Training Day – Part 3
Wednesday 14th September
The Richmond Mansion
Doc sipped from her coffee mug, before she said “So you want me to act as a courier Heather?”
“I do Doc.”
“Why not just press send and transmit electronically?”
“Because Francesca wants to completely minimize any chance of one of the better Russian hackers somehow intercepting.”
“That I can understand. Okay - What am I supposed to do then?”
“Take the hard copies of the documents I’ve processed to Caroline’s building each afternoon, and return with the materials they want me to see.”
“How dangerous is this?”
“Let’s put it this way,” Heather said as she handed a small package over, “just for once Juliette is authorizing you to carry a weapon.”
“That serious eh?” Doc whistled.
“I want you to take all appropriate countermeasures Anna.”
“You mean never use the same route, vary between driving and taking the subway…”
“You are getting the idea.”
“So when do I start?”
“Today – give me a few minutes…”
As Ama and Annie cooked in the kitchen, Caroline and Francesca talked quietly in her room.
anyone look familiar to you Francesca?" Caroline asked as they perused the
personnel files that Doc had delivered.
I definitely know, but she's not a spy," the admiral pointed at the
picture of Madame Elena Rostakova and chuckled.
butch lesbian who tries her luck with most women she comes in contact
Russians know that?"
they know she's something of a joke in diplomatic circles because of it."
does she keep her job?"
they have no one knows more about international trade law and the various
treaties that govern it."
tolerate her personal peccadilloes?"
Caroline. I've already made an appointment to go see her next week regarding
the work I'm doing for Sigi, just remind me to wear a
trouser suit please."
do," Caroline laughed.
contrast to her these people interest me," Francesca indicated a small
batch of papers she'd put to a side.
that or Military Intelligence."
know them then?"
Then no. But I've been in this business long enough to be able to smell agents
and these people reek."
are we going to do about it?"
"We start discreet
enquiries with our various sources about them, and we start to build up
complete files on each of them."
other words we start to do our real work?"
“I also had word – your package is arriving in the morning. Shirley will brief you on the arrangements…”
Opening Yuri’s eyes and shining a light into them, Jo Frost saw the pinpoint pupils, and let the eyelids drop on the man secured to the chair.
“So what is this place that is his eventual destination Jo?” Cassandra Craig asked as her friend came back from checking on their prisoner. Both women had now changed into combat trousers and army style jumpers, with black ankle boots, their hair held back in ponytails.
“I’ve got no clue,” The Icicle said as she sat back down in her seat and strapped herself in. “All I’ve been told is that we will be met at this airstrip we will be landing at, and that from there he, and us, will be taken to ‘an undisclosed location’.”
“God even the terminology reeks of the bad old days,” Cassandra shook her head.
“I know Cass,” Jo said as they heard the engine start, “I thought that we’d long since stopped doing these ‘extraordinary renditions’ as well.”
“Can I take it that we don’t want to know who, or what, is waiting for him?”
“I’m guessing so.” Jo closed her eyes, “I’ll just assume though that because this is being done on behalf of The Sisters that it somehow fits into the greater good.”
“As always – we grunts don’t need to know the whole truth. Wake me when we get closer…”
Thursday 15th September
“Good morning Penny – is that the morning report?”
“It is,” Penny said as she handed the files over.
Shirley said as she flipped through the typed sheets, “any early indications of
how things are going in West London Penny?"
that she and Colin are doing the usual election day stuff getting their voters
to the polls. I think she's going to be glad when it’s all over and her life
can revert more or less to routine."
"I can understand that," Madame smiled. “And I am sure Agnes will welcome her back as well – with the girls starting with the private tutors I recommended, she will be anxious to return to useful things.”
"Agnes and Dame Margaret both sent me some analysis."
are predicting what?"
course Colin has lost. But they are also seeing indications of what they
describe as a small swing from Labour to Conservative, and a near collapse in
the UKIP vote..."
their woman was an atrocious candidate," Shirley interrupted.
was," Penny smiled, "anyway I think the consensus is going to be that
Colin and Sue made a very good fist of it, and that at the next General
Election he will be rewarded with a safe seat."
course Sue has got all her crap out there and has even become something of a
plus for Colin because of the reputation she's acquired campaigning."
"Yes, it’s been obvious she can talk to people in ways they understand." Madame smiled. "So will you and some of the other senior staff join me at home to watch the declaration tonight?"
"I'd like that Madame....Thank you. Any word on the guest?"
As if on cue, there was a knock on the door as Francesca and Charlotte came in.
“I will inform you in due course, Penny – please, both of you, take a seat.”
“So what is the word, Madame,” Charlotte asked as Penny left.
on the way to escort 'our guest' to a secure facility we have access to where
he can be questioned Francesca."
Shirley," the Italian woman looked at her watch, "how far out are
should be landing in 30 minutes," Madame said as she looked up at the
clock on her office wall.
"You know I'm
not 100% happy that I can't supervise the interrogation directly..."
Francesca adjusted her skirt as she looked over.
explained as far as I can why certain people who you may, or may not, have
worked with in London, are pretty touchy about revealing their identities, or
the locations of their facilities."
can supervise via the secure video link set up by The Hand." Charlotte
Francesca said quietly, “but I also know from experience, how much you can tell
just by being able to look someone straight in the eye."
trust these women know exactly that Francesca."
"Honest Mama you must trust them. These women are messy and vicious, but they do get excellent results."
“Is it going to be – difficult to watch?”
“Possibly – but that will be later. For now, let’s see what else we can learn. From last night?”
“We have identified a number of potential targets,” Francesca said, “Charlotte will liaise with Caroline on getting surveillance set up.”
As the plane taxied to a halt, the side door of the black van opened, a woman stepping out wearing a black leather jacket, tight leggings and over the knee boots, as well as black gloves and a beret, the veil covering her face as well as the dark glasses underneath covering her eyes.
She watched as the taxi came to a stop next to her, the doors opening as the pilot lowered the stairs, and Jo walked down the stairs.
“Welcome Icicle – Madame thanks you again for your help with this,” the veiled woman said. “I trust you and your partner had a pleasant journey?”
“The scenic route – very nice. Your guest is inside.”
The veiled woman indicated to the side of the van, as a door opened and two black clad and masked woman left to go into the plane, returning with Yuri between them as Cassie got down.
“You are both to come with me,” the veiled woman said, “but we require you to be blindfolded for security reasons. There will be refreshments, and a chance to rest, when we arrive, and recover from your trip. Madame wishes to meet you both tomorrow to thank you.”
“Acceptable,” Cassie said as she looked at Jo, the veiled woman handing each of them a blindfold.
“I regret to say you must travel in the back, but it will be a short journey.”
“This is like Kabul all over again,” Cassie said as she got in.
“And like Kabul, we say nothing,” Jo said as she joined her, both sitting and putting on the blindfolds as the door was shut, and the van moved off…
St Angela’s Academy
“I want your assignments on my desk tomorrow morning,” Annie said as the Juniors filed out, Ama hanging back for a moment.
going with your Mom over to watch the British election results at Shirley’s
said in her message. We will head
straight to her apartment."
"Good. Orlagh has said she will babysit the twins longer because I have this 'appointment' to go to."
"She told me that as well. Say hi to Carina and Judith for me please."
"I will." Annie smiled. “Now get going to your next class…”
your cousins election be called Grace?" Kate asked as they sat in Grace’s
"Some time after 8 o'clock our time," Grace said as she
sat behind her desk.
going to watch?"
Brewster has invited Sarah, Harriet and me, as well as a couple of other
interested friends over for supper and to watch the coverage on BBC
like you'll all have some fun?"
"Yes," Grace looked at her watch. "Even though Colin knows he certainly lost, I bet the butterflies in his stomach are doing atrocious things right now."
“Talking of elections…”
“The two parties have agreed – they will visit next Monday for a whole school meeting.”
“So we have lunch before the shows?”
“Indeed – but
work first. Can I ask you to look at
these names and pictures Kay?"
ask Francesca...” The British woman
looked at the sheets, her eyes widening.
“Hold on - all these people are with the Russian delegation at the UN,
how the hell did you get hold of these files?"
and I won't have to tell you any lies," Francesca's eyes sparkled,
"just say I have access to some extraordinary people."
these then they must be the very best." Kay thought a second, "will
you mind if I photocopy these for myself?"
long as you don't tell anyone where you got them please."
"Okay." Francesca watched as Kay sorted through the
profiles. "So are my instincts
correct? Are these people in the game?"
"Them I know from memory are, those I'd need check." Kay pointed to the two small piles she'd separated the files into.
6 pm local time
The Training Camp
“That was – interesting,” Anouska said as she sat on her cot, watching Blessing as she drank some water, “do you always go barefoot?”
“I do,” the young woman said with a smile, “if there is no need to have something on my feet. It helps me connect with the land. What did you think of him?”
“Xan? A very interesting man – if he can teach me how to track from nothing, it will be of use in protecting the innocents at home. I could do without the tilling, though?”
“It is part of the training – I think it refers more to what they say the Heart teaches, about caring for and looking after each other, as part of the way they work.”
Anouska nodded as she lay on the cot. “I get it – we look out for each other, and then for those who seek to hurt us. It is good – a sisterhood looking out for all.”
“Indeed – I understand we may learn more tonight…”
“You may remove your blindfolds.”
As Jo and Cassie removed the eye coverings, they found themselves in – well, a kitchen as the veiled lady said “be seated – I’ll sort some food and coffee out for you.”
“Where are we,” Jo said as she took a seat.
“A secure facility, which for today has been loaned to the Sisters to conduct the interrogation,” the veiled woman said, “I am known as Karma.” Looking at the screen on the laptop, they all watched as Yuri was bound to a chair in another room.
“How long will the sedative last?”
“Another hour or two,” Jo said quietly, “how is the interrogation taking place?”
“They will be here in an hour – in the meantime, eat, drink, and we will return you to the city later.”
Jo and Cassie looked over as Karma walked to the door, opening it to allow three women to walk in. The smallest of the three was dressed like Catwoman, with a tight leather one piece suit which was open to show her ample chest, over the knee black leather boots and short gloves. Her eye shadow was dark, her lips ruby red.
The second woman wore a crisp white blouse, and a knee length skirt made of soft black leather, red short gloves and red high heels to match her hair and lipstick. She wore dark glasses, and smiled as she looked at them.
The third woman was a tall blonde, her hair pulled back in a severe ponytail, wearing a halter neck leather dress and knee length stiletto heeled boots. Her head was covered in a black mask, only the blue eyes and black lips showing.
“Okay,” Cassie said quietly, “I’m guessing these three are the interrogation team?”
“Indeed – and transport is waiting outside to take you to New York. I regret you must be blindfolded again for the trip, but Madame will meet with you tomorrow to discuss the results of the interrogation.”
“We serve for the Heart and the Strength,” Jo said as they stood up, the three women bowing as she and Cassie were blindfolded and led out of the farmhouse.
“So they’re the British sisters?”
“Two of them,” Penny said as she watched Susan drive off with the guests, “right – shall we?”
“Once I confirm the link is up – Marchesa, are you watching?”
“I am,” Francesca’s voice said over the laptop as they saw Yuri start to stir, “proceed.”
“Where am I? Who is in charge?”
Yuri shouted out as he struggled in the chair, but there was no response, his words echoing in the empty room. He had finally woken up to find himself secured to the chair, and he had no idea how he had got there. The last thing he remembered was the two women, and his minder…
“Professor Yuri Yeltsin?”
“Who wants to know,” he shouted out as he struggled, and then he heard a door open and close, and the click of heels behind him. He tried to turn his head to look, but it was impossible, as the footsteps came closer.
He watched as the first woman came into site, dressed in red, black and white, smiling as she slapped a riding crop into the palm of her red gloved hand.
“You are Professor Yeltsin?”
“Who wants to…” Yuri winced as the crop was brought down over his cheek, before he said “I demand to know where I am, and what I am doing here!”
“You demand? Oh no, my dear professor, I am in charge here – me and my friends.”
He watched as the two other masked woman walked round and looked at him, as he said “who has done this to me?”
“Well, that would be telling,” the smallest said, “but we are being impolite. I am Alecto, my sisters Tisiphone and Megaera.”
“You… You call yourselves after the Greek furies?”
“We prefer to be known as the Kindly Ones,” the tall blonde said, “but tonight, we are here to measure your life, and ask you questions. Answer truthfully, you will be rewarded.”
“But lie or obfuscate,” the third woman said as she pulled Yuri’s head back, “and I show you why I am Megaera. Shall we begin?”
“We weave the skein of life,” Tisiphone said as she picked up a ball of wool, and played it out, “and so it shall be with you. I will measure out the wool, and if you lie or do not tell the truth – I will cut a little off.”
“And you will pay the price,” Alecto said as she caressed Yuri’s cheek.
“I am a citizen of the Russian Republic – I demand to see a representative from my embassy.”
“Well, that may be a problem,” Megaera said with a laugh, “who says you are where one of your embassies are?”
“In fact, who says you are not home in the Motherland, and the President has given us the job of talking to you?”
Yuri looked up at her as Tisiphone hung the wool from a hook, and cut the ball away.
“Enough,” Alecto said quietly, “you will refer to us as Mistress, and by no other name. Do you understand?”
“I demand you…” Yuri suddenly grimaced as Alecto reached between his legs, holding his balls in a vice like grip as she said “do you wish to know exquisite pain so soon? Be patient – you will, but show such insubordination again and…” She squeezed hard, Yuri screaming out before he nodded.
“Better – to return to our first question, you are Professor Yuri Yeltsin?”
“Yes,” Yuri gasped as she released her grip.
“Better – but yes who?”
“Yes Mistress – but who are you?”
“the ones asking the questions,” Megaera said as she walked round, slapping the riding crop into the palm of her gloved hand, “and you work as a lecturer at the St Petersburg Institute of Technology?”
“I do…” He cried out as the riding crop cut his cheek, and then said “I do, mistress.”
“Good – but that cut needs to be treated. Tisiphone?”
“This will cleanse it,” the tall blonde said as she soaked a cloth with some clear liquid, pressing it to the wound as Yuri screamed again. “Vinegar is so good for this, don’t you agree?”
“What… What are you wanting from me?”
“Your knowledge, your skills,” Alecto whispered, “who do you teach?”
“Students, eager to work in the gaming industry…”
“All of them?”
“Some go into industry, some commerce…”
“And some into the intelligence community?”
“No – AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
“Wrong answer,” Tisiphone said as she pressed the cloth to his cheek, “try again.”
“What they do when they leave is not my concern, mistress…”
“It should be,” Megaera said as she walked to the table, Yuri turning his head to look as she opened a cloth package, and took out a scalpel.
“What are you planning to do with that?”
“This,” the woman said quietly as she slit his shirt open, and then cut it away from his upper body, “the lifestyle you lead has made you soft. You are flabby – but that is fine.”
“What do you mean…”
“More for us to play with,” Alecto said as she picked up a second scalpel, and drew a thin red line on his chest, Yuri grimacing as she said “I ask again – where am I?”
“those who pass this way have a name for this place, Yuri,” Tisiphone said with a smile, “they call it hell. How many of your students are sponsored by the Russian authorities?”
“I don’t underSTAHND,” Yuri shouted a grid was drawn on his chest, “Why are you asking these questions of me?”
“Oh – we’re being friendly, and we want to play a game with you. We researched your work, Professor – fascinating work on the influence social media sites have on the public perception. Very similar to some of the work Goebbels did on propaganda against the Jewish peoples in the twenties and thirties – but he worked with the press and cinema. I particularly enjoyed the paper you wrote on the comparison between Eisenstein and Reifenstahl.”
“I do not…” Yuri bit his lip as Alecto carved a circle in one of the grid boxes, and said “I was a student then, not in computer sciences…”
“And yet that is where you did your work,” Megaera said qietly as she marked an X in another box, while Tisiphone looked on, “and we think you have taught others. On whose orders?”
“You… You do not scare me…”
“I think we do,” Alecto said with a smile, as Tisiphone snipped a length of the wool away, and she made another mark, “on whose orders?”
“Go… Go to hell…”
“Ah – better – now we know where we stand,” Megaera said as she picked up a pair of pliers, “on whose orders?”
“Vy, tri garpii, menya ne pugayete…”
“We should,” Alecto said as she took the pliers and walked behind him, before he felt the pressure on the knuckle of his first finger – and then the pain, the pop as it was crushed.
“Who are you working for?”
Francesca winced as she looked on her laptop, listening to the conversation as the smallest of the three continued to employ the pliers. She had no idea who they were, but they had grace and style – using the Classical Furies as their names showed that – and they were ruthless. The Professor was holding out, but it was only a matter of time…
“Dostatochno! YA pogovoryu ...”
“English please,” Tisiphone said quietly.
“And what is it you wish to say…”
“YA skoreye umru, chem …”
“Oh no,” Megaera said as she pulled his head back, and reached in with the pliers, removing the loose tooth, “you do not die that easily, Professor.”
“You… You speak Russian?”
“A little – I did not believe they still used these,” the woman said as she held up the false tooth. “This – upsets me. Hang him up.”
“What do you AHHHHHHHHHHHH” Yuri screamed out as his mangled fingers were held by Alecto, while Tisiphone untie dhis wrists, and then they were held above his head and retied. As he looked up, he saw the hook the rope was thrown over, and then he was lifted from the ground, the chair cut away from him and falling to the floor as his bound legs dangled.
Walking to the far side, Megaera picked up a whip and held it in her hand, cracking it as the other two looked on.
“I do not like been lied to,” she said as she walked round, and then brought the whip down hard, making him yell out as the skin went red, “do not do it again. I ask nicely – where are the main bases the people you have trained are working from?”
“Go to hell…”
“And those were the magic words,” Tisiphone said as she cut some more from the thread, “I thought we had already established.”
“You’re… Already… There. Megaera?”
Yuri screamed as the thongs hit his back, the other two watching as he felt the leather land again and again, unsure any more of what he was going to do, to say…
Francesca turned and stood, listening as he finally gave the locations of the main workshops. She knew they were in places she and her contacts could never reach – not without a great deal of planning and trouble – but the extent…. She knew now that Admiral had been right to eb worried – this went far further than she had ever imagined.
Megaera dropped the whip to the ground, looking at the red mess that was the professor’s back, and screaming as the orgasm washed over her.
“Have you been sated sister?”
“I have,” she said as Tisiphone snipped more from the length of thread.
“Now,” Alecto said as she looked at him, “my turn. Let me start with a simple question – are you directly influencing one of the current presidential candidates.”
“What… What do you expect me to say?”
“Well, if I am being honest,” Alecto said as she picked up a pair of gardening shears, “I do not expect you to answer at all. I expect you to beg for release?”
“and why… why would I do that?”
Alecto merely smiled as she put the blades of the shears over one of his big toes, and brought the handles together…
The screams were too much for Francesca, as she turned the sound down and prayed for forgiveness. She had done similar things as an agent, but it had been a self-punishment for her. These three, she could tell, did it for pure joy.
10 pm BST
Kensal Town Hall
“And in 3… 2… 1… Voting has now ended!”
“Thank goodness for that,” Susan said as she stood with Colin, “so it’s down to the count now?”
“It certainly is,” Margaret Harker said with a smile, “so relax, keep smiling, it will all be over soon.”
“How bad do you think it is going to be Maggie,” Colin said quietly as his mother and father joined them.
“It’s going to be interesting – I’ll say no more than that for now…”
“End it… end it now…”
The three sisters looked at each other before Tisiphone said “Do we have all we need?”
“I believe we have all we can get,” Megaera said as she lowered the mutilated man to the floor. His toes were gone, his back a red pulsating mess, his spirit broken.
“Then allow me a few minutes,” Tisiphone said as she pulled his head back, a scalpel in her hand, as Alecto and Megaera left the room, and went back to the farmhouse.
“I… I thank all of you,” Francesca said from the computer, “what will happen to him?”
“He will be allowed to rest – I am sure they will find him soon. I will see you tomorrow…”
The Brewster Brownstone
“I hope we aren’t disrupting someone’s homework are we?” Sarah asked as Barb took the bottle of wine off her and filled her glass.
“No Miss,” Jeannie smiled as she looked over, “I did it all while I was getting ready for tonight’s show.”
“As long as you did…”
“She had me watching Sarah, so I can assure you I made sure she did it properly.” Grace jumped in.
“She bloody well did as well,” Jeannie laughed, “one day we need set up clear demarcation lines exactly when and where she’s Mrs. Brand, and the same for when she’s The Palomino.”
“Well that’s up to the two of you to sort out,” Harriet said as she came in with a tray of food.
“So what was the show like?” Sarah asked.
“Don’t ask us, we just wear the damn things,” Jeannie laughed again. “Ask Aunt Mary and Kylie, they are the experts.”
“Well ladies your opinions please?”
“I’ve seen better collections, and I’ve seen worse,” Mary said as she came in carrying another tray of food.
“It was one of those collections that had a lot of outfits that had me going ‘Wow’,” Kylie stood up to help, “but when I thought about it then it occurred to me that even the amazing lives I know so many people live, where would even they wear most of the clothes.”
“So it wasn’t the sort of show where the styles will eventually filter down to women like me?”
“Probably not Sarah,” Grace stood up.
“Alright everyone,” Barbara came in with a last tray. “No formality, take what you want and eat it on your laps if you want.”
“In other words ‘dig in’,” Jeannie pushed her wheelchair towards the table. The women were all casually dressed, as they watched the program on the BBC News website…
“Come in, come in,” Shirley said as she let Caroline and Ama into the apartment. As she closed the door, Caroline looked at the dark blue dress the hostess was wearing.
“This is a bit fancier then I was expecting Shirley, I hope I’m dressed okay?” Caroline looked down at the dress she had on. “I came straight from the show I was walking.”
“You look fine…Doesn’t she John?”
“Amazing as always,” the photographer said as he kissed the very tall blonde model.
“Thanks,” she blushed, “but I rather wish I still had on the evening dress I had on earlier.”
“At least you have a dress on Mom,” Ama shook her head as she looked down at her jeans, “I am DEFINITELY underdressed.”
“Mmmm just maybe a tad,” Shirley smiled, “do you want to go and look in Maisha’s wardrobe and see if there is something you’d like to put on?”
“If you don’t mind Aunt Shirley?”
“I don’t, and I’m sure Maisha won’t.”
“Talking of Maisha,” Caroline asked as Ama headed for her bedroom, “how is she getting on with her course?”
“She phoned earlier to say she’s settling in, and that she’s already made friends with another girl doing it.” John passed Caroline a glass of wine.
“From what I’ve heard then it’s quite an experience what she’ll be doing.”
“I think she will get an awful lot out of it.” Shirley nodded.
The Brewster Brownstone
“So is it just Grace’s cousin facing an election tonight?” Marina asked as she finished her second piece of quiche.
“No,” Mary Thomas said as she ate a piece of hers, “there is a second Westminster by-election at Chase Valley in Northants, plus a couple of Scottish parliament by-elections, and a Welsh assembly one for the seat that includes the village I grew up in.”
“It sounds like a busy night?”
“Do you still vote in Britain Mary?” John asked.
“I do. I may have lived outside the country for a lot of years, but I’m still proud of being British.”
“So who did you vote for then?”
“Well it was a difficult choice,” for a second Mary chuckled, “both the Labour, and Plaid Cymru candidates are boys that I was at school with, and I even went out with both of them.”
“That must have made it a difficult choice?” Marina looked amused.
“It did, so in the end I voted for the Liberal…she’s my third cousin.”
“Oh dear Goddess!” Marina stifled a laugh by putting her hand over her mouth.
“And that explains perfectly why Wales is like one huge village.” John grinned.
“So how much longer?”
“It’s getting close to one thirty over there,” Barbara said, “so it should not be too much longer.
“Okay now I think I look a trifle more presentable,” Ama did a twirl as she emerged from Maisha’s bedroom, wearing a black cocktail dress.
“You look wonderful,” Charlotte said as she kissed the African girl.
“You do indeed,” Francesca also kissed her.
“Thank you,” Ama said as she took a drink and some food from the maid. “And you are?”
“Ama this is Kay Cornwall, an old friend of mine,” Francesca said as she made the introduction.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Ama shook hands.
“Ama is Caroline’s daughter Kay.”
“And no there isn’t a family resemblance,” the African girl laughed, “I’m adopted.”
“I’d sort of guessed that.” The Englishwoman smiled.
“So how do you know the Marchesa Mrs. Cornwall?”
“Oh I’m a civil servant, like she was, our paths have crossed a couple of times.”
“And she actually does really understand,” Francesca whispered in her friends ear.
“She does? What don’t I know Francesca?”
“I don’t know – and if I did, would I tell you…”
The Brewster Brownstone
“Did you manage to get through to Colin Grace?” Harriet asked as her friend sat down.
“No, but I did reach Aunt Bobby - she says he and Sue both look drained and glad that it’s all over bar the counting.”
“I can understand that. If you are going to contest an election then you must really be prepared to fight and give it everything you have.”
“My Aunt says that’s just what they’ve done, and that she’s so proud of both Colin….AND Sue.”
“I read some of the things one or two people said about her, particularly the revolting stuff that the UKIP candidate was pedalling…I have to say she showed a heap more fortitude then I would of.”
“I think we can all be very proud of her.”
“Are you talking about your cousin’s wife Grace?’
“I was Barb.”
“Jeannie was telling me at breakfast how much she admires her.”
“Admires her?” Grace tilted her head.
“Jeannie sees her as someone who is proving that it’s possible if you really try hard to overcome the adversities that life has placed in your way.”
“It’s something Jeannie knows a bit about herself,” Grace smiled broadly, “and I do see what she’s getting at.”
“At least no one has ever called me a whore, or a skank, or told me that I was a useless piece of scum,” Jeannie wheeled herself into the conversation. “I can’t imagine how she’s been able just to smile and then try talking to people after all that.”
“Hey – isn’t that his boss on the television now…”
Latimer," Andrew Neil said in his distinctive Edinburgh accent, "is
it reasonable to say that win or lose this by-election has made your candidate
a man to watch for in the future?"
answering personally, or as a party official Andrew?" Peter smiled.
party hat on,” Sir Peter said quietly, “then I can safely say that yes Colin
has proved to us that one day he will make a first rate Member of Parliament,
even if he does lose tonight. Speaking though as someone who has known him and
his family personally for many, many years, I have to say that he has proved
what so many people who know him have always thought, and that's while he does
have strong conservative opinions they are tempered with a deep personal
concern for helping the less fortunate. I think they are qualities that will
serve him well in his political career."
"So do you
have any predictions for tonight?"
said "that we will hold our vote at Chase Valley, increase our vote share
at Kensal-Queens Park, and we might maybe just spring a surprise in
"He sounds confident at least," Shirley said as she looked away from the screen.
"In public," John took another drink, "I've known Peter for many long years and he can find a silk lining in almost anything. It's what makes him an effective political communicator. In private though he's usually far more measured."
late," Penny said as she kissed both John and Shirley, "that thing I
was doing overran, and then I got caught in traffic."
"You made it eventually though," John said as he gave her a drink.
Kensal Town Hall
the task, this is the bit I'm not good at," Sue said as she sat to the
side, rubbing her feet as she chatted with the heavily pregnant Gabriella
do either waiting, or being patient, very well."
"If you are
going to be a politicians wife you are going to have to get used to this,"
Gaby smiled, "counting the votes always seems to take forever."
it gives us a chance to chat again, and for me to thank you?"
Gaby smiled as she said "Thank me?"
thank you and Nick." Sue breathed deeply. "It would have been easy
and simple to attack Colin for being married to a whore like me and you both
didn't. You didn't, and that means a lot."
husbands might disagree on politics but they stay friends. I hope you and I are
now friends as well. Nick and I would never stoop to taking cheap shots at you
because you did what you needed to so as to survive growing up."
"Unlike some people," Sue said as she looked daggers at the woman sitting on the other side of the room.
“Well, her time is over, I suspect from what I am hearing…”
regrets that you are here and not at Chase Valley son?" Sir Colin said as
he and Bobbie stood with Colin next to the count.
really Dad. I won't be going to parliament quite yet, but many party people
have said that they will ensure I get a safe seat at the next election, and
most importantly I've got Sue, and she means more than anything to me."
Colin said with a smile, “and if it means anything your Mother and I think you
made entirely the right decision."
is Sue anyway?" Lady Roberta looked round.
with Gaby. Nick's afraid that once he's declared the winner that the excitement
might trigger another happy event."
"He has a
point Colin darling."
of the nice things that have come out of all this that Susan and Gabriella have
is she returning to work?"
morning, just the same as I am, and I think we both in a way are looking on
that fact as being something of a relief."
"You'll get two or three years more experience under your belt at Central Office Son. TM has a nice majority, there won't be a general election for a while yet."
“Excuse me Mister Gresham-Fox, we need you and the other candidates for a minute.”
“Moment of truth time,” Colin said as he walked off with the council official.
The Brewster Brownstone
“Now should I snap a picture of Miss Nightingale chugging a beer and show everyone at school?” Jeannie said as she looked over.
“Only if you are planning on failing English Lit this year Jeannie Brewster?” Sarah laughed.
“Nope, I need to pass,” Jeannie laughed as she put her cell phone in her lap.
“So any news from House Jeannie?”
“They are frustrated by all the injuries. Their season is going down the drain while they wait for key players to get fit again.”
“I’ve seen that in our kind of football,” Sarah looked serious, “my club side was probably the best in England one season, but because we kept losing players to injury we ended up winning nothing that year.”
“Proving the old saying about the importance of the whole team in most sports Sarah,” Mary Thomas nodded.
“In most things Mom says a good team will always beat a great collection of individuals.” Poppy spoke.
“Ai, she and I agree on that.”
“Who was it said a great magazine is always put together by a great team Mary? I can never remember,” Pippa topped her glass up.
“You know I’m never sure,” the Welshwoman smiled, “I think it’s just a saying that has evolved over the years.”
“CS though is run by a great team, I’m proud to say that even in such a small way I’m involved,” Marina finished her drink.
“You aren’t all going to get touchy feely are you?” Jeannie asked with a slightly wicked look in her eye.
“No,” Pippa laughed lightly, “but I agree with Marina, it’s a pleasure working at CS.”
“Hey – looks like we may be getting a result soon…”
“Do you know the Gresham-Fox’s Mrs. Cornwall?” John said as he stood with Kay.
“Please call me Kay Sir John.”
“Only if you call me John?”
“Okay John, the answer is yes, slightly. I was a lowly staffer when Sir Charles was Assistant First Secretary at the British Embassy in Moscow. He may not even remember me.”
“If I know Charles, and I do very well, then yes he will remember you. It’s one of the things that helps make him an outstanding diplomat I think, he forgets no one.”
“Do you also know Donald Fitzstuart perchance?”
“Yes I know him reasonably well.”
“He and Agnes are close friends of ours, aren’t they Shirley?”
“They are darling. Do you know Agnes as well Kay?”
“I did several years ago, but it’s been an age since I last saw her.”
“Well you’ll maybe run across each other sometime?’
“Perhaps we will.”
“Shirley – the candidates are gathering…”
Kensal Town Hall
“Here we go,” Sue said as she stood with Charles, Roberta, Amelia Ashley and Margaret.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the Mayor said, “I, Alastair Cant, as the acting returning officer for the Kensal and Queen’s Park constituency, declare that the total number of votes given for each candidate was as follows…
“Baines, Nicholas, Labour Party – 18,325 votes.”
There was a cheer as Nick nodded, giving nothing away.
“Baron Blunderbuss, Monster Raving Looney Party, 1,300 votes
“Craig, Robert, Liberal Democrat Party, 6,080 votes
“Gresham-Fox, Colin, Conservative Party…”
Sue put her hands under her chin as Colin looked over, smiled and nodded.
“16, 932 votes.”
There was another cheer from the Conservative party voters as Colin smiled and waved.
“Mandell, Clive, Christian Democrat, 891 votes
“Strong, Helena United Kingdom Independence Party, 4,815 votes.
“Therefore, I give public notice that Nicholas Baines is duly elected as the Member of Parliament for the Kensal and Queen’s Park constituency…”
Colin was the first to congratulate Nick as his parents hugged Susan.
“He came so close – I’m so proud of him…”
“As we all are,” Maggie said as she clapped, “go and tell him that…”
"Well done old son," Colin said as he shook Nick’s hand.
"And well done yourself," the Labour man smiled, "that was a bit closer in the end then I was hoping for."
second doesn't count, you are the one who is the new bloody MP."
"You'll soon be there yourself Mate....I guarantee it."
up late darling?" Agnes said as she curled up once again on the couch with
Tippytoes on her lap.
say the same to you."
"I have to
finish a report, and I thought while I did I might as well wait for the result
to be declared up the road in K-QP. What's your excuse Donald?"
very well that I had to attend a truly boring reception at the Anglo-French Fellowship
Agnes McAdam,” Donald said with a laugh, “one you found a very convenient
reason for staying in London and missing."
I?" Agnes giggled.
“So what is the result?”
“Labour won, but the majority was halved – Colin did an amazing job,” Agnes said as she stroked Tippytoes, the Persian cat purring as she did so.
done, that man. Anyway how are the
even I have to say I'm seeing the most amazing transformation."
since darling. They need their sleep
"So what train will you be on tomorrow?"
"Alright I'll have an embassy driver at the station to meet you."
“Sounds good – what have you planned for this weekend?”
“I have a tour of Versailles arranged – and we’ll take it from there. But tomorrow is family time, just the four of us.”
“Sounds wonderful darling – we’ll see you tomorrow…”
The Brewster Brownstone
an eight point percentage swing from Labour to Conservative," the
commentator on television spoke, "with UKIP's vote down substantially as
well. The champagne corks are probably popping at both Central Office, and in
10 Downing Street."
"The same swing at a general election would produce an extremely large Conservative majority," one of the Political Scientists added.
“Having said that, it does have to be remembered they fielded an incredibly strong candidate in Colin Gresham-Fox – and it will be interesting to see what he does next.”
“How much did the revelations about his wife’s past hurt him?”
“I don’t believe they did – if anything, it made them more human, and Margaret Harker supporting him helped as well…”
“Well I think that tonight has proved that we are still a little more genteel in the way we conduct our elections in Britain then happens in the US,” Grace finished her drink.
“It used to be better in both places,” Mary stood up, “but I’ll admit it was nice to see Colin Gresham-Fox so sincerely congratulating the Labour man like that, even though he’d lost.”
“It harkens back to a time when people could agree to disagree on politics, and not separate themselves into two hostile, warring, tribes,” John said as he came in, carrying some of the guest’s coats.
“This tendency for us to divide ourselves into ‘them’ and ‘us’ is not healthy, and I’m afraid it’s going to end badly for everyone,” Pippa said as she handed Poppy her coat.
“When I was a boy in London, my Granddad told me about the thirties and about what Moseley and his fascists tried to do in England. I hate to think that it might ever come to that again.”
“Let’s just hope and pray,” Harriet said as she slipped her jacket on.
“Shirley as always it’s been wonderful.” Clint said with a smile as he thanked his hostess.
“I’ll see you at work in the morning,” Susan smiled.
“Are you sure you need to go already?”
“I think it’s time we went and picked our daughter up, give poor Anna a chance to get home and get some sleep before school in the morning.”
“That’s the problem with having little parties on Thursday nights,” John smiled, “most people have something to do the next day.”
“Can I say thank you for letting me come tonight,” Kay Cornwall slipped her jacket on.
“I hope you had fun?”
“I did indeed.”
“Well then we are glad you came Kay.” Shirley kissed her on the cheek.
“How are you fixed for transport?”
“Francesca and Charlotte are running me back to the hotel.”
“We will talk tomorrow,” Francesca said as they left, and Penny put her coat on.
you thinking of ringing Sue Penelope?"
thinking of leaving it till Saturday Shirley,” Penny said quietly. “I sent her and Colin a congratulations text,
but I think I'll let them have Friday to relax before I phone."
"That sounds right to me."
Aunt Shirley,” Ama said as John walked her and
Caroline to the door.
did it go earlier?" Madame whispered to her second-in-command while John
let other guests out.
answers all to the questions. I'll let you have a briefing from my point of
view in the morning, but the important thing is what Francesca, Heather, and
Charlotte make of what we learned."
"Well that's all a matter for tomorrow."
Friday 16th September
3 am BST
Colin and Susan’s home
"Oh it is
so good to be home, and even if we lost, it's so good that the campaign is
finally over." Colin smiled as he came in from paying off the taxi,
closing and locking the door.
agree," Sue said as she walked over, put her arms round his neck, then
gave her husband a long kiss.
did I do to deserve that? Not that I'm complaining."
deserve it just for being you. I'm so proud of you Mr Gresham-Fox."
have to admit I'm rather proud of you as well Mrs Gresham-Fox."
you, but if I hadn't had you with me I'm not sure I'd have ever had the courage
to do what I've done the last few weeks."
now let's forget about the past shall we? I think we both above all need a
really good night’s sleep, and then a long relaxing weekend where we do
anything but talk about politics."
"Agreed," Sue found herself letting out a long yawn. “To bed?”
“So did you both enjoy yourselves last night?” Grace said, tucking her blouse into her skirt as she entered the kitchen.
“Actually I did,” Sarah looked up from what she was cooking.
“So did I,” Harriet mumbled as she stood watching the coffee maker.
“I never in my life thought I’d ever go to a party to watch election results like that,” Sarah smiled as she adjusted the heat on the stove.
“Oh even I know that was just a convenient excuse,” Harriet laughed, “if I’ve noticed one thing since I moved to New York, it’s that ex-pats just love to find reasons to have little get-together’s like that.”
“That’s very true,” Grace smiled as she sat down and started to butter toast.
“Anyway changing the subject,” Sarah started to dish up the breakfasts, “how does your day look Grace?”
“HORRENDOUS!” she shook her head, “I’ve got to fit in both a Management Committee meeting and two shows after I spend a day teaching.”
“That’s the penalty for having two careers simultaneously,” Harriet smiled.
“Eat up,” Sarah said as she put the plates out, “we need to get going…”
Standing outside on the street, a discreet distance from the apartment entrance, he could have been literally anybody and that suited his purposes very well. Quickly he took some quick photographs of the tall blonde with the magnificent hair, and her two friends as they left for work.
“You look amazing Grace,” he whispered to himself as the three women climbed into the small car, “if I’d seen this side of you, I might never have let you go.”
Almost as if by reflex he opened his wallet and pulled out the old picture from their wedding day, him in his best suit, her with that atrocious brown hair and the huge glasses that hid her face so well.
No the Grace he’d known hadn’t really borne too much resemblance to this one. Nowadays of course he knew that back then she’d been hiding from her past, and her fame, and that the Grace Fox he’d fallen in love with at teachers training college was just a façade to hide that she’d once been a woman the world knew as ‘Glorious’.”
Still nowadays she had the best of both worlds, she was both the model, and the teacher, both Grace Gresham, and Mrs. Brand. That was one of the questions that intrigued him, why the hell had she kept his surname like that?
Anyway he knew where she worked, he knew from looking at the trade press which shows she was walking that day, time was on his side, he’d confront her when he wanted, and on ground of his own choosing.
E 14th Street
“How are the renovations going Caroline?” Francesca said as she walked into the offices, looking at the decorators as they painted the walls.
“Better than I expected Francesca,” Caroline said as she stood in jeans and a jumper, “It’s not going to be too hard getting that strong room in to shape as a place to store all our files and other sensitive information.”
“I thought that when I saw it. We are lucky that the Richmond Trust must have always needed a secure room to keep deeds, leases, and other such things.”
“Yes we do seem to have been a little lucky,” the Englishwoman glanced round. “Furniture is been brought tomorrow.”
“Have your people started installing the security measures we discussed?”
“They’ll start tomorrow, at least today there are still too many contractors and builders in the place.”
“Okay I understand that.”
“It’s going to be tight but I’m confident we will be able to move in Monday just as you ordered.”
“Excellent,” Francesca said as she turned round, “I know I can be very demanding Caroline but given the nature of the work we are being asked to do it really is imperative that we are operational as soon as possible.”
“I fully understand Admiral. I think we’ll be all right…”
“Where are you both?” they heard a voice call out.
“We are in here Eleanor,” Francesca replied.
“The people downstairs said you were up here,” Eleanor smiled as she and Veronica came in, Veronica looking round.
“So what do you think Commander?”
“I think it will suit us very well,” Veronica replied.
“I think so too – now, let us discuss what we discovered yesterday…”
The Richmond Mansion
“Come on,” Heather said as she looked at the computer screen, making notes, unaware of Sandy standing in the doorway in an old sweatshirt and jeans, her head to one side.
Sandy finally said as she stood hands on hips.
Coming in and
standing by the table, Sandy said "You haven't said a word to me since you
got back from doing the school run darling, you've been stuck looking at
that damn screen."
Heather nodded as she looked up and smiled, "but I have an awful lot to analyze and assess following the interrogation of Professor
"I sort of
guessed that,” Sandy said quietly, “but you should at least now take a lunch
Heather laughed, "I guess I ought to."
have you learned? Or aren't I permitted to know?"
located and mapped out where some of these cyber operations are being run
presumed hacked into them?"
“For once...No.” Heather started the coffee machine as she said “but as and when I'm told they want me to then I do know just where to look. I recognize at least the style of a few people I’ve come across in the past. They certainly do seem to have made a concerted effort to recruit the best talent they have."
“So they’ve gone for the best?”
“Nope – they haven’t asked me,” Heather said with a smile, “but the best they can – persuade – to take part, and they’re very well organised. This may be too big, Sandy – and that petrifies me…”
Tony’s di Napoli
she is now," Francesca stood as the hostess showed Kay to the table.
"Sorry I'm a few minutes late Francesca,” Kay said as she sat down, “but I will never hear the last of it if I come to New York and forget to take home presents. This looks delicious…"
"It's not a problem darling," the Marchesa said as she kissed her friend, "now I'm pretty sure that you remember Eleanor Ball?"
"I do indeed....How
are you Captain?"
Kay,” Eleanor said as she hugged the English woman, “still finding
'interesting' things to do, even though I'm officially retired."
think I'm learning."
is Commander Veronica Joyce Kay?"
me being too rude what's your job Commander?"
of Criminal Intelligence at Coast Guard headquarters, or at least I was till I
was suddenly seconded to do some work here in New York."
managing to pull some interesting people into this Francesca?" the
Englishwoman said as she turned to her friend.
“I know...” Francesca sipped her wine as she looked round
the table. “Veronica I know your
security clearance is what it is, therefore I think I can tell you that Kay is
officially it’s called the Secret Intelligence Service commander," Kay
"Have you been seconded to this operation as well?"
"Not officially, let me just say I've cleared it with my superiors that we will as far as possible share intelligence with you all."
“Let’s order – this place is not too bad – and then we can describe a little of what we uncovered…”
they are attempting isn't espionage in the traditional sense?" Veronica
asked as she ate her food.
the sense that they are stealing state secrets Veronica," Caroline
replied, "what they are stealing is politically sensitive research, and
other data, with the intention of both using it to themselves, and giving it to
the people they are supporting."
"All in a
huge attempt to influence opinions and to sway elections in a particular
direction," Francesca added. "And don't assume just because we are
focussed on what is going on here in America, that they aren't doing exactly
the same things in other countries."
reason you've brought me in on this is that you assume that elements of the
Russian Mafia form art of this conspiracy?"
they are playing a huge role in it," Caroline answered.
tallies pretty precisely with what we've deduced in London," Kay sipped
her wine, "and I can go so far as saying a now retired colleague of mine
had been doing extensive work for a private American company into all
"Is this partisan
political work Kay?"
people he's working for have ties with one side, but you know that he himself
is as straight as an arrow Francesca."
sometimes a little difficult to get along with," the Italian mumbled.
"Can you get us a copy of his research?" Eleanor asked.
“I can try, and in return?”
“Want the name of some possible GRU agents in the UK?”
“Tell me more…”
6 pm Local Time
“Another day over,” Helga said as the senior instructors gathered for the daily debrief, as the woman walked to their shelters. “So any opinions Poison?”
“We’ve had worse intakes Helga,” Sunshine said as she sipped her water, “a lot worse.”
“Agreed,” Liz said as she sat down, “there do seem to be some extremely motivated women amongst them.”
“Yep. Gotta agree with you there Liz…”
“I have to question what one or two of them have been saying to me though,” Liz spoke.
“Oh?” Helga looked concerned.
“Yes, some of them actually said they like Sunshine’s cooking,” Liz broke into a broad grin.
“Definitely ones to watch out for in case they show further signs of mental instability then,” Teacher started to laugh.
“You two get bloody worse,” Sunshine rolled her eyes. “Some people just appreciate the finer things in life.”
“And at least one has a diet of deep fried Mars bars,” Liz laughed, “but she is learning, once you get past her accent…”
“What do you think of our ‘star’ recruit so far though?” Helga said as she changed the subject.
“Seriously?” Liz asked.
“Please, I told Little Mother that I’d give her an evaluation over the weekend that she can pass on to Madame.”
“Well for starters I can already see a huge difference in her… She’s quickly realizing something I did when I first got here, and that is that is a huge difference between being ‘city fit’, and being ‘bush fit’.”
“I’ll agree with that,” Leader spoke for the first time, “living all this time in a western city has maybe softened her up a little.”
“Knowing how motivated she is to do well in this though, I don’t think it will be that hard for her to readapt to Africa and find herself.”
“I’ll agree with you on that Helga,” Sunshine nodded. “And she is showing concern for the others as well.”
“She seems to have bonded with our Ukranian recruit, Anouska.”
“I noticed that as well,” Little Teacher said, “they have worked together very well.”
“Another day almost over,” Blessing said as she lay on her cot, looking up at the shelter.
“Why are they being so hard on you like that?” Anouska asked with clear concern in her voice, “it’s not fair, I was far worse then you were but Leader singled you out to criticize.”
“I don’t mind,” Blessing smiled as she closed her eyes, “I guess I think they are only doing it to help make me better.”
“You are already better then I’m ever going to be,” Anouska said as she sat down, “my shooting was so bad.”
“It’s because you let yourself get tense,” Blessing said as she looked up, “for target shooting like that you just need learn to put distractions aside and to keep your body still. The rest will come.”
“I try,” Anouska said as she ran her fingers through her lightening hair, “but then I start to remember everything they’ve told us…”
“And you start to fret and worry,” Blessing nodded.
“Give it time, I’m sure you’ll soon learn to do it automatically.” Blessing smiled, “and thank you for being worried about me. I find that strangely comforting.”
“It’s the mother in me” the Eastern European woman said quietly as she sat on the earth. “I cannot deny that side of me.”
“Do you have children?”
“I did,” the older woman said as she gritted her teeth.
“May I ask, what happened?”
Anouska looked at the young woman and smiled – a sad, knowing smile. “They called it an accident…I got a formal apology and all…but my house was destroyed when the Russian’s shelled what they called terrorists operating near my village. My husband, my three children, my mother-in-law…all killed.”
“That’s terrible,” Blessing said as she sat and put her arm out to comfort the older woman.
“The only reason…” Anouska wiped away a tear and croaked “the only reason I wasn’t there was that I was late returning from my job. I returned to see the wreckage – the next thing I recall clearly was the funeral. After that, there was nothing – then I heard of this group, of what they had done, and I made my way to where I knew they could be found.”
“So when we do the walk, and you graduate…”
“I want to go back, tell others of this place, lead them in saving others – quietly of course, in the name of the Heart, and seek vengeance in the name of the Strength.”
“The story they told – it is the basis of all they do?”
“And of all we do – those women who left on our second day, who were they?”
“I asked Teacher – they were ready to do the final test, and according to her, the first are due back…”
They both heard the cheer and the singing, and left their shelters, joining the crowd as four very tired and dusty women walked in, Helga walking out to greet them.
“Look at them, Anouska – they know they have done what was asked, and they are one. Let them be our example…”
“I agree Blessing – they are our example…”
“Another Friday Afternoon gathering down,” Jan fixed her seatbelt, turned the engine on and signalled she was coming out into traffic, “and the weekend ahead.”
“Thanks for inviting us to dinner, Mom Jan,” Pepsi said as they joined the traffic flow.
“Have you and the others been discussing what you want to do about birthdays this year darling?” April turned in her seat and looked at her daughter sitting in the back of the car.
“Meaning what?” Janice said as she sat in the driving seat.
“Meaning that we know we can’t hope for, or expect, anything as spectacular as we all had for our 16th’s, but that we still have a few ideas for party themes.” Pepsi answered.
“Okay I’ll bite, what themes?” April asked.
“And so I can share the information with various parents who wish to know, what are these theme ideas likely to cost?” Jan added.
“Nothing too exorbitant darling,” Kylie laughed, “and thank you again Janice for feeding me while Marina works late.”
“It’s not a problem Kylie, with Katy working tonight, it’s nice having the three of you come and eat…And define exorbitant please?”
“Well Doc wants her party to be at Stowe with plenty of skiing and skating,” Pepsi answered, “but since we will all we going up there already it’s not exactly going to cost a lot extra.”
“I’ll let Emma know that,” April took a mental note.
“I know it’s a way off but what do you want Kylie?” Jan asked.
The blonde sat back, and said “I’d love to somehow have a party in which my New York and Hong Kong friends could meet each other.”
“Oh that’s a lovely thought.”
“I was saying that to Doc, and she said that when the time comes we can maybe do a video hook-up so everyone could see each other on a big screen, and we can party at the same time in two different places at the same time.”
“That does sound like an idea,” Janice said as she took a right turn.
“You still haven’t said what you want darling?” April asked.
“To be honest Mom I’m not that worried,” Pepsi said with a smile “as long as my family, my friends, and of course Jack, are there, and everyone has a good time, I’m not overly worried with regards to a venue and a theme.”
“So a kid’s party at Maccies?”
“Thank you everyone!” The show runner clapped as the models came off the runway at the end of the show, and into the changing area.
“Could be worse – could be a Mary Thomas experience,” Pru Stratton said as she sat in her gown.
"Can you answer me this ladies, why when most of us make the majority of our meagre pittances doing photographic work and endorsements, are we masochistic enough to put ourselves through the hell of doing runway doing fashion weeks?" Grace asked as she examined her tender feeling feet.
"Because designers begging us to walk their shows can be such a pitiful sight Palomino," Juliette laughed.
that's a dig at me Ju, I'm sure I can find many eager young models to walk my
show on Sunday instead of you all," Alice called out.
afford NOT to walk your show Bats," Caroline shook her head, "with
what Ama and I spend in APCO each month I'd be broke
without the discount."
“So say we all,” Marnie said as she sat with Maggie Fife.
"Even with all the inducements, I'm still not sure my feet are going to think it’s worth all this," Grace said as she slipped on a pair of flats.
"Why are they all complaining like that?" Suzie Clarke asked Katy and Orion, "to me tonight was amazing."
we are all jaded old ladies," Karen interrupted, "when you've been
doing this as many damn years as we have Suzie you'll maybe understand."
"They are all far too old," Orion laughed as she ducked a couple of cushions thrown at her by her elders. “We youngsters just get to enjoy their banter.”
“You would not say that if Carmen was here, Emerald,” Jeannie said as she looked over.
“Why does she call you Emerald?”
“Tell you some
other time - So what did you make of it Mary?" Katy asked the older Clarke
worse, I've worn better," the Californian shrugged.
Worker keep sounding like that and the kids will think you are as old and jaded
as we are darling," Mandy drawled.
"It sounds like she's getting that way," Jeannie let Barbara lift her back into her chair.
"Stick darling,” Mandy drawled, “can I possibly persuade you NOT to be taking photographs while we are all undressing and removing our makeup?"
"Sorry Tufty,” Abby said as she put her camera down, “but I think some backstage pictures showing how things are really behind the scenes at a show might look good in my portfolio."
"Well as long as you aren't doing a Jack and are collecting blackmail material on us all," Juliette laughed out loud.
"At my age
photos of me without makeup on should carry a health warning," Eve Stone
brushed her hair out.
"BULLSHIT!" most of the other models shouted in chorus.
“So plans for the weekend, girls?”
“Apart from the joys of the APCO show?”
“YES, apart from that,” Karen said as she looked at Alice.
“Three more shows, and the blessed relief of college work…”
she's done today she can still laugh like that?" he asked himself as he
watched Grace come out with a couple of her friends.
you tomorrow," she yelled out as she headed towards her car.
He hadn't been
able to get tickets to any of the shows she was walking, they were far too out
of his price range, but he'd scoped out the venues and watched her arrive, and
now leave. Money was tight, but he had hopes that if he framed things the right
way that Grace might at least in part remedy that.
Jameson telling jokes like that ought to get you arrested," she shouted at
another very tall blonde as she laughed some more.
This Grace was so different to the one he had known. Back when they were both doing their PGCE's at college she'd been this very quiet, very dedicated, more than a little uptight woman. He'd been attracted by her obvious class and he'd seen her almost tight-assed demeanour as a challenge to his masculinity. When he'd managed to ask her out and get beyond her outer shell it had soon become clear that she wasn't some frigid virgin, but he'd still had to hide both his drinking, and his drug habit, when he found out how violent anti both things she was.
Nowadays he knew why, that she'd had her own problems, that she'd lost a friend to addiction, that to cure her own problems she'd quit cold turkey, but he still thought it might have been fun to have met the Glorious Grace she'd been before she gave it all up.
Anyway that didn't matter, what mattered was that she'd dropped him like a hot potato when she'd found out about his relationship with alcohol and cocaine. That hadn't been nice, explaining why they'd divorced after only such a short time was even worse. No Grace owed him something for all that.
West Central Park
Kylie looked up as the front door to the apartment opened and closed, and Marina came in, removing her coat as she put her Jameson bag down.
so late Kylie,” she said as she slumped into a chair, and removed her shoes, “did
you eat okay?"
Carter's invited me upstairs," Kylie drawled as she stood up, and hung
Marina's coat for her.
that bitch did that deliberately to get at me you know."
personally darling,” Kylie said as she sat back down, “I can think of worse
things than to be forced to have to accompany Anna to a show."
"I know, I
do know, but I had a date arranged with James that I had to cancel, and I had
to go hit the wardrobe to find something suitable to wear, and because Anita was
supposed to be the PA accompanying her I hadn't done the homework..."
understand Marina...Did you eat yourself?"
good then that Katherine gave me an extra helping of her patented Irish Stew
isn't it? It's in the fridge."
"Katherine if you can hear me up there," Marina opened the fridge then looked up at the celling, "you are a saint."
“Relax – I will prepare it for you,” Kylie said as Marina turned the television on. “Oh lord – Trump again…”
Saturday 17th September
The Burton Apartment
“Now who can that be,” Denice said as she and Erica heard the apartment doorbell, both of them seated at the table in their library working on assignments.
“You expecting anyone Mom?”
“Nope – and Melinda got back all right last night. Go and see, will you?”
Erica nodded as she walked to the door and looked through the peephole, then opened the door, smiling as she saw the redhaired woman standing there.
“Hey,” she said in her London accent, “is this a bad time?”
“TRACY!” Erica rushed and flung her arms round her friend, “you didn’t say you were coming to visit.”
“Well I was in the neighbourhood,” she said as Erica let her come in, and Denice came out of the library, “so I thought I’d drop in.”
“I’m glad you did,” Denice said as she walked towards the kitchen, “I just decided to make coffee, do you want one?”
“Please,” Tracy removed her coat as she followed Erica into the sitting room.
“Here you go,” Denice brought in two mugs and put them on the table as both she and Tracy sat on the couch.
“So,” Tracy said with a smile, “how are the studies going?”
“Excellently,” Denice said with a smile as she sat back, “I’ll be presenting my steam engine next month.”
“Is it as good as you hoped?”
“It’s not bad, I’ve not quite got the efficiencies that those English locomotive guys were getting, but it’s pretty close.”
“That sounds impressive.”
“My professor says it is, he’s been very supportive and encouraging.”
“Good,” Tracy took a sip from her mug, “and how is school going for you Erica?”
“Other than my struggles with Chaucer in my English Lit class, it’s going very well.”
“That was always the type of thing that went clear over my head when I was at school.”
“Oh it isn’t too bad. It’s just I find math and the sciences easier.”
“And just how are you doing Tracy?” Erica asked.
“I’m doing quite well…But there is something that I need to tell you,” she said as she put her mug down, “that just maybe I should have told you a while ago…”
“That you are a professional bodyguard who works for Shirley and Caroline?” Denice said quietly.
“You worked it out?” the London woman looked at her friends.
“It was pretty obvious when I thought it out. It was too much of a coincidence you moving to our apartment block like that, and then later we run into you at a party at Shirley’s home.”
“Your friends were concerned about the gang activity and the threats, I was brought over from London to basically watch over you.”
“Mom and I worked most of it out,” Erica stood up and then hugged her friend, “and I think we both need to say how grateful we are.”
“Can I say that while it started out as work, you two did become some of the best friends I ever made?”
“Thank you Tracy. So, why are you in New York?”
“The team I work with had a training exercise, which we finished yesterday, so I had some time before I have to head to the airport. I didn’t think you liked Soccer, Erica?”
Denice looked where the boots were, and said “oh they’re Melinda’s. She’s the Kirkham scholar this year, but because she lives way out of the city she rooms with us during the week.”
Museum of Modern Art
“And we’re on in three… Two…”
“Hi and welcome back to the Beckman Report. While we wait for the inaugural GND show in New York I’m here with a whole host of top models who are here, for once, to watch rather than to walk.” Jeanne Beckman smiled at the camera.
“Keep going,” her producer signalled with his hand as she turned to her guests.
“So ladies what brings you all out together to watch a Saturday lunchtime event like this?”
“Basically we are all here to support two young models making their runway debut this afternoon,” Olivia Savage answered.
“And may I ask who they are?”
“My two eldest daughters,” Paula replied.
“My great nieces,” Eve Stone added.
“The rest of us are mainly old family friends who’ve known Paula and Eve for years,” Grace added, “and we thought we’d come along to help support young Eve and Aileen as well.”
“Now I understand that we will be seeing a lot of both girls?”
“That’s right Jeanne,” Paula spoke again, “my daughters have been signed to be the faces for GND’s new lines, and their first adverts and TV spots will be appearing in the next few weeks.”
“So the next generation of the Priest family go onto the catwalk. How does it fell to be in the same bracket as Diana de Ros now Paula?”
“Terrifying, if truth be told…”
“Oh my god this is TERRIFYING!” Aileen said as she looked in the mirror, and tried to compose herself.
“Calm down, you’ll be fine,” Katy said with a smile as she put her arm round her. “These types of show with us each walking one outfit are easy.”
“You go out, you pose, you walk round, then you pose again, and you come back behind the curtain…There’s nothing really to it.” Orion checked herself in the mirror. “It’s not as bad as tomorrow.”
“The APCO show,” Katy said, “on the one hand you get to see Kylie’s latest creations.”
“And on the other,” Orion added with a grin, “you wear at least two outfits and have the time of your life.”
“It’s alright for you both to say that,” Aileen looked at her friends, “you’ve both done this plenty of times. This is MY first show.”
“Just do what you did in rehearsals and you’ll be fine…”
“Abigail I nearly fell off these heels,” Aileen complained.
“Well sort of avoid falling,” Abby gently hugged the younger woman, “but honestly Aileen you look great, and you’ll be perfect out there.”
“God I hope so.”
“Who was that from Eve?” Doc asked as they both sat having their hair finished.
“My friend Kits, she says she wishes she was here and wished us luck.”
“That’s your brothers girlfriend?”
“Yes, the school wouldn’t give her a weekend pass to come over and watch the show, so she and our friend Lizzie will be watching on line.”
“At least they can watch.”
“My sisters will be watching back in California,” Suzie said as she got the okay from her dresser.
“I meant to ask, Suzie – how has David started at Stanford?”
“He’s loving it – has a season pass to the games as well.”
“At least thanks to the live streaming of shows they can do that,” Nikki said as she sat down carefully.
“So where’s Mary Suzie?” Orion asked.
“I’d think just starting to get ready to walk the JJJ show.”
“Several girls we know are doing that one.” Abby spoke.
“True – but we are the younger generation – let’s do this right…”
“This is some kind of place Madame,” Jo shook her head as Shirley finished giving her and Cassandra the guided tour. The two younger women were casually dressed, wearing blouses over roll neck sweaters and jeans, while Shirley was wearing a Fitzstuart jumper and a knee length skirt.
“Thank you,” Shirley said as they entered the den, “John and I rather like it.”
“I can understand why,” Cassandra said as she sat down, “the view from out on the terrace alone is mind-blowing.”
“It was one of the main reasons I bought the apartment.” Shirley smiled. “Now can I tempt you both to coffee?”
“I don’t think we need a lot of persuading,” Jo smiled back.
“I’m sorry it’s taken me a couple of days to invite you over to give you my thanks, but things are rather hectic at the moment,” Shirley called out as she headed into the kitchen.
“I hear wedding bells are on the horizon Madame?” Cassie spoke. “Congratulations.”
“From both of us.”
“Thank you girls,” Shirley replied as she came back in carrying a tray, “that’s just one of the many things I’m dealing with.”
“We guessed it might be.”
“Now while I’m pouring our coffees,” Shirley said quietly, “can I thank you both for making the delivery for us.”
“It wasn’t a problem. But why was he so important for the Sisters to talk to?”
“Well… Ah, there’s my other guest,” Shirley said as she walked towards the door after the bell rang.
“Other guest?” Cassandra mouthed the words to Jo.
“Now I think there is a chance you know each other?” Shirley smiled as she took the coat of the raven-haired new arrival.
“Our paths have crossed a couple of times,” Kay Cornwall laughed lightly, “how are you both?”
“We are fine Ma’am,” Jo and Cassie both stood and had to restrain themselves from saluting.
“Can I ask what you are doing ladies?”
“Oh it might be easiest if I just say that they made a delivery for me a couple of days ago,” Shirley had an amused look on her face as she sat down and started pouring the coffees.
“As usual we just carry out our orders…” Cassie spoke.
“Ours is not to reason, ours is just to do…” Jo interrupted.
“I do know the quote,” Kay further interrupted. “But you are both meant to be happily retired and working as teachers. Was this a bit of side work?”
“It was a request we had to fulfil – and if you know Shirley, I have a question…”
“I’m working on a project with the Marchesa di Cambrello, involving Eleanor Ball and other parties. What does that suggest to you?”
As the two women looked at each other, Kay accepted a coffee and said “So, what news?”
“All I can say,” Shirley said quietly, “is that the briefing I was given this morning has suggested that the matter we are dealing with might be even more extensive then we already thought.”
“As bad as that?”
“My people are preparing a summary for you to see this afternoon Kay.”
“Thank you,” Kay said as she sipped her coffee.
“Should we leave?” Jo asked, “this all sounds a bit above mine and Cassie’s pay grade?”
“No – I think you need to be read in,” Shirley said, “but to do so means I have to reveal something to you Kay.”
“That you are connected in some way with the Sisters of Maisha?”
“How did you…”
“I am very good at my job, and very discrete,” Kay said as she took a sip, “and I had to ask, what could possibly bring together a businesswoman and four of the leading agents I know of in the intelligence world. That was the only thing that made sense.”
Looking at Kay, Shirley said “and if I denied it?”
“I would accept your answer – but I know the work they do, and I admire and support it when I can. Read them in.”
“It’s beginning to look presentable?” Francesca smiled as she watched the furniture being put into place in the several office spaces.
“It’s getting there,” Hannah nodded, “I think we will make it on time.”
“We should do. Everyone has given so much into this…”
“How is the installation of the security screening things going Charlotte?” Eleanor asked.
“Caroline’s techs seem to know what they are doing, I don’t foresee problems.”
“And the camera’s and monitoring systems darling?”
“Will be in by midnight tonight Mama…I promise.”
“How long do you think it will take us to work out any glitches in the systems?’ Hannah asked.
“I’m hoping and praying there won’t be any to work out,” Francesca answered sharply, “we don’t have the time, nor can we afford any breakdowns once we go operational.”
“We’re using the same configuration as we did for the Walrus, so we should be fine – fingers crossed…
“I swear there are times that Bats forgets that she’s also one of ‘us’.” Mandy shook her head as she slipped her coat on.
“I know what you mean,” Karen searched in her handbag for her car keys, “that rehearsal was straight out of the Mary Thomas playbook.”
“Tell me about it,” Grace moaned. “I thought she’d have us there till midnight.”
“Are her shows always like this Mummy?” Aileen asked.
“If you mean are the clothes always stunning? Then yes darling, if however you are asking are her rehearsals usually like that? Then the answer is a resounding NO!”
“Putting the rehearsal aside though girls,” Juliette said as she pulled her gloves on, “I really think she and Kylie have surpassed themselves with this collection.”
“Is that what you’ll be saying in the magazine Ju?” Caroline asked.
“No. I’m not writing this show up, Pippa has kept this one for herself.”
“Well I’m sure she will be as impressed as we are darling,” Mandy spoke in her trademarked slow drawl.
“So who isn’t heading straight for her bed?”
“Not me Grace?” Barbara replied as she put Jeannie’s shoes on her, “I have to take Katy home first before I even think of sleep.”
“Well Gran has prepared us something to eat,” Katy slung her bag over her shoulder, “so at least you don’t need to cook Aunt Barbara.”
“That’s true,” Barbara stood up, “are you both ready?”
“I am Mum,” Jeannie smiled.
“Alright,” Barbara said as she finished yawning, “wagons roll.”
“See you all tomorrow,” Katy called back as she left.
“See you then BS,” Caroline called out in reply.
“Many people hanging about out there darling?” Mandy asked as Angel came in from outside.
“A few autograph hunters, but the cabs are arriving.”
“Good,” Mary Clarke smiled as she picked up hers and Suzie’s bags, “I want to get back to the hotel, ring Dad, then take a nice bath.”
“Suzie,” Orion called out, “we’ll talk tomorrow about that idea.”
“What idea,” Mary said as she looked at her younger sister, one eyebrow raised.
“Tell you later – good night all…”
“See you tomorrow Worker,” Grace waved bye as the girls walked out.
“Are you ready to go Palomino?” Caroline asked.
“Yeah,” Grace said as she checked her bag, “I think I have everything.”
“Sleep tight…and if you can’t do that sleep sober,” Olivia laughed as she put her glasses back on.
“OLD JOKE Bandit,” Grace laughed.
“Nighters ladies,” Caroline slung her bag over her shoulder as she and Grace headed for the exit.
“Can I have your autograph please?” a couple of girls asked as the two models headed towards Caroline’s car.
“Of course,” they both smiled and scribbled in the offered books.
“Well that wasn’t too bad,” Grace spoke as she strapped herself in.
“Yeah at least they were polite,” Caroline put her key in the ignition. “By the way did you see that guy standing in the shadows?”
“Where?” Grace looked.
“He’s gone now, but I could swear I’ve seen him a couple of times in recent days.”
“No – maybe your other professional life is getting in the way Face?”
“I hope not…”