Watching the Watchmen – Part 3
Friday 23rd September
2 pm local time
“Damn – that’s got to be a new record,” the Sister said to herself as she saw the quartet walking towards her. Picking up her field glasses, she looked at the approaching quartet, and got onto the radio.
“Teacher, this is Artemis, do you copy?”
“This is Teacher, Artemis – what do you have to report?”
“We have a group coming in – want to guess who?”
She heard the chuckle as Teacher said “I knew they would be quick. Get them to rest for a few minutes while you do the check-in.”
“Acknowledged – will check in later,” she said as she put the radio down, watching the group as they grew closer.
“Welcome, sisters,” she said as Anouska sat down, taking a drink from her flask as Blessing stood with Kiri and Amber. “When did you set off this morning?”
“Before dawn,” Anouska said as she opened her pack, and handed some rations round. “It was a – long walk.”
“And you have a ways to go – but take rest here before you take the next step.”
“Mom… With Uma coming for Thanksgiving, what are we going to do?” Ama asked as the three of them ate breakfast.
“I haven’t really thought,” Caroline stood still with the cereal bowl in her hand.
“You can come with me and the twins to Juliette’s, she’s opening up the North Shore house, and you know you’ll be more then welcome.”
“I know,” Caroline sat down and put her cereal on the table, “but even Ju doesn’t have unlimited guest accommodation, and would she be able to put up four extra guests?”
“I’ll ask,” Annie finished eating. “There is no way that any of your friends will let you just spend a very quiet holiday with your guests you know?”
“I’m American enough to believe that Thanksgiving isn’t a time to be alone. It’s about being with your family and friends and celebrating being with those you love.”
“Nicely put darling,” Caroline spoke to her daughter.
“Thank you Mom,” the youngster hugged her mother, “and remember it isn’t too long after that that you fly to Iceland to do your film.”
“I know,” Caroline rolled her eyes, “I got the latest script revisions, and they keep giving me more to say.”
“You’ll be brilliant Dom,” Annie smiled at her friend.
“I wish I had your confidence.”
“Anyway returning to Thanksgiving, another good reason for dragging you both to Ju’s is so I have my best girl there to help with the children. Do you know she got up in the night and fed them for me again?”
“I like doing it,” Ama blushed.
“Well I’m not sure what I’d do without you?”
“Ama – I will be out late tonight, so don’t wait up for me.”
Ama looked over and said “I will pray for you Mom – is this business?”
“It is – but don’t worry, I’ll be back for breakfast.”
“We’ll keep each other company,” Annie said with a smile, “Cari is busy as well, and Judith is being looked after by Judy.”
West Central Park
“How do people manage to lead such complicated lives of deception?” Eleanor asked in a sort of general way as Janice put the coffee cup in front of her on the kitchen bar.
“Is that a general question,” Jan said as she poured a cup for herself, “or are you asking me specifically?”
“It was a general question relating to the work I’m doing,” Eleanor smiled, “but I’m well aware that even now you carry secrets Jan darling that I don’t know.”
“Want to talk about work then?” Jan said as she sat down on the stool next to the older woman.
“Yes, and by the way I did notice how neatly you deflected me away from talking about you.”
“I know you did, but I sort of figure we can talk most anytime, what brings you here this morning?”
“I knew that it was your day off, that Katherine had a meeting, that Katy would be at school, and my son at the office.”
“Or in other words that you’d catch me on my own?”
“Alright Eleanor, what do you want to talk about?”
Taking a drink from her mug, Eleanor said “well – I was wondering if you or anyone else had anything, shall we say, planned?”
“Not at the moment,” Jan said quietly, “at least that I am involved in. I thought this favour for the Sisters was taking up all your time?”
“It is – but… Listen, if Caroline Jameson said she was going to cover an information gathering operation with a robbery, would she…”
“Best not to think about that,” Jan said quietly as she sipped from her mug.
“How did you influence people who led perfect dream lives to demand radical change?”
He was beginning to think that the answer was that you couldn’t. These pleasant, charming, and above all content, people had no obvious grievances that he could spot and which he could recommend to his masters back in Moscow to exploit.
True, there were one or two who might be open to being influenced by corruption, or by blackmail, but by and large the subject group that he had been sent to observe, and then report on, held out very little promise.
The mass population was where the action would be, those out there with grievances to nurture, often against the very kind of person it was his mission to get close so. It was so much easier as all revolutionary movements had always known to turn the masses against the elites, then to get the elite to turn on itself.
Anyway enough of the philosophy, he still had no idea why his handlers had not made his last contact. What was going on, and why was he being left out here all alone?
“I can see him through the window of his apartment Admiral, he looks like he’s having another one of his deep and brooding, sessions,” the watcher’s voice came out of Francesca’s speaker.
“Some people say it’s part of their national character,” Francesca smiled to herself, “at least he doesn’t have a serious drink problem like so many other Russians have.”
“Well at least not that I’ve seen,” the observer replied.
“So do you think he’s set for the rest of the day?”
“Hard to tell from here,” she said, “but I can’t see any obvious signs he’s going out tonight.”
“Well I lose a bet,” Natalya spoke quietly, “I’d have put serious money on his going to this event at the Russian Consulate.”
“He might yet,” Francesca removed her glasses. “Continue the observation please, and let us know anything he does immediately.”
“Yes Admiral,’ the voice from the speaker answered and then the line went dead.
“Are we still sending people to the consulate then?” Illyana asked.
“We have to,” Francesca put her glasses back on, “and I want to know exactly who is there tonight and as far as possible everything that can be overheard.”
“Not easy,” Caroline shook her head, “means teams outside watching, as well as people inside, and as you know Admiral I at least have other matters to attend to.”
“I know,” Francesca paused to think.
2 pm BST
“Who’s got you laughing this morning Lily?” Penny caught her friend looking at her phone as they waited for Madame to call them into her office for their afternoon meeting.
“Steve,” Lily shook her head, “he keeps passing on these pictures of signs which are accidentally funny.”
“That’s the guy you met in New York, the one works in the DA’s office?”
“Yeah,” Lily put her device away, “he’s turning out to be more than just a one night stand.”
“Good for you,” Penny smiled as her friend blushed, “it’s about damn time you found someone.”
“I know Pen, but in the back of my mind I keep hearing myself saying, remember what he does for a living.”
“You aren’t the only person we know has to keep secrets.”
“You can go in now,” Angela said as she put the phone down, Lily and Penny going in to see Shirley looking out over the city.
“Ah – sorry. I was just talking to Teacher – Maisha and her group have reached the first checkpoint.”
“And now the real fun begins – the afternoon report Madame.”
The Richmond Mansion
“It’s time lover,” Sandy poked her head into the kitchen where Heather was sitting working on her computer.
“Is it,” the younger woman said as she looked at her watch.
“Yes,” Sandy for a few seconds looked very worried, “and by now you usually have started putting on your ‘game face’. What is so important that it’s got you distracted like this?”
“Francesca has asked me for an assessment of the role in this whole mess of someone I’ve known online for a very long time, and who as The Hidden Hand I’ve always considered to be both a friend, and an inspiration.”
“This being a certain man who is hiding out in a foreign embassy in London?”
“Exactly lover,” Heather said as she put the laptop lid down, “I’m looking at everything and I don’t know if he’s merely being duped by the Russians, or if he’s a willing conspirator?”
“And I know you well enough lover that inside you are hoping he’s neither of those things?”
“Exactly,” Heather sighed.
“Well it’s a question that can wait, for now you need to start concentrating on what we are doing tonight,” Sandy smiled, “if needs be you can always take out some of than angst on the people we are visiting you know?”
“It’s a thought you know,” Heather laughed. “Sands and George?”
“Sands is staying with Jan and Katy, and George is with Lynn’s boys tonight, planning something or other.”
“Right then – let’s go. I need the distraction…”
Jo looked up as Carina came in.
“Hey – good drive.”
“Yes – what’s that?”
“Some work I have to get done for English Lit 201.” Closing the book, she said “this is going to be a strange one – no Diana or Abby?”
“I know – but it’s important she is where she needs to be this weekend. I talked to her today, she understands.”
“Sitting with Ama and the kids – Jude has Judith for the night.” Sitting down, Carina took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes. “We need a release – well, she does.”
“Yeah – me too,” Jo said as a car pulled up outside, and Juliette came in.
“Give me a hand with the bags please – the others are on their way…”
“Here we go,” Juliette said as she passed the casserole pit around, the seven of them taking a share with some bread as they sat round talking.
“So Klaus is visiting Ingy this weekend,” Dominique said as she looked at Carina.
“Yup – Doc, pass the salt please.”
“How is Diana?”
“Concerned,” Sandy said as she looked at Doc, “but she’s with her family and that is where she needs to be right now. The order from Tommy is in the car, Juliette.”
As she nodded, the conversation continued, but Dom could notice the change in their attitude, the serious expression in their faces – and the pure joy in Carina’s as she looked over and smiled.
“It’s time,” Juliette said quietly, “inspection in forty five minutes.”
“Hey – is she here?”
“She is,” Carina said as she looked at Jo standing the doorway. She was wearing a black tailored jacket and knee length skirt, black over the knee boots with three inch heels covering the lower half of her legs. A black scarf was tied as a cravat into her jacket, and on the lapel of the jacket her bobcat brooch gleamed in the light.
As Carina stood up, she looked in the mirror, and checked the green contact lenses in the mirror before she put the black wig on her head, making sure her own blonde hair was covered. Picking up the Lynx brooch, she ficed it to her jacket, and tied the scarf round her neck, as she said “I need some excitement tonight – think there may be a willing volunteer?”
“Ah’m sure there will be sugah,” Jo said in her Southern accent as they walked down the stairs. As they reached the main room, the other five turned and looked at her.
“Right – Miss Puma?”
“Cars are ready and good to go.”
“Miss Bobcat and I have the security systems worked out, and we have what we need to neutralize.”
“Bags packed with our supplies.”
“Very well – line up, check each other, make sure nothing is showing, nothing that gives you away.”
Dom looked at Doc as she checked her, and then said “We’re good.”
“All right ladies,” Juliette said as she put her dark glasses on, “move out…”
Consulate General of the Russian Federation
9 E 91st Street
“Madame La Marchesa, Mrs van der Byl – welcome,” the security guard said as he handed the invites back. “Welcome, please - mingle and help yourself.”
“Alright Mama what the hell are we doing here, and how the hell did we get invited?” Charlotte looked round at the assembled good and great, as she stood in her dark dress, the bump visible underneath.
Francesca smiled as she grabbed a glass of champagne. “Oh their commercial section might just have heard a rumour about our hotel chain thinking about building in Moscow…”
“And are we thinking about it?” Charlotte interrupted.
“Not after we got burned on a proposed joint venture a few years ago darling, but it does our current project no harm at all to think that we may be prepared to forgive and forget.”
“Hence they suddenly extend to us an offer of hospitality?”
“Just so,” Francesca laughed lightly. “I need to be my frivolous self for a while – you will need to take the serious discussion, if there is any.”
“Miss Kosolov, Mrs Walker – please, come through.”
“Am I actually required to actually do something Natalya, or am I simply here to provide a cover for you girls?” Susan asked as she looked round and nodded to a couple of acquaintances.
“We needed an in,” Natalya said as she took a glass, “and as head of Xavier’s New York what more natural then you take up their invite and bring some of your executives to this kind of meet and greet.”
“Only that normally I avoid this kind of thing like the plague,” the Englishwoman said as she shook her head.
“I know, and thank you for doing it.”
“I also try and avoid the Russians anyway since we know that at least some elements in their underworld at least have an idea who we are.”
“In answer to that I’d say how many of these Russian ‘businessmen’ here tonight are you sure are fully legitimate?”
“Okay that’s a good point.” As she sipped her drink, she looked around the room. “I see our esteemed Ballet director is here.”
“So he is,” Natalya said quietly as Andre Kannenikov came in and looked round.
“Okay Captain I think all of our ‘friends’ are inside now,” the voice in Eleanor’s earpiece reported.
“Not that I could see.”
“Well I wasn’t anticipating anything, and at least to the outside world they all appear to be respectable businesswomen of just the type they are trying to schmooze tonight.”
“Or taste formers as they are called,” Veronica put down the binoculars she’d been using to watch the consulate entrance, “would I have eventually been told that Marina Sowkowski was a sister?”
“Maybe,” Eleanor smiled, “but her persuading Anna Mitchell her boss to come to this shindig gives us another set of Russian understanding ears in there.”
The Barkov residence
Deborah was crossing the hallway when she heard the knock on the door. Looking to the doors that led to the drawing room, she bushed down her white apron and walked over, opening the door as she said “yes, can I…”
“If I was you sugah, I’d be real quiet right now, all right?”
Deborah stared at the women as they walked in, identically dressed, the stocking pressing down the dark hair of each of them as one put the end of a sawn off shotgun in her mouth.
“Not a fucking word – the man and lady of the house?”
She glanced to the double doors, the masked woman nodding as she said “Miss Cheetah, Miss Oncilla, ensure the security system is appropriately taken care of.” As two of them peeled off and walked to the side room, she continued “Miss Bobcat, you have this situation under control?”
“I surely do dahlin,” the woman in front of Deborah said with a smile as the other four looked at each other. She smiled at Deborah, in her grey coatdress, and said “when mah friends return, we’ll make sure you share in all the delights of tonight.”
“Good – move out.”
“Who is at the door Deborah?” The doors were opened by a grey haired woman in a white blouse and grey trousers, who stared at the four women before one of them pushed the end of her shotgun into her stomach, and growled “go on, make my evening.”
“Patience, Miss Lynx, patience, we need to introduce ourselves to the man of the house.” They walked in, Sergei Barkov standing as he said “Anastasia, who is…”
“Good evening, fucker – I am Miss Panther, and we are the Pussycat Gang. Tonight is your lucky night.”
“Do not worry, my love, the security alert…”
“Has been neutralised Miss Panther. Miss Oncilla is setting the diversion up.”
“Thank you Miss Cheetah. Now, fuckers, where were we… Oh yes – do as we say, whatever we say, and you may live until the morning. Do anything to raise the alarm, and Miss Lynx will be unhappy…”
The Russian Consulate
Standing at the side of the room, Charlotte was making polite conversation with some of the other guests, but she kept looking over a tall brunette, wearing a halter neck dress who was laughing with some others.
“So who is the brunette with the huge fake smile Mama?” she asked as Francesca joined her.
“Her name is Ludmilla Paraskova,” Francesca said quietly, “and if I don’t miss my guess, she’s their lead agent here in New York working all this.”
“And you base that assumption on what?”
“Having looked at the file we have put together on her. She’s built a career as a high flying member of their PR industry, working to burnish the image of the worst of the worst of their oligarchs and politicians.”
“That doesn’t necessarily make her a spy.”
“True,” Francesca sipped her drink, “but if she’s not here doing something out of the ordinary why else would she take a huge salary cut and take a position with their UN mission?”
“Ah,” Charlotte took another look at the Russian woman, “that does imply a certain logic. I see Marina is taking Anna Mitchell over to meet her.”
“Hello, may I interrupt for a moment?”
“Of course – Marina Sowkowski, right?”
“Indeed - Ludmilla Paraskova may I present Anna Mitchell,” Marina made the introductions to both women.
“You remember me then?” the Russian woman asked.
“I have a memory for people I meet,” Marina smiled broadly, “especially when Dimitri Amkov introduces them as someone who is a very influential PR and style guru.”
“So you work in Public Relations?” Anna asked.
“In a way…I was asked to join my country’s delegation at the United Nations working in the press and media office.”
“That’s an interesting change of pace,” Anna sipped her drink, “tell me have you seen the new Russian edition of Complete Style?”
“I have, and I will admit to being impressed.”
“Well if I’m not being rude can I say that you are the type of professional woman we have aimed it at.”
“I know several of my friends back home have become devoted readers.”
As they talked, Marina was listening to other side conversations, learning all that she could…
The Barkov Residence
Deborah was shaking, trying not to show her fear as the tape was wound tightly round her head. The masked women had bound her wrists behind her back, her arms to her sides so tightly she could barely breathe, and her legs secured so she could not work – she could only watch on her knees as two of the women bound her employers, and listen…
“So are we perfectly clear, you pair of pissant wannabes? We are in charge – and whatever we say goes.”
“OR – or what,” Sergei said as he stared at Miss Panther.
“Oh you had to ask – Miss Lynx?”
“Comfy,” the masked woman said as she reached round and squeezed hard on his wife’s chest, making her groan into the cloth that was stuffed into her mouth, the edges emerging from her lips. She was tied to a chair, her blouse straining under the tension of the ropes, as she tried to move her body out of the way.
“Ah ah - trust me, you do not want to do that sugah,” Miss Bobcat said with a smile.
“Miss Puma, Miss Cheetah – take the housekeeper and keep her amused. Miss Civet, Miss Oncilla – find the safe, see if it can be opened by us.”
“And if it is not?”
“I am sure they can be persuaded,” Miss Panther said as she lifted Sergei’s head up, and then slapped him hard with her gloved hand, the others nodding as they watched. “Miss Bobcat – see what they can contribute to our retirement fund in the upstairs bedrooms.”
As the three women walked out, both Sergei and Anastasia saw the way they moved, before they looked at each other.
“Here,” Dom said as she slipped Jo a camera, “bug locator and infra-red lens. Good hunting. Miss Oncilla – with me.”
“Shall we,” Miss Puma said as she and Miss Cheetah lifted Deborah up and dragged her back, as Miss Lynx knelt and whispered into Anastasia’s ear “we are going to have some fun, aren’t we?”
“Don’t don’t you…”
“Mr Barkov,” Miss Panther said as she pressed the end of the shotgun to his head, “shut your fucking mouth, or I make a new one right there, understand?”
As he slowly nodded, Miss Lynx came round, taking a cloth kit out and unrolling it on the coffee table. The couple saw her take a scalpel out, watching as she knelt in front of Anastasia and slowly cut through the buttons of her blouse, opening it to show her chest. She looked at the woman and smiled as she said “ready?”
Deborah grunted as she was pushed over onto the bed, looking at the two masked women as they stood either side of her.
“What do you think, Miss Cheetah – is she?”
“I don’t know Miss Puma,” the other woman said with a grin, “but I think we should find out.”
“Whtrruthklngghbhhtt,” Deborah said as the taller of the two women reached down and pulled her coat dress open, the buttons flying off as the other women ripped off her apron. She was lying there now, growing red as they saw the black lace thong and bra underneath.
“Kinky,” Miss Puma said as she looked at Deborah, Miss Cheetah nodding as her gloved hand ran up the inside of Deborah’s leg, and she saw her shiver. “Tell me – men or women?”
Deborah looked up at them, not sure what to say, then feeling the cold metal between her legs as Miss Puma whispered “not a good idea to stay quiet – men or women?”
“Well then, I think you are really going to enjoy what we are going to do,” Miss Cheetah said as she picked a pair of scissors up from the dressing table, and snipped Deborah’s panties away on both sides. Miss Puma picked up a hair brush, smiling as she handed it to Miss Cheetah, and said “ready?”
Under normal circumstances Heather was the Pussycat most likely to show even vague kindness to their victim, but tonight something was very different, Sandy watched as Heather teased and tortured her victim. Her lover was dealing with the possibility that something she had always viewed as being good wasn’t, and it was tormenting her brain in a way that only doing indescribably evil could relieve.
No this wasn’t the normal Heather, but Sandy could understand, just sometimes life got so twisted that only senseless violence could do anything to cool you down.
The Russian Consulate
“May I ask a question Mama?” Charlotte asked quietly as they stood to one side, “which gives you the more pleasure, being a lawyer, or being a spy mistress?”
“Where did that question come from?” Francesca looked her daughter straight in the eye.
“And seeing what?”
“That in both jobs you love the complexity and detail of the work.”
“Yes I do,” Francesca sipped her drink.
“Your brain seems to relish analyzing intricate matters Mama. It can be fascinating to watch.”
“Carlotta darling your brain works in a similar way you know?”
“I know…but while I’m good at problem management, you are better.”
“Thank you darling.”
“Coming back to my original question though, which role do you prefer?”
“To be perfectly honest I don’t know. I enjoy my work…” suddenly Francesca’s attention was diverted by the sound of heated argument in Russian, and the sight of two men looking as though they were about to fight.
The Barkov Residence
Jo could hear the screams from the bedroom as she looked round the large master bedroom, smiling as she tipped the contents of the jewellery boxes into the bag, and then turned slowly round the room, looking through the lens of her camera.
“Hello,” she said quietly as she looked at a painting of Moscow on the wall, “could they really be that obvious?” She walked over to the wall, feeling around the edges of the frame before she lifted it off and placed it to one side, looking at the safe that sat flush with the wall.
Leaving the room, she walked down the stairs and into the office, where Miss Civet and Miss Oncilla were emptying the contents of a floor safe into a bag.
“Miss Civet, dahlin, I need you to go to the bedroom – an item that requires yuhr special attention. I’ll take over here.”
“Understood,” Miss Civet said as she walked out of the room, Jo nodding to Doc as they started to look through the documents.
As Dom walked into the room, she looked at the metal door, and then examined the edges. “Interesting,” she said to herself as she took a small metal device from her pocket, and attached it next to the display on the door, pressing a button as the red number started to flash. She then picked up the camera and swept the rest of the room – and then looked under the bed.
Sergei shook as he watched Miss Lynx, the gloved hands of the masked women groping and kneading Anastasia’s breasts as she groaned into the gag.
“Oh you sound so sweet,” Miss Lynx cooed as she looked into the older woman’s eyes, “would you like a little surprise?” As Anastasia shook her head, Miss Lynx said “pity” – and then attached the clamps to her bare nipples. The Russian woman screamed in pain as Miss Oncilla came in.
“Miss Panther, we have some locked boxes with digital locks in the safe. We need to have those access codes.”
“Do we now,” Juliette purred as she looked at Sergei. “Well, fuckface.”
“Ah such courage – Miss Lynx.”
He looked at the other woman, the smile clear as she took a lighter and started to warm the chain between the two clamps. “Shall we see how long this takes?”
He watched as Anastasia tried to move out of the way, the metal slowly starting to glow red, the red spreading to the clamps, and then the screams before he said “ALL RIGHT! I’ll tell you.”
“Much better, shithead,” Miss Panther purred. “Continue…”
The Russian Consulate
“What is going on?” Francesca asked a member of the consulate staff as the two men were seperated.
“They both have had a little too much vodka,” the man looked embarrassed, “our security people will look after them both. Please continue to enjoy yourselves.”
“Thank you – we hope to,” Francesca said with a smile as he walked off, Mariana looking over and nodding ad Charlotte came back with two glasses.
“Who are they Mama?”
“I don’t know Carlotta darling, I haven’t seen either of them in the files, but the way they pulled those knives on each other I’m willing to bet they are underworld.”
“Or just plain tough guys?”
“Could be. I’ll be interested what our ears in the room heard and can tell us later.”
“Do you think it relates to what we are doing?”
“That is a VERY big question,” Francesca cleaned her glasses.
“Or could it have just been two guys having had too much vodka like he said?”
“That we must find out.”
“Did you overhear anything,” Marina whispered to Natalya as they stood to the side of the room.
“Do you mean our two drunk friends, or generally?”
“The two drunk friends first.”
“Well – they are local leaders, nothing more. That was really just over a distribution issue. I have overheard something else, however – we appear to have some majoy players here.”
As they talked, Andre made his way over to where Ludmilla was talking to some guests.
“Andre darling – I am so looking forward to seeing your debut show next week,” Ludmilla said as she kissed him on both cheeks, while he whispered “what happened?”
As she looked at the dancer, he said out loud “well, I trust it will be a magnificent evening for all concerned. Did you know both candidates will be attending?”
“Now that I did not know – thank you for informing me,” Ludmilla said with a smile as she looked at him. “May I call on you at the theatre tomorrow – I may need to arrange some extra guest seats?”
“What is going on here tonight Carlotta my love is proof that the old theory that the only truly safe place to keep a secret is inside the human brain.”
“But haven’t we also just proved recently that even the brain can be cracked and secrets extracted if you go about it the right way?” Charlotte looked disconsolate as she took another sip of whatever the soft drink was that the Russians were serving. “This stuff is bloody awful.”
“Oh torture and other techniques can get an inquisitor into the brain, but even what we found out from Yeltsin I only had full confidence in when we confirmed it from other sources. Even under torture you really don’t have any guarantee that what the suspect is telling you is the complete truth…And yes that drink does look nasty.”
The Barkov Residence
Deborah arched her back, her eyes wide as she screamed in both fear and pleasure as the orgasm came, Miss Puma laughing as she threw the blood stained hairbrush to the floor and looked at Miss Cheetah.
“Now wasn;t that fun,” the masked woman said as she looked at the housekeeper, smiling as she said “I think you deserve a special award for that, don’t you Miss Puma?”
“I think she does,” Miss Puma said as she smiled back. “We are going to untie you, and you are going to undress, understand?”
She nodded as they untied the ropes, and she pointed to her mouth.
“Not yet – there is something you need to do, but first – strip.”
“There – now are you satisfied?”
“Well, these are all very nice,” Miss Panther said as the last of the gold coins were tipped into the bags, “but the night is young, and there is so much more we can do. Miss Lynx?”
“What – what shumhhnnnn,” he mumbled as his wife’s panties were pushed into his mouth, and then the silver tape wrapped tightly round as Miss Oncilla and Miss Bobcat came in.
“How are things in here, dahlins?”
“Progressing nicely – we may be able to take them for a little trip soon. Miss Civet?”
“Still upstairs – shall I call her?”
“No – Miss Lynx wishes to express some more of her desires,” Miss Panther said as Miss Oncilla knelt and put her hand on Sergei’s crotch.
“Hmm – you are on heat today, sir. Let me offer some relief.”
Anastasia looked slowly round as she heard her husband’s pants been opened, his engorged cock coming out as Miss Oncilla slowly stroked it with her gloved hand…
“Something of interest,” Juliette whispered as she joined Dom in the bedroom.
“Tell you in a minute – downstairs?”
“The safe was most productive – so why a second one up here?”
“Not sure – It was hidden behind a painting, but – ah, there we go…”
As the last figure turned green, she looked at it, and then typed in the sequence before the door opened. Looking inside, she drew out a long metal box and placed it on the bed.
“Now this is interesting – biometric lock, eye scan by the look of things. I wonder if we can persuade Mr Barkov to open it for us?”
“Oh I think that can be arranged… Let’s take it down and find out…”
“There now – comfy?”
Deborah nodded as Miss Cheetah tied off the last rope, her arms and legs spread-eagled and secured to the four corners of the bed, her body wet with sweat as a slow trickle of blood and fluid ran down the inside of her legs. She watched as Miss Puma and Miss Cheetah looked at each other, and then heard the muted screams from downstairs.
“Does that disturb you?”
As she nodded, Miss Cheetah said “close your eyes – I’ll make it go away.”
The housekeeper did so, hearing the click, feeling the cold between her legs as it moved back and forth and she started shaking again, the orgasm coming quickly as she screamed out – then fell silent as the gun blast destroyed her internal passage, Miss Puma sighing as she looked on.
“Much better – let’s go and join the others.”
Sergei looked up at the women as Miss Lynx stood up – and then at the others as they walked in.
“That – we just fired your housekeeper,” Miss Puma said as she smiled under the stocking, while Miss Civet carried in the metal box.
“We found this in your safe upstairs,” she said as Miss Lynx pulled Anastasia’s head back, “and we do so want to look inside. After all, it would not be right for you to hold anything back from us, would it?”
Sergei looked at the box, and then at the women as he shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” Miss Civet said as she stepped forward, and lifted his chin up, “was that a no?”
The blow to his cheek took him by surprise, her strength astounding as Anastasia looked on.
“Now Miss Civet – you know we need him to do something, and how can he do that with a black eye?”
“Very true,” the tall woman said as she held his chin up again, “you are going to open that box, aren’t you?”
He watched as the woman who had tortured his wife came over, the scalpel in his hand as she looked at his cock. He had been humiliated already, made to cum by one of them – what could she do?
“You’re not a Russian Jew, are you Mr Barkov?”
He shook his head, and then screamed as his foreskin was sliced off, his eyes open wide as Miss Civet put the reader on the box to his eye.
And then to his other eye.
“Hmm – Miss Panther, I wonder if our assumptions have been incorrect.”
Sergei panted, the pain excruciating, as he slowly turned and looked at Anastasia, the woman staring at the intruders with pure hatred.
“I do believe you may be right,” Miss Panther said quietly as Miss Lynx pulled her head back, lightly stroking the blade of the scalpel across her throat as she said “oh I do love secrets – shall you open the box, or shall I cut your eyes out one by one and then we open the box?”
She looked up into the eyes, and then shook her head as Miss Civet put the reader to her right eye, smiling as she heard the click.
“Left eye as well Miss Civet – we don’t want any nasty surprises.”
“Indeed,” the masked woman said as she repeated the action, smiling as a second click founded and she put the box down. Opening the lid, she looked inside at the papers, and then said “Miss Oncilla – with me.”
“Miss Cheetah, Miss Puma – will you take Mrs Barkov upstairs and make sure she is dressed for work,” Miss Panther said, “I need a quiet word with Mr Barkov here.”
“Let’s move, bitch,” the two women said as they released Anastasia’s legs, and hauled her up the stairs as Miss Panther sat in a chair.
“Let me guess, pissface – you didn’t know you had a second safe in your bedroom?”
As Sergei shook his head, Miss Bobcat shook her head. “Ah guess that means he has no idea of his wife’s work, Miss Panther darling?”
“I doubt it – he doesn’t know his wife is a Russian agent, who is helping with influencing the outcome of our election?”
Sergei looked up, and mumbled “hnnnhhh…”
“Oh yes, fuckface,” Miss Lynx said as she looked at him, the scalpel in his hand, “I guess he’s not a real man after all. Of course, that means he has no manhood…”
His eyes opened wide as he screamed again, looking at Miss Lynx as she held his penis in her hand.
“There – like I said, no manhood.”
“Now, ah do not believe for one moment Miss Panther has seen Preacher, dahlin,” Miss Bobcat said as she picked up the shotgun, “but there is a character called Eugene, who tries to commit suicide by putting a shotgun in his mouth and firing. Thing is, Sugah, he survives – and do you know what he is known as?”
Sergei looked up, tears running down his face as he shook his head.
“He’s called Arseface – you won’t be so lucky,” the Southern woman said as she put the end of the sawn off barrel to his taped mouth, and pulled the trigger.
“Good night Sergei Barkov,” Dom said as she took photos of the documents, Doc placing them back in the box as they heard the gunshot.
“So much information – and finances as well,” she whispered as the last document was put back.
“Indeed – Francesca can deal with it tomorrow,” Dom said as the last document went back, and Doc opened a small glass bottle, pouring it into the box as the documents started to melt in the acid, the smoke rising as they did.
“Right – pack up, and let’s get ready.”
Anastasia walked down the stairs, wearing a green jacket and skirt with a white blouse and white shoes, the five women waiting with their bags as Miss Panther said “right, you fucking cow – we’re going to your place of work, and you’re going to let us in.”
“Not your concern,” Miss Panther said as she opened the door. As they were walked out, Miss Civet turned off the lights, and then closed the door to….
Saturday 24th September
The security guard looked up as the front door opened, smiling as he said “Madame Barkov, what…”
That was the last thing he said before the impact of the shotgun blast threw him against the wall, the blood seeping out as Miss Bobcat walked round and typed on the console.
“Security disabled, dahlins – allow me to retrieve the security tapes.
“Do so – inside, bitch,” Miss Panther said as the other six women walked in, looking at the display cabinets as they slowly swung open.
“Ladies – pack up,” Miss Panther said quietly. “Miss Lynx – you know what needs to be done.”
“Oh most assuredly,” the women said with a smile as she forced Anastasia’s hands behind her back, and used a zip tie to force them together, before making her kneel and securing her ankles together.
“So what are you going to do now,” she said quietly as Miss Lynx walked in front of her, pumping the shotgun in her gloved hands.
“You are spying on my home country,” she said quietly, “and at any other time, I would report you to the appropriate authorities. But to be honest, I have a much better idea.”
“And that is,” Anastasia groaned as the metal clamps on her nipples caused her more pain.
“This,” Miss Lynx said as she put the end of the shotgun in the Russian woman’s mouth, Anastasia looking her in the eye as she pulled the trigger.
“Ah – that’s so much better,” Miss Lynx sighed as the others brought the bags over.
“All done,” Miss Puma said as they looked round.
“Good – now…”
“Oh my god…”
“And here’s our witness,” Miss Bobcat said as she pushed a middle aged woman into the room. “The cleaner, dahlins – and tonight is your lucky night.”
“You get to live – Miss Bobcat?”
The blow to the back of the cleaner’s head made her fall to the floor, unconscious as the masked women removed their stocking masks. Putting on her glasses, Juliette smiled as he said “move out – we can relax at the farm…”
9 am BST
“Mike,” Agnes said as she sat with Mike Babbage in the bar, eating some food, “do you know Kay Cornwall?”
“Kay Hampson that was?” Mike fidgeted as he looked across the table, and it was obvious to Agnes that he was playing for time trying to work out just why she’d asked the question.
“Yes. That Kay Cornwall. Do Sherry and she stay in touch?”
“Yeah - They have lunch every few weeks.”
“Do you talk to Kay Mike? Did you talk to her about me?”
Taking a sip of his coffee and putting the cup down, “Why would Kay want to talk to me about…?”
“Drop the act mine,” for a second Agnes got angry, “I know very well that you know just as well as I do what Kay’s job is.”
“Is this why you offered to buy me breakfast Aggie?”
Smiling, Agnes said “can’t I just buy an old Oxford friend breakfast?”
“Now who is putting on an act?” Mike lifted an eyebrow.
“Alright point taken,” Agnes said as she sipped her coffee, “but can you confirm if the SIS is looking at me for any reason?”
“Look Aggie as far as I know the spooks at London Centre are not looking at you.” Cutting into his sausage and taking a bite, Mike continued “but remember I’m just a humble copper on the Murder Squad, I don’t move in the circles that Kay does.”
“Yes but if Kay was picking your brain then I’d trust your brain to recognise just what she was doing.”
“Well, Kay dropped in to see Sherry one evening recently, and we all chatted about over dinner.”
“You were part of the conversation, but most of it was reminiscing about the old days, or talking about you and Donald getting married and adopting the girls.” Mike ate another piece of food, “honestly it was just old friends chatting and gossiping a little.”
“Alright, thank you for telling me Mike.” Agnes sipped her own coffee. “I know I sound more than a bit paranoid.”
“Not really,” the policeman smiled, “your return to ‘normal’ life is all a bit new for your defensive mechanisms not to kick in when someone like Kay is around.”
“I guess so.”
“Look Aggie,” Mike said as he put his knife and fork down, “I’m only Sherry’s husband, I was always on the outside, but honestly the three of you were ‘The Somerville Triplets’, you were the founders of the Ash, I never saw three people as close friends as you all were back at Oxford…What happened? I know you all stayed in touch, but something happened in our final year, and though I’ve asked her several times Sherry will never tell me what it was.”
For a few moments Aggie sat totally still.
“Look Mike,” she eventually said, “if I tell you, can I have your promise that you’ll never tell Sherry that I told you?”
“Is it that serious?”
“Alright Aggie,” Mike said as he held his hands up, “I promise, now what happened?”
“In a name,” Aggie said quietly, “Professor Brett.”
“I remember him,” Mike nodded.
“Did you ever guess that it was him who recruited Kay for MI6?”
“I’d heard rumours that he had connections there, and that is was probably him who got Kay in there.”
“Well,” Agnes said quietly as she looked round, “what I’m certain you don’t know is that at the same time he approached Kay, he did the same to Sherry and me…”
“He did WHAT?” Mike interrupted.
“Keep your voice down Mike,” Agnes looked at the people on other tables, “but yes he wanted all three of us?”
“Including MY Sherry?”
“And why not Sherry?” Agnes had an amused tone in her voice now as she sat back.
“Mike darling, you are so used to Sherry being the perfect wife and mother that you forget she got a double first.”
“Mike you’ve forgotten with time that she was as intellectually brilliant as either Kay or me.”
“Alright…” Mike tried to gather his thoughts, “but why did being approached to join the security services throw a wrench in your friendships?”
“Well, it’s going to sound silly – but it was mainly about politics.”
“You’re not a political animal – not in that sense.”
“True – in my case, even then, I was more interested in third world economics than anything else, and I knew I could not do that and work for the services as well. With Sherry, however – do you remember her involvement with the Labour party at Oxford?”
“She was certainly a supporter.”
“Well, she thought the Professor was doing it so she could spy on her friends there, and she wanted nothing to do with that. Kay couldn’t understand her reasons – she had been assured she was going to work in the foreign field, given her degree in Politics, and did not believe they would get Sherry to do that.”
“It was as stupid as that?”
“Not that stupid, when you think about it – Labour still had strong ties to certain Eastern European groups in those days. But it’s in the past Mike.”
“Okay – my turn. Why talk about Kay today?”
“She picked my brains on something…”
9 am Local Time
“This broken ground really complicates things,” Maisha said as they looked at the small ravine in their path, “We can either lose half a day climbing down and then back up the other side…”
“Or,” Anouska said as she shielded her eyes, “we can similarly lose half a day walking round it.”
“Anyone would think they put the damn next checkpoint where they did to force us to make this decision.” Amber laughed.
“Both routes have pros and cons,” Maisha looked in detail at the descent, and then checked the map. “Does anyone have a preference?”
“Anyone have a coin?” Anouska asked.
“Here,” Kiri passed her one.
“Heads we climb, tails we walk…Okay?’
“Yes,” Amber spoke as the coin flew in the air.
“It’s tails…we walk.”
“Oh JOY!” Amber rolled her eyes.
“How are we doing for water?” Maisha asked.
“We can probably do with taking on more.” Anouska answered.
“Okay we will head for this spring?” Maisha pointed to a location on the map.
“Agreed – we could do with finding some more food as well…”
From the ridge, the observer smiled as her radio went off.
“Receiving you Teacher.”
“Have they passed yet?”
“First group just did.”
“They decided to go round the ravine Teacher.”
“How did they decide?”
“It looked like they tossed a coin.”
“Well it’s been done worse ways…”
West Central Park
“Oh you have to be kidding me,” Adam groaned as the phone started ringing, Jan getting out of the bed and picking it up.
“Carter residence, how…
“Tom? What’s happened?
“Oh my god…”
Adam sat up and turned the light on as Jan said “where? Okay – and their home?
“Right – we’ll head there now and talk to the survivor. We’ll check in after that.”
As she put the phone down, Adam said “they’re back, aren’t they?”
“Looks that way,” Jan said as she pulled her jeans on. “Get dressed – I’ll leave a note for Mum.”
Grace walked in, her blonde hair falling over the shoulders of her brown jacket, and then she walked over to the table where her ex-husband was sitting, scruffily dressed, his hair unkempt.
“Grace – thanks for coming,” he said as she sat down and glanced at the menu, the waitress coming over.
“What will it be?”
“French Toast and coffee,” Bruce said, the waitress taking a note as she looked at Grace.
“California Omelette and coffee,” she said quietly, looking across the table at Bruce as she walked off.
“You know,” Grace finally said, “after the stalking and the other crap, the last thing I really should be doing is even talking to you?”
“I know Grace,” Bruce said with a smile, “and before we start can I say that I don’t deserve this, and thank you for eventually agreeing to see me.”
“Just be glad I didn’t carry out my first thoughts and send my lawyer along with a court order instead.”
“You’d have done that?”
“I might still,” Grace growled, then fell silent as their coffees were brought over. “Anyway why after all these years, and after attempting to blackmail my father, did you finally go to such extreme lengths to see me Bruce?”
“Can’t a man just want to see his ex…”
“Stop the crap,” Grace said angrily, “and let’s get this straight, I’m not going to give you any money, and if you threaten me in any way then I’ll see you in court.”
“You didn’t use to be this tough,” he said as he tried to extend his hand to touch hers.
“Oh I was always this tough,’ Grace smiled, “but back when you knew me I was in shock I think, I was hiding and trying to reinvent myself. Marrying you when I look back was simply part of that experiment in re-invention.”
“Ouch!” the man shook his head as the food was brought over.
“Sometimes the truth hurts,” Grace shrugged her shoulders. “Anyway enough of the past, let’s cut to the present. What exactly is it you want Bruce?”
“To see you – why should there be anything else?”
“If you wanted just that, you could watch television or read a magazine,” Grace said as she cut a piece of omelette and started to eat it.
“You know, I had no clue that mousey Grace Fox and Glorious Grace Gresham were one and the same person,” Bruce said as he ate some pancakes and sat back, attempting some small talk.
“It wouldn’t have been a good attempt by me to hide my past if you had Bruce.”
“Still… I had that huge poster of you in my room at Teacher Training College…”
“I remember it,” Grace smiled.
“I really should have made the connection.”
“How did you eventually work it out anyway?”
“I taught your cousin Colin at Winterfields,” Bruce said as he drank some coffee, “in fact for a while I was his house master, I overheard him talking to one of his friends about how his uncle had had a private detective search for his daughter, the famous old model Grace Gresham. You won’t believe how my ears perked up when he said that Grace Gresham was now a schoolteacher in Harlow called Mrs. Grace Brand.”
“Oh?” for a second a thousand thoughts raced through Grace’s head.
“I bet Daddy has never told you he had you traced has he?” Bruce smiled at the little triumph he’d gained in imparting that information.
“It would not surprise me, if it wasn’t for one small thing – I let them know I was alive, and he didn’t need to try and find me. Which begs the question – how did you find out, really find out?”
Looking at Grace, Bruce shrugged his shoulders as he said “I was told by a woman who I did some work for – Catherine James…”
“Shit,” Grace hissed, “HER? Do you know just how much pain that woman caused my friends?”
“What happened to her anyway?”
“She died – and another thing. How did you keep your problems out of sight well enough to land a job at as good a school as Winterfields Bruce? Are you still drinking and using?”
“You know Grace,” Bruce said quietly, “knowing, as I do now, just how bad your own drinking and cocaine habits were, aren’t you being a little hypocritical asking me those questions in that tone of voice?”
“I at least knew I had a problem, and I got myself clean…the HARD way,” Grace barely controlled her temper, “and anyway I asked you a question, how did you get away with it?”
“Would you believe that like you I actually quit cold turkey?”
“Not in a million fucking years,” Grace stared at the man, “I can smell the damn whiskey on your breath, and your eyes are diluted.”
“Oh I never said that I stayed permanently clean. But I was for a while.”
“Last chance, Bruce – what do you want?”
“I’ll let you know in good time – for now, I’m on holiday.”
“Well, enjoy your holiday,” Grace said as he put some bills on the table, and stood up, “but stay away from the Village, and stay away from me.”
“Or you will regret it – I promise you that,” she said as she walked off, Bruce smiling as he picked the bundle of notes up. He didn’t see the two women watching from the booth, as one of them made a call…
The Barkov Residence
“Dear God,” Robert Morgan said as he looked round the main room, “what sort of person…”
“Dis your first time seeing sumfink like this,” Albert Morelli said as he looked at his partner.
“Yeah, yeah it is…”
“Trust me, it never gets easier seeing it.”
Morelli looked over to the door, nodding as he saw Adam and Jan standing there. “I guessed you two may show up – so this is a Pussycat job?”
“Looks like it,” Adam said as they came in, “we just came from the Barkov gallery. One survivor – a cleaner on the early shift. She came in to see one of the bitches behind the security desk, and the guard dead on the floor.”
“I’d lay good odds it was one of their security experts,” Jan said as she looked at the blood stains on the floor. “Anyway, she was dragged into the main gallery, saw the empty display cases, the very dead Madame Barkov, and the other six – then she was knocked out.”
“They didn’t kill her?”
“She said the one who dragged her in called her their witness,” Adam said. “So, what’s the story here?”
“Barkov was found here by officers,” Morgan said as they looked at the lines round the blood stains, “shot in the face, and someone did a Bobbit on him as well. The housekeeper was tied to her bed – and you don’t want to know what they did to her.”
“I can guess,” Adam said grimly, “Forensics?”
“Bubkiss – but I guess you knew that anyway,” Morelli said quietly, “we do know the display cases in the library, and both safes, were emptied.”
“Main one there, small one in the bedroom – something you should see though,” Morgan said as Jan and Adam followed him into the library, papers strewn over the floor as they looked at a long metal box on the desk.
“Dunno – CSI think there were papers in here, but see the melted metal? Some sort of acid was poured into this.”
“Well if they were in London as the rumors say,” Adam shook his head, “I think after this it’s pretty safe to say they are back.”
“Yeah I think that’s certain,” Jan shook her head as she thought how Adam might react if he actually knew that the women who had done this were actually close friends?
“I’d love to know where they get their information from. This guy wasn’t exactly advertising just what he had, but somehow they knew he was a lucrative target.”
“Do they have a contact in the insurance company tipping them off Agent?” one of the uniforms asked.
“Since their targets are rarely insured by the same people we guess not.”
“If they are being tipped off then they have people telling them things everywhere,” Jan added.
“So scratch that idea,” the cop nodded his head.
“Somehow though they are doing their research,” Adam scratched he head, “but I’m damned if I can think how they do it.”
“Dat’s why they pay you the wages, Ball – we’ll let you have any findings we get…”
The de Ros Mansion
“Hey,” Abby said as she saw Jo and Cari on her screen, “how was your night?”
“Relaxing – and productive,” Cari said with a grin. “We’re heading back to college in a few minutes, but wanted to check how you are?”
“Not too bad – Alex is coming to see Mama later. She said the checks with Helen have gone well, so she will go into the hospital on Sunday night, and they operate on Monday. I’ll join them for breakfast in a minute.”
“She’s going to be fine you know,” Jo said quietly, “and if we could be there, we would be.”
“I know,” Abby said with a smile, “but everyone else is here, so I will continue my studies, and see Mama after. We will talk later?”
“Count on it,” Jo said as the screen went black, Abby nodding as she walked down the stairs.
“Ah, there you are my dear,” Guy said as she entered the dining room, “we were debating spending the day in the park, then a meal and a show this evening. How does that sound?”
“It sounds good,” Abby said as she sat down, Edith putting a plate of pancakes in front of her as Diana smiled.
Caroline sat at the other side of the table, watching as Francesca scanned the documents on her laptop.
“My god – and it was her who was the spymaster?”
“It was – and she paid the price. You will doubtless read it on the news later. I’ve instructed our watchers to be particularly alert for the next few hours.”
“Indeed – I perhaps do not need the full details,” Francesca said as she glanced over, her glasses on the bridge of her nose. “No witnesses to the actual details?”
“Only to the aftermath – let us say, those who carried out the work have a reputation to maintain.”
“As I said, I do not wish to know the details – has this been shared with Madame yet?”
“No – we’re having printouts made, and then the file will be sent securely to her, before I destroy this copy. Do you need an electronic copy?”
“No – paper is good,” Francesca said. “How long do you think before they realize what has happened?”
“I would imagine by this evening – so we make use of this window of opportunity now.”
“Agreed – let us go. We have a senior staff meeting…”
3 pm Local Time
As they walked across the grasslands, Blessing checking the map and compass as they did so, Kiri looked into the distance.
“Do you see that,” she said as she pointed, looking at the thin column of smoke rising into the blue sky. “Somebody has a fire lit this early?”
“Possible,” Amber said, “but how likely out here?”
The four looked at each other as Anouska said “perhaps we should approach from different angles, ensure all is well?”
Blessing nodded as she said “agreed – let us get closer, then separate and converge on the column.”
As Maisha approached the smoke, she crouched low to the ground, using what cover she could to hide behind until she was close enough to see. The column was rising from a jeep, and a woman was standing over the front, the bonnet open as she looked inside. She was wearing a khaki blouse and pants, as well as hiking boots, and a large hat covered her head.
From the side, she could see Anouska, Kiri and Amber, all three looking up and nodding to show they had assessed the situation as well. Taking a deep breath, Maisha stood up and walked over, holding her hands out as she said “Is everything all right?”
The woman whipped round, looking at the young African woman with the pack, as she said “what the… Did they send you to clean things up?”
“Who? I saw the smoke, and I and my friends came to see what was causing it.”
The woman looked at Kiri, Anouska and Amber as they walked forward, hands extended to show they had no weapons, and then looked back at Maisha.
“My name is Blessing – this is Anouska, Kiri and Amber. May we know your name?”
“Rebecca – call me Becky.”
“May I look at your vehicle,” Amber said as she walked over, Becky standing to the side as the young woman looked at the engine. “This has been shot at,” Amber said quietly, “what happened?”
“I was following a jeep – I work for the World Wildlife Fund, and there had been reports of poachers in the area.”
“Is it not dangerous to be out alone in this area, if that is the case,” Anouska said as she looked carefully round.
“I wasn’t alone – I had a guide, but when they started shooting from the jeep he jumped out and ran off. Never mind me though – why are you out here? It’s not exactly hiking country, and only one of you look as if you are local.”
“Perhaps we can sit and talk,” Blessing said quietly, “we have water, if you have food?”
“Well, I’ve got some energy bars,” Becky said quietly, “but how on earth am I going to get back to my base?”
“We may be able to help with that, if you will accept our help,” Kiri said with a smile.
“An African girl, an Eastern European, a Kiwi and an Indian girl? Well, if nothing else, it will pass the time,” Becky said as she looked in the jeep, and took out a rucksack, handing some of the bars round as Anouska passed her a canteen of water. “So how can you help me?”
“Let us eat and rest,” Blessing said quietly, “and you can join us. We are going to meet someone who will be able to provide assistance to you. Amber, will you make a note of where we are, and what we have found please?”
“Why would she do that?”
“Well, I presume you would like your vehicle returned at some point…”
FBI New York Field Office
Tom Callaghan looked up as Adam and Jan stood in the entrance to his office.
“Well? Is it them?”
“It looks like it,” Adam said as they came in and sat down, “the cleaner certainly described seven women, short dark hair under stocking masks, identically dressed, and heard two of them referred to as Miss Panther and Miss Bobcat.”
“And the other victims?” Tom Callaghan asked his lead investigators.
“Dead,” Adam replied quietly.
“All of them?”
“All of them. Madame Barkov and a guard at the gallery, Sergei Barkov and the housekeeper at the apartment.”
“These things will certainly be heading out of the country,” Jeanne Marais looked at the list of what had been stolen, “I’ll put this out over Interpol’s network.”
“I can’t believe that there are people out there prepared to buy this sort of thing knowing just how it was stolen - do these people have no sense of morality at all?”
“Most collectors do,” Jeanne reached for her phone, “but there are always those for whom merely possessing these things is an aim in itself and who don’t gave a damn regarding the how the objects came on the market.”
“Disabled at their home and at the gallery,” Jan said as she looked at her notes. “Security disks also taken from the gallery.”
“Do we need to go through the usual checklist?”
Adam and Jan looked at each other, and then shook their heads. “Seems they have decided to target high class targets again as well as banks – both Sergei and Anastasia Barkov were well known.”
“Russian citizens – have you informed the Consulate?”
“NYPD are taking care of that – one thing. There was a metal box that was damaged by acid – probably used to destroy whatever was in it.”
“Hmm – well, we do what we can, and add this to the list. It does raise an interesting question though.”
“And that is?”
As Ed Preminger read the classified document, he picked up the telephone and said “Admiral Preminger.”
“Good morning, Admiral – I trust I find you well?”
Ed smiled as he heard the deep, almost catlike voice and said “The Hidden Hand – and what can I do for you today?”
“It is more what I can do for you, Admiral – the Captain and the Admiral have asked me to alert you that they have - obtained a list of contacts which the Russians have cultivated in the US to support their cause. They will provide the full list, but they have authorized me to provide four names to you now.”
“I thought they were avoiding electronic communication?”
“As much as possible, yes – but it is important you are informed of them now. The method by which this information was obtained will become public soon, and there is a real risk you will not be able to find these four when that happens. There is an icon on your laptop – please, open it.”
Ed glanced at the screen, and then said “how do I know you have not embedded a virus in there.”
“You do not – beyond my assurance.”
Nodding, Ed double clicked on the icon, and read the note. “Oh dear god… Is this genuine?”
“I am authorized to assure you it is, Admiral. You will receive a call in a minute, confirming they wish to talk.”
Nodding, Ed said “I understand, thank you.” He wrote the names on a pad, as the call ended. As soon as he put the handset down, the phone rang again, and as he picked it up he said “Francesca?”
“And Eleanor,” the Italian female said. “You have received the information?”
“I have – when can you be here?”
“Ed, come to my house – we’re heading there now,” he heard Eleanor say. “We’ll be there for three.”
“Understood – be safe,” Ed said as he ended the call, and shouted out “LIEUTENANT!”
“Sir,” his aide said as he came in, Ed tearing the page from the pad and handing it to him.
“I need eyes and ears on these four people, and I need them an hour ago.”
As he looked at the names, his aide said “are you sure… My apologies Admiral, I’ll take care of it right away.”
As he left the room. Ed rubbed his eyes. This was getting to be a very serious situation…
7 pm EST
The British Embassy
Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honore
“Mercie,” Laura said as the maid put the dinner plate in front of her, Donald smiling as he sat opposite Agnes, and Miley across from Laura.
“Your French certainly appears to be improving,” he said as he started to cut into his steak.
“Thanks, Dad,” Laura said with a smile, “but we were both practicing at the Elysee Palace during the garden party this afternoon.”
“I saw you were talking to some of the other younger people there,” Agnes said with a smile.
“Yeah – they all came from the city centre, like we did, and they were nice enough to speak English as well,” Miley said as she took a sip from her glass.
“Well, it is the best way to learn a language – to go out and actually use it,” Donald said as he smiled at them. “By the way, there is something we both need to tell you.”
“Oh – and what’s that,” Laura said as she looked at Agnes.
“I had a call from Susan when we got back – the formal adoption papers have been lodged and approved, so you are now Laura and Amelia McAdam.”
Both girls grinned as Donald said “that’s not the only thing – we have been asked if we wish to go to a Halloween party in New York this year, and to attend the Breeder’s Cup the Friday before.
“Isn’t that a big horse race,” Laura asked quietly.
“It most certainly is, but all our friends will be at both events.”
“Do we have to dress up for the party,” Miley said quietly.
“It will be fancy dress – we should hear the theme later this week…”
“Do you still believe that our ‘friends’ are part of something far bigger Jeanne?” Tom asked as they all sat at the coffee shop counter.
“I’d like to see how this particular bit of nastiness could be explained as being part of something related to the wider world?” Adam added.
“I’m not saying every raid by the Pussycat gang is more than just a straight forward criminal raid Adam, but if we could know the complete truth behind this I wouldn’t personally be surprised if something else was going on.”
“But unless we get some huge break in the case we will never know…will we?” Jan sipped her Cappuccino.
“Probably not,” the woman from Interpol acknowledged.
7 pm Local Time
As the sun started to set, she saw the group of five walking towards her.
Five? She looked through her field glasses, but yes – the expected four, and one other, a brunette who was dressed for the desert. As they approached her, she smiled and said “welcome to the second checkpoint ladies – and this is?”
“This is Becky,” Blessing said, “we came across her on our walk. Someone had shot out the engine of her jeep – can you arrange assistance for her?”
“I can take care of that – will you rest here or press on?”
“I think we should…”
Anouska looked at Blessing as she said “are you all right?”
“I am not sure – I think…” Blessing looked down at her leg, as Kiri squatted down and examined her.
“Tweezers – quickly.”
As she was handed a pair, Kiri gently pulled and removed the tick from Blessing’s leg.
“Do you have a plastic bag?”
“Here,” Becky said as she removed one from her rucksack, Kiri putting the tick in and closing the bag before she examine the leg. “I don’t think there is a problem, but I want to put some cream on it. Is it painful?”
“A little,” Blessing said, “but I will press on.”
“Rest here for a while – I need to radio for assistance,” the woman said as she walked off a short distance.
“Understood,” Helga said as she talked into the radio, “what sort of tick was it?”
“I am not sure – Kiri has kept it. If there is an issue…”
“That is Blessing’s choice. In the meantime, I’ll get a group out to your location and we can help your guest. For the Heart and the Strength.”
“Problem,” Leader said as Helga replaced the handset.
“Maisha has been bitten by an insect – some sort of tick. They’ll rest for a while – I need to update Madame…”
7.30 pm BST
John looked over as Shirley talked on the phone.
“She’s been bitten? By what?”
“Relax, Madame,” Helga said over the line, “according to the monitor, it’s a tick – and out here, that’s not such a bad thing. It’s been removed, and she’s had some cream put on it, and they are resting for the moment.”
“Is Maisha all right,” John asked as he stood up.
“She’s been bitten by an insect, but apparently she’s fine. They’re making sure it’s not too serious,” Shirley said, but inside she was shaking – a feeling new to her.”
“If at any time it looks serious, we pull her.”
“She will want to keep going, you know that?”
“We do – all four have to complete, but we will watch and monitor. If anything else happens, I’ll let you know – and I’ll call as soon as she comes back in.”
“Thank you, Helga – I’ll await your call,” Shirley said as she replaced the handset, and sat down. John poured her a brandy and handed it over, as he said “are you all right?”
“I’m worried, John…”
“You said it yourself,” John said as he squatted by her seat, “she wanted to do this, and I’m sure they will watch her…”
“John,” Shirley said as she looked over, “I pulled her out of potential slavery, she’s so precious, I can’t let anything happen to her.”
“I know darling,” John whispered as he put his arms round her, “she means the world to both of us.”
“I’m aware she’s being monitored,” Shirley said as a tear ran down her cheek, “but I feel like I need to be there…just in case she needs me. Does that make sense?”
“To me it makes perfect sense,” John smiled as he stroked Shirley’s cheek, “neither of us was lucky enough to become parents in the normal way of events, she’s our ‘daughter’ like we said, and she’s all the more special to both of us because neither of us ever thought we would become parents.”
“I feel helpless John, she’s in Botswana and I can’t do anything. I’m not used to feeling this way…” Shirley started crying, John holding her as the tears flowed. Eventually, she stopped as she felt his arms round her.
“Talk to Helga again in a few hours and find out how she’s progressing. Then if you need to, you own your own jet Shirley darling, go fly to her…”
“And bring her home safely?” she looked up into his eyes.
“That goes without saying.”
Eleanor Balls’ house
“An interesting place, Eleanor – a true reflection of you,” Francesca said as she stood in the main room with her old friend.
“Well, I like it – he’s here,” Eleanor said quietly as a car drew up, Ed getting out and walking to the front door as she opened it.
“Okay, I get the feeling this is something you did not want to cover in the office,” he said as he took his coat off and hung it on the stand, “where do you want to begin?”
“With a drink,” Eleanor said as she poured brandy into three glasses and handed them round. “The names we sent earlier?”
“Let’s just say we’re going to know when they have to crap or piss,” Ed said. “I heard on the radio – care to explain what happened?”
Taking a drink, Eleanor said “bottom line – we were aware of the possibility Barkov was a paymaster, so when we heard a robbery was planned for their home – and no, I won’t tell you how – we slipped an operative in who retrieved – well, a goldmine.”
“Okay – so apart from the star four?”
Francesca handed Ed a dossier, and said “sit down and read…”
“Oh my god,” Ed whispered as he looked across at the two women.
“To be honest Ed,” Eleanor said quietly, “I think a lot of this is far too politically sensitive for even you to work on.”
“You may be right Eleanor,” the Admiral didn’t look up from what he was reading as he spoke. “What do you suggest?”
“That we send a portion of this to Kay Cornwall and ask, even maybe beg, for the British to start investigating.”
“Kay isn’t bound by the same rules and laws that you are Admiral,” Francesca said quietly, “and she can do things that are far outside the scope of my little organization.”
“I’m well aware of that Francesca,” Ed stopped reading, and adjusted his glasses, “I know the capabilities of MI6, but I’m also fully aware of the consequences if one day it ever came out that I’d farmed this out to the British to work on.”
“You don’t trust Kay to keep a secret Ed?”
“In the short term I trust her completely Eleanor, but in the medium to long term you know as well as I do that these damn things have a habit of leaking.”
“Well we will just have to make sure it doesn’t.” Francesca smiled.
“Very well then – I’ll get the summary sent to her, and request her assistance. But, in the end a lot of this is going to come down to time ladies. We have an election approaching fast and we are rapidly gathering intelligence that is proving that the Russians are tampering with the whole political process.”
“Agreed,” Eleanor nodded as she reread something, “they have obviously been planning this, and working on making it happen, for a very long time.”
“Patience was always a Russian quality,” Francesca murmured almost to herself.
“We don’t have the time to play a patient game,” Ed stood and started to pace, “if we can’t go totally public with this very soon then it will have to be shelved till after the election.”
“We have to respect the conventions on official acts not influencing the vote.” Eleanor explained to Francesca.
“Understood,” Francesca crossed her long legs. “There are two possibilities in play. If she wins, then all this can come out in official reports over time and the politicians can then decide how they act on it all…”
“And if he wins?” Eleanor asked.
“That is the nightmare scenario, and I am totally unqualified to advise Ed and his colleagues what they should do in such a circumstance.”
Ed nodded as he said “it comes down to this – can we act on anything in this, at this time, without causing even greater problems, or do we continue to gather evidence, and build our case?”
The Richmond Mansion
“See you on Monday,” Katy said as she got into the car, Jan waving to Heather and Sandy before she got in and drove off.
“So, it sounds like we missed out on something serious?” Katy asked her Mother as they drove home from the Richmond House.
“Be glad we weren’t part of it darling.” Jan grimaced as she turned the corner.
“That bad eh?”
“Yes it was extremely nasty,” Jan shook her head.
“Carina outdid herself?”
“I’m thinking that she wasn’t the only one,” Janice pulled up at the lights, “but until I get a chance to talk to Juliette I’m only guessing.”
“Sands thinks something is going on that you grownups aren’t telling us. Is this all part of that?”
“How the hell?” Janice glanced at her daughter as the lights changed and she pulled away.
“Mom you keep forgetting that we watch and listen. We both can see when something is happening, even when no one tells us directly.”
“And that is how you both got into this mess in the first place…”
“True,” Katy giggled as she interrupted. “Just be glad that both Sands and I love our family and friends.”
“So what is going on Mom?”
“I don’t know.”
“Mom,” Katy said with a sigh, “I thought there were no secrets?”
“No that’s the honest truth darling. I know it’s something that relates to national security, but everything is being kept very much on a need to know basis, and I’m not one of the people it seems who needs to know.”
“Wow! It’s that serious?”
“From what I can gather.’
“So who does know what is going on? Aunt Sandy?”
“Probably not. I’m guessing Heather is in on a lot of this, she probably knows far more than even Juliette.”
“Oh my Goddess,” Katy shook her head.
“So tell Sands to keep her eyes and ears shut, and not to ask too many questions. And that applies to you as well young lady.”
them Grace?" Harriet asked as she sat down in the lounge, while Grace
looked out of the window.
makes you think I have anything on my mind?"
"Because I've known you far too many years not to know when you are preoccupied and worried Grace Brand...So spill."
Sighing, Grace sat down and looked at Harriet. "I went and spoke to Bruce."
"I sort of
guessed that. What happened?"
me a couple of things that I didn't know."
Daddy had used private detectives to find me, and knew where I was."
Nodding, Harriet said "I did wonder if he might have."
"But why did he never tell me he knew?"
as you've always said, you thought your family were respecting your privacy. He
and the others needed to know that you were okay, but they knew it was your
choice to exile yourself."
so," Grace shook her head.
"Why don't you ring your uncle in Washington Grace, from what you've said you and he get on fairly well, get him to tell you just what happened?"
“I suppose I should,” Grace said as she picked up the phone.
“Good evening – Grace Gresham-Fox for the ambassador please.” She stood, still looking out of the window as she waited to be connected.
“This is Charles Gresham-Fox.”
“Uncle Charles? It’s Grace.”
“Hello Grace,” she heard her uncle say, “how lovely to hear from you again. How are things in New York?”
“Far from perfect Uncle Charles.”
“Yes, Bruce, my ex-husband, is in town.”
“Okay,”he said slowly, “I understand, has he been causing trouble?”
“Some, but he’s also told me a couple of things that I didn’t know.”
“What kind of things Grace?”
Taking a deep breath, she said “oh, like that Daddy and the family used private detectives to find me while I was living in Harlow.”
For a few seconds there was silence.
“And how may I ask did he know that?”
“He was Colin’s house master for a time at Northfields, he overheard Colin telling another boy.”
“Uncle Charles why did none of you tell me you’d known just where I was when I remade contact?”
There was a moment’s silence, before Charles said “because your parents wanted you to think that we’d totally respected your decision to cut yourself off.”
“But all those years…”
“I know – and it’s another in that long list of mistakes families make Grace. They knew, if you wanted to talk, you would – but you had to walk the path you chose.”
“I know,” Grace said quietly, “it just surprised me. Thanks, Uncle Charlie.”
“Now, the more immediate problem – what does he want?”
“I don’t know Uncle Charlie, I really don’t know…”
He picked up his coffee and sipped it, wondering if this was going to be another fruitless night as he looked round the quiet café.
“Good Evening Dancer.”
As he looked at the woman sitting opposite him, he shook his head and said “I was beginning to wonder if I had been forgotten.”
“No, you have not. Our last meeting did not happen because I had to deal with an urgent matter.”
“And I could not have been informed?”
As she accepted the coffee, she shook her head and said “there was no time. What do you have to report?”
“To be truthful, I have to report that my mission will not succeed as currently set.”
“Oh – and why not?”
“The people I have met with know him too well – they know the true him, and are not going to be turned. I can continue to try and influence through my work, but the so-called Saints and Sinnerz? That will not happen.”
To his surprise, she nodded and said “I concur – we are focusing our efforts now on those who are more –shall we say, flexibly minded. Events, however, mean we have a new assignment for you to undertake.”
“And that is?”
Sipping her coffee again, she said “have you read or seen the evening news?”
“You know I do not watch television, and I have not seen a newspaper for three days. Why?”
“One of our paymasters was killed today – a particularly nasty home invasion, no survivors, but it would appear they managed to destroy any incriminating information before it could be discovered. I have reports of a box burned with acid.”
Dancer stared at her, before he whispered “dear god… Who did it?”
“The reports I have been passed indicate it was the so-called Pussycat Gang. As I said, no survivors.”
She watched as he shivered, and then said “so what do you wish me to do?”
“Take over their role – we will provide the required information at a safe drop tomorrow. You will be sent the details. There is one other thing.”
“And that is?”
“The Devil Fish – you have avoided her?”
“Wherever possible – we did not speak last night at all, nor did I talk to her daughter.”
“Good… Continue that approach, Dancer. We meet again as scheduled.”
She stood and walked off, Dancer waiting for a moment before he walked to the counter and picked up a copy of the New York Post. Reading the reports, he shivered, and then headed for his home…
Sunday 25th September
5 am Local Time
As Blessing opened her eyes, she felt the pain in her leg, and sat up, looking at the red raised area where she had been bitten. Running her finger gently over it, she grimaced slightly.
“Is it infected?”
She looked over at Blessing, who smiled and said “I do not know – but it will not stop me completing the walk with you.”
Kiri walked over and looked at her leg. “I’m going to put some more cream on, and bandage it,” she said quietly, “and we take it slowly. We do not have too far to go now.”
“I will not be a burden…”
“You are not a burden, sister,” Amber said quietly, “we all finish together. What of Becky anyway?”
“A support team is arriving later – let me get this done, and then we can get going.”
To outsiders it looked from the outside to be a typical 5 storey London building, no different to most of the blocks around it in that part of the West End. Thousands of people walked by each and every day without realising that it was home to London Centre, the hub of the British Secret Intelligence Service.
Inside readers of the spy novels of John LeCarre and Len Deighton would maybe, or maybe not, be surprised by the similarities the reality bore to its fictional counterparts. Certainly anyone used to the modern high-tech world of CIA headquarters would be shocked by the old fashioned, and so very British ambience of London Centre. Modernisers hated the place, but the traditionalists loved and conserved every detail, and they still held the upper hand.
From her top floor office Kay Cornwall looked down on the street below and as she sipped her coffee, idly watched the people going about their daily business. Her office could have easily belonged to a bookie Oxford Don of the kind she had once aspired to become. The walls were covered in bookcases, and every surface was almost totally covered in books and papers. The most modern thing was the laptop computer open on her desk.
But from here she controlled operations in Eastern Europe, and the report she was reading of recent activities worried her greatly. The knock on the door came as a welcome relief from her reverie, as she put her cup down.
The door opened as one of the secretaries came in. “Good morning, Ma’am,” she said as she stood in her twin set and skirt.
“Do you have something for me?” Kay noticed the manila folder that the girl from the communications centre was carrying.
“I do Ma’am - this came in from the Americans overnight marked ‘eyes only’ and addressed to you.”
“Thank you,” Kay smiled at the clerk as she signed to acknowledge receipt of the documents.
“Thank you Ma’am,” the clerk smiled back as she left the office.
“Alright what are you all about?” Kay asked herself as she slipped on her glasses and opened the file.
For the next twenty minutes Kay first read the 18 page document, then paused and made herself another cup of coffee, then almost as if she was in shock she slowly reread the whole thing again, trying to think of any reason that she could create to downgrade, or discredit, the bombshells that the document contained.
Eventually, she put the file down and sat back, her eyes closed. Alright - why had Ed Preminger sent her this document and the enclosed list of names? Was he admitting implicitly that he was unable to investigate all of this completely?
Yes, there was a tradition of reasonably close co-ordination, and co-operation, between the US and UK intelligence communities, but this list of names and what was being implied about the people mentioned went way, way, beyond the type of material that was usually shared.
Opening her eyes, she stared at the folder again. “Alright,” Kay thought, “he knows that Russia is my area of expertise?” Standing up, she started to process her thinking by talking to herself, “Does he want me to develop this because he feels constrained by politics and thus is unable to do it?”
Yes that made sense, but while she thought about it another question came to mind. What truly was the role of Francesca and her people in all this? How had they managed to obtain this level of information – and who were they calling on to do this?
Did she need to request a meeting with the Director-General to ask for guidance what to do? Probably yes. Even if for no other reason then to cover her arse in case this all blew up in one huge mess.
Picking up the telephone, Kay pressed a button and waited. “Sir? I need an immediate consult – level 1.
“Thank you,” she said as she put the handset down, picked up the file and walked out of her room.
11 am Local Time
“How much further,” Anouska said as Kiri looked at the map.
“I reckon another ten clicks in that direction,” she said as Amber looked at Blessing’s leg.
“Are you sure you can continue,” she said quietly as she looked at the dark damp patch. Blessing looked up and nodded, grimacing slightly as she took some water.
“We started this together, we end this together,” she said quietly as she took a step, and then winced in pain as Anouska came over.
“Lean on me,” she said as she put Blessing’s arm over her shoulder, “we will take turns to support you.”
“I have to walk in the camp myself,” Blessing said as she looked at them.
“And you will,” Anouska said quietly, “but we help you to get there, all right?”
11 am BST
Kay looked at the Director General as he read the document again, and then put the file down, standing and walking to the window as he looked out onto the street below.
“You always suspected some of the information put out in the recent Referendum campaign was originating from our friends in the east,” he finally said without turning round, “does the document I have just read confirm that view?”
“To my mind, it makes it a certainty Sir,” Kay said quietly, wondering what he was thinking.
“Kay – what they are asking us to do is on the very border of what our terms of reference allow. Strictly speaking, this should be communicated to the highest authorities over there.”
“I am sure Admiral Preminger is already exploring those avenues, sir.”
“Okay,” he said as he turned round, “time for you to tell me what is really going on? How did he get this information?”
Shifting in her chair, Kay said “to do that Sir, I need to stray into areas that perhaps need to be kept even greyer than those we traditionally tread in.”
Nodding, he sat back down and pressed a button on his desk. “The recording equipment is off, we are silent. What do you have to say that cannot even go on the secret record, Kay?”
“Tell me, Derek – have you heard of the Sisters of Maisha?”
“The rumours – an apparently large, extra-legal and pan-national group that fight to stop the oppression of women and those who cannot fight for themselves. Very well-funded – again, rumoured to be from support from non-governmental groups. Beyond that, not a lot.”
Kay nodded as she said “so if I told you not only were they real, but that Admiral Preminger had specifically requested their help to gather such evidence as this?”
“Given what you just showed me,” Derek said as he tapped the file with his finger, “and knowing Ed, it’s precisely what he would do.” Looking ta Kay, he said “off the record, if I was to ask you…”
“No,” Kay said quietly, “but I am aware of some of the group that have specifically been involved in the activities leading to this. All I am prepared to say is they are highly skilled, and bring those skills directly to bear on this research.”
“And if I was to press you for names?”
Kay looked directly at him, and said “you would have my resignation on your desk within the hour – sir.”
“I see,” Derek said quietly as he looked at Kay. “What are your thoughts?”
“My suspicion is this is too large and too well established to stop now, Sir. I do wonder if we can offer the support – unofficially, of course – of specific monitoring from our Cheltenham office?”
Looking over, she saw the Director General nod before he said “I think for the names in here that were already on our watch list that is acceptable. There are some other names on here that bother me – and I’ll need approval from the HO if we are going to start listening to some of them.”
“Would we have to inform her of the source?”
“If you can’t tell me, I can’t tell her – let’s just say information received from our American friends. But I’ll need a priority list – I need you to identify at most six names that you consider primary importance.”
“I can do that Sir,” Kay said with a smile. “Does this have to go all the way up?”
“No – not just now,” Derek said as he sat back. “Identify the names, let me have them, and I’ll set the wheels in motion. In the meantime, inform Admiral Preminger we have the information, and we will action what we can.”
“That will be our formal response Sir?”
“It will,” Derek said as he sat forward, “but in return, I do need to know, off the record, who is really coordinating this exercise.”
Nodding, Kay said “Admiral Marchesa Francesca di Cambrello.”
“The Devil Fish herself? That is the sort of person I could see the Sisters recruiting,” Derek said as he sat back. “Kay, keep me updated off the books on this one. I suspect at some point we may have to move for ourselves.”
“Sir,” Kay said as she stood up, Derek handing her the file before she turned and left his office.
“Alright why do you think we particularly need action against this man Commander?” Francesca scanned the handout as the senior staff sat round the table.
“He seems to be yet another Russian taxi cab company owner, and we’ve looked at several of these men,” Hannah observed.
“Yes,” Veronica said with a smile, “but how many of them back in Moscow have a brother-in-law who is Deputy Chief of Staff to the President?”
“Really? Now I find him interesting,”
“I rather thought you might Admiral.”
“I still think we need more,” Eleanor spoke.
“Well by cross referencing to the observation reports it seems our man is a very close friend with several people who can only be described as fixers.”
“Fixers for people on our target list?”
“Yes Caroline,” Veronica added. “My analysts think this guy ‘fixes’ the fixers.”
“Alright I’m extremely interested,” Francesca played with her glasses. “Your recommendations Commander?”
“Something I can’t ask for in my normal career,” Veronica took a deep breath, “can you authorize a break in and the seizing of his computers and other business records Admiral?”
Francesca looked at Veronica, and then at Caroline.
“I’ll see what can be done…”
3 pm Local Time
The Training Camp
“So as you can see,” Liz said as she looked at the other students, “if you divide and move round, you manage to…”
Hearing the shouting outside, she said “come – I think we have a group coming in.” They quickly moved outside, Teacher and Poison coming over as the Sisters gathered at the entrance to the camp.
“Is it who I think it is,” Liz said as the three leaders walked to the front of the group, the women dancing and singing.
“Yeah – but they’re supporting one of their own,” Poison said. “It must be…”
“We’re nearly there,” Kiri said as Blessing looked up, and then removed her arm from around Kiri’s shoulder, straightening up as the four of them started to walk into the camp. As they came closer, she smiled as Leader came forward, her arms outstretched.
“Welcome – welcome back, sisters,” she said as she hugged each of them in turn, and then looked at Blessing.
“Liz – get over here,” she shouted as Blessing fell forward into her arms.
“We… We made it…”
“You did,” Liz said as she looked at the other three. “What was it?”
“This,” Kiri said as Xan came forward, taking the bag and looking at the tick, and then looking at Liz before he walked quickly off.
“Come on – to the infirmary with you,” Liz said as she and Poison supported Blessing, “we get that treated. All of you, rest – others are still to come in.”
“No – we’re coming to make sure she is all right,” Amber said, the other three nodding as they followed Blessing.
3.30 pm BST
Xavier International, London
As her secretary walked into the office, she saw Shirley put her laptop into her bag, and grab her coat.
“Call my home, tell John I’ve flown out and will be back tomorrow – he’ll understand.”
“Of course Madame – may I ask…”
“Cancel my appointments for tomorrow,” Shirley said as she put her coat on, “and call Catriona, tell her I’ll see her at home tomorrow night.”
Angela nodded as Shirley almost ran out of the office, wondering what had happened…
“Not another one!”
“I’m afraid so,” Charlotte said as she looked at Heather across the table, “Veronica asked Mama, she asked me – and now, I’m asking you.”
“Okay – and it’s critical to what’s going on?”
“Mama thinks so – can you help?”
“Look Charlotte I’m rushed off my feet with all I’m trying to do,” Heather looked skyward, “you are more than capable of doing this yourself.”
“Yes but like you I barely have a spare minute, and besides can you see Mama giving the okay to me going on an operation?”
“No,” Heather took a moment to think. “Look Doc is good enough at the tech stuff to download all the records without us having to physically take everything, but she will need a support team.”
“Can we get your sister down here this week?”
“Actually Jo does have to come down to go back and see the dentist about that compacted wisdom tooth again.”
“Is that what she told the school last time?”
“Yes, but it has the virtue of being true.”
“Alright Jo for one…what about Abigail?”
“No, not until after Diana has had her operation,” Heather said quietly, “but Annie as we all know is more than capable.”
“And maybe one other inside?”
“Ask Janice if she and Katy want in. Katy can play guard and Jan is a better then ordinary driver.”
“Agreed,” Charlotte nodded, “alright I’ll contact them all and brief them on what’s required. How are you anyway?”
“Better after the other night,” Heather said with a smile, “I’m just worried this is already too big for us…”
The de Ros Mansion
“That was a truly excellent meal Edith,” Valeria said as the plates were cleared, Alain giggling as his mother wiped his chin, and then saying “Momma!”
“He is certainly getting more vocal,” Willy said as he looked at Guy and Diana. “I am glad we could all get together today – it has been a while since Abigail’s birthday.”
“It has indeed,” Guy said as he accepted the dessert plate from Edith. “So tell me, Abigail, how busy are you this week?”
“Fairly busy, Grandpa,” Abby said as she swallowed semi of the semi-freddo. “I have classes tomorrow afternoon and all day Tuesday, and a shoot on Wednesday.”
“Well, it will keep you busy,” Diana said with a smile as she sipped her wine, and looked at the clock. “Edith, we will take coffee in the drawing room, and then I need you to complete the preparations for me.”
“As you wish, Madame,” Edith said quietly, but out of the corner of her eye Diana could see the worry in the housekeeper’s face before she walked off.
“Diana – how are you truly feeling,” Natasha asked as she put her hand on her sister-in-law’s.
“How am I truly feeling? Apprehensive, but also strangely at peace,” Diana said quietly. “There is nothing I can do now except place myself in the hands of someone I trust totally – and in the love and support of my family and friends.”
“Well said, my dear,” Guy said quietly. “When do you head off?”
“I need to be there for eight tonight, so let us finish our meal, and then enjoy our coffee before I leave…”
The de Ros Mansion
As Abby walked up the stairs, she walked round the house, strangely silent at that time. She had made sure the doors were locked, and for a moment she stood outside her mother’s room, allowing a tear to roll down her cheek.
“Miss Abigail – are you all right?”
Abby turned to see Edith standing there, in her dressing gown.
“Oh – sorry Edith, it’s just – having left Mamma in the hospital room, and the house so quiet now…”
“I understand, Miss Abigail,” Edith said quietly, “but Madame – your mother – is in the best of hands, and I am sure she will be glad to see you tomorrow night. In fact – with your permission – I will accompany you to see that is the case?”
“Edith,” Abigail said quietly, “you have been there for us all my life. Why?”
Edith blushed as she said “you should ask your mother that question, Miss Abigail. For now, let me merely say what I am sure you have heard me say before – I owe Madame a debt of gratitude, and this is my way of repaying…”
“Edith – I need to ask a serious question, and I need an honest answer. I know what part my father played in your sister’s life – but do you know what happened to my father? What really happened?”
Edith looked at the young woman for a moment, and then said quietly “yes – I do know, Miss Abigail, but more than that I cannot say without the permission of your mother.”
Nodding, Abby said quietly “he deserved it for what he did to her and to you.”
“I am in no position to say otherwise, Miss Abigail,” Edith said quietly, “but your mother is a good woman, and she loves you very much – as did both I and Miss Harkness when she was alive. And I am for you now, as I always have been, Miss. May I fetch a bedtime drink for you?”
“No – no thank you Edith, I am fine,” Abigail said with a smile.
“When will you require breakfast in the morning?”
“Seven thirty – and thank you again Edith.
“Good night, Miss Abigail,” Edith said as she turned and returned to her room, Abigail smiling as she went to bed.