“We’ve just received word that Tabitha McInney, better known as the Boss Lady of The Knock Knock Club, has escaped custody in the last hour. Officers on scene were injured after a knife attack by what was described as rebellious supporters of the Shanties cause. Tabitha’s current whereabouts is unknown so the public is advised to be cautious. If you see anything contact the office of Law Makers immediately. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily news.”
“No!” I cried. “This can’t be happening.”
To most of the city, Tabitha was a deranged killer. To the people of the Shanties, she was a queen who was willing to do anything it took to protect them. There was a group in the Shanties named the Red Rebels who were loyal to her. I had to assume that the blades of the knife attack on the escorting officers had been in their hands.
“They have to find her,” I said to no one in particular, pacing the floor. What if she came to find me?
“What if she comes to find me, pal?!” ex club manager Dennis had said when I informed him.
What ifs indeed!
“She’s out!” Tawny cheered.
The three bros looked among each other. They were still holding the Baroness but their trip to the Great States had left them a little drained.
“Ye have to let me speak to your pa,” Tawny insisted. “Please, just let me speak to him. I have to get out of here. I don’t want Tabitha to get into any more trouble.”
The three bros let the news of the Boss Lady’s escape sink in.
When they first brought Tawny to Cooper Garages to hold her, they had no idea what they would do with her. A lot of shit went down, they went to the Great States leaving Tawny under the supervision of George. When they got back, they had expected George to have eaten her or some shit but she was still in one piece.
“What we going to do, brah?” Cooper asked. “My dad will be over here soon and he’ll be opening the garage up for the new season.”
“Let me speak to your pa,” suggested Tawny.
Buddy took his gun. He had given it a lot of thought. He was an Owen and he had to do what needed to be done.
“Captain Owen’s office, how may I direct your call?”
“I need to speak to the Cappy,” said Buddy, still with the gun in his hand.
“And who may I say is calling?”
“It’s Buddy. I need to speak to him right away.”
“Tell her it’s urgent, brah!” Chad suggested
“I know,” said Buddy a little impatiently. To the secretary he said, “It’s urgent.”
The secretary’s chirpy tones were replaced with the smooth Great States accent of The Cappy. He was seated at his desk and looked a little frustrated at the interruption.
“Buddy,” he enquired. “This had better be good.”
“Well,” Buddy began. “You know, like how you’re always telling me to make the family proud and to start acting like an Owen.”
The Cappy became increasing skeptical.
“What are you saying, Bud?”
Buddy hunched. He tried a laugh. Chad joined him quite enthusiastically. Cooper watched on with his arms folded.
“You are going to laugh your balls off,” Buddy assured.
The Cappy didn’t look like he was going to laugh anything off.
“What have you done?” the father asked.
He was a powerful man. He was a respected figure. He had faced a lot, but he was never suitably prepared for the outcome when his son called him and told him he would laugh his balls off at something he had done.
“I’m an Owen,” Buddy cried, his gun still in his hand. “I’ve been taking care of shit.”
“Buddy?” the Cappy barked. “What did you do?”
Buddy cleared his throat. He slapped Chad’s shoulder who was still enthusiastically preparing The Cappy for a real laugh riot. Buddy turned the camera. The Cappy almost choked when he saw Tawny. She was seated in a chair. She waved at him.
“Hi there!” she said. “Remember me?”
“You see!” Buddy cheered. “I Owened that shit.”
Buddy and his bros had decided that if they acted like it was the greatest achievement in the world, The Cappy might see it that way too.
“What in the entire nations is she doing there?” Chick asked.
Their theory didn’t work but I suppose it was worth a try.
“Chilling, as they say,” Tawny replied. “Your boys have been looking after me,” she teased. She reached up to her shoulder injury where the bros had been playing a game called ‘whale harpoon’. Buddy grabbed her hand and pulled it away.
“What do you want?” Chick asked her.
“I just want to go home,” she said. “A lot has gone down. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt on my account. I’m sure you heard about Tabitha.”
Chick managed to smile but it was a cold one.
“I just let you walk and I find myself with more hassle than I need right now. My father is dead.”
“I’m sorry, honey. I really am, but don’t make me recite the list of dead I have because you wanted me to shut my gob. You know I was telling the truth.”
The Cappy scowled.
“I just want to go home. Let’s put an end to this.”
The Cappy chuckled. “I would take your word for it but I’m a cynical man.”
“I’m not wanting to cause any fuss, cross my heart,” she laughed. “But I’m not a complete nutter. I don’t want to be waiting for one of those bullets that seems to go astray with you lot. There’s still life in this old gal yet. When I was young my ma used to tell me that I’d make friends with the devil himself, so let’s bond. I wouldn’t take the word of an Owen but I know money talks.”
“You want me to buy your silence?” The Cappy pressed.
“I don’t need yer money,” said Tawny. “But there’s lots of people in the Shanties that could use it. Invest in my charity. Help me do what I do and there’s a bond I would never dare break. You wouldn’t either.”
Chick folded his arms across his chest. He leaned back in his chair.
“Buddy…” he said. “Good job.”
The three bros looked at each other. “Huh?”
A city-wide search was underway for Tabitha and Reggie Penn. Given he was still severely injured, the whereabouts of Reggie was a cause for great concern. In light of this I had arranged a visit to The Boss to speak to his brothers. Given the Good Gang agents had brought Reggie in safely, I was hoping Marcus and Simon would be willing to offer what help they could. Although it wasn’t much.
“Have you heard from your brother?” I asked Marcus.
“If he’s gone anywhere, it would be to Luen,” was Simon’s suggestion.
Marcus, however, disagreed. “That would be the logical thing to do but he won’t leave these shores whilst we’re still here and mother hasn’t been buried.”
Simon thought about what his brother had said.
“I suppose. He’ll want to stay close by. He has hiding spots all over the city. It was how he managed to stay out of CPD hands for so long. Places we don’t even know about.”
My experiences of the triplets before this were of violence and murder. The loss of so much seemed to have sobered them a little. At least it had Simon. Marcus’ expression was still indecipherable. He pushed the spectacles from the end of his nose and seemed to lose himself in thought.
“What worries me is that Tabitha is also missing,” I explained. “The airport and the docks are all on high alert. They’ve set up check points on all city exits. They both need to be brought in before they get hurt, or worse. Do you think they would be together? Do you think they would know where to find each other?”
A little personal concern was falling into my voice. Simon must have noticed this because he smiled a little.
“Story isn’t quite so easy to write now, is it?” he teased.
“Simon,” barked Marcus in warning.
I took a deep breath. Agent Kim Adams and Agent Lydia Lowe were waiting close by but if they really wanted to, the triplets could lash out.
“If Reggie is hurt, he needs to be found. He stands his best chance with the agents.” I paused for a breath. “As does Tabitha.”
Simon frowned. “We have no idea where he might be right now but if you find him…”
“I’ll do what I can for him,” I agreed.
Marcus leaned back in his chair. In light of the death of his father, the people of City Main would be looking to him as their new ‘king’. Not much use in servitude to The Boss, but my concerns had to remain with Reginald Penn Junior and yet again the Boss Lady of The Knock Knock Club.
Having been given Tawny’s share of Knock Knock, I turned to David Finn in the hopes he might have something to contribute. He had little information to offer but he did suggest I come to his apartment in the Mid West where Agnes was currently residing with him until the Bailiffs were done stripping the club apart.
“I need to find Tabitha,” I said to the artist over coffee at Bobby’s lunchbox.
“And Reggie?” the artist put in.
“Yes, of course Reggie too,” I added.
Reggie had to be found. That much was certain. Not only would it pacify his brothers and keep peace in City Main, but it could help bring those who attacked him to account. Tabitha could not be allowed to run loose in the Shady City. Reggie would likely lie low without his brothers. Tabitha though? She would be monumentally angry – with what happened to her aunt, to her club, to her friends – and that anger would turn towards those responsible. The city was being vigilant. I, myself, hadn’t slept a full night.
I looked out of the window of Bobby’s Lunchbox and I couldn’t help but notice a hush. Things hadn’t been the same since the public execution of Reginald Penn but now something was else brewing. I was certain of it. Tabitha was biding her time and plotting her elaborate scheme. I have already detailed people pushed from high rise windows, throats being slit in alleys and butchered body parts circling greater Coldford, and that was just my first 24 hours of knowing her! She loved to make a scene and she had publicly called out those who stood in her way, calling Judge Doyle a cunt while she was still in prison.
It had been sobering spending the afternoon with David Finn. No matter how much I tried to explain this to him he didn’t see Tabitha as anything other than magnificent because that was how Tawny had felt.
“What about Reggie?” I asked him.
“Reggie is sound, man,” he replied. “Been gaming with him for years before all this happened believe it or not. A vet friend of mine treated his rats. Reggie is a decent guy really. He’s just got that life I guess.”
David was still coming to terms with what holding a piece of The Knock Knock Club entailed so I forgave him for his naïveté. His instruction manual had come from the Baroness herself who was well known for seeing Tabitha as her mischievous little Trouble and Reggie as the sweet triplet with a halo of blonde curls. Violent sociopaths, both of them!
David insisted on paying for the coffees and as he did so I watched his transaction from afar.
“They’re on the house,” Bobby said with a smile across to me.
“No, man!” David urged. “I can’t do that.”
He pushed some money across the greasy counter.
“Your money is no good here,” said Bobby.
David wouldn’t retrieve his money though.
“Then keep it to cover a hot drink for someone who needs it then, man.”
He was still reading from the Baroness’ manual. She was a charitable woman above all else and always spoke of how important helping others was to her Knock Knock Club. David Finn was taking his new position in the city very seriously.
“Agnes is back,” David informed me when he returned to the booth after having checked an alert on his phone.
With that we headed to the Midwest where I could ask the Broker about her wayward niece.
“She’s been though a lot, man. I don’t want you to upset her,” David warned me as we climbed the steps to his apartment. “She’s already answered tonnes of questions to the Law Makers.”
I was fond of Agnes too so I could understand his apprehension. If she didn’t want anyone to know the whereabouts of Tabitha then she would die before giving her location. I did want to check on her anyway and see how she had been doing.
“I won’t keep you long,” I assured.
As we got the second floor of the building where David’s apartment lay, we could hear voices. There was some laughter.
“You must have visitors,” I said.
David shrugged. “I get all sorts of people coming and going these days. Maybe Harper and Gabby stopped by.”
David’s gallery-owning friends had become close to Agnes too. It suited both David and Agnes to surround themselves with people in times of trouble. A lot of the Knock Knock girls stopped by as well, much to David’s amusement.
As David pushed open the door, he could hear the noise of a video game battle. Alex Ferrald – his vet friend – must have joined them.
“Blam! Take that, cunts!” a young man cried.
No! I shook my head. That was not mild-mannered Alex Ferrald. It was a City Main twang. David was just as perplexed as I because whilst the entire city had been torn apart, barriers put in place, Law Makers giving speeches at City Hall; one of the most wanted men in Coldford was sat on his sofa, playing a video game. Reggie looked up when we arrived, a cigarette dangling on the end of his lips.
“Hey Finn! Good to meet you in person.”
I would have scoffed at the youngest triplet’s cavalier attitude if it weren’t for the fact that my focus was now stolen by the one person in the city more sought after than he was. Next to him in the sofa, quite comfortably, was Tabitha.
“Hello Sam,” she grinned at me, that gap between her teeth a menacing snarl. My absolute nightmare come true. I had been pursuing her, hoping she would be found and there she was, grinning at me like I was the intruder.
“David! I can explain!” Agnes came dashing from the bedroom.
“What’s going on?” David asked. Tawny’s manual must have accounted for her niece making a scene, surely.
“I had to shower,” said Tabitha to the artist matter-of-factly. “I haven’t shaved my legs properly in months.”
Focused back on his game, Reggie chortled. “It’s true. It looked fucking disgusting.”
Tabitha slapped his shoulder coquettishly.
“Fail to give you a razor in prison, did they?” I asked sarcastically.
Tabitha scowled. “I’ve been through a lot, you insensitive cunt. Don’t act like you’re not glad to see me.”
“Tabitha!” warned Agnes in her teacher tone.
Tabitha pouted but she fell silent.
“Go get dressed. You both aren’t staying here,” instructed the Knock Knock Broker.
“Fine,” whined Tabitha.
As she stood, she passed round the sofa towards me. Stopping, she raised herself onto the balls of her feet. Her cool grey eyes met mine.
“I guess our story isn’t over,” she teased.
“Tabs!” warned Agnes again.
Tabitha danced off to the bedroom to check if Agnes had brought one of her signature red dresses.
Agnes and I had never locked horns before but I had a feeling we were going to clash over her niece.
“This place is going to be filled with Law Makers,” I warned. “And now you’ve brought David into it.”
“I’ve already spoken to Ronnie Owen,” she explained. “He knows David had nothing to do with this. He’s already cleaned Dennis’ charges against Reggie providing he undergoes psych evaluation. Given the botched execution of Reginald and the fake execution of Tabitha, the Law Makers are willing to hold them under supervision providing your agency friends escort them, watch them and question them.”
“No!” I protested. “I’m sorry Agnes but they should at least be held in the Harbour House lock down where they belong.”
“House arrest is the standard procedure until the Law Makers complete their investigation.”
I thought of Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Owen – Chick’s younger brother – who ironically had been the one to defend Tabitha on her murder charges. He was a decent man – selfless in his way and despite the history between his family and The Knock Knock Club, he had defended her with everything he could considering his client was clearly guilty. With the Owens getting involved it made me wonder if The Cappy had seen opportunity in the escape.
The buzzer screeched. David opened the door to Agent Kim Adams and Agent Lydia Lowe. Tabitha emerged from the bedroom in some of Agnes’ clothes, disgruntled that she hadn’t been given her red dress. She scowled when she saw Lydia.
“Seriously? You brought the skank?”
Lydia shook her head, smiling. She brushed off the comment. Kim on the other hand was in no mood for her games.
“The slightest bit of trouble out of either of you and I drop you,” she warned. “You!” here she pointed at Reggie. “My agents spent a lot of time and resources bringing you home. If you try anything I will hurt you.”
Reggie raised his arms. “I just want to go home, like,” he said.
Kim turned her attention to Tabitha. “And as for you,” she said. “There is still an execution order on your head. Step a foot out of line and that order is carried out.”
Kim allowed her warning to resonate a little to see if she would have any back lash. There was none. With that Tabitha and Reggie, Boss Lady and Rat Boy, were taken home.
“You would think we were the villains here,” Tabitha grumbled as they left.
It all began when they were children. Tabitha – a preteen having not been long introduced to the triplets by Tawny – had found a friend in Reggie. She never really had someone her own age to spend time with before. She was close to Simon and Marcus too but with Marcus striving for efficiency in all things, he could be a bit of a cold fish. Simon being naturally abrasive, she expected they would fight a lot. She knew she was abrasive too. How they did fight in those first days of knowing each other, but a sibling bond formed and whilst they fought, they were protective of each other against outsiders.
“Why hit a punch bag when you can hit his fucking face?” Tabitha encouraged as she accompanied Simon to the gym. The parents had hoped that Tabitha, too, might find an outlet for her frustration but she spent most of the time sat on a bike machine watching everyone work a sweat around her.
Yes, Marcus and Simon were close to her but her full affection for the triplets had come when she met the one with all the rats. He had a black and white one he named Snuggles hanging from his shoulder. He had promised himself he wouldn’t name them but he couldn’t help it. Snuggles was just so affectionate and smart. She deserved a name.
“Reggie,” he introduced himself.
Tabitha inspected the creature closer. She reached out to pet Snuggles. Snuggles sniffed the tips of her fingers.
“Like your dad?” She asked.
Reggie plucked Snuggles from his shoulder. True to her name she tried to nuzzle his ear.
“Nothing like my dad,” he admitted. “But, yeah, the name’s the same.”
Reggie was the one Tabitha would spend all night speaking to on the telephone when things got really bad at home and she couldn’t escape to the club.
Most of the trouble they got into they got into together. So, they found themselves an attic space just outside of City Main enroute to Filton. It was their half way point when they wanted to meet up and it had a little space that only they knew about. Fullerton reps sometimes came by during the day but it was usually to collect money from people in suits to keep the site untouched. They didn’t know who it really belonged to, but anytime anyone did come to visit it they wouldn’t hear the little rats scuttling around in the attic space.
After escaping her custody, Tabitha had thought to lay low. It took her a couple of days to reach it on foot, avoiding populated areas as best she could. When she finally arrived, the building was empty. She climbed the broken fencing like she had as a girl, removed the loose bricks that would give her access to the building, climbed the rickety access to the attic space and hauled the door open.
Reggie, still looking a little worse for wear, was huddled in the corner.
She ran to him to hug him.
“Careful!” he gasped. “I’m still a little delicate.”
“I heard what they did to you,” Tabitha replied. “Going to The Boss? What were you thinking?”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” Reggie shrugged. “There’s a lot of our crew in there.” He referred to the Loyalists of City Main, glorified thugs dedicated to the Penn family. ‘Long live the king’ was their motto.
He reached beside him and snatched up a box of Jolly Shopper Queen Corn cereal and threw it to her.
“Here,” he said. “You must be starving.”
Tabitha pulled the box open, scooped out a handful of cereal and scoffed it greedily.
“We’re going to have to go easy on the water. I’ve only got the one bottle.”
Tabitha lay herself on the floor next to him, resting her head delicately onto his chest. He kissed her head and his body relaxed a little. He sat a phone he had acquired in front of them and they passed the night watching March of Our Times soap opera reruns. Agnes would have no doubt received some kind of word from the Red Rebels that Tabitha was safe but CPD, Agents and Law Makers would be watching closely. Contact would have to wait until it was safe to do so.
David had been on the main club floor when he heard a noise. There was some shouting out in Clifton Lane. The place made him uneasy already but he felt he always had to be on alert for shit going down. He had a part of Tawny’s club now, and it was his responsibility to protect the place and Tabitha.
He knocked on the Boss Lady’s changing room door.
“Yes?” she replied.
“You decent?” David asked.
“What is it, David?”
David pushed the door open. There he found Tabitha. She had her long, lean leg raised on a chair. It would have made quite a seductive pose, if it weren’t for the fact that it was because she was trying to hack off her Law Maker tag from her ankle.
“There’s some fuss going on outside,” the artist explained. “I think it’s Law Makers.”
Tabitha gave up on her tag and clutched the knife. “If they think they’re coming in here again let’s go and say hello,” she said.
“Tabs!” David followed after her.
He was trying to warn her that coming at Law Makers with a knife was not going to do her any favours. When they got back to the main club floor, the shouting had gotten a little heavier.
“What’s going on, man?” David wondered to himself.
Before he could check the window Tabitha pulled him back. She turned him round and gave a glance over him for red marksman dots.
On the bar, a tray had been knocked over. They were already inside.
“What do you want, cunts?” Tabitha growled.
The main lights cut off. The stage lights flashed on. Tabitha gripped her knife tighter.
“They’re trying to shut us completely down,” she surmised.
Music began to play. It was an old cabaret tune that always made Tabitha smile. It had been one which Vincent Baines had written with Tawny whilst they were in rehab.
“Good evening folks, and welcome to The Knock Knock Club.”
David and Tabitha were perplexed.
“Put your hands together and welcome back on stage, the one, the only, the fabulous…”
The curtains were thrown aside and strutting out as she had done many times before was…
“Surprise!” Tawny cheered.
“Aunt Tee!” Tabitha cried, dropping the knife and rushing on stage to the Baroness, leaping into her arms.
“I missed you, Trouble,” Tawny said, showering Tabitha’s head with kisses.
Tawny turned to David. He was speechless. The artist had been so taken aback at the sight of his friend he could only watch with tears falling down his face.
“Awww, Davey,” Tawny cried, reaching her arm out. “Come here.”
David rushed to her and the Baroness held them both close to her.
“I thought you were a goner,” he sobbed.
Tawny laughed. “I’m made of tougher stuff than that,” she said. “I’m a favourite of someone up there.”
Later that evening, Agnes returned to the club. When she saw the looks on David and Tabitha’s faces, she knew something was up. She took a seat at the table and sat her designer handbag on top.
“What’s with the grinning?” she asked. “Did I miss something.”
She could hear footsteps behind her but before she could turn, a pair of hands clasped over her eyes.
Agnes didn’t have to guess. She knew the voice all so well. She knew the soft touch. She knew it all.
“Tawn?” she cried.
“That’s right!” Tawny cheered, removing her hands from her eyes.
Agnes was on her feet. She threw her arms around the Baroness.
“I can’t believe it!” she gasped.
“You better believe it, honey,” Tawny teased. “It’s so good to see you again.”
She squeezed Agnes tighter. She lifted her from her feet a little and kissed her. The both laughed heartily.
David and Tabitha were still grinning. The Knock Knock Club was awash with merriment.
“I never thought I’d be excited to see this place again,” Tawny jested as she and David walked arm in arm to the entrance of Harbour House.
“I can’t wait to see the look on his face,” David grinned.
The two had come along to the clinic in the hopes that they would catch Vincent Baines whilst he was there for a psych evaluation. They were hoping for something of a reunion before he was returned to his servitude.
“I’m so excited,” Tawny cheered, feeling a little giddy.
When they got to the reception the matron nurse, Beverly, was waiting. She had been manning the reception desk.
“Hey Bev,” Tawny greeted warmly. “How are ye?”
Beverly smiled but it looked a little subdued. She was probably overworked.
“I’m good Tawn,” she replied. “It’s good to see you. We were all worried about you.”
“Thanks,” Tawny returned with a smile. “We’re here to see music man. I hope we haven’t missed him. Any chance of five minutes?”
Beverly stood. “Before you do anything, there’s someone I’d like you to talk to. Will you come with me?”
“Sure,” said Tawny a little hesitantly.
David was still excitedly contemplating their reunion so he hadn’t paid attention to the expressions of concern. Tawny took his arm again. She flashed him a warm smile and they followed Beverly to a small office. She knocked on the door and pushed her head in.
“They’re here,” she said.
To Tawny and David, she ushered, “Go on in.”
Inside the office stood a kindly-faced man whose natural charm was managing to push through, despite the emotional toil time seemed to have taken on him.
He reached out his hand and shook that of Tawny.
“I’m John Reynolds,” he said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
He shook the hand of the artist too.
“You’re the fella Simon mistook for a punch bag,” said Tawny. “I heard about it. I know he gets a little bit frustrated at times but he just thought he was protecting things. He’s a good boy really.”
Reynolds smiled. “I don’t take it personally. We both did what we thought we had to do. That’s not why I asked to speak to you though.”
“What’s this about?” asked David. “A friend of ours is going back to The Boss and we want to catch him before he does.”
“Take a seat,” Reynolds urged gently.
Tawny and David did so. Now David started to become a little nervous. “What is it, man?”
“There’s no easy way to do this so I’ll just get down to the skinny. I’m afraid Vincent Baines is dead.”
A silence dropped for a few moments. Reynolds let it lie.
David shook his head. “No,” he said. “You’ve got it wrong, man. He was on his way back to The Boss. He was getting help here. You got the wrong guy.”
“I’m afraid not,” said Reynolds.
“You’re mixed up,” David insisted. “It’s someone else. Vincent’s still here. I’m sorry, man. They must be working you so hard you’re getting things confused.”
“Davey,” Tawny soothed him. She took his hand in hers.
“What happened?” she asked, as her heart began to thud in her chest.
“He was murdered by one of the nurses here.”
“Why?!” David demanded to know. The grief finally swept over him.
“They’re treating it as a psychotic break on the nurse’s part. His father, who had been with him at the time, died too. Frederick Baines was found dead on scene with a severe shock reaction.”
“This is not fucking right, man!” David had started to cry.
Tawny pulled him closer to her. He rested his head on her shoulder.
“I wanted to speak to you because I have reason to believe the father was the real target. You’re familiar with the Church of St Wigan, correct?”
Tawny agreed, “I grew up with them on the bay.”
“I know Vincent was adopted from the Wigan order as a boy. The nurse who carried out the attack had strong Wigan sympathies. They had written a lot about a ballet Frederick composed some time back which told a story of St Rowan and St Wigan. It was condemned by the church at the time as sacrilegious. Extremist following over the years has grown and I have reason to believe the attack was in response to this.”
“Why wasn’t this all over the news?” Tawny asked. “Why are we just finding out?”
Reynolds replied, “I’m a cult deprogrammer. That is my specialty. I’ve been focused on the Wigan church expanding its hold in the city. They are dangerous, radical and they’ve already caused a lot of destruction. There has been a press shield over most of the details but news is breaking now. I thought before it did, it may be best to hear it from me. The Daily has been spinning it that Reg Penn’s loyalists are the threat, but there is something much worse and it is already here. They’re preaching outside all of the major buildings and every ferry trip brings more of them onto the docks. I’ve done all I can to hold them back but I want you both to be aware.”
“You don’t need to tell me, honey,” said Tawny. “They almost drowned me when I was younger trying to cleanse me.”
“I’m so sorry about Vincent,” Reynolds said. “I’ll do all I can to get to the truth of the matter. I promise.”
David sat up. “He had his problems,” he said of the musician. “He struggled every day but he was a good friend. He was there for us when no one else was…”
Reynolds stood. “It’s a lot to take in. I’ll give you some space to deal. Take all the time you need.”
I had just arrived as Tawny and David were leaving. They were both understandably upset. Beverly stopped them.
“I have something you might want,” she said, reaching behind the reception desk and drawing out a pen drive. “It’s some of the recordings you made while you were here.”
Tawny collected the drive with a smile.
“Thanks, honey,” she said trying to keep her voice steady.
I wanted to approach. I had begun believing there would never be the chance to meet the Baroness in person, but they had just been dealt a heavy blow and it wasn’t the time. David was struggling. He was clutching Tawny’s arm. His face had drained of all colour.
“We have to go,” Tawny said to him, smoothing the bleached hair away from his face.
She was the loving, caring person the stories told of. I could see why Tabitha was so close to her. I could see why Agnes loved her. She had stories to tell, but to impose my presence on them at that time would have been distasteful and disrespectful. For me, her stories could wait. There was someone though, who didn’t have such hang ups or consideration.
“Hi, Tawny!” cried a thin, bony-faced woman with straight brown hair. She was wearing a peach skirt suit and matching neckerchief. She reached her scrawny claw with its long talons out. “Sandra Wake from the Coldford Daily. We had a chat just the other day when you returned home?”
“Of course,” Tawny said, feeling a little flustered but still managing an accommodating smile.
“Do you have any comments on the death of Vincent Baines?”
“Woah, lady,” David growled.
“Do you think he frightened the nurse? Do you think it could be self-defence?”
“What the fuck?” David exclaimed.
I couldn’t stand back any longer.
“Hey!” I barked. “These people need some space. Can’t you see they are upset?”
“Sam!” Sandra turned her plastic smile on me. “We’re missing you on the news floor.”
“I’ll bet you are,” I replied sardonically.
To Tawny, Sandra continued to press. “Did Vincent discuss his compulsions with you?”
As she asked the question, she waved to her cameraman who raised his camera onto his shoulder, opened the lens and pointed it at Tawny. Tawny in turn frowned, but it was an expression of confusion rather than anger.
I put my hand on the cameraman’s lens and pushed him back.
“Sam, man…” David uttered a warning.
Sandra grinned like a she-snake ready to strike her prey.
“This is my story, Sam,” she said. “Why don’t you leave it to the real reporters with a real newspaper to write.”
She adjusted her hair and neckerchief. She nodded to her cameraman and he raised his camera onto his shoulder again. I stepped in front of the lens.
“Just let these people go. If they want to speak to you, I’m sure they’ll find you in whatever boggy hole you crawled out of.”
Sandra still smiled but her nostrils flared a little.
“You see, it takes a real reporter to want to get to the truth, as ugly as it may be. If you spent as much time reporting properly as you do decorating your little blog with pretty words, you would remember that.”
“Truth!” I scoffed. “You really believe the drivel you spout is truthful? Which part of it? From what I read it’s all the work of fiction, terribly written fiction too I might add.”
Sandra laughed a cold little laugh. “Terribly written? Those are bold words from the author of Marble Mantle.”
“How dare you!” I snapped.
“You know Mr Baines well. Our viewers would like to know more about the man behind the composer creep,” Sandra put to Tawny and David.
“You’ve got it wrong,” David started to protest. “He was a good guy. He was just a bit confused.”
“So confused he would kidnap a little boy and hold him for ten years?”
“No!” David insisted. “You’ve got it wrong.”
“So, he didn’t kidnap a little boy? Is that what you’re saying?”
The cameraman moved around me to get a shot of David.
“He was confused,” David said. “You didn’t know him or what he was going through.”
“Your words are getting a little slurred Mr Finn,” said Sandra. “How are things with your drug addiction?”
“David, don’t say another word. This interview is over,” I insisted, pushing the cameraman back once again.
“He’s trying to steal my story,” Sandra laughed.
“There’s no story here,” I told her. “You’re manipulating these people when they are dealing with grief. Vincent Baines was a real person and you will not feed on his corpse, you vulturous harpy.”
I put my arm around David and led he and Tawny from Harbour House. Behind me Sandra had already began a story that made me seem like an interview thieving jackal. Her words weren’t particularly creative. Personally, I’ve heard better reporting from primary school projects.
“No one is fooled, Sandra,” I could hear myself calling as we left.
When we got outside Tawny and David were relieved.
“So, you’re Sam,” Tawny said when she had gathered herself. “The reporter fella Tabby was seeing?”
Seeing her to the inside her of her cage perhaps…
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said. “I’m sorry about Vincent,” I stated.
“Thanks,” said Tawny with a sniff. “I’m still trying to process it.”
“It’s best you go home,” I suggested. “Take care.”
David nodded nervously. “You take care too, man.”
He hugged me and the two returned to the Shanties.
Back at the club, David put the pen drive into an old laptop and played the recordings.
“Coming at you live from rehab,” was the opening from Tawny.
“My voice always sounds funny recorded,” David could be heard speaking. “I bet I sound a real tool,” he jested.
Tawny could be heard laughing.
“Take it away, Maestro!” she cheered.
“What should I play?” Vincent asked.
“Something with a bit of bounce,” suggested the Baroness.
The noise of a piano tinkled as Vincent ran his fingers along the keys.
David and Tawny listened to the recording together. The Baroness held the artist in her arms. The tune that Vincent played offered hope and cheer. They had held onto it then as they had held onto each other listening later.
“We don’t have much but we’ve at least got us,” Vincent sang.
“And that’s a whole lot,” Tawny chimed in.
The three laughed merrily when the tune ended.
“Sounds good,” David could be heard assuring.
“It still needs a little work,” Vincent was heard replying.
“You’re too much of a perfectionist,” Tawny teased.
Vincent could be heard chuckling.
“It’s goodnight from me,” said Tawny.
“And me,” David joined in jovially.
“And it’s farewell for now from me,” Vincent added. “The Maestro is out.”
He ran his fingers along the keys again. The recording closed.
“Rest easy, man,” said David.
“Thanks for letting me know,” Elizabeth Beckingridge said on a call to Reynolds. “I had a feeling something had gone wrong when I hadn’t heard from him. I’ll- I’ll have to go.”
“If you need to talk just leave a message here. I’m heading over to Bellfield but I’ll get back to you as soon as I can,” Reynolds offered.
“I’ve got to go…” said Elizabeth again.
She rang the phone off abruptly. She raised her hands to her face. She took a deep inhalation and then she cleared her throat. She turned and she looked at her reflection in the mirror. She fixed a lock of her hair that had fallen across her face. She turned to the lounge.
“George?” she called. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
Her nephew was sat on the sofa in his shirt and underwear. He had Cecil sat on his stomach. The way he looked up at her, clutching the stuffed animal, his appearance was similar to the boy Vincent had met initially when he accepted George as his student. He looked every bit a deranged goblin then as he did these years later. He was mad. He was sick. There was one thing consistent in his life though, and that was his attachment to his old music teacher.
“What?” George asked.
The Beckingridge family had a strange living arrangement. Neither aunt nor nephew would leave the manor to live elsewhere. They were both stubborn, and I have to say Elizabeth could be just as manic as the billionaire boy when the right buttons were pushed. The manor was large enough to house them both comfortably. It was so expansive that should they choose to, they didn’t have to see each other. They just couldn’t resist getting under each other’s skin. Such are the mind games of the super wealthy.
Elizabeth had no intentions of antagonising her nephew on this day. She was dealing with the news herself. The passing of Vincent was one of those rare sentiments she and George shared.
“I’m afraid Vincent has died,” she said.
George scowled at first. Then his lips tightened. He dropped his gaze and he clutched Cecil. He started to pick at the fur behind his ear.
“How?” he asked.
“He was murdered by a nurse,” Elizabeth explained.
George hugged Cecil to his chest.
“So, he’s dead? Mr Baines is dead?”
“Yes George, dead. You should know what murder means. Are you not listening to me?”
George’s scowl deepened. His lips pursed even tighter. “Mr Baines is dead!” he cried.
Elizabeth nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
“Someone murdered my teacher?!”
“A nurse,” said Elizabeth. “They were a member of the Wigan church it seems, and didn’t like that his father had written a ballet about their damn saint.”
“Cecil,” said George to the mouse. “They murdered Mr Baines. I’m so sorry Cecil.”
Elizabeth watched him.
“Are you going to be okay?” she asked.
George hugged Cecil as though the stuffed animal were a weeping child. “It’s going to be okay.”
“Is it?” Elizabeth asked. She honestly wasn’t sure.
He raised the mouse to his ear as though it were whispering to him. To Elizabeth he said, “Cecil is angry.”
Elizabeth folded her arms. “I can see why he would be.”
George listened again. This time he made himself angry.
“Mr Baines was my teacher!” he screeched.
“George…” Elizabeth warned.
“Get away from me!” he screamed throwing Cecil across the lounge and leaping onto his feet.
“We really don’t need the extra dramatics,” said the aunt.
George leapt forward and he snatched her by the neck. He squeezed hard with his long fingers. Elizabeth grabbed his left ear lobe and tugged firmly. George yelped, releasing his grip.
“Mr Baines!” he cried. He lurched forward again but this time he fell into Elizabeth’s arms.
“There, there,” said Elizabeth patting his back. Not really sure what else to say. “I know you’re upset, but grab me again George and you’ll join Vincent sooner than you think.”
George sobbed snot and tears onto her shoulder. He squeezed her tighter. “I wish you would choke on one of your cigarettes.”
“And I wish I had a normal nephew. That’s life. We don’t always get what we want.”
George broke free of Elizabeth’s arms.
“I miss him,” said George.
“I know,” said Elizabeth.
At that he stormed off to the music room where he and Vincent had first met.
“The pure are the body of my church. Sinners, should they repent, will be welcomed. I will show them the way to paradise,” it was written that Noah Wigan had said.
Finding one pure of heart or willing to repent in the Shady City was a tough ask – even for a Saint – but the ominous church on the bay was still seeking.
The ferry to Hathfield landed ten minutes earlier than expected. It was a rain filled afternoon. Thick, heavy clouds hung in the darkening blue sky. A crowd of excited visitors wearing purple ribbons about their person were making their way along the promenade towards the ancient church on the dunes.
Standing outside the church was a man in Wigan robes. His name was Peter Millicent. He was greeting the congregates warmly. He was shaking hands and offering well wishes as the visitors filtered inside.
“Miserable day, father,” one older woman commented, removing her woollen hat to step inside.
“It is that,” Peter agreed with a charming smile. “Not to worry though Mrs McConnell. I do believe the sunshine will break a little later.”
As Mrs McConnell headed on inside to take her seat, Peter looked to me.
“I don’t believe I’ve seen you before. Welcome to the Church of St Wigan.”
I thanked him.
Peter was the legal mind behind the order. His prowess in fighting for the rights of his church had played a huge part in building the reach they had. My focus wasn’t on Peter though. He was a reasonable man all things considered. He had a reputation for being quite a gifted mediator. I wasn’t needing a mediator. To get a better idea of the church, I wanted to wander among them and feel the raw emotion that was tearing through the city.
Inside the church was standing room only and even that was limited. The pews were filled, the aisles were filled too leaving a small parting that led to the altar. There was the usual older sect you would expect to find in a church but I noted that there were a lot of younger attendants too. Most of them had come from the commune dressed in sombre, modest clothes. Their excitement was palpable. Their eyes were wide and pupils dilated. They were high on heether mushrooms, a hallucinogenic drug found naturally on the island. As they awaited the arrival of the man considered the living word of their beloved saint, the exhilaration was infectious.
Ding ding. Ding ding.
The congregation rose to their feet. A monk, also dressed in robes, with a hood pulled over his head carried an iron Wigan cross through. His name was Bart, named after the church’s patron saint of carriers. Bartholemew the Carrier had brought Wigan’s cross ashore as he set to convert the islanders. He had also carried St Michael the Punisher’s sword when he set to cleanse the city.
Bart was an interesting figure but what my attention was most focused on was the man who followed closely behind him to the altar. The congregates gazed upon him with reverence like nothing I’ve ever seen.
“Brothers and sisters,” His Eminence Dominick Cole called as he stepped onto his platform to face his followers. They remained standing in their eagerness. “It warms me to see so many of ye here today. So many new faces.” His wild, dark eyes scanned the crowd. They focused on me for a few moments, then he continued. He opened his arms to his followers and he smiled. He really was quite engaging.
“I am so blessed that I’m able to stand before ye. I’m blessed that you would be so strong in our faith that you would come out here on such a miserable day to listen to the words of this humble man.”
“Praise Wigan!” the congregates cheered like fanatics at a concert.
Dominick took a few moments to absorb the admiration.
“It’s good to welcome you but we’ve not had it easy of late,” he went on. His voice was strong in the Hathfield Bay accent which gave him a natural bounce to his tones that was quite musical.
“We’ve had brothers falling from the sky above and I ask ye, what am I to make of that?” he paused to let his words absorb. “I’ll tell ye what I’ll make of that. The city is frightened, my brothers and sisters. They are lashing out with murderous intent. They think that it will stop us bringing our message. All the Law Makers and their rules couldn’t stop it. All the corruption in the city and their heretical ways couldn’t stop it. That message is simple.”
I jerked as the congregates roared with chorus of, “You cannot be saved!”
“You’re right,” Dominick responded, even more vigour gathering in his speech now. “You cannot be saved. Not your mother, not your children, not any of us. But fear not, for St Wigan is willing to accept you into his arms. He is willing to accept even the worst. All he asks of us is that we repent.”
“Repent!” Dominick cried as he crossed his aisle. “And you may yet reach paradise.” He scanned his crowd again. “They tell us we’re disturbing the peace? Their peace should be disturbed, they’re all bound for Hell.”
“They cannot be saved!”
The sermon continued. Dominick Cole held his audience captive. They were enraptured by his words. I myself felt swept up by his impassioned speech. When the service had ended, I pushed through his adoring followers before they had the chance to swamp him.
“Dominick!” I cried. “Dominick?” I finally caught his attention outside the church.
“Sam Crusow,” I introduced. Bart had stepped in front of him.
“Did you call for the death of Vincent Baines?” I asked.
Dominick gave a scowl at first but then he smiled. “I have no idea what you’re talking about brother.”
“Frederick Baines wrote a ballet piece on Noah Wigan. Don’t you think it’s a little hypocritical that your church is fighting for free speech when the great composer was hounded by your followers because of a piece of music? Did you see the piece yourself?”
“I don’t get to the ballet as often as I’d like,” said Dominick in response.
“Did you call for the death of the great composer and his son?” I asked again.
Dominick laughed. “I’m a holy man,” he stated. “If someone has died it must have been Wigan’s will.”
It was then Peter Millicent took over.
“Are you press?” he asked.
“Not exactly,” I explained. “I’m working independently.”
“Yes, I know who you are,” said Peter. “You’re the blogger that was let go from the Daily.”
“You owe an explanation to the Baines family and the friends left behind,” I continued to press Dominick.
“Sam, did ye say yer name was?” Dominick returned to me. “I think ye’re needing to find some peace in yer life. You’re most welcome to pray with me and we’ll find that peace together.”
“I’m an atheist,” I said to him.
Dominick grinned. “That explains why you’re so uptight. Have some faith and you’ll see it will change your life. Let St Wigan show ye.”
He reached out and grabbed my shoulder. I thought he was going to hit me at first but then he smiled.
“Watch yer step there Sam,” he warned. Then he looked over my shoulder. “Those steps can be quite slippery.”
Let Wigan into your life. Let a religious cult into the Shady City. Either way, dear readers, damnation was on the cards.
Trauma, obsession and addiction are just some of the ailments that are being treated with rehab at Harbour House.
When a ballet depicting the love of St Wigan for a woman named Rowan the cultish church aren’t best pleased. What can the city expect when the church was built on the bones of non believers.