“Damnit playa’” Anthony had cried over the message. “You better get your ass back here. We’re down on the second deck and we’re in a whole loada shit. I mean like mountain of shit. Like truck loads!”
“Yeah, I got the point,” Joshua responded.
He was already on his way to the second deck of the Motherboard building. This particular floor housed Coby Games’ main I.T suite. It was also where the Main Information Local Drive Reader and Encryption Device sat, or MILDRED for short. MILDRED was the main Coby server. Putting it simply, she was the main power house of the Coby Games empire. She was the heart of the Motherboard.
On this morning, as Joshua rushed to see who was gaining access to MILDRED’S information, he was greeted by a man in black.
“Good morning, Mr Coby,” he greeted. “I’m Professor Lynch.”
The Law Maker pin on his lapel introduced his purpose before he said anything further.
Beads of sweat had started to gather on Josh’s forehead but his body language remained composed.
“If you have a warrant I’d be happy to open up the servers for you.”
Professor Lynch smiled. It would have been personable if the man weren’t so sure of himself.
“The warrant is within. You don’t have to worry. We already have access to your servers. If you’ll be so kind and step inside with me. My charge has some questions he would like to ask about what he’s found so far.”
Professor Lynch pushed the door open to the main frame room. The heat within was like stepping into an oven no matter how many fans were operating. At the table next to MILDRED, hidden mostly by a hefty laptop with the Law Maker symbol on the lid, was a boy of about ten years old. His name was Sanjay Rappapor. He was a remarkable young man. Certified genius at age seven he already had degrees in information technology from Kingsgate University.
Coincidentally this was where he had met his handler, Professor Lynch. Lynch was a retired academic. His specialty was history and communication. He had been tasked with overlooking the boy, honing his skills and providing service to the Office of Law Makers’ forensic accountants.
He was a part of their ‘Hell Hound’ team, the other two of which we’ve already met.
Joshua looked to the registry screen.
‘LIL_SNIFFLES LOGGED IN’
That was the name he went by in the cyber world. He called himself that as a tongue in cheek play on the name the Black Bands gave him when they learned of his ability to spread viruses through online communities. He was a Subala native, raised by Van Holder himself. He had been brought to Coldford and educated by Judge Doyle.
Lynch went on to explain, “We’re going to start by searching the archives for any time the name Tabitha McInney turns up.”
The search Lil Sniffles had initiated produced one result.
“We’ll copy those files as part of our investigation,” added Lynch. “You’ll find the details in the warrant.”
BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP.
More search finds popped up.
“We’ll take into account the sensitivity of some of the other user data on the servers, employee details etc. Only information used in evidence will be presented.”
BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP.
Sanjay looked up from behind his computer. To Joshua he seemed delighted by what he had found.
BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP.
Sanjay raised an eyebrow at his screen. He then tapped on some keys.
BLEEP. Another one? Does that win a prize?
The door was thrown open by Anthony.
“Wooooh!” he gasped having rushed from his office on the fourth deck. “Got here as quick as I could.”
Professor Lynch addressed the Coby lawyer. “You must be our legal correspondent. You will have been made aware we’ve been granted at least three hours of your server time to gather what information we can.”
“That little mother fucker is going to cause all kinds of shit,” Anthony said to Joshua in an aside.
“I’ve not done anything wrong,” Joshua maintained.
Anthony agreed. “I know but they ain’t going to see it that way. If our users find out the Law Makers are tracking servers they’re going to pull out. Your dealings with the Boss Lady…”
“God damn it, will you shut that thing up!?”
Sanjay scowled behind his laptop screen.
“Feel free to go about your business for now,” said Lynch. “We wouldn’t want to hold you back. I think we have everything we need here. We’ll call you should anything turn up.”
A cacophony of bleeps sounded from Sanjay’s laptop then. He stopped. He leaned back in his chair. He took a sip of the milkshake that had been brought for him.
‘LIL SNIFFLES HAS JOINED THE CHAT’
Joshua read the server screen. ‘I know that user name,’ he reflected. He was the one that wrecked the Lonesome Nights server just last year.
The game had been glitching all day. The support thread had been filling for most of the afternoon. People were asking a lot of questions as to where their profiles had gone. It was a major data breach. A lot of money was lost too, as users logged out and the stock at Beckingridge Tower dropped rapidly. One gamer tag, LIL_SNIFFLES, kept filling the error logs with complaints.
REG3 ONLINE – error code 1304
FINND ONLINE – error code 1504
LEXF1 ONLINE – error code 1104
It took two hours for Joshua, backed by two of Coby’s best technicians, to break the firewall that LIL_SNIFFLES had thrown up. When they finally managed to confront the user there were no verifications, no apologies, but his message had been simple.
LIL_SNIFFLES has joined the chat.
LIL_SNIFFLES: Your servers have now been infected by a rapidly replicating virus. In the next few hours it will have destroyed your mainframe’s hard drive. You will already be experiencing a 60% fall in your processing speed. I’m not looking to cause any permanent damage. I have the code to write the virus out.”
Joshua looked to Anthony at the time.
“What do we do about this?” he asked.
“Find out what the mother fucker wants,” Anthony suggested. “Those stocks are still falling and if we don’t do something about this we’re gonna end up flat broke.”
Joshua sighed. He took one of the stations.
COBYPLAYER1 has joined the chat.
COBYPLAYER1: What do you want?
It didn’t take long before there was a response.
LIL_SNIFFLES: The Murabe village in Southern Subala is under a constant wave of attacks from nearby rebels. I will send you a video file which confirms some of the atrocities. You will circulate this as far as your networks will allow. Once this has been done I will write the virus out of your system.”
Joshua checked the footage. It was difficult to stomach. There were graphic images of men, women and children being put to the slaughter. It was a humanitarian crisis in a part of the world that Coldford seemed to have forgotten about. It was brought back to mind that day. As agreed, the awareness was spread and the virus was removed. LIL_SNIFFLES had bested the brightest minds of Coby games, including Josh Coby himself.
Three hours after gaining access to the server room, Joshua returned to the second deck to check on them. He wanted to politely remind little Sanjay and his handler that it was time to leave.
When he entered the heat again Sanjay was still behind his laptop.
“Time now, Sanjay,” said Professor Lynch.
He had been pacing, admiring the Coby games hardware.
Sanjay logged out of the mainframe and stored his laptop away in a black shoulder bag. On this bag was the badge of the Subala Black Bands.
After they were gone, Anthony asked Josh how many occurrences of the Boss Lady being mentioned they found.
Josh shook his head. “Adding her full name, Shanties and Knock Knock Club to the search, two hundred and forty six.”
I didn’t get much opportunity to visit Cardyne. It was an area of the city that set itself aside from the rest. It is the technological center of Coldford, as previously discussed. As I made my way to my meeting point, I passed glittering arcades, hip hop dance demonstrations on the streets and swarms of smiling, excited faces. It was a buzzing, bright place.
I arrived at The Planetarium restaurant. To access the unique building, you were taken aboard a glass elevator with a 360 view. Once inside you were raised to the sky-scraping platform where the space themed eatery sat. The view over Cardyne you were given was beyond remarkable. The light show from the Gigantidome Complex as darkness set in was worth spending a few extra minutes at the restaurant entrance to watch.
Waiting inside at our reserved table was Joshua Coby. He was a down to earth man on first appearance. He waved me over but before I could join him, I was stopped by a waitress.
“Table for one?” she asked.
“I’m here to meet with Mr Coby,” I explained.
The waitress turned back for confirmation from Josh.
“He’s with me, Lorraine,” he confirmed.
The waitress handed me a menu with a smile.
“I’ll be your server,” she said. “I’ll give you a few moments. Can I get you something to drink?”
“Just coffee please,” I ordered.
“Thanks for taking the time out to meet with me,” I said to Josh as I took the seat across from him.
“The Express and the Daily have been hounding me. I had to file grievances against them when they both printed contradicting stories without my say so. They both have their agendas so I’d rather talk to you,” Josh explained.
Such was the way of mainstream press.
“I thought it would be better to talk to a guy who had been through it too,” he added.
“I appreciate it,” I assured him. I couldn’t help but feel a bitter glee at the thought of Sandra Wake’s reaction when she saw my ‘little blog’ had an exclusive interview with Mr 60 himself.
“Tabitha is clamped at the club for now until the Office of Law Makers do what they have to to lock her up again. How do you feel about that?”
“She’s really something,” Josh laughed nervously. “I knew this would blow up, that’s why I thought I had better set my part of the story straight.”
He seemed to think about how he felt about Tabitha’s limited freedom. In an expression that surprised me he seemed to be quite pleased at the idea. “It’s good for the Shanties, I suppose,” he said. “I heard the Baroness was back on stage at the club, too. They’ll be glad. A lot of people were put out of homes and left without help when the Law Makers shut them down.”
“A lot of people benefited from The Knock Knock Club,” I admitted. “Do you think it was worth the lives lost, though?”
“You can’t put a price on life,” said Josh. “All I know is we all gotta wake up to what’s going on around here.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” I said. “Freefall was a wake up for you?”
“I had never been more woken in my life. I don’t think I slept for days after.”
Click. Click. Click.
The noise of the high heels slowly crossing the marble floor resonated in Joshua’s ears. He clutched the huge Beckingridge table he was sat at. The dead body of one of the firm’s employees still lay on top.
He was shivering uncontrollably. It could have been the breeze. The window was still open where fifty nine people had fallen to their deaths.
Click. Click. Click.
“You seem a decent kinda guy, so I’ll level with you.”
Josh looked up. The girl in the red dress perched herself on the table next to him.
“I did what I did tonight because I’m standing up for those who cannot fight for themselves,” said she. “I’m like a fucking superhero.”
Josh cried, “I think you made your point.”
“Maybe,” replied Tabitha. “Do you think I’ve made my point?” she asked Reggie Penn.
Reggie snatched Josh by the collar and dragged him to the window. Josh emitted a shriek when he was held out. Given the height of Beckingridge Tower it was a little blurry but the mess of body, blood and brains below made his stomach turn.
“I had therapy for a while afterwards,” Joshua explained. “I’m doing better now but I was a mess at the time.”
“I can imagine,” I said.
Given all that I had faced since Tabitha came into my life I could completely understand.
“So, I got this.”
Joshua rolled up his sleeve, displaying a tattoo on his arm that showed the number sixty. I snapped a picture of it.
“It reminds me how close I came,” said he. “I came so close to spilling my guts on the Beck Tower courtyard. It reminds me every day that no matter what happens, I have to do business right. No matter how much easier it would be to cut corners. It was really my commitment to doing the right thing that saved my life that night. It stopped at fifty nine. It stopped at me.”
“Was anything mentioned about Mayor Feltz and what she had done with him?”
“No,” Josh stated with certainty.
“After what she put you through, why would you listen to anything she has to say?”
Josh thought about it. “It was fear at first,” he said. “I’ve never dealt with anything like that in my life. My games can be violent sometimes but never have I seen anything like that in reality. I’m Cardyne born and we’ve got a small community here. It’s a culture shock when you go into City Main. Reg Penn was no man to mess around. The triplets aren’t either. Tabitha? She was something else. As the night wore on, the more she dropped her stage act. She let her performance fall behind the curtains and I could see she was desperate. You would have to have been to do what she did. She was right on a lot of things though. Too many people were being overlooked. Someone had to catch attention.”
“That’s one way of looking at it,” I said. “I can’t agree with you, though. There was nothing right in what she did.”
Josh nodded. “I know, but if you were backed into a corner what would you do? I never thought I would find myself listening to the ramblings of a crazy little bitch in a red dress. If you had told me before I would have said, ‘I’d fight her off no sweat,’ but I didn’t.”
This made me think of Madeline, my former colleague and friend. I had been backed into a corner then both figuratively and literally. If someone had asked me, I would never have said I was capable of taking a life. I guess we can’t predict even our own behavior under certain circumstances.
The tone of our conversation, which was a polite and courteous exchange, was broken by a Coby games jingle that sang from Joshua’s pocket.
“Sorry,” he excused himself removing the device. “I have alerts on all the newsfeeds. It looks like the Daily has something.”
I shook my head. “This I’d love to see.”
“Becker screen, Shirley,” Josh called to the waitress. On receipt of her orders, she switched on a large screen that hung above the entrance to the kitchens. The screen showed a cartoon icon from a game called ‘Chomper Dash,’ rush across. It was then replaced by an image of Sandra Wake, standing before her camera lens, poised with a microphone in her hand. She was camped outside the Coby Games building.
“In the last hour we’ve received reports that Joshua Coby of Coby Games inc has been remanded in custody by the Office of Law Makers for being complicit in the Freefall Massacre event which saw the deaths of fifty nine members, associates and staff of the Beckingridge Firm. When the event occurred, Mr Coby had stated that he had no prior meetings with Tabitha McInney of The Knock Knock Club. He did have acquaintance with Reggie Penn of the Penn Auction House, who helped orchestrate the tragedy. A Coby Games whistle blower has confirmed that Mr Coby and Reggie Penn had a long friendship and it is alleged that the Coby Games servers were used to spread information regarding the victims, access the Beckingridge Tower and lead the victims to their unfortunate deaths. Mr Coby has claimed himself Mr 60 and said he was always grateful to have survived. It could have been luck on his behalf or maybe it is something more sinister. Mr Coby has refused comment. More to follow as the events unfold. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily, your only source for the real news in the Shady City.”
246 mentions found by Sanjay on his servers. Reggie had a lot of friends in that cyber world. Joshua had been confident he was innocent of any wrong doing as well he should have been, but the more he thought of his servers the more ill at ease he became.
“That rotten to the core witch,” I found myself grumbling.
I’m not proud of it but the idea of my old newspaper continuing to tear reputations apart got under my skin. If anyone was going to push someone like Joshua Coby to do underhanded things it was those hyenas. It strengthened my resolve to tell the true stories, no matter where I found them. The truth was Joshua was a good man. His empire brought thrills to many. His tactics of encouraging and inspiring was admirable. I couldn’t let him be dragged through the mud.
“It’s time to get the truth out Josh. We don’t have a lot of time before this spreads so I’ll make a quick video now and we can do a full piece later. We need a response to this before it gets too hot.”
Joshua looked nervous. He bit his lip at first but then he managed a smile.
I opened my phone to camera. The video we recorded isn’t of much relevance. It basically reiterated the details of Josh’s experience at Beckingridge Tower. I asked him his opinions on all those involved which he gave respectfully but truthfully. I gathered the video to upload quickly. We were in a race against time before the latest Daily drivel became viral.
ERROR 65 CANNOT ACCESS
“It won’t let me upload,” I said, feeling thankful at having the tech mogul with me. “Error 65.”
Josh raised an eyebrow. “You use the Scroll On software, right? That’s one of ours. Let me see.”
I passed my phone to him for examination. He peeled off the back. Pressed an inner button that allowed for some kind of reset. When he tried again, he sighed. He took his own phone. His screen asked him for his server I.D. When he presented this his screen also read Error 65.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“They’ve shut down our servers,” Joshua admitted. “I’m sorry, Sam. I have to go and check on this.”
Joshua departed our interview in a hurry. I warned him to be careful if Sandra was hovering around his building still. Left alone, I contemplated how I was going to get around my own predicament. If it was true and the servers had been shut it meant all my previous stories and interviews were gone. I had essentially been thrown into the media dark.
As I looked up at the Becker screen the image cut. ERROR 65 it now read.
“Fire up the incinerator. Clear the fields. Turn the soil and plant.”
Harvester Farm was far from sitting pretty but Julia Harvester was an expert at keeping up appearances. What made her so nervous? Article 22 could reach as far as Bournton which made Harvester Farm the first stop for the High Court bailiffs on their pursuit North.
“Hurry! Hurry!” she called to the farm hands as they carried documents to the incinerator shed.
“I accept full responsibility,” Micky Doyle had said. “I now lay myself at the mercy of the High Court.” Mercy was death by firing squad. Judge Doyle showed no favours – not even to her own cousin.
As expected, a timeless car made its way along the path to the farmhouse.
“Susie,” farm hand Glenn said to his daughter. “Go inside.”
“What’s wrong?” asked Susie.
Glenn gently urged the little girl towards the entrance to the house. “Just do as you’re told.”
Susie didn’t argue any further.
When the car reached the farmhouse, it parked. A man alighted from it in a long black coat. His gothic appearance would have him mistaken for a Doyle if it weren’t for his fairer hair and engaging smile.
“The farm is just as beautiful as I was told,” he said. He brought himself before the farm girl. He took her hand in his and patted it. “You must be Miss Harvester. The word of your beauty wasn’t spoken in lies either.” He looked to Glenn. “I’m sorry, this must seem so intrusive of me. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mr Kutz. I’m from the office of Law Makers and if your colleague wouldn’t be offended, I would like to speak to you in private.”
Julia obliged. Her whole life she had been taught to be a nice girl. When nice girls receive unexpected guests, they paint on their nice smiles and search the kitchens for something to make their guest feel at home.
“I was just preparing lunch,” explained the farm girl. “Would you join us?”
Kutz gave a wide smile. “That would be delightful. I am afraid my job may keep me here for most of the afternoon.” There was no regret in his words. “At least,” he added.
Julia led Kutz to the kitchens. The smell of beef was already lending a fragrant air to the farmhouse. It seemed to delight Kutz.
“I have heard so much about the Harvester steaks,” he said. “I’ve been so long in Luen, it would be a treat to sample one. I learned a little trick from Chef Marceau. May I?”
Kutz took a knife and began prodding at the steak that was heating on the frying pan. The juices sweated from the meat under the prod of his knife.
“It’s all about due care and attention,” explained the Law Maker. “When you are able to apply heat evenly not a single bit of meat escapes without being at its most delectable.”
Kutz’s attention was snatched up by a painting – a David Finn original. The image was of Julia. It was sultry but also theological. It was the sort of image one might find in books on mythology.
“Stunning work,” Kutz commented.
“It was a favourite piece of Dr Winslow,” Julia explained. “He was resident here before he was arrested. I haven’t had the time to remove it yet.”
“It would be a shame to,” said Mr Kutz. “It’s beautiful.”
He dropped a piece of the steak on a plate and carried it back to the table and took his seat. “I’m sure my presence here – as pleasant as it is for me – is a little unnerving for you so let me put your mind at ease. I’m from the department of the Law Makers that have been tasked with double checking old cases that might be changed with the introduction of Article 22. On the face of it I would be happy to simply mark your farm off my list and be done but there are procedures to follow, I’m afraid. I just want to ask a few questions.”
“I already told everything I know to the High Court,” Julia said.
Kutz cut a piece of the meat and dropped it into his maw. He chewed thoroughly before answering. “And we were very grateful for that,” he assured. “Which is why we hope you will indulge us again.”
“Winslow ran the Harbour House project.”
Kutz nodded as though he was wholeheartedly agreeing with her.
“That is quite so, by his own admittance. We have accounted for most of the bodies but there’s just one that alludes me. Does the name Nathan Watt mean anything to you?”
Julia smiled. “He’s a friend of mine.”
A frost began to gather on Kutz’s tone. “His mother has brought it to our attention that he came here a few weeks ago and he hasn’t been seen since. It’s almost like the boy came to your lovely farm and simply vanished. If he’s still here I’d just like a quick chat with him to put the poor old dear’s mind at rest.”
“I haven’t seen him,” Julia admitted. “We had a little bit of an argument and he left.”
“That’s a shame,” said Kutz. He watched her closely through some awkward silence. “Was that before or after he went to the Delphine?”
“Have a nice flight, Captain,” the Coldford City airport manager waved off The Cappy as he made his way to the west runway where his plane, Dynasty, was being prepared for take-off. He was making a return trip to the Great States. Just when he had managed to bring his son Buddy back to Coldford and put him in rehab, he received a call from Owen Inc. board member Austin Perry.
“Jackson has filed the papers to have you removed,” he said. “He’s not stopping there though. He has a private investigator digging up as much as he can on you and Bud. It sounds like he wants you dead, mate.”
“I’m on my way,” Chick stated.
He was needed in the Great States. The board had called a meeting he wasn’t invited to. The only way they would be able to meet without the permission of the CEO was if Jackson’s motion to have him removed had taken its next steps. He would have to be there in person to remind them that the company was his. It was a long flight back to the Star State but at least it would give him time to think.
He had been consumed with plans and the rattle of the wheels of his flight case when his co-pilot stopped him. Chick looked up to see the entrance walkway blocked by a heavy man who was no stranger to weight lifting. He was watching them approach, but it was the stare of the woman beside him that caused Chick’s blood to run cold.
“Captain Owen?” asked the man. “This is Ms Sophie Bergman. We are from the Office of Law Makers. We need a private room. We need to speak.”
Chick turned to his co-pilot.
“Hold the flight,” he ordered. To the Law Makers he beckoned, “Follow me.”
To a private room in the captain’s lounge, they went.
With the door closed behind them Ms Bergman took a seat. Her colleague remained standing.
“So, what can I do for you?” asked the Cappy.
“I’m here to interpret,” said the man. “Ms Bergman will ask some questions.”
The whole time Sophie Bergman was watching Chick. Her expression told nothing. She was middle aged, raven haired and full lipped. She had pale, witch-like features resonating in a beautifully intimidating persona.
She had been hand-picked by Doyle for her remarkable eye for detail and her ability to spot fakes. Like a Golem by her side at all times, her interpreter was also a sworn protector. His massive presence was difficult to get past.
Ms Bergman turned to her Golem and signed. Chick had never learned sign language so he was lost trying to translate what she was saying. Long fingers gave her request. When she finished she turned, locking her eyes on Chick again. Golem nodded in receipt of his instructions.
“She will now ask you some questions,” he said.
Born deaf, Sophie Bergman was given a unique view of the world. She paid more attention to body language than most and in doing so she could see the truth on people’s lips even when the words they spoke were laced with lies. Most importantly she could see things others missed because the noise of the world drowned them out.
“Of course,” Chick agreed. There was no other option.
Sophie signed to her Golem.
“You will be aware of Article 22,” she had said. “Would you like the full details or are you learned enough to that I may continue?”
Chick nodded. He was familiar enough with the Article and so urged her to go ahead with her questioning.
“Cases 2198 and 2199 are being re-examined. Those cases both relate to your brother Gerald and involve The Knock Knock Club.”
“I understand,” he said. “I’ll tell you all I know but I fear it won’t lead any further forward.”
Golem didn’t need to sign. Sophie had read every word on his lips.
Still watching The Cappy, she raised her arms slowly and danced her fingers into signs. When she finished, she looked to the subject of her questioning. Chick flinched as her brow tightened as though she had seen something, a little detail that intrigued her. She turned to her Golem, flexed her fingers again into a sign of something additional to say.
“With the current orders on Tabitha McInney we are looking closely at The Knock Knock Club.”
“If it helps,” Chick replied. “I’d be happy to oblige the courts with my cooperation.”
“On the night the club was attacked you said your brother never contacted you?”
“It could be days or weeks between my hearing from Jerry,” explained Chick. “He only ever called when he needed something.”
Sophie’s head began to nod slightly. She signed again. As she did so she maintained her focus on her interviewee. If the delicacy of her hand movements were anything to go by Chick imagined she how soft her voice would be. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe she would be a clash of soft touch but harsh voice. Either way it was Golem’s words that echoed for her.
“‘If I find out this is true, I will cut your balls off myself.’ Does that phrase mean anything to you?”
“I was appalled at the rumours of his behaviour. I warned Jerry a number of times,” was Chick’s reply.
“When was the last time you gave this warning?” asked Sophie in sign.
“I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess,” the Cappy replied. “I expressed my disapproval many times. It was hurting my family both professionally and personally.”
Neither of them replied. Sophie allowed the silence she was experiencing to fall on the others. The Golem awaited his instructions. Sophie finally raised her fingers again to sign. The Golem observed.
“Are you sure you had no contact with Gerald on the night the club was attacked?” the question was put.
“I’m sure,” The Cappy returned.
She watched his lips for the truth.
“We’re going to have to ground you. Until we close the file, we’re detaining you in Coldford. All procedure. All authorised by the High Court.”
Article 22 had caused a new wave of detainments across the city. The power houses that cast the shades over Coldford were being locked in their palaces and where they were found wanting, they were forfeiting their lives.
Charles ‘Chick’ Owen’s wings were clipped. Thanks to Jackson stirring trouble with the Law Makers, Chick couldn’t leave Coldford, couldn’t have his say with the board and if he ended up losing his life as a result, well that would be just gravy.
“Good morning, Elizabeth.”
Shown to her guest by the house keeper, both Elizabeth Beckingridge and her guest were seated on a green chesterfield sofa in the lounge of Beckingridge Manor. The man was smiling warmly and offering her a bright-eyed look.
“Thanks for coming, Presley,” said the Beckingridge CEO.
“I would have been at our usual meeting but – well – circumstances,” he replied.
Elizabeth was under house arrest. Mayor Micky Doyle had managed to bring her name to the attention of Judge Karyn Doyle before his execution. When she received her summons, she couldn’t read past the phrase ‘Article 22: Under charges of assisting known terrorists.’ Article 22 had been all over the press.
“I’m in a lot of shit,” Elizabeth stated.
Presley nodded. “You are indeed. What were you thinking?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “I guess I wasn’t.”
Presley smiled again and opened his arms. “Well, if anything, it gave me the chance to visit your lovely home. I haven’t been here since before Ernest died.”
Presley Chance was chair of the Beckingridge Board. He was a financial wizard and mentored by Jeffrey Beckingridge – better known as Gramps – himself.
He and Elizabeth had agreed her nephew, George, couldn’t be allowed to take his place in charge of the tower.
“Disaster is what this could spell if you don’t tread carefully,” Presley pointed out. “For all of us. We’ve had a tough enough time fending off the bites from the sharks in our own tank. That stunt with the compass now has trouble heading from the Owen Board.”
Elizabeth giggled. “It was rather funny to see the look on his face.”
Presley grinned. “Oh, it was hilarious,” he admitted, “but we have bigger problems. Article 22 is no stunt. I attended Michael Doyle’s cremation. It doesn’t get any more real than that.”
“I want to make sure Vicky is well provided for. If I leave it to Catherine she’s going to grow up and have nothing in her future.”
Presley seemed to fall cold. He had expected her to be more disagreeable, to fight more. Her preparations had caught him off guard.
“I also want to pass the details of my investigation on George to my agents. Kitten will know what to do. She can finish what the other investigators started.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Presley. “We can’t make any moves until the Law Makers serve against you. Micky’s hearsay – which he is no longer in the position to voice – is all they have. It falls to whatever Reginald Penn told them and how little he wanted to involve you.”
Elizabeth took a sip of the Macks she clutched.
“I should be okay then. Reginald was nothing if not a noble bastard.”
Presley agreed. “He was but we still need to prepare you for the worst. If the safety of his family was on the line, he would choose them over you any day of the week. You know I’m forever an optimist but Article 22,” he clasped his hands together, laced with gold rings. “We have reached a point in the city we haven’t known for some time. The savagery of it all is making me lose my appetite. Gramps spoke of seeing the last man in Coldford hang on the lawns. They called him the final. When the rope dropped on the killing fields outside City Face, Coldford swore then there would be no more public executions. Seeing that man hang affected your grandfather. As young as he had been at the time, he never forgot it.” He sighed. “I just can’t wrap my head around it.”
The damning article had led Lewis Salinger – the headmaster of Pettiwick – whose family had run and owned the private school for generations, to arrest. It was discovered that naughty Lewis had been embezzling funds. When it came to light that some of those funds had been feeding the Loyalists of City Main with weaponry he was put to death. Presley had watched Lewis’ eyes widen just the way an animals would when it spots the hunter with the gun pointed.
‘Assisting known terrorists’ had been the charge. Death was the sentence. The needle was pricked through his neck. The toxins were pushed into the blood stream. Lewis didn’t lose that wide eyed look. His head simply fell onto his right shoulder, caught in the jaws of a predator.
Lethal injection was Lewis’ chosen fate because in the west wing of The Boss lay the healing halls. Medical practitioner Harold Fishman was in residence. He was a specialist toxicologist and claimed the fastest, most humane method of execution.
“I can trust you to keep the board in hand for the time being,” Elizabeth put to Presley, more as a hope than a request.
“I will but it won’t be long before the smell of blood in the water makes them ravenous. I can only keep George at bay for so long. A majority of the board see him as the rightful appointee and more beneficial to them.”
All the resources of the firm’s legal team had been redeployed to learning about Article 22 and preparing for charges that were set to befall Elizabeth.
“What can I do?” she asked. In the absence of Gramps, Presley was the best source of advice.
“Stop making things worse for yourself. For lack of a better phrase, learn to behave.”
The door opened and Catherine came in carrying her daughter, Victoria, in her arms.
“Well hello, darling Vicky,” said Presley cheerily. “You look more precious every day.”
Catherine stayed quietly in the door way.
“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t realise you were meeting.”
Returning to the house and seeing the bailiffs surrounding the area left Catherine on edge. It hadn’t been the first time she had been forced to realise her own mortality and that of those around her but the presence of the High Court on the Beckingridge lawns seemed more final.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Elizabeth,” said Catherine. “Can I get you anything?”
Aunt and niece had their history. Elizabeth walked with a prosthetic leg because of her. Despite having lost a father, a mother, a brother, a teacher and a friend, she hadn’t raised herself to the responsibility of her child. Article 22 had its way of putting things in perspective. Catherine had seen the footage of Micky’s execution.
“It’ll be alright, baby girl,” her father, Ernest, would have said.
It wouldn’t be alright. Not by a long shot. That was a promise no one in the Shady City could make when the courts of the land called for the heads of anyone who would dare stray from their rules.
“I can take Vicky,” Catherine said. “I was going to stay here anyway.”
Elizabeth reached out her arms. “Give her here,” she said. “Come to me Vicky. I want to keep you close.”
Vicky giggled as she was passed into her great aunt’s arms. Presley and Elizabeth spoke for a while about matters of the firm, the running of the Beckingridge Tower. but he could tell she was losing her concentration.
“For what it’s worth, I don’t believe they’ll push for capital providing you cooperate.”
Elizabeth’s confidence was starting to return as she tickled Victoria’s chin.
“Can I tell you something?” Elizabeth put to him.
Presley beamed. “Of course you can.”
“I have never been more uncertain in my life. I am scared.”
“We all are,” Presley replied. “But we must trust in Reginald keeping his promise.”
Catherine had wandered into the kitchen. She looked out of the window onto the manor lawns. Perhaps Reginald would have protected them but when the bailiffs caught scent of the history buried at Beckingridge manor there would be no stopping them.
The Mother Board. An unusual looking building. The seat of power in the Cardyne area of the Shady City. Cardyne is considered the technological centre of Coldford and home of Coby Games inc. with Joshua Coby himself born and raised there. Some would even say he was responsible for making it what it was. He was, after all, the man responsible for the Cardyne Grid, an essential in powering the city and giving it its fastest access to the world beyond its borders.
Joshua is unconventional, fresh and most importantly honourable. That was how Coby Games liked to do business. Joshua was well aware of how things were conducted in Coldford. He had had stern words with Reginald Penn, the so-called King of Main, when plans were put in place with Fullerton Construction for a new game store in his area. He also had been present at the Free Fall Massacre. They called him Mr 60 because the Fallen 59 should have made that number. He never spoke of what happened that night but it had truly spooked him. Despite it all, despite the threats from the other Coldford power houses, he refused to change how he conducted business.
A video comm from his secretary was what alerted Joshua to a visit from the Law Makers.
“A Mr John Capital and a Mrs Michelle Logan to see you Josh,” she said. She was bright cheeked, bubbly and dressed in a Coby games shirt rather than traditional office attire. “Bailiffs. They have a warrant from the High Court.”
Joshua’s face remained at ease. “Send them in and move my twelve o’clock to four, please Shirley.”
The call closed and before long the two Law Makers – previously introduced – entered.
“Come in. Makes yourselves comfortable,” Josh stood from behind his desk to shake the Law Maker’s hand. When they were seated, he took his own seat again.
“Can I get you anything? Water? Tea? Juice?”
Mrs Logan spoke first. “We don’t want to disrupt your day too much Mr Coby so if you don’t mind, we’ll just get on with our warrant.”
Josh shrugged and leaned casually on his desk. He chuckled. “Is a warrant really necessary? If there was anything here you wanted to see you only have to ask.”
“It’s not a warrant to search the premises. It’s a warrant to detain you,” said Mr Capital. Before Josh had a chance to reply he added, “Just whilst we ask you some questions.”
“I’m under arrest?” Asked Joshua.
“Not exactly,” ensured Mrs Logan. “We only wish to ask you some questions.”
“But the questions must be answered,” added Mr Capital.
“I gave my official statement regarding the entry into the Monte Fort. The signed agreement from the mayor was submitted to your office. My statement was fact checked by the High Court and independent investigators.”
Both the bailiffs were at ease in Joshua’s office. They knew him to be a reasonable man.
“As you will be aware Article 22 is in effect. As such, previous investigations have been opened to new light. This includes the Free Fall Massacre. Have you had any contact with Tabitha McInney of The Knock Knock Club?”
Joshua gave a friendly smile. “I’d hate to seem uncooperative, but I’ll have my legal rep here for our discussions if you don’t mind.”
“That’s your right, Mr Coby. But we’d really like to avoid delays where possible,” Mrs Logan said with a little impatience.
“I won’t hold you long. He operates from this building.”
Mrs Logan and Mr Capital couldn’t argue. Joshua was well within his rights. They couldn’t stop him. Joshua pushed a button to summon his secretary again. Shirley’s face flashed on the comm screen.
“Can you send in Anthony, please?” he requested. “Tell him we have bailiffs waiting. It’s urgent.”
“Sure, Josh,” she replied. “He’s on his way.”
Efficient, fast communication was important at Coby Games. When your bread and butter was fast connections and a future thinking spirit, it couldn’t be anything less.
Joshua smiled at the bailiffs. “Sure I can’t get you anything? Anthony will be here soon enough.”
Mr Capital rested back in his chair. It was a clean office, he observed. A collection of monitor screens surrounded them, displaying live footage from around the Coby empire, including a competitive Lonesome Nights tournament in the gaming room on The Mother Board’s third deck.
Before long there was a knock on the door. It opened to allow entry to a black man in his mid-thirties. He was full faced, sharply dressed in a crisp white shirt and smiling despite the ominous presence of the bailiffs.
“Anthony,” greeted Joshua. “This is bailiffs Mrs Logan and Mr Capital. They want to ask me some questions. With Article 22 now in place I thought it would be best if you were here. I don’t really know much about it so you’d be better placed to answer what the High Court needs to know.”
Anthony frowned. “Article 22 doesn’t void the statement that was already given.”
Mrs Logan agreed, “Correct but it reopens old cases for re-examination. The Free Fall Massacre, for instance.”
Anthony’s frown deepened.
“Mr Coby,” Mr Capital addressed Joshua directly. “We don’t want to be intrusive but given the extent of Article 22 we need to make sure all the tees are crossed; all the i’s are dotted and initials are on every page.”
“Do I look like a dumb shit to you?” Anthony asked.
Both Mr Capital and Mrs Logan locked their eyes on the lawyer. “I gotta ask because you just ignored what I said like I’m some dumb shit.”
Mr Capital turned to Joshua again. “The investigation into The Knock Knock Club is still ongoing. Our office would like to close it as soon as possible.”
“Getting your stats up isn’t our problem,” said Anthony. “If you are suggesting that my client may be involved in an Article 22 case you better stop treating me like a dumb shit.”
Mrs Logan frowned. “We are just hoping for some cooperation from Mr Coby.”
“He’ll cooperate,” Anthony assured. “But when you come in here with a warrant waving a mother fucking Article 22 you are going to allow my client due process.”
“Our warrant has the signature of Judge Doyle,” stated Mr Capital.
Anthony was unmoved. “Then get me Judge Doyle,” he insisted. “I want to speak to Judge Doyle right fucking now.”
“So, you are contesting?” asked Mr Capital.
“Seriously!?” Anthony gasped looking to Joshua and pointing to himself. “Are the words coming out of my mouth not making any sense?”
Joshua kept a neutral expression.
“I never said I was contesting,” Anthony stated. “I said I want to speak to Doyle.”
“Her Honourable is busy…” began Mrs Logan but Anthony cut her off.
“If my client has a High Court warrant on his ass, I have the right to the terms and conditions. That can’t come from you. With Doyle’s signature on that warrant, it can only come from her. My client has the right to know why he is being held for information. Get Doyle on the God damned phone.”
Mr Capital removed his phone with a scowl.
Joshua leaned back in his chair. “Maybe you’ll take that water now.”
After some convincing and being passed through departments of Doyle’s office, they finally reached the judge. Joshua had the call beamed onto the conference screen. The large wall mounted panel showed the ghostly pale woman with a gaping scar across her left eye. Her naturally red lips were puckered.
“Good morning, ma’am,” Anthony greeted first. “I appreciate you taking the time to explain to us the warrant your bailiffs have here.”
“I believe the details are quite clear,” Judge Doyle stated. “I have issued a warrant for information from your client. Under Article 22, if he refuses, he can be treated as hostile.”
“We’re not refusing, Your Honour,” Anthony assured. “What we object to is a warrant being served on my client with no prior notice. There’s been no warning and no previous charges. When the Freefall file was closed you said yourself he had been nothing but helpful.”
Judge Doyle nodded, “Go on.”
“My client wants to help out but if this investigation reopens, I need to make sure my boy is protected professionally, personally and legally because no matter what he has to do, he’s gonna piss some mother fucker off. With Article 22 looming over the city, it’s making people crazy. The article states that when repeals are made by the High Court, a fourteen-day grace period is allowed for legal reps to familiarise themselves so we can uphold the mother fucking due process.”
A slight smile traced Doyle’s lips.
“As always, Mr James, you’re well informed. The language, though? I suggest you check your words when speaking to me or any representatives of my court.”
“I apologise, Your Honour,” Anthony replied. “But my point still stands.”
Doyle nodded. “I’ll grant you a grace period. When we reconvene, I trust Mr Coby will work fully with the court. I have always known him to be an upstanding man.”
“He’s a good man, Your Honour,” said Anthony. “His mama made me promise I’d keep him that way.”
Judge Doyle gave a glance to Joshua through the screen. “I’ll be hearing from you then, Mr Coby. When you recant your statement to the court, I trust no details will have changed.”
“It’ll be word for word, Your Honour.”
Doyle closed the call. The bailiffs had no choice but to leave.
Anthony closed the door to Josh’s office.
“Ohhh,” he exclaimed, catching his breath. “That judge is one scary ass bitch!”
Joshua’s neutral expression dissolved to finally allow for concern.
“What can this Article 22 mean?” he asked.
“It means if you’re convicted of a capital crime your ass can be fried before anyone asks why. We’re talking about drive through executions, delivered in thirty minutes or less or get your money back kinda shit.”
“But I haven’t done anything wrong,” Josh said.
“Not now, playa’, but I highly recommend your set your ass back from this Boss Lady. She is trouble with a capital T. We aren’t playing games anymore.”
“It’s been two bastard weeks!” Elizabeth complained to her niece and nephew. George and Catherine weren’t exactly ideal company but at least it was someone to yell at who wasn’t wearing a bailiff uniform or Law Maker pin.
“Screw all of them!” Liz barked. “I’m going out.”
“You can’t,” said Catherine. “They’ll arrest you.”
George was sat picking at Cecil’s fur. He was way too old to be finding comfort in a stuffed animal but that was really the least of his quirks.
“I can go out,” he said. “They can’t stop me.”
Elizabeth frowned. “How splendid for you.”
“Why don’t you just do us all a favour and die already,” she went on. Her frustrations were peaking. Under house arrest in a large manor would seem not so bad for some but when that manor was shared with a nephew with psychopathic tendencies, it wasn’t ideal.
“This isn’t helping,” Presley Cage had warned Elizabeth of her treatment of the bailiffs on her lawns. “You’re going to have to suck it up until the Law Makers make their next move. For helping Reginald Penn, it could be their next move is your execution. Do not give them any excuse. All this Article 22 nonsense is beyond barbaric.”
“How am I to get through this?” Elizabeth asked.
“I’m going out,” George announced excitedly. “Gonna smash some hoes with my bros! I might stay out all day,” he teased.
“Do fuck off George,” Elizabeth barked.
George stood, grinning. He left Cecil sitting in his place at the breakfast table. Elizabeth was considering her next move when a knock at the window disturbed her. George had stepped outside and was waving in at her. There was a stupid grin on his face.
Elizabeth stormed towards the window. She pulled a hose from underneath the sink. She threw open the window, turned the taps and pushed the hose through not only soaking George but also two bailiffs who had been passing at the time. They scowled severely at her. Her nephew skipped off, giggling.
“I’m sorry,” said Elizabeth sarcastically. “Maybe if you did your jobs properly and caught real criminals, I wouldn’t be having to hose psychopaths away from my windows. Get off my fucking lawns!” She pulled the window closed again. “Imbiciles,” she mused.
“You’re going to have to calm down and stop yelling at them,” her niece advised.
“Catherine,” Elizabeth warned. “I know you’re trying to help but…you’re not. Do shut up.”
Catherine scowled. “I hate you,” she grumbled.
“Not to worry, before too long you may not have to deal with me anymore.”
Catherine’s baby, Vicky, began to cry, having awoken from her afternoon nap.
“I’ll fetch her,” Elizabeth stated.
The afternoon wore on. When it reached four pm, Elizabeth could hear some discord in the gardens. From the window of Vicky’s nursery, she could see bailiffs becoming excitable. There was a lot of discussion and waving of arms.
The door was thrown open and Catherine entered looking a little flustered.
“You’ve been asked to come downstairs,” she said.
At the bottom of the stairs a bailiff was awaiting her.
“Her Honourable, Judge Karyn Doyle to see you,” they informed her.
“Go look after Vicky,” said Elizabeth to her niece. “It looks like I’m going to have a chat with the ghoul herself.”
The judge was in the den. She was stood with her hands behind her back, watching the bailiffs circulating the area from the window.
“We’ll make this swift,” she said.
Elizabeth felt she could have swallowed a full glass of cool water her mouth had been so dry. Instead, she lit a cigarette. She took a seat in Gramps’ old armchair. When the Judge offered her gaze all she could think was how she wished she wore a patch over that ghastly left eye.
“Were you made aware of the charges against you?” she asked.
Elizabeth nodded. “I was,” she said. “Quite the pile of bullshit.”
Karyn Doyle’s expression didn’t change. “Is that so? You had no dealings with known terrorists? Reginald Penn was not in your office threatening the sitting mayor? Is that your plea?”
“Don’t admit to anything. Don’t agree to anything. Above all do not act smart with Judge Doyle,” Presley Cage had warned the Beckingridge dragon.
What had Reginald Penn said about the incident with Mickey at the Beckingridge Tower? Had he admitted it was Elizabeth’s plan to send a Coby game team in to Tabitha?
“I really should have a lawyer present,” said Elizabeth dismissively.
“I think this matter would be served better by a prompt solution. You’ve had two weeks now to seek legal counsel. The evidence that was brought before me confirmed that you allowed Reginald Penn access to your office. The evidence also suggested that you deliberately organised a meeting with Mickey Doyle – hereby known as the deceased – so that Mr Penn could threaten him. Do you concur?”
“I do,” Elizabeth said taking a draw of her cigarette. “Reginald wasn’t threatening the deceased for no reason. He believed CPD had taken one of his triplets.”
“I heard,” was the judge’s response. “Is that why you chose to help Mr Penn when you knew he was wanted by my office for acts of terrorism?”
‘Don’t agree. Don’t admit. Do not look into that damn grotesque eye.’
“I had no prior arrangements with the man, Your Honour. Quite frankly the Penns and all their ilk are no concern of mine.”
Karyn’s lips pulled back, giving her a hungry wolfish snarl.
“I would think altercations within your office would be concerning.”
The Beckingridge dragon fire didn’t like to be awoken from its slumber.
“That office has seen its fair share of drama. You of all people should know that. No matter how tall we build the damn thing the fights on the ground always seem to reach us.”
The dragon, as much fire breath as it had, didn’t frighten the hungry wolf. It had set itself on a delicious meal. Dragon meat could be juicy and tender.
“How did you first come into contact with Mr Penn?” the judge was weighing the evidence.
“I’ve known him for years,” said Elizabeth dismissively. “That’s no secret.”
The dragon was curling its tail around to guard its belly. The wolf was still circling.
Judge Doyle narrowed her gaze.
“You know fine well I mean after he returned to Coldford.”
“Do I?” Elizabeth played petulantly. The dragon was gaining confidence, perhaps overly so.
The wolf was having none of it. Filled with pride and purpose it offered a snapping warning of its jaws at the dragon’s tail.
“We have a statement from Reginald Penn. If yours doesn’t match his completely you will be giving me cause for concern. Should I be concerned?”
Elizabeth pushed herself back into Gramps’ chair.
“He called me out of the blue. He was worried about his son.”
“Did he threaten you?” Doyle asked.
Is that what Reginald had said? Must match completely and accurately. Doyle’s expression still offered nothing. The dragon roared but it was without the full heat of its fire.
“I have been pulled into this when all I wanted to do was help,” she said.
“Did Reginald Penn threaten you?” asked Judge Doyle.
The wolf raised its snout. It could smell blood leaking from somewhere. Where was the wound?
“Threaten me with what?” Elizbeth tried.
The judge responded quickly, “Yes or no?”
What had Reginald said? He perhaps had told his captors that he had threatened her into helping him to cover for her. Or maybe had told the truth and they were trying to catch her out. Maybe he had said nothing at all and they were putting the hangman’s noose into her own hands.
“He was very upset about his son.”
“Yes or no.”
“There was a lot going on.”
The dragon shifted its great, fire breathing body into the corner. The wolf’s shadow was getting longer and longer as it loomed closer, snarling and peering through that stomach churning space where a left eye ball should be.
“I don’t know what would have happened if I refused. He would stop at nothing to protect his family.”
“For the last time, yes or no?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth took a gamble on the true nobility of the King of City Main.
Karyn stopped cold. “Are you sure about that?”
“Very well.” The judge stood straighter. “I hereby hold you in contempt for misleading our investigations with false statements. Your house arrest will continue indefinitely.”
“Wait!” the dragon roared.
The wolf gnashed. She had her meal exactly how she liked it.
“Miss Beckingridge, you and I have the privilege of birth. Wealth, opportunity, education. This is something not all can lay claim to. As such, it is expected of us to be held to a higher standard. We set an example.”
“That example is having your own cousin killed, is it?” Elizabeth cried.
The immovable judge stood strong.
“As opposed to a nephew? I hear everything the city has to say, even things people think have just passed into the wind. I will hold you under house arrest for now. I am showing leniency given your contribution to the city. However, I will not forget you aided a known terrorist, under duress or not. My final decision will be made when an appointee matches your full story with Mr Penn’s.”
At that, the dragon’s cave was blocked off again, immuring the creature inside.
Peter Millicent had been spending less and less time in the city. The noise the followers were making had to be coordinated somehow so he kept to Dominick’s side where possible. On this day, whilst the Law Makers tore through the Coldford powerhouses, the Wigan priest made his way across on the early ferry, to City Main of Coldford and to the Office of Law Makers. Sophie Bergman and her Golem awaited him.
“Thank you for taking the time out to meet with me,” Peter began in a friendly way but taking care not to be overly familiar. “I trust you are very busy right now so I’ll not hold you any longer than necessary. My concern is with my church, first and foremost. We’ve been at the centre of a lot of controversy over the years which I would very much like to put to an end. I speak on behalf of His Eminence when I say we wish nothing but the best for the people of the city. Unfortunately, we’ve been met with a lot of derision, especially from CPD. His Eminence has called for patience and understanding from our congregation but still tensions rise and our people are being targeted. The last thing any of us need is more violence. I appreciate the notice that you have delivered to the commissioner on our behalf. A tighter leash must be tied around them.”
Sophie watched quietly, reading Peter’s words from his lips. She continued to watch as Peter drew a pile of statements from his bag.
“These are the complaints against CPD officers that you requested. These are only from the ones willing to step forward at this point, I’m afraid. They worry that nothing will be done about it. The only one who could reassure them, the only person who could bring them any real solace would be Dominick Cole.”
Sophie frowned when she read the name. She leaned back in her chair. She turned to Golem. She signed. Golem nodded in receipt of her request.
“Mr Cole is still under caution for inciting violence.”
Peter nodded. “Yes, correct. A terrible misunderstanding. I must urge though that he be allowed to visit our parishes here. Refusal of that will only fan the flames and I would hate for it to seem like this office of balanced scales is taking the side of CPD.”
A smile twitched on the corner of Sophie’s lip. Once again, she turned to Golem and signed.
“Step carefully,” the Golem warned the priest.
“I will,” Peter agreed. “His Eminence only wishes to bring comfort to our people. The fear in City Main, the dead in Northside and the uncertainty in Swantin, those of our faith would find comfort in Dominick’s words. It will calm them. Let us bring some succour.”
A tense quiet fell. Sophie tapped Golem’s arms and she signed.
“Should trouble stir, you will be held accountable,” the Golem recited Sophie’s words.
Peter shrugged. “I’m willing to take that responsibility. I hope our church has shown that we are more than happy to work with your office for a safer environment for all of us.” He reached into his bag and produced another document.
“In the spirit of cooperation, I have here a statement regarding case file 105. The Nan Harvester foundation? We would not stand for our church being used as a front or involved in any way with child trafficking. I have been authorised by His Eminence to provide you with a confession from one of our monks named Jonah. Nan Harvester – the crafty soul that she was – managed to evade this office for so long because she had someone of status helping her. I am delighted to inform you that Jonah was able to confirm who this person was. He alleged that Sergeant Major Doyle had not only used his connections to cover for the Nan foundation but Jonah even went so far as to confess the man was a client.”
Sophie frowned a little more severely. She stopped Peter. She turned to Golem and in sign he confirmed, “Sergeant Major Doyle.”
Sophie turned back to Peter. Her blue eyes were burning.
“One of our sisters placed at the Monte Fort confirmed this with Nan,” Peter added.
“You are claiming Sergeant Major Doyle was a paedophile?”
“Was, is, I’m not saying anything for certain. Allegations are of course only allegations. His Eminence is handing Jonah to your custody and we leave it in your capable hands to get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, I would reiterate my request that Dominick be allowed to visit our parishes here. Let him speak to our people without unwarranted persecution from CPD.”
Sophie pulled Jonah’s confession towards her chest. She started to glance over the words.
Peter stood. “I know I’ve given you a lot to think about so I’ll leave you to it.”
Sophie and her Golem stood too.
“Ms Bergman, it’s always a delight to see you. Mr Raminoff, an equal pleasure.”
Peter made his way to the door. He stopped.
“Just one last thing. We saw one of your family freighters heading to the inlet. It was quite a surprise. We had thought the mine there had been closed down. I’m sure your brother is well aware of it but I thought I had better bring it to your attention. The area had to be closed off, you see, due to the radiation levels. It was covered over and deemed safe again but we wouldn’t want any breaches or spillages into the water. Have a lovely day.”
When the Wigan had vacated the office, Sophie turned to Golem. The work on Hathfield had been closed.
Over on Hathfield Bay, the atmosphere was one akin to that you might feel in awaiting the birth of a child. There was plenty of excitement, some nervousness and a lot to be considered and prepped.
Dominick had been expressing this sentiment as he held court within his church. When his sermon was finished and the church had emptied, a nervous looking man approached his altar. Dominick noticed his hesitation.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Come forth my brother. You look like you’ve got something you want to say.”
Bart stepped aside and drew down the hood of his robes.
“Will you take a confession, Your Eminence?” the man asked.
“Of course,” said the church leader.
The man seemed even more nervous still. He couldn’t look Dominick in the eye.
“What’s yer name?” Dominick pressed.
“Arthur. I’m new to the church,” he admitted.
“Welcome Arthur. Speak yer mind. Wigan is listening.”
Arthur didn’t really like that idea at all. He looked up to the large wooden cross that hung above the altar. Pain, sacrifice, sin.
“It’s not really my confession,” he said. “But I was listening to you when you said that if we allow others to sin without repercussions it can make us just as guilty.”
Dominick nodded. He looked to Bart. Bart said nothing.
“I used to be a guard at The Boss. I have done my job for twenty years. They have it rough in there. I thought I had seen it all but then the damn frat boys started waving their dicks,” Arthur stopped. “Sorry for the language, Your Eminence.”
Dominick smiled. “Fear not. I’m familiar with the frat boy tackle being swung around.”
Arthur started to gain a little more confidence in his words.
“I had been doing the job for twenty years. I thought I had seen it all. Then they brought the Penn boys in. I knew they would be given a hard time. I knew they’d give it right back. That’s what you expect in prison. Then one night we got word that the third triplet had turned up. I thought we were going to just chase him off. When I got there, there were a team of Kappa So. The governor is a brother for life. I didn’t realise that. They get a hold of the third triplet and they beat him, they raped him and held his brothers at gun point so they could watch the whole thing.”
Dominick raised his eyebrows. He looked to Bart again. The monk’s mouth had fallen open.
“That’s a terrible thing,” said Dominick.
“I can still hear him screaming. It gives me nightmares, Your Eminence. I keep seeing the whole thing playing out in my head and I hate myself because I should have done something about it. What could I do though? What if they did the same to me?”
The official statement had been that Reggie Penn stumbled into the hands of Kappa So brothers looking to make a name for themselves. The Cappy had condoned them. The Good Gang left him no choice in that matter when they retrieved the elusive triplet. Reggie, facing troubles of his own, had opted not to take it any further. His medical records were sealed. With Judge Doyle watching, the kicking was very much being kept under the table. Leave it to St Wigan to want to shout about it.
Arthur sniffed. “I should have done something. I hate myself for not speaking out. That commissioner has a lot to answer for.”
“The commissioner?” Bart asked. “You mean, Billy Owen?”
“He was the one that set the whole thing up. He was there, taunting the boy. It was all his doing.”
“You’ve done the right thing,” Dominick said. “Wigan will embrace ye. He will forgive you your faults.”
“Thank you, Your Eminence,” Arthur replied. His relief lifted the tones of his voice.
Arthur departed the church with his penance.
To Bart Dominick said, “well isn’t that something?”
“It’s a pity he spoke to Wigan in confidence,” Bart said.
“I know,” was Dominick’s response. He thought about it. “Still, it sounds like it was a mighty ordeal for poor Benji.”
“Reggie,” Bart corrected.
“So, what are we to do?”
“Nothing would please me more than to see that peacocking bastard of an Owen get what he deserves. Wigan?” he asked, turning his attention to the roof of the church. “If there’s someone needing struck down, it’s that man. Not that I’m telling how to do your job, I’m just making observations.” Dominick gave some more contemplation. “I feel bad for the boy. I really do. What a thing to happen to poor…Reggie?”
Bart confirmed the name again.
“Maybe we should send someone over. Just to check up on him.”
“We’ve just received word that Tabitha McInney, better known as the Boss Lady of The Knock Knock Club, has escaped custody in the last hour. Officers on scene were injured after a knife attack by what was described as rebellious supporters of the Shanties cause. Tabitha’s current whereabouts is unknown so the public is advised to be cautious. If you see anything contact the office of Law Makers immediately. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily news.”
“No!” I cried. “This can’t be happening.”
To most of the city, Tabitha was a deranged killer. To the people of the Shanties, she was a queen who was willing to do anything it took to protect them. There was a group in the Shanties named the Red Rebels who were loyal to her. I had to assume that the blades of the knife attack on the escorting officers had been in their hands.
“They have to find her,” I said to no one in particular, pacing the floor. What if she came to find me?
“What if she comes to find me, pal?!” ex club manager Dennis had said when I informed him.
What ifs indeed!
“She’s out!” Tawny cheered.
The three bros looked among each other. They were still holding the Baroness but their trip to the Great States had left them a little drained.
“Ye have to let me speak to your pa,” Tawny insisted. “Please, just let me speak to him. I have to get out of here. I don’t want Tabitha to get into any more trouble.”
The three bros let the news of the Boss Lady’s escape sink in.
When they first brought Tawny to Cooper Garages to hold her, they had no idea what they would do with her. A lot of shit went down, they went to the Great States leaving Tawny under the supervision of George. When they got back, they had expected George to have eaten her or some shit but she was still in one piece.
“What we going to do, brah?” Cooper asked. “My dad will be over here soon and he’ll be opening the garage up for the new season.”
“Let me speak to your pa,” suggested Tawny.
Buddy took his gun. He had given it a lot of thought. He was an Owen and he had to do what needed to be done.
“Captain Owen’s office, how may I direct your call?”
“I need to speak to the Cappy,” said Buddy, still with the gun in his hand.
“And who may I say is calling?”
“It’s Buddy. I need to speak to him right away.”
“Tell her it’s urgent, brah!” Chad suggested
“I know,” said Buddy a little impatiently. To the secretary he said, “It’s urgent.”
The secretary’s chirpy tones were replaced with the smooth Great States accent of The Cappy. He was seated at his desk and looked a little frustrated at the interruption.
“Buddy,” he enquired. “This had better be good.”
“Well,” Buddy began. “You know, like how you’re always telling me to make the family proud and to start acting like an Owen.”
The Cappy became increasing skeptical.
“What are you saying, Bud?”
Buddy hunched. He tried a laugh. Chad joined him quite enthusiastically. Cooper watched on with his arms folded.
“You are going to laugh your balls off,” Buddy assured.
The Cappy didn’t look like he was going to laugh anything off.
“What have you done?” the father asked.
He was a powerful man. He was a respected figure. He had faced a lot, but he was never suitably prepared for the outcome when his son called him and told him he would laugh his balls off at something he had done.
“I’m an Owen,” Buddy cried, his gun still in his hand. “I’ve been taking care of shit.”
“Buddy?” the Cappy barked. “What did you do?”
Buddy cleared his throat. He slapped Chad’s shoulder who was still enthusiastically preparing The Cappy for a real laugh riot. Buddy turned the camera. The Cappy almost choked when he saw Tawny. She was seated in a chair. She waved at him.
“Hi there!” she said. “Remember me?”
“You see!” Buddy cheered. “I Owened that shit.”
Buddy and his bros had decided that if they acted like it was the greatest achievement in the world, The Cappy might see it that way too.
“What in the entire nations is she doing there?” Chick asked.
Their theory didn’t work but I suppose it was worth a try.
“Chilling, as they say,” Tawny replied. “Your boys have been looking after me,” she teased. She reached up to her shoulder injury where the bros had been playing a game called ‘whale harpoon’. Buddy grabbed her hand and pulled it away.
“What do you want?” Chick asked her.
“I just want to go home,” she said. “A lot has gone down. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt on my account. I’m sure you heard about Tabitha.”
Chick managed to smile but it was a cold one.
“I just let you walk and I find myself with more hassle than I need right now. My father is dead.”
“I’m sorry, honey. I really am, but don’t make me recite the list of dead I have because you wanted me to shut my gob. You know I was telling the truth.”
The Cappy scowled.
“I just want to go home. Let’s put an end to this.”
The Cappy chuckled. “I would take your word for it but I’m a cynical man.”
“I’m not wanting to cause any fuss, cross my heart,” she laughed. “But I’m not a complete nutter. I don’t want to be waiting for one of those bullets that seems to go astray with you lot. There’s still life in this old gal yet. When I was young my ma used to tell me that I’d make friends with the devil himself, so let’s bond. I wouldn’t take the word of an Owen but I know money talks.”
“You want me to buy your silence?” The Cappy pressed.
“I don’t need yer money,” said Tawny. “But there’s lots of people in the Shanties that could use it. Invest in my charity. Help me do what I do and there’s a bond I would never dare break. You wouldn’t either.”
Chick folded his arms across his chest. He leaned back in his chair.
“Buddy…” he said. “Good job.”
The three bros looked at each other. “Huh?”
A city-wide search was underway for Tabitha and Reggie Penn. Given he was still severely injured, the whereabouts of Reggie was a cause for great concern. In light of this I had arranged a visit to The Boss to speak to his brothers. Given the Good Gang agents had brought Reggie in safely, I was hoping Marcus and Simon would be willing to offer what help they could. Although it wasn’t much.
“Have you heard from your brother?” I asked Marcus.
“If he’s gone anywhere, it would be to Luen,” was Simon’s suggestion.
Marcus, however, disagreed. “That would be the logical thing to do but he won’t leave these shores whilst we’re still here and mother hasn’t been buried.”
Simon thought about what his brother had said.
“I suppose. He’ll want to stay close by. He has hiding spots all over the city. It was how he managed to stay out of CPD hands for so long. Places we don’t even know about.”
My experiences of the triplets before this were of violence and murder. The loss of so much seemed to have sobered them a little. At least it had Simon. Marcus’ expression was still indecipherable. He pushed the spectacles from the end of his nose and seemed to lose himself in thought.
“What worries me is that Tabitha is also missing,” I explained. “The airport and the docks are all on high alert. They’ve set up check points on all city exits. They both need to be brought in before they get hurt, or worse. Do you think they would be together? Do you think they would know where to find each other?”
A little personal concern was falling into my voice. Simon must have noticed this because he smiled a little.
“Story isn’t quite so easy to write now, is it?” he teased.
“Simon,” barked Marcus in warning.
I took a deep breath. Agent Kim Adams and Agent Lydia Lowe were waiting close by but if they really wanted to, the triplets could lash out.
“If Reggie is hurt, he needs to be found. He stands his best chance with the agents.” I paused for a breath. “As does Tabitha.”
Simon frowned. “We have no idea where he might be right now but if you find him…”
“I’ll do what I can for him,” I agreed.
Marcus leaned back in his chair. In light of the death of his father, the people of City Main would be looking to him as their new ‘king’. Not much use in servitude to The Boss, but my concerns had to remain with Reginald Penn Junior and yet again the Boss Lady of The Knock Knock Club.
Having been given Tawny’s share of Knock Knock, I turned to David Finn in the hopes he might have something to contribute. He had little information to offer but he did suggest I come to his apartment in the Mid West where Agnes was currently residing with him until the Bailiffs were done stripping the club apart.
“I need to find Tabitha,” I said to the artist over coffee at Bobby’s lunchbox.
“And Reggie?” the artist put in.
“Yes, of course Reggie too,” I added.
Reggie had to be found. That much was certain. Not only would it pacify his brothers and keep peace in City Main, but it could help bring those who attacked him to account. Tabitha could not be allowed to run loose in the Shady City. Reggie would likely lie low without his brothers. Tabitha though? She would be monumentally angry – with what happened to her aunt, to her club, to her friends – and that anger would turn towards those responsible. The city was being vigilant. I, myself, hadn’t slept a full night.
I looked out of the window of Bobby’s Lunchbox and I couldn’t help but notice a hush. Things hadn’t been the same since the public execution of Reginald Penn but now something was else brewing. I was certain of it. Tabitha was biding her time and plotting her elaborate scheme. I have already detailed people pushed from high rise windows, throats being slit in alleys and butchered body parts circling greater Coldford, and that was just my first 24 hours of knowing her! She loved to make a scene and she had publicly called out those who stood in her way, calling Judge Doyle a cunt while she was still in prison.
It had been sobering spending the afternoon with David Finn. No matter how much I tried to explain this to him he didn’t see Tabitha as anything other than magnificent because that was how Tawny had felt.
“What about Reggie?” I asked him.
“Reggie is sound, man,” he replied. “Been gaming with him for years before all this happened believe it or not. A vet friend of mine treated his rats. Reggie is a decent guy really. He’s just got that life I guess.”
David was still coming to terms with what holding a piece of The Knock Knock Club entailed so I forgave him for his naïveté. His instruction manual had come from the Baroness herself who was well known for seeing Tabitha as her mischievous little Trouble and Reggie as the sweet triplet with a halo of blonde curls. Violent sociopaths, both of them!
David insisted on paying for the coffees and as he did so I watched his transaction from afar.
“They’re on the house,” Bobby said with a smile across to me.
“No, man!” David urged. “I can’t do that.”
He pushed some money across the greasy counter.
“Your money is no good here,” said Bobby.
David wouldn’t retrieve his money though.
“Then keep it to cover a hot drink for someone who needs it then, man.”
He was still reading from the Baroness’ manual. She was a charitable woman above all else and always spoke of how important helping others was to her Knock Knock Club. David Finn was taking his new position in the city very seriously.
“Agnes is back,” David informed me when he returned to the booth after having checked an alert on his phone.
With that we headed to the Midwest where I could ask the Broker about her wayward niece.
“She’s been though a lot, man. I don’t want you to upset her,” David warned me as we climbed the steps to his apartment. “She’s already answered tonnes of questions to the Law Makers.”
I was fond of Agnes too so I could understand his apprehension. If she didn’t want anyone to know the whereabouts of Tabitha then she would die before giving her location. I did want to check on her anyway and see how she had been doing.
“I won’t keep you long,” I assured.
As we got the second floor of the building where David’s apartment lay, we could hear voices. There was some laughter.
“You must have visitors,” I said.
David shrugged. “I get all sorts of people coming and going these days. Maybe Harper and Gabby stopped by.”
David’s gallery-owning friends had become close to Agnes too. It suited both David and Agnes to surround themselves with people in times of trouble. A lot of the Knock Knock girls stopped by as well, much to David’s amusement.
As David pushed open the door, he could hear the noise of a video game battle. Alex Ferrald – his vet friend – must have joined them.
“Blam! Take that, cunts!” a young man cried.
No! I shook my head. That was not mild-mannered Alex Ferrald. It was a City Main twang. David was just as perplexed as I because whilst the entire city had been torn apart, barriers put in place, Law Makers giving speeches at City Hall; one of the most wanted men in Coldford was sat on his sofa, playing a video game. Reggie looked up when we arrived, a cigarette dangling on the end of his lips.
“Hey Finn! Good to meet you in person.”
I would have scoffed at the youngest triplet’s cavalier attitude if it weren’t for the fact that my focus was now stolen by the one person in the city more sought after than he was. Next to him in the sofa, quite comfortably, was Tabitha.
“Hello Sam,” she grinned at me, that gap between her teeth a menacing snarl. My absolute nightmare come true. I had been pursuing her, hoping she would be found and there she was, grinning at me like I was the intruder.
“David! I can explain!” Agnes came dashing from the bedroom.
“What’s going on?” David asked. Tawny’s manual must have accounted for her niece making a scene, surely.
“I had to shower,” said Tabitha to the artist matter-of-factly. “I haven’t shaved my legs properly in months.”
Focused back on his game, Reggie chortled. “It’s true. It looked fucking disgusting.”
Tabitha slapped his shoulder coquettishly.
“Fail to give you a razor in prison, did they?” I asked sarcastically.
Tabitha scowled. “I’ve been through a lot, you insensitive cunt. Don’t act like you’re not glad to see me.”
“Tabitha!” warned Agnes in her teacher tone.
Tabitha pouted but she fell silent.
“Go get dressed. You both aren’t staying here,” instructed the Knock Knock Broker.
“Fine,” whined Tabitha.
As she stood, she passed round the sofa towards me. Stopping, she raised herself onto the balls of her feet. Her cool grey eyes met mine.
“I guess our story isn’t over,” she teased.
“Tabs!” warned Agnes again.
Tabitha danced off to the bedroom to check if Agnes had brought one of her signature red dresses.
Agnes and I had never locked horns before but I had a feeling we were going to clash over her niece.
“This place is going to be filled with Law Makers,” I warned. “And now you’ve brought David into it.”
“I’ve already spoken to Ronnie Owen,” she explained. “He knows David had nothing to do with this. He’s already cleaned Dennis’ charges against Reggie providing he undergoes psych evaluation. Given the botched execution of Reginald and the fake execution of Tabitha, the Law Makers are willing to hold them under supervision providing your agency friends escort them, watch them and question them.”
“No!” I protested. “I’m sorry Agnes but they should at least be held in the Harbour House lock down where they belong.”
“House arrest is the standard procedure until the Law Makers complete their investigation.”
I thought of Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Owen – Chick’s younger brother – who ironically had been the one to defend Tabitha on her murder charges. He was a decent man – selfless in his way and despite the history between his family and The Knock Knock Club, he had defended her with everything he could considering his client was clearly guilty. With the Owens getting involved it made me wonder if The Cappy had seen opportunity in the escape.
The buzzer screeched. David opened the door to Agent Kim Adams and Agent Lydia Lowe. Tabitha emerged from the bedroom in some of Agnes’ clothes, disgruntled that she hadn’t been given her red dress. She scowled when she saw Lydia.
“Seriously? You brought the skank?”
Lydia shook her head, smiling. She brushed off the comment. Kim on the other hand was in no mood for her games.
“The slightest bit of trouble out of either of you and I drop you,” she warned. “You!” here she pointed at Reggie. “My agents spent a lot of time and resources bringing you home. If you try anything I will hurt you.”
Reggie raised his arms. “I just want to go home, like,” he said.
Kim turned her attention to Tabitha. “And as for you,” she said. “There is still an execution order on your head. Step a foot out of line and that order is carried out.”
Kim allowed her warning to resonate a little to see if she would have any back lash. There was none. With that Tabitha and Reggie, Boss Lady and Rat Boy, were taken home.
“You would think we were the villains here,” Tabitha grumbled as they left.
It all began when they were children. Tabitha – a preteen having not been long introduced to the triplets by Tawny – had found a friend in Reggie. She never really had someone her own age to spend time with before. She was close to Simon and Marcus too but with Marcus striving for efficiency in all things, he could be a bit of a cold fish. Simon being naturally abrasive, she expected they would fight a lot. She knew she was abrasive too. How they did fight in those first days of knowing each other, but a sibling bond formed and whilst they fought, they were protective of each other against outsiders.
“Why hit a punch bag when you can hit his fucking face?” Tabitha encouraged as she accompanied Simon to the gym. The parents had hoped that Tabitha, too, might find an outlet for her frustration but she spent most of the time sat on a bike machine watching everyone work a sweat around her.
Yes, Marcus and Simon were close to her but her full affection for the triplets had come when she met the one with all the rats. He had a black and white one he named Snuggles hanging from his shoulder. He had promised himself he wouldn’t name them but he couldn’t help it. Snuggles was just so affectionate and smart. She deserved a name.
“Reggie,” he introduced himself.
Tabitha inspected the creature closer. She reached out to pet Snuggles. Snuggles sniffed the tips of her fingers.
“Like your dad?” She asked.
Reggie plucked Snuggles from his shoulder. True to her name she tried to nuzzle his ear.
“Nothing like my dad,” he admitted. “But, yeah, the name’s the same.”
Reggie was the one Tabitha would spend all night speaking to on the telephone when things got really bad at home and she couldn’t escape to the club.
Most of the trouble they got into they got into together. So, they found themselves an attic space just outside of City Main enroute to Filton. It was their half way point when they wanted to meet up and it had a little space that only they knew about. Fullerton reps sometimes came by during the day but it was usually to collect money from people in suits to keep the site untouched. They didn’t know who it really belonged to, but anytime anyone did come to visit it they wouldn’t hear the little rats scuttling around in the attic space.
After escaping her custody, Tabitha had thought to lay low. It took her a couple of days to reach it on foot, avoiding populated areas as best she could. When she finally arrived, the building was empty. She climbed the broken fencing like she had as a girl, removed the loose bricks that would give her access to the building, climbed the rickety access to the attic space and hauled the door open.
Reggie, still looking a little worse for wear, was huddled in the corner.
She ran to him to hug him.
“Careful!” he gasped. “I’m still a little delicate.”
“I heard what they did to you,” Tabitha replied. “Going to The Boss? What were you thinking?”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” Reggie shrugged. “There’s a lot of our crew in there.” He referred to the Loyalists of City Main, glorified thugs dedicated to the Penn family. ‘Long live the king’ was their motto.
He reached beside him and snatched up a box of Jolly Shopper Queen Corn cereal and threw it to her.
“Here,” he said. “You must be starving.”
Tabitha pulled the box open, scooped out a handful of cereal and scoffed it greedily.
“We’re going to have to go easy on the water. I’ve only got the one bottle.”
Tabitha lay herself on the floor next to him, resting her head delicately onto his chest. He kissed her head and his body relaxed a little. He sat a phone he had acquired in front of them and they passed the night watching March of Our Times soap opera reruns. Agnes would have no doubt received some kind of word from the Red Rebels that Tabitha was safe but CPD, Agents and Law Makers would be watching closely. Contact would have to wait until it was safe to do so.
David had been on the main club floor when he heard a noise. There was some shouting out in Clifton Lane. The place made him uneasy already but he felt he always had to be on alert for shit going down. He had a part of Tawny’s club now, and it was his responsibility to protect the place and Tabitha.
He knocked on the Boss Lady’s changing room door.
“Yes?” she replied.
“You decent?” David asked.
“What is it, David?”
David pushed the door open. There he found Tabitha. She had her long, lean leg raised on a chair. It would have made quite a seductive pose, if it weren’t for the fact that it was because she was trying to hack off her Law Maker tag from her ankle.
“There’s some fuss going on outside,” the artist explained. “I think it’s Law Makers.”
Tabitha gave up on her tag and clutched the knife. “If they think they’re coming in here again let’s go and say hello,” she said.
“Tabs!” David followed after her.
He was trying to warn her that coming at Law Makers with a knife was not going to do her any favours. When they got back to the main club floor, the shouting had gotten a little heavier.
“What’s going on, man?” David wondered to himself.
Before he could check the window Tabitha pulled him back. She turned him round and gave a glance over him for red marksman dots.
On the bar, a tray had been knocked over. They were already inside.
“What do you want, cunts?” Tabitha growled.
The main lights cut off. The stage lights flashed on. Tabitha gripped her knife tighter.
“They’re trying to shut us completely down,” she surmised.
Music began to play. It was an old cabaret tune that always made Tabitha smile. It had been one which Vincent Baines had written with Tawny whilst they were in rehab.
“Good evening folks, and welcome to The Knock Knock Club.”
David and Tabitha were perplexed.
“Put your hands together and welcome back on stage, the one, the only, the fabulous…”
The curtains were thrown aside and strutting out as she had done many times before was…
“Surprise!” Tawny cheered.
“Aunt Tee!” Tabitha cried, dropping the knife and rushing on stage to the Baroness, leaping into her arms.
“I missed you, Trouble,” Tawny said, showering Tabitha’s head with kisses.
Tawny turned to David. He was speechless. The artist had been so taken aback at the sight of his friend he could only watch with tears falling down his face.
“Awww, Davey,” Tawny cried, reaching her arm out. “Come here.”
David rushed to her and the Baroness held them both close to her.
“I thought you were a goner,” he sobbed.
Tawny laughed. “I’m made of tougher stuff than that,” she said. “I’m a favourite of someone up there.”
Later that evening, Agnes returned to the club. When she saw the looks on David and Tabitha’s faces, she knew something was up. She took a seat at the table and sat her designer handbag on top.
“What’s with the grinning?” she asked. “Did I miss something.”
She could hear footsteps behind her but before she could turn, a pair of hands clasped over her eyes.
Agnes didn’t have to guess. She knew the voice all so well. She knew the soft touch. She knew it all.
“Tawn?” she cried.
“That’s right!” Tawny cheered, removing her hands from her eyes.
Agnes was on her feet. She threw her arms around the Baroness.
“I can’t believe it!” she gasped.
“You better believe it, honey,” Tawny teased. “It’s so good to see you again.”
She squeezed Agnes tighter. She lifted her from her feet a little and kissed her. The both laughed heartily.
David and Tabitha were still grinning. The Knock Knock Club was awash with merriment.
“I never thought I’d be excited to see this place again,” Tawny jested as she and David walked arm in arm to the entrance of Harbour House.
“I can’t wait to see the look on his face,” David grinned.
The two had come along to the clinic in the hopes that they would catch Vincent Baines whilst he was there for a psych evaluation. They were hoping for something of a reunion before he was returned to his servitude.
“I’m so excited,” Tawny cheered, feeling a little giddy.
When they got to the reception the matron nurse, Beverly, was waiting. She had been manning the reception desk.
“Hey Bev,” Tawny greeted warmly. “How are ye?”
Beverly smiled but it looked a little subdued. She was probably overworked.
“I’m good Tawn,” she replied. “It’s good to see you. We were all worried about you.”
“Thanks,” Tawny returned with a smile. “We’re here to see music man. I hope we haven’t missed him. Any chance of five minutes?”
Beverly stood. “Before you do anything, there’s someone I’d like you to talk to. Will you come with me?”
“Sure,” said Tawny a little hesitantly.
David was still excitedly contemplating their reunion so he hadn’t paid attention to the expressions of concern. Tawny took his arm again. She flashed him a warm smile and they followed Beverly to a small office. She knocked on the door and pushed her head in.
“They’re here,” she said.
To Tawny and David, she ushered, “Go on in.”
Inside the office stood a kindly-faced man whose natural charm was managing to push through, despite the emotional toil time seemed to have taken on him.
He reached out his hand and shook that of Tawny.
“I’m John Reynolds,” he said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
He shook the hand of the artist too.
“You’re the fella Simon mistook for a punch bag,” said Tawny. “I heard about it. I know he gets a little bit frustrated at times but he just thought he was protecting things. He’s a good boy really.”
Reynolds smiled. “I don’t take it personally. We both did what we thought we had to do. That’s not why I asked to speak to you though.”
“What’s this about?” asked David. “A friend of ours is going back to The Boss and we want to catch him before he does.”
“Take a seat,” Reynolds urged gently.
Tawny and David did so. Now David started to become a little nervous. “What is it, man?”
“There’s no easy way to do this so I’ll just get down to the skinny. I’m afraid Vincent Baines is dead.”
A silence dropped for a few moments. Reynolds let it lie.
David shook his head. “No,” he said. “You’ve got it wrong, man. He was on his way back to The Boss. He was getting help here. You got the wrong guy.”
“I’m afraid not,” said Reynolds.
“You’re mixed up,” David insisted. “It’s someone else. Vincent’s still here. I’m sorry, man. They must be working you so hard you’re getting things confused.”
“Davey,” Tawny soothed him. She took his hand in hers.
“What happened?” she asked, as her heart began to thud in her chest.
“He was murdered by one of the nurses here.”
“Why?!” David demanded to know. The grief finally swept over him.
“They’re treating it as a psychotic break on the nurse’s part. His father, who had been with him at the time, died too. Frederick Baines was found dead on scene with a severe shock reaction.”
“This is not fucking right, man!” David had started to cry.
Tawny pulled him closer to her. He rested his head on her shoulder.
“I wanted to speak to you because I have reason to believe the father was the real target. You’re familiar with the Church of St Wigan, correct?”
Tawny agreed, “I grew up with them on the bay.”
“I know Vincent was adopted from the Wigan order as a boy. The nurse who carried out the attack had strong Wigan sympathies. They had written a lot about a ballet Frederick composed some time back which told a story of St Rowan and St Wigan. It was condemned by the church at the time as sacrilegious. Extremist following over the years has grown and I have reason to believe the attack was in response to this.”
“Why wasn’t this all over the news?” Tawny asked. “Why are we just finding out?”
Reynolds replied, “I’m a cult deprogrammer. That is my specialty. I’ve been focused on the Wigan church expanding its hold in the city. They are dangerous, radical and they’ve already caused a lot of destruction. There has been a press shield over most of the details but news is breaking now. I thought before it did, it may be best to hear it from me. The Daily has been spinning it that Reg Penn’s loyalists are the threat, but there is something much worse and it is already here. They’re preaching outside all of the major buildings and every ferry trip brings more of them onto the docks. I’ve done all I can to hold them back but I want you both to be aware.”
“You don’t need to tell me, honey,” said Tawny. “They almost drowned me when I was younger trying to cleanse me.”
“I’m so sorry about Vincent,” Reynolds said. “I’ll do all I can to get to the truth of the matter. I promise.”
David sat up. “He had his problems,” he said of the musician. “He struggled every day but he was a good friend. He was there for us when no one else was…”
Reynolds stood. “It’s a lot to take in. I’ll give you some space to deal. Take all the time you need.”
I had just arrived as Tawny and David were leaving. They were both understandably upset. Beverly stopped them.
“I have something you might want,” she said, reaching behind the reception desk and drawing out a pen drive. “It’s some of the recordings you made while you were here.”
Tawny collected the drive with a smile.
“Thanks, honey,” she said trying to keep her voice steady.
I wanted to approach. I had begun believing there would never be the chance to meet the Baroness in person, but they had just been dealt a heavy blow and it wasn’t the time. David was struggling. He was clutching Tawny’s arm. His face had drained of all colour.
“We have to go,” Tawny said to him, smoothing the bleached hair away from his face.
She was the loving, caring person the stories told of. I could see why Tabitha was so close to her. I could see why Agnes loved her. She had stories to tell, but to impose my presence on them at that time would have been distasteful and disrespectful. For me, her stories could wait. There was someone though, who didn’t have such hang ups or consideration.
“Hi, Tawny!” cried a thin, bony-faced woman with straight brown hair. She was wearing a peach skirt suit and matching neckerchief. She reached her scrawny claw with its long talons out. “Sandra Wake from the Coldford Daily. We had a chat just the other day when you returned home?”
“Of course,” Tawny said, feeling a little flustered but still managing an accommodating smile.
“Do you have any comments on the death of Vincent Baines?”
“Woah, lady,” David growled.
“Do you think he frightened the nurse? Do you think it could be self-defence?”
“What the fuck?” David exclaimed.
I couldn’t stand back any longer.
“Hey!” I barked. “These people need some space. Can’t you see they are upset?”
“Sam!” Sandra turned her plastic smile on me. “We’re missing you on the news floor.”
“I’ll bet you are,” I replied sardonically.
To Tawny, Sandra continued to press. “Did Vincent discuss his compulsions with you?”
As she asked the question, she waved to her cameraman who raised his camera onto his shoulder, opened the lens and pointed it at Tawny. Tawny in turn frowned, but it was an expression of confusion rather than anger.
I put my hand on the cameraman’s lens and pushed him back.
“Sam, man…” David uttered a warning.
Sandra grinned like a she-snake ready to strike her prey.
“This is my story, Sam,” she said. “Why don’t you leave it to the real reporters with a real newspaper to write.”
She adjusted her hair and neckerchief. She nodded to her cameraman and he raised his camera onto his shoulder again. I stepped in front of the lens.
“Just let these people go. If they want to speak to you, I’m sure they’ll find you in whatever boggy hole you crawled out of.”
Sandra still smiled but her nostrils flared a little.
“You see, it takes a real reporter to want to get to the truth, as ugly as it may be. If you spent as much time reporting properly as you do decorating your little blog with pretty words, you would remember that.”
“Truth!” I scoffed. “You really believe the drivel you spout is truthful? Which part of it? From what I read it’s all the work of fiction, terribly written fiction too I might add.”
Sandra laughed a cold little laugh. “Terribly written? Those are bold words from the author of Marble Mantle.”
“How dare you!” I snapped.
“You know Mr Baines well. Our viewers would like to know more about the man behind the composer creep,” Sandra put to Tawny and David.
“You’ve got it wrong,” David started to protest. “He was a good guy. He was just a bit confused.”
“So confused he would kidnap a little boy and hold him for ten years?”
“No!” David insisted. “You’ve got it wrong.”
“So, he didn’t kidnap a little boy? Is that what you’re saying?”
The cameraman moved around me to get a shot of David.
“He was confused,” David said. “You didn’t know him or what he was going through.”
“Your words are getting a little slurred Mr Finn,” said Sandra. “How are things with your drug addiction?”
“David, don’t say another word. This interview is over,” I insisted, pushing the cameraman back once again.
“He’s trying to steal my story,” Sandra laughed.
“There’s no story here,” I told her. “You’re manipulating these people when they are dealing with grief. Vincent Baines was a real person and you will not feed on his corpse, you vulturous harpy.”
I put my arm around David and led he and Tawny from Harbour House. Behind me Sandra had already began a story that made me seem like an interview thieving jackal. Her words weren’t particularly creative. Personally, I’ve heard better reporting from primary school projects.
“No one is fooled, Sandra,” I could hear myself calling as we left.
When we got outside Tawny and David were relieved.
“So, you’re Sam,” Tawny said when she had gathered herself. “The reporter fella Tabby was seeing?”
Seeing her to the inside her of her cage perhaps…
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said. “I’m sorry about Vincent,” I stated.
“Thanks,” said Tawny with a sniff. “I’m still trying to process it.”
“It’s best you go home,” I suggested. “Take care.”
David nodded nervously. “You take care too, man.”
He hugged me and the two returned to the Shanties.
Back at the club, David put the pen drive into an old laptop and played the recordings.
“Coming at you live from rehab,” was the opening from Tawny.
“My voice always sounds funny recorded,” David could be heard speaking. “I bet I sound a real tool,” he jested.
Tawny could be heard laughing.
“Take it away, Maestro!” she cheered.
“What should I play?” Vincent asked.
“Something with a bit of bounce,” suggested the Baroness.
The noise of a piano tinkled as Vincent ran his fingers along the keys.
David and Tawny listened to the recording together. The Baroness held the artist in her arms. The tune that Vincent played offered hope and cheer. They had held onto it then as they had held onto each other listening later.
“We don’t have much but we’ve at least got us,” Vincent sang.
“And that’s a whole lot,” Tawny chimed in.
The three laughed merrily when the tune ended.
“Sounds good,” David could be heard assuring.
“It still needs a little work,” Vincent was heard replying.
“You’re too much of a perfectionist,” Tawny teased.
Vincent could be heard chuckling.
“It’s goodnight from me,” said Tawny.
“And me,” David joined in jovially.
“And it’s farewell for now from me,” Vincent added. “The Maestro is out.”
He ran his fingers along the keys again. The recording closed.
“Rest easy, man,” said David.
“Thanks for letting me know,” Elizabeth Beckingridge said on a call to Reynolds. “I had a feeling something had gone wrong when I hadn’t heard from him. I’ll- I’ll have to go.”
“If you need to talk just leave a message here. I’m heading over to Bellfield but I’ll get back to you as soon as I can,” Reynolds offered.
“I’ve got to go…” said Elizabeth again.
She rang the phone off abruptly. She raised her hands to her face. She took a deep inhalation and then she cleared her throat. She turned and she looked at her reflection in the mirror. She fixed a lock of her hair that had fallen across her face. She turned to the lounge.
“George?” she called. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
Her nephew was sat on the sofa in his shirt and underwear. He had Cecil sat on his stomach. The way he looked up at her, clutching the stuffed animal, his appearance was similar to the boy Vincent had met initially when he accepted George as his student. He looked every bit a deranged goblin then as he did these years later. He was mad. He was sick. There was one thing consistent in his life though, and that was his attachment to his old music teacher.
“What?” George asked.
The Beckingridge family had a strange living arrangement. Neither aunt nor nephew would leave the manor to live elsewhere. They were both stubborn, and I have to say Elizabeth could be just as manic as the billionaire boy when the right buttons were pushed. The manor was large enough to house them both comfortably. It was so expansive that should they choose to, they didn’t have to see each other. They just couldn’t resist getting under each other’s skin. Such are the mind games of the super wealthy.
Elizabeth had no intentions of antagonising her nephew on this day. She was dealing with the news herself. The passing of Vincent was one of those rare sentiments she and George shared.
“I’m afraid Vincent has died,” she said.
George scowled at first. Then his lips tightened. He dropped his gaze and he clutched Cecil. He started to pick at the fur behind his ear.
“How?” he asked.
“He was murdered by a nurse,” Elizabeth explained.
George hugged Cecil to his chest.
“So, he’s dead? Mr Baines is dead?”
“Yes George, dead. You should know what murder means. Are you not listening to me?”
George’s scowl deepened. His lips pursed even tighter. “Mr Baines is dead!” he cried.
Elizabeth nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
“Someone murdered my teacher?!”
“A nurse,” said Elizabeth. “They were a member of the Wigan church it seems, and didn’t like that his father had written a ballet about their damn saint.”
“Cecil,” said George to the mouse. “They murdered Mr Baines. I’m so sorry Cecil.”
Elizabeth watched him.
“Are you going to be okay?” she asked.
George hugged Cecil as though the stuffed animal were a weeping child. “It’s going to be okay.”
“Is it?” Elizabeth asked. She honestly wasn’t sure.
He raised the mouse to his ear as though it were whispering to him. To Elizabeth he said, “Cecil is angry.”
Elizabeth folded her arms. “I can see why he would be.”
George listened again. This time he made himself angry.
“Mr Baines was my teacher!” he screeched.
“George…” Elizabeth warned.
“Get away from me!” he screamed throwing Cecil across the lounge and leaping onto his feet.
“We really don’t need the extra dramatics,” said the aunt.
George leapt forward and he snatched her by the neck. He squeezed hard with his long fingers. Elizabeth grabbed his left ear lobe and tugged firmly. George yelped, releasing his grip.
“Mr Baines!” he cried. He lurched forward again but this time he fell into Elizabeth’s arms.
“There, there,” said Elizabeth patting his back. Not really sure what else to say. “I know you’re upset, but grab me again George and you’ll join Vincent sooner than you think.”
George sobbed snot and tears onto her shoulder. He squeezed her tighter. “I wish you would choke on one of your cigarettes.”
“And I wish I had a normal nephew. That’s life. We don’t always get what we want.”
George broke free of Elizabeth’s arms.
“I miss him,” said George.
“I know,” said Elizabeth.
At that he stormed off to the music room where he and Vincent had first met.
“The pure are the body of my church. Sinners, should they repent, will be welcomed. I will show them the way to paradise,” it was written that Noah Wigan had said.
Finding one pure of heart or willing to repent in the Shady City was a tough ask – even for a Saint – but the ominous church on the bay was still seeking.
The ferry to Hathfield landed ten minutes earlier than expected. It was a rain filled afternoon. Thick, heavy clouds hung in the darkening blue sky. A crowd of excited visitors wearing purple ribbons about their person were making their way along the promenade towards the ancient church on the dunes.
Standing outside the church was a man in Wigan robes. His name was Peter Millicent. He was greeting the congregates warmly. He was shaking hands and offering well wishes as the visitors filtered inside.
“Miserable day, father,” one older woman commented, removing her woollen hat to step inside.
“It is that,” Peter agreed with a charming smile. “Not to worry though Mrs McConnell. I do believe the sunshine will break a little later.”
As Mrs McConnell headed on inside to take her seat, Peter looked to me.
“I don’t believe I’ve seen you before. Welcome to the Church of St Wigan.”
I thanked him.
Peter was the legal mind behind the order. His prowess in fighting for the rights of his church had played a huge part in building the reach they had. My focus wasn’t on Peter though. He was a reasonable man all things considered. He had a reputation for being quite a gifted mediator. I wasn’t needing a mediator. To get a better idea of the church, I wanted to wander among them and feel the raw emotion that was tearing through the city.
Inside the church was standing room only and even that was limited. The pews were filled, the aisles were filled too leaving a small parting that led to the altar. There was the usual older sect you would expect to find in a church but I noted that there were a lot of younger attendants too. Most of them had come from the commune dressed in sombre, modest clothes. Their excitement was palpable. Their eyes were wide and pupils dilated. They were high on heether mushrooms, a hallucinogenic drug found naturally on the island. As they awaited the arrival of the man considered the living word of their beloved saint, the exhilaration was infectious.
Ding ding. Ding ding.
The congregation rose to their feet. A monk, also dressed in robes, with a hood pulled over his head carried an iron Wigan cross through. His name was Bart, named after the church’s patron saint of carriers. Bartholemew the Carrier had brought Wigan’s cross ashore as he set to convert the islanders. He had also carried St Michael the Punisher’s sword when he set to cleanse the city.
Bart was an interesting figure but what my attention was most focused on was the man who followed closely behind him to the altar. The congregates gazed upon him with reverence like nothing I’ve ever seen.
“Brothers and sisters,” His Eminence Dominick Cole called as he stepped onto his platform to face his followers. They remained standing in their eagerness. “It warms me to see so many of ye here today. So many new faces.” His wild, dark eyes scanned the crowd. They focused on me for a few moments, then he continued. He opened his arms to his followers and he smiled. He really was quite engaging.
“I am so blessed that I’m able to stand before ye. I’m blessed that you would be so strong in our faith that you would come out here on such a miserable day to listen to the words of this humble man.”
“Praise Wigan!” the congregates cheered like fanatics at a concert.
Dominick took a few moments to absorb the admiration.
“It’s good to welcome you but we’ve not had it easy of late,” he went on. His voice was strong in the Hathfield Bay accent which gave him a natural bounce to his tones that was quite musical.
“We’ve had brothers falling from the sky above and I ask ye, what am I to make of that?” he paused to let his words absorb. “I’ll tell ye what I’ll make of that. The city is frightened, my brothers and sisters. They are lashing out with murderous intent. They think that it will stop us bringing our message. All the Law Makers and their rules couldn’t stop it. All the corruption in the city and their heretical ways couldn’t stop it. That message is simple.”
I jerked as the congregates roared with chorus of, “You cannot be saved!”
“You’re right,” Dominick responded, even more vigour gathering in his speech now. “You cannot be saved. Not your mother, not your children, not any of us. But fear not, for St Wigan is willing to accept you into his arms. He is willing to accept even the worst. All he asks of us is that we repent.”
“Repent!” Dominick cried as he crossed his aisle. “And you may yet reach paradise.” He scanned his crowd again. “They tell us we’re disturbing the peace? Their peace should be disturbed, they’re all bound for Hell.”
“They cannot be saved!”
The sermon continued. Dominick Cole held his audience captive. They were enraptured by his words. I myself felt swept up by his impassioned speech. When the service had ended, I pushed through his adoring followers before they had the chance to swamp him.
“Dominick!” I cried. “Dominick?” I finally caught his attention outside the church.
“Sam Crusow,” I introduced. Bart had stepped in front of him.
“Did you call for the death of Vincent Baines?” I asked.
Dominick gave a scowl at first but then he smiled. “I have no idea what you’re talking about brother.”
“Frederick Baines wrote a ballet piece on Noah Wigan. Don’t you think it’s a little hypocritical that your church is fighting for free speech when the great composer was hounded by your followers because of a piece of music? Did you see the piece yourself?”
“I don’t get to the ballet as often as I’d like,” said Dominick in response.
“Did you call for the death of the great composer and his son?” I asked again.
Dominick laughed. “I’m a holy man,” he stated. “If someone has died it must have been Wigan’s will.”
It was then Peter Millicent took over.
“Are you press?” he asked.
“Not exactly,” I explained. “I’m working independently.”
“Yes, I know who you are,” said Peter. “You’re the blogger that was let go from the Daily.”
“You owe an explanation to the Baines family and the friends left behind,” I continued to press Dominick.
“Sam, did ye say yer name was?” Dominick returned to me. “I think ye’re needing to find some peace in yer life. You’re most welcome to pray with me and we’ll find that peace together.”
“I’m an atheist,” I said to him.
Dominick grinned. “That explains why you’re so uptight. Have some faith and you’ll see it will change your life. Let St Wigan show ye.”
He reached out and grabbed my shoulder. I thought he was going to hit me at first but then he smiled.
“Watch yer step there Sam,” he warned. Then he looked over my shoulder. “Those steps can be quite slippery.”
Let Wigan into your life. Let a religious cult into the Shady City. Either way, dear readers, damnation was on the cards.
Trauma, obsession and addiction are just some of the ailments that are being treated with rehab at Harbour House.
When a ballet depicting the love of St Wigan for a woman named Rowan the cultish church aren’t best pleased. What can the city expect when the church was built on the bones of non believers.
“You watch him!” screamed Courtney Owen. “You watch him and you watch him good, William.”
Her husband, Billy Owen, had his son thrown towards him.
“Are you fucking kidding me woman?” he complained. “You know I gotta work. What are you trying to do to me?”
“I’m trying to fix it so that your son knows who you are,” she screamed. She had lipstick on her teeth. Billy couldn’t help but notice that.
Billy had been longer in Coldford than anticipated. He had told his wife a few weeks initially. Months were now beginning to be ticked off the calendar.
“Hi dad,” said his ten-year-old son, Richard ‘Ricky’ Owen, stepping by his side, also looking like he had just received a dressing down from the highly strung mother.
Billy tousled his hair. “Hey, boy.”
“You boys enjoy,” Courtney barked. “I have a hair appointment.”
Father and son looked to each other. This was going to be interesting.
But Billy had work to do. Article 22 was in effect and he had to find ways of skipping around it to achieve his own objectives and cover his tracks. The fierce judge was pulling no punches and to cap it all off, Billy was helping to fight against his own father’s advances to grab power on the Owen Inc board, cleaning his cousin Buddy’s mess, and not to mention the issue of disposing of the body of nineteen year old Cameron Doyle – the judge’s son.
“You look like shit, dad,” Ricky commented.
“Yeah, thanks boy,” replied Billy. “You would too if you had been through half the shit I have since I got here.” He looked to the boy. “Don’t get comfortable. We got a little errand to run.”
And so, they found themselves driving towards Swantin in Billy’s White Cooper SUV named Pearl. He looked into the back. His son was staring from the window, bored already without his video game doo das.
“So, how’s school going?” he asked with genuine fatherly concern.
“It’s alright,” said Ricky. “Got an A on my biology test.”
“Yeah?” Billy grinned proudly. “Maybe you’ll be like a scientist someday. Cure the world and shit.”
Ricky was still watching the world race by from the window.
“Maybe,” he replied.
They rode on in silence for a few minutes when Ricky spoke up. “Mom’s pissed,” he said.
Billy prepared to take the exit onto the south bypass.
“Yeah, I got that impression,” Billy remarked. “A’body knows women are all bat shit crazy, son. You’ll learn that with your science. It’s like in their DNA or something.” When he looked into the rear-view mirror, he could see a disgruntled expression on Ricky’s face. His arms were folded tightly across his chest. Courtney had taken him to some faggy ass hair dresser again. The style she had allowed her son to cross the pond with looked like some douche bag boy band singer. No wonder the kid was mad. She might as well have tied his hair in pigtails. Christ Almighty! Ricky noticed his dad watching him in the mirror. It then occurred to Billy that he might not be the one that Courtney was mad at.
“What did you do?” asked the father.
Ricky pouted. “My friends and I broke into the Willis yard. We drank his wine and we put overalls on all his pigs.”
Billy frowned. “Why?”
“It was funny looking. The pigs got out and just about destroyed the orchard.”
“What did Willis do?” Billy enquired.
“He was real mad. He fired his gun, just a warning like, but we scattered. Thought he was gonna beat on us.”
“If that hillbilly huckster thinks he can lay a hand on my boy I’ll beat on him,” the father assured. “We’re living in a world where boys can’t be boys anymore. Everything is going to shit. That Willis has been a cranky mother fucker ever since I was your age. He must be old as shit!”
Ricky laughed a little. “Ancient,” he said. “Dirty old fossil.”
Billy grinned. “You betcha’.”
Ricky turned back to the window again.
“It didn’t help that Bri maxed out another credit card. Mom was so mad…”
Brianna ‘Bri’ Owen was Billy’s other child. Sixteen-year-old Bri was already creating a reputation for being troublesome. She had her mother’s fondness for shiny things but her father’s spirit and ability to make rules more agreeable to her.
“She took her friends to Luen for the summer. She’s been paying for everything. I put some pants on pigs and I get sent over here.”
“Well at least you get to have some time with your old man, right? See me in action?”
“Yeah,” Ricky replied. “Great.”
Bri’s blatant disregard for her parents worried Billy. It worried him a lot because in a short year or two she would be heading a Kappa Si sorority house somewhere. It was all fun and games with the frat bros but imagining his little girl being among them made his toes icy cold.
“Double standards, dad,” is what Bri would say.
Billy knew it was, but still…
Then there was Ricky. He was a good kid. Better than he and Courtney could ever hope for. He worked hard at school when every distraction, privilege and opportunity gave him reason not to. He had an easy way out but he never chose to use his family name to benefit himself.
Billy Owen had messes to clean, a job to do, then he could start looking closer to home. With that in mind they arrived at a storage unit at Chamberlain Docks.
“You wait in the car,” the father instructed the son.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Slam.
Billy had alighted the vehicle. Ricky unbuckled his seatbelt and turned to look out the back window. He saw his father approach a man wearing a white shirt and a black waistcoat. On the waistcoat was a diamond symbol. They seemed to be arguing a little. Ricky grew disinterested. He pulled the back screen down to try and find himself something to keep him occupied.
WELCOME TO PEARL. CHOOSE YOUR MEDIA.
All that was available was March of our Times, a terrible soap opera where all the women dressed like his mom and the acting skills rivalled his sister’s.
“A carrier the size of a coffin?” asked Isaac Bergman. “When you called, I thought you were taking the piss!”
“I wouldn’t have asked it if weren’t important, brah,” said Billy.
The Bergman and Owen families weren’t exactly close. Howard Bergman, the Diamond Parade patriarch, was not best pleased when Isaac revealed he had pledged Kappa So.
“You’re a grown man, Isaac,” Howard had said to him. “You’re smart, focused and capable. I am, and always will be, very proud of you. I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“I’ll be fine, Uncle Howie,” said Isaac in response. The reputation of Kappa So was no secret. How the Owens felt about the Bergmans was no secret either. Isaac’s cousin, Seth, had been at loggerheads with Buddy ever since they were young. They were very different boys. Seth was a buttoned-down, charming, head boy of Kingsgate School and Buddy was, well, Buddy was a bro.
Still, when the time came to pledge, Isaac had his reasons. The Kappa So pledge is not one to make lightly because when you were a brother, you were a brother for life. Isaac had met some decent bros through the years but that Owen influence was always strong in the Chapter House. He was a little surprised when he got a call from Billy to help. He hadn’t seen fully what he was getting into until he arrived on scene.
“I need a freighter,” had been the request.
“Fine,” Isaac agreed, “but I need the freighter back by five.”
With diamond mines as far as Subala, the Bergmans were a wealthy sect. Isaac’s share of the family fortune didn’t come from diamonds though. Instead, he was given charge of the Diamond Lounge Casino in City Main. The Jew boy’s family ties to the mining were suiting Billy in his plans.
“Let’s get this over with,” Isaac groaned as he followed Billy inside.
“Hey Isaac!” Irvine Stoker cheered. “How’s it going, mucker?”
“What the fuck are they doing here?!” Isaac cried.
The Bergman and the Stoker Circus families had a history between them that stretched back generations. The details of this are not important at this point, dear readers. Suffice to say, if Isaac had known they would be there he never would have agreed. Before Isaac could object, he felt a gun at his back.
“Just take it easy,” warned the police commissioner. “Ya’ll come out of this just fine if you do as I say.”
Irvine himself skulked around a table with long, tree-like limbs. His twig fingers danced by his side as he watched his son, Freddy, clean the body of a nineteen-year-old boy. They were both wearing hazmat suits. The Stokers were efficient and discrete so Billy wasn’t even mad freaky Freddy had come along for the ride. The Stokers had their way of being so low key that they were often forgotten about, despite being part of Kappa So since the days of its founding by Henry ‘Hen’ Owen. It had been Harger Stoker who had witnessed the opening of Hen’s Chapter House in Coldford. Freddy pulled the hat off his suit revealing overgrown brown hair and the same bug like eyes as his father.
“Our boy all cleaned up?” asked the police commissioner.
“As clean as a whistle, Mr Owen,” Freddy replied. He had a soft-spoken voice that sounded quite chilling given the circumstances. “The transport has been fitted with a plastic sheet. When you’re done, burn the sheet into a well-used oil drum. Oily surfaces are virtually impossible to grab prints from. If it’s one that hundreds of people have access to, then that’s even better. Then you’re going to want to gather all of the meltdown and discard it into the sea, as far out as you can. We’re adding to the pollution problem but if they happen to find those fragments way down, they sure as hell aren’t going to get anything from them.”
Billy clapped Freddy on the shoulder. “I forgot what a weird little man you are,” he remarked in jest.
“Is that Cameron Doyle?” Isaac cried. “What did you do?”
“We’re just wanting to use a freighter,” Billy said impatiently. “Stop being such a fucking Jew.”
Freddy Stoker held up gloves. “Gloves please,” he said. “We’ve just finished cleaning and we don’t want prints all over the body.”
Between the father and son Stokers, Cameron’s body was wrapped in a plastic sheet and hoisted into a secure transporter generally used for precious diamonds.
“He was just a kid,” Isaac cried. “What the fuck did you do to him?”
Billy pressed the gun into Isaac’s back. “It’s none of your business. You’re a brother for life so you’re helping your brother out. You don’t ask questions.”
“He’s going to get cold feet,” Irvine warned, referring to Isaac.
“Fuck you!” Isaac spat at him.
“We’re going to use the freighter. You are going to keep your mouth shut. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself under arrest for the murder of Cameron Doyle.”
“No one would believe that,” Isaac protested.
Billy grinned. “Maybe not, but that’s what all the evidence would say. Just keep your mouth shut,” he warned again.
Meanwhile, in the car, Ricky’s viewing was interrupted by a call from Owen Estate. Ricky answered and was faced with Charles ‘Chick’ Owen.
“Hello young man,” said the Owen Inc CEO. “I wasn’t expecting this pleasure.”
Ricky grinned. “Hi, sir. I’m with my dad right now.”
Meanwhile, the Stokers and Billy bore the weight of Cameron Doyle, both physically and legally. They pulled the diamond container towards the docks.
“I’ll put the container through the shredder once we’re done,” offered Irvine.
The shredder was a huge industrial machine used to chew up car wrecks and the rubble of arson investigations. The Stokers affectionately called her Guzzle. It was a stage named used by one of their old freak show performers. Her act had been that she could chew through anything. She claimed to have teeth of steel made in the Orient. For the industrial Guzzle that was very much true.
“I need that container back,” Isaac was protesting. “My uncle can’t have anything to do with this.”
Back in the car Ricky was retelling the story of the pigs to Chick. Chick was laughing but he warned him.
“You mind your manners now with Mr Willis. He’s an old timer and he can’t take much messing with these days.”
“I will,” Ricky agreed with his head lowered. “I got an A in biology,” he announced proudly.
“Well look at that!” The Cappy sighed. “You’re already on the fast track to doing the family proud. You stick in there. One day you will be a great man like your daddy.”
“This mother fucker weighs a tonne!” complained Billy outside.
Irvine Stoker was forced to stop for a breath. He wiped beads of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.
“You say Ira’s on the boat? You tell him to get his God damned lazy ass down here and help us,” Billy ordered.
As a small crew gathered at the freighter to help carry the body of Cameron Doyle to its next destination, Ricky was continuing to talk to The Cappy.
“I hear you’re in trouble,” the boy put to the CEO. “Grandpaw says you ain’t got long.”
The Cappy smiled despite the rumours of incompetency that his cousin, Jackson, had been spreading around the Owen Inc board.
“I’ve been having a bit of a time trying to keep things in order but it’s nothing for you to worry about.”
“Buddy fucking up again?” Ricky asked. It was no secret to the family that Chick’s son was a bit of a train wreck.
“For the most part, but with people like your daddy to help me I’m managing just fine.”
“What have you got in there? A fucking elephant? You shooting elephants again Bill?” asked Ira Stoker.
Ira was another bug eyed, curly haired Stoker cousin. He worked outside his circus season as a crime scene photographer, so he was especially good at detecting anything that had been missed.
“Mind your business,” Billy urged. “The less you know, the happier you’ll be.”
They didn’t’ have much time, so together they carried the remains to the grey freighter with the diamond logo on the side.
“Is Article 22 worrying you?” Ricky asked of the Cappy.
“You’re a good boy and a mature one. You talk more sense than most of your cousins so I won’t lie to you or glitter the truth. There will come a point when I will have to sit on the naughty step for a little while. Yes, I am worried but whilst I sit in the position that I am, you can rest assured that I won’t go down without a fight. We are Owens and that means something.”
Ricky smiled. “It’s because our name is ancient like Mr Willis.”
The Cappy chuckled. “That’s right. Sometimes that means offering respect. Sometimes it means dressing hogs but no matter what we got each other. You tell your daddy to call me and you come visit me real soon.”
“There is a shit storm coming your way, Billy,” said Isaac as they stood on the docks watching the freighter head to an abandoned Hathfield Bay mine.
“Shut your mouth,” Billy said. “You say nothing of this and you’ll be fine.”
Freddy Stoker pulled his gloves off.
“Clothes you’re wearing need to be washed at 90 degrees. That includes underwear just to be safe. Shower in as hot a temperature as you can stand then bleach the tub and drain as thoroughly as you can.”
The wrinkles in Billy’s forehead deepened as he looked to Freddy, shorter than the rest, his personality a little off.
“Get a hold of your boy, Stoker,” he said. “He’s giving me the willies.”
Irvine laughed. Freddy did too.
“I’ve got to go,” Isaac said, now feeling a little sick.
“Remember, you keep your mouth shut and we’ll all live happy lives,” were Billy’s parting words to him.
“He’s not going to stay quiet. He is going to Jew us out,” Irvine had warned him.
“Then shut him up,” said Billy.
“I’ve already planted evidence,” said Freddy. “If he tries to tell someone, we pull the plug.”
As Isaac drove back to his home in Kingsgate, he had to pull off the road. His hands had been shaking so bad he could barely control his car. He knew Cameron well. Karyn Doyle was a friend of his uncle’s. His own mother was a high-ranking Law Maker who was in Doyle’s confidence.
“What the fuck am I going to do?” Isaac pondered to himself. He couldn’t just sit by the side of the road forever.
The freighter made its way to a small island inlet just off the coast of Hathfield Bay. There were no inhabitants there and the Bergman mine was out of commission.
Cameron’s body was out of sight and out of the city for now. Until such times as it was safe for proper disposal the body, of the son of the most ferocious judge in Coldford history would lie in an abandoned diamond mine. It wasn’t a definite solution but it offered Billy the chance to move on to his next task.
The Faulds Park building welcomed home one of its princes. Since the death of Reginald, it had been a somber place. The staff did all that they could to comfort the widow but it still pained them that the family they served would be subjected to such grief. So, when they learned that Reginald Penn Junior was being returned to them, they rejoiced. The rejoice was short lived because when the man they saw as their prince was brought to the steps of the Faulds Building, they found that it wasn’t a prince at all. It was a beaten boy, with sunken eyes, matted hair and a gait in his walk he hadn’t had when he left them.
Mr Bolton, Reginald’s driver and boyhood confidante patted Mrs Gardner’s back with a comforting hand.
“He’s a strong boy. Just like his father,” he said, almost weeping himself. “He’ll be okay.”
Rita hugged her baby as tightly as she could without hurting him. She didn’t like how he limped. She didn’t like how he grimaced whenever he tried to sit. He paced the room a lot, the way an animal in captivity would. And even back in the comfort of home, safe from the Kappa So brothers who had tortured him, he still wouldn’t speak.
I had gone myself to speak to the Penn triplet. After everything he had gone through, he had a unique perspective on just how far people in the Shady City would go to protect their own gains.
“Can you tell me anything about what happened to you?” I asked.
Reggie was seated on a sofa in the main apartment of the Faulds Park Building. He was looking at me, he seemed receptive enough but his expression didn’t change.
“I really appreciate you trying to get through to him, Sam,” said Rita. “But I think he should just rest.” She was holding a bowl of Queen Corn cereal. She said it was her son’s favourite. It was the only thing he would eat and even at that he would have to have it fed to him.
“If you do want to speak Reggie, just know I’m a reporter,” I explained to him. “I’m on no one’s side. I make no judgement. I am just telling the story.”
Reggie’s eyeballs moved up to me. It did look as though he had something to say, but before he could utter any words he spied the Queen Corn cereal and fell vacant again.
“Here you are, baby,” said Rita.
It was no use. The one man who had a tale to tell had retreated to the top of his tower, become tight-lipped and would rather be spoon fed cereal from his mother than speak to a reporter.
I admit I felt a little disgruntled as I left Faulds Tower that afternoon. I had hoped that when the third triplet, the youngest, the baby, was given back to his natural habitat he would have much to say. However, it seemed there was someone that hoped he would stay quiet. The Faulds Building was immense but if someone was so determined to reach him, they would. Gun fire would crack and dear readers as I have said before, an Owen never misses a target.
Rita Penn had spent the afternoon watching the serial show MARCH OF OUR TIMES. It was her guilty pleasure but her sons claimed to have hated it.
“It’s a heap of shit,” Simon had protested.
“It’s trashy plots with lousy acting,” had been Marcus’ sentiment.
Reggie watched it with her though. He said he was just wanting to keep his mother company, but Rita suspected the subpar acting and the rushed story lines were just what Reggie enjoyed. He could protest that he never really paid that much attention but he had shed a tear when Mercedes finally left Hank. She had been through so much.
“Chance is trying to start a new business,” Rita was catching her son up. Actor, Laurence Du Bois, had presented his character as the perfect villain to counteract Chance’s plans and in true soap opera fashion dead puppies, an explosion at a warehouse and a secret marriage intervened.
Reggie failed to react. She just wished that something would stir him. She couldn’t blame him given everything he had faced. She stroked his curls, clean and tended now, and kissed his head.
“You rest, baby,” she said. “You’ve been through so much.”
She stood and wandered towards the window.
“It’s a beautiful day outside,” commented the mother. “Maybe we can take a walk in the park.”
WHACK. WHACK. WHACK.
“I have told the news helicopters to back off,” Rita stated, disgruntled. She had informed the press through her own sources that Reggie would be not giving any statement at this time and, given the circus that the city was beginning to become, she requested that he be left alone to recover.
What Rita didn’t seem to realise, perhaps a little naïvely, was that if she asked the press to step back, they would.
WHACK. WHACK. WHACK.
The helicopter drew closer, dancing around the height of the Faulds Building like a mating ritual.
“Reggie?” Rita put to her son. “There’s a man hanging out of that helicopter.”
Reggie looked up. “Mother!” he protested.
The blast sent Rita falling to the floor. Like her husband, a bullet had taken her between her eyes.
Clutching onto the helicopter door Billy Owen dropped his gun by his side.
“A’body knows when you use cheap window cleaner, you’re gonna get streaks. Clean your Goddamn windows, bitch,” he chuckled. He banged his fist against the metal of the chopper to alert his old special ops cohort. They pulled away. Two Penns down, three to go.
By the time I arrived at the Faulds Building with Lydia, Reggie was gone. He had disappeared, but not before he had pulled a sheet over the body of his mother. The elusive triplet wasn’t seen leaving on the CCTV footage but he did boast a whole host of hidey holes that would allow him to come and go with ease.
Billy Owen had seen some tough campaigns. He had been to northern Subala. He had been to Levinkrantz during the bomb blitz. He had gutted men and hung women and children. He had a lot to answer for but until such times as there was proof, he, like the rest of his family, would walk free adding Rita Penn to his body count.
Reggie Penn was on the loose again. Billy groaned to himself. He really was like a fucking rat. Those bastards were tough to kill. He was confident enough that he would catch up with him eventually. In the meantime, he had taken out all the ones picked up at the compound who might have had something to say. The rat had scurried into a hole somewhere, probably eating his own shit. He wasn’t Billy’s problem for now. The minute he peeked his nose out again and those little whiskers started to twitch. Blam! He would be sorry he had ever tried to run.
Problems, problems, problems. When The Cappy called him from the Great States for service to the family he had warned him there was a river of piss to wade through. A lot of it belonged to that dumbass, Buddy. Much of it was fallout from the cherry popper, Jerry. Now that Billy was cleaning up all them messes, more were starting crop up. It was no wonder the place was all going to the dogs. It seemed everywhere you turned some bitch’s son was looking to stir shit up.
Notice to Police Commissioner. Representatives of the Church of St Wigan have lodged complaints that their rights to free speech are being infringed by officers of CPD. Please advise. From the Office of Law Makers.
Billy read the notice again, running his finger along the words and mouthing each syllable carefully. Then he grinned.
He and his officers had been chasing and beating some of those monks now for weeks but it seemed they weren’t getting the damn message. They kept coming back. Now, not only did he have the rat, he had those fucking religious nuts ringing their damn bells all over the city. When were they going to get the message that they weren’t welcome?
The body of Cameron was hidden. The stage was set for when the Jew boy went squealing to his mama. The rat boy had hidden away. Billy had eyes everywhere waiting for him to surface again. Buddy was staying out of trouble for now. It was all taken care of. Now what?
Billy read the notice again.
If those Wigan preachers weren’t getting his message, he was going to have to step it up. Trying to convince e’body to find religion. That shit should be illegal.
Rights to free speech? Commissioner Billy Owen would see about that. He was pissed off and fixin’ to take it out on someone. He was sick and tired of them yelling at him as he walked City Main.
“You can’t be saved!” What did that even mean? Shit!
They shouldn’t go around preaching like that. It was confusing the young’ins. It was dangerous. That shit had to be stopped and Billy Owen was the man to do it. But first…
Billy answered his phone on the third ring.
“Errrr…Bill?” Buddy asked nervously.
“You better be staying out of trouble, boy,” Billy said.
“I am. I am,” Buddy stated. “I was just wondering, if I were to have like just a little gram of powda’, you know to take the edge off…”
“Buddy,” Billy barked. “No powda’. If I come down there and I find you boys are high on anything more than sugar I’m going to beat all y’all’s asses. Am I clear?”
“I was just wondering. I just wanted to know what the lines where. I mean what the rules were. I’m feeling a little sick today, brah.”
“You’ll feel better soon,” said Billy. “A’body knows that powda’ shit makes your dick limp. You wanna be limp dicked?”
Buddy must have thought about it. “Chad!” he cried. “Put the turkey baster back!”
At that Buddy rang off. Billy shook his head. “Jack ass,” he muttered to himself.
His lil bro wasn’t so bad really. He just needed straightened out.
Complaints lodged. Free speech. It was time to go divine on someone’s ass.
Ding ding. Ding ding.
“You cannot be saved!”
Cries were ringing out across the city.
“But repent and you’ll be in His embrace.”
They were the children of St Wigan and they’d had a varied following over the years. They were a religious sect based on Hathfield Bay Island and they have featured in many of my observations over the years. Some notable members of the church include Delores McInney – grandmother of the Boss Lady, Nan Harvester – mother of Julia Harvester and Gerald ‘Jerry’ Owen who was one of their priests. Each of these people, for their own reasons, were united under one saint. They called Noah Wigan the Patron Saint of Sinners for it was said that he had walked the fires of Hell to welcome the damned into his embrace. Olivia Hickes had also been a member of the church, but had since taken a step back when she saw how intent they had become in their mission to cleanse the city. Coldford was filthy so it was going to take Hellfire to burn through the dirt. At least that was what Wigan had said.
I will not detract with the details of the stress the Church of St Wigan had placed on the city. It will suffice to say that their numbers were booming, their reach from the bay was spreading further in the mainland, and now wherever you walked in the streets of Coldford, someone was crying out.
“You cannot be saved!”
The sound of the bell ringing was starting to get on Billy Owen’s last nerve.
“I am sick and tired of hearing those preachers,” he groaned. “A’body knows there’s no such thing as God or any of that shit. We’re born, we bone and we die. That’s it.”
“Did you know you can’t be saved?” Wigan monk, Issiah, was asking those who passed him as he stood outside the gates of Pettiwick School in Filton.
It was the meeting of the PTA that night so the snobbish parents of the little Filton darlings were arriving in their droves. When your little bundle of joy was going to grow up to rule the world you had to take an interest in the institute that was going to show them how.
“You cannot be saved!” Issiah cried as they passed him.
He rang his bell as though he was predicting the end of the world.
Ding ding. Ding ding.
Most of the snobbish parents just snorted down their well-powdered noses at him but there were some who stopped to listen to what he had to say.
“There is still hope,” he told them with joy. “If you repent, St Wigan will rescue you. He embraces all sinners and guides them to the light of salvation.”
He had managed to fill his sheets with the numbers and details of some folks who wanted to hear more from the church.
“You sound like you’re predicting the end of the world,” one of the women had stated as she and her fellow Pettiwick parent approached him.
“It sounds ominous,” said Issiah, “but I have the pleasure to bring ye the truth. The truth is if you accept the most holy of saints, Wigan, into yer life you may reach paradise. St Wigan loves the sinners. He wants to bring them back from the brink. It’s not too late. Listen to Him and his disciples. Let Bartholemew carry ye forward. Fear Michael should you stray from the path.”
The women were quite impressed. They signed up eventually. They were each given a Wigan book so that they could learn more about what their salvation would entail.
Issiah could hear the words of praise from his church leader as he saw his good work.
“I’m proud of ye, Issiah,” His Eminence would say. “It’s not an easy truth for folks to hear but it’s our job to make them listen.”
Issiah had sheets of signups. He spent time chatting with the Pettiwick parents. Most of them were quite accepting. Some of them had been combative. That was expected when you were telling someone a truth they really didn’t want to hear.
It had been quite a glorious day, praise Wigan. No-one could be saved and it seemed the posh part of the city were starting to learn that. Salinger, Weir and Fullerton were just some of the Filton notable names that he had on his sheet.
It was a good day but it wasn’t over. He had to show his dedication. He pulled his robes tighter around him. Sat on the ground outside the school and prepared for the long night chill.
When it reached the early hours, Issiah was stirred by a flood light like a beam from the Almighty. It was accompanied by the whack of helicopter blades.
“Good mornin’,” someone called over a megaphone. “You wanna ride home?”
CPD under Billy Owen’s commissionership weren’t exactly friends of the church.
“It’s all bullshit,” Billy maintained as he and Irvine Stoker sat on the helicopter. Whipper’s blades whacked heavily through the quiet night air as Coldford eased its way through the early hours.
“It’s bullshit. Ain’t that right?” Billy put to the Wigan monk who sat, shaking between Billy and Irvine.
Isaiah had had quite a crowd gather around him to listen to what he had to say. If he hadn’t drawn so much interest Billy may have just left him alone, but he had generated quite a gathering to listen to his BS so Billy decided to intervene.
“Disturbing the peace,” Billy had said. “Book ‘im.”
Now, Issiah was praying harder than ever. He had never been on a helicopter before and he wasn’t much enjoying the height. Knowing this, Billy pushed him against the window.
“Look at that drop!” he teased as they passed over the sea.
Irvine laughed as the monk fell back into his arms.
“Easy, mucker,” said the circus man.
The shore of Hathfield Bay approached. The island was in slumber. There wasn’t a single light on in any of the houses darted along the dunes. The Wigan commune began to emerge from the sands.
Billy leaned out and took a look.
“Circle round to the church,” Billy ordered the pilot. “I’m gonna drop this guy off.”
Whipper pivoted her body and made her way to the ancient structure of the church. Irvine managed to keep his balance as the helicopter turned. Billy gripped a bar. They both chuckled as the monk stumbled forward.
“Almost home, boy,” Billy said as Whipper fell to a steady hover, miles above the church on the hill. “One last chance. Admit it’s all bullshit.”
“I have faith,” Issiah maintained.
“I got faith,” Billy replied, removing his gun and pointing it at the monk. “I got faith that I can put a bullet in your head and your saint ain’t gonna do jack shit about it.”
Issiah whimpered but he said nothing.
“Admit there’s no God and I’ll drop you home all nice like.”
Issiah shook his head.
Billy cocked his gun. “Say it!” he teased. “Admit there’s no God and Wigan sucks cock.”
“Just let me go,” Issiah said as Irvine pushed him towards the door.
“Not until you admit it,” Billy grinned.
“There’s no God,” Issiah cried. “Just let me go.”
“Wigan is a cock sucker,” Issiah sobbed. “Please, just let me go.”
Billy shook his head. “Jeeeez,” Billy sighed. “I know y’all are faggots but to abandon your beliefs like that? That’s real sad. I can’t even look at ya. Stoker, see him out, would ya.”
Irvine Stoker encased the monk in his long limbs like the forelegs of a preying mantis. The door was opened.
“Let’s see if Wigan will catch ya,” Billy laughed.
“Bye, mucker,” said Irvine.
Issiah was thrown from Whipper’s hold. Both Billy and Irvine leaned out to watch him fall. It took ten seconds of shrill shrieking for the monk to finally hit the dune.
“Wooooh,” Billy cheered. “Preach in my city again faggots I’m just going to have to keep bringing y’all back.”
He laughed. The helicopter turned and made its way back to the city.
When the body was discovered the following day, there was a CPD booking notice for disturbing the peace in his pocket. Billy Owen was taking care of business.
Reggie Penn has always been a wanderer. His father is hailed as the King of City Main so when he slips off to the island to live with the cultish Curch of St Wigan he might not want daddy to come looking for him.
The Knock Knock Club had been lost and found again. It was now sitting in limbo waiting to make its next move. Large empires like the Beckingridge Firm and Owen Inc were on lockdown. Article 22 tore through the city like a sharpened sword, gutting and ripping as it went. We lost many to it. I lost old associates who had sought to help the Mack cause. The Macks of Mack Distilleries received the worst dealings of all. The law set its sight on them and it ignited a long standing rivalry whilst they lay vulnerable. The west part of Greater Coldford was split in two. The Tullochs of Northside were baying for blood and sought opportunity after the Black Band terrorist-wrangling group seized the distillery in Bellfield held by the Macks for generations. One of the Macks’ own died. The funeral procession the rest had gathered for led them like lambs to the slaughter. I say the rest but there was one. Paddy Mack escaped the funeral purge and whilst he existed the whiskey dynasty continued.
Everywhere I looked, I saw Article 22 – headlines, satirical comics, TV shows and radio broadcasts. It was on the mind of everyone. Whilst many found the smell of execution on their streets distasteful, they couldn’t deny the strides the change in law was making in dealing with the filth that had grown over the city, like a moss, for too long.
The crime rates were dropping quickly with this zero tolerance policy. It was a little authoritarian in its action but it certainly quietened the people of Coldford. Coldford was now being held to an old book of legalities. It was barbaric and outdated but effective in holding terrorists, murderers, rapists and abusers to account. The High Court was held under the heavy hammer of Judge Karyn Doyle and I couldn’t see it any other way.
With that in mind, my wanders through City Main became something of an uncomfortable experience. The days were becoming shorter, colder, darker. People were staying in their homes. Windows and doors were bolted. They were anticipating the death of a king. His kingdom, the Penn Auction House. Reginald Penn – a loyal friend, a dedicated father, a convicted terrorist – was next. I took a walk past City Face a lot in those days. While the newspapers regurgitated hearsay and speculation, I found that the ominous ‘Tick Boom’ of the large clock face on City Hall told the people of Coldford everything they needed to know.
On the day I now bring you to there was a new notice on the Coldford City Board.
EXECUTION OF REGINALD PENN SENIOR – 5pm.
DEATH BY FIRING SQUAD – Notice issued by Judge Karyn Doyle.
His triplet prince sons would be beside themselves. Two of them – Marcus and Simon – in servitude to The Boss for murder and assault respectively. The third – Reggie – still missing, in the hands of their Owen Inc enemies. But it was with his wife, Rita, whom my sympathies lay the most. She was a rare innocent in a world of villains.
“You cannot be saved!” cried a monk of the Church of St Wigan, a cultish group who resided over on the bay. The more convicts that died at the hands of Doyle, the more they believed the city needed spiritual guidance. Now, most of the major buildings had a preacher placed outside.
With Article 22 sweeping the death penalty across the city it was time for heroes to take their places. I am reporter Sam Crusow and the Shady City would run red with more blood before my story was over.
Eugene Morris of Morris Funeral Care was well known in the city. He was a highly respected man and despite the state of affairs in Coldford, he had the attentive ear of everyone. He was held in high regard. They called him The Tailor because that essentially was what he was. What made him such a figure of note was that it was his job to fit people for their final suits. Rich or poor, good or evil, all roads lead to the same place in the end and Eugene Morris awaited all, no matter how they lived their lives.
The eccentric-looking man had decided on a lunch engagement. As Reginald awaited his scheduled execution, The Tailor sat to a meal with the king.
“The meat is unsurprisingly subpar,” Eugene commented as he cut a piece of ham.
Across the small, wooden table from him Reginald had barely made a dent. As I’m sure you’ll understand, his mind was elsewhere. In testament to his absent mindedness he said, “It’s a little too salty for my taste.”
Eugene was nodding in agreement.
“It is, but your tastes will be extra bitter at the moment. That is to be expected.”
Eugene was familiar to the sensations experienced at the end of life.
Reginald gave a slight scowl to himself and dropped his cutlery.
“What difference does it make?” he asked. “What difference does it make if I eat my fill? Tomorrow is already written.”
Again, Eugene was agreeing but he was studying Reginald closely. He had made his name in violence as a young man and ran the Auction House with astute business sense, but it was his nobility and fierce protection of the people of Main that made him royalty in their eyes. It didn’t matter though. Reigns end, lives end, and as I said, all roads lead to the same place in the end. Eugene didn’t interrupt though. He allowed Reginald to speak.
“They should have at least let me see my wife and sons,” he barked. That bitter, salty taste on his lips again.
That was a non issue as far as the Law Makers were concerned. With the death of the beloved Detective Hickes on Reginald’s hands, they would not risk his escape. Doing so would negate all of the lives lost so far to Article 22. Lewis Salinger of the Pettiwick School, Kappa So brother Brad Daley, and William Bass of Beckingridge Firm, to name a few.
“They could have at least waited until they found Junior and I knew he was safe.”
The agents of the Good Gang had been close to finding Reggie Penn but the enemies that held him had moved on. Efforts in the search continued.
Eugene wiped his lips with a crisp, white napkin.
“If you have lost your appetite we might as well move on.”
Reginald frowned again to himself. His stomach rumbled. The chair scraped as he pushed it back to stand. He finished the red wine that lay at the bottom of his glass and wandered to the middle of the room where he stood with his arms outstretched.
From his pocket, Eugene drew a measuring string. It was old and frayed but still served its function much like Eugene himself. He stretched the measure across Reginald’s chest. The Penn patriarch kept his focus straight ahead. Eugene measured his arms and legs. He then wrapped the string around his neck. Reginald could feel Eugene’s cool breath on his cheek as he leaned in closer to him. It caused the skin to prickle.
“Do you have any preferences for your final suit?” asked The Tailor.
The king shook his head. “Just make sure I have something of my family close. Rita will choose the tie.”
Eugene Morris AKA The Tailor acquiesced to the request.
“Five shooters. One live round,” explained CPD Officer Grant Miles. “This is going to be public so we need everyone to be on their A game. The Black Bands will be working crowd control so it’s up to us to make a clean shot to the heart.”
The Black Bands were already generating fear. The fear was turning hostile so it would have been unwise to have the foreign group of terrorist-wranglers killing Coldford natives.
Police Commissioner William ‘Billy’ Owen was disgruntled at the arrangement, to say the least. He had requested that he be one of the shooters. He certainly had the ability as a marksman but his motives didn’t sit well with Judge Doyle. It had been his Pops who had been bludgeoned to death by Reginald. It had been his cousin on his knees and made to watch while he begged for his life. It had been his Kappa So brothers that had been attacked.
“You will submit your firing squad to my office for approval,” insisted the judge. There was no changing her mind.
It was a cold night on the lawns of City Face when the time came around. Ice was beginning to form on the blades of grass. My breath was a thick fog before me. I could see Billy standing beside his assembled firing squad still looking a little peeved at not being able to join them. The Owen family were lovers of chaos and the efficiency of the occasion probably didn’t suit Billy’s agenda.
“Fucking piece of shit,” Billy murmured under his breath as the man of the hour was brought before them.
I had expected cries of protest or weeping, anything that would break the overall somber atmosphere but the quiet remained as cold as the chill that was beginning to set in. It was the clicking of horses’ hooves that brought a distraction. Reginald Penn was escorted by CPD to the spot on the lawns where executions of old had taken place. He was stood underneath the large clock that tick boomed as its hands danced around time. Elsa and Seth Bergman – brother and sister of the Bergman Diamond dynasty – had gone to sit with Rita at her home in the Faulds Building. Their father, Howard, had come to City Hall to be there for the loyalist king. He respected Reginald as a friend and supporter in City Main, where the Bergman Diamond Parade lay.
The voice of the judicial minister reading the sentence rose above the others like a priest reading a funeral around a graveside. He spoke of the right to a fair trial and he spoke of the right to life. They weren’t Reginald’s rights he referred to but the rights of his victims, taken away without lawful reason. A lot of blood had been shed in Reginald’s pursuit and in judgement of that more would be shed still.
From Reginald’s point of view those gathered to witness his final moments were faceless but as he raised his chin, he could see Eugene standing by ready to dress his body. Beside The Tailor, in long robes and with a heavy wooden cross around his neck, was the Holy Brother. He was muttering a prayer with thin lips. His head was raised to the heavens but his eyes were closed. The Holy Brother was of the Albans order. The order had taught the Penns through St Albans School for generations.
The rights had been delivered. Legal ones and final ones. The shooters lined up. Judge Doyle hadn’t removed her focus from Reginald since the moment he had arrived on scene.
“Reginald Penn Snr, for acts of terrorism and murder you will be shot until you are dead. Do you have any final words before sentence is carried out?”
Reginald took a deep breath.
“To my wife Rita – I love you more than life and I don’t want you to be afraid. I’ll see you again some day. To my sons Marcus and Simon, you both have a tough road ahead of you but you have what it takes. To Junior, if you’re listening, your family will never give up on you and you will be brought home. Finally, to the people of City Main. You are what I fought for. For as long as the Penn name continues you will always have someone fighting for you.”
“Long live the king!” a cry rang out.
Van Holder’s second in command, a behemoth of a man named Monsta’, turned his attention to the crowd and it quickly sobered again.
“Load!” called the execution officer.
The firing squad prepared. Mostly populated by Kappa So brothers, they were practically salivating at the prospect of killing a king.
However, on the top floor of an abandoned building that belonged to the Weir Hotel, someone was overlooking the event with different ideas. Bernard ‘Buddy’ Owen had arrived just in time to hear Reginald’s rights. A nest was already prepared. Buddy was surprisingly calm as he rested the rifle against his shoulder and took aim.
“For as long as the Penn name continues you will always have someone fighting for you,” Reginald was saying as the scope of Buddy’s rifle landed on his forehead.
“Aim!” the officer called.
Buddy took a breath. As his finger gently squeezed the trigger he said, “For Pops. Suck my God balls, Your Majesty.”
Five bullets were given to the firing squad, four of which were blank. One hit his heart as instructed, but not before another fired from the Owen shooter and an Owen never misses a target. With a bullet between his eyes, the King was dead.
Brought back from the Great States by force, Buddy had decided he was a new man. He was going to live quietly like a shaman or some shit. He was going to leave his addiction to cocaine behind. Although the mandatory rehab treatment at Harbour House left little choice in that matter. He was going to settle down and bore himself to tears with his father’s lectures on their family history and consider taking over the family business some day. He had every reason to want to put a hole in Reginald Penn’s skull. That son a bitch had him and his bros on their knees and he watched his poor Pops’ brains being splattered on the Chapter House floor. That mother fucker…nope. Buddy stopped himself. He was a new man.
Bernard Owen CEO. That sounded pretty good. One thing that his time in the Great States had taught him was that he needed the right woman behind him. He needed someone who was by his side, who could tame the beast within him, who could shoot a gun, who had a pretty face, who was fun, smart too he supposed, all packaged into a tight body. Even though she had brought him back to Coldford and thrown him into rehab, he had taken quite the shine to Agent Lydia Lowe.
“Need to man up, brah,” Buddy sighed to his Kappa So brothers, Chad and Cooper. “If I’m going to bone a chick like Lydia I’m going to have to start acting like the Cappy.”
“You’re right Bud,” Chad agreed.
Cooper nodded too.
So they carried out their Law Maker appointed community service at a care home. It wasn’t so bad really. Some of the old folks had stories to tell.
Most nights on their community service the brothers gathered in Hanz Stoker’s room. He was a good time old boy and part of the Stoker Circus family. The three bros loved his stories. He had seen some shit. His family were old school circus people but when the tents were taken down they were tasked with the job that no one else wanted to do, especially in a place like Coldford. They cleaned crime scenes.
“Gotta do something between seasons,” Hanz’s nephew, Irvine, had jested. Cleaning blood and guts had gotten them through some tough times. They became quite successful at slipping in under the noses of the good people of Coldford to wipe away the mess that others didn’t have the stomach to look upon. In light of this, Hanz had seen some real shit. He had a collection of photos he kept in an old metal biscuit tin under the bed. The advertisement on the tin was decades old and written in a foreign language. They were of images of old crime scenes. Morbid curiosity delighted the boys.
“You’re a freak, brah!” Buddy laughed as they looked through them.
“People are animals deep down,” said Hanz and he was correct. “Probably the most blood thirstiest animals on this planet,” he added. He would know. Buddy, Chad and Cooper discussed at length how they suspected Hanz had been responsible for some of the crime scenes he had photographed. One he seemed particularly proud of was a prostitute who had been filmed having her legs cut off. The snuff film was complete with a bullet to her head. Hanz only had photographs of the aftermath but he spoke about it with such passion and detail he had to have been there.
“It must be quite a boon to you knowing that man is going to die after what he did to Pops,” Hanz remarked.
“That piece of shit,” Buddy groaned.
“I can tell the family to keep some photos of the aftermath to send to his boys,”
Hanz offered. His lips tightened as though he was thinking about it.
Buddy laughed a little nervously. “You’re a freak, brah, ” he said again.
I learned that among the Stoker family was a Kappa So brother, sworn to the Chapter House and loyal to the Owens. It was the reason that for part of their community service the bros were sent to the gated community, just outside Kingsgate, populated by retired Stokers and their circus performers. Chamberlain Heights retirement community was its true name. Among the Stokers themselves it was termed The After Show.
“Today’s your lucky day, mucker!” They were interrupted by Hanz’s nephew, Irvine. His limbs were spread to take up more room in the doorway. His voice was booming and he was grinning from ear to ear.
That was when the plan to give Buddy a gun came to pass. The Stokers confirmed Buddy had been at the care home the entire time. CCTV footage showed him arriving with his bros and leaving again with them. His alibi was air tight. When it came time to clear the crime scene, Irvine’s son, Freddy, left no trace of the nest.
When Billy was afforded the chance to meet up with Buddy and his father, Chick, at Owen Estate afterwards he was beside himself.
“You sons a’ bitches!” he cried. “You didn’t tell me!” His raspy laugh caused his shoulders to shudder.
“We required a genuine reaction,” The Cappy explained.
Billy punched Buddy’s shoulder playfully.
“Y’all knew and I’m standing like a handicap, slapping my wrist waiting on the moment to hit. I was out of my mind thinking that the son a’ bitch was gonna get away with murdering Pops without one of our own having sum’n to say about it. Fucking monks waving hands, Black Band bastards everywhere then blam! Bullet right between his eyes when e’body was aiming at his dang heart. We’re gonna get some shit for that boy,” Billy cheered, still giddy.
“Yes, Buddy,” the Cappy put in. “You should have shot him in the heart.”
Buddy frowned, turning to his father.
“You told me to aim for the skull,” he protested.
With a chuckle Chick shook his head.
“Now, Buddy,” he said, unable to disguise his smile.
“You did!” Buddy maintained. He continued, imitating his father’s strong Great States accent, heavier than his own, “Boy, you better put a bullet right between that son a’ bitch’s eyes because the thought of him dying and it not being at the hands of one of our own really dills my pickle.”
Both Billy and The Cappy laughed.
“Come now, Buddy,” Chick chortled. “Stop it now.” Joy still laced his tone.
Buddy raised his eyebrows to his cousin. Billy wrapped his arm around him and pulled him closer. The Cappy collected three small glasses and a bottle of his favourite bourbon. He poured two glasses with the bourbon and one with Jolly Shopper fizzer. Buddy, after all, was still in rehab.
After he had passed out the drinks, he too wrapped an arm around his son and tousled his feathery blonde hair.
“You did good, Bud,” he said sincerely. “Pops would be proud. Thanks to you the king was was well and truly Owened.”
“To Pops!” Billy cheered.
They clinked their glasses together.
Simon Penn was just a young boy when he was told his anger and frustration was better aimed at a punch bag. He had lost his father and he had never felt such frustration. Reginald had been gunned down whilst the city looked on. His triplet brother, Marcus, wasn’t much comfort. He had decided to immerse himself in books instead, reading about Article 22. It had already claimed their father’s life. What difference did a fucking book make?!
Simon punched the bag. The gym facilities in The Boss weren’t exactly of great quality but he just had to hit something.
Adding insult to injury, the execution of his father had been deliberately botched. Marcus had tried to talk to Judge Doyle but again, what good did that fucking do?
“Time’s up,” announced the guard.
It had only been thirty minutes but it was better than nothing. If he didn’t hit the punch bag he would have to hit something. Earlier that morning a fellow inmate had almost learned that the hard way.
“I’m sorry,” Warden Remar had said to the Penns when he learned of Reginald’s fate. It had been a sincere condolence but it had not been what Simon wanted to hear. It would suit him much better to discuss what was to happen to those who deliberately botched it. He just had to hit something. As he had an inmate by the neck, he could hear Marcus bark at him.
“Leave him,” he said.
Simon managed to pull through his rage. He threw the inmate to the ground and stormed off to the gym.
“Time’s up Penn,” the guard announced.
Simon turned round to face the guards. When they saw the expression on his face, they both reached for their tasers. Simon cracked his neck but he decided to return to his brother without fuss.
Marcus wasn’t in the library anymore. The guards informed him he had moved out to the yard. It seemed the eldest triplet had decided he wanted to see the expression on the faces of his enemies in their final moment too.
It had been a tough road in prison for Gregory Winslow, former Doctor Winslow. Of all the despicable human beings I have had the misfortune to meet during my time in Coldford, he ranked one of the worst. Organ trafficking, rape and unauthorised abortions. He was a foul man who was now at the mercy of The Boss. So far, he had managed to keep himself safe. As one of his patients in Harbour House, Vincent Baines had learned that the triplets had lost an elder sibling. Seeing him as a friend, Rita Penn had come to Winslow with news that she thought she was pregnant. He raped her as she lay unconscious and he aborted Reginald’s baby. Now Winslow jumped every time he heard a gate close. He didn’t know when the triplets would confront him about it. He didn’t know if Vincent had been bold enough to tell them. Thanks to the prison now holding a population of Kappa So brothers he sought them for protection, a barricade to hide behind. As time went on, he began to consider Vincent didn’t have the moxy to tell the Penns. Perhaps he wasn’t in as much of their favour as he had believed.
A few weeks prior to the events of Reginald’s execution Winslow had found some confidence. Dressed in white shorts and T-shirt with ‘Property of The Boss’ across his back he stepped into the yard. It was icy cold but he was able to find himself some peace.
“Good evening, Gregory,” Vincent had greeted from the entrance.
“What do you want Baines?” Winslow scoffed. He had been waiting for the axe to fall with Vincent’s threat for too long. When he saw the remorseful expression in Vincent’s eyes, he couldn’t help but smile. When he noticed the bruising around the former music teacher’s neck, he became a little giddy.
“They are animals,” he commented. “I did try to warn you. If that foetus had been allowed to grow it would have been much the same.”
“You mean Rita Penn’s baby?” Vincent asked.
Winslow sniggered. He knew better than to make a full admittance out loud but he was emboldened by Vincent’s apparent desperation. He had tried to offer him friendship but Vincent had been so disgusted by him after his treatment in Harbour House he refused, then threatened him with the Penns. As he observed the former music teacher, Winslow noted he wasn’t looking quite so confident in his friendship with the thugs of City Main.
“They are going to carry out Reginald Penn’s sentence soon,” Vincent had said.
He saw the flicker of Winslow’s lips as he processed the information. Was he trying to smile?
“Reginald Penn…” Winslow sighed. “Now there is a character. I can’t say I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I bet you’re not,” Vincent replied.
There was a long-standing rivalry between the king and the disgraced doctor. There was a rivalry for respect, a rivalry for power and a rivalry for Rita’s affections. There wasn’t really much rivalry involved. It was all built in Winslow’s head because the reality was, he could never compete with Reginald on any of those counts.
“So, you have decided that it is best we stick together then? I think it may be to both our benefit. Safety in numbers and all that,” Winslow stated.
“Oh no,” was Vincent’s retort. “I still think you are the foulest thing in this city and given what you’re up against that speaks volumes. I have been thinking a lot lately about the expression on the faces of people when they know they’re going to die.”
Vincent reached out and clasped Winslow’s face with his long fingers. He looked deep into his eyes and he smiled. “That seems about right. I’ve also been thinking about what you did to Rita. You know how my head can get so noisy sometimes. In the clinic you advised me to write my thoughts down. I couldn’t stop thinking about Rita and what you did to her so I wrote it all down. I still couldn’t settle, pianist fingers you see, so I clutched all those pages I had written, folding them with care. I would have stopped there but still, so noisy. I thought it might help to pack what I had written away into a little envelope. It did help but I just can’t bear the sight of a blank envelope. I had to put some address on it.” Vincent started to laugh. “I don’t know why but I thought the warden, Remar, would find it interesting. It was still a little noisy so I wrote it all out again.”
Winslow scoffed, “I’m already in prison. Remar can’t do much.”
Vincent nodded in agreement. “Maybe. Maybe not.” Vincent went on, “After I wrote it down, I tried to lose myself in books so I clumsily left a note tucked away in a volume in the library. Then I thought to myself, ‘Hang on? Did that happen to be the book Marcus was reading?’ It did feel a little quieter still, but then I thought of Simon. As the middle child he may feel a little left out, so I wrote some music for him and would you believe it? Every note told him what you did.”
That was a few weeks ago. Reginald Penn was now dead and Vincent had been taken to Harbour House for psych evaluation. Maybe he had been bluffing.
Winslow had been so focused on Vincent’s threat, he hadn’t paid attention to Marcus and Simon stepping into the yard.
“Help!” Winslow squealed. “Help me!”
As expansive a structure as The Boss could be, Winslow’s pleas were heard by a group of Kappa So brothers. The Penns were outnumbered four to one. Simon’s shoulders tightened. Marcus stared at them keenly.
“Thank you, brothers,” Winslow cried. “These men were going to hurt me.”
The Kappa So brothers didn’t care much about Winslow but the opportunity to throw down with the Penns was tempting.
“What’s this all about?”
A man with salt and pepper hair, long features and cool dark eyes pushed through to check on the brothers. When he noticed two of the triplets, he took note of Winslow again.
“Twenty minutes,” the warden offered. “You, frat boys, clear out of here.”
“No, wait!” Winslow plead. “They’re going to hurt me. Brothers for life!” he cried desperately.
One of the eldest Kappa So bros chuckled. “You ain’t Kappa So, brah.”
“Kappa So!” the others cheered.
“Alright, you’ve made your point,” said Remar. “Move out.”
“Kappa So!” the bros began to chant as they departed the yard.
Winslow squealed at the warden, “They’re going to hurt me.”
“Boo fucking hoo,” Remar laughed. “I heard what you did to their mother. I’m pro-life by the way.”
“You can’t do this!” Winslow cried desperately.
“You’re in servitude,” was Remar’s response. “You no longer have a say. Welcome to the fucking Boss.”
Winslow’s breath caught in his throat as the door to the yard clicked closed. Twenty minutes of just him and two very pissed off Penns.
“Boys,” whimpered Winslow. “I know you’ve been through a lot. It’s news just reaching me that your father is dead. I suppose I can tell you that I loved your mother.”
Simon warned, “Don’t you dare speak of our mother.”
“Whatever Vincent told you it was a lie. He’s a sick man and he hates me.”
A punch from Simon sent Winslow to the ground. He shuffled along the tarmac floor and tried to dash between Simon’s legs but Marcus kicked him to the floor. Simon gripped him around his neck and pulled him to his feet.
No one was going to answer.
Marcus glared at him so closely Winslow could see his petrified expression reflected in the eldest triplet’s spectacles.
“You are going to learn a lesson today, Gregory,” warned Marcus. “You are not going to die but you will learn a lesson. You will come to realise that women are not your property. Death is not a game for you to play or to decide for others. Most importantly, you will learn what that ugliness within you looks like when brought to the surface so that every time you look in the mirror it will be all you’ll see.”
Winslow started to cry.
Simon’s nose wrinkled. “You’re also going to learn you do not fuck our mother.”
Winslow had been distracted so he hadn’t seen it coming. Marcus had a blade and swiped it at his face. The facial nerve was lacerated. Winslow felt a wave of paralysis sweep down his face.
“First one’s for Reggie. You will spill no more lies.”
Winslow grabbed at the rat’s claw mark but he could feel no sensation.
The Kappa So bros could hear the screaming. One of them shuddered and pleaded to the elder.
“We should do something, brah,” he protested.
The elder had his back turned. The screams of pain were making him feel uneasy too but he wouldn’t interfere.
“Those loyalist cunts man,” said another.
“Keep out of it,” Remar had warned. “It’s not your fight.”
The Kappa So bros knew The Cappy hated the man just as much as anyone, and for that they were willing to quite literally turn their backs.
The elder pulled a cigarette from his sleeve. He lit it with his last match and passed it to his frat bro who clutched it between shaking fingers, almost dropping it when Winslow emitted another shrill shriek. It was going to be a long twenty minutes.
“Stop! Stop!” Winslow tried to cry. The facial paralysis caused him to gargle his words. “Plllleeeeeesh,” was the best he could beg.
Simon lifted him back onto his feet. He wiped blood from his face to give himself a blank canvas when he cut into Winslow’s face. He then moved the blade to his eyelid.
“For me,” he said. “You have trouble sleeping. You should have trouble sleeping, you’re a deplorable cunt. You should have to think about what you did every hour of every fucking day.”
The shriek that Winslow emitted was clear despite the paralysis, despite the blood beginning to choke him. Simon threw him to the ground. He wiped the blood and flesh away from his blade. The boxer had left Winslow on the canvas.
Marcus was next. Winslow was kicked onto his front. He barely had the energy to struggle anymore. He could feel Marcus’ foot stamp down on his lower back.
“You are a broken man with a broken back. That will show on your broken body.”
WHACK! First spinal damage to the motor nerves.
WHACK! Next spinal damage to the sensory nerves.
The Kappa So elder couldn’t help but look back over his shoulder when he heard the clang of a metal bar drop.
He shuddered. He had never heard cries like it.
He could hear one of his bros taking a sharp intake of breath as the final lesson of the day began.
The beast that was formerly Winslow cried and scuffled across the ground again. He could feel himself being dragged back to the fence.
Nothing more than a rag doll he was sat against this, most of his body hung loose. The parts that still had sensation ached unbearably.
“This last one is for our brother or sister who would have been. You took their life before they had even taken a breath.”
Vision was blurred and red but the beast could see the frame of Simon. He appeared to be carrying a barrel of some sort.
A waterfall of hydrochloric acid was dropped on the beast. He screamed as best he could, before choking on the blood. He was unable to tell if he could feel pain anymore or not but he writhed anyway.
Blam! Rewind. Blam! Rewind. Blam!
Reggie Penn had been made to watch his father’s death over and over again. Video footage from someone in the crowd had found its way into Kappa So hands. Now it was playing on loop on the large screen beside the small cage Reggie was being held in. The cage had been one he normally kept some of his pet rats in. The rats were all dead now. Billy Owen saw to that. Cooked, gutted, shot for fun. He still said nothing. He couldn’t bring himself to speak so they left him in his cage to watch the fall of the king.
He must have dozed off. When he stirred again his father was still being shot but he could hear voices. More brothers had come to the compound just outside the airport. The voices were excitable and they had women with them. It seemed they were planning a proper send off for the Penn triplet. Bon Voyage Reggie Penn, next stop, Star State. Thank you for flying Owen Air.
He was left alone in his father’s purgatory and this time when he dozed off a longer spell must have passed because he could sense it was night time again. The party was heating up. Girls were cheering, furniture was being smashed and a repetitive beat thudded against the walls in the pretence it was music. Eventually the door was opened and a brother Reggie didn’t recognise entered with a Kappa Si sister on his arm.
“You wanna see the rat boy?” he said. He was high on cocaine, his arm swung limply by his side holding a bottle of Macks whiskey. The girl giggled.
“I heard he thinks he’s a rat himself,” said the girl. She had heard so many rumours through the grapevine and that wasn’t the worst.
The brother laughed. “He squeaks when you stab him.”
The girl wandered over to the cage. She clutched the bars and leaned over. Reggie caught her in a cool stare but it wasn’t vacant. The bars of the cage cast him in shadows, like a rat caught in the corner of the basement. The cat toying with its prey.
“Hello Reggie Penn. How are you doing?”
Reggie didn’t answer. They both kept their gazes locked on one another. The girl sighed as she felt her skirt lift and the brother stroked her buttocks with a gentle but clumsy hand. He ran his hands round to her breasts and pushed her tighter against the cage. Still, she kept her focus on Reggie and he on her.
The Kappa So brother grunted as he started to pull the Si sister’s underwear down. She turned to him and playfully pushed him away.
“It’s not really doing it for me,” the girl complained.
The brother growled at Reggie.
“You’re a fucking boner killer!” he yelled. In frustration he kicked at the cage. Reggie still staring, still saying nothing. He made the brother uncomfortable. The brother clearly didn’t want to seem intimidated in front of his girlfriend. He gripped the bars, spat on Reggie and cried, “They’re going to throw you out of the plane half way across the pond.”
The brother fell back. The electrified bars of the cage had been switched on. A small smile traced Reggie’s lips.
“What ya’ll tryna do in here?” Billy Owen demanded to know. “I ain’t running no zoo.”
“She wanted to see Rat Boy,” the brother explained. “I heard he likes to watch people fuck so I was giving him a treat.”
Billy’s nose wrinkled. “E’body knows he only watches when it’s one of his brothers, sick fucks. Now you’ve just gone and made me disappointed. If I had known you were going to give her a bit of the old doggy action against that there cage, I would have waited to throw on the sparks. Slap, slap, slap oh my! Buzzz! You’d be writhing around, still fucking her, currents coursing!” Billy laughed at the image he had created in his head. He looked at the brother who was now regarding him with some nervousness. Billy slapped him across the back. “C’mon. I’m only pulling your pisser. What kind of sick mind would do a thing like that?”
The brother wasn’t so sure. He did notice Billy taking one last look at the cage. The room became swarmed with brothers.
“Billy,” cooed the girl. “Can you let me see the cock pit?”
“Girl, you’re a freak,” Billy laughed but she took his arm. Billy shoved the brother from the room.
When he was left alone Reggie noticed that the cage had been opened. A bottle of water and protein bars had been left behind. If he managed to step outside there was no telling what he would be walking into. Fight or flight. Survival of the fittest. Self-preservation. Whether it was rats or humans, given the opportunity to run, they were always going to take it.
Run child, as fast as your feet will carry you.
Don’t pause for a breath or stop to tie your shoe.
You can look around, cry for help if you like,
But this is one time the monster will strike.
You can run deep into the forest, you can hide in the dark,
But we will always find you, for you have the mark.
You will never survive; you’ve already begun to rot,
You can gather wood, set camp just like daddy taught.
It all seems so fruitless now, so close to the end,
When a monster lurks behind every bend.
Our paths are made from the bones of the others,
Somewhere waiting for them are weeping mothers.
You will discover as they did, there is no way out,
Burst your little lungs trying to scream and shout.
Just listen please, to the noise of the trees.
They will warn you of what lurks in every inch of this place.
Creatures waiting to snatch you, all eager for a taste.
They won’t wait long, for they are hungry indeed.
Only the blood of a child will fulfil their greed.
All roads lead to the same place in the end.
We all go without a coin, a care or a friend,
So look up child and see what lies in wait.
Thank you, little child, for taking the bait.
I have always admired just how much of a survivor Reginald Penn Junior was. In his way he was the strongest of the three triplets. He had been through so much and still he survived. His survival nature served him well that night because a rescue operation was underway.
I had said that heroes were to take their place and thankfully they did that night, just in time. Before Reggie met an unfortunate fate more gun fire rang out in protest. The agents of the Good Gang contained the scene and rescued Reggie.
Agent Lydia Lowe, who had been the Kappa Si girl infiltrating the scene earlier, checked on him.
Reggie had drawn into himself so he wasn’t very responsive, but I can imagine the relief he felt at the sight of Lydia’s smile.
The members of the Hickes Agency, named after Detective Joel Hickes who is sadly no longer with us, brought a much-needed injection of honour, kindness, bravery and leadership to the shades of Coldford. In testament to that, they carried Reggie to safety, even as the son of the man who murdered their inspiration.
Now, Billy Owen was in a predicament. His brother Theodore ‘Teddy’ Owen had just been inducted as a member of the Good Gang. After all the trouble the agents had gone through to return Buddy home, The Cappy would also be keen on smoothing this over. There was only one thing for it. They had to put an Owen spin on the entire scenario.
“It was confirmed last night Reginald Penn Junior was found by CPD officers and some Good Gang agents. A heroic extraction conducted by Commissioner Billy Owen helped the son to return home after the family had faced tragedy with the execution of Reginald Penn Senior on terrorism charges.
Commissioner Owen was offered commendations for his undercover work in his attempts to weed out corruption within Kappa So. The commissioner said, “I don’t mind the danger. It is important to me and my family that our fraternity is the best it can be. I would personally like to thank the Good Gang agents for their support.”
On behalf of Owen Inc and of the city we wish Reggie Junior a speedy recovery, and perhaps city main herself can now begin to heal. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily News.”
Dr Winslow was a well respected doctor. Harbour House was his vision of rehabilitation. Sometimes even the best vision can become clouded with greed.
Join reporter Sam on the story of his life as he investigates the disappearance of the city mayor.
It had been a wild night. Most nights were wild for Buddy Owen and his bros but in search of some extra spice they had decided to leave their Filton haven, depart the Chapter House and head on in to City Main.
Buddy was excited. “We’re gonna fuck shit up!”
His Kappa So Frat brother, Cooper, was already on his phone looking for the best spot.
“What about the Diamond Lounge?” he suggested. “The casino?”
Buddy grinned. He already had an idea of in his head of what they’re weekend was to bring. He was high on cocaine already and with a pocket full of singles the casino was a good start.
“A lot of Loyalists go there,” Chad stated. “Let’s go make some new friends.”
The loyalists of City Main were the support of Reginald Penn of the Penn Auction House. He called himself the King of Main and for that Buddy decided someone should put things in perspective for him. He and his weirdo triplet sons had long been a headache to the Owen family. A family heirloom falling into the Penn’s hands had caused a deeply rooted feud.
“The Loyalists are all pussies, brah,” said Buddy.
By the time the bros arrived at the Diamond Lounge they were euphoric with powder and alcohol. Buddy’s reddening eyes burned under the glare of the harsh lights.
“I’m cleaning this place out” Buddy announced his arrival. “Get me some booze and bitches,” he requested at a casino worker. Chad lowered the Brad Schroeder branded sunglasses he still wore even though they were now indoors.
“Kappa So is in the house,” he exclaimed.
The casino worker did not need to be told this. It was very much evident by their full-on attitude and the Kappa So jackets they wore. She left to fetch but it wasn’t bitches or booze.
Buddy looked around. He wished they didn’t have to have such harsh lights. The racket from the slot machines was irritating where a line of geriatrics were feeding them with coins. It was quieter than it had been the last time Buddy and the bros had been in. Then again it was only four thirty in the afternoon. This didn’t ease Buddy’s disappointment though. Where were the girls clad in Diamonte bikinis the ads offered? Why were the craps tables crowded by coffin dodgers? And where the fuck was the bitches and booze so he could get his weekend started?
“It looks like care home in here,” Buddy commented. “Are they playing bingo? What the fuck Coops?”
Cooper shrugged. It wasn’t really living up to his last visit to the casino either, at least what he remembered of it. The ads claimed to be the hottest spot in City Main. Issac Bergman who ran the casino wasn’t living up to his end of the bargain. It wasn’t supposed to be the hottest spot for the pension patrol. Chad was already helping a giddy old woman to a seat at a vacant puggy.
Barging his way into a roulette table he dropped his money down.
“Chip me,” he demanded.
The casino worker raised her finger to her ear. The cameras were watching. The advice she was receiving was to exchange the money for chips as she would for any other customer. The powers that be were watching closely though.
“Red twelve,” Buddy threw some of the chips he was given down.
The wheel was spun. The bet was not met.
A little exasperated Buddy threw more chips down. “Red twelve,” he bet again.
The wheel spun a second time. Black fifteen.
Buddy scowled at the casino worker as she raked the chips away from him. He wasn’t giving in so easily so he took one last attempt. “Red twelve,” he requested again.
The whir of the wheel and the click as it slowed again was almost as irritating as the damn coins dropping from the slot machine two living fossils wearing what looked like tea cosies on their heads were celebrating over.
“Black thirty three.”
Buddy raged. His disappointment peaked. He hated the lounge and he hated losing. The weekend of debauchery he had planned was starting to suck. “You Jew mother fuckers!” Buddy raged. “This game is rigged.”
No one had explained the laws of probability to the son of the Owen Inc. CEO. The racial slur was directed towards the Bergmans who owned the lounge. Issac should have known better. He was a Kappa So brother too.
Clang. Clang. Clang.
More coins started dropping from the slots.
The bros carried on with getting their night in Main started. It was looking quite positive until they heard a grumpy old man yell, “Keep it down, arseholes.”
The bros ignored it. If they paid attention to old people telling them to keep it down they’d never get anything done.
Buddy cheered when he won a spin on the roulette wheel. His powder high made him extra exhuberant and he could swear the casino girl was giving him the ‘I need to bone you right now, eye.’ For the casino girl it was more of a, ‘just how much powder have you snorted?’ eye. The boning eye and the drug disapproval eye tended to get mix up for Buddy.
“Keep it down,” an old man holding a single solitary chip barked at the excitable bros.
Buddy groaned. As he turned to see the old man he started to laugh. “I’ll be damned! He looks like what would happen if a bull dog fucked a turtle. Look at the glasses!” He pulled the man’s glasses off and put them on. Glaring at him through the corrective lenses he said, “get outta ma face old timer. You’re weirding me out.”
Cooper took note of how large the lenses made Buddy’s eyes when The Kappa So chapter leader turned to his bro. “Brah, you gotta try these. They’re better than pills.” Through the glasses he started to look around the casino at the odd shapes created by the tables and machines and the lighting caused by the bright colours.
As Chad and Buddy tried on the glasses and glared as though they were tripping Cooper suggested, “Maybe we should go somewhere else, brah?” The amount of old folk in the casino was starting to make him think of a zombie movie. Ever since he watched a terrible B movie called The Dead Walk he had been weirded out by too many old people in the place at once.
Buddy pushed the spectacles to the top of his head, shoving the old man away. “I’m not going anywhere. I got myself a fight with the Jews. They killed Jesus you know…”
Whilst Buddy’s voice could be heard above all the machines and Chad was trying to start some kind of mosh pit with the bingo players, from the manager’s office he had seen the triplet sons of Reginald Penn emerge. There was Marcus, a bespectacled, menacing young man with a long fair pony tail. Beside him was his brother Simon, better known as Punchline Penn. He was a professional boxer and reputedly a very angry young man.
“Must have a tiny cock,” Buddy had decided when he learned of this. “He’d only be that pissed off all the time if he had a tiny cock.”
Finally there was Reggie. He was the youngest of the three by a few minutes. He was the most vibrant of them and he looked the least interested in whatever business had brought them to the casino. He was busy looking to his phone.
“Well if it isn’t the whackos. What they doing here?” Buddy wondered.
Hearing Buddy’s voice rise above the others it had been Simon Penn who noticed the old man reaching out to get his spectacles back. Buddy was enjoying the trip looking through the lenses was giving him.
“You’ll get your turn, brah,” he told the old man waving his hands in front of his face and seeing his fingers grow really long. It was better than heether mushrooms.
The Kappa So uniform suggested a more ridiculous confrontation than even a Stoker Circus jacket would hint. The blonde hair of Buddy’s and his square set jaw confirmed an Owen on site.
“One of the mutants is causing a scene,” Simon said to Marcus. Marcus looked over and noted the old man trying to retrieve his glasses. He was now clutching at Cooper’s arm not really able to see properly. They decided to approach and intervene. No matter the location and no matter its owner, no hassle was allowed in City Main where the King reigned and his prince sons were around to keep order.
Marcus approached. Simon followed. Still not looking up from his phone Reggie was at their backs.
“I think the gentleman wants his glasses back,” said Marcus. “I give you only one warning.”
Buddy hadn’t expected to be confronted by the triplets so eagerly within the casino setting. Without saying anything the casino worker had departed her table. The cameras were still watching. Buddy couldn’t let his chest deflate too much. His coke high was beginning to wear off. He couldn’t help but take note of Marcus’ nostrils, just aching for a line. It was then he noticed all their nostrils were the same. Fucking weird. That meant they all must have tiny cocks.
Buddy pulled the glasses back over his eyes. The distorted view of the triplets hadn’t been quite what he had expected. It reminded him of a really bad trip where he was plagued by talking trees.
“We’re just playing, brah,” said Buddy.
“Yeah!” Chad confirmed enthusiastically. “Just a game, brah.”
Reggie had stored his phone away by this point. It was like they were deciding among themselves using some kind of triplet telepathic powers which one was going to have the joy of smacking the grin from Buddy Owen’s face. It turned out it was Reggie who won the coin toss. He pulled the glasses from Buddy, snatched his ear and with a sharp tug sent him falling to the floor. Marcus stepped on his chest. Before Cooper could intervene Simon had pushed him back with a shove to his solar plexus. Reggie gave the glasses back to the old man. He affixed them again and gave a swift kick at the bro.
“Ya arsehole!” He barked before storming off.
“Alright, let him up.” Finally someone had arrived on scene. A long featured, pale looking man wearing a black waistcoat with a diamond logo.
Marcus stepped off of him.
Casino owner Issac Bergman pulled Buddy to his feet.
“This ain’t over,” said Chad. “We’re gonna raise some tiny dick awareness for you.”
Reggie scowled. “Come at me and I’ll just drop you on your ass too, like.”
“Get out. The whole lot of you.” Issac barked.
Marcus nodded to his brothers. They had made their point. The bros? Well, they decided the party was better off taken elsewhere. It seemed he had to take that matter into his own hands and deal with the triplet beeatches.
“Thrown out by a brother,” Buddy was reiterating their treatment by Isaac Bergman. “Got a good mind to fuck his shit up. You don’t turn your back on a bro.”
Chad fell into excited planning mode. “We go in there, we wreck the casino and we piss all over the floor.”
Buddy and Coops looked at him. They didn’t know why but pissing on the floor seemed to be the most important part of his plan.
“There’s cameras everywhere,” Cooper reminded them.
He didn’t have to complete the sentence. Buddy’s father could be a little sensitive about the fraternity. He was especially sensitive when it came to anything involving the Penns. If he found out that Buddy was responsible in any way for making his dealings with Reginald any more difficult, he wouldn’t be forgiving.
“What if the Penns wreck it?” Chad continued his planning. “Then the elders are going to be pissed at them.”
“How do we get them to do that?” Asked Buddy. He was liking the sound of it but he needed his bro to hand out some more of the details.
“Duh!” Chad gasped. “We dress up to look like them.”
The other two nodded like it was the most brilliantly obvious plan in the world.
“You know Chad, you can be a bit of a genius sometimes. It’s like you’re a scientist or some shit. Those damn misfits don’t know who they messing with.”
Admiring his handy work in the mirror Buddy adjusted the cap over his feathery, blonde mass of hair that was supposed to give him the shaved head look of Simon Penn. In his black T-shirt and jeans – signature of the loyalists of Main – he would sure fool them.
The door opened. Buddy turned.
“No way!” He cried. Cooper had also adorned the cap to look like Simon. “You were supposed to be the spooky one!” Buddy complained. “Where’s the glasses and the rapey ponytail?”
The door opened again. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. We can’t all be Simple Simon!”
Chad too had opted to dress as the middle triplet.
“Does it matter?” asked Chad.
“Of course it matters,” insisted Buddy. “If we’re all the same one it’s going to look fucking stupid.” He looked to Cooper as though to ask, ‘can you believe this guy?’
Cooper was shaking his head as though to answer ‘no.’
“I’ll be the spooky one since I’m the leader. Madman Marcus or whateva’ he’s called. Coops you be simple simon because you’ve got the bod. I do too but I’m a bit out of swimming season.”
Chad groaned. “Does that mean I need to be the retard?”
“Yes, it does,” informed Buddy.
With the blonde ponytail and glasses, the cap and the wild frizzy wig (that was just a Stoker clown wig sprayed yellow) the bros were dressed and ready for their great heist.
They looked at each other. Buddy couldn’t help but laugh. The things they could do dressed as the triplets had his rather imaginative mind clambering for ideas.
“Triplet powers activate!”
They gave a leaping high five.
Meanwhile, at the Penn Auction House, Reginald Penn was overlooking the damage accompanied by his sons.
“Those Hill Billy cunts!” Reginald was growling.
The previous night someone had tried to drive a four by four into the Auction House. Luckily the fortified structure of the building hadn’t let them get very far. The small army of loyalists who had been on hand to guard it had drove them off before any real trouble could start.
“They were giving some trouble at ‘Diamond’,” explained Reggie. “They were thrown out and so were we.”
Reginald thought about it. It was time to address the Cappy directly.
“You will compensate for the damage your boys have caused,” Reginald insisted.
Still in his office in the Great States, Charles ‘Chick’ Owen held the King of Main’s gaze.
“You have no proof that my boys had anything to do with it. So might I suggest, sir, that you throw your accusations elsewhere.”
No proof perhaps. All that was seen by Reginald’s own team were three grown men dressed as parody’s of the triplets. The one imitating Reggie throwing rubber rats at them. He knew, however, it was Buddy and his bros. The Cappy knew too but pride would prevent him from admitting it.
“I suggest that if your boys come into my area I will cut their fucking balls off. If they come near my Auction House again I’ll send them back in boxes.”
The Cappy glared. “I will warn them. However, you will offer the same courtesy and tell your progeny that if he ever touches my son or any of my brothers there will be consequences.”
The call was ended. As predicted the long held feud escalated. Now the threats of violence were in the air.
The following morning gave for a huge headache. As Buddy began to come around he realised he had fallen asleep on the Kappa So Chapter House lawn. Someone turned beside him and laid his arm across his chest.
“Morning Bud,” Chad said sweetly.
“Aaaaah!” Buddy screamed. “I can feel your morning wood against me.”
He rolled over and he was offered a close up of Cooper’s face.
“Morning Bud,” Cooper said.
Buddy sat up. “What the fuck happened last night?” He finally thought to ask when he realised none of them were wearing trousers. Chad was wearing diving fins. Cooper’s feet were covered in cream. Buddy was wearing a pair of sneakers. That wasn’t so bad. Although when his eyes continued to adjust to sobriety he realised they were royal blue sneakers with black trimming. They had either been stolen from a Coldford City player or a Penn.
“I think I’m being called home,” Cooper said.
Buddy lay back on the grass. “Don’t listen to it Coops. Stay alive, brah.”
“No I mean I think I can hear my phone.”
Urging themselves to stand they could finally take in some of the debris left on the lawn from the last nights escapade. There was a Bobby’s lunch box sign, a whole collection of Kappa Si cheer leader uniforms one of them size XXXXL and a Cooper four by four which had left track marks on the lawn and was now totalled against the wall.
‘Wait?’ Buddy thought. ‘Was that the sign from the Auction House?’ He couldn’t read it properly. Whatever he had been taking the night before was leaving him with some blurry vision. When the blurriness suddenly dropped away, he realised it was because he was wearing spectacles not prescribed to him.
“What the fuck?”
Cooper had followed the noise of his phone and he managed to find it among a cow pat.
“Coops brah, you better check the bro cam.”
With so many lost nights the bros had decided to fit themselves with pro cams. The footage automatically uploaded to Cooper’s phone and it made for some interesting memories.
Wiping the bull shit away Cooper was happy to find his phone as good as new. He checked the bro cam. First there were the photos. A photo of Chad’s ‘Reggie’ fingering the backside of a rubber rat. A photo of Cooper’s Simon humping a donkey. A photo of Buddy’s Marcus with nipple tassels. Then there was the video footage.
“Triplets assemble!” Called Buddy as Marcus.
The other two leapt into frame. Cooper as Simon was scowling dramatically. Chad was still fingering the rat.
The next alert was a message from The Cappy.
HAVE BUDDY CALL ME IMMEDIATELY.
The bros are certainly in trouble this time. It is the Hickes Agency, better known as the Good Gang that are on their tail. September 18th we’re off to the Great States on an adventure!
The biggest names in construction in the Shady City the Fullerton family firmly established themselves as the premier provider of construction and demolition services. With the monumental Fullerton bridge to their names no one can argue their reputation for knowing how to build sound structures. They are also responsible for the building of other notable buildings in Coldford such as the Faulds Park Building, the WEIR HOTEL and the BECKINGRIDGE TOWER.
A large family the Fullertons are known to have their fingers in a lot of different pies around the city. Brothers Jake and Caleb head the construction contracts, whilst their sister Jenna makes her name in the adult film industry. Until recently matriarch grandma, Lynette Fullerton sat the top of the family table but unfortunately she was one of the fallen 59 in the event known as the FREE FALL MASSACRE.
They are an old money family from the wealthy town of Filton. Keen to show pride in their town they have ownership of one of the University teams. They aim of which is to build bridges between the two main institutions of higher learning in the city.
Whether it is tearing it apart or building it back up, Fullerton Construction are on hand in the Shady City.
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What can we say about Father Gerald ‘Jerry’ Owen? He is the shame of his powerful family and he cares not a jot about that fact. Over the years his decadent behaviour is well documented. Most notably he stands accused of abusing countless young girls, using his place in the Church of St Wigan as a cover.
One of his victims includes the notable Boss Lady of the Knock Knock club, TABITHA. You will be pleased to note though that was where his life as a libertine came to an abrupt end. Details of his very disgraceful exit from society are still sketchy but it was confirmed he came to a grisly realisation he needed to stop thinking with his crotch!
Joining the church was something of a last resort for Jerry. His brothers, his father and his dear mother were all at their wit’s end. When the abuse started to surface more and more thanks to protests outside his church thanks to the Knock Knock Baroness, TAWNY, he realised his number was up. He was not immortal.
Jerry had an easy life in the Church. His family were huge benefactors so he had the largest parish and every luxury a Holy man could ever hope to indulge in. Things changed though. The Church fell to the new leadership who weren’t quite as sympathetic to his quirks. As with any cult It was time to follow or lose it all. When the purge came, Jerry Owen could not be saved.
Available May 14th
Jerry Owen was sent into the priesthood to be hidden as the family shame. When the Church of St Wigan decide on a zealous new leader it could expose everything.
The people of Bellfield had crowded outside the Love Street Harvester store. They were banging on the windows and crying in words that Julia couldn’t quite hear or understand through the accents. They were using local dialects but given their tone it wasn’t difficult to decipher their sentiment.
She was glad Glenn and Curtis had accompanied her as they prepared to set up and have the store opened.
“It’s getting a little rowdy out there Jules,” Glenn warned. “I don’t like the look of them. They’ve got bloodshot eyes.”
Julia was nervous but she didn’t show it. She knew the people of Bellfield would be sensitive to a new name and brand being opened when they had just lost their identifying feature in the distillery. They had lost their beloved Macks and the Black Band presence was still being held on their street. The store needed to be opened and if it hadn’t been for the Black Bands nearby, she would have waited. Time was of the essence though and in order to cover the losses from the purchase of the docks all stores needed to be operational as soon as possible. She had been welcomed with open arms by the rest of Coldford. Even then, even as they called at her, she was certain that Bellfield wouldn’t be any different. Given what they had just gone through they would most likely require extra sweet-talking. The Harvester brand was about bringing people together. If there was any part of Greater Coldford that needed their home comforts it was Bellfield. It was an area that prided itself on community and the Harvester brand could provide them that.
“I should speak to them,” suggested Julia.
Glenn was hesitant. “Maybe we should just wait a little. They just lost their distillery. It doesn’t seem like they are keen on welcoming new outsiders. They got the funeral for the little Mack too. Now’s not a good time.”
“We can’t waste time staying closed. This store needs to open,” Julia had to admit.
Curtis was busy pulling shelves together. “If we open now, they’re just going to come in and wreck the place. Those gypos have laws of their own.”
“Then I really need to speak to them. I don’t want them thinking I’m the enemy. They will be welcomed as part of the Harvester family. Hiding in here and then staying closed is only going to confirm their fears. If I don’t speak to them then the purchasing of this store will be for nothing. We are their friends.”
Curtis moved and took a look from the window. “I don’t think those cunts got that message.”
Julia was becoming more sure. “They just need to know who we are.”
She opened the door. Glenn nodded to Curtis to be by her side.
“Thank you all for coming,” she said. “I am so glad to be here in Bellfield. We still have much to do but thank you for coming down.”
“How about you take your store and shove it up yer arse!” called one of them.
Julia could feel Glenn and Curtis close in on her.
“With recent events I can understand why you are so upset but I look forward to joining you and working towards a promising future.”
A brick was launched. It cracked the main store window. Curtis had drawn out his cattle prod.
“Back off!” he warned. “You better back off.”
Julia clutched his arm. She didn’t want to give up so easily. “We all want the same thing.”
“The smoke from the distillery is still in the air and you step over the ashes thinking you’re one of us? Feck off!” called one.
“We can rebuild,” Julia made one last suggestion.
Another stone was launched. Glenn pulled her back.
“Now’s not the time. We’ve got to pull back.”
Her bold move in purchasing of the docks had left the Harvesters financially vulnerable and now Owen Inc and Beckingridge Firm were rebuilding at a rapid rate. She not only needed the Love Street store to open but she needed it to be a success. Bellfield was going to be a tough nut to crack.
“We got a lot of shit to take care of little bro,” said Billy Owen as he and Buddy drove the south bypass. It’s hard enough I gotta work my own tasks at CPD but now I gotta have you along with me, hanging from my ass like a dangler that just won’t shake off. When The Cappy asked me to keep an eye on you I thought you could at least lie low at the Chapter House for a couple of days.”
“I didn’t …” Buddy began.
“Shut the fuck up!” Billy barked. “Did I say you could talk? I’m commissioner remember? I know what they found. Jerry gone and be sat at the retirement home like a drooling vegetable and you are still doing his dirty work. Why can’t you be more like your old man?”
“You and me, Bud,” Jerry insisted. “The rest of them ain’t got nothing on us.”
“You’re treating me like your own personal cleaning crew and you’re making The Cappy look a fool. I ought to slam you in The Boss for that. Every powder house in Coldford closed down and you still manage to score. I’d admire your resourcefulness, cuz, if it didn’t make you such a dick head,” Billy was going on. “I hear from some of the brothers that you were as high as a kite when you promised The Cappy you wouldn’t touch none. You’re going to push his loyalty to the limit one day, if you don’t push mine first.”
“Are you finished?” Buddy snapped.
Billy slammed his feet on the brakes. He turned to Buddy with a scowl.
“You wanna ask that again?” he challenged.
Buddy had nothing to say. He stared straight ahead and the car started up again.
“I thought so,” Billy grumbled. “All this shit going down and I find you at Harvester Farm chasing that Julia chick around like a dog trying to hump her leg.” Billy gave a throaty laugh. “Didn’t take long in dropping your ass when a bigger cock was on offer though, huh?”
Buddy leaned huffily on his car door. He could see his scowl in the side mirror but he kept his curses inward. It had been his collection from the farm that had rendered Buddy angry. Billy had made a complete show of it as he liked to do, ever since they were boys.
“What’s wrong, Buddy?” Susie had asked him.
Buddy smiled at his little mascot. “I got some unfinished business kid.”
Susie nodded. She didn’t know what the unfinished business was but she sensed its importance.
“I gotta speak to Julia,” he decided.
He had come to the farm for that purpose. He had given himself three different whores to try and distract himself but it didn’t work and the itch he now had wasn’t worth it. The brief moment he had spent with Julia couldn’t be erased from his mind. He had been so distracted by it he even called home to star state.
“I’m in love, Mama!” he announced.
“Huh?” was Ida’s response. She had either been so surprised by her son’s statement that she was rendered dumb or she was already on her third cosmopolitan.
“Did my baby just say he’s in love?” she finally cheered. “Oh, Buddy boy!”
She started to ask all sorts of questions about Julia but her words started to slur. He could hear her the cork rattle on the stone floor of the ranch kitchen as she started to pour a fresh drink. Buddy became impatient.
“I’m gonna go,” he said. She had already dropped the phone in the sink anyway.
Buddy laughed. He patted Susie’s shoulder. “Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.”
They had been leaning against the fence of the stud herd enclosure. Gordon was already on his way across the field to knock him off.
‘That fucking bull hates me,’ Buddy mused.
Gordon did seem to take personal issue with him. He didn’t seem to mind Susie leaning on his fence. Buddy’s backside, however, was aching for a horn as far as Gordon was concerned.
Buddy wasn’t looking to impress Gordon though. His focus lay on Julia.
“Julia!” he cried when he saw her arrive. He rushed across the West Acre to her. “Julia!” He hated how his voice sounded in that moment. It was almost singing. It did catch her attention though. She stopped and looked back at him with a smile.
“Have you been here all morning?” she asked.
“Just got here,” he replied. “Where’s the car?”
Realising he meant the green sports car he had gifted to her, she replied, “I parked it in the city. The pathways here aren’t really kind to low riders.”
There was his chance. “Speaking of riding,” he said shuffling nervously. “Maybe we can finish what we started. You know, the other day…”
Julia frowned at first. It was a statuesque frown. The forehead wrinkles were so delicately formed they still held a feminine beauty. When she realised what he meant she started to laugh.
“Oh sweetie,” she said. “I just get a little distracted sometimes. Never mind that.”
Buddy could see Susie watching eagerly, hoping it went well for him. She gave him a thumbs up. She was rooting for him. He wished he had brought Chad and Cooper with him though. Cooper was somewhat successful with women that didn’t require payment or powder. He took a deep breath.
“I like you Julia,” he said. It was brand new territory for him. Should he have bought flowers or something? “I don’t mean I just want to bone. I mean I do want to bone but like nice boning. I don’t know…”
Before Julia could reply her attention was caught by flashing lights. A single CPD car came tearing up towards the farmhouse. Glenn and Curtis were immediately on alert with their cattle prods. Julia shielded her eyes to see who was joining them. A man climbed out of the driver seat clutching a megaphone in his hand. He put it to his lips.
“Bernard Owen,” he cried. “You’re under arrest…for being a dickhead.”
“Is there trouble Buddy?” Julia asked seeming genuinely concerned.
Buddy couldn’t enjoy her concern. He was growling.
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s my cousin.”
“Just y’all cool your jets there boys,” Billy warned the farm hands.
“Get off the damn farm,” Curtis raged.
Before he could wave his cattle prod a gun was in Billy’s grip and he had shot it from Curtis’ hand.
“I’m just here for my little cuz. Don’t make this something it ain’t.”
Julia rushed to approach Billy. “Can I help you, officer?”
Billy, who had keeping his attention and gun on the farm hands, grinned when his focus fell on Julia. He spun the sharp shooting pistol and slipped it into a holster on his belt.
“Well, hi there ma’am. I’m sorry if I upset your boys there. I gotta pick up my little bro.”
Julia gave an accommodating smile. “No harm done. You’re a fast shooter,” she noted.
Billy’s grin intensified. “Fast, hard and always hit the right spot.”
Julia giggled. “I’ll bet it takes a lot of practice.”
“Every day and night, ma’am,” Billy returned.
Buddy was aggrieved. His arms were clenched by his side like a school boy who had been sent to detention.
Julia stroked Billy’s arm casually. “The thing is, I don’t want any trouble.”
“No trouble ma’am, Billy assured. “I wouldn’t want to mess your pretty farm with all your nice animals here. I just want my cousin.” To Buddy he called, “You!” He brought the megaphone to his lips again. “Get in the car dickhead!”
He lowered the megaphone and spoke to Susie who had come running and was now clinging to her father.
“I apologise for my cussing, little lady. Now don’t you go repeating my words, ya hear? It’s just, when someone is acting like a dickhead, you gotta call them out as such.” Into the megaphone he spoke again. “Get in the damn car.”
Buddy started walking towards Billy’s car. When he was close enough Billy slapped him over the back of his head.
“I’m sorry if he’s been bothering you, Miss Harvester,” said Billy.
Buddy had slipped himself into the passenger seat and was glaring through the window.
“You got some experience with animals so you’ll understand that I gotta put this one back in his cage.”
“Daddy? Is that man going to hurt Buddy?” Susie pleaded to Glenn.
Even though Julia herself confirmed it had been Nathan who had given Susie the cocaine and even though Buddy’s affections for Susie seemed genuine, he hoped so.
“You’re a disgrace, little bro,” Billy reminded Buddy as they took the east exit from the bypass towards Northside.
Northside was a bitterly cold part of Greater Coldford. Wet, miserable and filled with industrial estates. Most of those were empty units waiting for the industry to return to them.
“You could’ve dropped me at the Chapter House,” complained Buddy.
Billy drew the car into what looked like an abandoned unit. The name Tulloch was on the sign.
“I’ll drop you alright, boy. You’ll go to the house when I’m good and ready to take you back there. Until then you’ll be glad I don’t whoop your ass. Stick by my side.”
The headlights of Billy’s car flashed in the window of one of the units.
As though summoned, the door of the unit opened and into the yard stepped a man with a weasel like face and close set eyes. His scrawny arms reached out to the car.
“Billy boy!” he cheered in a harsh Northside accent, the words of the people losing the musical intonation past Bellfield. “Is that you?”
Billy climbed out of the car. “Who else?” Billy asked.
The man seemed delighted. He gave a wide grin. Buddy was feeling anxious so he joined them. The man from Northside tried a Kappa So salute but Billy slapped his hand.
“Get yourself in order,” he said. To Buddy he made introductions, “This is Kez Tulloch. He’s a pathetic piece of shit but he’s the best we got to take The Distillery.”
Tulloch laughed as though it were a jest. Buddy knew Billy was serious in his sentiments. Tulloch was clearly made uncomfortable by Billy’s presence.
“This is my cousin, Buddy. He’s along for the ride but the less attention you pay to him, the less stupid you’ll be, so let’s get on with it.”
“Billy boy,” Tulloch said again. “You’re going to be impressed.”
From what Buddy could observe Tulloch was about one sweet word away from dropping to his knees and sucking Billy’s cock.
They followed him into the unit where a group of Northsiders were building weapons. They were primitive, the kind used in inner city gang fights, but they would be effective in the right hands. A group like the Black Bands wouldn’t have much trouble quashing them but they weren’t for use against the Black Bands. That would be suicide. Having lost The Distillery, their plan had been to pursue the Macks and complete the takeover of Bellfield that Northside had been looking to do for years. Centuries before, Northside and Bellfield used to be the same area. Religious disputes split the area in half and even though time went on both areas still bore their grudges. Billy’s plans had been to take advantage of the weakened force in Bellfield to appoint control of The Distillery to someone of The Cappy’s choosing.
“Preparing for something then?” asked Buddy, the sense of determination and nerves among the Northsiders started to cause a buzz to ring within him.
Tulloch grinned a mouthful of blackened teeth. “We’re going to hit them. Maybe hit them at the funeral.” He gave a callous laugh. “What you think Billy boy?”
“Damn shameful,” was Billy’s return. “Attacking a funeral? Y’all should be ashamed. Let them have their time to mourn. They ain’t going nowhere. They’ll get what’s coming to them.”
Tulloch’s shoulders hunched.
“The only good Mack is a dead one,” he said. He looked to Buddy. “Your cousin agrees. I saw what they did to your pops.”
“Quit running your mouth,” Billy warned. Both he and Buddy became a little testy at the mention of their grandfather. “That’s family business. You worry about The Distillery. We want it opened again and ready for business as soon as we can.”
“Sure boss.” Tulloch leapt, excited. “Follow me.”
He led them to benches where men were hard at work. Like the others they were fashioning make shift weapons. If they were taking over The Distillery the people of Bellfield weren’t going to be happy and the people of Northside were going in prepared. When the Black Bands removed their presence and left them to it, The Distillery needed to be held under the leadership of the Tullochs. Northside’s prominent family seemed the best option until a buyer for The Distillery could be found.
Scattered around were piles of black clothing Northside heavies had become associated with in their attacks on the Macks and Bellfield. The masks were chilling. CPD under Hickes’ influence had helped curb the violence between the areas. Under Billy it still had some use. On the walls were photos of an old Northside football team playing on a muddy, uncared-for pitch with a rain lashing down heavily. The glass was churned and the kits they wore were old fashioned. It was a commemorative image of when Northside beat Bellfield in a city-wide cup final. It was the first victory since the areas split. A promotional poster hung beside it. On the poster was a hand clutching a Macks bottle so tightly it was cracking. The slogan read A BITTER TASTE; LANDS TO WASTE
They were bitter, Buddy observed. Trust Billy to be not only using that to his advantage but to be organising them. He could beat what Mack support remained in Bellfield without Kappa So or CPD getting their hands dirty. If things didn’t work out all they had to do was have CPD scoop up the Tullochs and their Northsiders and be the city’s heroes.
While Billy began inspecting the preparations they were making for taking and holding The Distillery, Tulloch decided he wanted to engage Buddy. He stepped into Buddy’s space. Buddy was close to shoving him away when he said, “Your cousin is some man.”
“Yeah, he’s something alright,” Buddy replied.
“Those Macks are scumbags,” he said assuredly. “Absolute tinkers.”
Buddy had never heard the term ‘tinker’ used before but it amused him so he stored it in his vocabulary for a later date.
“I mean, the things they were saying about a golden cock they found at the Chapter House…” Tulloch went on.
Buddy really wished he would stop running his damn mouth. Billy stopped immediately what he was doing and frowned at his cousin.
“What’s he talking about?” Billy asked.
“Tinkers be crazy,” Buddy suggested.
Luckily Billy started to laugh. “They do be crazy.”
“I would have my cock fashioned in gold but no one would be able to lift it,” Buddy jested, hoping that if he prodded Billy’s humour, he wouldn’t think about it too much.
Billy laughed even harder. Luckily the humour in phallus shaped statues ran in the family.
“You are cock obsessed little bro. I oughtta knock that out of you.”
Buddy looked back at the rebel poster. ‘A good Mack was a dead one.’
Attacking a funeral was a low move but, Hell, it was a tinker funeral after all and they were going to wish they had kept their mouths shut about the Chapter House.
“Mum’s not here,” Cameron explained to Agent Lydia as she crossed the threshold into the Doyle home in Kingsgate.
She was greeted by a large hallway with a cascading staircase leading to shadowy floors above.
“It’s actually you I wanted to speak with,” she said, smiling to comfort the young man. “It’s about your friend, Reggie Penn.”
Cameron became nervous. “I, uh. We know each other,” he admitted.
“Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble,” Lydia assured. “I just need to know if you have spoken to him.”
Cameron eased off but only a little. He still wasn’t willing to open up to her. “We play a game together. Lonesome Nights. Have you heard of it?”
Lydia nodded. “I’m familiar with it.” It wasn’t the first time Coby Games had cropped up in her investigations.
“Reggie and I have played for years,” said Cameron. He checked his words and closed off again. “Just online. Just the game.”
“Do you have some of your chat logs?”
“Some of them,” he admitted. “I’m not supposed to but if he shares upgrades or coins or anything like that.” Cameron started to ease off a little further. “I heard what happened to him at The Boss. Did you arrest the ones that did it?”
“My priority is bringing Reggie home safely. We have a team together and we’re doing what we can to arrest the ones that hurt him but in order to stop Reggie getting hurt further or worse I need all the help I can get. Can you do that for me?”
Cameron agreed. If It would help Reggie.
“When did you last speak to him?” The agent asked.
“He had just escaped CPD. He needed help.”
“And you helped him?”
“He logged into Lonesome Nights. It was the only way he could contact someone. He wanted to go to The Boss because that’s where his brothers are.”
“And you heard nothing from him after?”
“I helped him get the bus to Bournton. I lost touch with him after that. Please don’t tell my mum that I helped him. She will be furious. I only told you in case it can help Reggie.”
Lydia nodded. “I’ll keep it between us. At this point your mum is only interested in what evidence we can bring her. I’ll keep you out of it as much as possible.”
Lydia’s phone beeped. She answered a call from Reynolds.
“Not much here,” she said to her fellow agent.
Cameron could hear Reynolds’ voice faintly. “We’ve checked out the warehouse. It definitely looks like that’s where they have him.”
“I’m on my way back,” Lydia said before closing the call.
She patted Cameron’s shoulder.
“Sit tight,” she advised. “We’ll bring him back.”
Cameron closed the door after the agent. Uncle Micky was gone, Reggie was hurt, his mum was holding the roof of her office up with steel arms. The house in Kingsgate was becoming colder and there was little even a strong young man like Cameron could do to help.
“Ain’t no woman alive gonna fuck you lil bro. Dead ones, maybe you stand a chance,” Billy teased as he cleaned Betsy. “That’s why you gotta pay them all the time. It’s like compensation for what they’re about to endure.”
Buddy was sat on Reggie’s cage. “I did bone her,” he insisted. “I boned Julia.”
Billy gave a guttural laugh. “Sure you did.”
“I’m telling you we boned and it was beautiful,” Buddy protested.
Billy zapped the cage but Buddy had been watching his hands so he leapt onto his feet just in time.
Reggie gave a groan that caught both their attention. Billy pushed Buddy out of the way to address his prisoner.
“Daddy going to be coming to get you any minute, boy, don’t you worry,” he teased.
Reggie Penn had been moved around the cage. He was no longer in the stress position and he was no longer reacting to the shocks from the electrified bars. It didn’t matter. The end game would be upon them soon enough. Bored of waiting for Reginald’s valiant rescue of his son, Billy leaked information to the loyalists through a brother who had slipped among their ranks of where they had Reggie.
‘Come and fucking get him, King Dick,’ was Billy’s thoughts on the matter.
Surveillance had been set up around the warehouse.
“Buddy,” Billy called to his cousin. “Buddy?” Buddy had been too busy watching Reggie. He hadn’t heard at first. “Buddy get your ass over here!” Buddy followed the instruction. “Watch him. I just saw a signal on the west mark. If you see anyone approach you holla’.”
Buddy nodded. “Sure.”
“You can do that right can’t ya?” Billy gripped his cheek.
Buddy shook him off. “Yeah I can.”
Some time passed. Another signal on the west mark was given again but this time a little closer to the warehouse. Through the window Buddy caught sight of Billy’s discrete signal back. It fell quite. Buddy cocked his gun.
Buddy looked to Reggie. Reggie looked up. Their eyes met. With unease Buddy headed to the entrance to assist his cousin.
Two more signals were given on the west mark. Even closer still they were to the warehouse now. Buddy spotted a figure dressed in black. Buddy tapped the butt of his gun on the floor twice. Loud enough for Billy to hear but not so loud it would startle the intruder. The two taps alerted Billy that he had a visual on one intruder.
Looking outside Billy processed through the cascade of signals that were being passed his way. One possible intruder. Not much of a rescue party for a so called Prince of Main. It was likely one of the agents wishing to slip in quietly. He could hear their footsteps. They were loud, crunching the debris of the forest floor. They crept towards the warehouse. He pulled a gun. They didn’t appear to be agency trained but trained none the less. They knew how to handle a gun but just didn’t appear to have done it too often.
Billy cocked Betsy. It appeared they were trying to pull the wool over their eyes with a discrete extraction. Not today. Billy watched as the noble rescuer edged towards the warehouse. They were trying to be quiet but the twigs kept cracking under their heavy feet.
They closed in on the warehouse, a gun in hand. They slid themselves along the building. They tried the first door but it was locked.
Billy tapped on the window closest to him with his finger tips. Loud enough to alert Buddy who had prepared his gun and aimed towards the door.
Billy confronted them. “Boy have you come on the wrong day.” The intruder was startled. Billy had the scope of Betsy on him. “Don’t move an inch or I’m gonna be forced to blow your god damn head off. Now drop your gun.”
The intruder clutched their gun tighter. With a shaking hand they raised it. They pointed it at Billy Owen.
There were few gunmen alive who could beat an Owen to the shot. When Buddy heard the gun fire he lowered his own weapon.
The shot had been fired just as he arrived at his cousin’s side. He crouched down to removed the mask off of the attempted rescuer. Billy frowned. He knew the agents. This wasn’t one of them.
“Oh you are so fucked, cuz!” Buddy exclaimed, unable to disguise his delight that he wasn’t the only screw up.
“Who the fuck is this?” Asked Billy.
“That’s Cameron Doyle, The Judge’s son and you just shot him with Betsy!”
Billy groaned. “Well that’s-”
“A dick down your throat?” Buddy suggested.
Billy punched his arm. “Help me get this little prick out the way. We’ve got some real trouble coming now.”
A Mack funeral was attended by every Mack regardless of circumstances. Because of the sensitive nature of the event, Brendan had been tagged and allowed to return to Bellfield. The Black Bands would give him the space to grieve. Alfie Mack was no concern of theirs. Afterwards he would be returned to their custody. With the distance given from the Black Bands, Paddy managed a call to his father.
“I’m coming in,” he said. “I’m coming home.”
“Don’t you fecking dare,” Brendan warned. “They’ll swipe you and that will be the end of it. It’ll all be for nothing. You stay put.”
Paddy scowled. “I’m coming to the funeral. I’m coming to say goodbye to the wee man.”
“Then you’re an eejit,” Brendan said. His attitude dissolved. “Don’t make me bury another son. I don’t think I could take it.”
Paddy drew back the tears. “It can’t not come, da. It’s Wee Alfie.”
Brendan had to hold it together. “Alfie would understand. Do you know what he said to me when I told him about you slipping The Distillery?”
Paddy managed a smile. “What?”
“They ain’t ever going to catch Paddy. He runs like lightening and punches like a boxer.”
Paddy laughed. He always had Alfie’s adulation. He just hoped he made him proud and gave him good reason for it.
“He’ll know you’re thinking about him. Just please stay away,” suggested Brendan. “It’s bad enough we’re trying to find Siobhan. You know what your sister is like. She’s gone off on some party tour of some kind. She still doesn’t know.”
“I’ll be there,” Paddy said. “One way or another.”
“For Christ’s sake be careful,” Brendan returned. “But tell your brother to get his arse home.”
Kieran frowned and slipped into the shot of the video call. “Thanks, da,” he said.
Brendan smiled. Seeing his two sons helped sooth the ache. “They won’t mind you. Come and be with us. Paddy, I’m afraid you’re going to have to sit this one out.”
Paddy closed his eyes. It was a difficult dish to swallow that he wouldn’t be able to walk in Alfie’s funeral with the rest of the family. It was one that was still difficult to digest.
Annie Mack wrapped her arms around Mary Wilson – mother to Melissa.
“Oh Mary,” she cried. “It’s just terrible.”
“Pray to Jesus they find the ones that did it,” was Mary’s resounding reply.
Both women, dressed for a funeral, preparing to bid farewell to their children, allowed themselves to weep in each other’s arms. Melissa and Alfie had been friends since they were toddlers. Both mothers had all kinds of plans of what they would become. When they reached their teenaged years and their relationship developed the families were thrilled.
“I hear wedding bells!” Annie had cheered.
“Feck off, ma,” Alfie objected. “I’m only thirteen.”
“Don’t curse at yer ma!” Brendan chastised.
“Tell her to stop planning a wedding,” Alfie requested.
“Let the woman plan. You stop being a wee dick.”
Both Alfie and Brendan had laughed at this.
There would be no wedding. Instead, there was a funeral bidding farewell to a life that could have been. The procession began from the tip of Love Street.
“The area of Bellfield was shaken today when the funeral of Mack and Son’s youngest, Alfie Mack, was attacked by masked anarchists. A rain of petrol bombs, gun fire and knife blades left 34 dead and a further 30 severely injured. Reports from first responders confirmed that none of the Mack family were among the survivors. It is believed that the attack arose from an inflammatory rivalry between the areas of Bellfield and Northside. As Bellfield enter yet another period of mourning the rest of the city prepares for retaliation. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily News.”
Complete Season 1 of the Knock Knock series is free to read here on Vivika Widow. com or click below download for Kindle
Career conman, Dennis, is forced to change for the good when an attack leaves his days limited. Some people turn to religion. In the case of the Church of St Wigan, that’s the last thing he needs.
Dan had arrived in his usual excitable way. He was waving a copy of Marble Mantle in his hand.
“Can I get a signature?” he asked laying the book before me.
With a spark of pride, I obliged him.
“What’s this?” Lydia asked lifting the book into her hand.
“Sam’s book,” said Dan. “Only the best read out there today.”
He was giving a lot of credit, but I was pleased he was enjoying my work.
“Awww,” Lydia chuckled. “Look at your picture. That’s so cute.”
“Well,” I mumbled, “I liked to try my hand at a bit of fiction.”
I watched nervously as the agent opened the pages and started to read.
“It was just for fun, really,” I added.
Lydia set the book down. Kim who had been working on a computer at the time leaned back.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Sam wrote a book,” Lydia called her.
I was beginning to blush by this point.
“A book?” Kim asked with some surprise. She took out her phone and within a few moments she announced. “Found it. I’m ordering a copy.”
“It was a passion project,” I started to say. “More a hobby than anything…”
Franklin passed. “Just downloaded it,” he cheered. “Start that tonight I think.”
I found myself giggling anxiously.
“It was a long time ago. It was quite experimental.”
Leaning on my shoulder Lydia asked Dan, “Can I borrow your copy? I prefer paperbacks.”
Dan agreed with a grin. “As long as you’re not a page folder.”
“Nope,” Lydia returned, “I’m purely a book mark girl.”
“I was just trying something a bit different,” I said.
“Just had a read of the first page,” said Reynolds. “Sounds real bomb!”
TO MY FRIEND DAN. I had signed. KEEP MAKING A DIFFERENCE.
As I was called to step back out into the city, it was time to take my own advice.
“Marcus?” Simon Penn whispered. “Marcus?”
He couldn’t see his brother. The prayer room required reflection and for that the sinner was placed in an all-consuming darkness. Marcus could stay quiet. Maybe he was reflecting but it drove Simon to frustration. Had it been days? Hours? Without any natural light it was hard to tell.
He reached out and he could feel his brother’s shoulder. It was unmoving and cold. Had he died? Was he the last triplet?
But alas, he felt Marcus’ hand pat his. Just as he did the door opened.
“Get up,” someone called.
Simon could see Marcus now. His expression was neutral as always. Simon wished he would show some anger or frustration so he could see a reflection of himself and how he was feeling. He made to leave but Marcus held him back.
“Get up,” the voice beckoned again.
Finally, a hand was extended to help them free of their prayers. On this occasion God hadn’t been at home. The hand was callused. The man himself was dressed in the garb of an inmate. Two guards were with him.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said. “I’m Vincent Baines.”
Vincent Baines – ex music teacher of George Beckingridge – looked calm. Simon and Marcus had heard of him. They were curious as to why he would be there to greet them. There was no sign of the governor Avery West.
“Tawny was a dear friend of mine,” said Vincent. “As a favour to her I wanted to make sure you were okay. The governor doesn’t want the place spilling into riots so he’s agreed to put you in North. You’ll be safe there, for now.”
“Did they find Reggie?” Simon asked.
Vincent shook his head. “I wouldn’t know,” he gestured towards the guards that accompanied him. Trust was a tricky thing within The Boss.
Vincent had a cart of books. He had been assigned the duty of passing out reading material to the inmates. He handed a copy of a Liz Beck novel to Marcus who instinctively opened it at the page that had been folded. To a casual observer it would seem like a clumsy reader had closed the book incorrectly. Marcus took note of the words that had been underlined in faint pencil.
Mother. Safe. Your. Is.
He looked up at Vincent who pushed the spectacles nervously from the end of his nose.
“Thank you,” said the eldest triplet.
“I’m just passing on the message,” Vincent replied with a smile.
The Beckingridge Plaque had been salvaged from the wreckage of Pettiwick. Charles ‘Chick’ Owen had examined it closely. It would be returned. He had already allowed himself to fall to Elizabeth’s level of petulance. The site was still busy. The Fullertons continued on their task of breaking and building things.
“Mr Owen!” a woman was waving from the crowd of onlookers. She seemed eager for his attention. She had a warm, wide smile and rosy cheeks.
“It’s alright,” he said to his security.
He approached the woman and allowed her to say her piece. His father always taught him never to leave someone hanging who wished for his attention so badly. Good or bad, people needed to know an Owen never shirked comment.
“My name is Hetty Lynn,” she said. “My son received one of the Owen Scholarships to Filton.”
The woman was beaming with pride. She clutched his hand and was patting it affectionately.
“That’s mighty nice to hear,” said The Cappy. “What field has he chosen?”
Hetty was excited she had the CEO’s attention.
“Sports science. He’d like to work with one of the big football teams one day.”
“I’m pleased we could help.”
Hetty clutched his hand tighter.
“Without that scholarship he would never have been able to. You’ve given my son an opportunity he would never have had otherwise.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Chick replied. “I’m flattered but if the boy has the mind and determination to shoot for that opportunity it’s all down to his mama’s encouragement.”
“You’re a good man, Mr Owen,” she stated.
The Cappy thought of the plaque again.
“In a world where it ain’t easy, I try to do the best I can,” he stated honestly.
“Why you giving free rides?” he had been asked when the scholarship program had been set up. The truth was if Buddy was going to be put through Filton by the grace of his family name at least some of his classmates should be deserving of the place.
Buddy was overindulged. Chick knew that. He wouldn’t change that if he could. He wanted his son to have every opportunity he could. With the support of Ronnie he liked to put mind to those who weren’t so lucky. With Ronnie’s mind and Chick’s push, Owen Inc offered hundreds of scholarships to low-income families with the exciting option of studying abroad in the Great States.
“You tell your boy to keep his head down and continue to make us proud,” said Chick to Hetty.
“I will,” she said. “I will.”
He waved to the crowds, gave some insight into his vision for the school and shared a coffee and photo op with Filton Crier reporters, who couldn’t find a flaw, as desperately as they tried. When the day came to a close, he passed the plaque to an Owen Inc. Employee.
“Send this to Beckingridge Manor,” he instructed. “It’s no use to us moving forward and I’m sure Elizabeth would like to have it back.”
She had lived in Coldford her entire life but Elizabeth Beckingridge had never been in the Shanties before. She had heard many tales spill out from it and she used these tales as inspiration when trying to capture a gritty existence that she herself had never experienced.
“I suppose I should go check on this club of mine,” she had concluded.
She had been advised against taking her usual limo. It would have done her no favours appearing snobbish and car crime was rife in the area. Luxury vehicles that entered the Shanties stood little chance of leaving again. The exception was Tabitha’s red Porche. The personalised B055 L4DY licence plate was the warning.
It was a bumpy ride in Gramps’ old estate car. When Elizabeth finally climbed out, she exclaimed as she took it all in.
‘Wow!’ she thought to herself. ‘People actually live here?’
What had drawn her attention the most was the cries from around Coldford about the good that the Knock Knock Club had being doing under the Baroness and subsequently her sociopathic niece. In a quest to see this for herself, Elizabeth approached the reception of the shelter. A couple of volunteers were doing all they could to restore the facility. An older man was putting cheap flat pack cabinets together.
“I’m Elizabeth Beckingridge,” the financial dragon announced. “I bought over this place.”
A woman who was cleaning windows scowled at her.
“Well, it’s nice for Her Majesty to come down and join us,” she said with some frustration. “I hope you aren’t thinking of selling this place on.”
“I don’t need business advice from a window cleaner,” Elizabeth hissed back.
A woman named Margaret – according to her name tag – stepped behind reception and called, “Don’t listen to her. Andrea? Shut your mouth.”
She led Elizabeth to an open part of the hall. Elizabeth decided a call to Fullerton would be required. The place was badly needing fixed up. She looked to her phone only to find there was no reception.
“Argh,” she gasped. “Do you have some kind of telephone?”
“No,” Margaret explained. “The Law Makers cut our lines.”
Margaret watched the Beckingridge Dragon look around. It was no secret the Boss Lady had stoked that fire when she had fifty-nine people thrown from the tower. Ernest may have been the dragon with no puff but Elizabeth was quite a different character all together.
“Please don’t close the shelter,” she gave her plea. “People around her are passionate about it. We all take our turns to keep it afloat. We need this place here.”
On the walls hung photos of Knock Knock girls, shelter volunteers and some of the people who had found refuge there. There was also Agnes Wilde and Tawny, wearing Knock Knock t-shirts and posing with some of their rescues like they were family. Finally there was Tabitha, the lunatic.
“We need this place,” Margaret reiterated. “Please don’t shut it down.”
The truth was Elizabeth hadn’t really considered what her next step would be. She had only gotten so far as the look on Chick’s face when he didn’t win it. She had considered using its resources as a means to finding Tawny but then there was also Tabitha to consider.
“People fight for all kinds of reasons,” Gramps had once said to her.
This had been because of an altercation she had had as a youngster with some of the other Pettiwick girls but the words still held weight. Even Tabitha had been fighting for something. Wild creatures can become protective, sometimes viciously so.
“I want to help,” Elizabeth decided.
Her focus fell back on those the shelter had supported. Then she viewed Tabitha again. They had something worth fighting for. That didn’t mean there wouldn’t be differences along the way.
The Monte Fort in the far reaches of Cardyne was a lifeless building. Converted from an old prisoner of war camp it now held some of the most dangerous women in the Shady City.
Agnes Wilde had always known she would be a visitor to it one day. Whether it was to see Tawny or Tabitha was up to fate. Fate had decided on the latter. Agnes was glad of it none the less. After her stunt with the screens Tabitha had been moved back from the Annexe. The fallout from the office of Law Makers was still in discussions but for the time being they allowed Agnes to meet with her niece.
In a small room with a swarm of officers outside Agnes was given the opportunity she never thought she would have. Her first reaction was to pull Tabitha into her arms. Her second was to slap her.
“Nice to see you too!” Tabitha pouted.
Agnes hugged her tight again.
“I thought you were dead,” she said.
“So did most of Coldford. Nice to know what faith people had in me,” Tabitha mused. She smiled though. “You’re going grey,” she commented as they both sat at the table.
Agnes’ eyes widened. “I’m not surprised,” she replied. “Do you have any idea what I’ve been through?”
“Were you sentenced to death though?” Tabitha asked.
“Were you though?” she pushed.
Agnes started to laugh. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “The entire city saw you call Judge Doyle a…” Agnes stopped herself before the foul word escaped. “There are still plenty who don’t believe it was real. They think it was a hoax.”
Tabitha giggled girlishly. “I wish I could have been on the street to see me,” she sighed. “Tee would have loved it. Do you think she saw?”
“Perhaps,” Agnes offered the chance. “She would be screaming.”
Tabitha smiled. She softened when she did so. It stood as a reminder that she wasn’t quite as mature as she could seem by looking at her. She was still a young girl playing dress up at heart.
“What’s happening with my club?”
“It’s our club, remember,” Agnes warned. “When the Law Makers seized everything, they brought in a buyer.”
“Who?” Tabitha asked with a severe frown.
Agnes raised her chin. “Promise me you won’t get upset.”
“Who bought it?” Tabitha pressed.
“Beckingridge,” she admitted.
Tabitha shook her head. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”
“It was either that or Owen inc. Since Ernest Beckingridge is dead and buried it was his sister, Elizabeth, who took over.”
“The one that writes all those shitty books?” Tabitha scoffed. “That’s worse.”
Agnes disagreed. “No,” she said. “What would have been worse would have been it taken completely. That was a very real possibility. At least Elizabeth has agreed to leave it as it is.”
Tabitha folded her arms across her chest and huffed. “I suppose.”
Agnes stood. She crossed round the table and wrapped her arms around Tabitha’s shoulders.
“I’m so relieved your alive,” she said.
Tabitha reached her hand and rested it on Agnes’ arm. Agnes kissed her head. They both knew it was far from over. Tawny didn’t nickname the girl Trouble for nothing.
Of course Karyn hadn’t been at her office when he got there. Micky Doyle knew his cousin and it wasn’t likely she hadn’t seen the screens.
“Looking at you Judge Doyle,” Tabitha had said. “Cunt!”
Karyn was going to be furious. One of her clerks, Eileen, had taken a statement from him. He tried to explain the coercion he had faced. He tried to place the blame at the feet of Reginald Penn but Eileen only seemed interested in one thing.
“Why was the execution not carried out as planned?”
“You should bring Elizabeth Beckingridge in,” said Micky in response. “She helped Reginald. She’s aiding a known criminal.”
Eileen tapped on her computer keys with her long finger nails. She looked up from her screen at him.
He had no choice but to admit everything. He was taken to holding. He wasn’t too concerned. It was probably best for his own safety. At least it was the Bailiffs he was dealing with and not the Sergeant Major’s Black Bands.
Excruciating days passed. Karyn didn’t personally appear. Bailiffs and clerks attended him. They had him retell and retell his version of events until he was physically and emotionally exhausted. His tears and sweat and dehydrated him. All the while they asked, “Why was Her Honourable’s execution order not carried out?”
Eventually Karyn did appear. Her ghostly pale face didn’t seem real at first. Micky’s mind tried to wake him up from the nightmare but alas she was still there.
“I’m sorry,” he sobbed. “I’m so sorry, Karyn. I made such a mess of things.”
Karyn said nothing. She watched him with a cool, predatory stare. “I realise how much of a mess this is. I didn’t want anyone to talk to Tabitha. Reginald Penn threatened me. He was going to kill me.”
Karyn’s expression didn’t change. There was no flicker of emotion on her lips or in her eyes. No anger. No pity. No sorrow.
“Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. I’ll do whatever it takes to make this better. Please Karyn just say something.”
The Judge’s lips parted. Finally she spoke. “I’m here in the capacity of my office. We aren’t family in here. You will therefore address me with my proper title.”
“Your Honour,” Micky whimpered.
“You disgraced yourself. You disgraced your position as mayor and you disgraced the Doyle name.”
“I’m so sorry,” Micky tried again.
“Not only that,” Karyn went on, but you also have potentially allowed a dangerous criminal to walk free. A criminal my office, my agents and my clerical staff worked hard to bring to justice. Court Clerk Melanie Wallace was murdered. The reporter, Sam, was pit against his colleague. The entire South of the city has been torn apart and because of your ineptitude it could all have been for nothing. Quite a feat I must say, when you have only been in office a few months. So, I ask you, why was my execution order not carried out?”
Micky had almost fallen to the floor.
“I want to make it better,” he said. “Let me make it better.”
“You will begin by making a public address. You will inform the people of Coldford of what you did and why you did it. You will speak the truth to them regardless of how it makes you look.”
Micky agreed. He was finally removed from holding and taken to City Face.
Evening had fallen. City Face boomed its ticking across the lawns. Media feeds were set up relaying to all outlets and screens. Because of the part played by Coby Games, they had been sanctioned by the Law Makers. Joshua Colby was cooperative. The signed permission from the mayor was his protection.
The Black Bands had assembled under the control of Van Holder. Monsta’ was by his side. They crowd was held back. They dared not move any closer than the Black Bands would allow them. The football matches, the seizure of Mack Distillery by force, the very presence of the Black Bands was becoming enough of a deterrent.
Micky was brought to the podium. Like the stunt that brought him to the position he was in, Micky’s image was delivered to all parts of Coldford.
“People of Coldford,” he began. He hadn’t prepared a speech this time.
He felt it best the words come to him naturally. “It is with deep regret that I come to you with a confession. I, Michael Doyle, have abused my position as mayor. I have abused the trust you put in me. On advice of a doctor whom I considered a friend.” Here he stopped. He changed his mind. “I was given an opportunity to profit from the death of a criminal who was due for execution. I deliberately concealed this criminal, having you believe that she was already dead, so that the sale of her organs could be arranged. This is a criminal act of which I take full responsibility. I deeply regret my actions and I now throw myself on the mercy of the High Court and I ask for leniency.”
Micky looked through the crowd. His whole body trembled. Where was Cameron? There was someone he recognised though. The figure offered little comfort. Whimsical old-style clothing, long wig-like hair. Eugene Morris, aka The Tailor clutched his hat to his chest. There was a priest of the same order muttering a prayer. They called him the Holy Brother.
‘Why was he there?’ Micky wondered. Before he could enquire, The Judge took over proceedings.
“Michael Doyle,” she said. “You have given a confession here today witnessed by thousands. Your abuse of power has left me with little choice. What we see here today is a waste of talent, of potential and of lives. When I accepted my position in the High Court, I took an oath that said I would make no exceptions. I swore that if those of my own blood were brought before me, showing favouritism is something I would never do. The disgrace you have brought upon yourself and the city will be punished to the fullest extent of the law granted to me. Letting a criminal walk free after giving my signature to her execution is something I would also never do. I hereby invoke article 22 which states that should a member of high office be convicted of a capital crime sentencing can be given immediately without a trial of jurors. For authorising the unlawful killing of a convict you are found guilty. For trafficking human organs for print you are also guilty. For treason against the city by your own admission you are guilty. I hereby sentence you to death by firing squad.
The crowd had fallen so quiet, only the clicking hooves of the Black Band’s mounted patrol echoed, timing with the ticking of the City Face.
Micky screamed. “No! Karyn don’t do this!” His foggy breath trailed in desperation in front of him.
The Judge ignored him. “Due to the nature of your crime, because of the mistrust you have brought to the legal process and because of the obligations of my office, sentence will be carried out immediately.”
Micky was escorted to the killing fields. It was an area in front of the building that had been where the gallows stood in days of old. During the Great Wars it was the spot where those convicted of espionage were executed. It had fallen out of use as legal battles turned more to court rooms and offices but that day as eight gun men rounded on Micky Doyle there was a return to the past.
“Aim,” ordered Van Holder.
Now the clicking of guns seemed to drown out the clock and Micky’s screams.
Bullets erupted. One tore through Micky’s heart. With that, the second mayor of Coldford in such a short space it time lay dead on the lawns of City Face.
Tabitha had witnessed the execution. She watched Micky Doyle die and for the first time she had been lost for words. It appeared her future hadn’t been written by quite so friendly an author.
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