head as she said “grab a seat…”
Tuesday 13th September
“So how is life now the twins are here,” Charlotte said as she sat in the main room.
“Well, they spend the day with Orlagh and Jennifer, so I can at least get some work done,” Caroline said as she handed her friend a mug of coffee, and sat down. “So the place is quiet – for now. Anyway – what can I do for you?”
“Okay,” Caroline said as she picked up a pad and pen, “Mama has some requests Dom, she’s hoping that we can fulfill them.”
“And what are they?”
“That at least for the duration of this affair that we can set up a New York headquarters for the intelligence operation that is totally safe and secure.”
“That makes sense.”
“She wants it walled off totally from the regular work of the New York office and staffed by mission dedicated only personnel.”
Caroline whistled as she wrote that down. “Given that we are stretched pretty thin currently Charlotte that might be hard.”
“I know, but my mother wants this to work perfectly.”
“Knowing Francesca that I understand.”
“So do we have the space, or even better an unused building, that we can put all the people working on this into.”
“I’ll look,” Caroline took a deep breath. “When does she want all this?”
“We can maybe do most hard tasks, but even we need a little time to set up this sort of thing.”
“I know Dom, but if you can do your very best.”
“I’ll try. It may be Sandy can offer some help with the building…”
“That’s what I told Mama you’d say.”
“By the way didn’t we lay down some rules regarding you and field work while you are pregnant?”
“You did,” Charlotte laughed, “and as tempted as I’ll be to join the action, I’ve promised Piet and Mama that I’ll be strictly flying a desk.”
“So why does Piet think you are in New York?”
“He thinks I’m here working on our latest IT expansion, which is at least in part true.”
“That she’s here giving the US government some outside advice ahead of the next round of Trade Law negotiations.”
“And I presume that is also true?”
“It is. It just isn’t going to be what she will be devoting most of her time to.”
“Understood. I imagine that Hannah will be picking up on that.”
“In part – and how did you hear… No, scratch that,” Charlotte laughed as she saw the look on Caroline’s face. “Peri will be running the London office on her own…”
“Has no one thought of the trouble Peri might get herself into on her own?” Caroline laughed as she interrupted.
“We have,” Charlotte laughed in return, “Sigi is spending two days a week there as well…”
The Richmond Mansion
“Hello Nessa, and what brings you to our humble home on a Tuesday morning?” Heather asked as she put her car keys in the bowl by the door.
Nessa stopped as she walked across the hallway, wearing a Versace trouser suit and a cream camisole. “My daughter it seems wants to ask my opinion on a matter of business, but she was rather vague on the phone. Do you have any ideas what is going on Heather?”
“Well I suppose we both need to wait till she returns then? Can I offer you a coffee Heather?”
“Please Nessa…and she’s not here?”
“She left me a note saying make myself at home and that she’d be here soon. “
“This starts to get mysterious,” Heather took her mug of coffee and sat on a stool. “Any idea where she is?”
“None,” Nessa said as she poured another mug of coffee, and looked to the door. “There you are – what’s the problem Sandy?”
“Sorry about the short notice,” Sandy said as she took her jacket off and put it over the back of a stool at the breakfast bar, “any chance of some of that coffee Mother.”
As Nessa poured some into a mug and handed it over, she said “so – your question?”
“Put basically Mother,” Sandy said as she took a drink, “some friends of ours acting in concert with, shall I call them certain mysterious branches of our US government, need a very anonymous building as an operational base. I was approached this morning to see if the Trust might be able to help.”
“Darling,” Nessa said quietly, “I don’t think we have anything at all.”
“Actually Mom we do.”
“We do? Where?” Nessa thought for a moment, and then looked at her daughter. “Oh… Surely Alexandra darling you aren’t thinking of the old office building on East 14th?”
“Why not? Grandfather operated the Trust out of that building quite happily for years.”
“But it’s been ages since it has been occupied, and you know the only reason we can’t sell it is because it’s a listed building, and we aren’t allowed to convert it into residential units.”
“For the purpose of our friends I think that might make it perfect.”
“I guess so – all right, let them have the keys, but on their own head be it…”
“That was Sandy,” Shirley said as she put the telephone down, “we have a base of operations offer. Caroline is going round to see her and Nessa, and she will text you the address to meet her at later.”
“Sounds good – I have a flight booked tonight to go to Washington and visit Ed, and I’m inviting Eleanor to meet me there,” Francesca said as she brushed some lint from her knee, “it’s time we read her in properly.”
“Agreed – so what else have you to ask of me,” Shirley said as she sat back.
“I want one of their people to ‘talk’ to Shirley. I need to confirm in my own mind that my suspicions are true, and I know that you can operate in an extra-legal manner that Admiral Preminger and his people can’t do.”
“Alright Francesca, who do you have in mind? And where in the States are they to be found?”
“The guy’s name is Yuri Yeltsin…He’s no relation,” Francesca laughed, “but according to Heather he is probably the man who trained most of their operatives.”
“Have we got to go into Russia to get him?”
“Not according to an old friend of mine in Rome, he’s going to be at a conference in London for the next four days. I’m hoping you may know someone can do the job quietly and efficiently, and then get him to us here in New York with the minimum of fuss.”
“Do I know them?”
“One of them – I believe you met in Marseilles. Let me place a call and I will let you know. Anything else?”
"Yes. Even from the bare bones Shirley I can tell you one specialist who we definitely need to find and bring on board."
Francesca said as she rubbed her eyes, “so much of this seems to relate to
Russian organized crime that it’s painfully obvious we need someone who knows
as much about them as possible."
I might just know someone Francesca?" Shirley paused for thought for a
couple of seconds.
"I do. As
Head of Criminal Intelligence for the United States Coast Guard she is an
expert on the Russian mob, and as you know she's also a sister."
"Can we get her to New York to talk?"
“She’s based a bit up the coast, but a call to Eleanor and we can have her.” Shirley watched as Francesca checked her phone.
“I have the address – if you will excuse me?”
E 14th Street
“Impressive,” Caroline said as she unlocked the doors, and the two blondes walked in, “but needs cleaning up.”
“You think? Can we talk as we walk?”
“I think it’s important we pin a tail on Kannenikov Dominique,” Francesca sniffed the musty air as they climbed the first flight of stairs in the old building.
“What kind of tail? Watching from a distance? Or trying to put someone close to him?”
“Ideally I’d like someone very close, but I’d settle for eyes on telling us just who he meets.”
“He’s a professional, it’s not going to be easy,” Dom said as she opened the office door, and looked round, “as long as he’s been at this then he has eyes in the back of his head.”
“I know,” Francesca paused, “how quickly and how quietly can this place be refurbished and the various things we discussed installed?’
“If we pay enough bonus cash to the right people then maybe we can have it at least partially up and ready by next week sometime.”
“Caroline I want this fully operational by Monday…Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes Admiral,” Dominique shook her head, it was a rare occasion when she was given direct orders like that, and rarer still in such an authoritative tone, but that inner voice told her that Francesca not only had the right, but had earned the privilege to act like this.
“Now, the tail?”
“Ideally we’d brief Helen, but as everyone is saying, she’s too involved, it’s too personal.”
“I agree,” Francesca wiped some thick dust off a mantle, “so can you assemble me a team of watchers please?”
“I think I can,” Caroline smiled, “this time she noticed the please.”
“Good…So what do you think Dominique? Can we make this place into an efficient intelligence headquarters?”
“Oh we’re going to do more than that – Shirley wants us to open a branch office...”
The de Ros Mansion
“What are you thinking Shirley - you like your brain is a million miles away.”
“Sorry Ju,” the auburn haired Englishwoman said as she shook her head, “what I was thinking about was just exactly how good at all this Francesca actually is.”
“Meaning what?” Diana asked as they sat drinking coffee.
“That I’m glad no police force ever put her on my trail, I’m not sure that as good as my people are we could have stopped her from unmasking and capturing us.”
“Yes I’d got that impression,” Juliette said, “I’m rather glad that she’s on our side.”
“I think La Citadella missed something when they put her into black ops, logically she should have been on a career path that led her eventually to become at least Chief of Operations, and probably their Director General.”
“She really is that good Shirley Cherie?”
“Yes she is Diana.”
“So why have you asked for a Pussycat meeting Aunt Shirley?” Carina’s voice came out of one of the computers.
“Because I want to beg, steal, and borrow some of you to supplement my people till this is all over.”
“Shirley we all have real lives to lead.” Janice spoke.
“And for those of us in the business, fashion week and all its joys are upon us,” Abigail added.
“Or in other words how much help can we be?” Sandy asked.
“Well I may have need of Annie and Carina’s skills as interrogators.”
“Tell you when I find out – but that, and Heather’s help, are the key things. I don’t want to know what else you may have planned, but that is enough for now.”
“I’m sure Annie will be glad to help – when will you know?”
is the cover for the new building to be Madame?" Lily asked.
it's going to be the new headquarters for Caroline's company,” Shirley said, “and
it will continue in that role once we wrap up our intelligence operation."
Caroline happy here?" Lily looked round.
happy," the tall blonde spoke, "but it is perhaps time my people
operated out of their own premises."
the expansion of New York operations that I have planned, we will quickly find
use for the vacated space." Susan added.
Richmond Trust is leasing me the building..."
"And being that Dom is in the security business it will look perfectly normal that the equipment that we are putting in is being installed." Penny finished what her friend started saying.
“I want the team selected to meet at nine tomorrow morning,” Shirley said, “send the word…”
“Where is Francesca?”
“Heading to the airport…”
“Captain,” the officer at the reception desk said as he saluted the two new arrivals, “how can I help you?”
“Captain Eleanor Ball and Admiral the Marchesa Francesca di Cambrella, to see Admiral Preminger,” Eleanor said as she returned the salute, wearing her full dress uniform, while Eleanor was in a grey jacket and skirt with a white blouse.
The officer checked their identity cards, and then dialled a number. “His aide de camp will be with you shortly,” he said, as Eleanor and Francesca took a seat.
“Thank you for joining me Eleanor,” Francesca whispered as Eleanor looked round.
“So do I get to know what’s really going on?”
“Captain, Admiral – follow me please.”
“Of course, Lieutenant,” Eleanor said as they followed the uniformed officer past the desk, and down some corridors before they entered an office, waiting as he knocked on the door.
“Captain Ball and the Marchesa di Cambrello, Admiral.”
“Thank you Lieutenant,” Ed said as they walked in, “close the door behind you.”
“Alright what can you tell us Francesca?” Ed Preminger gestured for his two guests to sit down. “I can’t think that you’ve flown down from New York for an out of office hours meeting on a Tuesday evening without it meaning you have something important to impart.”
“I do,” Francesca nodded, “and do I have your permission to bring Eleanor in on all this now?”
Ed nodded as Francesca said “Let me start with the party…”
“Basically while direction is being set from Moscow Central…”
“Do we still use that term Francesca?” Eleanor smiled, “didn’t the spy novelists use it to death?”
“They did, but it’s still a convenient shorthand,” the Italian smiled. “But as I was saying they are directing it, most of the work is being run out of St Petersburg.”
“Which of course was ‘his’ former power base,” Ed observed quietly.
“I thought we’d agreed it was Ed?”
“Sorry,” Francesca said with a smile, “it’s habit when I’m doing briefings like this.”
“Alright so St Petersburg you say Francesca?” Eleanor spoke.
“According to my daughter, and ‘other’ computer experts who I’ve been briefed by, they have set up what is described as a ‘troll farm’ to both hack computers and to plant false information and propaganda.”
“That tallies with what I’m hearing as well.” Ed nodded.
“So we’re setting up the op, making arrangements – we’ll keep you informed of what we find, so long as you forget to ask how we got it sometimes.”
“I don’t want to know.”
“No,” Eleanor said quietly, “you probably don’t…”
“Tired Mama?” Charlotte looked concerned as her mother slumped into the armchair in the sitting room of their suite.
“Yes,” the tall Italian said as she eased her high-heeled shoes gently off, “but still I think I’ve managed to accomplish a lot today.”
“Could you do with a drink?” Charlotte said as she stood and walked towards the small bar.
“A reasonably large whiskey…straight please.”
“Did anyone ever tell you that you are a sadist Mama? You know very well I’m confined to soft drinks.”
“I know Carlotta darling,” Francesca took a sip, “but I can assure you that when you hold your child for the first time then you’ll think it’s been well worth the self-denial.”
“So did you phone Piet?”
“I did, he said he’s missing us both, but he is at least getting time to do the extra research on his migrant smuggling story.”
“Well that at least is a small beenfit.”
“Mama,” Charlotte said as she sat down, “I have a question for you.”
“That sounds serious Carlotta darling,” Francesca said as she put down her glass and sat forward.
“You and Dad dated for nearly a year. Then it was another year before I came along. How the hell did you keep the fact that you were doing all this kind of stuff totally secret from him? Do you think he ever suspected?”
“I could turn that question about dear daughter and ask how you keep your work with the sisters, and with Madame X, secret from Piet?”
“You could, but since I asked first then you have to answer first.”
“Alright,” Francesca played with her glasses. “I guess it was my talents for compartmentalizing my life, and a rigid self discipline making me ensure the two sides of my life didn’t mix.”
“Did you ever slip up?”
“Well obviously I must have darling. John Vosloo found things he shouldn’t have in my cabinet, and then caught me paying off my lead agent. I got sloppy.”
“You got pregnant Mama, from what I’m reading and learning it’s hard to be totally on top of our lives while we are pregnant.”
“I guess that’s true,” Francesca chewed on the stem of her glasses as she thought about that idea.
“Other than when all that happened, did you slip up though?”
“I guess that’s what I’m getting at ja.”
“I thought a couple of times I might have. He caught me on the phone at least twice making calls that could have aroused suspicion.”
“I’ve had similar things happen. You need be able to just pretend it was something completely ordinary.”
“Get some sleep Carlotta – much to do tomorrow as well…”
Wednesday 14th September
The quiet hum in the room dropped off as Francesca came in, closing the door behind herself.
“Alright ladies,” she said as she looked round the table, “I think most of you know who I am, but for those of you who don’t, my name is Francesca di Cambrello and I’m a former Admiral in the Italian navy who retired recently after a career in various aspects of Intelligence work.”
There was a mumbled series of responses.
“We are gathered here because this organization, and myself personally, have been asked by a very senior figure in the US intelligence establishment to advise them what we can discover and reveal about certain covert operations being indulged in by a foreign power, designed to influence, and undermine, the current US election process.”
“With the best will in the world Admiral,” one of the women said, “why ask us?”
“Because Madame X’s organization based as it is in what I will describe as many highly lucrative, if illegal, activities, has access to resources and operatives that can work outside the norms of normal intelligence activities, and which can generate results much quicker than those produced by conventional methods.”
“Or in other words since we already routinely break the law, then we have no problems continuing to do so.” Dominique drew some small smiles and some laughter from the assembled group.
“As Caroline quite rightly said our mission is to discover exactly what is going on, and deliver our findings to the relevant authorities.”
“You mean we are helping just the sort of people who want to catch and punish us?” one of Caroline’s security staffers asked.
“I know it’s an off the wall idea,” Francesca laughed, “but essentially yes, to fight a larger evil, devils deals have been made.”
“So how are we going to make this work Admiral?” Illyana asked.
“By setting up from scratch what will in effect be a miniature intelligence service, complete with all the various kinds of operatives found in any national spying organization.”
“We can actually do that?” someone asked.
“With the personnel we can draw on, and the financial backing of Madame X, then yes we can.” Francesca looked from face to face. “We have a bas secured, under cover of a new office for Jameson Security, and George is there now overseeing the workers doing the refit. We move there Monday.”
“In the meantime,” Dom said, “brush up on your Russian and surveillance techniques. Some of you were involved in the Walrus operation – tell the others what was involved.”
The telephone rang, and as Caroline answered she said “Yes?
“Thank you – show our visitor to my office. Francesca and I will join you shortly.”
“Well – yours actually. You have your instructions ladies – Charlotte will provide more details when we leave.”
As the two women left, Charlotte said “listen up…”
“Would you bring coffee for all three of us, Sandra,” Caroline said as she entered her office, Francesca smiling as she said “you made it.”
“Xavier International, Francesca,” the visitor said as she stood and hugged Francesca. She was wearing a blue trouser suit and white blouse, Francesca in a long sleeved dress and Caroline in a black leather skirt and white jumper.
“I’m on the board of directors as their Legal Officer.”
“Will you introduce me,” Caroline said as the coffee was brought in.
"Alright Caroline this is Kay Cornwall, Kay this is..."
"Caroline Jameson," the smaller woman smiled as she shook the tall blonde’s hand, "I've seen her pictures everywhere it seems this past year."
seated. Francesca tells me you are a
civil servant in London Mrs Cornwall?"
"I am, and please call me Kay."
"Alright Kay it is. How do you take your coffee?"
"Black. Can I grab a picture of us together before we finish in a bit, both my husband and my sons are never going to believe that I met you otherwise?"
"Sure," Caroline smiled.
we've got the preliminaries out of the way," Francesca smiled, "Kay
you do know that Caroline, on top of her modelling work, is a top expert in the
that," the raven haired woman sipped her tea.
also assisting me on the matter I spoke to you about on the phone."
rather assumed that she might be by her presence."
Francesca said, “without us resorting to doing formal security checks, let me
just say that Caroline has my complete trust and confidence in this work we are
nice to know. So why did you want to
meet for a coffee, Francesca?"
"Cutting to the chase Kay,” Francesca said quietly, “I want you to please bend the Departments rules, and of course without compromising SIS classified information, answer some questions we might help.”
"And maybe steer us in the direction we should be looking?" Caroline added.
Looking round, Kay said quietly “Is this room secure?”
“More secure than your offices I suspect.”
"Good, thank you," Caroline smiled, "and to sweeten the pot I've arranged front row seats for you and Francesca for a couple of shows I’m walking."
“Now that is an idea – thank you. But do you really believe they are trying this here? What’s your basis?”
“I hope to find out in the next forty eight hours…”
“Alright let me paint a broad picture of what has been going on,” Kay Cornwall paused, “since the fall of the Soviet Union Russia for better or worse has turned into a quasi-capitalist economy. The problem though is that the political institutions, and democratic structures, that to some extent rein in the power of the rich in other parts of the world, have not been put into place.”
“Isn’t all that common knowledge Kay?” Caroline asked.
“To the people who pay attention? Then yes. However a lot of people haven’t been looking closely and don’t understand.”
“Reduced to basics, the richer you are in Russia the more power you have, and to maintain that power the so-called oligarchs, and their allies who head up Russian organized crime, are in a continuous fight to become both wealthier, and to enjoy more political power.” Francesca smiled. “What it is, simply put, is blatant corruption on a scale that even Italians such as myself can’t imagine.”
“It’s no coincidence that the man we believe is the richest, and most corrupt, governs the country with an iron fist, squashing his opponents by stripping them of their fortunes, and rewarding his allies with more and more goodies.”
“I’ve worked in Russia, and Kay, without saying who they are, I have contacts in the Russian underworld, however that is a far bleaker picture then even the one I had,” Caroline shook her head.
“It’s true though Caroline, it’s also true though that to protect and launder their ill-gotten gains, many rich Russians have been laundering their cash in the West. I think you’d be shocked if you knew just some of the banks and people we think at The Department have been complicit in all this.”
“Alright accepting that, we’ve been asked to investigate covert political actions, not financial crimes.”
“It’s part of the leverage they are using Caroline,” Francesca smiled. “Just think how easy it is to manipulate people who owe you money, or who you have evidence of wrongdoing that their own countries legal systems would take a dim view of?”
“Then put yourself in the traditional Russian mind-set that fears invasion, and domination by foreigners, and a historically active policy to confront their actual, and potential, enemies, and you have people at least thinking about how can we undermine the strength of our opponents,” Kay sighed.
“Add in that they now have a very sophisticated knowledge of both the technology that pervades our lives, and how to use that technology to influence peoples thinking, and you get to where I think we are in the world today.” Francesca sat back in her chair.
“So the building will meet our needs?”
“It should do,” Francesca said as she sat opposite Shirley in her office, “and we should be fully up and running by Monday.”
“Excellent – any other progress?”
“Okay Shirley - I can give you an idea of the rough organizational and command structure that I’ve worked out, though there are still slots to be filled.”
“Hannah will function as my chief of staff, managing the flow of information and people I see. I trust her and her judgment implicitly, so it’s logical she does that job.”
“I agree.” Shirley glanced down at the document that Francesca had given her.
“Caroline with all her skills will make an excellent Head of Operations, overseeing most of our work outside the building.”
“She does have a lot of relevant experience.”
“Given the need to protect Heather’s identity as the Hidden Hand we can’t have her compromised by having her on site, so my daughter will do the job as Head of Electronic Intelligence gathering.”
Nodding, Shirley smiled as she said “Charlotte brings amazing skills of her own to that post you know?”
“I do,” Francesca smiled in return.
“What made you chose Eleanor to supervise the actual offices and the analysts?”
“She’s done similar jobs in the past, and though she’s not a direct expert on Russian Affairs I’m very confident that she will soon get up to speed. In addition, I know she is meeting a local expert who has been – loaned out to us for this project.”
“Agreed,” Madame nodded, “I’m amazed you’ve been able to put this together so quickly.”
“Well there are still huge gaps to fill, but now we have heads of department appointed they can take over most of the responsibility for staffing their own various shops.”
“So what is your next move Francesca?”
“I’ve called a heads meeting in 25 minutes time. Now I have your permission to proceed I’m going to start laying down the operational guidelines I expect people to work within.”
“Sounds good – keep me informed.”
“Of course,” Francesca said as Shirley stood up. “Lunch appointment?”
“I need to meet Alex with John – and then confirm Maisha has arrived safely.”
“Where has she gone?”
“To walk the walk…”
5 pm Local Time
The Training Camp of the Sisters of Maisha
The South Africa/Botswana border
The group of women looked round as they stood in the dirt yard, unsure about what was going to happen. The oldest was in her early fifties, the youngest sixteen, and they had come from all continents and nations. In total there was around twenty, each with a rucksack next to them.
“I’m Anouska,” one woman in her early thirties said to the dark skinned girl standing next to her. “You are?”
“Blessing – I guess you are from Eastern Europe?”
“The Ukraine – what brings you here?”
“To learn to fight those who oppose us – you?”
“The same,” Blessing said as she looked over. “Someone is coming?”
The group turned and watched as three women walked over. One was tall, blonde, the second a smaller and older African woman, and the third a one-legged dark skinned woman.
“Welcome, sisters,” the blonde said as the trio stopped in front of them, “welcome to our training camp. I am Teacher, and I am in charge of this facility, and your training. I have with me two of the instructors – this,” she said as she turned to the smaller woman, “is Little Teacher, and during your training she is here to act as your counsellor and confidant.
“This other woman is our cook and one of our small arms instructors – we know her as Poison, but do not let that put you off. The food here is edible, and you will be glad of it.”
As the women looked round, Teacher said “you are here to train with us, and learn from us as well as each other, to see if you are worthy of joining our Sisterhood. All of those who teach you, and the others who are here, do this to ensure that justice is served for those who seek to oppress those who cannot fight back, and we do this in the name of the Heart and the Strength, who were the ones who freed the first of us from their bondage.
“In their name, I welcome you, and I ask you in their name to swear that you will do all that you are asked to do, and support each other. Will you do this?”
“For the Heart and the Strength,” the group replied, Blessing nodding as she stood with Anouska.
“Good – tonight, you may prepare your sleeping area, and then join us for a meal and the evening talks. From tomorrow, you will be assigned to work rotas and training times – work hard, learn well. Little Teacher?”
“Follow me,” Marigold said as they picked up their rucksacks and followed her, Helga and Sunshine watching.
“It was her choice – and now she begins the training…”
The Modern, MOMA
“If Francesca is going to be staying in New York for an extended period then we need sort out a few things to entertain her,” Rachel McNally said as she took a dainty bite from her food.
“What you mean is that we need to find her a man so that no one’s husband develops wandering eyes towards a woman who isn’t just exceedingly beautiful, but also hugely rich.” Pussy commented.
“You are starting to understand how the game works Pattycake,” Liz smiled at her sister.
Pussy looked over at Paulie with exasperation as she shouted “MOTHER!”
“I know darling,” Paulie shook her head, “aren’t you really too old to be teasing and annoying your sister like that Liz?”
“Why break a lifetime habit?” Tonia laughed.
“Puss you know I only do it to get a reaction,” Liz laughed, “you really are too easy.”
“If we can get back to what Rachel was saying though,” Kelly mused as she sipped her wine, “I for one am just a trifle insecure when I compare myself to the Marchesa.”
“What about her plastic surgeon friend?” Juliette asked.
“Definitely just a friend I hear.”
“Well scratch him then Kel.”
“We need get her to join our lunch group,” Janice remarked, “then at least we can get to know her.”
“And keep an eye on her as well,” Gale Callaghan smiled a trifle wickedly.
“Darlings remember she’s hear to advise on internationally important changes to trade law,” Diana sipped her drink, “she might just be too busy to have a social life?”
“It’s never a time when it is too busy to lunch – we just need to find the right incentive…”
“V – thanks for meeting me,” Eleanor said as Veronica came into the diner. “I’ve ordered you some lunch.”
“Alright Eleanor,” Veronica said as she sat on the stool, “why have I been told that orders have come down from on high temporarily transferring me to Homeland Security, and that said orders are the work of Ed Preminger?”
“Because something is going on Commander that requires your particular expertise.”
“Okay you only use my rank when it’s official business Eleanor…Do you care to spill the beans please?”
“I know you noticed Ed doing a rare public appearance at Shirley’s apartment in New York…”
“And his having long chats with both Francesca and Janice…Yes I did. Does this all relate to that?”
“It does indeed.”
“Why didn’t you tell me something was going on?”
“Because until last night even I wasn’t included in on the secrets.”
“Oh,” Veronica said as she swallowed some of her sandwich, “is that what has been driving you crazy?”
“Yes,” Eleanor laughed. “I hate knowing something is going on and being kept outside the loop.”
“So what did you learn last night?”
“That Ed has unofficially commissioned a non-official group to do some work and research on his and our nations behalf.”
“Oh?” Veronica was suddenly alert. “Which unofficial group? And which people?”
“Francesca di Cambrello is basically running the thing, and the personnel she’s drawing in come in part from the Sisters, but also from other, shall I say perhaps not totally legal, groupings.”
“So I’m being unofficially seconded to work with these people? Why?”
“Because they need an expert in the workings of Russian organized crime, and that is one of your fields of expertise.”
“Okay,” Veronica took a moment to think. “Where will I be working, and who will I be reporting to?”
“Jameson Security are opening new offices in New York City, their operation will serve as a front for what we are doing. I’m going to act as Head of Personnel.”
“That I will be supervising most of the on site staff, and in particular the analysts like yourself who will be taking the raw intelligence and hopefully telling just what it all means, then producing recommendations for future action.”
“I see,” Veronica took a deep breath, “it sounds for all the world like a miniature complete intelligence department.”
“A little,” Eleanor smiled, “but a totally unofficial one.”
“Of course,” Veronica laughed. “So when do we start?”
“Unofficially? We should have the offices ready Monday, but in the meantime, here’s what we need…”
The Richmond Mansion
“Alright time to let the games begin,” Heather laughed as she opened up her computer, put her coffee on the table, and smiled broadly.
“I know that look,” Sandy groaned, “how much trouble are you about to get yourself into Lover?”
“Who says I’m going to get into trouble?”
“I do,” Sandy rolled her eyes when Heather opened a case and started to put several electronic devices on the table, “especially when I see you bringing out some of your toys like those.”
“I just want to do some common or garden hacking darling…in the Russian delegation to the United Nation’s computers.”
“Calm down Lover, it’s not like I haven’t been in there many times before.”
“I know you’ve done this before, what worries me is that this time they will catch you.”
“Well in the remote chance they do see my presence, this device,” Heather pointed, “will make them think that their intruder is in FSB headquarters in Moscow…that should confuse them. Anyway I won’t be there long I simply want to download their personnel files.”
“Should I ask why?”
“Francesca wants to know who and who isn’t likely an agent. I suspect tomorrow she’ll ask for the same information from the consulate.”
“You know this could all create a monster diplomatic incident?”
“Only if I get caught,” Heather grinned as she started turning things on. “Oh -by the way, Doc is calling in on her way home. I’ll talk to her, the get her on her way…”
7 pm BST
The Hilton London Metropole
Yuri Yeltsin walked into the hotel bar, looking round before he walked to the counter and signalled to the barman.
“Whisky Sour,” he said as he looked round, seeing two women sitting along the bar. They were both slim, one with long red-brown hair, the second with shorter dark hair. Both were wearing tight leather trousers, the redhead with a black silk blouse open to her chest, the second a blue mohair jumper, and both had on black ankle boots.
The grey haired man paid the barman and sat quietly sipping his drink as he kept glancing to the side. He could see them looking at him as well, and it had been a long day. He did not particularly like attending these conferences, but he went where he was called to go to…
Yuri turned his head to see the redhead sitting next to him. “Here on your own,” she said with a smile as she played with her empty glass.
“In a way – I’m attending a conference here,” Yuri said with a smile. “You?”
“Me and my friend are in town for a few days, and were wondering what we were going to do tonight. Can we buy you a drink?”
Yuri suddenly looked to the side to see the dark haired woman sitting next to her, smiling as she waved her glass round. He glanced to the side, and then said “why not – same for me, and whatever they are having.”
“So what’s your name?”
“Yuri – and you ladies?”
“Dora and Nora – cheers,” the dark haired woman said as all three raised their glasses. Yuri took a drink, and smiled as he said “so what is your idea of a good time?”
“I am – flexible. And you ladies?”
“We can also be – flexible, correct Nora?”
“Oh yes Dora,” the red head said with a smile as she looked at Yuri. The Russian licked his lips, as he said “so, would you be interested in spending some time, being flexible together?”
“What sort of women do you think we are,” Dora said with a smile.
“The flexible and accommodating type – room 1204, fifteen minutes?”
“We’ll bring a little surprise,” Dora said as Yuri finished his drink and walked off, Nora watching a man who was watching him and then followed. She whispered something into Dora’s ear, and then went after the second man herself…
Hearing the knock on the room door, Yuri smiled as he closed the lid of his laptop, and checked the bottle of champagne before he opened the door. “Ladies,” he said as he stood back, “thank you for accepting…”
His eyes shot open, his voice faltering as a man fell in, his head turned to the side as his lifeless eyes looked out into the world. As he stared, Dora and Nora walked in, their faces set like stone as Dora pointed a gun at the professor.
“What the hell… Who are you?”
“Your worst nightmare – good night Professor,” Dora said quietly as she fired a dart into Yuri’s chest the professor staring at them as she staggered back, and then fell onto the bed.
“Dora and Nora?”
“Best I could come up with in the time we had,” Jo Frost said as she left the room, returning with a laundry basket. “Give me a hand getting him in here, Cassie.”
“What on earth do the Sisters want him for anyway,” Cassandra Craig said as she and Jo lifted the professor into the laundry basket, before she grabbed his case and started to pack his belongings.
“All I know is there was a call from Little Mother, to get him on a plane waiting at Northolt tonight,” Jo said as she put his computer into a bag.
She looked at the dead man, before she said “we can drop him off after we get him to the plane – I know a deep lake we can use…”