“Dad!?” Ruby Feltz barked down the phone when the automated answer message kicked in
“If your message is urgent please call the Mayors office on – “
“Answer your fucking phone!”
Mayor Feltz hadn’t turned up to the office. He had last been seen in public at the Knock Knock Club. That morning he had bid farewell to his wife, Sylvia and no-one had seen him since.
Younger sister, Amber, had been gone a week by the time of Ruby’s frustrated call no one.
“She must be at a spa in Luen,” Sylvia had said. “When things get too much for her you know she likes to go there.”
Too much? She was seventeen. She should still be in school. What could possibly be going on in her life that was too much? She didn’t study, she didn’t volunteer, she didn’t contribute anything to the city and she needed a spa break?
Ruby tried to tell the authorities that Amber had intended to go to the Knock Knock with her older boyfriend. There was apparently no record of that visit ever having taken place. Just like there was no trace of Jim Feltz. A call had been made to his favored mistress, Gail, though.
A personal visit to Gail at the Weir had told Ruby she was chasing her tail.
“You can stay if you like,” Gail offered when she had no more information to share. “I can give you a Feltz family discount.”
Disgruntled that her father had disappeared – no doubt to cover his own ass for embezzling funds – Ruby knew she had to hold the fort. The Hot Seat may have been vacant but it was up to her to keep the Feltz name synonymous with political change.
“Get that paid back!” she demanded of her father when she checked the accounts and found them amiss.
“Just a little juggling, that’s all,” Jim Feltz had insisted. He was struggling to pay the Owen family back the money he owed them.
“This isn’t a fucking circus,” Ruby barked. “Get it paid back or I take it to the Law Makers. We’re trying to campaign for another term. If you don’t keep your promises you’ll never make reelection. You told the people of the Shanties you’d help them but you’ve done jack shit and that doesn’t go unnoticed. Do you know you’ve been falling behind in the latest polls to Ernest Beckingridge? Ernest fucking Beckingridge. That’s how much faith the people of the city have in you.”
“It’s hard to be put up against the money he has. He’ll be popular because he can fund projects,” Jim tried to reason.
“Ernest is not mayor material. It’s a mockery to you to even have him on the ballot. You told me when I was finishing my degree that dirty politics were the reason Coldford was nicknamed the Shady City and it had nothing to do with the weather. When you said that I thought you set out to beat them not join them. Put the money back.”
“Ruby,” he said. “You have no fucking idea what you’re getting yourself into.”
“Don’t call me that. I fucking hate that. My name is Ruby.”
Jim Feltz had decided his daughter’s middle name sounded more political.
The mayoral office had been buzzing with activity the morning the mayor’s disappearance had officially been declared. Campaign recruits, officials and assistants were all dashing back and forth.
“Find me flight tickets, hotel bookings, travel logs, anything that might give some idea where he went. Anything you find send detective Hickes to CPD,” Ruby declared and they listened.
Mayor Jim Feltz may have sat in the Hot Seat but anyone working at City Face at that time knew Ruby was the real leader.
When she heard that Tabitha had returned to Knock Knock club and there still no new information on her father’s whereabouts she arranged to meet with me. When I arrived at Bobby’s lunch box, Ruby was already seated.
“You’re interview is waiting,” said Bobby, pointing to my usual spot.
“How are you Ruby?” I asked the auburn haired woman of similar age to myself as I took a seat across from her.
“Sick to my stomach,” she admitted. “I can’t believe they let that bitch walk. She knows where my dad is and I don’t care what anyone says.”
“I’m sorry,” I found myself saying. “I thought I could crack the story.”
Ruby smiled. “You did better than that. You went to the club and you had her brought in. That took nerve. It’s not your fault she got away. The whole city has gone to the dogs. North side is in absolute chaos right now. I know the video I sent wasn’t easy to look at but I needed you to have it.”
The video she referred to was the burning of Agnes Wilde. As a representative of the Northside area her first priority was protecting her people. The fall out from the Wigan priest, Renfield’s, actions put them all in danger. She also happened to be a defector from the Church of St Wigan which she had been raised in.
“I never thought I’d see a sitting mayor face firing squad, not in my life time,” she spoke of Mickey Doyle. “Sweet mother! I knew Mickey Doyle was a slithering little cunt. He tried to touch up a friend of mine at a party years ago. I told him to report it but he said it wasn’t worth the headache. Besides, they would just laugh him out of City Face if he did. Off the record Judge Doyle is a cunt. On the record she sure clamped down on things but my father is still missing. Those who are responsible are raising a finger from the piss stained little club in the south. I wouldn’t mind so much if it weren’t for my sister. She was a stupid little girl. She thought she knew everything, typical teenager. I want to get to the bottom of what happened to her.”
Ruby took a breath. “Sorry, just seeing her on the news really got to me.”
I had to ask, “why are you so certain Tabitha is responsible?”
Ruby scowled. “Don’t tell me she got to you?”
“No,” I assured quite passionately. “But if I’m going to pick up the trail I need to know what brought you to this conclusion. The last time we spoke you said he was last seen in public at Knock Knock. The following morning he set off for City Face but was taking a detour via a mistress. Something you admitted he made a habit of. Apart from having spent the night before at the club why else puts Tabitha in the frame?”
“Just a hunch, I guess,” Ruby had to admit. “But it’s a damn good one.”
“I caught a glimpse of what goes on at the club. I got an insight into why she was lashing out but it’s all part of a bigger picture. The Owen’s were funding your father’s campaign. His interests in the Shanties dwindled to nothing and then when the Owens started to push for return, he embezzled funds and planned on skipping town. Unfortunately, none of this means anything without evidence of foul play. If you’re able to tell me anything new we could blow the whole thing wide open.”
“It’s difficult with people like Tabitha being able to walk free whilst good men like Howard Bergman are taken in on murder charges,” I commented, still unable to believe Howard would have anything to do with the death of Cameron Doyle. “Do you know the Bergmans?”
“I do,” she said a little morosely. “Seth and I used to date when we were teenagers. He’s a good guy. His whole family are. When I heard what Howard had been accused of, I laughed. I figured it would have been over and done with by now. Surely even a cunt like Karyn Doyle would have let him go by now.”
“It doesn’t look that way,” I said. “He could very well go down for it.”
“I’ll tell you something,” Ruby offered. “Completely off the record.”
“Go on,” I urged.
“On the night the Bergman freighter was supposed to have gone over to the island inlet I was on the docks. I saw Isaac Bergman arguing with Billy Owen. I can’t be certain but I think he had Irvine Stoker with him. The Owens have used the Stokers as a front for years. They were up to something.”
“Did you tell this to the Law Makers?” I asked.
“No,” was her astounding reply.
“Because official records would show I wasn’t on the docks at the time.”
I frowned. “Ruby? What did you do?”
“I was putting a hit out on Tabitha.”
I shook my head and took a deep breath.
“An innocent man could very well receive the death penalty. You have to tell the Law Makers what you saw.”
Ruby shook her head. “It’s not going to make a difference. All that’s going to do is put me next in the Owen firing line.”
“Ruby,” I urged. “If you know something you have to come forward.”
Late the previous evening, Howard Bergman had been taken to a holding room. There Judge Doyle had been waiting for him. He was sat across from her. She held him in an unsettling gaze, scrutinising.
“I can’t imagine the grief you are going through,” Howard began proceedings. “But you can’t seriously believe that I would ever hurt Cameron? You know me.”
“Howard, I am fond of you. This is by no means easy for me. I know you, yes, but throughout my career I have seen the most unexpected people do terrible things. There are no limits to what people are capable of. Civilisation might have grown over the years but there is still an undisciplined animal in all of us. Even you. I can only go with the facts and those facts are my son’s body was found in your mine, which Isaac’s signature allowed access to. Issaac is missing and Cameron’s body was stored. Vera was found with him.
“Your ring. Vera’s remains.”
When Howard’s wife had died by her own request Vera’s ashes had been taken and her earthly light was transformed into precious jewels, which Howard wore on his finger as a ring as did Elsa. Seth wore his ring on a chain around his neck.
“You are placed at the scene of the crime and two of your transporters were found having hung themselves, Sal Markowitz and Arthur Stiller.”
“I didn’t have my ring. I told that to the investigators. I told them it had gone missing the day before,” Howard explained.
“Did you report it to anyone?”
“No. I just figured it was around the house. You know I’m never without it.”
“That’s the problem. I’ve never known you to take it off,” said Doyle. She sighed. “Howard Bergman. I hereby sentence you to death for the murder of Cameron Doyle.”
She watched the dread dissolve through her long time friend.
“Is there anything you wish to say?”
Howard shook his head. “Just that I hope they do find Cameron’s killer. I truly hope you find closure.”
There was a chill in the air but the sun peeked out from behind the clouds as Dominick walked along the promenade with the two Chamberlain children by his side. Frances was devouring a dark cherry ice cream. Charlotte had opted for a sugar dip. Dominck himself was indulging a sweet tooth with caramel. All was courtesy of McIvor’s Ice Cream parlour, home of the sweetest treats on the bay.
“When can we go back over to the city, Uncle Dom?” Francis asked. He was beginning to miss life at Kingsgate school.
Dominick was craning his neck to catch the caramel before it dripped.
“Soon,” he said. “It’s safer for ye here right now.”
“I really want to go over,” insisted the little boy.
“Hush Francis,” Charlotte scorned. “You were told we’ll go soon.”
Francis did hush and said no more of it.
“Your Eminence!” a pitiful cry was heard when they arrived back on the commune. “Your Eminence, please!”
Dominick stopped. He groaned. “It doesn’t sound like you’re repenting, Barbara.”
He wiped the caramel from his finger tips on the front of his robes. He stormed over to where a deep hole had been dug in the private bay the rear of the commune. It was too deep to climb out of and had been reinforced with wood so there was no digging through. Lying in that hole, dressed in her underwear, was Barbara Tulloch. She wasn’t alone though. She had hundreds of Agar sand beetles to keep her company. They swarmed around her body in waves. Dominick looked down the hole at her.
“I beg you for forgiveness!” she shrieked. She had been down there for days by then.
“It’s not for me to forgive ye,” Dominick told her. “I merely pass on Wigan’s word and Wigan tells me ye’r a midden and belong in a hole in the ground.”
“Ouch!” Barbara yelped as she was bitten by a beetle crawling up her arm.
Her body was already covered in blisters. The agar sand beetles, commonly known as the bay biters, can deliver sharp, venomous little bites. They begin with with a small patch of redness. Eventually it will blister. By the time you’ve finished your picnic on the beach you could be returning home on the ferry with a pretty nasty sore. Some repellent spray is advised. Cleaning away food, especially sweet treats, is also suggested as it can attract them.
“Did ye fornicate with a heethen gypsy?” Dominick asked.
“No, Your Eminence, I swear I didn’t. It’s not true!”
“Did you desecrate the Wigan cross!?”
“No, Your Eminence, I did not. Ouch!”
She had been bitten again. Barbara tried to stomp but it only sent beetles crawling up her leg.
“Ouch!” she cried again.
Charlotte peered in the hole out of curiosity. It was shortly followed by a hesitant Francis.
“Can I pour my dip in, Uncle Dom?” she asked.
Dominick glared at Barbara. Then his expression changed to one of delight.
“Sure,” he said. “Why not?”
Charlotte cheered as she tipped her dip into the hole Babara Tulloch had found herself in.
The pure sugar sent the beetles into a frenzy. It was a little trick Charlotte had learned from the commune children. Barbara screamed as the insects chomped on her flesh.
“Repent!” cried Charlotte with a laugh.
The three walked away.
“There’s the rain starting,” Dominick commented. Then he said to his nephew, “will ye eat yer ice cream, Francis, its starting to melt.”
“I got news from Leona,” Bart came to them, still holding the letter his sister had sent. “She’s pregnant.”
“Already?” Dominick asked. “That’s good news. Always nice to hear of a new wee baba on the way. We should celebrate.”
“Open the gate. Heading down the seventh depth!” Jake Fullerton could hear the guards call.
The seventh depth was the deepest part of the building. It had been a dungeon in its early days. Now it was home to Buzzkill, Coldford’s electric chair. Recently the chair had found many occupants so hearing the guards leading inmates down to the seventh depths was becoming a common occurrence. Breaking the monotony of the day Jake took a look from his cell just as the guards were leading Buzzkills latest ‘light up’ across the gangway. He had to peer closer through his bars. He was a little unkempt and there was a slight gait in his walk but Jake recognized him.
“Fuck me!” he declared. “That’s Howard fucking Bergman!” he said to his cellmate Matty.
Matty rushed to join him. “The diamond guy?” he wondered.
“He’s about the straightest guy in Coldford. He’s getting the chair?”
“Whatever is going on out there,” decided Matty, “we are better off in here.”
Jake nodded. “I think you’re right there, mate. Who’s gone and pissed the Jews off?”
The Bergman estate was rarely to be found a somber place but the homiest part of it was quiet.
Seth had combed his hair, brushed his teeth and put on a mournful grey suit. He functioned the same way he usually would but it was like an outer body experience. As he described it nothing seemed real. You see that afternoon was to be the execution of Bergman patriarch Howard, for the murder of Cameron Doyle. The only true innocent person I had seen thus far subjected to Article 22.
“We’ll see you there.”
Those were Seth’s last words to his father. What else was there to say?
Glass hitting the stone floor alerted Seth to the kitchen. When he got there he found Elsa standing by the fridge. A Glass container of milk had slipped from her hands.
“The milk’s gone bad,” she said. “The milk expired!”
Seth crossed the kitchen and took his sister in his arms.
“I’ll be home before the milk expires,” Howard’s optimism had promised. He never broke promises to his family but there was no keeping that promise now.
“Hurry Ruby,” Olivia urged. “We don’t have long.”
Olivia Hickes and Ruby Feltz were on their way to The Boss. When Seth Bergman approached her that morning he helped her realize that she still had the opportunity to save an innocent man from the death penalty.
She had been passing the Bergman Parade in Timeline when she heard Seth call on her.
“Good morning Mrs Hickes.”
Olivia stopped. She had a coffee in hand and was on her way to City Face to meet with Ruby Feltz. She and Ruby had always been close. Ruby, fronting her father’s campaign, had taken a great interest in Olivia when she looked into her work with troubled children. She had been the first one to speak on behalf of Olivia when Dennis’ paedophile ring was exposed.
“She didn’t know anything about it and you’re not going to stand here and tell me otherwise,” Ruby warned those who were eager to have Olivia fall with her ex-husband.
Seth looked a little tired as expected. Olivia knew they had been given the worst news and were just waiting out the time but as the clock of City Face tick boomed down the street towards them Seth saw her as one last chance.
“Mrs Hickes, I was wondering if I could bother you for some help,” he said, sounding a little desperate. “I don’t want to put you in a bad position or anything like that but your ex-husband might have seen something down at the docks with Isaac and the freighter. It’s a long shot but if you could speak to him and ask him if there’s anything that he knows it might help …”
It was a long shot. If Seth was asking her to reopen those wounds it was a sure sign he had in fact ran out of options.
When she relayed this request to Ruby, Ruby pursed her lips.
“Don’t get in touch with that creep,” she suggested. “There is something that might help but if I do this I’m going to need you to throw what support you can behind me because I will have my collar felt for it.”
That was when Ruby explained about what she saw.
“Why didn’t you say something before?” Olivia asked. “You know Howard was being held on Article 22 …”
“So was every one. I honestly thought the charges on Howard would have been laughed out of High Court. Those Owens are good if they set him up. I’ll give them that. I’ll take a lot of heat with this and that’s where I need you to back me. Doyle trusts you.”
Olivia agreed to smooth things over with Doyle if Ruby made a statement to the lawmakers and let the chips fall where they may.
“You’ll need to come here and make a statement to Doyle herself, ” Remar said to them over the phone. “I can’t stop anything without her permission so you better get here fast.”
Ruby was leaving messages at the High Court but Doyle had already left for the Boss. As they made their way north she tried calling again. “This reception is shit,” explained she.
“We’re not going to make it. We have a half hour to get there and I can’t even see The Boss yet,” said Olivia.
She spoke into her car phone. “Lydia, are you still with us?”
Lydia replied in a comm from Kitty. “Yeah I’m right here.”
“I’m going to need to you speed ahead. We need to stop this execution and we’re not going to make it in time. Tell Judge Doyle we’re on our way with information important to Howard’s case.”
Kitty sped past Olivia’s car and she disappeared into the distance. Hoping the speed of Lydia’s bike would be fast enough, Ruby returned her attention to trying to reach someone who could delay.
Elsa and Seth had been led to a room where they would view the execution. Elsa hesitated by the door.
“I can’t go in there,” she said. “I’m not going in there.”
Seth clutched her. “I know how you feel but if this is going to be the last thing he looks out upon then don’t you think it should be us?”
“We have to take him home. They can’t do this to him, surely?”
Seth had been asking himself that same question ever since Howard had been taken in. At first it was an inconvenience. Then it became a nuisance. Now it was dread. The conviction had been confirmed. The sentence had been passed. Their father was going to die.
I had arrived at that moment as Elsa hugged her brother and tried to pull herself together. It had been a first time meeting in person and I did regret it couldn’t have been under more pleasant circumstances.
“I’m so sorry,” I said to the both of them. “I’ve lost friends to Article 22. I just wish there was more I could have done.”
Seth patted my shoulder. “Thanks Sam. Your job isn’t over though. You can continue what you started for others.”
With that in mind I followed them inside to document one of the most difficult moments I had experienced since arriving in Coldford. I took a seat behind Seth and Elsa. Eli and Sophie hadn’t come. Sophie would still be working to the very last minute on anything she could find that would help. Her son, who was a clerk for the Law Makers, would be also. Isaac was of course still missing, in the hands of the Stokers.
There sat the empty chair. Old, uncomfortable with the metal hat just hanging about it. Buzzkill looked uncomfortable enough as it was but with the addition of the bars to secure the condemned hands and legs to her gave some impression of a medieval torture device. Straps like tentacles were laced around her wooden body ready to clasp and drag into Hell.
When they brought Howard out it was a completely different persona from that I had met at Bergman Estate. A little unsteady on his feet, rough, his Bergman blue eyes clouded, his face drawn and gaunt. He attempted a smile when he saw his children but it was weakened. Elsa kissed her fingers to him.
Remar was leading the proceedings. Howard was sat upon Buzzkill’s lap. Before being secured, before the procedure went any further Remar made clear his charges and his sentence.
“Howard Bergman,” he said. “You have been found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. A current of electricity will now be passed through your body until you are dead. Do you have anything you wish to say before sentence is carried out?”
I could hear Seth in front of me whisper, “say something. Say something.”
Howard looked up and for a brief period it looked like his old strength had returned. For a time I thought he would offer some words. But he didn’t. He chose to remain silent. Whilst the officers prepared to secure him, Remar went to check on the first of Buzzkill’s switches.
“I hope she makes it,” Ruby was saying. “I can’t get ahold of anyone.”
They could see The Boss now. It was the first thing that was to be seen upon arrival in the northern town of Bournton. That being said, time was running out.
Luckily Lydia was closer. She was now making her way past the tip of the town and onto the ascent towards the great monstrous fortress.
She arrived at the gates with ten minutes of the clock still to run. She still had to get inside. She still had to find Judge Doyle. She still had to stop the execution from going ahead. Ten minutes slipped by fast.
Strapped to the chair. Howard remained stationed. He focused ahead and was mumbling something to himself, words of comfort, a prayer, or perhaps words to his deceased wife saying he would see her soon.
The sponge, to help the electricity pass, was placed on his head. Then Buzzkill’s jaws started to close slowly on her prey. Her arms wrapped around him in her lethal embrace. I could hear a faint buzz as the first switch was flipped. Howard gasped. The lights overhead began to flicker. Elsa clutched her brother’s arm. Seth leaned forward closing his eyes.
Then the power died.
Remar rushed across to consult one of his officers.
“We’ve been attacked,” Howard heard the guard say.
“Halt!” Remar ordered the rest. “We’re under attack.”
Outside, a chorus of alarms rang. Lydia had sped on Kitty around the body of The Boss to the gates. The clock had almost lost its ten minutes then. There was not enough time to fetch Doyle or even relay her message to the Judge. Olivia and Ruby were still out of reach. Olivia’s car would have more difficulty navigating the town of Bournton than Kitty did. Lydia had to catch their attention and there was only one way she could stop proceedings immediately.
She aimed at the gates. She pulled the trigger.
The blast hit the gates. Immediately the guards came rushing. The alarms cried out. Lydia dropped to her knees with her hands behind her head keeping her badge clutched between her fingers.
“I’m Agent Lowe,” she said when the guards came to apprehend her. “I have an urgent message for Judge Doyle.”
Remar listened to a message relayed from one of the tower guards. He looked out to the family, to the other expectant faces. My own were among a sea of confused expressions.
“She’s a bitch with real balls,” said Remar of Lydia. “Get her in here,” he instructed the guards.
He approached Howard.
“Howard Bergman. You are one lucky man, buddy,” he said. “Today is not the day.” He turned and as though speaking to the volt-spitting monster that was Buzzkill he said, “it’s not today!”
Seth stood to speak to one of the other guards. I myself wanted to push for more information.
“The Boss is under attack?” I asked a guard.
“Someone hit the guard towers and the gates.”
“Sam! Sam!” Seth came rushing over from making his own investigations. “I don’t know exactly what but a message has reached Judge Doyle. Olivia Hickes is on her way with a statement that could clear my father.” He sniffed. “I don’t want to get too excited but if it’s true …”
“Your father’s life may have been saved,” I finished for him.
He squeezed my arm with an affectionate but shaky hand. “Those agents…” he said. “Those fucking agents!” he smiled broadly.
A commotion sounded. We turned. Howard had fainted.
“Dad!” Seth Bergman rushed to greet Howard as he returned home. The Law Makers who had escorted him departed abruptly. Howard embraced his son. His stubble and his unkempt hair made him seen like a poor imitation of himself. He was too pale and already looked a little malnourished. He insisted he had been treated well enough but given the man who arrested him – Billy fucking Owen – was CPD commissioner Seth really doubted that.
Howard stumbled a little forward. He clutched Seth’s arm.
“I’m so glad to see you,” said the father.
“It’s good to have you home,” the son replied.
“Pour me a whiskey, would you?”
Seth crossed the kitchens to the liquor cabinet and took out a fresh bottle of Macks. He had started to pour a glass for his dad when the door from the lounge was thrown open.
“Dad!” Elsa came rushing when she heard her father’s voice.
She fell into his arms, kissing his cheek and he lifted her from her feet squeezing her tightly.
“You hungry? I can call Bobby’s or something,” Elsa offered, not much of a cook herself.
“I’m fine,” he insisted taking the whiskey. “Maybe we can all eat together later.”
Seth drew a cigarette case, from his pocket, flicked it open and collected a fresh cigarette. He lit it as he watched Howard settle into a stool at the breakfast bar. Taking a draw on his cigarette Seth asked the question.
“So how are we going to proceed?”
Howard glugged down the whiskey. The warmth settled in his stomach and his body eased. “What do you mean?” he had to clarify.
“I mean those fucktard Owens need to pay for what the tried to do to you. I mean I’m going to cut that self important grin right off of Billy Owen’s face!”
“You will do nothing of the sort!” Howard warned.
Seth’s nostrils flared with anger. He knew his father would be exhausted. He had been through a lot but he couldn’t help himself. He had contained his anger for too long.
“You can’t be serious?” he raged. “Dad, we were there to watch you die! They were so close to pushing the fucking button!”
“Seth!” Howard barked. “Do not swear at me like that.”
Seth looked away and took another draw of his cigarette.
Howard addressed his daughter. “Elsa, would you give us a moment. I would like to speak to your brother.”
Elsa acquiesced and headed out to the gardens to find Eli.
When they were alone Howard said to his son, “I know you are upset and understandably so but the fact of the matter is I’m an innocent man and I was found as such. Elijah works very hard. Your Aunt Sophie works very hard to keep things in order. Innocent people are protected and those who commit crimes are punished. That is the law. It should not be bent for some vigilante agenda. Violence only begets more violence. Then what do we have? Chaos. We have children being gunned in the street, funeral mourners being attacked by knives and fire, the little McInney girl throwing people from the top of Beckingridge Tower. Where does is it end? It ends with people like us taking a stand and continuing to do the right thing. We’ve lost so much already. Reginald Penn was a good man but he was also an aggressive one. There was only one way his life was ever going to end. He made his peace with that but through his choices Rita died too and now the triplets are without parents. There is also one factor in all of this that you seem to be forgetting – quite possibly the most important part. A young man was murdered. A mother is without her son. The killer is still at large.”
Seth had calmed but his sentiment had little changed.
“If it hadn’t been for Olivia Hickes you wouldn’t be standing here right now,” he reminded his father.
Howard nodded. “That is true. That is why she stands as the perfect example of doing the right thing and why that’s important.”
Seth lifted a diamond-encrusted ash-tray from the counter and flicked the ash from his cigarette into it.
“I’ll drop the subject if you can answer me one thing. Would you be saying the same if it were I or Elsa or any of us in that chair?”
Howard took a deep breath. He had to think about it.
“I would,” he said finally. “And I would be so damn grateful to Olivia Hickes for doing the right thing.”
The door to the gardens was opened as Eli came charging in.
“Uncle Howie!” he cheered almost knocking him from his stool as he wrapped his arms around him.
Howard laughed, patting his shoulder. “Good to see you too!”
Eli stepped back. “I thought you were a goner. That’s why the death penalty is bullshit. How many innocent people has it taken?”
“Well that’s for you and the Law Makers to fix,” Howard relented. “In the meantime I’m going to take a bath, wash off these past weeks and maybe we can start looking for some normality.”
Elsa said to her brother. “You’re not going to drop it, are you?”
“Not by a long shot. Those Owen cunts and their Stoker associates have gone too far. They still have Isaac.”
The area outside of Harbour House could be considered some of the most beautiful scenery the city had to offer. Even under Winslow the facility put its best foot forward. We couldn’t have visitors arriving at a morbid place now could we? That just simply wouldn’t do at all the former doctor would say.
Enjoying freedom, fresh air and a chance to distance himself from the city a little, Howard parked the silver estate car he drove in the visitor’s area and made his way to the entrance. As he reached the doors they opened from within and who should alight but Charles ‘Chick’ Owen. Both men stopped in a daze not having expected to meet face to face in such a way.
“Charles …” Howard greeted politely but with a tension across his brow.
“Howard?” The Cappy responded. “You’re looking well.”
“Well for someone who was sat on Buzzkill not a few days ago you mean?”
Chick managed a smile. “Well, how you like. I never got the chance to thank your boy proper for returning my asset. I’ll show my appreciation someday.”
“Seth always does me proud,” Howard replied. “If you still need Bernard’s alterations fixed I’m sure the Rothensteins would be happy to take a look.”
The tension cut across The Cappy’s brow then. He was pretty sure more than enough people had taken a look thanks to Buddy. He had told Ronnie he would join his nephew in traction if he didn’t stay out his way for a while when he learned he had known about it.
Howard went on. “I hope Bernard is doing well. I heard he had a right hiding from the agents. Anyway, I must dash. I have a lot to catch up on.”
Howard went inside Harbour House, leaving The Cappy scowling after the merchant.
Lydia and Kim were at the reception with Beverly and Chloe.
“Ahhh! There she is!” Howard announced his presence by addressing Lydia cheerfully.
“Agent, there is nothing I can say or do that could possibly make up to you for what you did for me. But I want you to have this. It’s a little token of my appreciation.”
Howard presented a Bergman box, opened it and lying in a bed of black velvet was a princess cut diamond necklace.
Lydia’s eyes brightened. “Wow!” she exclaimed. “So pretty.”
“It’s the very least you deserve after taking such personal risk,” Howard went on. “It’s from the Scholl mine in Levinkrantz. It was named after one of the most courageous women I have ever known. You see, the Countess Edith Scholl rescued countless children from the blitz, including myself and my sister.”
Howard took the necklace. Still besotted by the gift Lydia lifted her hair as Howard clipped it delicately around her neck.
“Thanks to Edith’s selflessness and bravery many lives were saved. She opened her home to us and put herself in danger to keep us safe. I can’t think of another woman so worthy to carry her name and spirit.”
To Kim Howard said, “you have a real gem on your team there, agent.”
Kim took great pride in Lydia’s admiration. “Glad she was able to help, Mr Bergman,” she responded.
“Howard, please,” he insisted. “Any of your team are welcome at The Parade or my home. If there is anything I can ever do just let me know.”
“Thank you,” Kim smiled.
Lydia was admiring her new necklace.
“Well I won’t keep you. I’ll let you get on with your good work.”
As Howard left, Franklin had arrived from the main body of the building. He clocked the necklace.
“Ohhh!” he exclaimed. “Beautiful shiny! Let me see it babe.”
He rushed to inspect closer.
Precious gems were few in the Shady City so it was good to see what little there were get the recognition they deserved.
Check out these other thriller titles available now.