The ascent to the top of the Faulds Park building in City Main was a journey all of its own. If I held my breath at the bottom I would have gotten dizzy – perhaps even fainted – by the time I reached the penthouse. Luckily, I didn’t have to test that theory.
The elevator doors opened into a wide-open space with polished floors and classic paintings on the wall. It was chic, it was showy, it was the palace of the King of City Main.
“How are you?” I asked Rita Penn who had been kept safe after being extracted from the airport by Agent Franklin Rhodes.
She was still holding Franklin’s hand. She patted it fondly.
“Franklin has been keeping me company,” she stated.
Franklin beamed a cheery smile.
“She’s been showing me the family albums,” he teased. “Seeing the triplets in a very different light.”
Rita laughed. She looked calm and it seemed a connection had been built between them that suited them. There was always going to be a weight on our shoulders though until she had confirmed the safety of her boys.
“Any word on Reggie?” she asked.
I took a seat on the sofa across from her.
“I’m not one of the agents,” I explained to her. “My name is Sam Crusow. I’m a reporter.”
“Which paper?” she asked.
This was a loaded question. In Coldford being a writer for the Daily in City Main or for the Express in the Shanties could make a world of difference.
“I’m independent,” I told her. “Formerly of the Daily but I left.”
Rita nodded. “Oh yes,” she said. “You wrote the piece on the Knock Knock Club. You were looking for Mayor Feltz.”
“That’s correct. I’d like to ask you some questions about your family.”
Rita didn’t seem too eager at first. Franklin sweeping her away from the airport had spooked her. Reggie’s ordeal had horrified her. Now that she had a reporter in front of her, I could see why she would be upset. She smiled politely though.
“No,” she said. “I’ll not do that. I should speak to my husband.”
“I want to do everything I can to help find Reggie. I can help piece things together if you work with me.”
“Okay,” she agreed with a shudder. “What would you like to know?”
“Whoooeeh boy! That cage is starting to stink,” Billy Owen announced with a grin. “E’body knows the smell of human shit really burns your nostrils.”
Reggie Penn had been put into one of his rat cages in what Billy Owen’s cohorts would call the stress position. Reggie’s weight was concentrated on his hunched legs, one of which had an impacted fracture in the femur. He couldn’t stand or stretch out because if he did …
The cage had been electrified. To touch any of the bars would send several volts through his already beaten body. Several broken ribs and a fractured skull made his hunched position even more painful.
He hadn’t spoken any words since his capture. He had only given some cries of pain. They had brought him to a Penn warehouse located at the back of City Main, towards the northern farmlands. It was a lesser-known location, with the larger Penn warehouses being located in Luen.
Billy was starting to grow bored.
“I’m not surprised it stinks. He’s done nothing but shit himself since he got here.”
It didn’t help that he had forced enemas down his throat. The diarrhea had left the prisoner further weakened and dehydrated.
Reggie’s gaze was locked on the body of a rat he had named Smash. He was named after a character in the Coby Games Lonesome Nights franchise. Smash was being rotated on a spit, cooking thoroughly. Between the diarrhea and the cooking rat, the flies were beginning to gather.
“Wooooosh!” Buddy came running through with all the enthusiasm of a boy on Christmas morning. He hopped up on top of the cage.
Another rat named Jacket, so called because of the colouring around his torso, had been stuffed. A trusted taxidermist had attached propellers to the rodent so that it could fly around the room. Buddy was having a lot of fun working the propellers.
“Look, Bill, I don’t give a flying fuck!” he was laughing.
Billy had just come off the phone.
“Bud?” he called to his cousin. “Buddy?”
Buddy leaped from the cage clutching his rear end as volts shot through his backside. The rat fell out of the air.
“You shocked my ass, brah!”
Billy slapped the back of his head.
“I got some work to do here,” he said. “I ain’t got time for your shit.”
Reggie groaned a little. Billy turned to him.
“What you say?” he asked.
It hadn’t been words, mainly a grimace but Billy focused on his prisoner. He reached through the cage and pulled him against the bars. There was a collar around his neck which was used in method called ‘walling’, where it could be used to easily slam the prisoner’s head against the wall. It was a method that had been disbanded decades ago, but there were no rules to follow when Billy Owen had been given free reign over one of those responsible for the murder of the highly-regarded Pops.
“I know you’re tired being passed around for a poking but you’re going to have to stay with me. I want you clear and lucid when King Daddy comes here so you can see what we’re gonna do to him.”
Buddy had fallen quiet as he watched Reggie. He seemed unmoved. He was surely in a lot of pain.
“Maybe we should at least take him out of there, brah,” he suggested. “He’s gonna pass out if he keeps more pressure on that leg.”
Billy gave a deep sigh. “Now I know you did not just tell me how to do my job, little bro.”
Buddy shrugged. “We could get him stuffed,” he suggested. He started to chuckle at the idea of a stuffed King of Main.
Billy started to laugh too. “We could fly him over City Main. King’s gonna get ya! King’s gonna get ya! While your stuffed dead daddy is buzzing around, that there spit is just aching to pound and turn your mama.”
Buddy took a moment to observe Reggie’s reaction. There was little but a slight grimace of pain.
“First thing’s first,” he went on.
He approached another one of the rat cages and pulled out a white female named Lorry. She squeaked quite fearfully in Billy’s grip.
“What you doing, brah?” Buddy asked.
Billy dug his knife into the rodent’s belly. With a death croak he pulled the guts free. He flicked them onto his prisoner.
“I heard King Daddy called my Pops a hillbilly freak. That’s mighty unkind. You’ll find we’re hospitable people. So, you’re gonna enjoy this hillbilly buffet whilst we wait on him coming for ya.”
Buddy insisted again. “He’s gonna pass out.”
When Billy slapped him over the back of the head again he insisted, “I’m just saying.”
“If I hear another word outta you I’m gonna put you right in there with him, little bro,” Billy warned. “Hush your mouth powder fiend or I’ll make you eat every rat in this damn place and that includes the ones that ain’t in cages.”
When he noticed Reggie had been watching his exchange with his cousin, Billy asked, “What you looking at, rat boy? I’ll cut your little dick off. I don’t have to keep you with your dick intact you know. He’s my little cuz so I like to pull his pisser from time to time. It keeps him in line. You, on the other hand, I can have some fun with until your daddy gets here.”
Billy stepped back. His nose wrinkled.
“Agh!” he called. “How many enemas was he given? He’s shitting again.”
‘City funds. City funds. City funds.’
Micky Doyle’s mind was focused on the financial future of Coldford as he was escorted to the top of Beckingridge Tower.
Elizabeth’s assistant Mark eyed him with some distaste. At first Micky thought he had arrived late, but he hadn’t. He had arrived just in time. Perhaps Mark just didn’t like politicians.
“Go right on through,” Mark beckoned.
The penthouse office of Beck Tower was immense. It was so large and overbearing that it was uncomfortable, cold and lacking personality. It was very much like a dark cave. Micky himself was no stranger to it. He had been there to visit Ernest Beckingridge many times before. Ernest had tried politics but he didn’t really have the stomach for it. The run for the hot seat took a very specific kind of spirit. It was one that the Beckingridge CEO just didn’t have. There were manuscripts for a new novel on Elizabeth Beckingridge’s desk. The author turn interim CEO was not there. A draft charged across the room. Micky pulled his jacket closer. He crossed to the window. He looked down onto the courtyard below where fifty-nine people had tumbled to their deaths, including up and coming accounts exec Evan Heath. Evan had been a close friend of Micky. His wife Sonya had too. He shuddered again, glad he hadn’t been there that night.
“Thanks for joining us, Micky,” Elizabeth called to him as she emerged from an adjoining room.
He was about to correct her and suggest she use his proper title but the words caught in his throat when he saw she was accompanied by Reginald Penn.
Reginald appeared calm but his chin had tightened. Belta slithered down from his sleeve. Micky backed off. He wasn’t much of a track star but he could try to run.
“The door has been locked,” said Elizabeth, sensing what he was thinking.
Micky looked towards the more direct route, the window. Hadn’t it been Marcus Penn who bid that heaving farewell to Evan? Simon Penn the hand that pushed Sonya?
“I’m calling the police,” Micky stated.
“Do,” Reginald suggested. “You can ask them where my boy is or you can tell me.”
Micky’s mind spun quickly. The Boss, he remembered. Marcus and Simon were in The Boss. But that wasn’t it. There was the third. They were triplets.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Why should I know?”
Elizabeth put in, “Because you’re Mayor, your cousin is head of the Office of Law Makers who CPD answer to. Take your pick Michael.”
Reginald turned to her. She shrugged and gestured for him to carry on. Reginald started to close the distance between he and Micky. The tapping of his shoes on the marble floor echoed the pulsating of his heart.
“Word is he was taken by CPD, frat brothers in uniform. Where would they take him?”
Micky whimpered. “I don’t know.”
He tried to edge towards the door. It was locked but at least he could step away from that damn window.
“Where is he?” Reginald roared. “Where is Junior?”
Micky looked to Elizabeth. Her faced had drained of colour. There was a pleading in her eyes that said, ‘for God’s sake just tell him what he wants to know.’
“I don’t know where he is,” Micky said. “He was supposed to go to Harbour House. He was supposed to be placed in Winslow’s care.”
Reginald shook his head. Belta’s coils twisted around his hand.
“No!” Micky pleaded. “Please no.”
Suddenly the window was looking like the better option. Elizabeth put her hand to her mouth. It looked as though she was going to be sick.
“I don’t know where he is.”
Belta’ tightened further. She was determined to strike.
“Not in my office, Reginald,” Elizabeth put him.
“Do you know what they did to him?” Reginald asked the mayor.
Micky had heard of the video but he hadn’t had the stomach to watch it. He needed some deniability in situations like this.
“I don’t know where he is,” Micky sobbed.
Reginald growled. “Then you’re no fucking good to me.”
Elizabeth screamed, “Reginald!” as Belta’ swung.
Micky threw his hands in the air.
“Stop!” he squealed. “Tabitha is still alive. I know where Tabitha is.”
Reginald lowered his arm. Belta’ swung with disappointment. The taste for blood was still tingling in her links.
“You have to be kidding,” said Elizabeth.
She looked a little more like herself again. The sickness seemed to have passed.
“It’s true,” the mayor insisted. “When the Office of Law Makers pulled her execution date forward to crush troubles in the Shanties she was moved to a Monte Fort annex. They believe she was given the lethal injection but she’s still alive.”
“Prove it,” Reginald challenged. “Let me speak to her.”
“I can’t,” Micky said.
Reginald growled. He swung Belta’ again and she wrapped herself viciously around the mayor’s neck. Micky gargled but Belta’s constriction was too tight.
“Really, Reginald?” Elizabeth exclaimed, pushing herself against her desk.
Reginald lowered himself so he was speaking directly into Micky’s ear.
“You had better confirm what you’re saying is true or I end you right here and now.”
“Not in my office,” Elizabeth insisted but Reginald ignored her.
Micky tried to say something but asphyxiation was making it almost impossible.
Belta’ loosed her grip.
“She’ll still be executed. It was just time. You can’t go into the annex.”
“Then get someone who can…” Reginald warned.
“Faulty wiring,” suggested Elizabeth. “Send in Coby engineers to grab a quick video feed.”
“Joshua Coby?” Micky exclaimed. “You can’t.”
Reginald yanked Belta’ causing her prey to emit a gasp.
“Do shut up Michael,” Elizabeth tutted. “It’s almost like you want the man to smash your skull in. If you can’t tell him where his son is then the least you can do is confirm what you’re saying.”
Micky agreed with a nod. His face was starting to redden and hives were starting to break out.
Micky made a call to Coby Games. As mayor he gave them the authorisation they needed to enter the Annex. Being based in Cardyne it was easily accessible for the Coby Games sparkies. Joshua himself was a survivor of the Free Fall Massacre. Through that he felt indebted to Tabitha, the details of which I would have to follow up at a later date. In the meantime, a tense half hour passed between the three at Beckingridge Tower. Few words were shared. Elizabeth poured herself a drink.
“That’s it,” Elizabeth announced as she closed a call from Joshua. She collected a remote from her desk and switched on the screen. it was blank at first. She linked it to the feed that Joshua had given her. A body cam on the shirt of one of the Coby Games staff moved through a narrow corridor. There was a flash of brick wall, a dusty floor, a couple of engineers in Coby boiler suits. There was a very narrow window and then a young woman. She looked up, still blinking at the addition of light in her existence and wincing at the noise of the engineers’ footsteps. She started to adjust. Her hazy mind comprehended her new reality. It was Tabitha. The real Tabitha. When she saw Reginald Penn looking at back at her, her lips spread to expose her gap-toothed grin.
“Reg?” she asked.
Reginald sighed the first bit of relief he had felt in some time.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Tabitha nodded weakly. “Can’t keep a good girl down,” she said.
It was a phrase Tawny always used in times of trouble. It had been one of the first things the show girl had said to him.
“Just hang tight, sweet heart,” Reginald said. “I’m coming to get you.”
Tabitha nodded. “If you could do something about my living arrangements that would be fan-fucking-tastic.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Reginald promised.
“If you’re quite finished,” said Elizabeth. “Can you clear my office please?”
Reginald had promised Elizabeth that in exchange for her putting him directly in touch with the mayor she wouldn’t have any trouble at the tower. The trembling body of Micky showed he was certain as soon as he stepped outside the tower, all bets would be off.
Elizabeth led them to a service elevator that took them out onto City Main. The instructions to Micky were that once he was clear of the area, the mayoral security he had brought with him would meet him at the Weir Hotel. He was not to breathe a word of Tabitha or Reginald. After facilitating the entrance of Coby Games to the annex, he wasn’t wanting to have to explain himself anyway.
“They are going to bring you in,” warned Micky.
Reginald took no notice of the warning. He knew what he had to do. He let the mayor live and continued in his path to find Reggie.
I had been in City Main at the time of the event I now wish to discuss. Lisa Luren from the Knock Knock Club had been given an old contact of Kev’s who used to supply Buddy Owen. Conveniently, he lived on the lower levels of the Faulds Park building. As I passed along Time Line where the boutiques, jewellery stores and chic cafés sat, screens everywhere were showing images of the still-missing Baroness.
“Did you know her?” I had asked Lisa.
“No,” Lisa said. “But I heard a lot about her. I heard so much it felt like she was my aunt too.”
I was pondering over this when the screens started to flicker.
City Main was his kingdom, but his kingdom was under siege. Reginald Penn had pulled some of his Loyalist support from attacking Kappa So strongholds to help find Reggie. The destruction of the distillery lit fire to that powder keg. He had received word Rita was safe so at least that was something.
A sudden darkness gave him cause to stop. It was like there had been a power surge. The Beckingridge Tower screen flickered on. Tawny’s image was replaced by Tabitha’s.
The crowds of City Main stopped to watch. A woman who had been holding her son’s hand was pulled back. He pointed up. Staring straight into the lens Tabitha greeted the Shady City of Coldford with a brash, gap-toothed smile.
“Hello tiny peoples of Coldford,” she said. “Those of you who matter know who I am. Those of you who don’t are going to by the time I’m done. I’m coming to you live from some Law Maker hole and in case you didn’t get the message, loud and fucking clear, I’m still alive…”
Agnes had been returning to the Mid-East from a meeting with the agents. She had been heading towards City Stadium where the screens showed Tabitha as though she had appeared from beyond the grave.
“You know something?” Tabitha was going on. “I’m not even pissed at the audacity of you cunts. I’m just going to smile and be the bigger person. They told you I was dead and if you believed them then you’re bigger cunts than they are.”
Agnes clasped her hand to her mouth.
“Oh God!” she said.
A crowd had gathered behind her to watch too.
As agreed, Micky’s security met with him in the hotel lobby. They could see he was a little shaken. He buttoned up his collar so as to hid the marks on his neck. The security didn’t ask questions. It wasn’t their job to. He wanted to return to City Face. It was starting to turn into a rather stressful day.
The City Main masses were all watching in the same direction. Something was happening. Micky stepped outside of the Weir just in time to hear Tabitha’s voice booming over her captive audience.
“They say they want us to follow the rules. What fucking rules? They keep changing those rules to suit their own. I stand here before you case and point.”
Micky shook his head. He drew out his phone to call Karyn but before he could punch in the numbers Tabitha went on.
“The Law Makers can suck cock for all I care. Every last one of them. What are they going to do? Kill me? They don’t have the balls.”
Micky decided then it would be best to visit Karyn personally.
The artist, David Finn, had been at Starkland Park in the Shanties, collecting tickets for him and a friend for the next Coldford Athletic game. He and Tawny being close friends in Harbour House, she had shown him many photos of his niece so he recognised her immediately.
“Holy fucking shit!” he cried.
He raised his hands above his head as though his treasured team had just scored.
“I want the people of the Shanties to know that you’re not the vermin in the city. They are,” Tabitha was saying. “They look down on us as though we’ve shat in their shoes. They come to rape us, rob us, abuse our kids, kill us and we’re the ones out of order? Heavens fucking forfend we stand up for ourselves.”
It didn’t stop at Starkland Park. All around the Shanties – shopping district screens, sports arenas, pub screens – they relayed Tabitha’s message.
“You don’t have to put up with that shit. You don’t have to take a bit of what those cunts at the Court House have to say. And if any of those Kappa So wankers think they can talk, guess what? You don’t have to put up with that either.”
As though the Almighty was speaking to them from above, a fire sparked in the people of the south.
“Shit,” exclaimed one bro to another.
Swarms of people would start to leave their homes and they would find themselves outnumbered.
“Things are getting pretty shitty so it’s time for a little change,” said Tabitha. “Sometimes to make a point you got to give a bitch a real slap to the face. I’m looking at you Judge Doyle, cunt.”
Vans filled with Kappa So bros departed the Shanties. Tabitha’s warning was resonating. The people of the Shanties were listening.
“I must dash but you can rest assured the Knock Knock Club will open again. I’ll be joining you soon enough. In the meantime, keep fighting. Don’t let those cunts push you around. We’ll have them on their knees begging to suck our cocks because, you know why? The Boss Lady is back. Until next time…byeeee! Oh, and I want my dress fucking cleaned.”
At that the footage cut out. The collective city fell silent.
It seemed when Reginald had closed his contact to her Tabitha had held the Coby engineers behind for a performance of her own.
“I always wanted to be on TV,” had been her sentiment.
It was a performance the entire city had seen. It was a performance Aunt Tee would be proud of. It was a real show stopper. Where did that leave the rest of us? What in the Hell would she do next?
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The Browning house had a strange atmosphere. It had been inhabited for ten years and yet it felt like no one had dared crossed the boundary. There were some newer throw pillows on the battered old sofa but they too were filthy. The windows had heavy shutters. The curtains were dusty and thick with mould. ‘How could anyone have lived here?’ Winslow wondered to himself. Vincent Baines, his Harbour House resident, had described it to him many times but he never imagined it to be so filthy. The music teacher had thought to go there for safety but that hadn’t worked out so well for him, now had it? It didn’t work out well for the doctor either, trying to help George, and it wouldn’t work out for Julia. George was a special case. He wasn’t quite driven by his lust the way most young men were. He had his desires but they were different. He didn’t quite think with his brain either the way sane people would.
The doctor had come to the Browning house as instructed, he couldn’t stay in the city where the scope of an Owen’s gun could be on him at any time. He didn’t plan on spending much time there. He would be back on top soon enough and when he did he would be putting Julia out of the game for good.
His heart skipped a beat as the cheap phone he had bought at a store in Bournton rattled on the table. One of the chairs had been broken, no doubt by George in a temper. Micky Doyle was the only person he had given the number to in a message that read:
HAVE TO BE OUT OF TOWN FOR A WHILE. I AM NOT ABROAD SO YOUR COUSIN NEEDN’T WORRY. I CAN BE BACK IN THE CITY WITHIN THE HOUR. SINCERELY G WINSLOW.
The doctor quickly answered the phone. The remoteness of the house made everything seem so much louder.
“Yes Micky? Yes?” he welcomed.
“Good gracious Gregory, where are you?”
Winslow looked at a pair of white briefs that had been discarded on the floor.
“Never mind that,” he said. “I hope you have some good news for me.”
Micky chuckled. “I do indeed. My cousin has finished her investigation into Harbour House.”
Winslow clutched his chest. It was a much needed relief. “I’m so glad.” His stronghold was coming back to him. “I trust all was well?”
Micky replied, “If you hadn’t been hiding yourself away you could have been here to witness the entire thing. They found nothing. It was really quite splendid. Now Karyn is annoyed at the resources that were wasted. The keys of the facility are to be handed over but we need you here to sign the documents.”
It had been a long time since Winslow had felt so jovial.
“You’re sure it is safe?” he asked. “It all went well?”
His good friend Micky Doyle assured it couldn’t have gone better. He was Mayor Micky Doyle now and what was sitting on the Hot Seat of the Shady City if you couldn’t help your friends?
“I have an appointment for you with Karyn at one o’clock but you have to hurry. Do not be late, Gregory. You know she won’t reschedule.”
Gregory tried to remember if Karyn Doyle was an early or late luncher. One o’clock could be a time when her belly was full and she was pacified. It could also be the time when she was still waiting with a ravenous hunger.
“Yes, Micky. Of course. I’ll be there right away.”
After Micky rang off Winslow stepped out on the gravel drive way. He gave thought to Buddy. Surely, he wasn’t still watching? The Browning house was isolated but that didn’t matter. Buddy could be hiding anywhere, still with his scope following him. He almost ducked for cover when a blackbird took flight from a nearby tree. He slipped into his car like a snake and drove away. He had an appointment with Judge Karyn Doyle, arranged by his good friend Micky, and The Judge would not reschedule. He had to collect his Harbour House keys or risk losing them for good. As he drove back to the city, his eyes returning to the rear-view mirror contantly, he was still unable to shake that feeling of Buddy watching him. At least he would be safe when he got inside the Court House. He would retrieve Harbour House and he would deal with Buddy Owen then.
Things were changing in the Shady City. Things were changing for the dominant names: Penn, Beckingridge, Harvester, Owen. But things were also changing for individuals, those who had sought to make a name for themselves like Winslow and like Tabitha, even reporters like myself. It took a certain distraction from humanity, a certain disregard for the value of life, honour and morals to succeed. This was something the eminent Doctor Winslow had in abundance.
As he raced along the City Main streets, still fearing being caught in Buddy’s scope, he almost collided with a woman who was carrying a load of Harvester goods in Harvester tote bags. The typical snobbish attitude of the people of City Main caused her nose to upturn.
“Watch where you are going!” she barked as she tried to steady her bags again.
Winslow started to help her with her bags but the bang of a car back firing caused him to abandon that pursuit.
The Court House was the Almighty’s waiting room in Coldford. The smell of polish on the mahogany, the brightness of the shine on the marble floor, all screamed power to Winslow. She was a difficult mistress to please but if she allowed you to sample her sweet delights she could pleasure like no other. Winslow knew this and he salivated at the idea of having a taste, having his Harbour House back complete with the stamp of approval from Judge Karyn Doyle herself. He didn’t want to seem over eager, nor did he want to seem complacent. He hadn’t had the chance to groom properly or brush his teeth at the Browning house so he was a little out of sorts.
“Put your best foot forward,” Papa would always say. “No one likes a man who pays no care to his presentation.”
Winslow was in full agreement with that but there just hadn’t been time for him to present himself properly. He needed Harbour House back and then he would present. Then he would present to the entire city.
“Excuse me, sir,” a Court Clerk stopped him. Her name was Diane and it had been she who had been there to meet in him Luen. She was one of Karyn’s minions, clearly an admirer. She was well presented. In fact, she was so well presented she could be a body double for the Judge herself. Well Diane, it seems your attempts to discredit the good doctor didn’t bore much fruit. If Karyn was annoyed at the wasted resources, Diane may just find herself being to blame.
“I have been personally requested by Her Honourable,” Winslow stated with pride. He couldn’t help but enjoy the way Diane’s face dropped. It added years to her. “I’ll head right on in if you please.”
The hall was lined with well equipped men. They were not bailiffs nor were they clerks. They were members of the much fabled Black Bands. They had been brought together by Sergeant Major Doyle with the intention of creating an elite team capable of stopping rebellions, uprisings and extreme civil unrest. Upon sight of them Winslow slowed his walk to a stop. They weren’t paying him any attention but they cast a dark shadow. He was almost at the point of turning and retreating when Micky leaned out of the door to Judge Doyle’s office.
“Gregory!” he called in a hushed but urgent tone. “Hurry. For God’s sake don’t keep her waiting.”
With his good friend Micky Doyle’s encouragement Winslow passed the Black Bands and entered the lair of The Judge. Karyn herself was sat behind her desk. Four pillars bearing the Law Makers symbol like eyes from above stood tall behind her. She had files placed before her.
Winslow took a seat. “It’s a pleasure Karyn. It’s so nice to see you.”
Karyn Doyle was unmoved. Her pale face expressionless. “I’m in office. You will address me with my proper title.”
“Yes, of course. I do apologise, Your Honour.”
The Judge lifted the first of the files. “On October 19th you were given notice to allow my bailiffs to audit your facility. You were also asked to deliver resident 0109 into my custody. Is that correct?”
Winslow looked to Micky first but the mayor said nothing.
“Yes, ma’am. That is correct,” he eventually replied.
“You refused to respond.”
The judge dropped the file on the table and collected the next.
“On October 25th the case was escalated further. You were served notice of audit and a warrant was given for resident 0109. Is that correct?”
Winslow blinked. They had already been through this. “Yes ma’am. That is of course correct.”
The second file was dropped. “Still you refused to respond.”
Winslow tried to explain, “It was a very busy time. I had so much to do and of course personal issues…Your office takes precedent but my residents were sick and in need of my care.”
The Judge scooped up the final file in her hand.
“On October 30th a full summons was granted and my bailiffs entered your facility by force.”
“I do sincerely apologise for that ma’am. I’m so sorry for any inconvenience that this issue may have caused. As I stated at the time I was under a great deal of pressure.”
Karyn Doyle narrowed her gaze. “Yes, we have documented that. We are also taking into consideration your assistance in the search for Tawny McInney. So now I am willing to move forward. After a thorough investigation of the facility my bailiffs found nothing.”
Winslow grinned. “We aim to heal, Your Honour. Harbour House is the greatest facility in Coldford and can help so many when it is reopened.”
The door opened without knocking. Van Holder of the Black Bands and a companion named Monsta’ – a huge man with an animalistic presence – entered. They stood by the door.
“My bailiffs found nothing. That was until one of your nurses, Beverly Myers, stepped forward,” Judge Doyle explained. “Gregory Winslow, you are under arrest.”
Monsta’ pulled Winslow from his chair.
“Wait!” Winslow screamed. “I’ve done nothing wrong! Beverly is a liar!”
Judge Doyle flicked open the last file. “Your charges are as follows. The torture and exploitation of at least thirty two victims including Martin Winslow and Alexander Ferrald. That number continues to grow. Also, for the murder of Mark McKenzie, Scott Cross and Laura Doyle. This number also continues to grow. Finally, multiple accounts of the rape of Julia Harvester.”
“Lies!” Winslow shrieked.”Micky! Tell her!”
“I’m also in the capacity of my office,” replied Micky. “That’s Mayor Doyle.”
Winslow wouldn’t be able to shake Monster’s grasp. After reading him his rights the Judge was not done.
“I hereby revoke your licence to practice medicine indefinitely. You are no longer to assume the doctor title and any attempts to re-register will be denied. You will now be remanded in custody until your trial. Given the nature and magnitude of your crimes no bail will be granted and I am authorising a full psychiatric evaluation.”
“Micky! Damnit all Micky! I am taking you down with me. I am taking you down!” Winslow shrieked as he was pulled from the office of The Judge.
The Penn Auction House, The Knock Knock Club, Harbour House. There were three down and one more to go. As Her Honourable Judge Karyn Doyle prepared for her next appointment her long shadow was cast over the map of Coldford plunging the Bellfield area into darkness, home of the Mack and Sons Distillery, provider of the finest whiskey in the Shady City and the current whereabouts of fugitive Patrick Mack.
The sailing was smooth, although Kumala had vomited a couple of times. She didn’t know how long she had been travelling for. Restless sleep had been intermittent. She and twenty other girls had been locked below deck. In the bottom of the boat was only darkness and the smell of rats. She was told she needn’t be frightened but she couldn’t help it. Her village had been celebrating her thirteenth birthday when they came. They took her and many of the other girls. They told them that they would have a better life. They would be like princess brides, similar to the ones she had read about in story books. Some of the girls didn’t want this. They disappeared through the night. The boat they had been crammed into didn’t seem much like the princess carriages from the books but maybe it would all get better when they reached their destination. One of the girls with them had been beaten by their escorts. She probably couldn’t speak their language. She had tried to comfort some of the other girls but communication was a problem. One of them – a twelve-year-old – had fallen unconscious. She was terribly dehydrated. The girl who couldn’t speak collected some of the rain water that was dripping down on them and rubbed it onto the girls dry, cracked lips.
Never had Kumala been enclosed with so many people and yet felt so alone. The boat continued to tear through the sea towards her destination. Kumala was told all of her dreams would come true in the City of Coldford. She hoped so.
It was early morning and the phone buzzing woke Nan Harvester. She leaned over and checked.
SHIPMENT 0612 has arrived.
She sat up. This was good. It had been the first shipment for a while. It was still dark outside. The farm would be stirring soon. She patted Jonathan lying beside her.
“Jonathan,” she whispered. “Jon? You have to get up. I have to go and I need you to keep an eye on things on the farm.”
Jonathan didn’t object. He sat up, stretched and slipped out of bed. Nan watched her son’s naked body as he disappeared into the adjoining bathroom. It was going to be a good day. Another shipment of nanny’s little naughties for the pot. She climbed out of bed herself and crossed to the window. She pulled the green curtains open and allowed the world in. The sun was just beginning to climb up to to the horizon.
She felt Jonathan’s arm slip around her waist, having returned from the bathroom. He was now wearing a beige pair of overalls that once belonged to his father.
“Have a good day, mum,” he said.
“I will Jon,” she replied. “The best day.”
By the time Nan arrived at Chamberlain Docks the daylight had dawned on Swantin. A beautiful warmth was glowing through the icy air. Nan met Harbour operator Anthony Runetti.
“Good to see you Nan,” he said. “I’ve got the Ferry Way heading to Hathfield at 11:40. It’ll be coming in to Port at nine. We’ll need your ship turned around by eight.“ Nan smiled sweetly. “I won’t even need that much time Anthony. I’ll be in and away before you know it, just like a little fairy.”
It was then he noticed the tote bag she was carrying. It was filled with fruit, vegetables and meat packets.
“This is for your mum,” she explained handing the bag over. “I’ve not had the chance to pop up and see her yet. You can give her this for me. I’ll be up to see her real soon. Let her know I haven’t forgotten her. I missed her at church last Sunday.”
Anthony collected the bag gratefully. He was supposed to oversee all shipments but he knew Nan. She stood as his confirmation sponsor at church when Uncle Roddy and his dad had a falling out. He supposed it would be no harm to let the sweet farmer’s wife through. Widowed, charitable, Christian woman. He had to take the groceries into the office and store them in the fridge anyway.
It wasn’t until she got to the gangway that the skipper opened the door. Light flooded onto the girls’ eyes. Kumala’s legs were weak. The mute girl offered her arm to help steady her.
Nan smiled at Kumala but it didn’t comfort her.
“I see the travel was a little snug girls. I’m ever so sorry. We couldn’t afford better, I’m afraid. We are a charity after all. But none of you should worry.” Kumala was pushed towards the skipper. “Separate the virgins from those sexually active. I’d like them put to work right away.” She rounded on the mute girl. “I don’t know this one,” she clutched the girl’s face. Exotic. Pure.
“A new addition,” the skipper explained. “She was last minute but we thought you would like her.”
Nan nodded. “I like her very much. She’s beautiful. What’s your name?” Nan asked the girl.
The girl looked to Kumala.
“Do you speak English?” Nan asked softly. She surveyed the other girls.
“The dummy has been thrown from the pram,” she said.
Nan frowned. “Excuse me?”
“Move! Move!” Cries were heard. A blockade was thrown down and a fleet of agents descended upon the scene.
Agents Kim, Lydia, Franklin and Reynolds were on the front line. There was nowhere to run.
Kim grabbed Nan’s arm. “Nan Harvester. I’m placing you under arrest for trafficking.”
Continuing to read her rights, the other agents looked to bring Skipper and the crew in.
Lydia took control of Kumala and the other girls.
“It’s okay. You are safe now,” she assured them. Franklin began to interpret in their native language.
“Well done, Agent Ragrag,” Kim congratulated the mute girl. Agent Ragrag was nineteen but given her youthful looks she had been chosen for the undercover mission. She had allowed herself to be taken and moved with the girls. She had been to hell and back but the girls were now safe. The mission was a success.
Like dominoes, the great pillars of Coldford continued to fall.
Having stayed away from the farm all day, it was well past dinner by the time Julia returned home. She dressed in something more comfortable and made her way back downstairs. As the door opened into the entry hall, she didn’t call a welcoming to any family or guests. She was expecting a quiet house that night. In a display of despair Jonathan came tearing from the lounge when he heard her footsteps.
“Jules!” he cried. “I’ve been trying to call you. Where have you been?”
Julia leaned casually by the window.
“I saw your missed calls. I just wasn’t answering.”
“It’s mum,” he explained. “She’s been arrested. They have her for trafficking. The Nan Foundation is closed pending further investigation. They won’t set bail. She’s going to prison. What are we going to do?”
“That is unfortunate,” said Julia softly. She took her brother’s hand. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. Nothing. We’re going to let her rot in prison for the rest of her life.” Jonathan pulled his hand away. His eyes widened. Julia went on, “She let him back in here. You have no idea what it is like to have his disgusting, trembling hands touch you, to satisfy his depraved appetites whilst you watch your father imprisoned in hospital. Do you have any idea what it is like to look into the eyes of someone who knows you are just about to end their life?”
“Jules!” Jonathan sobbed. “She was our mother.”
Julia shrugged. “I don’t care. I have and always will do what needs to be done.”
Jonathan pressed, “What are you saying?”
Julia smiled her sweet smile. “I’m saying I gave the Court everything it needed to go after both of them. I’m saying I will bring you down too and I won’t bat an eyelid.”
She smiled her nice smile. Julia Harvester was a nice girl. She always had been. She took her brothers hand again. Her touch was softer.
“We’ll be fine with poor mummy and daddy gone. I’ll have to work extra hard but the farm will be just fine. It’s late now. I’m going to have some herbal tea and a nice hot bath.”
A tear spilled from Jonathan’s eye. His sob caught her attention. She turned and agilely crossed the hall again. She opened the window to let the stifling air escape the farm house.
“What’s all this fuss about?” she asked. She pinched his cheek. Her grip twisted. “What’s all the fuss about?”
Jonathan gasped. He had no answer for his little sister.
“I’m just putting everything back in its place. Everything is so much neater when things are in their place. Beck Tower, Owen Inc. and all the other little blocks laid neatly in a row. I have much to do Jon and I can’t have you holding me back. Whilst they all went on bickering among themselves, they failed to notice our farmland grow. They were so distracted with what they could have that our trucks slipped around the city unnoticed. They were all so concerned with protecting their own they hadn’t counted the amount of fresh new Harvesters stores all the way from City Main to our latest on Love Street in Bellfield. I’d very much like to take a walk up Love Street. All the little blocks neatly in a row and suddenly the city becomes a much nicer place. Goodbye Jon.”
Jon was shot in the centre of his forehead. His body dropped with the weight of slaughtered cattle. She stepped over the body. She wanted to run a bath, relax and shake off all that had happened.
When I began my story into the mayor I had been warned away from it. My fellow reporters told me it would lead me to dangerous places. The events unfolded and now as the largest titans in the city prepared to face off they failed to notice a great monster rising in the north. What was most dangerous about the Harvester monster, was that it was a friendly face everyone welcomed into their home.
The Boss. Bournton’s pride. Now a Kappa So strong hold. For those bearing the name Penn it was not going to be an easy place to make home. Marcus Penn was introduced to this when Kappa So members flooded him in his cell and he was beaten badly. Simon they targeted in the showers. He was naked, he was outnumbered and they taunted him. He fought back but it was to no avail.
Governor Avery West stepped in. The prison he was placed in charge of had been assigned so many new guards since the arrival of Billy Owen to CPD that he barely recognised most of the faces as he crossed the halls of The Boss to his office. Guards, legal staff, even the medics and admin, all were different. There were so many new arrivals. It made the inmates uncomfortable but random outbursts of violence from the guards kept them pacified.
Inside his office Avery was met by two guards. They had in their custody two of the Penns. Their faces matched and their expressions matched too.
“Take a seat, gentlemen,” Avery invited.
Simon seemed hesitant at first but when Marcus took a seat he followed suit.
“Let me begin by apologising on behalf of my guards for the extra attention you’ve been getting lately. I wanted you to know that I am doing all I can to see that it doesn’t happen again.”
“Why?” Marcus wanted to know. This was his first audience with the governor so he was familiarising himself with the type of man he was.
Avery nodded to the guards. They both took a step back. “I want to make you as comfortable as possible,” he admitted. “When you are inside The Boss you are my responsibility. I take the responsibility of any of the inmates very seriously. I have been here a long time and I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen riots, I’ve seen contraband and I’ve seen men hang from the roof. When you both came in we expected a handful but you’ve caused little trouble and you’ve even kept some of the other inmates in line. If you are going to be with me for the foreseeable future we might as well keep our acquaintance friendly. As a matter of fact, in the token of our friendship I have a gift for you. If you will care to follow me.”
Simon and Marcus were escorted to an exercise yard. It was smaller than the main one the inmates used. Two guard towers were perched, each with a gunman to boast. “This is exercise yard B. The guard up there,” here Avery pointed to the left. “His name is Rukov. I’ve known him for years. If you continue to behave like gentlemen he’ll give you no trouble. On the right up there,” here he indicated the other. “His name is Gorvic. I hand picked him especially for my squad here. He will follow the same rules.”
“Why did you bring us here?” Marcus enquired.
Simon had already seen the reason. “Reggie!” he called.
On the other side of the fence sat the final triplet for them to be whole again. Forgetting the gunmen and the guards both the triplets ran to meet their brother at the barrier between them.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” asked Simon with snarl.
“I came to find you,” said Reggie. “You could show a little gratitude.”
Simon shook his head. “Do you have any idea the danger you have put yourself in?”
Reggie shrugged. He sat himself down on the ground.
“He’s right,” Marcus agreed. “You can’t stay here.”
Reggie folded his arms and remained defiant.
“Well I’m not going anywhere. If you two are in danger, I am too. So you might as well just leave it.”
Simon was still shaking his head but he had softened. “You are a fucking idiot.”
Reggie laughed, “Yeah I know, but I’m the idiot on this side of the fence.”
Marcus turned his attention back to Avery. Avery approached them. “No one else will be able to use this area. It’s not a long-term solution but at least you will have the chance to regroup.”
Marcus frowned. “Why are you doing this?”
“Help keep my prison in order and I will make life as easy for you as I can.” Avery took his leave. The two ground guards remained posted at the door. The tower guards kept their look out on the Boss’ rear approach.
The triplets were given the chance to talk.
“So what you’s been up to?” Reggie asked.
Simon frowned. “Well it’s been bed of fucking roses, Reg. What do you think?”
Reggie shook his head. “It’s not exactly been easy for me you know. It’s been no picnic.” This seemed to trigger something. “Marcus, I’ve got a pack of the Harvester Corn chips. You like those, right?”
He stood and with a great heave he threw the packet over the fence. They landed at Marcus’ feet. He scooped them up. “Thanks,” he replied. He inspected the packet. “It’s bacon flavour. Do you have any cheese?”
“What do I look like?” Reggie asked. “A fucking corner shop?”
All three laughed. The sound almost broke the barrier between them. Almost.
“There’s no pleasing you,” Simon put to Marcus. He closed in on the bars and tried to look behind Reggie into the small fishing tent he had set up. “Got any energy drinks?”
“Fuck off. You get your three squares a day. This is the only stash I have.”
Reggie was the most resourceful of the triplets. Like his rats, he was the most effective at squeezing from tight places.
“Have you heard anything about dad?” Marcus asked, peeling open the corn chips bag and dipping his fingers in.
“He’s been hitting and he’s been hitting hard. Snooker halls, dance venues and factories.”
“Why didn’t you go to him?”
“He’s not staying stationary. He’s moving all over the city, from Main to Bellfield. I don’t know where he is and if I did he’d be gone again by the time I get there. We’ll be fine here. He knows you’re both here so he’ll come and get us soon enough.”
“You’re going to get the stare treatment when he sees you’ve set camp up here,” said Simon.
The three remembered fondly. The triplets could be difficult to control but they were raised like gentlemen and taught to respect their mother and respect their family name. If any of them were found to get out of hand, all it would take from their father was the stare. A glance from Reginald Penn that reminded the boys there was a chain of command.
“I haven’t had the stare since that time I wore eyeliner,” Reggie said.
Simon started to laugh. Marcus continued to enjoy the corn chips.
“I already told you you looked like a tit,” Simon remarked.
“Do you remember that Marcus?” Reggie put to the eldest. “Remember, we were about eighteen. I had a bit of a faze going on.”
“You were friendly with the girl from the piercing parlour in those days,” Marcus mused.
“Yeah well I thought I’d try something different. Si, you were the one to start being a dick about it.”
Simon protested, “If you went out looking like that I would have been in so many fucking fights that day. And besides, when you wear make-up it looks like my face with make-up. I wasn’t having that shit.”
Marcus took another corn chip. He gave a shadow of a smile.
Reggie continued. “Yeah, well, I was just expressing myself,” he maintained.
Simon leaned over and fished for one of the corn chips. “You were expressing yourself like shit until you got the stare.”
Reggie nodded. “I was determined. I wasn’t going to listen to you. It was a new me and I had a new shag so I was doing it. It was bold but why the fuck should I care what people think? I grabbed my bag. The shoes were painful mind you. But I was going with it. I forgot I had to cross through the parlour didn’t I? Dad was in there every morning with his first cup of tea. I stopped. He lowered his newspaper. He took one look at me and there it was. The stare. ‘I don’t think that’s appropriate,’ he said. Yeah. I had to change that shit immediately.”
The three boys started laughing again.
Avery came back into the yard. He interrupted them.
“I can’t let you stay here long,” the governor said.
Distance was brought between the triplets again.
“We’ll come back,” Simon assured.
“I’ll just chill out here then, shall I?” Reggie called back.
The next day Marcus and Simon were taken to exercise yard B. This time the ground guards remained outside the door. It clicked closed but they all brightened when they saw each other. Reggie had kept his camp.
Simon was a few paces ahead of Marcus. Marcus looked up the left. The gunner was was not Rukov. He looked up to the right. The gunner was not Gorvic.
“Reggie,” he said. “Has anyone seen you?” he asked. “Has anyone said anything to you?”
Reggie shook his head. “No, it’s been quiet. The Warden was out but he just looked over and it was like he was just pretending I wasn’t there.”
The door open and the Warden in question stepped out. Avery was smiling. Pleased to see them.
“It’s nice to see family kept together,” he spoke warmly. “With so much going on.”
Simon agreed with an accommodating expression. Marcus however was unmoved.
“There’s nothing quite like brothers,” Avery said. “When you’re a brother you’re a brother for life.”
Simon’s eyebrows raised. Marcus turned to Reggie. “Reggie!” he screamed. “Run!”
Avery looked up to guard towers. Both the left and the right were pointed on Simon and Marcus. Ground guards flooded the area.
The air quietened. Reggie’s grunting could be heard as he tried to breathe. The views of his brothers were locked on him.
A voice could be heard calling above all of them.
“We are Kappa So,” he sang with a cold softness. “We are Kappa So.” The singing drew closer. “We are Kappa So and we make trouble where we go.” Billy Owen emerged from the CPD who had them surrounded. Buddy, Chad and Cooper were trailing close behind him.
“Well, hello, boys!” Billy grinned. He raised his hand in a gesture to the governor that resembled the letter K. Avery did likewise. “Fine night. Glad I get to spend it with y’all.” Buddy was quiet. He let Billy take the lead.
“I’m Billy,” he introduced. “Your father murdered my Pops. That was a motherfucking mistake that will haunt him to end of his days. Pray to Jesus that’s sooner rather than later. Right now, I’m here to make a little point of my own.” He snatched Reggie by the hair and slammed his face against the fence. Simon and Marcus tried to struggle from the guards.
He stroked Reggie’s hair this time. Marcus took note of the details of Billy’s face, from the deep set wrinkles in his forehead, to the dryness of his bottom lip.
“Fucking let him go!” Simon shouted.
Billy looked to Reggie with a satisfied grin. He resumed stroking Reggie’s hair softly.
“What did the daddy say to you after he had bashed our Pops’ brains in, little bro?”
Buddy was hesitant at first.
“What did he say?” Billy pressed.
“He told me I was a common whore, fucked by a king.”
Billy gave a deep exhale from his nostrils. “Is that so? Fucked you like a common whore, huh? That shit is just disrespectful. Why don’t we show this here whore what it’s really like to be fucked.”
Marcus grimaced. “Let him go.”
Billy stood. “You see, now it still sounds like you’re being disrespectful towards me. You will learn some manners.”
He grabbed Reggie’s trousers by the waist band and pulled them to his ankles. Simon shrieked. “Touch him and you die!”
Billy laughed a raspy laugh that almost verged on a cough. “I ain’t going near him. I ain’t no fag. This guy might be though!”
The one to step forward was not a Kappa So brother. They had brought out an inmate to do their bidding. Billy looked to Reggie’s expression as firm hands were clasped around his waist. He looked to his brothers’ expression as Reggie gave a squeal pain as the inmate pushed inside him. Billy grabbed his hair again and slammed his face against the fence.
“That’s what we like from the whores!” he taunted. “We like them to make a lot of noise.” He pulled Reggie’s head back by his hair again. “Tell your brothers just how much you love getting fucked like a whore. Earn your dollar!”
The inmate had Reggie. Brutally he pounded, keeping Reggie firm against the fence.
“Marcus,” he gasped. A tear began to roll down his cheek.
There was a tear in Marcus’ eye too. There was nothing he good do.
“Woooo! This boy is going at the whore good!” Billy cheered. “Look at him pounding that ass. Does he fuck whores better than big king daddy? I think daddy ought not to miss this.” He pulled a phone from his pocket and flashed it in Reggie’s face. “Beautiful darlin’ just beautiful. Look at the way he’s biting his lip.”
Reggie screamed in pain.
“Oh, he enjoying that shit!” jeered Billy. “What’s this guy in for?” he asked one of the companions of the inmate
“Rape,” was the reply.
Billy continued to taunt. “Give her some that ass slap action. Treat that little whore right.”
The inmate raised a hand. A stinging blow was delivered.
The roar of the Kappa So laughter shook the trees.
They all cheered when the inmate finished. Reggie was pulled away from the fence.
“Say goodbye to your little whore brother boys. This is the last time you ever gonna see him.”
Avery West turned to his guard. “Put the both of them in the prayer room.”
The Boss Lady was gone. That was what had been said. But if you go to the farthest reaches of Cardyne, you will find a building no one would care to call home. If you go down to the farthest reaches of Cardyne you will find a building you wouldn’t care to visit long. For this building had held Confessions Killer, Tracey Campbell. It had also held the Wood Chip Killer, Ruth Browning.
Confinement room 34. The guard opened the slot to check. He heard a scream but he closed the slot as quickly as he had opened it, drowning the cries of a desperate woman out.
Tabitha, Boss Lady of the Knock Knock Club, hadn’t spoken to anyone in weeks. It felt like forever. With the death penalty slicing ever closer to her neck like a great pendulum her access to anyone was limited. She exercised alone. She ate alone. She bathed alone.
She had always been a symbol. The Law Makers intended on smashing that symbol and any effect it ever had. From the moment the sentence was declared the people who supported Tabitha cried their dismay. These people needed to be reminded of what happened to those who took the law into their own hands. Using the skeleton ruse, they were led to believe the execution had already been carried out. The coffin even being removed.
“This is not over,” the Boss Lady warned.
But it was over. It was over for so many and yet there were still so many more waiting to stand and be counted.
All of this began for me the moment I stepped into the Knock Knock club and as long as Tabitha does still live it can’t be over. I am reporter Sam Crusow, and as I am writing this now, I take a deep breath and I prepare to describe what happened next.
If you have been affected by rape or sexual assault visit rapecrisis.org.uk for more information on support available.
Complete Season 1 of the Knock Knock series is free to read here on Vivika Widow. com or click below download for Kindle
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The Beckingridge Tower reached lofty heights. It had been the first time I had crossed the courtyard since reading the details of the Free Fall Massacre. The last time I had been inside it had been to talk to Ernest about the apparent suicide of his wife, Alice.
ALICE BECKINGRIDGE: CHILD KILLER
BILLIONAIRE BOY MISSING.
Had been some of my early articles on the family.
The statue of Jeffrey Beckingridge AKA Gramps was clean and well kept. I wondered what he would have thought if he had to learn that 59 of his clients and staff had been thrown from the window. Would he have let things get that far?
The screen still showed the missing persons report, Tawny’s smiling face and a request for more information. It wasn’t easy to get myself an audience with the granddaughter, but Elizabeth and I had mutual interests and it was time we met in person to discuss them.
“Can I help you, sir?” asked the main receptionist. Poised, polite, welcoming.
“I would like to speak to Miss Beckingridge please.”
The receptionist frowned. She took her task as gatekeeper of The Tower very seriously.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No,” I admitted. “But I’m working on her missing persons case. She asked me to come in and catch her up.”
A text message. COME SEE ME WHEN YOU HAVE THE CHANCE. That was what Elizabeth had written. The receptionist eyed me suspiciously.
I passed her an I.D card. “Sam Crusow. Miss Beckingridge knows who I am.”
“Just a minute please.”
Taking care not to harm her manicured nails the receptionist lifted the phone.
“Hi Mark. It’s Marlene from front desk. I have a Sam Crusow here to see Miss Beckingridge.” She awaited the secretary’s reply. “Yes? Yes of course. I’ll let him know.” She put the phone back down again. “I’m sorry, sir but Miss Beckingridge isn’t in her office at the moment. May I take a message?”
“No,” I said. “I’ll catch her another time.”
The embalming fluid gave a clinical smell. Eugene Morris’ workspace was chilled. Not just because of the nature of his calling in life, but because of the character he was as an individual. Like death, whenever he was present people paid notice. Whimsical in the sense that he was never going to be escaped, so really should just be embraced. Most people chose to run from him as long as they could. Eugene was a friendly man but he was never overly familiar with his clients. It wasn’t in his nature, nor was it in his work.
The body of Robert ‘Bobby’ Owen was laid out on the table like a king of old, lying in state. He was already dressed in his best suit Ronnie had chosen for him from the luggage he had brought with him. With expert hands and patient due diligence the head injury that had taken his life was patched, powdered and presented as though the man was good as new. He looked as though he could have been in his prime days, ready to address the masses. He looked as though he was ready to be sent back to the heavenly plane he had descended from.
The Tailor observed the body. The son, Charles, was stood behind him. “It’s awful when death visits someone who still has so much to give. It’s even more terrible when someone else brings that death of their own accord.”
“He returned the body?” Charles Owen enquired. “What did he say?”
Eugene inspected the body closer. “It’s not for me to get involved in those kinds of affairs. I’m merely here to pick up the pieces and kiss the foreheads of those who may otherwise be forgotten.”
“What kind of man is he?” Charles asked, determined to get some kind of insight. He was referring to the king who had slain his father.
“Quite reasonable in his way,” Eugene responded. He pointed to a beautifully carved oak coffin. “He asked that the deceased be treated with the utmost respect. His carriage into the farther reaches was to be the best money could buy. If that there isn’t to your taste he will give you the cost of anyone you like. The coin for the ferry man would be from his own pocket.”
The Tailor drew Charles’ attention to the lining of the casket which was the finest velvet. The lining of the coffin itself was the thickest, purest gold.
“He said the man needn’t have died and on that I quite agree. Other than that I am not offering commentary. If I were to offer my two cents worth it would make matters much messier than they already are.”
Charles inspected his father’s coffin. It truly was of the best quality.
“He may be an animal,” Charles observed. “But at least he has some manners.”
The Tailor was in agreement with this too but he didn’t voice those opinions. Instead he adjusted Bobby’s tie. In every photo he had seen of Bobby this tie was slightly askew to the left. It was a small trait few people would even notice but Eugene’s job was not to decorate the deceased and strive for perfection. It was his job to make them worthy of memorial.
“People hunt for imperfections, son,” Robert had told Charles. “If all they can find is my tie then I’m doing well.”
Charles couldn’t help but smile when he noticed this little attention to detail.
The Owen Inc. CEO had never been inside the Penn Auction House before. With its damp smell and rustic architecture he couldn’t say he was particularly impressed. The auction hall was empty despite having many chairs laid out. It was empty save for Chick himself and an auctioneer named Jeremy.
Jeremy was loyal to the Penns but the Law Makers knew they needed a familiar face to smooth the transition. The Bailiffs removing items from the auction house had caused quite a stir. Jeremy stepped in to object on behalf of Rita Penn but somewhere along the line Reginald must have gotten word to him to allow the final auctions to go ahead because Jeremy’s mind seemed to have changed quickly. The auction items that day were not artefacts, nor where they ornaments or heirlooms. It was the very landmarks of the city that had been seized by the Law Makers that were placed on offer.
Chick looked about himself. The time had now struck two o’clock and he was the only bidder. Jeremy took his podium with a cough; the dust of the wooden floors was starting to catch his throat. “I guess we’ll just take an offer,” he surmised.
Chick nodded. “I would prefer to move things along.”
The doors opened. A suited man stepped inside and held the door open to allow entrance to a woman – close to middle age, slim, well dressed. Her pink hair hung with a neat parting.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “Traffic into the city was a bitch and those narrow roads just aren’t meant for limousines.”
She crossed the aisle. Her suited man waited by the door. She chose a seat next to The Cappy.
“Hello Charles. So nice to see you. How are things?”
Chick raised his lip in a smile but there was no humour in it. “Elizabeth,” he greeted. “Always a pleasure.”
Elizabeth Beckingridge – interim CEO of Beckingridge Financial Firm kept on her sunglasses.
“I believe the last time we saw one another was at a benefit for endangered birds, homeless dogs or some cause or another.”
Charles grinned. “You were quite intoxicated as I recall.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “Well, if you can’t indulge yourself you kind of miss the point of the party, am I right? Anyway things are different now that I have the responsibility of the tower. I keep a clear head these days. It makes it easier to see when there are sharks in the water.”
“You are a fine adversary, Elizabeth, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Your brother Ernest – God rest his soul – was a dear friend of mine. We worked together well for years.”
Elizabeth read through the auction item list that had been placed on the chair next to her.
“Ernest was a sweet man. He was everyone’s friend. That was his problem. He was too busy trying to be friends with everyone he didn’t see all the little bites that were being taken out of him. When that maniac Knock Knock girl took it upon herself to have fifty nine of my clients and staff escorted from the tower via the window, where were his friends? They buggered off back to the Great States and took any support with them.”
The Cappy stroked his chin. He wasn’t daunted by Elizabeth’s challenge. “The Free Fall Massacre was a personal attack on my family. I had no choice but to protect our interests.”
“Sure,” Elizabeth nodded. “If that shoe were on Ernest’s foot he would probably have done the exact same thing.”
Elizabeth finished scanning the list. She would no doubt have already made up her mind.
“Then we are agreed?” The Cappy put to her. “It would be best to work together?”
“No,” Elizabeth scoffed. She raised an eyebrow. “I’m not Ernest. You’ll find I won’t be bullied quite so easily.”
The Cappy looked back to the podium where Jeremy was waiting to begin.
“Just a moment, if you don’t mind, sir,” he called. To Elizabeth he said, “Your nephew, George, has already come into the fold. Very soon you will have no choice.”
Elizabeth quietened. She gave it some thought then she turned to The Cappy. “My nephew is a psychopath. Torturing kittens, eating babies, the whole nine yards. He’s cosying up with your boy who, word on the street says has a cocaine problem that makes my Aunt Liza’s one nostril look like a charming little party piece.” Before The Cappy could respond she patted his arm. “Rumours Charles. Only rumours.” She spoke calmly. “My point is, before that dynamo duo takes over what we’ve built I have interests to protect, too.”
“If we’re are speaking frankly, I must ask, why are you looking for The Baroness?” He referred to the city wide search that she had funded for Tawny McInney.
“Why not?” replied Liz. “She’s just a whacko old lady who disappeared from rehab. Her niece is gone so what concern is that of yours?”
Chick frowned. “I like you Elizabeth but don’t treat me like a fool. Do not make an enemy of me when I’d much rather be friends.”
Elizabeth pouted. “I perish the thought. The Baroness was in rehab with a friend of mine. George’s old music teacher? You may remember him from such stories as kidnapping and the death of the Weir Hotel boy. He asked me ever so nicely to help find her so I read up on the old show girl. Your brother Jerry was quite a piece of work, wasn’t he? Anyway, her attitude struck a chord with me. Maybe I’m getting old but I find myself feeling quite charitable these days. If you don’t know where she is then you’ll agree finding her would smooth things over in the south. They liked her. I saw some old videos of her and I quite like her too. You’ll see the number on all the of broadcasts should you hear anything. In the meantime let’s get down to business. Our auctioneer here is sweating buckets.” She patted his arm again. “Let’s see who has the bigger … erm … cheque book.”
The Cappy laughed. “May the best bidder win.” He addressed Jeremy, “Go ahead, sir.”
Jeremy cleared his throat. “Lot 0300 – The Penn Auction House.”
The Penn Auction house was hot property. It was home to the Penn power and if their sovereignty were to be given any credence the Auction House was their palace. Elizabeth didn’t want it. It meant nothing to her really. She had read the auction list and had set her sights on other prizes. But it was a prime city location. Some would argue it was the final stop before The Tower. If she let it go into Chick Owen’s hands who knows where he would proceed onto next. He had his reasons for wanting it. He wanted it so badly. Elizabeth decided to let him sweat.
Elizabeth Beckingridge had no need for the Penn Auction House nor did she have any loyalty to the Penns themselves. In fact, hadn’t it been the boys who had helped Tabitha commit the Free Fall Massacre? If she even made one bid it would purely be out of spite. Chick’s family heirloom, his very name, was at stake. The Penns stole the Captain Henry ‘Hen’ Owen’s compass. He would have that compass back in the estate where it belonged. To do that he would have the Auction House, no matter the cost.
Jeremy cleared his throat.
“Reserve price is 2.3 million.”
Liz raised her board. 2.4
The Cappy shook his head. She was playing spiteful after all. He knew she was deliberately drawing the price up because she wanted to clear him out before it reached some of the other items on the list.
2.5 million he bid.
2.6 million she returned.
2.7 million. Going in hard. The Penn Palace would be in the hands of Owen Inc. no matter what.
2.8 million. Elizabeth’s interest was waning.
3.2 million. The Cappy struck boldly.
3.7 million Elizabeth countered
3.9 million. The leaps showed The Cappy’s determination.
Elizabeth lowered her board. She had let him sweat long enough, throwing money away on items she wasn’t all that interested in.
Jeremy waited for a counter offer. It was not forthcoming.
“Going once. Going twice.” The hammer slammed. The Penn Auction House was now property of Owen Inc. Jeremy couldn’t disguise his distaste but he carried on.
“Lot 004. The Knock Knock Club.”
Another prime property that anyone with a good business mind could make work. It could become a trendy bar, revitalising the whole area. It could extend Owen reach in the south. With the Boss Lady gone it was the perfect time to make the move.
Elizabeth kept a poker face. The search for Tawny had drawn her to the club. She looked to what the Baroness had been protesting against. She had learned the reasoning behind targeting her firm. She had met with Agnes. Her and her girls were all that were left. The Knock Knock stood for something and for that reason it had to be kept away from Owen hands.
“The reserve price is 1.2 million. It also includes the attached Clifton shelter used for the homeless.”
1.5 million. Elizabeth began this time.
1.7 million countered The Cappy.
1.9 million. Beckingridge Tower was continuing its efforts.
2.1 million. The Cappy was tentative.
2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 2.9, 3.2, 3.5 the numbers continued to roll in. The club was well above its estimation.
4 million was Elizabeth’s final offer.
“Sold.” The Knock Knock Club was now in the hands of Beckingridge Firm.
Jeremy had no time to pause for thought. More items were available.
“Lot 005. Harbour House.”
The unique rehabilitation clinic had caused quite a stir of late. It had been the cause of scandal when its resident 0109 went missing. Control of the facility could mean a final shut down to the rumours of the Owens being responsible for that disappearance, coupled with the fact it was very profitable.
It was Elizabeth’s interests in finding the truth behind Tawny’s disappearance that pricked her ears.
“Reserve price is 3.2,” Jeremy explained.
4.5 million. Elizabeth jumped in right away. She didn’t care she was exposing her hand too soon.
Charles shook his head. He wasn’t even willing to combat it.
“Sold.” Harbour House was also now a Beckingridge Firm holding but the dragon had reared and exposed a weakness in its belly. Steel and determination could break those scales.
“Lot 006. Pettiwick School.”
The Salinger family had been in the control of the school for generations. Lewis Salinger was a friend of Ernest’s. Pettiwick had educated every Beckingridge since its founding. Even Gramps had walked the halls as a boy. Even George has his time there. Lewis was a complete moron and had been caught by Law Maker forensic accountants, skimming money from the school funds it seemed. The Law Makers dug their claws in deeper and discovered the Salingers had been doing it for years. It was now a seized property but that didn’t mean the children had to suffer. It was still the finest school in the city. Chick Owen had no reason to want it but it was home to the Beckingridge Wing, donated by Ernest. Charles’ poker face was indecipherable.
“Reserve price is 6.7 million.”
It was a big property and going cheap. Elizabeth was likely to fight tooth and nail for it but when the dragon had exhausted all of its flaming breath it made it easier to cut the beast’s head off.
7 million. The first Owen bid was tentative.
10 million. The Beckingridge bid was a strike.
20 million. Games were no longer being played.
25 million. The flames roared.
30 million. The shine of the steel returned.
Elizabeth broke the bidding. “Oh come on Charles. What use do you have for a school?”
Chick Owen said nothing. The dragon was down.
“Going once. Going twice …” said Jeremy.
45 million. The dragon was not done.
50 million. Neither was Owen inc.
55 million. The tower was beginning to shake.
70 million. There was still much to do.
Elizabeth had no choice but to bow out. It was a personal fondness that would have kept her fighting for the school but she couldn’t waste what fire power she had on personal fondness.
“Going once. Going twice. Sold!”
The finest school in the Shady City was to now have a Great States face lift.
“Going to ruin the damn thing,” Elizabeth grumbled to herself. Between the Chapter House in Filton and now Pettiwick, the Owens had way more power in Filton than she liked. There wasn’t time to rest on it though. There was more.
“Lot 006. Coldridge Park from the City Main entrance to the Mid East exit.”
For The Cappy it was the perfect addition to the Auction House. It held the area before the Faulds Park building where the Penns were normally resident. It also contained some sports fields used by Kappa So.
Elizabeth always loved that park. Well, she had spent an afternoon there once or twice. If Pettiwick was going to be used to push into Filton then the park could be used to flood the Owens out of City Main.
“Reserve price is 11.5 million.”
11.5 million. Beckingridge began with the reserve. No one was leaping in for an area that was essentially filled with drug dealers and prostitutes
11.6 million. Charles Owen was also being nonchalant.
12.1 million. Owen budget was depleting. He wanted that property but he couldn’t be silly about it. He bowed out gracefully.
“Sold.” Coldridge Park (from the City Main entrance to the Mid East exit) now belonged to Beckingridge.
“Lot 007. St Michael’s Cathedral.”
The parish hadn’t been the same since the Reverend Owen gave up his flock. No verifiable evidence in the rape of hundreds of little girls but the protests that had gone on outside it, led by the Baroness, had made it a very interesting spot indeed. There may have been no evidence then but what about underneath the cathedral’s floor boards? Structures could speak volumes. What would that old church have to say of the confessions the reverend himself had to make?
Proceedings were ending. As far as elder brother Charles Owen was concerned it was time to close the cathedral for good, throw it to the Fullertons as a chew toy for all he cared. With the cathedral gone the talk of Jerry would quiet to whispers before eventually fading away.
“Reserve price is 10.3 million,” Jeremy informed them. He wasn’t given much time before the first bid was raised.
10.4 million. Owen inc. threw their hat into the ring first.
10.5 million. The Beckingridge dragon roared.
10.6, 10.7, 10.8, 11, 12.
The bidding went on. It was starting to overreach what Chick had intended. The Cappy took a sharp intake of breath. Elizabeth spotted what was to come next. She was going to have to cut her losses.
“Sold.” The Cathedral was going back to the Owen family. The skeletons in the reverend’s vestry damned to Hell.
“Final lot for today,” announced Jeremy. “Lot 008. Chamberlain Docks.”
This was it. The dragon was ready to breath every last flame it had. Seized by the Law Makers due to the trafficking, soliciting and illegal trading. Harbour House would be far more use to Elizabeth with the docks. If they belonged to Owen Inc, the facility could very well be of no use at all. Chamberlain was the main access route to Hathfield and the prime spot for spreading wealth and expanding reach.
Owen Inc knew this too. Returning to the kingdom with the dragon’s head would mean little without it. Charles had the auction house; he had the school and he had his brother’s Cathedral. He could afford to take his time and let the dragon strike first.
The Cathedral didn’t matter when Elizabeth had the Knock Knock Club. Whilst the club still existed, the Owens could still be driven from Coldford. They may bite chunks from City Main but they would be enclosed by the pests from the Shanties and their main competitors in Filton. However, to close them in completely Beckingridge Firm needed to hold Chamberlain docks.
“The reserve price is 20.6 million. It includes the Ferry Way brand and terminal, the allotted sea area and surrounding businesses.”
Elizabeth turned to Charles. “Be my guest.”
Chick smiled and shook his head. “Ladies first.”
30 million. The first blow struck.
40 million. The Owen counter.
The dance continued and the bites were taken.
50 million. The Tower would not concede.
70 million. Owen Inc was not walking away.
100, 200, 400, 500 million.
‘Damnit Liz, don’t be so stupid,’ Chick thought inwardly.
600, 700, 750, 800, 825 million.
‘You know as well as I do the docks aren’t worth anywhere near that,’ Elizabeth thought. ‘Give up Charles. You are not having this one.’
The new algorithms at the firm were going to have to work extra hard. All hands on deck for the accounts team and the traders.
The Cappy made no further bid. The docks were a power play but not enough to exhaust his funds completely. He would find another way.
“Going once. Going twice.” Jeremy halted. The phone he had set on the table before him bleeped. He checked it. “We have a new bidder,” he announced. “The bid for the docks now stands at 1.2 billion.”
Chick and Elizabeth looked to each other. Both were equally as perplexed. Elizabeth couldn’t go any higher, not with the costs of the other properties, not without having to close the exchange for a few days causing a knock on effect for the firm.
“Going once. Going twice. Sold.”
The bidding was closed and neither Owen Inc nor the Beckingridge Firm claimed Chamberlain docks.
Chick and Elizabeth stepped outside into the hustle and bustle of City Main. They shook hands.
“Congratulations,” said The Cappy. “I do so admire your moxy. Things are so much more interesting with a worthy opponent.”
Elizabeth slipped her phone from her bag. “Thank you Charles. You fight dirty but I’ve never minded a bit of mud on my face.”
They separated. Chick watched as Elizabeth put her phone to her ear. Her walk started to become brisk. “Where is she parked?” he asked his driver.
“South street,” was the answer as The Cappy slipped into the town car.
“Get me Ronnie. I need to find out who in the Hell got Chamberlain.”
Meanwhile, the Beckingridge security were in a rush to keep up with their mistress.
“Mark?” she was saying on the phone. “I need you to go down to the exchange right away. Title deeds are changing for Chamberlain Docks. Watch them and message me the name of the new owner the minute they update and I mean stand with your finger on the button. Seconds are a delay too long. I’m on my way back now. I was outbid for the docks and I need to know who else in this city has that kind of money.”
Inside Jeremy signed over the deed of purchase.
“Congratulations, Miss Harvester,” he said.
Julia smiled. All the petty squabbles were nothing to her when she had the route to expansion. Owen Inc, Beckingridge firm, even the Penn and Fullerton names knew the Harvester brand was growing but that nice, sweet presence in homes up and down the city had grown far larger than they had realised. Julia was a nice girl and now if the Beckingridges or the Owens wanted to reach outside of Coldford they were going to have to ask her nicely.
By day Waldens in City Main was a wine bar serving expensive drinks to young people with important jobs in the city. It was a meeting place for young professionals looking to escape their responsibilities and drink alcohol in the afternoon. By evening it was something quite different. Decadence, debauchery, licentious behaviour but when twenty eight year old Beckingridge accountant, Raymond, stepped inside it was quiet and calm. The low lighting reminded him of the rectory room at Pettiwick where had gone to school. It had a calming essence. Light jazz music played.
“Good afternoon, Raymond,” barman Gill greeted. “A little pick me up after a long day then?”
“A sherry please, Gill,” Raymond ordered. He had been locked in the offices of Beckingridge Tower since six am working on new algorithms they had been given. He felt he had earned his wind down at the end of the day.
Gill passed the sherry, poured into a perfectly curved glass. Raymond took a seat at the bar, intent on having some quiet time. Liz Beckingridge had stationed herself in the accounting department and despite them all working hard to make the new algorithms profit, she was in a mood about something. Although Raymond could remember her presence being a headache even before she took her brother’s place as CEO.
“You go home, Raymond,” Ernest had said to him once. “If you have a headache you go home incase you’re coming down with something. Go and get better.”
With a similar complaint to Elizabeth she replied, “Headache? What are you four years old? This is your job Raymond and if you haven’t finished running these numbers by close of business you will experience what a true headache is.”
Raymond sipped the sherry. Maybe the accounts department needed Liz’s sharpened tongue. After all The Tower was now performing at the best rates it ever had and the accounts team on the eighteenth floor were what held The Tower up.
He savoured the sherry’s sweetness. His eyes were drawn to a woman sat alone in the corner. She was a little younger than he from what he could tell. Her face wasn’t heavily made up like a lot of the women who came to Waldens. She had a natural, earthy beauty. When he caught her eye she smiled and coyly dropped her eyes to the phone she held in her hand. Raymond absorbed the image of the green dress she wore. The green swirled with the watery blue of her eyes in an almost hypnotic embrace. Raymond lifted his glass and boldly opted to join her at her table.
“Waiting for someone?” he asked.
She looked up and smiled at him as he took a seat. A lot of women could be put off by over eagerness, so Raymond leaned back to prevent his body from being too much in her space.
“I just thought I’d stop by,” she replied. “The noise of the city was starting to get to me.”
“You’re not from around here?”
She shook her head to the negative. She looked shy, as though she shouldn’t be talking to strange men in bars. “I live on a farm so it’s all quite a change of scenery for me.”
“So what brings you all the way down here?” Raymond asked.
Her soft ruby lips stretched into a grin. “I’m collecting meat,” she said.
She giggled at the coy euphemism. Raymond found himself doing the same thing.
Raymond lifted his glass and took another sip. “I’ll have to keep my eye on you then,” he teased.
The farm girl watched him. “You probably should.”
“What’s your name?” asked he.
She reached our hand out to him. He shook it. “Julia,” she said. “Julia Harvester.”
“I know the Harvester brand really well. I work for Beck Firm and we’re just dying to have you on board.” Raymond could see her eyes glaze over. It wasn’t shop talk she had come for. It was a more personal interaction she was after.
“My name’s Raymond. May I buy you a drink?”
“I think I’ve had my fill for now, Raymond, but if you are so familiar with the city perhaps you could show me around. I’m sure you can look after me and see that I get home safely.”
Raymond swallowed what was left of the Sherry.
“I’d be honoured,” he said. “My friends all say that I make an excellent tour guide.” His eyes fell down to her breasts, to her slim stomach. “May I ask which designer you got that fetching dress from?”
Julia took note of her dress as though it were the first time she had noticed she was even wearing it. “Oh this?” she declared. “This was no designer. I made it myself.” Earthy, modest. Julia was like a cool glass of water on a baking hot day. His parents would certainly like her much more than Tatyiana. “I’m good with my hands,” she finished.
At this Raymond leaned in. His empty Sherry glass now rested under him, causing a shimmer of light to dance upon his chin.
“So what parts of the city would you like to see?”
Julia stood. She reached out her hand and took his. “I’d like to see all that it has to offer,” she stated. She pulled him to his feet.
She led him by the hand from Waldens wine bar. The bar man didn’t pay attention to the young woman Raymond had chosen to leave with. Perhaps he should have.
Julia Harvester liked Beckingridge Manor. Although it wasn’t intended to be, it felt as open as the Harvester Farm house. It had a cool draught blowing through it. The walls were thick. The ceiling was high.
“I love you Julia,” George Beckingridge stated. He kissed her cheek heartily. She discretely wiped the saliva from her face as he danced towards his bed where Raymond had been stripped and laid to rest under the sheets. He wasn’t dead yet but the Beckingridge accountant wouldn’t be throwing any resistance towards them anytime soon.
“He is quite sweet, isn’t he?” she replied.
George collected a comb from a chest of drawers. He dropped to his knees beside the bed and started to comb Raymond’s hair into a neat side parting.
“He looks just like him,” George said excitedly. “I said so didn’t I? He looks just like him but there’s something not quite right. He not wearing glasses. Mr Baines wore glasses.
Julia reached into the pocket of her coat and produced a pair of spectacles. She passed them to George and with a grin on his face he slipped them onto Raymond’s face.
He chuckled. “That’s better.”
“I’m glad he pleases you. I do try my best.”
George stroked Raymond’s face gently. “He looks like him. I’d like to pretend it’s him. You don’t mind that do you Mr Baines? Are you glad to be back with your best pupil?”
Julia wasn’t listening. Instead her attention was brought to stuffed animal that sat on a shelf looking down.
When she picked him up George’s eyes locked on her. He watched closely as Julia stroked the toy’s fur.
“His name is Cecil,” George explained. “I know I’m a man now but I still like to have him close by.”
Julia cradled Cecil delicately. “We all have things from childhood we like to hold onto now don’t we?”
“When I was five there was a little boy in my school named Cecil. He was pale, skinny and completely bald. I didn’t ask why. I just thought he didn’t want any hair. All the other children looked at him like he was strange. They all looked at me that way too so we became friends. Cecil was always the first to say hi to me in the morning and we called each other every night when we weren’t sleeping over. We played for hours in this very room. I can still hear him laughing sometimes. The music room was where he liked best. I still have the toy train he left here. One day Cecil just stopped coming to school. When I called his mum said he couldn’t come to phone. My mum wouldn’t let any of the drivers take me to see him. A week later Miss Matheson – our teacher – told me that Cecil had been sick for some time. He had died. He couldn’t come to the phone because he was dead. I never got the chance to say goodbye. So when I saw that toy and I realised it’s name was Cecil I had to have him. We are going to be best friends forever, just like we promised.”
A monitor whirred with the sound of a baby’s cry.
“That’s my niece, Vicky,” he informed the farm girl. “Catherine, my sister has gone to a party. She asked me to look after her. Will you check on her for me? She’s in the nursery just down the hall.”
Julia laid Cecil back onto his spot on the shelf. His beetle black eyes were watching Raymond in the bed. The fur around the stuffed mouse’s neck was sticky and matted where he had been held so often.
“Will you be having a sleep over with me and Mr Baines?” asked the Billionaire Boy.
“I’m afraid not,” she returned “I’ll check on the baby and then I have to go.”
George’s attention was now back on Raymond. He kissed his cheek. He knocked the glasses askew. Julia closed the door behind her. George dropped his trousers and stepped out of them. He removed the white briefs he was wearing too and climbed into bed with Raymond, wrapping himself around the accountant. He kissed him again.
“Good night, Mr Baines,” he said.
Julia could hear the baby cry out as she approached the nursery. The door had been left ajar. Inside, the nursery was calmly lit with soft night lights flashing stars and planets on the walls and ceiling. Uncle George had left some classical music playing softly on an old stereo. It had lulled baby Vicky to sleep and she had only stirred again when it stopped. Normally her uncle would sing to her when the music stopped. Aunt Liz would sing to her too but that was only to distract her when she was getting changed or dressed. Liz’s voice was bouncy and fun. George’s soft voice always came through the darkness when it was time to close her eyes and bid farewell to the day. It was always gentle. Almost at a whisper. Tonight it was neither.
Victoria Beckingridge, third in line for the Beckingridge Tower looked up from her cradle with wide, engaging eyes. She had large brown ones like Uncle George. Julia had never met Catherine. Maybe she had the same.
The baby had been tucked perfectly for sleep. Her helpless little body had no room to wriggle.
“Gah!?” she exclaimed when she saw Julia. Julia lifted her from the cradle and into her arms. She carried her across to an armchair by the window. It offered a view of the manor’s lawns. She sat and settled Victoria into her arms, loosening the blanket so she could reach out.
“Hello, Vicky,” said Julia softly. “Uncle George is busy right now,” she caressed the little girl’s cheek. “You go back to sleep now, buttercup. It’s very late for you.”
Vicky’s lips twitched into a smile but her eyes started to get heavy as Julia began to rock her.
With it being Friday afternoon Beckingridge Tower exchange was hectic. Everything was beginning to wind down for the weekend closures.
“I’ve got 3.4!”
“I’ve got 6.5!”
“Going down. It’s time to pull out. Hurry!”
To pass the main reception of Beckingridge Tower you would find yourself on the stock holding floor. It was called the Execution Hall because it was where all the deals were cut and a lot of financial fates were decided.
Elizabeth was crossing the hall, keeping a personal eye on the weekend closures.
“Liz,” someone patted her shoulder for attention. She turned to be faced with Dr Gregory Winslow. Before the doctor could offer any further greeting Liz’s secretary, Colin, stepped in the way.
“Can I help you, sir?” he asked with a scowl.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “It’s fine Colin. Just carry on.”
Colin moved back onto the floor to continue to check on the traders and their final executions for the week. After the bidding those numbers were more important than ever.
“I’m busy doctor so …”
“I’m just here to have my weekly little chat with George so don’t mind me. Is he in his office?”
Winslow had been offering some tuition to George to prepare him for business school at Filton. He had also been talking the Billionaire Boy through his kidnapping, the death of his parents and the boy Kenneth. In truth the doctor’s influence was doing some good as far as Elizabeth could tell. There were moments when he even behaved like a real human being.
Liz Beckingridge wasn’t so naive that she didn’t realise Winslow was only taking her nephew under his wing because he had ulterior motives. No one liked to have to deal with George. Even his own father sighed relief when the music teacher took him away. Like many others Winslow probably saw him as weak. The doctor would see George as a way of gaining power himself in The Tower. Sure George would be sat on the CEO chair but it would be Winslow pulling the strings. George’s mouth would snap open and closed but it would be Winslow’s words he would be speaking. He would sound just like a real boy.
Elizabeth had no intention of ever letting George take control of the firm. She wouldn’t risk him ruining Gramps’ legacy by acting like a cruel child with a magnifying glass. But if the doctor was able to hold onto those strings in the meantime and have him behave she had no reason to stop him.
After all, it had been Winslow who talked George out of placing himself in the Penthouse Office.
“I think the Booker office may be more appropriate for you at this stage,” the doctor had said. George had scowled at first, until the doctor pointed out that it had actually been from the Booker office that the Free Fall Massacre had occurred.
“Yes,” Elizabeth agreed. “He’s upstairs. He’ll be expecting you.”
“Splendid!” Winslow cheered. He departed and allowed Elizabeth to return to the brokers.
The Booker office was still on the top floor but just didn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the Penthouse. As the elevator rose through the tower, Winslow began to wonder how he would look atop of the tower and with control at the firm. ‘Perhaps one day,’ he chastised himself. ‘One thing at a time.’
He didn’t fear George Beckingridge. He was well aware of his psychopathic tendencies. After all, it had been he who had signed the death certificate for his mother. He also handled the body extracted from the lawns of Beckingridge Manor. He had talked extensively with Vincent Baines when he was one of his Harbour House residents. Vincent detailed George’s behaviour and the fear that it had struck in the man who had taken the boy away thinking he was protecting him. Dr G Winslow wasn’t afraid of George Beckingridge because Harbour House had seen it all. Not a psychiatric institute but a rehabilitation clinic and that included rehab for all kinds of trauma.
“Good afternoon, doctor,” he was recognised immediately by George’s appointed secretary. A smiley young girl named Michelle. She too didn’t seem to fear George but that was through naivete bordering on stupidity. “Mr Beckingridge is expecting you. You can go right through.”
“Thank you, my dear,” he said.
He found George sat behind his desk. The doctor’s pride swelled when he noticed the business school text books he had bought the young CEO to be opened on his desk. George himself was dressed appropriately in a suit. The tie had a leaf pattern on it. It was a little more whimsical than anything he would have directed the boy to but at least he was starting to find his own style.
“I was going to call,” George began. “But I thought I would like to see you face to face.”
Winslow took a seat. “Something the matter? Are you having trouble with your studies?”
“I’m fine,” he replied. “I just decided I don’t like you.”
Winslow wasn’t sure he heard correctly but he maintained his composure and prepared to work through one of George’s outbursts.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” was the doctor’s response. “Was it something I said?”
“No. I just don’t like you.”
Winslow licked his lips. “That is a shame. We were such good friends.”
“No!” George barked. “I never did like you.”
This wasn’t going to be one of his outbursts after all. This was going to take a bit more calming.
“Whatever has upset you, I’m sure we can discuss it.”
“No,” George stated, softer this time. “I want you to leave and never come back. I don’t want to see you again and I won’t be giving any money to Harbour House.”
Winslow stayed steady.
“May I ask what has brought you to this decision? Surely after all we’ve been through you can offer me that much?”
George reached into the desk drawer and pulled out an expensive bottle of port and sat it on the table. It still had a gift bow on it from when Winslow gave it to him. It hadn’t been opened.
“Take this back,” George ordered.
“Please,” Winslow steadied his voice. “If you don’t tell me why it has come to this I’m just going to spend all evening worried about you.”
“I don’t need you,” said the Billionaire Boy. “You are just using me.”
“Now who would put that idea in your head? His tone snapped a lot more than he had intended it to. At first he thought it had been Elizabeth but she had little to no influence over her nephew and if she did feel that way about the doctor she wouldn’t have let him near him in the first place. “Who told you that George?”
From the adjoining room where a meeting of investment bankers was taking place emerged Julia Harvester.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
Winslow stood. He scowled at the farm girl. “You?” he snarled. “You did this?”
“Did what?” she asked. “Tell you to take your poison and spit it in someone else’s ear? No, Gregory. Why would I do that? We’re still friends. It’s George here who says he doesn’t like you. He’s had enough of your pathetic, whining voice. He’s his own man. He’s big enough to make that choice. Who am I to say what happens in his tower?”
George was glaring at the doctor. Julia was smiling.
“You don’t and never will have a say in what happens at Beckingridge Firm,” George stated.
‘Neither will you, young man. Neither will you,’ Winslow mused bitterly.
Julia stepped behind George and rested her hands on his shoulders. She was the one pulling the strings now.
“Leave,” George insisted. “And when you do, take a route past Harvester Farm and remove every trace you had ever been there. Wipe every surface your wrinkled arse has touched and go.” He reached into the drawer again this time he drew out a long, rusted key. “This is the key for the Browning House. I loved it there. It was my home for ten years. A friend at CPD gave me it. You can have it. Go there and be forgotten about.”
“And if I don’t?”
George slammed his fists on the table. “You do it! You do what I say!”
Julia squeezed his shoulders. The strings were tugged. It was the puppeteer who spoke this time.
“Don’t test me, Gregory. I’ve sprayed for vermin like you before.”
“How dare you!” the doctor roared.
Julia raised her hand.
The bottle of port exploded. Gun fire. Why hadn’t Winslow noticed the window was open?
George was grinning excitedly. “Buddy Owen has his eye on you,” he cheered. “Buddy’s my brother and we’re brothers for life.”
Owen Inc, Beckingridge Firm and the Harvester Brand coming together would never be matched. It would be impossible for anyone to compete against that kind of influence in the Shady City. If anyone could make that happen it would be Julia. There was only one person who could step in the way of that and it was Elizabeth. But who was she going to listen to? The man who allowed the music teacher who she considered a friend to be treated abysmally by George whilst he was in his care, or the sweet farm girl who not only had her nephew dancing to a pleasant tune but also spent the night before cradling her great niece to sleep when the child’s own mother had abandoned her. Not to mention, it had been Elizabeth who had raised the interest in Harvester Farm.
Winslow fled The Tower, taking the Browning House key. If it had held George for ten years it still had its uses. He ran to his car. Every step he took, every corner he turned, he could feel an Owen scope on him. Even when he got into his car and drove away, he still didn’t feel safe. Buddy could be anywhere.
Julia clasped George’s head affectionately and planted a kiss on the crown. He giggled. She crossed to the open window, leaned out and took a deep breath of the fresh icy air. She looked across to the Weir Hotel. She didn’t know exactly where Buddy had placed his nest. She wouldn’t be able to see him with her naked eye but she brought her fingertips to her lips and blew a kiss. Either way he would still be watching.
Complete Season 2 of the Knock Knock series is free to read here on Vivika Widow. com or click below download for Kindle
Care to discover the true whereabouts of the Knock Knock Baroness? Tawny was last seen as a resident of the Shady City’s premier rehab clinic. Check out Vivika Widoow’s hit thriller Harbour House. Free on Kindle Unlimited.
Mayor elect Micky Doyle accepted the compliment from an old friend. He wasn’t really supposed to take up occupancy at City Hall until after proper inauguration but, with possible murder being the reason the last mayor vacated the office so abruptly, City Hall wasn’t quite so picky. Things moved fast in the Shady City and the Hot Seat could never be allowed to cool down.
“I think it suits me,” Micky grinned. “Some might even say it was what I was born for.”
“Indeed. We all have our callings in life. Political office was most definitely yours.”
The old friend was Doctor Winslow, chief clinician of the Harbour House rehabilitation facility. When the Knock Knock Boss Lady was sent down, the Law Makers demanded that the good doctor hand over her Aunt Tawny who was one of his residents. Custody of the Knock Knock Baroness was not forthcoming. Eventually she disappeared without trace from his keep. Winslow maintained that he had no knowledge of Tawny’s current whereabouts and even offered to assist in the search for her. That arrangement suited him just fine because when the Bailiffs were there to greet him in Luen it had looked as though he was running from something. They wanted to peek behind the walls of his precious clinic and he couldn’t have that. His good friend Micky Doyle just happened to be in one of the most prominent positions in the city. His good friend Micky Doyle just happened to be cousin to the fiercest sitting High Court Judge. Both of these things thankfully managed to smooth things over for Winslow. Karyn Doyle was no fool though. She knew his abrupt trip to Luen was no holiday but whilst he made himself useful, he kept himself out of immediate danger. At least until they found his missing resident.
“You keep that pesky cousin of yours off my back and I’ll scratch yours,” was what Winslow put to Micky.
“Gentlemen,” said another. “I would very much like to get to the matter at hand.”
The other cut an interesting figure. He had long curling hair that almost looked like a wig. He had an old fashioned presence complete with top hat – which he kept on whilst they conducted their meeting. His name was Eugene Morris. They called him The Tailor around the city and he was the premier funeral director in Coldford. He was more than that though. He was highly respected and catered to the deaths of so many from all walks of life.
“Yes, of course,” Winslow agreed. “Quite so. Filthy business this is gentlemen but business none the less. I met the girl on many occasions. I considered her aunt not just a resident of mine but a dear friend. Death is such a frequent visitor in my profession that one must put personal feelings aside. I need not tell you that though, Eugene.”
Micky looked across his desk. “So what is to happen?”
Winslow stood and turned his attention to a fresh skeleton. It had been fitted in the Boss Lady’s signature red dress. A wig of soft human hair had been draped on its skull and allowed to flow over the shoulder.
“Preservation is a must,” said Winslow observing the bones. “The bones are fine but I feel her organs – kidneys, liver, spleen – could all be put to good use.”
“Profiteering from her death is highly distasteful,” Eugene put in.
Winslow tutted. “I quite agree. Perhaps you misunderstand me. I don’t mean to profiteer. I’m merely stating the fact that Tabitha’s demise – warranted or not – could help many others live.”
Eugene stood and he too was examining the skeleton.
“Yes but you mean to use the fact the organs once belonged to a prominent figure to drive up the price.”
Winslow shook his head. “My dear friend, I admire your nobility but if I may be candid, profit is what makes the whole world circulate. Without it we may as well all just go straight to your good self for our final suit.”
“The skeleton itself,” The Tailor saw fit to comment. “Cheap sensationalism, unbefitting of a man in high office. What would Her Honour say?” He flicked the red dress and stared into the empty eye sockets.
Micky grinned. “If I am to be Mayor of this city I cannot hide in my cousins shadow. I need to make my own mark. That girl stood as a symbol against everything we were trying to build. Not only that, she was an extortionist and a murderer. Her death and the display of her remains will show others who look to step up to her place that the Shady City will no longer be a home for those who have such a blatant disregard for the rules. Not while I’m mayor.”
Winslow grinned. “Bravo!” he said. “Spoken like a true man of the Hot Seat.”
Eugene didn’t seem convinced but he said nothing.
“The skeleton will be a symbol,” he said, “but doctor, you will deal with the organs as tactfully as Harbour House will allow.”
Eugene nodded. Winslow clasped his hands together.
Micky’s telecom buzzed. He pushed the button to answer.
“You’re campaign adviser, sir. He’s here to go over your inauguration speech.”
“Thank you. Hold him there for a few minutes.”
The Boss Lady skeleton would be stored away. The office would be tidied. The business of the city would go on.
Coldridge Park was home to an expansive cemetery. It was the final resting place of Detective Joel Hickes who had been bludgeoned to death during the transport of Paddy Mack from CPD custody to Coldford Correctional.
Hickes was a good man. He tried to keep a neutral head. I guess it was only inevitable that the tension in the city would catch him in the cross fire.
Lydia took my arm as we entered the gathering of mourners.
“You okay, Sam?” she asked kindly.
I wasn’t. After everything that happened I was far from it, but realising that there were many more worse off than me meant there was still a long way to go.
“I’ll be fine.”
Reynolds and Franklin were the first to greet us. Both of them were members of Lydia’s agency team. They had been particularly close to Hickes. Reynolds looked better. I hadn’t seen him since he had one knock out round with Simon ‘Punch Line’ Penn. He had tried to stop Tabitha escaping the Knock Knock club.
“It’s so sad,” said Franklin. “I never know what to do at these things.”
“Bid a fond farewell, I suppose,” was my suggestion.
Franklin gave a solemn nod of his head. In the distance I spotted Hickes’ wife Olivia. She was swarmed by well wishers and mourners. She seemed to be holding up well. She clasped the hand of her son – Hickes’ step son – Milo. The boy appeared to have garnered a strength beyond his age.
I released Lydia’s arm. “I’m going to speak to Olivia, see if there’s anything she needs.”
The three agents departed. Franklin put his arm around Lydia’s shoulder.
“C’mon babes,” he said with his usual extravagance.
The mourners that swamped Olivia parted as I approached. Releasing her son’s hand Olivia hugged me with a sombre smile.
“I just wanted to see how you were,” I said. It was silly enquiry. Is anyone ever okay with such a loss? Having faced a similar one with my wife, Theresa, I should have understood. I knew what she was going through but death was such a personal thing. I never would fully understand her experience.
“Thank you, Sam,” she said.
She turned to Milo.
“Milo, this is Sam Crusow. He was friend of Joel’s.”
I shook the young man’s hand. He had a strong grip. Just a child, forced to hold it together in an environment that would have broken people many years his senior.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I told him sincerely. “I just wish it could have been under better circumstances.”
Milo managed a smile. “Thank you, Mr Crusow. He was a good man.”
Milo spoke the truth for the adults. He spoke it for the city. Hickes was a good man and the fact of the matter was there would be many more good men and women lost before it was over.
“Mrs Hickes?” We were interrupted. The woman’s voice harsh but suitably sober for the occasion. Thin of face, with black hair and pale complexion. Her expression was severe but genuinely mournful. The Law Makers pin on her blazer glinted. Judge Karyn Doyle, destroyer of the Shanties, closer of City Main and breaker of the Boss Lady offered her condolences.
“Thank you, ma’am,” replied Olivia.
“We’re doing all we can to bring Detective Hickes’ killer to justice. He is a sad loss to the department and to the city.”
She drew a small box from the pocket of her coat. She opened it and a silver commemorative coin with the seal of the city was contained within.
“This rightfully should have been his to thank him for his service. Perhaps in his stead this young man could hold onto it as a reminder of the order we aim to bring to this city.”
She passed the coin to Milo. The little boy was in awe of it.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said.
“Remember what it means and what your step father gave his life for.”
Milo nodded. He closed the box over and looked to his mother.
“This is Sam Crusow,” Olivia introduced me.
Doyle narrowed her gaze on me.
“I have been following your progress Mr Crusow. I assume now that the trial is over you will be returning to the Coldford Daily?”
“No,” I admitted. “Not right away.”
“The press is a difficult world to navigate,” said The Judge. “I do hope we can come together to bring the shade of the city into new light.”
I agreed. The press had power to topple those on top. It had the power to expose those in the highest positions for the true people underneath. I had to be a level head in a city torn. With those thoughts in mind we bid farewell to Detective Joel Hickes and the way the city used to be.
The apartment the agency had given Lydia was welcoming. Not much time had been allowed to make it a home but attempts by Lydia had made a difference. There was a photo of her and her sister on the table. Cynthia was homelier than Lydia but equally as pretty. Glasses, warm smile, a vet. There was also a photo of her, Franklin, Reynolds and Agent Kim. Before the camera captured their image Lydia must have said something to Kim that caused her to laugh. They were a close knit group and they had welcomed me with open arms. I was thankful for their support then and have been grateful for it every day since.
“Here you are,” Franklin said emerging from his room in the apartment carrying fresh bedding for me.
“Hurry. It’s about to start,” Lydia informed him. Franklin laid the bedding down and threw himself into the sofa, myself sat between the two agents. Lydia passed him a slice of pizza. He examined it.
“You’re a bad influence on me, babes,” he said but he ate it none the less.
On screen a broadcast had been set up outside of City Face, the Mayoral office. The large clock that gave the building its name ticked down on the gathering.
Normally I would have been among the press covering the story but recent events had left me in the need to distance myself. It was the only way I was going to be able to find my own perspective.
“We’re here at City Face where we’re about to welcome Micky Doyle as he takes his place as Coldford City Mayor. I’m Anna Baker from Coldford City News,” the reporter facing the camera explained.
The footage opened to show the lawns outside the building filled with reporters, public and security teams tasked with protecting the mayor.
“I’m surprised they didn’t ask us to run security detail,” Franklin commented.
The camera scanned the crowd. Karyn Doyle could be seen waiting by the side of the stage with her son Cameron.
“City Hall has its own detail,” Lydia answered still watching the screen.
“Didn’t do Feltz much good, did it?” Franklin put in.
Lydia raised her eyebrow. “Do you want to be following Micky Doyle around all day?”
Franklin’s hand raised to his chest. “Ugh, no,” he exclaimed. “The man gives me the creeps.”
The man in question stepped up to the pulpit to give his first speech to the people of Coldford as their mayor.
“We’ll be ready for you in just a couple of minutes, Mr Mayor,” the campaign manager said.
Micky Doyle had never been nervous of public speaking in his life. Head of his debate team at Kingsgate Secondary, student class president for all four years of his undergraduate studies at the university, voted most likely to enter a career in politics. He was nervous then though. It was what Micky was built for. It was what the Doyle blood flowed for. Power. Position. Authority.
Mr Mayor. That was him now and he had the whole city at his feet.
“I will be a fair and just ruler!” he had cried as a boy with a red super hero cape tied around his neck. The D on it was for Doyle. The other boys said it meant Dwarf Dick. Who was laughing now though? You would have to reach beyond the Shady City and all her farthest regions to find a position of authority that was higher than the one he was about to assume. Dwarf Dick Doyle had come far.
Karyn watched him intently from the crowd. Without her father – Sergeant Major Doyle – around, it was to her the leadership of the family fell. Even Micky’s own father looked to the Sergeant Major’s command. Micky supposed some might say the High Court was an authority above the Mayor’s Office and Karyn’s presence in the crowd served as a reminder of that but he wasn’t about to split hairs.
“Good luck Uncle Micky,” Cameron had said.
Kindly boy, beaten down and squeezed below a very thick thumb. What was to be expected when his mother was reputedly the most ferocious sitting High Court Judge the city had ever seen. Micky understood Cameron’s position. The Sergeant Major was pretty much the same. He was always trying to toughen his nephew up. He only had the four girls – Karyn, Ashley, Leslie and Laura – so he saw it as his duty to make a man out of Micky.
The Sergeant Major had torn the cape from him.
“Superheroes are nonsense,” he spat. “It’s a pleasant fiction for children with no other hope or opportunity. They are created in boardrooms to sell toys to gullible fools and children with no one else to look up to. You are better than that. You are a Doyle.”
The Sergeant Major took his cape and disposed of it but he gave Micky something much better in exchange. He gave him the confidence to soar higher than the cape would ever have taken him. Now he was stepping up to the highest office in the land.
“We’re ready for you now, Mr Mayor,” the campaign manager beckoned.
Cheers. Applause. Respect. Appreciation.
“Thank you,” he began. This gave him the chance to remember the opening to his speech. From there the rest of the words would flow.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to be in service of the city.”
“But it is with sadness that I fill this role when my predecessor had made such a mark and had a fruitful career ahead of him. Jim Feltz was a great man.”
Need to stop referring to him in the past tense when no body has been uncovered yet.
“Jim Feltz is a good friend. He is sorely missed but let us stay positive. After all, what is Coldford if not able to stay positive through trying times. I owe it to Jim and to everyone else who has ever taken the Hot Seat to do the best I can. I owe it to all who voted for me. I am grateful for the faith you have shown in me.”
Give a few moments to absorb the applause.
“I will clear this city of the lawlessness and deprivation that it faces. Criminals no longer have a place here. We are good people and will no longer be held captive by corruption.”
Good use of word choice.
“Moving forward my office is open to those who need it most. Thugs, murderers and cop killers be damned. This is your warning. It is time to leave Coldford.”
Smile. Look determined. Look sad at the loss of Hickes. Breathe.
There was a thunderous applause. Even Karyn’s tight lips etched a smile. The Sergeant Major would be proud.
A Hot Seat isn’t occupied long.
“Where are you going, mum?” Milo asked.
“I just have a little appointment. I’ll be back by five,” Olivia assured her son.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Milo asked, taking his duty as the man of the house seriously.
Olivia smiled. She brushed his black hair back and caressed his cheek warmly. “I’ll be fine, Jiggles.”
Milo laughed and pulled himself away. “Mum…” he complained. He was too old now for the pet name used for him when he was a baby. It was a name that Tabitha had been first to grace him with because of the way his tubby belly jiggled when he laughed as an infant.
Olivia tousled his hair. “You’re getting too big for your own good,” she commented. “But you’ll always be little jiggles.”
Milo shook his head in exasperation but he was glad his mother was in good spirits.
“I need you to stay here and keep Chloe company.”
Chloe Grover, a skinny girl, simple natured, was a victim of Olivia’s ex husband, Dennis. Prostituted by the Knock Knock manager, Olivia gave her shelter after Dennis was taken in by the Law Makers. She was sat on the floor in front of the television. She was nineteen but Milo was more mature.
“Milo!” she called. “It’s on again.”
Her cheer had come as an advertisement for a new brand of Jolly Shopper Biscuits flashed on screen. Actor Laurence DuBoe was holding a long tailed Macaque named Omari, speaking to her as though they had been friends for years.
Chloe pointed to the screen. “It’s so cute. He can talk to monkeys.”
“I won’t be long,” Olivia kissed her son’s head.
The pregnancy test was positive. The visit to the doctor was all but a formality. The spirit of Detective Hickes would live on after all.
Complete Season 2 of the Knock Knock series is free to read here on Vivika Widow. com or click below download for Kindle
Care to discover the true whereabouts of the Knock Knock Baroness? Tawny was last seen as a resident of the Shady City’s premier rehab clinic. Check out Vivika Widoow’s hit thriller Harbour House. Free on Kindle Unlimited.
A woman, middle aged, frizzy haired and full figured is brought before me. She is smiling despite her surroundings. She has an unlit cigarette in her hand. She knows she’s not allowed to smoke in the office but she clutches it for comfort. Behind that smile is perhaps a little nervousness. She is Tawny McKinney better known by some as The Baroness. She’s an old show girl from the Knock Knock club in the Shanties and if you had told her she looked nervous just a few short years ago she would have dismissed it with a laugh.
Interviewer: So how are you feeling today, Tawny?
Tawny: I feel good. Better than I have done in a long time.
Interviewer: That’s good to hear. You’ve settled quite well into the routine here. When you first arrived you were mute.
Tawny (laughing): Some people would say having me shut my gob was a good thing!
Interviewer: You were brought in here as a trauma resident. Do you feel you can talk about what happened that night at the club?
Tawny (laughing again but now nervously): You really want to hear about that?
Interviewer: It’s why I’m here. I’d like to hear your own perspective on it.
Tawny: A lot of people got hurt. A lot of people lost their lives.
Interviewer: It was a horrific attack.
Tawny: Yeah those bastards!
Interviewer: I’m not here to discuss the cause of the attack or the motives of the attackers. I would just like to help you open up about what you saw and how you felt.
Tawny: They were like family to me. How do you think I felt?
Interviewer: I think you feel somewhat responsible. Is that correct?
Interview terminated. Resident 0109 becomes hysterical and requires porters and nurses to calm her. Interview will continue when she is in more of a state of mind to face the reality of her trauma.
#amreading #thriller #harbourhouse2020 by @VivikaWidow
A beautiful and rich area of what is for the most part a Shady City. Time Line main is filled with boutiques, high class coffee houses and most importantly jewellers and diamond merchants. The notable Bergman family have been housed there for generations. It is a vibrant area for all corners of the city to flock to and acts as the main access to CITY FACE. When you walk down Time Line Main in the early morning when the traffic is quiet and before the bustling visitors have flooded the area you can hear the noise of the City Face clock.
TICK BOOM. TICK BOOM. TICK BOOM.
Although it is expensive to spend any amount of time there and rental prices in the area are some of the highest in Coldford it is still a highly sought after for tourists and Coldford natives to capture photos. A series of images titled TIME STANDS STILL by photographer DANIEL WEIR were awarded the Penn Photography Prize.
It is called Time Line Main because from the foot of the street which begins at the entrance into City Main lies modern stores such as Coldford City Sports stores and Rose Diamond but as you reach further you fall back in time to the golden age of diamond trading with the Bergman store until you reach City Face itself, one of the oldest pieces of established Coldford’s architecture.
Out Now. Daniel had turned his back on his life as the heir to the Weir Hotel empire in City Main. Sometimes its just hard to run from your true calling. His music teacher boyfriend, Vincent, knew that well and it led to those he loved being hurt.
Coming 2020. Despite its close proximity to the rest of the City, rehabilitation clinic Harbour House seems a world away. It seems the only way to get back to normality is to completely detach from it.
Kieran is the eldest Son of MACK AND SONS brewery. However, his age didn’t make him the natural successor of his father, BRENDAN MACK. Instead the distillery will pass to second born son, PADDY. The reason for this is that of his brothers Kieran is the most erratic. He has shirked responsibility for as long as he can remember and truthfully he too agrees that the lead of the distillery should fall to the more capable son.
The Macks had their reserved table at the Knock Knock waiting for them when a long hard day at the distillery had drawn to an end. Kieran would be especially excited when he heard favourite Knock Knock girl would be on hand. They called her Big Diane (or Double D) and her party trick was being able to serve drinks from underneath her large breasts. For Kieran’s 25th birthday THE BARONESS had treated him to having Diane use her breasts to break water melons on his chest, Kierans favourite part of the party piece.
That’s not to say that Kieran isn’t without his merit. The Mack and Sons form such a tight unit because of their loyalty to each other. Kieran may be the first to cause a headache for them but he is also the first there on hand to help when trouble arrives on Love Street. He will follow Paddy’s lead to the death if need be and should anyone believe he is a weak link in the Mack chain they would be mistaken. Brimming with the Mack spirit of fighting to the end Kieran may let his mouth run away with him most times but he will not go down without a fight.
It is no secret there is a strong bond between the KNOCK KNOCK club and theMACK AND SONS brewery. The Macks have supplied the booze and the club supplied the entertainment. For Kieran the bond was stronger than that. For him it was an extension of an already large family. As his father always told him, “yer an eejit but yer family and family is what is important.”
The Mack and Sons reserved table was filled. An attack on the Knock Knock club would leave the rehab facility HARBOUR HOUSE picking up the pieces.
In the largest office of the Law Makers, adjacent to the COURT HOUSE, dwelled a figurehead that loomed over the city like a great vengeful deity. JUDGE KARYN DOYLE. She began her career as the youngest district court judge in Coldford history and the first woman to sit on the Children’s Services Committee. She was a pioneer in a lot of ways. Justice was always her objective but what did that mean? On the face of it, that meant wrongdoers were put behind bars. People like TABITHA and the HEADLINERS wouldn’t be tolerated in her city and she would stop at nothing until satisfactory justice had been served. Justice is a set of scales though. They had to weigh up and balance. Therefore, justice was also seeing families made homeless because of unpaid rent. Justice was tearing families apart because fathers didn’t have work permits. Justice was punishing someone for fighting to protect him or herself. Justice was having a young girl’s underwear on display because some depraved rapist took advantage of her. Justice could see a rich, powerful family using their influence to protect them from slander. After everything I’ve seen in the Shady City, nothing surprised me. Justice, however, was supposed to be blind. Cold facts and evidence were supposed to be the deciding factors. Tabitha had committed some horrendous crimes and she would pay for them, but how would those scales of justice weigh up against her? Would justice even listen to the truth or would the sight of the red dress and an unrelenting attitude blind them? Tabitha wouldn’t break easily. What worried me was the extent the LAW MAKERS, who had her in their grasp, would go to in order to make sure that she did. Justice loved breaking down those who would not follow her laws. She fed on it. Tabitha deserved punishment but who else would come to harm in the process? For the time being she still had two well-polished fingers held up at them and she taunted. “You know where to find me. Come and get me.” There was nothing they could do. There were rules to follow and what was justice without rules? But as AGENT LYDIA, relieved of her under cover duties at the KNOCK KNOCK CLUB and her supervising partner AGENT KIM climbed the steps of the Law Makers office the rules were about to change.
Chaos already had the attention of justice. When chaos is allowed free roam, mistakes can be made. BERNARD ‘BUDDY’ OWEN grinned. He was from an extremely powerful family who hailed from the Great States. Their influence in the Shady City was growing by the day. They arrived in Coldford with the luxury of money and pull. Hand in hand those things are often used to fill the scales of justice. Give a little money, a little politics and you find the scales never weigh against you.
Judge Doyle spat. “There was a little girl shot dead in the Shanties and there is talk that Kappa So was responsible.”
The little girl she referred to was Sarah. I had tried to take her from the club and mistakenly return her to the father. The truth was the little girl’s father, Kevin, had been selling drugs provided by Kappa So – a fraternity group founded by Buddy’s family generations before through Filton University. Kevin had become nervous. He revealed he was willing to speak to CPD but before he could he and his daughter were gunned down. Dead bodies littering the street through violence was not an uncommon sight in the Shanties but what caught Judge Doyle’s attention was that the shots had been delivered on both with pin point accuracy. The Owen’s had a reputation for being natural marksmen. They learned to handle guns on their many ranches from an early age. It was said that an Owen was handed a pistol before they were given their mother’s breast. Buddy in particular was so at home with gun in his hand it was a more like an extension of a limb.
Doyle took a seat at her long, mahogany desk. The room smelled of fresh polish. The office was a wide space, steeped in shadows. It was unwelcoming. A cold draught circulated. The Judge had a clear view of the world from behind that desk.
“I don’t know anything about it,” he said. He was still grinning, remorse lacking.
“It was a hit from someone who knew how to handle a gun.”
Buddy’s grin widened. His square set jaw tightened.
“I will keep my ears open for the culprit ma’am.”
Doyle surveyed him. The grin fell from Buddy’s face.
“If I do find out you were responsible Bernard, there will be consequences,” asked Doyle. Her voice was steady but the threat underneath weighed heavy.
Buddy softened. “If it was one of ma boys ma’am I will find out.” he insisted.
Doyle raised her chin. “See to it that nothing like that happens again. If I hear any more of drugs, violence or assault through your Chapter House I will shut it down.”
Buddy relaxed his shoulders and stood straight. “Yes ma’am.”
A buzzer sounded. Doyle answered the call from her secretary.
“Agents Lydia Lowe and Kim Adams are here to see you ma’am.”
“Send them in,” the judge ordered. She addressed Buddy. “You, get out of my sight.”
Buddy obliged. Before he reached the doorway she called him back. “And Bernard, there will be consequences for the death of that little girl,” she warned.
As he opened the door he came face to face with the two agents. Lydia was astute. She sensed the tension between Buddy and the Judge. Buddy held her gaze
“Bernard,” barked the Judge again. “Eyes on the exit.”
Buddy pushed past. The agents entered the office of the judge and the door closed behind them.
The agents stood before the large desk. The Law Maker symbols on the pillar behind her felt like the eyes of Gods watching. Judge Doyle remained silent until Buddy had cleared the room.
“Congratulations on your success,” the Judge broke the heavy silence. “I hear she is now in custody.” She referred to Tabitha, Boss Lady of the Knock Knock Club.
Kim responded, “Yes, ma’am. We have also taken the Penn triplets into custody.”
“A job well done then,” stated Doyle coldly. The mother of the triplets, Rita Penn, didn’t take much to do with the running of things ever since the father of the triplets, Reginald, left them the Auction House. It was their chance to bring order to both the Shanties, home of the Knock Knock Club, and City Main, the area that housed the Penn Empire.
“Agent Lowe,” the judge turned her attention to Lydia. “I will expect a full report by tomorrow. We need to move things along quickly whilst we can.”
Lydia nodded in agreement. “Yes, ma’am.” Lydia knew better than most how much of a slippery fish Tabitha could be so time was of the essence.
“The Bailiffs will take it from here but I do have a specific request for you, agent.”
Lydia looked to Kim first then back at the Judge to wait for her instructions. “I have issued a gagging order on the reporter, Sam Crusow. I can’t have him talking to anyone about what happened until trial is fixed. Am I correct in saying you formed something of a bond with him? You were the first to recover him from the club and you testified to his innocence in the death of his colleague, MADELINE LOWER.”
“I had a little chance to talk to him. Getting him on the inside is the thing that gave us what we needed to bring Tabitha in. She pitted his colleague against him and he defended himself. He’s a good man.” Lydia spoke warmly on my behalf. Doyle pursed his lips. “Good man or not, reporters are dangerous. There will be enough fuss to shut out from the press because of this and I can’t have someone with his insight at large. He is a key witness and as such I want you to stay close to him. For his own protection of course and to make sure he does not under any circumstances violate my order. You have a rapport with him. Keep him calm and keep him safe.”
Lydia agreed, “Yes ma’am.”
So the agent was tasked with being by my side. As trial was set and events continued to spill out I would be glad to have her close by me.
As they stepped outside the Court House into the warm afternoon air Lydia felt ill at ease.
Lydia expressed her concern to her mentor.
“Something is a bit off about this,” she said. Her instincts were telling her something was wrong but until more motives revealed themselves she couldn’t quite put her finger on what that was.
Kim agreed. “I know, pet. Just keep your eyes open.”
“Tabitha will use any trick she has to get away,” added Lydia. She had seen some of the extents the Boss Lady had been willing to go to to get her way.
Kim shook her head. “Then let’s hope we’ve delivered her to the one person in the city who can put her away for a very long time.”
Judge Doyle was already aware of the questions that were formulating in my head. For example, where did this bad blood between the Boss Lady and The Judge first begin?
“Case file 03300347,” announced the clerk. The room was almost empty. A woman sat at the back holding two boys close to her. Tabitha watched them. One of the boys looked up and managed a small smile. Tabitha returned with a similar gesture. None of the family looked like they had slept much in days. Their black skins were lack lustre and the mum’s eyes were blood shot.
“Case file 03300347. McInney. Step forward,” the clerk ordered.
Aunt Tee patted Tabitha’s arm. “Alright honey, it’s now or never.” She shuffled from the pew they were sat in, a few rows in front of the family. Tabitha waited patiently. A cold draught blew around her with her aunt’s curvy frame removed. She had been staying at the Knock Knock Club for the past few weeks. Her parents were of course furious, but they didn’t care enough to retrieve her. TAWNY, the old Baroness of the club swore to her that she didn’t have to go anywhere. Not at least until they had had their day in court. Tawny saw that her niece was nervous that morning so she tried to fill her with confidence.
“It’s all about creating a good impression,” said the aunt. She held a pair of old spectacles to her face. “Business woman,” she pulled them away. “Gal on the go.” She put the glasses to her face again. “Business woman.” She pulled them away. “Party girl!” Tabitha had giggled. Her smile calmed Tawny’s own nerves. Before she faced the Judge she flashed her niece a confident smile. Tabitha could see the fear behind her eyes. There was so much at stake. “Good morning, ma’am,” greeted Tawny keenly. Judge Doyle offered an emotionless stare from behind her desk. She motioned for Tawny to come closer. “I see you have raised a petition for custody,” began the Judge. “The child in question is your niece. Is that correct?”
Tawny answered smoothly. “Yes ma’am. That is correct.” She gave a fleeting glance back at Tabitha as though she was checking she was still there. “Both of her natural parents are still living?”
Tawny agreed. “Yes, ma’am. They reside in FILTON.”
“I see,” Doyle mused. She flicked through some pages of notes that lay on her bench. “You do realise it is never the intention of this court to remove a child from their parents unless there are extenuating circumstances.”
Tawny remained cool but the emotion in her voice wavered a little. “There are circumstances, ma’am, really dire ones.”
Doyle pushed the notes aside. She wanted to address the petitioners directly. She leaned forward a little and fixed her gaze on the Baroness. Her eye and her neck were fine in those days. Her scars non-existent.
“Then why don’t you explain it to me.”
Tawny took a deep breath. She hadn’t wanted to discuss what had happened in such a public forum for Tabitha’s sake but she was left with no choice.
“My brother and my sister-in-law accepted money in exchange for the prostitution of my niece.”
Judge Doyle’s expressionless deportment fell into a severe frown. She reached for her notes and again flicked through them.
“That is a pretty damning accusation,” stated the Judge.
Tawny fidgeted with the blazer she wore in an attempt to seem official. “I was appalled when I heard ma’am. She’s just a little girl.”
The judge gave no clue to her thinking in her expression. “I see no police report here.” Tawny had to admit. “It wasn’t reported.”
As the Judge rested back in her chair to observe Tawny clearer, a shadow cast across her eyes.
“Why ever not? Surely if you found out such a thing it would be your first course of action? A crime of that magnitude against the child should have been reported?”
“My brother has some pretty powerful friends. It wouldn’t have helped. That’s why I wanted to appeal to you directly, ma’am. I was worried it wouldn’t reach the right ears.”
“And you were there? You saw this exchange take place?”
“No,” Tawny had to admit. “But Tabitha told me about it. My sister-in-law’s family have been drivers for the Owen family for years. They were having a party one night and made Tabitha their centre focus like she was some kind of prize. Reverend Jerry Owen was the one who organised it. He was the one that gave them the money.”
“I know Reverend Owen personally. He is a very well-respected member of the community, a charitable man. Are you saying he raped her?”
Tawny shook her head. “He didn’t get the chance to. She fought him off like a champ and ran to me.”
“So he never actually touched her?”
Tawny frowned, “What difference does that make?”
Judge Doyle waved for her to be quiet. “Suppose I accept your story and this is true. Are you fully prepared to accept responsibility for your niece?”
Tawny beamed, thinking she was finally getting through the icy exterior. “Of course.”
“Where would she be schooled?” asked the Judge.
“I … errr …” Tawny hesitated. “In the city I guess.”
The Judge leaned over and whispered something to the clerk. He took note.
“And what is it you do?” The Judge asked her.
“I’m a performer. I own a club in the city. The Knock Knock Club.”
Without looking at Tawny, Judge Doyle began taking notes. “I’ve heard of the Knock Knock club. It has quite the reputation. A night club isn’t exactly the appropriate place for a child.”
Tawny replied, “Maybe not ma’am but she has had more love and support there than she ever did at home. Ye have no idea what they’ve put that girl through!” As she became more desperate her Hathfield Bay accent started to creep in.
The judge read from the notes. “I see you have a partner.”
“Yes, a loving woman. Agnes.”
Judge Doyle looked up. Her focus locked on Tawny again. “I notice that she isn’t here with you. Is she also willing to accept responsibility for the child?”
Tawny tried to mask her frustration but it spilled into her words. “She loves Tabitha just as much as I do.”
Judge Doyle abandoned her notes and crossed her arms in front of her. “Tell me something. Is your niece happy at home?”
Tawny frowned – an alien expression on her round, pleasant face. “Of course, she isn’t. Her parents are monsters.”
Judge Doyle returned to her notes once again. A silence washed over them as she read more. Footsteps in the corridor outside broke it. The woman at the back began sobbing silently on the shoulder of her eldest son, still wrapped up in her own drama.
Judge Doyle addressed Aunt Tee again. “I see here you had a mental breakdown – acute anxiety disorder. Is that correct?”
Tawny shook her head. She hadn’t prepared for that coming up. “That was a long time ago,” she explained. “I was overworked, setting things up with the club. I just want to protect my FUCKING NIECE! …” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry ma’am. I just want to protect my niece. She’s just a little girl.”
The gaze of the judge narrowed. “I understand that emotions are running high but you will conduct yourself properly in my court or I will dismiss your case immediately. It is admirable that you want to protect her but let’s not forget that this is a troubled young girl. I see she has been in Jefferson Hall no less than five times. Assault and battery, mostly.”
Jefferson Hall was the juvenile detention center in Coldford for wayward children who were too young to be sent to the Monte Fort or Coldford Correctional.
Tabitha stood up. “You don’t know me!” She screamed, startling the family in the back. “You can’t say that.”
Tawny turned and tried to usher her to sit down. “Tabby, honey,” she said. “It’s fine. Just sit. It’s okay.”
Tabitha clamped her hands on her hips and scowled. “That cunt thinks because she’s sat behind the big desk in her big fucking chair she knows me! Because of a few bits written on a piece of paper.”
Aunt Tee tried again. “Tabby, please just calm down.”
Judge Doyle gathered the notes she had authoritatively tapped together on her desk. Her lip curled and her nostrils flared.
“Young lady, approach my bench,” she spat with venom. Tabitha obliged but she was still furious. When she stood before her The Judge said, “this court will not tolerate that kind of behaviour and for that I am dismissing your case indefinitely.”
“No!” Tawny lost her composure. “You can’t! Please just give us a chance.”
“From what I see, you are not fit to be a guardian.”
Tawny stepped forward. “I’m begging you, ma’am, please. She is not safe in that house. Please just let her come with me.”
Judge Doyle kept an icy stare on the aunt. She passed her notes to her clerk. “I’ve made my decision,” stated she.
Tawny started to sob. “She’s a good girl really. She has had her problems but she’s a good girl. They tried to buy her so she could be passed around society perverts. They stripped her down and put her on display. Please don’t send her back to that. Let her stay with me where she will be safe.”
Doyle’s arm dropped. She looked at Tabitha. The mother at the back pulled her boys closer.
“Given these accusations I have no choice but to raise it with my colleagues at the Child Services Committee. They will investigate. You are to return her to her parents within the next 24 hours until this investigation is complete. If you fail to comply, I will revoke the licence of your club and you will find yourself under charges. Do you understand?”
Tawny pulled Tabitha closer to her.
“This isn’t over,” Tabitha growled.
#amreading the #thriller #graphicnovel #knockknock by @VivikaWidow
“I love you Dennis.” CHLOE wept. “I love you more than anything. I really do.”
“Shut up,” REGGIE PENN – the youngest of the Penn triplets – shoved her dismissively away. Her thin, little body was unable to hold up against his strength. She fell against the wall and slipped down onto her bottom, weeping. MARCUS – the eldest triplet by three minutes – circled DENNIS like a hyena stalking its prey. Dennis should have known. Nowhere in the Shady City was safe from her. He had been so careful in hiding Chloe. One of the clients must have sung.
Chloe wasn’t a KNOCK KNOCK girl though. TABITHA shouldn’t have even known about her. Surely a stern warning for using the club as a venue for prostitution would be called for? A debt to pay for the money he had collected perhaps? Dennis wondered if they had found out he had spoken to me, a reporter. The Penns were only at two-thirds of their strength but the odds were still stacked in their favour.
“I’ll pay you half of anything I earned,” Dennis pleaded.
Reggie laughed. Marcus remained stoic. Reggie’s grin was sinister under a mop of blonde hair.
“Don’t hurt him. I liked doing it,” Chloe called out. “He wanted to make money and I wanted to make him happy.”
Marcus’ lips tightened. Reggie folded his arms. Dennis knew this wasn’t going to be a stern warning. Tabitha was sensitive on certain subjects. He should know that better than most.
“Pack him up for the AUCTION HOUSE,” was Marcus’ decision for Dennis. “The girl will come with us too.” Dennis’ chances of survival were becoming even more limited by the minute.
The room in the Auction House he had been taken to only offered one route of escape. The smell of the perfume Chloe had generously sprayed on (perfume Dennis had given her) masked the odour of damp rot from the old artifacts that would normally be kept there.
“C’mon guys. See sense in this. You’re businessmen. The girl told you she consented to it. She consented to all of it. I kept her safe. I’ll cut you in, all three of you.”
“You talk so much bullshit I can smell it on your breath you slithering cunt,” Reggie grinned. Marcus turned to him and with a gaze – no gesture or words – his brother fell silent.
“You are telling me that she consented to hundreds of men?” Marcus pressed.
“She was given her share,” Dennis replied.
Chloe pleaded, “I did it because I love him and I wanted him to be happy.”
Marcus ignored her. “You are telling me that she consented to being bound, beaten and left bloody?” He kept his steely stare focused on Dennis. Reggie loomed behind him.
“It was what the client wanted,” Dennis explained. Normally a man of silver-tongued words, they were falling flat for the former Knock Knock club manager.
“What about what she wanted? You took that choice away from her.”
Chloe leapt to her feet. “Please don’t hurt him!” She rushed at Reggie, her tiny fists pounded on his chest. He grabbed her narrow wrists.
“Would you look at this?!” he jested, shoving Chloe’s malnourished frame back into the chair again. She dropped her head into her hands and started to weep.
“You took that choice away from her,” Marcus repeated, “just like you took that choice away from all those other little girls.”
Dennis’ eyes widened. ‘Shit!’ he thought. They weren’t really there about prostituting Chloe after all. It was about his taste for young flesh. Underage flesh. Tabitha had been biding her time, torturing him. Finally, she was ready to deliver her punishment. It didn’t make any sense that she would leave it to the triplets though. She made Dennis her whipping boy years ago. Surely she would have wanted to be there for the finale. Without the bitch in the red dress pulling the strings of her triplet marionettes it seemed even more chilling, more uncertain.
“That hasn’t been an issue for a long time. I gave up everything. I gave up my family. Just ask the Boss Lady!”
Marcus flanked his right side. Dennis had a clear view of the doorway. He could take his chances and run for the door, but had he become so heartless and self-preserving that he would leave Chloe in the hands of the Penns? She was a victim as far as they were concerned. But if Dennis fled, who knows what they would do to deliver their own brand of justice.
“I’m not a man like you Dennis,” Marcus stated, his voice booming an echo against the old walls of the Auction House. “I’m giving you a choice. Life or death?”
“Life Dennis! Live with me,” Chloe screamed.
Reggie grabbed her by the chin. His thick blonde hair concealed some of the spark behind his eyes. “If you don’t shut up and let us do our job, I’m going to cut you open from tit to toe.”
Reggie looked back at his brother. “She’s really grinding me. Her whining voice got on my last nerve about a half hour ago.”
“Let me go. I’ll go far away. You’ll never have to hear from me again. I’ll disappear,” Dennis put in.
Marcus needed confirmation. “So you are choosing life?”
Dennis hadn’t survived as long as he had without having his wits about him. He was shrewd enough to know that whatever the Penns had planned for him, death would be preferable. But he had his son, MILO, to think about. He hadn’t seen his boy in years. He would be so grown up by now. He wondered if the head of thick, dark hair he had been born with would have lightened or if it was still the same. OLIVIA, his ex wife, had wanted to change the world in her own little way, make it a better place. She thought she had been helping those little girls by bringing them into her home as a social worker. She didn’t know she had been bringing them into the clutches of a predator. Tabitha had been one of those girls. She had been the one to tame that predator, removing his sharp teeth and his appetite along with it. “Life,” Dennis agreed. Whatever horrors the triplets had to inflict would be nothing if it meant seeing Milo again. Marcus turned with raised eyebrows to Reggie. Reggie drew a phone from the back pocket of the black jeans he wore. He dialled. There were a few rings that seemed to echo the beat of Dennis’ heart. Ring ring, ring ring. “We’re going to need Big Cathie down here. Dinner for two.” “No!” Dennis cried out. “No, I changed my mind. I choose death. Please! I choose death!” “Too late,” said Marcus simply. With a whack Dennis was knocked out cold. When Dennis came to again they had stripped him naked. He tried to run towards Chloe who waited hysterically in the hall. They caught him and dragged him back.
“Reg?” Dennis tried the younger. “I thought we were pals? Haven’t I turned a blind eye to some of your depraved appetites over the years?”
Reggie’s tastes weren’t for flesh. Women or even men interested him little. What he had was a morbid fascination with cruelty, ever since he was a little boy.
“One thing I’ve learned,” Reggie replied. “People suck. And you are dregs of them all.” Abandoning reason due to the danger he was in, Dennis did try to run but like a rabbit caught in a trap there was no logic to his escape.
An excruciating hour later the security door buzzed. Reggie answered and allowed entry to a skeletally thin man who reached over six foot tall. He was the monster of a man they called Big Cathie. He was so called because of the catheter in his hand attached to a drip he pulled behind him.
He wasn’t long for the world. Cathie was an AIDS patient. He would be dead soon by some disease or other, but in the meantime the Knock Knock Club kept him in a life of luxury because they found him most useful. The HIV virus proved a useful tool in threatening enemies when they refused to cooperate, and when all else failed a way of inflicting a slow and painful death. There were treatments of course but the virus was still enough to elicit fear in the most stubborn.
Cathie was treated like a king on behalf of the HEADLINERS. In return he would oblige their wishes. Tabitha was a good woman as far as Cathie was concerned. Life had dealt him a harsh blow. He had two sons and a wife he would be leaving behind. His wife didn’t want to know him but he could at least provide something for the boys. Tabitha guaranteed that in exchange he would use his horrible virus to infect creeps like Dennis.
Cathie had only met the club manager once but his reputation preceded him.
“Little kids? That’s fucking disgusting,” Cathie had agreed. The Penns saw infection with HIV as something of poetic justice.
“Look guys. This is unnecessary. If the Boss Lady thought I was so dangerous she wouldn’t want me running around when I could infect young girls, would she?” Dennis played the only hand he had left.
“Are you suggesting that if we do this we won’t be teaching you a lesson?” Reggie put to him.
“It could make me dangerous,” stated Dennis.
Reggie brushed his hair back and grinned. “Who says we were going to let you go?” Marcus gripped Dennis by the throat. “It’s a terrible thing, taking a young girl before her time. It can be painful for her but it is also damaging in ways that will never heal. Your filthy fucking stench will gnaw at her for the rest of her life. So you are now going to sample at least some of the hurt you inflicted on those innocents. This virus will eat away at you. Just like those little girls now afraid of anyone touching them, you will feel what that is like as disease courses through your veins. When you stole the innocence of those little girls you gave them a life sentence. The virus is going to steal a little part of you away every minute of every day. What will kill you? Measles? Rubella? Common cold? Who knows, but maybe then you will have some idea of the torture you have put your victims through. They will never get over what you did to them just as you will never recover and you will never come within sight of your little boy again.”
“C’mon Marcus. This is just a scare tactic. I submit okay. I submit!”
As Reggie spoke, Dennis heard Tabitha’s voice. “No scare tactic this time. So you can drop your pants and bend over or you can take that poisoned cock in your mouth. You see? Choices!”
“I know Tabitha is a spiteful bitch but please …”
Reggie pointed to Cathie’s flaccid penis. “You better get that thing fired up. This one is a wriggler.”
Dennis was laid across the table. Cathie hovered in the corner like the threat of a biblical play. Marcus set about securing Dennis to the spot. Reggie climbed up on the table and sat down.
“You see the game last week Cath?” He asked Cathie.
He was referring to a football match between Coldford City and the western town of Bellfield. City was the richest and biggest team in the area. The father of the triplets, Reginald, was a proud supporter of the team and now the Penn Auction House sponsored them.
“I didn’t watch the second half,” Cathie admitted. “Those Bellfield scumbags should never have gotten a penalty.”
Reggie nodded in agreement. “You are right there. Should have put four past them, if it weren’t for their fucking keeper.”
Cathie nodded consolingly. Meanwhile Marcus continued securing Dennis to the table.
When he finished, Reggie cheered. Dennis could feel the dirt and crumbs of the table against his bare stomach. Marcus was seated at the table’s end, watching with an expressionless, cold stare. Reggie was standing beside him. Chloe was still crying hysterically out in the hallway. She couldn’t quite comprehend what was happening. All she could say was, “Special cuddles for Dennis because I love him.”
Big Cathie had his hands clamped around Dennis’ waist.
“I know he’s an ugly cunt,” Reggie commented to Cathie. “Just close your eyes and think of City.”
Reggie stepped outside the Auction House where the air was cooler. The interior always seemed so claustrophobic to him despite its high ceilings and open rooms. It was why he preferred the warehouse just on the outskirts of City Main. It was in this warehouse he kept thirty-three cages of rats. Ever since his father gave him a black rat on his thirteenth birthday he’d had a fascination with rodents – rats especially. Next to humans rats were the most successful species on earth, but unlike humans they still operated on an instinctual level. That spoke volumes for them as far as Reggie Penn was concerned. He liked to watch them, observe their behaviour patterns and apply that to his human interactions. He guessed he was a scientist at heart. If his mother hadn’t wanted him to take his share of their namesake Auction House he could have been in a lab somewhere, but there he was helping his brothers keep things running smoothly. Observing the rats he noted there was nothing they wouldn’t do for a little gratification. If you pierced them with electrodes that stimulated an orgasm every time they pushed a button they would keep pressing on that button, forgetting all else until they died of thirst or starvation. Their young followed soon after. In that sense the rats weren’t unlike humans Reggie decided. We too are always chasing gratification, whether it’s from a partner, alcohol, drugs or sugar. We always chase that feel-good.
Reggie also observed that no matter what he did to the rats they would always see him as master. He could burn their tails, make them watch as he cut off the heads of their young, it didn’t matter because the minute he brought them a food pellet he was a God to them. Humans could be trained in the same way. It just took a bit more time. He even tried it with his brother. One night he climbed into bed with Simon and tried to masturbate him. Simon beat him bloody for his troubles, resulting in a hospital trip and their mother being very upset. Not every experiment was a success he supposed. For Reggie power over something was the gratification that he was chasing. Being an all-giving leader pleased him and he would push that button all day. It wasn’t easy being a triplet – especially the youngest. You were always seen as being only one third of a whole person. It didn’t matter that Marcus was in charge and Simon was the tough one because when he returned to his rat cages at the warehouse he could still be a God. He put a cigarette between his lips and drew his phone from his pocket. It seemed like an appropriate time to update his social media pages. He couldn’t tell his followers about Cathie – although in Reggie’s mind it was probably the thing they would love to hear about, something hilarious that they would all get a kick out of. But he would play nice. He had already had to set up several new profiles because his previous ones had been shut down due to ‘violation of the rules.’
He was scrolling through pictures of scantily clad young women pressing LIKE (a lot like an orgasm button he supposed) when the phone started to ring. The caller I.D was one of their agents, Jeremy.
Reggie answered. “Yeah?” he enquired.
The agent sounded a little flustered. It wasn’t unlike Jeremy to be uptight but he seemed more so than usual.
“The Boss Lady has been taken in,” he said. “A friend at CPD just told me. They’ve got Simon too”
At first Reggie was unsure he had heard correctly. “What did you say?” The noise of the City Main traffic seemed to drown out the agent’s voice.
“They’ll be coming for you and Marcus. The Boss Lady has been taken in. I’m at CPD now. Simon was taken too.”
The agent’s voice dipped away as he talked to someone. The harsh accent from the part of town west of Coldford suggested it was PADDY MACK of MACK AND SONS. They were both angry.
“The Boss Lady has been taken in. Let Marcus know. He isn’t answering his phone.” At that the agent rang off.
Just as Reggie prepared to head back inside and warn his brother a fleet of CPD cars pulled up. Led by Kim Adams. Before Reggie could move Kim was on him.
“I’m already having one hell of a day so are you going to test me?”
Reggie grinned and reached his arms up.
“You’re making a mistake,” he warned.
“Yeah, your brother said the same thing.” The CPD officers closed in.
Reggie Penn was taken into custody.
Marcus growled at the noise of the commotion. He sensed what had happened but it was too late to retreat. He hated the idea of being forced into retreat anyway. If they had managed to bring Tabitha in, the Penn dynasty was in immediate danger. Like a house of cards, the pillars of The Shady City were beginning to fall. Kim appeared at the door.
“It’s over,” she said.
“For now,” was Marcus’ cold reply. He came surprisingly quietly.
It could have been his imagination but Dennis could already feel himself becoming sick. Was that really the case or was his mind playing tricks on him? He couldn’t know for certain but he certainly felt weaker than he was before. Sure, the Penns hadn’t gone easy on him and Cathie had left him bloody but the disease, the virus was already raging around his body. If it was a placebo effect it was damn good one. Before Dennis had met Tabitha he had always been the man in charge, the go-to guy. She had stripped him of every bit of effervescence he had until he was a shadow of his former self. Was it a fitting punishment for the harm he had caused to little girls or the result of a mad woman’s psychopathic tendencies? It wasn’t my job to judge or to weigh up justice. Tabitha was behind bars and likely would be for a long time. Nothing was going to delete what Dennis had done to those little girls or his turning simpleminded, desperate girls like Chloe to prostitution. What mattered then was how he was going to use what time was left for him.
Trapped in the Auction House he had limited options but a guy like Dennis was never held back completely. He could at least make strides to protect himself.
“Chloe?” he called.
She had never left his side. The Penns weren’t exactly stopping her leaving but it wouldn’t be likely she could walk out of the Auction House so easily. She chose to wait with him. Wait for inevitable death? In the end maybe she would climb into the coffin beside him. It may be difficult to understand but she truly believed she couldn’t live without him.
“You have to go,” he said.
“No!” she squealed. She had been waiting on him asking this of her but it was the one thing she wouldn’t give. “I’m not leaving you.”
“You have to. I need you to find me a doctor. If you ask Marcus, he will allow it. Please. I need you to fetch me a man named DR WINSLOW.” Chloe blinked the tears away that were forming in her eyes. “Marcus will let him come here. He’s the only one who can help me. He’s the only one who stands a chance of helping me live long enough to see an end to all of this.”
“I’ll find the doctor,” cheered Chloe. “I’ll find him and he will make you feel better. I promise. I’ll give Marcus whatever he wants and Reggie too if you like.”
Dennis managed a smile. He shifted on the wooden panelled floor and winced in pain.
“Good. I need you to ask Marcus very nicely to bring me Dr Winslow. Can you do that?” Chloe nodded simply. She looked a little confused and upset still so he needed more confirmation. “Repeat it back to me, kid.”
“I ask for Dr Winslow. I ask Marcus really, really nicely.”
Dennis managed a smile again. She was so glad she could cheer him up.
Speaking more to himself he said, “She thinks she’s got the last laugh. I’m going to fuck her up. If I’m going down, I’m going to make her sorry she ever crossed my path.”
Chloe blinked, perplexed. The bitterness in his voice wasn’t like him. He was normally so calm even under dire circumstances.
The point was moot anyway because CPD had already landed on the Auction House. Marcus was under arrest and as the officers burst into the room where Dennis was being held he and Chloe were separated. It seemed Dennis’ day of beating and questioning was far from over. As manager of the Knock Knock club and willing to talk against his Headliner masters, Dennis was an incredible asset for the Law Makers as the trial was set. Chloe looked up to Kim’s strong and protective face. It reminded her of a lioness she had seen at City Zoo when Dennis took her once to meet a client. The lioness had put herself in front of the cubs and watched the alpha male closely. The alpha male was intimidated. It wouldn’t approach the cubs whilst the lioness was around.
“Are you hurt pet?” she asked softly.
Chloe managed a smile despite herself. “I’m fine.”
Kim reached her hand out and clasped Chloe’s. “I’m going to need you to come with me. It’s going to be okay.” She spoke into her comm device. “I need some women officers in here.”
Thanks to Lydia’s international agency team, Chloe was taken to the safety of CPD.
#amreading the #thriller #graphicnovel #knockknock by @VivikaWidow
She was told to arrive at the club around four pm. Emily thought she would be the only one but there was another woman there. She was standing outside the door. The Knock, Knock club sign hung high about her head. She was beautiful, with porcelain skin and a finely formed figure beneath the black t shirt and khaki trousers she wore. She was far prettier than Emily. Emily never saw herself as anything special. Her fair hair was brittle and no matter how many bottles of dye she put over it she could never get it the shade of honey blonde she had as a girl. It just made it even more brittle. She was nothing special but when she danced she turned heads. She was trained in ballet and tap. She could be dancing at some of the biggest theatres in the city but when the recession hit the theatres were shut down. She had to find her bread somehow so she answered a mysterious ad at the back of the Coldford Daily. ‘Dancers wanted’ it said. It didn’t specify which type of dance but Emily was sure it wouldn’t be ballet. She called the number given. The man she spoke to didn’t give her much information. He just asked her what experience she had, gave her an address and asked her to come by the club at four pm. Looking at the exterior of Knock, Knock nerves began to flutter in her stomach like opening night jitters. If she hadn’t been so desperate she would never have gone through with it. “Do you work here?” Emily asked the other. “Not yet,” she replied with a friendly smile. “I assume you are here for the dancer job?” she enquired. Emily felt more at ease. If she had to bring herself to this seedy club to pay her well overdue bills then at least she would have a friend. “The manager will be round in a minute to let us in,” she explained. The other woman’s choppy, black hair was luscious and had a playful hint of blue through it. “My name is Lydia” She took Emily’s hand and shook it. “Are you sure you want to be in a place like this?” she asked. “I have to get the work where I can,” she replied. The nerves returned. Lydia was going to say something but before she could get the words out the door was pulled open. A tall, lean man inspected them both from the door way. “Dancers?” he asked. “That’s right,” Lydia answered for them both. Emily found herself nodding stupidly. “Come on in,” he beckoned. The inside of the club was even grottier than the exterior made it seem. The tables on the club floor had their chairs piled on top of them, not ready for that evening’s performance. On one of the vacant tables sat a pile of money. The man lifted the money and slipped it into a white bag. Lydia watched him closely. “I’m Dennis. I’m manage this place,” he said when the money was stored away. “We’re in a bit of a bind. Our last dancer didn’t get on with our main act. To cut a long story short we need dancers to start right away.” He pulled one of the chairs down and took a seat. The women remained standing. “I’m free to start,” Emily managed to get the words out. Dennis flicked the black hat he wore to the back of his head and leaned forward. “I don’t have much time so let me see what you got.” Emily looked to Lydia. “Look,” he said reaching into his shirt pocket and producing a cigarette. “I can’t have you getting shy on me. I’m not running a kid’s club here. If you are going to dance you are going to have to please the customer. Now strip.” Lydia raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips. She pulled off her t shirt revealing a black brazier underneath. She unclipped the brazier and dropped the floor. She stood straight, bare breasted. Dennis gave a sardonic smile. “That a girl,” he commented. He turned to Emily. “So are you going to play the game or am I going to have to look elsewhere?” Emily still hesitated. Dennis tapped his wrist. “Time is money sweetness. Either you get the girls out or there is no work here for you.” That day Emily peeled the clothes from her body under the leering stare of the club manager. The Knock, Knock club expected a lot from her. What else was she to do?
The graphic novel series is free to read here at Vivika Widow Online or download for kindle.