An invitation was granted for Owen Inc. and Beckingridge Firm to meet at Harvester Farm for a day of bonding and reuniting. Perhaps the nice farm girl, Julia, felt it was time to let bygones be bygones or, what was more likely was, she had some kind of divide and conquer strategy in mind. Either way no one would know for certain until that particular hour glass ran out of sand and needed to be turned again. The nice girl would just smile and say, “I just thought it would be good to have everyone together.”
Circumstances prevented Chick and Elizabeth attending personally but they both agreed in good faith to send along representatives. So, when I arrived on the farm myself I could see Beckingridge employees in their pin striped, well-tailored suits. Making their way through the fields were
the Owen Inc bodies who could be heard before they were spotted, booted and just itching to fire off some guns. I could also see Buddy, accompanied as always by Dale Cooper and Chad Perry. I was keen to observe him in something of a natural habitat. I was also hoping that chance would give me an opportunity to speak to one of the Kappa So frat boys on their own.
The Beckingridge crew did look somewhat out of place, sipping fresh fruit drinks and discussing their portfolios. There were children running around too. Their laughter rose into the air and it made quite a charming atmosphere. It was quite a breath fresh air and not just because of the crisp Bourton sunshine.
I kept my distance from Buddy. He looked a little subdued that day. His voice could still be heard cheering and trying so desperately to impress Julia but with a stern warning from The Cappy I could assume this was generally his best behaviour. Cooper had shown an interest in one of the banker girls. He was stood with arms folded. The girl was laughing at a joke he was telling her.
Buddy had wandered towards the shooting ranges set up courtesy of Stoker Circus on the east acre. Chad spotted where Buddy was heading so he danced after him, probably also under orders from The Cappy to prevent his son from doing something stupid.
Julia herself, I avoided. The hostess was busy circulating. Farm hand Glenn was stood by Gordon’s paddock introducing his favoured animal to a mix of the Beck employees and the Owen ones. I was enjoying the trip away from the city when I spotted Buddy pick up a rifle.
“Hit the target and win a prize!” a show runner from the Stoker Circus called. “Hit two targets and win one of our stuffed animals.”
Buddy lifted the gun. A grin spread across his face. Five targets. He judged them with a trained eye.
He fired off the rounds. Shot after shot. Five times.
The Stoker Circus man turned and checked the targets.
“Better luck next time,” he said. All five targets had been missed.
Buddy’s lips tightened. His eyebrows raised.
“What you say, brah?” he asked.
“No targets. Sorry. You want to try again?” the Stoker Circus man offered.
“Are you saying I missed them targets? I missed all five of your targets?”
The man with the attraction carried on, “Sorry, you must just have bad aim.”
Buddy’s eyes widened. Chad recognising what was happening stepped back.
“Brah!” he warned. “You don’t wanna go messing with my bro.”
Cooper who must have also caught some wind of the disruption had joined them.
“I have a bad aim?” Bernard ‘Buddy’ Owen wanted to be sure.
“Maybe just an off day,” replied the circus man, realising he was making a huge mistake but not quite figuring out how to fix it.
Chad hopped from foot to foot.
“He ain’t got a bad aim!” Chad insisted. “He’s Buddy fucking Owen. You better recognise!”
The Stoker Circus should have been familiar with the gun toting skill set the Owen’s possessed. They had after all worked with the Owen’s for years on various nefarious schemes but that is a story for another day. What I was observing at that point was Buddy exhaling breath. Chad was still warning the circus man. Cooper was stood with arms folded ready for whatever situation was about to arise.
Buddy had had enough. He fished into his belt and drew his own gun. In hindsight this was the most expected situation to arise. The gun he had named ‘Vaj Slapper’. I have no idea and I didn’t care to ask. What was most important was that the shots began to ring out.
Shoot one. Shoot two. Then three, four and five. All five targets were blasted to pieces.
“You see that, brah!?” Buddy yelled. “Who’s got bad aim? An Owen never misses a target!”
Credit in Buddy’s favour he had hit all five targets dead centre. The Beckingridge employees clutched pearls and gave an audible gasp. The Owen ones seemed to have fully expected this scene.
Julia approached him before anything further could occur. She laid a hand softly on his shoulder.
“Oh, Buddy,” she said coyly. “You’re such a boy sometimes.”
He looked at her. He smiled and pushed his chest out. He turned back to the circus man.
“I’ll take the giraffe,” he said, tucking his own gun away again.
Who was the Stoker to object? He passed the stuffed animal to Buddy, who placed an arm around Julia and passed it to Chad.
With Buddy’s ego reset again the afternoon continued on. I had to admire Julia’s ability to bring calm. She was very much in control of the situation.
I continued to watch Buddy as Glenn’s daughterSusie raced him towards another shooting range.
“Can I shoot your gun?” Susie asked him.
Buddy shook his head. “No way, lil mascot. It takes practice.”
Susie had been ever so impressed by Buddy’s natural skill. To be fair, it really was quite impressive.
“Will you teach me?” the little girl asked.
“First rule,” said Buddy. “Always make sure the safety is on.”
The noise made me shudder. Buddy’s eyes widened.
Susie roared with laughter.
“Oh? Did I just hit that target?”
With his back turned he had hit that target dead centre.
“Do it again!” she urged.
“No way. I’m all fired out. Wait a minute. I gottatie my laces.”
Buddy bent over and fired the gun from between his legs. Again, the target was hit dead centre.
“Ahhhh!” both he and Susie cheered.
He put his hand to his ear. “Was that target?” he asked.
“Owened!” Susie cried out with glee, pointing to it.
The little girl jumped onto his back, covering his eyes. Buddy spun around. Even with Susie fully concealing his gaze he managed to hit the target. He had gauged the distance and trajectory by counting steps and sensing wind direction. Ironically it was a skill honed by legendary Stoker Circus knife thrower, Felix Stoker.
Speaking of Stokers, the circus man’s companions were ushering him away before the gathering realised the games were rigged. The other Stokers were making sure he packed fast.
Buddy lifted Susie onto his shoulders and pointed to the show runner.
“You tell that son a bitch!” he yelled across the field.
“An Owen never misses a target.”
“Kappa So!” Buddy yelled, as he charged across the field carrying Susie.
I had caught the whole thing on film.
The set up for the agents at Harbour House was hugely beneficial. Doyle’s office granted the licence to function as the Good Gang and everything seemed to be falling into place. The dust from the Black Bands’ sweep of the Mack Distillery was beginning to settle. The search for Tawny continued but the agency had sparked a new lease of life into Coldford. As always, I was on hand to document everything and with Dan’s help at the Crier I was keeping ahead of the curve.
“This is great!” Dan cried when he saw the new facilities.
I looked through photographs of the Distillery I had recently captured. Black Bands still occupied the area. Even if a Mack stepped back in and rang those bells the town of Bellfield was never going to be the same again. They were strong willed people, but where was one to go from complete destruction of the empire that held them together?
Alford. A rural town past Bellfield. It was this part of Greater Coldford where Buddy found himself. He was feeling sickly and all of his usual powder suppliers in Filton had either been attacked by Reginald Penn or had been warned by the Cappy himself to stop providing his son. City Main was even more difficult to score in. After Tabitha’s stunt with the screens Kappa So had lowered their presence in the Shanties too.
“They have shit gear anyway,” Buddy had mused gloomily.
So to Alford he went to meet a new contact Cooper had provided. Marshal Cooper, Dale’s father, had quite the fondness for powder too. Travelling on the racing car circuits, the Cooper big dog didn’t like to find himself without his supplies. He had set up what he called pit stops with an ample supply. The bros had decided they would take advantage of this so to the rural town of Alford they went. Buddy wasn’t particularly enthused about visiting what he saw as the ‘ass end of nowhere.’ He especially was loath to be so close to ‘gypo country’. I believe this was a reference to the town of Bellfield.
It was his own fault really. He had let himself build up his hopes when he spoke to a bro earlier that morning.
“Yeah, I got some gear Bud,” he said confidently. “I’ll call you later brah.”
It wasn’t ten minutes when he called back.
“Yeah, no can do, brah,” he said.
“Why not?” Buddy demanded to know.
“I’ve been called back to Star State,” he explained.
The Cappy was systematically ruining his social life, so Buddy was forced to personally visit the ass crack of Coldford to get some third-rate powder from Marshall’s bottom barrel stores. By the time they reached Alford he was still in a cloudy mood.
They were told to meet at the Spinner attraction. It was a simple tea cup ride for little kids. The muddy field reminded Buddy of Harvester Farm. He longed to return to Julia. He still pained at the image of her silhouette in the window as they were forced to part. She to head her Harvester brand, he to kiss the Cappy’s ass and hope he would never find out about the golden asset.
The morning after he had altered the asset, he’d awoken to the biggest come down he had ever felt in his life. As he had absorbed what he had done his heart skipped a beat and that wasn’t just because he had almost given himself a heart attack the night before with defibrillators from the medical school.
After an argument with the Cappy – well the Cappy yelling, Buddy forced to listen – he had made such a show of being able to do what he wanted. Chad still had his rant on film. He couldn’t go back on it and look weak to his bros so the best he could do was get the asset out of the way whenever someone of note came to visit, like Pops.
“I thought it was funny!” Buddy had complained to Chad and Cooper at the time as they assessed the damage.
“I hope you can fit that whole thing in your ass, brah, because that’s where it’s going when The Cappy finds out,” Chad stated the obvious.
“It’s always with ass with you,” Buddy noted.
Both Cooper and Buddy gave a befuddled look to their brother but they shrugged it off.
It started to rain in Alford. Buddy groaned. Of course it was raining. Why wouldn’t it? They were in a shitty part of a shitty city. It was a light rain, like an irritating dust. Their new contact had told them to wait by the ride whilst he fetched them their goods and the transaction could be complete. At least that was what they thought. They could barely understand a word he said.
“Buddy Owen!?” A harsh Bellfield voice was thrown at him.
A boy of about fourteen of fifteen was calling to him. He was wearing a Mack and Sons hoody. The sudden address caught Buddy’s attention.
The boy laughed. “I thought that was you. I’m surprised you could fit that chin through the gate.”
Buddy looked to his bros. “Who the fuck is this little cock sucker?”
The boy answered for himself. “Alfie Mack. I shagged yer ma!”
Alfie, the youngest of the Mack sons was grabbing his crotch. His girlfriend, a teenaged girl with a mass of black hair, was laughing hysterically.
“Leave it Alfie,” she was saying but the pats on his shoulder were only encouraging him.
Alfie had been with his mother – an Alford native – when the distillery was seized. Annie Mack had sent Alfie and his girlfriend, Melissa, out of her way whilst she continued to wade through the mess. Alfie was a spirited boy with all of his father’s resilience.
“You inbred fucks!” Alfie continued. “Your weans are gonna have foreheads the size of Beck Tower.”
Buddy watched Alfie continuing to chide him. It was the girl’s laughter that irritated him the most.
“Leave it, Bud,” he could hear Cooper warn.
“Bud the fud!” was Alfie’s response.
Buddy’s body was shaking with rage. He took a deep breath.
“You are pissing me off, you little shit,” Buddy warned again.
“Then why don’t you take a walk up Love Street and see what happens?” Alfie challenged.
Just when Buddy thought matters couldn’t get any worse, he spotted a white Cooper SUV crossing the way towards them.
“Brah!” Chad was patting his arm.
“Yeah, I see it,” said Buddy.
“It’s Pearl,” said Chad.
“I can see it.”
“It’s Billy,” said Chad.
“Damn it, Chad, I can see, brah!”
The white Cooper car named Pearl was quite distinctive. She was Billy Owen’s car and if he had driven all the way to Alford from the city he was going to be pissed.
“Do you think he’s seen us?” asked Chad.
William ‘Billy’ Owen climbed out of his luxury vehicle. He removed his sunglasses and called to them.
“I’m here to pick up three retards,” he said.
“Yep, he saw us,” Buddy stated.
“What in all the Hells are you three doing down here?” Billy confronted. “You bitches better get in that there vehicle and not an ounce of complaint. I’ve had to drive all the way down here. I got so many damn bugs stuck to my windshield because of y’all.”
“Just thought we’d check out the shows,” Buddy tried.
Billy snatched Buddy by the chin and looked deep into his eyes.
“You better be sober, Bud,” he warned. “Otherwise, you’re going to be stuck on my windshield.”
“I am,” Buddy protested.
The little altercation with Alfie Mack had gotten in the way. When Buddy explained what had happened, Billy gave a throaty laugh.
“Why didn’t you smack the little shit about the head?” he asked.
“He had a little girlfriend with him,” Cooper said.
Billy glared at him as though he hadn’t fully understood at first.
“Then smack the little bitch too. Do I have to do everything? Where did the little pikey go?”
“Are you okay?” Melissa asked Alfie as they rounded the corner away from the bros after they watched Buddy storm off.
“I’m fine,” he replied. “Just seeing the look on his stupid face…”
Clearly Alfie was not okay. Why would he be? His entire family had been sent into turmoil. His legacy was lost and now it would be a long time before he saw his brother Paddy again, possibly Kieran too. The worst was his Ma. She was a tough woman. Annie Mack would have to be to keep the Mack clan in order but he knew she was struggling. That was why she had sent them away that day.
“Yer just gonna get under my feet,” she said pushing him and Melissa out of the door. Alfie knew it was so they didn’t see her weep again.
He had drafted a letter to Paddy letting him know how proud he was of him and what he was doing. If it wouldn’t give their Ma a heart attack,he would join him. Alfie – or wee Alfie as Kieran called him even though the teenager was almost as tall – could fight the good fight. He could contribute too. Alfie was ready for it.
“Here,” Melissa passed him a joint. “It’ll calm you down.”
Alfie drew Kieran’s lighter from his hoody pocket. It was one of those that if it was upturned the sexy female figure would lose what little clothing she was wearing. He had stolen it from Kieran the last time he had been home.
He inhaled. The calming effects washed over him.
“Do you want to go home?” Melissa asked.
Alfie shook his head. He knew his Ma needed to focus. The last thing she should have to worry about was her youngest. The bros had collected their coke and headed off anyway.
A roller coaster rushed past. Woosh!
Alfie was startled by the sudden noise but Melissa giggled.
“The line for the Sharp Shooter is down, she screamed excitedly. “C’mon. Let’s have a go.”
Alfie dabbed the joint against the fence. He slipped it back into his pocket. His mind was awash with cannabis, he had his girlfriend’s hand in his and the stupid look on Buddy Owen’s face was fresh on his mind. He was ready for the next thrill.
Melissa clutched Alfie’s hand. She was shaking. He asked her why she would ride roller coasters if they made her so nervous.
“It’s the adrenaline,” she said. “That’s the point. It’s fun because it’s scary. You know there isn’t any real danger but there’s always that chance.”
There was still a line at Alford’s most popular attraction but it was shorter than it had been all day. It was the ride that Melissa really wanted to see. She had been telling Alfie all week about it.
They slowly moved down a few steps at a time. Like the march of foot soldiers slowly approaching their enemy. The buzz of excitement among those that waited was infectious. Alfie began to feel it too as they drew closer to the entrance.
An Alford carny opened the gate. Melissa dashed excitedly in. The metal boards leading to the ride rattled. They took up their seats. Melissa had snatched up the front of the carriage. The safety bars pressed down tightly on Alfie’s chest. He tried to push it away to ease it a little but it had locked. He could hear the excited chatter and cheers of those behind them. A younger girl was crying, regretting her decision. It was too late for her now. The ride was locked, ready and starting up.
“This is it! This is it!” Melissa cheered.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
The ride turned towards a steep incline. Their body weights pushed back against the chair, relieving the tightness of the bar on Alfie’s chest. The grey sky filled with rain clouds was all they could see ahead. Alfie swung his legs. The floor below was far out of reach.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
The ride continued to climb. Melissa squealed with delight. When they finally reached the top, the ride shuddered to a halt. It slowly tipped over the edge. They could see the ground now. People below, so far away, were looking up at them. Some were calling to loved ones.
“This is it!” Melissa announced.
Alfie’s forehead exploded. The blood and brain matter splashed onto Melissa, carried by the heavy breeze that circulated so high from the ground. She screamed before the ride could inflict its thrills.
The carriage tipped over, falling down the steep hill at its fastest speed, slamming Alfie’s skull against his chair, his lifeless body unable to hold it up. Melissa, still screaming tried to waken him but her hands had to clutch her bars as the ride took a sharp corner. Some of Alfie’s blood was thrown onto onlookers. The couple in the seats behind them were trying to call to Melissa, still unsure of the reasons for her uncontrollable screaming. The rest of the riders were screaming too. Some of them were because of the speed of the coaster’s dips. Some because they were unsettled by Melissa’s sudden chilling shrieks. They knelled way more than a dose of adrenaline.
As the ride turned back along the track Alfie’s arms swung limp.
“That boy’s hit his head! Stop the ride!” a woman shouted.
Melissa was no longer screaming. She was now shaking uncontrollably. It did seem at first as though Alfie had hit his head really badly. The crowd was unaware that a gunman lurked nearby.
“How’d ya like that you little pikey shit,” Buddy grinned. “One down. Six to go.”
The ride had to complete its rotation. The emergency breaks would only have made it harder for paramedics to reach the injured.
Despite its death defying loops, its thrilling spills and its sharp corners, no one was screaming any more. By the time it rolled into the end track Melissa had gone almost catatonic.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
The Sharp Shooter came to a rest with a gush of steam.
Now Melissa fell forward too. That was when the screams erupted once again.
“What da fuck, brah!” Buddy was calling as the bros and Billy piled into Pearl.
Billy gave a cold, callous laugh. “A’body knows those gypos are a stain on society. You gotta cull them little bro.”
Cooper looked as though he was going to vomit. Chad was rocking in his seat as though he had been the one on the ride.
“Don’t think because you’re my cousin you’ll get special treatment,” Billy stated as he drove away. “If I need to drive down here again to fetch your ass, I put a bullet in all of you. Am I clear?”
Paddy rang off from his mother. Her tears were still fresh and in that moment he felt he would never be able to forget them. Kieran had been watching him anxiously. He knew from his brother’s tone and the look of grief that spilled into Paddy’s expression that something terrible had happened.
“What’s going on?” Kieran asked nervously. Paddy took a moment to catch his breath. Paddy could only shake his head.
“Jesus Christ, Paddy!” Kieran barked. “What happened?”
“It’s Alfie,” he replied, unable to disguise the crack in his voice. “They got Alfie. They shot Alfie. He’s dead.”
It was now Kieran’s turn to shake his head. “No!” he cried. “Not the wee man!”
Paddy rushed across the room as Kieran sunk into his chair, giving himself into despair. He wrapped his arms around his brother. Kieran wept into his shoulder.
Paddy clutched Kieran’s face. “We can’t stay here. We need to keep moving.”
“We need to go back. We need to go to Ma,” Kieran suggested.
“We will but we have to be careful. They’ll be waiting,” Paddy tried to remain level headed through his grief.
Kieran’s weeps began to spill over again as the reality of the situation became clearer. “The wee man? I can’t believe it. They’ve got it wrong. Someone’s got it wrong. He’s just a little lad.”
Paddy wished that it wasn’t true. Shot in Alford was what he had been told. Alford was no longer safe.
Annie could hear her husband’s cry as she ran down the hospital corridor. She had asked that she be the one to tell him. Brendan had obviously found out. He was lying in his hospital bed chained to the bars with cuffs.
“Ya bunch of wankers!” he was screaming, rattling the chains. “You’ve got an old man in a wheelchair when you should be out there bringing in maniacs who are shooting innocent lads! Little fecking babies! Who’s the criminal? Aren’t you going to do something about that?”
His close friend Tawny, his distillery, his brother and now his son. Brendan Mack had loved and lost more than most. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of seeing him break.
The two Black Bands that were stood by his bed were unmoved by his rage anyway. The dispenser bullet of Van Holder’s had hit Brendan in the chest. It was painful, already scarred there by third degree burns from the night the Knock Knock Club was attacked, but he lived. He outlived his son. He was now being kept in a secure wing of Coldford General, a section of the hospital seized by the Black Bands.
Judge Doyle promised justice in the Shady City. It didn’t always prove to be the justice we expect or want. Justice is, after all, blind.
That evening, Olivia Hickes lit a candle for Alfie in her church. The thousands of others were for the rest of the city.
“You hear that?! An Owen never misses a target!”
I checked the footage of Buddy I had gathered at Harvester Farm. With the licence from the Law Makers, we were granted access to their secure servers in the understanding that any evidence we found was to be submitted to them. The footage didn’t prove much. Sure, Buddy had skills with a gun but that didn’t place him at the scenes of the crimes, but at least it was something. So I clicked SUBMIT.
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