Given the new renovations at Perry Zoo were The Cappy’s way of reintroducing himself in a positive light, it was no surprise that the city was buzzing with excitement over its newest attractions.
‘Come meet Snowflake,’ Perry Zoo suggested with tantalising posters all the way from Bournton to Bellfield.
I had been at one of the checkpoints the Law Makers had set up leading from the Fullerton Bridge into Filton. I was following up on a story on Elizabeth Beckingridge. Apparently she had gotten so fed up with her imprisonment inside her mansion home that she made a bid for escape dressed in Gramps Beckingridge’s clothes and driving his old estate car, badly. She got as far as the Fullerton Bridge exit to Cardyne when she was stopped. She pulled the old skip cap off, took a draw of her cigarette, and demanded to know why she couldn’t just nip to Cardyne for a half café frap with cinnamon dusting.
The Law Makers demanded to know why she couldn’t just stay in her home as she was instructed.
“I was coming right back,” Elizabeth maintained. If she was, she wouldn’t have dressed in her grandfather’s jacket. So, the lockdown at Beck Manor was extended and tightened. She would learn, one way or another.
“It’s about time the rich elite got a bit of a lesson,” the Law Maker I had been interviewing gave his opinion on Judge Doyle’s hold on the city. “If that had been any of the rest of us, we’d be getting punished.”
Now that the initial excitement of Article 22 was over and the executions were somewhat slowing to a simmer, that seemed to be the general thinking of the people of Coldford.
“About time the elite of Coldford are held to account,” they said.
It pleased them to see the King of Main put to death for a career of violence when, for too long, his reputation and place in the city had kept him safe. Chick Owen, the man they called The Cappy, was confined to his home and examined closely. All of the money that the Beckingridge family had meant nothing when the picture hit the headlines of Elizabeth throwing her grandfather’s hat at the Law Maker that had dared to stop her.
“None of the rest of us would be getting away with that,” the Law Maker stationed at the bridge was only too happy to announce. It would be easy to assume that the Law Makers did hero-worship Doyle but that same point of view was spreading. The Shanties was still a tougher nut to crack and still believed Tabitha was a saviour. Bellfield wouldn’t see past the Mack family but they were still coughing through the ashes of the Black Bands visit to their distillery, not to mention the continued fight between Bellfield and their Northside neighbours. All in all, Article 22 was truly making a change. The powerhouses of Coldford were having to adapt to new rules and so were leading me on to a phase of Cold War in the Shady City.
As I was interviewing the Law Maker his attention was called to a convoy of trucks heading across the bridge towards Filton. There were five of them in total. The two leading and the two bringing up the rear had the print of Perry Zoo on the side. The one in the middle they were protecting had PROPERTY OF PERRY ZOO. CAUTION LIVE ANIMAL written on the side of it.
I reached my phone up. Click.
Just what Coldford needed when the streets were a circus already – wild animals.
Stoker circus originated in the country Levinkrantz. The Stokers have been a circus family for centuries. From the early days of street performing, to the travelling freak shows, to the modern day spectacles.
Irma Stoker was the first to meet Captain Henry Owen. She had stowed away on his ship when it stopped in Levinkrantz on the way to Coldford. He found her playing poker with his crew. She slept in the Captain’s bed that night and by the time they arrived in Coldford, Irma had already arranged for the rest of her family to join them. It was at a time when Hen needed numbers and the Stokers loved drawing crowds.
The Stoker Circus consisted of three tents. There was the red, the blue and the big top, which was set up in the centre of Perry Zoo. Boards had been put up through the night as they settled Snowflake into his new home.
“He’s a little tired from the journey but he’s doing good,” Austin was telling his zookeepers. “Don’t give him any hassle and keep him well fed or he’ll lash out.”
Milo was mesmerised. “When can we see Snowflake?” he asked Austin.
“Soon, lil’ mate,” he said. Austin was quite personable in his way. “We’re keeping him hush just now but he’ll be making his debut soon.”
“Wow!” Milo gasped. The moment he had heard Snowflake was being brought to Coldford he researched online videos of the creature, mostly feeding time demonstrations. I smiled as I noticed the young boy shake with excitement.
“You must be Sam Crusow,” Austin greeted me with a firm hand shake. “Seen your picture.”
“Chick have it on a dart board, did he?” I jested.
Austin gave a hearty laugh. “You’ve been causing a ruckus all round, mate,” he said. “No hard feelings though.”
Ozzy had a disarming charm. He was the kind of man that drew people to him in an organic sort of way. He put people at ease quickly and after only a few minutes of conversation they would feel they had been his friend for years.
“You guys enjoy the day. There’s lot’s to see and do.”
It was then he noticed Olivia’s pregnancy bump starting to show.
“Oh, and a little critter on the way! Exciting times. There’s a lot of ground to cover so if it gets too much you just let one of my guys know and they’ll set you right.”
He indicated a group of young men removing Kappa So jackets to change into zoo coveralls.
“I’d like to ask you some questions about what you are doing here and get your thoughts on current affairs,” I put to him.
Ozzy nodded. “Sure. You caught me at a busy time right now but we’ll grab a brew and we’ll talk it through. Just give me a day or two to get settled in.”
As we left Austin behind and ventured further into the zoo my mind became awash with memories of when I was about Milo’s age and my own father brought me to the zoo. Behind the gates the noise of the city suddenly seemed so far away.
The Stoker Big Top was mountainous in size. The striped pattern was intended to be whimsical and fun but the material – having lived through freak show attacks, the spreading of a measles outbreak and the Levinkrantz bomb blitz – carried a particular essence along with it. It was battered, beaten and dragged through a horrible history, still to be erected and entertain the masses. It would be admirable, if it weren’t for the fact that the more I learned about the Stokers, the more I was wary of them.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls. Step right up for a knuckle whiting, nail biting, full in your face exciting show. Take your seats. Set your eyes in front and prepare to clap your hands off. I’m Irvine Stoker and welcome to Stoker Circus.”
The audience were pushed closely together inside the Big Top tent. The large man next to me pressed closely. Milo was on my other side.
Irvine, standing in a dusty centre ring, clicked a remote push button and one of two screens behind him flashed on showing a group of clowns with varying make-up styles but in the signature Stoker blue and red.
“Blue tent, Chamberlain Docks, we’ve got some of the funniest clowns you ever did see. Don’t just take my word for it. Go on down and see them. You might just bust a gut!”
Irvine turned to the screen. “Show them what you got,” he said to his clowns.
The main clown, Olga Stoker, stepped up to the screen. She kissed it then spat water at it. As she did so water sprayed down on us in the Big Top crowd. The audience reacted excitedly.
Irvine clicked his button again. The second screen sparked into action.
“Red tent, City Main, we’ve got my boy, my little pride and joy. What you got there for us Freddy?”
Freddy Stoker could be seen on screen in a top hat and tails. He spun, collected a sign and as he turned back to the screen he held it up. It read STOKER CIRCUS PRESENTS: THE BECKINGRIDGE FAMILY.
Irvine laughed. “They might not look like you and I but if you can stomach it, go on up and take a gander.”
The screens disappeared up into the rafters.
“In this tent,” Irvine called with all the circus ring master swaggering showmanship. “Well, in this tent you’ve got me. Bring it on!”
A chorus of trumpets sounded as the lights lowered. Overhead two trapeze artists leapt, catching their swings, and tore across the huge tent from one side to the other.
Milo sat forward in his seat as a troupe of fire breathers danced around the ring. I was keen to keep an eye on Irvine’s whereabouts but I was distracted by the trapeze artists. They called them the Trapeezy Easys. They were a brother/sister duo in matching leotards, Eroll and Ethel. Ethel relaxed her grip as she swung overhead. There was no hesitation as Eroll, holding his own swing by his feet caught her and threw her onto the opposing platform.
I looked up to a balcony that had been created at the higher reaches of the Big Top. I could see Marshall Cooper leaning over with a beer in hand. He was cheering something. Austin Perry and The Cappy himself were sat with him.
Turning my focus back to centre ring, Irvine had disappeared amongst the commotion. The trumpets eased off. A spotlight flashed to the seat directly behind me. Irvine himself was sitting there.
“Don’t stay seated on my account,” he urged. “You need to be on your feet to really enjoy.”
As he leaped with long, insectile legs down the steps back to his ring, a wave of shock ran through the seats. It was just a gentle vibration but it caused the entire audience to stand up and ovate.
The Easys leapt again. This time it was Ethel holding her brother’s feet. As he swung he handed a rose to a young woman in the audience. She was beside herself with the flattery. Swept blonde hair, attractive, muscular tones, the Easys were quite alluring. I couldn’t help but notice Ethel blow a kiss as she passed overhead.
Milo was completely captivated by the performance. His smile was broad as he watched on in awe. Irvine reached his arms up and he was collected by the Easys and dropped onto the platform. He waved his arms comically as though he was going to lose his balance. He tumbled forward and Eroll caught his hands and dropped him safely back in his centre ring.
“Enjoy the show,” he cried.
The lights cut completely.
“What on earth is going on?” was Elizabeth’s question as she tried to reach the phone of board member Presley Cage. He had been having a meeting with the board to discuss Elizabeth’s permanent taking of the chair over her nephew.
“I don’t care,” had been George’s response over breakfast that morning as he peeled apart cold toast.
Elizabeth didn’t doubt that. He didn’t really have the ambition to sit at the top of Beckingridge Tower. It was probably one of the few qualities of his that his aunt actually liked. All he seemed interested in in those days were his Kappa So frat bros. What was giving her cause for concern was his work at Filton University was coming back with full marks. Either he had had a sudden spark of intelligence overnight or the more plausible explanation was someone was doing it for him.
The meeting had ended an hour ago. There should have been confirmation by now.
She could hear George giggling in the lounge.
“What has he gotten into now?” she grumbled to herself.
The noise of the laughter chilled her though. It reminded her of when he was a boy. That rotten little giggle never meant anything good.
When Elizabeth found him in the lounge his giggle had escalated, and he was now rolling around the floor in hysterics in front of the television reporting live news from City Main.
“What’s gotten into you?” she asked. “Shut up!” she barked impatiently.
“I’m a little man,” he laughed.
The aunt rolled her eyes. “Yes, you are. A tiny little man. Now shut up. Your laughing is like a hammer drill and I already have a headache.”
“Oh look, it’s dad!”
It was then Elizabeth turned her attention to the screen. Freddy Stoker was introducing the acts from the red tent to the public.
“I’m Ernest Beckingridge,” said a man in clown make up, “and I’m the saddest clown you ever did see.”
A blue tear drop was painted on his cheek.
Set up directly across from Beckingridge Tower, at the entrance of Weir Hotel. The Stoker red tent was gathering a crowd.
“This is my son, George,” the sad clown Ernest went on.
George was played by Fritz Stoker – a sufferer of dwarfism. George pointed at the little person and laughed even harder. Sad clown Ernest sighed and rested his chin on his hand as little George danced around him and chased passers-by. Astounded by the boldness of the performance people were beginning to stop, raising phones and recording.
Sad clown Ernest sobbed. “That’s my boy. I have a daughter too. She’s a princess.”
Here Freddy ushered a young woman wearing a flowing cloak forward.
Hilda Stoker was a beauty. Her make-up was glamorous.
“Princess?” she said. “More like prisoner. I just don’t know whether I’m coming or going and all I want is a bit of attention.”
Here she lifted her cloak as though she were flashing her underwear with her tongue in cheek. Raising her cloak, she presented Tootsie. Hilda and Tootsie were conjoined twins. The upper body and left leg of Tootsie stuck out from Hilda’s abdomen. A mute Tootsie just stared at the crowd.
Ernest – the sad clown – dropped his head into his hands and shook it in despair.
“I’d be able to cope with the children if it weren’t for my dragon of a sister.”
“That bastard!” Elizabeth almost screamed as a woman dressed similar to her slapped sad clown Ernest causing him to fall into a tumble. The gathered crowd roared with shocked laughter at the Elizabeth portrayal as she screamed at them, waving her arm like some pantomime villain. They called her the dragon lady and playing her to maximum effect was Heidi Stoker – better known as the lizard woman in the circus circles. Her entire body was tattooed with scales, her eyes permanently yellowed, her teeth ground sharp and her tongue forked.
“What you staring at?” she challenged the audience as the Elizabeth character.
There were more gasps, more phones and more recording. Rodney Weir had come to the entrance of his hotel and could be seen watching in the background.
It hadn’t been her own portrayal, though, that had Elizabeth seething. In Heidi’s arms was a small infant. Little Edle Stoker was being held out as a portrayal of Vicky. Like her mother, her skin was completely scaled. If she cried out it would be seen her little tongue was forked.
Elizabeth had been so angered by the freak show comparison, she hadn’t noticed Freddy was wearing Gramps’ clothes the Law Makers had confiscated from her until he slipped on Gramps’ old skip cap.
“I’m Jeffrey Beckingridge,” he said. “They make statues of me, name everything after me and this is my legacy.”
Finally Presley returned the call.
“Have you seen this?” Elizabeth asked without greeting.
“I’ve just had to walk through it,” said Presley. “The whole of City Main has turned out. They’re selling bloody merch!”
“It’s outrageous,” Elizabeth responded. “Shut it down right now before I turn that lizard woman into a fucking purse!”
“We have bigger problems,” Presley tried to say.
“Look at that baby. For God’s sake they’re exploiting the poor child,” Elizabeth went on. “Where at the Law Makers when you need them?”
“Elizabeth, listen to me,” Presley had to interrupt. “I’ve been voted off the board. The board is no longer ours.”
Elizabeth rang off from Presley. She looked to George who was still enjoying the Stoker show. The tower was as good as gone.
It had been a long morning but Chick Owen was pleased to hear of progress being made. Marshall had a list of potential buyers for the Auction House and as he scrolled down the page the offers became higher. He had hoped – for the sake of peace in City Main – The Auction House would be returned to Penn hands but as Marshall pointed out there was likely more money in having their other competitors bid. At least for now. It would make the Penns nervous and make negotiations easier on their side. Besides he had tried reaching out to Reggie. Faulds Park allowed the call through but he was unable to reach the Penn boy. Instead, a young girl was screaming down the phone at him trying to hear what he was saying over the loud music. It sounded like complete chaos and no one seemed to know or be able to locate the master of the house.
Ozzy had confirmed a huge donation on behalf of Stoker Circus and the zoo to various charitable causes. Helping worthy causes of course, but also helping the public see Owen Inc. and its associates weren’t complete monsters.
Finally, Kathleen stopped by to run the Coldford Daily headlines by him and she had captured exactly the stories the city needed. They were the kind of stories that had attracted me to the newspaper in the first place.
COLDFORD CITY STANDS STRONG.
SILENT MARCH ACROSS FULLERTON BRIDGE SPEAKS VOLUMES.
She even had her little chickadees come over to the Chapter House to boot the boys into very visible community service.
Charles ‘Chick’ Owen was pleased. He was resting back easy in his chair considering his next move. He had just been about to consider all was well when the announcement of his brother’s arrival was made.
Ronnie seemed like he was in a bit of a rush.
“Ronnie?” Chick said. “You look like you’ve been ridden hard and hung up wet.”
Ronnie spotted Kathleen. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“How you doing Ron?” Kathleen asked. “Drink?”
“No, thank you,” Ronnie refused.
Kathleen poured her own, a vintage Waldens merlot that she and The Cappy favoured.
“You look like you could use one,” she teased.
“I’d like a word with Chick, if you don’t mind,” Ronnie politely requested.
It was Chick who refused. “It’s fine, Ron,” he said. “We can talk.”
Ronnie knew full well that Kathleen had been helping air Owen dirty laundry since she and The Cappy were teenagers but he was hesitant.
“You’ll be getting word from the Law Makers soon but I wanted to run it past you first.”
Concern ripped across Chick’s face. “What’s Buddy done now?”
Ronnie shook his head. “It’s not Buddy. It’s…”
The two Kappa Elders were eyeing him closely.
“A decision will be made on Tabitha soon. I wanted to see where the line would be drawn with the Law Makers first before I informed you because I will be providing her defence.”
Chick scowled at first. “That girl is to go back to jail where she belongs and she will consider herself in the Lord’s good mercy that she still has her head.”
“I think she should stay at The Knock Knock Club.”
Chick scoffed, shaking his head. “And I think being in this city too long has driven you out of your mind.”
Ronnie tried to explain his reasoning. “If she stays at her club she will be under serious guard and she’s more likely to keep quiet. If she returns to prison she’s just going to keep gnawing her way out and her supporters will continue making trouble on her behalf.”
“Then I return to my previous sentiment. Cut the damn snake’s head off,” Chick growled.
“Then you make a martyr of her,” Kathleen spoke up.
Ronnie was pleased he had some support.
“Legally, the Law Makers are going to want the death penalty carried out but she will be much less of a problem if she stays home. They kill her, her people won’t stand for it and we’re torn away having to cover our asses. A little show of leniency now, or even support, could go a long way to putting things right,” said Kathleen.
The Cappy asked, “How much leniency?”
Kathleen went on. “I’m no lawyer like Ronnie here, but until Mayor Feltz turns up there are plenty of better candidates to take the heat.”
“I’m not hearing that,” warned Ronnie.
“Of course you’re not. I simply mean that Feltz had enemies, lots of enemies. It seems unfair to single the young girl out.”
Ronnie eased off. That had exactly been the defence he had used for Tabitha.
“She’s a troubled little girl who has her crimes – no mistake – but they should have just let her go to the damn club in the first place. I watched interviews with her as a kid. She was a real wild one but what do you do when an animal can’t be controlled? You can put her to death which we’ve already agreed will make a martyr of her or you can lock her away. She’s not going to gnaw through the cage she’s always wanted to be in and it keeps her cheering spectators happy.”
Ronnie grinned. He was pleased to have Kathleen’s support.
“It’s a tough ask, Chick,” the lawyer put to his brother. “But it means dropping Jerry’s charges.” The Cappy’s eyes widened. Before he could say anything Ronnie added, “Jerry was a piece of shit. I have no doubt in my mind what she says about him was true.”
The Cappy knew this. After all he had been cleaning Jerry’s messes when Ronnie was still running around in his little tightie whiteys. As young man, Chick learned that Jerry had taken a couple of girls into his vestry. Both of them were only fourteen years old. Chick warned the girls’ parents to keep them clear and in exchange for their silence – the girls claimed nothing had happened – Pops had Jerry sent to St Michael’s in Coldford. Jerry had made his bed. Now its piss-stained sheets had to be changed every day, he was spoon fed his meals, and there was no way of knowing if he truly regretted almost dragging his entire family to the bowels of Hell with him.
“Before you make any legal move, this is quite an ask as you say and I would like to speak her. If it’s going to put the minds of those that follow her at rest then it might be a good place to start.”
“I don’t think that’s wise,” said Ronnie.
The Cappy was still confident in his decision. “I think it’s something that should have been done a long time ago.”
“We’re moving on, boys,” said Kathleen. “Time to let sleeping dogs lie.”
Ronnie nodded. He stood. There was no time to lose. Chick was good at looking people in the eye that had done him wrong and still maintaining his composure. Tabitha – on the other hand – was not. However, it was the only sure way of removing that pendulum above her head. She would see the sense in listening to options. He hoped.
“Bye, Ron,” Kathleen called as she closed the door of The Cappy’s den over.
“Also,” she said to Chick when they were alone. “When things are put right again she’ll make an excellent scape goat.”
The Cappy raised his eyebrows.
“Just saying,” she added.
Chick smiled and sighed. “Why did I never marry you?”
Kathleen chuckled. “Because I’ve got the bigger balls.”
Laughing, The Cappy declared, “I love you, Kathleen.”
Kathleen collected her designer hand bag to leave. “I love you too, you old prick.”
The car phone was breaking up.
“I can’t hear you,” Jeremy was groaning. “I’ll have to call you when I land.”
The Auction House was being put up for sale again and as the Chief Auctioneer for the Penns and their acquisitions agent, it was important he got the support he needed to get it back where it belonged.
Jean Luc – his counterpart in Luen – hadn’t been happy new king Marcus was unable to see him, and it wasn’t worth having Reggie speak. The youngest triplet was still messed up and kept forgetting things. It didn’t help that he had barely been sober since he got back. His poor mother would be so worried. His father would be too. That was why Jeremy was now having to kiss Jean Luc’s arrogant ass. He wouldn’t be causing such a fuss if Reginald was still alive but the Penns needed the help from Luen. Jeremy was hoping that if he went to Luen he would be able to arrange a call between Marcus and Jean Luc. Marcus would be able to request the help in Coldford that Reggie so desperately needed.
“I’ll arrive around midnight,” Jeremy called to the car phone.
“You are wasting your time,” said Jean Luc. “I’ll speak to Marcus only. It’s disappointing he isn’t able to speak for himself. Too busy being a hired thug for some stupid little girl with a grudge.”
“Enule!” Jeremy barked.
“Pardone?” Jean Luc challenged.
“I said enule. Fuck you! I’m on my way and when we I get there, you’ll talk to Marcus. I’ll arrive around midnight,” Jeremy called to the car phone before cutting it off, hoping that Jean Luc got the message.
The road towards Cardyne across the bridge was thankfully quiet. The Law Makers’ blockade had been removed.
Another call came through. This time it was Reggie.
“I, uh,” he hesitated.
“A lot of City Main ones in,” he said. “They said they know me but I don’t recognise them.”
“Where are the agents?” asked Jeremy.
“They’re outside. They’re not letting anyone in.”
“Then what’s the trouble?”
Reggie coughed. He had been smoking too much weed.
“It just felt rude if they did know me. Turning people away from the door seemed pretty shitty.”
Jeremy inhaled sharply. “Reggie, we spoke about this. It’s dangerous. Just sit tight until I get back. Stay close to Tabitha and do not let anyone in.”
“I know,” Reggie agreed. He was feeling a little tired. It wouldn’t hurt to lay low. “But Tabitha’s not here.”
“Where is she?”
“She’s still being held at the club.”
“Can no one run anything past me these fucking days?!” Jeremy despaired. “Reggie, sit tight. I’m turning back.” Reggie couldn’t be left alone, not with the state he was in. Not with strangers knocking on the doors. The agents were stretched thin as it was, and they could only do so much.
So Jeremy turned at the junction at the Fullerton Bridge Cardyne exit. As he made his way back across, heaving headlights filled his windscreen from an oncoming car.
Jeremy brought his car to a halt. The car in front stopped too. The Auctioneer raised his arm to shield his eyes from the glare.
Through the light, Cherry jerked forward to take the first gnashing bite.
Jeremy pulled his car away as quickly as he could. He slammed his foot onto the pedals and sped off but he had only just managed to get his car up to 70mph when Sunny zoomed past. She had reached the edge of the bridge just as Emerald charged through the darkness into a spin, completely cutting him off.
Click. Click. Click.
Then came the spotter in blue.
Jeremy struggled to catch his breath as he lay in the mud. The Cherry pit crew had beaten him badly whilst Sunny’s watched and Sky click, click, clicked. He thought he was going to drown. He could barely move and with each breath he was taking in a mouthful of mud. He tried to explain such sentiments to his captors but they fell on deaf ears. They were too busy exchanging Kappa So handshakes.
‘Fucking brothers for life. Bullshit,’ thought Jeremy bitterly.
There was quite a group gathering. Buddy and his bros, Jeremy recognised. They had gotten into scuffles with the triplets before and they had been the ones Reginald let go after the execution of Pops.
A door of a white Cooper SUV slammed. Three more arrived. Police commissioner Billy Owen, the circus ring master Irvine Stoker, and his son Freddy.
There was one watching him intently though, as the rest gathered around. The Cappy himself. His attention was stolen by the hand of his cousin on his shoulder.
“Where’s Isaac?” The Cappy asked.
Billy lowered his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “No one’s heard from him.”
The Cappy sighed. “Get your team together Billy,” he warned.
Billy admitted, “I’m afraid it gets worse. There’s something you need to know.”
The Cappy urged him to continue. Meanwhile Austin Perry hovered close to Jeremy.
“What’s going on, Bill?” Chick questioned.
Billy fell into a repenting cry, “I was hoping to be able to clear this so no dirt fell on you but we had an issue with Cameron Doyle. He came looking for rat boy and he pulled a gun.”
The Cappy gasped, “Jesus, Billy, he’s dead?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”
Before Chick could respond further Billy cried, “I’m so sorry Captain. You trusted me with a task and I let you down. You’re gonna be real mad and I don’t blame you. Just tell me what to do to make it right and I will.”
Buddy – so used to disappointing The Cappy – thought to himself, ‘Jeez Bill, reel it in, brah.’
Dale Cooper was busy watching Jeremy, wondering when someone was going to start paying attention to the man writhing in the mud under Ozzy’s boot.
“If you want to put a bullet in my head right now I won’t blame ya,” Billy went on. “I failed,” he said. “I messed up.”
Satisfied with Billy’s repentance, The Cappy clutched his cousin.
“Calm down,” he said, but inside he was thinking, ‘Cameron fucking Doyle!’
Billy opened his eyes to see Marshall Cooper clutching his chest as though to say, ‘Tit.’
“What did you do with the body?” Chick enquired.
“I don’t want to implicate you any more than necessary,” said Billy.
The Cappy patted his shoulder. “It’s fine. I need to know the details.”
“We moved him to an abandoned Bergman mine. It was the only reason I brought that Jew fuck in,” Billy ranted.
“Does Isaac know? Is that why he isn’t here?”
“We’re tracking him down.”
Chick put the question to his team. “So what are we going to do now?”
Irvine Stoker seemed completely undisturbed by the predicament.
“We can stop those sneaky, money grubbing, dirty…Bergmans,” said the ring master with a wry smile.
“Fine we’ll deal with that later,” suggested Chick. “Right now we got more pressing concerns.”
It was then he finally addressed Jeremy.
“You sir,” he began. “I have not forgotten what you did with my compass. You deliberately set out to make a fool of me and I do not take that kindly.”
‘Holeeee fuck!’ Buddy thought to himself. ‘He’s really going to do this.’
The setting – dear readers – which I should make clear now was Perry Zoo. It was a cold night where breath began to escape the lips in a fine mist. Winter was setting in. Jeremy heard something move in the great pool of water behind him. The sign above his head read ‘Snowflake – Coming Soon.’
Austin drew a knife from his pocket.
“Sorry mate,” he said. “War is Hell.”
Jeremy screamed as his Achilles’ tendons were cut. First the right foot, then the left. Jeremy’s shrill cry caused Austin to look back over his shoulders. Ripples were gathering.
“You might wanna step back,” Austin announced to his brothers as he skipped over Jeremy’s writhing body and up the embankment.
“You bastards!” Jeremy managed to scream. “You’ll not get away with this.”
“Dad?” Chad appealed to Austin.
“Just step back there, son,” Ozzy warned.
The Cappy was watching the water.
“C’mon Snowflake, my gorgeous boy. Come and get it,” he muttered.
Buddy shivered. It wasn’t doing him much good watching this sober. Had he been full of powder, it might have been hilarious but with a sober mind his father looked like a real fucking psycho.
Still in pain, Jeremy tried to pull himself up the ledge but kept slipping in the mud. He was losing strength fast. His cries of pain and fear were only drawing interest and the ripples were becoming angrier.
Irvine was grinning, as was Freddy. Billy had lit a cigarette, probably glad he had gotten his own troubles off his chest and could now relax and enjoy the show.
Like some monstrous creature Hen Owen was reputed to have fought upon the high seas, an oversized albino alligator leapt from the water. Jeremy tried to scramble away but he wasn’t fast enough. He only kept slipping back down the verge. Snowflake charged towards him. His reptilian limbs stomped through the mud.
Jeremy just missed the first bite. It only made Snowflake angry.
This time his leg was caught. Snowflake chomped down. His powerful jaws crunched through bone.
“Jesus!” Dale Cooper reacted. Like his bro, he too was having a hard time with the sobriety of the situation. He turned away but he could feel his father’s hand clutch the back of his neck.
“Don’t act like a little pussy,” warned Marshall.
Dale took a deep breath and watched on.
“Wooooh!” Irvine cheered as Snowflake wrapped his jaws around Jeremy’s midriff.
With a great heaving shake of his hefty body and a lash of his tail, he started to drag Jeremy towards the water.
Jeremy’s scream was a gargle of blood and some of the mud he was choking on as he was dragged. The brothers watching him had fallen silent. He could hear the lashing behind him as Snowflake entered the water, pulling him with him. The sudden icy cold chill shocked his heart. Trying to shake free of the alligator’s maw was only causing the razor-sharp teeth to clench down harder. The tear into his abdomen was irreparable so when he slipped under the water, watching the faces staring down at him as he was dragged into the abyss, it no longer mattered.
Snowflake – better known as the puppy snatcher in the parts where he had been picked up – had been causing havoc in Swamp State, snatching up the dogs of little old ladies walking past. Unchecked he had grown so big he began to attack the little old ladies themselves. An alert was raised in the local community. Sightings of the albino monster in the local area were registered.
When the residents of the community stopped walking his prey past the General John Swamp he had made home, he grew bored and ventured further into Johnsville.
Nine-year-old local Ahmed Chauncey called the authorities when he awoke one morning to find the fencing around his family’s property had been torn open. Four of the chickens had been eaten and a still-hungry Snowflake lay at the bottom of the muddied-up family pool.
The Perry Zoo in Swamp State sent their best specialists to capture the beast, led by Ozzy himself. The Cappy had been visiting at the time and instantly fell in love with the alligator.
“What a magnificent snappa’” he gushed.
And so. he organised a sponsorship for it to be kept at Perry Zoo in Star State.
A magnificent snappa’ indeed. Now, a razor-toothed resident of Coldford City.
Chick had come to Harbour House alone. He was greeted initially by Agent Kim.
“I trust my son has been behaving,” he asked.
“He’s quiet for now,” the agent informed him.
“He’s shown remarkable improvement. I hope you will take that into account during your investigations,” said The Cappy.
Kim replied, “I’m taking everything into account.”
The Cappy nodded, “I know.”
“Before you go see him, Olivia Hickes would like a word with you,” said Kim.
At that Chick was led to the office Olivia held at Harbour House for those the agents brought in for support – violent homes, missing persons, addicts, etc.
They shook hands and sat across her desk from each other.
“Mrs Hickes, it’s a pleasure,” The Cappy began.
She smiled. He liked the way she smiled. It was warm, soft and comforting.
“It’s good to meet you, Charles,” she said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
The Cappy laughed. “Don’t believe all the rumours. So, what can I do for you?”
“There’s something I want you to hear,” she said. “It’s from Bernard’s last therapy session. We’re obliged to hold confidentiality unless we feel the resident is a danger or in danger. I don’t want to abuse his trust but I really think it’s important you hear what he has to say.”
Chick found himself feeling nervous. There was a little flutter of butterflies within his stomach he had never experienced before. He was always so sure of his ability to handle anything. With Olivia, it seemed so much more personal. For some reason it wasn’t quite the same when she seemed to be sympathetic towards Buddy rather than complaining about him.
“What’s he done?” was the automatic question.
“He’s not in trouble,” Olivia stated. “But I warn you, what you are about to hear will be a little difficult to take so if you wish for me to stop I will.”
“If there is a cause for concern,” said the Cappy, “I really should hear.”
Olivia brought the recorder over and pushed play. The Cappy recognised Buddy’s cough.
“So, Bernard,” said Justin, the counsellor. “We made some good progress last time getting to the route of your addiction. You were thirteen when you first sampled cocaine, correct?”
“Eleven,” Buddy replied. He coughed again. His voice sounded a little odd, like something really heavy was hanging on the tones. “My Uncle Jerry gave me some. He pulled me into the store closet of the Star State house and I snorted that shit.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“What? No, brah. Not at first. Who wants to be trapped in a closet snorting coke off another bro’s dick? That’s faggy shit.”
Justin stopped him. “Excuse me?”
“Yeah, it was a game Jerry liked to play when I was a little kid. He said if I liked it enough, I’d snort it off anything. I hated that. I just wanted to play cowboys and shit. I was like, leave me alone brah. But when that buzz hit, woohwee, my eyes were opened. I was in heaven and Jerry was God.”
“It’s funny you should use that term with him being a priest,” Justin commented.
“Yeah. He told me he had God Balls. I’m a kid, balls barely dropped and I’m bouncing off the walls thinking it was the funniest shit I ever heard. He told me he’d show me how to have God Balls too.”
“More games?” Justin asked.
“It wasn’t easy. I mean it takes a helluva lot. He believed in me though. He was damn near the only person who did.”
“You trusted his advice?”
Buddy coughed again. “Man never steered me wrong. He was always there for me. Made me what I am today…”
Buddy paused. He must have been giving thought to exactly what he was.
“He’s the reason I am what I am,” he said, softer. As though he were speaking to himself rather than his counsellor.
“E’body laughs at the idea I could have a chick like Lydia. I get that brah, but I got a lot to offer.”
Calmly, Justin commented, “You seem to have trouble forming connections with women.”
“Jerry told me that having God Balls meant you didn’t have to, chicks just lined up to lick those bad boys.”
“Your first sexual encounter with a female was not a pleasant one?” asked Justin.
“I was scared,” Buddy admitted. “I mean I had wood so hard. The girl Jaycee Miles – you always remember your first, right? – she was screaming merry Hell and not in a good way. Not like in the movies. She was screaming because she was hurt. There was blood everywhere. I thought I had burst her or something. Jerry was there yelling at me to keep fucking her. He said she liked it. Brah, she was not liking it. I wanted to stop. Jaycee was crying for her mama. Jerry was tugging on his own dick, watching us. He said that since it was my first time, he wanted to make sure I did it right. I wasn’t a kid anymore. Not after hearing Jaycee scream like that. She was a kid too. Jerry fucked her first to break her in. So, I’m to take my turn and he’s yelling at me. He knew better about it than I did. I wanted those God Balls so I didn’t complain.”
“Did you tell anyone about this?” Justin asked.
“And make it seem like I’m some kind of whiney pussy?” Buddy went on. “Jerry told me that If I did talk about it, he would tell everyone I was a fag. I didn’t want that. Not after seeing what happened with my Uncle Teddy. Besides, who was I going to tell? The Cappy was never there – travelling everywhere and anywhere that wasn’t home, and my mama? When she wasn’t boning Uncle Walt she was passed out. Who would believe me anyway? Besides, he kept giving me powda’. Jaycee tried to call him out. Her family shipped her off to some Christian camp. I was scared bro. I was drugged, buzzing my balls off on powda’ and trying to drown Jaycee’s screaming out. I figured if I could handle that, I could handle anything. I was invincible.”
“Do you realise now that what happened to you was wrong?” Justin put to him delicately.
Buddy gave another cough.
“I didn’t want him making me scream like Jaycee. I did at first. I learned to stay quiet after that. I started to hate that closet, when that door was closed over. I didn’t want any of that shit. I reckon Bill found out. I overhead him one night telling Jerry that if he found another pair of bloody pants, he would cut his dick off. He might not have been talking about me, I had been so careful to hide my bloody pants, but he did stay away from me after that. Then I came to Coldford.”
The recording ended. Olivia pushed a box of tissues towards Chick but he refused them.
“I’m fine,” he said, although the emotions were flooding his mind.
“It’s a lot to take,” Olivia said. “But abuse survivors often fall into self-destructive patterns and addictions.”
‘He was not abused. He was not abused,’ was all the Cappy could think.
“Because of the nature of this recording it is still kept confidential unless Bernard himself wishes to take it further.”
“Thank you, ma’am. My boy is a handful but despite it all you chose to listen to him. You heard his cries for help, something by his own admission I failed to do.”
“He has a long way to go, I won’t lie to you, but now that you know, you can truly help him,” said Olivia.
“If I may request that I keep that recording?” Chick asked.
Olivia was unsure. “You can rest assured it won’t fall into the wrong hands here.”
Chick realised her misunderstanding.
“At this time that is the least of my concerns. I would like to process this and some day when we’re ready, Buddy and I can discuss it.”
“Okay,” Olivia agreed.
Chick found Buddy having just alighted from the pool. Lydia was escorting him. They both seemed relaxed.
“You brought your time down then?” asked the father.
“One minute fifty!” Buddy cheered. “Kappa fucking so!”
Chick was pleased to see Lydia giggle at Buddy’s enthusiasm. Despite the nature of their meeting and despite the fact he was still technically in her custody he hoped Buddy would stay clean and create a good impression on her. Or stay clean long enough to cleanse himself of the horrific nonsense Jerry had filled his head with.
“Going to lift some weights,” Buddy announced. “You wanna see how much I’m pressing these days?”
Chick smiled. “Sure.”
“You want some coffee, Mr Owen?” Lydia asked.
“Thank you, agent, but I’m fine. Please, call me Chick.”
The recording in question was given to me by Chick himself. I was surprised at this.
“Why not to the Daily or Kathleen?” I enquired.
“Because they will seek to protect me and whilst Jerry shares my name, I won’t risk them trying to protect him. You are independent and I trust you will tell the right people about this at the right time,” was The Cappy’s sentiment.
With an agreement in place for me to hold the recording until requested, The Cappy took Kathleen’s advice and reached out to another of Jerry’s victims.
“Well, hello, cunt,” grinned Tabitha, as she sat down in the room set aside in Harbour House for she and Charles ‘Chick’ Owen to discuss their terms.
Chick was not impressed by her bravado. “My, my. That is mighty foul language for a little girl,” he met the challenge.
“You must have heard worse,” Tabitha retorted. “Or someone hasn’t been passing along my fucking messages.” She looked around her, gauging the exit. “So, what do you want?”
“It occurred to me that whilst we both wish to move forward it makes no sense that we would continue to hold each other back. So, I would like to open negotiations whereby we can discuss terms that are mutually beneficial to us.”
Tabitha pouted. “I know what negotiations means. Why should I?”
“I would help you remain in your beloved bar,” he put to her.
The Boss Lady was sceptical. “Why would you do that?”
The Cappy replied, “Because I believe you will keep your part of the city in order.”
“What’s in it for you?” she asked.
“Peace of mind,” was his response. There was a pause. “There will be a condition attached.”
Tabitha rolled her eyes. “There it is.”
“Should you violate our agreement and trouble stirs, you will be returned to prison or worse. In the spirit of reciprocity, I will make sure your area has no hassle from any of my Kappa So brothers.”
Tabitha was considering her options.
“Here’s the part where you make your terms known,” The Cappy pushed.
Tabitha scowled. She leaned forward on the table. “If you talk down to me one more time, you riddle-spinning cunt, I’m going to open your throat.”
Feeling confident, The Cappy asked, “With what?”
Tabitha’s gap-toothed smile widened.
“I can be very creative,” she assured.
The Cappy looked behind him to check Tawny and Ronnie were still waiting by the door. Satisfied she had made her point; Tabitha leaned back again and folded her arms across her chest.
“I want your son for the murder of a little girl named Sarah,” she requested.
The Cappy shook his head. “Buddy is out of reach. His involvement in any murder was never proven.”
As he looked at The Boss Lady, he couldn’t help but notice the little markings across her nose. It was an unusual thing to notice and such a small thing but it played a huge part in humanising her. He had heard so much about her and now she was sat across the table from him, so close he could see those little markings on her nose. She was so much younger than he.
“I will not give you Buddy. That is non-negotiable. But I will give you Jerry.”
“You would?” Tabitha was liking the direction the negotiations were taking.
The Cappy nodded. “If it will satisfy your vengeance and offer you some closure.”
“Then your son is the one that does it but I want it all documented. I’m not wanting you throwing me to the dogs for it. I’m not that stupid. If any of your freak show family try anything, I put your son down like the sick pup he is.”
“Agreed,” said The Cappy.
“And you will help the Penns – Simon and Marcus – out, too. City Main needs them.”
“And this worries me how?” asked Chick.
Tabitha shrugged. “You said you wanted the city in order. I can speak for the Shanties but City Main will only listen to the Penns.”
The Cappy was given pause for thought.
Tabitha laughed, “How’s that for fucking negotiations?”
“I will consider the Penns,” Chick said.
“It’s the least you could do for killing their dad and don’t get me started on what your lot did to Reggie,” the Boss Lady saw fit to comment.
“Reginald Penn…” The Cappy began, but Tabitha stopped him.
“You killed him, or at least as good as, but if you help Marcus and Simon, I’m sure they might just be willing to keep the peace.”
And so it was, an unprecedented peace agreement was reached, which if anyone had told me Tabitha would be partially responsible for, I would have laughed until my ribs hurt.
“Prison changes a girl, Sam,” she said at the time.
The changes in her and The Cappy were only to show Judge Doyle them playing nice together. They still had their axes to bury. The war between them was far from over. It had just turned cold under Judge Doyle’s hammer.
As he stood to leave The Cappy said to her, “What Jerry did to you was despicable. He tried to steal something from you that should never be stolen from another person. I am sorry.”
Tabitha blinked. It had been the last thing she had expected to hear.
Chick had been thinking of his son when he said, “I just wish you had come directly to me.”
“Would it have made a difference?” Tabitha asked.
“I like to think it would have. Regardless of what you may think, I never condoned his behaviour.”
“I know,” Tabitha agreed. “I wasn’t the one who cut his dick off.”
Chick raised his chin. “Another charge you’ll find removed if you and I can stay out of each other’s way.
“Generous fucker, aren’t you?” Tabitha teased.
“I’m optimistic for the future,” The Cappy told Ronnie as they parted. “We have some kinks still to iron out but we’ll get there.”
Helping the Boss Lady remain at The Knock Knock Club was a bold move for the Owen Inc. CEO. Personally, I would rather swim with Snowflake.
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