The two women groaned as they wriggled on the bed, taped together from neck to ankles, the ballgags tightly strapped into their mouths and the vibrators working inside them, while Annie turned the light off and the two moved to the window, opening it and slipping on to the fire escape and then heading down one floor.
Looking at the window, Helen wondered why Annie was feeling round the window – and then saw her following a wire to a small metal box. From her rucksack, she took a small box with two bulldog clips, and fastened it either side of the wire by the window, before she cut the wire between the box and the window.
Sliding the window up, the two women slipped in, Helen watching as Annie shone her pen light round the room. She stopped as she looked at a small print, hanging on the wall, and took a good look at it.
“Very nice isn’t it?”
Annie turned to see a grey haired woman standing in the doorway, pointing a small gun at her as she smiled with her head cocked to the side. “It is actually – a genuine Picasso?”
“It is – a pity you will only see it for a few moments before the police arrive. Who shall I say broke in?”
“Well,” Annie said with a smile, “I believe the police refer to me as the Black Cat.”
“Indeed,” the woman said as she walked forward, “I should be honoured. How did you disable the alarm?”
“Sorry – trade secret – but I can tell you one thing.”
“Oh? And what is that?”
“That if you do not put the gun down, my friend will be forced to shoot you.”
The woman stopped for a moment as she heard Helen pull back on the safety, and said “ah – that would be regrettable.” Raising her hands, she watched Annie as she walked forward and said “Now, turn round, put your hands behind your back, and then we can discuss what else you have that I may take – starting with the painting.”
Jo and Penny entered the hallway of the apartment, Jo shining the penlight round the hallway and stepping carefully forward. As she did so, she saw a door open, and she turned the light off, both women standing against the wall as a ten year old boy walked out of the room, and down to the toilet.
Both of them stayed perfectly still as they heard the toilet flush, and then the boy walked back, going back to his room, both women waiting as they gave him a chance to get to sleep.
“Not that room,” Jo said as they walked past, looking at the sign on the door that said ‘KEVIN’S ROOM’.”
“There now – I trust it is not too uncomfortable?”
“No – you are skilled,” the woman said as she looked at the bands of rope holding her upper body to the chair. She was wearing a pale blue silk top and bottoms, the white rope visible as it held her wrists to the back of the chair, her body in an upright position, her legs to the front legs.
“Your friend is very quiet?”
“She doesn’t say much – but she does provide some very useful help,” Annie said as she looked at the woman. “So, do I have to strip the place down, or will you cooperate?”
“Well, since you asked so nicely – in my room, top drawers of the bureau. In here, there is a safe but I will not tell you where or how to get in.”
“Of course – so, open your mouth please.”
She nodded as Annie pushed the balled up sponge into her mouth, and then wrapped white micropore tape round her head, before she blindfolded her with a second band.
“Right,” she said as she looked at Helen, “first things first – thanks.”
Helen nodded as Annie looked round the room, and then looked at a large portrait – and then at the floor.
“I wonder,” she said as she rolled back a rug, and then felt around the floorboards, before she took her thin blade out and ran it through a gap. She smiled as a panel lifted up, revealing a floor safe.
“Both Jo and I have these,” Annie said as she took a small metal box from her bag, and placed it next to the keypad, pressing a button before she made her way to the bedroom.
Helen looked at the box, the red lights flashing, and smiled as she followed Annie.
“Very nice,” Jo whispered as she held up the diamond necklace, and put it into her sack, along with the coins and the rolls of bank notes. Closing the door to, she closed her rucksack, and then made her way to the master bedroom.
The couple were lying in the bed, their eyes closed, peacefully sleeping as she searched through their drawers, removing jewellery and money as she did so. Penny watched carefully as she took every effort not to wake anyone up.
“This girl has real skills,” she thought to herself as Jo closed the last drawer, and then smiled as she left the room, the two women letting themselves out by the front door.
“Well, thank you – enjoy the rest of the night,” Annie said as her captive nodded, and she turned the light off, heading out of the door.
“One more to go,” Annie said quietly, Helen nodding as they made their way to the first floor.
Jo opened the front door of the apartment, looking over the hallway to the box on the opposite wall. Taking a deep breath, she ran across the carpet, trying to make as little noise as possible as she opened the door and used wire cutters to disable the alarm.
Turning, she nodded at Penny who walked in, closing the door behind herself as she looked into the kitchen. She noticed the light on the kettle going off, just as Jo noticed a door opening.
The woman who came out was in her early twenties, and wore a white nursing top with grey pants. She stopped as she saw Jo standing there, smiling under the stocking as she said “not a word, young lady. You’re going to be late for your shift – back into the bedroom, and lie face down on the bed please.”
The young girl turned round and lay face down on her pink coverlet, shivering as Jo started to bind her, Penny watching the whole time.
Annie was looking through the display case in her final apartment, helping herself to some silver snuff boxes, while Helen watched her. Once she had closed the door, she and Helen checked the spare bedroom, and then made their way into the main bedroom.
A woman in her late forties was asleep in the bed, the covers over her body as she lay on her back. She seemed to be in a deep sleep, as Annie started to look through her drawers.
Susan and Clint’s Apartment
“Hey, hey – there you go,” Susan said as she watched April finish her bottle, and then winded her, walking up and down the floor of the main room of the apartment as she did so.
She smiled as she felt her daughter relax, and looked at her before taking her back to the nursery, laying her down and covering her with a blanket before turning the light off.
Heading for the kitchen, she poured herself a glass of milk, and then saw the light on under the room door.
“Are you still up?” Susan said as she quietly knocked on Kylie’s door and then opened it.
“Yes, I’m still on Hong Kong time I guess, I was watching the burglary game.” Kylie sat cross-legged on her bed with her computer in front of her.
“I think I’ll watch the edited highlights,” Susan said as she closed the door, “watching live just makes me wish I was there.”
“It’s been an interesting night so far. So what can I do for you darling?” Kylie said as she muted the sound.
“I just wanted to chat about how school was going.”
“Well the school is predicting excellent results for my GCSE’s – even the maths.”
“I know,” Susan said with a smile, “I get the reports from them.”
“You know,” Kylie said as she took off her glasses and looked at them, “a few months ago, honestly - who would ever have thought I’d be looking at doing this well?”
“Kylie, I always told both Marina and yourself you weren’t dumb.”
“I know you did, but I guess being unable to see to concentrate for very long I talked myself into believing I was.”
“I suspect you did.” Susan shook her head. “So for next year are you set on Godolphin and Latymer?”
“Pretty much, my only alternative in my mind is St Angela’s here, but I do sort of miss London.”
“I can understand that – but it also depends on where Marina wants to go, true?”
“True – we make a very good team together, along with Helen – who seems to be approving of Annie.”
“How much longer?”
“Not too long I think – they’re both in their last apartments now.”
“There now – don’t move,” Jo said as she smacked the bottom of the nurse, who was lying on her side, tightly hogtied, tape over her mouth and holding in a large headscarf behind her lips.
She was forced to watch as Jo found her valuables, and then pulled a bag out from under the bed.
“Oh – what do we have here,” she said as she opened the bag, taking out several tightly rolled bundles of hundred dollar bills, and then several bottles of pills.
“I’ll take these,” she said as she put the notes into her bag, “as to these, you have twenty four hours to lose or return them, or the police will be told. Understand?”
The nurse nodded as Jo said “Good – I’ll be watching. Let’s get out of here.”
“Strange – not a lot of jewellery here,” Annie said to herself as she closed the last drawer, and then looked carefully at the woman on the bed. As she shone the penlight on her mouth, she had to stop herself giggling as she saw the clear tape over her lips.
Motioning Helen over, they gently pulled back the coverlet to show the ropes around her arms, and her wrists which were crossed on her stomach, then went down to her legs and finally her ankles.
“We’re not her first visitor,” Annie said, Helen nodding as they covered her, and then left her in her exhausted sleep, as they slipped out of the back door.
“Have a good time?”
“An interesting one,” Annie said as she looked at Jo, taking off her stocking mask as she did so, “now what?”
“Back to my place for all four of us – sis, if you’re listening, some coffee would be nice.”
“I’ll do some soup as well,” Heather said as she stood up, Dom nodding as one by one the viewers signed off.
“Good morning Ladies,” Miss Leopard said as she walked into the barn, “I trust you managed to get some sleep?”
She smiled as the four women sat up and looked at her, their eyes red, Katy staring at her.
“Excellent – please dress quickly. Breakfast is in thirty minutes, and we have a full day ahead of us.”
As she walked out, she turned and said “oh – it is starting to snow. You may wish to wear a jumper as well – they are in the box over there.”
“If we ever find out who she is, I am going to kill her.”
“No you won’t,” Katy said as she looked at J, “because she’d kill you first.”
As they ate their pastries and drank coffee, the barn door opened, all four turning as Miss Leopard and Miss Lioness walked in.
“Good – we need to make a start,” Miss Leopard said, “otherwise we may have a slight delay in dinner.”
“Why, Miss,” Katy asked.
“Because you will be catching it – follow Miss Leopard and take the bags you will find outside with you.”
Mary Thomas’ Apartment
Mary walked out of her bedroom, pulling her dressing gown round herself as she made her way along the corridor.
“The tea is on Mary.” Denice called out.
“Thank you for that.” Mary walked into the kitchen and slumped into a chair at her wooden table. Denice was at the work top, preparing some tea, while Erica sat at the other end of the table.
“A rough night?”
“Oh just a late night, I hope I didn’t disturb you coming in?”
“Not me.” Erica smiled as looked up from her computer.
“Nor me. I slept like a log.”
“Well that’s good.” Mary smiled.
“So what kept you out?”
“A couple of old friends from art school,” Mary said as she stretched and yawned. “They had a joint show on in the Ivory and they got me to go along.”
“No Denice,” Mary shook her head, “far too many posers and pretentious bastards for my taste.”
“Oh THAT sort of art exhibition.”
“You’ve got it Erica darling,” Mary shook her head again.
“Well, this may make you feel better,” Denice said as she passed steaming mugs of tea round.
“Ah – that is better,” Mary said as she took a drink. “Well, at least I have the day free of...”
The telephone ringing made Mary groan as she got up and walked over. “Mary Thomas?
“Well hello there – how are you?
“I could be – but I wonder if you mind if my houseguests come along. They may find it interesting to watch.
“Good – see you at four then, and have the kettle on.”
“Who was that,” Denice said as Mary came back in, “and what are you inviting us to?”
“Hmm – oh just an old friend who is doing something in the city this week, who’s having a few friends round for tea this afternoon. Want to come?”
“Well we’ve nothing planned – who is it?”
The Huntingdown Apartment
"Aunt Sigi was telling me more about this famous Can Can you did at the Moulin Rouge Moms." Ingrid smiled as she turned off her phone, "she says you were really great."
"Did you ever consider being a showgirl rather then a model Mom? After all you had the height." Carina asked.
"Maybe for 10 seconds." Juliette sat on the stool at the kitchen bar and took her coffee from Carina. "I really wasn't a good enough dancer, despite what Sigi says..."
"Well you look pretty great in some of the music videos you're in." Ingy interrupted.
"Yeah but how many takes did it take for me to get the steps right? Have you considered that step-daughter?"
"Hey Moms,” Ingrid said as she sat down, “I bet you were perfect first take, the perfectionist in you wouldn't let you be anything else."
"She has you there Mom." Carina gave Judith her toast and milk. Juliette shook her head as she drank her coffee.
"By the way girls aren't you both booked to do the Much of Nothing video this afternoon?" Juliette looked at her watch. "Shouldn't you be there rehearsing already?"
"Oh Crap!" Carina looked at her watch and then stood up. "Mom can you finish giving little one her breakfast please?"
"We really did need to be out the door ten minutes ago Cari."
"Take a cab, not one of your cars." Juliette called out as the two girls ran for their holdalls and the door. "There was some snow last night."
"If I'm going to have an accident it's more likely while I'm trying to dance." Ingy called back over her shoulder.
“Your momma and aunt are going to have a real fun day, aren’t they?”
“Yes gramma,” Judith said as Carina kissed her on the head, and then ran out with Ingrid.
“All right then young lady, do you want to go for a walk in the park later, and see the lake?”
Judith nodded as she sipped her coffee, and then went to the apartment door as she heard a knock.
“Missy – come away in,” Juliette said as she held the door open for her agent.
"Did I see the girls climbing into a cab?" Missy asked as she took off her coat.
"You did, they were running late for rehearsals for that music video they are doing this afternoon."
"Oh? Well they shouldn't be too late." Missy looked at her watch.
“Please,” Missy said as she came through to the kitchen, stopping to talk to Judith as Juliette poured a fresh cup.
"So how did the interviews go?"
"The Princess is considering the offer I made. I think the King is quite impressed, the Queen though wants her to talk to a couple more agencies."
"Signed, awaiting approval from her lawyers."
"Well, I don't think that any agency will give Princess Charly a better deal, so I'm confident you'll sign her as well."
"She's seeing Abby for lunch and I think Abby will pitch Norstar." Missy took some coffee.
"She had better."
Drinking her coffee, Missy said “So, Olivia and Fiona. Do you have any idea what Mary is planning?”
“Not really – although I did hear her talking to Amanda Swafford when I dropped into the cave on Friday.”
“Really? Now that is interesting,” Missy said as she held her mug.
Susan and Clint’s Apartment
“Is that eggs frying I can smell?” Marina said as she came out of her bedroom, following the scent.
“It is.” Clint called from the kitchen.
Marina walked in and sat on a chair, looking at Clint. “You know among the good things Sooz has taught you Clint, cooking a hearty British Sunday breakfast has to be one of the best.”
“Can’t you get them in Hong Kong?”
“Oh in a few places,” Marina said as she poured some coffee, “but I prefer to eat at home Sunday morning. The only trouble is Catherine and Helen both eat local food, and Kylie is usually up late after partying with her friends on Saturday night. Hardly seems worthwhile just cooking for myself.”
“I know that feeling,” Clint looked over his shoulder as he stood at the stove, and smiled.
“Mmmmm I smell breakfast darlings.” Kylie came into the kitchen wearing a Chinese silk sleeping kimono that showed her far from poor legs.
“You want the full works, Kylie?”
“Well, I will indulge just this once,” Kylie said as she sat down.
“Lovely,” Susan said as she brought April in and sat her in her chair, “I am starving. So when did they finish Kylie?”
“By about 3 – so I got some sleep,” the teenager said with a smile. “Ama woke me to invite me to her apartment and meet the girls later.”
“Fair enough – Helen will want to see you both this afternoon, but after that should be fine.”
Katy wasn’t sure which was worse – the fact she had only got a few minutes sleep the previous night, the damp under her as she lay in the prone position under the hide that Diana had brought them to, or the interminable waiting with the rifle by her side.
“I trust that is not you falling asleep, A,” Miss Leopard said as Katy glanced to her right, and then saw the movement in the clearing ahead. J had seen it as well, the two girls looking at each other and taking aim with their rifles.
The twin reports made the birds fly out from the trees, as Miss Lioness looked through the field glasses.
“Not bad – go with Miss Leopard ladies, while we prepare some hot drinks for all of you.”
Both K and J moved out of the hide and walked over with Miss Leopard, who checked the young deer as it lay on its side, the eyes staring out into the void.
“One of you got it in the head,” she said as she pointed to the hole, “and the other in the neck, but a clean kill none the less.” Looking round, she found a large branch and quickly secured the legs to the wood.
“Carry it between you,” she said, K and J stopping and putting the branch on their shoulders before they carried it back. As they approached, they saw P and A drinking coffee from mugs, the steam rising into the cold air.
“We have plenty of time for you both to achieve the target,” Miss Leopard said as she hung the deer by its hind legs off the tree, and accepted a mug of coffee from Miss Lioness, “so finish your drinks, and then resume your positions.”
“So you made your kill,” P said as she looked at J, “how does it feel?”
“Not bad – this is good hunting territory. I presume we need to do the necessary after this, Miss Leopard?”
“Indeed – but finish your drink, and you work together on that. You can direct K as to the correct procedure.”
“The correct procedure for what Miss?”
“To skin, cut and remove the meat from the carcass,” J said as she sipped her coffee. “It won’t be venison for dinner, will it?”
“No – this needs to hang first – but it is important you show us that you can both kill and respect the animal,” Miss Leopard said as she took out a hunting knife, while A and P went back into the hide. “You may begin when ready.”
“No time like the present,” J said as she took the knife and slit down the abdomen, Katy watching as she started to skin the beast and said “You got any plastic bags?”
“In the rucksacks – make sure you get everything in.”
“Why do we need the bags?”
“Some for the meat, some because the one thing you do not do is leave the guts lying around,” J said as she looked around, “there may be bears in the woods.”
The Richmond Mansion
“Hey,” Heather said as Jo came in, using a towel to dry her hair, “how are you feeling?”
“Not bad, now I’ve had some sleep. Any word from Caroline yet?”
“Nope – she’s going to meet with Shirley and the others tomorrow to review. She has another issue she needs to deal with today?”
“Oh – anything interesting?”
“Worrying more than interesting,” Heather said as she sat back. “Doc had me look into someone who was trying to hack into the computer system at St. Angela’s – someone who Grace and Pippa know, but they’re not saying why.”
“Why would someone want to hack into the school records – I mean you wouldn’t for me...”
“And I didn’t need to, did I? Still, the issue with this guy was how did he get into the US if he had a conviction in the UK for fraud?”
“He can’t – unless someone helped him to get a visa through the back door.”
“Okay,” Jo said as she poured herself some coffee and sat down, “and how does that happen?”
“I’m not exactly sure – anyway, I’ll talk to Doc this afternoon. Fancy some brunch? There’s some smoke salmon and bagels around here somewhere...”
“Welcome back,” Miss Puma said as the hunting party came in, “place the rucksacks in the cold store there, and then there is some soup in the barn for your lunch before we begin the afternoon session.”
The four women walked into the barn, P pouring hot soup into the bowls as K shook her head.
“You’re not bad for a first timer,” J said as she clapped the young girl on the shoulder. “Good eye as well.”
“Thanks – I think. So why did we leave the skinned carcass?”
“Always give back to nature – although the bears are a problem, the other animals appreciate a meal as well,” she said as she took a bowl of soup.
“I – am bushed,” P said, “what are they going to have us do this afternoon?”
“who knows – who cares,” A said, “I just want this over and done with.”
“So how were they,” Sandy said as they talked in the farmhouse.
“My concern is with A – I think the stress is getting to her,” Shirley said as she looked at the monitor.
“I concur,” Diana said as she sipped her soup, “but she is trying to cope, which is something. Otherwise, they all did well.”
“So after lunch?”
“We do the loading and rapid fire exercise, and then the IQ tests, before providing them with a good meal,” Diana said, “their drivers are due here at 5 to take them back.”
“So what was the purpose of us freezing our asses off laying in snow to kill a dear that we will probably never get to eat?” A asked.
“That’s pretty simple,” Katy paused eating for a second. “The deer is symbolic of Bambi, most beloved of creatures, if you can kill then dismember Bambi, then chances are you have the guts and intestinal fortitude to kill another human being.”
“Christ is that what this is all about?” J shook her head.
“It’s pretty obvious.” Katy said as she looked at them. “Short of finding a real life candidate for you to put a bullet in, this is maybe a good a test as it gets.”
“And you’ve done it for real already K?”
“I have P. It’s not nice, it wrenches your guts, but in the context of a situation it is often the only option available.”
“Well just hopefully I’ll not have to learn that in a hurry.” A shook her head.
The Inn on the Park
“Hey Charly,” Abby said as she stood up, and kissed Charlotte on both cheeks. “Welcome to New York.”
“Thanks,” Charly said as she sat down, taking off her long coat as she looked round. “Interesting place.”
“Well, it’s a good place to meet up and talk,” Abby said as she and Charly accepted the menu. “So I presume you’ll be coming on Wednesday?”
“Indeed – these tea parties are part of the tradition yes?”
“I’m afraid so – but it gives you a chance to meet up with some of the other Americans who will do the ball next year, in a more relaxed setting.”
“So who else will be here?”
“Angel is coming over, as is Fiona – and Brigitte is staying at my place. Trina is going to fly over, and I heard on the grapevine that Sam is coming as well.”
“And then there are your friends from New York?”
“That’s right. Anyway, that’s only one of the reasons I wanted to meet with you today.”
“I can imagine,” Charly said as the waiter took their order. “You know my father has talked to Missy, but my mother wishes me to talk to one or two others?”
“So I heard,” Abby said, “but honestly? Go where you think you’ll be happiest. I think you’ll be happiest with Norstar, and a few friends of mine think so as well.”
“Ingrid and Carina von Furstenheim?”
“Klaus’ daughters? I hope I get the chance to meet them while I am here,” Charly said as she sipped her drink.
“Well, since you asked – if you are free tonight, come round and I’ll get some of the girls together. You can chat with them then.”
“Well – go on, just for an hour or so.”
“Excellent,” Abby said as their meals came to the table, “they’ll be there at six.”
"So how do you manage all the things that you do in life?" Charly asked. "Your school, your modelling career, your charity work, and most importantly your social life as well."
"By having very supportive people around me who work with each other to ensure that I have as little in the way of scheduling conflicts as possible." Abigail looked up, "but I guess it's mainly down to Mama looking out for me and ensuring that I get to do everything I enjoy in life."
"So you have fun?"
"Sometimes, just don't ask me that question when I am getting up for school at six when we have been shooting till nearly three in the morning and I have hardly slept."
"Yuck! I think I'd be stressed out as well."
"Well I am hoping that college will not be as bad."
"Didn't I hear that you are leaning towards doing a degree in Photography?"
"Yes if Cooper Union will take me. I'm applying to Cambridge to do Mathematics as my main backup."
"Wow those are two different fields of study."
"Well Math comes easily to me, but photography excites me. What are your university choices Charly?"
"I really want to do the diploma in Social Work at the Sorbonne, but my parents are trying to get me to do something more heavy weighted like Politics."
"And why is that?"
"Oh because one day I'll be Queen in my own right, and Papa dreams of an Elphberg restoration in Ruritania. He thinks Politics might be of much more use to a regnant Queen."
"Well it sounds like a pipe-dream to me, just like the thought of putting one of my relatives back on the Imperial throne of Russia."