Sometimes Carrington can be one lovely place to live. In the height of summer without a cloud in the sky, for example, when you can trek to the grassy green hill overlooking the small market town and stay till sunset. There are days, however, when I can’t stand living here. And one particular Sunday morning, as I walked along the high street with a thick canopy of grey clouds overhead and an icy cold wind whipping at my cheeks, I found myself particularly fed up with it.
Yeah, it’s me. I know you’ve probably been wondering whether you’d get to hear another of my stories. As Rachel’s probably told you all I’d been seriously down in the dumps for a month. I’d spent most of my time slobbing around at home studying, playing video games and certainly not showing any interest in girl detective work. In fact, I was certain that the days of the CGDA were truly behind me.
Little did I realise that the events of this Sunday would change that.
Before I could load up another game of Borderlands I realised it was time to stop feeling sorry for myself. I knew on Sundays the girls would all be meeting at our favourite cafe, so I decided to surprise them. I ditched the scruffy jeans and dressed in a maroon cardigan over a white top, a short brown skirt, dark tights and a pair of brown flats I’d recently bought. I did my makeup, straightened my brown hair, wrapped a maroon scarf around my neck and then left my house before either my parents or my twin brother knew I was awake.
As I caught sight of the café just down the road I quickened my pace, eager to quench my fledgling caffeine addiction. I quickly found myself clutching an extra-large, double shot cappuccino and walking upstairs to the secluded pair of leather sofas near the window where we usually met. I felt strangely contented as I reached the top floor, looking forward to having a good gossip.
My mood soured instantly when I saw that only one of the gang had turned up so far. Sitting on the sofa with her back to me was Abigail, my blonde haired friend dressed glamorously in a long sleeved blue top, tight fitting dark jeans and dark high heeled pumps. What soured my mood was the sight of her with her arms flung around the neck of our dark haired college friend James, with his arms around her waist, pulling her close to him as they indulged in a lengthy, passionate snog.
Boy where they going at it, their eyes tightly closed and oblivious to the world as they kissed like their lives depended on it. I pursed my lips, the sight of them causing stabs of pain around my chest as the heartache of the previous weeks resurfaced. Which was probably why I crept up on them, until my head was only inches away from their conjoined faces, before saying deliberately loudly, “Having fun?”
They promptly broke apart with such speed that they possibly broke the sound barrier. Abigail’s face resembled a startled rabbit, until she realise it was me and her face lit up. “Oh my God Sara! I wasn’t expecting you,” Abigail announced brightly as she knelt on the sofa and flung her arms around me. “How you doing?” she said in my ear as I returned her hug as best I could with a cappuccino precariously balanced on a saucer.
“Better thanks,” I answered simply, as I sat on the opposing sofa. Pointing at the pair of them I asked, “How long has this been going on for then?”
“Had our first date a few weeks ago,” James replied, putting his arm around Abigail. “You OK with me going out with one of your best mates?”
I answered that I was fine with it, but in reality I wasn’t. I could tell by the rosy glow in Abigail’s cheeks that she was smitten, but the normally shy girl had never been in a serious relationship before. James, comparatively, was a known serial flirt who jumped from girl to girl, most recently our close friend Kavita, until he got bored and moved on. Abigail was the sweetest girl I knew and if James did anything to hurt her I would personally hang him from a window by his toenails.
I dunno. Maybe it was more down to me having lost my faith in men recently.
After a few minutes of idle conversation I heard a voice proclaiming from the foot of the stairs, “That freaking ref robbed us! I’m telling you Rach it was as clear a penalty as I’ve ever seen it!” I found myself smirking at the sound of that familiar, undaunted voice. Harriet soon ascended the staircase, dressed in her replica Manchester United shirt, dark jogging bottoms and trainers, having just completed her morning football game. Her long red hair was held back in a ponytail, and her face was flushed red from the exercise. Rachel followed, her long raven hair loose and tumbling past her shoulders. She wore a blue tunic dress covered partly by a brown overcoat, navy blue tights and black flat pumps with ankle straps. My oldest and closest friend couldn’t have looked happier to see me sitting there, but her greeting was curtailed by Harriet’s enthusiastic cry of, “Hey it’s the boss! How you been holding up sexy?”
“OK thanks,” I laughed as I hugged her. As we broke apart I asked her, “How are you and Eleanor?” This was the first time I’d seen Harriet since she and her girlfriend had been involved in an adventure of their own at a recent fancy dress party.
Harriet simply gave me a smirk and answered, “You should know it takes more than a bunch of goons to keep me pinned down.”
“Couldn’t resist the lure of caffeine and cake eh?” Rachel smiled as we embraced.
As we took our seats James got up from his. “I think I’d best leave you ladies to catch up. See you later Abi.”
“See you!” Abigail answered with a massive smile. They said goodbye with a quick peck as opposed to the full on snog I’d first witnessed, before James said his goodbyes and left us girls.
Only then did Abigail register our incredulous looks in her direction. Rachel asked exactly what we were thinking. “OK, since when have you been Abi?”
Never in her eighteen years of life had she been known as Abi. Her face flushing red the blonde girl squirmed in her sofa before replying, “It’s just…a bit of fun…that’s all.”
“Whatever you say Abi,” Harriet winked. “What do you shorten James to? Ja? Makes him sound a little German, don’t you zink?” she added with a suitably silly accent which made Rachel and I laugh and Abigail blush the same colour as a ketchup bottle.
After a few more jokes at Abigail’s expense the conversation drifted on to other matters. Coursework deadlines, last night’s TV, Olivia Hampton’s upcoming fancy dress pub crawl. But even as we joked and laughed I felt there was one issue which I needed to address. “Listen everyone, I need to apologise for being such a moody cow. But I want you to know that I’m feeling a lot better. I’m getting over what happened and I won’t let it interfere with my life any longer.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for Sara,” Abigail told me reassuringly. “What happened was really unfair, and nobody can blame you for being upset.”
“But glad to see you’re back on your feet,” Harriet told me. Then, strangely, she whispered something into Rachel’s ear at which the raven haired girl nodded, before she added, “In fact we’ve got a proposition for you.”
Already something about the way she said that filled me with dread.
Rachel confirmed my suspicions as she explained, “Recently Felicity’s been investigating some suspicious building activity in Herringford. Unmarked vans have been seen pulling into the construction site in the dead of night. Sounds intriguing, don’t you think?”
I knew what Rachel wanted me to do. But all my optimism and contentment of the past few minutes disappeared in a flurry of frustration and anxiety. A scowl forming on my face I replied firmly, “Sorry, not interested.”
“Oh come on boss, doesn’t it sound like fun?” Harriet said, maintaining her jokey, happy tone of voice. “Just imagine the thrill of sneaking around a dark construction yard, pitting our wits against some slack jawed builders…”
“My answer is no!” I repeated, frustration welling up inside of me. “I’m giving up being a girl detective and I mean it!”
“Come on Sara. Being a girl detective is all you’ve ever wanted. You can’t back out now!” Abigail told me.
“Well I can. People give up on their dreams every day. Why can’t I?”
I was beginning to raise my voice: I could hear it reverberating through the deserted upstairs. Rachel grabbed me gently by the arm as she made one last attempt to reason with me. “We just want to help you. You’re never happier when you are on a case, and you’re never more restless when you’re not. You don’t have to be afraid!”
I’d had enough. I could feel blood pumping through my head as I stood up swiftly. “You want to help me? Then accept and support my decisions and stop trying to run my life! My days of being a girl detective are over, and nothing, and no-one, is going to change my mind!” With that I stormed off. I heard Abigail and Harriet calling after me as I descended the stairs but I didn’t even acknowledge them. ‘So much for getting over what happened,’ I thought glumly as I stomped out the café and back into the cold.
I don’t know what had caused my temper to snap. Maybe it was the pent up rage I’d been storing up inside of me. I certainly had never blown up like that in front of my friends. But this was for their benefit as much as mine. How many times had they got themselves captured and imperilled on my account? How often had my blind arrogance put them all in serious danger? Chris had been right all along. We were taking on dangerous people and the consequences of this could potentially be dire. Only days ago Harriet and Eleanor had become inadvertently involved in a kidnapping attempt, only escaping thanks a strange woman who had left me a cryptic message. I hadn’t paid any attention to her. It was for mine and everyone’s benefit if I just stepped back from it all.
If only I’d realised that before Matthew had got hurt.
I hadn’t seen my now ex-boyfriend since we split up on the snow covered slopes of Bluebell Hill. I missed not having him around and simultaneously hated him for it. I hated how he had just left me high and dry after everything we’d been through. But I also felt overwhelmingly sorry for him and his family, afte3r I’d uncovered his uncle’s double life as a serial burglar and made him a fugitive. If I’d only stepped back from the CGDA then no-one would have got hurt. As I stomped up Carrington high street I was resolved to ensuring nothing like this could ever happen again, even if that meant admitting defeat to the masked twat who was really responsible for all this crap.
I swallowed a lump of discontent in my throat as I walked along the currently deserted suburban road only a few streets away from my house. I didn’t notice the plain white van pulling up on the roadside ahead until out of it stepped a woman with dark hair tightly pinned back. “Excuse me, you wouldn’t happen to be Sara Philips would you?” she asked me inquisitively.
Now with my temper on a really short fuse I barked, “Yeah that’s me. What do you want? An autograph from the famous girl detective? Or are you a journalist trying to get the latest scoop on my life?”
“Nothing of the sort,” this woman answered. “I just wanted to make sure it was you before I did this.” Then she darted forward with incredible speed, tightly grabbed hold of me and thrust a chloroform soaked rag over my mouth and nose.
“Wwwwttt ttthh hhhlll?” I cried out in shock as the familiar, sickly scent pervaded my nostrils and mouth. Before I could mount a sufficient defence the van door was hauled open, and at least two pairs of hands hauled my thrashing body inside. I was grappled to the floor, my hands pinned above my head and my feet held together, even as this woman continued to press the rag over half my face. I held out as long as I could, but eventually I succumbed to the inevitable. The last thing I heard before I sank into oblivion was the sound of the van’s engine starting.
You know you’ve had a crazy year when you wake up to find your hands tied behind your back, your ankles bound together, a cleave gag in your mouth and a blindfold over your eyes, and your first thought is, ‘Oh for crying out loud!’
My mouth was dry and my head numb. The after effects of chloroform alright. With the blindfold obscuring my sight effectively I had to rely on my other senses to take stock of the situation. I was lying on something very soft and bouncy, a bed most likely. But I could hear the drone of an engine, and suddenly I felt my body be dragged a little to the right by the inertia of a vehicle going around a corner. I was onboard a mobile home or caravan travelling at some speed.
This was no case of me getting grabbed by goons while sneaking around abandoned warehouses. This time I’d been grabbed off the street, thrown into a strange vehicle, tied up and transported away from Carrington. This time I’d been properly kidnapped! I felt serious trepidation as I wondered which of my many enemies could have made such a bold move, wondering at the same time where I was being taken.
I didn’t intend to hang around long to find out, and I set about trying to free myself. After some serious twists of my wrists and feet and a good amount of bouncing against the plush duvet I realised wriggling alone wasn’t going to work. But things were far from hopeless. No ropes had been wrapped around arms or upper body. This alone gave me an escape opportunity.
Grunting through my gag I hauled myself up into a sitting position. Then pressing my feet against the bed I pulled my conjoined hands underneath me until they were nestled beneath my nylon clad knees. Phase one completed, I then lay back a little and tucked my upper and lower legs together, pulling them through the gap between my arms. I felt the soles of my new brown flats brush my hands as, after a couple of twists and jiggles, I managed to slip my feet through and therefore bring my hands around to my front. I quickly yanked my cleave gag so it hung around my neck and lifted away my blindfold.
Breathing in deeply I examined my surroundings. I was indeed in the bedroom of a mobile home, small and confined yet surprisingly extravagant. Expensive wallpaper and curtains, a large pinewood dresser and wardrobe on either side of the surprisingly spacious double bed, and expensive paintings of English countryside scenes hung on the walls. Clearly this vehicle was owned by someone of considerable wealth. The drawn curtains kept the room dark, but not dark enough to stop me finishing my work.
I held my bound wrists up to my face, found the knot securing them and began biting it, trying to pry the cord loose with my teeth. I had no idea how much time I had, so I was frustrated by my initial lack of progress. But after a few minutes of consistent gnawing I managed to loosen one strand, and that was all I needed. Once it was pulled completely through the knot seemed to dissolve, and I managed to pull my hands free easily. After rubbing my wrists to return circulation I made to free my feet, and within a minute I was kicking the ropes away from my ankles.
I didn’t have time to dwell on my success. I realised suddenly that during my escape attempt that the engine had been turned off. That gave me another ray of hope. If the vehicle was now stationary it would make my escape easier still. First though I listened intently, trying to hear any noise or sound from my captors. I heard nothing, giving me confidence to slide off the bed and make for the door. I pulled away my brown hair from my ear to press it against the wood, and still heard nothing. My heart feeling like it was about to escape through my mouth, I quietly turned the handle and opened it just a crack. Peering outside I could see a corridor linking this bedroom with the rest of the mobile home, and the exit only a few steps away.
I hesitated. The overwhelming silence was suspicious, but I wouldn’t get a better opportunity to escape than this. I had to take this chance. After a couple of deep breaths I opened the door, stepped out onto the corridor, tiptoed to the exit and grasped the handle with my hand…
“I must say Sara; if you hadn’t managed to escape from those bonds then I’d have been very disappointed in you.”
The voice that had just spoken was soft and syrupy, like butter melting on hot toast, yet was dignified and authoritative at the same time. And it didn’t make me half jump. I whirled around on the spot so I was looking in the direction of the mobile homes living area, and the woman sitting on the plush leather seats staring at me with great intent.
I’d say she was roughly the same age as my parents, but her face had barely a wrinkle or blemish. She had long, jet black hair with no trace of grey, and her face defined and regal. She was taller than me only by a few inches, but the way she held her posture even as she sat with her legs crossed gave the impression she was much taller. She wore a dark suit with a cream blouse and a maroon neck scarf, the skirt very long and almost reaching the high heeled brogues on her feet. She certainly gave off the air of a lady who knew she was in charge.
“There’s no point running,” she told me in her soft yet assured voice. “The moment you step outside my bodyguards will have you back in here before you’d know what’s hit you. I’d hate to conduct our business with your hands tied behind your back again. Won’t you take a seat and enjoy the hospitality of my mobile home? I don’t often get the chance to take it on the road.”
This was a bizarre situation all right, but I didn’t want to test this woman’s patience. I complied and took a seat on the opposing leather sofa. She continued to stare at me, looking up and down at me with her piercing blue eyes. She then said, “I do like your choice of attire. The colouring suits your hair and skin tone perfectly. Though I must say, I’m not a fan of those ‘denim hotpants’ you and so many other girls your age are currently wearing.
I finally found my tongue and muttered quietly, “Did you kidnap me just to pass judgement on my wardrobe, or is that an added bonus?”
The woman merely smiled knowingly at my retort. “Yes I remember that feisty tongue of yours. But why do you look so surprised to see me? I’ve told you twice now that you were on my radar, such as on the night of your encounter with the Gentleman Robbers.”
As she finished her sentence I realised where I had heard her voice before. “You’re the one who stole the painting Mr White was after,” I gasped. “The one who got there before Simon and…”
“Saved his skin,” she finished for me. “You’re very welcome for that. How lovely he and his girlfriend just got engaged.”
“And you got that Lily girl Harriet met to pass on that weird message.”
“Again, you are welcome for me sending Lily to keep an eye on you all,” she smiled.
This woman was now a bonafide mystery. Narrowing my eyes at her I asked bluntly, “Who are you?”
“I’m not going to divulge my exact identity, because you’ll no doubt be putting all this into one of your fascinating stories when this is all over. All I will say is that I am a serious woman who runs a serious enterprise. And currently, we both have a common problem.”
I had to swallow a laugh. “I doubt there’s any problem that you and I share…”
“Mr White,” was all she said next.
OK she’d officially got my attention. But I did my best to not reveal this, deciding to keep my cards close to my chest. “What about him?”
The mysterious woman exhaled loudly as she began her explanation. “He has been a thorn in the side not just for you, but for me and countless others in my vocation. Recently he has been recruiting heavily, and his targets have become more high profile. It is a statement of intent. He is preparing to start an all-out gang war and make a bid to become the most powerful crime baron in the country.”
“Which I’m guessing is bad for you,” I deduced with a raised eyebrow.
“I am an advocate of the status quo. I only wish to preserve my many interests and seek out the finer things which, shall we say, are not often available through legitimate channels. But Mr White threatens my way of life. Already the politicians and press are screeching for his head, and I shudder to think what will happen should they cast their net wider…Also, I think the way he insists on tormenting you is thoroughly disagreeable.”
After she finished I replied, “You didn’t have to kidnap me if you wanted to say this to my face.”
“Oh but I did Sara,” she replied mysteriously. She beckoned out of the window with her hand and instructed, “Take a look outside!”
I begrudgingly obliged, and peered out the raindrop speckled window. I was greeted by the sight of tall, rolling hills and a vast stretch of wild, untamed moorland in between them. The only thing breaking up the grasses and heather were the trickling, winding streams and rocky outcrops. I couldn’t say for certain where I had been taken, potentially somewhere deep within the Pennines, but I could say with all certainty that I was a long way from Carrington.
There was little sign of civilization. Just the deserted road on which the mobile home had been parked, and across the moorland in the distance a vast, grey coloured manor house, with towering spires and large pine trees within its sprawling grounds. “That there is Slatewood Manor,” she informed me. “Originally built in the Victorian era for the Lord who owned much of this moorland, but he was forced to sell soon after it was built to pay his debts to the Norton Crime family.”
I felt my stomach lurch. “You mean that house is owned by the Norton’s?”
“It certainly is,” she told me knowingly. “What’s more, I can personally guarantee that occupying that manor right now is none other than their heir elect, young Emerald Norton.”
My stomach gave another, bigger lurch. Emerald Norton, the psychotic cow not much older than myself who’d tormented me almost as much as Mr White. If what this woman said was true, then this was my chance to bring her to justice. Realising I no longer had possession of my phone I asked, “Give me my phone back, I have to tell my dad.”
But the mysterious woman gave a hollow laugh. “What would your father do exactly? Sara dear, police and politicians alike have known about Slatewood Manor for decades, but the Norton’s have their fingers in many pies, and so many dirty secrets to divulge. No investigator or official is going to come anywhere near this place. Besides, I am not all that interested in dismantling the Norton’s. Having them around stealing the limelight allows me the flexibility to conduct my affairs in secret.”
“So why are we here then? I guess not to admire the view?” I retorted.
“Because Emerald Norton is the only one with any information regarding Mr White’s identity. There is some sort of unspoken history between them, a bond which gives Emerald immunity from him, and vice versa. But Emerald must be made to divulge his true identity. If we learn who Mr White is, then we know who we are fighting and we can find some leverage against him.”
“What’s stopping you?” I asked. “Surely someone as connected and powerful as you claim to be can obtain this information yourself?”
Suddenly, for the first time, the woman lost her composure. An expression of regret flashed across her face, before she gave a sigh and answered, “I am sorry to say I have already tried.”
She then took hold of an envelope which had been on the seat beside her and handed it over. I hesitated for a moment, but realising this was the reason I was here, I opened it. I pulled out a photo of two women stood side by side, one with shortish chestnut coloured hair and a younger woman with long blonde hair. But the first thing which stood out to me were the multiple strips of tape plastered over their lips, and strong brown coloured ropes wound about their shoulders and waists. Both had defiant expressions on their faces, and they clearly were not amused by their plight.
With this picture was a small piece of card, on which was written in impeccably neat handwriting, “Dear Madame. Look who I caught scurrying around my house going through my personal files. If you want them released then you will donate ten million pounds to the Norton’s and swear allegiance to our cause. Hugs and kisses. Emerald Norton.”
As I examined the photograph the mysterious woman said, “You may find this hard to believe Sara, but I care very deeply for those who show me loyalty. I cannot abandon my associates in the picture, but I cannot give in to Emerald’s demands. Doing so would jeopardise my entire business. But this is where you come in. You are going to sneak into Slatewood Manor and rescue my associates.”
…Well that had to be some kind of joke. Surely there was no way she thought I could ever do something so monumentally stupid. I echoed my thoughts by saying in a tone of utmost disbelief, “Why the hell would I do that?”
“To save the lady who rescued your friends Harriet and Eleanor from those kidnappers recently.” the woman replied with her eyebrow arched. “You do owe Lily for her brave rescue.”
I looked again at the photo and realised that the captive blonde girl did match the description of this ‘Lily.’ It didn’t change my mind however, and I remarked, “I doubt she was exactly visiting Emerald to collect charitable donations.”
“Come now Sara. You have all the relevant experience for this task, and when have you ever been averse to a good old fashioned snoop around the properties of criminals and vagrants?”
“Have you been reading my blog recently?”
“But this is your chance to get even with Mr White and Emerald Norton,” she answered. “You should be honoured. I have an entire world of contacts at my disposal, but I have chosen you for this task to allow you a chance at revenge.”
“I’m not interested in revenge!” I cried. “I don’t care what Emerald Norton or Mr White are getting up to. I just want to leave all this behind me. You’ve got the wrong girl here, and I won’t help you!”
I rose to my feet, and took a couple of steps towards the exit. I didn’t care what would be waiting for me outside. I simply wanted to get out as fast as possible. But the woman had prepared for this eventuality, exclaiming loudly, “Is Rachel looking forward to going to Oxford?”
I paused. Her tone was different: much more menacing. “What if she is?” I answered.
“Well she’ll be very disappointed if this letter never made it through her letterbox tomorrow morning.”
I whirled around and saw the woman now holding another envelope. This one was stamped with an Oxford Postmark and bore Rachel’s home address. I knew instantly that, somehow, she had got hold of Rachel’s letter confirming her place at Oxford University. “You can’t do that,” I growled at her.
“I assure you that I can,” she replied firmly. “Arranging it so that one girl doesn’t get a place at the university she has always dreamed of attending is child’s play for me. Let’s not forget Abigail wanting to study design and fashion down in London, or Harriet’s hopes of studying physiology at Manchester. What about your brother, or Kavita, or Eleanor, or James. I could have it so the entire Carrington Sixth Form College doesn’t get into their first choice university with just a couple of mouse clicks.”
Damn it. She was deadly serious about this, and was willing to sabotage the future of me and my friends to get me to comply. But what she was asking me to do was simply nuts. “Let’s be clear about this,” I snapped in frustration. “You want me to effectively break in to a house owned by one of the country’s most notorious criminal family’s, headed up by a girl who has tried to kidnap and kill me, to rescue a couple of women who aren’t exactly innocent victims, on my own with no…”
“Oh I didn’t say you’d be going in alone,” the woman interrupted cryptically. She then reached for her expensive looking mobile phone and called up one of her subordinates. “Jasmine darling, would you be so kind as to bring in our other guest?”
“At once Madame!” I heard this Jasmine answer. We waited in silence for a minute or so, before I heard a set of energetic but muffled squeals from outside. Suddenly the main door was flung open, and in was bundled a girl my age with shoulder length blonde hair held back by a black headband, a very freckly face, and wearing skinny dark jeans, black ankle boots and a purple long sleeved top. Ropes had been wound about her upper body and were binding her wrists behind her back, and a white cleave gag was muffling her speech.
“Thought she might be able to provide some assistance to you Sara,” the woman remarked smugly.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I breathed in disbelief.
“Yyyynn hhhvv gggttt ttt bbb kkkdddnnn mmmmgg!” Vicky Masterson snarled through her gag.
“Do you agree that my stylists have quite the talent?” Madame asked me as I examined myself in the mirror of her bedroom (I’d decided to call this woman Madame because this was what her subordinates called her.)
As I adjusted the wig which now covered my bunched up brown locks, I found myself agreeing with her. The wig consisted of shoulder length, dyed bright red hair with a straight fringe like Hayley Williams. I was also wearing a pair of thick black, yet fake, glasses, and had stuck a jewel stud to the left side of my nose, giving the impression that I’d had it pierced. Finally, a large amount of makeup had been applied to my face to tan me. I don’t exactly have a pasty complexion anyway, but it was a further change to my appearance which might make all the difference. I doubted I would be protected if Emerald or Smithe got a good, lingering look, but at a glance I would be unrecognisable.
My disguise was completed by the outfit I was wearing: A white blouse with a black neck tie, short black pencil skirt covered by a dark apron, dark tights and black flats. It completed the illusion that I was a member of a catering agency, not a girl detective who the hostess had tried to kidnap multiple times.
Vicky adjusted her black necktie as she changed into an identical uniform to my own, her freckled nose wrinkling in displeasure. “Where the hell is my disguise?”
“If I’m not mistaken you have never met Emerald Norton before, so she should not recognise you,” Madame pointed out. The she summoned her subordinate with a click of her fingers, at which the woman ran over with two forms of fake ID, a passport and driving licence. I analysed my picture, obviously stolen from my Facebook page and photoshopped to match my current appearance. My cover name was Patricia Pearce, a twenty one year old from Leeds. Vicky was now to be known as Josephine Smith, also from Leeds.
“So this is the plan,” Madame instructed. “Tonight, Emerald Norton is hosting a party for high ranking gang members and some of their business partners. They have organised an external catering company to provide them with refreshments. We have provided you with a vehicle with which you can drive to the back gate of Slatewood Manor. They will be expecting you, and once you present them your ID they will let you in through the staff entrance. Once inside you will pose as catering staff, and find out as much as you can regarding the location of my captive associates. Any questions?”
“Yeah, why am I here?” Vicky snapped. “Philips is the one who has serious issues with the criminal underworld, not me.”
“You are here because you and Sara are the best girl sleuths in the business, regardless of your feelings for each other, and I only recruit the best,” Madame smiled. “Oh, and you are quite the dead ringer for the real Josephine Smith.”
Only then did we realise this Madame hadn’t devised original identities for us. But what we didn’t realise was that very evening the real Patricia Pearce and Josephine Smith. They were recent recruits of this catering company, and this was supposed to be their first day on the job. But at that current moment they were being held prisoner in their student flat in Leeds by masked invaders, along with their other two housemates. They would spend that night in captivity until the invaders left them unharmed in the small hours. Quite the co-incidence right?
I was far from convinced that this was going to work. “What happens if they find out who we are?”
“You won’t be completely unarmed. I have one last gift for you.” Madame then opened a drawer and handed me a small plastic case. I opened it and saw inside a medical needle, and a small bottle of what appeared to be insulin. “Patricia Pearce is highly diabetic,” she told me as I stuffed it in my apron pouch. “So security should have no issue with you taking in your medication. But that bottle actually contains chloroform, which you can use if you find yourself in a tight spot. Besides if you both stick together I’m sure you’ll be fine. Now I think it’s time you both got going, otherwise you’ll be late. Best of luck ladies.”
We were directed out of the door by one of the girl subordinates. But before leaving I couldn’t resist one last snarky comment. “Do you have any issue at all with sending two teenagers into extreme danger?”
But this Madame simply chortled at me and replied, “You could look at it that way Sara. Or you could look at it from the perspective that I have complete faith in your capabilities.”
She said nothing after that, instead turning away from us with a swish of her long dark hair and immersing herself in some paperwork on her dresser. So I let myself be led outside to find Vicky already at the wheel of a dark blue hatchback. I got into the passenger seat and slammed the door angrily. As Vicky turned the ignition one of the subordinates, the same dark haired woman who had grabbed me back in Carrington, knocked on the window indicating we should wind it down. “Madame has placed a lot of faith in you two. Do not let her down,” she said through the open window.
“Why should we care about letting down a woman who kidnapped us off the street, and who doesn’t care about placing us in serious danger?” Vicky barked.
The woman was momentarily silent, before answering, “I can assure you girls that if you find yourself in danger, Madame will do everything in her power to help you. And that is the best form of protection available to anyone.” With that she stepped aside to let us drive off.
Night was falling fast, and I could barely see from one side of the moor to the other as the dark enveloped the hilltops. Vicky and I sat in awkward silence as she steered capably around the winding mountain road. I made tiny adjustments to my wig to take my mind off of my concerns, hoping it would be enough to conceal my true identity. The windscreen began to steam up from our nervous, deep breaths. It was as Vicky turned on the heater to clear the glass that she said, “I thought you’d quit Philips.”
“You think I’m doing this for fun?” I retorted angrily.
Vicky gave a shrug and grunted, “It’s never stopped you before. Placing yourself in ridiculous dangers without adequate preparation. Confronting dangerous men and women with no thought…”
“For God’s sake, do we really have to do this right now?” I barked, resting my head on the window so as not to look at her.
After a few moments of silence Vicky added, “I don’t get you Philips. You’ve been stubbornly devoted to being a girl detective since we were kids. You’ve never let anything get in the way of it before. I’ve certainly never been able to stop you. But now you’ve magically decided to quit just because it cost you your relationship with Matthew.”
“Shut up Vicky, you have no idea what that felt like!” I roared, staring at her feeling like sparks could fly from my eyes.
“Actually, I do. Seems you’ve forgotten that Matthew dumped me out of the blue so he could come chasing after you. You have any idea how much that hurt? But you know what Philips? Thousands of people break up every single day, and very few of them give up on their dreams because of a failed romance. And if you want to pack in the thing that makes you happiest because of one break-up, then you’re even more pig headed than I thought.”
I should have been furious at her. But instead, with an uncomfortable knot forming in my stomach, I realised she had a point.
God when Vicky Masterson starts making sense you know you’ve screwed up.
The road turned sharply to the left across the moor, and we could see the bright lights of Slatewood Manor glinting at us through the gloom. As we drove closer and closer Vicky, out of the blue, looked at me and said, “And Philips, I want you to know that…what Mr White did was beyond horrible…and I’m sorry that you and Matthew split up.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, was the most bizarre thing I had heard that entire day. What’s more, I could tell from Vicky’s sombre expression that she meant it.
I took a deep breath and said, “Look, whatever has gone on between us, none of that matters right now. We’re about to put ourselves in a really dangerous position, and we’re going to have to work together. So…truce?”
As we drove through the huge, iron gates leading onto the rear driveway of Slatewood Manor, Vicky shot me something which looked suspiciously like a smirk. “Truce. Now, let’s gatecrash this Emerald bimbo’s party, shall we?”