“Good evening, folks. Welcome to The Knock Knock Club. We’re the best place in the city to raise a smile, raise a glass and well…raise Hell!”
Tawny’s dinner crowd laughed merrily. She was feeling a little nervous but she still had it! It felt good to be back where she belonged. She gave a wave to David and Tabitha, who watched on from the balcony above. Agnes was out on the floor. Tawny had spotted her taking a phone call during her third song. She looked a little concerned.
“You’ve been fabulous. I’ve been fabulous. It’s been an all round pleasure,” Tawny winked to her audience as she closed her act. “I’ve had a lot of fun looking out at ye, watching me, thinking I’m going to do something entertaining,” she teased.
“We love you Tawn!” someone cried, drunk but enthusiastic.
“Thank you, honey,” Tawny replied. “Do you take a cheque?”
Laughter was returned to her like the warmth of the lights on her face.
“Now that your bellies are full let’s feast your eyes. We want to keep you here drinking our booze and spending yer money for as long as possible, so we do what any entertainer would do. We bring on the tits! Without further messing, please welcome the gorgeous Knock Knock girls.”
Tawny stepped off and the stage was filled with beautiful dancers. The Baroness made her way to Agnes, who was stood at the bar.
“Gin please, Lisa. I need a little something,” Tawny ordered.
Agnes took her arm.
“You did brilliant,” she assured. “It all comes natural.”
Tawny laughed. “Thanks, honey,” she said. “I kept looking out for Brendan Mack and the boys. It’s so different here without them. Kieran would have been trying to get up on the stage by now.”
Agnes smiled fondly. “I kept telling him not to turn the place into a karaoke bar.”
Tawny replied, “Big Double D wasn’t complaining. She always got the biggest tips from him.”
Double D, or alternatively Big Diane, was a Knock Knock girl whose breasts were so large she was able to serve bottles from underneath them. She was a favourite of eldest Mack son Kieran.
“I got a call from Bellfield,” Agnes explained. “Things are getting really bad down there. I’m afraid Paddy has died.”
Tawny reached a hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp. Agnes stroked her arm.
“I’m going to go down and help out,” Agnes explained.
“Maybe we should both go,” Tawny suggested.
Agnes refused. “There’s a lot of trouble going on down there and it would be easier to be discrete. Discretion was never your strong suit.”
“What ye saying?” Tawny teased.
“I’m saying you can’t resist the bells and whistles,” Agnes jested. “You stay here and try to keep Tabs out of trouble.”
Lisa pushed Tawny’s gin towards her.
“Give us two glasses of Macks, Lees,” Tawny ordered.
When they had their Macks in hand, they clinked glasses.
“To Paddy,” they both said. “To the Macks.”
In the early hours of the following morning Agnes set to make her way to Bellfield, where tensions between the Bellfieldians and the Northsiders had escalated. The Mack Distillery had been gifted by the Church of St Wigan to their Northside faithful after a buy over saw it in their possession.
“Those Northsider folks need their spirits lifted,” said Dominick. “Give them the distillery.”
The Bellfield Fleet had been thieving from the stores and supplies that Northside normally shared with Hathfield Bay. Their church leader was taking the crime personally as it left his people in the Wigan commune feeling hungry and desperate.
The reigning family in Northside, The Tullochs, were leading a fight against The Fleet in the hopes that they could flush them out, finally putting to bed an ancient rivalry. It was a mess that Agnes would be walking into.
“Take care,” David had said as he hugged her. “I’ll hold the fort for you.”
Agnes patted David’s cheek.
“I’m trusting you to look after these two,” Agnes said with some confidence. “Stop them from doing something stupid.”
Tabitha rolled her eyes. “I still think I should go and sort the cunts out,” she said.
Agnes pointed the Boss Lady’s ankle bracelet. It was no Bergman jewel bestowed. It was courtesy of the Office of Law Makers.
She kissed Tawny. “Be good,” she warned.
“Always,” said Tawny.
I had arrived at the club to talk to Tawny just as Agnes was making her leave.
“Going anywhere in particular?” I asked.
Agnes smiled. “You’re not running a story, are you?” she asked.
“No,” I returned. “My story is still here. I just wanted to wish you well.”
It was then her taxi cab arrived. She waved over to the driver.
“You’re a good friend, a good aunt and a good woman Agnes,” I told her. “Best of luck.”
Agnes embraced me. We had been through a lot in knowing each other. That was when we parted and her taxi headed towards the troubles in Bellfield.
It wasn’t easy stepping back inside The Knock Knock Club where this journey had all begun for me, but Tawny wouldn’t stray too far from it. She said it was where she belonged and that was true, but I think underneath it all she was afraid to step outside. This was understandable given all she had been through.
“Where’s Tabitha?” I asked as we took seat at the same table my wife and I had shared on the first night we visited the club.
Tawny was sat in the spot Theresa had occupied. She gave me a warm smile.
“She’s around somewhere,” Tawny confirmed of her niece. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out with ye.”
I still had no idea where the Baroness had gotten the idea that Tabitha and I had been a couple of any kind. I had heard that the showgirl could be a little delusional when it came to her precious little Trouble, but she really only did see Tabitha one way. My quest wasn’t to set her straight though, it was to gain a better understanding of the Wigan culture that was sweeping across the city.
“Did you know Dominick Cole personally?” I asked her of the church leader.
“Oh yeah,” Tawny replied. “He was always a snot-nosed little kid. I can’t blame him for being pissed at the world to be honest. His pa gave him the life of a dog. He was given to the church before he could speak. His ma was a nice enough woman but when she died Dominick had a stepmother within a week. All he had left was his sister and she was sent off to marry some fancy Lord.”
“Do you think he would do harm?”
“In a heartbeat,” Tawny stated without needing to think. “If anyone in that church gets it into their head to cause trouble, they will.”
We discussed Tawny’s experiences a little further. We discussed how large a feature the Wigan commune was over on the bay, how much influence the church had, and the terrifying experience she had had when she was younger when they tried to torture her straight.
“Hello, Sam. Well, this is awkward.” I heard Tabitha’s voice.
I stood. “Thanks for talking to me,” I said to Tawny.
As I tried to make my leave, Tabitha was in my way. She had her hands on her hips and her grin was filled with confidence. She had escaped the death penalty for now and she was feeling immortal.
“You have loving family around you,” I said to her. “You have your club; you have your aunt; and you have every opportunity. Take it,” I advised.
She stared blankly at me at first. I don’t think anyone had ever said such a thing to her. Then she grinned.
“You still don’t have a fucking invitation,” she said.
Chuck and Carl had been residents of Coldridge Park for almost a year. No homes, no prospects, no life but to spend their days drinking cheap wine and watching the world go by. Excitement came when they saw a discarded newspaper that told of the return of Reggie Penn.
“That’s Pete!” announced Chuck excitedly.
When the Park Rangers came looking for him, they had strong suspicions that the stranger was Reggie but he hadn’t done them no harm so they let him be. They even helped him out as one of their own. When the news announced the return of Reginald Penn Junior it was confirmed. Their friend ‘Pete’ was safe and home at last. He had lost his parents, the poor little sod, but he was good. He had friends around him so that was that. Chuck and Carl clinked their bottles and enjoyed a swig to ‘Pete’s’ health. Chuck figured he would come down to the park and maybe say hello to his old pals when he could get out again. Word was, he had been locked at the top of his tower.
“You’re a sentimental old fool,” said Carl. “He’s back where he belongs. He’s not gonna want to come down here anymore.”
Chuck had to agree. It would be nice to have a chat with him, find out what he had been up to. Phew! He didn’t envy the rich anyway if it meant having all those daggers pointed at your back by the other rich folks.
Both of them thought that was that, life goes on, until an afternoon in the park, lounging by the duck pond, hoping for the generosity of some strangers, a man in a suit approached them. Chuck had been busy throwing mouldy scraps to the ducks when he felt Carl tapping vigorously at his shoulder. The badge of the Penn Auction House on the man’s shirt was the first thing he noticed.
“Are you guys Chuck and Carl?” he asked.
Chuck and Carl were a little taken aback to say the least. No one wanted to talk to them. No one official at least.
“I don’t have much time so I’ll assume that’s a yes,” said the man, accompanied by two Loyalists. “My name is Jeremy. I’m the chief auctioneer for the Penns and I’m here on behalf of Reginald Penn Junior. He would like to extend an invitation to the Faulds Park building. Accommodation, provisions and clothing will be provided on Mr Penn’s account.”
Chuck almost choked on his disbelief. “What you say!?”
“You are Chuck and Carl, right?”
“Yeah,” Carl answered for the both of them.
“Them Mr Penn would like to extend his gratitude and hospitality to the both of you. If you’ll come with me, I have a car waiting.”
Chuck punched Carl’s arm. They were still flabbergasted. Neither of them had hoped that the Penn boy, now that he was back to being a prince, would want anything to do with them but now they were being ushered into one of the Penn town cars. The smell of fresh leather mixed with the lemon air fresher was intoxicating. The firmness of the seats was unlike any either man had ever known.
“It’s one of the oldest residential buildings in Coldford,” Chuck was proudly explaining the history of Faulds Park as the authority on the subject. By authority he meant he had passed it once and read the plaque outside.
At the reception they were treated like royalty. The receptionist handed them the key to apartment 605B.
“Welcome to Faulds Park, gentlemen,” she smiled. She was so accommodating it was as though they hadn’t been plucked from one of the darkest corners of Coldridge Park.
The biggest surprise was when they opened the door of their new home to be presented with a buffet of some of the best fast food Bobby’s Lunch Box had to offer.
“I’m afraid Mr Penn isn’t available to meet you personally,” said the auctioneer, “but he hopes you settle in well and will join you as best as he can.”
As Jeremy slipped from the room, Chuck and Carl had been too focused on the pizza, the fries and the chicken all freshly prepared. They were practically still sizzling. Chuck grabbed a slice of pizza. It was pepperoni. He had never tried pepperoni before. It was delicious!
There was giggling from what the men could only assume was the bathroom of the apartment. The place was so big it was difficult to tell. All questions were answered when from the bathroom emerged two beautiful, shapely women. They were both naked except for the soap suds they had scattered across their supple bodies. One blew some of the soap suds towards them.
Chuck had mentioned to Reggie his fondness for brunettes during one of their long discussions around their fire. The trimmed junction of her thighs gave hint that it was all natural.
“Hello boys,” she teased, reaching her arm around her blonde companion. “I’m Rebekka and this is Camilla. On behalf of Reggie Penn, welcome to Faulds Park. You go ahead and eat your fill then we’ll get you scrubbed up.”
So the youngest Prince of Main had been left in charge of not only the Auction Houses, but Faulds Park. The king was well and truly gone and a new generation was taking over.
Your call has not been accepted.
The automated voice of the Coldford Correctional telephone service grated on Simon Penn’s last nerve. He slammed the phone receiver against its metal body.
“Alright, Penn,” a guard called to him. “If she doesn’t want to talk to you just leave her be.”
Simon glared at him. “I’m trying to reach my brother.”
The guard rolled his eyes. “Of course you are,” he mumbled sarcastically. “Time’s up. Today’s not your day.”
The day for reaching Reggie was not that day. It wasn’t the day before either, nor the day before that. When he returned to Marcus, he found him cross-legged in his cell reading a book.
“Still won’t take the call,” Simon spat.
Marcus had already deduced the cause of his brother’s temper.
“I’m going to fucking kill him when I do get my hands on him.”
Marcus looked up from his book. “Calm down,” he suggested.
Simon raged. “Don’t you tell me to fucking calm down.”
His fists were clenched, his teeth bared. Marcus dropped his book and stood.
“Don’t even think about it…” he warned.
Simon stepped back. “C’mon Marcus! Our whole lives he’s been a pain in the arse. He had his chance to stay out of it and what does he do? He walks up to the gates of The Boss, knocks on the door and asks if we’re coming out! Who the fuck does that? Because of his stupidity he’s raped, beaten and tortured to within an inch of his life. Dad got himself killed trying to find the little prick! And our mother?! I know the agent girl said that he was in a bad way when they got him home, but you and I both know that mother would still be alive if it had been either of us there. Now he won’t return our calls? Who the fuck does he think he is? The Auction House is back up for sale and he hasn’t made a single attempt to get it back. Jean Luc is being an arsehole and Reggie can’t stay sober long enough to tell him to back the fuck off. He’s lost track of Jeremy. Dad spent a lifetime building our rep in the city and it’s all but gone. Does Reggie care? Who the fuck knows because he won’t talk to anyone. He’s too busy handing out apartments to all the fucking hobos of Coldridge. Prostitutes sleeping in our mother’s bed! And rumour has it he’s let those Wigan cunts in the building. Loyalists, my arse. They’re fucking Wigans and everyone but that scatty prick can see it. Drivers, cooks, even old Mrs Taylor who runs the laundry have all been sent away. What is he trying to do to us? I’ve gotten into so many fights over the years, people calling him a retard, but when are you done defending him when he does this shit? He’s gave our home away, all but lost the Auction House, started a war in Luen, lost Jeremy, became a monk, and he’s only been on his own for two fucking weeks!”
Marcus sat back down in his chair. He lifted his book and rested it in his lap.
“If you believe Reggie is ignoring us at his own behest then you may be a little retarded yourself.”
Simon took a deep breath. “Seriously? You choose now to try and be funny?”
Marcus raised an eyebrow and opened the book.
“Obviously he’s not,” Simon went on. “But someone is. And I’ll bet it’s those Wigans. After what they did to him when he was a kid? Surely he can tell some fucked up religious fanatic from a true Loyalist. It’s not helping with us in here. We need out of this place before it’s game over. Speaking of which, I bet he’s let those fucking hobos use my profiles.”
Marcus groaned. “Whilst you’ve been ranting like a lunatic I have been making strides to correct things,” he revealed.
A letter to Jean Luc. A royal request from King Marcus that he shut his God damned mouth. A request to the Law Makers that all leased apartments in Faulds Park signed by Reggie be declared null and void. Tabitha ushered to open The Knock Knock Shelter to those Reggie had aimed to help.
As for the Auction House. Dealing with Marshall Cooper was not going to be pleasant, but deal with him he would.
Now for the little matter for being held in servitude to The Boss.
Having searched the library for any information he could find on Article 22 he was finally given a proposal. Not from Judge Doyle, whose vision of the entire affair was only ever going to be in one direction – but from The Cappy. Kathleen spoke on his behalf.
“Any day now they could be receiving a call from Melanie Wallace – that Law Maker woman who you supposedly killed. Alive and well she will be, and all a hoax set up by your enemies. The biggest injustice in Coldford since,” she sucked air through her teeth. “Since The Knock Knock Club was burned down.”
Marcus frowned. “Why would you do that?”
Kathleen smiled. “Marcus, I didn’t know your dad. I didn’t care to get to know him if you want me to be honest with you. I don’t know any of you either but I do know Chick. Far better than you do and if you are now the – what they call it? King of Main?- isn’t it best to make alliances?” Here she lowered her voice.
“Article 22 has everyone shitting themselves. You want to be on the receiving end of that? Chick’s fight was with Reginald because he murdered Pops. Let’s not beat around that bush but he was punished for that so there’s no need to continue with grudges, is there?
“My brother, Reggie…” Marcus had to address the issue of Kappa So’s treatment of his triplet. He was a literal part of Marcus so an assault on Reggie was as good as an assault on himself.
Kathleen didn’t seem to be as dubious about this as he had expected she would be.
“You had a man deliberately infected with aids, so don’t get too high and mighty. Besides, the number of mothers I had to watch bury their sons because of your father’s visit to the Chapter House? Don’t go throwing all the blame on my boys. It’s time to end this bullshit pissing contest, don’t you think? If you learn one thing about me, it is that I like the Status Quo. The Kappa So boys have gotten out of hand. I don’t like what they’re doing. My chicks don’t like what they’re doing. I’m here specifically for the purposes of putting them back in line. If your father truly raised you to be as noble as everyone says he was, then you’ll see some sense in working with me. We can work together and get things running good for all of us or you can continue rotting in here until Judge Doyle decides on what she wants to do with you. Make no mistake. It’s no skin off my end and it’s no worries to The Cappy. So, you can rot in here or get your ass out and for fucks sake let’s move on before Judge Doyle shuts the whole thing down.
Rot in The Boss or make a stride for the future of the Penn Dynasty. It was an easy choice really.
“Stay in the building,” Reggie Penn had been warned. It didn’t suit the rat boy to be caged. He needed a little floor time. Even a large enclosure like Faulds Park was imprisoning. Loyalists stopped by to pay their respects in homage to the interim King of Main whilst Marcus remained in The Boss. The interim king wanted to smoke weed and play video games.
“What else am I to do?” Reggie had asked the Good Gang agents who had been assigned to watch over him.
The agents watched the comings and goings of the Faulds building as best they could, but when Reggie was vouching for everyone who came to visit it was no easy task.
“He’s sound,” Reggie would say. “I met him at a party once.” Or, “She’s cool. We’ve been chatting online for months.” His protectors were almost ready to tear their hair out. “He sent me a dick pic by accident once. Sent him one back to shut him up,” Reggie laughed.
Maybe he knew the strangers in his home. Maybe he didn’t. A group of rats is termed a mischief. This made sense because there was lots of mischief afoot. Reggie didn’t seem to see much danger in his situation. He claimed that the people who were swarming around him knew him. Of course they knew him, I tried to explain. He was Reggie bloody Penn. Every person and their gran knew who he was at this point. Reggie just laughed it off.
“You need to keep yourself a bit more contained,” I had warned him.
“I’m just being friendly, like,” he insisted. “It’s all part of it. When Marcus comes home they can all wave goodbye to that,” he teased. “He’s not exactly a cuddly bloke.”
“I’m not going to be there to watch your back,” Tabitha had warned.
“It’s cool,” Reggie insisted.
When Tawny visited it seemed like there had been a bit of a party going on. They were mostly dressed in Loyalist gear but there were so many unknown faces.
“Having a bit of a celebration, honey?” she asked him.
“Got to entertain like a king,” Reggie replied in jest.
To Reggie, entertaining like a king was passing out joints, keeping the booze flowing and fighting for the highest score on Coby Games’ ‘Basher’.
Soon the place was swamped. The agents were busy dealing with troubles elsewhere. He seemed to be doing well enough after his attack although he wouldn’t speak of it. He was in fine enough spirits despite his mind being a little hazy every now and again. He had always been something of a colourfully minded individual, but his stint in captivity had rendered him disorientated. Whilst Marcus had his share of legal troubles to wade through, Agent Reynolds had vouched for Simon to join him.
“He needs someone he can trust by his side,” Reynolds had said.
With the control of City Main in the hands of the mentally and physically beaten triplet who was always a bit of a wild card, it was a huge cause for concern.
When I arrived at the Faulds Park building I happened upon the ruckus I had been told of. I had to search through swarms of people before I finally managed to have an audience with Reg Junior.
“Sam!” he greeted as though we were old friends. He was seated on a sofa with a game controller in his hand. “You’re up. You wanna beat my high score?”
“Maybe some other time,” I offered.
With the Coby servers still halted by the Office of Law Makers, Reggie had brought out his old consoles. With the Coby servers still halted, I was still unable to reach out digitally so I was forced to retreat to timeless techniques. I had an agreement with Elizabeth Beckingridge’s printing press that they would publish the old fashioned way. This was on the understanding that I would give them something to print, so there I was with Reggie Penn, hoping he could offer some insight into his experiences.
“Can you tell me what happened to you at The Boss?” I asked him.
He paused his game. “I’d rather not,” he said.
“Very well,” I moved on. “As you know I set out initially to tell the story of Mayor Feltz. No body was ever recovered. Do you know what happened to him?”
Reggie gave a laugh. “You don’t let up, do you?”
“I think the city deserves to find out what happened to the mayor. The Feltz family deserve to know the truth. Marcus is already spending time in servitude for murder charges. If he was responsible there’s nothing to lose.”
Reggie shook his head. He gave another laugh but it was a nervous one. He unpaused his game and his sumo wrestling figure faced off against a computer controlled warlord who looked suspiciously like a Black Band.
There was no way Reggie would ever say anything that would incriminate his brother or Tabitha. I had to adjust my approach. It would be more beneficial to look to the future rather than the past anyway.
“What are your plans for City Main?” I asked him. “I passed a lot of Wigan followers on the way in here. It seems every second person had a pin on them. Are they making your people uncomfortable pushing their beliefs more and more? St Michael’s – their biggest parish – is right on your doorstep.”
The huge Cathedral dedicated to Wigan’s punishing disciple was within walking distance of Faulds Park. It had been in the hands of Owen Inc. but as the church gained momentum their prayers were answered and it was returned to them.
“The Wigans get a bad rep,” said Reggie. “Nan Harvester and Jerry Owen did some shit but who doesn’t get a bad rep in this city from someone? I spent time over on the bay with Tabs when we were kids. I actually stayed in the commune for a bit. They’re weird but I made some friends over there.”
“Did you meet Dominick Cole?” I asked.
“I did,” Reggie admitted. “Only briefly, like. He’s a whack job and a half.”
Reggie then lit a joint. He took a few puffs and then offered to me, which I refused. My mind had to remain on my interview.
“I’m not really a religious sort but each to their own,” Reggie went on. “If you want a weekend mushy trip, the bay is the place to be,” he jested.
“Keep a close eye on your kingdom,” Reggie was warned as the bells rang just outside the Faulds building.
Ding ding. Ding ding.
“You cannot be saved!”
Reggie was feeling a little overwhelmed and confused. He was glad he was back home once again, but there were so many people around and it was making him anxious that he didn’t recognise all of them. They said they knew him so he let them in. He didn’t’ want to be rude. The guard on the Faulds building was despairing but there was only so much could be done when Reggie himself was permitting.
Simon had tried calling from The Boss but the call was intercepted.
“Put Reggie on the fucking phone!” he yelled at the stranger who answered. The noise in the background was making it difficult to hear as it was.
‘Time’s up,’ The Boss called.
Meanwhile, Reggie was wondering why he hadn’t heard from his brothers. There were guys on the pool table. Who the fuck were they? Who had chosen the music?
“Skinned up,” called another strange face, throwing a joint to him. It would be rude to refuse or to ask who he was. He had taken the time to roll a good joint.
The elevator to the penthouse landed on the main floor. The doors drew open. A woman of similar age to Reggie stepped off. She had fresh, milky skin. Her long hair was tied in a braid that fell down her back. The clothes she wore were humble but pleasant. She had a purple ribbon tied around her neck.
“Hello, Reggie,” she greeted in a sweetened island voice.
Reggie’s eyes widened. He was finally glad to see a face he did recognise.
“Leona?” he gasped.
He hadn’t seen the Wigan girl since they were both youngsters on the island. She was one of the friends he had spoken of. She had grown into quite a natural beauty.
He remained stationed, a little stunned and a little in pain.
“My big brother told me you were hurt. I had to come and see ye. I was so worried.”
Leona, you see, was the sister of Bartholemew. Given their friendship, Dominick had decided she would be the best to visit and bring Reggie some comfort.
“I can’t believe it!” Reggie cheered. “It’s been a long time.”
They had kept in contact over the years with letters here and there but having her stood before him cheered Reggie. He shifted to her and wrapped his arm around her as best he could. She embraced him softly. She had a bright smile that made her naturally blushing cheeks glow. Her pretty, dark eyes were protected with naturally long lashes that were brittle from the salty air of the bay.
“You cannot be saved,” she spoke into his ear. “But I’m here to make ye feel better.”
She dipped her hand into the hand woven leather purse than hung around her hip. She drew out a packet of heether mushrooms.
“Will I make some tea?”
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