Matthew (you can call him Matty) is a mild mannered man with the spirit of a poet. He hails from an artistic family. His cousin, Harper, owns the Dalway Lane gallery in City Main and his younger cousin Moony is a junior cartoonist for Roby Studios. Having lost his mother at a young age he was raised by his Aunt Gladys. Originally from the country of Subala the Lane family settled into Coldford and thrived for generations. When Matty meet his wife, Wanda, and she gave birth to their son Walter, it seemed like the perfect life.
After the birth of Walter, Wanda became absorbed in post natal depression. With a stubborn pride she feared being seen as a terrible mother so she shied from what little help there was available to her. When she fell to severe depressive episodes Matty was at a loss to be able to help her. He supported her as best he could but it appeared to be a battle he could not win.
Tragedy struck (and was somewhat prevented) when Wanda tried to kill their infant child in a murder suicide. She saw no way forward. Matty in turn shot his wife dead in order to save little Walter. It didn’t matter his intentions, a grisly murder was still committed and he was given ten years at the behest of The Boss.
Quiet, polite and agreeable Matty never poses any trouble for the guards of Coldford Correctional. He is pleasant to the other inmates and he is always where he needs to be and when. Not that he has much choice in that matter.
A decade behind bars is a long time but he knows his son is safe in the hands of his Aunt Gladys. In the meantime it is up to his legal representative, the well known and respected Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Owen, to appeal to the Office of Law Makers on his behalf in the hopes his sentence can be reduced due to the circumstances.
In a desperate attempt to save the life of his child, Matty Lane wielded a gun. Now his wife is dead and he has been imprisoned in Coldford Correctional for ten years … At least.
Coming April 2022
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They call him ‘Lucky Lucca’ and he’s been in all the big magazines. His profile for ‘Eloquence Magazine’ received millions of views. He was much sought after. His public persona was played to marvellous effect. He had it all. That was until his modelling career came to an abrupt halt when media mogul Kathleen Gray discovered he had taken part in some adult films. Suddenly, life didn’t seem so pretty.
Lucca was used to putting on a pretty face for the public. But when there is such close scrutiny on your every move it’s difficult to keep up appearances. Lucca hit rock bottom. His fans called him an attention whore until eventually he made one final public appearance that resulted in a man having his member bitten off. There came the GBH charges Lucca finds himself caged for. He was Mr Popular. Behind the walls of The Boss isn’t really the place you want to find yourself that sought after.
Lucca could put on a show for the cameras but underneath there is far more to him than meets the eye. He is kind natured really, albeit a little vain. He was seven years old when his dad gave him over to talent agents. He was brought alone from his home country of Levinkrantz and he would be the first to say it was the best stroke of luck he had ever had. He wouldn’t have thrown all that away for nothing. Attention whore? Maybe it would do well to look at what really went on. He had a good life. Someone set out to ruin it.
‘Lucky’ Lucca Markov had it all. He was young, attractive and had the world at his feet. When that sweet lifestyle started to fall apart he tried to do everything he could to hold it together. Now he finds himself an inmate of The Boss.
Coming April 2022
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Jake is the head of the Fullerton Family who in Coldford City are the first in construction. They are responsible for building the Shady City into the modern beauty it is today. ‘Building Bridges’ is their motto and their most notable addition to the landscape is the great Fullerton Bridge which connects the city to the borough of Cardyne via the Fullerton home town of Filton. Construction in any city is tough but in Coldford you need real nerves of iron.
Like the rest of his family Jake has a steely determination. He is generally a kind hearted man who just wants what’s best for his family, especially his daughter Lucy. However, he does have a temper and nothing flares that temper more than when his family are attacked.
An incident on one of his building sites led Jake to lose that temper of his. His victim landed in hospital and he landed himself behind the bars of Coldford Correctional, better known as The boss.
Charged with aggravated assault jake has two years to serve (at least) so he had best knuckle under and keep that temper in check if he ever wants to leave again. However, The Boss has Her way of aggravating her inmates. Keep your hands to yourself there 2011 and stay behind your bars.
Jake Fullerton builds bridges. His daughter, his sister and his family legacy will all be lost if he doesn’t act. Where inside prison will he find materials to build a bridge that big though?
Coming April 2022
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Sophie is the younger sister of Howard Bergman of the Bergman Diamond Parade in City Main. Like the rest of her family she is loving and kind. She is sharp witted and not easily fooled. Among her family she is the one that carries a reputation of being strict which is to be expected when she is a high ranker from the Office of Law Makers. Her two sons, Issac (the elder) and Elijah (the younger) are well mannered and law abiding thanks to their mother’s upbringing.
Sophie and her brother Howard were born in the country of Levinkrantz until the blitz. During the blitz they were offered escape. Their parents perished leaving young Howard with his little sister, to come to Coldford to start a new life. She has seen war. She had seen it at a young age and it gave her the determination to become the Law Making force she is.
Sophie is also congenitally deaf. She reads lips very well so rather than criminals trying to sing sweet words to her ears she can easily decipher the truth of the matter straight from the tongue. She is accompanied mostly by her interpreter, Dmitri Raminoff, better known as Golem for his protective nature and sheer size.
Upholding the law in the Shady City is a tough job but Sophie isn’t shy of it. She was just a little girl when the bombs began to fall on Levinkrantz. She escaped a war zone. She has little fear.
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It began so slowly. First there were meetings, then there was fighting and then there were soldiers on the streets. When the bombs started to drop it was all over. As the Church of St Wigan calls for the end of days, Howard Bergman wondered how long it would be before the bombs started to drop on Coldford.
I can almost hear the collective moan as we recover from a year long hangover of lockdowns and all sorts of other struggles. Regardless of that I hope you all had a great holiday. This time of year tends to bring a lot of stress on people (most of it unnecessary). We are conditioned to want to spend money on elaborate gifts, debt rises and the pressure of having to enjoy ourselves really takes it toll.
I for one like a quiet holiday with those nearest and dearest to me. I grew up in a raucous household so nowadays I like things more subdued. It makes me sound like an old woman but life is tough enough without some overly commercialised holiday forcing you to spend time with people you can’t really stand throughout the year. We’re told to grin and bear it, they’re family. They’re blood. Like Hell they are! Family are people who come into your life to make it easier, to support you. If Uncle Jim across the table is on his fifth glass of wine and demanding everyone listens to his racist tirades then that’s not family. When Grandma is guilt tripping you because you’d rather spend your Christmas day happy than crying in the bathroom because she hated your gift then that’s not family.
As someone with no kids I can only imagine how dreadful the approach of the big man with the beard must be for those who do. It has to be tough seeing all those photos of bragging parents with the mountain of gifts they bought their little precious when you are worried if you can even scrape enough together to get those shoes they really wanted. It’s unnecessarily showy. ‘What are you trying to prove?’ I always wonder.
I don’t want to put a downer on Christmas. The truth is I do find it a fabulous holiday. It’s message is to be kinder to each other, to bring joy and cheer to each other and to spend some time in celebration with those close to us. That is a principle I will always champion. I guess my point here is don’t let yourself get bogged down with the pressure of it all. Remember, toxic people are toxic people and don’t deserve a seat at the table even if they are blood and Aunt Kate will be really put out if not invited. Screw you, Aunt Kate. If you force yourself in then cousin Derek will have to come too and he can start a fight in an empty house.
We all have them. This time of the year is always a real test. But it can also be a marvellous opportunity of new beginnings. A new day, a new month, a new year. When you are given the chance of complete revival it doesn’t matter what came before. Look forward and make this the best year ever!
I love you all folks and I sincerely wish you the best time ahead.
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My ten year old niece is hitting that stage of life where she is observing the world around her and developing her mind into her own tastes. She has found herself fascinated by the darker side of literature, movies and art. She knows her aunt is very much the same so it is a beautiful bond we share in that respect. I was much the same when I was her age. I read macabre books, I watched horror movies and Edvard Much’s Scream was my favourite painting and still is one of my favourites to this day. With that in mind we came to a discussion on the line between fiction and fact. We discussed how throwing yourself into a dark mindset can require you to know that there is a firm difference between creative licence and reality. I’ve already discussed the influence media can have on the temperament in a previous blog which you can read HERE but I’d like to revisit the topic from the perspective of those of us who create dark material.
I told my niece that some of the work that I write requires some dark thoughts that you of course wouldn’t even consider normally. In order to write characters with despicable intentions you have to think like that and it can be a little mentally exhausting. Creative licence is important and I don’t believe in hindering yourself if you really want push boundaries in art but as a young person I wanted my niece to realise that as okay as it is strive for some dark art, to listen to those nasty songs or to watch those horrifying movies you need to be prepared to pull self back and take stock of reality again. She is just a young kid and as a youngster she is influenced by things around her as she finds her own creative voice. However, I have personally seen people completely lose themselves in a mindset and it doesn’t take much searching to find stories of others where this has happened to.
It’s fun to lose yourself in twisted imaginations. By all means enjoy those things that can manifest when you give way to the darker emotions. The important thing is to remember that the world is generally a great place to. Find your happy spot. Don’t let it consume you. I guess what I’m really saying is let the light in every once and a while.
“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.