Lydia and Franklin’s apartment was quiet. The agents were gone, preparing for another mission and without my old newspaper to report to, it gave me cause to think. As I looked over the footage of the City Main woman talking about the arrest of the triplets, my attention was drawn to a group of Kappa So brothers in the background. ‘Had Mayor Feltz pledged?’ I wondered. It appeared everyone in the city with authority was a brother. Without Hickes’ presence it seemed even CPD wasn’t willing to hold them to account, not just for the shooting of Sarah or the disappearance of Tawny, but for a whole mess of cover ups that had been going on for years. That was when the latest issue of Coldford Daily dropped through the letterbox.
OWEN FAMILY STANDS STRONG.
On the front page were three Kappa So brothers – Chad, Cooper and Buddy Owen. The photo had been taken on Harvester Farm. The three brothers were smiling nicely. The article discussed the death of Robert ‘Bobby’ Owen. Buddy expressed his grief coherently. He was pleased to have his fraternity brothers with him for support. He was also pleased to be building friendships on Harvester Farm. It was what Pops would have wanted. Kappa So were good young men from prime stock with elite family names. They were future leaders. That nasty old Penn had attacked them. Those vulgar Macks – who were always causing trouble, mind – had set out to assault them. That was what the article would have the reader believe. An Owen-owned newspaper was never going to print anything else. I looked at the article writer. It had been composed by Eric Waddle, the Daily editor himself. It seemed none of the other journalists would do. I had recognised his writing style. I had read lots of Eric’s work before. The words Buddy was quoted as saying, his explanations, it had been Eric that had put them there. They were written to be clear on the Penn and Mack villainy and sketchy on the details as to why they attacked the Chapter House in the first place. That was why I had to write the truth. I didn’t set out to make anyone in particular look good or bad. I wanted to make clear the real shades of Coldford so that people could decide for themselves. Even with Tawny’s face everywhere people were starting to forget. They were forgetting about the missing Baroness, forgetting about the little girl that was gunned down in the street. I would not let Sarah be forgotten.
I caught up with Buddy Owen outside of the City Main Harvester store. He had been making himself useful to the brand by taking on deliveries, no doubt having had express orders to ingratiate himself to the Harvesters. At least that was how it seemed. The truth was he had come in search of powder. Most of his contacts had gone into hiding. He didn’t have his two companions in tow. Buddy was storming back towards the Harvester van, shoulders hunched and grumbling to himself. I managed to catch up with him.
He stopped and offered a scowl.
“Yeah? What?” he returned. He seemed to recognise me which was surprising. We had only been in each other’s company once before. He and his father were touring their newspapers and they had come to the Coldford Daily. At the time he seemed to have been more interested in my fellow writer, Madeline. I would have been lucky if he even remembered my name. He hadn’t been lusting after Madeline though. He kept looking to her as though she was going to say something to The Cappy he didn’t want her to. Buddy’s uncle, Jerry Owen, had pulled Madeline from the story of an assault on the hotel heir, Daniel Weir, when it led her to his nephew. Madeline said nothing though. After that incident she had been relegated to nonsense stories and bottom of the barrel news. She had fought hard to get back on the upper floors, she wasn’t prepared to start again.
“You’re a reporter, right?” Buddy challenged.
“Something like that,” was my reply. “Can I ask you some questions?”
“No bro. I already said everything I have to say.”
I ignored Buddy’s refusal. “How are you coping with the death of your grandfather?” I put to him.
Buddy frowned. “How’d you think? Get out of my way.”
I had already hit record on my phone.
“Does your Uncle Jerry know his accuser has gone missing? Does he know the girl he tried to rape was given the death penalty?”
Buddy grabbed my by the collar of my shirt. I held my phone tight. It was still recording.
Buddy had just returned from City Main when he received a call from The Cappy.
“I’m still on Harvester Farm,” explained the son.
“So I can tell,” the father said.
“I was stopped by a reporter,” Buddy said.
Chick nodded. “They’ve swarmed the estate. I’ve had to send a crew to bring your Chapter House into order and take your grandfather’s body and have it buried proper.”
“Those motherfuckers are gonna to pay,” Buddy groaned.
Chick Owen was staying on topic. “They seemed convinced we know where the one they call the Baroness is.”
“Didn’t find anything though, did they?” Buddy put to his father.
“That’s not the point. When the stink of her leaving the Harbour House facility so abruptly falls on our family it concerns me. Where is she?”
“How should I know? I never met the fat whore.”
“Is that so?” The Cappy was unconvinced. “That artist boy seems to feel differently. He’s been shouting his mouth off about her and he seems certain someone with our name took her.”
Buddy protested, “You’re listening to the opinion of some doped up scum from The Shanties over your own son?”
The Cappy paused. He was looking for the holes in his son’s protest of innocence. “I didn’t say he was from the Shanties.”
It was then Buddy who was given cause to pause. “You mean David Finn, right? He was in Harbour House too. Everyone here knows who he is. Didn’t finish rehab though. Probably still a fiend for the big H.”
Chick dismissed his son’s comments. “That may be but we have a bigger problem. I don’t know what concern finding that club bar clown is of Beckingridge Tower, but Elizabeth Beckingridge is making it her business. She is also making it her business to invest in that farm you now stand upon.”
Buddy was starting to become bored. “So?”
“So? Boy, do you have any idea how much that Harvester brand could be worth? The influence they could have in the city with the proper push behind them?”
Buddy just wanted to go home. The smell of manure was starting to give him a headache. The want for some powder up his nostrils was making him frustrated.
“You will stay on that farm and make yourself mighty useful. No more going into City Main until I arrive,” the father instructed. “Ingratiate yourself. Bring the Harvesters into the fold and perhaps you may find yourself worthy of my chair one day.”
‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,’ Buddy thought inwardly.
“Keep your brothers in line. Work hard.” It sounded as though The Cappy was signing off. “Oh, and Bernard, if I find out you are lying about the whereabouts of Ms McInney and your grandfather, my father, died as a result, you and I are going to go a long walk. If it weren’t for respect of my father and his wishes you would be on your way back to me right now. Lay low, charm the Harvester farm hands and make yourself useful to them in any way they need. Am I clear?”
“Yeah,” Buddy replied.
Buddy closed the call. He looked across to the fields where he could see Julia tending to the meat herd. She looked up and caught him watching. She smiled and she waved. He waved back.
The milking sheds were where Buddy and his brothers decided they liked best. Buddy tried his hand at the farm work, more to impress Julia than to appease his father. It turned out that being the golden boy of a ranch and doing actual farm work were two completely different things. It was muddy, smelly and a complete pain in Buddy Owen’s ass.
“The milking herd needs dealt with,” Curtis warned him.
“I ain’t milking no damn cow,” Buddy protested.
Chad clasped his nipples. “It’s easy Bud. You just grab and pull. Coop? You try. Grab my nipples.”
Cooper, leaning against a fence with his arms folded, shook his head. “I ain’t tugging on your tits brah.”
Buddy shoved Chad in frustration. “You got milk? Are you a fucking cow?”
Julia Harvester, carrying an empty bucket of feed, approached them.
“Something wrong boys?” she asked in a sweetened tone as though she hadn’t noticed the commotion that was starting to gather between them.
Chad had stopped dead. He was still clasping his nipples. Buddy punched his shoulder again so he would stand straight.
“I grew up on a ranch,” Buddy stuttered. “My family own a ranch.”
Julia smiled. “So you must be at home here then?”
Buddy nodded his head smoothly. “I got it all under control. Don’t you worry ma’am.”
A Great States cowboy was surely impressive. Julia Harvester of the Harvester brand didn’t seem to be so sure though.
“That’s good,” she said. “You’ll know then that the milking herd can get a little uncomfortable if they aren’t milked.”
“Yeah,” Buddy agreed. “I was just telling my bros that. They gotta be juiced.”
Chad frowned. “He doesn’t know how to milk a cow. None of us do…”
Buddy shot him a warning glare.
“Don’t worry,” Julia assured. “You’ll learn. I bet you can ride a horse better than anyone though…”
Buddy beamed at the massage of his ego. “Yeah I ride. I ride really good. I ride better than anyone.”
Julia gave a coy giggle. “I’ll bet you do. Maybe later you can ride with me. But right now what we need is milking.” She took his hand and stretched out his index finger. She clutched it softly but firmly. “It’s easy,” she smiled, catching him in eye contact. “You just hold the teat firm.” She began to run her hand along his finger’s length. “And tug gently. The milk will come out.” Buddy’s mouth was agape. The brothers were staring at it to. “Milk,” she stroked. “Milk. Milk. Milk.”
Buddy was lost in the sensation of her grip. She dropped his hand. “I would do it myself but I’m just so busy.”
“I’ll milk those cows for you ma’am,” Buddy straightened his shoulders and stuck out his chest. “No worries there. My ranch, I grew up on a ranch, so I know cows.” He hoped he was having some kind of cowboy appeal. “Just leave it to me.” He turned to his brothers. “Okay, bros, didn’t I say we were to milk the cows?”
Coops nodded. “Sure, brah…”
Chad added an enthusiastic, “got your back, brah!”
Buddy stuck his chest out again. He tightened his shoulders hoping she would notice his natural swimmer’s build. “We’ll do thing you need.”
Julia giggled. “If you could do some milking we would appreciate it.”
Buddy watched her leave. A few paces ahead she stopped, turned and flashed him a smile.
“To the milking sheds!” Buddy announced.
Julia passed Glenn who had been watching the entire affair from a distance. She rolled her eyes. Glenn gave a laugh.
“Keep an eye on them,” she ordered.
Debs, Harvester Farm’s largest dairy cow, shuffled and groaned distractedly as Buddy clutched onto two of her teats.
“Milk. Milk. Milk,” he chanted as he squeezed and started to fill a metal bucket. Cooper found himself at the excretion end of the animal. Standing, underwhelmed he watched Debs relieve herself onto the shed floor. The Kappa So bro wrinkled his nose.
“Chad?” Buddy called to the brother on the other side of the cow. “What the fuck, brah?”
Chad was pulling on the teat vigorously like a porn star tugging on a throbbing cock. He stopped, spat on it and continued with gusto. Coopers eyes widened as he leaned over to inspect what was going on.
“Chad!” Buddy barked again.
Chad finally stopped.
“Sorry Bud,” he said. “I was just doing what the girl showed us.”
Buddy and Cooper shared an astonished look. “She didn’t fucking spit on it.”
“Mooooo,” Debs became restless. She took a few steps forward, almost knocking the bucket over.
“See,” Chad objected. “She was enjoying it.”
Debs shook her head and cried out again.
Buddy grinned. “Suck it,” he teased.
Chad looked at the teat. “No way brah. I’m lactose intolerant.”
“Just suck it,” Buddy pressed.
His facial expression dissolved into a mischievous grin. Chad looked to Cooper who said nothing but raised an eyebrow.
Chad giggled. He shuffled forward to reach Debs again. He gripped the teat and stuck his tongue out. Before he could close his mouth around it Buddy grabbed another teat and squirted the milk in Chad’s face.
“Ewww,” Chad complained. “It’s warm!”
The other two began to laugh. Chad joined in. Buddy had been laughing so hard he fell against Debs who started to object.
“Mooo!” She complained.
Buddy slapped her hind.
“Shut up or I’ll make you a steak.”
Debs tried to turn, knocking into Cooper who ended up with the rest of her faeces on him. She bumped into Buddy again too. Her strength almost knocked him from his feet and into the deposit she had left on the shed floor.
“Fuck! We gotta calm this cow down!” yelled the Kappa So chapter leader.
He snatched up a branding iron. There was nothing to heat it, but swung with enough force it could severely injure even a well-built animal like Debs.
“Bud, brah, I wouldn’t do that,” said Cooper.
“I’m gonna knock it out. That’s what you do, right? Put these things out their misery.”
The humiliation from Reginald Penn, the chastising from The Cappy, the missing golden cock. All of it boiled in Buddy Owen. He swung the iron. Luckily she had turned again and instead of cracking her skull he hit her hind quarters. The animal screamed in pain.
“Bud!” warned Cooper. “I don’t think that’s how you calm them.”
Chad who, had cleaned his face with an old rag, offered his expertise. “Yeah, brah, that’s just gonna piss it off.”
Between the three oh so genius minds they possessed they each suggested ways of calming Debs so they could get their milking done. All of which the poor animal objected to quite vehemently.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
The bros stopped dead. In the doorway glaring brutally was Glenn. He was clutching his cattle prod tightly by his side. If you may imagine the scene he uncovered you will understand why the farm hand was annoyed.
The brothers filtered out of the barn. Glenn watched them with his lip curled, keeping the doorway as blocked as his frame would allow so they would be forced to squeeze past him with their heads lowered.
When they had cleared the area he approached the animal and gave her a soothing pat on the neck.
“Don’t listen to them, lass,” he said. “They’re just assholes.”
She tried to run but she bumped into a bucket of manure, almost knocking it over.
“Whatcha doing?” Chad asked as he snatched the little girl by the arm. Chad estimated she was about six or seven years old.
“Get off,” the little girl growled. She lifted her foot and kicked him on the shin.
Chad lost his grip on her as he tried to massage his leg.
She squealed and she ran. Her exit from the stables was prevented by Buddy.
“Where are you going?” he asked with a grin.
“Let me go shit head or I’ll call my daddy.”
Buddy frowned. “Who the fuck’s your daddy?”
“Him.” The little girl pointed outside. Glenn was directing some of the farm hands in the west acre, as they stared to round up the meat herd.
Buddy thought about The Cappy’s warning again. He thought about Glenn’s reaction to the bros meeting his daughter. Mostly he thought about Julia’s tits.
“Hello, little lady,” he grinned. “My name’s Buddy.”
“We’ve got enough shit up our asses without the kid making a fuss,” Buddy reasoned.
“Shut the fuck up!” Buddy pointed at him. “You know what I meant. We will find the golden cock, we will get back to the Chapter House and I’m gonna bone that farm girl.”
“Sure Bud,” Chad agreed.
Buddy turned back to the little girl who had sat herself on a bale of hay.
“You’re alright little lady. He won’t hurt you.”
The little girl pursed her lips and folded her arms. “I’ll kick his balls if he tries.”
Buddy laughed heartily. To his brothers he said, “I like her. She reminds me of my mama. What’s your name?”
“Susie,” the little girl answered.
“You know the farm lady?” he pressed.
Susie frowned. “You mean Julia? Yeah. She’s my friend. She gave me a room in the farmhouse all to myself.”
“Cool,” Buddy replied. “If you talk me up to her and tell her what a stand up guy I am I’ll make it worth your while.”
Susie grinned. Her full cheeks reddened. “You fancy her?” She put to the Kappa So leader.
Buddy’s grin extended further. “You don’t understand, kid. When adults like each other they really want to bone. I want to bone that farm girl.”
Susie giggled and hid her mouth behind her hand. Buddy laughed too. He enjoyed playing big brother. His real sister, Beth, was a pain in the ass but little Susie, with her Bournton spirit, charmed him.
“She has lots of boyfriends,” Susie explained. “But I like you. I want you to be her boyfriend.”
Buddy cheered. “Sure you do!”
He lifted the little girl up and heaved her onto his shoulder. “Cause we are Kappa So little lady and you’re our new mascot. Any ya’ll wanna mess with my lil sis here you’re gonna have me to deal with.”
Susie giggled as Buddy paraded her around the barn.
“We are Kappa So!” He cried. “What are we?”
“Kappa So!” Susie replied in a cheer.
“Yeah we are.”
“Susie,” barked Glenn, who had taken note of his daughter’s disappearance from the farm house.
Buddy laid Susie down.
“I just came to pet the horses,” the little girl explained. “We were just playing, daddy.”
Glenn was unmoved. His focus was on Buddy although he spoke to the girl. “Get back to the house,” he ordered.
“But daddy, can’t I pet the horses?”
“Now,” Glenn barked. Susie said nothing further. She gave one last smile to Buddy before slipping off back to the farm house.
Glenn’s scowl was severe.
“Stay away from my daughter,” he warned the brothers. There would be no misunderstanding the serious of his statement.
Buddy raised his hands. “She came to us. She’s a cute kid. I was just playing around.”
Glenn took in all three of them. “Get on with your work.”
Buddy returned to work with a lighter air. Susie would be telling Julia how much she liked him. Buddy liked the little mascot. Like all mascots she was going to spur the team on to victory.
Susie came rushing into the Farm House where she found Julia at the kitchen table with Dr Nathan Watt. Nathan had been in charge of her father’s care before Winslow took over and confined the old Harvester to Harbour House. He and Julia remained close friends. She had expressed something of an interest in being a couple and sharing their life together. She had made it clear though that nothing could happen until she had secured stability on her farm. The stability was there now but the affections she promised were not. She was probably one of the most sought after women in the Shady City. Not only was she beautiful and alluring but she also brought a long established name with her. Julia Harvester had her fair share of suitors. Nathan could only continue to hope she meant to keep to her promises. He just had to hope a better option didn’t come along in the meantime.
“Jules! Jules!” Susie called excitedly. “I was talking to the man in the stables and he likes you.”
Julia laughed. “Now, now, buttercup, don’t go spreading stories.”
“He does,” insisted Susie. “Buddy said he’s my bro and he wants to bone you.”
Julia laughed again. Nathan was frowning though.
“Susie,” Julia chastised. “That’s not the way for a young lady to speak.”
“It’s true though,” Susie continued her protest. “I’m the new Kappa So mascot.”
“Keep away from those boys Susie,” Nathan warned. “Your father wouldn’t want you talking to them.”
Ignoring Nathan, Susie spoke to Julia. “I like Buddy. He’s funny. He should be your boyfriend Jules. Daddy said he’s a fucktard – whatever that means – but you like him, right?”
“Sure Susie,” Julia assured. “I like Buddy.”
Susie was content with this. She felt she had completed her duties well. Dr Nathan Watt wasn’t so sure though. He didn’t like that Julia was allowing Kappa So such leeway on the farm.
The rectory was silent. There were many candles lit, like sparkling little jewels but Nan Harvester – mother to Julia and head of Harvester Farm – lit another. A gust of wind caused it to dance as though it was taking a message to her dearly departed husband, Jacob.
She clasped the St Wigan pin on her chest and bowed her head in prayer. Her thoughts were soon interrupted by the door to the rectory clicking closed behind her. She looked up to find Dr Winslow. She smiled a pleasant smile.
“If my girl knew you were here, doctor, she would have some repercussions for you.”
Winslow raised his hands in submission.
“It wasn’t her I came to see,” he said. “It was your good self. How have you been my dear?”
“Just fine, doctor, just fine,” she replied.
“Being a widow suits you,” Winslow commented.
“Grief can always look becoming on a woman if worn a certain way. Right now my focus is on my children and my foundation.”
“I’d like to get involved with your foundation. The Owen’s owe me some support.”
“I knew the Reverend Owen very well. He was one of the charity’s biggest supporters. My little kiddies did so well from him.”
Winslow grinned. “You needn’t play any pretences with me, my dear. I know all about the girls the Reverend had shipped over using the foundation. I was the one to assess them.”
Nan clutched the Wigan pin on her chest again. She turned back to her candle.
“We’re the best of friends, doctor, but as I said my daughter would not be best pleased with you being here. A mother has to protect her little children.”
“Family is of the utmost importance,” agreed Winslow. “As you will know from your husband’s care, we are all like family.”
Nan closed her eyes as though in prayer. “What’s your point?”
“I have a generous donation to give to your foundation. It can be made available any time. I am trying to reopen Harbour House and I need your support in shooing off those pesky Law Makers. Your daughter could make trouble for me in doing this. She’s an ambitious girl and needs a mother’s loving guidance.”
Nan opened her eyes again but kept her focus on the altar.
“I heard that Micky managed to halt the investigation for the time being.”
“Things became – shall we say – difficult to manage. Julia busied herself trying to escape my grasp when all I ever wished to do was help her flourish.”
Nan blessed herself. “Yes, she told me all about what you wanted to do with her.” She tutted. “Looking for more of the same then, are you?”
“In exchange for a generous donation you can make sure your daughter plays nice whilst I clear the mess and have my facility reopened.”
Nan asked, “How generous?”
Winslow grinned. Keen that he was making headway. Winslow had some old scores to settle with Buddy Owen and it wouldn’t be Julia who would give him that opportunity, it would be Nan. With the Beckingridge Firm and Owen Inc. conducting a bidding war to become investors in the brand, he wanted a piece of that pie.
“As generous as it needs to be,” he said.
Nan took his hand in hers. Her long, bony digits clasped tightly. She closed her eyes, bowed her head and clutched her Wigan pin again.
“Pray with me doctor,” she said.
There were a few acres between the Harvester Farm and their nearest neighbours but as Nan drove the Harvester van towards the main farm route Mrs Pellman was passing the opposite way in her own pick-up truck and flagged her down. Nan pulled gently to a stop. Mrs Pellman did likewise and climbed out. The two women met at the side of a quiet, dusty road.
“How are you, Nan?” Mrs Pellman asked amicably.
Nan smiled sweetly. “Good. Good. As well as can be expected.”
Mrs Pellman gave a suitably sympathetic smile. “If there’s anything I can do to help please let me know.”
Nan reached out and took the other woman’s hand. Mrs Pellman took note of the tea length dress Nan wore. It wasn’t completely funeral black. There was a white feather pattern across it. The Wigan pin still sat proudly on her breast.
“When the ladies and I heard about poor Jacob dying in hospital we rushed right round to check on young Julia.”
“Yes. She told me about the beautiful basket the ladies gave her and how delicious Mrs Manny’s pot roast was.”
“We haven’t seen you around for a while,” Mrs Pellman commented. “Or your boy Jonathan.”
Nan needed to go. She had promised she would be around to check on the new arrivals.
“My foundation was keeping me busy abroad,” she said. “Jon was kind enough to come along and assist me.”
Mrs Pellman nodded consolingly. “I’ve been watching all the news about your charity. You are doing great work for those young girls.”
Nan beamed. “We’ve now reached more countries than ever, helping little girls get educated, setting them up, giving them a start in life. When Jacob and I did our little tour before Jon was born I saw all those little girls and the lives they were destined for. I just knew I had to do something.”
Mrs Pellman agreed. “You’re a kind soul. The ladies and I are having lunch next Friday at your Harvester Café in main. Do come along and join us. Bring Julia too. The ladies just love Julia.”
Nan began to put distance between herself and her neighbour. “That sounds lovely. I must dash. There’s still so much to be done.”
“Don’t let me keep you.” Mrs Pellman was apologetic. “Call me though if you need anything and I’ll pop right round.”
Nan opened the van door again. “Thank you. You are too kind.”
With a wave the two women parted. Nan drove the van along the long path that led onto Harvester farm and to the house. She parked the van in front of the entrance to the farmhouse.
In the main hall Jonathan was waiting for her with a phone in his hand.
“The new arrivals have just came in,” he stated.
Nan kissed his lips, long, lingering.
“Go check that those frat boys aren’t tearing up the fields again. I’ll look at the new arrivals from the study.”
“Yes mum,” he said.
The house was quiet. Everyone was busy. Nan locked the study door behind her. One couldn’t be too careful.
The home screen on the computer was a photo of her, Jacob and their two children, smiling widely, full of hopes, full of love. A happy family.
She clicked on the notification. She was more computer savvy than most people her age. She had taken some classes at Coldford Central library. William was a very patient and informative instructor.
The notification brought her to a series of photographs. They were of a girl. Aged twelve, black. She had full lips and a ripe young body. She was bound and gagged. Her eyes were rolling with the drugs they had given her. She was bruised badly. They had been violent in their extraction but never mind. Nan smiled. She lifted the phone. It was time to let the foundation supporters know the new arrivals were in place.
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