The agents had been warned to keep off the beaten track on the way to the Owen Express. The Cappy was pleased to hear the bros had been collected. We shared a video call from Owen Ranch in Coldford in which Dan was able to update us on what had happened so far. This was when I first caught a glimpse of Teddy.
He was an Owen who lived on the fringes of his family. He liked that just fine. He kept a ranch of his own and he lived a quiet existence. In his way, Chick was envious of this. It was a life he himself would have loved. The family shunned Teddy but Chick received letters from him almost daily. The Cappy had been the one to set him up with his ranch. There was only one request and that was that he be kept informed on all the little details – the animals, the visitors, how peaceful it was. The Cappy loved nothing more than sipping his coffee and reading about life as a real rancher. It set him up proper for his day of dealing with the nonsense that was expected of the Owen Inc. CEO.
“It’s good to see you, Ted,” Chick smiled in a way that I had never seen him before.
His shoulders relaxed like a weight had been lifted from them and it wasn’t just the retrieval of his wayward son.
Teddy tipped his hand. “Always great to see you Charles,” he said. To me he added, “You must be Sam. An equal pleasure.”
“How are the boys?” Chick asked. I know how much he dreaded that question. He told me so before we made the call.
“Fuck you!” we could hear Buddy yell quite clearly in the background.
Dan swung his camera around quick enough to catch Buddy leaping behind a bush. The camera returned to Dan.
“He’s indisposed,” he informed us.
“I’ll bet he is,” Chick growled. “No matter. I’ll be sure to see him when he gets home. The Express is stationed at a small midway stop along the rail road. It should be quiet.”
“Dan,” I spoke up. “You mentioned the ones they owed money to spoke of a red cobra?”
“Did you find anything?” asked Dan.
“No,” I had to admit. “They are either a brand new group or they are so underground no one has heard of them. I’ve asked Agent Reynolds. He has his hands full with his own case at the moment but he says he’ll ask around.”
“Let me know if you hear anything,” requested the documentarian. “These guys weren’t messing and Kim reckons we haven’t seen the last of them.”
The Cappy told him, “Get to the train and y’all should be clear. Keep the boys sober and we’ll talk again when you’re on your way.”
At that we rang off.
“Well, Sam,” The Cappy said to me. “Will you join me in a drink? Those boys have my nerves shattered and I’m like a cat on a hot tin roof.”
I knew exactly how he felt.
“Don’t mind if I do,” said I.
Meanwhile, over in the Great States the Good Gang were preparing themselves to make the stretch to the Owen Express. Whilst Kim and Lydia plotted their next moves Teddy decided to spend some time with his young relative. Buddy was already in a foul mood. He was sat on a rock like a stropping teenager. His head was pounding as the sobriety made him feel things like he had never felt before – like guilt for instance. He knew he should have just gone home. His mama, Ida Mae, would be worried. Maybe he was going to have to learn to grow up. His frown deepened as Teddy sat beside him. Buddy shuffled along, almost falling off the other side.
“Your daddy cares a lot about ya, you know,” Teddy told him.
‘Gayyyyy,’ was Buddy’s thought.
“He wants what’s best for you but you gotta step up.”
“You’re gonna to be head of this family one day. I know that’s big shoes to fill but you can do it if you set your mind straight and keep from those drugs.”
Buddy sighed. “What do you know, brah?” he put to him. “You ain’t even a part of this family anymore. You walked away.”
As I said, Teddy had chosen to live on the Owen fringes. He didn’t argue though. He let the quiet fall between them so Buddy could make up his own mind.
“You just left,” said Buddy.
“It all happened a few years back. You remember Pops’ birthday?”
Buddy grinned. He remembered that alright. There was no sobriety there. It had been the last time he had seen Teddy now that he thought about it.
“I had gotten talking to this gentleman from Liberty State. He was nice and I enjoyed hearing all about the theme park he had there. It was real exciting. Some wires crossed somewhere along the line and the gentlemen tried to kiss me. I explained to him in sensitive terms that I was not his type. The gentlemen apologised, we shook hands and we were laughing again. There were no hard feelings. What I did not realise was Billy had seen this and his mind went a wandering. He made such a scene both the gentleman and I were deeply embarrassed. He shouted loud enough for all to hear. ‘A’body knows Ted chugs on horse dick all day and now we know the reason why.’”
Buddy snickered. He had heard the statement exactly in William ‘Billy’ Owen’s voice.
“Sorry,” Buddy mumbled and Teddy went on.
“My own father humiliated me and worse that gentlemen, who had done nothing wrong. He had just gotten the wrong idea was all. Pops eventually stepped in and told them if they didn’t quit their bitchin’ he would take them all outside. I knew then I would be much happier on my own knowing my family could reach me if they needed me.”
“I thought you didn’t want any more to do with us,” said Buddy. “You left us. You hated us. You were the only one who talked to me like I weren’t a dumb shit and after I had sobered up after Pops’ party you were gone. Billy said you had a house full of homos and spent your days having orgies.”
Teddy frowned a little but then he smiled.
“None of that is true,” Teddy assured. “You know how Billy can be.”
Buddy did know how Billy could be. He was relentless. He had once tried to join glee club. Buddy loved to sing but then Billy found out and that was the end of that.
“My point is,” Teddy went on, “it’s going to be up to you one day to keep this family in order. To do that you gotta be strong. I don’t just mean strong with a gun in your hand, but with your mind. Like Pops had a way with words or like your daddy uses his head. You ain’t gonna have none of that if you keep taking drugs.”
“Teddy,” Buddy groaned.
Then he must have thought of something and changed his mind. “Thanks.”
Teddy’s smile widened. “You’re a good boy, Buddy. You just gotta listen to the right people is all. I am deeply sorry I wasn’t there for you but we’re here now so let’s make the most of it.”
“Right, let’s move on,” Kim called. “We want to get to the train before dark.”
Teddy stood. “Yes, ma’am,” he said.
He reached out his hand and helped Buddy to his feet. Buddy lowered his head and said awkwardly, “You’re still an Owen, Teddy.”
“I’m mighty glad of that,” Ted replied.
Then Buddy bounced over to his bros.
“You should see the lizard Chad found,” Cooper could be heard calling. “He licked it and now he has tunnel vision.”
Beaten, bruised and ego deflated, the bros finally rested quietly. As always Chad seemed to be one to keep up morale.
“We should have stayed on the bay,” he said.
This wasn’t necessarily a morale boosting statement but it reminded Buddy of how worse off they could be. They had come a long way since then. Those monks were pretty pissed. They were safe in the hands of the agents now. Sure, those hands were cuffed but at least the bear lady one – I believe this was in reference to Kim – hadn’t completely beaten their asses. Buddy didn’t think he could take that kind of heat sober. Cooper was sitting quietly on the fence. Chad? Well, Chad loved a challenge. The thought of returning to Coldford give Buddy a lot of grief. The Cappy would be pissed. He just had to hope he hadn’t had a call from the Church of Wigan. Or worse, an invoice for damages.
You see, it all began on a quiet afternoon when the bay had settled into a sombre rest. The waves lashed and the seabirds cried. Word of the Mack funeral had reached the island and Dominick Cole had been praying quietly at his altar. He wasn’t praying for the Macks. They were all thieving gypsies and any harm that befell them was Wigan’s will because fuck them! What he was praying for was some peace and comfort for his own people. Maybe now that the Macks were gone, his own people could get the supplies they needed without them being stolen or destroyed. Seriously, fuck those Macks!
Dominick took a deep breath. It’s wasn’t good to wish ill on anyone but when you heard those Macks had received their dues it was difficult not to be pleased. Praise Wigan!
Dominick’s quiet contemplations were interrupted by Bartholemew.
“Dom?” he said. “We’ve got some new arrivals.”
Dominick raised himself from his knees. The Mack comeuppance had come at the right time. They were going to need those supplies from Northside if they were to have more mouths to feed.
“You better come quickly. They’re causing a bit of a stir.”
Causing a bit of a stir…If there was ever a calling card for the bros that was it.
“What kind of stir?” His Eminence asked the loaded question.
“It’s mostly among the lassies,” Bart tried to explain.
Dominick followed Bart out of the church and to the scene he had been referring to. The girls had flocked when they heard the Great States accents rising high above all others. It was so much more glamorous then the earthy droll of the islanders.
“Don’t panic, Your Eminence!” Father Peter Millicent came rushing to him.
Dominick frowned. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“These three brothers-”
“Bros, brah,” Buddy corrected.
“These three bros are looking for refuge in our commune.”
Dominick narrowed his gaze suspiciously.
“Welcome… bros…” he said. Buddy in particular seemed familiar to him. “Have we met?”
“He’s the nephew of Jerry Owen, Your Eminence,” Peter explained.
“Jerry Owen?” Dominick became even more suspicious.
“You know,” Peter started to point out all the typical Owen features. “The hair, the teeth, the chin…”
“The Godballs, brah!” Buddy added proudly.
“Nooooooo!” Dominick gasped.
Jerry Owen had been a Wigan priest of such ill repute whole sections of the Holy Book had to be rewritten to accommodate. Needless to say he had left quite a reputation behind in the commune.
One of the girls had clutched Cooper’s arm. She was staring at him like a doe eyed pop fan. She was enjoying the flex of his muscles.
Dominick batted her hand away.
“Stop that!” he warned. “Don’t encourage them.”
The girl lowered her head but she was still thrilled.
“What do you say, brah?” Buddy requested to know. “There’s a lot going on over in the city. We got praying to do and shit. You hooking a bro up?”
“It’s fucking uncanny,” Dominick groaned with widened eyes as Jerry Owen’s exact words came back to haunt him.
Wigan welcomes all. At least that is what the commune says. Historically, even Noah Wigan – the saint that he was – was pushed to the end of his patience by Hen Owen, who founded the Kappa So fraternity, and his ye olde bros.
“Maybe they would be good at helping out,” Bart suggested.
He was fascinated by Cooper too. The car badges on his jacket made him wonder if he had brought one of his namesake cars over. Bart hoped it was Cherry. He had seen pictures of the red, fire-breathing Mad Dog and it was cool as.
Peter was thinking they should check what Chad had in his pocket that seemed to be attracting so many of the gulls.
With credit to the bros they hadn’t come to the island to freeload. They were happy to help out. They were assigned to Bart’s keeping. Bart fist pumped internally. He had so many questions he wanted to ask them. Mostly he wanted to know if he could have a ride in a Cooper car. Cooper offered him a shot of a bikini clad Cooper show model instead which brings me to the monk’s dilemma.
“You’d turn down a Cooper chick?” The whole idea didn’t compute in Buddy’s brain. Celibacy was a completely foreign concept.
“I’m a monk,” Bart explained. “I’ve sworn my life to St Wigan.”
“I’ve sworn my life to boning, brah,” said Buddy.
It was a life well spent as far as he was concerned. He was completely disregarding the fact that that life had led him to hiding out in a religious commune.
Bart sighed. He was destined for the church as a little lad. He was happy with that but to only find out what boning was like…
“Brah!” Buddy gasped, completely offended by the idea of virginity. “You’ve never boned a chick?”
“I’m jonesing, brah!” Cooper complained. “I’m going to be busting through these robes.”
Ignoring the desperate and somewhat over confident bro, Buddy was still trying to wrap his head around the idea that someone’s life could be dedicated to something other than getting a female into bed. To be fair Bart was now trying to contemplate having a female in bed and life not being filled with prayers and duty.
“Doesn’t it just fall off when it’s not used in so long?” Buddy asked with genuine concern.
Cooper panicked. “Is my cock going to fall off? I mean I haven’t boned in a while.”
“I’ve got a healthy piece, thank you,” Bart insisted with some frustration.
Buddy puckered. If there is an Owen in the room you can pretty much guarantee they will be an expert in male genitalia. There was that weird afternoon where Jerry had shown Bart the ‘hand stand’.
Bart wasn’t sure about women but he did know he had a healthy member. Wigan just demanded it went unused was all.
“That’s oppression,” Chad had almost been moved to tears. “To cut off a man’s dick like that.”
“It’s not cut off,” Bart insisted.
“Brah,” Buddy stepped in. “If you become a monk it’s because your cock was so small you’d be inside a chick and she don’t even know it.”
“Not true,” Bart growled, realising how petulant he sounded.
“I’m not judging,” said Buddy. “I have friends who have tiny dicks. You guys should have like a parade or something to raise some tiny cock awareness. I mean I ain’t ever experienced the kind of bigotry you guys are up against but brah if you are a monk, it’s because you have a tiny cock.”
“I do not have a tiny prick,” Bart insisted.
Ten minutes into mind numbing penile talk from Buddy Owen and the life-long follower of Wigan, named after the hand of St Michael, was arguing like a school boy.
“If it weren’t you’d be boning every mediocre but totally desperate chick on this island.”
Bart had heard enough. It was all about principle now. He knew there would be penance to pay but he gripped his robes and heaved them up.
Dominick who was passing at the time could hear a round of applause echo from the main hall where Bart had been sent to prepare the bros for Wigan life. The scene he happened upon was the three bros clapping and cheering heartily. Chad was whistling.
“You’re right brah,” Buddy was saying. “Wigan does bless.”
Bart dropped his robes again when he saw Dominick glaring at them.
“What the fuck are you doing?” asked the Church leader.
“Making a point,” Bart replied with hesitation.
“What point?” Dominick wondered but then he felt it was best not to know. They would have confession later. “Put yer lad away. They could use some help on the heether fields,” he ordered.
Dressed in robes the bros were delighted.
“We don’t have to wear underwear!” Chad was particularly thrilled. “Wigan is going to be great.”
Passing Dominick he drew himself close, made devil horns with his hands, cried, “Praise Wigan!” And strutted off to the heether fields without the slightest hint of irony.
When they had departed Dominick spotted a Kappa So jacket that had been left behind. He slipped it on, glanced at himself in the mirror, called, “Kappa So!” Then shook his head. He removed the jacket and grumbled, “I just don’t get it.”
He would eventually but I’m still not ready to talk about it.
The Cappy had generously offered board at Owen Ranch whilst we waited on the return of Dan, the agents and the three bros. Like the rest of the house, the room I was given was decorated with memorabilia from the Owen dynasty. One particular piece that intrigued me was a photograph of Robert ‘Bobby’ Owen – affectionately known as Pops. I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet the man personally but I often wondered what his thoughts on his grandson were. From what The Cappy told me later I learned that he was fond of Buddy and would be more anxious than anyone for his safe return.
I had heard The Cappy’s southern tones earlier that evening somewhere down the hall. He had been talking to the young groundskeeper. Chick had just been informed the young man was to become a father. He was congratulating him and offering him a fund for the child’s education. Chick Owen was a harsh, ruthless man. He couldn’t have lasted long in his world if he wasn’t. He was generous though and he took an interest in those who gave their duty to Owen Inc. This was admittedly a distinctive difference from Beckingridge Tower where the staff were lucky if any of the family remembered their names let alone which job they actually performed. That’s not entirely fair to say. Elizabeth’s nephew, George, remembered names well but that was no good thing.
When I came to Owen Ranch to settle in I had expected pomposity, excess and a little arrogance. I did see all those things but in addition to that there was a home. It was Buddy’s home in Coldford and I couldn’t help but notice The Cappy kept nervously returning to his empty room as though expecting to find him there. Then again, he could have been just checking what had been left behind now that there was a reporter in residence.
I was welcomed at Owen Estate. I was well fed, drank my share of bourbon – which The Cappy emptied bottles of without it seeming to have the slightest effect on him. Then I had been shown to a warm bed. The early hours came around. There was an urgent knock on the door.
“Mr Crusow,” a housekeeper stirred me. “The Cappy would like to see you. You had better come quick.”
I found The Cappy in his den, dressed in a robe, looking sleep deprived and opening yet another bottle of bourbon.
“I’m sorry to have woken you,” he said. “But I have some troubling news that I thought you should be made aware of.”
My heart sank. My stomach humbled and I was suddenly sorry I had drank all that bourbon.
“The Express didn’t arrive at its destination. We’ve lost contact with the agents,” Chick explained.
He was as smooth as always in the way that he spoke, but he was worried. The agents must have fallen upon trouble along the way. We could hope they had used a different route and would be in touch soon.
Our adventurers had reached the Owen Express with the bros still in custody and sober. As expected, the train awaited them like a vision through the hazy heat. Dan ran excitedly ahead.
“I can’t believe it! It’s the real Owen Express.”
Kim too was smiling, having finally reached their destination.
The great yellow locomotive was a sight to behold. Engineered in the age of steam by Colton Cooper at the behest of Derek ‘Deek’ Owen, the train still functioned. It’s involvement in the great waterhole heists of the steam age made it a historical piece that people from all round the world travelled to visit and take a ride on.
“You ain’t had a cup of coffee until ya’ll try the brew onboard,” Teddy announced proudly.
Lydia was keen.
The three bros were sat in a booth whilst Teddy offered a tour to Dan, Lydia and Kim. He showed them a space on the wall where a plaque once sat.
“This was where the Cooper plate hung until the heists,” he explained.
Buddy was staring at the table in front.
“Remember when I boned that chick on that table…”
“The rear carriage was refurbished during the Jazz age,” said Teddy. “But the rest of it has been kept to its original design.”
“Impressive,” Kim agreed.
Dan was beaming at the tour, even though he already knew every nook and cranny he had studied it so thoroughly.
“That was the window the fire station had to come and cut out,” Chad was reminiscing. “After we derailed.”
“You think this damn thing would be easier to steer. It’s on a track,” Buddy mused.
Teddy completed his tour by passing out cups of coffee. He gave the first to Kim.
“Here you are, ma’am,” he said. “You go ahead and tell me that’s not the best you’ve ever tasted.”
Kim took a sip. It really was quite tasty.
“We rode through that little town and everybody got high,” Buddy remembered the time they had loaded the train’s engine with weed. When the Express puffed through it sent the surrounding area into a stoned coma.
In the engine room awaited the operator – Miguel Santiago Lopez. He was stood by the engine with a look on his face that suggested the bros had stuffed it full of weed again.
“Can I pull the lever?” Dan asked with excitement.
“Si. Si,” said Miguel, stepping aside clumsily.
Dan was delighted as the express made her signature cry and they were on their way.
It was an exhilarating ride when the Express picked up speed.
“Have you been doing this long?” Dan asked Miguel the driver, taking footage of the man.
Miguel stared blankly into the lens.
“Si. Si,” he replied.
“Excellent,” Dan cheered.
The bros had been sat quietly. After all of the excitement Buddy had started to nod off. Cooper bobbed with the motion of the train. Feeling dehydrated, Chad was shuffling uncontrollably.
“We’re going to need to get them some treatment,” Lydia suggested.
“They’ve got a place at Harbour House waiting for them,” Kim explained. “We just have to get them home.”
Kim was less sympathetic towards the bros. They had done some terrible things but addiction, by its nature, holds the addict to its whim, causing them to behave in despicable ways. When such an addiction had been pushed on them by the likes of Jerry Owen it created demons to struggle against. It created monsters.
Lydia was watching Buddy in particular. He had everything and yet nothing. He was vibrant and truly cared for his closest friends and yet he was spoiled, selfish and had no concept of reality most times. He had it in him to be like his father and grandfather but his wicked uncle seemed to keep pulling him back.
The train shuddered. Buddy awakened with a snort.
Lydia glanced to the window.
“Teddy, do you see that?” she called.
Teddy had been looking from another window.
“Yeah, I see it,” he replied.
A fleet of black high rise vehicles were in pursuit of them. Their large wheels had kicked up so much dust it was difficult to see how many there were.
“Shit!” called Kim. “Get down.”
A shot fired, cracking the window Lydia had been watching from.
“Get down!” Kim ordered the bros.
“Give me a gun!” Buddy requested.
“No fucking way,” Kim barked back.
More shots fired.
“Seriously, bee atch!” Buddy scowled. “Uncuff me and give me a damn gun. I’ll take those mofos out.”
Owen natural ability with firearms would come in useful but Kim would not trust one on a cocaine come down. She would especially not trust any of the bros – even if Buddy could hit a target doing a head stand, high on heethers (true story!).
“Teddy?” Kim called to the Owen she would trust. “Try and get a shot on them. Hit the tires and at least try and slow them down. Lydia? Get to the rear and make sure no one tries to board.” To the bros she warned, “You three, stay down.”
Cooper had already tumbled to the ground but this was because of the rumbling of the train. Being handcuffed he was unable to correct himself.
More shots were fired. Chad threw himself on top of Buddy, knocking him to the ground.
“I’ve got your back, brah,” he said.
“You’ve got my Godballs,” Buddy wheezed.
Meanwhile, Dan found himself trying to motivate Miguel.
“Can this go any faster?” he asked.
“Si. Si,” replied Miguel.
The cars were getting closer. Teddy loaded his guns. He heaved open a window and leaned out.
The front vehicle was caught, and it shuddered off course. More stepped into its place.
When Lydia had reached the back of the train she found one of the Red Cobra attackers had leapt onto the carriage. She tried to kick him away but he pulled her foot and yanked of her off balance. She corrected herself just in time to kick him back with her other foot. He fell from the train and onto the dusty track. Another car was drawing close.
The windshield of the car shattered. The driver fell forward. The car spun against the train but it was no match for the powerful locomotive. It skidded through the dust.
“Ted! We’ve got one on our side,” Kim called as she saw one of the vehicles speed up alongside. One of the Red Cobra attackers leaned out. Before he could fire at Kim, Teddy had cocked his gun.
With the fall of the passenger’s body the driver of the vehicle over corrected and pulled away from the track. The Owen Express sped on but it still hadn’t shaken off all the attackers.
“The roof will give me a better vantage point,” said Teddy.
“Hurry,” Kim said. “We’re approaching a tunnel.”
Ted tipped his hat and dashed to the break between the carriages. Meanwhile, Kim heaved one of the attackers who had leapt onto the carriage off onto the tracks narrowly dodging a bullet.
On the roof, Teddy could see the final vehicle. He could also see the tunnel up ahead. Would the hero be able to stop the attack on time? Would Theodore Owen’s ability with a gun prove its worth?
Teddy slid, catching the final driver and the heroes escaped just as the Express hit the darkness of the tunnel.
They were free and clear, for now but the danger was beginning to heat up.
“Chad,” said Buddy. “I felt your boner the whole time.”
“Sorry, Bud,” Chad replied. “It was a bumpy ride.”
Whilst I waited restlessly for news at Owen Ranch, The Cappy kept himself busy with whatever contacts he could. Luckily, the Owen Express had been found along the road. Aside from some bullet damage all was in one piece. What was concerning was there was no sign of Dan, the agents or the bros.
Miguel, the driver, had been picked up in a nearby town. He explained to the Owen Inc. Reps in the area the trouble the agents had met along the way. They had decided to reroute for fear they were being followed by the so-called Red Cobra group.
I still couldn’t find any information on these attackers. Reynolds had been called to crime scenes in the city so he was unavailable. Just when I had all but given up hope in my research, a message came through. It was encrypted and I am unable to divulge its full details but the body of it was as follows:
RE: RED COBRA
The Makri are an underworld group who have spread across the Great States. They also have nests in Abbarugio, Tokashima and most recently Luen. It is believed they originated in the Southern Hemisphere.
They operate a violent regime where they strip areas of assets, tyrannise the people and move on when all is dead.
The agents should avoid confrontation at all costs. I can’t emphasise how important it is that they do not engage. If it is true that their charges are indebted to them they need to be returned to Coldford immediately.
The message didn’t offer much comfort or any further understanding as to who the Makri really were. All that could be taken from it was they were not to be negotiated with and the stakes of returning Buddy, Chad and Cooper home increased tenfold.
A small town named Addersville lay along the way for our heroes. From there they hoped that contact could be made with Owen Ranch with fresh arrangements for getting the bros out of dodge. As they travelled further the bros were stripped of their Kappa So gear so they could be inconspicuous, the frat colours creating a huge target on their backs.
Teddy explained to Kim that Addersville was a quaint little town. It didn’t have much to offer in the way of entertainment but it sure was welcoming. He hadn’t passed through it in some time. The mayor of the town – Peggy Walker – made mighty fine chilli. He was looking forward to introducing her. They expected a quiet town. What they found was a deserted one.
“Teddy,” Buddy complained. “I know you said they don’t entertain but this place is dead.”
Dead was the most accurate word. There was not a soul to be found.
“Wait,” Kim ordered. “Stop.”
On the side of the banking house hung a torn sign that read.
-Rudder Neilson AKA The Hunstman –
Theft, property damage, assault and murder.
The wanted poster was accompanied by an image of a brooding man with sun scorched skin and a soul reaching scowl.
“Peggy?” Ted called as he dashed inside the banking house.
There was no one to be found. The banking house had been emptied and its vault lay open.
Teddy continued to call for his friend but to no avail. If the town had been abandoned what happened to Peggy was not worth thinking about. The ghastly face of some of the townspeople revealed itself when Lydia collected a series of photographs from the countertop. They were hazy, old school instants. They appeared to have been taken from within the bank. The first showed a smiling bank teller. He was posing in a candid sort of way. His smile seemed genuine.
In the next was the same man but this time he appeared to be a little more apprehensive. He was still smiling but this time he looked a little unsure. Lydia dropped the photo and looked at the next. In this one the banker had been tied to a chair. He was no longer smiling.
The next – the banker was screaming. Skin had been cut away and the redness of his facial muscle was showing.
The next – They had started peeling the flesh of his torso.
The next – his hand had been gloved.
The next – his torso was exposed. The skin had been stripped away of his chest. He was still alive.
The next – there lay the body of what had been the banker. He was skinned completely now. It was a long and excruciating process that I hoped he hadn’t been forced to live through for too long.
Peggy could not be found. According to The Huntsman’s wanted poster he had last been seen passing close to this town.
Owen Ranch had fallen quiet. It was hoped our heroes would now be enroute to safety but like any adventure there were bumps along the road. I guess Chick sensed this. He was a man filled with personality like most his family but for the time being it had been stripped away from him, leaving a father at home pondering over the welfare of his son. In ode to that fact I found him in his lounge pouring over family photographs. He couldn’t find any of he and Buddy together. Buddy had his mama, he had his polar opposite uncle Jerry and cousin Teddy. He even had loud mouthed Billy but where was his father?
“I will always regret not doing more for him,” Chick said as though he seemed to know what my sentiments were.
“I know you will,” I agreed.
Chick believed in the strength of his family, built through a history of varying challenges as far back as the history-making Hen Owen, but whilst he had been so keen on his family’s past he lost sight of the future. Buddy was still a boy underneath it all. He had never been forced to face any real consequences for his actions. He had every privilege handed to him. He had drugs and loose women pecking away at him like hungry vultures. He had huge expectations on his shoulders but everything was telling him to ditch those expectations and enjoy being vulture food. What was another dead, privileged frat boy to society anyway? If this fate was to be avoided he needed his father. Chick and I had had our differences in the past but one thing I will never deny about the man was there was no Owen – even Pops himself – who carried those expectations with such ease as he did. I guess along the way he had forgotten not everyone would find it so easy. Buddy needed his father to show him how before it was too late.
As I listened to The Cappy’s plans for Buddy’s return to Coldford a message was sent through to my phone.
RE: RUDDER NEILSON AKA THE HUNSTMAN
A warrant for his arrest was issued after the murder of three townspeople in Addersville, GS. The local police and state level authorities will have no record of this. They will have been asked to step back as they are not equipped to deal with the Makri, especially known operatives such as The Hunstman.
He normally resides in a former small prison just outside of Addersville where he led a revolt against the guards and slaughtered the inmates that wouldn’t join him. They now call it the kennels. No authority has been able to sieze and retrieve the building, though many attempts have been made.
The Huntman’s usual MO is coercion tactics using bound dog leads. As a weapon he breaks the spine of his victim rendering them paralysed or he murders by bludgeoning them to death. If negotiating with his handlers is attempted it only pulls those leashes tighter.
If the agents are in the area of the kennels it is important that you urge them to back track towards Addersville again.
From your records I am sharing some images from the town. Please be careful.
The images attached were of a young man who had had his hands tied around the trunk of a tree. The terrain looked similar to that Dan had been on when he made his last call. The victim had been dead for several days. His spine had been shattered and his skull had been broken at the jaw. It now hung loosely. The notes accompanying stated that the victim had still been alive after the attack. Medical assumptions were that he had writhed on, tied to that tree for several days before finally succumbing to his demise.
There were more scattered bodies on the ground around him, limbs disjointed, facial bones broken. Whomever the victim tied to the tree had been, the Makri had instructed the Hunstman to make an example of him, such was their coercive methods.
To protect my source I can offer no further detail at this point. However, it is suffice to say The Cappy and I were only too aware of what was at stake for the heroes.
The challenge the bros faced was to find their next fix. They were on the worst come downs of their lives. I heard it later that they didn’t come quietly. This may be no surprise but when I also add they did make escape attempts, I’m sure you can imagine the task the Good Gang faced.
The agents managed to contact Owen Ranch. The information they gave of their journey so far was a relief but by no means did it leave us at ease.
With warning of the Makri and The Huntsman in particular, Kim held discussion with their team as to the best course of action. Cooper discovered there was some of his dad’s cars in the area and he was calling it in. The vehicle was called Dusty. Its treads were such it could climb across dunes with ease. Their traction allowed them to sway among the sands as though they were dancing. Their dusty colour made them the least conspicuous of the Cooper fleet.
Whilst they waited, Buddy and his bros decided it would be an opportune time to make an escape. They made a clumsy dash for it but Teddy lassoed his young relative and heaved him back. Cooper had been too busy looking behind him he hadn’t seen Kim reach out her arm and wrestle him to the ground. Chad had met his match with Lydia who kicked him in his solar plexus and punched him back. Escaping the agents was going to be harder than they thought.
Making their way along in the back of Dusty the bros had been humbled and a little bruised him. Buddy had given thought to what awaited him back in Coldford.
“I can’t go back there,” Buddy mused outwardly. Returning to Coldford now seemed a terrible idea.
Cooper was nodding in agreement. Being driven back home in the back of one of his father’s fleet did not bode well for him.
Chad had a plan though. He had thought it through. It may have worked for a little while but since he hadn’t reiterated his plan to his bros they were just as surprised as anyone when he buzzed down the window and threw himself out onto the road.
“Is that one just threw himself out the fucking car?” Kim groaned.
Teddy turned the wheel of the car and it ever so slowly pulled aside. Still handcuffed and a little injured from underlying rocks Chad was planted back into the car and the windows locked.
Travelling along again the bros had fallen into a silence. Chad broke it when he said, “I really thought we were all going to jump…”
“Yeah, sorry about that brah,” said Buddy sitting back and raising his eyebrows. Cooper leaned forward to look at him. He shook his head and he too sat back.
“Ouch,” Chad said.
The three started to snigger leaving their handlers shaking their heads.
They were being taken back to Coldford one way or another. They had to face that fact. They also had to face up to what had happened on Hathfield Bay island.
The presence of the bros on the island was driving Dominick to the very ends of his patience. He was expressing such sentiments to Peter as they passed through the commune.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen,” stated the church leader.
“It has been quite the challenge, Your Eminence,” Peter agreed.
Frowning severely Dominick growled, “Then flog them.”
“Terrible idea, Your Eminence. Bart got the impression the one called Chad rather liked it…”
“If they want to be members of this congregation then they will learn there are consequences,” Dominick decided.
The Wigan commune has some strange practices, dating back to the time Noah Wigan first set foot on the bay and his companion St Michael the Punisher burned those who would not follow him.
Sometimes a chosen soul would be placed inside a box and pushed out to sea. As the waves consumed the victim, those still of the commune would see life blossom as Wigan thanked them for their dutiful sacrifice. When the bros started to argue over who got to go in the box first, it made the church leader feel his action was obsolete.
There was a pit dug in the bay that was filled with Gager sand beetles. Such beetles gave the victim nasty little bites. Lying in a pit of them for days with open sores and constant nibbling was a fate that would have even the least devout crying out for Wigan’s mercy.
When Chad started to bite the beetles back, Cooper was treating it like some kind of frat boy hazing and the beetles inexplicably gave Buddy a wide berth like he had a forcefield around him, the church leader decided another approach was necessary.
The threat of crucifixion just ignited a debate over which way a brah should hang on the cross.
“I want to hang upside down. I wanna go headfirst straight to Hell and share a J with Satan.”
“Can we put them upside down?” Dominick asked Peter excitedly.
He really did like that idea and was kicking himself that he hadn’t thought of it first.
“Terrible idea, Your Eminence,” Peter said, and all the fun was drained from that scenario.
It came to be that all three of them were stood before the Wigan altar.
“You need to change your way of life,” Dominick told the three bros. “St Michael the Punisher will step back on these shores again and you will repent.”
Buddy, listened to the words of the preacher but he had some questions.
“You say the punisher will come to this island?”
“Yes,” Dominick returned assuredly. “And you will repent.”
“How do you know that?” Buddy continued to ponder. “Do you hit a bro up and say, ‘Yo, Punisher, come and check out this happening party with all the punishment and shit.’ He be like, ‘On my way, brah.’”
“Not exactly,” was Dominick’s response.
“So, you spoke to the guy?” Buddy wondered. “Because if he’s the party planner around here you gotta have that bro on speed dial.”
“It doesn’t work like that.” Dominick’s patience was wearing thin again. “It’s about having faith.”
Buddy frowned. “So, he ain’t real?”
Dominick’s shoulder’s tightened. “He is to real!”
“Then why haven’t you spoken to him?”
Dominick turned to Peter. “Is he serious?” he asked.
Peter nodded. “I believe so, Your Eminence.”
He was a little flabbergasted himself by this point.
“If he’s real then call him up. Bring him on over,” Buddy challenged.
“I gotta be punished!” a giddy Chad exclaimed.
Again, turning to Peter, Dominick asked, “Do you think he’d come if we wrote him a wee note?”
The direct descendant of St Michael still lived – it was said. He resided in solitude. They called him The Templar. Dominick hadn’t met him personally but he had faith.
“It would be the first time in generations the church called for his presence,” said Peter. “It would make you the boldest leader this church has seen since Wigan himself.”
“Ye hear that?” he put to the bros. “How’s that for Godballs?”
Buddy nodded. “Pretty rad, brah…If he’s real.”
Peter scowled. Dominick raged. He pulled his iron cross from the wall of the church. He didn’t have the patience to wait on St Michael. He wanted instant retribution. He swung the cross at Cooper first. Being a life long victim of having things thrown at his head – be it his mum’s shoes or his father’s car tools – Cooper dodged effortlessly.
Swing. Not once.
Swoop. Not twice.
Swish. But three times.
“Will ye stand still!” Dominick groaned.
Cooper could not. It was a natural survival reflex.
Dominick stopped, still clutching the iron cross. He turned to Chad. “You!” he pointed.
Tearing at his robes Chad cried out in elation, “Yes! Punish me Your Eminence.”
Dominick paused. “That’s just weird,” he remarked.
Hopping onto his other foot he swung the cross like like a baseball bat.
He caught Buddy, who had still been heavily medicated at this point. It was going to take more than an iron cross to knock some sense into him. In demonstration of this fact the Owen frat boy hit back.
Dominick was landed on his altar. Buddy flexed his arms in front of him.
“Bitch!” he yelled.
When a fork of lightning struck the three frat boys cleared the church. I guess they weren’t taking any chances on some Holy intervention.
“Shall I compose a letter to The Templar?” Peter asked.
“Immediately,” Dominick growled.
There is a cheer about Hathfield Bay. At least there was at one point. As Wigan followers pushed towards the city and the City Dwellers imposed themselves upon the island it caused tensions to rise.
The old church leader – Parson Verger – had been too busy enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle to care for the welfare of his people but Dominick Cole took over with a youthful fire in his belly. He was Hell bent on bringing the faith to the masses. He saw it as his path and Wigan had illuminated the way. That was until the bros became members of his church.
“The City Dwellers get worse by the day,” Dominick confided in Peter.
“It is a mess,” Peter agreed. “There is no peace with them.”
“Their City Main is an epicentre of hedonism and unholiness. There’s a place there. Waldens they call it.”
“I’ve heard talk about it,” Peter said.
“Is it true it’s a place where the people become possessed with the filth? I’ve heard that unbridled fornication goes on in the bathrooms until the wee hours of the morning. If there is a Hell on earth that sounds to me like the place.”
“If that is true,” said Peter, “then I know three people who may have witnessed it first hand…”
“Brah, you don’t go to Walden’s unless you want to catch something. It’s all the posh bitches and Alban douchebags that go there, get all out of their minds on drugs and shit and next day there’s a line at the chemists for antibiotics and the morning after pill,” was Buddy’s most poetic interpretation.
“Morning after pill?” Dominick questioned.
“Abortion in a can, brah.”
‘Hmmmm,’ Dominick thought. It actually sounded much worse than he had originally anticipated.
It isn’t clear as to whether or not Chad did genuinely consider the Waldens heathens. All that I know is the bros had been thrown out on their last visit and given a lifetime ban from the nightclub.
“Yeah,” Buddy agreed. “Those heathen sons ‘a’ bitches got all high and mighty because a bitch got stuck in the bathroom window. Panties were already at her ankles when we got there.”
“The flowers we put in her ass belonged to one of the Waldens,” Cooper remembered.
“Fuck them,” he said. “I was making her daisy fresh. The way she was hanging there some animal could have come along and raped her and shit. I was doing her a favour, keeping them away.”
Disregarding the fact that he could have helped retrieve the girl from her predicament it was actually progress for Buddy and the bros. In hindsight, if it had been some of their worst days the girl could have been subjected to much worse than flower stems in her rear.
Whilst the three bros chuckled at the memory, Dominick was staring at them in disbelief.
“I’m at a loss for words. I really don’t know what to say to that.”
Bart – who had been subjected to more of Jerry’s stories than Dominick had – was not in the least bit surprised.
For it was written that St Wigan returned to the shores of Coldford and when he saw what the brothers of the Albans order had done with their people he wept. Brother Ambrose had left them with no direction, no hope and he had allowed them to turn their backs on God. Noah Wigan pleaded with the Albans brotherhood but they refused his advice.
‘Return to the island,’ they warned him. ‘Your advice is not welcome here.’
They had been granted the honour of leading the people of what would become City Main in Holy lives but they failed them. To Noah Wigan and his followers they were not Holy men at all but a group of drunkards. Where did that lead them? Nowadays, by Dominick’s reckoning, the order had allowed the city to become a cesspit. Every day more and more were fleeing to Wigan’s embrace looking for a better life.
“The powder in Main is shit too,” Buddy reasoned. “Better gear at the Chapter House. KAPPA SO!”
“Praise Wigan,” responded the two islanders in something of an agreement.
“We should visit this nightclub,” Dominick decided. “I think it would do us good to take a look at just how far the city has fallen.”
“You can’t go dressed like that, brah,” Buddy told them. “You two look like you ain’t ever boned. You gotta blend in.”
Bart and Dominick shared a look.
“Well, you could do with a little work,” said Bart.
“What ye talking about? I could easily pass as a City Dweller.” Here Dominick’s rough islander accent took a different twang. “Show me to the drugs, booze and big titted females…like.” He added the like as an afterthought feeling it made him sound more City Main-like.
Bart was unable to contain himself. The three bros chuckled too. Well, Cooper and Chad did. Buddy kept his mind on the task and never was there a more serious task for a bro than fucking up a nightclub.
“Make over time!” Chad cheered.
WHEEEEEK. He blew his whistle. His whistle I’ll get to a little later.
“Bachelor number one,” Buddy announced whilst Chad made a beat.
Boom choom. Boom baba choom.
“They call him the carrier because he got broad shoulders. Here is Bartholemew wearing a Schroeder shirt that was all the rage decades ago. Complete with a Wigan medallion. He’s ready to rip up that dance floor.”
Boom choom. Boom baba choom.
“Pussy magnet, brah.”
Bart was chuffed. Although the only way he would blend in was if he was going to some kind of nostalgia club.
“Bachelor number 2. Be careful bitches. This guy will smite you and smite you good. It’s His Elegance himself, bringing back a ruffled collars they ain’t seen since the days my ancestor Hen chased whores around these shores.”
It seemed Chad wasn’t done with Dominick’s hair. He affixed the church leaders dark locks.
“There,” he said. “Perfect.”
“Now you guys are ready to hit Walden’s.”
Whether that was true or not was irrelevant because all attention was stolen.
“What the Hell was that?”
A drift of sand almost swallowed the dunes.
“There’s a fucking crater in the beach!” Dominick could be heard crying. Three bros, some pre-war explosives and a game of chicken they had forgotten about had led to the disaster and having to dig half the commune out of the sand.
“Have you seen the fucking crater on the beach?”
It was a long journey but it gave Dan the opportunity to ask Teddy of his life on the ranch. Teddy told them of the delightful place it was he called home by the campfire whilst the bros rested.
As time pressed on Kim decided that splitting Buddy, Dale and Chad up would offer some reprieve from their nonsense but it also offered her the opportunity to find out from Buddy what actually happened in Coldford. There was a dead little girl named Sarah and she knew he had been involved. The shot that had killed her had been Owen accurate. The drug money that the little girl’s father owed belonged to Cooper Stores and Chad, well if the other two had been involved he clearly had to be. When she showed Buddy the photos of the little girl he became nervous. He sniffed, his head ached and he was dehydrated.
“What do you want me to say?” he asked a little desperately.
“I want you to tell me the truth.”
“I don’t know.”
He sniffed again. The truth was a lot grislier than Kim realised.
“Kill the little bitch first,” were Buddy’s instructions. “Make sure father sees.”
Buddy had been so high at the time. He would have done anything. When he thought about it, if he was offered the release of powder he would still do anything. That shit was terrifying.
“That’s cold, brah,” he had objected at the time. He didn’t want to do it but then he was fed more powder and the threats came. Not towards him but Cooper. What would happen to Coops if he refused?
Kids die in the Shanties all the time. What was one more? The father had insulted a bro and you weren’t a brother for life if you didn’t do something about that shit.
The vantage point was a lonely spot. He could hear Jerry’s laughter but not really. He was living in a stank hole Stoker retirement home in Kingsgate. They wouldn’t even allow him back on Owen Estate. He sat a vegetable with circus freaks. Buddy didn’t want to become like that. No one wanted to be that guy.
“Shoot the little bitch first and make sure daddy sees.”
Just one last hit, and he and his bros would be home free.
He couldn’t take it anymore. He had to run. He at least tried.
His attempt was to no avail and as is often in these adventures he immediately ran into trouble.
Big trouble …
Back at Owen Ranch in Coldford The Cappy and I waited nervously for word on the agents. The Cappy was pacing. He cleaned his prize gun Betsy several times. We had sent them forward the information about what they were up against. We could only hope they got the message.
Finally, a message did come through. The Cappy requested that there be no interruptions or interference so the call came straight to him. It opened to show Kim and Lydia. Unfortunately, this was no relief. They were in custody.
Before either the Cappy or I could enquire as to the state of their wellbeing, the screen showed a man with leathery, tanned skin and tattoos across his neck that originated from the Southern Hemisphere. His name was Morales and his cold expression told of something that will forever be etched in my mind. He didn’t say anything at first. He held The Cappy’s gaze.
“Where’s my boy?” Chick finally asked.
Morales leaned a little closer to the camera making his presence all the more imposing on the large screen.
“He’s got himself in deeper than he can swim,” he replied in an accent that sounded like it had been dragged across the earth. “Money is owed. A debt has to be paid.”
“Let them go and we’ll talk,” The Cappy offered.
Morales gave a throaty laugh and shook his head.
“You don’t fucking negotiate with the Makri. You pay the goddam money they’re owed. Our debts are always collected. Don’t fuck with the Red Cobra.”
The screen cut back to Dan and his fellow prisoners. Dan looked straight into the lens.
“Guys?” he whimpered.
X stepped forward and raised a gun.
BANG. Dan’s chair toppled.
BANG. Cooper was no more.
BANG. And finally Chad.
BANG. Finally it was Teddy.
Then the call cut completely.
Kim, Lydia and Buddy didn’t have time to mourn Dan and Co on the screens within the Kennels where she was being held.
“You’re fucked,” she warned him.
Morales didn’t seem to care for her threat.
“Take the other two for the dogs. Get this place cleaned up. We need a new host,” he ordered into his comm, presumably to X.
“You, I’m leaving to The Huntsman.”
CLANG. CLANG. CLANG.
Cornered within the kennels, Buddy and Lydia had found themselves at the rear of the building. Having seen what happened to the others on the screens as Kim had, Buddy was distraught. His bros were gone. His cousin Teddy was gone.
With a stroke of skill Lydia broke from her captor. She leapt from her cuffs and armed herself with their gun.
“Buddy?” Lydia tried to console and motivate him. “We have to keep it together if we’re going to make it out of here.”
She finally unruffled him.
“Buddy?!” She called a little firmer this time. “Are you with me?”
Buddy nodded. He shook the pain from his wrists. It was nothing compared to what he had just witnessed.
Lydia could hear the barking of dogs behind the metal shutter that had been pulled down.
Buddy and Lydia soon found themselves with company as Kennel keepers descended upon them. Lydia had drawn her fire arm and taken out two that had charged.
“Chink!” Buddy called her attention.
Lydia turned quickly and shot one of the keepers behind her before she took a machete blade in the back. She frowned at Buddy.
“Chink? Really?” she growled.
Buddy shrugged. “Sorry. I don’t really know your name.”
More Kennel keepers were disposed of thanks to Lydia’s skill as an unarmed Buddy kept a watch over her.
“Asian!” he yelled. When she scowled at him again he said, “Sorry I actually meant agent that time.”
There were warnings scattered everywhere. The Hunstman AKA Rudder Neilsen was a wanted man. As Morales departed for more important matters, Kim’s first intentions were finding those of her cohorts who still lived. First she had to face The Hunstman who stood before her with a tangle of thick dog chains in each hand. She thought of his MO. She remembered the notes on the Makri brute and how the spines of his victims had shattered under the blow of his chains. She thought of what her father, now paralysed after a boxing match had gone awry, had said to her.
“It’s not about defeating the odds. It’s about the fight at hand and taking each punch as it comes.”
Kim tensed her shoulders, pulled whatever strength she could into her arms.
He smashed her to the ground. The leases rattled just inches from her face.
The Huntsman swung his chains and caught her side and tumbled her to the ground.
She was struck again on the ribs. They were brushed, possibly broken.
She was knocked through a window partition.
She was free of her binds now. It was time to hit back.
Meanwhile, the dogs surrounding Buddy and Lydia were becoming angrier.
“Give me a gun!” Buddy requested.
“Not a chance,” Lydia maintained.
The dogs were crashing against the grates. They could smell meat on the other side. The light above the shuttered doorways blinked red.
The light blinked green. The shuttered doors raised and the excitable canines were gnashing underneath trying to push through. Lydia turned to find Buddy had gone. She assumed his cowardice had caused a retreat. He would no doubt be running into more trouble. She had no time to check because the dogs were coming for her. She aimed her gun.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Just as the grates lifted and the first wave of dogs charged through the gun fire rang but it had not come from Lydia.
“Hurry!” Buddy called to her. He had collected a gun from one of the fallen keepers despite the objections. Luckily his instinct and his natural Owen marksmanship had been right.
“There’s a way open.”
Lydia followed Buddy and the two dashed towards an exit to the building.
Kim had struck back at the Huntsman. She was a little feeble on her right side where her ribs and been struck and the shards of her ribs had torn a hole in the flesh. Blood was seeping from the wound.
She punched him again. He swung the chains again. Despite the pain, she skipped aside, opening the wound further.
She tried to punch again but this time the leashes caught her fist. They wrapped around her wrist and pulled her aside.
Kim pushed him back onto a balcony. She was losing energy fast and her vision was starting to blur. She took another strike from the leashes, fracturing her humerus. She was running out of strength. She was running out of time. She would be added to the list of victims on The Huntsman’s wanted poster. For her own sake and for the sake of those the Makri had exploited she had to do something.
“Is that the best you got? I’m going to screw your corpse …”
With her last ounce of ability she punched the Huntsman. It was enough to throw his gaze. She rested her foot on the balcony and with a great heave she pushed him over. As she fell to the floor she could hear Buddy and Lydia arrive on scene.
“Double tap bitch!” Buddy cried as The Huntsman was dispersed.
“Get after him!” Kim called. “Morales is getting away.”
A discarded motorbike offered Lydia and Buddy a chance of gaining speed, navigating the building and catching up with Morales. Buddy raised an eyebrow as he watched Lydia hot wire it.
“Hop on!” she told him.
He wrapped his arms around her from behind.
“Don’t tell anyone I was riding bitch,” he said.
Lydia sped off towards a garage exit. Dogs were still chasing after them and more Kennel keepers arrived on scene to carry out the clean up Morales had spoken of.
Buddy kept shooting. His remarkable aim gave them the slim chance they had of escaping.
“That’s for Coops,” he yelled.
“That’s for Chad.”
“That’s for Teddy.”
“That’s for the pussy documentary guy.”
Lydia steered them through the narrow spaces. They could see Morales’ transport up ahead. Buddy leaned over and took out the rear left tire causing the vehicle to skid. Taking out the second rear tire caused the vehicle to spiral and crash into the side of the building. Stopping the bike Lydia took to her heels with Buddy close at her back. Ripping open the door, Morales was placed under arrest.
Assisting Kim, Lydia and Buddy were planning on clearing the exit of the Kennels. Buddy had fallen quiet as he gave thought to the fallen. They would have made it if they hadn’t come face to face with X.
“You’re not going to get far,” he warned them.
Kim could feel her breath gargle as blood dripped into her lungs.
“We need medics over here!” X called.
Kim frowned. “Who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Shawn Pheonix. I’m an agent for the Anti Makri Intelligence Agency. I’ve been working under cover for some time now and thank the Lord Jesus you didn’t blow it for me.”
AMIA medics descended upon them.
“You killed…” Lydia began but before she could finish Buddy cheered.
“Bros! You’re alive! I was all crying and shit.”
Thankfully, Cooper, Chad, Dan and Teddy were still alive. X had staged the entire affair to appease Morales.
“I had to get him out of the way,” X went on to explain. “If I hadn’t you would have had more heat than you could have handled.”
“Thank you,” Kim said, settling down for some medical attention.
An AMIA medic named Ygritte rushed to patch her up. She has been the one to help X stage the shooting.
“Ah you thought you were dead, yah?” she teased.
Dan nodded nervously and gave an even more anxious laugh.
“She’s magnificent,” he said to Teddy.
He found himself quite besotted and in reciprocation the medic with wild blue hair had a charming smile for him.
“It’s nice to meet you,” she said.
“It’s nice to meet you too!” Dan said shyly but sincerely.
“Don’t thank me yet,” said X. “You’ve got a long way home. Be thankful that word reached me from Coldford as to who you guys were.”
With further information from my source I learned that AMIA had been set up by a Global Initiative as a means of preventing the spread of the Makri infestation. It was something that was bigger and reached far beyond the borders of Coldford City. The agents had inadvertently tapped the tip of that iceberg.
With his position deep undercover I’m afraid not much further information can be divulged at this stage regarding X but what I can say is he was a useful ally to the agents and there would no doubt come a time when his assistance would prove useful again.
Back in handcuffs and seemingly out of danger, the bros had reached the peak of their frustration. It is said that the first 24 hours of leaving an addiction behind were the worst and what a 24 hours it had been. It wasn’t the first time they had been in cuffs though but the last time involved a safe word and a willing girl named Nola Wong.
“If I don’t get some powder up my nose I think my head is gonna explode,” Buddy complained.
The others nodded. They felt it too. When Cooper’s phone bleeped in his pocket it sounded like a gong being rattled. Partially because of the come down and partially because of his use of the gong ringtone from Coby Games.
“That’s my Uncle Brett,” Cooper announced excitedly but in a whisper. “He must have gotten some gear. He must be nearby!”
Brett Cooper was the little ankle biter to Marshall’s mad dog but Brett had enough contacts to keep even Jerry Owen supplied and that was a lot of snow. It was looking good for the bros. There was just one issue. They were handcuffed and the agents were stood nearby.
“It’s a pity we can’t get out of these cuffs,” Cooper said.
Chad had already pulled his arm over his head but now he was stuck with his nose close to his armpit.
“The Amazing Adrien, the Stoker Circus guy, escaped handcuffs by dislocating his thumbs,” said Buddy.
This handcuff trick, coincidentally, had been what Buddy had been attempting with Nola Wong. That was why the safe word was ‘amazing’. When Nola Wong swallowed the key things got pretty amazing, pretty fast.
“We can’t leave a bro hanging,” Buddy thought of Brett. Especially if said bro was carrying a trunk load of the good stuff.
“Coops, you’re going to need to break your thumbs.”
Cooper was nodding. He was still agreeing but he had to ask, “Why my thumbs?”
“Duh, brah,” was Buddy’s response.
“Yeah, duh,” Chad agreed.
“Yeow!” Cooper tried to stifle his yelps so the attention of the agents wasn’t drawn.
There was a tear in Cooper’s eye.
“You could have just done one,” said Chad.
It was too late by then. Cooper had broken both his thumbs, such was his dedication to his bros. It was really quite inspirational in its way. The fact that it was to feed a cocaine habit aside. They slipped away with Buddy leading the charge. Cooper was crying, excited and in quite a bit of pain.
“Those three idiots are trying to escape again,” Lydia said to Kim.
“Get after them,” Kim ordered, still nursing her wounds from her altercation with The Huntsman.
The bros can make a surprisingly good track time when there is some powder at stake. Devon could learn a lesson or two from them.
It was home and free for the bros. After what had been a tumultuous few days they were finally getting theirs. There is a selfish streak within any addict. They are so consumed by the need to fulfil their addiction they don’t realise the hurt they are causing those close to them. It’s not a conscious selfish decision for the most part and beating that addiction is forcing the addict to realise their actions have consequences.
The Owens are generally self-indulged egotists. They have the whole world at their feet and the influence to shape it into whichever image they want. This can be a huge burden on the shoulders of someone like Buddy. That burden is frightening.
The Coopers value fast and shiny things. They spend so much time trying to impress those around them they forget those who need them the most, like the lost son that Dale was.
The Perrys were a loving family but loving someone so much you place no boundaries on them only leads to trouble.
A sporty, black Cooper named Shadow was what Brett drove and it appeared out of the mist like a desert mirage. It stopped. The bros were leaping up and down, hugging each other in celebration. Brett alighted from his car with a bag of powder in his hand so large it would outweigh a small child. Brett hugged his nephew in a slow gesture. The smoke and smell of weed that puffed out from Shadow’s door was the reason for this pace. Buddy snatched up the bag greedily. He pulled it open and all three bros gasped like they had found the buried treasure. He held it out to Cooper first.
“Go on, brah. You get in there. You broke your thumbs for this so you get first.”
Cooper beamed a wide smile. For a moment he forgot the pain in his thumbs and dunked his whole head in. Pulling back, he wheezed, wide eyed with a face full of cocaine.
“Woah,” Brett tried to warn. “You might wanna go easy, l’il pup. That shit is pure.”
Even Nola Wong shitting out the handcuff key could not have excited Buddy more in that instant. He held the bag out to Chad.
“Go on, brah. You get your fix because when you’re done I’m gonna snort this whole bag.”
“It’s real pure…” Brett warned again.
What did he know? He was trying to slide along Shadow’s hood and smoke a pipe.
Chad scooped up as much as he could, rubbing it on his gums. His eyes lit up like the Harvester day parade. Then it was Buddy’s turn.
Kim, just catching up, had shot the bag from Buddy’s hand. It spilled on the ground.
“Noooooo!” Buddy shrieked.
He dropped to his knees and tried to get to as much of the product as he could.
Kim grappled him, hauling him away. The stitches on her wound split and blood began to seep again. Buddy pulled closer but before he could find his release…
Lydia had thrown water over the powder, rendering it useless.
“You fucking whore!” Buddy cried in despair.
Kim fell to the ground, pulling Buddy with her. He was weeping. Teddy helped Kim to her feet. He warned Buddy to step lightly.
Lydia looked at Cooper and Chad. Cooper was staring at her wide eyed but he was unable to speak. Chad had started to feel a groove coming on. His hip was bobbing.
“Come on you two,” she said with some exasperation, taking them by the arm and leading them away like escapees from the Royce Chamberlain Asylum.
“You!?” Kim barked at Brett.
WELCOME TO SHADOW
“Teddy? Take that damn car out,” Kim ordered.
Teddy flicked his gun from his holster and with a shot caught Shadow’s back wheel. He shook his head, putting the gun back in its holster as he watched Brett fall out of his car, rush to fetch a spare wheel and tried to pit crew his way out of there.
He was one less frat boy to worry about at least.
As I set out on this story I promised the detail as to how such a scenario came to be on Hathfield Bay island that leader of the Wigan church, Dominick Cole, found himself leading his drugged up followers with glow sticks. It all came to climax on what had began as a relatively quiet day in the commune as it still played host to the bros.
Life in a religious commune meant just that. Your life was governed by religious texts, and services at the church were a must. The bros expected all of that and they were up for it. It wasn’t the first cult they had joined and I dare say it wouldn’t be the last. Reynolds would probably be the first to agree that Kappa So was not unlike a cult in its traditions, selections and it being a bastard to leave once you were accepted. It was the part of Wigan life that seemed to suit the bros in a way. They were three drug-addicted, privileged young men who had no direction. Wigan offered them that direction. When a church service was called they found themselves front and centre, eager to hear.
On this day some of the girls were pushing each other out of the way to get to the front and sit beside Cooper. The girl who won the fight with a tug of her sister’s long braid, smiled, ever so pleased with herself as she squeezed in close to him.
The girl giggled into her hand coquettishly.
With a grin, Buddy punched his bro’s arm playfully and turned back to the front where Dominick was stood on the altar glaring at him.
“Do ye mind?” he asked.
“No worries, brah,” replied Buddy.
Stepping in Chad explained, “You see, riding a Cooper is all about a hot ass and a big stick shift you can really wrap your hand around.”
Buddy raised an eyebrow. He leaned forward and asked the girl suggestively, “Ever rode a Cooper?”
The girl giggled even harder but then she looked at Dominck and checked herself.
Chad reached his hands out. “But this is praying time, brah. Carry on.”
Dominick’s lips pursed. He turned to Peter.
“Can they no be here when I’m doing ma thing?”
“I’m afraid they’re members of the congregation now, Your Eminence.”
Dominick rolled his eyes but he did have souls to save and so his sermon began, filled with unforgiving tales of Noah Wigan and his damnation of the city.
The three bros looked behind them to spy the girl who had cheekily called out their frat chant.
Batting his fist on his chest and reaching out the peace sign Cooper replied, “Respect!”
Dominick was, of course, furious but he was nothing if not a man who could keep his congregation swayed.
“I thought that guy would have chilled by now,” Buddy whispered to Chad.
“He should have,” Chad agreed. “A boat load of powder went right in that wine.”
“Just needs time to kick in,” Buddy decided. “In about five minutes this place is gonna be party central.”
Impatient, Chad drew a whistle from inside his shirt. Buddy steadied his hand.
“Wait for it…”
On the altar Dominick could hear Peter shuffle uncomfortably.
“You alright there, Peter?” he asked him.
A sweat was breaking on the priest’s brow. He was tapping his foot in a steady rhythm.
“I feel good,” he assured. “Great service. You tell them!”
Dominick raised the wine and sniffed it. It did smell a little sweeter than usual.
Chad clasped his whistle excitedly but Buddy stopped him again.
“Not yet, brah.”
The whole congregation started to become joyous. They were singing, they were praising. There was a miracle with some of the disabled who had taken to their feet and were dancing.
Dominick would have taken it as a compliment but he hadn’t said anything for the past ten minutes.
The whistle blew.
“It’s party time!” Chad announced.
“What the Hell have ye done?” Dominick asked them.
“We’re getting this party started. We’re getting everyone so high we’re gonna high five St Wigan,” Buddy told him. At that point he realised that the church leader should have been in on the plan but his experience of Dominick so far was that he was a bit of a party crasher. “We’ve got some of our best powder, your cheap ass wine and we’re gonna buzz off our asses.”
“You’re telling me…” Dominick shoved Bart away who was stumbling towards him like a brain dead zombie. “That you cut cocaine into our wine? Yes, I know the service was great. Thanks Peter.”
“Well, yeah,” Buddy responded as though it were oh so obvious.
“The entire congregation has been drinking that wine,” Dominick stated.
Buddy grinned. “I know.”
Dominick gave a most severe scowl. “They’re all high on heethers too! I know Bart. The music is legend.”
“Why they all high on heethers?” Buddy asked.
“Because it’s Sunday,” Dominick replied.
Buddy’s priorities became confused. “You mean to tell me you’ve been passing out the magic mushies and you didn’t hit a bro up? That is not cool.”
“I didn’t give you any because you’re coke heads!” Dominick explained through gritted teeth. “They do funny things to the brain and mixed with powder – Mrs McOnnel will you put that back on?”
Eighty year old Mrs McOnnel was now pulling her bra from her sleeve.
“This party is about to get way out of hand,” Buddy said.
Dominick agreed. “You don’t say.”
Chad blew his whistle again and the powder laced, mushroom mellowed congregation responded.
“We’ve gotta stick them in a hole until they sober up. It’s the only way.”
Luckily for everyone involved, a crater had already been blown into the beach.
Before Dominick could ask how they proposed to do that Chad had pulled two glow sticks from his emergency party pack he had kept stored beneath the church pew. He snapped them and passed them to Dominick. Dominick’s obvious question would have been, ‘What are these for?’ But before he could utter the words Bart’s hand landed on his shoulder and he whacked him back.
“Do they need to be glowing?” Dominick did ask. He assumed they were to beat the congregation with who were now cornering them on the altar.
“You gotta lead them, brah,” explained Chad. “Look.”
Chad waved his own glowsticks and an out of his mind Peter’s eyes followed. Dominick waved his but a little too sporadically.
“It’s not working.”
“It’s all in the hip action.” Again Chad demonstrated.
“For fuck’s sake,” Dominick despaired but he shook his hips and waved those glow sticks. For a brief moment it was as if Jerry Owen had never left the island.
That, dear readers, was how the disaster on the island came to be.
“To the crater.”
Never had the Wigan Commune followed Dominick Cole so closely and so keenly. To the top of the dune they went. Into the crater they fell. Badly hungover they would be.
All that was left of the adventure was to make the journey home. Luckily for our heroes and the bros the Owen Inc flight attendants know exactly how to handle the frat boys. Brought back to the ranch the three were stood in a line in The Cappy’s den. Buddy was sober. He was real sober Chick was glad to see. They shared a look. When I say they shared a look I mean Buddy kept his sober gaze ahead whilst his father glared at him. The cost, the lost sleep, the hassle from Beckingridge Firm for using Elizabeth’s ‘agents’. Chick’s glare held a lot of frustration. He shook his head and went on down the line like an inspecting drill sergeant.
There was the son of Marshall Cooper – Dale. Fast cars, show pieces and fans all around the world was what Dale would have handed to him one day. In the meantime, there he was. His eyes were wider than any I have ever seen. He had a long way to go but he was back in Coldford now. Chick shook his head. At least he could let Marshall know he was safe. Marshall would probably say he should have lost the little runt over in the States but Chick at least cared about him. In this instance Chick’s care meant shaking his head and continuing on down the line.
Chad Perry was next. Chick raised an eyebrow at him. Even after the flight back from the Great States Chad was still feeling that groove in his hip. He kept bouncing as Chick watched him. Cooper and Buddy leaned forward to see but they snapped back into place when Chick shook his head again and made his way back up the line.
“What am I to do with y’all?” he asked.
Buddy had no answer. He was busy trying to comprehend how his father sounded when he was sober. Had he always been that blonde?
In The Cappy’s den, surrounded by the icons of the Owen heritage was where my story took me next as Dan and I concluded with The Cappy.
“I want to thank you,” said Chick to me as he finished pouring over my notes. “You’ve given an honest account. I would be easy to smear the boys, Lord knows they give plenty reason for that, but you put your mind to it and never in a month of Sundays would have I expected such an understanding of them. I guess I forget how it can be to deal with honest men sometimes.”
“I told you I will only write the truth. Sometimes it can be ugly. Most times it is difficult to read but it is what people need. I do genuinely hope Buddy, Dale and Chad can get help.”
Chick smiled. “Thank you, Sam. The Coldford Daily will miss your insight.”
I shrugged with a smile. “I’m afraid I won’t miss the Coldford Daily.”
The Cappy laughed and raised his glass. He addressed Dan when he said, “You are both owed a great debt of gratitude.”
Dan sat a packet on the desk. “This belongs here,” he said. “I wanted you to have it back.”
The Cappy opened the packet. Inside lay the compass of Hen Owen, The Cappy’s most prized ancestor. Elizabeth Beckingridge had smashed the historical item in what can only be described as a tantrum over who held more property in the city.
Chick sighed with some relief.
“I am lost for words,” he began. “I’m mighty grateful you would return this. Where did she have it?”
Dan looked to me at first but then he explained, “It was in a waste basket at the Filton Press.”
Chick nodded. “That sounds about right. I have to make some calls and see if it can be restored.”
“Can I make a suggestion?” Dan put in. “Leave it as it is.”
A broken compass is no use to anyone but Dan’s reasoning was as such.
“You keep these things because they have a history. They tell a story. You have Hen Owen’s maps because they were used to guide his ship – tears, burns and all. They aren’t perfect because they tell a story the later generations still speak of. The same will be for that compass. Future generations will speak of how you faced down a dragon and the compass was smashed in the heat.”
Chick contemplated the broken compass.
“You are right,” he decided. “What a story to tell it will be.”
Dan patted my shoulder. “That’s why we’re here.”
Chick folded his arms across his chest.
“You have a remarkable team,” Chick had said to Kim. “You’ll do a whole lotta good all round and I’m sure Detective Hickes would be proud.”
All had been quiet on The Bay after the bros left as I’m sure you can imagine. Dominick was knelt at his altar again, praying. He was praying for the souls of the bros believe it or not. He had been a young boy seeking guidance once too. He could sympathise. With the corruption and unholy evil over in the city it was easy to become consumed.
“St Wigan,” he prayed. “May they find peace. May you grant them the strength to beat their addiction and become better men.”
Noah Wigan himself once said, “We are all connected in some way.”
Whether that connection was Godly, whether it was the longing to understand the wider world or whether it was boning so yer lad wouldn’t fall off, it was a connection.
He had learned something too by their presence. His father – Gabriel Cole – was a heartless bastard with impossible standards. He and his sister were merely pawns for him to manoeuvre within the church. Dominick had been beaten so much with religious teachings and expectations, he had forgotten that life was to be lived. The bros were nothing if not a good reminder of that.
Dominick looked up. He kissed his clasped fingers, taking in the cross of St Wigan. His teachings had to be brought to the city. With the right approach the city dwellers could be embraced and shown the way.
Dominick frowned a little. He unclasped his hands and stood. He took a little closer look at the painting that hung prominently on the main wall of the church.
“Is that a cock drawn on St Michael?!” he raged.
“Fuck it! They’re all heathen cunts!”
Reynolds had just emerged from his office to hear Kim cry, “Those fucking Owens!”
There had been quite a run around given to the agents on account of the influential family – mostly Buddy. However, thankfully the Good Gang prevailed, facing some insurmountable odds. Reynolds – looking a little beaten himself – was concerned for Kim’s welfare. She would survive and she would be stronger for it.
“What’s happened around here?” she asked.
Reynolds shook his head and said, “There’ll be time for that later.”
A lot of it was still going on at this point but for the time being he was keen to hear of their adventure.
Chloe came rushing behind her.
“Kim?” she tugged her arm gently but excitedly. “There’s a man here to see you.”
“Oh?” Lydia teased. “Kept that quiet.”
The man Chloe referred to cut quite a figure in Coldford.
Teddy Owen stood in the Harbour House reception hall looking a little nervous. Beverly behind the reception desk was taking a much closer look.
“Ted?” Kim smiled at the one Owen she was pleased to see at this stage. “What are you doing here?”
“Chick was fussin’ for me to come visit. I was mighty keen on seeing what your Coldford City was like. I was not disappointed. Were you aware a stoning occurred recently like in biblical times?”
“Too aware,” answered Reynolds.
Kim introduced them.
“Reynolds, this is Teddy Owen. Teddy, this is John Reynolds.”
Reynolds clasped his hand tightly.
“I heard a lot about you from Sam,” he said. “Keeping these guys alive makes you a gnarly dude in my books.”
“I’m only as good as the people I have to work with,” he replied. “Which is why I’m here. I was wondering if the offer of employment with your agency was still available? Chick and I have discussed it and I feel guilty for not being there for Buddy when I should have. I’d like to stay in the city for a while and help out where I can. I have my curriculum vitae if you’d like to see it.”
“No need, Ted,” she said. “We’re grateful for all the help we can get.”
That, dear readers, was the adventure to the Great States. It was filled with danger, excitement and opened the eyes of this reporter to the wider world that lay outside the Shady City. Detective Joel Hickes would have been proud. With dedication to duty and the relentless pursuit of all that was good, the agents upheld his vision. As I return my attention back to the city and the events that unfolded there, never was there more need of the Hickes Agency, better known as the Good Gang.