The Altamont Hotel
“Can I just say that this is still mildly ridiculous?”
“I agree,” Shirley said as she looked at herself in the mirror, “but it does seem to be a requirement in this area. I am grateful that you were able to attend tonight as well Dom.”
“Well, I think Susan would kill me if I was not here,” the tall enforcer said as she adjusted the fit of her jacket. She was wearing a black roll neck sweater under her trouser suit, her dark hair flowing over the shoulders of her jacket.
Shirley, by contrast, was clothed in white – a fitted jacket and trousers, with a silk blouse underneath, and a white scarf tied as a cravat round her neck, to allow the voice modifier to sit against her throat.
Susan was also dressed in white – a long jersey dress under a white jacket, with high heels. She was adjusting the black wig that covered her own hair, as Shirley tried on her own long black wig.
“So remind me of how this works,” Shirley said as she applied some lipstick.
“I will bring people in one by one,” Susan said, “and they will – well, come up and kiss your ring after I announce them. They will seek favours, which you may choose to grant or not.”
“What about Victor Sporetti?”
“We are ready for when he comes as well,” Dominique said. “The key thing is, whoever comes in, they are meeting Madame X, not Shirley Xavier.”
“Oh very well,” Shirley said as she put on the half face mask, covering her eyes and forehead before she walked into the small ballroom. Looking at the ornate seat on the raised dais, she shook her head before she sat down, Dominique putting on the dark glasses and standing behind her.
“You will be all right,” Shirley said as she looked at Maisha.
“Of course,” Maisha said. She was wearing a black jersey dress, with knee length boots. “I will watch and I will learn.”
“All right then,” Shirley said as she slipped the voice modifier under her scarf, and settled in the seat, crossing her legs, “let us get started.”
Susan nodded as she walked to the door on the other side, and walked through, closing it as she looked at the men and women assembled there.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen,” she said as she looked round, “I will call you forward in turn, and bring you to meet Madame. I hope the refreshments are to your satisfaction for the moment?”
“Very much so – so who is first?”
“If you will follow me, Mister Mayor...”
Susan walked the man into the darkened room, closing the door behind them as he looked at the two women at the far end. “Mister Mayor,” Shirley said, her voice deeper and richer than usual thanks to the voice modifier, “thank you for coming tonight.”
“The honour is mine,” he said as he came forward, kneeling as he took Shirley’s gloved hand and kissed the ring. “While in public I must condemn some of the actions of people like you, I know in your case you are honourable, and have compassion for others.”
“I also know that you walk a difficult line,” Shirley said, “it is my fervent hope that we may never need to cross paths.”
“Indeed – I share that hope,” he said as he stood back, looking at Dominique.
“Be assured, your honour, I will not oppose your legitimate activities. It is if I uncover something that works against my moral code, as did the trade the summer before last, that I offer support and resources to those who fight such things.”
He nodded as Susan took him by the arm and led him out, returning with a mousy blonde woman wearing a black dress and boots.
“Madame, may I present Mandy D’Onorio, the head of the New York Food Handlers Union 208.”
“An honour Madame,” she said as she dropped to one knee and kissed the proffered ring, “I hope I can be of service to you in my new position.”
“You already have been,” Shirley said with a smile as Dominique nodded. “I look forward to our continued working relationship.”
"Be assured we appreciate your help in Albany Senator," Shirley grimaced as yet another member of the New York state legislature kissed her ring and withdrew.
Susan caught the look in Shirley's eye, but inwardly she was happy that this ceremony showed Madame how far the organisation had penetrated public life in both the city and the surrounding areas.
“I suppose I should be glad that Tom is not here,” Shirley whispered to Dominique, “nor Brooke.”
“Indeed – we were careful to screen out friends – ah...”
Shirley turned and looked as Victor Sporetti came in, dressed in a smart suit, bowing and taking her hand as he kissed her ring.
“Victor – I am so glad you could come tonight,” Madame said, “you are, of course, safe in my presence.”
“I thank you for your protection Madame – the matter we discussed last week? Have you discovered anything?”
“Indeed – Dominique, would you ask my guest to join us please? Victor, please forgive the lack of notice, but I think you will appreciate meeting this woman.”
Victor watched as the tall, dark haired woman walked to a rear door, opening it as a fourth woman came in. The heels of her four inch black leather stilettos clicked on the floor, as she walked in, her knee length skirt rippling with her very step. The matching jacket was buttoned up, with a black scarf tied as a cravat round her neck. On her lapel was a jewelled brooch in the shape of a panther, and a black stocking covered her head, smoothing down her short black hair.
“Mister Sporetti,” she said as she extended a leather gloved hand, “Madame has been kind enough to inform me of your problem.”
“And you would be?”
“Miss Panther. The Pussycats and Madame have worked together in the past, and when she told us of the women claiming to be us, I wished to personally offer our resources to deal with our – mutually offensive problem.”
Sporetti looked at the masked woman, before saying “why should I trust youse?”
“Because this is not the first time someone has infringed our trademark, if you will – we took exception then, we take exception now.”
“So dese ladies, they are not youse?”
“Mister Sporetti, we researched your recent troubles. One hit was on the 27th of last month, correct?”
“Yeah – why?”
“We were engaged at that time in the Albany area – you may have read about it. Our other ladies were all – ALL – employed elsewhere. We ask, as a favour to Madame, to be allowed to deal with this issue for you – it would be most pleasing to us.”
Sporetti turned to Shirley, who nodded and said “I promised I would deal with your problem, Victor. This is my way. They will deliver to you, personally, the person who is responsible – alive. Others you will be informed of.”
“I accept your offer, Madame,” he said as he bowed. “I look forward to a speedy resolution.”
The group walked into the ballroom as Madame and Dominique came down from the small stage.
"Ladies and Gentlemen,” Susan said as she walked round the group, looking at them, “you are bound together now by a pledge of eternal obeisance to Madame and our organization. Betrayal of your vows will bring swift and terrible retribution on you and your loved ones. Know that having pledged yourselves to us, you are committed to eternal silence and to service as long as we find you of use. For betrayal there is but one penalty...death!"
Susan smiled as she looked at their faces, and continued.
"In return for your loyalty you will receive our support in your battles, and our material gratitude." Susan paused again, "just have etched in your mind this following image."
Everyone watched in silence as the two gagged and blindfolded prisoners were brought into the light.
“These two,” Susan said quietly, “have consistently felt they could ignore our requests and suggestions. They thought there was nothing to fear. They... Were wrong.”
"My show?" Dom whispered as she withdrew the silenced gun from her pocket and walked over to stand behind the two victims-to-be.
"Know ye this fate will come to all who betrays their oaths." Susan spoke again as Dominique shot first one, then the other captive in the back of the head.
“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Susan said quietly, “and thank you for your attention.”
They watched as the group walked slowly out, while two masked women came in, placed the bodies in black bags and then in a laundry basket, and wheeled the basket out.
"I can see why the New York division has shown such healthy revenue growth now Susan,” Shirley said as she removed the voice modifier and mask, “you have been very industrious."
"Well we still trail London and Los Angeles by quite a margin,” Susan said as she poured herself a drink, but we are narrowing the gap."
"And within our traditional guidelines you have opened up several new markets."
"Well I've been trying my best." Susan blushed slightly. "I'm particularly pleased with the increased profitability of the legitimate businesses though."
"Indeed, Maddie and I were talking about those things earlier, she is going to try out some of your ideas in her market."
"Well that is the ultimate compliment."
"Anyway enough business, how are things going with your mother, Sami, and the girls?"
“Well, Marina and Kylie saw Sami and Kerry off today, and my mum and Maeve fly back on Friday. With luck, she’ll make it through as well. I need to thank you for suggesting Marina goes with Caroline and Helen this week as well.”
“Well, Natalya is needed in London this week, but I think it will give Marina valuable experience as well. Besides, Helen knows she can trust her implicitly.”
“Indeed,” Susan said with a smile, “although it means Kylie returning with Catherine on the Saturday alone.”
“A necessary thing,” Shirley said.
"How was your business function darling?" John said as he greeted Shirley at the apartment door.
"Boring, but necessary." Shirley smiled as he took her coat.
"Well Maisha and I watched a documentary on PBS about Italian art, then she had an early night."
"Good for you two." Shirley smiled as she took off her gloves. "My night was spent talking to a lot of our clients and suppliers, and while I admire the work Susan has done putting into building up the New York business, the next meet and greet..."
"...Is hers to do alone." John laughed as he finished the sentence.
"Well I have a nice glass of brandy already poured for you as a nightcap in the drawing room."
"John darling whatever would I do without you," Shirley said before she kissed him.
Tuesday 5th January
"So press and PR - what will I be doing exactly?" Marina said as she sat looking over Times Square with her friends from Juliette's office.
"Basically just handling the local media," Janine replied before she ate some salad. "The Russians are going to expect access to the models, so you will have to write press releases, arrange interviews, and other crap like that."
"Well Natalya e-mailed me her contact list from last year, I'm hoping that will help."
"It should do," Alexis nodded. "I have to say I envy you this trip..."
"You don't Alexis," Janine laughed and shook her head, "take it from me, I've done flying visits like this, they are a pain in the ass."
"Meaning what?" Marina asked.
"Meaning you'll be working an 18 hour day while you are there, will not get a chance to see anything other than where the locations are, and will just be so glad to get home."
"The voice of bitter experience," Alexis laughed.
"You know it girl. Still – you go back to Hong Kong with Helen from there, right?"
“That’s right – we’ll all stop over before Ju and family fly back with Mary.”
“Nice – but you stay in touch,” Janine said as she nudged Marina. “I know it’s an early Easter, but it’s still a way away.”
The Brewster Brownstone
“That’s not a problem Doc – come along and see how the shoot goes tomorrow,” Jeannie said as she sat at her desk in her room. “I know Missy’s back today, so I’ll make sure she’s cleared it as well.”
“Jeannie – can you come down please?”
“Gotta go Doc – the older generation is calling,” Jeannie said as she ended the call, and wheeled herself over to the lift, humming a tune to herself as she waited for the lift to come up. As the door opened, she turned and reversed herself in, smiling as she closed the door and pressed the down button.
As the cage slowly lowered to the first floor, she saw John and Barbara standing in the hallway, Barbara grinning as the lift stopped and Jeannie opened the door.
“All right – you look like the cat who got the cream Mum. What’s going on?”
“Nothing – nothing,” Barbara said as she smiled. “I want you to come into the front room.”
“All right,” Jeannie said as she looked at both of them, “but if Ashton Kucher is in there, I am not signing the waiver.”
She wheeled herself towards the front room, wondering why the curtains were drawn and it was dark, but when she heard a familiar voice saying “Hey Baby,” she wheeled herself round and smiled.
“Hey big boy – got the ring?”
House smiled as he showed her the ring awarded to the winning team, and then said “the guys thought you might like to have this for an auction.”
He handed her his top, signed by the winning team, and leaned over to kiss Jeannie.
“Hmm – keep going,” Jeannie said with a smile, “you’ve got a whole holiday week to catch up on.”
“Shall I get started then,” House said as John slowly closed the door.
“Hey Mrs B,” Nikki said as Barbara opened the door, “is Jeannie busy?”
“Well, Winston has called to see her...”
“Oh well then,” Ama said as she looked at the others, “perhaps we should...”
“Oh no – come away in and take your coats off. I’m sure she’ll be pleased to see you.”
“Won’t we be interrupting, Barbara darling,” Kylie said as she removed her leather jacket.
“Trust me – they will appreciate it,” Barbara said as she opened the door, “go on in.”
The girls walked in, before they burst out laughing at the sight of Winston and Jeannie, looking at books and taking notes on their pads.
"You two should be ashamed of yourselves," Pepsi laughed as the girls came into the Brewster's sitting room. "All this time apart and we come and find you both studying yet?"
"I know - disgraceful isn't it?" House grinned as he held the book he was reading in one of his huge hands, "but spending all that time with the team, I have an important political science test almost as soon as I get back on campus."
"And remember all that reading for English Lit we were assigned for the break? Well, when else am I going to do it," Jeannie said as she adjusted her reading glasses.
"I thought you did that while you were waiting at shoots Jeans." Nikki laughed as she sat down.
"With this amount of reading, AND my trip to England, I have to catch up. Too much to take on the plane."
“And a Kindle?”
“On a plane,” Jeannie said with a smile. “So why the quiet approach?”
"Oh, we were thinking you were having wild sex darlings." Kylie laughed as gracefully sat in an armchair.
"No such luck." Winston laughed.
"Well not since this morning," Jeannie giggled.
"So are you ready for Hong Kong again Kylie?" Winston asked.
"As ready as I'm going to be," Kylie said with a smile. “Catherine and I are flying out soon, while Marina and Helen head the other way to Russia."
"I heard that Anna had wanted a last minute shoot." Jeans smiled.
"From what my Mom has been doing, turning down other shoots, it's been an idea at magazines all over the place." Ama spoke.
"Yeah I've had a couple of offers, but with this," she held up her Shakespeare, "I've had to turn them down."
"Quite right too." Barbara came in with a tray of hot drinks. "She's a student/model, not the other way round."
“Well, may I say it is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Sowkowski. It is a pity the divine Natalya was unable to come, but she speaks very highly of you.”
“Eto bol'shaya chest' dlya menya, chtoby uslyshat' , otets Amkov”
“Akh - YA vizhu, vy govorite moy rodnoy yazyk”
“Nadeyus', dostatochno khorosho, chtoby byt' v sostoyanii sdelat' svoyu rabotu”
"So switching back to English" Dimitri Amkov smiled at his computer screen, "I can tell you aren't a native Russian speaker."
"Is my Russian that bad?" Marina stared at the screen with concern.
"No, not at all," the old gentleman smiled, “people will certainly understand you here."
"Good!" Marina sighed, “for a moment there I was worried I would have to rely on Helen.”
"But let me guess that you have Ukrainian rather than Russian roots?"
"My father was Ukrainian, my mother Polish, and they argued in Russian," Marina laughed.
"Well that explains your accent then," Dimitri laughed.
"Helen says I speak Russian with an English accent.”
"Oh no, I can definitely hear the Ukraine in there."
"Well turning to my job, did your PR people tell the locals we are coming?"
"Yes,” Dimitri said as he looked to one side, “and they will be sending you over a list of requests from the Russian media before you get on the plane."
"Okay and I can then talk to the girls and see what they want to do."
“It sounds good. I have you due to arrive at the hotel early on Thursday morning, so I will arrange for breakfast to be ready for your arrival. YA s neterpeniyem zhdu vstrechi s vami togda.”
“Do tekh por Zasluzhennyy Ottsa.”
As she ended the call, she turned to see Helen standing in the doorway.
“Good – the correct level of respect, even if Dimitri is a big pussycat. Time you went home to pack.”
"These clothes are Miss Culver's not mine," Mary stood nervously whilst Caroline checked to see if anything needed adding to the west coast girl’s luggage.
"Well Miss Culver had great taste," Caroline unfolded a mohair sweater in light blue, "this is amazing."
"I'm going to be afraid of putting any of it on in case I damage it."
"I used to think of that about my own clothes." Ama looked into the case as well. "And mom is right, these are great."
“You were afraid you would damage your own clothes.”
“It is a long story,” Ama said as she looked at Mary, “and if you wish I can tell you later.”
"I just hope I don't let anybody down." Mary fidgeted as she looked on.
"You'll be fine," Annie called from where she was setting the table for supper.
"It was so nice of your friend to collect us at the airport like that," Mary spoke quietly again, "that limo was quite the contrast to my Dad's old van that he dropped me off at San Francisco International in."
"Well John is a friend, I simply asked his employer could I borrow him and the car. Another friend will take us to the airport tomorrow."
“So you attend school here, Ama?”
“I do, although we are still on vacation,” Ama replied. “I am busy, however, reading Henry V for my English Literature class.”
“Enough,” Annie said, “come and eat.”
As they walked in, Mary looked at the young teacher, holding her stomach.
“Hmm – oh, about five months,” Annie said with a smile. “I hope you like lamb.”
Mary Thomas’ Townhouse
“Where are you Mom,” Erica said as she closed the door.
“In the front room. So how did your little group date go?" Denice asked as Erica let herself into the room.
"Oh it wasn't really a date Mom."
"Well Simon takes you, and Stevie takes Poppy to the movies, then for cokes, that sounds like a date to me."
"I suppose it does," Erica grinned.
"So how was the movie?"
"Not bad, the guys liked all the shooting and killing, but there was enough real plot to please us girls as well."
"Sounds like a decent date night movie then." Mary came into the room, her head in a book of illustrations.
"Yeah. Yeah, it was," Erica said with a grin.
"Well I'm going to do drinks before bed...Mary can I tempt you?"
"Ovaltine please Denice."
"And you darling?”
“Oh I'll just have some milk and some cookies."
"Well I might as well join you in the Ovaltine then Mary." As Denice went to the kitchen, Mary looked at Erica and grinned.
“Young love, true love,” Mary started to sing, “filled with deep... DeVOTION...”
The Huntingdown Apartment
It was a scene that was played out in a million homes across the country, but for this particular mother it was a new experience.
"You will put this on and go to bed young lady." Carina was getting angry as she held Judith’s nightdress in her hand.
"Will not." Judith stared at her mother with fire in her young eyes and her arms folded.
"It's bed time darling."
"What's going on here?" Juliette asked as she and Klaus let themselves into the apartment.
"Little Missy and I are having a little disagreement about bed time." Carina looked up.
"She looks like she has the demon in her tonight," Klaus smiled at the look in his granddaughters face.
"Don't say that..." Carina and Juliette said in unison, with identical worried looks on their faces.
"Look I'll see if I can put her to bed." Klaus took Judith's little hand, and started walking up the stairs with her. “Come along little one...”
“Okay Grappy,” Judith said as she walked along with him.
"How comes he can do that and I can't?" Carina asked.
“Don’t worry – she’s overtired that’s all,” Juliette said. “With luck, she’ll sleep a bit on the flight tomorrow.”
“I hope so,” Carina said, “I really hope so.”
“It’s a ten hour flight – packing done?”
“Very much so – so when do we leave?”
“At about midday – gonna be a long day. Caroline is picking Mary up and coming to the airport with her.”
Wednesday 6th January
La Guardia Airport – the private Departure Lounge.
“Thanks for bringing us over, Clint,” Caroline said as the limousine stopped outside the building, “tell Susan I’ll thank her when I see her on Sunday.”
“I’ll pass the message on,” Clint said with a smile as he took the cases out. “A real pleasure to meet you Miss Clark.”
“Thank you,” Mary said quietly, “and thank you for allowing me to stay at your place last night, Miss Jameson.”
“Caroline, Mary,” the tall blonde said with a smile, “My name is Caroline.”
“Miss Jameson,” the uniformed co-pilot said as he came out, “and this must be Miss Clarke. If I may take your cases, I will arrange for them to be screened and loaded for you.”
“Thank you,” Caroline said, taking Mary’s arm as she said “come in and meet the rest of the team for this shoot.”
Mary looked round as she walked in.
“Ah Mary – thank you for coming,” Juliette said as she came over and kissed the young model. “This is my daughter Carina and my granddaughter Judith.”
“It’s a real pleasure to meet you both,” Mary said as she shook Judith’s hand.
“Ingy said you were a charmer, she wasn’t joking,” Cari said.
“This is Helen, who will handle wardrobe, and Marina, PR and press.”
“On which note,” Marina said, “we have to discuss some requests for interviews we received in advance.”
“Help yourselves to coffee ladies,” Juliette said. “Marina, begin.”
"Marina and Helen just belong to one of Juliette's own private companies," Caroline whispered to Mary, "she's simply borrowed them from herself to help out on a Complete Style shoot."
"Okay, now I understand...I think." Mary poured some coffee into the mug and then sat down as Marina looked at her list.
“Russian Cosmopolitan wish to interview you, Caroline, while their version of Vogue would like to interview you, Juliette, as the business woman more than the model.”
“We’re very much the juniors on this trip, I suspect Mary,” Carina said as Judith played on the floor. “From what I understand, the Russian glossies tend to focus on the women in power as opposed to the models.”
“Well, I’m really glad of that,” Mary said quietly, “I really don’t like talking to strangers that much. It makes me nervous.”
“Well, you may not get off that easy,” Marina said. “The St Petersburg Times want to do an article as well. I’ve already arranged some shots for them to use from your portfolios, but I wonder if given them the exclusive rights to an interview with all four of you will remove the need for a press conference?”
“Good thinking Marina – talk to Dimitri when we get there, see if that can be arranged for first thing Friday. Now – television?”
“Don’t panic Mary,” Caroline said as she smiled at the young girl, “Marina?”
“Have any of you guys heard of Ivan Urgant?”
The four models looked at each other as Helen said “He is Moscow’s equivalent to Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert. Apparently, one of the things he does is an equivalent of The Daily Show – in that Alla Mikheeva acts as an inexperienced reporter. When they heard we were coming, they asked if we would act as the base for a report by her.”
“I’d want clearance of the final cut,” Juliette said.
“Understandable – but it would mean her at the shoot on Thursday late, filming round us.”
“We’ll think about it on the flight over,” Juliette said as the pilot came out. “Okay – time to board.”
“Where is the plane,” Mary said as she picked up her shoulder bag.
“This way,” Caroline said as Carina carried Judith out to the waiting Lear jet. “As I said, some luxury on the way over...”
Somewhere over Greenland
"What are you watching?" Helen asked as she found Marina giggling at something on YouTube.
"I'm not sure," Marina paused the show and removed her headphones, "it's a Russian sitcom, sort of like that old American show 'The Golden Girls' I was just listening to try remember the rhythms of speaking Russian."
"Oh I've seen that show," Marina laughed, "and yeah I get your point...” Helen sat down and looked at the young woman. “You know Marina I'm so impressed, you really have stepped into this so well."
"I take that as a huge compliment...Thank you Helen."
"Well Press and PR is outside what you've been training to do..."
"Yes, but it's still basically liaising and facilitating for my boss, so it's sort of what I already do, but it's just with the media instead of clothing suppliers."
"I suppose that's a point." Marina paused, "Xavier will be getting a wonderful member of their team when you return to London, I'm going to miss you and Kylie."
"Well let's be honest my future is still up in the air Helen,” Marina said, “London was the plan, but our superiors and Kylie might yet work out a change of direction."
“I think Kylie does want to return, but I take your point. Hope for tomorrow, but live for today?”
Marina nodded as she looked round. “Exactly, Helen, exactly.”
Somewhere over the North Atlantic
“That was wonderful – thank you,” Caroline said as she handed the uniformed woman a coffee cup.
"Have I been to St Petersburg before Mom?" Carina looked up from checking on the sleeping Judith. "I remember going to Moscow."
"You don't remember if you've been to such a place?" Mary asked slightly in awe.
Carina smiled and shook her head. "I got dragged all over the world while Mom was modelling, a lot of the places I can't even remember."
"Well you wouldn't remember St Petersburg, you were only the same age as little one here," Juliette whispered.
"Okay that explains it...what did you shoot there?"
"That movie with Michael Caine."
"The one you have about three lines in?"
"The one I hate?"
"You were in movies Juliette?" asked Mary.
"She was, but she isn't a good actress." Carina laughed. "She did look very decorative though."
"Thank you darling,” Juliette said as she rolled her eyes, “and yes Mary I was in two or three movies in small parts."
"Wow!" Mary sounded impressed.
"The best film she's in is that documentary they made about putting together a fashion magazine."
"You only say that, Cari my love, because you appear in it."
"What can I say - I'm brilliant at playing myself," Carina giggled.
"Oh I could listen to you two tell stories all day." Mary smiled. "You've both done so much."
"Well don't worry Mary it won't be too long till you have a fund of your own stories to tell."
“What about you Caroline – how was it when you came here before?”
“Very hectic and very busy,” Caroline said with a smile, “but Helen helped pull it together.”
“How can they sleep at a time like this,” Mary said as she looked at the other two, dosing in their chairs.
“Practice – they need to be awake and alert from the moment we land, hence the sleep now.”
Thursday 7th January
4 am Local Time
Somewhere over Finland
"Trust her to wake up just as we are approaching our destination." Carina looked up as she heard Judith moving.
"Well just be glad she's been this good on the plane." Caroline got up. "I'll go look after her."
"Well if you don't mind Caroline."
"No, it's sort of what I missed out on when I adopted a teenager, I missed the whole baby thing."
"Someone is sounding a little broody perhaps?" Helen laughed.
"Hey when do I get the time to have a baby of my own? Besides, Annie will need my help as well. Hey there little one – feeling awake?"
“Right then – come with me and we’ll get you ready...”