Knock Knock: Episode 44: Sick ’em

“Fire up the incinerator. Clear the fields. Turn the soil and plant.”  

Harvester Farm was far from sitting pretty but Julia Harvester was an expert at keeping up appearances. What made her so nervous? Article 22 could reach as far as Bournton which made Harvester Farm the first stop for the High Court bailiffs on their pursuit North.  

“Hurry! Hurry!” she called to the farm hands as they carried documents to the incinerator shed.  

“I accept full responsibility,” Micky Doyle had said. “I now lay myself at the mercy of the High Court.” Mercy was death by firing squad. Judge Doyle showed no favours – not even to her own cousin.  

As expected, a timeless car made its way along the path to the farmhouse.  

“Susie,” farm hand Glenn said to his daughter. “Go inside.” 

“What’s wrong?” asked Susie.  

Glenn gently urged the little girl towards the entrance to the house. “Just do as you’re told.”  

Susie didn’t argue any further.  

When the car reached the farmhouse, it parked. A man alighted from it in a long black coat. His gothic appearance would have him mistaken for a Doyle if it weren’t for his fairer hair and engaging smile.  

“The farm is just as beautiful as I was told,” he said. He brought himself before the farm girl. He took her hand in his and patted it. “You must be Miss Harvester. The word of your beauty wasn’t spoken in lies either.” He looked to Glenn. “I’m sorry, this must seem so intrusive of me. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mr Kutz. I’m from the office of Law Makers and if your colleague wouldn’t be offended, I would like to speak to you in private.”  

Julia obliged. Her whole life she had been taught to be a nice girl. When nice girls receive unexpected guests, they paint on their nice smiles and search the kitchens for something to make their guest feel at home.  

“I was just preparing lunch,” explained the farm girl. “Would you join us?” 

Kutz gave a wide smile. “That would be delightful. I am afraid my job may keep me here for most of the afternoon.” There was no regret in his words. “At least,” he added.  

Julia led Kutz to the kitchens. The smell of beef was already lending a fragrant air to the farmhouse. It seemed to delight Kutz.  

“I have heard so much about the Harvester steaks,” he said. “I’ve been so long in Luen, it would be a treat to sample one. I learned a little trick from Chef Marceau. May I?”  

Julia nodded.  

Kutz took a knife and began prodding at the steak that was heating on the frying pan. The juices sweated from the meat under the prod of his knife.  

“It’s all about due care and attention,” explained the Law Maker. “When you are able to apply heat evenly not a single bit of meat escapes without being at its most delectable.” 

Kutz’s attention was snatched up by a painting – a David Finn original. The image was of Julia. It was sultry but also theological. It was the sort of image one might find in books on mythology.  

“Stunning work,” Kutz commented.  

“It was a favourite piece of Dr Winslow,” Julia explained. “He was resident here before he was arrested. I haven’t had the time to remove it yet.”  

“It would be a shame to,” said Mr Kutz. “It’s beautiful.”  

He dropped a piece of the steak on a plate and carried it back to the table and took his seat. “I’m sure my presence here – as pleasant as it is for me – is a little unnerving for you so let me put your mind at ease. I’m from the department of the Law Makers that have been tasked with double checking old cases that might be changed with the introduction of Article 22. On the face of it I would be happy to simply mark your farm off my list and be done but there are procedures to follow, I’m afraid. I just want to ask a few questions.” 

“I already told everything I know to the High Court,” Julia said.  

Kutz cut a piece of the meat and dropped it into his maw. He chewed thoroughly before answering. “And we were very grateful for that,” he assured. “Which is why we hope you will indulge us again.”  

“Winslow ran the Harbour House project.”  

Kutz nodded as though he was wholeheartedly agreeing with her.  

“That is quite so, by his own admittance. We have accounted for most of the bodies but there’s just one that alludes me. Does the name Nathan Watt mean anything to you?”  

Julia smiled. “He’s a friend of mine.”  

A frost began to gather on Kutz’s tone. “His mother has brought it to our attention that he came here a few weeks ago and he hasn’t been seen since. It’s almost like the boy came to your lovely farm and simply vanished. If he’s still here I’d just like a quick chat with him to put the poor old dear’s mind at rest.”   

“I haven’t seen him,” Julia admitted. “We had a little bit of an argument and he left.”   

“That’s a shame,” said Kutz. He watched her closely through some awkward silence. “Was that before or after he went to the Delphine?”  

*** 

“Have a nice flight, Captain,” the Coldford City airport manager waved off The Cappy as he made his way to the west runway where his plane, Dynasty, was being prepared for take-off. He was making a return trip to the Great States. Just when he had managed to bring his son Buddy back to Coldford and put him in rehab, he received a call from Owen Inc. board member Austin Perry.  

“Jackson has filed the papers to have you removed,” he said. “He’s not stopping there though. He has a private investigator digging up as much as he can on you and Bud. It sounds like he wants you dead, mate.”  

“I’m on my way,” Chick stated.  

He was needed in the Great States. The board had called a meeting he wasn’t invited to. The only way they would be able to meet without the permission of the CEO was if Jackson’s motion to have him removed had taken its next steps. He would have to be there in person to remind them that the company was his. It was a long flight back to the Star State but at least it would give him time to think.  

He had been consumed with plans and the rattle of the wheels of his flight case when his co-pilot stopped him. Chick looked up to see the entrance walkway blocked by a heavy man who was no stranger to weight lifting. He was watching them approach, but it was the stare of the woman beside him that caused Chick’s blood to run cold.  

“Captain Owen?” asked the man. “This is Ms Sophie Bergman. We are from the Office of Law Makers. We need a private room. We need to speak.”  

Chick turned to his co-pilot. 

“Hold the flight,” he ordered. To the Law Makers he beckoned, “Follow me.”  

To a private room in the captain’s lounge, they went.  

***  

With the door closed behind them Ms Bergman took a seat. Her colleague remained standing.  

“So, what can I do for you?” asked the Cappy.  

“I’m here to interpret,” said the man. “Ms Bergman will ask some questions.”  

The whole time Sophie Bergman was watching Chick. Her expression told nothing. She was middle aged, raven haired and full lipped. She had pale, witch-like features resonating in a beautifully intimidating persona.  

She had been hand-picked by Doyle for her remarkable eye for detail and her ability to spot fakes. Like a Golem by her side at all times, her interpreter was also a sworn protector. His massive presence was difficult to get past.  

Ms Bergman turned to her Golem and signed. Chick had never learned sign language so he was lost trying to translate what she was saying. Long fingers gave her request. When she finished she turned, locking her eyes on Chick again. Golem nodded in receipt of his instructions.  

“She will now ask you some questions,” he said.  

Born deaf, Sophie Bergman was given a unique view of the world. She paid more attention to body language than most and in doing so she could see the truth on people’s lips even when the words they spoke were laced with lies. Most importantly she could see things others missed because the noise of the world drowned them out.  

“Of course,” Chick agreed. There was no other option.  

Sophie signed to her Golem.  

“You will be aware of Article 22,” she had said. “Would you like the full details or are you learned enough to that I may continue?”  

Chick nodded. He was familiar enough with the Article and so urged her to go ahead with her questioning.  

“Cases 2198 and 2199 are being re-examined. Those cases both relate to your brother Gerald and involve The Knock Knock Club.” 

“I understand,” he said. “I’ll tell you all I know but I fear it won’t lead any further forward.”  

Golem didn’t need to sign. Sophie had read every word on his lips.  

Still watching The Cappy, she raised her arms slowly and danced her fingers into signs. When she finished, she looked to the subject of her questioning. Chick flinched as her brow tightened as though she had seen something, a little detail that intrigued her. She turned to her Golem, flexed her fingers again into a sign of something additional to say.  

“With the current orders on Tabitha McInney we are looking closely at The Knock Knock Club.”  

“If it helps,” Chick replied. “I’d be happy to oblige the courts with my cooperation.”  

“On the night the club was attacked you said your brother never contacted you?”  

“It could be days or weeks between my hearing from Jerry,” explained Chick. “He only ever called when he needed something.”  

Sophie’s head began to nod slightly. She signed again. As she did so she maintained her focus on her interviewee. If the delicacy of her hand movements were anything to go by Chick imagined she how soft her voice would be. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe she would be a clash of soft touch but harsh voice. Either way it was Golem’s words that echoed for her.  

“‘If I find out this is true, I will cut your balls off myself.’ Does that phrase mean anything to you?”  

“I was appalled at the rumours of his behaviour. I warned Jerry a number of times,” was Chick’s reply. 

“When was the last time you gave this warning?” asked Sophie in sign.  

“I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess,” the Cappy replied. “I expressed my disapproval many times. It was hurting my family both professionally and personally.” 

Neither of them replied. Sophie allowed the silence she was experiencing to fall on the others. The Golem awaited his instructions. Sophie finally raised her fingers again to sign. The Golem observed. 

“Are you sure you had no contact with Gerald on the night the club was attacked?” the question was put.  

“I’m sure,” The Cappy returned.  

She watched his lips for the truth.  

“We’re going to have to ground you. Until we close the file, we’re detaining you in Coldford. All procedure. All authorised by the High Court.” 

Article 22 had caused a new wave of detainments across the city. The power houses that cast the shades over Coldford were being locked in their palaces and where they were found wanting, they were forfeiting their lives.  

Charles ‘Chick’ Owen’s wings were clipped. Thanks to Jackson stirring trouble with the Law Makers, Chick couldn’t leave Coldford, couldn’t have his say with the board and if he ended up losing his life as a result, well that would be just gravy. 

*** 

“Good morning, Elizabeth.”  

Shown to her guest by the house keeper, both Elizabeth Beckingridge and her guest were seated on a green chesterfield sofa in the lounge of Beckingridge Manor. The man was smiling warmly and offering her a bright-eyed look.  

“Thanks for coming, Presley,” said the Beckingridge CEO. 

“I would have been at our usual meeting but – well – circumstances,” he replied.  

Elizabeth was under house arrest. Mayor Micky Doyle had managed to bring her name to the attention of Judge Karyn Doyle before his execution. When she received her summons, she couldn’t read past the phrase ‘Article 22: Under charges of assisting known terrorists.’ Article 22 had been all over the press.  

“I’m in a lot of shit,” Elizabeth stated.  

Presley nodded. “You are indeed. What were you thinking?”  

Elizabeth shrugged. “I guess I wasn’t.” 

Presley smiled again and opened his arms. “Well, if anything, it gave me the chance to visit your lovely home. I haven’t been here since before Ernest died.”  

Presley Chance was chair of the Beckingridge Board. He was a financial wizard and mentored by Jeffrey Beckingridge – better known as Gramps – himself.  

He and Elizabeth had agreed her nephew, George, couldn’t be allowed to take his place in charge of the tower.  

“Disaster is what this could spell if you don’t tread carefully,” Presley pointed out. “For all of us. We’ve had a tough enough time fending off the bites from the sharks in our own tank. That stunt with the compass now has trouble heading from the Owen Board.”  

Elizabeth giggled. “It was rather funny to see the look on his face.”  

Presley grinned. “Oh, it was hilarious,” he admitted, “but we have bigger problems. Article 22 is no stunt. I attended Michael Doyle’s cremation. It doesn’t get any more real than that.”  

“I want to make sure Vicky is well provided for. If I leave it to Catherine she’s going to grow up and have nothing in her future.”  

Presley seemed to fall cold. He had expected her to be more disagreeable, to fight more. Her preparations had caught him off guard. 

“I also want to pass the details of my investigation on George to my agents. Kitten will know what to do. She can finish what the other investigators started.” 

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Presley. “We can’t make any moves until the Law Makers serve against you. Micky’s hearsay – which he is no longer in the position to voice – is all they have. It falls to whatever Reginald Penn told them and how little he wanted to involve you.” 

Elizabeth took a sip of the Macks she clutched.  

“I should be okay then. Reginald was nothing if not a noble bastard.”  

Presley agreed. “He was but we still need to prepare you for the worst. If the safety of his family was on the line, he would choose them over you any day of the week. You know I’m forever an optimist but Article 22,” he clasped his hands together, laced with gold rings. “We have reached a point in the city we haven’t known for some time. The savagery of it all is making me lose my appetite. Gramps spoke of seeing the last man in Coldford hang on the lawns. They called him the final. When the rope dropped on the killing fields outside City Face, Coldford swore then there would be no more public executions. Seeing that man hang affected your grandfather. As young as he had been at the time, he never forgot it.” He sighed. “I just can’t wrap my head around it.”  

The damning article had led Lewis Salinger – the headmaster of Pettiwick – whose family had run and owned the private school for generations, to arrest. It was discovered that naughty Lewis had been embezzling funds. When it came to light that some of those funds had been feeding the Loyalists of City Main with weaponry he was put to death. Presley had watched Lewis’ eyes widen just the way an animals would when it spots the hunter with the gun pointed.  

‘Assisting known terrorists’ had been the charge. Death was the sentence. The needle was pricked through his neck. The toxins were pushed into the blood stream. Lewis didn’t lose that wide eyed look. His head simply fell onto his right shoulder, caught in the jaws of a predator. 

Lethal injection was Lewis’ chosen fate because in the west wing of The Boss lay the healing halls. Medical practitioner Harold Fishman was in residence. He was a specialist toxicologist and claimed the fastest, most humane method of execution. 

“I can trust you to keep the board in hand for the time being,” Elizabeth put to Presley, more as a hope than a request.  

“I will but it won’t be long before the smell of blood in the water makes them ravenous. I can only keep George at bay for so long. A majority of the board see him as the rightful appointee and more beneficial to them.”  

All the resources of the firm’s legal team had been redeployed to learning about Article 22 and preparing for charges that were set to befall Elizabeth.  

“What can I do?” she asked. In the absence of Gramps, Presley was the best source of advice.  

“Stop making things worse for yourself. For lack of a better phrase, learn to behave.”  

The door opened and Catherine came in carrying her daughter, Victoria, in her arms. 

“Well hello, darling Vicky,” said Presley cheerily. “You look more precious every day.”  

Catherine stayed quietly in the door way.  

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t realise you were meeting.”  

Returning to the house and seeing the bailiffs surrounding the area left Catherine on edge. It hadn’t been the first time she had been forced to realise her own mortality and that of those around her but the presence of the High Court on the Beckingridge lawns seemed more final.  

“I’m sorry, Aunt Elizabeth,” said Catherine. “Can I get you anything?”  

Aunt and niece had their history. Elizabeth walked with a prosthetic leg because of her. Despite having lost a father, a mother, a brother, a teacher and a friend, she hadn’t raised herself to the responsibility of her child. Article 22 had its way of putting things in perspective. Catherine had seen the footage of Micky’s execution.  

“It’ll be alright, baby girl,” her father, Ernest, would have said.  

It wouldn’t be alright. Not by a long shot. That was a promise no one in the Shady City could make when the courts of the land called for the heads of anyone who would dare stray from their rules. 

“I can take Vicky,” Catherine said. “I was going to stay here anyway.”  

Elizabeth reached out her arms. “Give her here,” she said. “Come to me Vicky. I want to keep you close.”  

Vicky giggled as she was passed into her great aunt’s arms. Presley and Elizabeth spoke for a while about matters of the firm, the running of the Beckingridge Tower. but he could tell she was losing her concentration.  

“For what it’s worth, I don’t believe they’ll push for capital providing you cooperate.”  

Elizabeth’s confidence was starting to return as she tickled Victoria’s chin.  

“Can I tell you something?” Elizabeth put to him.  

Presley beamed. “Of course you can.”  

“I have never been more uncertain in my life. I am scared.”  

“We all are,” Presley replied. “But we must trust in Reginald keeping his promise.”  

Catherine had wandered into the kitchen. She looked out of the window onto the manor lawns. Perhaps Reginald would have protected them but when the bailiffs caught scent of the history buried at Beckingridge manor there would be no stopping them.  

*** 

*** 

The Mother Board. An unusual looking building. The seat of power in the Cardyne area of the Shady City. Cardyne is considered the technological centre of Coldford and home of Coby Games inc. with Joshua Coby himself born and raised there. Some would even say he was responsible for making it what it was. He was, after all, the man responsible for the Cardyne Grid, an essential in powering the city and giving it its fastest access to the world beyond its borders.  

Joshua is unconventional, fresh and most importantly honourable. That was how Coby Games liked to do business. Joshua was well aware of how things were conducted in Coldford. He had had stern words with Reginald Penn, the so-called King of Main, when plans were put in place with Fullerton Construction for a new game store in his area. He also had been present at the Free Fall Massacre. They called him Mr 60 because the Fallen 59 should have made that number. He never spoke of what happened that night but it had truly spooked him. Despite it all, despite the threats from the other Coldford power houses, he refused to change how he conducted business.  

A video comm from his secretary was what alerted Joshua to a visit from the Law Makers.  

“A Mr John Capital and a Mrs Michelle Logan to see you Josh,” she said. She was bright cheeked, bubbly and dressed in a Coby games shirt rather than traditional office attire. “Bailiffs. They have a warrant from the High Court.”  

Joshua’s face remained at ease. “Send them in and move my twelve o’clock to four, please Shirley.”  

The call closed and before long the two Law Makers – previously introduced – entered.  

“Come in. Makes yourselves comfortable,” Josh stood from behind his desk to shake the Law Maker’s hand. When they were seated, he took his own seat again.  

“Can I get you anything? Water? Tea? Juice?”  

Mrs Logan spoke first. “We don’t want to disrupt your day too much Mr Coby so if you don’t mind, we’ll just get on with our warrant.”  

Josh shrugged and leaned casually on his desk. He chuckled. “Is a warrant really necessary?  If there was anything here you wanted to see you only have to ask.”  

“It’s not a warrant to search the premises. It’s a warrant to detain you,” said Mr Capital. Before Josh had a chance to reply he added, “Just whilst we ask you some questions.”  

“I’m under arrest?” Asked Joshua.  

“Not exactly,” ensured Mrs Logan. “We only wish to ask you some questions.” 

“But the questions must be answered,” added Mr Capital.  

“I gave my official statement regarding the entry into the Monte Fort. The signed agreement from the mayor was submitted to your office. My statement was fact checked by the High Court and independent investigators.”  

Both the bailiffs were at ease in Joshua’s office. They knew him to be a reasonable man.  

“As you will be aware Article 22 is in effect. As such, previous investigations have been opened to new light. This includes the Free Fall Massacre. Have you had any contact with Tabitha McInney of The Knock Knock Club?”  

Joshua gave a friendly smile. “I’d hate to seem uncooperative, but I’ll have my legal rep here for our discussions if you don’t mind.”  

“That’s your right, Mr Coby. But we’d really like to avoid delays where possible,” Mrs Logan said with a little impatience. 

“I won’t hold you long. He operates from this building.”  

Mrs Logan and Mr Capital couldn’t argue. Joshua was well within his rights. They couldn’t stop him. Joshua pushed a button to summon his secretary again. Shirley’s face flashed on the comm screen.  

“Can you send in Anthony, please?” he requested. “Tell him we have bailiffs waiting. It’s urgent.”  

“Sure, Josh,” she replied. “He’s on his way.”  

Efficient, fast communication was important at Coby Games. When your bread and butter was fast connections and a future thinking spirit, it couldn’t be anything less. 

Joshua smiled at the bailiffs. “Sure I can’t get you anything? Anthony will be here soon enough.”  

Mr Capital rested back in his chair. It was a clean office, he observed. A collection of monitor screens surrounded them, displaying live footage from around the Coby empire, including a competitive Lonesome Nights tournament in the gaming room on The Mother Board’s third deck.  

Before long there was a knock on the door. It opened to allow entry to a black man in his mid-thirties. He was full faced, sharply dressed in a crisp white shirt and smiling despite the ominous presence of the bailiffs.  

“Anthony,” greeted Joshua. “This is bailiffs Mrs Logan and Mr Capital. They want to ask me some questions. With Article 22 now in place I thought it would be best if you were here. I don’t really know much about it so you’d be better placed to answer what the High Court needs to know.” 

Anthony frowned. “Article 22 doesn’t void the statement that was already given.” 

Mrs Logan agreed, “Correct but it reopens old cases for re-examination. The Free Fall Massacre, for instance.”  

Anthony’s frown deepened.  

“Mr Coby,” Mr Capital addressed Joshua directly. “We don’t want to be intrusive but given the extent of Article 22 we need to make sure all the tees are crossed; all the i’s are dotted and initials are on every page.” 

“Do I look like a dumb shit to you?” Anthony asked. 

Both Mr Capital and Mrs Logan locked their eyes on the lawyer. “I gotta ask because you just ignored what I said like I’m some dumb shit.”  

Mr Capital turned to Joshua again. “The investigation into The Knock Knock Club is still ongoing. Our office would like to close it as soon as possible.”  

“Getting your stats up isn’t our problem,” said Anthony. “If you are suggesting that my client may be involved in an Article 22 case you better stop treating me like a dumb shit.” 

Mrs Logan frowned. “We are just hoping for some cooperation from Mr Coby.”  

“He’ll cooperate,” Anthony assured. “But when you come in here with a warrant waving a mother fucking Article 22 you are going to allow my client due process.”  

“Our warrant has the signature of Judge Doyle,” stated Mr Capital.  

Anthony was unmoved. “Then get me Judge Doyle,” he insisted. “I want to speak to Judge Doyle right fucking now.”  

“So, you are contesting?” asked Mr Capital.  

“Seriously!?” Anthony gasped looking to Joshua and pointing to himself. “Are the words coming out of my mouth not making any sense?”  

Joshua kept a neutral expression.  

“I never said I was contesting,” Anthony stated. “I said I want to speak to Doyle.”  

“Her Honourable is busy…” began Mrs Logan but Anthony cut her off.  

“If my client has a High Court warrant on his ass, I have the right to the terms and conditions. That can’t come from you. With Doyle’s signature on that warrant, it can only come from her. My client has the right to know why he is being held for information. Get Doyle on the God damned phone.”  

Mr Capital removed his phone with a scowl.  

Joshua leaned back in his chair. “Maybe you’ll take that water now.”  

*** 

After some convincing and being passed through departments of Doyle’s office, they finally reached the judge. Joshua had the call beamed onto the conference screen. The large wall mounted panel showed the ghostly pale woman with a gaping scar across her left eye. Her naturally red lips were puckered.  

“Good morning, ma’am,” Anthony greeted first. “I appreciate you taking the time to explain to us the warrant your bailiffs have here.”  

“I believe the details are quite clear,” Judge Doyle stated. “I have issued a warrant for information from your client. Under Article 22, if he refuses, he can be treated as hostile.”  

“We’re not refusing, Your Honour,” Anthony assured. “What we object to is a warrant being served on my client with no prior notice. There’s been no warning and no previous charges. When the Freefall file was closed you said yourself he had been nothing but helpful.” 

Judge Doyle nodded, “Go on.”  

“My client wants to help out but if this investigation reopens, I need to make sure my boy is protected professionally, personally and legally because no matter what he has to do, he’s gonna piss some mother fucker off. With Article 22 looming over the city, it’s making people crazy. The article states that when repeals are made by the High Court, a fourteen-day grace period is allowed for legal reps to familiarise themselves so we can uphold the mother fucking due process.”  

A slight smile traced Doyle’s lips.  

“As always, Mr James, you’re well informed. The language, though? I suggest you check your words when speaking to me or any representatives of my court.”  

“I apologise, Your Honour,” Anthony replied. “But my point still stands.”  

Doyle nodded. “I’ll grant you a grace period. When we reconvene, I trust Mr Coby will work fully with the court. I have always known him to be an upstanding man.”  

“He’s a good man, Your Honour,” said Anthony. “His mama made me promise I’d keep him that way.”  

Judge Doyle gave a glance to Joshua through the screen. “I’ll be hearing from you then, Mr Coby. When you recant your statement to the court, I trust no details will have changed.”  

“It’ll be word for word, Your Honour.”  

Doyle closed the call. The bailiffs had no choice but to leave.  

Anthony closed the door to Josh’s office.  

“Ohhh,” he exclaimed, catching his breath. “That judge is one scary ass bitch!”  

Joshua’s neutral expression dissolved to finally allow for concern.  

“What can this Article 22 mean?” he asked.  

“It means if you’re convicted of a capital crime your ass can be fried before anyone asks why. We’re talking about drive through executions, delivered in thirty minutes or less or get your money back kinda shit.” 

“But I haven’t done anything wrong,” Josh said.  

“Not now, playa’, but I highly recommend your set your ass back from this Boss Lady. She is trouble with a capital T. We aren’t playing games anymore.”  

*** 

“It’s been two bastard weeks!” Elizabeth complained to her niece and nephew. George and Catherine weren’t exactly ideal company but at least it was someone to yell at who wasn’t wearing a bailiff uniform or Law Maker pin.  

“Screw all of them!” Liz barked. “I’m going out.”  

“You can’t,” said Catherine. “They’ll arrest you.”  

George was sat picking at Cecil’s fur. He was way too old to be finding comfort in a stuffed animal but that was really the least of his quirks.  

“I can go out,” he said. “They can’t stop me.”  

Elizabeth frowned. “How splendid for you.”  

George grinned.  

“Why don’t you just do us all a favour and die already,” she went on. Her frustrations were peaking. Under house arrest in a large manor would seem not so bad for some but when that manor was shared with a nephew with psychopathic tendencies, it wasn’t ideal.  

“This isn’t helping,” Presley Cage had warned Elizabeth of her treatment of the bailiffs on her lawns. “You’re going to have to suck it up until the Law Makers make their next move. For helping Reginald Penn, it could be their next move is your execution. Do not give them any excuse. All this Article 22 nonsense is beyond barbaric.”  

“How am I to get through this?” Elizabeth asked.  

“I’m going out,” George announced excitedly. “Gonna smash some hoes with my bros! I might stay out all day,” he teased.  

“Do fuck off George,” Elizabeth barked.  

George stood, grinning. He left Cecil sitting in his place at the breakfast table. Elizabeth was considering her next move when a knock at the window disturbed her. George had stepped outside and was waving in at her. There was a stupid grin on his face. 

Elizabeth stormed towards the window. She pulled a hose from underneath the sink. She threw open the window, turned the taps and pushed the hose through not only soaking George but also two bailiffs who had been passing at the time. They scowled severely at her. Her nephew skipped off, giggling.  

“I’m sorry,” said Elizabeth sarcastically. “Maybe if you did your jobs properly and caught real criminals, I wouldn’t be having to hose psychopaths away from my windows. Get off my fucking lawns!” She pulled the window closed again. “Imbiciles,” she mused.  

“You’re going to have to calm down and stop yelling at them,” her niece advised.  

“Catherine,” Elizabeth warned. “I know you’re trying to help but…you’re not. Do shut up.”  

Catherine scowled. “I hate you,” she grumbled.  

“Not to worry, before too long you may not have to deal with me anymore.”  

Catherine’s baby, Vicky, began to cry, having awoken from her afternoon nap.  

“I’ll fetch her,” Elizabeth stated.  

*** 

The afternoon wore on. When it reached four pm, Elizabeth could hear some discord in the gardens. From the window of Vicky’s nursery, she could see bailiffs becoming excitable. There was a lot of discussion and waving of arms.  

The door was thrown open and Catherine entered looking a little flustered.  

“You’ve been asked to come downstairs,” she said.  

At the bottom of the stairs a bailiff was awaiting her.  

“Her Honourable, Judge Karyn Doyle to see you,” they informed her.  

“Go look after Vicky,” said Elizabeth to her niece. “It looks like I’m going to have a chat with the ghoul herself.”  

The judge was in the den. She was stood with her hands behind her back, watching the bailiffs circulating the area from the window.  

“We’ll make this swift,” she said. 

Elizabeth felt she could have swallowed a full glass of cool water her mouth had been so dry. Instead, she lit a cigarette. She took a seat in Gramps’ old armchair. When the Judge offered her gaze all she could think was how she wished she wore a patch over that ghastly left eye.  

“Were you made aware of the charges against you?” she asked.  

Elizabeth nodded. “I was,” she said. “Quite the pile of bullshit.”  

Karyn Doyle’s expression didn’t change. “Is that so? You had no dealings with known terrorists? Reginald Penn was not in your office threatening the sitting mayor? Is that your plea?” 

“Don’t admit to anything. Don’t agree to anything. Above all do not act smart with Judge Doyle,” Presley Cage had warned the Beckingridge dragon.  

What had Reginald Penn said about the incident with Mickey at the Beckingridge Tower? Had he admitted it was Elizabeth’s plan to send a Coby game team in to Tabitha? 

“I really should have a lawyer present,” said Elizabeth dismissively.  

“I think this matter would be served better by a prompt solution. You’ve had two weeks now to seek legal counsel. The evidence that was brought before me confirmed that you allowed Reginald Penn access to your office. The evidence also suggested that you deliberately organised a meeting with Mickey Doyle – hereby known as the deceased – so that Mr Penn could threaten him. Do you concur?”  

“I do,” Elizabeth said taking a draw of her cigarette. “Reginald wasn’t threatening the deceased for no reason. He believed CPD had taken one of his triplets.”  

“I heard,” was the judge’s response. “Is that why you chose to help Mr Penn when you knew he was wanted by my office for acts of terrorism?”  

‘Don’t agree. Don’t admit. Do not look into that damn grotesque eye.’  

“I had no prior arrangements with the man, Your Honour. Quite frankly the Penns and all their ilk are no concern of mine.”  

Karyn’s lips pulled back, giving her a hungry wolfish snarl. 

“I would think altercations within your office would be concerning.”  

The Beckingridge dragon fire didn’t like to be awoken from its slumber.  

“That office has seen its fair share of drama. You of all people should know that. No matter how tall we build the damn thing the fights on the ground always seem to reach us.” 

The dragon, as much fire breath as it had, didn’t frighten the hungry wolf. It had set itself on a delicious meal. Dragon meat could be juicy and tender.  

“How did you first come into contact with Mr Penn?” the judge was weighing the evidence.  

“I’ve known him for years,” said Elizabeth dismissively. “That’s no secret.”  

The dragon was curling its tail around to guard its belly. The wolf was still circling.  

Judge Doyle narrowed her gaze. 

“You know fine well I mean after he returned to Coldford.”  

“Do I?” Elizabeth played petulantly. The dragon was gaining confidence, perhaps overly so. 

The wolf was having none of it. Filled with pride and purpose it offered a snapping warning of its jaws at the dragon’s tail.  

“We have a statement from Reginald Penn. If yours doesn’t match his completely you will be giving me cause for concern. Should I be concerned?”  

Elizabeth pushed herself back into Gramps’ chair.  

“He called me out of the blue. He was worried about his son.”  

“Did he threaten you?” Doyle asked.  

Is that what Reginald had said? Must match completely and accurately. Doyle’s expression still offered nothing. The dragon roared but it was without the full heat of its fire.  

“I have been pulled into this when all I wanted to do was help,” she said.  

“Did Reginald Penn threaten you?” asked Judge Doyle.  

The wolf raised its snout. It could smell blood leaking from somewhere. Where was the wound?  

“Threaten me with what?” Elizbeth tried.  

The judge responded quickly, “Yes or no?”  

What had Reginald said? He perhaps had told his captors that he had threatened her into helping him to cover for her. Or maybe had told the truth and they were trying to catch her out. Maybe he had said nothing at all and they were putting the hangman’s noose into her own hands. 

“He was very upset about his son.”  

“Yes or no.”  

“There was a lot going on.”  

The dragon shifted its great, fire breathing body into the corner. The wolf’s shadow was getting longer and longer as it loomed closer, snarling and peering through that stomach churning space where a left eye ball should be.  

“I don’t know what would have happened if I refused. He would stop at nothing to protect his family.”  

“For the last time, yes or no?”  

“Yes,” Elizabeth took a gamble on the true nobility of the King of City Main.  

Karyn stopped cold. “Are you sure about that?”  

“No.”  

“Very well.” The judge stood straighter. “I hereby hold you in contempt for misleading our investigations with false statements. Your house arrest will continue indefinitely.”  

“Wait!” the dragon roared.  

The wolf gnashed. She had her meal exactly how she liked it.  

“Miss Beckingridge, you and I have the privilege of birth. Wealth, opportunity, education. This is something not all can lay claim to. As such, it is expected of us to be held to a higher standard. We set an example.”  

“That example is having your own cousin killed, is it?” Elizabeth cried.  

The immovable judge stood strong.  

“As opposed to a nephew? I hear everything the city has to say, even things people think have just passed into the wind. I will hold you under house arrest for now. I am showing leniency given your contribution to the city. However, I will not forget you aided a known terrorist, under duress or not. My final decision will be made when an appointee matches your full story with Mr Penn’s.”  

At that, the dragon’s cave was blocked off again, immuring the creature inside.  

*** 

Peter Millicent had been spending less and less time in the city. The noise the followers were making had to be coordinated somehow so he kept to Dominick’s side where possible. On this day, whilst the Law Makers tore through the Coldford powerhouses, the Wigan priest made his way across on the early ferry, to City Main of Coldford and to the Office of Law Makers. Sophie Bergman and her Golem awaited him.  

“Thank you for taking the time out to meet with me,” Peter began in a friendly way but taking care not to be overly familiar. “I trust you are very busy right now so I’ll not hold you any longer than necessary. My concern is with my church, first and foremost. We’ve been at the centre of a lot of controversy over the years which I would very much like to put to an end. I speak on behalf of His Eminence when I say we wish nothing but the best for the people of the city. Unfortunately, we’ve been met with a lot of derision, especially from CPD. His Eminence has called for patience and understanding from our congregation but still tensions rise and our people are being targeted. The last thing any of us need is more violence. I appreciate the notice that you have delivered to the commissioner on our behalf. A tighter leash must be tied around them.” 

Sophie watched quietly, reading Peter’s words from his lips. She continued to watch as Peter drew a pile of statements from his bag.  

“These are the complaints against CPD officers that you requested. These are only from the ones willing to step forward at this point, I’m afraid. They worry that nothing will be done about it. The only one who could reassure them, the only person who could bring them any real solace would be Dominick Cole.”  

Sophie frowned when she read the name. She leaned back in her chair. She turned to Golem. She signed. Golem nodded in receipt of her request.  

“Mr Cole is still under caution for inciting violence.”  

Peter nodded. “Yes, correct. A terrible misunderstanding. I must urge though that he be allowed to visit our parishes here. Refusal of that will only fan the flames and I would hate for it to seem like this office of balanced scales is taking the side of CPD.”  

A smile twitched on the corner of Sophie’s lip. Once again, she turned to Golem and signed.  

“Step carefully,” the Golem warned the priest. 

“I will,” Peter agreed. “His Eminence only wishes to bring comfort to our people. The fear in City Main, the dead in Northside and the uncertainty in Swantin, those of our faith would find comfort in Dominick’s words. It will calm them. Let us bring some succour.”  

A tense quiet fell. Sophie tapped Golem’s arms and she signed.  

“Should trouble stir, you will be held accountable,” the Golem recited Sophie’s words.  

Peter shrugged. “I’m willing to take that responsibility. I hope our church has shown that we are more than happy to work with your office for a safer environment for all of us.” He reached into his bag and produced another document.  

“In the spirit of cooperation, I have here a statement regarding case file 105. The Nan Harvester foundation? We would not stand for our church being used as a front or involved in any way with child trafficking. I have been authorised by His Eminence to provide you with a confession from one of our monks named Jonah. Nan Harvester – the crafty soul that she was – managed to evade this office for so long because she had someone of status helping her. I am delighted to inform you that Jonah was able to confirm who this person was. He alleged that Sergeant Major Doyle had not only used his connections to cover for the Nan foundation but Jonah even went so far as to confess the man was a client.”  

Sophie frowned a little more severely. She stopped Peter. She turned to Golem and in sign he confirmed, “Sergeant Major Doyle.”  

Sophie turned back to Peter. Her blue eyes were burning.  

“One of our sisters placed at the Monte Fort confirmed this with Nan,” Peter added. 

“You are claiming Sergeant Major Doyle was a paedophile?”  

“Was, is, I’m not saying anything for certain. Allegations are of course only allegations. His Eminence is handing Jonah to your custody and we leave it in your capable hands to get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, I would reiterate my request that Dominick be allowed to visit our parishes here. Let him speak to our people without unwarranted persecution from CPD.”  

Sophie pulled Jonah’s confession towards her chest. She started to glance over the words.  

Peter stood. “I know I’ve given you a lot to think about so I’ll leave you to it.”  

Sophie and her Golem stood too.  

“Ms Bergman, it’s always a delight to see you. Mr Raminoff, an equal pleasure.” 

Peter made his way to the door. He stopped.  

“Just one last thing. We saw one of your family freighters heading to the inlet. It was quite a surprise. We had thought the mine there had been closed down. I’m sure your brother is well aware of it but I thought I had better bring it to your attention. The area had to be closed off, you see, due to the radiation levels. It was covered over and deemed safe again but we wouldn’t want any breaches or spillages into the water. Have a lovely day.”  

When the Wigan had vacated the office, Sophie turned to Golem. The work on Hathfield had been closed. 

*** 

Over on Hathfield Bay, the atmosphere was one akin to that you might feel in awaiting the birth of a child. There was plenty of excitement, some nervousness and a lot to be considered and prepped.  

Dominick had been expressing this sentiment as he held court within his church. When his sermon was finished and the church had emptied, a nervous looking man approached his altar. Dominick noticed his hesitation.  

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Come forth my brother. You look like you’ve got something you want to say.”  

Bart stepped aside and drew down the hood of his robes.  

“Will you take a confession, Your Eminence?” the man asked.  

“Of course,” said the church leader.  

The man seemed even more nervous still. He couldn’t look Dominick in the eye. 

“What’s yer name?” Dominick pressed. 

“Arthur. I’m new to the church,” he admitted.  

“Welcome Arthur. Speak yer mind. Wigan is listening.”  

Arthur didn’t really like that idea at all. He looked up to the large wooden cross that hung above the altar. Pain, sacrifice, sin. 

“It’s not really my confession,” he said. “But I was listening to you when you said that if we allow others to sin without repercussions it can make us just as guilty.”  

Dominick nodded. He looked to Bart. Bart said nothing.  

“I used to be a guard at The Boss. I have done my job for twenty years. They have it rough in there. I thought I had seen it all but then the damn frat boys started waving their dicks,” Arthur stopped. “Sorry for the language, Your Eminence.”  

Dominick smiled. “Fear not. I’m familiar with the frat boy tackle being swung around.”  

Arthur started to gain a little more confidence in his words.  

“I had been doing the job for twenty years. I thought I had seen it all. Then they brought the Penn boys in. I knew they would be given a hard time. I knew they’d give it right back. That’s what you expect in prison. Then one night we got word that the third triplet had turned up. I thought we were going to just chase him off. When I got there, there were a team of Kappa So. The governor is a brother for life. I didn’t realise that. They get a hold of the third triplet and they beat him, they raped him and held his brothers at gun point so they could watch the whole thing.”  

Dominick raised his eyebrows. He looked to Bart again. The monk’s mouth had fallen open.  

“That’s a terrible thing,” said Dominick.  

“I can still hear him screaming. It gives me nightmares, Your Eminence. I keep seeing the whole thing playing out in my head and I hate myself because I should have done something about it. What could I do though? What if they did the same to me?”  

The official statement had been that Reggie Penn stumbled into the hands of Kappa So brothers looking to make a name for themselves. The Cappy had condoned them. The Good Gang left him no choice in that matter when they retrieved the elusive triplet. Reggie, facing troubles of his own, had opted not to take it any further. His medical records were sealed. With Judge Doyle watching, the kicking was very much being kept under the table. Leave it to St Wigan to want to shout about it.  

“You’ve unburdened yourself, brother,” Dominick assured. “Wigan bless ye.”  

Arthur sniffed. “I should have done something. I hate myself for not speaking out. That commissioner has a lot to answer for.”  

“The commissioner?” Bart asked. “You mean, Billy Owen?”  

“He was the one that set the whole thing up. He was there, taunting the boy. It was all his doing.”  

“You’ve done the right thing,” Dominick said. “Wigan will embrace ye. He will forgive you your faults.”  

“Thank you, Your Eminence,” Arthur replied. His relief lifted the tones of his voice. 

Arthur departed the church with his penance. 

To Bart Dominick said, “well isn’t that something?”  

“It’s a pity he spoke to Wigan in confidence,” Bart said.  

“I know,” was Dominick’s response. He thought about it. “Still, it sounds like it was a mighty ordeal for poor Benji.”  

“Reggie,” Bart corrected. 

“For Reggie…”  

“So, what are we to do?”  

“Nothing would please me more than to see that peacocking bastard of an Owen get what he deserves. Wigan?” he asked, turning his attention to the roof of the church. “If there’s someone needing struck down, it’s that man. Not that I’m telling how to do your job, I’m just making observations.” Dominick gave some more contemplation. “I feel bad for the boy. I really do. What a thing to happen to poor…Reggie?” 

Bart confirmed the name again.  

“Poor Reggie.” 

“Maybe we should send someone over. Just to check up on him.”  

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