War Zones – part 1
Wednesday 9th September
11 am local time
Natalya sat in the coffee bar, stirring her coffee as Jill and Niki came over.
“She’s on her way,” Niki said as she sat down.
“Good – let’s see what she has to say,” Natalya whispered as Tamiko Tanaka came in.
“Good morning,” she said as she sat down, “I hear that our Chinese friends have hit some further problems in South Africa.”
“A few,” Natalya said, “but I was wondering if you knew anything of the incident at the hospital yesterday.”
“The kidnapping of the third of Yoshimi’s girlfriends.”
“Ah yes – I had heard about that,” Tamiko said with a smile. “I understand he is slowly losing patience and control.”
“Indeed, so our surveillance has told us,” Natalya said, “but we are concerned for her welfare. She was recovering from gunshot wounds to the stomach.”
“I can only pray, then, that she is receiving appropriate medical attention.”
“As do I,” Natalya said, “because my employer would be most upset if she came to any harm. She may even feel she has to send a severe reminder of the penalties of underestimating her.”
“That would indeed be most unfortunate,” Tamiko said.
“Most unfortunate, to see just a productive association end on such a regrettable note. But of course, you would not know anything about the incident, would you?”
“I assure you, I was not responsible,” Tamiko said, “but I can make enquiries, ensure no harm comes to her lest her captors face the wrath of my father.”
“Acceptable,” Natalya said, “on other matters, what does your father and the other Oyabun say?”
“Here we are,” Barbara said as she stood outside with Jeannie.
“I don’t understand,” Erica, said, as she stood in her school uniform, while Denice was wearing a grey jumper and slacks with a blue blouse, “why are we here, Mrs. Brewster.”
“Because if Poppy is demanding high fashion for the Freshmen dance, then you need to play her at her game,”
“But there is no way we can afford those prices,” Denice said as they entered the lobby.
“Denice, it’s time we introduced you to one of the things we do for each other as friends,” Barbara said as they got in the elevator, and emerged at the reception for Complete Style.
“Hey Janine,” Jeannie said as Juliette Huntingdown’s assistant walked past, “is she still here?”
“Yeah – in her office. What’s up?”
“I’ve got the Eve Stone details and tickets for her. Any problem with me dropping in while Mum takes them to Merlin’s Cave?”
“Nope – she’s not in conference. I’ll take you through,” Janine said as she pushed Jeannie along,
“This way,” Barbara said as she took Denice and Erica down a corridor, and through the double doors that led to the clothing storeroom.
“What is this place,” Denice whispered as she looked round.
“Barbara – what brings you here on this autumnal day?”
The three women turned to see Mary Thomas in her waistcoat, blouse and long skirt.
“In search of your special aid - Denice and Erica Burton, meet Mary Thomas, Mary meet the Burtons.” Barbara made the introductions.
“Good Afternoon Ladies,” Mary spoke in her lilting Welsh accent.
“Da Prynhawn Miss Thomas , mae'n hyfryd i gwrdd â chi.” Denice replied.
“Rydych yn siarad Cymraeg Denice?” Mary asked as her smile grew wider.
“Roedd fy nhad ei eni a'i fagu yng Nghaerdydd , dysgodd i mi.”
“Okay what is all that?” Barbara asked shaking her head.
“Denice’s father was Welsh,” Mary smiled, “and it’s a true pleasure to be able to hold a conversation in my native tongue.”
“Dad was from the old Tiger Bay area of Cardiff,” Denice smiled at the look on Erica’s face, “my Welsh is rusty…”
“But still understandable.” Mary broke in.
“Well I learn something new everyday.” Barbara laughed.
“So what can I do for you ladies? And its Mary please Denice.”
“Have you heard about the theme of the St Angela’s Freshmen Dance?”
“Yeah – Abby called me today to see if I can help – I presume Erica is a Freshman?”
“Erica is the second Kirkham scholar,” Barbara said as she leaned against the table, “so yeah, she could use some help. I was explaining to Denice just what the Complete Style wardrobe is, and how through yours and Juliette’s kindness, even the poorest of we ‘Sinners’ can be seen dressed in designer clothes.”
“I can’t believe that you are prepared to loan clothes out…”
“Oh a lot I just give away.” Mary smiled.
“Designers and manufacturers send us enormous quantities of their things hoping we will use them in shoots, the vast majority we can’t or don’t want to use and we simply store in here.” Mary gestured around herself. “So for employees…and friends…we either loan or give away clothes we will never use.”
“Oh my.” Denice looked round in a mixture of wonderment, and joy, remarkably similar to that seen on the faces of children let loose in a toy store.
“Ac ar gyfer ffrind siarad Cymraeg , gallaf fod yn arbennig o hael.” Mary smiled. “So follow me ladies please.”
“I’ve never seen so many wonderful clothes Mom,” Erica said as she looked round.
“Young Miss Ashley may have her mother’s help,” Mary said quietly, “but I have the cave. Now, let us see what we have…”
“Right young lady,” Mary said as she handed a number of dresses to Erica, “in there and try these on.”
“I need to get Jeannie – you all right with both of them if we head off?”
“Ay – I’ll make sure they get away fine,” Mary said as Barbara put her coat on.
“Great – see you on Friday,” Barbara said as she went out of the clothes store.
“So what did your father do Denice?” Mary asked as they sat and waited for Erica to come out.
“Dad? He was a merchant seaman.”
“Oh ask a silly question,” Mary said with a smile, “so many of the black folk down in Tiger Bay were sailors, I forgot.”
“Well he fetched up here and fell in love with my mom, and they got married, and he ended up working in the engine room on the Staten Island ferries.”
“It was a long way from home, but he did remain a seaman eh?”
“Yes,” Denice said as she sat back. “He missed Wales though, when I was a little girl he always said when I grew up he’d take me and mom and we’d go visit.”
“No, he died when I was 12.” Denice nodded sadly.
“Oh dear, what happened?”
“Cancer,” Denice said as she rubbed her eyes, “we think it was related to a few voyages he did on an asbestos carrier.”
“Well that would do it, it’s just such a pity we didn’t know earlier how dangerous that damn stuff is.”
“Amen…well anyway mom was never the same afterwards, she died just after Erica was born.”
“I’m sorry, so I am.”
“I’d been stupid enough to believe a bastard who told me he loved me, and then left when he found out I was pregnant. So I dropped out of Columbia as a student, and started working in the records office, and I’ve brought Erica up on my own.”
“And I bet it has not been easy?”
“At times, but I love her, and she loves me, and I think that makes up for everything else.” Denice smiled. “And then she won the scholarship, and I could not be prouder of her. It means she can do everything I could not.”
“Well, the thing about people like Ju, Barbara and me, Denice, is we look out for our friends. Oh my – now that does look good.”
“Do you think so mom,” Erica said as she came out in a black dress, a single shoulder strap over her left shoulder, the skirt coming to just above her knees.
“Oh yes,” Denice said, “I do.”
“Hold a minute,” Mary said as she left, coming back with a pair of three inch heels. “Put these on, Erica.”
“But I’ve never worn heels,” Erica said quietly.
“No time like now to learn,” Mary said as she slipped the shoes on Erica’s feet, the young girl looking at herself in the mirror.
“Oh my,” she said quietly,
“Do me a favour Erica,” Mary said, “go and try on the red dress, and come back out in your bare feet.”
The young girl went back, returning in a red strapless dress with a slit from hip to hem, and stood in front of the mirror.
“Yes,” Mary said with a smile, “some gold sandals, and I think that will work. What do you say, Denice?”
“I don’t know – both look so good…”
“Why don’t you find something to try on Mom,” Erica said as she turned round.
“Go on – I’m going to discuss shoes with Erica here.”
A short while later, Erica was sitting drinking some Coca Cola as Mary stood talking to her mother, who was in the dressing room.
“So your father taught you the mother tongue?”
“Yeah - Dad had an old record of Paul Robeson singing ‘Land of our Fathers’ in English, and one of my earliest memories is him teaching me how to sing it in Welsh.”
“That’s lovely Denice.” Mary smiled warmly, “by the way have you ever thought of joining one of the Welsh Societies?”
“Well I belong to a Welsh Language Group, we gather once a month and talk, and laugh, and don’t speak a word of English.”
“That actually sounds fun.” Denice laughed as she came out in a leather trench coat with matching high-heeled boots.
“Wow way to go mom!” Erica whispered.
“That looks like it was made for you.” Mary stood up and looked critically.
“It does feel good,” Denice said as she looked at herself in the mirror.
“Good – take it,”
“Take it – and come to the society with me for the next meeting.”
“All right,” Denice said. “So where was home originally Mary?”
“A little village called Steelbridge in the Rhondda Valley.”
“A mining village? Dad told me about them.”
“Ai, a place where you went down the pits on your 14th birthday when I was a child.” Mary remembered sadly. “That damn pit took the life of two of my brothers, my father and one of my grandfathers.”
“Coal mining is a nasty business.”
“Ai, but that damn pit was what kept the village alive, I go back today half the houses have gone and it’s like a ghost town.”
“So how did you end up in fashion?”
“My da was sure one of his kids would get out, and I was the bright one, went to the Grammar School, then on to Art College.”
“So you left Wales?”
“Oh yes - it was the early seventies, and if you wanted to be a fashion icon, you went to London. That’s where I met Fiona – Fiona MacKenzie, the UK editor. Oh those were good days…”
“Thanks,” Abby said as she took the bottle of soft drink from Annie. Both of them were wearing Angel track suits, as they sat in the main part of the apartment.
“Ah good – you’re both here,” Dominique said as she came in from her room, “you’re staying for dinner Abby?”
“If you’ll have me – why?”
“Susan’s coming round with George later, to discuss matters.”
George looked round the room as Heather, Annie, Dominique and Abby read the notes with Susan.
“Not bad – you still have it, George,” Dominique said with a smile.
“You know this new electronic world is making it harder to pull good old fashioned cash robberies.” George smiled to himself as he sat back.
“George,” Susan said, “If this was just about money, I’d simply get Heather to put a few million in each of our bank accounts.”
“But apart from the satisfaction that I’d get in breaking through the computer systems? Where is the fun in that?” Heather asked with a grin.
“Exactly.” Susan nodded.
“Oh I’m not suggesting it can’t be done,” George looked at all the young women, “I’m just saying it was once a lot easier for old fashioned stickup men like me to make a living, before the world started paying for everything electronically.”
“Well this still looks like a nice job.” Abigail looked up from the plans she was inspecting. “Half a million for a few minutes work isn’t to be sneezed at.”
“You can earn almost that much in the same time legitimately Abigail darling.” George teased.
“Almost,” the tall model smiled.
“When I started in crime, it was about need and greed,” George reflected. “I never thought I’d see the time, or the gangs, for whom it was purely about pleasure and kicks.”
“Well just accept it is George, but this is about me getting back into the business after nearly a year off, and satisfying my inner need for danger and violence.”
“After Princeton, that’s what worries me…how violent?” George asked with a concerned look.
“A lot of obscenities, some very realistic threats, some roughing up, but providing everyone behaves themselves nobody should get killed.”
George looked over at the young woman and said “Promise me Susan?”
“I promise George, I’m not Madame with a personal vendetta to settle.”
“So when are we thinking of doing this?”
“There is a window of opportunity Friday afternoon – is that convenient for everyone?”
George looked round as the girls nodded to each other.
“Fine – then let’s go over the details.”
“Heather you’ll need to cancel Friday afternoon coffee.” Dominique thought for a few seconds.
“No I won’t, I’ll simply get Sandy to hostess, and you, Abby and me will just be late.”
“I can do that… I have Friday afternoon off this week anyway.” Abby spoke. “A little treat from Grace before the maelstrom starts tomorrow.”
“Oh yeah,” Abby said with a groan.
“So what about shooters?” George asked.
“I can lay my hands on six clean sawnoffs.” Dominique answered.
Heather looked up. “I’ll drive out and bring a couple back from my stock George.”
“Heather,” Susan asked, “tell me again why a genius has a stockpile of stolen cars.”
“Well to quote Helen,” Heather said with a smile, “every girl has to have a hobby, stealing cars is mine.”
“On top of art and computers.” Abby giggled.
“Right - meet on Friday, time and place to be confirmed. “
“Did you look at that other matter and discuss it with Anna Heather?” Abigail asked as they left the meeting.
“Yes, and I’ve drawn up a plan… Just one thing Abs - are you sure you want to do this in that style?”
“Yeah,” Abby said with a firm determination, “I really put some fear into that little bitch, and be honest silent robbery is very frightening.”
“Agreed - well Doc is coming over after babysitting to talk more about our false Madame Angel, why not come and spend the rest of the evening at our place?”
“Okay I’ll ring Mama, I’m sure she won’t mind.”
4 pm PT
Xavier International, LA
“Well, of course we can allow you time off to take part in the filming JD,” Maddie said as she sat in her office. “What role have they given you?”
“I’m not sure – we have a read through tomorrow,” JD said as she sat in her red blouse and tan pants. “So what’s today’s meeting about boss?”
“A job from Madame,” Maddie said as she stood up, “I’ll explain in the briefing room.”
The two women walked through to the main conference room where Tracey and the rest of the girls were sitting.
“Problem, Boss,” Rose said as Maddie closed the door.
“Not really, but we have a particular task ahead of us,” Maddie said quietly. “As you all know, I and a team visited Victoria recently to help liberate a group of women sold into slavery.”
“We heard,” Daisy said, “how are they?”
“Now with others who can help them,” Maddie said, “but we traced the traffickers to a base here in Los Angeles – and Madame wishes us to both close them down, and retrieve their records to trace where other female slaves may have been sent.”
“Close down as in…”
“Terminate all trading.”
The group looked at each other and nodded as Tracey said “Who, where and when?”
“Mary I cannot thank you enough for what you have done for Erica and me,” Denice said as Mary stopped outside their apartment block.
“It’s a pleasure, Denice – and I’ll pick you up Saturday morning for the group meeting. I presume you’ll be going swimming with the girls, Erica?”
“I hope to – we are planning to do some shopping after that, and Doc has promised to show me where I can get some shoes cheaply.”
“Want a hand with the bags.” Mary said.
“Would you mind,” Denice said as Mary got out of the car, and took the clothes bags from the trunk of her car as they went to the fourth floor. As she opened the door, Mary came in and said “nice place – homely.”
“Well, we like it,” Denice said as Erica took the bags to the room. “Would you care for a coffee?”
“Why not – I’m in no hurry,” Mary said as she sat down.
A few minute later, Denice came in and handed Mary a mug of coffee, sitting down as she sighed.
“It’s just – Mary, can I be honest with you?”
“I usually prefer people to be honest with me Denice.”
Smiling, Denice sat back and said “I’m not dumb enough Mary to not realize that I’m being picked up by an exclusive social clique, even if they do protest they are just ordinary women.”
“They are just ordinary…”
“Really, Mary? Ordinary women with multi million dollar fortunes, huge houses and apartments, servants, ski weekends…”
“Well some are affluent, I grant you that. But you’ve met April and Janice – they’re not exactly rich.”
“I just don’t want them look at Erica and me as charity cases,” Denice said as she put her mug down. “I’ve always paid my way, we may live in the projects, but I’m proud of myself, and I’m especially proud of her.”
“Denice,” Mary said with a smile as she leaned forward, “do you think money buys your way into the Saints and Sinners?”
“I wish I knew,” the young mother said.
“Well don’t worry it doesn’t… Just look at the Ashley family - style, money, and yes well known, but frozen out just because they aren’t what a Sinner must be…”
“And Erica and I am?”
“Oh yes.” Mary smiled, “very much so.”
“Explain please Mary because I don’t get it.”
“Well, for starters,” Mary said as she started counting on her hand, “you have an incredibly bright daughter who the younger girls love.”
“Alright, I grant you they do get on very well.”
“You yourself are unpretentious, proud of your very real achievements, can hold far from dull conversations, and above all are extremely likeable.”
“Yes you are,” Mary said as she looked at Denice, “and never let anyone else tell you otherwise. As to all the other things, like any real group of friends when you are welcomed inside you get to participate fully in the perks of membership, and that includes access to me and my wardrobe.”
“You know no one round here is going to believe these were honest gifts, or some of the places we’ve been invited to over the next few days,” Denice shook her head.
“Their problem – but if they do give you trouble, just remember who is important here.”
“And that is?”
“Both of you – so walk tall, and walk proud, my fellow Sinner.”
The Richmond Mansion
“Thanks,” Abby said as Sandy handed her a coffee.
“Jo called, by the way,” Sandy said as she sat with Heather, “She’s coming down this weekend to do the model shoot for Complete Style as well as a couple of shows at Alice’s insistence.”
“Great – hope we get a chance to meet up,” Abby said as she sipped her drink.
“Did I hear Ju say that John had actually persuaded your mother to do a shoot tomorrow?”
“Better than that,” Abby said with a smile, “Shirley is joining her in front of the camera. Which could be interesting.”
“Shirley? This is for the Retrospective, right?”
“It is indeed,” Abby said, “John said they would be perfect for his part of the issue.”
“I’ll get it,” Heather said as the doorbell rang, returning a few minutes later with Anna.
“So Jan made it back in time for once?”
“She did – I think she and Adam were after quality time,” Doc said with a smile. “So what do you have for me?”
“Couple of things,” Heather said as she stood up, “let me get a coffee for you first.”
“How’s the track team Abby?”
“Missing Jo and the others, but Letty’s bringing them along.”
Heather came back with a coffee, and sat down. “Right – let’s talk about Madame Angel first. It took a while, but I managed to trace the e-mail address those girls gave us – and I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
“Now why would I not like it?”
“Because it’s in Illinois.”
“Illinois? Why would I…” Doc suddenly put the mug down and said “No – not that little shitbag…”
“Am I missing something,” Abby said as she looked at Heather.
“We both are I think,” Heather said quietly.
“I need to talk to Cari,” Doc said, “but I have a horrible feeling I know who is behind this. And if I’m right…”
“Okay – want to table that until you’re sure?”
“Please – I’ll make a call in the morning, and get back to you, but if it is this person, they’re mine.”
“Right,” Abby said, “moving on, Poppy Ashley.”
“Yeah – want to tell me what this is about?”
“A bit of revenge, a bit of larceny, but mostly a challenge for all three of us. Heather and I did this with Jo before, but we wonder if you would be up to it.”
“Up to what?”
“Ever heard,” Heather said as she leaned forward, “of the China Doll Gang?”
“Nope – who are they?”
“All female group of armed robbers from the UK,” Abby said, “very successful as well. So called because their attire is grey from head to toe – including gloves and shoes – the only thing that is not grey is the featureless white mask each of them wears over their faces.”
“Intriguing – now where have I heard that look alike philosophy before?”
“That’s not what they’re best known for though,” Heather said with a grin, “they never, ever speak.”
“They never speak?”
“Nope – oh they threaten, they’re armed, and they take control, but they do not utter a single word.”
“So,” Abby said, “how do you think young Poppy and her mother would react if they paid them a visit one night?”
Doc looked at the both, and then started laughing. “You have got to be kidding me – not a word?”
“Doc, you’ve seen Ringu, right?”
“The reveal of the video tape – what scared you most about that?”
“The woman just kept coming, and didn’t… Oh, now I get it. Have you done this before?”
“Once – and it had unintended consequences. Poppy and her mum might be better able to cope – so, up for it?”
“Just tell me when…”
Denice finished washing the coffee mugs, and storing them away, drying her hands as she thought about what she and Mary had talked about.
Turning off the lights, she made her way down the corridor, stopping as she saw the light under Erica’s door.
“What are you reading Erica?” she asked as she went in to turn off her daughters’ lights.
“It’s a book called ‘Flea Market Chic’ - Pepsi leant me her copy, the girls call it the shopping bible.”
“You had better let me borrow it someday,” Denice smiled, “I think I am going to need to learn a lot more about how I dress.”
“This isn’t the book you want Mom, this is strictly for teenagers, but Mrs. Broadhurst did lend me this in case you wanted to read it.” Erica pulled a book off her bed side table.
“High Chic on a Low Budget,” Denice read the title. “Well that might be what I need.”
“Pepsi says her Mom swears by it.”
“Alright I’ll have a read when I get in bed…But now young lady It’s bedtime.”
“Night Mom,” Erica reached up and kissed her mother.
“Sweet Dreams Erica.” Denice turned her light off and made her way back to her own bedroom. As she closed the door, she looked again at the leather coat and boots in her wardrobe, and the trouser suit Mary had insisted she took.
Thursday 10th September
10 am Local Time
“What is he up to,” Niki said as she sat with the associate, looking at Yoshimi as he sat with his remaining lieutenants.
“They’re discussing options – apparently another of their store fronts was hit last night, and the kidnapping of Charlene has really upset him.” Niki then looked at the screen, and said “did he say what I think he just said?”
“I think so.”
“What did he say,” Natalya said as she came in.
“He wants an audience with Oyabun Tanaka.”
“Dammit – he must know he’s going to be walking into a trap.”
“And he’s desperate – we need to stop this. Excuse me – I need to consult with Silent Death.”
“You think he might try to take Tanaka out?”
“I think he’s desperate enough to do it – I’m trying to get in touch with Tamiko, but we may need additional security. As much as we want to take him down, we do not want a gang war erupting in Tokyo.”
“Agreed,” Helen said as she sat with Marina. “I suggest we need to find this Charlene and get her to safety as soon as possible…”
“One moment,” Natalya said as she answered the phone. “Tamiko, what have you learned?”
Looking at her two friends, she said “I can get them there in an hour.”
“Tamiko knows where Charlene is – but you’ll need to get her out. Grab what you need – I have a van waiting in the car park.”
8 am local time
Pretoria, SAIS Headquarters
John Vosloo looked up and said “Yes, Abe?”
“Incoming call on the special frequency – you need to come and take it.”
Nodding, John followed Abe to a secure room, where a radio set was waiting.
“Stay outside,” he said as Abe left the room. “Little Mother, this is Uncle. What can I do for you?”
“Thank you for the presents, Uncle,” Charlotte said, “I wanted to pass some tidings on to you.”
“We understand our friends are preparing alternate methods of transport, and a convoy will pass our way soon. We will ensure it does not go any further, but it is time to end their entry point.”
“I understand, Little Mother, but have you considered the possible implications?”
“We have, Uncle – those who may be affected are willing to accept the problems it may cause, and we wish to honour them for that.”
Nodding John said “I understand, and honour them as well. When do you anticipate the move?”
“Our timing suggest between 1400 and 1500 hours.”
“Then good luck and good hunting. I will talk to you tonight, Little Mother.”
“I look forward to it Uncle,” Charlotte said before the line went dead. John stood for a moment in silent prayer, before he left the room.
“Abe, get General Botha’s office for me, and then the team monitoring the port. It’s showtime.”
Juliette looked up as the door opened and Janine came in. “Schedule and shows for this week, Juliette – I’ve highlighted the ones you absolutely have to go to.”
“Collating information on tomorrow’s shows now – here’s today’s.”
“Excellent – so two tonight, how’s Missy?”
“Frazzled. But this weekend is the fun one – Jo and others are back to do their shows.”
“Oh yes – and then there’s next week as well. All right – all hands to battle stations.”
“Yes, SIR!” Janine made a sharp salute and left as Mary came in.
“Once more onto the breach, dear friends, once more…”
“All right all right – so what are you doing today?”
“Relaxing – I think John is the one who is worried today.”
“Oh – oh yes, the tag team…”
John Hammond’s Studio
“Shirley darling…Diana, you aren’t really trying…”
“John my love,” Shirley said with a sigh, “can I remind you that I have never been a model…?”
“And can I add John,” Diana said quietly, “that it is years since I modelled professionally.”
“You both look so amazing though,” John said, “if we can just get these poses right.”
“Oh I agree these Jacques Fath evening dresses look beautiful.” Shirley shook her rich auburn hair, “I’m just not sure I am doing it justice.”
“Don’t worry Mrs. X,” one of John’s assistants shouted out. “You look bleedin’ amazing, and ‘e’s making a fuss out of nuthin’.”
“Thank you Terry.” Shirley giggled at the cockney’s words from beyond the lights.
“Who is taking these photographs Terrence dear boy.” John smiled as he spoke.
“All this reflected white light darling.” Diana looked at the white stage boards blocking them in, reflecting the lights.
“It was how John French did such amazing things Diana dear, his personal style trick, just get as much white light on his sitters as possible and it removes all the little imperfections the camera might otherwise pick up.”
“It means we are frying though John.” Shirley spoke as the makeup girl fixed her face.
“Okay, let’s try some more poses.” John spoke as he pointed the Hasselblad on its tripod at the two beautiful women.
“You are KIDDING me!”
“I’m not,” Susan said as she looked at Lily and Penny on the split screen, “right now, Madame and Diana are doing a fashion shoot.”
“Well, I think I’ve died and gone to heaven,” Penny said with a smile.
“You heard from Tokyo yet?”
“Not today – it’s still early evening there, so who knows when she may call – especially with the way things I hear are going down.”
“Anything on the UK front?”
“Not yet, maybe we get to sit this one out?”
“A few irons in the fire – we have a couple of guests at the Farm at the moment, and we’re building quite a team up there?”
“So Tracy and the other two are proving useful?”
“Very much so – anyway, let’s talk business…”
3 pm local time
“All right, leaders check in. Blue?”
“In position, Leader.”
“In place – we can hear the convoy approaching.”
“In position Leader.”
“Good once they pass you White, block the road – don’t allow any back.”
“Roger that Leader.”
Liz, Shelby and Charlotte were gathered around the radio, listening in as they heard the sound of heavy trucks approaching.
“Wait for it,” Charlotte whispered, “wait for it…”
“NOW,” Leader shouted, as the sound of gunfire filled the air.
“Dammit – they have reinforcements in the first and last truck.”
“Copy that Red – use grenades.”
There were two loud explosions, and then more gunfire.
“We’ve got a nest pinned down, and more running back down the road.”
“White will mop them up – destroy the vehicles and the men.”
“Blue’s been hit – leg wound.”
“I’m good – finish the job!”
The sound of gunfire continued, before it finally died down.
“Blue here – just me, no deaths.”
“Red here – all accounted for, no survivors in the slit eyes.”
“Green – all good.”
“White here – we mopped up those trying to escape. Instructions?”
“Take what supplies we can use, burn the trucks. Get Blue back here for treatment ASAP – and good job ladies.”
“That should hurt them,” Shelby said, “but they’ll come now.”
“And we’ll be ready,” Liz said.
“I’m not joking, it was amazing,” Erica said as she sat with Dawn, Jess and Lynn in the Refectory. “I found two amazing dresses, but don’t tell you-know-who – I intend to surprise everyone on the night.”
“Well done that girl,” Jess said with a smile, “Mum and Dad have promised me something – what about you two?”
“Same here – although in my case, it’s my big sister’s,” Lynn said as she looked over where Poppy and her group were sitting.
“I am taking care of matters my own way,” Dawn said quietly as Pepsi came over.
“I hear Mary was very helpful last night,” she said as she sat down.
“She was yes,” Erica said as Poppy walked over.
“So, got your dresses sorted for the dance,” she said as she looked at them, “managed to find something that you can afford?”
“I may have,” Erica said with a smile, “and all without help from you.”
“Really? I’m amazed they have shops that carry that sort of thing in the Heights – apart from the charity ones that is.”
“Okay,” Pepsi said, “this is the point where you walk quietly away, Miss Ashley.”
“Don’t worry – I know when I’m not needed,” Poppy said as she moved off, Doc and Abby watching from the far side of the refectory.
“Oh it’s on,” Doc said quietly, “it’s on…”
“You sure you’re all right being dropped here Erica,” Caroline said as she looked round.
“Sure – I just need to get some things from the 7-11 before I head home,” Erica said as she got out of the car. “It’s not like anything’s going to happen around here.”
“All right then – I’ll pick you up tomorrow at the usual time,” Caroline said as she drove off, Erica humming to herself as she entered the corner store.
“Hey – what brings you here this sunny afternoon Erica,” the Lebanese woman behind the counter said.
“Need milk and cookies – and some ham if you’ve got some fresh stuff,” Erica said as she headed to the chiller cabinets.
“No problem,” the woman said as she went to a meat slicer, and cut some Parma ham, wrapping it as the young girl brought the milk and a box of cookies over.
“Here we go,” Erica said as she handed the money over, and took the brown paper bag from the store keeper.
“Have a nice night.”
“You too,” Erica said as she walked out of the store, and headed to her apartment block.
Erica stopped as she heard the voice, and looked to the side as three girls came out of an alley, wearing leather jackets, jeans and sneakers.
“Rochelle,” Erica said quietly, “how’s it going?”
“Oh we’re doing just fine, homegirl,” the tallest of the three girls said, “after all, we girls gotta stick together – not go and join the downtowners in their rich apartments.”
“Rochelle, I told you when I found out – I’m on a scholarship.”
“You always thought you were smarter than us anyway, whitey,” one of the other girls said.
“First up, I’m not white,” Erica said quietly, “and second up, I’m not as smart as you three in some areas.”
“Yeah – and don’t you ever forget it, homegirl,” Rochelle said as she stabbed her finger in Erica’s chest, “you’re just a poor little homegirl from the Projects, no matter how smartly you dress, or how nicely you talk.
“You’re just poor trash from the projects, homegirl, and if you don’t remember your place, those around here might think you’re turning white. Want to be a whitey?”
“I’m no whitey,” Erica said quietly, “so back off Rochelle, or else…”
“Or else what, homegirl? We’ll be watching you,” the girl said as she and her two friends walked off, Erica staring at them before she went back to her apartment.
“Hey,” Denice said as Erica came in, “did you get the goods?”
“I did,” Erica said, “but I ran into some old friends.”
“Yeah – I’ll go and get my work done,” Erica said as she walked off, her mother watching as she dried her hands.
10 pm Local Time
South African Coast
The SAIS officer turned sharply to see John Vosloo standing behind him.
“Colonel,” he said as he saluted, “I heard you would be joining us tonight.”
“I intend to see this cancer removed,” John said quietly, “are your men in position?”
“They are sir.”
“Then let’s do this,” he said quietly as they left the tent, and walked the mile or so to the area around the quiet dock.
“All non-essential personnel have been moved away,” the Captain said quietly as they approached, “and our men are ready to move.”
“We’ve identified four spots – one high, others on ground level. Ready to neutralize on your order.”
John nodded, the captain taking out his walkie-talkie and saying “phase one – go.”
The two guards at the entrance to the dock were talking quietly, one of them holding a match as the other lit his cigarette. They knew nothing of what was about to happen before they were both taken in strangleholds and dragged into the bushes.
Two other guards, walking the perimeter, also were brought down quickly.
Finally, the three men manning the high tower by the dockside never heard their attackers, never knew what was happening before the knifes were pushed into them, killing them instantly.
“Ready to move sir,” the captain said to John.
“All right – tell them to open the main gate and we move in on foot. No firing unless absolutely necessary – the later they know we’re taking control, the more likely it is we can end this with minimal damage.”
He and the captain moved towards the gate as two men in combat gear opened it, both of them joined by armed soldiers as they moved through the gate and towards a building at the side of the pier.
“The boat,” John whispered as he saw the vessel tied to the pier, the captain nodding and signaling as a detachment of men made their way to the ship. The remaining members of the unit moved to cover the doorways and windows, John looking into the dirty glass.
He could see at least six Chinese men, laughing and joking with each other as they watched a film on a television. Their arms were by their sides, as John moved back.
The captain nodded as some of his men removed what looked like hand grenades from their belts, and then broke the glass before they threw them in. There was a loud explosion and blinding light, as the door to the room was kicked in and the captain called out “EVERYONE DOWN!!!”
As John moved round, he saw the doors of a nearby building open and four men brandishing automatic rifles run out – only for them to be dropped by the soldiers now in command of the high tower.
John nodded as he sent some troops to the other building, and then walked in. the Chinese men were on the floor, their arms secured behind them with zip ties and two soldiers standing guard, as the Captain and the other men made their way further into the building, the occasional gunshot heralding a new find.
The sound of gunfire also came from outside, and looking out John could see a firefight was in progress on the boat. Trusting to the skill of his own men, he stayed where he was, watching as one of the troops came from the second building.
“You need to come and see this sir,” he said, John nodding as he followed the man back to the second building. He could see some bodies on the floor.
“One man wounded sir, but that’s not what we wanted you to see.” He took John over to where two more men were standing over a hatch on the floor, shining torches down. The senior officer looked inside, and almost choked as he saw the women down there, staring up at the armed soldiers.
“Get them out of there and onto this floor,” John said quietly, “once we have the base secured, I have ambulances and paramedics standing by.” He then looked down, and said “do any of you speak English?”
A few raised their hands as he said “I am Colonel John Vosloo of the South African Intelligence Service. We are here to free you, and deal with some of those who have done this to you, while others work to end the tyranny where you came from. Please, tell your fellow captives their ordeal is over, and they will soon be in a place of safety.”
There was a murmur that sounded like “Thank God” before John turned and looked round.
“Building secure sir,” a soldier called out.
“Good – assist in getting these women out of there, and let me know how many alive – and how many are dead down there,” he said quietly as he walked out.
“The camp is secure sir – we have prisoners.”
“Excellent Captain – anyone of note?”
“Some senior looking Chinese – and the captain of the boat. We found thirty six more women in the hold.”
John let out a curse before he said “Where are they?”
The captain indicated a line of men under armed guard.
“Right – radio the medical crews, tell them I want them here yesterday,” John said quietly. “Your men did an exemplary job tonight Captain – I will personally talk with them later, but you also have wounded to deal with.”
“Sir,” the captain said as he walked away, John marching over and looking at the line of men.
“You bastards,” he said quietly, “are prisoners of the South African Intelligence Service. You will be taken from here to a secure prison, there to await interrogation and charges.”
“I claim diplomatic immunity,” one of the Chinese men said.
“You can claim to be Mother Teresa for all I fucking care,” John said as he stood in front of him, “but you have crimes against humanity to answer for.”
He watched as soldiers escorted the women from the boat.
“Take them back to the other building to join their sisters – they will tell them what has happened,” he said as he looked back down the line. “If it was down to me, I would shoot you all now, but we are a civilized country – you will be interrogated, charged and tried under our law, and then serve your sentence.”
He looked to the gate as the first of a convoy of lorries swept in. “Get these bastards out of my sight,” he said quietly as he walked to the vans.
“Paramedics in here – the rest of you, fan out and get the prisoners in the transports. I don’t want any nasty surprises.”
The Brewster Brownstone
“Hey Mrs. Burton,” Jeannie said as she opened the door, “welcome to my little place.”
“Thanks,” Denice said as she came in, “your mom asked me to come round…”
“Yeah – they’re in the front room, go right on through,” Jeannie said as she wheeled herself to the lift. Denice hung her coat on the rack and walked through, finding Barbara and Caroline with three women she didn’t know.
“Hey Denice…Welcome.” Caroline said as she came over and hugged her friend.
“Welcome to the Halloween Organising Committee.” Barbara said as she kissed the black woman on the cheek. “Now who do you know, and who don’t you?”
“Hi I’m Tonia,” the builder said as she held out a beautifully manicured hand.
“And I’m Kelly.” Mrs. Rochermann said, smiling as she kissed the newcomer.
“And for my sins, I’m Pussy.” Pat smiled while everyone giggled.
“It’s nice to meet you all,” Denice said as she accepted a drink. “I’m not sure what I’m doing here, but it’s nice.”
“It’s simple,” Tonia said, “you are the mom of a freshman, and we need to know who and who not to invite from her class.”
“Okay I getcha…I think.” Denice smiled as she sipped her glass of wine.
“We are having this year’s shindig at my place here,” Barbara smiled, “And to avoid some of the more shall we say memorable occurrences last year at Jan’s…”
“And don’t forget afterwards.” Tonia smiled her wicked little smile.
“As Ton says afterwards as well, I thought we needed maybe some organization this year.”
“Well don’t suggest hookers and pimps as the costume theme Barbara darling, my daughters need little enough encouragement as it is.” Kelly shook her head.
“Ummm don’t I remember you Liz and Ton, spending the night in the hooker tank one Halloween night because your costumes and behavior were so realistic Kel?” Pussy asked as innocently as she could manage.
“WHY does everybody remember these stories.” Kelly shook her head.
“Well speaking as the newbie, how about national costumes for where our families originally came from?” Denice asked quietly.
“You know that is a wonderful idea.” Pussy paused, “I can see myself in Dutch clogs.”
“Can you see Jack Linklater as an leprechaun?” asked Caroline with a giggle.
“Oh just too easily.” Tonia laughed. “That, Denice, is a great idea. We might get a lot of Dutch, Irish and English though.”
“With the occasional Welsh and Scot,” Denice said with a smile.
lot of French and German nobles don't forget," Barbara added.
we could." Tonia smiled again.
friends, one is Chinese, another is Spanish." Denice spoke.
"Well we should get an amazing range of costumes then." Caroline smiled.
“Would I be right in thinking some of her class will not be invited,” Tonia said as she sipped her drink. Denice, Caroline and Barbara looked at each other and nodded, before Caroline said “Anyone with the name Ashley for starters.”
“Ah,” Kelly said, “That would be Pippa Ashley, right? I know Juliette does not hold her in very high regard.”
“Well her daughter is becoming the town snob,” Barbara said, “and not very complimentary about Erica.”
national costumes. We could get some
unusual match ups," Caroline chuckled, "My Ama is Mazengwean, but her
boyfriend is Greek."
that will be a culture clash." Pussy laughed.
about Adam and Jan, she's Irish to the core, he's of Hungarian Jewish
stock?" asked Kelly.
from what you are saying, it will be very colorful." Denice smiled.
Kelly, like Mary Thomas I'll be celebrating the Land of My Fathers."
speaks Welsh, she and Mary bonded instantly." Barbara said as she passed
round a tray of cookies.
unfair." Tonia smiled, "you two can gossip about the rest of us and
we will have no clue what you say."
“Same with Ama and Maisha if Shirley is in town – any idea on that Barbara?”
“No – but good point. I’ll get Jeannie to ask Ama tomorrow.”
Denice laughed, despite her reservations she felt welcome in this group, and she was starting to enjoy being an insider and getting to be part of the silly little jokes.
“Who is Shirley,” she asked as she picked up a cookie.
“Oh of course – you haven’t met Shirley Xavier yet, have you?”
“Shirley… Shirley Xavier? I’ve heard of her – one of the richest women in the city.”
“Not in Pussy or Sandy’s league, but close,” Barbara said with a laugh. “But she’s all right – self made woman,” she quickly added as Denice looked shocked.
"Before I forget, has everyone got their tickets for Handel at Yale?" Kelly asked.
"Caroline got tickets for me and Erica." Denice nodded. "It sounds like it should be very good."
for those of us who have known Judy all her life," Pussy joined in.
"For years we all thought of her as 'good old Judy' - everyone’s favorite
near-screwup, but Yale has been the making of her..."
forget David." reminded Caroline.
"Oh yes, David has certainly helped settle her down"
“I almost hate to ask,” Denice whispered, “but what the hell do they do Barbara? You said Pussy is one of the richest women in the city?”
“Well, she is – the van Roon family own a fair chunk - but she also earns an honest crust as a physicist working in a research laboratory attached to NYU.”
“Kelly does a lot of quiet work for charity, but Tonia is of all things a building contractor…”
“Oh come on you are kidding me?”
“No - I was amazed at first as well, but yeah she runs a small contractors business. She specializes in high end renovations for interior designers like Sandy Richmond.” Barbara laughed a second, “but you know even in overalls she looks immaculate, and somehow those amazing nails never get damaged.”
“I am getting to meet some incredible people.” Denice shook her head.
“And that’s before you meet Abby’s extended family…”
The Carlton Home
“van Roon residence.”
“Good evening, is Master Chet at home?”
“Indeed – I shall fetch him for you, Miss Anna.”
A few moments passed before Anna heard “Hey Lover, how are things in the windy city?” Anna snuggled down under her comforter and imagined Chet was right beside her.
“Oh pretty routine…or at least they were until lunch break…”
“Why what happened at lunch?” Anna asked innocently.
“You know very well what happened Miss Anna Carlton…”
“Oh,” Doc said innocently, “you mean the photograph I sent you darling, it was only a little snap…”
“Doc it was a full frontal nude!”
“Oh so you did look?” Anna giggled. “I went to a lot of trouble taking that last night.”
“I could see.”
“So what did you think?”
“I had a hard on all afternoon…does that tell you what I thought?”
In New York Anna just giggled in response.
“My condition was not helped by the fact that when H and I went to pick Sarah up from school, she comes out looking like a porno queen, on her stilettos, wearing a tiny school skirt, and fully made-up.”
“Just remember no touchy Sarah darling,” Doc said with a laugh, “she is H’s pinup girl, you have your own porno star you know?”
“I know,” Chet laughed, “ but the new sexy Sarah gets some time to get used to. She is so damn HOT!”
“I know….she sends me pictures most mornings for my approval.”
“Oh you are to blame are you?”
“You might say so.” Anna giggled.
“By the way, did you hear the news about that creep Metz, Northlands expelled him in less then a week?”
“Oh?” Anna said a little prayer of thanks that it was Chet had raised the real subject of why she had phoned.
“Yeah - stupid fucker placed an advertisement in the school newspaper so obviously trying to recruit girls to become prostitutes, even the Metz money wasn’t going to save him.”
“Is he retarded?”
“No,” Chet said with a laugh, “he just thinks that his family fortune will always be there to get him out of whatever stupid scrape he gets himself into.”
“So what’s he doing now?”
“Other than getting his eye blackened by H for telling Sarah she could make a lot of money selling her body?”
“Well, I hear his folks have given him an office downtown, an order to stay out the way, and half a mil to keep himself out of trouble with.”
“Any idea where his office?”
“Who cares,” Chet said, “at least it means the women of Lake Forest are safe to walk round in the daylight hours without him causing them trouble.”
Anna thought. Chet was not going to be much more forthcoming, this needed some further research obviously. But one thing was clear – the creep was masquerading as Madame Angel.
“So,” Chet said quietly, “while you’re on the phone, what could we talk about hmm?”
Friday 11th September
8 am local time
Charlene looked up as the two guards came back into the room.
“You will do as we tell you,” one of them said in English, Charlene nodding to show she understood. The woman was wearing a pair of blue silk pyjamas, but her wrists and ankles were stretched out and tied to the four legs of the bed she was lying on with ropes. A strip of silver tape covered her mouth, and as it was pulled away the residue of other strips could be seen around her lips.
“Please, I haven’t done anything,” she said as the ropes were untied, and she was allowed to sit up, a tray containing a bottle of water and some fruit placed in front of her.
“Oh you have done a great deal,” the other man said, “but chiefly, you are of import to both Yoshimi and Tanaka.”
“Who is this Tanaka?”
“You do not need to know – eat, drink, and then you may wash and change before we re-tie you.”
Charlene slowly nodded, feeling her stomach as she started to eat the fruit. It wasn’t that they starved her, but the wounds still ached, and the food was causing other problems.
She could also hear squeaking, like mice somewhere – or rats. She had heard the water, and knew she was at the docks, but rats she hated the idea of.
“Hey – did you hear that,” one of her guards said as he looked to the door.
“Yeah – that. Go and see what it is.”
As he talked he drew a gun from his waistband at his back and put his hand over Charlene’s mouth, feeling the growth on her chin as he watched his companion go to the door.
Her eyes were fixed on him, as he opened the door and then looked back in.
“It must be your imagi…” Charlene’s eyes opened wide as she saw the man disappear through the door. She then heard a cracking sound beside her as the grip over her hand suddenly slackened.
“Remain calm,” a quiet female voice said beside her, “and do not move, talk or make any sound.”
Charlene nodded as she heard shouting elsewhere, and then glanced slowly to her right, at the lifeless body of the guard, his head at the wrong angle to his body.
Eventually, the shouting stopped, and a female figure dressed in black appeared, only her eyes visible as she slung a bow over her back. “You are Charlene,” she said quietly.
The young woman nodded as the masked woman said “you are safe now. We are here to take you to Veronica and Louise.”
“Oh thank God,” she whispered, “did Yashimi send you?”
“No – all will be explained, but we need to get you away from here. Can you walk?”
“With help,” she said as she looked at the second masked woman who had appeared.
“Good,” she said as they took her arms over their shoulders, “come with us. All is well.”
10 am local time
Natalya looked out of the house as a black van drew up.
“Niki, Jill – welcome our guest,” she said as the two women walked quickly out, returning with Charlene resting on them.
“Where am I,” she said as she looked round.
“With friends,” Natalya said as both Veronica and Louise appeared.
“Charlene – oh thank god you’re all right,” Veronica said as she hugged her friend.
“Hey – careful, I’m still a bit tender there,” Charlene said as a nurse appeared, “what’s going on?”
“First things first,” Natalya said, “this nurse will take you to shower and clean yourself up – we have all you need – and then tend to any issues with your wounds. We can then talk over food, and explain everything.”
“Please – no more fruit,” Charlene groaned.
“We’ll have real food and drink for you,” Louise said quietly, “but my friend is right – get cleaned up first.”
“I need to communicate with Madame and Catherine – I’ll join you in an hour,” Natalya said as she left the room.
11.15 am local time
“That is a lot better,” Charlene said as she came in. She had showered, washed her hair, waited as the nurse put a clean dressing on her wounds, and then put on a jumper and slacks before adding her make up and lipstick.
“You look better, Charlene,” Victoria said as she handed her friend a drink.
“So,” Charlene said as she sat down, “want to tell me not only what you are both doing here, or how all my clothes and things are here, but one other very important thing.”
“And that is,” Louise said with a smile.
“What the hell is going on?”
The two girls looked at each other, before Louise said “I guess I’d better start. Just don’t hit me until you hear me out…”
As Natalya walked in with Niki and Jill, Charlene was looking at both her girlfriends.
“My god – you’re not joking are you?”
“How much did you tell her?”
“Everything,” Victoria said, “everything we know.”
“I never realized…”
“Neither did I, until these ladies showed me the evidence,” Victoria said as she put her hand on Charlene’s arm.
“I am told you may have this,” Natalya said as she poured a scotch and handed it to Charlene.
“So who are you,” she said as she took the drink and drained it.
“We represent the people who are going to take Yashimi and all those he works with down,” Natalya said. “Charlene, those who took you from the hospital were not working for us.”
“Who killed them?”
“A person we employ for such situations – if they had not, Tanaka would have.”
“Tanaka – they kept saying this was to hurt him and Yashimi, who is he?”
“He is one of the local Oyabun,” Natalya said, “and is assisting us in our endeavours. Charlene, I know this is a lot to take in, but we are acting to save women who had no choice – they were forced into slavery and worse. It is not the first time we have done this, but it is by far the worst.”
“Not the first…”
“The slavery ring in New York last summer – these women work for those who broke that wide open.”
“And you Louise?”
“I was asked to help, and I was more than willing to do so.”
Nodding, Charlene said “now what?”
“We’re going to get you and Victoria out of here to the States, and from there to wherever you want. But we cannot do it for a few days – not until this is ended. For now, rest and recuperate – you are perfectly safe here.”
“I guess I owe you my life – how can I repay you?”
“Recover and live – the fight is now ours,” Natalya said quietly.
7 am local time
“That is truly excellent news, Uncle. What was found?”
“I regret to say ten of the women were dead – we rescued over seventy, and they are in hospital in Pretoria under guard. We captured some very interesting people, and look forward to talking to them. What of your end?”
“We destroyed the convoy – some inures, but no fatalities. We mourn those who did not make it, but otherwise rejoice in our success.”
“It only gets harder from here Little Mother. When this is done, you and yours must join me and Aunty for dinner.”
“I will pass the message on, Uncle. Stay safe until then.”
Charlotte smiled as she ended the radio call, and then went to the field hospital.
“How is she,” she said as Lucia and Leader stood with Blue.
“She’ll recover – clean entry and exit wound. But no heavy duties for two weeks.”
“Guess I get cleaning rota,” Blue said with a grin.
“No such luck,” Shelby said, “you’ll be manning the radar with me and Little Mother.”
“Damn,” Blue said with a grin as Charlotte left with Shelby and Leader.
“Marigold – are you leaving soon?”
“Within the hour – why?”
“Take word to the old women – we have liberated those who had been taken to slavery, but ten did not make it. They will be avenged.”
Marigold bowed her head for a moment, and then said “I know - I will pass the message on.”
“Thank you,” Leader said as the Mogolan walked slowly off.
“She knows it could have been her,” Charlotte said quietly.
“Indeed – and…”
The sound of a helicopter approaching made everyone dive for cover under the nets, watching as the helicopter flew over.
“I think it’s time,” Shelby whispered.
Picking up a radio, Shelby said “firepoints, do you have a mark?”
“Let them get a mile away, and then bring it down.”
They watched as the helicopter hovered for a moment, and then headed off, before they heard the bang and saw the smoke trail rising into the air.
“Five, four, three, two…”
There was a flash of yellow light as the SAM hit the helicopter, vapourising the craft.
“Good shooting, firepoints,” Shelby said, “get cleanup crews organized.”
“On it, Fireball,” the voice said as Leader clapped Shelby on the shoulder.
“We may just get through this,” Leader said with a smile.
Complete Style Offices
“Janine, do you have the packages you wanted FedExd this morning?”
“Right here Alexis,” Janine said as she handed her assistant a pack of stuffed envelopes, smiling at the two women sitting there.
“I feel like I’ve been summoned to the headmistress’ office.” Shirley whispered as she and Diana sat in the outside office, with Janine, while John showed Juliette and Mary the photographs. “I don’t remember been so nervous about that though.”
“Did he show you any of them?”
“Not yet…I’ve not even seen him, he went straight to the dark room while I went home, and he was up all night.” Shirley looked round as she said “I know he gets into his work, but this seemed different somehow…”
“I haven’t been this nervous in years…”
Diana was interrupted by Janine.
“You can go in now ladies.”
“Well, here goes nothing,” Diana said as she and Shirley went into Juliette’s office. She was sitting behind her desk, the portfolio in front of her, while Mary and John were standing by the side of the desk.
“Hello, ma Cherie,” Diana said quietly, “and how are you this morning?”
Juliette looked across at John, who scratched the back of his head and said “Well…”
“I knew it – it was a total disaster, wasn’t it,” Shirley said as she looked at her lover.
“No… No I would not say it was a total disaster…”
Shirley and Diana looked at her as Mary said “Di, my love, you remember how nervous you were over the mother and daughter shoot last year?”
“Yes – and?”
“That turned out all right, yes?”
“Well yes, mainly because of Abigail, but…”
“Diana – do you remember when you and I modeled for YSL in Paris?”
“When you were at the Sorbonne? A unique experience certainly, but…”
“That was not as good as these are, darling.”
“Take a look darling,” John said as he picked up the portfolio and handed it to Diana and Shirley, the two women looking at each other before they sat on Juliette’s couch and looked through.
“Oh… Oh my,” Shirley whispered as she looked at John, “I never knew I looked that good…”
“Well, you always do in my eyes, but somehow I got it to work,” John said as he rubbed his eyes. “Do they meet your exacting standards Countess?”
“Où étiez-vous vingt années allez, mon ami,” Diana said as she looked at John
“Trop tard pour vous attraper dans votre jeunesse - ma perte.”
“I think they like them,” Juliette said as she looked at Mary.
“Ai – want to hit them with the killer punch now?”
“Second from the back.”
Diana turned to the photo and looked at it, and then at Shirley.
“Congratulations – that is likely to be the cover page.”
Fashion Week Theatre
“Bats, darling,” Mandy Carrow said as she walked in with Angel, “are you all prepared for the big show next Tuesday?”
“You’re joking right,” Alice McKinnon said as she hugged and kissed them both. “The one saving grace is everyone will be here for the show.”
“Except Jo – she can’t get the time away from training,” Angel said as she sat down. “Are the schedules for these shows always this hectic?”
“Actually, Abby and Jeannie got tomorrow off – but they’re working full out from Sunday for the rest of the week. As for everyone else – well, you can compare schedules at the shows. When do you two start?”
“Now, darling,” Mandy said as the show runner came over, “come along Angel dear, time to look fabulous…”
“Come on in,” Carina called from the armchair as David Fitzgerald opened the door.
“Unca David,” Judith tottered over towards the Englishman in her pink shorts and smock top as he came into the girls’ rooms.
“And how is my favourite girl?” he asked as he swept her up and hugged her.
“Good.” Judith smiled as David tickled her chin.
“You had better not let Judy hear you call her your favourite girl.” Cari smiled as she looked up from her reading.
“Oh Judy knows this little lady will always be her rival for my love.” David smiled broadly as he sat down on the couch with Judith on his lap.
“So how was your Revolutionary Wars class?”
“Oh?” Carina looked up in surprise.
“Dr. Barber seems to have a thing against an ancestor of mine.”
“Yeah we Yanks and you Brits do tend to have opposite views of that conflict.”
“I realized that when I elected to take the course, but Dr. Barber seems to be getting his jollies taunting me.”
“Well you can always withdraw from the class…”
“No I’m going to stick with it, but for my essay I’m asking Sally our archivist at Ordford to send me over copies of a lot of General Fitzstuart’s papers, see what he has to say that I can use as primary evidence in my paper.”
“I see an academic showdown coming.” Cari giggled.
“Damn right you do.”
“Dan rite.” Judith looked straight at David and added her weight to the argument.
“See – she agrees with me.”
“Agrees about what?”
“What do you think,” David said as Judy out her bag on the chair. “So do you still have the night off?”
“I do – you?”
“Me too – want to hit the town?”
“Go – Judith and I have plans,” Carina said as they disappeared into Judy’s room. “We’re going to go and see Gramma and Grappy, aren’t we?”
Judith nodded as Carina tickled her tummy…
“It can’t be her…”
“I think it is – you saw the big ad in Boston…”
“But she looks so much smaller…”
The student in the William Smith hoodie and jeans shifted uncomfortably in the plastic seat. Jo hated things like this, but she knew enough by now that it went with the territory, people looking at her and talking in hushed voices.
The girls on the squad called her ‘supe’ as in supermodel, and she had accepted that as a mark of acceptance that she had acquired a nickname. But here in the airport awaiting the call for her flight to New York she almost wished she could curl up in a corner and disappear.
“Are you the lady in the BigBox adverts?”
Jo looked round to see a little girl, aged maybe six, who had finally came up to her with a piece of paper and a pen in hand.
“I am, my name’s Jo,” she smiled, “what’s yours?”
“Dinny,” the little girl blushed.
“Well Dinny, you enjoy the flight as well.” Jo handed the child back her autograph with a little message attached.
“Thank you,” the little girl rushed back to show her mother. Jo smiled as there was the familiar two tone notice of an announcement.
“Can Miss Joanne Smith please come to the desk?” the female voice on the PA asked.
Standing up and picking up her bag, Jo walked over to the desk by the gate.
“Hi, I’m Jo Smith,” she said, “what’s wrong?”
“Oh nothing Miss Smith, but your people should have let us know we have a celebrity flying with us today,” the ground steward replied, “we would have made arrangements.”
“My people? I’m hardly a celebrity,” Jo looked a little weary, “I’m just a college student who does a little modeling on the side, and I’m only going home for the weekend.”
“Well we might still have saved you a few stares if we’d have known.”
“It’s not really a problem…”
“Hey can ya sign dis fer der wife and kids?” a big man barged his way into the conversation. Jo looked at him, smiled and said “of course,” signing the scrap of paper and looking at his exasperated wife as he waved the paper at her.
Looking to the ground steward, Jo smiled and said “point taken. Listen, I’ve read the stories – any truth in them?”
“I’ll have a word with the head stewardess,” the steward said as he glanced down the list, “ensure he gets a special drink.”
“While you’re about it,” Jo said as she looked at Dinny and her mother, “they were at least polite.”
Nodding, the steward said “We’ll make sure they are taken care of as well, Miss Smith, and again accept our apologies.”
“People are people,” Jo said as the first call went out for boarding.
“Come through now, we can at least do that much,” he said as he took her ticket, Jo going onto the plane and sitting down.
Chase Bank, Jamaica Avenue
“This is the place,” George said as Clint pulled up outside the bank in the SVU.
“Nice, quiet little place,” Susan said as she watched one or two people walking in, “nice choice George.”
“Thank me by making sure nobody dies today,” George said as he checked his sawn off shotgun. All six were dressed in boiler suits, as Abby pulled a pair of leather gloves over her hands.
“Clint, you make sure the door guard doesn’t give us any trouble. George, lead the way. Abby and Heather, crowd control while Dom and I empty the safe and George the tills.”
“Got it,” Heather said as she pumped the shotgun. “Is everyone ready?”
The group nodded as they put on their dark glasses and baseball caps, and opened the doors, the ladies with the guns in their boiler suits and the men carrying large holdalls.
As they got closer to the door, Clint reached into the bag while Susan opened the door. Only when all six were inside did Clint draw the gun out, pointing it at the security guard as he said, “do yourself a big favour and lose the weapon.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” George called out as he fired a shot into the air, “this is a robbery. All of you, on your stomachs on the ground, and nobody gets hurt.”
“You heard the man,” Dominique said as she aimed the gun at the counter staff, “and if anyone touches the alarm button, it’s the last thing they do.”
One of the women behind the counter, started to move, only to shriek as Susan shot the security camera behind her.
“Next time I aim for you – all of you, on the floor, over here – NOW!”
“Move it,” Abby said as she shot the lock off the teller’s area, and went through with Susan, the smaller of the two women dragging the manager from behind his desk.
“Now if you all just lie down, hands behind your head, and keep your cool,” George said as Clint pushed the security guard over, and stood guard at the door, “we can all have a pleasant afternoon. Ladies.”
“Open the safe, mister manager,” Susan said as she jammed her gun into the manager’s side, Dom walking in to join her while Heather and Abby walked round the customers and staff.
“If I was you,” Abby said to a woman who had started crying, “I’d stop, or your family might be crying instead.
“Now if you’ll excuse me for a moment,” George said as he walked behind the counter and opened the tills, pulling piles of notes out and stuffing them into the holdall.
As he did this, Heather heard a sound and looked round, Abby nodding as she moved over to one of the men and pressed her shotgun into his back.
“This can make a terrible mess,” she whispered, “so slowly, take the gun out and toss it across the floor.”
They watched as he threw the gun across the floor, Abby saying “thank you” before kicking him in the groin, “now nobody else is going to be that stupid are they?”
Dom and Susan watched as the ban manager slowly opened the vault, smiling as they saw the stacks of money inside.
“Start loading it into these bags,” Susan said as she handed him some refuse bags, “and pray I’m still in a good mood when I’m done.”
“All right – just don’t use those,” he stammered as he started to fill the bags, Susan smiling as Dom took the bags and placed them next to George on the counter.
“We done,” George called back as he walked round to the front of the bank.
“Two minutes,” Dom said as she emptied some jewelry into the other holdall, and then stood back as Susan pushed the bank manager into the main area, forcing him to lie down as the others picked up the bags.
“Nobody moves for ten minutes – thank you for your cooperation,” George said quietly as the six people moved out, Clint walking quickly to the SUV and opening the side before he got behind the wheel, the others jumping in and George slamming the door before they drove off.
“So,” George said as he removed his glasses, “itch scratched, my dear?”
“Oh yes – to a degree,” Susan said with a smile, “but I so much want to do more. This does prove I’m ready though.”
“Back to the offices?”
“Please Clint – then the three of us can head to Sandy’s place once we’ve changed,” Dominique said with a smile.
The Richmond Mansion
“Now this sounds like old times,” Jo said as she came into the hallway, hearing the chatter from the hallway.
“JO,” Sandy said as the young girl came into the kitchen, “welcome back. I think you know everyone, but this is Denice Burton. Denice, this is Jo, Heather’s sister.”
“You’re the Big Box Girl, right?”
“My infamy precedes me,” Jo said with a smile as she shook Denice’s hand.
“Denice’s daughter is Erica, the latest Kirkham scholar,” Barbara said as she sipped her coffee.
“So where is big sis,” Jo said as Sandy passed her a mug.
“She’s taking care of some business, so I get to play host today,” Sandy said as Jan and Caroline came in. “Where have you two been?”
“Business – welcome back Jo,” Jan said as they hugged their friend. “Annie asked me to tell you she’ll see you at eight tomorrow.”
“Sure thing – so where are the girls?”
“Front room, planning tomorrow.”
“Be back in a minute,” Jo said as she went into the front room.
“Hey, boss,” Doc said as she looked up, “welcome back to the big apple. Denice, Jess, meet Jo Smith, former Head Girl and good egg.”
“Pleasure,” Jo said as she raised her hand, “Doc, where’s Abs?”
“She had a free period – probably doing a shoot,” Jeannie said. “You know she likes to help out.”
“Did someone mention my name?”
“Hey, Stick,” Jo said as she turned and hugged her friend, “where have you been?”
“Helping Caroline out with a proposed shoot,” she said as Caroline looked in.
“Hi Mom – how was work today,” Ama said as she looked over.
“Busy – tell you about it later,” she said as she and Heather headed to the kitchen.
“There you are,” Sandy said as she looked over, “not even home to meet your own sister…”
“Hey – it was you who asked me to check those furnishings out, and traffic is hell – but I am glad to see you,” Heather said as she hugged Jo. “Good flight?”
“Strange – I can see why you prefer flying club now Abby. I don’t like being stared at that much.”
“One or two – some nicer than others. The guys at the airline looked after me though, and took some measure of revenge on those who annoyed and pestered me.”
“Oh lord,” Caroline said as she accepted a mug of coffee, “not the added ingredient to the drink?”
“In one or two cases, yeah,” Jo said with a smile.
“I thought that was an urban legend,” April said as she put her mug down.
“Oh no – it really does happen,” Caroline said. “I got friendly with the stewardesses when I flew back from St Petersburg, and they told me some intriguing tales…”
“Hey,” Doc said as she came into the kitchen, “how’s the world of college Jo?”
“Harder than being an Angel, but I’m getting used to it,” Jo said as she sat with Little George and Little Sandy, “how’s things for you?”
“Interesting – I’ll tell you about them later,” she said as she went back into the main room.
“You all right for later,” Abby whispered.
“Yup – Heather and I will come round to your place, and then I’m joining Ama at her place afterwards.”
“Good – you have what I suggested?”
Doc merely nodded as she and Heather went into Sandy’s office.
“So, talk to me,” Heather said as she closed the door.
“I think I know who’s doing this – and I want to kill him.”
“Right – who is it?”
“Did you hear about the problem I had in Chicago when I went to accompany Chet at his dance?”
“Yeah – an obnoxious kid called Wayne Metz.”
“That’s the one. We thought we had taken care of him, but it looks like he now has a pot of money, an office in downtown Chicago – and a way of trying to get his own back.”
“Right – we have a name, and we know he has a grudge against you. Gives us something to work on. I’ve still got traces on that website, and I’m slowly narrowing the origin down.”
“I just want this to end,” Doc said quietly.
“I can imagine – but it will be over soon…”
Saturday 12th September
The Ashley Apartment, 4th Avenue
Pippa Ashley stirred in her sleep, and then opened her eyes, looking at the green numbers on her alarm clock. She lay still for a few minutes, before she sat up and pulled the sheets away from her body. The fashion editor was wearing a pair of cream silk pyjamas, the sleeves and legs flowing as she got out of bed and put on a pair of sippers.
She padded through the door of her bedroom, and down to the kitchen, the cool air from the air conditioning on her skin as she went to the icebox and opened it up. As she did so, the light from the interior illuminated an area of the room, but she didn’t turn round, or notice the grey clad figure that appeared as if from nowhere behind her.
Closing the door, Pippa opened the bottle of water and took a drink, before she turned round – and froze as she saw the white face hanging in the air in front of her. It seemed to stare straight back, and then slowly tilted to the side as she watched.
“What the hell,” she said quietly before two more faces appeared beside the first one, and tilted as well. One of them then walked over, and Pippa realized it wasn’t an apparition at all, but a woman, dressed completely in grey, with only the white face showing.
Her words were cut off as the woman walked behind her and Pippa felt a gloved hand pressed firmly over her mouth, her eyes widening as the second head nodded to the third one and that disappeared into the gloom. The face then moved to a work surface, Pippa watching as the person removed a long, long length of hemp rope, doubled over with a small loop tied in the centre.
She walked over, a grey gloved finger to the lips of the mask, and Pippa nodded before the grey gloved hand disappeared.
“What do you want me to do,” she whispered, watching in fear as the figure indicated with a gloved finger she should turn round. As she did so, she saw the pistol in the hand of the other intruder, and whimpered as the rope was draped over her shoulders, and then wound quickly and tightly down her arms…
Poppy Ashley was laying on her bed, sound asleep, but as she felt the hand pressing down on her mouth her eyes suddenly shot open. She saw the white face seemingly hovering in the air as she looked at it, and then began to discern the outline of a woman standing there, dressed in grey as she leaned over the bed.
“Whtdduent,” she whimpered as the woman shook her head, and put a gloved finger to her lips, before she pulled the covers back and indicated Poppy should stand up. Nodding, Poppy felt the hand as it was removed from over her mouth, before slowly leaving her bed, the figure looking at her in her light blue t-shirt and cycling pants.
“Are you here to rob us,” Poppy whispered, but the figure remained silent, instead indicating with her index figure that she should turn round.
“Can’t you speak,” she said with a mixture of fear and defiance, the figure not responding, but simply repeating the circular motion with their finger.
“All right, so you don’t talk,” Poppy, said as she turned round, “so what do you…?” She fell silent as she felt the rope placed over her shoulders, falling down her body in front of her.
“Look, you don’t have to do this, I’ll do whatever you say,” Poppy whispered, and then realised what she had said as the rope was wound in two spirals down her arms, pulling them behind her as well before she felt the rope securing her forearms together.
“For the love of God, say something,” she pleaded, but the figure remained silent, as she felt the ropes tied tightly around her arms, and then them being pulled up before the rope was wrapped around her upper body, forcing her arms into her sides and her chest out before they were tied off.
She then felt the intruder take her arm and lead her out to the main room of the apartment.
“POPPY!!! YOU BASTARDS, IF YOU HAVE…”
Pippa glared at the grey figure as it shook its head, and then pointed to an Ottoman recliner, the third figure taken Pippa over after they had descended the spiral staircase and making her sit down before she took more rope and tied her legs together below her knees, then took it down and tied her ankles together side by side.
“Mom,” she said as she watched the silent intruder work, “what’s going on?”
“I need you to be brave Poppet,” Pippa said quietly, “I think they are going to rob us, but hopefully they won’t hurt us.”
“Rob us,” Poppy said quietly before she started to sob “Why?”
“Because they can,” Pippa said as she tried moving, but her own arms were fixed to her sides under the intricate lattice of rope that encased her upper body. “I read about them in a magazine – they’re called the China Doll Gang, and they never speak.”
“Never…” Poppy looked at the other two figures, one standing behind her mother, the other searching through the book shelves, and gulped as she was moved onto her side, lying with her head on the armrest.
The third Doll then wound a bandana up and tied a knot in it, before holding it in front of Poppy’s mouth. “Please, no,” she whispered, but the figure was unmoving, until Poppy slowly opened her mouth. She felt the cotton on her tongue as the knotted mass was pushed between her teeth, and then the band as it was tied tightly round her head, trapping her hair as the ends were secured at the base of her neck.
The tallest of the three dolls then walked in front of Pippa and indicated she should stand up.
“What are you going to do,” Pippa whispered, watching as the doll looked at Poppy, before pointing to the stairs that led to the bedrooms. “If I show you my valuables, let you open the safe,” Pippa said, “Will you leave my daughter unharmed?”
The figure turned and looked at Poppy, the white face tilted to the side, before she nodded and motioned again. Pippa slowly stood up, saying “be brave, Poppet” before she walked up the stairs, two of the dolls watching while the third stood guard over Pippa, the young girl shaking as she tried to remain calm.
Time seemed to stretch out for the youngster, but eventually she watched as her mother came back down. A large cream scarf was now tied round her head, the silk knot sitting between her teeth as she sat in the chair, a Doll kneeling as Pippa watched her secure her legs and ankles together.
The three Dolls looked at the trussed and gagged women, before slowly stepping back into the gloom, their faces the last thing to disappear in the dim light before there was silence. Pippa looked over at her daughter as wriggled on the recliner, before she pushed herself to her feet, and jumped over to the display cabinet.
Poppy watched as her mother squatted and opened a drawer, before standing and leaning to one side as she tried to extract something. It seemed to take forever, but eventually she grunted and then jumped over to the Ottoman, allowing herself to drop to the floor and saying “tsslrrtpeee, hlpscmng” as she rubbed her head on her daughter’s hips…
For Annie and Jo, it was just like old times as they trained in the old way.
“So how is Lisa as a coach?” Annie asked as she and Jo ran round the lake in Central Park.
“Tough…she really believes in conditioning work.”
“I’d guessed that…a lot harder then running here in the park eh?”
“You know it…” Jo laughed.
“She says you are showing improvement though?”
“Oh,” Jo said as they turned the corner, “been talking behind my back?”
“Yes,” it was Annie’s turn to laugh, “I’m keeping up with all my ex girls now running in college.”
“Well I feel stronger in my legs, but I won’t know until we actually race if it’s translating to improved performance.”
“When is your first race?”
“We have a meet next weekend where we are hosting Buffalo and Canisius.”
“Those are both traditionally strong schools.”
“I know,” Jo said as they rounded the lake, “so it should give Coach and me some ideas how I’m shaping up.”
“Well I wish I could come watch,” Annie said as they stopped and stretched, “but we have the new Tri-State Invitational to run in.”
“On the course out along the dunes in Easthampton?”
“Yeah, you read about it then?”
“One of my team members ran it in high school, she says it’s a bastard of a run on that loose sand.”
“Well it will give me some idea how good this years team is.” Annie paused, “By the way little Beth has improved so much on last year.”
“And she was already pretty good then.”
“I think Lisa is right, she will be a major star.”
“So I’m already forgotten?” Jo giggled. “How fleeting is fame?”
“Says the model,” Annie said with a laugh. “Come on – let’s get back to your place.”
A short while later, Jo and Annie came into the kitchen where Heather was making a pot of coffee.
“Hey – got some for us in a minute,” Jo said as she took two bottles of water from the icebox and handed one to Annie.
“Once you’re cooled down, yeah,” Heather said. “What do you think Annie?”
“I think she’s improved a hell of a lot,” Annie said. “Listen – how did it go yesterday?”
“Good, we had a lovely visit to Queens and came home with some new things.”
“Sounds fun – what else have I been missing?”
“Nor a lot really – oh, George took Katy Carter to his school dance, and Sandy is really upset by it, but apart from that…”
“Oh? My little man becoming a little man, is he?”
George naturally picked that moment to come into the kitchen, as all three women looked at him.
“So you ready for tomorrow George,” Jo said quietly, “helping at the track?”
“I am – why?”
“I don’t know – both Katy and Sandy trying to dominate you…”
“Mom’s in charge,” George said as he walked back out again.
“Kid’s got his head screwed on,” Annie said.
“He has at that – right, shower and Missy has me doing two shows with Jeannie today.”
The Huntingdown Apartment
“Well, this is a pleasant surprise,” Juliette said as she put the telephone down.
“What is,” Cari said as she handed Judith a slice of apple.
“Visitor,” Juliette said as she walked to the door, opening it to the petite dark haired woman in a pale dress and dark blazer.
“Sigi, my dear, how wonderful to see you,” Juliette said as he kissed her on both cheeks.”
“And you as well Ju – and oh my, you are getting to be so big,” Sigi said as she picked up Judith, “and so beautiful.”
“Fank ew,” Judith said as she smiled, Cari taking her in her arms. “Come on you, we have to go and see Aunt Jo this afternoon, remember? Will you join us for dinner tonight, Sigi?”
“I was hoping you’d ask.”
“Well, Sigi,” Klaus said as he hugged his younger sister, “I didn’t know you were coming to New York?”
“Well, when the mood takes me…”
“Well to bring you all the way from Europe to New York I’m guessing it has to be important Sigrid.” Juliette sat next to her guest on the sofa in the drawing room. “What is wrong with Norstar?”
“I can’t come for a social visit?”
“You know that is exactly what Missy said when she came to see about all this,” her brother smiled.
“Well it’s not bad as such,” Sigi said as she opened her case, “but Simon and Simone have been indulging in certain practices to avoid paying taxes here in the US, that the IRS here might take a dim view of.”
“Well they are French, the French learn tax avoidance before they learn to read.” Klaus said, as he looked at the papers Sigrid put in front of him.
“What they are doing is legal in Switzerland…”
“So the problem is?” Juliette asked.
“That as I said, the US does not view these practices as being entirely kosher.”
“But technically aren’t we buying a Swiss company?”
“Strictly speaking yes dear brother, but Norstar in the US is by far the biggest part of that business.”
“Alright Sigi what have you flown all the way here to advise us to do?” Ju asked.
“To authorize me to work out an agreement with the IRS that brings Norstar’s tax and accounting procedures more into line with what they regard as acceptable. To pay some taxes on behalf of models who have been paid in Swiss accounts by the holding company, and to clean up any potential trouble there, and to generally head off any problems before they might even appear.”
“Well that sounds okay, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Klaus nodded.
“But buying into the company, is it sound business Sigi?”
“Oh very much so,” Sigi said as she looked up, “they make a very healthy return on investment, I’m more than happy that we are buying, it’s just as I said I want to forestall any potential tax problems here in America.”
“Well, the others and I will be happy to hear that,” Juliette said with a smile. “Let me make some more coffee and we can talk in more detail…”
Farmer Street Market
“I never thought I’d hear myself say this…but poor Poppy.” Erica shook her head. “How long did it take?”
“From what I heard, they were left like that for about half an hour before the security alert was answered. They spent the rest of the night in hospital, but they’re home now.”
“I saw them getting out of the car,” Jess said as she played with her can, “they looked tired and scared.”
“Being the victim of a crime is never pleasant.” Abby smiled inwardly while mouthing the ‘correct’ words.
“So why them?” asked Dawn as she looked at a pair of shoes.
“They were an easy target I guess - two females alone in bed, plentiful things worth stealing…”
“It’s frightening though Becca.” Erica shook her head again. “Where I live isn’t exactly a low crime area, and we take precautions, but I still can’t wrap my head around what it must feel like to be tied up like that.”
“Becca can maybe tell you.” Nikki grinned at the memory of the prank home invasion.
“Eh?” Erica looked sideways.
“Private joke Erica.” Becca shook her head.
“So what do you think?” Pepsi asked as she held up a pair of earrings she’d bought on one of the stalls. “Flashy enough for a gun moll?”
“Yeah, they’ll do nicely.” Abby looked closely.
“Well no doubt you’ll be wearing the real thing Miss Model, but on my budget, yeah I’m pretty happy.”
“I broke an oath I made to myself never to wear these things.” Letty held up a pair of five-inch stilettos, “but what’s that saying? When in Rome…?”
“You are nearly as tall as I am Lets, where are we going to find two guys tall enough to squire us in high heels?”
“Oh like you know Tony won’t be here for you…”
“True.” Abby laughed.
“Returning to Poppy though, I think I’m going to try and be nice to her.” Erica sipped from a can of coke.
“Well you can try, but I’m giving odds she starts boasting about how she got robbed.” Dawn said as she looked at a vintage bracelet.
“Well I’m hoping she’s maybe learned a lesson.” Abigail said quietly.
“Yeah and pigs might fly.” Becca snorted.
“Well, stranger things have happened…”
Sunday 13th September
Noon Central Time
San Antonio International Airport
The men could not help but turn their heads and notice as the redhead walked past, wearing a short black leather skirt and jacket, a white vest that showed just enough of her chest to titillate, and black four inch heels. At the same time, the women looked, their eyes burning as she ignored them – and enjoyed the attention from both sexes.
Kerry smiled as she walked into the car park, and climbed into her Lotus. Her ‘boyfriend’ for the weekend had given her a nice tip as well as well as paying her standard weekend fee of $5,000. Being a classy whore paid well, and it wasn’t as though the guy wasn’t bad in bed either, she had been well fucked several times.
No, she thought as she put her season card at the reader and the barrier raised, all in all moving to Texas to go to college was not turning out badly at all - she was enjoying her classes, and there were an awful lot of very rich men in the state more then willing to pay for her company. Moving away from the suspicious eyes of her parents was probably the best thing she had done since she had first started selling her body.
The only cloud on her horizon was this mess over a new Angelic Escorts. Kerry had at one time thought of perhaps reviving the agency, but she’d discarded it, running other whores was a bit too much like real work, she was amazed that ‘Madame Angel’ had been able to do it, and she had become even more surprised when she’d finally worked out who, and what, Madame really was.
She pulled her expensive sunglasses down to cover her eyes as she pointed her car westwards on the highway towards the setting sun. The last thought she had before the bullet entered her brain was that she needed a new manicure…
3 pm EST
“Hey Mom,” Nell said as she answered her phone, “How’s things at home.
“Mom, are you all right?”
Ally Rochermann looked at her twin sister as Nell sat down, the colour draining from her face.
“No, no I understand – I’ll tell Ally, and please, tell Mr. and Mrs. Hull I am so, so sorry to hear the news.
“Of course I’ll come back for it. I’ll call you later Mom.”
“What’s happened,” Ally said as Nell stood up, and looked of the window.
“Kerry Hull, she’s dead,” Nell said quietly. “Some sort of car accident.”
“Kerry,” Ally said as she sat up, “that’s terrible. I thought she was happy down there?”
“She was – look, can you give me a minute Ally? I need to pass the word on.”
“Sure – I’ll be in my room,” Ally said as she left, Nell spending a moment in prayer before she dialed a number.
The Carlton home
“Hey Nell,” Anna said as she answered her phone, “what’s up?”
She stood for a few moments, and then grabbed the edge of her desk.
“WHAT!” Doc almost dropped her mobile as Nell told her what she had heard. “Kerry was murdered?”
“That’s what her Mom told my mom. A sniper got her just as she was leaving San Antonio Airport. I told Ally she had died, but not how – not yet.”
“Is it connected…?”
“How the fuck do I know Nell?”
“It just seems too damn coincidental, we get trouble over Angelic Escorts, then someone puts a bullet in Kerry’s brain.”
“I know…OH FUCK!” Anna was for the first time in her life totally confused and lost for words.
“How worried should the rest of us be?”
“Oh Crap, that hadn’t even occurred to me…SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!” Doc swore.
“Anna,” Nell said quietly, “I know you have connections that I’ve guessed at but never enquired into, like with Janice Carter and the feds. Is it time we asked for help?”
“I don’t know Nell, I don’t know…Look just give me 15 minutes to get my brain working, and ring a couple of people, then phone me back. In the meantime…BE CAREFUL.”
“Oh I intend to be,” Nell said quietly, “I’ll call you back.”
As the call ended, Doc held herself for a moment, and then dialed another number.
“Heather? We have a major problem related to Angelic Escorts – life threatening. What do we do?”
“When you say life-threatening,” Heather said at the other end of the call, “you mean?”
“Kerry Hull was killed by a sniper in San Antonio earlier today.”
There was a moment’s silence, before Heather said “Call Jan and Caroline, tell them this is a Code Black and to meet at our place. Then get in a cab yourself – and Doc?”
“All right Jan,” April said as she handed her a coffee, “so how have the negotiations gone?”
“We finally narrowed it down,” Jan said with a smile, “she wants it to be a gangsters and gun molls party out at my racing club April.”
“I think we can do that Jan.”
“Well I’ve made the booking, it’s now just a question of getting everybody invited, costumed, and out there.”
“I can just see my husband as Scarface.”
“Paul Muni or Al Pacino?”
April laughed as she said “I’m not sure.”
“Adam says he wants to see me in something that makes me a sexy bad girl.”
“Like your skirts don’t already?” April laughed.
“Well, you and Pepsi had better work out the guest list,” Jan said as she took out her cell phone, looking at it before she said “Yeah?
“Right – I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Problem?” April said as Jan stood up.
“Work – I’ll touch base with you later,” Jan said as she grabbed her bag and coat, and almost ran down the stairs to the sidewalk.
As she looked round, she saw Caroline coming towards her.
“Any chance of a lift?”
Caroline just nodded as they both jumped into Jan’s car and drove off.
The Richmond Mansion
“When’s your flight Jo?”
“Not until seven – I’ve got time to be involved in this,” she said as she opened the door to let Doc in.
“I’m going to talk to some people now, Nell. I honestly don’t think there is a problem, but I’ll call you as soon as I know what’s going to happen.
“Yeah – bye,” she said as she ended the call, and Jo closed the door.
“You think,” Doc said as Jo showed her into the front room, where Heather and Sandy were sitting.
“The others should be here soon,” Sandy said as Heather hugged Doc, Jo leaving for a moment to let Diana and Abby in.
“A Code Black? Who’s in danger?”
“I am – possibly,” Doc said quietly as Carina came in with Juliette.
“Sigi and Klaus have Judith – I don’t want her here for this,” Cari said as Jo left one last time, returning with Caroline and Jan.
“Thank you all for coming,” Heather said, “I called the Code Black because we now have a potentially lethal threat.”
“I guessed that,” Caroline said, “what’s the problem?”
“A few days ago, I discovered Angelic Escorts had started up in business again.”
Caroline and Jan immediately looked at Doc, before Heather said “no, it’s not Anna – we have proof positive of that. When we found out, however, we immediately contacted Nell to see if she recognized any of the new Angels – she didn’t but I’ve pinned them all down as local Juniors and Seniors at the colleges.
“We did check one other obvious person who could be responsible – Kerry Hull, but she was based in San Antonio. The new Madame Angel operates via e-mail, but we’ve managed to trace the electronic information to the greater Chicago area.”
“Really,” Carina said.
“For those who don’t know,” Doc said, “when I visited Chicago back in June, I was accosted by one of the former clients of Angelic Escorts – a real sleazeball by the name of Wayne Metz.”
“Metz? Where have I heard that name before,” Caroline said to herself.
“Said Metz got very aggressive – threatening to expose me if I didn’t…”
“Let me,” Cari said. “Doc called me immediately, and between myself, Nell, Blair and John Jacobs, we set up a honey trap – filming him apparently preparing to rape Doc. We told him at the time if he ever tried to do anything like that ever again, the film that was shot would be sent to the police.”
Juliette nodded as she looked at Doc. “So you think this Wayne Metz is masquerading as Madame Angel?”
“The probability is strong – according to Chet, he’s effectively been cut off by his family, given a large sum of money and an office somewhere in Chicago, and told to hide.”
“Is he the sort of person who would do this?”
“Yes,” Doc said emphatically, “and he’s got enough money to get the computer savvy to hide his tracks.”
“I’m working on it,” the young woman said, “but I could use some help – like where young Master Metz has his office.”
“Let me work on that one,” Caroline said, “I just remembered where I know the name from.”
“Who is he?”
“The Metz family had in the old days very strong ties to Capone – so we’re talking old money here. But that means respect and honour - and we have contacts we can ask for information.”
“Thanks, Caroline,” Doc said, “but we have a bigger problem now. This morning, Kerry Hull was murdered as she drove away from San Antonio Airport.”
The room stared back at Doc as she put her head in her hands.
“Is this true,” Jo said as she looked at Heather.
“I checked – an eighteen year old Freshman at UTSA was killed this afternoon. I hacked the police records – it’s Kerry, and she was shot through the head while driving away. Her parents have been informed.”
“They called Kelly, Kelly called Nell, Nell called me – and now I don’t know what to do,” Doc said as she looked round.
“That’s why I called a Code Black – it may just be coincidence, but if it’s not…”
Juliette sat back and closed her eyes for a few moments, before she said “Jan, we need to know what’s happening.”
“I’ll see what else I can find out – was she…”
“Oh yes- very successfully.”
“Then chances are they’re going through her clients first – but I’ll see what I can find out.”
“As quickly as possible please Jan. Dom?”
“I’ll ask Madame to get some discrete escorts on all the other girls. Abby, you and Annie are going to have to be on high alert at the school regarding Becca and Nikki.”
Abby nodded as Diana said “Much as I hate to say this, you should both be armed at all times.”
“Agreed,” Juliette said. “Cari, Jo – you both need to get back to college tonight, but I want you both to see what you can find out about the Metz family – get me as much as you can, as fast as you can.”
The two young women nodded as Caroline took out her cell phone. “Susan? Meet me at Madame’s apartment in one hour – a situation has arisen. I’ll call ahead and warn her.”
“Sandy, can you run Doc home later, make sure she is safely inside?”
As Sandy nodded, Juliette looked round the room. “If Metz is behind this, he dies. If he is not, he still suffers. Cari darling, you may need to have some fun.”
“Oh goody,” Carina said quietly, “and if he’s not, if he’s innocent?”
“I don’t think he is – but we need proof. Jan, Caroline, Heather – you have work to do.”
As they stood up, Juliette sat with Doc and put her arm around her shoulder. “Don’t worry Anna,” she said quietly, “we are going to deal with this, and make sure nobody else gets hurt.”
“Juliette, I’ll ask for information at my office. Seeing that Kerry was a local girl from a prominent family it will look routine.”
“In the meantime though I have a thought on someone else with a grudge against Angelic Escorts…”
“Ed Mitchell?” Diana asked.
“You obviously had the same thought darling.”
“Well he certainly had cause to dislike Kerry, but everyone else associated with Angelic Escorts?” asked Doc.
“I know, it’s not logical,” Juliette closed her eyes, “But since the divorce he has dropped off the radar screen entirely. It will do no harm finding out where he is.”
“I’ll add that to my to do list.” Heather nodded.
9 pm local time
“Well?” Leader asked as Red and her patrol came back into camp.
“It got busted, either they are improving, or we are getting worse.”
“They somehow guessed we were leading them on into a trap and pulled away.”
“None on either damn side, it was a complete washout.”
“What they call a ‘no score draw’ in soccer.” Charlotte spoke.
“Yes.” Leader nodded grimly.
“The one good thing since we brought down the chopper is that they have grown more cautious, the bad thing is also that they are more cautious.” Liz looked up from her maps.
“Well they certainly seem jumpier, a couple of times my girls said they got frightened by baboons nearby and opened fire at nothing.” Red reported.
“I could do with interrogating a couple of their people.” Liz spoke again, “our signals intelligence is drying up…”
“Again more caution on their part.” Leader added. “Can Orange and her patrol maybe lift a couple of their men?”
“I’ll pass the instruction.” Red nodded.
“At least they had some problems with their machinery today I heard.” Marigold smiled, “something contaminated some fuel I believe.”
“Yeah, sugar isn’t good for you.” Charlotte laughed.
“We need to find a way to neutralize their radar – any thoughts Fireball?”
“Thinking about it,” Shelby said quietly, “thinking about it…”
“… and that concludes my update.”
“A most succinct briefing Natalya, my congratulations.” Shirley smiled at the camera as she looked at Natalya in the hotel room.
“Thank you Madame…So my instructions?”
For a good minute there was silence from the other remotes as Shirley, Madeline, Penny, and Catherine obviously weighed up the evidence they had just been presented with. Catherine was in her Hong Kong apartment, Maddie in her office, and Penny in her kitchen.
“It is obvious that the Tanaka’s and the other Yakuza bosses are pursuing their own interests.” Madeline finally spoke.
“But we have no proof that these are necessarily hostile to our own aims.” Penny replied.
“And none of us have any interest in meddling in the internal affairs of the Japanese underworld.” Catherine added.
“No we will still need to maintain a customer/client relationship once this is all over.” Shirley nodded.
“I do not like the idea though of someone simply stepping into the Death Dragons shoes though.”
“On that I think we all agree Madeline.”
“So I do what Madame?”
Shirley thought for a moment, before she said “I think you maintain a watching brief Natalya, and be prepared to strike if the needs arise. Catherine, with your permission, I think Helen and Marina should remain in Tokyo.”
“Agreed Madame.” The other three women on the conference call all voiced their approval.
“I can arrange further supply meetings while they are there – and possibly some down time as well. On the subject of the three women?”
“Charlene is not fit enough yet to fly, but Niki and Jill have them in a well guarded safe house – not even Tamiko knows where.”
“Excellent,” Shirley said as she sat back. “How are the enquiries of the Chinese authorities going Catherine?”
“Like so many things…slowly.”
“Matters in Africa seem somewhat stalemated as well Madame,” Penny spoke from London. “We have had successes, but on the ground very little has truly changed.”
“Well, let us use this time productively – Colonel Vosloo has neutralized their supply base in South Africa, now we move at the other end. Madeline, send your team in – we need to show we have the head and the tail.”
“We’ll move in the next 48 hours, Madame.”
“Excellent,” Madame said as she looked up, and Maisha opened the door.
“Forgive me, Aunt Shirley, but Susan and Caroline are here to see you.”
“Thank you, Maisha. Ladies, I need to take another meeting – Madeline, can you stay on line for a few more minutes? The rest of you, I will speak with you shortly.”
“Thank you Madame,” the other three said as the line went dead, and Maisha showed Susan and Caroline in.
“Hey you two,” Maddie said as Shirley brought the laptop over and set it no the coffee table, “what’s happened?”
“Heather called a Code Black meeting of the ladies tonight,” Caroline said, briefly outlining the situation to them.
“I see,” Shirley said quietly, “and I fully appreciate why they are so worried. Maddie, what do we know of the Metz family?”
“Caroline’s right about the Capone connection, but publically at least they’re kosher. Of course, as you know, that proves nothing.”
“Indeed,” Shirley said with a smile. “Can you enquire of our friends in Chicago please?”
“May take some time.”
“If you need anything investigating in Chicago, this may be the right time to mention that Uncle John and Coco are staying with the van Roon’s in Lake Forest.” Shirley looked up.
“Well if we need something looked at discreetly, we might as well ask the best.”
“That was my thought Dominique.”
“I can travel tomorrow for the day – Augie asked me a week ago to come and do a quote. Let me call and see if tomorrow is all right. In the meantime…”
“Of course. Susan, get some people up to Harvard, and get eyes on the former Sacred Heart members of Angelic Escorts.”
“Consider it done, Shirley.”
“It is asking a lot, Dominique, but if Ama can keep a close eye on all three girls?”
“Abby and Annie will also do so – we’ll arrange an invite to dinner at my place tomorrow night for all three of them.”
“Then I do not think we can do anything else without further information. Thank you ladies,” Shirley said as she stood up. “John will be back soon, and we have a dinner engagement.”
“I’ll make the call now,” Caroline said as she pulled her cell phone out.
Monday 14th September
“Hey,” Nikki said as Doc joined her and Becca, “what happened to you yesterday? I thought you were coming to the cinema with us?”
“I’m sorry about that,” Doc said with a smile as Abby joined them, “I got called on a family trip, and forgot to let you know. Mea culpa…”
“Right you three – inside. Time to knuckle down and enjoy more Middle English.”
“Oh deep deep joy,” Jeannie said as she wheeled herself in, the girls following as Grace came to the gates, looking for one car in particular as it pulled up.
“Pippa,” she said as she walked to the car, “I heard what happened. Are you all right?”
“Getting there,” Pippa Ashley said as Poppy got out of the car. “We’ve both got some bruising, and I can’t say I’ve slept that well the last couple of nights, but we’re getting there.”
“And how are you Poppy?”
“I’m fine Mrs. Brand,” Poppy said as she put her bag over her shoulder, “I just want things to get back to normal.”
“Well, if you need someone to talk to at any time, come to my office, all right?”
Poppy nodded as she went in, Grace looking at Pippa as she said “You must both have been terrified?”
“We were – the worst thing of all is they didn’t say a damned word at any point.”
“Oh my,” Grace said quietly, “you don’t have to answer, but were they dressed in grey with white faces?”
“Yeah - how did you guess?”
“There’s an infamous gang of home invaders in the UK who operate that way – I hope they haven’t come over here.”
“They might have,” Pippa said as she looked at her watch. “I need to get going – Grace, I’ll see you around this week?”
“A couple of evening shows – but maybe, yeah.”
“Good – stay safe,” Grace said as Pippa drove off, before she walked back into the school.
“Alright girls,” Sarah said as she stood at the front of the room, “are you beginning to understand why Chaucer is considered the first important writer in the English Language?”
“Slowly Miss.” Jeannie smiled.
“Well it’s got me to read The Decameron as well.” Anna spoke.
“Trust you.” Becca groaned, “We are struggling so hard with this and you are already reading the book that inspired it.”
“Well it is important to understand that Chaucer’s literary device was derived from Boccaccio’s example.” Sarah smiled. “In his case it was people telling tales while they waited out the Black Death, while Chaucer as you know has his storytellers being pilgrims on the way to the Shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury.”
“I like the way that the different storytellers tell stories very much in line with their own character.” Raylene Dougan spoke from the back of the room.
“And I’m enjoying the sheer mixture of characters.” Nikki added.
“Are these the same girls who groaned so much when we started this?” Sarah asked.
“Well once you begin to get how the language works…then yes its interesting Miss.” Pepsi smiled.
“Miss Nightingale is reading Chaucer essential if we are to understand Shakespeare?” Anna asked in a slightly serious tone.
“Well I’ve always thought it is Anna. Remember Chaucer is what Shakespeare, Ben Johnson and the other great writers of Elizabethan England would have read, so they are part of their inspiration, just as the likes of Arthur Miller are inspired by Shakespeare.”
“Did you have any trouble with Poppy and her group this morning Annie?” Grace asked as the teachers took their mid-morning break.
“No,” Annie said as she filled her cup, “she was a bit more subdued then usually, but the other girls went out of their way to be nice. She answered a couple of questions, and seemed attentive.”
“It’s one of those things where you don’t know quite what to do,” Grace said as she sat down. “I think she knows there is a history between her mother and I, but I told her my door is open if she wants to come and talk.”
“Well I had a word with Letty, she’s going to try talking to her at lunch.” Kate came in and picked up a cup of coffee.
“She might find it easiest to talk to someone like Letty…”
“That was my thought Grace.”
“Well someone looks happy with herself at least?” Annie looked up as Sarah came in sporting a broad smile.
“Okay that is unnatural,” Ingrid looked up from her coffee, “No teacher should look that happy on a Monday morning.”
“So what has cheered you up so much?” Kate asked.
“Only that my sophomores are beginning to get just why we are studying Chaucer.”
“Mark up a success for Sarah.” Grace smiled.
“And it’s not just the super bright kids like Anna, they all seem to be getting something out of it.”
“Well congratulations Sarah.” Kate passed her a coffee.
“We were talking about Poppy Ashley…”
“Oh yes poor child, I heard some of the girls talking about her before class.”
“Anything I should know?” Grace asked.
“Not as such,” Sarah paused, “I heard Anna saying that she seemed subdued this morning, and another of the girls commented she had no makeup on.”
“Well after a shock like this, I’d expect her to be a bit off-colour.”
“We just need to be here for her Grace.” Kate chugged her coffee down as the bell rang.
11 am Central Time
Lake Forest, Chicago
Caroline looked through the window cab as it drove up the long avenue, and stopped outside the redbrick mansion. Paying the driver, and collecting the receipt, she got out of the cab and stood for a moment, looking round the outside of the building and taking some initial mental notes.
Caroline looked to the door, and the smartly dressed coloured man who was standing at the top of the stairs.
“Forgive me,” she said as she walked up, her pleated grey skirt moving in the slight breeze, “when I come for a professional consultation, I always make a note of my initial impressions. I’m Caroline Jameson.”
“Thomas,” the man said as he shook Caroline’s hand, “I understand you will need to talk with me later as part of your assessment, but Mrs. van Roon is waiting for you in the drawing room. If you would come this way?”
“Of course,” Caroline said as she followed the servant, the heels of her soft leather stilettos clicking on the marbled floor. As he opened the large doors, she walked in to see Tracey van Roon seated in a chair, wearing a cream silk jumper and slacks.
“Caroline, thank you for coming out,” she said as she stood up. “Thomas, would you ask Carmelita to bring coffee for two please?”
“Of course, ma’am,” Thomas said as he stepped out, closing the door behind himself.
“Welcome to Lake Forest,” Tracey said as she indicated a seat, Caroline sitting and placing her laptop bag on the floor. “How was your flight?”
“Very pleasant than you – it has been a few years since I have visited the Lakes.” She thought about that occasion, and the fact she had had to remove three high ranking gangsters for what they had done to innocents.
“Well, Augie and I are glad you are in a position to come out and advise us – it is a pity you cannot stay, but I understand this is a busy week for you in both aspects of your career.”
“Indeed,” Caroline said as the door opened, and the Hispanic housekeeper brought in a tray with a coffee pot and cups.
“Thank you,” Caroline said as she accepted a cup.
“So, how does this work?”
“Well.” Caroline said as she put her cup down, “I normally do a tour of the property, noting the current security systems and where safes and things are located, and then I have an interview with the house owner and any key staff – so in your case, you and your husband as well as Thomas and your housekeeper. I don’t normally need to talk to the children, unless you want me to talk to your son.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Tracey said, “so you then prepare a report with your recommendations?”
“That’s right – as well as providing a quote for any work that may need to be undertaken. My clients usually find the reduction in their insurances costs more than cover the costs incurred in implementing my suggestions. Should you wish not to continue, I merely require my costs for this visit to be paid.”
“Which is perfectly reasonable,” Tracey said with a smile. “So, can we do the interview while we have coffee?”
“Of course,” Caroline said as she removed her laptop from the case, and booted it up, “just allow me to get things started…”
“Well, I think I have all I need from you,” Caroline said a short while later, as she closed her laptop and took out a camera, pad and pen, “would it be possible for me to look round the mansion now?”
“Of course,” Tracey said as she went to the fireplace and touched a button, waiting a moment before Thomas appeared.
“Miss Jameson needs to have a tour of the mansion, Thomas, to review the current security systems. Would you be good enough to accompany her please?”
“Of course ma’am. If you would come with me, Miss Jameson?”
As they walked out into the lobby, Caroline smiled as she saw the couple coming through the front door.
“Hello Caroline,” John Jacobs said as he came over and kissed her on the cheek, “here on business?”
“Indeed – Mister van Roon, a pleasure to meet you again.”
“Please – Augie,” he said as he shook her hand. “Spoken to Tracey already?”
“I have – I’m going to have a look around, and then perhaps I can talk to you as well?”
“Sounds good – John, that catalogue is in my office. I hope you will join us for lunch, Caroline – Coco should be back by then?”
“Is Coco visiting as well?”
“She’s doing a guest lecture at UIC, on some of the work she did as a student in Venice,” John said, “but she should be back by two. If you don’t mind eating later?”
“Not a problem,” Caroline said with a smile. “I look forward to talking with all of you.”
“If you will come this way, Miss Jameson?”
Caroline nodded as she went with Thomas, John and Augie heading to his office.
Poppy looked up as the tall form of Letty Kinman approached her.
“Poppy, I’ve been asked to have a chat with you, would you like to come to the head girl’s room?” Letty asked.
“Well, because one of my duties as a head girl is to be there to listen and help,” Letty said as she looked at the young girl.
“And what makes you qualified to tell me how I should…”
“Poppy I know you were tied up and threatened,” Letty whispered, “but I can probably more than match your horror story with dozens of my own.”
Letty looked round before she said “my mother used to be in a very abusive relationship. Her boyfriend was a bastard who threatened my cousin, in return for him leaving her alone I let him do some unspeakable things…”
“To you?” The young girl looked genuinely shocked.
“To me Poppy.”
“Oh, that sounds terrible Letty…I’m sorry.”
“Well,” Letty said as they walked along, “at an opportune moment, he seemed to just disappear, it was like I had a guardian angel who finally heard my cries for help.”
“That I can understand.” Poppy hugged the far taller girl as they walked along. “I prayed to God for those awful women to leave me and Mom alone, just take what they wanted and get out.”
“Well that was natural.”
“I was so scared…” Poppy whispered as she started to shake visibly.
“Come in here please.” Letty steered the younger girl into the privacy of the Head Girls room, closing the door behind them.
“Thank you.” Poppy said as she made a visible effort to pull herself together.
“Come and sit.” Letty said as she patted the sofa as she sat down.
“I was so scared that they’d kill my Mom.” Poppy said as she sat down and started to sob.
“That’s understandable – I couldn’t say a word in case he hurt my mom.”
“I love my mom so much, she’s everything in the world to me, I’ve always wanted to be just like her…I can’t think what I’d do if I lost her.”
“I feel pretty much the same about my Mom.” Letty hugged the sobbing girl.
“I’ve always tried to behave just like her.”
“Tell me what she did when all this was going on, Poppy.”
“I guess she was looking out for me – she really was upset when I was taken down the stairs, and then they tied my legs and gagged me.” Through her tears, Poppy looked at Letty and said “the strange thing was that they said nothing, and that was unnerving enough. But Mom – she kept talking keeping me calm. She even called me Poppet.”
“It was her pet name for me when I was a toddler – she never calls me it now. It did make me feel better though – and when they left, she sat and stayed with me until the police arrived.”
The tears then came unbidden, Letty holding Poppy as she cried, letting the young girl unburden herself totally.
When she had finished, Letty handed her a paper tissue, waiting until she dried her eyes.
“Thanks – I needed to do that, didn’t I?”
“Poppy, when you have a big shock like that, it’s good to talk to someone – remember what I said on the first day?”
“That we’re all Angels now?”
“Exactly – if you ever need to talk or need help, just ask. Now, are you ready to go back to class?”
Poppy nodded and handed the tissue back as Letty stood up.
“Come on – I’ll walk you to the class.”
FBI New York Office
“Hey,” Tom Callaghan said as he stood by Jan’s desk, “got a minute?”
“Sure Tom,” Jan said as she stood up, smiling at Adam and Jeanne as she walked into the office, sitting down as her skirt fell over her legs. “How’s Gale?”
“She’s good – another scan Friday, but she’s getting bigger,” Tom said with a smile. “Anyway, this murder in San Antonio – you were asking about it?”
“Kerry Hull? Her parents are friends of the Rochermann's, and well known in the city – just wanting to keep on top of things that could affect our work here.”
“Well, they want someone to talk to her old school friends up here – you know some of them anyway, so you and Adam draw this one.”
“What do we know?”
“Ballistics confirm the bullet was a 7.62x51.”
“Looks that way – this guy was a marksman – clean kill at speed. SAPD are searching the banks of the road to see if they can find anything, but this was a pro.”
“I understand she was – shall we say – earning?”
“No need to be polite – she was a whore, and a very expensive, high class one. The local office there have her computer and personal effects – she kept very meticulous records, and they’re chasing down her client list now.”
“So why the NY interest?”
“They found copies of e-mails from one Ed Mitchell – dated from last year, and changing around about Easter in tone and content.”
“Ed Mitchell? As in former husband of Anna Mitchell? You mean Kerry Hull…”
“… was almost certainly the woman Ed Mitchell was seeing when things erupted at Curragh. Jan, you need to talk to Anna Mitchell, see if she knows where he is, while Adam gets a trace started.”
“Catherine,” Madame said as she sat in the main conference room, Susan with her, “I trust you are not staying up late on my behalf.”
“I have some work to catch up on,” Catherine said from Hong Kong. “This however could not wait. I asked Penny to join us.”
“Good afternoon Madame,” Penny said from the London office, “I have Lily with me as well.”
“You have news for us?”
“Okay,” Catherine said, “with the help of my sources in Beijing I think I have finally worked out the identity of ‘Mr. Big’ on the Chinese side. His name is Dong Yun.”
“His background please Catherine?”
“Well he’s an alternate member of the Politburo, and a Member of the Central Committee. Formally he’s the Inspector General of the Department of Military Affairs, whilst also being the Commanding Officer of the Southern Autonomous Military District.
“A man with a lot of power, and his fingers in many pies Catherine.”
“Yes indeed Madame, more than a few of his enemies have accused him of acting like an old time warlord. Not many of them have made the accusation twice.”
“Alright,” Madame said as she looked at Susan, “I need all available sources to give me a workable profile of General Dong, and I need it on my desk in 12 hours…Susan circulate all our trustworthy allies and ask them for what they know.”
“How busy is Heather on this other matter?”
“She’s working hard Madame.”
“Can we beg her to give us some of her time and expertise?”
“We can ask.”
“Someone get Jill Hudspeth out of bed, her cover in the British Embassy in Tokyo means she can see Intelligence briefings, get her to draw up a report on what the spy agencies know and think about Dong Yun.”
“Shall I call John Vosloo Madame?”
“Yes, he can open doors that even we can’t, especially among certain former communist nations.”
“Do I need to alert Charlotte that we will need eventually Senior people who can be persuaded to name names,” Penny spoke online.
“Yes Penelope, and also co-ordinate the release of some bits on information to tantalise our journalist friends, get them working on this as well.”
“We may finally have the breakthrough we need. To work ladies,” Madame said as she looked at her watch, “and forgive me if I leave you to it. I am due to meet John at a show.”
2.30 pm Central Time
Lake Forest, Chicago
“Thank you Thomas,” Caroline said as she came into the dining room. Tracey and Augie were sitting with John and a fourth person, a smaller, slightly stout woman with sparkling periwinkle eyes.
“Hello Coco,” she said as she kissed the other woman on both cheeks, “how did your lecture go?”
“As well as these things do,” she said with a smile as she sat down, “and your visit here?”
“I have a few ideas to share with Augie and Tracey, which we can discuss briefly after lunch,” Caroline said with a smile, “but I am impressed generally. I only have improvements to offer, not wholesale changes.”
“Well, that’s good to know,” John said as he ate some soup.
“Listen, while I’m in the area, I wonder if you can tell me anything about another family who have contacted me about a quote – I usually prefer to know something about my potential clients in advance, and they are local to you.”
“Well, we might know them,” Augie said, what’s the name?”
“Metz – Randolph Metz.”
Augie and Tracey looked at each other, before Augie said “While I don’t know him personally, I know the reputation of the family. Let’s just say I would not do business with them.”
“Ah – I take it they are not exactly above board?”
“They have money, no doubt, but Old Man Metz, Randolph’s father, he was a tyrant. Word was he ran with Capone – and as for that son of his, Chet has a few tales to tell of him.”
Caroline nodded as John looked at her. “So you would not suggest doing business with them?”
“No I would not – they live in an apartment block in the city, but definitely not nice company.”
“Moving on to other matters,” John said quietly, “when is that reception for you Coco?”
“Tonight, worst luck – why they have to throw a party in my honour I don’t know…”
Complete Style Magazine
“Thanks for seeing me at such short notice, Anna,” Jan said as she sat opposite Anna Mitchell in the editor’s office.
“Well, it sounded urgent when we spoke on the phone earlier,” Anna said as she looked over the desk. “I presume this is an official visit?”
“Sadly, yes. A young student called Kerry Hull was killed in San Antonio yesterday - shot as she drove away from the airport.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but why does it affect me?”
“Anna, we found correspondence on her laptop from Ed, your former husband. Anna, we think this was…”
“The whore he was seeing? Oh god,” Anna said quietly, “and she’s dead?”
“She is – Anna, do you know where Ed is now? We really need to talk to him.”
“No – we’ve only talked through his lawyers,” Anna said as she wrote an address on a sheet of paper. “I do know he was dismissed from his firm a month or so ago.”
“Oh – do you know why?”
“I heard it was officially through ill health. That’s usually a cover for one of two things – gross incompetence or something hushed up.”
“I can imagine,” Jan said as she folded the paper and put it in her bag. “And you haven’t heard from him otherwise?”
“If I did, I’d have screamed at him. It still smarts, you know.”
“I can imagine – I still remember the fight. If he does contact you, will you call me please?”
“Jan, he may be a three or four timing bastard, but you don’t honestly think he would kill this girl?”
“Anna, we need to talk to him to make sure he didn’t,” Jan said as she stood up.
“Sure – are you going to talk to the others?”
“I’ll need to talk to Mary and Ju, but nobody else at this time I suspect. Thanks again, Anna.”
As Jan went out, she saw Mary and Juliette walking down the corridor.
“Mary, Juliette, do you have a moment please?”
“Of course, Jan,” Juliette said with a smile, “what can I do for you?”
“Have either of you heard from Ed Mitchell?”
“Not for a while – why?”
“We need to talk to him about an incident in Texas – if either of you hear from him, will you let me know please?”
4 pm Central Time
“Let me have your full report, Caroline – your suggestions sound good, but I like to see it on paper as well.”
“Of course,” Caroline said as she shook Augie’s hand.
“Augie, would it be impolite if Coco and I took a turn in the grounds before Caroline is driven to the airport?”
“You don’t have to, I can…”
“Nonsense,” Tracey said, “Thomas can get you there in time. Go on – stretch your legs.”
“Thank you,” John said as the trio left from the front door, and walked across the manicured lawns.
“All right,” John said once they were out of earshot, “what’s Little Wayne been up to?”
“Did I mention the name Wayne Metz,” Caroline said with a smile as they passed a gardener.
“Nope – didn’t need to. Shirley told me you were calling today, and you might need to talk. When you mentioned Metz, I knew why. Has he been bothering Anna Carlton?”
“It looks that way – how much were you told back in June?”
“Enough to know Anna got herself into some serious trouble,” John said as Coco held his arm.
“Well, let me put it this way – Anna for a while ran a business that may be frowned upon, and she shut it down when she was threatened with having her activities exposed. We dealt with that – but then this Metz creep, who was a former client of the business, threatened her.”
“Let me guess,” Coco said quietly, “Cynthia Payne?”
“More high class, but yeah. Well, said business has been started up again – and all roads now lead to Chicago.”
“So if he can’t ruin her one way, he’ll ruin her another? Maybe that tape should be sent on…”
“Not yet – things got more serious. I need to find Wayne Metz, and shut him down first. Thoughts?”
“Where is he?”
“Word is momma and poppa cut him off – I may need to visit them.”
John nodded and said “Chet will be home after you go – he may know where they live in Chicago. Can you stay local overnight?”
“I was intending to – as Dominique.”
“Good – let me talk to him, I’ll call you, and you can get to work. And Anna?”
“Under our protection.”
“Caroline, why go to so much trouble for a girl?”
Looking at Coco, Caroline said quietly “because she’s one of us.”
“I understand – if we can help…”
“No – thank you, but this is an internal security matter now. Enjoy your party – join me for breakfast tomorrow if you want.”
As they talked, they came back to the steps, Caroline smiling as she said “so good to see both of you again – do stay in touch,” and got into the waiting car.
5.30 pm Central Time
Chicago O’Hare Airport
“Thank you again,” Caroline said as Thomas closed the door, saluting before he drove off and she entered the terminal building. Looking round, she walked to the left luggage locker, and collected a black holdall before disappearing into the ladies toilets.
She went in a blonde, wearing a grey blouse, skirt and jacket with heels. When she came out, she had long dark hair, and was wearing a black leather jacket over a roll neck sweater, jeans and short boots.
Walking back out, she hailed a taxi, jumping in and asking for a city centre hotel as she took out a phone.
“Annie? I’m staying over – all good there?
“Excellent – I’ll call later.”
The Ashley Apartment, 3rd Avenue
“Mom? Someone is at the apartment door.”
Pippa Ashley stood up, shaking slightly as she walked to the apartment door and looked through the spyhole, then opened the door as she saw Grace standing at the other side.
“Hello Philippa,” she said as she stood in the doorway, “may I come in?”
“Of course,” Pippa said as she stood to one side, allowing Grace to come in as Poppy looked over from the seat.
“Mrs. Brand? What are you doing here tonight?”
“Well, I wanted to see how you both were after what happened on Saturday, Poppy. I know Letty talked to you today – I hope that helped.”
“It did thanks – I never knew…”
“No need to share a confidence Poppy.”
“Oh yes, sorry,” the young girl said with a little smile.
“Poppy, why don’t you go and start to sort some salad out,” Pippa said, “while I talk to Mrs. Brand?”
“All right Mom,” Poppy said as she went into the kitchen, Grace following her to the seats.
“So what can I do for you,” Pippa said as she sat down.
“Pip,” Grace said as she put her bag down, “I know we can never put things back to how they once were between us, but I’d like to at least try and establish a truce. I’m not going anywhere either as Dean of St Angela’s, or as a working model, our paths are going to cross. For the sake at least of Poppy, can we drop hostilities?”
“Gray,” Pippa said as she rubbed her wrists, the faint bruises still visible under the cuffs of her blouse, “you knew I was in love with Christian…”
“I only knew he was attractive, charming, and fun to both go out with…”
“And sleep with?”
“Yes Pip…” Grace looked at her former friend before saying “and to sleep with.”
“So why did you steal him?”
“I didn’t...” Grace watched as Pippa waked to a drinks cabinet, poured brandy into two glasses and brought them over, handing one to Grace as she sat back down. “Pip, he chased after me, I never guessed that you had fallen for him so hard. If I had, do you think I wouldn’t have dumped him?”
“I don’t know…I really don’t.” Pippa stared at the glass as she swirled the liquor round in it. “At the time it just seemed you were taking everything of mine.”
“Meaning that I became a model Gray, you became a better one. I got into a decent university like Bristol, you got into Oxford. I got to do a soap powder commercial - you got to be the spokesmodel for one of the world’s biggest perfume companies.”
“I didn’t realize you resented me that much.” Grace whispered.
“I don’t know it was resentment,” Pippa said as she took a sip of her drink, “it was more like envy, and to have my mother constantly reminding me of how much better you were doing in life then I was…”
“Oh dear Lord, she wasn’t was she Pip?”
“Yes,” a tear appeared in Pippa’s eyes, “I was never good enough for her, I always had to be better…just like you was what she wanted me to be.”
“What did she say when I quit and disappeared?”
“I think for the first time ever it actually shut her up… I’m sorry Grace, but I actually celebrated when you quit.”
“You know I did it because of the drugs and booze?” Grace looked at the glass as she said this, and put it down.
“Yes, and in a way I resented that as well. You went to all the ‘A List’ parties, you got drunk and high with princes and movie stars. I was on the ‘D List’, I was lucky if I went to a party not populated totally with just creeps and perves.”
“A lot of the men I knew were creeps and perves Pip, and you knew Stella as well, you think ‘he’ was really a gentleman?”
“Gray I just know that I was never made so happy by anything as by your downfall…”
“That’s awful Pip.”
“I know, but it’s the truth…” Pippa took another drink, before saying “and by the way - staring at the barrel of a gun being pointed at you has a way of getting you to acknowledge a lot of truths… Including the bad things.”
“I never knew…”
“No – you cut yourself off completely, and I buried it for all those years. Poppy became my focus – and then you reappeared. When I heard your story, I realized I’d misjudged you Gray - but I could not bring myself to admit, even when you walked through the door that afternoon.”
Looking over at Grace, Pippa said “you’re right Gray – things can never be as they were between us. But we do need to put the past behind us – if we can.”
“Your mother never really liked me, did she?”
“No – she didn’t,” Pippa said with a smile.
“Sounds like The Countess and her mother-in-law – but they get on well enough now – so maybe there is hope for us?”
“Maybe there is – would you like to stay for dinner?”
“I have to get back,” Grace said as she finished her drink. “By the way, did you contact him?”
Pippa shook her head. “I never want to see him again – you’ve never told anyone?”
“Not my place, Pip – perhaps we can get a bite to eat some time?”
“After the chaos has died down?”
“Yeah – I’ll look forward to it,” Grace said as she finished her drink, and stood up. “See you around.”
“Yeah,” Pippa said as she showed Grace out, smiling as she closed the apartment door behind her.
“Get the griddle pan out and oil the tuna, Poppet – we’re going to eat like queens tonight.”
8 pm Central Time
As Dominique was checking her equipment, her cell phone went off. Looking at the caller ID, she smiled as she said “John – what do you have for me?”
“I have the address for Metz – and I called Carina. She said to tell you she’s sent you a little present by e-mail, and to wish you good luck.”
“John, you are a miracle worker,” Dominique said as she opened her laptop, “anything else?”
“Just that Chet really does not like him – and neither do any of his friends.”
As Dom made a mental note of the address, she looked at the message from Carina. “Very useful – thanks John, I owe you a drink when I next see you.”
“I’ll take you up on that – good luck Dom.”
Ending the call, Dominique downloaded the file onto a stick. “Right – long time since I visited this place, so let’s see if anything’s changed…”
Grace said as she dropped her bag in the chair, “sorry I'm so late, but I went
and saw Pippa Ashley."
guessed you had Grace, so we held supper for you." Harriet called from the
kitchen. “I’ll serve up in a few
was she?" Sarah asked, looking up from the papers she was grading.
rough and shaky, but better than I thought she might have been.” Grace sat down and pulled her shoes off,
saying “we had a frank and honest discussion."
know what it means when politicians say that don't you Grace? It means they had
a blazing row, and that one side stormed out." Harriet wiped her hands as
she came out from the kitchen.
“What was the Yes Minister quote? Frank discussion meant there was a fight, full and frank meant they were cleaning the blood stains from the carpet?”
know," Grace smiled, "but in our case it’s a true description. I
never realized what she had built up inside her over all those years."
"Oh?” Sarah put her paper down and said “want to
mother was very ambitious for her children, till tonight though I didn't know
that she had used me as something to whip Pippa with..."
bitch used my success to point out to Pippa her inadequacies – well, only as
Lady Ashley saw them."
that's not only unfair, but downright hurtful." Harriet shook her head.
"I think her mother’s throwing me in Pippa's face constantly is why Pippa grew to hate me. But I never realized how much that had hurt her until tonight…"
"Well as much as I loathe to say this, I do totally understand that."
do I now Sarah." Grace shook her famous head of blonde hair. "It also
explains the events of 15 years ago, and why I left my job in Devizes and moved
you care to elaborate on that Grace?" Harriet asked.
maybe, if Pippa gives me permission." Grace breathed deeply. "You
know at the Greenwich show I said I'd cut myself off entirely from my previous
"Well it was only 99% true,” Grace said as she leaned back. “For a few weeks mine and Pippa's path crossed back then, and something happened. But Pippa and I need to talk about that first."
La Salle Private Residences
1212 La Salle Drive, Chicago
“Care for a drink, Randolph?”
Randolph Metz looked over to where his wife Marjorie was sitting, wearing a silk dressing gown over a pair of cream pyjamas. Randolph was wearing an ornate smoking jacket over his shirt and trousers, a lit cigar in his hand.
“Why not? Would you care for some wine, or something stronger?”
“How about a bottle of the ’92 Rioja,” Marjorie said, “if we have one left?”
“We have several – I’ll go and fetch one,” Randolph said as he stood up, heading for the kitchen as Marjorie looked at her magazine. As he looked for a corkscrew, he didn’t hear the door to the apartment open and close, or the soft footfall on the carpet.
Marjorie did not hear it either – not until the leather gloved hand was clamped over her hand, and she felt the pistol against her head as the female voice whispered “Stay quiet, Mrs. Metz – I would hate to spoil your evening.”
“Shall I pour, my dear,” Randolph said as he came in, the bottle of wine in one hand and two glasses in the other – only to stop as he saw the woman standing behind his wife. She was dressed in black – including the balaclava over her head, allowing only her eyes and mouth to be shown – and held a .38 against Marjorie’s left temple.
“Good evening Mister Metz,” she said in a deep, west coast accent, “you may wish to very slowly put that extremely good bottle of wine and the glasses down, and then take a seat, hands on your head. I have no wish to hurt either of you, but I will do so if need be.”
“How did you get in? The security cameras…”
“Have all been neutralized – and please, do not try to sound the alarm, or I will kill you both. Remain calm, do as I say, and you both get through this.”
“You have some skill, to circumvent the alarms. What are you going to do?”
“Actually,” she said as she reached into the pouch at her side, and took out a roll of duct tape, “you’re going to do it. Take this, and tape your wife’s ankles and legs together.”
“Plsssddshhss,” Marjorie mumbled, the masked woman watching as Randolph knelt down and taped his wife’s ankles together, then her legs above and below her knees, and finally her thighs, moving her dressing gown open to do the last part.
“When I take my hand away,” the masked woman said, “do not speak, merely open your mouth.” Removing her gloved hand, she waited as Marjorie slowly opened her mouth, and then pushed a red rubber ball in.
“Tape her mouth over,” she said as she looked at Randolph, his wife’s eyes wide as he covered her mouth and jaw with the tape.
“Good – now hand me the roll, and stand perfectly still,” she said as Randolph handed the silver roll over, watching as the gun remained in view of him and the intruder, while she pulled Marjorie’s wrists behind her and taped them together, followed by tape around her arms and body above and below her chest.
“Now, Mister Metz,” she said as she picked the gun up, “where is your safe?”
“It’s in my office – through there,” Randolph said, as he found himself unable to take his eyes off Marjorie. The masked woman came round and turned the television on, then pushed Marjorie over so that her head lay on the arm of the couch she was sat on, her legs on the seat.
“Do not move – if I hear you move, I will kill him,” she said, Marjorie nodding and whimpering as she took Randolph by the arm and walked him through to the office.
“Where is the safe?”
“Behind that picture,” Randolph said as he looked at a portrait of him and his wife with tall, thin boy with a strange look in his eyes. The intruder pulled a heavy wooden chair with armrests out, and made Randolph sit in it, taping his wrists and arms to the arms of the chair and his body to the chair back.
As she taped his ankles and legs together, he looked at her and said “You are a professional – what’s this about?”
“Robbing you – what do you think it is about?”
“That I get – but you came when we were still up, which shows admirable skill, courage – and purpose. So what else is going on?”
“While I open your safe,” the intruder said as she turned the computer screen to face Randolph, and turned the main unit on, “I have a little something for you to watch. Please do in silence – no need to upset your wife more than she already is.”
“What is it, a porno movie.”
“In a way,” she said as she pushed a USB stick into the unit, Randolph watching as she went to the safe, and looked at the mechanism.
“The fucking little bastard…”
“My purpose is not just rob you, Mister Metz,” she whispered quietly, “I desire words with your son on this matter. Where is he?”
“You went to all this bother just to find him?”
“You went to a great deal of bother to hide him – but he is causing this girl harm and hurt again, and I want that to stop.”
“No – but we believe he is running an escort agency and wishes to implicate this innocent young girl. This must be stopped – so if you tell me where he is, I visit him, and you and your wife were robbed. I would hate to have to take other measures.”
“Oh I’ll tell you where he is,” Randolph said, “if you make him pay.”
“Guaranteed – now, the combination?”
Marjorie looked up as the masked woman pulled Randolph in, the silver tape covering his mouth and the red ball stuck in it as he struggled in the chair.
“Do not move,” she said as she left him close to his wife, “enjoy your evening.”
She slipped out of the apartment, removing the mask and smiling as she walked back to the lifts, and returned to the underground car park…
11.30 pm Central Time
Morgan Park, South Chicago
Wayne Metz sat at his terminal, looking at the e-mails and transaction details as they appeared. When his dad had cut him off after the incident at Northlands, that had been the final straw – but he had felt this was coming ever since the bitch had pulled that bait and switch on him in June.
So he had laid plans – the copies he had kept of the web pages helping him to set up the new site. Getting ahold of the domain name had been simplicity itself – amazing what you can do with a little money to the right people – and he had everything ready.
What Northlands had taught him was the need to act completely behind the scenes – so as the new Madame Angel, he had recruited and screened his ladies as a woman working at distance, using voice modulator software to sound like a deep voiced woman when he needed to talk to them.
And so far, it was working well – and keeping that little whore’s face on there meant that, if they ever got busted, they’d go to Miss Anna Carlton instead of him. One or way or another, he’d come out on top, and Madame Angel would pay for what she and her ‘friends’ had done – even that little trollop Sarah.
Standing up and stretching, he made his way out of the room and into the small kitchen. Daddy’s money had set him up nicely here – bought the equipment, paid for the routing and the diversion needed – and he had more than recouped his costs now.
“I need to do some shopping,” he said as he looked at the empty room in his icebox, before taking a bottle of Bud and opening it. As he walked into the room, he took a swig from the bottle – then stopped as he looked at the woman sitting in his chair. She was tall – incredibly tall – with long black hair, and wore black clothing as well as short boots and gloves – but the pistol she was pointing at him was very real.
“Hello, Wayne,” she said quietly, “you have proved a very difficult man to find, but finally, we get a chance to meet.”
“Who are you,” Wayne said as he looked at her, slowly walking to the side, “and how did you get in here?”
“I would not look for the silent alarm Wayne – for one thing, I found it and neutralized it. The same for your video recording cameras – all turned off, so that you and I could have a little chat, nice and private.”
“I don’t believe you – now answer my question,” Wayne said, “who are you?”
“Oh where are my manners – I am known as Dominique, and as far as you are concerned, Wayne, I am the sole reason you are not currently with the Chicago PD awaiting deportation to the great state of Texas.”
“What the hell are you talking about – deportation to Texas?”
“Yes – they like to keep things nice and formal down there when it comes to murder suspects. They have the death penalty after all – so they tend to watch out for little things like…”
“MURDER? Lady who the hell are you?”
“I,” Dominique said as she stood up, “am the head of security for the woman who protects Madame Angel. So,” she said as she grabbed Wayne’s arm, “shut the fuck up and sit down.”
Wayne was pushed into the seat, looking at her as he said “Fuck – she knows, doesn’t she?”
“Oh she knows,” Dominique said as she stood over Wayne, “and my employer is very keen to ensure that Madame Angel remains as hidden as she is now. But you’ve made her name known again – it is you isn’t it?”
“It’s me who what…”
“I’m taking the liberty of downloading your database,” Dominique said, “and I have copies of all your transactions. All your – escorts will be contacted, and compensated for the fact the agency has been closed down.”
“You can’t do that,” Wayne shouted as he tried to stand up, only to be pushed down by Dom.
“Yes I can little man,” she whispered as she grabbed him between his legs, “and if that was all you had done, tried to ruin her, I would let you live. But after San Antonio…”
“I’ve never been to fucking San Antonio,” Wayne screamed.
“No – but someone shot and killed one of Madame Angel’s former ladies at the airport yesterday. So, as I say, I am the only thing standing between you and a deportation charge to fetch the needle in Texas.”
Wayne visibly paled as he stammered “Nnnnooo – no way, I never paid anyone to murder anyone. I wanted to bring that bitch Carlton down, yes – but I never killed anyone.”
“I didn’t say you did – I said you paid someone to…”
“Look, I’ll take a lie detector test, I’ll confess to the new Angelic Escorts, turn over my records – but I didn’t tell anyone to kill any whores!”
Dominique looked hard at the scared young man, and said “you know what – I believe you. So here’s what’s going to happen – all your ill gotten gains are going to a charity that supports women who had no choice in being made to work and sell themselves. Your records will be destroyed, and as I say your escorts compensated.”
“Still means you have no proof I was behind it.”
“Really,” Dominique said as she stood up. “Take a look at your screen.”
Wayne turned round to see his monitors slowly start to change from his files to a picture of a fluffy bunny.
“As I say we have your records, Wayne,” Dominique said as she removed the USB stick and pocketed it, “and we’ll clean this mess up. Go after Madame Angel again, and this will be as nothing – I’ll show you why I am the head of security for Madame X.”
“What about this Texas thing?”
“Not my problem – but you have a more immediate one. Control?”
“We recorded everything Dominique,” a disembodied voice said.
“Oh – and before I forget, that video tape? We shared it with someone tonight. If I was you, Wayne, I’d start running – because your father wants a word with you.”
“Pops? Oh fuck…”
“So disappear, rat – and pray you never see me again,” Dom said before she pistol whipped Wayne, watching as he slumped in the chair before she walked out of the office.
Taking out her cell phone, she dialed a number…
The Richmond Mansion
“Heather, it’s Dom – the immediate threat has been neutralized.”
“And he won’t come back?”
“I made it very clear what would happen if he did. The fund will have a substantial donation to it soon, but we need to compensate the other girls.”
“I’ll take care of it – so he was the one behind the new Angelic Escorts, but the other matter?”
“No – accept my word, he knew nothing of it.”
“Ties in with something Jan said. When will you be back?”
“Tomorrow lunchtime – I have a breakfast appointment.”
“Good – come here, we can talk when you arrive.”
Putting her cell phone down, Heather breathed a sigh of relief and put her head on Sandy’s chest.
“So Doc is safe?”
“As far as Chicago goes, yes – but we’ll talk tomorrow.”