PART FOUR: THE END OF THE BEGINNING OR THE BEGINNING OF THE END?
In which the unity of the Masons is broken and the nature of the enterprise changes – and yet another dangerous foe challenges them
Young Charles Smiles was seven years old now and had been joined by a three-years-younger sister Lucretia, commonly called “Lucky”. His father and especially his mother were encouraging his growing interest in the statues. He was a true Masters, the whole family agreed, and would make a fine new owner of Masters Hall, holder of the Lion and collector of statues. But unknown to him or to any of the family, a threat was growing to their whole way of life.
Chief Inspector Henry Hector had never quite reconciled himself to losing two of his favourite subordinates, Chrissie Somerton and Demetria Lindsay, whether they had truly done a bunk as a pair of Lesbian lovers or whether they had come to some harm. They had vanished in the grounds of Masters Hall and the more he thought about it, the more Masters Hall, Masters Park and the Mason family seemed to be at the centre of some kind of dark secret – and yet none of the rumours that swirled around them made any sense to a rational and professional man like him.
He had just set up a study to map disappearances in the area over twenty years when he had been promoted and moved to Bournemouth. He had thought of not going for promotion, but an element of resentment at less able officers who had risen quicker through being better politicians, plus his determination to do the best possible for his only, orphaned, child, led him to welcome the promotion. Four years later, however, he returned to his old haunts, in fact to Happisford, from where he had responsibility for his old area including the environs of Masters Hall. Now Superintendent Hector was about to revive that study. For a start, he had placed details of all the vehicles of Masters Hall on the police computer with a request to report any movements.
Meanwhile, the family was holding what Charles styled a Council of War and Fiona called a Team meeting. Diana favoured the term “Board meeting”, though no minutes were kept and no agenda was distributed.
“We have to be careful,” Charles said. “We must always remember that the future of the Lion and of the Masters is in our hands. We’ve already taken action to reduce risks by making our conquests away from Masters Hall – except where we have no choice, as with that silly Polish girl, poor old Soper who was so led astray by our arch-enemy Lucinda, and with Lucinda herself and her dopy sister. However, the tactics of picking up suitable statues in some distant place carry their own risks. Imagine what would happen if someone saw us grabbing one of these young ladies and reported it, or if we were stopped and the vehicle was searched, or indeed if it crashed and had to be taken away only for some policeman or garage-hand or insurance assessor to find a trussed young woman or two in it!”
“If we think that way, Daddy, we’ll end up not petrifying anyone,” Fiona responded, “and the Lion wouldn’t like that.”
“No, no,” he replied, “it’s just a matter of finding a proper balance, which in my view means scaling back our activities a bit.”
“The police here are stupid, useless!” said Albert. “The only danger to us has not come from them but from that black witch and perhaps those two yellow dollies. They will never catch us.”
“Even stupid people sometimes get lucky,” Diana warned. “We’ve petrified at a far higher rate in the last ten years than anyone has done before except Sir John in the 1660s.”
“Perhaps you are right,” Albert conceded. “You are a wise woman. Maybe instead I go and rape a few unpetrified ones.”
“That isn’t risk-free either, darling,” said Fiona. “Daddy – you told me the Lion worked only for men, and only on women, and both those things turned out wrong. Sorry – I don’t mean you weren’t telling the truth, just that the Lion has changed what it’s prepared to do. So what about the restriction that it only works within the grounds we own? Maybe that’s changed too. If the fuzz stopped our car and found a statue, even a statue which looked awfully like someone who’d just been reported missing, they couldn’t do a thing.”
Rather reluctantly, Charles agreed she might just have a point. They would carry out a carefully controlled trial.
The location for the trial was suggested by Albert. Over the border in Hampshire, in the rural north of the county, was a large estate, much larger than that around Masters Hall. Through it ran a number of rights of way, some bridlepaths and some merely footpaths. He had scouted it before he had met Fiona as a promising hunting ground for his victims, and he knew that it was popular with joggers, horseriding girls and parties of long-distance-running maidens from the local secondary school. It also had plenty of groups of thick bushes. The place was called Darrington Park.
After one dry run to scout the place further, Charles, Fiona and Albert (Diana having stayed with young Charles) had arrived for serious business, accompanied by the Lion but also with rope, tape and a cosh in case the Lion’s powers did not work. They had waited in one location and experienced great frustration, for a number of suitably mature schoolgirls in their white P.E. vests and tight navy-blue P.E. knickers had jogged and wobbled by, but without the lone straggler who would have suited their purposes. After them came no-one along that track and the hunters had moved to another. They had been waiting for nearly twenty minutes without any suitable prey appearing.
“I don’t know…” Charles began to whisper.
“WHAT PRECISELY ARE YOU DOING?”
The cut-glass voice right behind them startled all three. They scrambled to their feet.
The speaker was a tall woman in expensive outdoor clothes. She might perhaps be thirty, but her pale skin had received careful attention to keep it like that of a younger girl. Above her high cheekbones, her icy blue eyes stared at them with the assumption of authority, the self-confidence and assumption of safety, of the traditional upper classes everywhere. Her clothing was not chosen to be revealing, but the swell of fine breasts was obvious and the generous curve of her hips above her long, shapely legs also carried a message to the connoisseur.
Charles for once found himself at a loss for words. His daughter proved more resourceful.
“Bristol University. Transformational nature studies.”
“What on earth is that supposed to mean?”
“Well, this basically,” said Fiona, showing her the Lion.
Fiona and her two companions were entranced by the changes that now took place. It was very quickly evident that the Lion was working. The proud woman’s eyes were caught by the Lion’s eyes as if she were a trapped gazelle about to be eaten. Her eyes glazed over. Her stance did not change. Her scarf stopped flapping in the breeze. Her breasts rose and fell more and more imperceptibly with her ever shallower breathing. Her open mouth did not close. Her skin colour began to change from pale peach to waxy white marble and her clothes whitened too.
She was a statue.
“Cricket bag!” said Charles. These bags were extremely useful in such cases as they were long enough to bear a full-length body, whether of flesh and blood or of marble, and had two handles so if necessary the weight could be shared by two people. Moreover, they were quite familiar sights, though normally to be seen in association with cricket or cricketers. That last point meant that as the party headed back to the car park, they received two or three strange or curious looks, but none of them were more than casual, which was as well for the lookers. The two men and one woman were walking along with such assurance, with expressions and body language that so clearly expressed normality if not boredom, that people assumed it must all be all right.
The proud lady was loaded in the back and they set off for home.
“Lady Charlotte Heveningham!” said Fiona with satisfaction as the group watched the T.V. news that evening. “Wow! Have we petrified a Lady before, daddy?”
“Not the present company,” Charles replied, “but I believe the bird with her arms around that tree in the copse is also Lady something.”
“I suppose you had to bring her in with all those clothes on her,” Diana added, “but we’ll have to get them off her when we revive her. I want to cane her, by the way.”
“Oh, that’s NAUGHTY, mummy!” said Fiona, “so do I!”
And so, a week later, Lady Charlotte Heveningham’s generous aristocratic buttocks were cruelly striped red by two relentless women before her womanly tunnel, into which she had only ever allowed her husband, was roughly pumped by her two male conquerors.
The discovery that the Lion could petrify outside the bounds of the Masons’ estate led to another council of war. Fiona argued passionately that this changed everything, that the risks of the enterprise were now greatly reduced, and that they could catch more girls than ever before.
“Apart from the risks, where would we put them?” asked Charles. “There are plenty of statues all around the estate already.”
“Daddy,” said Fiona patiently, “we got good money from that garden centre for the bits of that fat schoolgirl and that stupid policewoman. We know copper is worth a lot. Sandstone is used in three different industrial processes – I googled it – and it’s also a good covering for footpaths over wet ground. In other words, if we have surplus statues, we can make money from them. Oh, and jet can be carved into jewellery and so on.”
“Fiona,” said Diana sternly, “that is not what the Lion is for. We are a mystic craft, not a mass-production factory.”
“Albert, sweet, what do you think?” asked Fiona. Her husband sighed.
“I’m afraid, Fie, I agree with them,” he replied.
“BOTHER!” said Fiona.
However, using the others’ reluctance to offend her and leave her empty-handed, she obtained agreement that they could do with another copper statue.
This was not an easy matter: the capture of Dr Sukdev had deprived the village of its only attractive young woman of Indian origin, and the places where such people were numerous were also difficult places to achieve a successful capture, being urban and highly-populated. They concluded with an agreement to scout out one or two university towns, where students might live in accommodation sheltered by trees, isolated in gardens and so on, and where young women of all types might be found running or boating in semi-rural conditions alone or in pairs.
However, before they could do more than some initial scouting, an opportunity presented itself.
Walking over the lawn to the lake to replace a security camera, on a Wednesday morning when the park was open to visitors but few were expected, Chedzoy was surprised to come on a slim female form with her back to him, long glossy black hair cascading over her shoulders and a short-sleeved white top, neat little buttocks perched on some kind of small stool, sticking out seductively towards him in rather tight peach-coloured trousers, with just the slightest hint of a bottom-crack peeping out at the top as she bent forward. He stopped and watched. The girl was painting or sketching. He crept forward for a better look.
That was definitely a sweet little arsecrack. She was sketching – sketching one of the statues.
Chedzoy was a large and heavily-built man, but as a gamekeeper he often needed to be able to creep forward noiselessly, and that skill had served him well in surprising the foolish Polish girl Angelika when she was spying on the Masons. He took another step forward – and the Indian girl turned round. There was only the slightest momentary hint of concern in her face at the sight of a big, thuggish-looking man advancing on her from behind. Then she looked into his eyes in a way that halted him very effectively and said in an Indian accent tinged with English upper-class,
“Hello! Are you peeking at my sketch?”
“Um…yes. Sorry, ma’am!” said Chedzoy. She laughed, throwing her head back so her long, black hair rippled like a dark waterfall. She was beautiful.
“No need to be sorry!” she said. “Take a closer look!” Chedzoy did indeed want a closer look, but at her rather than at the sketch. Nonetheless, he studied the sketch, which was an accurate representation in just a few strokes of the statue, which he remembered Miss Fiona saying was of a young woman of good family in the second half of the eighteenth century, crawling on all fours, her front half fully and even ornately dressed, her rear completely bare. Somehow the sketch was sexier than the real thing.
“Like it?” the woman asked.
“Oh, yes!” said Chedzoy. There were one or two other things he knew he would like.
“Do you work here?” asked the woman.
“Wow! How fantastic! I was wondering about these statues…” Chedzoy was finding the way she eyeballed him and smiled widely, almost roguishly, strangely disconcerting in a partly nice way. It wasn’t at all like the Asian women with downcast eyes he’d seen in Southampton or Bristol. He explained that he knew very little about the statues but suggested that she might like to come up to the House and meet “the Old Mistress” and the “Young Mistress”, adding that “the Old Master” and “the Young Master” were both away on business. He was rather hoping that Fiona would be moved to turn this posh brown piece into a copper statue, for after all, if that happened, she could be revived.
The woman happily and politely accepted.
“Oh, I AM rude!” she said suddenly as they walked towards Masters Hall. “Do you mind if I ask your name?” Chedzoy was horrified to find he was blushing.
“Chedzoy, ma’am. Sam Chedzoy,” he replied. “And…”
“Aashiya Narsi – from Bombay, or actually at the moment from Blissford, a tiny little village in the New Forest.”
“Oi’ve bin in the New Forest,” said Chedzoy, and immediately felt it sounded silly as if he was ignorant. But the woman did not seem to take it that way.
“Oh, great!” she said. “Isn’t it lovely? I suppose much of England used to be like that, only poorer. By the way, is Chedzoy Jewish?”
This amazed him and he could only answer
“Oh, I’m sorry. Have I put my foot in it? I thought maybe like Portnoy…Never mind!” This also amazed Chedzoy, for he had not read “Portnoy’s Complaint”, but had heard of it as a very rude book, more or less high-class Yank pornography.
As they walked up the steps, Chedzoy had recovered his senses sufficiently to make mental notes of her relevant attributes: beautiful, rather long face with big brown eyes and high cheekbones; long, glossy, black straight hair, slim arms, long fingers, big tits, narrow waist, flat stomach, entirely unflat medium-size arse, long, firm, slim legs. Good fuck, great statue.
In his immediate hopes, he was to be disappointed. Aashiyana Narsi was welcomed by Diana and Fiona, who offered her tea from porcelain cups and well-honed lies about the statues. When she had said goodbye, he said quietly to Fiona,
“Oi thought mebbe you’d turn her to copper.”
“Chedzoy, you lovely man, nothing would have turned me on more,” Fiona replied, “but daddy would have been LIVID. We’re not supposed to petrify anyone on the estate now unless we have to like that black witch who was going to shoot poor daddy.”
“I would have been very displeased too, darling,” Diana added. “Your father is right. It’s too dangerous.”
“But I have got her address in the New Forest and she wants to paint me!” Fiona announced. “Aren’t I CLEVER?” Neither Diana nor Chedzoy were inclined to disagree.
Two weeks later Albert pulled the 4x4 on to a tiny lane signposted “BLISSFORD 2 ½ MILES”. The place had not been easy to find despite Fiona’s map-reading skills, but Aashiyana (“call me Aasi, please”) had described her cottage clearly.
There it was, right at the edge of the tiny village: thatched roof, pale yellow walls, flowers in the front garden, bright blue door and a name in place of a number – “ELYSIUM”.
Fiona rang the doorbell and they heard almost immediately the sound of light steps coming fast down stairs. The door opened.
“Hello! Come in!” said the smiling Aashiyana.
The outside of the cottage had suggested somewhere very neat, but inside it was not so. Creative confusion might have best described it. Aasi found an armchair without anything cluttering it, cleared clutter off two more, and asked them both to sit down. A while later, after friendly conversation and tea, Albert made his excuses, saying he needed a bit of fresh air and maybe a pint in the small pub he’d seen, and Aasi led Fiona upstairs to her studio.
Here the two women continued to chat, Aasi explaining that it was part of her routine to relax her subjects, “and anyway, I’m nosy and like talking,” which was how she came to know that Albert was a refugee and to explain that she herself was a wanderer who had spent a year or so soaking up the local culture and painting local subjects in Malaya, Spain and now England. At the end of her spell in England she would return to India before deciding what to do next. When Fiona delicately asked about close friends, she declared she was a free spirit and was not at all ready to settle down with anyone and “my parents have given up trying to persuade me.”
Suddenly, without warning, Aasi said,
“O.K. – ready to pose? Fie – that’s what they call you, isn’t it? Fie, I’m really looking forward to making you into a work of art! Sorry, that sounds a bit weird, like I’m going to turn you into a statue or something!” She tittered. “Wouldn’t want to do that!”
Fiona smiled. For an instant, she had feared that this remarkable woman had guessed the family secret – but no, she had no idea how close to the truth her words had been, or that she herself was to be a work of art.
She was good at relaxing Fiona, a true professional, and the English girl knew that her pose was just right for her. It would be a good painting.
A long time later, Aasi put her brush down and smiled at her new friend.
“Well, that’s all I need to do with you. Do you want to see? It’s not finished, of course, and I have to put in some extra touches, but I can do that all by my little own. When you come back it will all be ready!”
Fiona was taken aback. She had imagined that the Indian woman would finish the portrait there and then and could promptly be turned into a statue. Instead, either the portrait would forever be unfinished or she would have to make a second trip.
The unfinished portrait, of a mischievous youngish woman in a subtly suggestive pose, greatly took her fancy. She made up her mind. Aashiyana Narsi would have a few more days as a human.
Albert was naturally disappointed, but Fiona firmly explained her reasoning and he rather grumpily conceded she must be right. Fiona had arranged to return in five days’ time; “but this time I want to take Chedzoy. He found her and it seems only fair. He’s never seen us turn someone to copper before.”
“In that case you don’t need me,” said Albert. “Anyway, I’ve still got a delivery job, remember!”
So it was Sam Chedzoy who travelled with Fiona to see Aashiyana for the second time in her pretty cottage. Aasi welcomed them with a big smile.
“I really hope you’re going to like it!” she said as she led them towards the studio.
“Oh, I’m sure I will!” Fiona replied.
The painting was excellent. Almost impressionistic in the way it conveyed much with a few strokes, but meticulous in its detail where it mattered (for example, Fiona’s sparkling, lively, mischievous eyes and the hint of small, tight nipples pushing out her t-shirt). Chedzoy was struck speechless with admiration.
“Oh, that’s GOOD!” said Fiona. She grabbed Aasi and kissed her. “Now, Aasi, darling, I’ve got the money, but first there’s something I really, really want you to see – something special. You’ll never be quite the same again, believe me!”
“I can’t wait!” said Aasi – so she did not.
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” asked Fiona.
Sam watched the confident, joyful, expectant face struck by sudden, helpless horror. Aasi’s mouth opened wide. Her liquid brown eyes opened wide too. Then they began to glaze over. The artist was frozen in her last pose. Fiona glanced at the rapt Chedzoy and took his hand as they watched the transformation. Their victim’s skin changed colour only subtly, but her black hair was lightening and her clothes were taking on the same hue as her face.
Fiona drew out her purse, took a 10p coin and tapped it against Aasi’s cheek. The sound was a metallic CLICK.
“Now, Sam, we’ve got work to do,” Fiona pointed out. “We need to load the painting and this silly cow into the 4x4. If we can find her passport and credit cards, we should take those so it’ll look as if she’s done a bunk. Don’t break anything so it doesn’t look like a burglary or something – but if we find any stuff that’s valuable, easy to carry and this Arsie bit might have taken off with her, we’ll have it. No point wasting it.”
“Roight!” said Chedzoy and set about his work.
They soon found a few attractive items – a music system, a digital camera, a number of antiques (British and Indian) and jewellery. Most of the paintings and sketches they ignored, for they would be unsaleable, but Fiona picked out a few that took her fancy. One of these was a naked self-portrait, full frontal, the Indian woman’s proud breasts facing the world with confidence, her tight little scribble of curly black hairs above her legs forming the natural centre of the picture, an enigmatic smile on her face that recalled the Mona Lisa, though she was far, far more beautiful and sexy. Her long black hair cascaded over her shoulders and round her breasts. Fiona decided she would place the portrait next to its painter and subject.
She was alerted to another by Chedzoy’s appreciative grunt and cry of
“Gor! Sexy! Kinky!” This time it was a sketch, not a painting, but it was framed. It showed Aashiyana naked again, but entwined with a naked young white woman, hardly more than a teenager by the look of her. Aashiyana was sucking the girl’s breast while the girl’s face subtly showed conflicting emotions.
“This IS interesting. I’ll have that!” said Fiona.
Neither of them paid any attention to the sound of a small car drawing up outside – but they paid attention when the bell rang.
“Stay out of sight. I’ll take it,” said Fiona. She danced downstairs and opened the door.
A pretty white girl of maybe 19 or 20 stood in the doorway, her elfin face showing surprise under her short brown hair, her extravagant breasts moving in and out just a little faster than normal breathing pace in a kind of chemise of delicate pale yellow, her long, slightly bronzed legs emerging from frayed blue denim shorts . Though she was clothed, Fiona could have no doubt that this was the younger girl in the sketch.
“Hi! Is Ms Narsi in?” asked the girl.
“Yes,” Fiona replied readily, “but she’s in her studio and believe me, she just can’t move at the moment! Come in!” The girl came in.
“Are you a model for one of Arsie’s paintings?” she asked brightly.
“She has been doing my portrait,” Fiona replied, but I’ve also made something of her. Was she expecting you?”
“Er…yes,” said the girl.
“Well, would you like to come and see what I’ve made of her?”
“Oh, yes please!” the unsuspecting girl replied happily.
“You go first!” said Fiona, which allowed her to stare lustfully at the girl’s neat, pert buttocks shifting this way and that as she climbed the stairs. Near the top, Fiona made up ground and delicately sniffed the bottom she was about to possess and transform.
The girl did not need to be pointed to Aashiyana Narsi’s copper figure. She saw it and ran to it.
“Oh, how lovely! Fantastic! Cool! Great! Wow! It’s really like her!” she enthused. She ran her fingers over the face and then the covered breasts before stopping abruptly and looking guiltily at Fiona.
“Nice, isn’t she?” said Fiona. “Would you like me to do one of you?” The girl’s mouth opened wide and her eyes widened too.
“Would you?” she breathed.
“Of course!” smiled Fiona. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”
Fiona heard steps behind her. Sam Chedzoy had entered just in time to see the transformation. Fiona, seeing his entranced face (strangely not unlike some of the subjects as they started to turn), grinned at him and said,
“It’s always beautiful to see. Look at how her stupid crappy shorts are turning to wonderful smooth marble! Look at her open mouth – you can see her tongue inside and that’s turning to marble too! Oh, Liony, Liony, I love you!”
Sam made a big stride forward and grabbed a hank of the girl’s hair. It rose in his fingers unwillingly as it was halfway to becoming marble, but he was a strong man. He held it up until it was stiff. The marble girl stood with wide open eyes and mouth, with hands frozen halfway to her face and a ludicrous projection of hair sticking straight out from her head.
“Now that, Sam, makes you an artist!” said Fiona. Just turning someone to stone or copper – that’s being a technician. Altering thair appearance as they turn – that’s being an artist.” Sam looked pleased and proud.
“It’s really helpful of this stupid hayseed bit to turn up just at the right time,” Fiona commented. “We’ve got the Indian piece’s passport and credit cards and stuff, so when the plods find both of them are missing, they’ll think either they did a bunk together or Miss Prissy Arsy Anna did something awful to this innocent young English rose she’d seduced and did a bunk with her body!”
“You’re clever!” said Sam appreciatively.
It was a happy pair who made the journey back to Masters Hall with their treasured load. Charles, Diana and Albert were delighted and could wait for only one day before reviving Aashiyana and her lover for a taste of the cane and the cock. It was the last time that the family would be united in their joyful pursuits.
Just one day short of three weeks later Fiona, having retired early, had been sleeping with the Lion between her breasts and Lucretia in her cot alongside when she woke with a sense of foreboding. Something was surely wrong, but she did not know what. Her more rational father would have said, she knew, that the feeling probably arose from something in a dream (which might indeed point to something that needed attention) or from some sensory impression such as a half-heard sound of something being knocked over or a smell of burning or gas. Fiona thought the Lion was warning her – but of what, she did not know.
She slipped out, clasping the Lion, and stood listening. Nothing. She waited. There was still no sound, no strange smell, but she knew something was wrong. Then under the door the slightest hint of light appeared for about ten seconds, only to disappear. She crept towards the door, waited a minute for any sounds, and hearing none, silently and very slowly opened it.
Still there was nothing. She thought of getting her torch, but decided it might alert any enemy, whereas she knew her way around the house as well as anyone, even in the dark. She began to creep along the landing, alert all the time for anything even darker than the surrounding dark that did not correspond to a known item like the grandfather clock, or for any sound other than her own breathing and naked footfalls.
Then she heard it – a short laugh, cut off. It came from one of the spare bedrooms. Catlike, disturbing nothing, she made her way to the door where she heard another sound – a deep, long sigh. She now had some idea what the sounds meant. Her sharp, systematic mind analysed the information. They had no guests. Daddy was away on business in Portugal. Admittedly the two employees Lily Pollock and Dale Ansell were “an item” now, but they had moved into a picture-book cottage in the grounds.
Fiona silently opened the door and switched the light on with her left hand, clutching the Lion with her right. In the big bed, the bedclothes much disturbed, were Albert Smiles – her Albert – and Diana, her mother.
It was Diana who saw her first: Albert had his back turned and was occupied.
“Hello, Mummy. Hello, Albert,” said Fiona. Albert turned. He looked horrified. Diana looked confused and shamed.
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” Fiona asked.
When Fiona woke it was to Lucretia’s cries; but after that she sank into a deep sleep. A sliver of light slipped through between the heavy old gold curtains and she woke. She remembered the events of the night – but was unsure whether some of the memories were dream. Had she really turned Mummy and Albert to stone? If so, had it really been because they were making love? It would be horrible if she had imagined that part, but had actually petrified them. When she opened the spare bedroom door, she did not know what she would find.
Diana and Albert lay in bed, the bedclothes partially thrown back. Neither moved and their colouring was unnatural. Diana was fine white marble and Albert, Fiona noted with interest, had turned to jet and not to copper. Three thoughts came to Fiona’s mind: they had got what they deserved; it was a fitting and noble fate for them both; and it was going to be hard to explain the situation to Daddy.
Fiona picked up her mobile phone and dialled Chedzoy’s number. The big man came promptly and stared at the statues in the bed.
“Fuck me!” he exclaimed.
“Actually, Chedzoy, that’s precisely what I was going to suggest,” said Fiona.
Some time later as she lay on top of his impressive, hairy bulk she said,
“Sam, you’re my new mate.”
“Suits me,” he replied.
Fiona broke the news to young Charles, who took it with amazing Masters sang-froid. She was aware that dealing with his grandfather would be far more challenging. It took her two days, but she made a decision.
When Charles Mason returned, his Aston Martin grinding to a halt on the gravel, he was greeted affectionately at the top of the steps by his daughter.
“Daddy, I’ve got something really special I want you to see,” she announced.
He was a marble statue of the highest distinction. Fiona was sorry that she had been obliged to do it, for they had been close, but she was sure she had done the right thing for him – sparing him the knowledge of his wife’s unfaithfulness and of her petrification – and for the Lion, for now she could do its will freed from Charles’ cautious traditionalism.
In the village, the news of the catastrophic boating accident at sea which had taken the lives of Charles Mason, Diana Mason and Albert Smiles (presumably, since their bodies were never recovered) sparked some sympathy for the young daughter of the house who was now in charge of the estate and the business as well as two young children. Another tragedy followed, this time to Sam Chedzoy’s estranged wife. He and Fiona were married within months. She kept her surname of Smiles.
But the sympathy felt in the village was not shared by Superintendant Henry Hector. The vehicle tracking was bearing fruit. One of the Masters Hall vehicles had parked at Henley the night before those two boating hangers-on had vanished. Another had been recorded approaching Darrington Park on the day Lady Heveningham had disappeared; and now a third had been shown to have been in Blissford when that Indian woman and her girlfriend had vanished. Admittedly, Hampshire police had their own ideas about that double disappearance, but both women fitted the profile of most of the disappearances around Masters Park: they were young and attractive – like PCs Lindsay and Somerton.
The vehicle evidence was too much for coincidence. He couldn’t help feeling that somehow the weird statues at Masters Hall were part of the answer, but he could not work out how. Were they maybe copies from death? Could there even be real dead bodies inside? He reproved himself for the ghoulish and fantastic idea.
He knew his superiors would think he was mad if he took it all to them. He needed something more. The major search of the place after those Japanese schoolgirls had disappeared had turned up nothing. He ruled out another search. He wondered if the assumed death of Charles Mason, his wife and his son-in-law was not what it seemed. Such things could quite easily be staged. Privately, he thought it very likely the three had not died, but had done a bunk to a prepared refuge outside the country and had faked an accident.
Perhaps a word with Fiona Mason would give him something to go on. Now her parents and husband were out of the way (even if they were communicating somehow) she might prove vulnerable. If they had been up to something murderous, maybe once he could talk to her alone she might let out some indication that she was unhappy with things, or even (but it was rarely that easy) be eager to confess. Yes, he would ring her and ask to talk with her. To seem helpful and reduce the chances of a refusal, to put her more at ease, he would ask to see her at Masters Hall.
Five days later, Hector was driving back from Masters Hall with plenty on his mind.
As he had suspected, there had been no dramatic confession. Fiona put on a good act of being surprised that he wanted to see her and puzzled by his line of questioning (or maybe he was being too cynical as so often happened with police officers used to seeing the downside of humanity. Perhaps she really was puzzled).
He’d put her at ease by swapping friendly chat about families and had allowed himself to waffle on about his dead parents, his heroic dead climber wife and his very much alive daughter before encouraging her to talk about her family. Instantly he saw translucent shutters go down. Fiona was thinking about what she was saying. She said all the usual things. She loved them. The accident had been a horrible shock, but she knew she had to go on for the children. Sam had been a tower of strength. She’d gained strength too from the expressions of sympathy from the village. She knew some of those people hadn’t liked or trusted her beloved Daddy, but still she appreciated their concern.
“Why didn’t they like your father?” he asked. That got through. Fiona had wavered around the subject, just about admitting her father had done some strange things and then retreating, pretending she’d meant his wide business affairs were a puzzle to local people. She said Albert had been bothered by some things about her parents and their work, and then said he’d loved them very much and they’d got on very well indeed. She’d said in an unguarded moment that she’d been worried about Albert going out with the other two that day – as if she had suspected he might come to some harm at their hands – and had then said she’d been worried only because he couldn’t swim.
She seemed to be trying to convey something to the detective without saying it outright. He guessed that if he pressed harder, she would retreat into absolute denial. He left it at that.
He now had a very strong suspicion that Charles and Diana Mason had been up to something sinister in a big way, that Albert and Fiona had learnt about it and had not liked it, that Albert had been murdered and that Charles and Diana were not dead. But he knew full well he still had nothing he could act on. His instincts told him this was all connected to the disappearance of PCs Somerton and Lindsay, but instincts do not convince courts or Chief Superintendants.
He concluded there were two things he could do. He could intensify the surveillance of the family vehicles and he could try to place a spy in the Masters Hall camp. After all, even if Fiona was clean, it was likely that some of the staff knew something.
“That long-faced policeman is nosing around again,” Fiona told Sam as he extricated himself from Lady Heveningham’s arsehole. “Sam, darling, those stripes on her rump are not quite parallel. Artistic effect is important.”
“Oi’m learning,” said Sam, a little resentfully. “Nosing around, was he? Want me to sort him out?”
“No. Thanks awfully, but at present it would cause more trouble than he’s worth. But we do need to be on our guard.”
The fame of the statues was spreading and the flow of tourists and curious visitors to Masters Hall was increasing. This brought in more money but also placed more demands on the staff. Helped by Sam, Fiona managed the operation well, but she was struggling to meet demand while mastering her late father’s continental business affairs. She decided on two actions.
She would do a deal with an experienced, pliable, not too upright business person to help with affairs in Portugal, Spain and France; and she would employ a Chief Guide to supervise tourist affairs and help out with visiting parties.
Sam Chedzoy remembered the shifty Londoner Dave Callaghan from the day Lucinda Lindsay had been speared. Fiona met him and decided he was ideal. He did not need to know all about the statues, but she guessed in time he would work it out. The deal was done.
Fiona considered Lily Pollock for the Chief Guide role, but decided her accent and lack of education ruled her out. They would have to recruit externally. The new staff member would not need to live on site and need not understand the true nature of the statues.
Though the post was reasonably well-paid, the awkward hours and the need for the person to be well-educated meant that in rural, lowly-populated North Dorset there was not going to be a flood of applications. Fiona recruited Lily to help her sift through the eleven written applications. They shortlisted three – an unemployed recent graduate (with organising experience at university)called Daniel Cope, a mature Frenchwoman called (after her marriage) Helene Harrington, and a young woman called Rebecca Fleming who had just thrown up a teaching job to be with her soldier boyfriend.
For the interviews, Fiona called on ex-estate manager Marcia Capstick for a second opinion. The task was simpler than they expected, for Daniel accepted another job and pulled out. Fiona instantly disliked Mrs Harrington, a big bully of a woman, though Marcia advised she was well-qualified and undoubtedly able. Rebecca had arrived early and had been waiting for some time. She turned out to be small but curvy, with generous breasts, dark brown hair, pale skin, delicate features and spectacles which reinforced the impression of a studious librarian. She seemed to be a little shy, but opened out to reveal a well-informed knowledge of history and art. Her voice was a little quiet for a guide, but she was articulate, and someone who could control a classroom of kids in a rough part of London (her reference from the school was excellent) could surely manage a few part-time guides.
Fiona offered her the job and she instantly accepted. Fiona called on Lily to lead the girl out so she and Marcia could assess the last relevant point.
“Nice arse,” said Marcia.
Rebecca got in her neat little yellow Mini, pulled out her mobile phone and dialled a number she had not placed in the memory.
“Sir, it was easy. I got it. I’m in!” she said happily.
“Excellent. Well done, Rebecca. Just be very careful. Go to that cottage and don’t stray further than the village shop or the pub. I’ll see you in the station tomorrow,” said Superintendant Henry Hector.
On a gloomy and overcast Monday morning, when the house and grounds were closed to visitors, Fiona, Sam, Dale and Lily were keeping warm through vigorous exercise on the three Lindsay sisters, who were now arranged in a triangle pointing inwards so each could see what was happening to the other two. Lucinda had now been relieved of the lance for a few months and Demetria’s dislodged nipple had been relocated to her youngest sister’s forehead.
Fiona’s ringtone interrupted them (she alternated it between a children’s programme jingle and Ride of the Valkyries; currently it was the jingle).
“Shit!” she said. “Hello? Oh, great. He’s early! Just tell him to come on down to the lake. We’re playing with the Lindsays.”
Sam looked a question.
“Dave Callaghan. It would be super if he could join us. He LOVES policewomen like Demetria the Hippo, and of course he remembers Luscious Lucinda! Then we’ve got business to do.”
Dave joined them. His Nike trainers were the latest model, but dirty. His Stone Island jeans were a size too tight. The smell of his leather jacket partly disguised the reek of stale tobacco on his breath. Fiona grabbed him and hugged him passionately, enough for Sam to look a little unhappy.
“Dave, you lovely man!” she cried. “This is wonderful! Please join in. This one with the gigantic arse and tits like barrage balloons is a policewoman, PC Demetria Lindsay, no less! This one just a bit less gross you should remember. You were the last person to see her before she rudely interrupted us and got herself petrified. DOCTOR Lucinda Lindsay she is, but she wasn’t a real doctor, just some lecturer. The one with weird-shaped tits is their younger sister Sabrina. Help yourself!”
Dave threw off his jacket, coughed a phlegmy cough, and helped himself. Fiona always found men’s preferences interesting, so she was fascinated when Dave was magnetically drawn to Demetria’s big, black, wobbly bottom and then to sweet Sabrina’s mouth. Dave was a man of parts, she concluded.
It was some time before she and Dave walked back to the house for a business discussion.
Rebecca Fleming was not watching. Henry Hector had advised her that creeping around with cameras was much too risky. He didn’t want to lose another policewoman. Instead, she had been quietly recording details of all visitors who did not seem to be tourists, including vehicle registrations where possible. Dave Callaghan’s description and the number of his Aston Martin went into her little notebook. Something else was filling up the notebook: she was diligently recording changes in the appearance of the statues, changes in posture and location. She could not understand why this was important – though it was decidedly odd that marble statues could change like that – but the Superintendant thought it was important for some reason and she trusted him.
Dave accepted a whisky, was gently but firmly told to leave his cigar till later, and produced a sheaf of printouts for Fiona.
“Thought it’d best to show you these in person, darling, so I can explain them,” he started. “Copper’s far and away the best ‘cause there’s a shortage and there’s any number of uses. Jet’s mostly for use in jewellery and it’s been out of fashion since Old King Cole, but it sells better than old crap. Marble broken down has a market – garden ornaments and that - but it ain’t anything special. Yellow sandstone isn’t bad. It’s used to make tracks in marshy places and other stuff, and for rock gardens.”
“Two industrial processes use it,” Fiona added.
“Yeah? Well, that’s good. So – this is how it all adds up.”
For ten minutes, Fiona said nothing. Dave waited patiently. Fiona looked up.
“It’d take us some time to accumulate enough stone for trading to be worthwhile. It may be an option in due course, but for now, I want us to concentrate on copper,” she said.
“Suits me, princess,” said Dave.
But Rebecca had rung in his car registration and the police computer had recognised the number of David Callaghan, a man with one conviction for handling stolen goods, one for fraud and one for tampering with a witness. No crimes were marked against his name for the last nine years since his last release from prison, but police were sure he was making good money illegally in various enterprises. When Dave left, his car was followed by an unmarked police car – but Dave was simply going home.
Dave, however, was an experienced operator. He realised he was being followed, and alerted Fiona to a potential breach of security.
A few days later, Rebecca found herself called to sort out an angry confrontation which had suddenly broken out between a temporary guide called Ben Cohen and a visiting party of four Arabs. This she did with great patience, presence of mind and diplomacy.
While she was busy, Dale and Lily entered her office, searched it, and found her notebook, which they photographed page by page. Then Dale sent a brief text. The Middle Eastern confrontation subsided almost as quickly as it had started, both sides thanked Rebecca, and with great relief she walked briskly back to her office. Ben and the Arabs looked at her picturesque retreating rear, looked at one another and burst out laughing.
“She’s a spy!” Fiona hissed, studying the photos with Sam. “Page after page of sketches and notes of the statues. Descriptions of people. Car numbers. The little bitch!”
“Oi reckon she’s filth,” Sam agreed.
“Only two ways to find out for sure,” Fiona continued. “Torture her, or follow her and keep her under observation. The first would be more fun, but the second is safer. Anyway,” she concluded brightly, “if the second option works well, we can always do the first afterwards.”
When Rebecca left for the cottage that evening, she never noticed the slight figure in black leathers on the powerful motorbike going slower than most such bikes do. Fiona noted the location and that it did correspond to the address they had for the girl, but that there was no sign of the supposed soldier boyfriend. From then on the cottage was under surveillance whenever Rebecca was not at Masters Park. Six days later Ben Cohen photographed Superintendant Henry Hector arriving.
“That nosy cop!” said Fiona when she saw the photo. “We’re going to have to do something about him and his little poppet.”
This was when her foresight in cultivating the acquaintance of Chief Superintendant Lawrence Gardner paid off.
“Yes, I’m sorry you’ve been inconvenienced, Mrs Smiles,” said the Chief Superintendant, putting his underpants back on and trying to hide his overgenerous belly, “I do appreciate your assurance that you’ll not be making an official complaint. Let me assure you that Superintendant Hector has acted entirely on his own misconceived initiative out of some deluded fantasy. He will be instructed as to his future conduct. Where are my false teeth?”
But Henry Hector was not going to accept being warned off when he was that close to the truth. He waited only until Rebecca was safely back in the cottage before hurrying over for one last council of war. If necessary, he’d have to raid Masters Hall all on his own.
He could see Rebecca through one of the two front windows, reading a magazine. He rang the doorbell twice quickly, then once after a pause as arranged. Rebecca vanished from the window. He could just here light steps and then the door opened.
“Hello,” said Fiona. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”
He had just time to take in the frozen statue of poor Rebecca Fleming, a magazine fixed in her rigid hands, before he lost consciousness. His last sight was the smiling face of Fiona.
“Sam, darling, I hope you don’t mind. I AM going to have some fun with silly Superintendant Hector,” said Fiona between giggles. “You can fuck the Detective Constable here with the pear-shaped arse.”
“Foine with me,” said Chedzoy.
The scandal created by the disappearance of Superintendant Henry Hector, having murdered or abducted his poor young subordinate, did deep damage to the reputation of Dorset Police. It emerged that Hector had been pursuing his own agenda, either out of growing madness or as part of some evil plot to trap Rebecca Fleming and probably also Fiona Smiles, whom he had been stalking and who had evidently had a lucky escape.
The bodies of Henry Hector and Rebecca Fleming were never discovered.
Only one person was convinced the official story was wrong and Hector had met some terrible fate while acting bravely and honourably – his daughter Julia.
With the assistance of Dave Callaghan, Fiona began to range a little wider with the Lion and to increase the number of captures. Her marble father would have disapproved of the riskiness of her strategy, but she was confident of success. Had not every enemy of the Lion fallen before its power – or rather, not fallen, but stood frozen?
Left alone more often, Sam Chedzoy sought satisfaction increasingly with his favourite statues. It was fun buggering Lady Heveningham, the two Germans were good fucks, the Polish piece was special because he’d caught her with that camera, and the Narsi bit was special to him too; but increasingly he spent quality time with beautiful, tall, lithe Meena Patel, who had existed just eighteen years before being turned to burnished copper. He didn’t quite know what did it for him. He liked young ones. He liked posh pieces, which she certainly was. The Narsi cunt had made him realise he had a bit of a thing for Indian-type women. Maybe even the fact that Meena was kept inside for fear of her sharing the fate of Dr Sukdev represented a kind of challenge for a man whose work was still mostly outside – for he had picked up the impression that while his wife approved of him fucking the statues in general, she did not want him becoming too attached to any one in particular.
He therefore hid as well as he could the fact that he was becoming very attached to Meena Patel. Of course, he was often attached to her through her main hole or arsehole, or her pretty mouth, but the attraction went beyond that.
While Meena could not speak, and could only move a few things such as her tongue and her tunnel walls, he was getting the distinct, weird impression that she liked him. Her c*nt was certainly responding more than he was used to with the other statues. He began to take more care with her, to be less rough. He developed the habit of stroking her hair and slim neck when she was flesh and not copper.
One day he heard a slight sound while he was doing this. He looked up and saw Fiona. He looked into her face and could almost have preferred to look into the face of the Lion; but he knew that might come next.
“You seem awfully fond of that one, Sam,” said Fiona.
“She’s not bad,” he replied. Fiona was looking closely into his eyes and he knew that his face betrayed his guilt and confusion.
“I’m basically monogamous,” Fiona began as if starting a lecture. “The Lion is special, of course, but apart from him I have one proper mate at a time. Of course I fuck with others – I had a good ride on Superintendant Hector yesterday – but that’s nothing, just fun. I’m pleased if you fuck all the female statues, Sam, and I wouldn’t mind at all if you fucked one or two of the men. But you mustn’t have more than one love.”
“No, Princess,” said Sam.
Fiona stood for a minute as if deciding what to do. The she said,
“Good. That’s settled, then. Stand aside while I turn this one back into copper.” Sam obeyed. “Copper earns a good price. Dave’ll be able to sell her for scrap,” she commented. That was the last time Sam saw Meena and the last time he dared do anything that might offend Fiona.
Several months later and far away in India, in Bombay, an intake of Customs and Coastguard officers had just finished their training and had assembled for the passing out ceremony after which they would be fully-fledged officers. The Service had traditionally been dominated by men but the Minister had insisted more women were recruited quickly, so an entire intake of young women had been recruited. A few had fallen by the wayside during the training, but the great majority had shown themselves to have excellent potential and the Head of the Training School, standing on the raised dais alongside his deputy, was proud.
He allowed himself the thought that the young women looked extremely attractive in the smart new cream summer uniforms of shorts and shirts. He looked forward to learning of their progress as officers. In the meantime, he was delighted that a distinguished foreign visitor approached by his deputy had agreed to speak at the passing-out parade. He glanced across to his deputy, who had been in place for eight months. She could be a little grumpy and cool, but her energy, knowledge and skill were unquestionable; and if her dumpy figure and heavy face were not exactly those of a film-star, that reassured his wife, who could be nervous about such things. He was grateful to his deputy for many small things, but not least that she had neither come down hard on nor favouritised his own beautiful and clever daughter who now stood proudly with the other new officers.
An underling passed him a note. The foreign visitor had arrived – a member of the English aristocracy who also ran a successful business in the fine art field and who was some kind of UNESCO ambassador.
The visitor arrived, accompanied by her husband. She looked radiant and beautiful, he thought, though no longer in the first bloom of youth. Say what you liked about the British, their aristocracy had real class, he thought. The husband was a bit of a let-down though, and his expensive clothes were just a fraction showy.
Fiona took her place on the dais with Dave Callaghan by her side.
After a short speech by the head of the school, Fiona stepped forward. One hundred and seven young faces inclined upwards towards her. Two hundred and fourteen big brown eyes watched her respectfully. One hundred and seven fine young bodies in crisp new uniforms stood immaculately to attention.
“It is indeed an honour to have the opportunity to be here today at the vital moment when you all embark on a major change in your lives, indeed in your whole being. You came into here as students. You will leave here as something quite different, something that will stay with you always…” She had their attention. Not a single face was turned away.
“I would like to ask you all just one question. Have you ever seen anything like this?” Fiona held up the Lion – and two hundred and fourteen young eyes stared at it. One hundred and seven young bodies remained firmly upright, standing to attention. One hundred and seven pairs of cream shorts and one hundred and seven crisp white shirts began to turn a burnished warm brown.
“NO!” The shout reminded Fiona that she had forgotten the top man. She turned politely to him.
“And have YOU seen anything like this?” she asked.
Fiona, Dave and the deputy looked over the sea of beautiful copper statues. They high fived, laughed and performed a little dance. No eyes followed them.
A large, rather rickety lorry drove on to the parade ground behind the back row of copper lovelies. Four shabby Indians jumped out and began to load the statues into the back.
“Do you realise that’s the biggest copper heist ever in India, probably in the world?” the deputy asked Fiona. “We are not only rich, but distinguished!”
“Almost a pity to melt them down,” Fiona replied. “There’s SO much more we could do with them!”
“At that price, I’m not complaining!” said Dave. “There’s always more where they came from.”
“Did you know this idiot’s daughter was one of them?” asked the deputy, tapping her former boss with her spectacle case. He gave off a metallic clang.
“No!” said Fiona. “IS she? Wow! Look, do you think we could pick her out and take her back with us?”
“I can arrange that,” said the deputy.
“Oh, well – that’s less than 1% off the price, so I can live with it,” said Dave.
But in the middle of the business’s rapid expansion, danger struck.
Just as the Lion seemed to attract loyal and talented servants with magnetic power, so it attracted brave and clever enemies to it. Its triumph was not yet assured, and the standard of its enemies now lay in the slim, lithe, smooth hands of a young woman called Julia Hector.
Senior policeman Henry Hector and his famous mountaineer wife Helena had produced only one child before Helena’s heroic and tragic death on K2. Julia had grown up her father’s great love, but the self-satisfaction this might have nurtured never took hold, for she had before her eyes the challenging example of her famous mother. She grew tall and shapely, intelligent and resourceful, with chestnut hair, firm breasts, a firm bottom and incredibly long legs, as well as a scholarship at Oxford. But by the time she left school, she had been hit by a second tragedy, for her father had disappeared and was sought for the abduction of a young policewoman. Worse, he was suspected of having done away with two other young policewomen under his command.
Julia always believed him innocent. Instead, she was convinced he had fallen victim to some powerful criminal while bravely investigating dark events. By the end of her first year at Oxford, she was almost certain the dark events had centred around Masters Hall and the figure of Fiona Smiles.
Fiona had been shopping in Bath and was starting a meal in a busy restaurant when the waiter came across with a note.
“The young lady with the long, bright hair sent you this, Madam,” he said softly. Fiona looked around and caught the eye of the beautiful tall young woman. She opened the neatly folded paper.
“THE MAN IN THE PALE GREY SHIRT BY THE POT PLANT IN THE WINDOW IS POLICE. HE’S FOLLOWING YOU. DAVE’S FRIEND.”
Barely perceptibly, Fiona nodded to the young woman. She put the note away and unobtrusively watched the moustached man with the grey shirt. He did seem to be watching her. When he took out his mobile phone and spoke into it, Fiona got up and headed swiftly for the toilets. The chestnut-haired girl followed a moment later. The male and female toilets were reached through a common door, and only then did the paths of men and women diverge. Hiding in a cubicle, Fiona heard a man’s and a woman’s voice, a grunt, and the sound of something heavy being dragged. Cautiously, she opened the cubicle door. The dragging noise had stopped. The chestnut-haired girl appeared.
“I’ve dealt with him. Just a neat little chop. He won’t even know what happened. I’ve sat him in the men’s and tied him up a bit,” she explained. “You can finish your meal if you like. Oh, and I left his trousers on and fed him a laxative. He won’t be getting up in a hurry.”
Fiona was amazed and impressed. She had not known Dave had an assistant of this calibre. The tall girl introduced herself as Davina and joked that she was not, despite the resemblance in names, a female version of Dave. She explained that Dave had deputed her to shadow Fiona as he himself had been followed recently and he feared Fiona might be a target too. Besides, Dave had got hold of some new equipment he wanted Fiona to see.
For a moment Fiona was surprised that Dave had not mentioned this – but he loved to create an air of mystery. The last time they had spoken on the phone he had promised “something special”, but she had assumed he meant a female captive to be petrified. Instead, it must have been this equipment. She rang Sam and said she would be a bit late home. Then she followed Davina’s little red car to an anonymous brick house in a new development in a growing Wiltshire village. It did occur to her just as she followed Davina through the door that the tall girl might not be whom she claimed and that this might be a trap, perhaps by some rival group who’d found out about the Lion, but Davina seemed to know a lot of things most enemies or rivals wouldn’t, and in any case, Fiona had grown used to victory.
That is precisely why many very good generals make bad mistakes sooner or later.
The door shut and locked. Quick as a striking snake, Davina turned, hit Fiona in the stomach, and followed up with her knee.
When Fiona revived, she found herself looking up at a ceiling. She was lying on a bed. Her wrists and ankles had been tied with cord and her shoes had been removed. The tall girl was standing over her with a calm, impassive face.
“Hi!” said the tall girl. “My name’s Julia Hector. You killed my father.”
“Please help me sit up,” said Fiona quietly. Julia did that for her. “I didn’t kill him. I preserved him,” Fiona added. Julia looked as if she wanted to hit her, but merely said,
“Preserved! You turned him to stone!”
Fiona was beginning to recover her nerve and style. She grinned girlishly.
“Well, yes, but it’s very nice stone. And I only did it because he was trying to destroy me and the Lion and everything we stand for.”
“Because he was a good, conscientious policeman!”
“Um…well, quite good. If he’d been very good, he wouldn’t have got petrified so easily.”
Julia did hit her, a smashing crack against the face with her open palm. Fiona’s head jerked back so it banged the wall. She grimaced and straightened up. Then she smiled.
“That really wasn’t very intelligent. In fact it was quite uncultured,” she remarked.
“Uncultured? You b*tch! You…you…demon!” spat Julia; but Fiona continued smiling and said,
“I’m sorry you’re so unhappy about my choice of words.”
“That’s just about the worst thing about you – you behave as if it’s all a game!” said Julia, “But it isn’t. I’m going to keep you here until you give my father back and liberate all the other poor people.” Fiona stopped smiling.
“I’m afraid, then, you’ve made a big mistake, Julia. It’s a real misunderstanding and I’m sorry you’ve gone to so much trouble for nothing. Even if I was prepared to, there’s no way I could restore any of the statues to normal life. The process is irreversible. Really!”
Julia stared at her with hostility but also with doubt.
“If you’re lying, I’ll kill you!” she warned.
“Sorry – I’m not,” replied Fiona.
“I’ll find out,” Julia said. “But I did realise it might be impossible to get Daddy and the others back. The bad news for you, Fiona, is that I do have a plan B.”
“Which is? I’m curious.”
“Search you and your bag, for a start.” It was not long before Julia had found the Lion, which Fiona now kept in a leather sheath, itself in her bag. Straight away it attracted Julia’s attention as it was a strange-looking object, even when still in the sheath.
“Aha! What’s THIS?” she asked, and drew it slowly out. Fiona could see that the other girl, despite her hostility, was fascinated by the fine workmanship and the strange, compelling appearance of the Lion. She desperately. passionately wished to be holding her true love so it could turn the deceitful b*tch who had trapped her into beautiful marble to be her toy. But the Lion was in the b*tch’s hands, not hers.
“I wonder if this is what you use on them,” said Julia quietly. “Let’s see!” She turned the Lion so it faced Fiona, who stared unafraid into its magical eyes. She realised she would not mind much if it did turn her to stone, but not, please, in the hands of this b*tch.
Julia was beginning to look disappointed and even a little puzzled. Clearly she had expected Fiona to turn into a statue. She reversed the Lion and examined it. Fiona was afraid the b*tch would destroy it or take it away where she could never recover it. At least she knew the b*tch’s name and might be able to track her down, if only she lived. But it looked as if her life was in the b*tch’s hands, which wasn’t good.
Julia had been looking at the Lion for a long time. It was some time since she had moved. No, surely, it couldn’t…not unless it was held in the hands of a Masters…
But it was true. Julia Hector was turning to beautiful white marble.
Fiona tested her bonds. They did not give – but after a few minutes writhing, she was able to knock her mobile phone on to the floor and reach it with her toes. After two unsuccessful attempts, she managed to press the right two buttons. She writhed again and fell off the bed just to the right of the phone. She slithered and craned till her mouth was close to the phone.
Sam had answered the call. She gave him directions to where he could find her.
“Sorry I can’t come home on my own, Sam – I’m a bit tied up,” said Fiona, “but this b*tch cop daughter who tried to get me is going to give me a lot of pleasure – me and you and all the girls and boys.”
“Sounds good to me, princess,” he said.
Julia and her clothes were now entirely marble. She still held the Lion, but Fiona was confident it could be pulled out from her stone clutch.
Fiona and Sam grew rich beyond anything Charles and Diana had known. They took good care of the education of young Charles and Lucretia Smiles. Fiona found that the Lion liked them both, and she initiated them in its mysteries. In due course Charles invited home his favourite teacher and turned her to marble, while Fiona took her daughter on a family holiday to Brazil where, with her proud mother’s support, she turned a tour guide to jet.
Fiona had two more children after the petrification of Albert. John, named after the famous Masters, had the height and reddish skin of Sam Chedzoy, and he too became a servant and user of the Lion. The last, though, Sam regarded with superstitious fear. He knew Alexander Lyon Chedzoy was no son of his, and he was pretty sure he was not the outcome of some secret affair. Alexander grew tall and handsome, with a full head of curly golden hair around a broad, regular face and piercing amber eyes. Sam had his suspicions who the father was – and Fiona knew, but did not say.
Charles was prepared to take over Masters Hall and Lucretia to run the scrap metal business. John moved to Canada. Fiona began to spend more and more time alone in her father’s study, working with precision tools on wood and bronze. She would not tell Charles or Sam or anyone what she was making – but one day she announced she was going to visit John to take him a special present.
Alexander studied engineering and accepted a first job in Singapore.
One day a young Singapore policewoman noticed a small car illegally parked by a block of flats. She was just noting down the number when a tall, young European man with wonderful amber eyes and tousled fair hair came running out.
“Oh, bug…sorry!” he cried. “I really am sorry. I just left it there while I picked up some flowers and then my phone rang. No excuse, really.”
She felt sorry for him. She also found him quite extraordinarily attractive with his exotic looks and something more, something even Western film-stars didn’t have.
“It is irregal. I am a servant of the raw!” she said, but it seemed to her she was arguing against herself, not explaining to the beautiful young man why she had to book him.
“Yes, I understand. Thankyou for being so polite,” he replied. She couldn’t leave it at that.
“No, I have discletion. Move it, and I will forget I saw it,” she said. “You have your car documents? Insurance?”
“Yes, but they’re all inside the flat. In case the car gets stolen, you see.”
“Of course! Velly sensible.”
“Thankyou so much for being so kind. I’ll get them right away.”
He seemed flustered and she felt sorry for him.
“No! No need! I come with you, if that’s O.K.?” He looked bashful. It was hardly professional, but she really did fancy him. Perhaps seriously, this was the start of something romantic, love at first sight?
“Yes, that’s so good of you. The flat’s in a bit of a mess, I’m afraid.”
“You are young man. Of course it is a bit of a mess. No plobrem,” she assured him.
“After you!” he said, waving her on up the steps. “It’s only two flights up and the lift’s really slow.” She was hugely impressed by his good manners and went on up the steps.
Following behind, Alexander thought,
“Very nice arse indeed. Quite small, but very round and bouncy, and I do believe that’s a panty-line. Hmm, more than half of her sweet little rump is outside her panties, so they must be pretty small. Yes, she’ll do.”
“The flowers – are they for a girl?” the policewoman asked. There was a slight delay which told her he was embarrassed. He was quite shy, really.
“Yes. Actually, we split up. They’re a peace offering, but she chucked the last two lots in the gutter. I thought of calling it a day, but then I thought I’d give it one more go.”
She felt really sorry for him. She was a little guilty to find herself hoping the nice young man’s third peace offering went the way of the first two. She resolved to find some way of indicating that she would respond well to being asked out nicely.
“Ah – I’m solly. Me too, I bloke up two months ago,” she said.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” said Alexander. “Let me open the door.”
Once inside, Alexander hunted for his car documents. He did not find them very quickly, riffling through a disorganised collection of papers, and the policewoman felt sorry for him. She wanted to help him organise things a bit more.
“Here they are!” he said. They were in order.
“Please don’t leave in a hurry,” he said, and she hoped this was the prelude to an invitation to a nice restaurant, “I’d really like to keep on seeing you and to get to know you better.”
That was nice, she thought – sort of shy and polite. She smiled at him. He advanced closer and stared into her eyes. Not so shy now – he was going to kiss her! She was ready. She stared back into those mysterious alien amber eyes. She must be really falling for him in a big way, for she was starting to feel dizzy. The eyes seemed to be boring right into her – no, almost to be dissolving her. No, she was actually stiffening. She tried to move. She could not. NO! NO, please, I’m a good girl and only twenty-four and a…
She was a fantastic, unbelievable, incredibly sexy yellow sandstone statue, Alexander thought. She was his, all his, and his very first victim. He kissed her stone lips. He had sensed, had known for years that he would have this power, that he was not just the favoured bearer of the Lion like his mother, but the Lion itself. He picked up the statue and placed it neatly by his wardrobe.
Soon he would have to travel to England. Fiona had carved new Lions, and he had to bring them to life with his touch and his words. Then not only Fiona but also his half-siblings Charles, Lucky and John would be bearers of the Lion, and the Lion would rule.
Fiona stood at the top of the steps of Masters Hall, the Lion in her hands. She was standing where she had stood with mummy and daddy all those years ago when the stupid police had arrived and she had asked daddy to take the big-titted, fat-arsed black policewoman for her.
She did not think she had changed all that much, except that her body had got older. Neither, in fact, had the Lion changed: it had just revealed many things that had been hidden and used the powers that had been dormant.
Now its time had come, its time of glory and power when the number of its slaves and of its servants was ever growing. Fiona knew this was what she had been prepared for. She had done what the Lion required. There was just one more task.
She held the Lion out in front of her and stared into its eyes. She felt the change begin, the change she had seen in so many victims. But for them, the moments of transformation had been moments of puzzlement, then growing fear, then despair. Even her father and mother, even her first husband, though they had known all about the power of the Lion, had not gone willingly into their new state of being. For Fiona, though, it was the final triumph.
She would live for ever with and for the Lion.