Trials and Tribulations – part 1







Monday 2nd May

11 am

Xavier International, New York




Susan Walker looked up at her PA.


“Charlotte just called – she’s arrived at the airport, and she’ll be here by two.”


“Thank you Pamela – do you have the plans for the special project tonight?”


“I do – if we can go over them while having lunch?”


“Sounds good to me,” Susan said.  “How did Charlotte sound?”


“Happy – why?”


“Just wondered – thank you Pamela…”



11 am

FBI Field Office


Erin Corben looked up as the telephone rang on Adam’s desk, and then at the Director’s office where both Adam and Janice were talking to Tom.  Standing up and walking round, she picked up the handset and said “FBI Field Office – Agent Corben speaking.”


“Hello Erin – it’s Eleanor Ball here.  Is Adam there?”


“I’m sorry Captain Ball,” she said as Jeanne Marais raised an eyebrow, “he’s in conference with Director Callaghan at the moment.  Can I take a message?”


“Please – tell him we’re back from our trip, and would it be all right if I called round later to see them?”


“I’ll let them know,” Erin said as she smiled.


“Thank you very much,” Eleanor said as she ended the call, and Erin put the handset down.


“Mama Ball back from her trip?”


“Looks that way – so how does it feel to be back?”


“Feels good,” Jeanne said with a smile as she looked at the reports.  “Now that’s interesting…”


“What is?”


“Report from Marseilles – someone killed a man called Alain Rey, blew up his offices and warehouses.  He was known as a leading man in the Marseilles families.”


“He must have upset somebody,” Erin said.


“Really upset – he was tortured and a sign carved into his skin.”  She passed a copy of the photo over to Erin.


“Nasty – do you know that sign?”


“I’ve heard of it – an intelligence specialist.  Guess he forgot to pay off the right people…”



12.30 pm

St Angela’s


“She really pulled a Malvolio on you – I’ll get my revenge on every last one of you?”


“She did,” Abby said as she sat with Letty.  “She might have a job however – that went out live on The Beckmann Report, and there is a LOT of chatter in the biz today about what she tried to do, and what we did.  Paula flew back with the girls last night, very satisfied with the way things turned out.”


“That sounds like one angry woman,” Letty said as she shook her head.  “Anyway, I wanted to say Mom and I are really looking forward to Saturday – it’s going to be a great way to start the last few weeks here.”


“I know – and I can’t wait to see Jo and the Twins again.  They have finals this week, then home next week.”


“That will be us next year you know…”


“I know,” Abby said as she looked round, “it hardly seems as if four years have passed by…”




“It hardly seems like a year has gone by,” Poppy said as she sat with Erica, “but it’s been one heck of a year.”


“Tell me about it,” Erica said with a smile.  “I’m glad we’re flying down with you on Saturday.”


“So am I – and I hear it’s an amazing place to visit as well.”


“You two are going to the race on Saturday as well,” Jess said as she sat down.  As they both nodded, she said “we’re flying down with some of the others – going to be an amazing day.”


“So when do you head back to Spain for your visit?”


“Start of June – we’re staying there and then going directly to the big Summer Ball at Chateau de Ros.”



1 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Well, I must admit, I was surprised when I was told you were coming, and even more surprised when I heard why – but I am glad you agreed to stay in my home, Francesca.”


“We’re grateful you made the offer,” Charlotte said as Edith served coffee.  “I would have stayed in the hotel, but when Clint said Shirley had arranged for us to stay here, I realised this would be better.”


“Well,” Diana said, “It gives us the chance to talk about schooldays.  I remember when I first arrived and met you as one of the head girls.”


“I find it difficult to imagine you as a girl, Diana,” Charlotte said as she sat down in the chair.


"You know someone once used the phrase, 'I wouldn't know true happiness if it stood up and slapped me in the face'." Francesca sat down, "I did know what it was one day, and I hope I'm going to learn again what it is...but be patient with me Carlotta, I do still have a lot to work out in my mind."

"Well as far as I'm concerned my house is your house Francesca...and yours too Charlotte."

"Thank you Diana, you were always such a dear girl."

"Would I be imposing?" Charlotte added.

"Not at all, what is the point of owning a house this size if I don't occasionally have several guests at once.  Before I forget, I understand congratulations are in order?”


“Yeah – but this week is about relaxation and reconnecting,” Charlotte said.  “Where is Abby today, school?”


“Indeed,” Diana said, “but she will see you later.  Where is Beverley?”


“She was called into the office – I’ll be heading in myself in a little while,” Charlotte said, “let you both catch up on ‘old times’.”


“Now that really was a lifetime ago,” Francesca said with a smile.  “You were little Di du Grechy then, the daughter of one of the most fashionable couples in Parisian society.”


"Can I just ask what the primary teaching language was at your school?" Charlotte sipped her coffee, "both of you, and Natalya, are all so fluent in so many languages."

"We were taught primarily in English and French," Diana smiled, "but with girls from so many different countries, I guess we taught each other our languages."

"It's why I speak some Finnish of all things," Francesca shook her head, I had Frikka Lehtinen for my roommate for three years. I taught her Italian and she taught me her language in return."


“After all,” Diana said, “how many dialects do you speak or understand Charlotte?”


“Fair point,” the younger woman said as she put her cup down.



1.15 pm

The Astoria-Waldorf


“I will see you on Wednesday then Wilhelm,” Natalya said, “and we will go to the meeting together.  Auf Weidersehn.”


Smiling, she ended the call – only to hear the ringing tone.  Looking at the caller ID, she smiled as she said “Alex – you got back safely?”


“I did Natalya – Valeria sends her regards.  I hope everything has gone well so far?”


“It has – we arrived safely, and Shirley arranged for Charlotte, Beverly and Francesca to stay with Diana for the visit.”


“Ah good – I made the suggestion to her when I rang.”


Smiling, Natalya said “I'm going to make that a dozen bottles of truly great wine Alexander...Thank you so much."

"I was really just doing my job Natalya, but donations of wine are always welcome."

"Were you able to get help from that other direction you mentioned?"

"Indeed I was...having an old golfing partner as a cardinal, and his holding just the right office, this will get done."

"Good, she deserves some happiness at last."

"Well I may need let Aidan Kelly beat me the next couple of times we play, but it's a small price to pay to help her."

Down the phone Natalya laughed, "I hope Cardinal Kelly doesn't realise that you will be 'diplomatically' losing?"

"He's a cardinal...I think he might be used to we mere priests letting him win."


“Well, I will see you when you come back Alex – and thank you again.”  As the call ended, Natalya looked out over Central Park, smiling.



1.30 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Well, I had best get going,” Charlotte said as Edith hailed a cab, “I’ll see you both later – have fun reminiscing.”


“I intend to,” Francesca said as they waved her off, and then went back in.


“So – your daughter?  What happened?”


“It is a long story,” Francesca said as they went into the drawing room, and sat down – only to look up as Edith came in and said “forgive me Madame – Mister Walker and Inspector Marais need to see the Marchesa?”


“Who are they?” Francesca said as Clint came in, wearing his official uniform, and Jeanne walked beside him in a dark jacket and skirt with a white top underneath.


“My apologies for the interruption, Diana,” Jeanne said, “we are here to see Francesca?”


“I am the Marchesa di Cambrello,” Francesca said with a smile.


“Francesca, may I introduce Inspector Jeanne Marais of Interpol, and Clint Walker?  Clint is an official driver for the UN.”


“And you need to see me because?”


“Admiral, I've been asked if I can drive you to the Italian Mission at the United Nations," Clint smiled.

"And I've been asked to accompany you as well." Jeanne smiled as well.

"Oh? Am I in trouble?" Francesca stiffened.

"I was told to tell you no in answer to that question.  But your presence is requested – there is no need to change into uniform."

"Just as well,” Francesca said, “I do not have it with me.  But why are you smiling Inspector?"

"Because I've been fully briefed as to what is to happen...and I know you will enjoy it."

"May we go Marchesa?" Clint asked.


“Well, if it has to be, it has to be,” Francesca said quietly.  “Diana…”


“I will see you later – you will be safe with them,” Diana said as Clint walked down the steps and opened the door, Francesca getting in as Jeanne nodded before joining her.


“Edith,” Diana called out as she closed the door.




“Prepare something special for dinner, and chill some champagne – I think we may need it later.”


“Yes Madame,” Edith said as she went back to the kitchen.



2.15 PM

UN Plaza


As Clint pulled up outside the main entrance, he stepped quickly out and opened the door, waiting as Jeanne and Francesca got out and walked slowly up to the reception area.


As they waked in, the security guard looked up and said “Good afternoon Ladies – how may I help you?”


“Inspector Jeanne Marais, Interpol,” Jeanne said as she showed her credentials.  “I am here to accompany Admiral Francesca di Cambrello to a meeting with the head of the Italian Mission.”


“Do you have some identification,” the guard said, Francesca nodding as she handed over her passport, and he looked at a monitor.  “You are expected – proceed through security, the guard will take you to where you need to go.”


“Thank you,” Francesca said as they were waved through security, and escorted to the Italian Mission.  As they walked in, the two naval officers manning the desks in the office stood to attention and saluted.


“Admiral, Inspector, you are expected – if you would wait here for a moment please,” one of them said as he knocked and went into the inner office, Francesca looking nervously round.


“What are you worried about,” Jeanne whispered.


“What might be waiting inside,” Francesca said as the door opened again, and the officer said “if you will come in?”


Slowly, Francesca walked in, Jeanne following as a tall, grey haired man stood up.  That was not the focus of Francesca’s attention, however – that was the grey headed, stocky gentleman standing to the side of the room.


“General Manenti,” she said as she snapped to attention and saluted.


“At ease Admiral,” he said as he stepped forward.  “Inspector – thank you for accompanying her here today.  You have been fully briefed?”


“I have sir,” Jeanne said as the head of AISE nodded to the Mission Head.  “Admiral Marchesa Francesca di Cambrello,” he said quietly, “thank you for agreeing to meet us today.  I understand your recent mission in Marseilles was successfully concluded.”


“It has Sir, General,” Francesca said as she stood to attention.  “The threat was terminated with extreme prejudice.”


“Good – you have, as always, served your country to the best of your abilities Admiral,” General Manenti said.  “I understand there were some – unexpected conversations.”


Glancing at Jeanne, Francesca said “Permission to speak freely General.”


“Permission granted.”


“I literally found my daughter again,” Francesca said, “someone I have seen only once since my mission to Pretoria was ended.  I have been talking with her, and realised that although it has been an honour to serve my country, I have a request to make.”


“You wish to retire?”


“I do General – preferably to enjoy life with my daughter, and to see my grandchild grow up, a pleasure denied to my own parents.”


Nodding, General Manenti said “You have indeed served your country well, Admiral – and it is perhaps time for you to rest.  There have been some – interesting conversations in Rome and Naples over the last 48 hours, and as a result, I am here, with the Mission Head, to perform the following ceremony.”


As the Mission Head picked up an envelope and handed it to the General, he said “Admiral, stand to attention.”


As Francesca stiffened, the head of her bureau said “Admiral Francesca di Cambrello, at this time, 14.30 Eastern Standard Time on Monday 2nd May, I do inform you that your request to retire has been granted, and you are hereby discharged from the Italian Navy with full honours.  This is confirmed by this letter, which I present to you now.”


He handed the letter over to an astounded Francesca, who saluted the senior officer, before saying “My service is truly over?  With no repercussions?”


“We trust you to keep your secrets – and you have some powerful friends,” the General said with a smile.  “I personally wish you a long, peaceful and happy retirement.”


“There is one more thing,” the Mission Head said.  “In recognition of your services to Italy, and by decree in motu proprio by his Excellency the President of the Italian Republic, the Marchesa di Cambrello is awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, 3rd Class, and is hereby and henceforth known as Commendatore Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana.  General.”


“It gives me great pleasure to do this,” General Mantini said as he opened a box, and took out a medal, made from a white Maltese cross with a brass embossed centre and a garland of gold oak leaves, a green ribbon with red trim in a bow at the top.  Standing front of Francesca, he pinned it to her chest and handed her the certificate, then stepped back and saluted.


“I… I am truly humbled to receive this honour,” Francesca said quietly.  “I thank you, General, and you sir.”


“It is well deserved,” General Mantini said as the Mission Head pressed a button, the young officer entering with a bottle of champagne and four glasses on a tray.  “I can also assure you, Francesca – this is genuine, and nobody from our group will come after you.  So, what will you do now?”


“Get to know my daughter again,” Francesca said quietly.  “And enjoy life again.  I may do some consulting work as well – but it will not cross your path, God willing.”


“I hope so as well,” the General said as the Mission Head handed round glasses.  “And immediately?”


“I have an invitation to go with my daughter and friends to the Kentucky Derby…”



A few minutes later, Francesca and Jeanne left the Mission, Francesca carrying a leather case.


"And in the end it was as simple as that?" Francesca shook her head, "a thank you, a medal, and now at last I'm a free woman."

"Well it helps to have people of influence pressing your case Marchesa." Jeanne smiled again

"If any money had to change hands I will reimburse them..."

"No,” Jeanne said as she shook her head, “as far as I know it wasn't bribery."

"What then?"

"Well from my meagre sources,” Jeanne said as they walked down the corridor, “I believe that several former politicians put in the word that you should be allowed to leave."

"Now who has that kind of pull?" Francesca muttered.

"Also that the church made a case directly to the Italian government on your behalf...I believe that can be traced back to Alex Richmond."

"Ah yes - the good father."

"And I'm also led to believe that the US Military might have poked its nose in...  And that certain 'incidents' were discussed."

"Oh my," Francesca shook her head.

"It pays to have friends in high places Marchesa, especially when those friends really love you."


“But Charlotte does not have that…  Oh.  Sorry, on the wrong track.”


“Well, Clint should be waiting for us, and will take us back to Diana’s place…”



2 pm

Xavier International


“Charlotte,” Susan said as she came over and hugged the young redhead, “how are you feeling?”


“A lot better now that I’m back here – I left Francesca talking to Diana about school days.”


“Well, I’m glad you’re here – and looking well.  How’s the daddy to be?”


“Still getting used to the idea I think – he called me in Monaco last night to make sure I was all right.”


“Have you told him yet?”


“Nope – I need time to figure out how to say ‘Hey Piet – meet the mother I always told you was dead.  Surprise!’”


“When does he get in?”




“Right then – come with me,” Susan said as they left her office, walking down the corridor and entering the meeting room.  Charlotte smiled as Caroline came over and hugged her, then said “how are you?”


“I’m good – honestly.  Where’s Bev?”


“She’s talking to Sharon – comparing notes on an idea I’m working through.  Heather says to tell you we’re going out for dinner tonight – no excuses.”


“Sounds good – where is she today anyway?”


“Lunch with Juliette…”




2 pm

Central Park


"Alright Heather,” Juliette said with a smile, “time we talked some serious business..."

"Over damn hotdogs again!" Heather moaned.

"I know...  I promised I would get you a great meal...  But do this and I'll more than repay you."  Juliette smiled as she put mustard on her sausage.  "You know security cameras are getting more and more prevalent..."

"Yes...”  Heather swallowed her food, and continued “but so what Ju, they do help keep us all secure."

"But they are also the bane of our lives in our other..."

"Criminal enterprises." Heather finished the words.

"The law authorities in some places can track you back from the scene of the crime all the way to your home door."

"Yeah, it's a factor you have to take into account always."

Smiling, Juliette said "Did you ever see The Italian Job?"

"With Wahlberg in it?"

"No the original Michael Caine version."



“Well rent it on Netflix tonight, look at how crucial control of traffic cameras is in it."

"I can do that...but do I get even a hint as to the purpose?"

"Come have lunch with me at CS tomorrow," Juliette cleaned her mouth with her napkin.

"But the food there is lousy Ju..Juliette...JULIETTE!" Heather glared as the model and writer calmly walked away without even a glance back.




4 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Ah – there you are,” Diana said as Edith opened the door, allowing Francesca to come in, “so why were you summoned?”


“I’ll tell you later,” Francesca said with a smile as she held the leather satchel, “once Carlotta…  Sorry, Charlotte is back.”


“Well, I was entertaining a couple of guests – will you join us,” Diana said as she waved Francesca into the drawing room.  “Natasha, darling, this is Francesca, Marchesa di Cambrello.  Francesca, my sister in law Natasha, Duchess de Grechy, and this is my nephew Alain.”


“It’s a real pleasure to meet you,” Natasha said as Alain waved his hands round.


“Likewise – a pleasure to meet you as well young man,” Francesca said as she allowed the baby boy to grab her finger.


“Mom, I’m home.”


“We are in the drawing room,” Diana called out as Abby walked in wearing her school uniform.


“Hi Aunt Tasha – I see we have guests.”


“We do indeed – Francesca, my daughter Abigail.  Abigail, this is Francesca di Combrello – she will be staying with us for a few days, as will Charlotte and Beverly.”


“It’s nice to meet you,” Abby said as Francesca stood, and she hugged the Italian noblewoman.  “Mama, I have the tickets for the prom.  I will be going to look at dresses tomorrow with Letty.”


“Of course.  Dinner will be at seven tonight.”


“Well, I’ll go and get changed and get my assignments completed,” Abby said as she went out.


“I must say,” Francesca whispered, “she is not what I expected.  So you married Guillieme, I take it?”


“Good guess – how do you know?”


“I was a head girl when Diana started school – I have met her brothers.  Roger is married, and it would not be Alain – which leaves Guillieme.”


“Francesca has always been sharper than people think,” Diana said with a smile.



4 pm

Xavier International


“I think when you return to Diana’s,” Shirley said with a smile as she appeared on the screen, “you will find your mother has some news for you.  I will let her tell you.”


“Thank you Madame,” Charlotte said with a smile.  “I trust the papers arrived safely?”


“They have – we are processing the information now, and will pass on any relevant information in due course.  I trust Beverley was of use?”


“She was, Madame – and she made a fair amount at the casino as well.  I was wondering if, when we meet later in the week, we can discuss her development plan.”


“I would appreciate that – I have been approached with a suggestion which she may find of interest, but I need to consider it further still.   If we proceed, it will be – interesting.  For now, however, I will let you finish for the night.  Say hello to Dominque for me.”


“Thank you Madame,” Charlotte said as the call ended, and she made her way down to the meeting room.  Walking in, she smiled as Bev looked up and said “all done, boss?”


“All done – I’m going out with Caroline and Heather for dinner.  Want to tag along?”


“If I won’t be in the way…”



5 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Is that you Charlotte,” Diana called out as she heard the front door open and close.


“It is – Bev’s with me as well.”  The two women came in as Charlotte said “Caroline has asked if I and Bev will join her for dinner tonight.  Is that a problem?”


“Of course not,” Francesca said, “but I have some news for you.  I was summoned to meet my commanding officer today.”


“You were?  What happened?”


“Well,” Francesca said as she stood up, “I am, as of this afternoon, a free agent.”


“They…  They let you resign?”


“With full honours – and a medal as well.  I can finally be free again.”


Bev smiled as Charlotte ran forward and hugged Francesca, then turned as Abby came down.


“Did I miss something when I met her earlier?”


“She’s ‘er mum,” Bev said quietly as the two embraced.




5.30 pm

West Central Park


“There you go,” Katherine said as she handed Eleanor the mug of coffee.  “Has Veronica gone home?”


“She has – but she will join us at the weekend,” Eleanor said with a smile as Katy sat with them.


"So other than help the Duc and the racing people crack a doping ring, did you do anything really exciting while you were in France Gran?"

Eleanor smiled inwardly, it was still such a pleasurable thing hearing this beautiful girl call her Gran.

"Well,” she said after she had taken a sip, “I went to the casino at Monte Carlo with some friends."

"That sounds Dolls...I saw the Nicole Kidman movie about Princess Grace while you were away."

"Bad film…  But Monte Carlo…  It is a beautiful glamorous place...and for once I didn't lose at the roulette wheel..."

"How much did you win?"

"Oh only about 20 Euros..."

"That's not much," Katy laughed.

"But as I said at least I didn't lose."

"That's true...I guess."

"I also bought you this," Eleanor reached into her handbag, and pulled out a small box.

"Oh you shouldn't have bought me a present Gran," Katy opened the box. "OH MY GOD!...Earrings..."

"They are not much, just pearl studs, but I think they are just the sort of thing you can wear safely for school."

"Oh they are BEAUTIFUL!" Katy reached out and hugged Eleanor, "and you are quite right, we are allowed to wear small studs in our ears."


“Perfect,” Katherine said with a smile.


"Changing the subject...”  Eleanor put her mug down and said “how did it go with that sleaze’s lawyer?"

"Well it wasn't fun," Katy breathed deeply, "but I told her the truth, and despite her prodding I kept to what was relevant."

"Well that was the best you could do Katy."

"I know, but it will still go down as one of my LEAST favorite days of the year."

"Just remember there will also be a trial."

"I know, and I guess I'm already steeling myself for that."


“We’re going to be with you every step of the way,” Katherine said as the door opened, and Jan followed Adam in.


“Welcome back,” Adam said as he hugged his mother, Jan doing the same as she whispered “did you get the source?”


Eleanor nodded as she said “it was a good trip, but I’m glad to be back now…”



6.30 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Come in,” Francesca said as she heard the knock on the door.  Looking round, she smiled as she said “Hello Abigail – can I do something for you?”


“Momma wanted to let you know drinks will be served in a few minutes – are you settling in?”


“Well, I am unpacking – which is always a good sign.”


“You know you have some beautiful clothes Marchesa," Abigail admired a satin dress as Francesca hung it up.

"Abigail darling, unless you want to make me feel positively ancient...PLEASE call me Francesca."

"I'll try," Abby smiled as she hung another dress. "Do you buy these in the stores? Because if you do I'm shopping in the wrong places."

"Yes, but I then always take them to be altered by one of two seamstresses I know, one in Rome, the other in Genoa."

"Well they tailor these so expertly."

"My ex-husband always said that wherever I went I could always find some little woman who could make my clothes just so."

"It’s strange - Charlotte always led us to believe that both you and her father were dead."

"Well to her I was, and he was murdered as you've probably heard."


“Yeah – I never really knew my father,” Abby said.  “He died when I was still a baby.”


“I heard – but your mother has done a good job of bringing you up.”


“Yeah,” Abby said with a smile.  “Anyway – come down when you are ready.”



A few minutes later, Francesca came in as Diana opened a bottle of champagne.


“A drink to celebrate your new life,” she said with a smile as she passed the blonde a glass.  “Where are you eating tonight Charlotte?”


“There’s a Chinese restaurant near Caroline’s place we like.  So we’ll head there.”


“I’d like to meet some of your friends this week, if that was possible,” Francesca said quietly.


“Let me ask if she can – depending on what else you do this week.”


"So where are you planning on living Francesca?" Diana asked.

"Well it's not like I have a shortage of places to choose from...  I suppose I can live pretty anywhere other than in South Africa."

"So any ideas?"

"Where I can be close to Carlotta...she's based in London, so I guess I'll rent a flat in London for now."

"It might be a good idea." Diana looked content. "Close enough to be there with her, but not close enough to be in her and Piet's life constantly."

"Those were my thoughts...and I suppose in London I'll need find something to do with myself."

"You are a lawyer, see what you might enjoy doing that involves that."

"Yes,” Francesca said as she sipped her drink, “but as I keep saying, who's going to take me seriously as a lawyer?"

"I know someone who might."

"And who might that foolish person be?"

"Sigrid von Manschen...I rang her earlier."

"Now why would she be interested in me?"

"Well first you are a friend of her aunts. Secondly she went to the same school as us all in Lausanne, and we old girls help each other. But finally she remembers being very impressed by your legal knowledge once."

"As I was by hers...but what would she have me doing?"

"Research and Consultancy work...the same as she does." Diana paused, "and before you ask she stressed that if she takes you on, it will NOT be charity, she needs a great partner because her work has grown so much...If...and it's still a big IF...she takes you on as a partner, you are going to need to have to impress her again Francesca."

"Well it does sound like an amazing prospect...That I will admit."


“Well, she is coming this weekend as well, so you will have the chance to call on her then.”


“I’d do so Mother,” Charlotte said, “but Bev and I had better get going.  We’ll see you all later.”


“Have fun,” Abby said as they set off, Edith appearing to say “dinner is ready Madame.”




8 pm

The Village


“What was it like,” Charlotte said as she nibbled on a dumpling.  “Well, at first I could not believe my eyes – I mean, I knew who she was.  I had learned her identity from Dad’s papers.  But to see her there, in the flesh, staring at me as I looked at her…”


Looking across the table at Caroline, she asked “what was it like for you when Karen Boyd called your name out?”


Caroline looked at both of them, before she said “it’s difficult to explain – I mean, nobody had called me that in years, but the shock of hearing her, a voice from when I was a little girl, was much greater.  But it’s different for you Charlotte – this was your mother, someone we all thought was dead, and instead…”


“Instead, my dad has never told me the full truth – none of my parent figures from my life had,” Charlotte said quietly.  “So, discovering that she was kicked out as a spy, broke my dad’s heart, made him focus on me and excluded her totally from my life…  Yeah, I was shocked and angry, at her, at Uncle John and Aunt Marianne, and for a moment at my father as well.  But you know what I realised?”


“What happened, happened?”


“Exactly – and I also realised we had to move on.  I want to get to know her – the real her, not the woman she has been for the last twenty plus years.”


“It might take some time,” Heather said, “but you’re right.”


“’Course she’s right,” Bev said quietly, “she’s got a chance to get to know ‘er.  Take it from me, girl – seize that chance.”


“Okay Miss Poker Queen.”


“Yeah, I heard about that – you impressed Pru and no mistake,” Caroline said with a smile.


“It was fun,” Bev said with a smile.  “A real change for me – and Charlotte ‘ere has offered to stake me at a tournament with Pru.”


“Yeah, I know,” Charlotte said as he looked at Heather and Caroline, “a fool and her money…”


“So when does the big man get here?”


“’e’s…  Sorry, he’s flying here from Ethiopia day after tomorrow.  Give me and mother time to…”


She stopped as she looked at her phone.  time to talk to Uncle John and the others?”


“The others?”


“Aunt Marianne and Uncle Fergus – they’re arriving tomorrow.  Well, they can celebrate my mother’s official retirement as well!”



8.30 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Mrs von Furstenheim,” Edith said as Diana and Francesca were sitting enjoying an after-dinner drink.


“Juliette darling,” Diana said as she stood up to greet her friend, “what brings you here tonight?”


“A growing sense of desperation, Diana – for which I have to ask the help of your friend here.”


“Of course – Francesca, may I introduce Juliette von Furstenheim.  Juliette, this is my old school friend Francesca, Marchesa di Cambrello.”


Your Royal Highness,” Francesca said as she went into a low curtsey.


“Okay – first rule, don’t do that unless you have to,” Juliette said as she blushed. 


“So you are Sigrid’s sister in law?”


“I am – and she heard you were here, so she suggested I consulted you on a problem I am having with my business.”


“Oh?  Well, what is the issue?”


“Can you spare a moment to review these documents,” Juliette said as she handed a file over, taking a seat as Diana handed her a glass of wine.  “In essence, we seem to have fallen foul of a protectionist Senator who is trying to block our imports of cloth and goods from the Far East.”


“Ah, the joy of isolationist factors,” Francesca said as she started to read through the reports and files.  After a few minutes, she looked at both of them.  "In Italy such things are normal Juliette, they only become a scandal if they somehow are allowed to leak into the media." Francesca put down the documents.


"I'm afraid that in my country at least politicians using their 'pull' to favour one interest over another is viewed as being perfectly normal." Francesca paused, "and the exchange of money for getting such favours done, well that is the normal practice of business."

"Yes but Marchesa this is the USA...not Italy."

"This is true."

"I was told by Diana and Sigi that you are something of an expert in maritime and trade law...will you help us try and expose what is going on here?"

"It just might be that chance to impress Sigi," Diana murmured.

"I will do what I can, and I will at least read these papers fully." Francesca smiled, "but if I'm to be of full help I really need to be introduced to both your banker, and your executives who have been working on this."

"Would a meeting in my office tomorrow morning be too early?"

"Not if I start work now I guess." Francesca looked at her watch.


“I’ll arrange it for eleven – give you a chance to at least read them.  And thank you – any and all help is appreciated,” Juliette said as she stood up.


“Well, I guess my new life really does start now,” Francesca said as she stood as well – smiling as Diana showed her out.



9 pm



“So Judith is going to stay here this week while you do your exams,” Abby said as she sat across from Carina.


“Yeah – I head back from here, than drive back Friday afternoon to fly with everyone on Friday.”


“Well, our new house guests have gone out for the evening, leaving Mom and Francesca to compare school days.”


"So just what is she like 'Il Pesce Diavolo'?" Carina asked.

"Well nothing like you are." Abby leaned back in her booth seat. "She's charming, cultured, well-mannered..."

"And I'm not?" Carina laughed as she interrupted.

"NO!" Abby laughed loudly, "no what I mean is I get the feeling with her that it was largely a job, that she really got little pleasure from it."

"No pleasure?" Carina shook her head, "that's a waste of a perfectly good kill."


“Not everyone gets their enjoyment in the same way as you – all the time,” Abby said as she sipped her drink.


“So – end of year stunt.”


“I’m not going to tell you,” Abby said with a laugh, “but Letty and I go Prom Dress shopping tomorrow.  On unrelated matters - any more idea what your mom is planning?”


“Nope – but apparently she got Heather to watch an old film…”


"You should see her clothes?" Abby cooed admiringly, "talk about stylish and well tailored."

"She's Italian remember...It comes with her genes."

"Talking of jeans," Abby laughed at her own pun. "I have a pair of the new Sharemel jeans for you, courtesy of Orion."

"OOH NICE!" Cari grinned broadly.


9.30 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Ah,” Diana said as she stood up, “how was the meal?”


“Fantastic,” Charlotte said as the others came in, “Caroline is taking me round to see Annie, but she wanted to make sure we got back safely first.”


“Of course,” Diana said, “will you take a drink before you go?”


“Thank you,” Diana said as Bev yawned.


“Will you forgive me if I go to bed, Mrs de Ros?”


“Of course you may – I will see you in the morning,” Diana said as Bev went out, the others hearing her say “good night Francesca.”


“Good night Beverley,” Francesca said as she came in, looking at some papers.  “Oh – forgive me, I did not know we had additional guests.”


“Mother, allow me to introduce Caroline Jameson and Heather Smith,” Charlotte said.  “Caroline, Heather – Francesca di Cambrello, my mother.”


“È un piacere conoscerti,” Caroline said as she kissed Francesca on both cheeks.


“Please, be seated,” Diana said as they took their seats.


"You understand the Italian mindset Caroline...tell me are you part Italian?"

"Not as far as I know," Caroline smiled, "but I lived in France for a while, and I think they do things in a similar way."

"This is true," Francesca sipped her wine.

"Mother, Caroline runs a security firm that is associated with us at Xavier's as well as her modeling."

"Does she now Charlotte?" Francesca paused, "well that makes you an even more impressive young woman Caroline."

"Well I can't claim credit for my career as a model,” Caroline said with a smile.  “I didn't really want to be, but my mother's friends sort of pushed me into one because I looked so much like her."

"Well I don't think I actually ever met your mother,” Francesca said, “but I saw enough pictures of her to know the resemblance is remarkable."

"Thank you," Caroline beamed, "being compared to her is I think the greatest compliment."

"Caroline was older when she lost her mother, but she sort of grew up without her." Charlotte spoke slowly and sadly.

"She died of a drug overdose didn't she Caroline?"

"Yes." the blonde nodded. "The very worst day of my life."

"I understand."

"Last year a cache of letters she had written during her final months was discovered by a mutual friend. She wrote in them all the things she never got to tell me in real life."

"I rather did the same for Carlotta," Francesca let a tear slip, "but her Papa in his anger never let her see them."


“But I have them now,” Charlotte said, “and I look forward to reading all of them.  So what are you looking at?”


“Juliette called round tonight, to ask for Francesca’s help with the legal troubles her company is facing.”


“A task I am going to enjoy,” Francesca said with a smile, “but I need a small break.  So, tell me about yourself Heather."

"Well the important facts first. I'm from upstate New York, I lost my parents in a car crash when I was at college. I have a younger sister called Joanne..."

"She is Jo Smith the model I believe?"

"That she is...and I'm very proud of her. Now what next? Oh yeah, I have a degree from Yale where I majored in art history. I couldn't get a job in the art world so I took one as nanny to the Richmond children...And...I sort of fell in love with my boss, and now we are partners."

"You fell in love with Mr. Richmond?"

"No," Heather laughed lightly, "I fell in love with Ms. Richmond...I'm a lesbian."

"Ah!" Francesca nodded, "now your life slips into place for me.  So who do you live with Caroline?"


“Well, if you can spare the time, I’m driving back there with Charlotte – I can introduce you to Annie and Ama there.”


“Well, I do need the break – we can catch a cab back afterwards, correct?”


“Miss Kelly,” Edith said as Annie came in, wearing a smock top and loose fitting pants.


“I was on my way back from a staff meal, and saw the lights on.  Charlotte, congratulations.”


“Thank you,” Annie said as the two women hugged, “and this is your mother?”


“Indeed – Annie Kelly, the Marchesa di Cambrello.”


“Call me Francesca,” the tall blonde said as she kissed Annie.


“Hang on – don’t tell me you’re titled as well, Charlotte?”


“Let’s not go there just now – sit down, sit down, I’ll get some more drinks.”


“How long,” Francesca asked.


“Officially, another three weeks – but the baby cannot come too soon,” Annie said as she sat down and patted her stomach.


"So I understand that like my Carlotta you have a passion for climbing Annie?"

"Well when I'm not heavily pregnant," Annie sipped from her tonic water. "And what do you do for fun Marchesa?"

"I like to sail believe it or not. I definitely do NOT climb mountains." Francesca laughed.

"Yes that's one passion I definitely inherited from Dad," Charlotte said as she brought fresh drinks.

"So what kind of sailing?" Annie took a sip from her drink. "Big yachts on the ocean?"

"No," Francesca," Francesca laughed some more. "Dinghies and other small boats...where I get to do the actual sailing, not some crewman."


"So how was your evening Mother?"

"As I said, yet another big surprise, Juliette von Furstenheim coming over and asking for my help as a consultant was certainly not what i expected."

"Well no one told me she was going to do it," Charlotte sipped from her soft drink, "You know Pepsi really is vile."

"Well you only have seven months of it Carlotta my love."

"Don't remind me! And going back to what we were saying, can you be of help?"

"I need to look at the fine print of a couple of trade treaties, but yes maybe I have spotted a couple of things that maybe the Huntingdown's lawyers can take into court to seek an injunction."

'So what happened, where did my Mother the bimbo go?" Charlotte laughed aloud.

"I really don't know," Francesca laughed back.



Tuesday 3rd May

7.30 am

The de Ros Mansion


“Good morning,” Abby said as she came to the breakfast table, putting her blazer on – and seeing Francesca making more notes as Diana sipped her coffee.


“Good morning, Miss Abigail,” Edith said as she put some pancakes in front of the teenager.


“Interesting stud, Francesca?”


“Confusing – the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement had been signed by the US, but they have yet to ratify it.  Given your current political situation – and the actions of this gentleman – it may or may not help the case.  Even more challenging is the fact China is not part of the agreement.”


“But here is a way forward?”


“Perhaps - Chapter 4 regarding textile trade is so full of ifs and buts, and very specific definitions, especially in regard to silk, that as good a brain as I have Diana, I think I need ring Sigrid and get her opinion before my meeting in the morning."

"Sounds like a good idea."

Francesca looked over and said "It doesn't show her that I'm not up to doing this?"

"Far from it....shows you are a team player darling."


“Good morning,” Charlotte said as she came in, wearing a white blouse, grey akirt and cardigan, “ready for the meeting today mother?”


“Yes and no – I’ll know in a little while.”


“Right – time I was gone.  I’m on the East Side run today,” Abby said as she stood up and ran out.


“Typical morning?”


“Typical morning – where is Beverley?”


“She was just getting up – Caroline is going to pick her up later for the day.  She needs to talk to the DA about Katy’s kidnapping.”


“Thank you,” Charlotte said as Edith placed a plate of pancakes in front of her.

"I like your friends Charlotte,” Francesca said, “you have been lucky in connecting with such delightful people."

"Thank you Mother,” the young woman said with a smile, “and I have several more that you still have to meet."

"And Charlotte's friends are just a subset within the larger social group we call the Saints and Sinners," Diana looked up from what she was reading.

"Ah yes...the INFAMOUS sinners," a smile played on Francesca's lips, "that exclusive group that dazzles to gossip pages even in Europe."

"Oh I would hardly say we dazzle." Diana smiled.


“Still – it is good of you to invite us to the race this weekend.”


“Of course we should,” Diana said with a smile as Francesca left the room for a moment.  “I think she is ready for today – she just needs to realise it.”


“I know – I’m going to be having lunch with her and Eleanor later today.  I want to talk to them before Uncle John and the others arrive.”


“Okay – Sigi and I have agreed a plan of action,” Francesca said as she came in.  “I’m having this meeting at Juliette’s apartment?”


“I’ll give you the address later,” Diana said as the women smiled at each other.


“The morning mail Madame,” Edith said as she placed the envelopes by Diana.


“A very efficient housekeeper – where did you find her?”


“In a way, she found me – but she has worked for me since Abigail was a baby, and has proven invaluable,” Diana said as she looked at one letter with a Madoc postmark.


“Ah – yes, I need to deal with this today,” she whispered.


“You know what it is without opening it?”


“In this case, yes,” Diana said, “Abigail turning eighteen next month means certain legal actions need to be taken – this is the final confirmation of one of them.”


“Well, I need to get my stuff and get going – one o’clock at the Tavern on the Green, Mother?”


“I’ll make my way there,” Francesca said as Charlotte went out of the room.


Mornin,” Bev said as she came in, “May I have some coffee please?”




8.45 am

St Angela’s


Abby ducked into the rest room, checking nobody else was in as Celia Zyborg came in after her.


“How was the party,” Abby asked quietly.


“Interesting – I enjoyed it, even if they didn’t.”


Smiling, Abby leaned against the wash basins and said "So Celia, what reactions?"

"Oh they aren't happy guys Abigail...  They said they were low on product with no more coming.   And they spent the rest of the evening after we left looking over their shoulders.  Whoever you had there appear to have put the fear of something into them...  It's getting time for the coup-de-grace."



“When it happens?”


“We’ll get a way out for you – but it will teach them a lesson they will never forget, I promise you that.”





9 am

The de Ros Mansion


“Xavier International,” Charlotte said as she sat in the back of the cab, the driver nodding as he set off.


Sitting in the back of the cab, Charlotte reflected on what her Mother had said - her mother knew of her role with the sisters, but what would she make of the news that Charlotte was also a career criminal? Living in the world that she did Charlotte took no moral judgments over anyone’s actions, and living a secret identity had become what passed for normal.  After all, even Piet was unaware of what she did – and he had been at the front line with the Sisters on two occasions.

No the immediate future, despite her desire to finally build a relationship with her mother would be a time still of learning and protection of secrecy. If one day it all ever had to come out, she prayed Francesca would totally understand.


She felt she would – but for now, let her get to know Charlotte in these guises.


10 am

The de Ros Mansion


Francesca stepped out of the mansion, adjusting the fit of her cream jacket, and putting on a pair of soft white leather gloves as she looked up and down the street.  Wearing the Louis Vuitton dress showed style and intelligence at the same time – appropriate for the people she would be meeting.


“So – I see you still retain your beauty, Madame la Marchesa.”


Francesca turned slightly and smiled as she saw the tall, broad shouldered and muscular man standing at the bottom of the stairs.  His dark suit was immaculately tailored, and the shirt without a crease – but his standing still bore the signs of his rank.



"Well, well – it’s been a long time Hennie." Francesca smiled at the South African General...  “I won’t ask how you tracked me down, but to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

Henrick Botha smiled as she put his hands in the pockets of his trousers.  "Oh when John told me what happened in Monaco,” he said with a smile, “I thought that maybe it was time we met face to face."

"Look, as of yesterday I'm out of the intelligence business Hennie...  They let me go...  I'm a civilian at last."

"Yes,” the head of the SAIS said, “so I have heard through channels, but you are a woman one who still knows a lot of secrets," Hennie shuffled his feet as he looked round, "you know you had me pretty convinced that you had indeed had a complete breakdown after we deported you."

"No that was only partly true, but I was in a mental hospital, it gave them opportunity to recruit me - and it helped them build a new legend for me."

"Oh yes the silly, frivolous blonde in the service of the Navy… but now, in reality, a wetworker."

"John told you that." Francesca smiled and looked at the people just passing them by on the New York street.

"He did.  He still reports to me, and told me everything.  I can imagine exactly how Charlotte felt..."

"Look Hennie,” Francesca said, “I have a meeting, and before you ask, no it isn't spying...  I’m starting to build a new life, a new career, so if you will forgive the forthright manner - what do you really want?"

"Good and to the point, that's the old Francesca I remember...”  Hennie turned so that only Francesca could see her, and whispered in a dangerous voice “What I want one day is to get you where you have  no support, and get a true interrogation done...I hated you back then, I hate you now."

"You do?"

"Ja...You did untold damage to my country back then...One day I will find out just how much."

"Well,” Francesca said with a smile, “I guess I better be careful then."

"Ja...unlike John and Marianne, I neither forgive...NOR forget."


“Is there a problem, Madame La Marchesa?”


Both Hennie and Francesca turned to see Edith standing in the doorway, looking at both of them.


“No Edith – this gentleman was asking for direction to the Metropolitan, but I was informing him as a visitor, I did not know the way either.”


“If you will follow my advice, sir,” Edith said as she came down and looked at Hennie, “you will cut through the park and head uptown.  It will take you about an hour from here.”


“Thank you – you have been very helpful,” Hennie said, nodding curtly to Francesca before he walked off.


“Thank you,” Francesca said with a smile.  “It was becoming a rather heated conversation.”


“If I may be so bold,” Edith said, “you are a guest of Madame, and as such under her protection.  By extension, you are also, as are Mistress Charlotte and Mistress Beverley, under my protection.  Allow me.”


She stood and hailed a cab, holding the door open as Francesca sat on, then closing the door and inclining her head as the cab drove off.  Returning into the house, she closed the door and smiled to herself.


“Has she departed safely?”


“She has now Madame,” Edith said as she turned and looked at Diana.  “Would you care for anything?”


“No – thank you Edith.”



10.30 am

The Huntingdown Apartment


“Heather,” Juliette said as she saw her friend walk in, “I hear you had an enjoyable evening last night.”


“It was fun,” Heather said as she closed the office door.  "Alright Ju, now before your meeting with the Marchesa and the others, why did you have me watch the original version of the Italian Job?"

"Don't you think it's an absolutely wonderful, tongue-in-cheek performance by Michael Caine Heather?"

"I did,” the young nanny said, “but when you have me watch something specific Ju there is usually a reason."

"Of course there was.  Did you see how they disrupted the traffic camera network?"

"Yeah, it was primitive, but efficient...why?"

"I envisage doing something similar,” Juliette said, “but this time not just with traffic cams…”


“Oh,” Heather said, “what else?”


“With every possible surveillance camera in a major city."

"Juliette, that's insane, even I'm not THAT GOOD!"

"Well make yourself that good Heather, I have the greatest heist of all time in mind as my farewell to crime, and I don't need it spoiled by pesky cameras trailing us everywhere...Do you get me?"

"Yes...but I'll really need think about it."

There followed a knock at the office door, and Judith tottered in, "Gramma your next meeting is here," she looked back at Janine in the doorway who smiled at the child who had quite obviously rehearsed the line.


“I’m sure you will rise to the occasion – especially with Jo back at the end of the week.  I’ll see you later, Heather.  Judith, I am expecting Aunt Helen and a few others.  Will you make sure they come in here?”


“Yes Gramma,” Judith said as she toddled out.  Shaking her head, Janine said “morning Boss – I brought some messages from the office, Alexis is holding the fort until after Lunch.”


There was another knock on the door, Judith coming in and saying “Aunty Helen is here” as Helen came in, along with Alan Kennedy. 


“Thank you Judith – do you think you could ask Grappy if he would bring some coffee in for us?  We are expecting one more person.”


“Yes, Gramma,” Judith said as Alan sat down.  “So, what news do we have?”


“Well, Alan, I have engaged some expert legal advice, and she wishes to see all of us before she advises us.”


“Would it be impudent to ask who,” Helen said.


“Well, she has been asked to advise by my sister-in-law, Helen – and although she has not practised publically for some years, Sigrid assures me she is of the highest calibre.”


“Intriguing,” Alan said as the door opened and Klaus brought the coffee in.


“Your guest is here, Juliette,” he said as he put the tray down, “shall I?”


“Please,” Juliette said as Klaus held the door open, and Francesca came in.  “Janine, Helen, Alan, let me introduce you to Francesca di Cambrello.  Francesca, this is Janine my personal assistant, Helen York who is the PA to my partner Catherine Lo, and Alan Kennedy, our financial adviser.”


“Madame Lo sends her regrets that she cannot be here,” Helen said as she inclined her head, “but other business matters keep her in Hong Kong.  I have her full confidence.”


“Of course,” Francesca said with a smile.  “Well, if you will be seated, we can begin.  I have reviewed what you have done so far, and you have my compliments on a thorough investigation.  Quite a complex situation you have here.”


“But you believe you see a way forward?”


“Indeed – I have consulted with Sigrid, and she thinks this is a viable approach.  Our first line of attack would have been to appeal to the TPP agreement – there is in the text relevant to textiles wording we could turn to our advantage.”


“Problem is,” Alan said, “that has not been ratified in the House – and will not be until after the election from what I have heard.”


“That is the first obstacle – the second is China is not a signatory.  So we must turn to the provisions of the North American Free Trade Organization.”


“But that covers transfers between the US, Canada and Mexico,” Juliette said as she sipped her coffee.


“True – but in terms of your import of cloth for manufacturing we have cause to seek an order to free up the imports.”


“You can,” Helen said as she looked at Janine, “how?”


“The key phrase in the NAFTA agreement is ‘yarn-forward’ in chapter 5.  It states there is cause for inclusion if the bulk of the manufacture of the goods occurs in the US, then the tariffs and import restrictions do not apply.  I quote…


“’ Less demanding rules of origin govern certain knitted underwear, brassieres, and shirts made from fabric in short supply in North America, and textile and apparel made from fabric not commonly produced in North America. For example, silk and linen apparel follow a single-transformation instead of a "yarn-forward" rule. Thus, silk blouses are considered originating even if made from non-originating fabric, provided the fabric is cut and sewn in one or more NAFTA countries. These exceptions give producers flexibility to import materials not widely produced in North America.’”


“Of course,” Alan said, “prove the line of supply is for the material direct to your customers, and it can be argued it comes under that definition.”


“Precisely,” Francesca said, “I think we could approach a judge to have those restrictions lifted.”


“But what about the goods manufactured abroad?”


“Trickier – but there we turn to the International Trade Administration, and the rules set out by the Office of Textiles and Apparel.  You are a registered business with them, correct?”


“Indeed,” Juliette said, “and our accounts are audited.  We even appear in their reports.”


“You do – I checked.  Have theer ever been any actions against you for labelling issues under the Textile and Wool Acts?”


“Never – our records will show that.”


“Any issues with CBP?”


As Juliette shook her head, Francesca smiled.  “In which case, both Sigrid and I believe we have a prima face case that the stop on imports of your goods are illegal, as you have met all the legal requirements, and paid all required tariffs.  Moreover, if you offer to enter into an arrangement with the CBP for a grading, they are required to allow all goods in pending the agreement.”


“And you would be prepared to state that to a judge?”


“Me?  I am an adviser – but Sigrid is on her way here.  Although she has a family connection, she is not a director of Huntingdowns.  So she can be in court, as a legal adviser to your attorney, and I can advise her.”


Juliette looked at Alan, who said “It should clear the path for the moment, but we still have the Senator to deal with.”


“True, but it buys us some time,” Juliette said, “Helen?”


“It sounds a good way forward,” Helen said, “and I am sure Catherine would approve.”




“If you do this, I would advise keeping some money aside in case they decide additional tariffs are due – but yes, this is the best way forward.”


“Very well – Francesca, inform Sigrid we approve the course of action, and set the wheels in motion.  Alan, your advice is good, and we will take it.  Janine, Helen, as soon as we get this sorted, get the cloth to our customers.”


“Yes, Boss,” Janine said, smiling for the first time as she drank her coffee.  Francesca smiled – it was good to be doing this again.




1 pm

Tavern on the Green


“Now that is smart thinking,” Charlotte said as she sat with Francesca.  “Will it work?”


“In the interim,” Francesca said, “but who can say in the current political climate?  That wasn’t the most interesting thing this morning however.”


“Oh?  What was?”


“Hennie Botha,” Francesca said as the waiter poured their drinks.


“Uncle John’s boss?  I should have known he’d come over,” Charlotte said.  "So why would Uncle Hennie be hassling you Mother?"

"Well he never did like me. I guess I was just too cosmopolitan for a square headed Afrikaner like him."

"But that doesn't explain why he would fly all this way..."

"Charlotte," Francesca interrupted, "I'm about to tell you a deep dark secret, that maybe 6 people in the world know."

"Alright,” Charlotte said quietly, “and what is it?"

"When I was running espionage in your country,” Francesca said in a low whisper, “I had an agent working inside the SACIC."

"South African Combined Intelligence Command...right?"


"So,” Charlotte said quietly, “from what I've guessed you were running quite a network."

"But 'Mouse' was the prize, an actual serving intelligence officer, who was really one of my agents." Francesca smiled, "I know both Hennie and John knew I had someone inside, but 'Mouse' is the best, they never got close, beyond that codename."

"Alright, but that was twenty five years ago,” Charlotte said.  “Why is it still relevant, why does it drive Uncle Hennie to hate you?"

"It drives him crazy," Francesca took a deep breath, "because 'Mouse' is still in place."

Charlotte stared at her mother, before she whispered "You mean this spy is still working?"

"No,” Francesca said, “but they don't know that.  On my capture 'Mouse' went into hibernation, but they do not know that, and they are both even now determined to expose the traitor as they see it in their own ranks."


Charlotte nodded, then smiled as she saw Eleanor come towards them, wearing a white blouse, dark skirt and heels.


“Hey,” she said as she sat down, “have you ordered yet?”


“No,” Charlotte said as she waved the waiter over, “let’s order and then we can discuss Mother’s latest news…”



“General Botha is in the city?  You must really have him agitated,” Eleanor said as they sat round the table.


"My worry Eleanor, is that in letting me resign the South Africans might think La Citadella is cutting me loose and that hence now I'm fair game?"


“John won’t.  But it had crossed my mind when you told me about that contretemps with their general on the street this morning."

"So what should I do,” Francesca said, “How can I live my life if I'm constantly looking over my shoulder for a South African snatch squad?"

"My it over with John Vosloo...”  Eleanor sipped her wine and sat back.  “I liked him, and I think he really thinks that with all this happening 25 years ago it’s time to let bygones be bygones."

"I can try."

"And if you need help, then get Charlotte talk to him, your daughter is a remarkable woman Francesca."

"That she is."


“Oh I’m already considering ways,” Charlotte said quietly.  As the food arrived, she said “May I ask some more questions Mother – about then…”


“Of course,” Francesca said.


"I could understand all the need for spying during the cold war Mother, but surely with the fall of the Berlin Wall, then the collapse of the USSR..."

"The game simply got more complicated." Eleanor butted in.

"The whole thing just stopped being black and white at the very time I was being trained." Francesca nodded. "It was no longer a simple thing of assuming that the west were the good guys, and that the east were the bad guys."

"Yes we had to watch everyone, both friends and so called enemies."

"You are right Eleanor, it was a different world as they said...  By the way did you know their initial long term plan with me was to set me up as a double-double?"

"NO! Now that I really did never know."

"A double-double?" Charlotte looked perplexed, "they were going to put you undercover in a coffee shop?"

"No," both older women laughed.  Francesca shook her head as she said "I was going to be made to look like an easy recruit for the KGB...pretend to work for them...then have my people pretend they were on to me, and depart for life behind the iron curtain.  All, of course, while working truly for my original masters."

"They wanted to do THAT to you?" Charlotte shook her head, "was there something basic in your character that they thought you could live life permanently undercover?"

"Maybe...but the plan had to be scrapped when circumstances changed, and they decide instead to put me in place somewhere as a case officer."

"Which eventually led to Pretoria?"

"Right my darling.  And – well, we’ve bene over that enough.  Ah – food."


As the plates were placed in front of them, Charlotte asked ”What was the most difficult thing running spy rings Mother?"

"Oh that one is easy - controlling the finances and flow of money."

Inwardly Charlotte smiled, working in the position she did at Xavier's she had first hand experience of that.

"Agents need money, most want paying...your own government wants such payments to be invisible to political scrutiny, the foreign power on which you are spying can have no idea of the money trail, and just as important individual agents don't need know what your arrangements are with other contacts."

"It sounds complicated." Charlotte smiled.


“It is – it’s what led to my uncovering and losing you, after all.  It was the risk I had to take…”


“We’ve all been there,” Eleanor said as she nodded.  “But you need to stop beating yourself up about it Francesca, and move on.”

"What was the first thing that attracted you to Dad Mother?"


"His eyes...”  Francesca put her knife and fork down for a moment.  “He was this rugged hulk of a man, but he had the dreamiest blue eyes I had ever seen."

"In later life they always looked slightly sad..."

"My fault I'm afraid...after what I did to him."

"But back to the start where did you first see the dreamy eyes?"

"At a rather boring cocktail party held by the university."

"Not his scene," Charlotte shook her head.

"Nor mine, especially since everyone was talking in Afrikaans, and mine was so poor."

Charlotte sipped her water, and said "How did you get him to notice you?

"Oh,” Francesca said as she shook her head, “not in a way that I really like to remember."

Eleanor smiled as she said "that sounds intriguing."

"Well, since you asked so nicely,” Francesca said, “I walked straight into the deputy PM and spilled my drink all over him."

"OH NO!" Charlotte laughed hard.

"Yes,” Francesca said with a laugh, “that taught me a lesson that even if I see a man I fancy, at least retain some spatial awareness."


“Which still does not…  Francesca?”


“Sorry,” Francesca said, “I was just thinking of something.  Do you know, this lamb is quite exceptional?”

"So,” Francesca eventually said as the plates were taken, “other than the fact he is a brilliant and insightful writer, what else should I know about my prospective son-in-law darling?"

"That he puts on a huge act Mother?"

"Oh?"  Francesca looked at her daughter as she wiped her mouth.

"Yeah,” Charlotte said, “he likes to have people think he's this huge, slightly dumb, up country Afrikaner, homeboy...You remember all the 'Van der Merwe' jokes?"

"Yes..." Francesca rolled her eyes.

"Will someone enlighten me though?" Eleanor asked.

"Oh, they are similar to Irish or Polish jokes Eleanor, except in this case the dummy is always this big idiot called van der Merwe...My Piet likes to pretend a little to be the stereotype."

“For example,” Eleanor said as she sat back.


“Try this one,” Charlotte said.  “A Priest was seated next to Van Der Merwe on a flight to Brakpan.  After the plane was airborne, drink orders were taken.  Van Der Merwe asked for a Rum and Coke, which was brought and placed before him.

“The flight attendant then asked the priest if he would like a drink.

“The priest looked at the attendant, and replied in disgust ‘I'd rather be savagely raped by a dozen whores than let liquor touch my lips.’

“Van Der Merwe then handed his drink back to the attendant and said ‘Me too, I didn't know we had a choice.’”


Eleanor looked at both of them and then burst out laughing, before she said "And in reality?"

"He comes from a very wealthy Johannesburg mine owning family, who also own one of the most respected vineries in the area.  Piet went to a top private school in Cape Town, read journalism at university, and here in the US shared all those major awards with Jane Molloy of the NYT for their work on the Mazengwe troubles."

"He sounds...interesting..."  Eleanor grinned as coffee was brought over.

"And he's also a huge hunk as we used to say," Francesca grinned.

"Hey hands off ladies...I'm the one he's knocked up remember?" Charlotte laughed.


“Well, I look forward to meeting him tomorrow,” Francesca said as she heard a voice behind herself say "Can we join you ladies?"


"Of course you can Janice." Charlotte smiled as she stood up and kissed the FBI woman.

"I hear you are the latest member of the diet coke club Charlotte?" Gale Callaghan smiled as Charlotte kissed her.

"I am...and don't rub it in."

"Oh and miss out on all the pleasure I am going to get paying back my friends for all their 'kindness' while I was expecting Allan?  I am going to enjoy this," Gale said with a smile.

“And this is,” Eleanor said as she stood up.


"Mother, can I introduce Gale Callaghan, her husband works for the FBI..."

"And I'll introduce Janice...who I suppose you can sort of say is my daughter-in-law." Eleanor stood up and embraced Jan.


“So this is your other climbing partner – it’s a real pleasure,” Francesca said as she kissed the two new arrivals.


“Jan, Gale, this is my mother, Francesca di Cambrello.”


“You have Italian blood, Charlotte?”


“She has indeed,” Francesca said, “so do you work for Gale’s husband as well Jan?”


“He’s my boss,” Jan said as the waiter brought more coffee over.


“So, what brings you two here today,” Charlotte asked.


“Talking apartment furnishing – we put in an offer on one, and it was accepted today…”



2 pm

Complete Style


“Knock knock – is it safe to came in?”


“Yeah,” Juliette said as she looked up to see Mary standing there, “come away in.  What can I do for you?”


“Well, it’s more what I can do for you – I’ve got a little idea, based around what happened on Sunday.”


“Oh – and that is?”


“Before and after – show these girls as they are every day, and then in their best.”


“So, for example, we get Poppy, Doc and Abby in St Angela’s uniform, and then…”


“And then have them in the shoot outfits.  Just to reinforce they are normal girls.”


“Even though Abby only has a few weeks left at St Angela’s?”


“Then we need to move fast – good by you?”


“Sounds good to me…”


3 pm

The Richmond Mansion


"I'll need to ask Sandy Lily, and I'm really not sure if it’s doable,” Heather said into the handset, “but please tell LIFA that I'm honored they've even asked me...”  As she heard the door open and close, Heather smiled and said “Anyway talking of my Lover, she's just walked in...  I'll ring you back and let you know in the next couple of days...  Bye Lily."

"Lily? LIFA? Who the hell was that?" Sandy said as she kicked off her pumps and sat on one of the kitchen bar stools.

"Lily is Lily Cole,” Heather said as she stood at the sink, “LIFA is the London Institute of Fine Arts..."

"So it would be safe to say this is art related?"

"It is indeed...  You remember that Rubens I got them to re-evaluate?"

"I do," Sandy took the coffee that Heather poured.

"And you remember that little paper I wrote on Valeria's Rembrandt?"


"Well LIFA, via Lily, has asked off the back of those bits if I'd like to give a couple of lectures as part of their summer school program." Heather sipped from her own mug, "It's actually quite a big deal to even be asked."

"I can imagine...  Lover we can make arrangements you know? We are going to be in Europe this summer."

"Yes, but we were going to Munich and the Medoc..."

"And now we are going to London as well..."  Sandy smiled as she said “besides, we know this great little hotel…”


“I’d better check Ju doesn’t mind us being away for a few extra days,” Heather said as she started a call on her laptop.  Ju – I need to tell you something…”


"Actually you being in London does rather fit in with my plans Heather," Juliette looked pleased on the computer screen.

"Those plans that you will not tell me..."

"All in good time Heather, but no I'll have no objections to you being in England."


“We need to get together.”


“I agree – Cass is in town next week, and wants to show us something.  We can talk then.”



4 pm



“All right,” Letty said as she sat with Abby, Annabelle Petrie and Rachel Merriman, “how are the arrangements coming together?”


“The Prom tickets are sold out,” Rachel said, “and the Waldorf have agreed to our decoration requests.”


“Excellent – and I can tell you that Miss Tennant has approved our recommendations for Head Girls next year,” Annabelle said, “which leaves the small question of the Monday.  Abby?”


“Right,” Abigail said with a smile, “I’ve spoken to Mary Thomas, and she will provide the outfits for collection over the weekend before the Monday.  I have also managed to secure access to the building over the weekend, so that the workmen can do what needs to be done.”


“Excellent – and thank you for the idea Abby,” Rachel said, “I hope it goes well.  Now, about the gift from the girls to the school?”




6 pm

The de Ros Mansion


Diana looked up as Charlotte came back into the room.  "Who was that on the phone Charlotte?" she asked.

"It was Heather,” Charlotte said as she sat down, “she was a bit excited.”

"Oh?  About what?" Abby asked as she looked up from her device.

"LIFA have asked her if she'd like to give a couple of lectures as part of their summer programme."

"They have?" Diana smiled, "well that's a feather in her cap."

"Indeed, she was going to turn them down initially..."

"Why?" Abby broke in.

"She didn't want to disturb the Richmond family summer holiday plans, but Sandy is insisting she does this."

"I should think so as well. Getting asked to being a guest lecturer at the London Institute is no small thing." Diana's look turned to one of satisfaction.  “She sometimes need to realise she is an art expert as well.”

"Who's been asked where?" Francesca asked as she came in from the kitchen area.

"My friend Heather..."

"The art historian cum nanny?"

"That's the one,” Charlotte said.  “Well LIFA have asked to give a couple of lectures this summer."

"The institute?  That's an honour."

"It's what we have been saying," Diana looked up as Francesca licked her own fingers, "now what have you been up to Francesca?"

"Me? Up to something? Diana darling you have a suspicious mind."  Francesca smiled as she stood, the chef’s apron covering her clothes.

"And you say to give it 25 minutes Marchesa?" Edith came in and asked.

"I do...”


Diana smiled as she said “what is going on in my kitchen darling?”


“Relax, Diana – all is under control,” Francesca said with a smile as she went back to the kitchen, Abby and Charlotte looking at Diana.


“I’m back,” they heard Bev call out as she came in the front door.


“We’re in the drawing room,” Charlotte said as the young Londoner came in, smiling as she stood there.


"Why does this place smell like my old 'ouse used to when the old man was cookin'?" Bev sniffed the air as she took off her jumper.

"I don't know Beverley." Diana smiled, "Francesca has subverted my staff and has taken over the kitchen."

"Well it smells amazin'."

"See Beverley appreciates the fine things in life Diana." Francesca smiled as she returned from the kitchen.

"Been ages since I 'ad real Neapolitan food." Bev smiled, "and after a day at Susan's office, it's just what I need.  Wot are you cooking?"


“I thought we would have squid prepared all’acqua pazza, with Gato di Patate, Peperoncini verdi fritti, and baba au rhum for dessert.”


“That sounds amazin’,” Bev said, “I can’t wait…”







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