Trials and Tribulations – part 2








7 pm

The Huntingdown Apartment


“Dinner in half an hour,” Klaus called out as Juliette looked over from her laptop screen.


“Thank you darling,” she called out before looking at Catherine Lo.  “So we have a plan of attack – if you are in agreement?”


“The consultant sounds like she has thought this through carefully – I approve the approach selected.”


“Good – so how has Kylie been doing?"

"Let me put it this way Juliette,” Catherine said, “we are having to 'force' her to take study breaks.  So far, the exams do appear to have gone well, however."

"She's become quite the driven and dedicated young woman hasn't she?"
"Yes...”  Catherine smiled as they both heard Kylie say “I will see you tonight, Mistress – I have my French oral today.”


“Do your best,” Catherine said as the door to her apartment opened and closed.  She shook her head before she said “I'm actually going to miss her and Marina an awful lot."

"I'll bet you will...which is also one of the reasons I'm calling."


"Would you be prepared to take on a couple more girls for the next year?"

"It depends on the girls I suppose...Why?"

"Well Shirley has another one of Susan's old gang that she'd like some of the rougher edges knocking off."

"Have I met her?"


“I believe you have – Beverly Martello?”


To her surprise, Juliette saw Catherine sit back and grin.  “Strange – Marina was discussing the same possibility with me, and Beverly’s name was mentioned then as well.  She described her as skilled, with a desire to do the right thing, but in need of some – self-discipline and training.”


“Well, Shirley tells me she has asked Susan to sound her out, and she will talk formally to her tomorrow.”


“I will ask Helen to observe and do an initial assessment in that case.  And the second person?”


“A more short term secondment.  I think Alexis will benefit from three months with you.”


“An interesting proposition – but how will Janine cope?” 


“Fair turnabout – she’ll be my liaison with Marina, and I suppose we can find an intern for the period.”




7.45 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“I have to admit,” Abby said, “this is absolutely divine Francesca.”


“Well, it has been a while since I have practiced my skills…”


“What did you do today Beverly,” Diana asked.


“I was in wif Susan this mornin’,” Bev said as she wiped her chin, “and then wif Caroline this afternoon talking to the lawyers.”


"So what were you asked about Katy's abduction Bev?"

"Only why I was put in position, what I'd seen, what I'd surmised...  They read me case notes as well.  Caroline nodded, so I must ‘af dun somefin right."

"Just routine like."

"Pretty much Abigail." Bev paused, "Look Abby can I ask you sumfin?”


“Of course you can,” Abby said quietly.


“Well… it's pritty obvious i aint no lady...right?"

"You are a true cockney sparrow Bev." Abby grinned.

"Well then,” Bev said quietly, “why was Susan makin' 'ints about me goin' to "ong Kong when Marina and Kylie move 'ere?"

"I haven't got a clue...  Why, is it a problem?"

"Only insofar as I aint sure if I'm good enuff."

"Bev you are putting yourself down again." Charlotte's voice came from across the table.

"Well I know me limitations Charlotte."

"You might,” Charlotte said, “but we don't as a company..."

Bev shook her head as she took a sip of her wine.  "Peeps 'ave been talkin' be'ind my back aint they?"

"Let's just put it this way,” Charlotte said, “Shirley has been soliciting opinions on you?"

"So would you turn down Hong Kong Bev?"

"I might be a lot of fings Abby, but that stupid I aint...” Bev said, “but I'd sorta like to know wot uvver peeple 'ave planned out fer me."


8 pm

The Astoria-Waldorf


Natalya was stepping out of the lifts when she heard “NATALYA!”  Looking round, she saw the large frame of Fergus MacLean walking towards her.


“Good evening Fergus,” she said as he kissed her cheek, “what brings you to New York?”


“My current hosts asked me to come with them,” he said as Natalya saw John and Marianne Vosloo come out of the bar area.  “From what they said, you’ve had a fun time recently as well.”


“It has been enlightening,” Natalya said, “but what brings you here?”


“Natasha – who else?  I need to talk to her, as do these two,” Fergus said.  “And I hear other congratulations are in order anyway.”


“Ah yes – well, I am sure she will be pleased to see you.  I have invited them to join me for breakfast tomorrow, before others arrive.  Perhaps you will join us as well?”




8.30 pm

Times Square


“I need this,” Veronica said as she sipped her drink.


“So how was the office back in Washington Veronica?” Eleanor asked.


“Almost paralyzed…”  Shaking her head, she said “you’d think I was the only one can make decisions.”


“They can get like that...So what did your bosses say about you taking off for a few more days right now?”


“Well they can understand me being in New York to sever this date rape thing.”


“Yeah,” Eleanor said quietly, “it’s been ‘your’ case so to speak.”


“But while I’m here,” Veronica said, “it’s time for me to review the two operatives I have working criminal intelligence here in the New York area headquarters.”


“Well,” Eleanor said, “I am also speaking at a combined agencies meeting here on Thursday regarding people smuggling after what we learned was happening out of Algeria.”


“Yeah that’s a sad business.”


“Well most of our focus is on the Pacific Coast with regards to Asians, but reading between the lines, I think we need maybe beefing things up here on the Atlantic coast as well.”


“Tell me,” Veronica said quietly, “do the Sisters…”


“I will ask through the channels,” Eleanor said.  “Ever since Mogola, they have tried to have eyes wherever they can.”


“Good – I think we can really help each other in this.”


“So,” Eleanor said, “what are you planning to do first viz a vis our problem?”


“Oh I have a dawn raid planned for Mister Kingman…”


8.40 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Some wine, Francesca,” Diana said as she poured some Chardonnay into two glasses.


"Diana du Grechy. You and I are going to have a severe talk." Francesca said sharply.


"Whoops,” Diana said, a surprised look on her face, “what have I done now?" 


"You don't know?" Francesca shook her head, "that makes it worse."


"What did I...Oh!" it suddenly came to Diana, “You mean…”


“I do – the film of that school dance!”


"I thought Charlotte might like to see it," she laughed.


"Are you insane?" Francesca slumped into the armchair and shook her head. "No daughter should have the right even to know who the boy was who first kissed her mother, let alone to see it captured for ever on a DVD."


"Hey,” Diana said, “if you were silly enough to let Rudolf do it."


"Diana you know very well that Rudi was only 13, and I was 17,” Francesca said, “and how did I know he had such a huge crush on me?"


"Oh Boy, I bet Hello would pay me a fortune for this," Charlotte laughed as she Abby, and Bev came in from the TV room. "The infamous Marchesa di Cambrello kissing the current King of Ruritania."


"Diana cara, sai quanto io davvero ti odio?" Francesca glared at her friend.


"Oh I just can't wait to show Charly this." Abby giggled.


“Charly?  You know Princess Charlotte?”


“We came out together in Vienna this year,” Abby said, the look on Francesca a sight to behold.


“So let us change the subject,” Diana said, “and discuss Saturday.  I have here the form papers for the races, as well as advice from Papa.”


“Interesting,” Francesca said.


“So we’re goin as well Charlotte?”


“Yeah – you’re coming shopping with me tomorrow to find a dress,” Charlotte said with a smile.


“So which race is of especial interest to you Diana?”


"Well, OUR big race is two before the Kentucky Derby Francesca."

"The Commemoration Stakes...why that name?"

"It commemorates the Kentucky soldiers who died in World War One."

"Alright that makes sense Diana," Francesca looked at the copy of the Daily Racing Form in front of her. "I know one or two of these owners, but none of the horses."

"Well my Papa owns a quarter share in SaintzandSinnerz."

"And I presume Guy would eventually like to stand him at stud?"

"That is the plan.  He reckons after this season, they will make a decision."

"Charlotte your mother sounds like another racing lover." Abby smiled.

"Doesn't she just."

"Well why should I apologise for it?" Francesca laughed. "I do enjoy going to the races."

"Here's a thought for you Abby?" Bev whispered in the tall youngster’s ear, "do you think she ever did 'it' with your Grandpa?"

A disgusted look broke out on Abby's face, just as Edith announced, "Ms Alexandra Richmond"

"Oh Good, my bookie is here," Diana laughed.  “Sandy, thank you for coming round.  Allow me to introduce my house guest, Francesca, Marchesa di Cambrello.  Francesca, Alexandra Richmond.”


“Call me Sandy,” she said as she kissed Francesca on the cheek.  “So this is your mother Charlotte?”


“Yeah – who else is coming round Diana?”


“Oh one or two others…”


“Mrs Kelly Rochermann, Mrs Tonia Raczynski, and Mrs Claire Morse.”


“Welcome ladies,” Diana said with a smile, “This is Charlotte’s mother Francesca, and Beverly is a colleague of Charlotte who is visiting the New York office.  Francesca, my good friends Kelly, Tonia and Claire.”


“Sorry I’m late,” Juliette said as she came in, “I was talking to Catherine in Hong Kong.  She has agreed to your proposed course of action Francesca.”


“Excellent – Sigi will be here tomorrow, and we can proceed then.”


“So has Heather calmed down from her news?”


“News?  What News?  Don’t tell me…”


“No we have not,” Sandy said as Edith brought round glasses of wine, “Heather has been invited to give two lectures at the LIFA this summer.”


"Well LIFA did publish her paper on your family's Rembrandt Diana." Kelly remarked, "They obviously see her as knowing a thing or two."

"And they did confirm her opinion on that Rubens being more than just school of." Tonia chipped in.

"I know and I agree,” Sandy said, “poor Heather has a way though of hiding her own light."

"Well you Sandy will see it all gets well publicized I suspect." Juliette joined the little cluster.

"Oh Juliette, seeing you reminds me I have something to tell you to pass onto Helen York."

"And what might that be Kelly darling?"

"You know I'm on the board of the Civic Ballet?"


"Well we invited Andre Kannenikov to come over for 6 months starting in the fall as guest choreographer, and we got his acceptance today."

"Helen's mothers great partner?" Diana enquired.

"Yes, I met him briefly while we were in St Petersburg." Juliette nodded.

"Do you know him Francesca?" Tonia asked the Marchesa.

"Slightly...very slightly." a strange look came and went on the Marchesa's face in a split second.


“Anyway, on to the real reason we called round Diana – making sure we do not clash with our outfits on Saturday.”


“Ah yes – well, I assure you Carina and I are taken care of,” Juliette said.


“I know Francesca and I are also taken care of,” Diana said.  “But do we all have the photos?”


As one the ladies brought out pictures and laid them on the table, Bev raising an eyebrow as she looked at Charlotte, both her friend and Abby shaking their heads.


“I am most certainly safe,” Francesca said with a smile.


“So, outfits cleared,” Diana said, “let us discuss the odds.  Sandy?”


“Well, I’m offering the following odds,” Sandy said as she handed the sheet of figures round. 


“You’re still offering generous odds on Sinnerz,” Juliette said as she looked at her copy.


"Well, Sinnerz has beaten most of these horses already a couple of times...and the only reason I can offers odds this generous is the Canadian filly Zentipede."

"Yes she's the unknown factor." Tonia looked serious, "my husband and his partners have had several long conference calls talking about her."

"Well if they are talking about the wonderful legs on a racing filly, at least they aren't talking about other women." Claire injected.

"That is true darling." Tonia sipped her wine and smiled, "but with the weight allowance she gets for her sex, the boys aren't totally sure about her."

"Sky Nip hasn't progressed on after running us so close last year in the Breeders Cup," Sandy spoke again, "And Sinnerz has already beaten Dorsetman twice again this season."

"I see I need to give myself a quick lesson on your American horses before I place my bets." Francesca smiled.  “So the Duc is a co-owner with Roy.  Who are the other two?”


“You’ll meet them on Saturday – Roy is meeting them again tonight,” Tonia said.  “I’ll get my husband back at some point.”


"If I was you Tonia I'd maybe count my blessings darling." Kelly had a light in her eyes.

"Oh why?"

"Just think - you could be poor April and have Grant lying next to you in bed every night fretting."

"Oh Dear God!" Tonia shook her head, "I don't know how she puts up with it...He'd drive me INSANE!"

"Who is this Grant?"

"He's one of my father’s partners in the horse Francesca," Diana smiled, "and he has been known to get just a little stressed at times..."

"Which is putting it MILDLY," Claire shook her head.  “At Juliette’s wedding, he would not relax until the race had taken place, and he had seen Sinnerz win.”


“And the fourth partner?”


“George?  He’s Caroline’s number two, and a silent partner.”


“Ah – a man I look forward to meeting,” Francesca said as she continued to talk to the other women


“So Bev,” Charlotte said as she took the young Cockney to one side, “still feel a little out of place?”


"’ere – nah.  But it looks like your Mum has known these women all 'er life Charlotte."

"It's one of the great skills of a field agent just blending in....but beyond that she has known their European equivalents all her life, the names may change but the type of gossip and small talk doesn't."


“So I see,” Beverly said as she sipped her drink.  “Kylie, Marina, they fit in – if I went to ‘ong Kong, would I do so as well?”


“Possibly, or you may become something different,” Charlotte said as Francesca came over.  “More interesting friends, Carlotta darling.  So, I have been meaning to ask – the wedding arrangements?”


“Well, not in South Africa now,” Charlotte said, “we’ll need to discuss neutral territory.  But, hopefully, somewhere with no – shall we say, diplomatic issues.”


“Even my wedding though,” Francesca said, “was compromised and spoiled by politics.”


“But I’ve seen at least some of the pictures and they look incredible…”


“But where is Marianne in them,” Francesca said, “where is John?”


“I’ve seen pictures of them at your wedding Mother…”


“Not in the Cathedral in Naples you haven’t…John as a serving South African Intelligence Man was at the time prohibited by sanctions from traveling.”


“Oh Goddess.”


“So yes you’ve seen pictures with them of the civil service taken in Pretoria but at our real wedding, your father was denied having his very best friends as his best man, I was without the support of my best friend as my Matron of Honour.”


“Not our wedding,” Charlotte said, “not if I can help it.”


"When you have a chance darling sit down quietly with Fergus, have a chat with him.  I think he knows most of what went on...and he never really played sides between your father and me." Francesca smiled as she stroked her daughter’s hands.

"As we proved when we worked in Zimbabwe, Fergus was, and is, far happier wielding quiet power, and working out of the shadows."

"That's him.  Always knows more than he says…"




Wednesday 4th May

8 am

The Waldorf Astoria


“Ah there you are,” Natalya said as she saw Charlotte and Francesca walk into the Peacock Alley restaurant, “how are you both?”


“Still getting used to the civilian life, if truth be told,” Francesca said as they sat down.  “When does Willy get here?”


“At about three.  He should be in the air now, but let us not worry about that now.”


“What can I get you to drink while you wait ladies,” the waiter said as he came over.


“Black coffee please,” Charlotte said, Francesca nodding in agreement.


“Earl Grey tea,” Natalya said as she looked at her friends, Francesca wearing a grey slip dress, and Charlotte in her blue blouse and grey trousers.


“Is there any particular reason we are a table laid for six,” Charlotte said as she smiled at Natalya.


“Well, that would be our fault I’m afraid.”


“Aunt Marianne, Uncle John – what are you doing here,” Charlotte said as she stood and hugged both of them.


“I agree – especially after yesterday.”


“Yesterday,” John said as he looked at Francesca.


“Uncle Hennie talked to her – you have heard the news?”


“Oh yes – news like that travels fast.  Can we have some coffee as well please?”


“So Hennie came over to make his views on your retirement clear?”


“Yes, he did,” Francesca said, “I think he may take a little while longer to come round.”


“Off the record?  Don’t hold your breath – but I don’t think a hit squad is coming after you.  Something tells me you are under a very special form of protection,” John said with a smile.


“Who needs protecting now?”


“Fergus,” Francesca said quietly as she stood up, the two of them embracing, “it is so good to see you.”


“Well, it was hairy there for a little while – so do I call you Admiral or Marchesa now?”


“I’m not in service any more – and we were friends for far too long to be formal, Fergus,” Francesca said with a smile.


“So, Charlie – you know the truth now?  I hope you can forgive me for keeping quiet as well,” Fergus said as he sat down.


“I can – and I know you did it because Dad asked you to.  Still, it has been one hell of a week – and the best bit comes this afternoon.”


“When does he arrive?”


“He’s flying up from Buenos Aries this morning – so I’m meeting him at the airport at about four, then taking him for a drink.”


“Coffee sir?”


“Black and strong,” Fergus said with a smile.  “Well, I’m starving.”


“Uncle Fergus,” Charlotte said, “I can understand why Uncle John and Aunt Marianne said nothing, but you?”


“Your father was my friend too Charlie,” Fergus said, “and he really was hurting.  His one concern was you, so I agreed to stay quiet for your sake.  He never even knew about you pretending to be my sister, Francesca.”


“He did.”


The others looked at her as she said “There was one other letter in the bureau – where you saw those documents John.  It was addressed to me, and he wrote it the night before he made his last journey.  I’ve read it several times since – and in the end, he wanted to reach out as well…”


“If you are ready to order?”


“I think so,” Natalya said, “I will have the Waldorf Astoria Eggs Benedict.”


“Two eggs, sunny side up, with chicken and apple sausage,” Fergus said as the waiter wrote on his pad.


“The Atlantic salmon,” John said, Marianne nodding in agreement.


“Eggs Benedict Florentine,” Francesca said, as the waiter looked at Charlotte.


“Two eggs, scrambled, with bacon,” she said as she handed the menu back.


“So,” Fergus said as the menus were collected, “back to civilian life Francesca.  How does it feel?”


“It feels good – I’m staying with Diana de Ros for a few days, I first met her when she was little Diana du Grechy.  After that – well, I’ll go back home and make some arrangements.  I’m going to be meeting up with Sigrid as well this week, advice on a business problem for Juliette Huntingdown.”


“Good – you need something to occupy your mind,” Marianne said.  “You need to move on and put the past behind you now.”


"We made an ungodly mess of things between us all back then." Fergus shook his head.

"Fergus darling there was right and wrong done on both sides." Francesca sighed, "now that I'm getting to spend time with her, my true regret is that my parents never knew their amazing granddaughter."

"Yes that is a pity," two or three voices whispered.

"Before we get maudlin," Fergus shook himself, "has Charlie told you that she can do James's diamond trick Francesca?"

As she looked at Charlotte, Francesca shook her head and said "You can?"

"I still don't know why people find that so amazing..." Charlotte said as the food arrived.

"That you can place uncut diamonds to mine of origin just by looking at them...Hmm let me see?" Francesca pretended to think hard...  "Could it be because it’s so damn hard and no one else can do it?"

"Well I'm not quite as good as Dad, sometimes I need look at a stone through a glass, but you learn the chemistry, the type of rocks they are found nearby, it isn't that hard you know."

"You know, your Grandfather once took James to the Rome diamond district so he could prove that. Papa says it was the second most astounding thing he ever saw..."

"Oh,” Fergus said, “and what was the first?"

"Seeing Mama’s face when James asked that they accept his proposal of marriage.  Apparently, it is the rare time she was absolutely silenced."

"Ah that I do understand," Natalya smiled, “Dona Carlotta was a remarkable woman.  A strong willed woman, who was very proud of what her daughter had achieved.  It is – regrettable indeed she never knew the truth."


"True – but as you said,” Francesca smiled, “the past is the past.  Ooh – this also means I can brag about mi Carlotta again. Before we go to the races Diana has offered everyone a chance to come and eat dinner at her place, and it will be venison."

"And why is that bragging?" asked Marianne.

"It's bragging because Carlotta shot the deer, skinned it and packed it back. Diana said she was very impressed."

"Did she now?  You learned well from what me, John, and your father taught you Francesca?" Fergus looked at the blushing little woman.

"Well I can't take all the credit,” Charlotte said.  “There were four of us out hunting that day."

“You are a true action woman Carlotta," Natalya smiled kindly.  “You hunt, you climb...a true outdoors-woman."

"Don't forget she rides pretty damn well as well..."  Marianne smiled as she put some salmon in her mouth.

"Switching the conversation to riding,” Charlotte said, “I think we may have your vet Aunt Marianne?"


"She's a Brakpan girl, just completing advanced equine medicine here in New York at Columbia, Liz knows her very slightly, and she's looking for a job when she goes home."

"Sounds ideal...Fergus time to get the old place fit to live in again." Marianne nodded.


“And which of your properties is that,” Natalya asked.


“Meyerskop – Marianne and I have been talking since I left Zim, and we’re going together into restoring the place and setting up a riding school.  Charlotte, through one of the charities, is getting a work crew together to do the restoration work.”


“It is a shame you lost the Bavaria Lodge in that way,” Natalya said, “but this mysterious group who got you out did a good thing there.  Did you lose much?”


“A place with a lot of memories,” Fergus said with a smile, “but I got everything I needed out, and I did some good before that.”


“That you did, Uncle Fergus,” Charlotte said with a smile.


"My first request to Fergus,” Marianne said as she put her knife and fork on her plate, “before I got involved was that he had to find me a first rate vet."

"Definitely an essential." Natalya smiled, "so what is the idea?"

"Riding classes for the locals, and maybe as we get the place into some order, some foreign tourists coming to experience some real bush riding."

"What the Americans call a dude ranch Marianne?"

"Well I hope a bit tougher than that Natalya."

"They want the 'soft' experience they can join 'the club'." Francesca looked very engaged, "this was basically an idea we were playing round with 25 years ago, when we were waiting for you to come along."

Charlotte looked over and smiled as she said "You didn't tell me that Aunt Marianne?"

"Well without your mother there to back me up, I sort of lost interest in the idea Charlotte."

"We were getting quite serious about it...”  Francesca shrugged and smiled as she said “and then?"

"WE somehow always seem to get back to that day don't we?" Fergus nodded.


“Not surprising,” Francesca said, “it was a terrible day for all of us.”


“Can I propose,” Charlotte said quietly, “that we do what we keep saying we are going to do – put the past in the past, and leave it there?”


“Agreed,” Natalya said.  “So what plans do you have for today?”


“I’ve got the morning off – but the boss is back in the city this afternoon, and wants to see me at her place for two.  Beverly is heading in this morning to take care of the preliminaries, and to discuss something with Susan, and then she has the afternoon off.  Word is she may be going to buy a new gown from APCO.”


“Well, I think we deserve a drink after this meal – if only to relax for today,” Fergus said.  “Once we have finished this magnificent meal.”


“Regretfully, I must decline,” Natalya said with a smile, “but I will see you all again.  I need to join Klaus to welcome my niece and her husband.”


“Well, I can understand that,” John said with a smile.  “But you Francesca?”


“Oh I think we can,” Charlotte said as she held her mother’s hand.


“We have tickets to a show this afternoon,” Marianne said, “but we can talk until then…”




10.30 am

The Waldorf Astoria


“The ladies will join us in a little while,” John said as he sat down, and picked up his glass, “They are discussing outfits again for the weekend.”


“So you will be coming as well?  Natalya invited me if we were still here, and I believe we are staying until Sunday?”


“True,” John said, “and – well, I do need to consider some new hobbies.”


"Do you?  That sounds ominous…  So thoughts for the future John?" Fergus asked as the two sat alone nursing brandies.

"Retirement Fergie...”


“Retirement?  You?”


“Oh yes - they are intimating about giving me a full colonelcy, then putting me out to pasture."

"It would be a waste man."  Fergus shook his head and took a drink from his glass.

"And yourself?"

"Oh more of the same,” Fergus said with a smile, “using my time and resources to pursue the cause of human rights..."

"And to pursue a certain famous blonde model as well?" John looked over with a gleam in his eye.

"I'm thinking about it." Fergus laughed lightly. "But returning to you, retirement isn't your style man."

"No,” John said with a smile, “and I do have a couple of offers to mull over."

"Working with Charlotte's girls?"

"Is one idea...  After all, someone needs keep an eye on that old rascal Rassie..."

“What are you talking about Rassie for now,” Marianne said as she, Charlotte and Francesca joined them.


“Major Erasmus?  Don’t tell me he’s been helping you out as well,” Francesca said as she sat down.


"He may have helped us out from time to time – and I think Helga can do that very well on her own Uncle John."

"The other interesting offer,” John said as he sat back, “is Shirley Xavier offering me a seat on the board of directors of Xavier International..."

"She did?  That’s a change of tack for her,” Charlotte said.


“That might just be a fit...  But wouldn't there be conflict of interest regulation problems?"

"Not as many as I thought there might be Fergus." John said as he sipped his brandy.

"Well I'll admit having you to go to at Xavier's would help me out a lot." Fergus mused.

"It’s more than that.  You know Africa so well, and I don't just mean South Africa Uncle John, purely your knowing just who the right person is to go talk to, you can bring value to the company."

"Yes,” Marianne said, “as Shirley said in that phone call darling, it's not like she's offering you a job going door to door selling life insurance."

"It will be insuring that if we take on the task of assisting and insuring a business interest,” Charlotte said, “we don't take the risk of just blundering blindly."

"To me it sounded like Intelligence put to good use John," Francesca signaled a barman, "time maybe to use that huge knowledge and expertise to make yourself enough to build that house you've always talked about."


“True – well, she’s asked us to come to the offices tomorrow, so we will see then.”


Charlotte took her phone out of her pocket and said “excuse me a minute”, standing and walking into the lobby.  “Madame,” she whispered, “you have arrived?”


“We have arrived,” she heard the deep voice say, “how are you Charlotte?”


“Eternally grateful – I have no idea what you did, but as of Monday my mother has been honourably discharged.  She has, however, had a visit from General Botha.”


“That was to be anticipated.  Charlotte, I know you may not wish to answer this now, but would your mother be an asset to offer a place to?”


“In the right place, yes Madame.  What do you have in mind?”


“I have one or two ideas, which I think it would be better to outline face to face.  I know you were due to come at two, but I would be honoured if you would both join me for lunch at one?”


“Of course Madame,” Charlotte said, “but while she is aware of my role in the sisterhood, she is unaware of my role in your organization.”


“Then we deal in this in the correct way –may I expect you for one?”


“Of course Madame,” Charlotte said.


“Excellent – I will see you both then.”


As the call ended, Charlotte re-joined them to hear Francesca say “I wonder when I will meet this Shirley Xavier?  She sounds as if she is an amazing influence on all of you.”


“How about lunchtime Mother?  She’s back and inviting both of us to join her for lunch at her apartment before we have our meeting.”


“Really?  In that case, I accept.”


"Something I always wondered…  Why did James make that last trip to Mazengwe John?" Fergus took another sip, "I'd been warning him for weeks it was probably safer to stay out..."

"And you know I was warning him about just the same things."

"Let me get this straight John...James was in Mazengwe against the advice of both of you?" Francesca held her glass in mid air.

"You know I'm never sure if that is real surprise with you Francesca, or just a dramatic pose...But ja, he had ignored both of us."

"Why the hell would he do that? Had he ever done so before?"

"Not that I can think of." Fergus smiled.


“Then why?”


“I don’t think we will ever know,” Charlotte said quietly, “but he went and here we all are now.”


“Well, if I am going to have lunch, I need to get ready,” Francesca said as she stood up.


“And we need to sort a few things out,” John said as he and Marianne did so as well.


“I’ll wait here for you,” Charlotte said as she sat with Fergus.  Once they have walked off, she put her glass of water down and said "Fergus I've never really asked, but will baby here be fairly rich one day?"

"You might say so," the Zimbabwean looked amused. "Francesca may have been playing at being an air head, but secretly at least she's kept a strong hold on your families lands and businesses."

Charlotte sipped her drink as she said "Uncle John was saying something about 2 palazzo, and some castles..."

"Oh and all the rest," Fergus laughed

“The rest?"

"Oh ja babe, the feudal holdings are still huge, and on top of that your grandmother’s Zambrotta inheritance..."

"The appliance brands?"

"And all the rest of it...."

"I had no idea," Charlotte shook her head.

"Your grandparents marrying cemented together a great fortune that traces back a thousand years, with a group of industrial companies built in the twenties and thirties...Charlotte have you really never researched this?"

"No I hadn't Fergus," Charlotte shook her head.


“Well I would my dear – you and Piet need to know what you are getting into.”


“I think I need to – I need to place a call Uncle Fergus, but I do want to talk to you later…”


“Well, I’m going nowhere for a few days,” Fergus said with a smile.



11 am

Complete Style


“So the shipments have now arrived,” Alice McKinnon said down the telephone line, “and we can get to work.  Whoever you got does seem to have got the current blockages to melt away.”


“Well, the legal advice we had certainly helped, but we still need to undergo the discussion and assessment.  It did, however, blindside the person trying to stop us, so we await their response to the injunctions that we will be pursuing this week.”


“Rather you than me –right, I will see you at the Derby meet on Saturday.”


“Looking forward to it,” Juliette said as the call ended.  “JANINE!”


“You called boss,” her PA said as she came in.


“Yes, I did – close the door will you,” she said, watching as the Valley girl closed the office door and then sat down.  “Listen – with Marina coming over to work for Anna in July, there is a gap in the liaison between me and Catherine.  Catherine wishes to train someone at her end, but she has asked for some short term help to guide over the period between Marina leaving and the new girl starting.”


“I see – well I agree, that would be a good idea.  Who did you have in mind?”


“Honestly – I wondered if the experience would be good for Alexis?”


Juliette saw Janine blink as she said “well, it would be good for her, but what of me?”


“Well, for the period we are talking about,” Juliette said, “you may be recovering.”


“Recovering?  Recovering from what?”


“Going round the world – I need to spend time in London, Munich, France and Australia through the second half of this month and June, and I need you to come with me.”



12.30 pm

Park Avenue


Francesca looked up as she stepped out of the cab, and said quietly “your boss lives here?”


“She does indeed – the penthouse apartment,” Charlotte said as she paid the cabbie.  “She prefers to meet people here unless it is for a formal meeting.  Shall we?”


The two women walked into the lobby as the concierge looked over, admiring the tall blonde in the designer dress and recognising the smaller redheaded woman.  “Miss Gordon – good to see you again.  Miss Xavier said you were calling with a guest – go right up.”


“Impressive,” Francesca said as she and Charlotte walked to the lift, “this is obviously a woman who enjoys the finer things in life.”


“Indeed,” Charlotte said with a smile as the lift went to the top floor, and they walked along to the door at the end of the corridor.  As they did so, Francesca looked round.


“What are you looking for, Mother?”


“Security cameras – if she is the head of Xavier International, I would expect security.”


“Oh it’s there – but very discrete,” Charlotte said as she knocked on the door.  Francesca waited for a moment, then looked at the tall, slim brunette who opened the door, wearing a silk roll neck sweater and designer jeans.


“Charlotte – come in,” she said as she stood to one side, “and this must be your mother.”  Francesca noted her deep, resonant voice, a voice that was both pleasant and at the same time commanding.


“Indeed – mother, this is Shirley Xavier, my boss.  Shirley, may I present Francesca, Marchesa di Cambrello.”


“It is a real pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Shirley said as she kissed Francesca on both cheeks.  “Come, come – let me take your coats, and then we can go through to the kitchen.”


As Shirley placed the coats on the stand, Francesca looked round.   “I must say, you have a wonderful home.  Do you live all the time in New York, Miss Xavier?”


“Call me Shirley – and I tend now to split my time between here and my London home.  A lot of my friends are based here, and the business connections I have in both countries keep me busy.  I hope you don’t mind a cold collation – I only returned this morning, and you have to go with what you can find.”


“Well, I for one am impressed,” Francesca said as she sat down, and helped herself while Shirley opened a bottle of red wine.


“Agalanico – good choice,” Francesca said as she accepted a glass.


“Well, when one of the most prominent members of Neapolitan nobility come to lunch, I do like to make a little effort,” Shirley said with a smile.  “Your very good health.”


“And yours,” Francesca said as they saluted each other.


“So,” Shirley said as she sat down, “I have to confess, I was under the impression both of Charlotte’s parents were dead.”


“I apologise for that Shirley,” Charlotte said, “but to me, my mother truly was dead.  Which is why it was such a great shock to meet her last week, while I was in Monaco.”


Francesca shot a look at Charlotte, and then heard Shirley say “Charlotte, my dear, I think this is a time for honesty, don’t you?”


“Oh – my apologies Aunt Shirley, I did not know you had guests.  Hello Charlotte.”


Francesca saw the dark skinned teenager as she came in, Shirley smiling as she said “It is all right Maisha – Charlotte was just introducing me to her mother.  Francesca, allow me to introduce my ward, Maisha.”


“I am very pleased to meet you,” Maisha said as she shook hands with Francesca.  “I just wanted to say that I will be in my room for a while Aunt Shirley, while I finish that essay.”


“Of course – I’ll bring you a drink later,” Shirley said with a smile as Maisha left, closing the door behind herself.  Francesca looked at both Shirley and Charlotte, before she said quietly “let me go out on a limb here – that is the Maisha, and you help finance the group through your company?”


Shirley merely raised her glass as Charlotte nodded.


“Well, that does make things a little easier,” Francesca said with a smile.  “What little we know of the Sisters of Maisha in the intelligence community suggest they are very well funded – so an organization such as yours would be well placed to provide that support.  May I ask how you got involved Shirley?”


“To do so may invite more questions,” Shirley said as she sipped her wine, “for now, let me say I was in a position to help Charlotte when she told me of the organization, and acting as Maisha’s guardian is just part of that support.”


“Well,” Francesca said as she looked at Charlotte, “I am also going to presume if you are one of the backers of the Sisters, Carlotta has told you something of me and what I have done?”


“She has – but I do not judge Marchesa.  I merely wish to offer you some opportunities to put your talents to use, in a way I think you will like.”


“Why do I get the feeling there is much more to Xavier International,” Francesca said with a smile.”


“Let us eat lunch first, and then we can talk over coffee…”




“So,” Shirley said as she opened the door to the den, Charlotte carrying the coffee tray in as Francesca came in, “we can talk in here.  Please, take a seat.”


"Maisha seems a charming child Shirley," Francesca said as she glanced round the room instantly absorbing all the details.  “So, can I ask a question?”


“I suspect you have several questions,” Shirley said, “but please, ask away.”


“So you helped to take care of Old Man Kimba?”


“I and others did, yes,” Shirley said.  "As you probably know, Maisha was one of the Mazengwean slaves we helped free...  Unlike her friend Ama who was adopted by Caroline Jameson I didn't put her into a formal school, though she does have tutors, but her education is largely by seeing and knowing the real world."

"Well if a child is bright and self-driven that is as fine a way of educating them as any.  I suspect Carlotta learned as much in the field as she did at school."


Charlotte nodded as Francesca continued “May I go out on a limb?  To do what you did requires access to ordinance and manpower of a form only found in certain circles.  You are not in the intelligence community, but there is a name whispered amongst those I have met – Madame X.”


“And what have you heard,” Shirley said as she handed Francesca a mug of coffee.


“Head of one of the larger crime syndicates, known for two things – a strong moral code, and the fact most, if not all of her operatives are female.  Has been reported in the past to have broken up slavery rings and drug cartels.  Also known to have interests and activities on a global scale.  Has good relationships with leaders in the other families, but stands separate from them.  I could cite the fall of the Boronov family in St Petersburg as one example.”


Nodding, Shirley said “and if I was this Madame X, and Charlotte works for me, what would you think?”


“She already admitted to me she was there when Kimba was killed, providing support.  The rest of the team worked for you…  You brought down Kimba and the whole operation.”


“I and others – but what would you do with that information?”


“Nothing – Charlotte has already hinted there may be a place for me in the Sisterhood, and if you help lead it, then I am proud of her and of you.  Besides – I’m not exactly purer than snow, and you seem far better than the local groups I had to deal with in Naples.”


“The local families,” Charlotte asked, Francesca nodding in reply.  "My father always referred to them as 'Sono loro che abbiamo creato'," she said as she smiled.


"Those who we created?" Shirley translated, "I'm afraid I don't understand."


"The Mafia grew out of the end of direct use of feudal force by the landlords of Western Sicily."  Francesca looked serious, "when families such as mine stopped maintaining private armies to keep order in Western Sicily, a combination of the former overseers who had worked for people like us, working with the more prosperous local banditry, filled the power vacuum, creating their own way of law, handling disputes and punishments, and no longer watched by their lords diversifying into various profitable things."

"That is how the Mafia started?" Charlotte asked in surprise.

"So it is said," Shirley nodded. "The former overseers were known by the title Don by the peasants who worked the estates, hence that title."

"They also referred to themselves even then as men of honour."

"Well I live and I learn." Charlotte smiled.


“You, Madame – if I may use that title – strike me as a woman of honour.”  Putting her mug down, she continued "What do you know of my life Shirley?"

Shirley nodded as she put her own mug down.  "The name of Il Pesce Diavolo is known to me and some of my more trusted associates, but the identity of that person was a closely guarded secret.”  Leaning forward, she put her hands together and said “I have heard tales of incredible sadness and self-destruction if I'm being honest Francesca...”


"Charlotte is more than just a valued employee to me, her father's causes were deep to my own heart, so when what happened in the south of France was reported to me I reached out to mutual acquaintances of ours to find out what I could about you."

"That must not have People tend to view me poorly."

"Your friends don't you know. I had a long chat with Eleanor Ball for example."


“Eleanor?  Of course – she is one of the Sisters as well.”


“Indeed – Captain Ball approached Charlotte and me, and is one of my most special agents.  But you and she have worked together in the past – Cannes twenty years ago, for example.  And like you, she had had to do some – unpleasant things in the name of her country.  But she counts you as a close and dear friend, and is pleased you have managed to find a way out of that line of work.”


“She is a good friend – one of a few I have managed to have over the years,” Francesca said quietly.


“I have spoken with others as well, who for now must remain unnamed – but I will say this, Francesca.  I understand why you did what you did, I understand why you saw it as the only way out, and the price you had to pay to do that.  It is time for the price to be returned to you – by Charlotte, and by others.  As for the Sisters of Maisha – we would be honoured if you joined us, in any capacity you saw fit.”


“Father Alex charged you to live Mother – live and help us.”


“Oh I wish to – but not as a wetworker.  I will do what I am asked to do, but not deep cover like that.  Never again.”


“Nor would we wish you to, Marchesa,” Shirley said, “for one thing, we have need of your legal mind to establish where we can work within the laws of a country.  But any training you can help with, and if you can assist as Eleanor does in other ways, we welcome that.  How does that sound?”


Francesca nodded as she said “so what happens next?”


“You enjoy your stay, and we talk later,” Shirley said.


“Mother,” Charlotte said, “I have a question, which Uncle Fergus said earlier I should ask.”


“And that is?”


“Just how wealthy are you?”


“I’m not quite sure,” Francesca said, “I haven’t met the accountants for a few months…”


Shirley smiled as she passed a sheet of paper over.  “Forgive me, Charlotte, but I had a look myself.  Is this reasonably accurate?”


“An underestimate actually,” Francesca said as she scanned the sheet.  "A lot of what Carlotta will one day inherit, my father placed in secret trusts so that I couldn't liquidate and waste it Shirley...  he had a rather low opinion of me at the end."

"Why was I never told of all this Mother?"

"You would need ask your father Charlotte...  As for your Grandparents, their motives I know, they believed my 'insanity' must have been influenced by my wealth...  Your Grandpapa's will left a timeline that says you shall only really start to know the size of your inheritance once you pass 25, and you are married."

"Why do I suspect they were happy to see you growing up responsibility free Charlotte....even if it was from afar." Shirley nodded sagely.


“So just how…  Oh Goddess,” Charlotte said as she looked at the sheet Francesca handed to her.


"Huge wealth can be both a great benefit, and a huge burden." Shirley nodded. "You Charlotte need to choose what you are going to do."

"Well like Mother I can't imagine not working,” Charlotte said quietly as she put the sheet down.  “But dammit - I LOVE my current life, I just got back my mother, I am not going to allow this to disrupt me doing what I love."

"That is very wise my darling," Francesca patted her hand.

"Well at least the van der Byl's can't say I'm marrying Piet for his money."

"Piet is a very wealthy young man, but yes Charlotte darling your fortune dwarfs his I'm afraid."


“When does he arrive?”


“I’m meeting him at four,” Charlotte said as she shook her head, “I have no idea what he is going to say about all this…”


“Knowing Piet,” Shirley said, “he will rub the back of his head, smile and welcome Francesca – and then ask the questions.”


“I take it he does not know?”


“No – neither does my partner, Francesca.  We operate in the shadows, so that we can do what needs to be done.  For the Heart and the Strength.”


“Well, I have lived in the shadows for so long, I know what is involved,” Francesca said with a smile, “so what is involved – an initiation ceremony or something?”


“A handshake will do,” Shirley said as she held her hand out, Charlotte smiling as Francesca grasped it.  “We may ask you to take a trip in the near future, but for now, the important thing for you is Charlotte.”


"Shirley can I ask another question,” Francesca said.  “John Vosloo – does he know about you knowing Madame X shall we say?"

"No he knows of me as a backer of the sisterhood...but that the finance comes from just maybe not so ethical sources...  It’s maybe safer for him not to."

"But you've offered him a place on your board?"

"Which I have...and I suppose I should make the same offer to you Francesca, but let me say there are layers of the onion I as yet still wish John not to know."

"I understand.  And I accept, if you are serious.  But are you just using him?"

"No far from it...” Charlotte said with a smile.  “In our drive to support ethical mining we want to take up a copper concession in Inshaba province...John knows the right people, and he will make sure it will be run to the highest possible standards."

"Okay - so it really is legitimate having him on board?"

"Yes he will fit our legitimate operations like a glove."


“And on the other issues?”


“I’ll introduce you to someone called Liz in due course, Mother,” Charlotte said with a smile.




3 pm

The Huntingdown Apartment


“Now play nicely with Judith,” Sigi said as she accepted the mug of coffee from Juliette, Klaus looked in.


“I see you’ve arrived safely as well,” he said with a smile as Willy and Natalya followed him in.


“We have, and in one piece,” Sigi replied.  “Aunt Natalya, Uncle Willy, how have you been?”


“Busy,” Natalya said.  “I have had some interesting trips and discussions over the last few days.”


“Willy,” Klaus said, “why don’t you join me and Juliette in the kitchen?  Dieter wanted to discuss the travel arrangements for Saturday.”


“Go on,” Sigi said with a smile, “we’ll be fine.”


“Well, if you insist,” Willy said as the three of them left, Klaus closing the door behind them.


"So aunt?" Sigi smiled as she looked up at Natalya.  “How is Francesca – and Charlotte for that matter?  She must be in a state of shock.”


“Ask her at the weekend,” Natalya said, “but her mind is as sharp as it ever was, pretending to be dumb all that time hasn't dimmed her faculties."

"I got that after reading her summation of the Huntingdown's customs case.  She found a workable way through that meets current regulations, and buys them some time to sort things out if the wind changes come next year.  But honestly Aunt – she was a spy?"

"You do know Sigi darling that merely knowing she was with Italian Intelligence is a state secret?"

"Probably more than you do Aunt Natalya,” Sigi said, “but left unmentioned I think can safely allow it to lapse back into the past."

"Good," Natalya smiled.

"And as you say her legal scholarship is of the very highest class."

"So you will offer her a partnership?"

"Probably if we keep hitting it off face to face." Sigi checked her children were all close by and looking after Judith. "So now what other news have I missed?"

"Family or friends?"

"Family first..."

"Well Klaus is trying to rescue that Breitz documentary...  Annie is literally starting to count down the hours, Ingrid and Carina are knee deep in examinations..."

"So all is pretty much normal then?"

"Yes." Natalya smiled, "other than Judith has learned a 'bad' word and is having great fun shocking everyone with it."

"That happens," Sigi laughed, "certainly did with all of mine.  So, when can I see Francesca?”


“Tomorrow – today, she has to meet her future son-in-law…”




4.30 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Welcome, Mister van der Byl,” Edith said as the man mountain that was Pier van der Byl came through the front door, followed by Charlotte, “if you will let me have your bag, I will place it in the room you will be sharing with Miss Charlotte.”


“Thank you Edith,” Piet said as he looked round, “so where is everyone?”


“Madame and Miss Abigail are out, and Miss Beverly is still at work,” Edith said as she looked at Charlotte.  “I have some coffee prepared, which I shall bring into the drawing room in a few minutes.”


“Is there any chance of something strong with that – I just had some unexpected news,” Piet said as he rubbed the back of his head.


“I will bring some brandy in due course,” Edith said, “if you will excuse me?”


As she went off, Piet looked at Charlotte.  “So, let me see if I’ve got this right – when you were in Monaco, clearing out your father’s office, you found letters your mother had sent you – and then you actually bumped into her?”


“Literally,” Charlotte said, “can you forgive me for making you believe she was dead?”


“Well, now you’ve explained why you did, I understand – after all, your father was the one who really brought you up.  It’s just gonna take a while to sink in…”


“Oh believe me, I know that,” Charlotte said as she looked at him.  "Alright - from the top of that brain of yours Piet what do you know about my mother...  The Marchesa di Cambrello?"

"Let's see," Piet said as he scratched his chin. "She's a fixture in lists of the fifty wealthiest people in the World...Heavy reputation as a party girl, though still somehow a serving navy officer...Politics, I'm guessing moderate Christian Democrat, very beautiful, but they say she is a bubble head..."

"Well you can forget a lot of that...come on I need to introduce you."


“You need to…  She’s here?”


“Oh yes,” Charlotte said as she opened the door to the drawing room, Piet walking in a he saw the blonde haired woman standing up.  “Mother, may I introduce my fiancé, Piet van der Byl.  Piet, I would like to introduce you to my mother, Francesca di Cambrello.”


“Well, this is a real pleasure,” Francesca said as she walked over, “would it be too forward of me if I kissed you on the cheek?”  Before Piet had a chance to answer, she kissed him on both cheeks, and smiled as she said “sit down – I believe Edith is going to bring some coffee in.”


“Thank you, I think,” Piet said as Edith came in, placing the tray on the coffee table and handing Piet a glass of brandy.  “Can I just ask if there any other surprises coming through the door, Charlotte?”


“Never say never,” Charlotte said with a smile as she poured the coffee, and Piet drained his glass.


"So how was Addis Ababa young man" Francesca asked as she looked the young man up and down.

"Hot and dry Marchesa...  But I did work some stories I'm pursuing."

"My name is Francesca Piet,” she said with a smile, “we will soon be family I hope, so may I never again hear that title?"

"As you please Francesca."

"Now we both know you have a million questions to ask," Charlotte said as she hugged her man.


“You think?  So may I start with the obvious one – what happened when you saw Charlotte?”


“Once I had got over the initial shock?”  Francesca picked up her cup and took a sip, before I said “we talked, and it was obvious there were things Carlotta…  Sorry, Charlotte was unaware of, and some things I was unaware of.  So we talked, and some good mutual friends came and talked to us as well – John and Marianne for two.”


“They flew from Pretoria to Monaco?”


“They did,” Charlotte said, “Dad has used them to keep some things hidden, but they wanted to clear the air as well.  On which note, they and Uncle Fergus are in New York this week as well.”


“Are they now?  We need to meet them for lunch tomorrow or Friday,” Piet said.  “I’d like to see them before the race meet.  But why were you in Monaco Francesca?”


“I had met some old friends in the South of France, and we decided to go to Monaco and try the casino.  I walked into the hotel lobby, and – there she was.”  Taking another sip of her coffee, she said "I had fully intended to keep out of the way Pieter. I knew of you, I knew you were a fine young man, I might well have tried to anonymously attend the wedding, but after all those years that it had been made clear I was not welcome in my daughter's life then I wasn't going to intervene."


“And yet – you met, and the air was cleared?”


“Not without a lot of tears on both sides,” Charlotte said as she gripped Francesca’s hand.

"My mother remembered you slightly I think, but like most people I think they forgot just who my girl’s Mummy was."

"That I'd been declared persona non grata and expelled..."

"Actually you couldn't have chosen a better time...”  Piet looked over and started to say “so much was going much change was happening, I'm not sure it really registered in the minds of the public that a NATO spy had been caught."

"Now isn't that just me," Francesca laughed, "forgotten overnight," she threw a hand up in a gesture to the sky.


“Still,” Piet said, “if we can, we would love you to be at the wedding.  Although for that to happen…”


“The wedding cannot be in South Africa,” Charlotte said.  “Still, we can discuss that later.”


“Indeed we can,” Piet said quietly.  “We can see what we can do – how about Harare?”


“NO!!”  Piet laughed as he said “oh the look on both your faces…”


“Do NOT do that to me,” Charlotte said as she gently slapped Piet on the back of the neck. 


“I guess my one regret – well, amongst many – is that James never allowed even my parents to see Carlotta.”


"That doesn't surprise me," Piet shook his head, "I knew James well enough to that his principles were set in stone, he had problems seeing gray areas."

"He could." Francesca nodded.

"Now I at the time would have 'married' you..."

"Oh?" Charlotte looked at her man.

"Yeah I was 4 years old and I got my parents to take me to the Etruscan/Roman Republic exhibition at least 6 times." Piet grinned, "I was in love with whoever had brought those amazing things to dull old Johannesburg for me to see."

"My greatest 'legitimate' triumph of my time in SA." Francesca looked very pleased. "Strictly speaking the cultural things were just a cover, but I took true pride in that exhibition."


“It was a triumph for so many of us,” Piet said with a smile.


"So tell me of my ancestors Mother...”  Charlotte sipped her coffee and continued “who for example started the factories?"

“Ah,” Francesca said with a smile, "that would be the man my Mother always referred to as to the old man with the ideas."

"Did you know him?"

"Oh no, he was long dead before I was born.  He really started his business before the First World War."

"So what were his ideas?" Piet asked.

"At first, just bicycles."

"He invented Bicycles?”

"No Charlotte,” Francesca laughed, “he simply thought they could be made better."


"Well in his thinking, the lighter a bicycle was, the easier it would be to pedal over a longer distance."

"Seems logical," Charlotte said.

"So he started off with a small workshop, a handful of Italy's emerging racers, and he sent them out to race on his prototypes. I look at pictures of those old gentlemen with their long droopy moustaches and I can never quite make up my mind if they were heroic or just plain stupid."

"Now that you must explain," Piet said as he sat back.

"The old man started reducing the weight of each component until the racers ended breaking them and crashing...that was how he worked out what the stress balances were..."

"Oh that's brutal." Charlotte shook her head.

"That's how you had to do stress testing back then was pure trial and error.  Doesn’t Denice work for a firm that basically does the same thing?"

"Well when the old man got it right his riders started winning a lot of races, and a lot of people wanted to buy "his" bicycles."

"Just as today they buy cars that win races?"

"Exactly Piet."

"So beyond bicycles Mother, how did it expand so much?"

"The old man never invented anything, he just had an eye for what would become popular and essential, and he would engineer the best version possible, at what was still a relatively affordable price," Francesca smiled, "Just as we do today, we aren't the cheapest, but if you want value for your Euros we are the brands you buy."

"Fascinating," Piet made a couple of notes on his pad. "You know one day I'm going to get to know that old man very well, and write a book about him."

"I think everyone might welcome that Piet." Francesca smiled.


"Piet,” Francesca said as she sat forward, “under 'normal' circumstances I'd want to fly to South Africa to meet your parents, but being persona non grata means even today its off my vacation list."

"Ja," Piet said, “a bit of a problem, that one.”

"Would they be offended if I sent tickets for them to fly and meet us in London?"

"My old man might just pick up on the irony of someone giving 'him' such a gift Francesca...” Piet said as he looked at Charlotte.  “But I have an even better idea, why don't we invite over the whole clan, my folks, my brothers and sisters, and the nieces and nephews....and I'll make Pa pay."

"Well I'll quite happily..."

"We may be poor in comparison Francesca, but we aren't exactly paupers." Piet laughed his huge chesty laugh, “and I think it’s important they all meet you ahead of the wedding."

"Well that's the South African side,” Charlotte said “now do I have any Italian relatives Mother?"

"Not on Papa's side Charlotte darling, as I said I'm the last of a long line, but I do have a couple of cousins on Mama's side....and of course Uncle Claudio."


"Uncle Claudio?" Charlotte tilted her head.

"Claudio Morelli is not your real uncle, but even at 91 years old he is still the titular head of 'L'Azienda' and woe betide any of us forget that." Francesca laughed. "His father was my ancestor’s main business partner, and he still watches over everything...just as he always has."

"He sounds formidable," Charlotte said.

"So he likes us to believe, but really he's a sweetheart, and the more I think of it, you should get to meet him and know him...the one question," Francesca looked hard at both of them, "is will he come if he knows I'm to be there?"

"I take it he took my grandparents side over you?" Charlotte asked.

"He did.  I can understand why, but he did."


“Well, we can sort that out,” Piet said, “we’ll find a way – we always do.”


"We really should also be talking weddings." Charlotte poured more coffee into the mugs. "I was going to be happy with a small Presbyterian or Dutch Reformed service, with just a few friends there."

"It still sounds like a plan to me," Piet scooped up some snacks to eat as well.

"Mother?" Charlotte turned to look at Francesca.

"It sounds… adequate..."

"See even your Ma, says it’s okay," Piet looked up as he slouched on the couch.

"She said nothing of the sort Pieter van der Byl...she said it was 'adequate'."

"I'm sorry did I use the wrong word,” Francesca said, “my English sometimes..."

"Your English is better than mine Mother...  Let's hear the objections now."

“Well,” Francesca said, "You've seen pictures of 'our' church wedding?"

"In some huge church in Italy...yes."

"In actual part the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Naples." Francesca paused, generations of my family have been married...and are buried there."

"Including my grandparents?" Charlotte asked as she stood hand on hip.


“Including them, yes,” Francesca said, “and I always dreamed, if it was at all possible, that…”


“Well, there are a couple of problems,” Charlotte said, “one being I’m not Catholic in my baptism, and the other being neither is Piet.  I’m sorry, Mother, but I just do not see how that can be done.  Perhaps a blessing…”


Piet looked at both women, and said “well, now I can definitely see you are mother and daughter.  Look, table the where for the moment, both of you – please?”


“Fair enough,” Francesca said as she smiled at Charlotte.  “Let me ask a different, but related question – have you given and consideration to who is going to give you away?”

"Actually, I do - Is this going to sound odd? I sort of want the man who took away so much of my life, by exposing you Mama, to be the one who gives me away, and thus gives me back."

"Oh Carlotta," mother hugged daughter as tears flowed, "that would be perfect."

"It sounds like something out of Mills and Boon," Piet laughed as he was glared at by both of them.

"You don't have a romantic bone in your body," Charlotte hit him with her little fist.


“Oh I do – as you well know,” Piet said with a smile.  “So if you have left the Navy, Francesca, what are you planning to do to earn an honest penny?”


"Well, as for work Piet, I'm going to do some legal consulting, maybe take up invites to sit on a couple of company boards...including Xavier's, and basically find ways to become again a useful citizen."

"What do you know with regards to the laws on people smuggling, and the EU borders?"

"Something, and believe it or not given my reputation I did some work on this for the navy...  Why Piet?"

"Because it was a VERY hot topic in Addis Ababa...  I can frame the moral viewpoint in my own mind, but I really could do with some help on the legal framework."

"Well,” Francesca said with a smile, “I'll help as much as I can Piet..."

"Would you also talk to Jane on this?"

"Jane? Who is she?"

"Jane Molloy of the New York Times...we've shared a few bylines."

"And a few awards," Francesca looked content, it looked like retirement would keep her pretty busy doing good, and important, things.  "Just set up a meeting and I'll be there."

"Thank you," Piet said as he extended his huge arm round the older woman.


There was a knock on the door, Edith coming in to say “Madame has asked me to say that I will serve dinner in half an hour, and would you care to join her for pre-dinner drinks?”


“Sounds good,” Piet said as he stood and offered his hand to Francesca “if I may have the honour?”


“The honour is mine,” Francesca as they made their way out.


7 pm

Park Avenue


“So Charlotte is really a member of Italian Nobility?”


Shirley nodded as she sat with Maisha in her den, a map of Italy spread on the coffee table.  “She is indeed – and as a result, a very wealthy woman in her own right.  In many ways, the di Cambrello dynasty encompass both the romantic and the financial heart of the country.”


“Can you explain for me, Aunt Shirley?”


"Well Maisha,” Shirley said as she looked through her glasses, “the romantic part is all that land, and all the castles, palazzo' and other areas which are part of the estate."

"Where are they Aunt Shirley?"

"Mainly here," Shirley pointed to Western Sicily, "a large part of this area," she pointed to land eastwards of Naples, "Plus some wonderful vineyards and other properties scattered across Northern Italy."

"So much...for just one family?"

"Yes, but none of those was the real prize, that was, and is, right here," Shirley pointed to land Northeast of Naples. "That was an independent state all of their own, key military strongholds, and because it lay between the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples, its owners were assiduously courted by all sides in the numerous little wars."

"Alright I think I get that," Maisha looked thoughtful, "but if that is romantic...what is the financial heart?"

"The family own an industrial conglomerate founded by Charlotte's Great Great Grandfather, even today they remain Italy's biggest seller of higher ticket consumer goods."

"Meaning what Aunt Shirley?"

"They make hand helds, tablets, etc...  They still make washing machines, televisions, refrigerators...  The list goes on and on."


“So is she as rich as you?”


“Oh, she is certainly much wealthier than I am…  Charlotte, I think, is determined that nothing really changes however.  I applaud that decision.”


“Hey – anyone here?”


“We’re in the den,” Shirley called out as John Hammond came in.  “How was your trip?”


“Interesting, but I am glad to be back,” John said as he kissed Shirley.  “So what have I missed?”


“Well, some interesting things – where would you like me to start?”


“Well, why are you looking at a map of Italy – you’re not looking at purchasing an estate there are you?”


“No…  What do you know of the Marchesa di Cambrello, John?”


“One of the main fixtures of Hello and the other European gossip magazines – Italian nobility, high ranking in the Italian Navy, that Marchesa di Cambrello?”


“That’s the lady,” Maisha said, “and according to Aunt Shirley, Charlotte’s mother.”


John looked at both of them, and said quietly “Charlotte’s mother?  I thought Charlotte’s mother died giving birth to her?”


“Let me explain over coffee,” Shirley said as she took her arm, Maisha smiling as she closed the atlas.



7 pm

The Village

Caroline and Annie’s Apartment




Ama and Caroline both looked over as Annie held her back.


“Did the baby just kick again?”


“Oh yes – nobody told me about this bit,” she said as she stood up and stretched.  “Why did I have to be the one whose little one decided they liked where they were?”


“Dumb luck,” Caroline said with a smile as she looked over.  “You know Sandy’s now running a book on whether or not you’ll make it to Munich before you give birth?”


“I’ll settle for making it to Saturday at the moment,” Annie said with a grin as she made her way to the kitchen, “I’m going to sort some spaghetti out.”


“When is she due to leave for Munich, Mom,” Ama asked.


“Once term has finished,” Caroline said.  “so we shall see…”


Grace’s Apartment


“Is it just me,” Sarah said as she sat nursing a mug of coffee, “or is the tension in the faculty suite getting more and more noticeable?”


“It’s not just you,” Harriet said as they listened to Gregory Porter on the CD player, “the girls are also getting more and more giggly.  Even the freshmen can feel something is in the air.”


“So take me through what the Seniors have done one more time?”


“From what Wilhelmina and Kate told me,” Grace said, “three years ago they chained the faculty to their chairs and would not let them go until money was raised…  Two years ago they kidnapped Wilhelmina, and then that radio shock jock…  And last year they sent the entire faculty to a spa for the day, and got Alumnae like Jane Morrow and Brooke Hatton in to take the classes.”


“No chance of that this year,” Harriet said with a laugh.  “But some of them seem genuinely scared.  I mean, just what could they get up to?”


“I’m not sure,” Grace said as the doorbell rang, and she went down to the entrance.  Opening it, she said “yes, can I…  Fergus?”


“Hello Grace,” the grey haired man said as he smiled, “surprised?”


“Well yeah – but what are you doing here?  How do you know where I lived?”


“I asked a friend – are you going to invite me in?”


“Oh – oh yes, of course, come in,” Grace said as she stood to one side, waiting until the tall man came in before she closed the door.  “I thought you were in South Africa?”


“At the moment, but I came over for a few days,” Fergus said as they walked pu the stairs, Sarah and Harriet standing as he came in.  “You remember my roomies?”


“Roomies?”  Sarah and Harriet looked at each other as Grace stammered “where are my manners…  Can I get you a drink…?  Sit down…”


“Pleasure to see you both again ladies,” Fergus said with a smile.  “Nice place.”


“It’s home,” Sarah said as Grace went into the kitchen.





10 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Well, I think I need to retire for the night,” Francesca said as she stood up and yawned.  Charlotte and Piet had already retired for the night, and Beverly was talking quietly in the corner to Abby, when they all heard the telephone ring.


“Now who could that be,” Diana said as Edith came in.


“A telephone call for you, Marchesa,” she said as she looked at Francesca.


“Oh boy,” Francesca said as she followed Edith into the hallway, and picked up the handset, saying “This is Francesca di Cambrello…”


"Francesca, I'm sorry this is so late,” a light German voice said, “I'm Natalya Buchenwald's niece..."

"I already recognise your voice Sigi," Francesca said as she glanced at the wall clock, "and you are right it is late."

"Well we...and I emphasise WE Francesca are going to find ourselves in a legal mud-pit, so hot it must have bubbled up from hell."

"We are?" Francesca said as she fumbled for a pen and pad.

"Yes..." Sigi paused then started, "Later this morning, Brussels time, there is going to be filed the biggest ever suit regarding theft of intellectual property rights."


"I already have several e-mails from both lawyers and firms asking for informed opinion on this...  I know some things..."

"I know a few others," Francesca chewed the end of her pen..."but as good as I hope we both are, we maybe need guidance so as we can give guidance to our clients."

"An ex-professor of mine from Heidelberg teaches at Yale, if anyone can steer us right it will be him...”  Francesca head Sigi sigh before she said “I will try to set up a mid-morning meeting..."

"WE might also need permission to use their law library for research."

"Good idea...PARTNER," Sigi laughed, “I'll see you at 7.30 for breakfast.”

"Okay, see you tomorrow Sigi" Francesca said before she hung up. "Oh my," she thought as she shook her head, “are these the sort of things I've been missing out on by not practicing law?”  Inside, she hoped the answer was yes, this was important....AND exciting.



Thursday 5th May

8.30 am

The Astoria Waldorf


“So this is where you’ve been hiding?”


John looked up from the paper and smiled as he said “I heard you were in town Hennie – want to join me?”


“Where’s Mari?”


“She went with Fergus to talk to someone they want to employ for the new riding ranch they are setting up,” John said as his commanding officer took a seat, and the waiter poured him a coffee.


“A ranch?  So you are starting to lay your retirement plans?”


“We both know it’s coming Hennie,” John said with a smile, “and the opportunity was there.”


“Oh I don’t blame you,” Hennie said, “and I understand why you came over for the week.  I heard a rumour Xavier have offered you a directorship – the first man on their board of directors.”


“So I hear – anyway, you don’t want to talk about that, do you Hennie?  You want to talk about her?”


“That obvious,” Hennie said with a grimace.


“I heard you had a little chat with her yesterday…”


“She may be retired – and I’d love to know how she managed to organize THAT one – but doesn’t it disturb you even now John…  The damage that woman did to our country.”


“Hennie, that South Africa was almost literally a different country…”  Taking a sip from his coffee, John said in a low voice “and you know as well as I should, NOT to take the work of other countries intelligence agents personally. Francesca did a job, and the fiendish punishment that she got for doing so leaves me very much believing there is a higher intelligence watching over us.”


“But how can you…?”


“How can I what Hennie? Resume a friendship with the mother of my best friend’s daughter?”




“Well after venting my spleen a bit,” John said with a smile, “it seems rather easily.”


“What is wrong with you man?”  Hennie stared at his old friend.  “Don’t you just want to find a cattle prod and start asking her questions?”


“Questions about what? The events of all those years ago?”




“I’d love to get her to tell me the truth to satisfy my own curiosity, but for no other reason, and it would certainly not be a hostile interview like you have in mind.”


“Well I’d still like to get hostile.  If only to find out who the real top person was.”


“Mouse?  Well, yeah – if only to finally close that old wound, but after twenty five years Hennie?  What good would it do?”


“Personal satisfaction?”


“I can see that,” John said, “but honestly Hennie, if she is going to tell us, it’s going to be me as my friend, not in an interrogation chamber.”



9.40 am

New Haven


“Just a minute,” Cari said as she walked to the doors of her rooms.  Judy and David were at exams, and she was in a sweatshirt and old joggers.  “Right, who is…”


“Surprise, Cari,” Sigi said as she came in, Francesca following her as she looked round.  “I see you are relaxing.”


“I was - and to what do I owe this pleasure Aunt Sigi?” Carina said as she threw her arms around the other small woman.


“Previous experience of Yale coffee… I know YOU on the other hand keep the real stuff close by.”


“Well come in and please mind the mess, we are in the middle of examinations, and well housekeeping becomes a low priority.”


“I understand,” Sigi said with a smile, “this by the way is my new partner, Francesca di Cambrello.  Francesca, my niece Carina Huntingdown von Furstenheim.”


“Juliette’s daughter?  I met your own daughter the other day” Francesca said as they looked at each other.  She knew Carina was assessing her – but why?


“Let me get some coffee started then,” She finally said as she went to the kitchen area.


“No exams today?”


“German history this afternoon, so I was chilling.  Anyway - you’ve come to drink my coffee, but why else are you in New Haven?”


“The intricate world of copyright and intellectual property law.”


“Oooh very happy that isn’t my thing.” Cari said as she brought out mugs of coffee. “I leave the law very safely to lawyers.”


“Well Francesca and I have an appointment in 40 minutes to see Professor Kaunitz and then we will be doing some research in Yale Law Library, so is it alright we park our coats and bags here in your room?”


“Sure if David and Jude have no problems….my house is yours.”


“Thank you,” Francesca said, “Natalya said we might meet while I was here.”


“Aunt Natalya said you were in the country,” Carina said quietly, “and I see Charlotte and I have something else in common.”


“Charlotte...  Ah, of course she would have told you, as her family,” Francesca said with a smile.  “So what is your major here, Carina?”


“History – hence the exam later today.  You will have to forgive my curiosity, Marchesa…” she continued.


“Please – I prefer Francesca.”


“Then forgive my curiosity Francesca – Like Charlotte, I am a lot smaller than my mother, and I guess I wonder what part Genetics has to play in that?”


“I would not know – the problem with been a legal mind is the scientific one tends to get subdued.”


“Touché,” Carina said as she drank her coffee.  “So who else are you here with?”


“A couple of close friends – I was at school with Diana de Ros, and I’m staying at her house, and…  Do you know Eleanor Ball?”


“I know Adam and Janice – she’s his mother, correct?”


“Correct – we have been close friends for several years now.”


“When does Judy come back Carina,” Sigi asked.


“Her exam finishes at twelve,so she might be back by one – why?”


“Francesca, Judy McNally is studying music – she may provide some useful points of reference of the difficulties in the music world.”


“She might at that – would it be all right if I came back later to talk to her?”


“Of course – I’ll leave a note for her,” Carina said with a smile. 


“Good – may I…”


“Sure – go ahead,” Carina said as they both watched Sigi head to the bathroom.  As the door was closed and locked, Carina said “I have heard you have retired now from the Italian Navy – Aunt Natalya was talking to me last week.”


“Correct – I’m going back into the legal world, and accepting one or two offers of directorships.  I’m putting that part of my life behind me, if you like.”  Sipping her coffee, Francesca said “what else have you been told?”


“Nothing that I would share, if that is what you are asking.”


Nodding, Francesca said “good – thank you.  I see a lot of Natalya in you.”


“Oh you have no idea…”


“Right,” Sigi said as she came back, “we had better head over.  See you later, Cari.”


“Have fun, both of you – if that’s the right word,” Carina said as she showed them out.







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