A chill was in the air as the funeral service for Mrs Margaret Williams filed out of Chamberlain Crematorium, located in the north section of Coldridge Park.
Margaret’s granddaughter, Marlene, pushed her mother’s wheelchair out.
“She had a good life,” said Marlene. Her mother, Moira, agreed. She had been ninety-three when she passed, comfortable in her bed, still cheering her beloved City football team, and surrounded by family. A goal from Andre Luis had won the game against Cardyne. She rested back with a smile and passed. She had seen so much in her life, too. She had been so many exciting places. What more could someone ask for?
Seth Bergman of the Bergman diamond dynasty, and cousin to the missing Kappa So brother Isaac, extinguished his cigarette underneath the sole of the black boots he wore. His father, Howard, had always warned him, “Try not to smoke when you’re greeting people. The smell of tobacco isn’t particularly pleasant for some and you’re representing yourself.”
Seth approached Marlene and Moira.
“Oh Seth,” Marlene gasped with joy. “Thank you for coming.”
Seth kissed Marlene’s cheek. He then leaned down and kissed that of Moira who clutched his hand and kept a hold of it.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Seth assured them.
He was glad he had blown warm air onto his hands before greeting. No one liked to hold a cold hand, especially whilst grieving. A gloved hand was too impersonal.
“A lovely boy is Seth,” said Moira from her chair. “A lovely boy.”
“If we can do anything for you, please just let me know,” he put to them. “I’ll let you get on and I’ll be in touch,” he said as the crowd from the crematorium began to spill towards them.
He waited aside respectfully for the mourners to clear before following the path round to the back of the building. The door was opened and Eugene Morris aka The Tailor emerged, accompanied by the Holy Brother of the Albans order.
“Good evening, sir,” Seth approached. “Good evening, Father.”
“Seth, my dear boy,” said Eugene. “I pass this now into your care.”
To Seth he gave a ceramic urn containing the ashes of Mrs Williams.
“Thank you, sir,” Seth nodded. “I‘ll see her well.”
“How is your sister?” asked Eugene.
“Elsa? She’s keeping herself out of trouble.”
“Good, good,” nodded Eugene. “And your father? How is he?”
“He’s doing well, thank you,” was Seth’s reply. “This Article 22 situation is a little unnerving.”
Eugene nodded. “He’ll be especially upset at the loss of Reginald Penn.”
Seth agreed. “It was a sad loss but we have to carry on, don’t we?”
The Holy Brother dipped his hands into the opposing sleeves of his robes.
“My concern is with the young one – Reginald Junior. Through terrible circumstances he’s been left on his own. He really needs friends to keep him right,” he said.
Seth replied, “I did contact him online but there was no response, which is unusual for him. Elsa tried calling him too but he was just not to be reached. We both figured after Rita’s burial he wanted to be left alone for a while.”
Eugene lowered his voice. “It’s not for me to comment but I’m sure a visit from a friend would do him the world of good.”
“Yes sir,” agreed Seth.
And so the group parted with Seth Bergman carefully escorting Mrs Williams’ remains.
City Main was always a busy place. The noise of it was enough to cover the tick-booming of the City Face clock unless you caught it at a certain time of the morning. That being said, Seth Bergman was astounded to find such a commotion around the base of Faulds Park.
Admirers were gathered to seemingly show their support of the lone prince. Some had laid candles and wreaths for the king and queen. Rita in particular was a very active member of the community. She had the heart of the Baroness and the mind of the Broker. I learned that Rita – as sweet as she could be – was fearless when it came to protecting her people. Of course, Reginald carried out any violence required so his queen wouldn’t have to, but upon research I found that Rita was adept at getting among them.
At the doorway to Faulds Park was stood a man in Wigan robes. He was ringing his bell.
Ding ding. Ding ding.
“Repent before it’s too late!” he was yelling.
The Loyalists seemed to be leaving him be. They were more focused on an imminent clash that would occur when Billy Owen decided to send CPD.
It was a long ride up to the Penthouse but when Seth reached it the noise was worse than the floors below. Music boomed and people flooded everywhere. Seth stopped one of them. “I’m here to see Reggie,” he explained. “Where is he?”
“Reggie isn’t seeing anyone,” the greeter remarked.
Seth frowned. “It doesn’t seem that way now does it?” he passed comment on the gathering with a raised eyebrow. “Where is Reg Junior?”
That was when Seth noticed the purple ribbons of Wigan tied around wrists and necks. The Wigan cross was displayed on chests. The man he had stopped slipped away. Seth watched as he approached what appeared to be a superior. They both looked at him. He stood his ground.
“Seth?” Finally he had an audience with Reggie.
Seth had seen images of the triplet prince in the press. He looked worse for wear but he hadn’t expected to find him so dishevelled. He clutched his face and looked at him closely. His skin was warm, sweaty, feverish.
“You’re taking too many drugs,” Seth stated. “I know you went through a lot but you need to pull yourself together.”
Reggie shook him off dismissively. When he noticed Seth glare at him he laughed.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Top shape. I’m just relaxing, like. Got plenty of people around. It’s all good.”
That was when Seth took note of the young woman who accompanied him. She was holding his hand. She offered a polite smile to the Bergman boy. She was dressed as a true Wigan from the bay.
“This is Leona,” Reggie introduced.
“Nice to meet ye,” her accent confirmed her pedigree.
Reggie groaned. He was starting to feel pain in his leg and the stab wounds in his abdomen were stinging again. The dressings would be needing changed soon. He needed pills.
“Reggie, you need to be careful,” Seth warned. “You don’t know these people.”
Becoming a little frustrated with the pain, Reggie grunted. “I know Leona,” he explained. “She’s been looking out for me. Where the fuck have you been?”
“Now, Reggie,” said Leona softly. “That’s no way to speak to a friend.”
“I have been trying to get in touch,” said Seth.
Leona spoke for him. “Too much contact with the outside world with computers and telephones wasn’t doing him much good.”
“And who were you to decide that?” Seth asked angrily.
Leona was unmoved but her softness continued. “I care a lot about Reggie. I’ve been helping him get better.”
“By plying him with drugs?” Seth exclaimed.
This angered the triplet.
“I’m standing right here. Don’t talk to her like that,” he growled. “I’m not some fucking simpleton. I’m … Look, I’ll be fine.”
“I think you should leave,” said Leona.
“If Reggie wishes me to leave I will,” returned the diamond merchant.
Leona clenched Reggie’s hand tighter.
“Just fuck off Seth,” said the triplet. “I mean thanks for coming down and all that but I’m good.”
Seth nodded. “Glad to hear it. Just call me if you need anything.”
To Leona, Seth said, “If you truly care about him, you will make sure he talks to his brothers.”
Leona smiled. “Whatever is best for him,” she said. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr Bergman. Now Reggie has asked you to leave.”
“That’s shit,” Reggie was saying to Leona as the elevator doors closed and took Seth away. “I should have asked him to stay for a joint or something.”
Leona hushed him. She patted his hand gently. “I’m sorry Reggie,” she said. “It’s hard to know who’s good for you and who isn’t. I’m sure he’ll understand when you’re better. I just want what’s best for ye. You need to relax. You’re getting uptight again.”
Reggie agreed. “I can’t thank you enough for being here,” he said. “I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“I’m happy to be here, although it is really unnerving,” she said.
“I’ll not let anything happen to you,” Reggie assured.
“Wigan bless ye,” Leona replied.
Time for another trip. Transport provided by heether mushrooms.
“Bergman Memorial, because life is precious. Your loved one deserves to be remembered in the most shining way possible. No one knows your loved one better than you, so you will be given full support from one of our master cultivators throughout the heartfelt process.”
Seth could hear his father’s voice in the old advert as he took two scoops of Mrs Williams’ ashes to begin the blend.
“With a history of perfection that spans generations, our cutting and polishing is carried out to the highest quality; and because we know how important it is to your family, we take pain staking care that your diamond is worthy of remembrance.”
As Seth prepared to purify the ashes, that was when I arrived and knocked on the door of the lab where one of the merchants in the parade upstairs had told me I would find him.
“Take a seat, Sam,” he offered as he spun around in his stool.
“Thanks for agreeing to see me,” I said genuinely.
During my time in Coldford the Bergmans had managed to be everywhere but nowhere. They had ties to the Loyalists of Main as well as Kappa So and the Law Makers. Not an easy task to manage such varied groups. Seth’s father – Howard – was a well known and loved figure but what was astonishing to me was how cleanly he conducted business. Perhaps I had been in the Shady City a little too long and it was making me sceptical, but even as I passed the beautiful pieces of jewellery I kept searching for the shadows behind the shine. The family intrigued me and given Seth’s attempts to see Reggie I thought it would be good to get his views.
Amicable like his father, Seth was more welcoming than most to a reporter. His dark hair and wild blue eyes much like his Aunt Sophie’s.
He laughed heartily when I told of my discovery of Reggie and Tabitha in David Finn’s apartment.
“When The Tailor shows concern there must be something very wrong,” Seth spoke of Reggie. “When I went to Faulds Park it was strange. Reggie himself seems content for now.”
“The Auction House is being put up for sale again,” I said. “I heard your father made a bid.”
Seth replied, “As much as he loathes business with Chick Owen, he felt it was only right to try and help Reggie get it back whilst the boys are in prison.”
Finally, a break in the armour of the ever-friendly Howard Bergman.
“Bad history with the Owens then?” I asked.
“My father isn’t one to harbour grudges or bad blood but he finds the Owens arrogant, conceited, and too quick to throw their weight around. An Owen killed Reginald Penn. You can quote me on saying that if you like,” said Seth.
“So your family wouldn’t have been happy that your cousin pledged Kappa So?” I pressed.
“My aunt was furious at Isaac. My dad was too, but he’s his own man and has been making some positive changes from within the frat,” Seth explained. “They asked me to join too but I wouldn’t be caught dead inside that Chapter House.”
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Seth beckoned.
The door opened and a short man with wild grey hair bounded in. He was quite upset about something.
“I’m not having this. Is this some kind of joke? Where the fuck is Isaac? Fucking frat boys.”
“Woah!” warned Seth. “Language please, Abe. Can’t you see I have company?”
Abe looked to me. He still seemed worked up but he adapted his tone.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’m leaving this with you. I’m not doing anything until I hear from Isaac.”
He dropped a bag into Seth’s lap and made his exit. Seth opened the bag. I watched his expression change to that of one of surprised amusement. He began to laugh.
“I hope you’re not prudish, Sam,” he said.
From the bag he removed a large penis carved in gold. Abe Rothenstein was one of the Bergman’s leading gold mongers. His family had carved some of the most beautiful golden pieces, some of which were worn by royalty.
Seth turned it over and looked at the stamp at the bottom.
“No!” he gasped. Then he began to laugh even harder. “1015. That’s the mark of Hen Owen. This is the captain’s telescope.”
That was when I first set eyes on the golden asset. With a warning from Ronnie, Buddy had turned to the best goldsmiths in the city for help correcting it. Seeing it as a frat boy prank – which, in fairness to Abe, it was – it had now fallen into Bergman hands. Howard Bergman loathed to do business with the Owens. Those were his son’s words. I could only imagine how Chick Owen would feel about Howard Bergman should he find his golden asset.
“I’m going to need you to sit on this, Sam, ” Seth said. He chuckled when he realised what he was waving at me. “I mean the story, not this.”
With an invitation in hand to Howard Bergman’s coming together gathering, I arrived at Bergman estate. The patriarch had been hoping to give the city a chance to heal. I was escorted through the estate in Kingsgate. It was a beautiful place with expansive lawns and a little patch of woodland surrounding it. When I arrived, the party had already begun. Seth himself wouldn’t be there until nine but he promised me some time with his father.
“Just as long as you know you’re probably going to learn a lot about the history of Levinkrantz,” Seth warned in jest.
I was prepared for that providing Howard was willing to share some insight into the bad blood between he and Chick Owen.
Some called it Castle Bergman because of how fortified it was. Inside was like any other family home. On the walls were photos of the Bergmans. There was one of a young Seth. There were others too, of his cousins Isaac and Eli who I still had to meet. Special placement had been given to Seth’s sister, Elsa. She was a rebellious looking girl who clutched her father affectionately in the photo kissing his cheek. A genuine moment of joy had been captured on Howard’s face.
“Sam!” the man himself called to me from across the hall. He politely dismissed himself from the group he was entertaining.
“Thank you for the invitation, Mr Bergman,” I replied.
With an arm around my shoulder he led me to the main hall. I could see Sophie with the large man named Golem who acted as her interpreter. She was smiling, greeting some guests with a kiss on both cheeks. Golem stood obediently by her side.
“If you don’t mind, Sam, I need to get everyone settled. You have a drink and enjoy the party.”
I was seated at a delightful table with Abe Rothenstein and his brother Ike. They had hilarious stories to share, comments to pass on those at the other tables and a penchant for drinking booze by the gallon. Howard stopped by every now and again in between entertaining his other guests.
“You should write a story about my grandfather,” Ike was saying. “The Levinkrantz blitz destroyed his whole building but he still refused to move. He just hung sheets up where the walls had been blasted away.”
Abe put in, “Just swept all that dust and rubble right out.”
“They offered him a new house but he told them to stick that where the sun can’t get to,” added Ike.
“He was ninety-eight when he died,” said Abe.
Ike shook his head. “Still wouldn’t move. We had to bury him there.”
They both started laughing. Their merry chuckles were quite infectious. Abe filled my glass with more Waldens vintage.
By the time it reached 8 o’clock the band was very much in full swing. A pleasant night was being had by all. At around eight ten, that was when things began to turn sour.
“Uncle Howie?” Isaac arrived in a hurry, pulling Howard away from his party.
“Isaac? Where have you been? We’ve all been worried about you.”
“I need to talk to you,” said the nephew. “Right away.”
“Oh dear, Mr Bergman!” cried one of the ladies. “I’ve spilled some wine.”
“Not to worry,” said Howard. “We’ll get that cleaned up.” To his nephew he said, “Whatever is going on, now is neither the time nor the place. Breakfast tomorrow. You and I will sit and we’ll discuss what’s on your mind. We’ve missed you around the estate.”
Before he could explain further, Howard had waved to a new arrival.
“Karyn!” he called. “You look tremendous.”
“Shit!” Isaac grumbled.
The Judge herself was accompanied by his mother, Sophie, and the interpreter, Golem. As Howard fell into conversation with Karyn Doyle, Isaac made an attempt to sign ‘I need your help’ to his mother, but didn’t catch her eye.
A server bumped into him carrying a tray.
“Sorry, sugar,” said the soft voice.
The server passed the tray. Isaac had been too busy looking for an opportunity to get Golem or his mother on their own, he hadn’t noticed the server close in behind him. She pinched his backside.
“Woah!” Isaac jerked around but as he came face to face with her, she pushed him against the wall and locked her lips to his. Isaac could hear whistles from party-goers in the main area where the booze was flowing.
Isaac was led into a small room just off the main corridor. The server woman, not a woman at all. Freddy Stoker pulled off the platinum blonde wig. Irvine Stoker kicked the door closed.
“You want to talk to someone, Isaac? I’m listening. Freddy? Let the Easys in.”
There was already tapping at the window. Freddy crossed the room, opened the window and the two trapeze artists slipped in.
“I always said never trust a Bergman,” Irvine went on. “Now look where we are.”
The Easys pulled rope in with them.
Irvine reached into his pocket and produced a tobacco tin. He opened it and tapped a sample of powder onto a long finger nail and sniffed. Freddy’s hand reached up slowly to sample some but Irvine slapped it away. “Get your own,” he warned his son.
He slipped a metal pole down the sleeve of his patched coat.
“Isaac,” he said. “I’m going to have fun with this.”
“The blood splatter,” warned Freddy.
Irvine danced around Isaac as the Easys laid tarpaulin they had brought in backpacks. Irvine angled himself towards the window.
Karyn Doyle always attended the parties of Howard Bergman. She was almost as comfortable in the Bergman Estate as she was in her own home. One particular evening, when she was a freshly-appointed judge, she had wandered onto the balcony for some air. It was a pleasant night. The summer warmth and the closing of sunset cast an orange glow across Kingsgate. She embraced a little of the ambience when the door opened and she was joined by Van Holder. She turned. She smiled but her focus went back to the view. He approached her and wrapped his arms around her waist and pressed gently against her.
“You’ve been making me hungry all night,” he jested as he nibbled playfully on her neck.
Karyn giggled girlishly and stroked his thigh. The music and the party sounded behind them. They could hear laughter as one of the Rothensteins tried to get a sing-song started.
Van Holder ran his hands gently down her stomach and hitched her dress up slightly, and began to massage her through the black lace panties she wore until she gave a little gasp. That was the signal to tug the panties down. She turned her head and he leaned forward kissing her passionately. She turned to the view again as she felt his hardness discretely push inside her. Soft, rhythmic, but with a lustful grip around her waist, Van Holder grunted and there they came together as husband and wife.
“A bottle of Macks for the first person who can name all the streets of Main!” they could hear Howard drunkenly call.
“We had better go back inside,” said Karyn.
Van Holder, having righted himself, stepped aside. “After you, Your Honour.”
Van Holder – given the nature of his occupancy in Subala – was kept away from them. Karyn – an army brat herself – knew exactly what that was like. Van Holder made as much time for their son as he could when he was there.
“Bye dad,” said Cameron for what felt like the millionth time in his life. Van Holder clutched his head and kissed it.
“You be good,” he said. “Just need to nip out.”
Just nipping out. It was a phrase Van Holder used to calm the boy whenever he had to leave. Just nipping out could take several months or more but if he was just ‘nipping out’ Cameron knew he would be back eventually.
If Ruud Van Holder of the Subala Black Bands had known that that would be the last time he would see his son alive, he would have stayed that little bit longer.
“I can’t stay all evening, I’m afraid,” Judge Karyn Doyle informed her host.
“And how is Cameron? Haven’t seen the young man around. I was hoping to pick his brain about Kingsgate’s chances of winning the cup,” Howard was asking.
The Judge’s attention was snatched by her sister, Ashley, who had readied her table.
“You go ahead,” said Howard pleasantly. “We’ll catch up later.”
To his own sister he signed, “Where did Isaac go? He was upset about something.”
Sophie patted Golem’s shoulder.
“I’ll find him,” agreed the monstrously large man.
I looked over from my table to see Karyn take her seat with Ashley. She looked worried about something. At the time I thought it might have been upholding Article 22 taking its toll on her but I know now it was something much worse.
Without her interpreter Sophie took her brother’s arm, scanning the room keenly. As Golem went in search of the only Bergman to pledge Kappa So, Howard addressed his guests.
“Good evening, everyone,” he said. “It’s good to have you all here and despite the troubles in the city I am very pleased to say the new section of Harbour House, helping those displaced by the violence, will be open very soon. Thank you all for your generosity. There is still time to aid this wonderful cause and I’d like to make a special mention to Elizabeth Beckingridge for beginning this. Ironically, she can’t be here tonight because she’s…well we all know Liz. She’s a little overzealous. Anyway, if you still care to give to Harbour House I’ll happily match any donations made this evening. In the meantime, relax. There’s plenty of food and booze.”
“Wooo!” Abe Rothenstein cheered, filling his glass. “Have another one Sam.”
Indulging in the atmosphere I drank more. I would have refused it if I had known what was to happen next.
Isaac coughed up blood.
“Aren’t you going to fall out cold?“ asked Irvine, wiping sweat from his forehead.
“Fuck you!” Isaac spat as he clambered onto his feet. He charged at Irvine managing to punch him, rattling free some false teeth.
Freddy picked them up. Errol easy wrapped a rope around Isaac’s neck and heaved him back, falling into a painting, sending it crashing to the floor.
Irvine addressed his trapeze artists.
“Get him out of here,” he instructed. “We’ve made too much noise now. That clay boy, Golem, is going to be looking for him. Freddy?” He turned. “Where’s Freddy? Ah there you are.”
Freddy was fixing the painting back to exactly how it was when they arrived.
“Make sure this place is spotless.”
“Hope you’re not afraid of heights.”
Errol wrapped his arms around Isaac and pulled him to the window. Isaac was losing consciousness. He tried to fight it. He thought he could when the crisp evening air hit him but the ground left his feet and he was pulled through the window. Errol’s grip remained tight until they hit the ground again. A white van was waiting to carry him to the centre ring of the Big Top.
Irvine wrapped his arm around Ethel’s waist as they stepped onto the ledge.
“After you, my dear,” the ring master grinned.
She leaned out and with one hand unclipped a rope, laid there by her Easy brother. Entwined, the two leapt into the night and down to the ground.
The door was opened.
A blonde server bumped into Golem.
“Sorry, sugar,” they giggled.
Golem scanned the room. There was no trace of Isaac. Nothing would be found amiss.
“So, Sam,” said Howard as he joined our table. “My son tells me that you’d like to talk. A story you’re writing?”
“I’d like to ask a few questions if you don’t mind,” I put to him. I was still enjoying the party atmosphere. My voice was a little loud as my head began to swim.
Howard had left an empty glass on the table beside his hand. Abe lifted the bottle to refill it but the Bergman patriarch rested his hand on the top.
“I’m fine for now, thank you Abe.”
Abe shrugged. He and Ike finished the bottle between them.
“I read Marble Mantel,” Howard admitted. “I’m afraid it had me a little lost. I’m more of a history buff. I prefer true stories.”
“I’m actually a journalist by trade,” I explained. “I used to write for the Daily.”
“I said true stories,” Howard jested. “I’ll tell you what though, my daughter loved Marble Mantel. I must get you to sign something for her. She cosplayed as one of the characters last Halloween, isn’t that so Ike?”
Ike Rothenstein looked up. “Was that that green thing she was wearing, with the tentacles?”
I assumed they meant the character Judith and it was extra arms not tentacles, but I was flattered all the same and still a little drunk so I tried to steer the course.
“This bad blood between you and The Cappy, where did that begin?”
“I don’t like to hold grudges,” Howard said. “Life is too short.”
“Don’t listen to him,” said Ike. “He’s a spiteful old fart when he wants to be.”
“Yes, thank you Ike,” Howard laughed off the comment. “It isn’t so much Charles himself but what his family represent. You see the Stokers committed some terrible atrocities but rather than being held to account, the Owens protected them. They’ll do whatever it takes to keep themselves on top and that kind of ruthlessness is like a poison in society.”
If I didn’t know any better I would swear our conversation had been bugged because just as Howard was explaining this, CPD entered the room led by Billy Owen.
Howard craned his neck to check the commotion. Billy went straight to Doyle.
“Ma’am,” he said. “I’m afraid I have some terrible news.”
Doyle stood to be confronted with the information.
“A body has been discovered and we have reason to believe it might be Cameron. Can you tell me when you last heard from your son?”
Given the sensitive nature of Cameron’s parentage and the potential for terror groups to target him, the boy had never been officially declared missing.
Ashley Doyle covered her mouth in shock. Billy spoke sensitively.
“I’m going to need you to come down and make a positive I.D. as soon as you’re ready, Your Honour.”
“Oh, Karyn!” sobbed Ashley.
Howard had been distracted by the entry of the police to his party.
“Excuse me,” he still had the time to say as he left our table and crossed the room.
“What’s going on?” he put to Judge Doyle.
Billy grabbed Howard’s arm and pulled it behind his back.
“Howard Bergman, I’m arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Cameron Doyle. You have the right to say whatever you like but I advise you to shut the fuck up. You’ll be appointed a lawyer and all that shit.”
“Karyn!” Howard tried to appeal to his long time friend but The Judge was preparing to leave. Her sister was hurriedly helping her.
Billy spun Howard round to face his guests.
The image was caught by a press photographer. Sophie was frantically signing to her brother.
“Don’t fight it,” she was saying.
I began my visit to Bergman Estate in awe of how Howard and his family had lived cleanly and quietly with little alliances on all sides. Watching the diamond merchant being escorted from his home in cuffs under the shocked faces of his party guests, I realised being nice rarely bodes well. However, diamonds are not easy to cut and the Bergmans had some sharp tools.
Rumours spread across the news floor of the Coldford Daily that the maven herself was in house to take things over and get the newspaper back on track. Eric Waddle wasn’t cutting it anymore. He had been circling the drain for a long time as far as reporter Sandra Wake was concerned.
He circled the drain so much he made himself dizzy and stumbled from the window of the Coldford Daily editor’s office. Maybe it had been the news of Tabitha’s miraculous return that had him feeling a little woozy but I can only speculate on that point.
“Maybe we should arrange some pictures,” Sandra had put to Kathleen in anticipation of her arrival.
“I know what I look like,” was Kathleen’s response. “Why would I want pictures?”
Kathleen’s arrival at the Daily was preceded by three Kappa Si sisters, dressed neatly in their sorority colours. They said nothing to the reporters as they crossed the news floor. Sandra stood from the desk I had once occupied to get a better look but the chickadees offered no comment. They went straight to the editor’s office, closing the door behind them. Sandra had been at the point of knocking on the door to see if they needed anything when the sorority queen did make her arrival, accompanied by more sisters, higher ranking than the first from what could be determined.
“Kathleen!” Sandra cheered. “It’s so good to see you.”
They had met once, at an Owen Inc. Party.
“Everyone in the conference office,” Kathleen called across the news floor. “Drop whatever you’re doing. You can pick it up later.”
When the reporters had gathered around the table, hungry for their feed, Kathleen stood and addressed them. The chickadees she had brought with her stayed in the office to make the editor’s station more to Kathleen’s taste.
“We have the say in the city,” she began. “We still remain the most-viewed newsfeed in Coldford.”
Sandra smiled. She looked among her colleagues for their reaction to the praise.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Kathleen stated. “We will be looked to first for the news on Knock Knock, Penn Auction House, Mack Distillery, the whole lot of them, so let’s give them that news before someone else does. It’s time the city learned just how much we are mending fences around here. In other words, we are the good guys. I don’t care how it is written just make it so. I want focus on charity work and community service. I want wherever anyone walks – from the Shanties to Bourton – they see another good news story courtesy of the Daily.”
Sandra had been hired by the Daily specifically for her controversial, combative approach to news casting. Some saw it as hard hitting journalism. What it really was, was trouble stirring for the sake of ratings. Her popularity only climbed because morbidly curious viewers tuned in to see what nonsense she was going to spout next. Having to write the news in a positive way was going to prove a challenge for her.
“Sandra,” Kathleen addressed her directly. “I want you to focus on the rift between CPD and the Wigan church.”
“I was following the story on Joshua Coby and the Freefall massacre,” Sandra replied.
Kathleen frowned. “Did I sound like I was asking? Get a statement from Coby, even if it’s ‘no comment’, close it and move on. I want you to calm the heat with the Wigan church.” The sorority queen went on, “Roger?”
The other reporter’s eyes widened at the call of his name.
“The Penn story. I want you to focus on the championships Simon Penn won, the medals he donated. Reginald is gone now so there’s no harm in a story on his tenure. Get some quotes from his supporters. Invite them in, let them lick his ass and print it. We’re changing the narrative people. We need as much positive spin as we can get. I want a piece too on Buddy Owen, Chad Perry and Dale Cooper. I want everyone to know what good rehab is doing them. I want the Daily to be putting smiles on everyone’s faces. I want our feed to be so sickly sweet people will become addicted to it. It’s the only way we’re going to strengthen our position and completely blindside the competition. Any questions?”
Sandra spoke up. “Just one,” she said. “Will you have tea or coffee?”
The history of Coldford was a bloody one as I’m sure you can imagine. It stretches back centuries but it really became what it is during the time of Henry ‘Hen’ Owen, who had been commissioned by Queen Eleanor of the Chamberlain family for his sailing and navigation prowess. Hen Owen fought against a knight known as the Greatest Northsider, he helped quash a rebellion from Eleanor’s granddaughter, Francesca Chamberlain, who sought to take the throne for herself. The Castle in Bournton now known as The Boss, was Francesca’s stronghold. From there she pushed her savage agendas. The queen’s grandson, Royce Chamberlain, Duke of Hathfield Bay, involved himself only where it was beneficial to him. Devious Royce held back on the island as long as he could before deciding which side of the family table he was going to take a seat at.
Throughout the ages, the Chamberlain family cemented their story into the very fabric of the Shady City. Chamberlain Docks – you’ll already be familiar with – fell from the hands of Julia Harvester as her stores in Bellfield and City Main caused her to cut her losses. Chamberlain Heights, the retirement community in Kingsgate had been part of the Chamberlain Trust for generations. There’s also Chamberlain library and Chamberlain pond in the heart of Coldridge park. All of these spots served as a reminder of the blue blood that once ran through Coldford’s veins. The Chamberlain Trust mediated the family’s interests as they remained at bay for many years. An invitation to Kingsgate Museum showed they hadn’t quite forgotten their roots.
The museum housed artefacts from the earliest parts of their dynasty. There you would find Eleanor’s crown jewels, Francesca’s gowns, paintings and torture devices. You would also find Royce’s weapons, goblets and opium pipes – giving clues as to the priorities of the man.
What particularly caught my attention was the armour of the Greatest Northsider. I imagined how heavy it must have felt to wear. I thought of the cold air that would have fallen onto it as he rushed into battle. I considered the blood splatter that would have been washed off afterwards.
“It really is something,” someone said behind me.
I recognised the distinctive droll of Chick Owen.
“I can only imagine what it must have seen,” I remarked in reply.
Chick was drinking in the armour worn into battle against his beloved ancestor. As a history enthusiast and especially engrossed by his own lineage, I had fully expected to find The Cappy at the museum exhibit. I wanted to ask him about his thoughts on Howard Bergman but I felt at that point it wouldn’t do much good.
“That battle lasted three days and nights,” Chick went on. “Hen gave them Hell.”
“He was defeated down in Northside,” I commented.
Chick laughed a little. “A tactical retreat.” He gasped with enthusiasm as he recounted the event.
Seeing Chick Owen, better known as The Cappy, in such a light was quite refreshing. In my whole time in knowing him, all the ups and downs we had had thus far, I believe it was the first time I had caught a glimpse of the true man he was.
“Got there eventually though, didn’t he?” I said.
The Cappy grinned. “An Owen never misses.”
“Indeed they do not,” I replied.
“Enjoy the exhibit,” Chick said before departing towards Kathleen who had set up a photo op of Chick with Hen Owen’s portrait.
The Harbour Master of Chamberlain Docks was an esteemed position, coveted since the Chamberlain days previously discussed. The title at this time belonged to Master Barnaby Brooke. Brooke was unassuming in appearance. He lived in a little town house on the dock edge, the top of which acted as a light beacon during the night, alerting passing ships to avoid the edge of Coldford.
Gateshead was the name of the little building and Master Brooke lived there with his two lovely daughters, Erica and Becky, their dalmatian dog Ruffus, and his wife Helen. The whole family, including Ruffus, took the early ferry every Sunday across to the bay for the Wigan service. Yes, Brooke was a devout man. He was devoted to his faith, devoted to his family and devoted to his station at Gateshead, Chamberlain Docks, Swantin.
Most of his time was spent overseeing the loading and departure of the Ferry Way liner. There was the occasional fishing vessel and Bergman freighters launched there but for the most part it was all routine. His chief operator, Anthony Runnetti, had been arrested along with Nan Harvester when the trafficking boats were raided. Good riddance to bad rubbish there. They were giving His Eminence, Dom Cole, a hard time when they really should be shutting down thieving vagabonds like the Macks, murderous middens like the Knock Knock girl, and animals like Billy Owen. Police commissioner? He should be behind bars himself. The church was cut off from its parishes in the mainland when that bully with a badge gets to throw his weight around. It’s just not right! They should be dealing with the whores on the docks instead of harassing, beating and murdering God-fearing folks.
Times were changing though. Wigan was going to cleanse the city. It was written and it was promised. In the meantime it was the job of Barnaby Brooke to watch the Ferry Way pass back and forth to the island.
But alas! There was an exciting change afoot and it occurred on the day of the Chamberlain Exhibit.
“Move the ferry liner,” was the Harbour Master’s instructions. “Make way!”
Back at the exhibition, museum curator Malcolm Wurst had taken to the stage of the Queen Eleanor auditorium. The screen behind him showed an open book with wave symbols on the pages – the Chamberlain crest.
CHAMBERLAIN – THE TORN DYNASTY the caption read.
“Thank you all for coming,” said Malcolm. “What I present to you is a unique history filled with success and loss, power and struggle, and dare I say it, the real Coldford City as it was formed many years ago. None of that is my story to tell though, so I’d like to introduce you to the living blood of all these fabulous relics we have around us. I believe we have Captain Charles Owen here this evening.”
The spotlight landed on The Cappy. Chick smiled graciously and gave a polite nod as the audience applauded.
“A pleasure, captain,” said Malcolm. “Henry ‘Hen’ Owen’s 10th– great-grandson ladies and gentlemen.”
The audience gave another appreciative applause. I looked along the aisle and that was when I spotted the Wigan priest, Peter Millicent. He was nodding and clapping his hands in a warm, receptive sort of way.
“Now without further ado, I would like to introduce Lord Francis and Lady Charlotte Chamberlain.”
Onto the stage wandered a girl of nine years old, holding the hand of her seven-year-old brother.
Lacking the shyness of a child, Lady Charlotte stepped up to the microphone. She curtseyed. Francis gave a congenial bow with one hand behind his back and the other across his stomach.
“Thank you,” Charlotte said sweetly. “Thank you for being so welcoming.”
Chamberlain Docks was experiencing some upheaval at this point. The Ferry Way had already been preparing to collect its traffic when Barnaby Brooke had to call it back.
“We need to halt the crossing,” he announced.
As you can imagine dear readers, Barnaby was met by a lot of disgruntled passengers finding the crossing to Hathfield Bay quite essential. The Harbour Master instructed the ferry liner to remain along the coast. The 6:15 was experiencing some delays. There was a collective groan as the traffic set aside.
“Clear some space,” Brooke requested. “We’ve got incoming.”
“What we got?” Captain Farraway of the ferry liner asked. “A blue whale?”
“Remain off shore,” said Master Brooke in return. “I’ll bring you in as soon as I can.”
The beeping of horns, the creek of the ferry as it remained stationed and the cries of disapproval from the ferry passengers were all quashed when an ear-splitting horn sounded.
“We were told so much about Coldford,” Charlotte was telling the auditorium. “My brother and I always hoped to return here and see it for ourselves. It’s been everything we could hope for. We’d like to share with you some never before seen images from the family archives. Thanks to Coby Games we get to share the stage this evening with our ancestors.”
Behind Charlotte flashed a holographic image of Queen Eleanor sat upon her throne. She was dressed in full regalia, a chalk white face and a golden mitre in hand. She bore the Chamberlain coat of arms on her breast. Joshua and his team had done an excellent job with the display. The collective audience gaze widened in awe at the realism.
The next figure was Francesca Chamberlain. In the background loomed the shadow of The Boss. She was in the forefront, seated upon a horse. Her black hair blew wildly around her in a wind the artist had captured.
Taking a walk on stage then was Royce Chamberlain. Prince Royce was smiling a self-assured smile as though to the auditorium. He removed his sword and held it at his side. There was an absence in his eyes though, which I assumed the artist had made deliberate.
Another figure of Francesca emerged. This time she was stood in the Great Hall of her castle which was now where the electric chair, Buzzkill, sat. She raised her arms up and turned her focus towards the sky. Around her neck hung the weight of several Wigan beads. What was most astounding about this image though was the figure by her side, dressed in humble robes. He had a youthful, soft face. He was encouraging in his body language.
“You cannot be saved,” it would seem he was saying to her.
The Saint Noah Wigan’s presence spread to the walls as other pieces of symbology emerged behind them.
Royce returned next and I would be damned to Hell if I didn’t notice the purple ribbons he had tied around the sword he carried.
The two children turned to view the image of Royce. He was a drunken philanderer, a self-preserving narcissist if the history books are correct, but the children seemed to be enamoured by him.
I looked to Peter who was watching the presentation with great interest.
As large a craft as the Ferry Way liner was, Captain Farraway could feel it shake upon the waves caused by the approaching vessel. The staff gathered at the windows to catch sight of the monstrous craft as it made its way to the dock.
The horn blasted again as though its presence were easy to miss.
Chamberlain docks bid welcome to a sister of hers. Restored with some of the very boards that Royce Chamberlain himself had walked, was a regal ship flying the Chamberlain flag. The raven’s head – Royce’s personal sigil – ornamented the bow, leading the way as it ferociously tore through the water. On the side of the ship was the name HMS RAVENSEDGE. It was a historic enemy of Hen Owen’s Elgany, rearing its head and returning to port after all those years.
“Would you look at that!” gasped the ferry staff.
Back on stage at the auditorium Charlotte spoke of her ancestral connection to the Owen family.
“My brother and I would like to return Hen Owen’s rapier if Mr Owen will accept it. We feel it’s been in Royce’s hands long enough.”
There was an affectionate acknowledgement from The Cappy of the Chamberlain children’s generous offer. It would make a fine addition to his collection.
For a child so young, I had to admire Charlotte’s natural confidence. Her brother was a little more subdued. Francis gave a nervous, ‘thank you’ into the microphone, leaning over to speak. Together they knew the influence they held in their hands. They had been orphaned you see, the details of which aren’t important. What is important though is the city that now was in their control, the wealth and the name. As the exhibit came to a close, Charlotte looked to Peter Millicent who nodded assurance to her.
Aboard Ravensedge, their guardian awaited them. In a flurry of robes he rushed to the walkway where he could see the children alight from a town car down on the docks.
“Uncle Dom!” Charlotte cheered, rushing across to His Eminence to be collected into his arms.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“We did great. Didn’t we Peter?” Francis asked of the priest that accompanied them.
“They did splendid,” Peter assured.
“I wouldn’t have expected anything less,” Dominick encouraged.
“The ship looks beautiful. Do you like it Uncle Dom?”
Dominick admired the gift from the Chamberlain Trust to the church.
“She is a beauty,” Dominick responded with awe. “You should see how she tears through the water.”
Francis laughed. “We had better go back or you’re going to get into trouble.”
Dominick raised an eyebrow. He reached a foot out towards Coldford limits. “Illegal,” he called. “Legal,” he added drawing his foot back. “Illegal. Legal. Illegal. Legal.”
His whimsical tease caused the children to laugh.
“Let’s not hold the ferry up too much longer,” Peter suggested ushering the children onto the ship.
For the time being, the Wigan church left Coldford behind and returned to the bay.
ERROR 65. My screen read.
“This is really frustrating,” I exclaimed.
It had been some time by then since the Coby servers went down and I had been locked out of the blog I had been using to keep the city up to date with the real truth.
“Sorry,” Joshua replied sincerely. “We’re starting to get our processing back but we’re still blacked out in Bellfield, Northside and Hathfield Bay. I have to dedicate every bit of RAM we have to our gaming. The Scribble Post software isn’t a priority. I’ll do what I can though. I’ll keep you up to date.”
“Thanks Joshua,” I said. “I appreciate that.”
I was in a race against time with my old newspaper because the truth in the Shady City was quite often the story told first. The Filton Crier press, thanks to Elizabeth, had ensured my words were reaching as many people as possible in print but it was a slower process.
Something must have opened up at Coby games because a message came through.
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS?
It was an anonymous statement. Attached to it was a video file. I pushed play. The moment I did, I wished I hadn’t. My heart skipped to a race suddenly. What consumed me first was the noise of the screaming. Flames licked most of the image.
“It was written,” said a Wigan priest, “that the flames of St Michael’s retribution consumed the harlot’s body.”
“Harlot! Harlot!” screamed a gathering.
This was not taking place on Hathfield Bay where such activity was rumoured to occur. This was taking place on the streets of Northside. I was suspended in disbelief by what I was looking at. What aggrieved me the most was the woman being consumed by flames was none other than Agnes Wilde, the Knock Knock Broker.
Father Renfield was the name of the Wigan priest who was the overseer of the church’s Northside parish.
At The Knock Knock Club Tawny was viewing that very same footage. She hadn’t gotten as far into it as I had before she couldn’t bear to watch any more.
“Tabitha!” she shrieked. “I want Tabitha. Tabby! Tabitha!”
David tried to calm her but she would not stop screaming until she could hold her niece in her arms. David fell into a chair trying to wash the cries of Agnes’ pain from his mind.
“Harlot! Harlot!” he could still hear them chanting.
Over on Hathfield Bay, Peter came to Dominick in the church. He knelt before the altar. It was only he and Bart present so the church leader ushered his priest to stand.
“Alright, Peter,” Dominick said softly. He was a little taken aback by the formality. When they were alone they tended to behave with more of a familial bond.
“Your Eminence,” he said, maintaining a formal tone. “There’s something you should see.”
He passed a tablet to Dominick and pushed play. Bartholemew drew down his hood and looked over Dominick’s shoulder.
Peter watched the church leader’s expression as the video played. The flames reflected in his dark eyes.
“Who is this? Who is the harlot?” he asked.
“Agnes Wilde of The Knock Knock Club. It seemed Father Renfield discovered she was passing information to the Bellfield fleet. He punished her.”
Dominick stopped the footage. He knew well what burning looked like. He didn’t need to see any more.
“I don’t remember giving him permission to do that. Did I give him permission?”
Peter shook his head to the negatory. If permission had been granted for such an action on the streets of Northside he would be aware of it.
“I believe he sees himself as St Michael the Punisher.”
Dominick’s eyes blazed. “Does he? I would love to take a gander in whatever fucking mirror he’s using because he’s no St Michael. Does he look like the man in that painting?” Dominick asked pointing to the brooding, broad-shouldered knight who was the actual St Michael. “I don’t fucking think so.”
“My concern is that we’ve worked so hard to build our position in the city and this action could see all of it undone,” Peter’s own temper began to flare. “All of our progress wiped out in an instant.”
“Is he winning this fight against the fleet scum at least?” Dominick asked.
“Not exactly,” Peter explained. “Liam Tulloch is modelling himself on the Greatest Northsider.”
“What is it with the people of that God forsaken city? Kings of Main, Boss Ladies, dragon ladies and every other kind of ladies. Ye’ve got Captains and circus freaks. It’s not just me, is it? They’re all fucking mad.”
“The Law Makers will look to you to answer for what Renfield has done. That’s not the worst of it though. Agnes Wilde was a well-connected woman. This news could very well have us up against a huge part of the Shady City. The Shanties most definitely. Closely followed by Main,” explained Peter.
“Dom?” Bart interrupted with urgency. “Leona’s still over there. She’s right in the thick of it.”
Dominick raged. “Send word to her right away. I want a watch on the weans too. Charlotte and Francis go nowhere unless they have plenty of eyes on them. Tell Renfield to get his arse over here because he’s treading so close to blasphemy and he’ll learn how St Michael truly punishes.”
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