"Ok I like, totally get that this Rogerson guy wants us to, like, dress up for the occasion and everything. But don't you think this is a bit much?"
"It's just a uniform Clover" Penelope laughed as she tied her white lace apron behind her back.
Clover stared at herself in the staff room mirror, turning in circles as she inspected every inch of the maid outfit she had been supplied with. It was an all in one skirt outfit that buttoned at the back, black save for the white collar and white trim on the short, wavy skirt that reached just above her knees. Her legs were clad in opaque black stockings and on her feet she wore dark four inch heels. The outfit was completed by a white apron and a black headband pulled through her shoulder length blonde hair.
"Ok, I know you Brits really like the uniform thing, but this is kinda ridiculous" Clover remarked as she continued to examine herself.
Buckling up the straps around her shoes Penelope said "I have to say, it would be great if we could ditch these high heels. When you're serving food and drink for an entire evening it's murder on your feet. Come on, we'd best get going or we'll be late."
Grabbing Clover by the arm she yanked her away from the mirror and pulled her out of the staff room. They began trotting down a stone corridor situated in the staff quarters of Benlington Manor, the sound of their heels clattering off the floor and echoing off the walls. They turned right down another corridor and then pushed through a large oak door into the kitchen. Instantly they were called over by one of the chefs and presented with a tray of canapés each. Clasping the tray with both hands Clover wandered over to the door leading out into the main hall.
"This is just like some kind of Bride and Prejudice thing!" Clover blurted as Penelope walked over to join her.
"It's Pride and Prejudice actually" Penelope corrected with a smile. "And trust me, it's about as far away from a Jane Austen story as you can get." With that they pushed through the doors and began pushing their way through the thriving mass of people.
Lord Perry Rogerson was well known for many things. For his peerage, his passion for exploration and his contribution to the scientific research of near extinct species among many of them. But one thing he was particularly well known for was his ability to throw a good party. His main hall was filled with guests from corner to corner, well over three hundred in total, and they were all hungry for canapés and champagne.
Clover pushed through the crowds holding onto her tray of food for dear life. Occasionally she stopped as people of all ages and backgrounds greedily snatched at the small, neatly prepared food arranged on the tray. She found herself becoming distracted by some of the fashionable dresses being worn by the lady guests, all of them relatively young and hanging onto the arms of much older men.
She forced herself back into alertness. She wasn't here to have a good time, she was here on a mission and it was up to her to see it through. As she pressed on forwards she looked about for a glimpse of her two team mates, but she couldn't see them anywhere.
"Excuse me miss, may we please have a canapé if you would be so kind" a familiar voice then said from behind her.
Not knowing whether to be annoyed or relieved Clover turned to see Sam and Alex standing behind her with big grins on their faces. Thrusting the tray in their direction she said "go nuts why don't you, there are like a million more of these things back there for me to take out."
"What's the matter, not enjoying your brief spell as a waitress in a stately English manor?" Alex teased.
Only when Clover saw how her two best friends had dressed for their evening party did so realise just how badly she wanted to put on a dress and join them. Sam was wearing a long flowing green dress strapped over one shoulder. It reached all the way to her ankles so that her black strap-on heels were only just visible. Her outfit was completed by a pair of green ball gown gloves that reached well past her elbows, and her long red hair was tied up neatly into a bun with little strands falling either side of her face. Alex had dressed in a red cheongsam gown with golden flowers imprinted into the fabric. There were slits on either side of the dress putting her legs on show, and she wore red high heels on her nylon clad feet. For a final touch she had attached a white lily to a hair clip and had attached it to her hair just above her right ear.
"Seriously, why do I have to be slaving away in the kitchen while you two are having fun out here?" Clover hissed.
"If you want to find out what's really going on at a party, you have to work in the kitchen" said Alex.
"Besides we're not here to party Clover" Sam said matter-of-factly. "Did you find out anything about Lord Rogerson?"
"Well Penelope told me..."
"Penelope?" Alex interrupted.
Clover pointed over to the raven haired girl returning to the kitchen for more canapés. She had spent most of her time with Penelope since she had taken on this job a week ago, and she had come up with some good information. "Really nice girl, saving to go to college to study medicine and a great taste in shoes. Anyway she says that a lot of people who work here often don't come into work the next day and never come back."
"What kind of people?" Sam asked.
"Mostly grounds men and gardeners, she says the catering staff are pretty much left alone."
"Hasn't someone told the authorities yet?" asked Alex.
"Apparantly the estate are helping the police with their enquiries, basically meaning the police aren't interested. And we're not supposed to stay late on days when there isn't a party. Lord Rogerson doesn't like us staying on past 6:30. Oh and apparently there's a guy in here somewhere that's like 35th in line to the British throne. I should totally date him, I could become a princess..."
"Kind of getting off point Clover" Alex remarked.
"But looks like Jerry was right to have us investigate" said Sam. "All those large orders of dangerous chemicals coming to his manor, and now we hear of mysterious disappearances within the grounds. This guy is definitely up to something. Alex and I will go looking for evidence when we get an opportunity. Clover you get back to work so no-one gets suspicious of why you're really here."
"Do I have to?" Clover moaned angrily. "This tray is like, really getting heavy right now."
"Keep at it, you're doing a brilliant job" Alex teased as she picked up a canapé. "Could you tell me are these prawns roasted or boiled?" Sam gave a snort of laughter as Alex ate the tiny crustacean in one bite, looking thoroughly pleased with herself as she did so.
Turning on her heel Clover muttered "I'll give you roasted when this is over." Then she walked away and rejoined the crowds, and quickly lost sight of her two friends. Within minutes her tray was empty, and so she jostled her way back to the kitchen. She pushed her way through the double doors to see Penelope taking a restocked tray back outside.
"You were talking to those two girls for a long time" Penelope remarked as Clover approached.
Beginning to panic Clover said "oh they were old friends of mine from school. Haven't seen them in years. Couldn't believe it when I saw them."
"Wow small world eh?" Penelope grinned.
"Clover can I ask a favour of you?" someone shouted from the far side of the kitchen. It was the Head Chef Barry, a tall muscular Scotsman with balding ginger hair. Clover hadn't spoken to him much since she had started working here but he seemed like a nice enough guy despite his imposing physique.
"Yeah sure Barry, what can I get for you?" she yelled out over the noise of the kitchen.
"I just need help bringing in some stuff from the cellar" he yelled back.
"I'd better get going, this tray is making my arms ache" said Penelope, before she barged her way back into the hall.
Clover, relieved to be rid of her own tray for a few minutes at least, moved to where Barry was waiting for her, and then they left the kitchen together heading in the direction of the cellar, where all the supplies for the catering department were kept. "You said that you were at Uni over here didn't you?" Barry asked her, breaking the silence between them.
"Oh yeah, studying film and media at Leeds university. I'm only working here for the summer vacation" Clover told him as she rattled off her cover story.
"Oh my cousin's daughter did that course. She said her favourite lecturer was a professor Jones or something. Do you have him for many lectures?"
"Oh only a couple, I don't really know him that well though" Clover lied, trying to sound like she was actually doing the course she was pretending to be.
They arrived at another heavy oak door on the right. Barry turned the iron handle and swung the door open with a loud creak. The cellar was down a small flight of stone steps, before levelling out into a thin underground room with long shelving units on either side. There were no windows and only one entrance, so the only light came from a low hanging light bulb which Barry turned on by pulling a string hanging from the ceiling.
"Ok, could you go grab me a tub of horseradish sauce from other there? It's on the top shelf I think" said Barry, pointing to the far right corner of the cellar.
"Sure, no problem" Clover replied brightly. She almost skipped over to where he was pointing and stood on her tiptoes as she tried to see what she was looking for. "I don't think it's here" she announced after looking for a few seconds.
"It should be there, keep looking!" Barry told her as he closed the cellar door.
"Is there anything else that we need while we're down here?" Clover asked with her back still turned to him.
"Just one thing more" said Barry as he pulled out a cloth from his pocket. "A little splash of chloroform."
"Chloroform?" Clover repeated in confusion. "Is that some sort of seasoning to go with the beef or wmmmmmggggg!"
She had not registered Barry sneaking up behind her until it was too late. He wrapped one arm around her waist and covered her mouth and nose with the rag. It was doused in something
extremely sweet smelling and the more she breathed it in the more weak she found herself becoming. She struggled and kicked and tried to remember her training, but whatever the rag was soaked in meant that she couldn't think straight.
"I should probably mention that there is no professor Jones" Barry grunted as he fought to keep her under control. "I just made him up to catch you out. Amazing how many times that trick works on little snoops like you."
Clover thrashed her arms and tried to kick him with her heels, but it was all in vain. She felt incredibly weak and sleepy, and gradually the fight drained out of her. Then her eyes rolled up to the ceiling before her eyelids closed, at which point she drifted off to sleep.
Once sure she was out of it Barry lay her face down on the floor, before grabbing a roll of silver duct tape that he had hidden behind a tub of ketchup. He crossed her hands over behind her back and proceeded to wrap the tape all around her wrists. Once her hands were bound with more turns of tape than was probably necessary he pulled her into a sitting position, and began wrapping tape all about her upper body above and below her breasts. Her shoulders were pulled into her body and her arms firmly fixed behind her.
He then moved onto her legs. He wrapped tape around her ankles before pulling the same strip over the tops of her feet and underneath her shoes, which would prevent her kicking them off and improving her hopping capabilities. He moved up to her nylon clad legs and proceeded to cover them with tape underneath her knees, before he pulled up her skirt a little in order to bind her upper legs with it as well.
He had just finished this when the door to the cellar suddenly opened. Barry froze, knowing full well he was caught red handed. But his nerves were short lived as the figure in the doorway said "excellent work."
"Not exactly the female equivalent of James Bond this one" Barry remarked, picking up her limp legs before letting them fall to earth with a soft thump, indicating that she was out cold.
Lord Rogerson stepped down the staircase and moved over to inspect the intruder who had infiltrated his manor. "Pretty thing isn't she Richmond. No wonder Neville overlooked the inaccuracies in her background check" he remarked as he knelt down beside her. Barry at first thought he was the one being talked to, but then he saw the large green stick insect that was perched on Rogersons shoulder, which he was stroking affectionately as he gazed at the girl at his feet.
"We should finish the job before someone comes sir" said Barry as he pulled another strip of tape with a loud rip.
"Quite right" Rogerson remarked, grabbing a blue and white dishcloth from the stack on the shelves nearby. He opened Clovers mouth and stuffed it inside, before allowing Barry to place the tape over lips. Barry proceeded to wrap the tape all around her head underneath her short blonde hair, completely sealing her mouth and lower half of her face.
Barry got to his feet and stared down at the bound, gagged and unconscious spy at his feet. "What will we do with her?" he asked.
"Nothing for now" Rogerson replied. "I have to make sure she wasn't alone. Turn the light off and lock the door. We'll deal with our little spy later."
Barry nodded and together they made for the exit. He pulled the string again switching the lights off, and then closed the door behind them locking it with a large iron key, leaving Clover trapped in near pitch black darkness.
"You sure you aren't just overreacting a little sir?" Barry asked as he stepped into the CCTV room behind Rogerson. "I can understand you being cautious with your plan nearly complete but..."
"But nothing. The girls identity might have been faked but not by fools. Somebody big is on to us and I have to make sure she doesn't have friends who will come looking for her."
Rogerson stared up at the wall of television screens lining up the far wall of the CCTV room, and took a seat in the central swivel chair. Images from the party going on in the main hall were being beamed back to him on twelve separate cameras. He pressed the button for camera 14C, which brought up an image of the door leading from the hall to the kitchen. Pressing rewind he trawled back through the video until he came across footage of Clover walking through the door. He paused the video, zoomed in on her face and said into a microphone on the desk "computer, search for all known associates!"
The computer underneath the desk whirred and beeped as it processed his request. A few seconds later the printer at the side whirred into life and began printing of all relevant documentation. The first thing to print off was the symbol of the WHOOP organisation, at which Rogerson gave a smile. "So Jerry finally started to take notice of me? How decent of him Richmond."
More pages were printed off, outlining Clovers status as a WHOOP agent and all the known cases she had completed. Then it printed out similar pages for Sam and Alex, as her closest known associates.
"Circulate these among security" Rogerson ordered, holding the papers behind his back without looking at Barry. "If these girls are here as well I want them found."
"We won't have to look for long" Barry told him. Rogerson turned and saw that Barry had pressed play and was following Clover as she circled the hall. He had come to a segment where she had spent a long time talking with two other guests, both of whom matched the descriptions of Sam and Alex perfectly.
Stroking Richmond Rogerson said "well well well, this is turning into quite an interesting night."
"Shall I get security to apprehend them?" Barry asked, already reaching for his radio.
"No" Rogerson instructed. "If they're really here to spy on us then we should let them make the first move. Then we can take them out of the equation without having to spoil the party for the remainder of our guests."
"Bit risky don't you think?" Barry asked.
Staring at the three girls on the screen Rogerson replied "probably, but I've always found the thrill is in the chase as much as the capture."