Watching Me Watching You – Part 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 31st March
7.55 am
The Huntingdown Apartment

 

“Well?”

 

Heather, Joanne and Sandy came into the apartment as Juliette was pouring some coffee.  Abigail and Carina were sitting on the other side of the bar, nibbling on a slice of toast each.

 

“Give me the morning sickness over this any day,” Carina said as Jo put her hand on her friend’s shoulder.  “This is infinitely worse.”

 

“Oh I don’t know why – after all, it’s only your academic future we are talking about here,” Jo said with a smile.

 

“I take it they did not get much sleep,” Sandy said as she accepted a mug.

 

“Well, one thing for a transatlantic flight – it means you’re tired early, but they’ve been up since four.”

 

“And you?” Heather said as she took a mug.

 

“Since six – Mary had me on the phone for a ‘discussion’ on the shots last week.  I have one hell of a morning ahead of me.”

 

“Oh dear,” Sandy said as she held her coffee, “what did the wizard of Complete Style wanted to know?”

 

“Oh not much – how did the shoots go, when can she meet ‘wee Jeanie’, is what she heard true about what Abby and Cari did…”

 

“Just as well Diana isn’t here – I would not want to be in the same room as her and Mary for that conversation.”

 

“Amen to that,” Juliette said.  “Anyway, Missy has already talked to her about Jeanie, and she’s going to work with Fiona on the next issue.  She also told me Doctor Shaypuk has agreed to write a special article for the edition – quite a scoop.”

 

“It’s eight o’clock,” Carina said as she looked at the clock on the wall.  “Time to find out.”  Reaching for the laptop, she switched it on and took it into the drawing room, the others watching from the kitchen as she sat on the couch and typed on the keyboard.

“Oh.”

 

“What is it,” Juliette said as she looked over.

 

“Columbia – they’ve offered me a place.  Well, we have a back up plan now.”

 

Juliette shook her head.  “Honestly, for a girl who went to FIT, I would be proud of her wherever she went.”

 

“Have you talked to Cari yet about what happened?”

 

“Not a good time yet,” Juliette said quietly.

 

“This is worse than her morning sickness,” Jo whispered to Abby as they watched Cari peer at the screen through her glasses.  After a few minutes, she took her glasses off and stood up, walking to the large window and looking out over the park.

 

“Well?”

 

Juliette walked in and stood behind her daughter, unsure of what to say.

 

“I’m sorry Mom…”

 

“Oh baby…”

 

“We’re going to have to decide if Yale can take a new student with a month old baby.”

 

“YES!  You wonderful brilliant clever young lady,” Juliette said as she picked Cari off her feet and swung her round.

 

“Hey, hey – I just got over that sickness bit,” Cari said as Juliette put her down, and the girls looked at the laptop screen.

 

Dammit – I had 205 in the sweepstakes.  What about you Abby?”

 

“210 of course – so who had 203?”

 

“Find out later,” Juliette said as Sandy and Heather hugged her daughter, “Ready for school in ten minutes, all right?”

 

8.45 am
St Angela’s Academy

 

As they were walking into school, Carina’s phone started going off, both of the other girls almost physically jumping.

 

“When are you going to get that ring tone changed Cari?” Abby took a second to compose herself, “I hear Ozzy screaming like that, and it makes me feel funny.”

 

Carina poked her tongue out as she listened intently.

 

“Okay Missy, thank you, that’s the second piece of great news I got today….yeah I got in, great isn’t it?...yeah, yeah I know…well they seem pretty cool about single moms…yes…yes…well my friend Judy thinks we can maybe room together in college …okay talk to you soon…Loves…Byeeeeee.”

 

“What did Missy want?” Jo asked, “Not that I’m jealous but that sounded like another model booking.”

 

“Remember that glasses print and TV campaign I auditioned for before we went to England?”

 

“”Yep,” Jo nodded.

 

“Well I got it.”

 

“Hey well done you.” Abby high fived her friend.

 

“Well done what?” Judy ran up to her friends.

 

Cari got a commercial she auditioned for.” Jo teased.

 

“You know that’s not the news I’m after Jo Smith?” Judy stood hands on hips. “Well?” she looked Carina in the face.

 

“Well I have bad news for you Jude…”

 

“Oh no they didn’t let me in and not you?”

 

Carina tried keeping a poker face. “Do you know how to change diapers Judy?”

 

“Yes, but what’s that….” Suddenly the light clicked on in Judy’s head. “Oh my God.” She squeezed and hugged Cari, “You did it!”

 

“Yes I did it – and careful.  Two of us here now, you know?”

 

“So come on – I want the gos from last week.  Tony can’t stop talking about what happened with you three – he made it sound like a riot…”

 

“It almost was at times – did you get it for me?”

 

Judy smiled as she handed Cari a storage stick.  “So what do you think Tennant is going to say today?”

 

“Who knows – we have a meeting of the seniors with her second period, so I’m sure she will have something to say then.”

 

9 am
Conde Nast Publishers

 

“Welcome home Darling.” Juliette was surprised but not shocked to find both Anna and Mary waiting for her as she stepped off the elevator.

 

“So how was London?” Anna asked.

 

“Tiring, but I think you gals will love what I brought home.”

 

“We’ve seen them Ju.” Mary laughed.

 

“That child…. “

 

“Which one Abby or Jeanie?”

 

“Jeanie…. I guess I always forget Abigail is so young still, but Jeanie is going to be a nice discovery on your part - so cute, and yet with her poor body, both broken and vulnerable.”

 

“You like her as well Anna?” Juliette asked as they all walked towards her office.

 

“She has a certain something.”

 

Juliette smiled, that was praise indeed from her editor.

 

Quickly Juliette greeted her PA and grabbed her messages.

 

“Now what can I do for you both?” she asked as she took off her jacket and eased herself into her office chair.

 

 

10 am
The Richmond Mansion

 

“Well, at least Carina got some good news,” Heather said as she put the coffee mug next to Sandy, her partner working on a new design.

 

“I know – seems like everyone is going to have to make some choices soon,” Sandy said as she sat back and looked at the picture.  “I don’t know, my heart’s not in this today.”

 

“You miss the kids, that’s all – is Vanessa bringing them round after school?”

 

Sandy nodded as Heather said “I missed them too – but last week was so nice.”

 

“I know – I just wish we could be more open around here.  It’s amazing – we’re in one of the most open, vibrant and accepting cities in the world, and because of tradition we cannot be ourselves!”

 

“Peace, lover, peace,” Heather said as she wrapped her arms round Sandy’s neck and gave her a little kiss, “I hate it as well, but who knows?  Thought any more about it?”

 

“Yeah,” Sandy said as she turned round, “and the more I think about it, the more enticing it is, but to give up so much – and there are the children to think of.”

 

“True – but think of the positives.”

 

Sandy smiled and gave Heather a kiss.  “Yeah, there is that – but we can talk about it later.  Right now, I need to get these sketches finished.”

 

“And I need to get the laundry done – a skivvy’s work is never done.”

 

She walked off, Sandy giving her a slap on the bottom before she went back to her drawing board.

 

10 am
St Angela’s Academy

 

“Good morning ladies,” Miss Tennant said as she walked into the hall, the seniors standing as she came in.  “Thank you for meeting here with me today.”

 

“Good Morning Miss Tennant,” they said in unison, before they sat down again.

 

“I wanted to offer my congratulations to you all, and for the offers you have all received.  I am very pleased with the graduating class this year – all of you have, despite the terrible events that have befallen us this year, achieved great things.

 

“I am as sure as I can be that this success will continue as you go to your colleges of choice, but we still have some weeks ahead of us.  As you will be aware, at St Angela’s we ask the graduating class to consider those from the year below who will take the positions of leadership in the senior class this year, and also to nominate four amongst you to work with the teachers on the arrangements for the annual Graduation Prom.  Please, take the time now to consult with Judith and let me have your recommendations as soon as possible.”

 

The class looked at each other as Miss Tennant walked out, waiting until the door was closed before Judy said “Wow – she really is in a good mood.”

 

1pm
The Refectory

 

Abigail was just amazed how many Angels could fit round one of the tables in the Refectory. It was like London again except these were her friends; most she’d known most of her life, and all they wanted to hear was about the incredible scenes in London.

 

“Angels give her room.” Judy took charge, “Damn she’s entitled to eat her lunch as well.”

 

“So what was it like Abs?” Ally Rocherman asked the question that was on all the other girls’ lips.

 

“Oh fairly routine…”

 

“Crap!” Bobbi Morse giggled, “You are so full of shit Abigail de Ros.”

 

Abby laughed, “Well it was incredible - I could barely show my face on the street without a crowd gathering.”

 

“We saw the pics of the riot in the store.” Bobbi added.

 

“But I guess it was fun too…. I did some TV shows, and a couple of photo shoots.” Abby passed a knowing glance to Carina.

 

“Well it beats spring break at my uncle’s place in the wilds of Maine,” a freshman called Britney Harding moaned, “Up to my neck in mosquitoes.”

 

“Brit, to be honest there were times last week I’d have traded places with you in a heartbeat.”

 

“You would?”

 

“You have no idea how frightening it can be when cameras are going off, and fans are screaming…. Honestly made me nostalgic for being ‘The Stick’.”

 

“Oh now you can’t be serious.” Judy laughed.

 

“Judy next time I do something like that you are invited…. Then tell me.”

 

“It was pretty frightening.” Carina nodded.

 

“She pretty much needed a bodyguard at times.” Jo acknowledged.

 

“So what was it like meeting Lily Cole?” Ally asked.

 

“Oh that was AMAZING…. She’s SO COOL!”

 

“She found out Abs is her number one fan.” Joanne laughed.

 

“Oh no you didn’t go all fan girl on her…. Did you?” Judy looked amused.

 

“A bit.” Abby looked embarrassed.

 

“And is it true you were on a chat show with her and Sting?”

 

Yusss,” Abby said as she sipped her drink.  “It’s on BBC America later this week – maybe we can gather at my place to watch it.”

 

Her cell phone going off made Abby stop talking as she looked at it. 

 

“The House?”

 

“Yeah – he wants to see me tonight.  Excuse me a minute girls – gotta do this one now.”

 

Tuesday 1st April
10 am, The Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

 

The tall woman made heads turned as she walked in dressed in a long black sweater dress, black coat and high heels.  The desk clerk adjusted his tie as she walked up and said “Good Morning – you have a suite reservation for Madame Xavier?”

 

“Ah yes,” he said as he checked the computer, “You have the Presidential Suite, and it is ready for you.  If you will sign here?”

 

“Thank you,” she said as she signed the register, and a porter brought in a luggage trolley.  “I am expecting some guests – please make sure they are directed up.”

 

“Of course, Madame,” the clerk said as she walked to the lift.  As she was shown into the suite, she nodded and said “this will do”, giving the porter a handsome tip.

 

As he left, she took out a cell phone and checked her messages, before there was a knock on the door.  She walked over, looked out and then opened it.

 

“Good morning Maddie – good to see you again.”

 

“You too Dominique,” the woman said as they hugged.  “When does she arrive?”

 

“At La Guardia by private jet in an hour.  Penny?”

 

“On a fact finding mission.”

 

11 am
The Richmond Mansion

 

“Diana!  Welcome back!”

 

“Thank you,” Diana de Ros said as she hugged Heather and Sandy, “How are things here?  Is Carina happy?”

 

“Ecstatically so – and with good reason.  Juliette said she would join us for lunch – she has something to say.”

 

“So how was your contact,” Heather said as she handed her a coffee.

 

“Most obliging – we should hear from him by the end of the week, I also met with Father – he is alone again, but I think happier for it.  It appears his companion was responsible for some of young Abby’s problems.”

 

“Serves her right,” Sandy said quietly.

 

“And what of you two?  Any word of the divine Allison?”

 

“Not yet – and I can wait,” Sandy said with a smile of her own.

 

 

12 noon
FBI Field Office, New York

 

Agent Tom Callaghan looked up sharply as there was a tap on his office door.

 

“Hi Tom, can I come in?” Special Agent Janice Carter asked.

 

“Yeah sure Janice, “ Callaghan gestured to wards a seat, “What can I do for you?”

 

Janice Carter eased herself into the chair slowly, she was a lot better, but on some days she still felt the effects of what had happened that night when they thought they were going to get all the Pussycat Gang.

 

“Well,” Janice glanced down at the paper she held. “We got a heads up from Scotland Yard that their criminal intelligence people had heard a rumour that some shadowy crime baroness called Madame X was in the United States, more specifically in the New York area.”

 

“And that’s this task forces business why?”

 

“Well sir I was just thinking that there are very few locals that this Madame X might have business with, I know it’s a long shot but I’d kinda like to keep an eye on things, just in case she’s in town to do business with our lady friends.”

 

“Sounds like you’re clutching at straws Janice.”

 

“Well everything has gone stone cold in our investigations…It’s not exactly going to break the investigation if you free up me and Bell to spend a few days following my hunch?”

 

“That’s true….” Callaghan mused. “Okay I’ll give you guys 72 hours to see if this Madame X might tie in with the Pussycats. You get nothing in that time Janice; you go back to what you’ve been doing.

 

“Agreed Sir.” Janice got up and slowly left the office. “Thank you sir.” She looked back. “Going to be good getting out on the streets again, not stuck in here."

 

5 pm
The Richmond Mansion.

 

“Mom!!”  Abby embraced Diana as she came in.  “How was Paris?”

 

“Divine as always my dear – Grandpapa sends his love, and says to tell you he has made Yve leave his life.”

 

“Good – good,” she said as she hugged her mother again.  “You heard about Carina?”

 

“I did – my congratulations dear,” she said as she embraced the smaller girl.

 

“Thanks, Aunt Diana,” she said as she let go.  “So why here?”

 

“Because,” Heather said as she brought some drinks in, “I think she has a plan.”

 

“I do indeed,” Juliette said as she came in, and embraced Diana.  “I only have a few moments, before I need to leave for a meeting, but I needed to let you know now.  The other target from Greenwich is active.”

 

“It is?  What happened,” Sandy said as she came in.

 

“A large number of deposits have been made recently, according to my sources.”

 

“Hang on,” Joanne said, “Greenwich?  My Greenwich?”

 

“Yes, Joanne,” Juliette said as she put her hands on the young girl’s shoulders, “which is why I have arranged for you and Cari to be away from school tomorrow.  I need you to go with her and do some scouting.”

 

Jo looked scared for a moment, before she said, “All right – if you say so, Ju.”

 

“Don’t worry,” Cari said as she slapped Jo’s back, “road trips are fun!”

 

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel
5 pm

 

Maddie opened the door to let in a tall, thin woman with long black hair, accompanied by a strawberry blonde girl in a smart trouser suit and white blouse.

 

“Welcome, Madame,” Dominique said as she stood up, “Everything has been arranged as per your instructions.”

 

“Thank you, Dominique,” Madame X replied, in a voice like rivers of hot chocolate, “I am pleased.  Will Penelope join us soon?”

 

“She’s on her way back now – she’ll return to Greenwich in the morning.”

 

“Excellent – well, allow me to refresh myself, and then we will get down to business.  I want this dealt with quickly and quietly.”

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 2nd April
The Richmond Mansion,
8 am

 

The Annual Staff and Students sports day was an old tradition at St Angela’s, much looked forward to in certain quarters and detested in others. Carina was just thankful this year she could plead her pregnancy to get out of it and take the day off. That she’d been able to convince the principal to let Jo have the day off was an added bonus, or at least she’d thought Joanne would see it that way.

 

As they met in the kitchen, Joanne looked at her friend.  Both girls were wearing denim jackets and jeans over grey t-shirts with sneakers.

 

“Carina, why in the name of the Goddess did you have to drag me along on this?” Joanne looked long and hard at the older girl. “I thought we had a rule that I stay totally out of the way of anyone who might have known Megan?”

 

“We do,” Carina said as she picked up her car keys, “but Mom thinks having you along on this trip you might be able to point out things I miss in Greenwich, put your local knowledge to use.”

 

“I guess so.” Joanne said as they walked out of the house and onto the street.  She then slumped into the passenger of Carina’s dark green Toyota as she started the engine and headed onto Madison Avenue.

 

As they turned and joined the freeway, heading north on I-278, Carina sighed and said “I so wish I could use my ‘trust fund’ and buy something sportier.”

 

“We all wish we could use that money sometimes…” Jo’s voice trailed off wistfully.

 

Carina sighed.  The road took them out of the city and out the bottom side of the Bronx, before heading north on I-95.

 

“Can’t you use some of your modelling earnings? That’s legitimate income.”

 

Carina nodded.  “I guess I could, but it’s not a practical idea, soon going to be too fat to drive this thing, let alone be climbing in and out of a sports car.”

 

“Yeah pregnant woman in a sports car is not an easy image to see.”

 

For a few minutes they drove wordlessly north, each girl lost in her own dreams.

 

“You did remember to bring some dark glasses…didn’t you?” Carina suddenly questioned the younger girl.

 

“No…Why?” Jo looked round. “No one mentioned I should.”

 

Duhhhh logic Jo….at least sunglasses provide a modicum of disguise.”

 

“Well maybe I ought to have brought a wig as well…”

 

“Now you are being silly.”  Jo laughed and realised it was a little ridiculous.

 

“Well I don’t have any on me Cari?”

 

“Okay, Okay, we’ll find a gas station once we leave the city, buy you some there.”

 

“How can I remember things I’m not told to bring.” Jo mumbled to herself.

 

For a few more miles conversation lapsed as Jo plugged her device in and put in ear phones to listen to music.

 

As they drove past the Pelham country club, Carina said “I’m sorry Jo.  I know I can be a bitch at times.”

 

“Apology accepted.” Jo said as she pulled the ear buds out. “I think we are both nervous with this being my first return home…”

 

“Since we recruited you?”

 

“Yeah.” Joanne laughed, “Since you guys recruited me.”

 

“Ever regret becoming a Pussycat?”

 

“No, not really, a bit weird seeing Dad like that in London, but…  No, if I am being honest it seems at times like that was another lifetime…a sort of dream…that my real life started that day.”

 

“You know we are all your family now, not just Heather.”

 

“I know.” Jo whispered.

 

“So I guess it will be strange seeing familiar places and faces?”

 

“I guess,”

 

“Jo you’d not have to do this if Mom didn’t think it was essential.”

 

“I know.” Jo shook her head. “Just weirding me out I guess,”

 

The road continued to take them north, with a stop for gas and sunglasses, until they turned off the John Davis Lodge Turnpike, and headed onto Arch Street, then left on Steamboat Road.

 

“Shit, I remember the last time we drove this road,” Joanne said as she started to see the familiar shops, “I was on such a high that day.”

 

“Hmmm,” Cari said as with a right and a left, they were heading up Mason Street, She pulled into the car park of Bruce Park Sports, and said, “Wait here” as she walked into the store, and then came out again.

 

Jo looked across the street, and then opened the envelope Cari had left behind.

 

“The Patriot National?”

 

Hmmmm,” Cari said as she got back in, and set up the small camera on her dashboard.

 

“I don’t like this at all Cari.” Joanne fidgeted with her sunglasses. “This is my home town, far too many people here knew Megan.”

 

“Well you keep fidgeting like that people are going to start looking….” Carina paused as a dark haired man came out of the bank.  “There’s our man…Do you know him?”

 

“Reedman?  I know his daughter, not him….she’s the bitch got me chucked out of Country Day.”

 

“Got you what?”

 

They watched a young woman with reddish brown hair walked into the bank, carrying a large shoulder bag, and left a few minutes later, crossing the road and walking into the sports store.

 

“Spill, Jo.”

 

“Oh yeah - she pointed out I was flashing my panties at our home room teacher.” Joanne smiled as she remembered the reaction of the male teacher.

 

“So I beat the crap out of her at recess.”

 

“And got caught?”

 

“Yeah…well there had sorta been a few little things before that, just little…trivial things….”

 

The woman walked out again, and stood fro a few minutes looking at the man and the bank.  She turned and looked at the car, before walking off again.

 

Cari looked amused at her friend, “How little?”

 

“Don’t ask and I won’t tell, all right?” Jo was smiling broadly now at the memories, “anyway it was Jaynie got me tossed out in the end.”

 

“You know we nearly took his bank last year instead of your dad’s…mom just decided it wasn’t quite ripe enough to pluck yet at the time.’

 

Jo turned and looked at Cari.  “So I nearly missed out on becoming a pussycat?”

 

“That’s right kiddo, the Goddess moves her magic in mysterious ways.”

 

“If you guys had not found me I’d probably be in prison right now, I was going out of my skull.”

 

“That why you were doing the break-in’s?

 

“One of the reasons, yep…Life with my folks was just so dull…reading about you guys just gave me ideas."

 

Cari looked at her friend.  "I always wanted to ask - where did you learn some of those tricks you have up your sleeve?"

 

"The Internet…. where else?" Jo giggled again.

 

And they say too much time on computers is bad for you,” Cari said as she started the car.  “Come on – let’s film the route to the house.”

 

Cari turned north onto Mason Street and headed along the road, eventually turning right onto North Street and heading out of town.

 

“So what do you know of Jaynie’s family?”

 

“Juliette has the basics right – Mom, dad, three boys and one girl.  She’s the second; the youngest will be in 6th grade and then 8th.  Her problem is going to be Bob Jr – the oldest son.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because when Megan knew him, he was a stoner, and I doubt that’s changed much.  I’d put money on him not being at home when we visit.”

 

Carina nodded as they turned left onto Alpine Road, and then onto Gray Oaks Lane.

 

“Nice houses – different from your end of town,” Cari said as she pulled to a stop, and got a map out, on a roundabout.  “That’s the house – on the right there.”

 

Joanne nodded as she looked round.  “If I remember right, the Neighbourhood Watch round here is a little keen.” She turned and glanced over her shoulder. “There was a house up the street, where I knew the woman had this fur coat I SO wanted.  I came twice to go in when some bitch comes up and asks me what I was up to.”

 

“So nosey neighbours…any more inside information I need give Mom?”

 

“The cops hang out in that donut store back on North Road, so if any alarm goes over...”

 

“Okay extra cop cars…anything else?”

 

Joanne thought hard. “My ex boyfriend lives in the last house on the left down Alpine Road…”

 

“Irrelevant…but interesting.” Carina laughed, “Like to see what kind of low lives you used to go for.”

 

“Hey not all my boyfriends were scumbags….just most of them.”

 

“Oh Goddess we really did “rescue” you didn’t we?”

 

“Pretty much.” Jo said quietly and seriously.  She looked out of the window as another car drove past, and for a moment Cari thought she recognised the woman behind the wheel.  She went round the roundabout, and down the other way.

 

“Now what is she up to?” Jo suddenly sat forward as a short dark haired girl ran cross the lawn of their target house.

 

“Who, her?”

 

“Yeah - that’s Malinda Torres, I was at Greenwich High with her.” Joanne watched suspiciously, “She’s a long way from home, she lives over on the south side.”

 

Carina sat bolt upright watching the Latino girl. “She’s not going to break…”

 

“I heard once she did some burglaries.”

 

“Jo the last thing we need is that house getting turned over and the security getting increased as a result.”

 

“I know.” Jo looked intently through her glasses.

 

“We need to stop her.”

 

“How?”

 

“Not sure.” Cari poked round in her bag, “I got these,” she pulled out a pair of snub-nosed .44’s.

 

“CARINA!” Joanne half screamed, half whispered, “What the fuck do you have those with you for?”

 

Carina shrugged, “Never know when a girl will need a gun.”

 

"Yeah, but not here," Jo said as she started to grin.  "Give me the pre-pay cell, will you?"

 

Cari handed the phone over, smiling as she heard Jo say quietly "Hello, this is the local neighbourhood watch?  I've just left a friend I was visiting, and I saw a girl acting suspiciously.  I think she might be trying to break in."

 

She gave the address, and then ended the call.  "And five...  four... three... two... one."

 

The dark haired girl turned to see two older women walking in one direction, and a man in his late forties coming in the other, before she turned and ran off. 

 

"Let's go," Jo said as she smiled, "no reason to stick around now."

 

5 pm
The Huntingdown Apartment

 

“Nice – very nice.  Well done girls.”

 

Juliette was watching the film they had taken of their visit.

 

“So how long from bank to house?”

 

“Fifteen minutes today – maybe thirty in the morning?”

 

Juliette nodded as Diana stared at the screen.

 

“I know that look, Mom,” Abby said.  “What’s wrong?”

 

“Go back to the bank, please,” Diana said, watching intently as the woman walked to and fro.

 

“Now the house, specifically the car that passed.”

 

As she viewed it again, Diana whispered to herself “Now what is she doing there?”

 

“Who?”

 

“Did that driver look familiar to you?”

 

Cari nodded as Diana said “I think she flew in the same plane as me when I returned – now why is she taking such an interest in these places as well?”

 

“Can we find out who she is, where she’s staying?”

 

“What was your flight, Di – and can you remember her name?”

 

“Get the manifest up and I’ll tell you.  I may go out to Greenwich myself tomorrow.”

 

6 pm
The Waldorf Astoria

 

“Yes – that’s our man,” Maddie said as she pointed to the Hispanic man on the screen, talking to the bank manager, “Javier Torres.”

 

“Excellent,” Madame said as she sat, her chin resting on her fingers, and then she looked carefully at the green car with the two blonde girls in it.

 

“We saw that at the manager’s house as well – how intriguing.  Can we get the licence plate number?”

 

“Why, Madame?”

 

“A hunch – nothing more,” she said with a smile.  “Penny, return tomorrow and continue your research,”

 

Thursday 3rd April
Mason Road, Greenwich
Noon

 

Diana walked into the bank, smiling as she said to the clerk “Good afternoon – may I cash a cheque please?”

 

She looked round the building, taking careful note of the security guards and positions of cameras, when she saw the same woman from the film the previous day, filling out a form.

 

Intrigued, Diana completed her business, and left the bank, waiting as the woman came out and walked to a nearby car park.  As she drove off, Diana noted the car registration, and then went to her own vehicle, heading to Gray Oaks Lane.

 

As she turned in, she noticed the car parked at the corner of the road, and turned into the residential street.  Pulling up a short t way along, she wound down the window and said to a passing man “Excuse me –I seem to have taken a wrong turning.  How do I get to Court Park Road?”

 

As he gave directions, she noticed the woman in her leather jacket and pants, walking from the Reedman house.

 

“Thank you,” she said as she drove round and back out, waiting as the woman got into her own car and drove off before following her.  A gas station was a few miles down the road, and she pulled in behind her as she went to the rest room.

 

Diana followed her, locking the door behind her as the woman went into a stall.  A few minutes later, she came out, only to be pushed to the wall by Diana.

 

“Don’t look round,” she whispered as she pushed the business end of a .44 into her back, “What is your interest in the Reedman family?”

 

“Who?”  Her accent was English as she faced the wall.

 

“The Reedman family – you went to their house today, and you have been spending a lot of time at his bank.”

 

“Coincidence –I’m a courier, and I had business in both places.”

 

“Well, courier,” Diana hissed, “I hope that is all.  You would not like to be on the wrong side of me.  Stay away from them for now.”

 

She walked out, leaving the woman in the rest room as she got into her car and drove off.  A moment later, the woman cam out, talking into her cell phone.

 

Maddie?  It’s me – tell Madame we have got another interested party – and get her what we found out last night.”

 

1 pm
St Angela’s Academy

 

As the girls made their way to their lunch, they parted to allow the group of four to leave the gates, climbing into the limousine that was parked outside.

 

Missy Auerbach reflected on a simple fact - she’d had some pretty unusual meetings with models she represented in her time, but this was a first, crammed into her car with four girls in school uniforms outside the gates of their school at their lunch break.

 

“Okay introductions….” Abby started, “Missy you know Jo, and this is our friend Judy.”

 

“Nice to meet you Judy.” Missy glanced round. “I understand from Carina congratulations are in order…. You got into Yale as well.”

 

“By the skin of my teeth.” Judy grinned, “Who knew playing the organ in church on Sundays would one day help me get into a great college.”

 

“Okay Carina.” Missy glanced at the girl sitting next to her. “You have that eyewear shoot Saturday right?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Abby you get the weekend off, but any chance your Mom will let you out Monday night to work with Simon Mitchell?”

 

“The Australian photographer?”

 

“Yeah he wants to do this fantasy scene in Central Park.”

 

“Gets dark pretty early and I can’t skip school.”

 

“No he wants to shoot in twilight and the dark.”

 

“That sounds interesting.” Judy commented.

 

“Who’s the shoot for?” Abby asked.

 

“Australian Vogue.”

 

Abby shrugged her shoulders, “Well if Mom says okay, but remember it’s a school night, she’ll want me home in bed as early as possible.”

 

“Excellent,” Missy said, “ I will talk to her.  Carina, will you do maternity wear shoots in the summer?”

 

“WHAT!” Carina half exploded, half laughed. “Where did that idea come from Missy?”

 

“Hear me out, dear.  I explained to a couple of people that you were pregnant and might not be available in the summer…. next thing I have Rebekah Hisk of Almador the maternity clothes people asking if you want to do their catalogue for Winter,”

 

Which of course is shot in the heat of summer.” Abby turned to Judy and laughed.

 

“Do I score some free clothes out of the deal?” Carina asked.

 

“Goddess Carina you are so mercenary….” Jo started laughing.

 

“Hey if I don’t need to buy it….”

 

All four girls started to giggle as Missy looked at them. “I will try to see what we can negotiate in the contract, Cari darling.  Now, back to class – school is still in session!”

 

 

5 pm
Conde Nast – the Complete Style offices

 

“Give me five minutes, Anne…”

 

“It’s not Anne.”

 

Juliette looked up to see George standing in the door.

 

“George?  What brings you here?”

 

“Have you heard from Sandy today?  I tried calling the mansion, but there is no answer.”

 

“Ah – she and Heather were on a business trip this afternoon.”

 

Juliette smiled – she knew they were at home, and the phone was off the hook.

 

“Right…”

 

“George, are you all right?”

 

“I’m fine – can you give her a message when you see her?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Tell her Allison gave birth to a baby girl – we’re calling her Jennifer Allison.”

 

Juliette looked up and said, “I thought it was next week?”

 

“Allison started to go into labour and they had to operate – they’re both fine, but I want the kids to know, and I need to get back to the hospital.”

 

“Of course, and congratulations,” Juliette said as she stood up and hugged George.  “Get going – I’ll let her know.”

 

As George smiled and left, Juliette sat back and sighed.  What else could possibly happen that day?

 

8 pm
The Huntingdown Apartment

 

Juliette sighed as she closed the apartment door behind herself.  She knew the girls were having a night out, and she had a lot of planning to do if their work that weekend was going to go ahead without a hitch.

 

What was bothering her most was this woman who had been following them – well, following is the wrong word, but she had always seemed to be where the girls were when they visited Greenwich?  Diana had said she had talked to her, and it was just a coincidence, but the way she was looking at Reedman in the films they had reviewed looked too clinical to her – as if she was assessing him for something as well.

 

Was it possible another group were thinking of hitting Reedman’s branch?  It was possible, but if so she was an out of towner – Diana said she was British.

 

Juliette hated unknowns, as she shook her head and walked into the drawing room, taking off her camel coat and hanging it up as she did so.  As she reached the door, however, she had that nagging feeling that something was not quite right – so she went back to her handbag, and withdrew the small handgun before she opened the door.

 

As she looked in, she saw a woman sitting in one of her armchairs, flipping through a magazine.  She looked to be a little older than her, and had dark black hair that fell over her shoulders.  There was no hint of grey, and Juliette had to admit her complexion was flawless – as was her taste in clothes.  She wore a black Versace trouser suit, the jacket open as she looked at the blue silk blouse, and a pair of high-heeled ankle boots was visible under the trouser legs.

 

The stranger looked up and smiled as Juliette walked in.  “Ah – good evening Miss Huntingdown,” she said in a deep, mellow voice that was both smooth and commanding at the same time, “please, forgive my intrusion, but I did feel it was time that we met face to face.  I think we have some small items of business that we need to discuss between us.”

 

“You are aware that I have the right to shoot you as you sit there,” Juliette said as she stood there, not taking her eyes off the woman.

 

“Ah yes – you have that right, but then you would never know why I came to see you, and if I have the measure of you correct, you wish to know that.”

 

Juliette was assessing the intruder as she sat there.  Her speech, soft and quiet but so full of authority, marked her out as an exceptional person already.  Yet, she had managed to break in without leaving any signs as to how she did it, which marked her as a very professional woman as well.

 

“You might be right,” she eventually said, “so I will allow you one minute to explain why I should not kill you right now.”

 

The stranger smiled as she said “Because, Juliette – may I call you Juliette – my associates have been watching you, as you have been watching my associates, and I believe we have a mutual target in mind, albeit for different reasons.”

 

“Who are you?”

 

“Direct, and to the point – excellent.  I had already decided you were a woman, like me, who knows how to take risks and is a good judge of people.”  She reached down to a bag, opening it and placing a bottle of Cotes de Rhône and two glasses on a table.  “May I offer you a glass?”

 

“You didn’t answer my question?”

 

“True,” she said as she opened the bottle and poured the wine into two glasses.  “My real name is not relevant to this, but I am known to the world at large as Madame X.”

 

Juliette looked at the woman for a moment, before putting the gun on the table and sitting down.  “My colleagues in the UK have mentioned that name from time to time – a known crime baroness with fingers in a number of pies, but good enough never to be caught.”

 

“The press reports are flattering – but those of you underplay your presence.  I remember you from the Paris fashion shows twenty years ago.”

 

“You were in the audience?”

 

Madame nodded as she handed Juliette a glass, saying “Your very good health” as she raised it in a toast.  Juliette returned the gesture, before saying “But what would such a lady want to talk to me about?”

 

“Ah yes,” Madame said as she sipped her wine.  “My associate has been spending a reasonable amount of time over the last week in Greenwich, doing some research for me.  You can imagine her surprise when she realised two young ladies in a car seemed to be watching the same people – so when I arrived a few days ago, she briefed me and I asked someone to keep an eye on them.

 

“Imagine my surprise when she reported that one of the young ladies lived here – and after a few discrete inquiries, I ascertained her name, and that you were her mother.  After your friend had her delightful chat with my associate, she also told me, and I realised we may have a mutual issue to address.”

 

Juliette smiled as she said “If what you say is true, then why would they be in Greenwich?  My daughter is in the last weeks of her school life.”

 

“Indeed – but allow me to continue.  I then realised that your young friends were not watching the person we were, but a very close associate – Mister Robert Reedman, the manager of the Greenwich branch of the Patriot National Bank, a branch the person we are interested in uses.  Imagine further my surprise when I found out that, a year ago, one of a particularly vicious series of bank robberies took place in Greenwich, Connecticut, by a group known to the authorities as the Pussycat Gang.

 

“So I have to ask myself, is this coincidence, or is there a second raid planned?  And if so, what connection would two such outstanding young women have with the gang?  You begin to see my dilemma?”

 

“I begin to see something,” Juliette said, “but I fail to see the connection.”

 

“May I speak plainly?”

 

Juliette nodded, as Madame leaned forward and said “I abhor violence as a rule, Miss Panther, but I have been known to employ it in the past, and I do know the effect it can have.  I suspect you and I are very much alike – two sides of the same coin, if you will.”

 

“Somehow, I very much doubt that,” Juliette said as she sipped her wine.

 

"Nevertheless,” Madame said, “I do note that despite your well deserved reputation for violence."   Madame paused for a moment, sipping her wine, before saying “that you and your associates have been responsible for some wonderful compassionate acts as well."


"I heard the Pussycats were just sick sadistic bitches who…"

"Ensured that others might follow in the footsteps of a lovely young woman killed before her time, that a young woman gets to rebuild her life after a gangster blows up her place of employment…" Madame smiled, "’I'm sure I could find other examples if I dug a little harder."

 

“Well, setting that aside for a moment, our interest is not in Reedman, but in a man called Javier Torres.  He has been – using certain business interests of mine as a cover for certain activities that I personally abhor, and it is my desire to bring him down, and crush him totally.

 

“And, I notice, you did not deny or flinch at what I called you.”

 

“I do not admit or deny anything,” Juliette said with a smile.  “On the other hand, the reports I have hear of you are quite – intriguing.  I suspect if you meant me harm, we would not be sitting here, drinking this excellent wine.  Where is it from?”

 

“One of my private vineyards,” Madame said with a smile.  “At any rate, we know Reedman has records that will help me to bring Torres down, and allow me to deal with him – permanently.”

 

"Juliette." Madame paused, "Can I also ask a question? Am I right in thinking that crime is something of an intellectual exercise for you?"

Juliette smiled, "and what makes you think I have any brains to use, I’m just a former model turned hack fashion writer."

"I did some back checking on you…you graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Fashion Institute of Technology, which despite its horrendous title is probably one of the harder little universities in this city to get into. A BS degree in International Trade and Marketing for the Fashion Industries – very useful for your line of work.  In addition, you've written some award winning pieces on the history of fashion, need I go on?


"Well those are just trade…"

"You spent two years in Paris, where incidentally you met the lovely Countess de Ros, and despite working full time as a model managed to earn a diploma from the Sorbonne in two years that normally takes three years full time study…..More?"

 

Juliette smiled as she said “I think we need not continue to establish my credentials.  To have reached the position you have, you too must possess formidable organisational skill, and the ability to lead and command respect.  I salute you Madame.”  She raised her glass, Madame returning the gesture.

 

“Would it be impolite to ask what lines of business you find objectionable?”

 

“People trafficking – especially children.  I believe you are to be a grandmother soon?”

 

Juliette nodded as she considered this.  “That is true.”

 

“My congratulations – but I think you are therefore someone who wishes to ensure the safety of your family.”

 

“If you are threatening me…”

 

“You misunderstand – I do not wish to threaten you.  I merely point out that removing Torres will make the world a little safer.  Will you work with me on this?  We can share intelligence, and thus make for a smoother operation.”

 

“And what do you ask in return?”

 

“Records,” Madame X said as she stood up, Juliette doing likewise.  “Perhaps your associates should meet with mine?  You may suggest the venue?”

 

Juliette picked up a pad of paper and a pen, and wrote down an address, handing it to her.  “Noon tomorrow.  Tell them to come unarmed.”

 

“We rarely carry them – except when we have to.  This is an occasion when I do not think that is necessary.  Please, enjoy the rest of the wine.”  Collecting her coat from the chair, Madame X held her hand out and said “a pleasure to meet you, Juliette.”

 

“Likewise,” Juliette replied in genuine admiration as her visitor walked off, closing the door behind her.

 

 

 

Friday 4th April
Noon
Long Island

 

“Are you sure this is the place?”  Maddie looked at the run down barn, and then at Penny.

 

“This is where Madame said to come,” Penny said as she stepped out of the car, and looked round.  She wore a grey leather jacket over a black jumper, black leggings and grey ankle boots.

 

Maddie was wearing a tan coat over a green dress, dark hose and black heels.  “I’m not sure I like this too much,” she said as she walked to the small door.

 

“Madame had said we are perfectly safe, and we have to trust her on this,” Penny said as she opened the door and allowed Maddie to go in first, following and closing the door behind her.

 

The barn had only one thing in it – a small table in the centre of the room.  The two women walked in, looking carefully around as they approached the table.

 

“I’ve never wished so much Dominique was with us,” Maddie whispered, “Where are they?”

 

“Behind you.”

 

Penny and Maddie turned round to see three women standing there, dressed in identical dark blue fitted jackets and knee length skirts.  The taller woman in the middle had a red and gold scarf tied as a cravat round her neck, the one on the left a blue scarf tied round her neck with the ends hanging over the lapels of the jacket, the third a white scarf tied at the side of her neck.  All three had a jewelled brooch on their scarf or jacket, in the shape of a cat.  All three had black leather gloves and hose; their feet nestled in high heels.  And all three had black hair, their heads covered by a stocking that sat under their scarves.

 

“Good afternoon,” the woman in the middle said, “May I ask you to confirm who you are?”

 

Maddie and Penny looked at each other, before Maddie said “Madeline Moore, director of Madame X’s US operations.”

 

“Penelope Harker, personal assistant to Madame X.”

 

The masked woman looked to her left, as she looked at a tablet held by one of the others.  “Good,” she said, “I am Miss Leopard, and this is Miss Puma and Miss Cheetah.  Forgive the approach, but we needed to be sure.”

 

“Of course, security is important,” Maddie said with a smile.  “I trust Miss Panther informed you of last night’s meeting.”

 

“She did – I think it only fair to inform you that if anyone else had done that, they would be dead by now.”

 

“I thank you,” Penny said, “We would expect no less from ladies of your reputation.  Equally, be assured whatever we know is confidential, and goes no further.  On that you have our personal guarantee.”

 

“Very well,” Miss Leopard said as they stood round the table.  “Miss Panther informs us you have an interest in common with us.”

 

“We do,” Penny said quietly.  “We have no wish to prevent your intended operation, and only ask that we take the opportunity to share information and work to a mutually beneficial goal.”

 

“Forgive me,” Miss Puma said quietly, “but what proof do we have that Madame X feels this way about this person?  We know very little of her.”

 

Maddie looked into her covered eyes, and said “Did you hear, a few years ago, about a child kidnapping ring on the west coast?  A gang who snatched young models and – well, do you remember?”

 

Miss Puma nodded in response.  “It was Madame X who was responsible.”

 

“Indeed – the history can be told, sparing some details, another time – suffice to say when we discovered we may have been held responsible, we ended the organisation with maximum prejudice.”

 

“I remember the case now,” Miss Leopard said, “You left those responsible tied to a flagpole in the nearest town at Thanksgiving?”

 

Maddie and Penny nodded, as Miss Leopard looked them over.

 

“Well, you have earned my respect at least,” she said as she looked at the other two.  “How can we help each other?”

 

“Our concern is not with Reedman – we leave him to your well deserved reputation for care.  We want Torres – he has a safety deposit box at that bank, which we desire to possess.  The box, we believe, contains the record we need to bring him to justice.”

 

“And what can you offer in return,” Miss Cheetah said as she looked at the two women.

 

“Assistance – we may know things you do not, and we can share our information.  We can also provide a diversion – we have seen that Reedman’s house is in a, shall we see, difficult location to enter discretely.”

 

“Anything else?”

 

“Future cooperation – let me put it this way.  We offer a similar service to Harmon Couriers, if required.”

 

The three masked women looked at each other, before Miss Leopard said “We will consider your offer.  How may we contact you?”

 

“My card,” Maddie said as she left a cardboard rectangle on the desk.  “The cell phone number will find me at any time.  And thank you?”

 

“For what?”

 

“For not killing us on sight,” Penny said as the two women turned and walked out of the barn.

 

“Well?”

 

Diana removed her mask and wig, and scratched her head.  “I admire them – but we should talk with the others first,”

 

 

7 pm
The Richmond Mansion

 

“Well girls - any thoughts?” Juliette posed the question as Heather collected the dishes and took them out to the kitchen.

 

“I don’t like it at all that they know who some of us are?  How did they know?” Carina opened.

 

“But we do know who some of them are as well…” Heather took her seat again, “I checked them out - those are their real names, they live openly and look legitimate.  Imagine the confidence they have to do that.  Their organisation must be respected as well as large.”

 

“I must say,” Juliette said quietly, “Madame X personally is a very impressive woman, she obviously did her homework.  She also has something about her that demands respect.  Not as a threat, but as a natural consequence of who she is.”  Juliette looked round the table.

 

“I can’t say I have any liking for abusers of children.” Heather glanced quickly at Jo and Abby to ensure they didn’t break her secret.

 

“None of us do lover.” Sandy said thoughtfully, “But we aren’t exactly Robin Hood righting wrongs out there…we’re in the armed robbery business.”

 

“The fact is that they have leverage ladies.” Diana looked thoughtful. “While I’m sure they’d not turn us into the police, they do hold something over us that we would rather they did not have.”

 

“So we get their thing while we are helping ourselves to the money?” Abby questioned.

 

 “That case they mentioned – all the girls were eventually found and released, weren’t they?”

 

“Indeed,” Diana said, “I remember reading some of their stories.  Truly horrific – and if she was responsible, it leads credence to her claims.”

 

“I can bust safety deposit boxes easily enough if you give me some time.” Jo added.

 

“No – if we do this, we give them the box intact.  Something tells me I do not want to know what is in it.”

 

“Or we visit Torres as well – get him to open it?”

 

“Hmmm – a possibility.  I have no doubt we can do this.” Juliette closed her eyes for a moment, before saying “And you dare make about a comment about computers Sandy.”

 

"Now would I do that darling?”

 

Every woman round the table broke out into a grin.

 

 “I’d feel happier if one of them was with us in the house and bank.” Carina argued. “We get caught, then one of theirs does too. It’s the same principle as us taking hostages.”

 

“I agree.” Diana nodded.

 

“Well then, I think we tell them we need one of them to ‘move in’ with us so to speak. If one of their girls is coming on this job it’s maybe important we integrate her as best we can.” Juliette said slowly.

 

“I’d feel happier if it was someone I know will cover my back.” Sandy look relieved at the idea.

 

“Okay.” Juliette opened her eyes. “We tell Madame that we will proceed on the condition that one of her girls becomes a pussycat for a few days. She can move in with me and Carina and we can keep an eye on her…Agreed?

 

All round the table there were nods.  “I would suggest the one we met today – Penny.  I have the feeling she would be most useful.”

 

“I can mention it to her, but we need to take her views into account – this Penny, does she strike you as capable.”

 

Diana looked at Sandy and Heather, before all three of them nodded.

 

“Very well – I shall discuss with her.  Heather, girls – start searching.”

 

 

7 pm
The Waldorf Astoria Hotel

 

“So first impressions?”

 

Madame looked at Sandy and Maddie, as Dominique sat opposite them.  Four other girls were sat around the table, all smartly dressed.

 

“If one of them is the same person that spoke to you earlier, Penny, I hope you made your views clear.”

 

“No need, Susan – I am fairy sure one of them was indeed the woman, who I believe is the Countess de Ros, but she treated Maddie and me with fairness and as equals.  What is in the past is in the past.”

 

“So there were three of them?”

 

Maddie nodded.  “They identified themselves by their code names, and we made no further inquiry.  Very strong, confident, and resourceful.  I have to say, they do have a great deal of style about them.”

 

“I have to concur,” Dominique said, “from what I have learned of their approach, they are highly skilled and highly dangerous.  I like them.”

 

“I thought you might,” Maddie said with a smile.  “I have the strangest feeling you would get on very well with them.  Having said that, I believe they were at least open to the idea.”

 

Madame X nodded.  “In my conversation with Juliette Huntingdown last night, it felt very much as if I was – what’s the Fishel quote?  A sister is both your mirror and your opposite?”

 

“I don’t quite understand, Madame.”

 

“Have you ever wondered, Madeline, what would have happened if we had not escaped?  What tortures he may have inflicted on us?  When I look at her, I see myself on a different path.  I am honoured to have made her acquaintance.”

 

“Very well then,” Dominique said as she stood up, “but do you think they will work with us?”

 

“I do,” Penny said quietly, “They know we know who they are.  I detest the word leverage, but that is what we have here.”

 

“Amusing, isn’t it, Penelope,” Madame said quietly, “They could almost be our equals over here, but they choose to act in this way and are very successful at it.  I truly believe this is a complimentary association.”

 

“I do have one thought.”

 

“Speak, Penelope.”

 

“I think they may want some guarantee from us – a gesture of good will, if you like.  From what I saw today, I think they will want one of us to work with them.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Makes sense, Susan,” Dominique said.  “They have been extraordinarily careful to hide their path – I suspect nobody else knows who they are.  If I was in their shoes, I’d ask for one of us to be part of their team.”

 

Madame sat with her fingers to her chin, and slowly nodded.  “I agree, Dominique – we should be prepared for the possibility.  If that is the case, I ask for a volunteer.”

 

“It cannot be me or Penny – we are public.  Dominique we need for the diversion, so it has to be one of you four.  Volunteers?”

 

Susan looked round the room, and said “but none of us are killers – I mean, what they did to that family last year.”

 

“Yes – but they have a code of conduct as well.  Whoever goes has my blessing and protection – and should not feel they have to copy them slavishly.  Consider it – consider it a short term secondment.”

 

“You make it sound like a work project,” Penny said, as Maddie took her phone out.

 

“All right,” Susan said quietly, “I’ll do it.  I don’t like it, but I’ll do it.”

 

“Thank you Susan,” Madame said as Maddie ended the call. 

 

“We guessed right – they’re in, if one of us joins them.”

 

“Excellent – pack a bag, Susan.  We will take you later tonight.”

 

9 pm
The Richmond Mansion

 

“So what have you found out,” Carina and Joanne said as they sat either side of Heather.

 

“Well, publically this Penelope Harker woman is on the board of a number of charitable boards – a bit like Sandy – while Madeline Moore is based in Los Angeles, as the director of a company with a number of interests – film, modelling…”

 

“Modelling?  Which agency?”

 

Heather typed a little more, before saying “The Rising Stars Agency.  Ring any bells Ju?”

 

“Yeah – specialise in child models for adverts and catalogues, as well as web based shops.  Strictly legit.”

 

“So she has a number of legitimate businesses as well – smart.  But what about the mysterious Madame X herself?”

 

“Now that is a bit more interesting – on the public web, nothing about her.”

 

“And the dark web?”

 

“Good thinking Jo – steering clear of the horrible stuff, the gossip on her is quite interesting.  She is held in high regard internationally – for her intelligence and her moral code.  Here – a speech she gave at a fund raising event.”

 

Cari and Jo looked through their glasses as they read the article, entitled “The Seven Stages of Highly Effective Robbery.”  After a moment, Cari gave a low whistle and said “Wow – she does think things through, almost the same way as you Mom.”

 

“I gathered as much – but what about who she is?”

 

“Speculation – officially, she does not exist.  Unofficially – in 1985 a woman called Shirley Xavier was reported killed in a car crash.  Her father was known as one of the elite kidnappers in England at the time.  He died n 1991, and his estate donated to charity - save for one office block.”

 

“Let me guess – who works there now?”

 

“It is the registered business address for Penelope Harker.  I think we can guess the rest.  As to how a girl called Shirley Xavier became Madame X – who knows for sure?”

 

“So what else can we find out?”

 

“Case histories of robberies she has been thought responsible for – jewellers, kidnappings, and coin dealers amongst others.  She is also thought to have made arrangements with those in power in the UK – keep certain things under control, and in turn leave her alone.”

 

“As I suspected, a woman of strong character,” Juliette said with a smile.  "So how do her financial structures look?"


"Well it's safe to say she has holdings in the companies controlled by her associates.  Perfect way to control cash flow."   Carina sat down and spoke randomly. "If we had time, we could probably crack her network of anonymous holdings."

"Carina's right in that," Heather looked up from the screen. "Give me time, and Carina's help, I can probably find out to the penny she's worth, but I think it's safe to say multi millions of dollars."

Juliette smiled and shook her head.  "No - I think Madame is entitled to keep some of her little secrets.  But it's comforting to know that the combined brain power in this room could severely damage her if we ever wished to." Juliette smiled. "We might just have an ace card up our sleeve."

 

Diana walked back into the room, saying “It’s on – she’s coming to your apartment at ten tonight.  You need to get over there – I need to go somewhere with Abby first.”

 

10 pm
The Huntingdown Apartment

 

“Nice place,” Susan said as she got out of the car, “so I check in regularly with you?”

 

“If you would be so kind,” Madame said as she looked at her young associate.  “The doorman will be expecting you.  Good luck.”  She closed the door and Susan watched the car drive off, waving to the driver before she entered the building.

 

“Can I help you miss,” the concierge said.

 

“Yeah – I’m here to stay with Miss Juliette Huntingdown.  Can you tell her British niece is here?”

 

He nodded a she called up.  “Miss Huntingdown?  There’s a young lady here claims you are expecting her?  All right.”  He put the phone down and said “Miss Huntingdown will be down in a moment.”

 

Susan nodded and looked round, before the lift door opened and she saw a young seventeen year old, a full three inches shorter than her.

 

“Susan!” she said with a big grin as she hugged her.  “Come on up – Mom’s waiting for you.”  They walked to the lift, the doorman smiling as the doors closed.

 

In a flash, Susan saw the smile disappear as the girl said “I’m Carina Huntingdown, and if I had my way, this would not be happening.”

 

“I understand – how old are you?  Seventeen?”

 

Carina said nothing as the lift stopped and they walked to the apartment door.  “Ah, you must be Susan,” Juliette said as she removed her glasses and stood up when they walked in, “Welcome – I’m Juliette.”

 

“Madame sends her regards, and also says she would be delighted to meet you tomorrow night as you requested.”

 

“Good, good – Carina, show Susan to the guest room please?”

 

“This way,” Cari said as she showed Susan upstairs.  A few minutes later, she returned and said “Thank you – it’s a lovely room.”

 

“You’re most welcome,” Juliette said.  "Well, now that you have settled in Susan, some introductions are possibly in order - you have already met my daughter Carina, of course.  She is Miss Lynx, while I am Miss Panther."

 

Susan smiled at the small blond girl, who was studying her intently.

 

"I still can't believe that you are one of the Pussycats," Susan said with a smile.

 

"Wait until you see her at work," Joanne said as she walked in, alongside Heather and Sandy.

 

"This is Miss Alexandra Richmond - known as Miss Puma, and her nanny Heather Smith, Miss Cheetah.  The teenager is Heather's sister Joanne - Miss Bobcat."

 

"The pleasure is all mine, dahlin," Jo said in her Louisiana accent, as she shook Susan's hand.

 

"So that's five of you," Susan said quietly, "Who are the other two?"

 

"Sorry we're late - Missy called.  Ah - so this is your houseguest - Hi, I'm..."

 

"Abigail de Ros?  Abigail de Ros is a Pussycat?"

 

"Do you doubt my daughter's abilities," Diana said as she stood in the doorway, arms folded.

 

"Diana, Countess de Ros, Susan Barkley.  Susan, Diana and Abigail."

 

Susan looked round the room - a former fashion model, three teenagers, one of them a world famous face, a countess, a socialite and a nanny - this was the Pussycat Gang?

 

"To business," Juliette said, "We need to review our information in the light of anything Susan has, and we need to assess where she can best be deployed for the raid.  However, one small piece of business first."

Juliette looked at Susan, her smile still there, but her eyes hard and cold.

 

"Susan, I need you to swear on all that you hold holy that the information as to our identities be shared solely between yourself and Madame X, and such of your associates she might deem it necessary to have that information."

Susan gulped; she had guessed this question would be coming.

"Do you swear?"

"I swear."

 

"Good," Carina said with a smile, "now, how are you with a gun?"

 

"I know how to use one..."

 

"I will be the judge of that," Diana said quietly.  "You will accompany Joanne and I on Sunday to a place we know, and I will assess you there."

 

“For now, let us talk briefly, and then to bed – we have a busy weekend ahead of us…

 

 

Saturday 5th April
The Bronx
Tommy Morgan’s Apartment
7.30 am

 

“Oh crap!”

 

“Hey Tommy…language please,” Annie smiled as Tommy lowered his New York Times, and looked across the breakfast table.

 

Since Annie had moved into his place, having breakfast together had become a little ritual. Annie would always have some fresh coffee and bagels ready for Tommy whenever he got back from looking after his ‘legitimate’ business down at the fish market each morning.

 

“So what’s got you so upset, yer horses lose….again?”

 

“Nope…just deres summit in der paper I hoped never to see gain…’she’ wants a meet and she’s included a shoppin’ list.”

 

“She? Oh…” Annie realized who the only customer was who could force this reaction from her Tommy.

 

“I hoped and preyed, they’d given it up after the last piece of business.”

 

“Oh damn…” Annie felt a tear come to her eyes. “I sorta hoped that as well.”

 

Tommy shook his head.

 

“Why dey do it Tommy? Not like they need duh money.”

 

“I guess to prove dey can.”

 

“But dat makes no sense, they rob banks just to prove to demselves dey can do it?”

 

“I guess so Annie, I guess so.”  Tommy stood up and went to the bedroom, returning with his notebook.

 

“You’re going out again aint yer?”

 

“Yeah I need go see a few guys…” Tommy chugged his coffee down as he grabbed his leather jacket.  “I’ll be back to take yer to the club and check the work.”

 

“Be safe Tom…” Annie had more tears in her eyes as ‘her man’ headed out the door.

 

8 am
The Huntingdown Apartment

 

“Now where did I put my purse?  Ah there it is.  Susan dear?” Juliette called out for her houseguest.

 

“I’m in here Juliette.” Susan called back from the drawing room.

 

“Oh there you are.” Juliette smoothed her clothes down and glanced anxiously at her watch.  “Darling I have the hugest favour to ask…can you ride shotgun on the girls while Carina does her shoot today? I know I sort of promised you the day off before tomorrow, but I got called into the office…. can you please be a pet?”

 

Susan looked at the tall woman as she fussed with her purse.  She reflected that with Madame X, real life seldom interfered with plans. If Madame had told her she had a day off, she would have been free all day.

 

“Where do I have to take them?”

 

“I don’t know, Cari has the details.” Juliette glanced anxiously at her watch again. “Can you please do it Susan?”

 

“I guess so.” Susan smiled, but inside she was thinking through how inefficient this all was.

 

“Thank you Darling…I owe you one.” Juliette gave her guest a peck on the cheek and then ran for the door.

 

Susan shook her head as she called up the stairs “Carina, it seems like I am coming to your shoot today, your Mother got called into the office…where is it?”

 

Ummm down in the Village somewhere, I have it on a piece of paper somewhere.” Carina came running, half dressed, down stairs from her bedroom. “Are Abby and Jo here yet?” she called out as she ran past Susan into the kitchen.

 

“No.  Should they be?”

 

“They should be here anytime soon… Okay,” Carina shouted backwards as she ran back upstairs with a bowl of corn flakes and a glass of orange juice in her hands. “Tell ‘em I’ll be ten minutes please Susan.”

 

As if on cue the doorbell rang, and Susan opened it to find the two other teenagers looking like they had just tumbled out of bed and thrown on the first top and jeans they could find in their closet.

 

“Hey Susan!” they both called out as they made their own way to the kitchen and started pouring themselves cups of coffee.

 

“How long did Cari say she’d be?” Jo asked.

 

“She said about 10 minutes.”

 

“Okay.” Abby glanced at her watch, “means we have about 30 minutes to have coffee and see what goodies Juliette left from the bakery.”

 

Susan shook her head. No it would never do for Madame, she just wondered to herself how such messy, tardy women could form such a highly successful criminal enterprise.

 

Thirty minutes later, Cari came down, wearing no makeup, and an old sweater over a pair of jeans.  “Right – got the address,” she said as she grabbed her door keys.  “Let’s go – you’re going to love this Susan.”

 

“I don’t know,” Susan whispered to herself as she followed them out, and hailed a cab.

 

 

11 am
Curtis Studios, Stonewall Place

 

“That’s it, Carina – smile at the camera…”

 

Carina posed and put the pen to her chin, smiling as she sat on the desk.  She was wearing a black jacket and skirt, split up the side, as well as a white blouse, but the photographer was focusing on her face, and the glasses she was wearing.

 

Jo and Abby were sitting to the side, chatting to the make up artists as Susan watched.  She had been in worse places, but somehow this felt so alien to her…

 

The sound of her cell phone ringing made her stand to the back, as she looked over at them.

 

“Good morning Madame.”

 

“Good morning Susan – how are you settling with them?”

 

“I am surprised, at who they are, but…”

 

“Feel free to speak your mind, Susan.”

 

“I really don’t know about them Madame.” Susan spoke into her cell phone while she watched Carina being photographed. “There’s no real discipline, no orders really. Juliette just issues guidelines, and yes her briefing documents are immaculate, but the others though get to change and alter things.”

 

Madame X laughed momentarily. “Susan, I know you are used to working in my style, but unless I read Juliette Huntingdown very badly - and I don’t think I do - Behind that apparent chaos there is a both a formidable will, and the essential self-discipline that ensures when they need to they think and act as one cohesive unit.  I suspect that they will surprise you.”

 

“I’m still not sure I can do this Madame.”

 

“Stay with it Susan, just remember you are doing this for me.  If it is any consolation, when I meet Juliette later I feel I may be a little uncomfortable as well.”

 

“As you wish Madame,” Susan said as Carina rushed past, removing her jacket as an assistant held a sundress up for her.

 

“Madame, I am not sure you should go this evening.  If you get caught…”

 

“I understand and appreciate your concern, Dominique, but this is necessary, as a sign of trust.  I will be back in time for supper.”

 

12 noon
The Richmond Mansion

 

“She’s really cute Mom,” Little Sandy said as she took her coat off.  “And she has a lot of hair.  Did I have a lot of hair?”

 

“You sure did, honey – I’ll show you if you want,” Sandy said as she watched her children go into the drawing room, while Heather went with her into the kitchen.

 

“Penny for them?”

 

“What do you mean, lover,” Sandy said as she looked at Heather.

 

“You haven’t said a word between the maternity unit and here.  Has it got to you that much?”

 

“Do you know what I would really love to do,” Sandy said with a smile.  “I’d love to take you in my arms and eat that mouth right in front of both of them.”

 

“I’d be tempted to let you – Goddess, Sandy, we cannot go on like this.”

 

“I know, I know – do you think we should do it?”

 

“What – move over there?”

 

Sandy nodded.  “I don’t know,” Heather replied, “we need to make a decision soon, but there is so much to stay here for.  I just want you to be happy.”

 

“And me you,” Sandy said as she gently held Heather.

 

“Good afternoon.”

 

“Oh, hello mother,” Sandy said as she let Heather go and turned to Vanessa.  “I did not hear you come in.”

 

“Move over where, may I ask?”

 

The two women looked at each other, before Sandy said “I think you and I need to talk, mother.  Heather, will you bring some coffee through to the drawing room, and then fix lunch for the children?”

 

5 pm
The de Ros Mansion

 

“Ah there you are – thank you Susan for playing babysitter for them.”

 

“My pleasure,” Susan said as the girls disappeared into Abby’s bedroom.

 

“May I ask a question?”  Diana indicated that Susan should follow her into the drawing room.

 

“Of course,” Susan said as she sat down.

 

“How long have you worked for this Madame?”

 

“About seven years - the last four here in the US.”

 

“I see,” Diana said as she sat and crossed her legs.  “We must be a different group for you, yes?”

 

“Slightly,” Susan said politely as she looked at the French beauty.  “Am I right in thinking you met Juliette in Paris?”

 

“I will admit to that much,” Diana said with a smile.  “I was never as famous a model as Juliette, but I did grace some magazine spreads in my time.”

 

“Aunt Diana – Mom says can you feed us tonight?  She’s going to be late.”

 

“I expected she would be,” Diana called back to Cari, before she smiled again at Susan.  “Do not make the mistake of taking us at face value, Susan – please, do not make that mistake.”

 

 

 

9 pm
Greenwich Street

 

Juliette looked out from the driver’s window at the convenience store as another customer came out.

 

“An interesting notion,” Madame said as she sat next to her, “It has been some considerable time since I have done something like this.”

 

“Me as well – but I want to see if you can, if you will forgive the phrase, walk the walk.”

 

“I would expect no less” Madame said as she pulled the leather gloves over her hands.  She was wearing a thin zipped jacket over a cashmere roll necked sweater, tight leggings and knee length leather boots.  Juliette was wearing a black leather jacket and dark jeans, the heels of her leather boots visible underneath.

 

She looked at Madame as she calmed her breathing, and then nodded at Juliette.  The two women climbed out of the car, looking to both sides as they walked into the convenience store.  They had black woollen caps pulled over the tops of their heads, hiding their hair underneath, and dark glasses.

 

“I’m telling you, Kate, he’s really got the hots for her, “ they heard the eighteen year old minding the store say as he looked over at them.  He had on a blue polo shirt with a white apron over it, and was talking to a girl who was about the same age as him.   She had on a black padded sleeveless jerkin over a white hooded top, black and white checked leggings and a pair of black Ugg boots.

 

“Yeah, well, she’s too good for him,” Kate answered as Juliette scanned some of the shelves, nodding to Madame as she indicated the security camera.  The other woman nodded as she made sure they were alone, and then picked up a carton of milk.   She also reached up and pulled something down from under her cap.

 

“Will there be anything else,” the clerk said as she took it to the counter.

 

“Yes, there will be, Mike,” she said as she looked at his name tag, “You can raise your hands – and you too dear – and shut up.”

 

“What did you just say?”

 

“Mike,” Kate said quietly as she saw the stocking masked woman, and the sawn off shotgun she had produced from her jacket.

 

“No,” Madame said as she took the gun and blasted the security camera to pieces, “I’m the bitch who’s telling you both to not move a muscle, understand?”

 

“Oh shit,” Mike said as Juliette locked the front door and turned the sign to closed, then walked over, producing a gun of her own.

 

“Both of you,” she said as she looked at them, “into the back, not a sound.”

 

“And keep those hands where we can see them – no pressing hidden alarms,” Madame said as the two of them herded Mike and Kate into the back office, and Juliette closed the door.

 

“Can you open the safe?”

 

Mike shook his head, and then gasped as Juliette put the barrel of her gun to Kate’s head.

 

“I’ll ask again – can you open the safe?”

 

Mike slowly nodded and punched the key into the front panel, standing back as the door opened.

 

“Much better,” Madame said with a smile.  “Now, I want you both on your knees, facing each other, and then I want you to hug each other.”

 

“Please, don’t hurt us,” Kate said as she knelt in front of Mike, and they put their arms round each other.

 

“Then do as you’re told, girl,” Juliette said as she knelt behind her, crossing Mike’s wrists behind her back and tying them together with one of the pre-cut lengths of rope she had brought.  Madame was taking care of Kate’s wrists in the same way, before she put his ankles side by side and began to bind them together.

 

“I’m sorry, Kate – I wish you weren’t here,” Mike said as he felt his legs being drawn together, and then another rope tugging up at them as Madame tied his ankles to Kate’s wrists.

 

“I wish I wasn’t here either- but I’m glad you’re here as well,” Kate said with a little smile as Juliette went into the shop, returning with a pack of kitchen sponges and a roll of duct tape.   Putting the pack down, she tore the end of the tape free and taped their bodies tightly together.

 

“Open wide,” Madame said as she tore the pack open and took out two sponges, pushing one into each of their mouths before the tape was wound round their heads.  The two then watched as the safe was emptied into a bag, as well as the contents of the till, and the two women walked out.

 

Getting into the car, they remained silent for a few minutes as Juliette drove off, until she heard Madame start to laugh - a deep, rich, genuine laugh.

 

“What’s so funny,” Juliette said as Madame removed the balaclava and put her hands in her hair, brushing out her long dark locks.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said between breaths, “I’d truly forgotten just how exhilarating that can be!”

 

“How long?”

 

“Truly hands on – at least a decade.  I should go onto the shop floor more often.  You?”

 

“Long time since it wasn't business first,” Juliette said, before she started laughing as well.

 

"Thank you Juliette."

 

"Thank me for what?" Juliette looked at the woman beside her.

 

"Thank you for reminding that crime isn't just a business… thank you for reminding me it can be fun as well."

 

"My pleasure Madame."

 

"So how much did we get?"

 

"How much?" Juliette said as she stopped at some lights.

 

"Yes…How much?" Madame grinned, something she rarely did even when alone, "What's the point in carrying out a robbery if we don't make a little money?"

 

 

"Well from what I saw I'd guess around two grand."  Juliette looked at the paper bag at her feet.  "We'll count it later - might buy us some new outfits."

"Not bad for a couple of minutes work."

 

Juliette started laughing, "You know Madame you really do need to…how was it you put it…get out on the shop floor more often."

 

Both women sat there with smiles on their faces as Juliette took the car round the bottom of the island and back towards the apartment.  "I have a bottle of brandy you might appreciate..."

 

11pm
Greenwich Street

 

Sarge!!”

 

The officer turned and smiled as the woman and man walked towards him.  “Hey Ball…. Carter…now why would the FBI be down here at this time of a Saturday night for a routine little holdup?” Sergeant Mike Gregson of the NYPD extended a hand. “Long time no see guys.” He said as he shook hands.

 

“I saw this come over the wire.” Janice Carter replied, “So I thought we’d come down and look.”

 

“Heard you guys were with the Pussycat Gang taskforce.”

 

“We are.” Ball nodded. “Janice has got them on the brain, any times she hears of a female perp she wants to investigate.”

 

“I’ll ignore that partner.”  Janice could not help smiling however – she was interested in anything that may involve them.

 

“Well I think Adam’s right Janice,” Mike said as he looked to the door of the convenience store, “this was a chump change job, they got the clerk to open the safe, but the entire take was less then two grand…your Pussycats wouldn’t cross the road for that little.”

 

“Can we speak to the clerk though?”

 

“Sure Janice, but you’re wasting your time.”

 

“Well it’s my time to waste Mike…Where is he?”

 

“See the kid sitting on the back seat of a black and white with his feet hanging out? That’s him.”

 

“Thanks Mike,” Ball shook the cop’s hand again as Carter started to walk away.

“Hey,” she said as she approached the young man and flashed her badge, “I’m special Agent Janice Carter of the FBI, this is my partner Agent Ball. I’d like to ask you a few questions”

 

“Well I already told the police everything I can remember.”

 

“Can you go over them again for my partner kid?” Ball asked.  “When did you first notice them?”

 

“I was behind the desk, talking to Kate?”

 

“Kate?”

 

“My girlfriend,” Mike said as he looked over to the ambulance, where a paramedic was looking at a young blonde haired girl.

 

“All right,” Janice said, “do you remember if they had the stockings over their heads when they came in?”

 

Mike thought for a moment.  “I’m sorry, I can’t say.  I did see the caps on their heads, but the first really good look I got was when the woman pointed the gun at us.”

 

“Okay,” Agent Ball said “so there was two of them, they were tall, they had stockings over their faces and they had caps over the top of those, they had gloves on…and oh yeah they had some very frightening looking guns…. Anything else?”

 

“Only that we were too scared to do anything more than whatever they said.”

 

Janice drew in breath. “How did they sound - were they locals? Were they out-of-towners? Anything distinctive?”

 

“Like I already told the cops one of them had a British accent, the other sounded more local.”

 

“How local, a Brooklyn accent?”

 

“No classier… you know like one of those rich women on the Upper East Side.”

 

“How did they act?  Did they raise their voices, use threatening language?”

 

“Very coolly, very calm, they weren’t frightened what they were doin’ and they scared the crap out of me and my girl friend.”  Mike looked at Kate as she was led into the ambulance.

 

“Which one fired the shotgun?” Ball glanced at the notes taken by Mike Gregson.

 

“The Brit… Boom and she took out the security camera…one shot.  She knew exactly where to hit it.”

 

“What about the tapes?”

 

“What tapes?  The boss is too cheap to actually use any.”

 

Janice and Adam looked at each other, and shook their heads.

 

“They did not seem panicky at all?” Janice resumed questioning.

 

“Nope…they made it perfectly clear what would happen if we didn’t do as we were told…. AND I BELIEVED ‘EM.”

 

“They act like they were in a hurry to be out of there?”

 

The young clerk paused to think. “No they hurried us along, but nope they didn’t seem in a rush.  They ted us to each other, gagged us, emptied the safe and left us.  It took me ages to get us both to move to the emergency alarm ”

 

“Hey kid - you still want that ride to the hospital to be checked out?” a paramedic shouted out.

 

“Yeah please… Hey I gotta go… nice to meet you.” The young man ran to jump in the ambulance.

 

 

 

 

 

“So what’s going on in your head Janice?” Adam Ball asked as they sat in the car, “it sure seemed like a routine Saturday night stickup to me.”

 

“Two tall women, one with a British accent, stocking masks, sawn-offs.” Janice paused, “That wasn’t your common everyday little stickup crew.”

 

“And you’re basing that opinion on…”

 

“Experience Ball, experience.”

 

“Now you’re seeing Pussycats everywhere Janice. Maybe you did come back to work too early.”

 

“Don’t patronize me Adam.”

 

Heyyyy I wasn’t…”

 

“I got a little scenario for you…How about this…British criminal comes to town and wants the help of the Pussycats to pull a job. The Pussycats aint going to just take their word for them being who they say they are, they are going to want proof.”

 

“So they get her to pull a penny-ante convenience store stickup?”

 

“And why not?”

 

“Because why would two big time criminal gangs do anything so small?”

 

“As I said Adam it was an initiation, a test, just to see if the Brit could walk the walk so to speak.”

 

“But again I’ll repeat myself, why for just under two grand would they risk doing something so stupid?”

 

“Because it’s so small…. what percentage of these jobs get solved…VERY FEW…you’re the Pussycats you do this because it’s low risk, but you get to see if the English broad shapes up.”

 

“I still…”

 

“Adam you heard what I heard back there, slick, professional, quick, studied use of violence…this wasn’t no strung out pair of junkies.  These are professionals who knew what they were doing.”

 

“I still don’t know…it’s pretty thin to go to Tom with.”

 

“Thin yeah, but I think I can make him see it might be something.”

 

“Good luck with that one,” Adam said as they drove off.

 

 

Sunday 6th April
11 am

 

“Here we are.”  Diana stopped the car in a parking area, and Susan got out, looking round as Jo left the car as well.

 

“Where?”

 

“This way,” Diana said as she walked to the side, and Susan looked along a dirt track that led into the forest.  She had no idea really where she was, just the vague idea she was somewhere in the woods of Connecticut. When Diana had said she wanted to see how good she was with a gun, she’d had visions of target shooting at a gun club somewhere, not being dragged out into the wilds. 

 

She started to walk down the dirt path, trying desperately to avoid the holes and rocks that lay along it.  The white trousers and boots with 4” heels weren’t really intended for wearing in this terrain, and she stumbled more than once.  She noted that both Jo and Diana had on combat style boots and dark green pants and jackets. At least her Barbour jacket was fitting, she thought to herself as they walked through the trees.

 

“Now before we start Susan, tell me just what shooting you’ve actually done?” Diana looked suspiciously at the girl.

 

“Madame ensures we are all familiar with both handguns and long guns and can fire both accurately…”

 

“Which means what Susan?” Diana interrupted.

 

“That I can hit the bull 7 times out of 10 on the pistol range, am a reasonable shot on the clay pigeon range, and I am up to a good standard with a rifle.”

 

“Have you ever used a gun on a job?” Joanne asked in a bold manner, as if it was a perfectly reasonable question to ask.

 

“No… I’ve used one to threaten but I’ve never fired one.”

 

“Okay to sum up.” Diana concluded, “You know the basic theory but have never taken a practical examination… right?”

 

 “Damn,” Susan cursed to herself as she nearly tripped again, “They could have least warned me so I didn’t wear these rotten heels.”

 

At the bottom of the hill Susan found herself in a natural amphitheatre with dense foliage covering all sides. A small wooden hut and some targets set up to one side were the only signs someone actually ever came here. As Diana unlocked the hut, Susan noticed that despite its ramshackle appearance it was actually a very well secured place.

 

She looked at Joanne, who was smiling, then down at her marked trousers before Diana returned from inside with three sawn-off shotguns.  A belt of cartridges hung over one shoulder.

 

“Ever shoot one of these?” she asked as she handed one to Susan.

“No.”

 

“Know how to?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Well take a shot at that target to the left.”

 

“But what about the noise?”

 

“Most of it will be absorbed by the walls of the valley, any noise getting out people will think its someone out hunting.”

 

“Okay Susan go ahead.” Jo moved behind her with Diana.

 

“Okay tuck it into your shoulder…relax…squeeze the trigger gently.” Susan mentally went through the checks her instructor had given her.

 

Booommmm!!!

 

The noise of the shot reverberated in the little valley as the recoil threw Susan back on to her ass.

 

“OUCH!” she yelled as she got back to her feet and looked round.  “What are you two laughing at?” she eyed Diana and Jo who were both laughing heavily.

 

“Show her how to do it Jo.” Diana said as she suppressed her laughter. “Sorry,” Jo said as she stepped forward, holding her shotgun in both hands.  “Watch Susan, notice she keeps her feet apart providing a firm base, she holds the gun slightly to her side so the recoil doesn’t hit her body.”

Jo fired the gun.

 

Boooommmmmm!!

 

Again the noise reverberated, but the target had disintegrated as the spread of the shot hit it.  Susan shook her head, wondering when the ringing would eventually stop.

 

“Here Susan now you better put these in,” she handed Susan some ear plugs. “I wanted you to feel and hear the sensation of firing one of these things unfiltered.  You’ll be carrying one both at the house and in the bank.”

Susan nodded as she pushed them in, “Okay lesson learned today,” she told herself as she watched the others.

 

“Only a lunatic gets brave with someone carrying one of these.” Joanne held the gun in front of her. “Unfortunately we have found that there are plenty of lunatics out there.”

 

“Okay Susan try again” Diana yelled out as she finished setting up another target.

 

“Okay I’ll show you bitches,” Susan thought to herself. Consciously she took up the same stance that Jo had taken and pulled the other trigger.

 

Booooommmmm!!

 

“Well at least this time I stayed on my feet.” She smiled, but the shot appeared to have mainly missed the target.

 

“You need to grip it harder Susan, like this.” Diana showed her the correct way.  “If you don’t, the recoil from the discharge is enough to throw it off.”

 

Booooommmmmm!!

 

The target disintegrated as Diana fired her weapon.

 

“Okay fire the other barrel in this one,” Jo passed her weapon to Susan as Diana set up another target.

 

Susan concentrated, held the weapon tight, and fired.

 

Boooooommmmmm!!

 

This time the target was shattered to pieces.

 

“Good shooting Susan.” Diana looked pleased.

 

Susan was never going to tell her the pain the gun’s kick was causing in her body.  It was not the way she had been taught, but she could see now how effective it could be.

 

“Here I’ve reloaded this one.” Jo handed Susan a gun.

 

“Okay again Susan practice makes perfect.”

 

Susan shuddered - this was not going to be an easy day she told herself as she aimed and fired, the target disintegrating again.

 

 

 

5 pm
The Huntingdown Apartment

 

“Susan would you mind awfully coming in here please?” Juliette’s voice rang out as the bedraggled British girl let herself into the hallway.  Susan stopped and looked at herself in the mirror, taking a twig out of her hair.

 

“Any chance of me getting a shower first? Things got a little messy today.”

 

“Oh – yes, I can see that,” Juliette came out of the drawing room and looked at Susan, her white pants smeared with dirt and green stains. “No, I think it’s important I say this now. Come sit down please Susan.

 

“I apologize for Diana, she can be a little…. ummm…. zealous shall we say, at times.  What did she have you do?”

 

Susan grinned weakly.  “Shotgun practice, and then small arms firing at a range of targets while crouching.  I feel like I’ve been over a marine assault course – but I could handle that.”

 

“Here, come sit next to me.” Juliette patted the couch.

 

Susan slowly sat down, the aches in her bones making rapid movement a trial.

 

“Oh Goddess she did put you through the wringer.  I have some bath salts that may help…”

 

“It’s okay Juliet, I’ll be fine by morning.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“I’m sure…now what is so urgent?”

 

Juliette took a big breath, “Has anyone told you about Carina?”

 

“That she’s pregnant…yes.  I heard the girls discussing baby showers between senior prom dress ideas.   I’ll never understand why teenagers make such a fuss over…”

 

“No,” Juliette said quietly, “I mean about her problem.”

 

“Eh?”  Susan looked at Juliette, puzzled as she said “what about Carina?”

 

“About what we call her demon?”

 

“Now you have me totally lost Juliette…what demon?”

 

Juliette took another long deep breath. “My daughter is what some people call a psychopath…”

 

“SHE’S WHAT?”

 

“Most of those terrible things you have heard about the Pussycats can be ascribed solely to Carina.”

 

Susan was genuinely shocked.  ”To Carina? But Why? How?”

 

“I’ll not go into details, but there lurks inside Carina a beast, a demon, whatever we are going to call her, who enjoys killing, who enjoys torturing and hurting people.”

 

“But she seems like she wouldn’t hurt anyone…. yes she has a temper. But?”

 

“Susan, when my daughter is in the mood, she is the most savage wild beast imaginable…I have seen her do indescribable things…. then after a good night’s sleep she returns to normal as if nothing had happened.”

 

“Does she know she’s done it?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Does she have a conscience about it?”

 

“Somewhat.” Juliette thought for a second. “When she’s her normal self, but the creature has no conscience at all.”

 

Susan sat with a stunned look on her face.

 

“Carina is aware of herself and to a great extent she can at least keep her demon submerged most of the time, but both Carina, and we, know that the beast must be let loose occasionally or else even worse might happen.”

 

Suddenly Juliette burst into tears.

 

“Oh Juliette…No…” Susan put an arm round the older woman.

 

“She frightens me, she frightens herself…She’s scared for the baby, I’d maybe do something if she wasn’t my flesh and blood, my only child.”

 

“Juliette.” Susan took a big breath. “May I say something?”

 

“Yes…Please…” Juliette wiped away a tear.

 

“Carina could not have a better Mother and her child will have a wonderful grandmother.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“I know you can only live with this thing inside her, but while I can never condone what happens, I can maybe begin to understand a little.”

 

“Thank you Susan…I was so afraid of telling you all this.”

 

“Well I need that shower… “ Susan said brightly, “I’ll see you for supper.”

 

Slowly Susan climbed the stairs to her bedroom, her body rigid now not from the workout Diana had given it, but the fear inside her that Juliette’s story had inspired.

 

Monday 7th April
11 am
Central Park

 

“Well, well – you look like you’ve had a fun weekend.”

 

Susan sat down at the café table and sighed, looking at both Penny and Dominique as she ordered a cappuccino.

 

“So what are they like?”

 

“You would not believe me if I told you,” Susan said as she groaned, “I’m not sure I believe it either.”

 

“You look as if you spent the day at Annapolis.”

 

“That would have been preferable – have either of you ever used a sawn off?”

 

“Oh that takes me back,” Dominique said with a smile, and then she looked at Susan.  “Don’t tell me they let you hold it like a normal shotgun?”

 

Susan nodded as Penny burst out laughing.  “Have your coffee,” she said with a smile.

 

“Thanks for nothing,” Susan said, but she smiled as well as she sipped her drink.

 

“The best bit was when she had me lying in a hide, and took her time to teach me how to shoot wild turkey.”

 

“How wild?”

 

“It was livid,” Susan said, “but then, so was I when I had to carry it up the hill to the car.  I’m told it’s on the menu for before the job.”

 

Dominique and Penny looked at Susan, and then burst out laughing.

 

Eventually, Penny dried her eyes and said “Madame said this would be a learning exercise for you.  She went for a little trip with Juliette Huntingdown on Saturday – she said it was very entertaining.  Now she wishes to return the favour.”

 

“Where is she today?”

 

“With Madeline and the accountant – I think they’re trying to figure out how they launder their money…”

 

“What about the rest of them?”

 

“Still trying to figure out how they do it.  They seem so carefree and slipshod, and yet…”

 

“Hang in there kid,” Dominique said kindly, “Hang in there…”

 

11am
The Waldorf Astoria Hotel

“So you are saying it is not possible to tell how she manages to turn a profit on her gains?”

 

“I did not say that, Madame,” the bespectacled man said as he looked at Madame X and Maddie, “I am saying it is extremely difficult.  Let us take, for example, the ten million in bearer bonds the Pussycat Gang stole in October last year.

 

“Now, assuming that she managed a 50% exchange rate, that is an income of five million, and even after expenses that would still be I would estimate four and three quarter million.”

 

“That seems reasonable,” Maddie said, “so where did the money go?”

 

“Well, I can count the number of brokers who handle that kind of deal on the fingers of one hand, so I made a couple of calls.  One in particular made a payment of that region to a company called Acme Holdings, based in Macao.”

 

“Acme Holdings?  How droll,” Madame said with a smile.  “Let us assume that is them – there must be tax records, even in Macao.”

 

“Indeed – save that they have never made a profit to pay tax on.  We cannot even find any records of staff employed – which suggests it is a shell company.  I would imagine that is one way they do it.  Any other possible avenues>”

 

"Juliette Huntingdown and her friends are listed as the directors of a Hong Kong based company that manages the export of Chinese fabrics to fashion houses all over the world Madame."

"Well she took a degree in that area of expertise."

"It looks legitimate, it pays a considerable amount of taxes both in Hong Kong and the US, but it might be a very convenient way also of feeding their ill gotten gains back to themselves."

"Macao and Hong Kong are very close…"

 

"If you wish Madame I could very easily launch some enquiries in the far east."

"Which I'm sure will find things all look very legal…on the surface…Juliette Huntingdown is an extremely clever woman. I'm sure Hong Kong/Macao are not the only areas where she has business interests."

"Indeed not, Paris, the Cayman Islands, Zurich in Switzerland."

Madame smiled, "Yes Miss Huntingdown clearly knows what she is doing.  I think our efforts could be best exerted elsewhere, but keep that idea in mind.  Very well – what about personal accounts?”

 

“All clean and above board – taxes filed and paid for all three.  But consider this.  Juliette Huntingdown worked as a highly successful model all over the world for many years. The Countess de Ros is a French noblewoman, with a number of major holdings.  Alexandra Richmond is New York old Irish money – very rich in her own right.  All their children have trust funds sewn up so tightly nobody can touch them, and as they are below legal age they do not have to declare them.

 

“I would suspect if we could get those details, we could begin to establish the money trail.  However, even with our access to systems, it would take months of dedicated work.”

 

Madame smiled and sat back.  “A matter for another time, I think.  Thank you Gerald, please stand by for my call, when we have the necessary information.”

 

“Of course Madame, Madeline,” he said as he stood up and left the room.

 

“Not interested in finding out?”

 

“Oh I may be at some point – just as much as I am sure they are finding out as much as they can about me.  It’s part of the game, Madeline, and I find I like this game very much.”

 

 

6 pm
The Huntingdown Apartment

 

“What’s for dinner,” Cari was calling out as Susan came in.

 

“Ah there you are,” Juliette said with a smile, “I was about to cook some pork steaks.   Any problems with that?”

 

“No – sounds good,” Susan said.

 

“Oh before I forget, there is something in your room you will need for tomorrow,” Juliette said as Susan went upstairs.  As she went in, she saw the outfit lying on the bed, and lifted the lid off the small box.

 

“Diana and I wish you to accompany us tomorrow when we collect firearms  - give you a chance to see the preparations we make,”

 

“Are the others coming tonight?”

 

“Not tonight – we have a genuine night off.  Fancy watching some Breaking Bad?”

 

“Sounds good – do you mind if I try it on?”

 

“Go right ahead.”  Carina came and watched as Susan took off her clothes and slipped on the jacket and skirt.

 

"How did you get the fit so perfectly Juliette?" Susan admired both the style and the tailoring of the suit.

"A lifetime in the fashion business, I can pretty much see through someone’s clothes and describe their figures perfectly."

"Even so you've only known me a couple of days…how did you get it done so quick?"

"Let's just say I know some people."

"People?"

"Some very good seamstresses who don't mind working some well paid overtime for me."

"Wait till you see the outfits for the actual job Susan." Carina chimed in.

Susan looked in the mirror, whatever the faults of the Pussycat Gang, lack of style when they were working wasn't one of them.

 

“The brooch is essential – and I can offer you a range of scarves and gloves.  For now, however – pizza and DVD night!”

 

 

8 pm
Central Park

 

Judy was sitting in a deck chair, watching wild eyed as the set dressers applied the finishing touches to the props.  The area had been transformed into what looked like a fairy grove, with lights set up in the trees to provide an atmosphere like something from an opera or a Shakespeare drama.

 

“Looks different, doesn’t it,” Abby said from her seat, where the make-up artist was applying the last layer of silver eye shadow to her face.  She had a large coat on the keep her warm, as the other staff hustled and bustled around her, while her blonde hair was piled in a beehive on top of her head.

 

“The only time I’ve seen the park like this was one winter’s night – it’s amazing what they can do these days.”

 

“Yeah,” Abby said as the artists stood back and said “Done.”

 

“Good – I want the divine Ms de Ros out here please.”

 

“Coming, Simon,” Abby said as she pulled her coat off, to reveal a white chiffon dress, low cut and with a skirt that barely covered her thighs, over a sleeveless red body stocking, and knee length white leather boots.

 

“Pity it’s as cold as winter tonight,” Abby said with a shiver, as she walked over the Australian, and started to discuss the shoot with him.

 

“Good evening, Judy.”

 

“Mrs de Ros,” Judy said as she turned round, “Thank you for letting me come tonight.”

 

“Well, Abby works better when a friend is around, and both Carina and Joanne were busy tonight,” Diana, said as she pulled her fur coat around herself, “although truly, I wish it were another night.

 

“By the way, my congratulations on your scholarship – and my thanks.”

 

“For what, Mrs de Ros.”

 

“For suggesting Carina rooms with you.  She will need the support of friends over the next few months.”

 

“Hey – I like Cari, and I’m good with kids.  We can share the poop scoop duty while we study.”

 

Diana smiled at that.  “Poop Scoop duty – I have to remember that,” she said as Abby rushed back in and started to change into a black leather cat suit, with knee length laced boots, and a black mask.  As she did so, her hair was let down so that it fell over her shoulders, and the make-up quickly removed and replaced with black liner around her eyes.

 

“Now to play the baddie,” she said with a laugh as she walked off, the photographer making her pose like a cat on a bench and then taking the pictures…

 

"Stretch that body out Abby." Simon asked as Abby tried to achieve a feline position.

"I never realized she worked this hard." Judy observed as she watched Abigail try give the photographer what he wanted.

"It's not all glamour Judy dear." Diana smiled. "Models work damn hard at times."

"I can see. I just always thought it was standing round looking pretty, never realized its running here, running there, into new costumes, fresh makeup, run back."

"Abigail loves doing it though…. I was never this keen."

Judy looked at Diana as she stood there.  "I didn't know you modelled Mrs de Ros."

"Yes for a while. I was never a star like Carina's mother, but yes I trod the odd catwalk."

"Abigail you're not trying Darling." Simon the photographer was getting testy as Abby failed to hook her long leg round a tree as she posed.

"Simon I need balance, in these heels this isn't easy."

Judy shook her head, "well next time I open a magazine I'm going to look at the photos from a whole new perspective."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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