Slatewood Manor was an impressive building. Even the staff entrance which Vicky and I passed through was bigger than my front door. The kitchen was massive, with arched, stone walls and a red tiled floor. Countless chefs ran to and fro as they prepared the canapés, loudly barking orders to each other. We and the other catering staff were greeted by a dumpy woman called Margaret Tweed, a right battleaxe who pompously boasted about the history of Slatewood Manor (she conveniently omitted any mention of its owner’s business activities). But she outlined our roles for that evening: to circle the room offering canapés and champagne top ups, while picking up any plates and glasses to be washed up. And on no account were we to go into any room other than the main entrance hall and kitchen.
I decided to pretend I hadn’t heard that bit.
Vicky and I stayed close, each of us collecting a platter of smoked salmon slices on toast, before entering the already packed entrance hall. Filled with men in black tie dress and glamorous women in expensive frocks, they talked animatedly in drawling, posh voices as Vicky and I fought our way through the crowds. They plucked canapés from our trays without so much as acknowledging our presence. I guess chatting with staff was below these toffee nosed twats. Blimey, Rachel’s beginning to rub off on me.
Vicky sidled up to me before hissing, “Seen her yet?”
So far I had not caught sight of Emerald or her hulking butler/guardian/bodyguard Smithe. As for the other party goers I recognised no-one. I wondered how many were actual members of the Nortons, or just their esteemed guests. As I sidled past a portly man in a military uniform I found my path blocked by a dark haired lady wearing a little black dress with a single shoulder strap, dark tights and black high heels. “Ooh, smoked salmon. Don’t mind if I do,” she remarked as she helped herself. She smacked her lips afterwards before telling me, “That was delicious. Make sure you keep bringing them over dear. I’m starving.”
I thought nothing of her comment. Instead as I turned around to return for another platter I spotted a bright head of strawberry blonde hair. I felt my insides freeze over; it was the exact same shade and length as Emerald’s. But I noticed that she was wearing a deep blue party dress, and Emerald would never wear blue. Then she turned, and I saw that this woman was older, in her late forties I’d guess, but still very beautiful. But her resemblance to Emerald was uncanny.
There was no doubt about it. This woman was Emerald’s mother, and the widow of Nathan Norton.
She saw me passing by with, and beckoned me over with a flick of her wrist. At first I experienced a gnawing sense of unease as I trooped over, wondering if she’d somehow recognised me. But my fear was misplaced. All she wanted was to sample the canapés.
“Mmm gorgeous,” she said after taking a bite. “Tell Cyril in the kitchen e’s outdone himself this time.”
“Er, I will,” I answered as she helped herself to the last piece.
“Oh you are a dear,” she smiled at me. “Please don’t let me keep you!”
As I walked away from her I felt slightly stunned. I’d never anticipated that Emerald’s mother might be…nice. And yet, as I looked back through the crowd, she seemed to be doing her very best to disguise how upset she actually was. I noticed how she was standing apart from all the other guests, and they were barely talking to her.
I returned to the kitchen and passed on her message to Cyril, the head chef. “Aw Ruby’s a sweetheart. Here, take this extra-large goat’s cheese tartlet to her on me,” he instructed cheerfully.
As I exited the kitchen pondering through this strange encounter with the mother of one of my arch enemies Vicky re-appeared at my side. In a hushed voice she whispered into my ear, “I just overheard that Tweed woman give another caterer a hard time for accidentally going down the corridor to the billiard room. Almost like there’s something down there they don’t want people knowing about, right?”
I didn’t get a chance to answer as suddenly at the top of the stairs appeared a man I was all too familiar with: about six foot seven, completely bald with dark eyes and with an incredibly posh accent. Smithe! I found myself tugging on my wig as if trying to conceal my face, but he was busy getting the attention of the guests.
“Ahem, Ladies and Gentlemen! Allow me to introduce to you the hostess of the evening’s proceedings. Miss Emerald Norton!” Smithe then wheeled away as at the top of the sweeping staircase appeared one of the most influential, and dangerous, nineteen year olds in the country.
Emerald Norton was wearing an (you guessed it) emerald coloured strapless ballgown which hugged her slim figure to perfection, the hem reaching the green suede ankle strap high heels on her feet. She wore long green opera gloves reaching past her elbows, and a sparkling necklace of five large emeralds encased in silver (yes she is that predictable). Her long strawberry blonde hair was crafted into an elegant bun.
She gave a broad smile and waved at her guests as they all applauded. It was the sort of smile of someone faking humility but secret loving all the attention. “Thank you all,” she drawled in the insufferable accent of spoilt posh brat. “Welcome to my humble abode for this evenings soirée. Please, help yourself to as much food and drink as you desire. I look forward to discussing future business arrangements with you all as the evening goes on. So enjoy, enjoy!” Her brief speech drew another round of applause. But one thing caught my eye. Emerald’s mother wasn’t among those applauding.
I didn’t have time to dwell on this, because not only did I have to get out the way of Emerald as she descended the stairs to join her guests, but also because Vicky grabbed me by the elbow and pulled me to one side to outline her plan. “OK, I’m going to snoop around that ‘forbidden corridor.’ If anyone asks where I am, cover for me.”
I was far from convinced by her plan. “I still think we should stick together.”
“We’ll attract far more attention if we both disappear. Seriously, have you ever considered the reason you and your gang are always getting captured is because you travel as a pack?”
“You considered the reason you always getting captured is you work alone?” I retorted.
Vicky responded by wrinkling her nose at me, before retorting, “Just keep an eye open Philips.” Then she spun around and made for the corridor. I intended to follow, but I was called over by the lady in the black dress for more canapés, and by the time I’d delivered her a platter of goats cheese tartlets Vicky had disappeared from sight.
As I continued serving all of Emerald’s mates, Vicky managed sneak onto the deserted back corridor. At first glance she saw nothing out of the ordinary. The bright red carpets matched with the oak panelled walls perfectly. The oil paintings were expertly hung without one out of place. Even the old fashioned suits of armour were welded firmly in position. Vicky scoured every inch of the corridor nonetheless, determined to find something, anything, which would yield a clue.
Suddenly, out the corner of her eye, she spotted something. Scuff marks in the carpet by a glass cabinet containing books. It resembled scuff marks left by a door scraping over the fabric. But there was no door in sight. Intrigued, Vicky moved to the glass cabinet and started running her hands over it. It was well polished and immaculately tidy, with no book out of place. But as she tried jiggling it forward she found that the entire cabinet was bolted to the wall. Her interest piqued, Vicky turned her attention to the lamp atop the cabinet, and she decided to flick it on to give her more light. But doing so gave her the shock of her life.
The instant her fingers flicked the switch there was the sound of mechanical whirring from within the wall. Vicky stepped back in astonishment as suddenly an entire panel of the oak panelled walls, with the cabinet still attached, swung outwards into the corridor, brushing the bright red carpet. This secret doorway now revealed a stone staircase leading into the basement. Vicky hesitated for a moment. She wondered whether she should go fetch me for us to investigate together, but decided against it. There were no guarantees we would get another chance to investigate this. After checking the coast was clear, she took a deep breath and stepped through.
It was pitch black on the staircase, and Vicky had to wait a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. The stairs went on for a surprisingly long time, and she moved steadily. But as she neared the bottom she was greeted by the dim glow of old fashioned gaslamps, illuminating a basement with thick wood beams, numerous wine racks and cobwebbed wooden furniture.
But these were not the only things stashed away down here, and Vicky was made aware of their presence when a series of gentle, “Mmmmpphhss” were directed at her.
Vicky gave an excited gasp when she saw the two captives we’d been sent in to locate. Closest was the lady in her mid-thirties with short cut black hair, wearing a grey long sleeved top, black leather skirt, dark stockings and black, leather, knee high boots. Just beyond her was the woman in her twenties with long blonde hair, wearing a black trouser suit over a blue blouse and black high heeled pumps. Emerald had also provided their outfits with extra accessories in the form of grey duct tape over their mouths and brown ropes about their bodies.
Both prisoners were propped against separate wooden beams. Their hands had been bound together and affixed to metal rungs so their hands were held above their heads. Ropes enveloped their upper bodies keeping their backs pressed against the wood. They were sitting on the cold stone floor with ropes wound about their knees, ankles and underneath their high heels. Extra ropes were attached to their ankle bonds and fixed around the support beam, forcing them to sit at an angle with their knees jutting out.
Upon seeing a young waitress walking down the staircase both women began to frantically strain against their bonds. The blonde haired captive rattled the metal rung as the dark haired woman said to Vicky through her gag, “Llllkkk tttt. Ssss bbbnnnddd yyymmm!”
Vicky ignored her muffled protestations and darted over to them. “Ssssh. It’s OK. I’ve been sent here to rescue you!”
But even as Vicky said those words she noticed how frantic these women looked. How their eyes were staring at a point just over Vicky’s shoulder. As if there was someone directly behind her.
Sure enough, before Vicky could get out the way a hand clamped over her mouth and another arm wrapped around her waist. She squealed in astonishment as she was picked up and hauled away from the other captives. As she struggled against his grip, with her blonde hair whipping about her frantically, a menacing voice whispered in her ear, “I don’t think you’re going to be doing much rescuing tonight sweetheart.”
Emerald lifted up the hem of her green dress as she descended into the basement. As the sound of her high heels echoed off the stone walls she gave an indignant tut. “You’d better have a good reason for bringing me down here Stan!” she shouted.
The man with greying, slipped back hair with teeth stained from cigar tobacco turned to face the young heiress and answered. “Oh I think this young lady is worth your time. What do you think blondie?”
Vicky didn’t give the man the satisfaction of a reply, though with the rag stuffed in her mouth and grey tape slapped over her lips it would have been difficult anyway. She instead gave a defiant jiggle against the ropes binding her wrists to the armrests of the chair she had been forced into. Extra ropes were wound about her waist and lap to keep her body pressed into the seats, more were encircled her knees and ankles, and her feet were bound to the chair’s crosspiece.
Emerald didn’t seem all that impressed with her subordinates catch. “Any reason you’ve taken to kidnapping the catering staff?” she snorted.
“She found her way down here, and was about to untie these ladies when I caught her,” replied Stan, giving a satisfied smirk in the direction of the wriggling women tied to the pillars. “She said she’d been sent to rescue them.”
That soured Emerald’s mood even further. She strode forward and ripped the tape from Vicky’s lips. As Vicky winced from the pain while trying to spit out the rag Emerald snarled, “OK then you meddling bimbo, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Vicky took in a couple of deep breaths, before her lips curled into a smirk of her own. “Does this mean I won’t get paid?”
“Don’t get smart with me missy,” Emerald warned. “You’re in real trouble here.”
“Clearly,” Vicky retorted. “I doubt there are many teenagers holding a pair of ladies prisoner in their basement.”
“Did Madame send you in?”
But Vicky wasn’t going along with Emerald’s scheme. “Haven’t you got a party to host, instead of asking me stupid questions?”
Emerald’s expression stretched into a sneer, then before Vicky could react she shoved the rag back into her mouth. “Let this snooty mare stew in her own juices for a while,” Emerald instructed as she reapplied the tape gag.
“You sure you don’t want me to extract more information out of her?” her yellow toothed subordinate asked, his eyes glistening with intent.
“Leave her for now Uncle Stan, we’ve got bigger issues to deal,” Emerald’s words intrigued not just Vicky, but the two other captive women. Uncle Stan? Was this yellow toothed man not some lowly subordinate after all, but a family member of the Nortons?
They didn’t get a definite answer, as Stan looked to the three writhing, struggling women one last time and remarked, “Be seeing you three later. Count on it.” Then he followed Emerald upstairs, and when he reached the corridor he flicked the switch, sealing the three bound and gagged prisoners behind the concealed doorway.
Emerald turned to her uncle when she was sure they were alone, “If Madame managed to sneak that freckly cow in then we can’t take any chances. Investigate the staff and check for irregularities. If there’s anyone else she’s sent in here I want them found.”
Uncle Stan nodded. “And what will you do?”
“I’m going to tell Madame that the ransom for her friends has tripled. If she thinks that she can outsmart the Norton’s then she’s more arrogant then I first thought.”
How did I know of their conversation? Because I was hiding just down the corridor, crouching behind a suit of armour. When Vicky had failed to return I had set my canapé serving duties aside and gone off to find her. Having heard Emerald reference a freckly cow I quickly assumed that she’d taken Vicky captive.
The situation had changed dramatically. Now I had Vicky to rescue too, and without getting myself caught. It seemed like an almost impossible task. But wrestling my nerves under control I crept out from behind my shelter. Both Emerald and her uncle were in deep conversation, and failed to notice the girl with bright red hair following them.
I was hatching a plan. A mad plan. A truly ludicrous idea. Going back in and trying to rescue Vicky straight away would in all likelihood end up with me getting nabbed as well, and I was in no mood for that to happen tonight. What I needed was a diversion, something to turn everyone’s attention away from the three prisoners in the basement.
What I needed was to take Emerald out of the equation.
Soon they arrived at another flight of stairs, smaller than the elegant staircase in the entrance hall. I hung back as they ascended, listening to them talk in raised voices. “I’m going to contact that Madame and tell her of the new ransom demands. You go back to the party and keep my guests entertained. Then when the party is over we’ll find out just what that alleged caterer knows.”
I listened to the sound of a door slamming shut, and heard heavy footsteps on the floor above as Uncle Stan returned to entertain the guests. I couldn’t believe my luck. Had Emerald really just left herself completely unguarded? Hardly daring to believe I slowly moved upstairs, and indeed discovered the corridor was deserted. Straight ahead of me was an oak doorway, presumably the one Emerald had just gone through.
Realising I would never get a better opportunity than this, I pulled out the case Madame had given me and a cleaning rag I’d grabbed from the kitchen from my apron pouch. I took the little bottle which was supposed to contain insulin, unscrewed the top and gave the rag a good dousing. I caught a whiff of a sickly sweet smelling liquid, which I recognised all too well. Then, without taking a moment to rethink my decision, I turned the door handle.
Emerald’s bedroom was the size of mine, my brother’s and my parent’s put together, with Kashmir rugs over the bare floorboards, a huge HDTV and a walk in wardrobe. At the centre was a huge four poster bed with a plush green duvet and velvet drapes. And perched on the edge was Emerald herself, an electronic tablet which she was tapping on intently. She didn’t notice me until I shut the door with an audible clunk. “What the hell!” she barked, thinking I was just a part of the catering staff. “You have some nerve coming in here! Who the hell do you think you are?”
“You know me Emerald. I’m just a girl who can’t resist sticking her nose into other people’s business,” I retorted, anticipation freezing my insides.
I could tell she recognised my voice, but with my new hairdo and glasses Emerald couldn’t quite place me. Then, I could see the realisation sweep across her face as her hazel eyes stared into mine. “…Philips…” she breathed in astonishment, the colour seeming to drain from her face. “Oh my God how the hell did yoummmmggggg!”
Before she could say another word I dashed forward, tackled Emerald to her bed, and with my knees pressing on her waist to pin her into the duvet I shoved the chloroform soaked rag over her mouth and nose. Boy did she put up a hell of a fight. I grunted and groaned as I fought to keep the rag in position, even as Emerald bucked and twisted underneath me and clawed at my hands with her gloved fingertips. Emerald and I are very similar with regards to strength, physique and size, but tonight I had the element of surprise coupled with the fact Emerald was wearing a constricting dress. It gave me the advantage as I managed to keep the wrestling Emerald underneath me.
Eventually the fight began to drain out of the crime heiress. I stared into her eyes as they rolled into their sockets. She then gave one defiant moan, before her eyelids fluttered to a close and she fell still underneath me. ‘Serves you right bitch,’ I remember thinking as she drifted into a chloroform induced sleep.
I didn’t linger for long. All this effort would be for nothing if Emerald woke up in ten minutes and raised the alarm. I looked about her bedroom for inspiration, and when I clapped my eyes on her walk in wardrobe and large chest of drawers, I knew just what I could do with her.
I started rifling through her drawers, shifting through tanktops, T-shirts and skirts (all coloured green), until I came across a drawer full of nylons (again all coloured green. Noticing a theme here?) I grabbed a handful and then darted back to the unconscious Emerald. Shifting her inert form so she was lying on her front, I then pulled her hands behind her back and crossed them over. I hesitated, trying to recall the binding technique which had been used on me countless times.
First I pulled off Emerald’s opera gloves; I wanted to leave her as little slack as possible. I then wrapped the tights around her wrists, fed the ends through a loop, made as many circuits as the stretchy material would allow, then fed the tights between her wrists to cinch the bonds before knotting them. I decided to repeat the process on her wrists with another pair. I wasn’t taking any chances.
I bound her ankles together with another two pairs of nylons, pulled back her dress to bind her knees together, and I wound another couple about her waist to pin her arms into her body. I felt overwhelmingly nervous as I worked, sure at any moment Smithe would be burst through the door. But as it was I was left to bind my captive in peace.
My captive…wow it’s weird for me to be using that word.
When I was certain Emerald was snugly bound I then picked her up under the arms and dragged her inert form to the walk in wardrobe. This is a lot harder than movies indicate I’ll have you know. As I plonked her underneath her rack of party dresses she gave a soft moan, and realised she was coming around. Knowing she needed to be kept quiet, I saw her gloves lying on her bed. I grabbed them, balled one up and I shoved it into her mouth. I then wound the other around her head as a cleave gag.
It was as I was knotting this gag behind her head that Emerald’s eyes fluttered open.
At first she looked about groggily. When she realised that she couldn’t move, and why she couldn’t, her eyes opened incredibly wide and her nostrils started flaring as she began struggling against her improvised bonds. When she saw the person kneeling over her responsible for her predicament, her furious struggles only increased.
And, can I tell you, seeing her all tied up and helpless after everything she’d done to me was immensely satisfying. I could barely control my grin as I said, “Not so fun when it happens to you right?”
“LLLTTTT MMMMGGG GGGMMM NNNNMMM YYYYWWWWMMM BBBBCCCHHH!” Emerald cried at me as much as her gag would allow.
I saw her writhing and twisting, her face flushing red from her fury and her exertions. And before I knew it I was laughing. “You’ve had this coming to you for a long time,” I giggled. “You going to give me some pompous speech about being cleverer than me in every way? Not looking all that smart right now though.”
“SSSSCCCRRR YYYYMMMM FFFLLLPPPSSS!” Emerald roared, trying to kick me with the point of her high heels, but I easily dodged her attack. All she could do was moan and stare as I grabbed her phone from her bedside table. “LLLLLLVVV TTHHHTT LLLNNN!” roared Emerald, angrily stamping the floor as I found her contacts list. I quickly came across the number for Smithe, and typed in the following message. ‘I contacted Madame, and she’s agreed to pay up. Get to the car and drive off. I’ll send you directions when she confirms the drop off point.’ Once I finished my message I couldn’t resist showing it to Emerald, who read it wide eyed before increasing her wriggling activity, desperate to stop me.
But feeling truly smug I hit send, before remarking, “Well if you’re stupid enough to not passcode protect your phone, who’s to stop someone like me accessing your contacts? Anyway, as much as I’d love to stick around and torment you a bit more, I’ll be off to your basement to rescue Vicky and others. Sorry for gatecrashing your party, but it can’t hurt to have an early night now and then.”
Emerald angrily wriggled on the spot and cried, “YYYYY WWWNNNTTT GGGGTT WWWWWWNNN FFFLLLPPSSS!” as her strawberry blonde hair tumbled out of its bun. But I gave the furious girl a sarcastic wave goodbye before I slammed the door. I could hear her squealing repeatedly in anger and bouncing about on the spot as I propped a chair against the handle.
I knew my plan wouldn’t give me unlimited time. Someone would notice Emerald was missing, and her bonds wouldn’t hold her forever. Moving as swiftly as I dared I exited the bedroom and returned to the downstairs corridor. I could hear the party was still in full swing, so security would still be occupied. Once again I encountered no-one as I flicked the concealed switch in the lampshade. The secret doorway swung open like before, giving me access to the darkened basement.
Vicky hadn’t made much headway since the door had last been opened. Her bonds remained tightly fixed and all she’d accomplished was to scrape her chair a few inches forward. But when she saw me descend the stairs she gave an excitable cry through her tapegag, waggling her fingers and feet expectantly.
“Don’t I usually make some smart comment about how stupid you’ve been for getting caught at this point?” I asked as I peeled away her gag.
“Time and a place Philips,” Vicky grunted while I hastily untied her right hand. As we both worked together to remove her remaining bonds the other two captive women watched keenly, hoping that this time we would be getting escaping before we were discovered.
We weren’t. I’d just pulled a liberated Vicky to her feet when the sound of high heels clicking off the stone stairs reverberated through the basement. We froze, my gut instinct telling me it was Emerald after freeing herself. But our visitor was not the Norton I expected. Instead we found ourselves staring into the piercing eyes of Ruby Norton, her mother.
But instead of calling for security, the strawberry blonde haired woman stared straight at me and said, “You should have at least turned off the security cameras Sara. You’re just lucky it was me watching you in the security wing.” So she knew who I was. Yet what she said next left us all stunned. “We’d best hurry. I turned the cameras off but it won’t be long until either Smithe or my brother Stan realise what’s really going on.” With that she knelt down beside the dark haired woman, and started untying the knots binding her hands above her head.
Vicky, the two captives and I were equally astonished. “Wait, you’re helping us escape?” Vicky gasped.
“We don’t have time to chat,” Ruby Norton ordered.
When I got my amazement back under control I nodded, and knelt down to peel away the blonde captive’s tapegag while Vicky worked on untying her hands. Once her mouth was liberated the blonde woman said to me, “I was wondering who Madame would send to rescue us. I wasn’t expecting it to be the famous Sara Philips.”
“Consider it repayment for you rescuing Harriet and Eleanor…Lily,” I answered, using her real name.
Lily rubbed her wrists after Vicky freed them, and said, “Well thank you for returning the favour.” Then looking over at her colleague she asked, “How are you doing Penelope?”
“I’ve had worse,” The dark haired Penelope replied as she worked with Ruby to untie her feet. “But I’m struggling to think of another mission which has been quite this bizarre.”
But the evening took one more bizarre twist. We were helping Penelope and Lily to their feet when Ruby announced, “Wait, you have to tie me up and make it look like I was overpowered, otherwise suspicion will fall onto me. I’ve opened the main gate for you, so you should be able to drive straight through.”
The four of us hesitated as she sat down in the chair which Vicky had been tied to. I felt bad about just leaving her down here when it was clear, from her expression, that she would rather be anywhere than Slatewood manor. “You could escape with us you know,” I told her.
“Madame could provide you with the best protection available,” Penelope seconded.
But Ruby shook her head. “This is my home, and my family. I cannot just abandon them…”
I could tell that her mind was made up. Swallowing a lump in my throat I stepped forward, but Lily’s hand on my shoulder stopped me. “We’ll take care of this. Penelope and I can tie her up effectively but keep her comfortable.” And so Vicky and I watched as the two women bound Ruby to the chair, hands to the armrests and her feet affixed to the crosspiece.
As Lily wound ropes around the blue silk of her party dress to further weld her into the seat Ruby looked straight at me and said sorrowfully, “Sara, I want you to know how sorry I am, for how my family constantly torment you and those you love. Believe me, I never wished harm on any of you.”
Feeling an almost overwhelming wave of sympathy for her I said, “None of that is your fault.”
Ruby simply sighed and answered, “Oh Sara, if you knew of my past mistakes and learned what secrets I can never impart, I doubt you’d be so forgiving.”
With her now bound effectively to the chair, Penelope peeled off several strips of tape, and as she smoothed them down over Ruby’s lips she told her, “Madame will remember this.” Ruby simply nodded at us, and then bowed her head.
Now it was really time for us to go. I led the way up the staircase, Vicky, Lily and Penelope following right behind. Once we were all out Vicky flipped the concealed switch. I gave one last sorrowful look at Ruby before the secret door closed, concealing here from view. Then I looked to the others and said, “We need to get back to our car, it’s this way!”
But as we rounded a corner leading to the staff entrance somebody grabbed hold of my fake hair. “Got you!” a familiar voice snarled, but he didn’t expect to lift the hair clean off my head, allowing me to dart away, backing into Vicky, Lily and Penelope to stop them running into him.
Smithe realised he was only carrying a red coloured wig, and threw it to the floor in disgust. “Philips!” he roared, recognising me now my hair had reverted to its normal brown colour. “I should have known you’d have something to do with that silly message. Tell me what you’ve done to Emerald or I’ll tie you up so tight that it’ll take you weeks to feel your hands aggggggnAAARRRRGGGHH!”
Smithe’s threat was cut off by the sound of an electronic buzzing, after which his body started to convulse violently. He cried out in pain as his face flushed red, then he dropped to the floor and sank into unconsciousness. Only then did we see the needles of a long distance electronic Taser embedded into his jacket. The shooter was the dark haired woman in the black dress who had been constantly badgering me for canapés earlier. “I was about to say just how shocking this party has been,” she joked as we ran to join her.
“Nice of you to show up Dominique,” Penelope said to our rescuer, evidently knowing who she was.
“Wait, you work for this Madame too?” I asked.
This Dominique’s smile broadened and she said, “You honestly thought Madame was going to send you in without any back-up? My car is just down this corridor. Hurry!”
So with Dominque leading the way the five of us tore through Slatewood Manor, eventually throwing open a door, bringing us to the rear driveway where the guests cars were parked. Dominque directed us to a jet black 4X4. As I clasped my hand on the door I heard a woman hollering at us. Vicky and I looked over to see Mrs Tweed standing in the doorway, incandescent with rage. “Get back here you two. You don’t finish until midnight!” she bellowed.
Vicky gave me a smirk as she yelled in reply, “Sorry, we quit!”
I barely had time to put on my seatbelt before the car surged forward, the wheels spinning against the yellow tinted stones of the driveway, Dominique driving much faster than would be recommended within the grounds of a Victorian manor house. The main gates were open as Ruby had told us, but blocking our path were four members of security, waving to slow us down. Dominique however increased speed, saying, “I hope these guys aren’t interested in playing a game of chicken.”
The guards evidently weren’t, and they scurried out of the way as the 4X4 screamed past. Soon we had passed through the main gates and slid onto the tarmacked road. I looked through the rear window and saw the security guards talking animatedly into walkie talkies, but they weren’t pursuing us. As they grew more and more distant I suddenly recognised Emerald’s Uncle Stan stood in the middle of the road, looking utterly furious but knowing full well he wouldn’t catch us now.
I found myself looking at Vicky as we started laughing in relief. We’d done it. Against all the odds we’d done it.
And hell did it feel good.
“I do believe this calls for a celebratory drink,” Madame announced as she poured the frothing, bubbly drink, as her mobile home wound its way along the mountain road. “An excellent vintage this champagne. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion, and the safe return of you all absolutely counts as one.”
Vicky and I had changed back into our own clothes, and I was gasping for something strong to drink. After she handed Vicky a glass I did something I thought I’d never do. I chinked glasses with her and said, “Cheers.”
We both took a hearty gulp of champagne, after which Vicky raised her eyebrow at me and said, “You do know going after Emerald and tying her up, before sending that text blindly hoping it would distract everyone while you came to our rescue, was a seriously reckless and idiotic plan even by your standards.”
“Worked though,” I pointed out before taking another sip.
Suddenly looking quite downcast Vicky said, “Yeah it did. You were certainly a lot more useful today then I was…thank you for rescuing me.”
“Well you did the same for me once,” I pointed out, which seemed to cheer Vicky up a little.
“She’s not the only one who has to say thank you,” remarked Penelope, from where she was sat on the opposing lounger being checked over for injuries by Dominque, Lily perched beside her. “There aren’t many people who would have the courage to do what you both did tonight.”
“Yeah, you were both amazing,” Lily seconded.
“You did good girls,” said Dominique, before adding cheekily, “Though let’s not forget who tasered the bodyguard and drove the getaway vehicle, right?”
I looked to the Madame as she handed out more champagne to her reunited colleagues, and asked, “If you had Dominique in there all along why did you send Vicky and I in?”
The Madame smiled knowingly before answering in her buttery smooth voice, “I’ve always prided myself on my ability to appreciate talent. You are both remarkable young women, as are your many friends in Carrington and beyond. You’ve encountered the China Dolls, the Gentleman Robbers and myself now, and all of us can attest to your courage and determination. I felt that, after your recent trials, for you to throw away such promising talent would have been a terrible shame.”
“So…this was all about getting me back into the game?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I merely felt that all you needed to rekindle your love of sleuthing was…a little push in the right direction.”
“We didn’t find out anything about Mr White though,” Vicky pointed out.
“True,” Madame answered. “But he will undoubtedly hear of tonight’s events, and will know that we are on to him. While this will probably only antagonise him it will hopefully drive him into the open; then we can find out his secret once and for all. But know this. Whatever he is planning, whatever happens from now on, you have allies.”
She was right. I did have allies. Three allies in particular who I had acted like a complete cow to. I stared at the ceiling as I said, “I owe Rach and the girls the biggest apology ever.”
“You may want to rescue her beforehand. My sources tell me she, Abigail and Harriet have got themselves into a little bit of trouble down at the Herringford construction site.”
It took me a few moments to realise what she was talking about, after which I sat bolt upright in shock. The case the girls had been talking about, investigating the supposedly crooked builders. “We have to get back. How long will it take?”
“Three or four hours or so,” Madame answered.
“It’s going to take us that long?” Vicky exclaimed.
“Actually, it’ll take you that long to wake up from the drugs I slipped into your champagne,” Madame replied.
Vicky and I looked at each other in alarm, then tried to get to our feet, only for the room to start spinning and the strength to leave our legs. We both helplessly flopped back into the seats, our bodies numb and eyelids heavy. Madame stood over us, as if to ensure we drifted off without a hitch. “We’ll leave you somewhere close to your friends, so you can leap to their rescue straight away.”
“Oh that’s just…thanks…” I murmured, my speech already slurred.
As I felt my head flop against Vicky’s, Madame said to me, “It was a pleasure meeting you in person Sara. Should you ever decide to try your hand at something a little more… morally ambiguous, then you would be more than welcome to join me. I could absolutely use someone as talented and courageous as you within my organisation.”
I just had enough strength left to answer, “Think I’ll pass thanks…who knows…maybe one day we’ll meet again…and I can bring you to justice…”
Before everything went dark I heard Madame laugh softly, “Oh Sara Philips my dear, I’d love to see you try.”
“Sssss nnnyyyynnnn ttthhhhrrr?” Rachel moaned through the knotted cleave gag pulled between her teeth, shaking her head trying to remove the cloth blindfolding her as she picked at the ropes binding her hands behind the metal girder with her numbing fingers. She couldn’t move her body away from the support girder in the construction site she’d been investigating, with ropes wound about her body and legs keeping her in a standing position. She twisted her feet, stamping her ankle strap flat pumps against the cold floor, trying to keep warm.
She could hear the night wind rattling the surrounding tarpaulin, in addition to the grunts and mewls of her fellow captives. Abigail was on her left, Harriet on her right, the three of them still dressed in the same clothes they’d worn in the café earlier, and the three of them bound to the metal girders, gagged and blindfolded identically, captured by builders having found out that the rumours of their corrupt smuggling operation were all too true.
At first they’d been tied up as a temporary measure, while the builders figured out just what to do with them. But then they suddenly heard the sound of raised, panicked voices, like there was an almighty struggle on the building site. And then, they heard nothing, as if the builders had all disappeared.
But, as Rachel began to shiver from the cold, it didn’t do her, Abigail or Harriet any good. They remained helplessly bound and abandoned. Rachel could do nothing but hope they would be found, and listen to the sound of Abigail’s high heels clopping on the concrete and of Harriet’s gagged swearing.
But when she heard footsteps approaching her position fear suddenly pinpricked her heart. Was it the crooks? Had they come back to finish them off? She fought back the overwhelming despair growing inside of her as her blindfold was lifted away.
“See what happens when I don’t tag along?” I grinned at her.
“SSSRRRRR!” Rachel squealed in a mixture of relief and delight as she realised it was me. Abigail and Harriet made noises of happiness at the sound of my voice, even as Vicky made started untying Harriet from the girder. We’d woken up from our enforced slumber on a park bench no more than a couple minutes’ walk away from the construction site.
After I yanked out her gag Rachel asked me, “What happened to the builders? Are they still about?”
“Sure are, but they’re all unconscious and tied up themselves with zip ties,” Vicky informed her. “Looks like you three have a guardian angel,” she added, giving me a knowing look.
Rachel let her raven hair flop against the girder in relief as I set to work trying to release her. As she watched me work she remarked, “I thought you weren’t interested in coming here. That nothing was going to change your mind.”
I gave her a nonchalant shrug and then replied, “Let’s just say it’s been an interesting day.”
“Does this mean Sara Philips is back?” Rachel asked as I freed her hands.
Yep. It most certainly did mean Sara Philips was back.