Watching the Watchmen – Part 2
“If I want to ask Heather for an especial favor Carlotta darling,” Francesca said as they sat at the table, “what is my best approach?”
“Choose the best restaurant that you can think of Mama, with the most innovative chef, and invite her to lunch.”
“And why would that work?” Francesca said as she put down her menu.
“Heather’s one great secret weakness is that she’s a closet foodie,”
“Ah now I get you,” the Marchesa laughed, “the route to that incredible brain of hers runs through her stomach.”
“You might say so,” Charlotte’s eyes twinkled as she signalled to the server that they were ready to order breakfast.
“So what do you have on your plate for this morning?”
“Don’t ask,” the redhead rolled her eyes, “not only doing bits for you, but Susan wants me to drop by Xavier’s to both assess whether we need further upgrade our systems to accommodate an increased volume of work, but also to talk about a possible political affairs expert who she thinks might help us out. And of course on top of that I have my own business affairs to supervise.”
“You will be busy darling,” Francesca waited while her daughter ordered her food.
“You’re telling me,” Charlotte said. “I’ll take the scrambled eggs and bacon, let the chef know I’m pregnant.”
“And I’ll have the same please,” Francesca smiled at the waiter.
“Of course Marchesa,” he said as he took their menus.
“Anyway Mama you’ll be just as busy.”
“Indeed – did I see Shirley has flown at short notice to London?”
“She has – to look into something there…”
1 pm BST
“Come,” Shirley called out as Penny came in, while she put the telephone down. “My apologies – a call from the training camp.”
“So what news on Maisha Madame?”
“I spoke to Teacher and she made it sound that Maisha is exceeding both her own, and their, expectations.”
“That does sound encouraging,” Penny said as she took a seat.
“Yes it does. Helga says that they’ve been a little over harsh on her so that they aren’t seen showing favouritism, but that she’s taken it all in her stride, is showing both resilience, and leadership.”
“Knowing Maisha I don’t think I expected anything less.”
“Anyway,” Shirley said as she leaned forward, “have you made any progress since this morning?”
“Some,” Penny brought out her notepad. “The Italians still don’t like the Russians any more than they ever did and will share information on money laundering.”
“There was one thing that Don Martello’s people said that I’m not sure if anyone has investigated yet.”
“And that was?”
“It was rather cryptic, but they more than intimated that we should take a close look at the taxi cab business in cities like New York and Chicago.”
“Alright Penelope, pass that information to Susan in New York and have our people do a workup that can be sent to Veronica.”
“Will do. Now the Germans…”
As she listened, Shirley started to hear a classic Broadway tune in her mind…
Money makes the world go around
...the world go around
...the world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go 'round
A mark, a yen, a buck or a pound
...a buck or a pound
...a buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around
That clinking, clanking sound...
Can make the world go 'round
Money money money money
Money money money money
Money money money...
Shirley pictured Liza Minelli and Joel Grey in her head as she listened to some of the preliminary research. Most of it was hardly news; after all she’d been laundering money on her own behalf, and for other people, for years. What was surprising was the size of the amounts, and the sheer number of seemingly upright people, and institutions, prepared to turn a blind eye in return for a cut.
The Russians might have lost the Cold War, but they were getting their way nowadays oh so obviously. The old communists had realized that all those years of trying to convert people by ideology had been stupid. Why convert them when you could use greed to corrupt them?
“So any developments with tracing cash flows Eleanor,” Francesca asked as she leaned back in her chair slightly.
“I’m starting to get up to speed on how the hell the oligarchs, the politically connected types, and of course the out and out gangsters clean and launder their ill-gotten.”
“Would it surprise me?”
“Probably not Admiral,” Eleanor looked closely at her old friend. “They use banks that they and their friends control…”
“In places like Cyprus?”
“Exactly, and a few others, it’s then used to buy property and businesses in the West, and from there it can be used as a source of largely clean revenue.”
“Are they all doing it Captain?” Caroline asked.
“Let me put it this way, if you could wouldn’t you?”
“I guess so,” the Englishwoman said as she shook her head.
“Anyway I’ve asked Shirley to at long last send us Natalya, given that her father was knee deep in all this type of thing, just hopefully she can confirm a lot of this for me, and suggest other places I need be looking.”
“Alright that sounds like you are well on top of that Captain,” Francesca nodded. “What news do you have for us Commander?”
“We’re looking into known links in the area, but so far nothing new. I’ll give an update later today – but they are, typically, keeping this close to their chest.”
“You know how much I’d give to have a direct source with access to both the Russians planning, and their operational thinking?”
“I think we all would Admiral,” Eleanor smiled, “but cultivating such people, and putting them in place takes years of planning and work, it’s not something a group put together on the fly like ours has the capacity to do.”
“What are you talking about?’ for a second Caroline looked confused.
“The whole murky world of sleepers and double agents,” Francesca spoke softly.
“That’s what I thought you were getting at,” the tall blonde smiled broadly, “who says we don’t have access to such people?”
“Well I do for one,” Veronica shuffled her papers.
“That’s because you aren’t fully aware of all the activities of some of our ‘friends’ Commander.”
“Are you saying that they ‘control’ people who might be of use to us Caroline?” Francesca raised an eyebrow.
“I’m saying precisely that Admiral.”
“That changes a lot of my thinking,” Francesca sipped her coffee as a way of covering the pause while she thought.
“It’s not something that can we can widely publicise, but I’m sure that the concerned parties will not raise concerns about giving you a private, confidential, briefing Admiral.”
“That would certainly be of use.”
“I will contact Shirley later and start the ball rolling… Are we starting to get a picture as to the kind of Psyops they are practicing Commander?”
“The girls are beginning to see patterns Admiral, but I think we really do need an out and out specialist to come in and interpret precisely.”
“I agree,” Eleanor nodded, “I remember enough of my training and some bits I later learned to understand that they are using just the tactics we used to sow doubt and discontent in the Soviet Union, but made far, far, more sophisticated, and using micro messaging to make sure they hit as many targets as possible.”
“Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” Francesca whispered to herself.
“They are taking the existing discontent, and the divisions in American society, and subtly…”
“Not a skill they were renowned for in the old days,” Francesca laughed.
“No,” Eleanor smiled, “anyway in thousands of subtle ways they are exploiting and encouraging peoples unhappiness, fears, and hatreds, to encourage them to support the side that they think can get all those sanctions lifted that they so detest.”
“So this for the Russian’s isn’t ideological?”
“Not in my opinion, it’s purely and simply about money and self-interest. If they thought that the other side was going to help them more I’m pretty sure they’d switch just like that.”
“Well then we can at least safely define part of our mission as being documenting just how this is being done, and by whom on the Russian side.”
“That sounds about right to me Admiral,” Caroline nodded.
“Our proof needs to be incontrovertible,” Veronica said slowly, “otherwise this will all be written off as standard political warfare and shenanigans, and many, many ordinary people will never believe it.”
“Then ladies, let’s get the proof that we at least can gather. It may be the only thing we do, but at least it’s something. Thank you ladies.”
“Admiral,” the other women said as they left the meeting room, peeling off to their various offices, Veronica heading to the lift and to the basement of the building.
In even just a couple of days Veronica had started to transform the basement into something like her own private kingdom. True the entrance was protected by Caroline’s operations people who regulated and logged all comings and goings into the securest area, and each of whom it might be noted had some sort of bulge under her armpit just where a suspicious mind might think that she was wearing a shoulder holster.
Inside though it was a world of small cubicles for Veronica’s people to work at, and that huge vault, also with an armed guard at the entrance in which all the files were being kept, and indeed being rapidly expanded as the analysts put down on paper what they were learning.
It was a scene that resembled a throwback to an earlier age, but with Francesca’s ban on the use of computers then it was a return to the age of everything being put on paper.
“Yes Casey,” the Commander asked as one of her team came over.
“We have a message from London – a hint to look into the local cab companies?”
Nodding, Veronica said “okay – talk to our contacts in the cabs, see if we can find anything out…”
“Okay what am I looking at darling? Most of this looks like rubbish to my eyes,” Francesca said quietly as she tried to take in what was on the several pages of printed paper.
“Nothing that in itself is earth shattering Mama, it’s merely a section more or less taken at random from the comments section on an article about Hilary Clinton in the Washington Post,” Charlotte said as she sat on the edge of her mother’s desk.
“Alright I get that, but why was it important to you that I saw this?”
“Look at how biting and pointed some of the anti-Clinton comments are.”
“They do seem to reflect very strong opinions…”
“And to rely on assuming that rumours and innuendo about the Clinton’s are true.”
“Passions are running high darling.”
“I know Mama,” Charlotte smiled, “and a lot of this reflects angry ordinary Americans venting their spleen. However Heather says a lot of it is coming out of what she calls ‘troll farms’ in Russia.”
“So some of these writers are Russians pretending to be Americans?”
“Yes, and it’s on social media, and discussion and news sites everywhere.”
“I bastardi astute,” Francesca whispered to herself.
“Sì, sembrano aver dominato il gioco”
“Your Italian is improving Carlotta my darling,” Francesca grinned.
“Thank you…anyway I thought just seeing this tiny bit might give you a real time image on what our adversaries are up to it seems.”
“Very true – Caroline, can I help you?”
“We have visitors,” Caroline said as Francesca looked at the two tall women with her. “Natalya, Selena, you remember the Marchesa di Cambrello of course?”
“Indeed – an honour to see you again,” Natalya Kosolov said as she looked round. “Very stylish Caroline – so, how can we be of service?”
“In many ways,” Francesca said, “we have rooms reserved at the Astoria-Waldorf for you. Go and rest, and I will talk to you later.”
“I’ll have someone run you there,” Caroline said as Hannah appeared. “The others are waiting for you as requested Caroline.”
“Good – Francesca, Charlotte, senior team briefing. Susan asked one of my colleagues to come and talk to us. Natalya, Selena, I’ll meet you later for dinner.”
“Of course,” the dark haired Russian said as Caroline, Francesca and Charlotte went to the board room, where the others were gathered – and one over.
“Shelby, thanks for coming over – I think you have been briefed on the Senior team here.”
“Indeed,” Shelby said in her cultured voice as they sat down. “I did an evaluation for Jameson Security today – you need to hear what happened.”
Shelby McCandless was not exactly typical of the women who had ended up working for Dominique. From one of New England’s more famous family of public servants, she’d been educated at St Mark’s, the prestigious boarding school just outside Boston, had gone to college at Smith, and had done a post-graduate degree at Cambridge in England. She was not exactly the type of person that the FBI had profiled, and listed as an armed robber, but that’s what she’d been since the age of 16 when she first stuck up a gas station in one of the small outer suburban towns that ringed New York.
She understood antiques, and she understood crime, so somehow it seemed inevitable that she’d found her way eventually into employment first with Xavier’s, then with Caroline. Caroline valued her as someone who could both value quickly the contents of somewhere that a client wanted to be insured, and had almost an instinct for picking out weaknesses in security.
“Proceed,” she said as Shelby started to talk…
“How the hell could they let you even glimpse something like that Shelby?” Caroline shook her head when she had finished, “no one’s security is that lax that they leave documents like that just lying on the side.”
“It has to have been a plant,” Eleanor looked thoughtful, “they must somehow know that Jameson’s is ‘connected’.”
“I tend to agree Captain,” Francesca leaned forward, “but can we take the chance that this isn’t genuine?”
“Describe again why you were there Shelby?” Hannah asked.
“It was a purely routine referral from Xavier’s, these people are shopping for fresh insurance and we were asked to look at security.”
“So nothing unusual?”
“Did you know that this man has close links to the Russian mob?” Veronica asked.
“No, it’s not the sort of detail they give us, we get a name, an address, and a summary of the kind of valuables that the people are having insured…that’s all.”
“And the prize is a collection of early Russian books and manuscripts?” Hannah asked another question.
“Yes, he was showing me his library when his wife came and told him that he had a phone call. He told me to keep looking round if I wished, and it was while I was just casually browsing that I spotted the documents on his desk.”
“And what did you see?”
“Names, addresses, amounts – when he came in, he ignored it, and we continued the assessment…”
“Oh it has to have been a set-up,” Eleanor shook her head, “nothing in this business comes this easy.”
“I know,” Francesca sat bolt upright, “but we have to do something just to check even.”
“You want us to put him under a microscope Admiral?”
“Yes Veronica…Caroline I want one of your teams watching him 24/7.”
“What about surveillance inside the house?” Charlotte spoke at last.
“That’s what worries me,” Francesca took her glasses off, “if this is a sting then they’ll be expecting us to break in, etc.”
“So that is out of the question,” Caroline pursed her lips.
“May I speak?”
“Of course Shelby,” Francesca smiled.
“If they are anticipating a burglary, why not send in the heavies and disguise our intelligence gathering behind a home invasion?’
“You know that is an idea,” Hannah said quietly.
“It is,” Caroline said quietly, “but it would be even better if it wasn’t any of us. Ladies, I think this may be worth calling in the true heavy hitters for.”
Caroline looked at Eleanor and nodded. “Shelby, I want the file on Sergei and Anastasia Barkov on my desk in the next hour. I need to make a call…”
Juliette sighed as she sat at the breakfast bar, looking at Caroline as she made the coffee.
“Caroline,” she said as she took the mug, “I’ve had a very long day at the office, I was rather looking forward to getting home, ordering in takeaway, and curling up beside my husband to relax and unwind.”
“I’m sorry Ju,” Caroline said as she sat as well, “and I apologize that I’m keeping you from all that, but I need a favour from you.”
“Face you hardly need me writing something nice about you in CS to boost your career darling…”
“It’s not that kind of help Ju. It’s more that kind that a certain feline part of your personality can help with.”
“Oh?” Juliette raised an eyebrow. “Tell me how?”
Taking a sip from her mug, Caroline smiled. “You had Sergei Barkov on your little list didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Juliette said as she put her mug down, “he has some amazing things in his library that I know a buyer will pay for.”
“And his wife’s jewellery?”
“Is just an added incentive,” the model/writer laughed, “why are you asking?”
“You know he has Russian mob connections?”
“Shirley briefed me when I expressed an interest,” Juliette nodded.
“He may also be the guy the Russian authorities we are investigating is using as one of their paymasters for their dirty tricks projects.”
“And we can help how?”
“One of my people may have inadvertently seen some interesting paperwork. We have no way of knowing however if this is a set-up or not, and if we send in a burglary and bugging team we are afraid they might be walking into a trap.”
“Seems sensible…so what are you…” the words just hung there, “you want US to do the dirty work for you?”
“Well he was on your list…”
“I know,” Juliette sighed, “how long do we have?”
“Ideally it would have been done yesterday,” Caroline paused, “how long do you need?”
“I need to talk to Heather, check schedules, see who is and isn’t available…”
“Look Francesca is taking Heather to lunch tomorrow, if we invite ourselves along is that too early to tell me anything?”
“I’ll call on her in the morning, and meet with you then. But Francesca does not know about me – does she?”
“Okay Eleanor tell me about this Foreign Agents Registration Act and why you think it’s so important to what we are doing please?” Francesca took a sip of her wine and relaxed in the armchair.
“In the terms that lawyer’s brain of yours understands Francesca?”
“Please,” the Italian woman laughed.
“Alright,” Eleanor said as she leaned forward, “in 1938 Congress passed a law that basically says if you are acting on behalf of a foreign nation in a, and I quote, political, or quasi-political capacity, then you are required to register with the government and disclose your activities and finances so that what you are doing is open to scrutiny.”
“I can understand the logic of such a law.”
“There are about 1,700 people registered, most working as lobbyists trying to influence the government in Washington.”
“If it’s all regulated and legal then how may it concern us Eleanor?”
“It concerns us in that from all the documents and analysis there are an awful lot of people doing this kind of work, and who should be registered, but for some reason or another have chosen not to do so.”
“You are saying there is a black market in influence peddling?”
“I take it violating this Registration Act is a criminal offense?”
“Yes,” Eleanor said, “with quite strict legal penalties.”
“So why if it’s a crime to do this unregistered don’t they register?”
“Because the type of work they are doing is dubious in nature Admiral.”
“Ah now I see what you are getting at,” Francesca finished her wine. “Veronica is finding widespread breeches of the law I take it?”
“Yes both by American citizens, and by foreign nationals.”
“Alright bring all this to our morning meeting and we will talk it out then.”
“She’s still not even dropped a hint Mother,” Pippa sighed, “I may have to resort to asking her friends if she’s said anything to them.”
“She can be as annoyingly tight-lipped as you are darling,” Amelia Ashley’s voice came out of the speaker on her daughter’s desk, “you always went to your father if you wanted something rather than me.”
“You know very well you did our Pip,” Margaret Harker’s broad Leeds accent came online as Pippa smiled.
“It was almost like you assumed if I did something for you then I’d do it wrong Phillipa?”
“As I’m now an American,” Pippa laughed, “can I take the Fifth on that?”
“It might be safest lass,” her Aunt laughed.
“Well I haven’t been able to do a lot for Poppy,” Amelia said, “but I heard somewhere that sixteenth birthday parties are important in America, so we are going to do this just right.”
“Just don’t go too over the top Mother,” Pippa inwardly groaned at the thought of the excesses her Mother was capable of.”
“Find out what kind of party she wants, and I’ll make sure our Amy doesn’t go too wild,” Dame Margaret laughed.
“As if I would?” The mock shocked tone in Amelia’s voice was plain to hear.
“Whatever Mum,” Pippa laughed, but leave it with me and I’ll try get Erica and Jess to say if she’s expressed any ideas what she wants.”
Friday 23rd September
“What the…” Francesca rubbed her eyes and put on the bedside lamp, before she picked up the phone and whispered “Hello?”
“Caroline its two thirty in the morning, I hope this is important?” Francesca groaned as she looked at her bedside clock.
“Well Marcia thought it important enough that she woke me.”
“Marcia? Isn’t that the girl of yours acting as Duty Officer tonight?” suddenly the Marchesa was fully awake.
“And what did she wake you to tell you?”
“That Dancer went out at 11.30, alone, and went and sat in an all night café for 90 minutes, before returning to his apartment.”
“Did he meet someone?”
“No, but the watcher definitely thought it was a rendezvous, and from the way he seemed to get impatient that just whoever he was supposed to be meeting was a no show.”
“It sounds a possibility, another of course is that somehow someone like a waitress passed him information.”
“Well if that happened the eyes we had on him didn’t spot it.”
“Alright,” Francesca did some thinking, “do you think that our people were blown?”
“In my gut? Then no.”
“So he might just use this café as a meeting place again?”
“Maybe,” Caroline’s voice trailed off. “Are you thinking?”
“Next time we have the place wired so if this time his contact does show we can listen in.”
Off Times Square
“Here she comes,” the dark haired Asian woman said to her partner as Veronica walked in, wearing a hooded top and jeans. She looked round, and then approached the pair.
“Alright you said you have something on this taxi-cab tipoff?” Veronica spoke as the two other women tried to find somewhere to perch in the tiny cubicle.
“You know you told us that you know several of the guys behind the taxi cab business are Russian mob connected Commander?”
“Yes I do Yuyang.” The Asian woman smiled as she looked at her partner – the taller woman had russet coloured short hair, both of them wearing leather jackets and jeans.
“Did you also know though that a lot of said Russians are losing their shirts now?” the second woman said in a Bronx accent.
“They are Marianna?”
“According to a guy I know who works for the Manhattan DA’s office, the competition from things like Uber is devastating their business…” Yuyang started.
“And because so many of them had used their taxi medallions as collateral to raise additional finance, a lot of them are highly leveraged.” Marianna finished.
“Well that’s interesting girls, but of what use might to be to us?”
“Several of these guys have close, even family ties, to players both in the political world, and among people we suspect are Russian intelligence operatives.”
“Our thoughts were that if we identified the right targets and squeezed hard enough then we might just find out some very interesting things Commander.”
“You have an evil mind Marianna,” Veronica laughed out loud, “alright leave it with me and I’ll raise your idea with the Admiral.”
“And if we proceed?”
“I’ll let you have names…”
“But why would they do this now, at this time,” Eleanor said as she looked over at the two guests.
“Because they personally don’t have many morals and scruples to get in the way of their pursuit of self interest, then they don’t believe that anyone else does either.” Natalya paused for a second, “my father for example once told me he believed in two things. That most people have a price, and that those people who can’t be bought, can’t be trusted.”
“That’s pretty cynical Natalya.” Veronica looked hard at the Russian.
“But true Commander.”
“So nationalism, patriotism, and all those other ism’s aren’t behind all this?” Hannah asked.
“Oh they play a part, at times a huge part, but because the leadership conflates its own interests as being in Russia’s best interests, the lines have become blurred almost to the point of invisibility.”
“So in the broadest sense then this worldwide campaign to extend Russian influence and power…”
“Is just as much about extending their own personal interests,” Natalya interrupted.
“Weakened and divided opposition like they are trying to create makes it harder for anyone to in the end stand up to them,” Eleanor said quietly.
“As we have seen, which makes my own thoughts clearer. Later this morning, I will consult on how we identify some targets to – persuade – to help us. Next on the agenda?”
“Homeland surveillance,” Hannah said as she looked at her pad.
“So how is Dancer acting this morning?” Caroline asked.
“Like a pimply kid who got stood up when he thought he had a date with the homecoming queen.”
“Alright while I like the colourful analogy, be precise please,” Francesca smiled lightly.
“He’s been nervous, he’s been temperamental, he’s been blowing his top at the tiniest of mistakes by the dancers…”
“Okay we get the picture.”
“Oh and I’d add that he doesn’t look like he got a huge amount of sleep,” a second voice came out of the speaker.
“Thank you ladies, continue with your task please,” Francesca ended the call.
“Hmmmm,” for a second Caroline looked deep in thought.
“Something that should have happened didn’t happen,” Eleanor put down a coffee. “It’s the undercover agent’s nightmare when a scheduled meet doesn’t happen, and because you are literally out there on your own you don’t dare even contact your handler to find out what the hell is going on.”
“I agree Captain,” Francesca nodded, “I think he had a meet with his case officer and he/she was a no show.”
“The question that worries me is why didn’t the meet happen?” Caroline leaned forward, “are the Russians aware we are watching him?”
“That is a highly interesting question.”
“As the Admiral says, it’s an interesting question,” Eleanor paused to collect her thoughts, “it occurs to me that they may have suspicions and that they set this and were watching to see if they could see any watchers themselves.”
“Isn’t that rather convoluted and complicated?” Veronica asked.
“Not overly Commander,” Francesca smiled again, “if they think he’s compromised then they are going to be very, very careful.”
“Surely he must have an emergency way of contacting his people?” Hannah spoke.
“He should do, and its going to be interesting to see if he triggers it. Caroline warn your watchers that we really need to know to the smallest details just what he does today.”
“Already done Admiral.”
“Good,” Francesca gathered the papers in front of her, “alright ladies I think we can go about our business. If needs be I’ll talk to you all after my lunch if I have much to impart. For now I’ll just say Good Morning.”
“Your Mom phoned me this morning you know?” Erica said with a smile, easing herself down at a table as she balanced her tray.
“She did? Why?” Poppy said as she sat down opposite her.
“The little matter of your forthcoming birthday party,” Jessica added as she sat beside Poppy, “she phoned me as well.”
“Oh - that?”
“Yes that,” Erica smiled, “she wanted to know if you’d said anything to us.”
“And which we had to tell her you hadn’t exactly been forthcoming about.”
“I know girls. I do know.”
“Well if you don’t make up your mind soon then there won’t be time to organize it.”
“I know Jess, it’s just that I actually don’t have much in the way of clear ideas, and if I do say something then my Gran is going to take it as an excuse to do something far too big and over the top.”
“Pops we do know your Gran,” Dawn smiled.
“So,” Poppy said as she swallowed the bite from her wrap, “I’m a bit scared of opening my mouth.”
“Understood, but with your Mom, Aunt Margaret, and US to keep her in check I’m sure we can keep her under control.” Erica laughed.
“Let me just think a little more…Okay?”
“Okay – but don’t take too long Pops…”
“So what is going on over there?” Jeannie said as she glanced at the sophomores.
“Pretty much the same that is going on here. They are trying to get Poppy to give out with some party ideas so that her mom can organize it” Becca sipped her juice.
“Not an easy topic,” Ama said as she looked at Pepsi.
“Hey why pick on me?”
“Because your birthday comes first.”
“And you have two Moms desperate to know just what you want, not just one like the rest of us,” Doc said softly.
“I know, I know – but I don’t want to make a huge fuss. I want all my friends there, but in a civilised, peaceful…”
The others looked at Pepsi as Becca said “she’s getting an idea.”
“Oh yeah – let me talk to Moms first…”
“No, no, NO!” Andre Kannenikov banged his stick down on the floor and looked at the assembled dancers. “That was terrible – all of you, get out of my sight before I fire you all!”
As the corps left, he walked out of the rehearsal room and into his office, sitting by his desk and rubbing his head as he looked round. “What the hell had happened?” the question would not depart from his brain. Like a broken down subway train it was not going anywhere and there was nothing he could do about it.
It was a perfectly routine contact, they’d already done just that kind of meeting before, and he had some highly relevant information regarding attitudes of players on Wall Street that he needed to pass on.
So why the devil had she not shown up?
Did he need to trigger his emergency protocols? His next routine contact was set for 10 days’ time, could he wait that long while he felt isolated and alone? He was settled, true, but this was a first for him…
“Calm down, calm down,” he told himself. “It isn’t as though you haven’t faced problems before.”
That was true, he’d been an agent for many long years and he had faced tricky situations more than just once. The unfortunate business with the Federovs – he had learned of their plans, and had bene ordered to stop them, but he had enjoyed betraying such close friends, especially at the cost of his life. Little Yelena had never been told of how her father really died – and he knew, because he had pulled the trigger.
When they finally fled, he had allowed himself a little joy – and then the tragedy of her death, and her second husband been killed. That had an ironic sense for him – the three ‘businessman’ were actually laundering money for him to pay off contacts in Hong Kong, but they had acted independently, it had not been sanctioned by him. He had no desire to hurt little Yelena more than she had been…
This was different though. He was not involved in espionage, any laws he might be breaking were minor, all he was doing was talking to people about politics and economics and reporting what they said. No he was in no imminent personal danger, indeed he was being treated like a true celebrity. So why was a single skipped meeting with his handler like last night freaking him out so badly?
“I need to be patient, see if they contact me first,” he finally said, “and I need to calm myself. I think I may have a night out tonight – see what I can discover…”
E 84th Street
“Thank you for agreeing to us coming as well,” Juliette said as she and Caroline sat with Francesca and Heather, “I needed to just confirm something with Heather before I got back to work.”
“I think Juliette should stay for the meeting anyway,” Caroline said as Francesca raised an eyebrow, “she has some experience to bring to bear on the reason the three of us need to meet.”
“Oh – in what way?”
“I have dealt with opinion leaders in Russia before – I know what to look for,” Juliette said with a smile as the waiter brought the menus over.
“Well I know the location wasn’t Juliette’s idea,” Heather cast an adoring glance over the offered treats on the menu, “when she takes me to lunch it’s hot dogs in Central Park.”
“In my defense I will argue that they are the best hot dogs to be found anywhere in New York City.”
“True – but this is a refreshing change. How did you hear of it Francesca?”
“It came highly recommended – I need to go for a few moments, if he returns, order the fettucine for me please.” The trio watched as Francesca walked to the restrooms, before Juliette quietly said “so – the Barkov’s file?”
“I have a workable plan, but we need to discuss it as a group, and determine the roles. Why is this suddenly so important anyway?”
“Let’s just say there is some relevant information, but we smell a trap,” Caroline whispered back, “hence the offer to the ladies.”
“Well, Madame Barkov is curating a very nice display of rare silver at her workplace this week – I’ll work up the schematics for there as well. Who?”
“Diana is an out – she needs to rest up for something, I’ll know more when Sandy and I have dinner with her tonight. We can get the girls back for a day or two next week…”
“I’ll be in – I know what it is we are looking for, and can assess as part of the raid. So I can be Miss Leopard if need be.”
“Agreed – meet tomorrow night to discuss?”
The other two nodded as Francesca came back. “So, Francesca, what do you need to know…”
“Thank you Juliette – that is most useful,” Francesca said as Juliette looked at her watch.
“I need to go – enjoy the rest of your lunch,” Juliette said as she walked off, Francesca smiling before she said “now – let me begin.”
“What is it you really want, Francesca,” Heather said as she sipped her wine.
“Greedy, intelligent, and unscrupulous,” Francesca started to talk, “those were the qualities that I was taught to look for in someone to recruit as an agent when I first joined La Citadella. To this day I think it’s the perfect formula. Ideologues and true believers in a cause have a habit of expressing, and betraying, their true beliefs. An agent with no obvious interests and prejudices is a lot easier to hide, and keep hidden.”
“What are you trying to get at Francesca?” Heather asked.
“I’m trying to ask you to find me some particular people within the ranks of our opponents who we can turn and use Heather.”
“Just who are you talking about Admiral?” Caroline spoke, “I told you that we at Madame’s organization have deep contacts in Russia we can use.”
“I know, and I rang and thanked Shirley personally. What I want is figures here on the ground in the US.”
“So what are you asking me to do please?”
“Go look in police, FBI, and what other data bases you can get into Heather, and find me some Russian affiliated figures that we can subvert and recruit.”
“I can get you some names Francesca, that’s easy, but I can’t tell you who may or may not be recruitable.”
“Just get me some names and as much personal detail as you can Heather. I can evaluate who might be a suitable target myself.”
“All right – as a thank you for lunch. What about your contacts Caroline?”
“Oh – we may have one or two ideas to follow up on…”
The de Ros Mansion
“Edith, you have excelled yourself tonight,” Juliette said as she wiped her chin, and pushed the plate away. She was wearing a blue trouser suit with a white top, while Sandy had on a green jersey dress. “That chicken was superb.”
“Thank you your Highness,” Edith said as she collected the plates. “Will you be taking coffee in the drawing room, Madame?”
“We will Edith – bring the pot through, and I will pour,” Diana said as she stood up, smoothing down her grey skirt as the three old friends walked into the room. As they sat down, Sandy noticed the slight pained expression on Diana’s face, and looked at Juliette.
“The coffee, Madame – if there is nothing else?”
“No, thank you Edith,” Diana said with a smile. “Abigail will not be back until late, so you may retire for the evening if you wish.”
“I will clear the dinner plates first, Madame,” Edith said with a smile as she left, closing the door as Diana poured the coffee and handed the cups round. “I am so glad you were both able to come tonight, mes amies.”
“Well, Heather is making sure Sands gets her assignments done, and finishing something up for Francesca,” Sandy said, “but…”
“Well, it was a lovely meal Diana, and it’s a rare treat to do something just the three of us, but… Why do I feel that you have something important that you think you need to tell us?” Juliette asked as she took a sip, and then out her cup down, sitting forward and looking at her old friend.
“Probably,” Diana said with a sigh “you know because we’ve been friends far too many years for me to be able to hide any secrets from you Cherie. But yes – there is something I need to tell you.”
“Is it bad Diana?” Sandy looked concerned, “We’ve tried hard not to show you how worried we are, but we have been talking amongst ourselves…”
“Is it…?” Juliette interrupted.
“No it isn’t cancer,” Diana smiled slightly.
“Thank the Goddess for that,” Sandy breathed a huge sigh of relief.
“Amen,” Juliette nodded.
“So Darling what then?”
Diana put her hands together in front of her, before she said “you know that Jacques, when he attacked me, caused permanent damage that meant I could never have children again?”
“Yes,” Juliette nodded again.
“I’ve learned to live with some pain and discomfort from that attack over the years, and my doctor in Paris was advising and giving me treatment for the worst of times. A couple of months ago, however, the attacks started to get worse, and more frequent. I had been warned that might happen, but my doctor passed away recently…”
“So you made an appointment to go see Helen?”
“I did,” for a few seconds Diana paused and took a couple of deep breaths. “The term for most of the damage he did is traumatic gynaecologic fistulas.”
“Or in ordinary terms, wounds and punctures to parts of your vagina and other organs,” Sandy nodded gravely.
“Exactly,” Diana again paused, “as I said, the doctors did their best and fixed what they could, but it seems however that over the years some of the wounds never healed totally, and that I have further complications that have arisen regarding the scar tissue, and…”
“You don’t need to say more Darling, we get the picture,” Ju reached out and held her friends hand.
“So I talked to Helen, she reviewed the notes and examined me… Helen…”
“It’s all right,” Sandy said quietly, “take your time.”
Nodding, Diana took a deep breath and said “Helen wants to open me up and do a lot of work…it seems surgical techniques, and things they can do have improved in recent years.”
“Good,” both women smiled. “At least then it will be dealt with…”
“But of course all surgeries have risks, and…” tears started to appear in Diana’s eyes as she looked up, Juliette seeing again for the first time in nearly twenty years the Diana she had seen in Rosville that summer, “I’m frightened.”
“That’s understandable,” Sandy said as she put an arm round her friend to comfort her, “but if you leave this it will only get worse, and Helen and your other surgeons won’t be advising this if they didn’t think it was first not needed, and second if they didn’t think the surgery would be successful.”
“She’s right you know,” Juliette whispered as she held Diana’s hands, and let a couple of tears go.
“I know, I do know darlings. And believe me, I am aware of how important this is, but I am still afraid…”
“Have you told Abby this?”
“No Juliette,” Diana shook her head.
“What about Guy and Valeria?”
“I think it’s important that you do, and soon…”
“They have a right to know,” Sandy interrupted Juliette, “and you’ll need their support Diana.
“I know.” Diana made an effort to stop crying. “I wanted to tell you both first…You are the best friends I’ve ever had.”
“You’ve supported both of us when we needed you,” Juliette said quietly, “it’s our turn now. When does Helen want to do this?”
“Soon – next week if possible.”
“We may be hitting a target next week, Diana,” Juliette said quietly, “but I think you need to sit this one out. Make the arrangements with Helen, and get it done, be yourself again. And tell Abigail.”
“Tell me what?”
The three women looked over to see Abby standing in the door.
“Mamma – is something wrong?”
“Come – sit with me,” Diana said as she looked at her daughter, “I need to tell you something…”
“We’d better be on our way,” Sandy said as she stood up.
“Give me a call in the morning darling,” Juliette whispered in Diana’s ear, “tell me how it turned out please.”
“I will Cherie,” the Frenchwoman said as she kissed her best friend on the cheek, then showed them out before she came in and closed the door, looking at her daughter.
“Alright Mom what are you keeping from me?” Abigail said as she stood with her hands on her hips.
“Well first things first darling,” Diana said with a sigh as she sat down again, “I’m going to have Helen book me in to the hospital so that she can do those surgeries I mentioned.”
“Next week…” She looked up at Abby, her daughter seeing the look in her eyes as she continued “I think it’s important that I get them done.”
“Mom how bad, and how serious are these surgeries?” Abigail said quietly as she sat down next to Diana.
She took Abigail’s hands in hers before she said “Well they aren’t life threatening my darling. Though there is always some small risk anytime a patient goes under a general anaesthetic.”
“Alright, I do know that. What was so important though that you have to call Aunt Ju and Aunt Sandy for a big pow-wow?”
For a minute at least Diana sat and tried to compose herself and to work out just the right words to say.
“Abigail…” she began hesitantly, “you know all that I’ve ever told you about your father?”
“Yes. About what he did to you…”
“Well, when he attacked and abused me, he did permanent internal damage to my body.”
“You told me what he did meant you could never have other children.”
Nodding, Diana said “That was true, although…”
“I know that it’s behind a lot of your psychological hang-ups as well.”
“I’ve never quite thought of them as hang-ups as you call them.” Diana smiled a small smile. “But yes what he did is always in my mind, and it does affect my life every day.”
“So what has changed that you needed to talk to people?”
“Darling,” Diana said as she gripped Abby’s hands, “I’ve been coping, and I think coping is the right word, with the consequences of what your Father did to my body for many years. Recently though the pain and discomfort has got worse, and has often become severe. It’s why I consulted Helen.”
“That makes sense,” Abby took a deep breath, “how bad are things?”
“Well they aren’t good, let me put it that way.”
“Can Helen and the other doctors fix it?”
“She says they can,” Diana said quietly, “but I may need to be quite closely watched in the future.”
“Okay accepting that, what is the prognosis Mama?’
“That with care I will be able to live a full life.”
“Thank the Goddess for that,” Abigail looked upwards. “But you say with care…”
“I will need to – step back – for a little while as I recover,” Diana said, “but I am still a Pussycat my dear, that will never change. Juliette will explain more when we meet tomorrow.”
“Does that mean we hunt again?”
“It does – but this time without Miss Leopard, or at least without me. Abby – I will tell your grandparents tomorrow, and they may come over. But you know that Edith will look after you while I do this, non?”
“I do,” Abby said as she started to cry. Diana brushed her hair away and said “I do not want you to cry or be afraid. All will be well, I swear…”
Wednesday 21st September
9 am Local Time
The Training Camp for the Sisters of Maisha
Blessing and Anouska sat in the group of women, listening as Xan showed them some of the signs to look for, but then he looked up and fell silent as the group turned to see Little Teacher standing there.
“My apologies,” she said as she bowed to Xan, “but I need to borrow Blessing and Anouska for a few moments. They will return after.”
As the bushman nodded, the two women stood and followed Marigold as they went to the schoolhouse. Entering, they saw some of the other Sisters sitting there, Leader and Teacher at the front.
“Blessing, Anouska, welcome,” Teacher said quietly, “please, take a seat.”
“Do you know what is happening,” Anouska whispered to Blessing, the African girl shaking her head as they sat.
“Sisters,” Teacher said quietly, “your instructors and I have been reviewing your progress, and we are all extremely pleased with how you are doing. You have each demonstrated the qualities and skills we desire from a Sister, and you are to be commended for that.”
“For this reason,” Leader said as she looked round, “we have decided that you are all ready to undertake the final test. In the case of these two,” she said as she looked directly at Blessing and Anouska, “they have both shown remarkable aptitude, but more importantly they are needed, if they pass this test, urgently to undertake other tasks.”
“The task is simple,” Teacher said, “you will be split into teams of four, and each provided with water, supplies, a map and a compass. You will then be taken, by transport, to a location, and given two map locations to visit. Once you have visited both locations, you return to the camp.”
“On the way,” Teacher said, “you may make use of any other items or supplies you find, but the important thing is all four of your team must return to pass the test.”
“This is a test we have all done,” Teacher said quietly, “and others will do. You have twenty four hours to complete your given duties, and prepare to undertake the task. That is all – you may return to your duties now.”
“The Walk,” Anouska whispered to Blessing, “I have heard of it, but they think I am ready now?”
“They would not send us if we were not ready,” Blessing said with a smile, “come – I think we need to pay especial attention to Xan today…”
11 am EST
West of Charles de Gaulle airport
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have now levelled off at an altitude of 36,000 feet, and you may loosen or unfasten your seat belts. The cabin crew will shortly begin to serve a meal, and the entertainment system…”
Guy looked over at Valeria, in her black jumper and skirt, the distress obvious in her eyes.
“Are you all right my dear?”
“Hmm? Oh, I am sorry Guy,” Valeria said quietly, “I was recalling the night of Abigail’s christening.”
“Ah – I look back on that event with much affection, but what happened after…”
“I knew something had happened, but the full extent… Is that why his friends suddenly cut him out after that date?”
“I do not know,” Guy said quietly, keeping his own counsel on what he knew.
“Why did she never tell me what he had done to her Guy?” Valeria whispered as the cabin crew started to serve the meal.
“Would the old you have believed her if she had Dear Darling?” Guy gently held her hand. “You had Jacques firmly up on a pedestal.”
“I… I do not know Guy. I brought him back after the incident in New York, praying he would change, but… I take it a lot of people knew?”
“That he was more then something of a scoundrel, with a very rough way with women? Then yes. That he had done such a thing to my daughter? Then no. Even I did not know the full extent of her injuries until she told us both last night.”
“I knew he had his faults, I wasn’t totally blind Guy, but such sadism, such cruelty…” Valeria both shook her head and shed some tears.
“If I’d known at the time…” the Duc took a deep breath, “let me say that he would never have had the privilege of killing himself in an accident.”
“What would you both like?” the flight attendant interrupted the conversation.
“Ah – Valeria?”
“I will have the Cod steak,” Valeria said as she glanced at the menu.
“I will have the guinea fowl,” Guy said with a smile. As the attendant walked off, Guy continued quietly “as we have both discovered, Valeria, the past can only hurt us if we allow it to.”
“Unfortunate choice of words, Guy, given the circumstances…”
“I know – but the important thing is we stand now with Diana, and offer her and Abigail all the support they need.”
“I’d like to thank the two candidates, Congressman Tom Morse and Albert Brooks, for coming and addressing you today, and for their informative debate,” Wilhelmina Tennant said as she stood at the dais, “and ask you all to show your appreciation.”
As the room applauded, Tom and Albert shook hands, before Wilhelmina said “and now, you may take your lunch break.”
“Forgive us if we do not stay around,” Tom said as he and Albert shook Wilhelmina’s hand, “but our staff have us triple booked all afternoon.”
“Of course, and thank you again for sparing the time. Kate will show you out…”
“So what do you think the girls made of that Grace?” Wilhelmina asked as the staff headed back to the faculty lounge.
“What do I think they learned? Or what do I hope they learned?”
“Well I think they learned that political debate can still be undertaken in a manner that doesn’t end up resorting to smears, innuendo, and shouting…”
“On that I agree,” Wilhelmina said as she looked at the girls filing out, “and I think both gentlemen conducted themselves with dignity and manners.”
“What I hope they learned, and I think some of the questions at least showed some of them took it all seriously, is that agreeing with the message of one candidate or the other simply because you are afraid of what you’ve heard about the policies of the other side, isn’t a positive way to think about politics and policy.”
“Nicely put Grace,” Kate said as she joined the conversation. “I very much doubt the debate in five days’ time will be as civilized.”
“I agree,” Wilhelmina smiled, “I’d rather like to be able to listen in on what the girls are saying.”
“Well you turned down my idea of bugging the rooms they gather in Wilhelmina,” Annie laughed, “we might have learned more than just stunt plans if we had.”
“That was…shall I say Interesting?” Doc spoke as the girls gathered by their lockers.
“They both made me think.” Ama reached inside her locker, pulled out a bottle of water, and took a drink.
“What did you think Becca?” Nikki asked.
“I’ve heard it all before,” she laughed, “you forget I know BOTH of them, you might say intimately,” she whispered.
“Well I liked that they both staked out positions that rejected prejudice against people simply because of the colour of their skin, or where they come from.” Jeannie sighed as she leaned back in her chair slightly.
“On most issues they actually agreed more then they disagreed,” Pepsi reached in her locker and got a book out.
“Well they are both pro Wall Street, and pro free trade,” Becca leaned up against the lockers. “Where they disagree are on things like tax rates, health care, and the social safety net. You listened carefully and that should have been obvious…”
“We listened Becs,” Doc laughed as she interrupted, “but I think I’ll leave the details on that sort of thing safely to you.”
“But how do we use that to stop the wrong assumptions been made?”
“Well, let us consider that later…”
“Am I the only one who was disappointed that they didn’t say more about what Mr. Trump says in his speeches?” Dawn asked as some of the sophomores gathered round a couple of tables in the refectory.
“It was like they both deliberately went out of their way to avoid it,” Jessica opined.
“No they addressed it,” Erica sat down, “but I think they both rather dumbed it down for our consumption.”
“Agreed,” Poppy said as she sat on a table with her feet on the chair. “They both said they didn’t approve, but I wish they’d have said what they think in stronger terms.”
“I think that was what Ama was trying to do with that question she asked, but they didn’t address specifics.” Erica opened a can of 7Up.
“I felt a little patronized,” Dawn looked thoughtful, “it was almost like they didn’t think we were old enough to understand such matters.”
“I think it’s more they were trying to not let their personal opinions get in the way,” Jess said quietly.
“Oh yeah – as our resident non-US person, what did you make of it?”
“Very interesting – I have talked with Mum and Dad about what is happening, and I know they have their own fears, that Mister Trump, in particular, is making fear the cornerstone of his campaign. We have seen how that can lead to great pain in Europe, after all.”
The de Ros Mansion
“Well, I am glad in a way you have made the decision, Diana,” Helen Reichmann said as she sat in the chair, “although I know this will not be easy for you.”
“As you said, Helen,” Diana said quietly as she put her coffee cup down, “it does need to be done, and now that I have told Abigail and the others, it is better done as soon as…” She looked over as Edith opened the door, and said “forgive me Madame – but the Duc du Grechy and the Countess de Ros are here, and wish to talk to you.”
“Which is my cue to leave,” Helen said as she stood up and picked up her bag. “I will see you on Friday at Eleven for the preliminary examinations Diana.”
“Thank you again,” Diana said as Guy and Valeria came in. “Father, Valeria, you have met Dr Reichmann before.”
“Of course,” Guy said as he made a low bow, “I trust all is well?”
“As well as can be expected, but I will leave you to talk. Until Friday Diana.” As she left the room, Valeria walked over and held her daughter in law.
“I am so sorry, my child. I…”
“It is all right, Valeria,” Diana said quietly, “some things could never be said, but now there is no choice. Thank you both for…” She then started crying, as both Valeria and Guy held her…
The de Ros Mansion
“So what do you both think?” Abby said quietly as she looked at the screen of her computer, trying to read the expressions on her two best friends’ faces.
“Well I’m certainly up for a bit of fun,” Carina laughed.
“Cari, The Beast is always up and ready for anything where she can get her quota of blood and pain,” Jo shook her head.
“Hey I am who I am,” the petite blonde laughed.
“Do you know there was a time when I thought I was seriously warped,” Jo smiled, “and then I met you and I realized in comparison I’m actually quite sane?”
“What’s your score oh sane one?” Cari laughed some more.
“Look girls as much I’m also looking forward to releasing Miss Tigress and having fun, what I really wanted to talk about was Mom.”
“We know Abs,” suddenly Carina looked serious. “There’s little you can do though other then be there for Aunt Diana, and hope and pray that it all goes to plan.”
“She’s right Abby, but just remember she’s going to be operated on by extremely skilled doctors who do this sort of thing routinely. I’m sure that with time your Mom will be fine again.”
“I know girls, I know.”
“I for one, hearing the damage that he did, would love to have seen if your father could take the sort of punishment from a woman that he liked to inflict.”
Looking at the screen, Abi said quietly “Do you think he was evil Cari?”
“Yes Abs, just like I am,” Carina took a deep breath, “I think that just like that creature within me he loved to torture and terrorize his victims. I’m not hypocrite enough to realize how twisted it would be me condemning him for doing just the same kind of shit that I love to do myself.”
“Oh?” both Abigail and Joanne looked surprised.
“But the normal me, the Carina who loves her children, her parents, and her friends, then yes I hate his guts that he did that to someone I love like Aunt Diana.”
“The problem of their being two of you in that body,” Jo whispered.
“So with Guy and Valeria there, will you be taking part this time?”
“I doubt it – my place is by the side of Mamma. But I think both of you will be…”
The Richmond Mansion
“Hey Doc,” Heather said as she opened the door, “come on in, the others who are coming are already here.”
“So are we pack hunting again,” the teenager said as she hung her coat up.
“Some of us – come in,” Heather said as she opened the door, Doc smiling as she saw Sandy, Juliette and Dominique sitting there.
“Doc – good, come away in,” Juliette said as she sat down, nodding to Cari, Jo and Abi on the screen.
“All right then ladies,” Juliette said quietly, “we have our first target selected, but before we begin – Abi?”
“Doc, Heather, Dom,” Abi said quietly, “you may not be aware that Mama requires to undergo an operation next week – so with regret, Miss Leopard and Miss Tigress will sit this one out.”
“Which is why you and Dom are here, Doc – you’re in, and Dom has a secondary objective. Heather, you have the floor.”
“We are looking,” Heather said as she put a picture on the table “at Sergei and Anastasia Barkov. Both in their late fifties, Sergei is a trader, and Anastasia is a curator at a small gallery.”
“Anastasia Barkov? Blair was talking about her,” Abby said quietly,“they have an exhibition of Georgian silver at the moment.”
“They do indeed,” Juliette said, “and that is our primary target – the silver.”
“Interesting,” Jo said quietly, “so we have two separate security systems to deal with?”
“One of which we have details of,” Dominique said quietly, “as they requested a review with Jameson security. We need schematics for the gallery – Heather?”
“In hand. There is no family, but they have a live-in housekeeper, Deborah.”
“The plan is simple,” Juliette said quietly, “we take control of their apartment, and in the early hours of the morning Madame Barkov accompanies us to her gallery. But we have to move fast.”
“How fast,” Jo said quietly.
“Friday night – and this is one of those occasions where we can, and will, get messy. Which means…”
“I get to have fun,” Carina said with a grin. “Profiles?”
“Coming your way now. Sandy?”
“Routes from the farm to the residence, residence to gallery, and back?”
“Work with Dom on the gallery security, and disabling their own.”
“Abby – be with Diana, she understands.”
As Abby nodded, Heather said “plans are with you, or with me to give to you, now. If we are a go?”
Juliette looked round as the others nodded. “Good – by Saturday lunchtime, all will be done. We meet at five on Friday. Good luck everyone.”
Thursday 22nd September
McAdam Consultancy, the Bank
As the phone rang, Agnes picked up the handset and said “yes?”
“Agnes, I have a Kay Cornwall in the outer office,” she heard Sue say. “I know she doesn’t have an appointment, but she would like to have a brief word.”
“Kay? Wonders will never cease,” Agnes said, shaking her head as she said “send her in and fetch us both some coffee, will you?” Standing up, she smiled as Sue opened the door and allowed the dark haired woman to come in. In contrast to Agnes’ Fitzstuart jumper and grey skirt, Kay was wearing a black designer trouser suit with a white blouse.
“Agnes McAdam – how long has it been?”
“Far too long,” Agnes said as she hugged Kay, and then indicated the leather armchairs by the coffee table. “Sit down, sit down, Sue will get some coffee in a minute.”
“Well, I have to say,” Kay said as she sat and looked round, “this is certainly a far cry from your last office.”
“In my past, as I suspect you damn well know,” Agnes said with a laugh as Sue brought the coffee in, and then left, closing the door behind her. “So how is life in the darker corridors of Whitehall?”
“As interesting as always,” Kay said as Agnes poured some coffee into a cup and handed it over. “Look at you, the McAdam of McAdam, fully restored – and I never congratulated you on the re-engagement.”
“Thank you – Simon told you, right?”
“Unofficially – after all, officially I’m nowhere near his level,” Kay said with a smile as she sipped her coffee. “Interesting – do you and Francesca di Cambrello have the same supplier?”
“Probably – our assistants are old friends,” Agnes said as she put her cup down. “So, is this purely a social visit to go over old times, or something more?”
“Something more – although if you ever wanted to take a turn there again…”
“It’s in the past,” Agnes said as she shook her head and looked over. “I’m seeing Sherry later tonight – shall I pass on your best?”
“She still married to that hunk of a copper?” Kay laughed as she looked at Agnes. “It’s all right, I know she is – I was briefed on a certain robbery in London that he almost managed to stop, but was stopped himself. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you Agnes?”
“Do you really want an answer Kay?”
“No – not to that anyway. I want to talk about any whispers you may have heard…”
“Hmmm – have you been speaking to anyone Kay?”
“I may have had meetings recently with some mutual friends in New York,” Kay said with a smile.
Looking at her watch, Agnes stood up and put her jacket on. “Come on – I’ll treat you to a lunch. A little place I know…”
“Thank you Charles – we’ll order some food in a minute,” Agnes said as the barman put their drinks down, while Kay looked round the floor.
“I’ve heard of this place – discretion guaranteed?”
“At this time of day anyway. Can I ask a question?”
“Of course,” Kay said as she sipped her drink.
“Did you agree to the restoration of my life-membership Kay when Sherry and the current members of the Ash contacted you?”
“Wholeheartedly Aggie, it was a stupid and spiteful thing to strip you of it in the first place.”
“You don’t think it was the only thing they could do?”
“Darling,” Kay said with a laugh, “if half the scandals that I know about some of the girls who condemned you like that ever came out, then let me just say you’d look like a comparative angel, even having become a dominatrix.”
“Anything you want to share Kay?” Agnes laughed.
“No don’t tell me please, I keep enough secrets already.”
“Which is why I came to see you today,” the woman from MI6 suddenly got serious. “I need to use that incredible brain of yours to hopefully gain some perspective on some events that may or may not be happening.”
“May or may not?”
“To be honest Aggie we don’t know precisely what if anything is actually going on.”
“Alright I can understand how that can happen. What can I tell you?’
“Well for starters what is good to eat here,” Kay smiled as she looked at the menu.
“Most of it is darling,” a voice spoke from behind them.
“That’s true,” Aggie smiled as she turned and let George kiss her. “George darling meet Kay Cornwall, she’s an old friend from Oxford.”
“It’s lovely to meet you Kay,” he extended a hand and shook hers.
“And it’s a pleasure to meet you too.”
“So what brings you to my den of good repute, Lady?”
“A place to eat and talk George – quietly.”
“I understand – let me know what you want, and I will take it from there,” George said with a smile.
“So what exactly do you want to ask me about Kay?” Agnes asked as George headed to the kitchen, having brought their food out.
“Well… What do you know about some of the games the Russians are playing in Europe and the US?”
“Can I ask why you are asking me darling when I know just what resources you have at your disposal in the SIS?” Agnes took a bite of food.
“I’m asking precisely because you aren’t in ‘the business’ Aggie. You remain the keenest brain that I ever met, and I know even in your ‘exile’ you kept yourself formidably well-informed on events, both domestic, and foreign.”
Raising an eyebrow, Agnes watched as her old friend cut a slice of steak and started to eat it. “I still only have access to a fraction of the material you see Kay.”
“Yes but importantly you see it with an independent eye, you don’t have the internal collective thinking of the service warping your perspective.”
“I guess so,” Agnes said quietly as she took another bite.
“I’m not expecting you to tell me everything Aggie, but if I ask questions will you answer them?”
“I’ll try.” Agnes took a sip of her wine. “You know I haven’t signed the Official Secrets Act?”
“Yes, but I know you better then to believe you’ll ever repeat a single word of this conversation to the wrong ears.”
“So I take it that means I can’t even tell Donald?”
Shaking her head, Kay said “Even with his security clearance I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Understood,” the redhead smiled. “So – is something going on? I believe it is. Could that something have influenced the recent referendum? I am not sure, but something did. Is it possible that same something is at work on American voters?”
“Always ready with the right questions,” Kay said with a smile. “So, what do you think Russia’s foreign policy goals are currently Aggie?”
“Just what they’ve been for ever and a day Kay, to protect the Russian heartland by expanding their borders, and by exercising influence and power, especially over potentially hostile foreign enemies.”
“So business as normal?”
“Very much so,” Agnes said quietly as she poured herself some more wine. “The governments have changed over the centuries from Tsarist autocracy, to a communist dictatorship, to today’s kleptocracy, but the underlying policy goals have always remained the same. I personally have always it’s a sort of collective national fear rooted in the Tartar conquest of Russia all those centuries ago.”
“I remember you saying that once in a seminar at Oxford.”
“Yes,” Kay laughed, “and I find it as difficult to grasp now as I did back then.”
“Oh it’s not that hard a concept,” Agnes smiled.
“I’d disagree…but putting that aside darling, you think they have resumed an ‘aggressive’ foreign policy?”
“Kay dear if you need me to answer that question, then in all seriousness I’m inclined to panic about what the hell London Centre is even thinking.”
“No, we do agree with you,” Kay took a bite, “but what we can’t get our head round is precisely what they are doing, and some of the day to day motivation that’s driving it.”
“Technology and money…if I’m not mistaken?”
“In our ‘free’ societies both are hard to both detect, and stop.”
“Exactly, and that is the place we are in right now. We think we are detecting some very malignant things, but proving that…”
“And then stopping them are far harder things to do then they seem.” Agnes nodded.
While they talked about specific points Kay inwardly assessed her old friend. The twenty years of being treated as a pariah by so much of the ‘respectable’ world outwardly seemed to have little effect, however the odd thing that Aggie said reminded Kay that she was nowadays a very different woman to the one she’d known all those years ago.
Did Agnes know that the same Don who had recruited her for the intelligence services had also been desperate to draw her into MI6? He’d certainly told Kay that he thought Agnes would make an amazing agent. Had he ever approached her directly?
If he had, she was pretty sure Aggie turned down the opportunity. With Donald heading into the Foreign Office it would have been a complication in their relationship, and beside it would have broken their famous plans.
For her part, Agnes was looking carefully at Kay. She, Kay and Sherry had been inseparable at their college, before Sherry married Mike, and she had gone to LSE. Kay had gone to work for the ‘Uncivil Service’ as she had put it, but as Lady D’Eath she had heard the truth of what she was really doing. And now she was a section head, for Western European operations.
She wasn’t saying this, but she knew Kay must have had contact with the likes of Eleanor and Francesca, but they would not admit it if asked externally. When she had been pulled into the call with Nessa and Augie, she had guessed something big was going down, but now she was sure of it.
“Mama you know that Kay Cornwall and Agnes are having lunch at Georgette’s don’t you?” Charlotte looked up from her mobile as they both ate their breakfast.
“I did,” Francesca smiled, “they both contacted me to tell me.”
“They did? Why?”
“Well,” Francesca said after she had taken a sip of coffee, “despite the fact they are very old friends from way back when, they haven’t spoken in many years. Kay asked if she should go try pick Aggie’s brain, and Agnes asked was Kay doing this on her own initiative, or at my behest?”
“Anyway… How did you know darling?”
“Sue rang Penny, and Penny reported it to Madame.”
“Ah I see,” the Marchesa smiled, “and Shirley contacted you to find out what information you might have?”
“In a nutshell.”
“Well tell her it’s nothing she needs to worry about, Kay is merely trying to see if any of Agnes’s legendary contacts have given her any useful intelligence that we either need to know, or can use.”
“But Agnes must know what Kay is?”
“Oh she does – but as the keeper of so many secrets, she’s not going to say anything…”
“So will you discuss this this morning?”
“It is on the agenda…”
“So our British friend will see what Agnes knows?”
“That’s the idea Commander,” Francesca said as she looked at Veronica. “What is the word on the street?”
“We’re getting reports of some unusual activity – working through it now…”
“Do we need to be running some internal security Admiral?” Eleanor asked as they sat round the conference table for their daily briefing.
“After all if we are trying to penetrate them how do we know they aren’t doing the same to us?” Veronica asked.
“We don’t,” Caroline leaned back, “but as of this moment I’m still hopeful that they aren’t even aware of our existence. Also I’m pretty sure that having drawn our personnel in from various places where they’d already needed to be thoroughly vetted that their loyalty can be assumed.”
“That’s what Lily thought,” Charlotte murmured under her breath.
“Still,” Francesca said, “perhaps our Russian friends can review the files?”
“I’ll get Natalia and Sofia on it,” Caroline said with a smile.
2 pm BST
“You look preoccupied Madame?” Penny said as she came into her office.
“Do I Penelope?”
“Just a tad,” Penny laid the afternoon report on her boss’s desk. “For a few seconds there you looked a million miles away.”
“I did? I apologise.” Shirley shook herself as she looked at the papers.
“No need for that,” Penny said quietly, “but I’m sort of intrigued to know what you were thinking about?”
“I was just thinking about how our so-called social class, and our upbringing and education affects our attitudes and beliefs.”
“That is pretty serious thinking,” Penny smoothed out her skirt as she sat down.
“I know…anyway we had better start on the report.”
“No Madame, can we actually talk about what you were thinking first…please?”
Smiling, Shirley said “It’s actually pretty boring…”
“It might be, but I think it’s something you want to get off your chest isn’t it Madame?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“To me? Then yes.”
Sighing, Shirley put her pen down and sat back. “I was thinking about women like Francesca and Agnes who their whole life have been taught that they have greater obligations beyond looking after themselves and their immediate family.”
“Oh I think I see what you mean, that sense of duty that they have?”
“Exactly,” Shirley paused to organize her thoughts. “my family was what can definitely be described as ‘new money’. My father believed in looking after us as a family, and himself. However at both Footscray Lodge, and at Cheltenham, I was taught that as a ‘lady’ I owed obligations of service and duty to others less fortunate then myself.”
“Agnes at the school tried to teach us both how to look after ourselves, but also to give help and aid as we could,” Penny nodded.
“It’s what I hope we do in this organization, that we balance our personal greed with a sense of duty to help out if we can in addition.”
“It’s a fine line Madame, but certainly one we are certainly straddling, especially in aiding the sisters.”
“Indeed – and the other thing that is on my mind. Maisha starts the long walk today…”
2.30 pm Local Time
The Training Camp for the Sisters of Maisha
The groups of girls were talking quietly to themselves, checking and re-checking their packs as they looked nervously at each other, while their instructors watched from the side of the compound.
“You can do this…you can do this…” Maisha whispered the words over and over to herself as she sat outside her shelter trying to psych herself up for the test to come.
“Well if you can’t? What the hell chance do I have?” Anouska said quietly as she squatted beside the younger girl and checked her kit.
“A lot better than those inside demons of yours are trying to tell your brain.”
“I hope so.” Anoushka looked round as she whispered “I really hope so.”
“Just think of it as taking a long walk in the country.”
“Doesn’t help,” the older woman laughed, “I tried, but then I reminded myself about the fact that this ‘walk’ means we have to live off the land in hostile terrain, with a constant threat of danger…that doesn’t help my confidence.”
“Well at least we are in the same team,” the African girl laughed, “we can help each other over the bad parts.”
“I hope so.”
“So how do you think they’ll do Teacher?” Sunshine asked as she watched Maisha and her friend complete their preparations.
“They’ll complete,” the Swede said quietly, “they’ll probably be in one of the first couple of teams to return.”
“Not what I asked Helga.”
“I know,” the Swedish woman paused to think. “I think they will do it hard, they’ll push each other, and they’ll push the girls with them. Maisha won’t allow herself to just skate by and get back here, she will confront the test head on and try and excel.”
“Yeah sorta what I’m thinkin’.”
“Well, best be about it.”
“Aye,” the Aborigine said as she stepped forward. “Sisters – be ready to leave in ten.”
6 pm BST
“How was your day Mum?” Miley set a cup of tea on the coffee table as Agnes hung up her coat.
“Oh?” Laura looked up from the book she was reading.
“Yes - an old friend of mine from my Oxford days came to see me and we went out to lunch.”
“So what happened?” Miley sat on the carpet.
“Well we talked a bit about old times, but she also asked my opinions on several other matters.”
“So it was work?”
“You could describe it as that yes Laura darling.” Agnes sat down and took a sip from the cup.
“And we shouldn’t ask too many questions eh?” Miley’s eyes twinkled.
“You are learning girls,” Aggie smiled, “anyway how did your lessons go?”
“Laura is teachers pet.” Miley smiled as she hit her sister on the arm,
“You are Laura, Miss Simmonds practically gave you a star for your homework.”
“Well,” Laura said with a smile, “I like maths, and I’m starting to understand what she’s saying.”
“You are doing better than I am Big Sis.”
“From the reports I’m getting you are both trying hard and doing well,” Aggie sipped her tea. “Your father and I both think you are doing wonderfully. Now, what shall we have for dinner?”
7.30 pm Local Time
Somewhere in Botswana
“We are getting close to your drop-off point girls,” Leader shouted at the women in the back of the truck. “If any of you want to quit tell me and I will return you all to camp?”
Quickly Maisha looked at the other three to check if anyone was having second thoughts, but all she could see in each pair of eyes was a determined resolution to do this.
Inwardly Maisha assessed herself, and her achievements since she’d come to the Sisters camp. She knew that if only they could both see her right now that Aunt Shirley, and Uncle John would be proud of her. She’s learned both extra self-reliance, and confidence, but she’d also learned that being a Sister was also all about being part of a team.
She glanced again at Anouska, Kiri, and Amber. For however long it took to complete the test they had to think, and act, as a single unit, that was only as strong as its weakest link. Inwardly Maisha hoped that despite her current confidence, that when under pressure, she wouldn’t be that weak link
“Alright everyone out,” Maisha realised that Leader was banging on the side of the truck. She’s been so absorbed in her thoughts that she hadn’t realized they’d reached their starting point.
“Okay everyone make sure you have all your kit, you don’t want to make this even harder by leaving anything behind,” Leader warned the trainees as they climbed out and started to put their packs on.
“We are ready,” Kiri said as she looked round.
“Good – you have your map, your compass, supplies and your first checkpoint. We will see you on your return, and look forward to the celebration. For the Heart and the Strength.”
“For the Heart and the Strength,” Maisha said with the other three, as Leader got into the truck and it left them.
“Okay we are here,” Anouska looked at the map they’d been given before Leader and the truck drove away. “We have to check in at these three points, and then that final walk back to camp.”
“May I look?”
“Be my guest Blessing.”
Maisha studied the map and looked round. “This first check point - if we head straight there then we will run out of water. We need to detour to that spring and fill up first.”
“That’s how I read it,” Kiri took the map.
“They couldn’t make it straightforward and easy?” Amber laughed.
“Easy isn’t the sisters’ way,” Maisha retrieved her compass and tried to get a bearing.
“That direction,” Maisha pointed, “we keep up a decent speed we can probably camp at the spring tonight.”
7 pm BST
“Is she out there Helga?”
“Yes she is Shirley.”
Shirley looked out over the river and whispered “She’s going to be okay isn’t she?”
“Don’t worry please. Maisha is one of the very best trainees we’ve ever had, the women she’s with are all well able to do this, and she will be fine.”
“I know,” Shirley took a breath, “but in all but name she’s my daughter, and I guess like all mothers - I’m worried.”
“I understand perfectly, but at this moment it looks like they are doing just right, according to the watcher they are heading for a spring where they need to take on water, and where they might be able to kill some game.”
“Is that what they are supposed to do?”
“It’s the best option if I can put it that way.”
“So when will they get to their first checkpoint?”
“It should be mid morning tomorrow.”
“Will you be able to ring me after that and tell me how she’s doing please?”
“I can try,” Teacher laughed, “and yes Madame you are definitely showing the classic signs of a nervous parent.”
“I know – I know,” Shirley said quietly as there was a knock on the door.
“Shirley? Our guests have arrived.”
“We will talk tomorrow, Helga,” Shirley said as she ended the call, and went to join John.
8 pm Local Time
spring is in that string of low ridges," Anouska pointed to the horizon as
the girls made the most of the rapidly fading light to cover as much ground as
about another 50 minutes walking," Kiri glanced at the map,
three clicks," Maisha paused, "we have to search in the dark, but we
can do this...Right?"
the other three responded.
we will try and find our campsite a little earlier, make it a little easier on
"I agree Amber,"
Anouska smiled, "but you know that they deliberately dropped us off late
like this to see how we coped in the dark?"
we will have moonlight."
"That's true Blessing."
“It must be quiet here at the moment with Maisha away,” Yvonne said as she sat across from Shirley at the dinner table. Both women were wearing blouses and slacks, while John and Tom were wearing polo shirts and dark trousers.
“It is – but I talked to her earlier, and she is learning and enjoying so much,” Shirley said as she poured some more wine into Yvonne’s glass. “She should be back by the end of next week, if not before.”
“So is this for the Duke of Edinburgh award?”
“No, not really,” John said, “one of the charities our friend Charlotte van der Byl supports runs this outwards bound course in Africa, and Maisha asked if she could attend. By all accounts, she is enjoying herself immensely.”
“Indeed,” Yvonne said, “but never mind them – is it true there is a wedding coming up for both of you?”
“It is – before Christmas in New York.”
“Even with the new President elected by then?”
“Well, technically Obama will still be president then,” John said with a smile. “Have you been following the news?”
“I have,” Joanna said quietly, “so much hatred…”
“Well, we did see something like that over the summer here, albeit on a smaller scale,” Shirley said as she ate some more food.
“True,” Tom said quietly, “but it was Boris and others – do you think Trump is actually sane?”
“Let me put it this way,” John said as he put his knife and fork down. “When George W was elected in 2000, many thought he was a simpleton, based on the way he talked and acted.”
“Did you,” Joanna said as he looked over.
“No – like some people, I felt he was not an idiot, but he did have difficulty in expressing himself. There was a theory, which has never been denied he is a dyslexic, and does have trouble processing and expressing himself.”
“Possible,” Tom said as he looked at Shirley, “and Trump?”
“Those I know who have met him,” Shirley said quietly, “do not believe he has the emotional capacity, or the intellectual in some areas, but he is speaking a language that speaks to the disaffected in America – and I fear, like here, the level of complacency in the political leaders is so high thy cannot see what is coming, and act to stop it. The debate on Sunday should be most interesting…”
“So do you support the Republicans plans for huge tax cuts Shirley?”
“Yes and no Tom,” Shirley collected her thoughts. “My US subsidiaries run at a very healthy profit, and both my corporation, and myself personally, do certainly pay a large amount in taxes.”
“So speaking personally you are in favour?”
“You mean would I like to keep more of what we earn? Then of course,” Shirley smiled, “but wearing my other hat as a concerned human being, then I say that given the huge US budget deficit, and the huge squeeze on both the social security net, and the environment, that the Republicans will likely attempt to pay for the cuts, then that faint liberalism in me says no perhaps the money we pay as tax is better being used by government.”
“How did I guess that you were a closet middle-of-the-roader Shirley?” Yvonne laughed lightly.
“Well in Britain I am, but I go certain places in the US and say what I just said then they’ll call me a damn communist.”
“They would Tom,” John shook his head, “out there in the American heartland it truly is a different country to the one represented by the big cities like New York.”
“How can it be like that – I mean…”
“It’s a big country Yvonne. Shall we have our coffee in the drawing room?”
“I’ll bring it in,” John said as they all stood and made their way through.
“Well I envy you being able to live in both places so to speak,” Yvonne followed Shirley into the drawing room, “I love New York.”
“When we can arrange it you’ll have to come stay with Shirley and me then,” John answered as he and Tom followed the ladies, John carrying a tray with the coffee.
“I think we’d both like that.”
“Good,” John walked over to the drinks cabinet, “now what can I offer you?”
“Brandy for me please darling,” Shirley said as she sat down on the sofa with Yvonne.
“I think we will both have the same,” Yvonne smiled.
“Is that a single malt John?”
“Not quite,” John said as he poured brandy into the glasses and passed them over, before opening the decanter, “it’s at least eighty years old. Some of the legendary Curragh Park whisky – try it.”
Tom took the glass and swirled it round, before he took a sip. “Wonderful stuff – thank you John. So what plans do you both have?”
“Far too many, and far too little time to do them in,” John laughed heartily as he sat down.
“Yes we have somehow to juggle planning our wedding whilst also doing everything else.”
“That’s the problem with you both leading such full lives,” Yvonne sipped her drink.
“Well, we have the venue, and the man who will marry us – and I have my Maids of Honour selected – John?”
“Oh I need to ask my best man – when I get the chance…”
“Do you believe that we all have to play the game of life according to a rule book Shirley?”
“Alright where the hell did that question come from?” Shirley asked herself internally.
“You know that’s not something I’m sure I’ve ever really thought about…why do you ask Tom?”
“He’s asking because that’s one of his standard ‘bombs’ he likes to throw into conversation to stir up some debate and argument,” Yvonne laughed, “my husband loves to throw that sort of thing out there and then sit and watch how people respond. If you don’t want to answer Shirley, then don’t.”
“Actually,” Shirley said as she sat back, “it’s quite an interesting question.”
“Thank you Shirley,” Tom laughed as well, “and despite what Yvonne says I am genuinely interested in what you think.”
“If I can interrupt,” John looked serious, “I personally think that life might be a whole lot duller if everyone simply did what was expected of them and kept to a firm rule book.”
“What’s your opinion Shirley,” Yvonne crossed her legs, “if we are going to talk about this I’m interested in what you say.”
“Well given that Agnes McAdam is one of my best friends, and how much I admire Sue Gresham-Fox, can I start by saying that not playing by the rules doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person.”
“True – but you personally?”
Swirling the brandy in her glass, Shirley thought for a moment, then said “Let me put it this way. If you do not have some guiding principles in your life, then I firmly believe you will flounder and not succeed. But if you stick too rigidly to those rules, you cannot adapt and change when you have to. Does that answer your question?”
Tom nodded as he said “yes – yes it does…”
9 pm Local Time
Blessing poked around at the sticks in the stone circle, smiling as the flames caught and the twigs started to cackle, and then looking up as Kiri stood.
“Someone’s coming,” she said quietly, and then relaxed as Anouska came back with the canteens.
“Managed to find the streams and refill them,” she said as she put them on a mat. “Amber?”
“I got something,” the young Kiwi said as she dropped a pair of striped weasels next to Blessing, then sat down and produced her knife. “Give me a minute to skin and gut them.”
“You are skilled with the knife,” Blessing said as she watched Amber at work.
“Practiced – street gangs were one thing, but when we fell afoul of that drug ring, I found a new use for it. Got some twigs to tie them to so that we can roast them?”
“Here,” Anouska said as she sat down, and looked up. “The sky is clear – we should at least be dry tonight.”
“But cold,” Blessing said with a smile. “We can warm ourselves with some tea at least.”
“Tea and roast meat in the bush – just the way to start an adventure,” Kiri said, the other women laughing with her.
10 pm BST
“That was a lovely evening,” John said as he finished his drink, put it on the bedside table, took off his dressing gown, and climbed into bed.
“Yes it was, they are a lovely couple,” Shirley lifted her head.
“You were still a little distracted though my love.”
“Was it that obvious?”
“To me it was,” John put his arm round her, “your brain kept drifting off to what is Maisha doing, and is she alright?”
“I did,” Shirley sighed, “I know that the whole thing is monitored to ensure safety, but it still worries me that she’s out there in the bush on the edge of the Kalahari Desert doing this exercise.”
“And I was the one who was worried before she started.” John chuckled, “you really are behaving just as a mother should Shirley. Our daughter will be fine.”
“We both keep saying and thinking of her as that darling.”
“I know,” John paused, “maybe it’s time we followed Aggie and Donald’s example with the girls and did formally adopt Maisha?”
Shirley looked at John, and said “I think you might be right – maybe we should ask her when she returns?”
“Why not – good night,” John said as he kissed Shirley, and turned off the light as Shirley lay down, thinking things over.
“That was an interesting evening,” Yvonne said as she sat in the bed, looking at Tom.
“Indeed – but what do you think?”
“I would not – she is a strong person, far stronger than the image she projects. I think if she even suspected, she is the person who would do something about it.”
Tom nodded as he sat on the bed with her. “So we report these are not suitable candidates?”
“Indeed – we will find more – amenable minds elsewhere. Perhaps the esteemed Foreign Secretary?”
The Ashley apartment
“Yes Poppy,” Pippa said as her daughter stood by her chair.
“I know you’ve been asking if I have a theme in mind for my birthday party.”
“Well yes darling,” Pippa looked up and smiled at her daughter.
“How about we tell everyone that it has a Doctor Who theme?”
“Now that is actually an inspired idea.”
“I thought that it gives the chance for all those who want to get into costume a choice of things to dress up in, and for those who don’t, enough people dressed perfectly normally on the show. Do you agree Mom?”
“Actually I do Poppy darling, and while I’m not sure how big a fan your Gran was of the show ever, even she can’t do too much to ruin it.”
“That’s sort of what I’m hoping.”
“By the way you do know that your Aunt Mary knows most of the living Doctors, plus assistants?”
“I know,” Poppy laughed, “just tell her not too many surprise guests please Mom?”
“Well I can try,” Pippa laughed. “You do know your Aunt Grace was actually in a couple of episodes?”
“Yes,” Pippa sighed, “it was another one of those things I got unfairly jealous of her for.”
“Oh ask her yourself…”
“She wants what darling?” Amelia Ashley said as Pippa looked at the telephone.
“You heard me Mother, she wants a Doctor Who themed party.”
“Actually Our Pippa we maybe should have thought of that ourselves,” Maggie’s voice came out of the speaker.
“It does sort of fit the fact that she hid that she was a ‘closet’ nerd.”
“So a party with this theme, what can I do to help?” Amelia asked.
“At this moment I can honestly say I haven’t got a clue Mum. I’ll know more I guess when I find a suitable venue.”
“Well if you need some money to hire somewhere Philippa…”
“I know Mum,” Pippa broke in, “but I’m not exactly short of brass myself nowadays.”
“Eeeee you sound just like your father talking like that Pip,” Margaret laughed, “complete with the Leeds accent.”
“True – but seriously Mum, let me see where it is going to be first. In the meantime, Aunt Maggie, I need a favour.”
“Oh – and that is?”
“Can you have a word with Stephen Moffat, see if he can sort out a gift or something?”