Tag Archives: the knock knock club

Knock Knock: Episode 50: Diamond In the Rough

A chill was in the air as the funeral service for Mrs Margaret Williams filed out of Chamberlain Crematorium, located in the north section of Coldridge Park. 

Margaret’s granddaughter, Marlene, pushed her mother’s wheelchair out. 

“She had a good life,” said Marlene. Her mother, Moira, agreed. She had been ninety-three when she passed, comfortable in her bed, still cheering her beloved City football team, and surrounded by family. A goal from Andre Luis had won the game against Cardyne. She rested back with a smile and passed. She had seen so much in her life, too. She had been so many exciting places. What more could someone ask for? 

Seth Bergman of the Bergman diamond dynasty, and cousin to the missing Kappa So brother Isaac, extinguished his cigarette underneath the sole of the black boots he wore. His father, Howard, had always warned him, “Try not to smoke when you’re greeting people. The smell of tobacco isn’t particularly pleasant for some and you’re representing yourself.”

Seth approached Marlene and Moira. 

“Oh Seth,” Marlene gasped with joy. “Thank you for coming.”

Seth kissed Marlene’s cheek. He then leaned down and kissed that of Moira who clutched his hand and kept a hold of it. 

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Seth assured them.

He was glad he had blown warm air onto his hands before greeting. No one liked to hold a cold hand, especially whilst grieving. A gloved hand was too impersonal.

“A lovely boy is Seth,” said Moira from her chair. “A lovely boy.” 

“If we can do anything for you, please just let me know,” he put to them. “I’ll let you get on and I’ll be in touch,” he said as the crowd from the crematorium began to spill towards them.

He waited aside respectfully for the mourners to clear before following the path round to the back of the building. The door was opened and Eugene Morris aka The Tailor emerged, accompanied by the Holy Brother of the Albans order. 

“Good evening, sir,” Seth approached. “Good evening, Father.” 

“Seth, my dear boy,” said Eugene. “I pass this now into your care.” 

To Seth he gave a ceramic urn containing the ashes of Mrs Williams. 

“Thank you, sir,” Seth nodded. “I‘ll see her well.” 

“How is your sister?” asked Eugene.

“Elsa? She’s keeping herself out of trouble.”

“Good, good,” nodded Eugene. “And your father? How is he?” 

“He’s doing well, thank you,” was Seth’s reply. “This Article 22 situation is a little unnerving.” 

Eugene nodded. “He’ll be especially upset at the loss of Reginald Penn.” 

Seth agreed. “It was a sad loss but we have to carry on, don’t we?” 

The Holy Brother dipped his hands into the opposing sleeves of his robes. 

“My concern is with the young one – Reginald Junior. Through terrible circumstances he’s been left on his own. He really needs friends to keep him right,” he said.

Seth replied, “I did contact him online but there was no response, which is unusual for him. Elsa tried calling him too but he was just not to be reached. We both figured after Rita’s burial he wanted to be left alone for a while.”

Eugene lowered his voice. “It’s not for me to comment but I’m sure a visit from a friend would do him the world of good.”

“Yes sir,” agreed Seth. 

And so the group parted with Seth Bergman carefully escorting Mrs Williams’ remains. 

***

City Main was always a busy place. The noise of it was enough to cover the tick-booming of the City Face clock unless you caught it at a certain time of the morning. That being said, Seth Bergman was astounded to find such a commotion around the base of Faulds Park. 

Admirers were gathered to seemingly show their support of the lone prince. Some had laid candles and wreaths for the king and queen. Rita in particular was a very active member of the community. She had the heart of the Baroness and the mind of the Broker. I learned that Rita – as sweet as she could be – was fearless when it came to protecting her people. Of course, Reginald carried out any violence required so his queen wouldn’t have to, but upon research I found that Rita was adept at getting among them. 

At the doorway to Faulds Park was stood a man in Wigan robes. He was ringing his bell.

Ding ding. Ding ding.

“Repent before it’s too late!” he was yelling. 

The Loyalists seemed to be leaving him be. They were more focused on an imminent clash that would occur when Billy Owen decided to send CPD. 

It was a long ride up to the Penthouse but when Seth reached it the noise was worse than the floors below. Music boomed and people flooded everywhere. Seth stopped one of them. “I’m here to see Reggie,” he explained. “Where is he?” 

“Reggie isn’t seeing anyone,” the greeter remarked. 

Seth frowned. “It doesn’t seem that way now does it?” he passed comment on the gathering with a raised eyebrow. “Where is Reg Junior?” 

That was when Seth noticed the purple ribbons of Wigan tied around wrists and necks. The Wigan cross was displayed on chests. The man he had stopped slipped away. Seth watched as he approached what appeared to be a superior. They both looked at him. He stood his ground. 

“Seth?” Finally he had an audience with Reggie. 

Seth had seen images of the triplet prince in the press. He looked worse for wear but he hadn’t expected to find him so dishevelled. He clutched his face and looked at him closely. His skin was warm, sweaty, feverish. 

“You’re taking too many drugs,” Seth stated. “I know you went through a lot but you need to pull yourself together.”

Reggie shook him off dismissively. When he noticed Seth glare at him he laughed. 

“I’m fine,” he said. “Top shape. I’m just relaxing, like. Got plenty of people around. It’s all good.” 

That was when Seth took note of the young woman who accompanied him. She was holding his hand. She offered a polite smile to the Bergman boy. She was dressed as a true Wigan from the bay. 

“This is Leona,” Reggie introduced.  

“Nice to meet ye,” her accent confirmed her pedigree.

Reggie groaned. He was starting to feel pain in his leg and the stab wounds in his abdomen were stinging again. The dressings would be needing changed soon. He needed pills. 

“Reggie, you need to be careful,” Seth warned. “You don’t know these people.” 

Becoming a little frustrated with the pain, Reggie grunted. “I know Leona,” he explained. “She’s been looking out for me. Where the fuck have you been?” 

“Now, Reggie,” said Leona softly. “That’s no way to speak to a friend.” 

“I have been trying to get in touch,” said Seth. 

Leona spoke for him. “Too much contact with the outside world with computers and telephones wasn’t doing him much good.” 

“And who were you to decide that?” Seth asked angrily. 

Leona was unmoved but her softness continued. “I care a lot about Reggie. I’ve been helping him get better.” 

“By plying him with drugs?” Seth exclaimed. 

This angered the triplet. 

“I’m standing right here. Don’t talk to her like that,” he growled. “I’m not some fucking simpleton. I’m … Look, I’ll be fine.” 

“I think you should leave,” said Leona. 

“If Reggie wishes me to leave I will,” returned the diamond merchant. 

Leona clenched Reggie’s hand tighter. 

“Just fuck off Seth,” said the triplet. “I mean thanks for coming down and all that but I’m good.” 

Seth nodded. “Glad to hear it. Just call me if you need anything.” 

To Leona, Seth said, “If you truly care about him, you will make sure he talks to his brothers.” 

Leona smiled. “Whatever is best for him,” she said. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr Bergman. Now Reggie has asked you to leave.” 

“That’s shit,” Reggie was saying to Leona as the elevator doors closed and took Seth away. “I should have asked him to stay for a joint or something.”

Leona hushed him. She patted his hand gently. “I’m sorry Reggie,” she said. “It’s hard to know who’s good for you and who isn’t. I’m sure he’ll understand when you’re better. I just want what’s best for ye. You need to relax. You’re getting uptight again.” 

Reggie agreed. “I can’t thank you enough for being here,” he said. “I don’t know what I would do without you.” 

“I’m happy to be here, although it is really unnerving,” she said. 

“I’ll not let anything happen to you,” Reggie assured. 

“Wigan bless ye,” Leona replied. 

Time for another trip. Transport provided by heether mushrooms. 

***

“Bergman Memorial, because life is precious. Your loved one deserves to be remembered in the most shining way possible. No one knows your loved one better than you, so you will be given full support from one of our master cultivators throughout the heartfelt process.” 

Seth could hear his father’s voice in the old advert as he took two scoops of Mrs Williams’ ashes to begin the blend. 

“With a history of perfection that spans generations, our cutting and polishing is carried out to the highest quality; and because we know how important it is to your family, we take pain staking care that your diamond is worthy of remembrance.”

As Seth prepared to purify the ashes, that was when I arrived and knocked on the door of the lab where one of the merchants in the parade upstairs had told me I would find him. 

“Take a seat, Sam,” he offered as he spun around in his stool. 

“Thanks for agreeing to see me,” I said genuinely. 

During my time in Coldford the Bergmans had managed to be everywhere but nowhere. They had ties to the Loyalists of Main as well as Kappa So and the Law Makers. Not an easy task to manage such varied groups. Seth’s father – Howard – was a well known and loved figure but what was astonishing to me was how cleanly he conducted business. Perhaps I had been in the Shady City a little too long and it was making me sceptical, but even as I passed the beautiful pieces of jewellery I kept searching for the shadows behind the shine. The family intrigued me and given Seth’s attempts to see Reggie I thought it would be good to get his views. 

Amicable like his father, Seth was more welcoming than most to a reporter. His dark hair and wild blue eyes much like his Aunt Sophie’s. 

He laughed heartily when I told of my discovery of Reggie and Tabitha in David Finn’s apartment. 

“When The Tailor shows concern there must be something very wrong,” Seth spoke of Reggie. “When I went to Faulds Park it was strange. Reggie himself seems content for now.” 

“The Auction House is being put up for sale again,” I said. “I heard your father made a bid.” 

Seth replied, “As much as he loathes business with Chick Owen, he felt it was only right to try and help Reggie get it back whilst the boys are in prison.” 

Finally, a break in the armour of the ever-friendly Howard Bergman.

“Bad history with the Owens then?” I asked. 

“My father isn’t one to harbour grudges or bad blood but he finds the Owens arrogant, conceited, and too quick to throw their weight around. An Owen killed Reginald Penn. You can quote me on saying that if you like,” said Seth.

“So your family wouldn’t have been happy that your cousin pledged Kappa So?” I pressed.

“My aunt was furious at Isaac. My dad was too, but he’s his own man and has been making some positive changes from within the frat,” Seth explained. “They asked me to join too but I wouldn’t be caught dead inside that Chapter House.” 

There was a knock on the door. 

“Come in,” Seth beckoned. 

The door opened and a short man with wild grey hair bounded in. He was quite upset about something.

“I’m not having this. Is this some kind of joke? Where the fuck is Isaac? Fucking frat boys.” 

“Woah!” warned Seth. “Language please, Abe. Can’t you see I have company?” 

Abe looked to me. He still seemed worked up but he adapted his tone. 

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m leaving this with you. I’m not doing anything until I hear from Isaac.” 

He dropped a bag into Seth’s lap and made his exit. Seth opened the bag. I watched his expression change to that of one of surprised amusement. He began to laugh.

“I hope you’re not prudish, Sam,” he said. 

From the bag he removed a large penis carved in gold. Abe Rothenstein was one of the Bergman’s leading gold mongers. His family had carved some of the most beautiful golden pieces, some of which were worn by royalty. 

Seth turned it over and looked at the stamp at the bottom. 

“No!” he gasped. Then he began to laugh even harder. “1015. That’s the mark of Hen Owen. This is the captain’s telescope.” 

That was when I first set eyes on the golden asset. With a warning from Ronnie, Buddy had turned to the best goldsmiths in the city for help correcting it. Seeing it as a frat boy prank – which, in fairness to Abe, it was – it had now fallen into Bergman hands. Howard Bergman loathed to do business with the Owens. Those were his son’s words. I could only imagine how Chick Owen would feel about Howard Bergman should he find his golden asset. 

“I’m going to need you to sit on this, Sam, ” Seth said. He chuckled when he realised what he was waving at me. “I mean the story, not this.” 

***

With an invitation in hand to Howard Bergman’s coming together gathering, I arrived at Bergman estate. The patriarch had been hoping to give the city a chance to heal. I was escorted through the estate in Kingsgate. It was a beautiful place with expansive lawns and a little patch of woodland surrounding it. When I arrived, the party had already begun. Seth himself wouldn’t be there until nine but he promised me some time with his father. 

“Just as long as you know you’re probably going to learn a lot about the history of Levinkrantz,” Seth warned in jest.

I was prepared for that providing Howard was willing to share some insight into the bad blood between he and Chick Owen. 

Some called it Castle Bergman because of how fortified it was. Inside was like any other family home. On the walls were photos of the Bergmans. There was one of a young Seth. There were others too, of his cousins Isaac and Eli who I still had to meet. Special placement had been given to Seth’s sister, Elsa. She was a rebellious looking girl who clutched her father affectionately in the photo kissing his cheek. A genuine moment of joy had been captured on Howard’s face. 

“Sam!” the man himself called to me from across the hall. He politely dismissed himself from the group he was entertaining. 

“Thank you for the invitation, Mr Bergman,” I replied. 

With an arm around my shoulder he led me to the main hall. I could see Sophie with the large man named Golem who acted as her interpreter. She was smiling, greeting some guests with a kiss on both cheeks. Golem stood obediently by her side. 

“If you don’t mind, Sam, I need to get everyone settled. You have a drink and enjoy the party.” 

I was seated at a delightful table with Abe Rothenstein and his brother Ike. They had hilarious stories to share, comments to pass on those at the other tables and a penchant for drinking booze by the gallon. Howard stopped by every now and again in between entertaining his other guests. 

“You should write a story about my grandfather,” Ike was saying. “The Levinkrantz blitz destroyed his whole building but he still refused to move. He just hung sheets up where the walls had been blasted away.” 

Abe put in, “Just swept all that dust and rubble right out.” 

“They offered him a new house but he told them to stick that where the sun can’t get to,” added Ike. 

“He was ninety-eight when he died,” said Abe. 

Ike shook his head. “Still wouldn’t move. We had to bury him there.” 


They both started laughing. Their merry chuckles were quite infectious. Abe filled my glass with more Waldens vintage. 

By the time it reached 8 o’clock the band was very much in full swing. A pleasant night was being had by all. At around eight ten, that was when things began to turn sour. 

“Uncle Howie?” Isaac arrived in a hurry, pulling Howard away from his party. 

“Isaac? Where have you been? We’ve all been worried about you.” 

“I need to talk to you,” said the nephew. “Right away.” 

“Oh dear, Mr Bergman!” cried one of the ladies. “I’ve spilled some wine.” 

“Not to worry,” said Howard. “We’ll get that cleaned up.” To his nephew he said, “Whatever is going on, now is neither the time nor the place. Breakfast tomorrow. You and I will sit and we’ll discuss what’s on your mind. We’ve missed you around the estate.” 

Before he could explain further, Howard had waved to a new arrival. 

“Karyn!” he called. “You look tremendous.” 

“Shit!” Isaac grumbled. 

The Judge herself was accompanied by his mother, Sophie, and the interpreter, Golem. As Howard fell into conversation with Karyn Doyle, Isaac made an attempt to sign ‘I need your help’ to his mother, but didn’t catch her eye.

A server bumped into him carrying a tray.

“Sorry, sugar,” said the soft voice. 

The server passed the tray. Isaac had been too busy looking for an opportunity to get Golem or his mother on their own, he hadn’t noticed the server close in behind him. She pinched his backside. 

“Woah!” Isaac jerked around but as he came face to face with her, she pushed him against the wall and locked her lips to his. Isaac could hear whistles from party-goers in the main area where the booze was flowing. 

Isaac was led into a small room just off the main corridor. The server woman, not a woman at all. Freddy Stoker pulled off the platinum blonde wig. Irvine Stoker kicked the door closed. 

“You want to talk to someone, Isaac? I’m listening. Freddy? Let the Easys in.”

There was already tapping at the window. Freddy crossed the room, opened the window and the two trapeze artists slipped in. 

“I always said never trust a Bergman,” Irvine went on. “Now look where we are.” 

The Easys pulled rope in with them.

Irvine reached into his pocket and produced a tobacco tin. He opened it and tapped a sample of powder onto a long finger nail and sniffed. Freddy’s hand reached up slowly to sample some but Irvine slapped it away. “Get your own,” he warned his son. 

He slipped a metal pole down the sleeve of his patched coat. 

“Isaac,” he said. “I’m going to have fun with this.” 

“The blood splatter,” warned Freddy. 

Irvine danced around Isaac as the Easys laid tarpaulin they had brought in backpacks. Irvine angled himself towards the window. 

Whack!

***

Karyn Doyle always attended the parties of Howard Bergman. She was almost as comfortable in the Bergman Estate as she was in her own home. One particular evening, when she was a freshly-appointed judge, she had wandered onto the balcony for some air. It was a pleasant night. The summer warmth and the closing of sunset cast an orange glow across Kingsgate. She embraced a little of the ambience when the door opened and she was joined by Van Holder. She turned. She smiled but her focus went back to the view. He approached her and wrapped his arms around her waist and pressed gently against her. 

“You’ve been making me hungry all night,” he jested as he nibbled playfully on her neck. 

Karyn giggled girlishly and stroked his thigh. The music and the party sounded behind them. They could hear laughter as one of the Rothensteins tried to get a sing-song started. 

Van Holder ran his hands gently down her stomach and hitched her dress up slightly, and began to massage her through the black lace panties she wore until she gave a little gasp. That was the signal to tug the panties down. She turned her head and he leaned forward kissing her passionately. She turned to the view again as she felt his hardness discretely push inside her. Soft, rhythmic, but with a lustful grip around her waist, Van Holder grunted and there they came together as husband and wife. 

“A bottle of Macks for the first person who can name all the streets of Main!” they could hear Howard drunkenly call. 

“We had better go back inside,” said Karyn. 

Van Holder, having righted himself, stepped aside. “After you, Your Honour.” 

Van Holder – given the nature of his occupancy in Subala – was kept away from them. Karyn – an army brat herself – knew exactly what that was like. Van Holder made as much time for their son as he could when he was there. 

“Bye dad,” said Cameron for what felt like the millionth time in his life. Van Holder clutched his head and kissed it. 

“You be good,” he said. “Just need to nip out.” 

Just nipping out. It was a phrase Van Holder used to calm the boy whenever he had to leave. Just nipping out could take several months or more but if he was just ‘nipping out’ Cameron knew he would be back eventually. 

If Ruud Van Holder of the Subala Black Bands had known that that would be the last time he would see his son alive, he would have stayed that little bit longer. 

***

“I can’t stay all evening, I’m afraid,” Judge Karyn Doyle informed her host. 

“And how is Cameron? Haven’t seen the young man around. I was hoping to pick his brain about Kingsgate’s chances of winning the cup,” Howard was asking. 

The Judge’s attention was snatched by her sister, Ashley, who had readied her table. 

“You go ahead,” said Howard pleasantly. “We’ll catch up later.” 

To his own sister he signed, “Where did Isaac go? He was upset about something.”

Sophie patted Golem’s shoulder. 

“I’ll find him,” agreed the monstrously large man. 

I looked over from my table to see Karyn take her seat with Ashley. She looked worried about something. At the time I thought it might have been upholding Article 22 taking its toll on her but I know now it was something much worse. 

Without her interpreter Sophie took her brother’s arm, scanning the room keenly. As Golem went in search of the only Bergman to pledge Kappa So, Howard addressed his guests. 

“Good evening, everyone,” he said. “It’s good to have you all here and despite the troubles in the city I am very pleased to say the new section of Harbour House, helping those displaced by the violence, will be open very soon. Thank you all for your generosity. There is still time to aid this wonderful cause and I’d like to make a special mention to Elizabeth Beckingridge for beginning this. Ironically, she can’t be here tonight because she’s…well we all know Liz. She’s a little overzealous. Anyway, if you still care to give to Harbour House I’ll happily match any donations made this evening. In the meantime, relax. There’s plenty of food and booze.” 

“Wooo!” Abe Rothenstein cheered, filling his glass. “Have another one Sam.” 

Indulging in the atmosphere I drank more. I would have refused it if I had known what was to happen next. 

***

Whack!

Isaac coughed up blood. 

“Aren’t you going to fall out cold?“ asked Irvine, wiping sweat from his forehead. 

Whack!

“Fuck you!” Isaac spat as he clambered onto his feet. He charged at Irvine managing to punch him, rattling free some false teeth. 

Freddy picked them up. Errol easy wrapped a rope around Isaac’s neck and heaved him back, falling into a painting, sending it crashing to the floor. 

Irvine addressed his trapeze artists. 

“Get him out of here,” he instructed. “We’ve made too much noise now. That clay boy, Golem, is going to be looking for him. Freddy?” He turned. “Where’s Freddy? Ah there you are.”

Freddy was fixing the painting back to exactly how it was when they arrived. 

“Make sure this place is spotless.” 

Freddy nodded. 

“Hope you’re not afraid of heights.” 

Errol wrapped his arms around Isaac and pulled him to the window. Isaac was losing consciousness. He tried to fight it. He thought he could when the crisp evening air hit him but the ground left his feet and he was pulled through the window. Errol’s grip remained tight until they hit the ground again. A white van was waiting to carry him to the centre ring of the Big Top.           

Irvine wrapped his arm around Ethel’s waist as they stepped onto the ledge. 

“After you, my dear,” the ring master grinned. 

She leaned out and with one hand unclipped a rope, laid there by her Easy brother. Entwined, the two leapt into the night and down to the ground. 

***

The door was opened. 

A blonde server bumped into Golem.

“Sorry, sugar,” they giggled. 

Golem scanned the room. There was no trace of Isaac. Nothing would be found amiss. 

***

“So, Sam,” said Howard as he joined our table. “My son tells me that you’d like to talk. A story you’re writing?” 

“I’d like to ask a few questions if you don’t mind,” I put to him. I was still enjoying the party atmosphere. My voice was a little loud as my head began to swim. 

Howard had left an empty glass on the table beside his hand. Abe lifted the bottle to refill it but the Bergman patriarch rested his hand on the top. 

“I’m fine for now, thank you Abe.” 

Abe shrugged. He and Ike finished the bottle between them. 

“I read Marble Mantel,” Howard admitted. “I’m afraid it had me a little lost. I’m more of a history buff. I prefer true stories.” 

“I’m actually a journalist by trade,” I explained. “I used to write for the Daily.” 

“I said true stories,” Howard jested. “I’ll tell you what though, my daughter loved Marble Mantel. I must get you to sign something for her. She cosplayed as one of the characters last Halloween, isn’t that so Ike?” 

Ike Rothenstein looked up. “Was that that green thing she was wearing, with the tentacles?” 

I assumed they meant the character Judith and it was extra arms not tentacles, but I was flattered all the same and still a little drunk so I tried to steer the course. 

“This bad blood between you and The Cappy, where did that begin?” 

“I don’t like to hold grudges,” Howard said. “Life is too short.” 

“Don’t listen to him,” said Ike. “He’s a spiteful old fart when he wants to be.” 

“Yes, thank you Ike,” Howard laughed off the comment. “It isn’t so much Charles himself but what his family represent. You see the Stokers committed some terrible atrocities but rather than being held to account, the Owens protected them. They’ll do whatever it takes to keep themselves on top and that kind of ruthlessness is like a poison in society.” 

If I didn’t know any better I would swear our conversation had been bugged because just as Howard was explaining this, CPD entered the room led by Billy Owen. 

Howard craned his neck to check the commotion. Billy went straight to Doyle. 

“Ma’am,” he said. “I’m afraid I have some terrible news.” 

Doyle stood to be confronted with the information.

“Yes?”

“A body has been discovered and we have reason to believe it might be Cameron. Can you tell me when you last heard from your son?” 

Given the sensitive nature of Cameron’s parentage and the potential for terror groups to target him, the boy had never been officially declared missing. 

Ashley Doyle covered her mouth in shock. Billy spoke sensitively. 

“I’m going to need you to come down and make a positive I.D. as soon as you’re ready, Your Honour.” 

“Oh, Karyn!” sobbed Ashley. 

Howard had been distracted by the entry of the police to his party. 

“Excuse me,” he still had the time to say as he left our table and crossed the room. 

“What’s going on?” he put to Judge Doyle. 

Billy grabbed Howard’s arm and pulled it behind his back. 

“Howard Bergman, I’m arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Cameron Doyle. You have the right to say whatever you like but I advise you to shut the fuck up. You’ll be appointed a lawyer and all that shit.” 

“Karyn!” Howard tried to appeal to his long time friend but The Judge was preparing to leave. Her sister was hurriedly helping her. 

Billy spun Howard round to face his guests.

FLASH!

The image was caught by a press photographer. Sophie was frantically signing to her brother. 

“Don’t fight it,” she was saying. 

I began my visit to Bergman Estate in awe of how Howard and his family had lived cleanly and quietly with little alliances on all sides. Watching the diamond merchant being escorted from his home in cuffs under the shocked faces of his party guests, I realised being nice rarely bodes well. However, diamonds are not easy to cut and the Bergmans had some sharp tools.  

***

Rumours spread across the news floor of the Coldford Daily that the maven herself was in house to take things over and get the newspaper back on track. Eric Waddle wasn’t cutting it anymore. He had been circling the drain for a long time as far as reporter Sandra Wake was concerned.

He circled the drain so much he made himself dizzy and stumbled from the window of the Coldford Daily editor’s office. Maybe it had been the news of Tabitha’s miraculous return that had him feeling a little woozy but I can only speculate on that point. 

“Maybe we should arrange some pictures,” Sandra had put to Kathleen in anticipation of her arrival. 

“I know what I look like,” was Kathleen’s response. “Why would I want pictures?” 

Kathleen’s arrival at the Daily was preceded by three Kappa Si sisters, dressed neatly in their sorority colours. They said nothing to the reporters as they crossed the news floor. Sandra stood from the desk I had once occupied to get a better look but the chickadees offered no comment. They went straight to the editor’s office, closing the door behind them. Sandra had been at the point of knocking on the door to see if they needed anything when the sorority queen did make her arrival, accompanied by more sisters, higher ranking than the first from what could be determined. 

“Kathleen!” Sandra cheered. “It’s so good to see you.” 

They had met once, at an Owen Inc. Party.

“Everyone in the conference office,” Kathleen called across the news floor. “Drop whatever you’re doing. You can pick it up later.” 

When the reporters had gathered around the table, hungry for their feed, Kathleen stood and addressed them. The chickadees she had brought with her stayed in the office to make the editor’s station more to Kathleen’s taste.

“We have the say in the city,” she began. “We still remain the most-viewed newsfeed in Coldford.” 

Sandra smiled. She looked among her colleagues for their reaction to the praise. 

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Kathleen stated. “We will be looked to first for the news on Knock Knock, Penn Auction House, Mack Distillery, the whole lot of them, so let’s give them that news before someone else does. It’s time the city learned just how much we are mending fences around here. In other words, we are the good guys. I don’t care how it is written just make it so. I want focus on charity work and community service. I want wherever anyone walks – from the Shanties to Bourton – they see another good news story courtesy of the Daily.” 

Sandra had been hired by the Daily specifically for her controversial, combative approach to news casting. Some saw it as hard hitting journalism. What it really was, was trouble stirring for the sake of ratings. Her popularity only climbed because morbidly curious viewers tuned in to see what nonsense she was going to spout next. Having to write the news in a positive way was going to prove a challenge for her. 

“Sandra,” Kathleen addressed her directly. “I want you to focus on the rift between CPD and the Wigan church.”

“I was following the story on Joshua Coby and the Freefall massacre,” Sandra replied. 

Kathleen frowned. “Did I sound like I was asking? Get a statement from Coby, even if it’s ‘no comment’, close it and move on. I want you to calm the heat with the Wigan church.” The sorority queen went on, “Roger?” 

The other reporter’s eyes widened at the call of his name. 

“The Penn story. I want you to focus on the championships Simon Penn won, the medals he donated. Reginald is gone now so there’s no harm in a story on his tenure. Get some quotes from his supporters. Invite them in, let them lick his ass and print it. We’re changing the narrative people. We need as much positive spin as we can get. I want a piece too on Buddy Owen, Chad Perry and Dale Cooper. I want everyone to know what good rehab is doing them. I want the Daily to be putting smiles on everyone’s faces. I want our feed to be so sickly sweet people will become addicted to it. It’s the only way we’re going to strengthen our position and completely blindside the competition. Any questions?” 

Sandra spoke up. “Just one,” she said. “Will you have tea or coffee?” 

***

The history of Coldford was a bloody one as I’m sure you can imagine. It stretches back centuries but it really became what it is during the time of Henry ‘Hen’ Owen, who had been commissioned by Queen Eleanor of the Chamberlain family for his sailing and navigation prowess. Hen Owen fought against a knight known as the Greatest Northsider, he helped quash a rebellion from Eleanor’s granddaughter, Francesca Chamberlain, who sought to take the throne for herself. The Castle in Bournton now known as The Boss, was Francesca’s stronghold. From there she pushed her savage agendas. The queen’s grandson, Royce Chamberlain, Duke of Hathfield Bay, involved himself only where it was beneficial to him. Devious Royce held back on the island as long as he could before deciding which side of the family table he was going to take a seat at. 

Throughout the ages, the Chamberlain family cemented their story into the very fabric of the Shady City. Chamberlain Docks – you’ll already be familiar with – fell from the hands of Julia Harvester as her stores in Bellfield and City Main caused her to cut her losses. Chamberlain Heights, the retirement community in Kingsgate had been part of the Chamberlain Trust for generations. There’s also Chamberlain library and Chamberlain pond in the heart of Coldridge park. All of these spots served as a reminder of the blue blood that once ran through Coldford’s veins. The Chamberlain Trust mediated the family’s interests as they remained at bay for many years. An invitation to Kingsgate Museum showed they hadn’t quite forgotten their roots. 

The museum housed artefacts from the earliest parts of their dynasty. There you would find Eleanor’s crown jewels, Francesca’s gowns, paintings and torture devices. You would also find Royce’s weapons, goblets and opium pipes – giving clues as to the priorities of the man. 

What particularly caught my attention was the armour of the Greatest Northsider. I imagined how heavy it must have felt to wear. I thought of the cold air that would have fallen onto it as he rushed into battle. I considered the blood splatter that would have been washed off afterwards. 

“It really is something,” someone said behind me. 

I recognised the distinctive droll of Chick Owen. 

“I can only imagine what it must have seen,” I remarked in reply. 

Chick was drinking in the armour worn into battle against his beloved ancestor. As a history enthusiast and especially engrossed by his own lineage, I had fully expected to find The Cappy at the museum exhibit. I wanted to ask him about his thoughts on Howard Bergman but I felt at that point it wouldn’t do much good. 

“That battle lasted three days and nights,” Chick went on. “Hen gave them Hell.” 

“He was defeated down in Northside,” I commented. 

Chick laughed a little. “A tactical retreat.” He gasped with enthusiasm as he recounted the event. 

Seeing Chick Owen, better known as The Cappy, in such a light was quite refreshing. In my whole time in knowing him, all the ups and downs we had had thus far, I believe it was the first time I had caught a glimpse of the true man he was. 

“Got there eventually though, didn’t he?” I said. 

The Cappy grinned. “An Owen never misses.” 

“Indeed they do not,” I replied. 

“Enjoy the exhibit,” Chick said before departing towards Kathleen who had set up a photo op of Chick with Hen Owen’s portrait. 

***

The Harbour Master of Chamberlain Docks was an esteemed position, coveted since the Chamberlain days previously discussed. The title at this time belonged to Master Barnaby Brooke. Brooke was unassuming in appearance. He lived in a little town house on the dock edge, the top of which acted as a light beacon during the night, alerting passing ships to avoid the edge of Coldford. 

Gateshead was the name of the little building and Master Brooke lived there with his two lovely daughters, Erica and Becky, their dalmatian dog Ruffus, and his wife Helen. The whole family, including Ruffus, took the early ferry every Sunday across to the bay for the Wigan service. Yes, Brooke was a devout man. He was devoted to his faith, devoted to his family and devoted to his station at Gateshead, Chamberlain Docks, Swantin. 

Most of his time was spent overseeing the loading and departure of the Ferry Way liner. There was the occasional fishing vessel and Bergman freighters launched there but for the most part it was all routine. His chief operator, Anthony Runnetti, had been arrested along with Nan Harvester when the trafficking boats were raided. Good riddance to bad rubbish there. They were giving His Eminence, Dom Cole, a hard time when they really should be shutting down thieving vagabonds like the Macks, murderous middens like the Knock Knock girl, and animals like Billy Owen. Police commissioner? He should be behind bars himself. The church was cut off from its parishes in the mainland when that bully with a badge gets to throw his weight around. It’s just not right! They should be dealing with the whores on the docks instead of harassing, beating and murdering God-fearing folks. 

Times were changing though. Wigan was going to cleanse the city. It was written and it was promised. In the meantime it was the job of Barnaby Brooke to watch the Ferry Way pass back and forth to the island. 

But alas! There was an exciting change afoot and it occurred on the day of the Chamberlain Exhibit. 

“Move the ferry liner,” was the Harbour Master’s instructions. “Make way!” 

***

Back at the exhibition, museum curator Malcolm Wurst had taken to the stage of the Queen Eleanor auditorium. The screen behind him showed an open book with wave symbols on the pages – the Chamberlain crest. 

CHAMBERLAIN – THE TORN DYNASTY the caption read. 

“Thank you all for coming,” said Malcolm. “What I present to you is a unique history filled with success and loss, power and struggle, and dare I say it, the real Coldford City as it was formed many years ago. None of that is my story to tell though, so I’d like to introduce you to the living blood of all these fabulous relics we have around us. I believe we have Captain Charles Owen here this evening.”

The spotlight landed on The Cappy. Chick smiled graciously and gave a polite nod as the audience applauded. 

“A pleasure, captain,” said Malcolm. “Henry ‘Hen’ Owen’s 10th– great-grandson  ladies and gentlemen.” 

The audience gave another appreciative applause. I looked along the aisle and that was when I spotted the Wigan priest, Peter Millicent. He was nodding and clapping his hands in a warm, receptive sort of way. 

“Now without further ado, I would like to introduce Lord Francis and Lady Charlotte Chamberlain.” 

Onto the stage wandered a girl of nine years old, holding the hand of her seven-year-old brother.

Lacking the shyness of a child, Lady Charlotte stepped up to the microphone. She curtseyed. Francis gave a congenial bow with one hand behind his back and the other across his stomach. 

“Thank you,” Charlotte said sweetly. “Thank you for being so welcoming.” 

***

Chamberlain Docks was experiencing some upheaval at this point. The Ferry Way had already been preparing to collect its traffic when Barnaby Brooke had to call it back. 

“We need to halt the crossing,” he announced. 

As you can imagine dear readers, Barnaby was met by a lot of disgruntled passengers finding the crossing to Hathfield Bay quite essential. The Harbour Master instructed the ferry liner to remain along the coast. The 6:15 was experiencing some delays. There was a collective groan as the traffic set aside. 

“Clear some space,” Brooke requested. “We’ve got incoming.” 

“What we got?” Captain Farraway of the ferry liner asked. “A blue whale?” 

“Remain off shore,” said Master Brooke in return. “I’ll bring you in as soon as I can.”

The beeping of horns, the creek of the ferry as it remained stationed and the cries of disapproval from the ferry passengers were all quashed when an ear-splitting horn sounded. 

***

“We were told so much about Coldford,” Charlotte was telling the auditorium. “My brother and I always hoped to return here and see it for ourselves. It’s been everything we could hope for. We’d like to share with you some never before seen images from the family archives. Thanks to Coby Games we get to share the stage this evening with our ancestors.”

Behind Charlotte flashed a holographic image of Queen Eleanor sat upon her throne. She was dressed in full regalia, a chalk white face and a golden mitre in hand. She bore the Chamberlain coat of arms on her breast. Joshua and his team had done an excellent job with the display. The collective audience gaze widened in awe at the realism.

The next figure was Francesca Chamberlain. In the background loomed the shadow of The Boss. She was in the forefront, seated upon a horse. Her black hair blew wildly around her in a wind the artist had captured. 

Taking a walk on stage then was Royce Chamberlain.  Prince Royce was smiling a self-assured smile as though to the auditorium. He removed his sword and held it at his side. There was an absence in his eyes though, which I assumed the artist had made deliberate. 

Another figure of Francesca emerged. This time she was stood in the Great Hall of her castle which was now where the electric chair, Buzzkill, sat. She raised her arms up and turned her focus towards the sky. Around her neck hung the weight of several Wigan beads. What was most astounding about this image though was the figure by her side, dressed in humble robes. He had a youthful, soft face. He was encouraging in his body language. 

“You cannot be saved,” it would seem he was saying to her. 

The Saint Noah Wigan’s presence spread to the walls as other pieces of symbology emerged behind them. 

Royce returned next and I would be damned to Hell if I didn’t notice the purple ribbons he had tied around the sword he carried. 

The two children turned to view the image of Royce. He was a drunken philanderer, a self-preserving narcissist if the history books are correct, but the children seemed to be enamoured by him. 

I looked to Peter who was watching the presentation with great interest. 

***

As large a craft as the Ferry Way liner was, Captain Farraway could feel it shake upon the waves caused by the approaching vessel. The staff gathered at the windows to catch sight of the monstrous craft as it made its way to the dock. 

The horn blasted again as though its presence were easy to miss. 

Chamberlain docks bid welcome to a sister of hers. Restored with some of the very boards that Royce Chamberlain himself had walked, was a regal ship flying the Chamberlain flag. The raven’s head – Royce’s personal sigil – ornamented the bow, leading the way as it ferociously tore through the water. On the side of the ship was the name HMS RAVENSEDGE. It was a historic enemy of Hen Owen’s Elgany, rearing its head and returning to port after all those years. 

“Would you look at that!” gasped the ferry staff. 

***

Back on stage at the auditorium Charlotte spoke of her ancestral connection to the Owen family. 

“My brother and I would like to return Hen Owen’s rapier if Mr Owen will accept it. We feel it’s been in Royce’s hands long enough.” 

There was an affectionate acknowledgement from The Cappy of the Chamberlain children’s generous offer. It would make a fine addition to his collection.

For a child so young, I had to admire Charlotte’s natural confidence. Her brother was a little more subdued. Francis gave a nervous, ‘thank you’ into the microphone, leaning over to speak. Together they knew the influence they held in their hands. They had been orphaned you see, the details of which aren’t important. What is important though is the city that now was in their control, the wealth and the name. As the exhibit came to a close, Charlotte looked to Peter Millicent who nodded assurance to her. 

Aboard Ravensedge, their guardian awaited them. In a flurry of robes he rushed to the walkway where he could see the children alight from a town car down on the docks. 

“Uncle Dom!” Charlotte cheered, rushing across to His Eminence to be collected into his arms. 

“How did it go?” he asked.

“We did great. Didn’t we Peter?” Francis asked of the priest that accompanied them.

“They did splendid,” Peter assured. 

“I wouldn’t have expected anything less,” Dominick encouraged. 

“The ship looks beautiful. Do you like it Uncle Dom?” 

Dominick admired the gift from the Chamberlain Trust to the church. 

“She is a beauty,” Dominick responded with awe. “You should see how she tears through the water.” 

Francis laughed. “We had better go back or you’re going to get into trouble.” 

Dominick raised an eyebrow. He reached a foot out towards Coldford limits. “Illegal,” he called. “Legal,” he added drawing his foot back. “Illegal. Legal. Illegal. Legal.” 

His whimsical tease caused the children to laugh. 

“Let’s not hold the ferry up too much longer,” Peter suggested ushering the children onto the ship. 

For the time being, the Wigan church left Coldford behind and returned to the  bay. 

***

ERROR 65. My screen read.

“This is really frustrating,” I exclaimed. 

It had been some time by then since the Coby servers went down and I had been locked out of the blog I had been using to keep the city up to date with the real truth. 

“Sorry,” Joshua replied sincerely. “We’re starting to get our processing back but we’re still blacked out in Bellfield, Northside and Hathfield Bay. I have to dedicate every bit of RAM we have to our gaming. The Scribble Post software isn’t a priority. I’ll do what I can though. I’ll keep you up to date.” 

“Thanks Joshua,” I said. “I appreciate that.” 

I was in a race against time with my old newspaper because the truth in the Shady City was quite often the story told first. The Filton Crier press, thanks to Elizabeth, had ensured my words were reaching as many people as possible in print but it was a slower process. 

Something must have opened up at Coby games because a message came through. 

HAVE YOU SEEN THIS? 

It was an anonymous statement. Attached to it was a video file. I pushed play. The moment I did, I wished I hadn’t. My heart skipped to a race suddenly. What consumed me first was the noise of the screaming. Flames licked most of the image. 

“It was written,” said a Wigan priest, “that the flames of St Michael’s retribution consumed the harlot’s body.” 

“Harlot! Harlot!” screamed a gathering. 

This was not taking place on Hathfield Bay where such activity was rumoured to occur. This was taking place on the streets of Northside. I was suspended in disbelief by what I was looking at. What aggrieved me the most was the woman being consumed by flames was none other than Agnes Wilde, the Knock Knock Broker. 

Father Renfield was the name of the Wigan priest who was the overseer of the church’s Northside parish. 

At The Knock Knock Club Tawny was viewing that very same footage. She hadn’t gotten as far into it as I had before she couldn’t bear to watch any more. 

“Tabitha!” she shrieked. “I want Tabitha. Tabby! Tabitha!” 

David tried to calm her but she would not stop screaming until she could hold her niece in her arms. David fell into a chair trying to wash the cries of Agnes’ pain from his mind. 

“Harlot! Harlot!” he could still hear them chanting. 

***

Over on Hathfield Bay, Peter came to Dominick in the church. He knelt before the altar. It was only he and Bart present so the church leader ushered his priest to stand. 

“Alright, Peter,” Dominick said softly. He was a little taken aback by the formality. When they were alone they tended to behave with more of a familial bond. 

“Your Eminence,” he said, maintaining a formal tone. “There’s something you should see.” 

He passed a tablet to Dominick and pushed play. Bartholemew drew down his hood and looked over Dominick’s shoulder. 

Peter watched the church leader’s expression as the video played. The flames reflected in his dark eyes. 

“Who is this? Who is the harlot?” he asked. 

“Agnes Wilde of The Knock Knock Club. It seemed Father Renfield discovered she was passing information to the Bellfield fleet. He punished her.”

Dominick stopped the footage. He knew well what burning looked like. He didn’t need to see any more. 

“I don’t remember giving him permission to do that. Did I give him permission?” 

Peter shook his head to the negatory. If permission had been granted for such an action on the streets of Northside he would be aware of it. 

“I believe he sees himself as St Michael the Punisher.” 

Dominick’s eyes blazed. “Does he? I would love to take a gander in whatever fucking mirror he’s using because he’s no St Michael. Does he look like the man in that painting?” Dominick asked pointing to the brooding, broad-shouldered knight who was the actual St Michael. “I don’t fucking think so.” 

“My concern is that we’ve worked so hard to build our position in the city and this action could see all of it undone,” Peter’s own temper began to flare. “All of our progress wiped out in an instant.” 

“Is he winning this fight against the fleet scum at least?” Dominick asked. 

“Not exactly,” Peter explained. “Liam Tulloch is modelling himself on the Greatest Northsider.” 

“What is it with the people of that God forsaken city? Kings of Main, Boss Ladies, dragon ladies and every other kind of ladies. Ye’ve got Captains and circus freaks. It’s not just me, is it? They’re all fucking mad.”

“The Law Makers will look to you to answer for what Renfield has done. That’s not the worst of it though. Agnes Wilde was a well-connected woman. This news could very well have us up against a huge part of the Shady City. The Shanties most definitely. Closely followed by Main,” explained Peter.

“Dom?” Bart interrupted with urgency. “Leona’s still over there. She’s right in the thick of it.” 

Dominick raged. “Send word to her right away. I want a watch on the weans too. Charlotte and Francis go nowhere unless they have plenty of eyes on them. Tell Renfield to get his arse over here because he’s treading so close to blasphemy and he’ll learn how St Michael truly punishes.” 


Enjoy this? Check out these other thrillers. Available now.

Knock Knock: Episode 47: Snowflake

Given the new renovations at Perry Zoo were The Cappy’s way of reintroducing himself in a positive light, it was no surprise that the city was buzzing with excitement over its newest attractions.  

‘Come meet Snowflake,’ Perry Zoo suggested with tantalising posters all the way from Bournton to Bellfield.  

I had been at one of the checkpoints the Law Makers had set up leading from the Fullerton Bridge into Filton. I was following up on a story on Elizabeth Beckingridge. Apparently she had gotten so fed up with her imprisonment inside her mansion home that she made a bid for escape dressed in Gramps Beckingridge’s clothes and driving his old estate car, badly. She got as far as the Fullerton Bridge exit to Cardyne when she was stopped. She pulled the old skip cap off, took a draw of her cigarette, and demanded to know why she couldn’t just nip to Cardyne for a half café frap with cinnamon dusting.  

The Law Makers demanded to know why she couldn’t just stay in her home as she was instructed.  

“I was coming right back,” Elizabeth maintained. If she was, she wouldn’t have dressed in her grandfather’s jacket. So, the lockdown at Beck Manor was extended and tightened. She would learn, one way or another.  

“It’s about time the rich elite got a bit of a lesson,” the Law Maker I had been interviewing gave his opinion on Judge Doyle’s hold on the city. “If that had been any of the rest of us, we’d be getting punished.”  

Now that the initial excitement of Article 22 was over and the executions were somewhat slowing to a simmer, that seemed to be the general thinking of the people of Coldford.  

“About time the elite of Coldford are held to account,” they said.  

It pleased them to see the King of Main put to death for a career of violence when, for too long, his reputation and place in the city had kept him safe. Chick Owen, the man they called The Cappy, was confined to his home and examined closely. All of the money that the Beckingridge family had meant nothing when the picture hit the headlines of Elizabeth throwing her grandfather’s hat at the Law Maker that had dared to stop her.  

“None of the rest of us would be getting away with that,” the Law Maker stationed at the bridge was only too happy to announce. It would be easy to assume that the Law Makers did hero-worship Doyle but that same point of view was spreading. The Shanties was still a tougher nut to crack and still believed Tabitha was a saviour. Bellfield wouldn’t see past the Mack family but they were still coughing through the ashes of the Black Bands visit to their distillery, not to mention the continued fight between Bellfield and their Northside neighbours. All in all, Article 22 was truly making a change. The powerhouses of Coldford were having to adapt to new rules and so were leading me on to a phase of Cold War in the Shady City.  

As I was interviewing the Law Maker his attention was called to a convoy of trucks heading across the bridge towards Filton. There were five of them in total. The two leading and the two bringing up the rear had the print of Perry Zoo on the side. The one in the middle they were protecting had PROPERTY OF PERRY ZOO. CAUTION LIVE ANIMAL written on the side of it.  

I reached my phone up. Click.  

Just what Coldford needed when the streets were a circus already – wild animals.  

*** 

Stoker circus originated in the country Levinkrantz. The Stokers have been a circus family for centuries. From the early days of street performing, to the travelling freak shows, to the modern day spectacles.  

Irma Stoker was the first to meet Captain Henry Owen. She had stowed away on his ship when it stopped in Levinkrantz on the way to Coldford. He found her playing poker with his crew. She slept in the Captain’s bed that night and by the time they arrived in Coldford, Irma had already arranged for the rest of her family to join them. It was at a time when Hen needed numbers and the Stokers loved drawing crowds.  

The Stoker Circus consisted of three tents. There was the red, the blue and the big top, which was set up in the centre of Perry Zoo. Boards had been put up through the night as they settled Snowflake into his new home.  

“He’s a little tired from the journey but he’s doing good,” Austin was telling his zookeepers. “Don’t give him any hassle and keep him well fed or he’ll lash out.”  

Milo was mesmerised. “When can we see Snowflake?” he asked Austin.  

“Soon, lil’ mate,” he said. Austin was quite personable in his way. “We’re keeping him hush just now but he’ll be making his debut soon.”  

“Wow!” Milo gasped. The moment he had heard Snowflake was being brought to Coldford he researched online videos of the creature, mostly feeding time demonstrations. I smiled as I noticed the young boy shake with excitement.  

“You must be Sam Crusow,” Austin greeted me with a firm hand shake. “Seen your picture.”  

“Chick have it on a dart board, did he?” I jested.  

Austin gave a hearty laugh. “You’ve been causing a ruckus all round, mate,” he said. “No hard feelings though.”  

Ozzy had a disarming charm. He was the kind of man that drew people to him in an organic sort of way. He put people at ease quickly and after only a few minutes of conversation they would feel they had been his friend for years.  

“You guys enjoy the day. There’s lot’s to see and do.”  

It was then he noticed Olivia’s pregnancy bump starting to show.  

“Oh, and a little critter on the way! Exciting times. There’s a lot of ground to cover so if it gets too much you just let one of my guys know and they’ll set you right.”  

He indicated a group of young men removing Kappa So jackets to change into zoo coveralls.  

“I’d like to ask you some questions about what you are doing here and get your thoughts on current affairs,” I put to him.  

Ozzy nodded. “Sure. You caught me at a busy time right now but we’ll grab a brew and we’ll talk it through. Just give me a day or two to get settled in.”  

As we left Austin behind and ventured further into the zoo my mind became awash with memories of when I was about Milo’s age and my own father brought me to the zoo. Behind the gates the noise of the city suddenly seemed so far away. 

*** 

The Stoker Big Top was mountainous in size. The striped pattern was intended to be whimsical and fun but the material – having lived through freak show attacks, the spreading of a measles outbreak and the Levinkrantz bomb blitz – carried a particular essence along with it. It was battered, beaten and dragged through a horrible history, still to be erected and entertain the masses. It would be admirable, if it weren’t for the fact that the more I learned about the Stokers, the more I was wary of them.  

*** 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls. Step right up for a knuckle whiting, nail biting, full in your face exciting show. Take your seats. Set your eyes in front and prepare to clap your hands off. I’m Irvine Stoker and welcome to Stoker Circus.” 

The audience were pushed closely together inside the Big Top tent. The large man next to me pressed closely. Milo was on my other side.  

Irvine, standing in a dusty centre ring, clicked a remote push button and one of two screens behind him flashed on showing a group of clowns with varying make-up styles but in the signature Stoker blue and red.  

“Blue tent, Chamberlain Docks, we’ve got some of the funniest clowns you ever did see. Don’t just take my word for it. Go on down and see them. You might just bust a gut!”  

Irvine turned to the screen. “Show them what you got,” he said to his clowns.  

The main clown, Olga Stoker, stepped up to the screen. She kissed it then spat water at it. As she did so water sprayed down on us in the Big Top crowd. The audience reacted excitedly.  

Irvine clicked his button again. The second screen sparked into action.  

“Red tent, City Main, we’ve got my boy, my little pride and joy. What you got there for us Freddy?”  

Freddy Stoker could be seen on screen in a top hat and tails. He spun, collected a sign and as he turned back to the screen he held it up. It read STOKER CIRCUS PRESENTS: THE BECKINGRIDGE FAMILY. 

Irvine laughed. “They might not look like you and I but if you can stomach it, go on up and take a gander.”  

The screens disappeared up into the rafters.  

“In this tent,” Irvine called with all the circus ring master swaggering showmanship. “Well, in this tent you’ve got me. Bring it on!”  

A chorus of trumpets sounded as the lights lowered. Overhead two trapeze artists leapt, catching their swings, and tore across the huge tent from one side to the other.  

Milo sat forward in his seat as a troupe of fire breathers danced around the ring. I was keen to keep an eye on Irvine’s whereabouts but I was distracted by the trapeze artists. They called them the Trapeezy Easys. They were a brother/sister duo in matching leotards, Eroll and Ethel. Ethel relaxed her grip as she swung overhead. There was no hesitation as Eroll, holding his own swing by his feet caught her and threw her onto the opposing platform.  

I looked up to a balcony that had been created at the higher reaches of the Big Top. I could see Marshall Cooper leaning over with a beer in hand. He was cheering something. Austin Perry and The Cappy himself were sat with him.  

Turning my focus back to centre ring, Irvine had disappeared amongst the commotion. The trumpets eased off. A spotlight flashed to the seat directly behind me. Irvine himself was sitting there.   

“Don’t stay seated on my account,” he urged. “You need to be on your feet to really enjoy.”  

As he leaped with long, insectile legs down the steps back to his ring, a wave of shock ran through the seats. It was just a gentle vibration but it caused the entire audience to stand up and ovate.  

The Easys leapt again. This time it was Ethel holding her brother’s feet. As he swung he handed a rose to a young woman in the audience. She was beside herself with the flattery. Swept blonde hair, attractive, muscular tones, the Easys were quite alluring. I couldn’t help but notice Ethel blow a kiss as she passed overhead.  

Milo was completely captivated by the performance. His smile was broad as he watched on in awe. Irvine reached his arms up and he was collected by the Easys and dropped onto the platform. He waved his arms comically as though he was going to lose his balance. He tumbled forward and Eroll caught his hands and dropped him safely back in his centre ring.  

“Enjoy the show,” he cried. 

The lights cut completely.   

*** 

“What on earth is going on?” was Elizabeth’s question as she tried to reach the phone of board member Presley Cage. He had been having a meeting with the board to discuss Elizabeth’s permanent taking of the chair over her nephew.  

“I don’t care,” had been George’s response over breakfast that morning as he peeled apart cold toast.  

Elizabeth didn’t doubt that. He didn’t really have the ambition to sit at the top of Beckingridge Tower. It was probably one of the few qualities of his that his aunt actually liked. All he seemed interested in in those days were his Kappa So frat bros. What was giving her cause for concern was his work at Filton University was coming back with full marks. Either he had had a sudden spark of intelligence overnight or the more plausible explanation was someone was doing it for him.  

The meeting had ended an hour ago. There should have been confirmation by now.  

She could hear George giggling in the lounge.  

“What has he gotten into now?” she grumbled to herself.  

The noise of the laughter chilled her though. It reminded her of when he was a boy. That rotten little giggle never meant anything good.  

When Elizabeth found him in the lounge his giggle had escalated, and he was now rolling around the floor in hysterics in front of the television reporting live news from City Main.  

“What’s gotten into you?” she asked. “Shut up!” she barked impatiently.  

“I’m a little man,” he laughed.  

The aunt rolled her eyes. “Yes, you are. A tiny little man. Now shut up. Your laughing is like a hammer drill and I already have a headache.” 

“Oh look, it’s dad!”  

It was then Elizabeth turned her attention to the screen. Freddy Stoker was introducing the acts from the red tent to the public.  

“I’m Ernest Beckingridge,” said a man in clown make up, “and I’m the saddest clown you ever did see.”  

A blue tear drop was painted on his cheek.  

Set up directly across from Beckingridge Tower, at the entrance of Weir Hotel. The Stoker red tent was gathering a crowd.  

“This is my son, George,” the sad clown Ernest went on.  

George was played by Fritz Stoker – a sufferer of dwarfism. George pointed at the little person and laughed even harder. Sad clown Ernest sighed and rested his chin on his hand as little George danced around him and chased passers-by. Astounded by the boldness of the performance people were beginning to stop, raising phones and recording. 

Sad clown Ernest sobbed. “That’s my boy. I have a daughter too. She’s a princess.”  

Here Freddy ushered a young woman wearing a flowing cloak forward.  

Hilda Stoker was a beauty. Her make-up was glamorous.  

“Princess?” she said. “More like prisoner. I just don’t know whether I’m coming or going and all I want is a bit of attention.”  

Here she lifted her cloak as though she were flashing her underwear with her tongue in cheek. Raising her cloak, she presented Tootsie. Hilda and Tootsie were conjoined twins. The upper body and left leg of Tootsie stuck out from Hilda’s abdomen. A mute Tootsie just stared at the crowd.  

Ernest – the sad clown – dropped his head into his hands and shook it in despair.  

“I’d be able to cope with the children if it weren’t for my dragon of a sister.”  

“That bastard!” Elizabeth almost screamed as a woman dressed similar to her slapped sad clown Ernest causing him to fall into a tumble. The gathered crowd roared with shocked laughter at the Elizabeth portrayal as she screamed at them, waving her arm like some pantomime villain. They called her the dragon lady and playing her to maximum effect was Heidi Stoker – better known as the lizard woman in the circus circles. Her entire body was tattooed with scales, her eyes permanently yellowed, her teeth ground sharp and her tongue forked.  

“What you staring at?” she challenged the audience as the Elizabeth character.  

There were more gasps, more phones and more recording. Rodney Weir had come to the entrance of his hotel and could be seen watching in the background.  

It hadn’t been her own portrayal, though, that had Elizabeth seething. In Heidi’s arms was a small infant. Little Edle Stoker was being held out as a portrayal of Vicky. Like her mother, her skin was completely scaled. If she cried out it would be seen her little tongue was forked. 

Elizabeth had been so angered by the freak show comparison, she hadn’t noticed Freddy was wearing Gramps’ clothes the Law Makers had confiscated from her until he slipped on Gramps’ old skip cap.  

“I’m Jeffrey Beckingridge,” he said. “They make statues of me, name everything after me and this is my legacy.”  

Finally Presley returned the call.  

“Have you seen this?” Elizabeth asked without greeting.  

“I’ve just had to walk through it,” said Presley. “The whole of City Main has turned out. They’re selling bloody merch!”  

“It’s outrageous,” Elizabeth responded. “Shut it down right now before I turn that lizard woman into a fucking purse!” 

“We have bigger problems,” Presley tried to say.  

“Look at that baby. For God’s sake they’re exploiting the poor child,” Elizabeth went on. “Where at the Law Makers when you need them?” 

“Elizabeth, listen to me,” Presley had to interrupt. “I’ve been voted off the board. The board is no longer ours.”  

Elizabeth rang off from Presley. She looked to George who was still enjoying the Stoker show. The tower was as good as gone. 

*** 

It had been a long morning but Chick Owen was pleased to hear of progress being made. Marshall had a list of potential buyers for the Auction House and as he scrolled down the page the offers became higher. He had hoped – for the sake of peace in City Main – The Auction House would be returned to Penn hands but as Marshall pointed out there was likely more money in having their other competitors bid. At least for now. It would make the Penns nervous and make negotiations easier on their side. Besides he had tried reaching out to Reggie. Faulds Park allowed the call through but he was unable to reach the Penn boy. Instead, a young girl was screaming down the phone at him trying to hear what he was saying over the loud music. It sounded like complete chaos and no one seemed to know or be able to locate the master of the house.  

Ozzy had confirmed a huge donation on behalf of Stoker Circus and the zoo to various charitable causes. Helping worthy causes of course, but also helping the public see Owen Inc. and its associates weren’t complete monsters.  

Finally, Kathleen stopped by to run the Coldford Daily headlines by him and she had captured exactly the stories the city needed. They were the kind of stories that had attracted me to the newspaper in the first place.  

COLDFORD CITY STANDS STRONG. 

SILENT MARCH ACROSS FULLERTON BRIDGE SPEAKS VOLUMES.  

She even had her little chickadees come over to the Chapter House to boot the boys into very visible community service.  

Charles ‘Chick’ Owen was pleased. He was resting back easy in his chair considering his next move. He had just been about to consider all was well when the announcement of his brother’s arrival was made.  

Ronnie seemed like he was in a bit of a rush.  

“Ronnie?” Chick said. “You look like you’ve been ridden hard and hung up wet.”  

Ronnie spotted Kathleen. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”  

“How you doing Ron?” Kathleen asked. “Drink?”  

“No, thank you,” Ronnie refused.  

Kathleen poured her own, a vintage Waldens merlot that she and The Cappy favoured.  

“You look like you could use one,” she teased.  

“I’d like a word with Chick, if you don’t mind,” Ronnie politely requested.  

It was Chick who refused. “It’s fine, Ron,” he said. “We can talk.”  

Ronnie knew full well that Kathleen had been helping air Owen dirty laundry since she and The Cappy were teenagers but he was hesitant.  

“You’ll be getting word from the Law Makers soon but I wanted to run it past you first.”  

Concern ripped across Chick’s face. “What’s Buddy done now?”  

Ronnie shook his head. “It’s not Buddy. It’s…”  

The two Kappa Elders were eyeing him closely.  

“A decision will be made on Tabitha soon. I wanted to see where the line would be drawn with the Law Makers first before I informed you because I will be providing her defence.”  

Chick scowled at first. “That girl is to go back to jail where she belongs and she will consider herself in the Lord’s good mercy that she still has her head.”  

“I think she should stay at The Knock Knock Club.”  

Chick scoffed, shaking his head. “And I think being in this city too long has driven you out of your mind.”  

Ronnie tried to explain his reasoning. “If she stays at her club she will be under serious guard and she’s more likely to keep quiet. If she returns to prison she’s just going to keep gnawing her way out and her supporters will continue making trouble on her behalf.”  

“Then I return to my previous sentiment. Cut the damn snake’s head off,” Chick growled.  

“Then you make a martyr of her,” Kathleen spoke up.  

Ronnie was pleased he had some support.  

“Legally, the Law Makers are going to want the death penalty carried out but she will be much less of a problem if she stays home. They kill her, her people won’t stand for it and we’re torn away having to cover our asses. A little show of leniency now, or even support, could go a long way to putting things right,” said Kathleen. 

The Cappy asked, “How much leniency?”  

Kathleen went on. “I’m no lawyer like Ronnie here, but until Mayor Feltz turns up there are plenty of better candidates to take the heat.”  

“I’m not hearing that,” warned Ronnie.  

“Of course you’re not. I simply mean that Feltz had enemies, lots of enemies. It seems unfair to single the young girl out.” 

Ronnie eased off. That had exactly been the defence he had used for Tabitha.  

“She’s a troubled little girl who has her crimes – no mistake – but they should have just let her go to the damn club in the first place. I watched interviews with her as a kid. She was a real wild one but what do you do when an animal can’t be controlled? You can put her to death which we’ve already agreed will make a martyr of her or you can lock her away. She’s not going to gnaw through the cage she’s always wanted to be in and it keeps her cheering spectators happy.” 

Ronnie grinned. He was pleased to have Kathleen’s support.  

“It’s a tough ask, Chick,” the lawyer put to his brother. “But it means dropping Jerry’s charges.”  The Cappy’s eyes widened. Before he could say anything Ronnie added, “Jerry was a piece of shit. I have no doubt in my mind what she says about him was true.”  

The Cappy knew this. After all he had been cleaning Jerry’s messes when Ronnie was still running around in his little tightie whiteys. As young man, Chick learned that Jerry had taken a couple of girls into his vestry. Both of them were only fourteen years old. Chick warned the girls’ parents to keep them clear and in exchange for their silence – the girls claimed nothing had happened – Pops had Jerry sent to St Michael’s in Coldford. Jerry had made his bed. Now its piss-stained sheets had to be changed every day, he was spoon fed his meals, and there was no way of knowing if he truly regretted almost dragging his entire family to the bowels of Hell with him.  

“Before you make any legal move, this is quite an ask as you say and I would like to speak her. If it’s going to put the minds of those that follow her at rest then it might be a good place to start.”  

“I don’t think that’s wise,” said Ronnie.  

The Cappy was still confident in his decision. “I think it’s something that should have been done a long time ago.”  

“We’re moving on, boys,” said Kathleen. “Time to let sleeping dogs lie.”  

Ronnie nodded. He stood. There was no time to lose. Chick was good at looking people in the eye that had done him wrong and still maintaining his composure. Tabitha – on the other hand – was not. However, it was the only sure way of removing that pendulum above her head. She would see the sense in listening to options. He hoped.  

“Bye, Ron,” Kathleen called as she closed the door of The Cappy’s den over.  

“Also,” she said to Chick when they were alone. “When things are put right again she’ll make an excellent scape goat.” 

The Cappy raised his eyebrows.  

“Just saying,” she added. 

Chick smiled and sighed. “Why did I never marry you?”  

Kathleen chuckled. “Because I’ve got the bigger balls.”  

Laughing, The Cappy declared, “I love you, Kathleen.”  

Kathleen collected her designer hand bag to leave. “I love you too, you old prick.”  

*** 

The car phone was breaking up.  

“I can’t hear you,” Jeremy was groaning. “I’ll have to call you when I land.” 

The Auction House was being put up for sale again and as the Chief Auctioneer for the Penns and their acquisitions agent, it was important he got the support he needed to get it back where it belonged.  

Jean Luc – his counterpart in Luen – hadn’t been happy new king Marcus was unable to see him, and it wasn’t worth having Reggie speak. The youngest triplet was still messed up and kept forgetting things. It didn’t help that he had barely been sober since he got back. His poor mother would be so worried. His father would be too. That was why Jeremy was now having to kiss Jean Luc’s arrogant ass. He wouldn’t be causing such a fuss if Reginald was still alive but the Penns needed the help from Luen. Jeremy was hoping that if he went to Luen he would be able to arrange a call between Marcus and Jean Luc. Marcus would be able to request the help in Coldford that Reggie so desperately needed.  

“I’ll arrive around midnight,” Jeremy called to the car phone.  

“You are wasting your time,” said Jean Luc. “I’ll speak to Marcus only. It’s disappointing he isn’t able to speak for himself. Too busy being a hired thug for some stupid little girl with a grudge.”  

“Enule!” Jeremy barked.  

“Pardone?” Jean Luc challenged.  

“I said enule. Fuck you! I’m on my way and when we I get there, you’ll talk to Marcus. I’ll arrive around midnight,” Jeremy called to the car phone before cutting it off, hoping that Jean Luc got the message.  

The road towards Cardyne across the bridge was thankfully quiet. The Law Makers’ blockade had been removed.  

Another call came through. This time it was Reggie.  

“Yes, Reggie?”  

“I, uh,” he hesitated.  

“What’s wrong?”  

“A lot of City Main ones in,” he said. “They said they know me but I don’t recognise them.”  

“Where are the agents?” asked Jeremy.  

“They’re outside. They’re not letting anyone in.”  

“Then what’s the trouble?”  

Reggie coughed. He had been smoking too much weed.  

“It just felt rude if they did know me. Turning people away from the door seemed pretty shitty.”  

Jeremy inhaled sharply. “Reggie, we spoke about this. It’s dangerous. Just sit tight until I get back. Stay close to Tabitha and do not let anyone in.”  

“I know,” Reggie agreed. He was feeling a little tired. It wouldn’t hurt to lay low. “But Tabitha’s not here.”  

“Where is she?”  

“She’s still being held at the club.” 

“Can no one run anything past me these fucking days?!” Jeremy despaired. “Reggie, sit tight. I’m turning back.” Reggie couldn’t be left alone, not with the state he was in. Not with strangers knocking on the doors. The agents were stretched thin as it was, and they could only do so much.  

So Jeremy turned at the junction at the Fullerton Bridge Cardyne exit. As he made his way back across, heaving headlights filled his windscreen from an oncoming car.  

Jeremy brought his car to a halt. The car in front stopped too. The Auctioneer raised his arm to shield his eyes from the glare.  

BOOM!  

Through the light, Cherry jerked forward to take the first gnashing bite.  

Jeremy pulled his car away as quickly as he could. He slammed his foot onto the pedals and sped off but he had only just managed to get his car up to 70mph when Sunny zoomed past. She had reached the edge of the bridge just as Emerald charged through the darkness into a spin, completely cutting him off.  

Click. Click. Click.  

Then came the spotter in blue.  

*** 

Jeremy struggled to catch his breath as he lay in the mud. The Cherry pit crew had beaten him badly whilst Sunny’s watched and Sky click, click, clicked. He thought he was going to drown. He could barely move and with each breath he was taking in a mouthful of mud. He tried to explain such sentiments to his captors but they fell on deaf ears. They were too busy exchanging Kappa So handshakes.  

‘Fucking brothers for life. Bullshit,’ thought Jeremy bitterly.  

There was quite a group gathering. Buddy and his bros, Jeremy recognised. They had gotten into scuffles with the triplets before and they had been the ones Reginald let go after the execution of Pops.  

A door of a white Cooper SUV slammed. Three more arrived. Police commissioner Billy Owen, the circus ring master Irvine Stoker, and his son Freddy.  

There was one watching him intently though, as the rest gathered around. The Cappy himself. His attention was stolen by the hand of his cousin on his shoulder.  

“Where’s Isaac?” The Cappy asked. 

Billy lowered his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “No one’s heard from him.”  

The Cappy sighed. “Get your team together Billy,” he warned.  

Billy admitted, “I’m afraid it gets worse. There’s something you need to know.”  

The Cappy urged him to continue. Meanwhile Austin Perry hovered close to Jeremy.  

“What’s going on, Bill?” Chick questioned.  

Billy fell into a repenting cry, “I was hoping to be able to clear this so no dirt fell on you but we had an issue with Cameron Doyle. He came looking for rat boy and he pulled a gun.” 

The Cappy gasped, “Jesus, Billy, he’s dead?”  

“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”  

Before Chick could respond further Billy cried, “I’m so sorry Captain. You trusted me with a task and I let you down. You’re gonna be real mad and I don’t blame you. Just tell me what to do to make it right and I will.” 

Buddy – so used to disappointing The Cappy – thought to himself, ‘Jeez Bill, reel it in, brah.’ 

Dale Cooper was busy watching Jeremy, wondering when someone was going to start paying attention to the man writhing in the mud under Ozzy’s boot.  

“If you want to put a bullet in my head right now I won’t blame ya,” Billy went on. “I failed,” he said. “I messed up.”  

Satisfied with Billy’s repentance, The Cappy clutched his cousin. 

“Calm down,” he said, but inside he was thinking, ‘Cameron fucking Doyle!’ 

Billy opened his eyes to see Marshall Cooper clutching his chest as though to say, ‘Tit.’  

“What did you do with the body?” Chick enquired.  

“I don’t want to implicate you any more than necessary,” said Billy. 

The Cappy patted his shoulder. “It’s fine. I need to know the details.”  

“We moved him to an abandoned Bergman mine. It was the only reason I brought that Jew fuck in,” Billy ranted.  

“Does Isaac know? Is that why he isn’t here?” 

“We’re tracking him down.” 

Chick put the question to his team. “So what are we going to do now?”  

Irvine Stoker seemed completely undisturbed by the predicament.  

“We can stop those sneaky, money grubbing, dirty…Bergmans,” said the ring master with a wry smile.  

“Fine we’ll deal with that later,” suggested Chick. “Right now we got more pressing concerns.”  

It was then he finally addressed Jeremy.  

“You sir,” he began. “I have not forgotten what you did with my compass. You deliberately set out to make a fool of me and I do not take that kindly.”  

‘Holeeee fuck!’ Buddy thought to himself. ‘He’s really going to do this.’ 

The setting – dear readers – which I should make clear now was Perry Zoo. It was a cold night where breath began to escape the lips in a fine mist. Winter was setting in. Jeremy heard something move in the great pool of water behind him. The sign above his head read ‘Snowflake – Coming Soon.’  

Austin drew a knife from his pocket.  

“Sorry mate,” he said. “War is Hell.”  

Jeremy screamed as his Achilles’ tendons were cut. First the right foot, then the left. Jeremy’s shrill cry caused Austin to look back over his shoulders. Ripples were gathering.  

“You might wanna step back,” Austin announced to his brothers as he skipped over Jeremy’s writhing body and up the embankment.  

“You bastards!” Jeremy managed to scream. “You’ll not get away with this.”  

“Dad?” Chad appealed to Austin.  

“Just step back there, son,” Ozzy warned.  

The Cappy was watching the water.  

“C’mon Snowflake, my gorgeous boy. Come and get it,” he muttered.  

Buddy shivered. It wasn’t doing him much good watching this sober. Had he been full of powder, it might have been hilarious but with a sober mind his father looked like a real fucking psycho.        

Still in pain, Jeremy tried to pull himself up the ledge but kept slipping in the mud. He was losing strength fast. His cries of pain and fear were only drawing interest and the ripples were becoming angrier.  

Irvine was grinning, as was Freddy. Billy had lit a cigarette, probably glad he had gotten his own troubles off his chest and could now relax and enjoy the show.  

Splash!  

Like some monstrous creature Hen Owen was reputed to have fought upon the high seas, an oversized albino alligator leapt from the water. Jeremy tried to scramble away but he wasn’t fast enough. He only kept slipping back down the verge. Snowflake charged towards him. His reptilian limbs stomped through the mud.  

Snap! 

Jeremy just missed the first bite. It only made Snowflake angry. 

Snap!  

This time his leg was caught. Snowflake chomped down. His powerful jaws crunched through bone. 

“Jesus!” Dale Cooper reacted. Like his bro, he too was having a hard time with the sobriety of the situation. He turned away but he could feel his father’s hand clutch the back of his neck.  

“Don’t act like a little pussy,” warned Marshall.   

Dale took a deep breath and watched on.  

“Wooooh!” Irvine cheered as Snowflake wrapped his jaws around Jeremy’s midriff.  

With a great heaving shake of his hefty body and a lash of his tail, he started to drag Jeremy towards the water.  

Jeremy’s scream was a gargle of blood and some of the mud he was choking on as he was dragged. The brothers watching him had fallen silent. He could hear the lashing behind him as Snowflake entered the water, pulling him with him. The sudden icy cold chill shocked his heart. Trying to shake free of the alligator’s maw was only causing the razor-sharp teeth to clench down harder. The tear into his abdomen was irreparable so when he slipped under the water, watching the faces staring down at him as he was dragged into the abyss, it no longer mattered.  

*** 

Snowflake – better known as the puppy snatcher in the parts where he had been picked up – had been causing havoc in Swamp State, snatching up the dogs of little old ladies walking past. Unchecked he had grown so big he began to attack the little old ladies themselves. An alert was raised in the local community. Sightings of the albino monster in the local area were registered.  

When the residents of the community stopped walking his prey past the General John Swamp he had made home, he grew bored and ventured further into Johnsville. 

Nine-year-old local Ahmed Chauncey called the authorities when he awoke one morning to find the fencing around his family’s property had been torn open. Four of the chickens had been eaten and a still-hungry Snowflake lay at the bottom of the muddied-up family pool.  

The Perry Zoo in Swamp State sent their best specialists to capture the beast, led by Ozzy himself. The Cappy had been visiting at the time and instantly fell in love with the alligator.  

“What a magnificent snappa’” he gushed. 

And so. he organised a sponsorship for it to be kept at Perry Zoo in Star State.  

A magnificent snappa’ indeed. Now, a razor-toothed resident of Coldford City.  

*** 

Chick had come to Harbour House alone. He was greeted initially by Agent Kim. 

“I trust my son has been behaving,” he asked.  

“He’s quiet for now,” the agent informed him.  

“He’s shown remarkable improvement. I hope you will take that into account during your investigations,” said The Cappy.  

Kim replied, “I’m taking everything into account.” 

The Cappy nodded, “I know.”  

“Before you go see him, Olivia Hickes would like a word with you,” said Kim.  

At that Chick was led to the office Olivia held at Harbour House for those the agents brought in for support – violent homes, missing persons, addicts, etc. 

They shook hands and sat across her desk from each other.  

“Mrs Hickes, it’s a pleasure,” The Cappy began.  

She smiled. He liked the way she smiled. It was warm, soft and comforting.  

“It’s good to meet you, Charles,” she said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”  

The Cappy laughed. “Don’t believe all the rumours. So, what can I do for you?”  

“There’s something I want you to hear,” she said. “It’s from Bernard’s last therapy session. We’re obliged to hold confidentiality unless we feel the resident is a danger or in danger. I don’t want to abuse his trust but I really think it’s important you hear what he has to say.” 

Chick found himself feeling nervous. There was a little flutter of butterflies within his stomach he had never experienced before. He was always so sure of his ability to handle anything. With Olivia, it seemed so much more personal. For some reason it wasn’t quite the same when she seemed to be sympathetic towards Buddy rather than complaining about him.  

“What’s he done?” was the automatic question.  

“He’s not in trouble,” Olivia stated. “But I warn you, what you are about to hear will be a little difficult to take so if you wish for me to stop I will.”  

“If there is a cause for concern,” said the Cappy, “I really should hear.” 

Olivia brought the recorder over and pushed play. The Cappy recognised Buddy’s cough.  

“So, Bernard,” said Justin, the counsellor. “We made some good progress last time getting to the route of your addiction. You were thirteen when you first sampled cocaine, correct?”  

“Eleven,” Buddy replied. He coughed again. His voice sounded a little odd, like something really heavy was hanging on the tones. “My Uncle Jerry gave me some. He pulled me into the store closet of the Star State house and I snorted that shit.”  

“Did you enjoy it?” 

“What? No, brah. Not at first. Who wants to be trapped in a closet snorting coke off another bro’s dick? That’s faggy shit.”  

Justin stopped him. “Excuse me?”  

“Yeah, it was a game Jerry liked to play when I was a little kid. He said if I liked it enough, I’d snort it off anything. I hated that. I just wanted to play cowboys and shit. I was like, leave me alone brah. But when that buzz hit, woohwee, my eyes were opened. I was in heaven and Jerry was God.”  

“It’s funny you should use that term with him being a priest,” Justin commented.  

“Yeah. He told me he had God Balls. I’m a kid, balls barely dropped and I’m bouncing off the walls thinking it was the funniest shit I ever heard. He told me he’d show me how to have God Balls too.”  

“More games?” Justin asked.  

“It wasn’t easy. I mean it takes a helluva lot. He believed in me though. He was damn near the only person who did.”  

“You trusted his advice?”  

Buddy coughed again. “Man never steered me wrong. He was always there for me. Made me what I am today…”  

Buddy paused. He must have been giving thought to exactly what he was.  

“He’s the reason I am what I am,” he said, softer. As though he were speaking to himself rather than his counsellor.  

“E’body laughs at the idea I could have a chick like Lydia. I get that brah, but I got a lot to offer.”  

Calmly, Justin commented, “You seem to have trouble forming connections with women.”  

“Jerry told me that having God Balls meant you didn’t have to, chicks just lined up to lick those bad boys.”  

“Your first sexual encounter with a female was not a pleasant one?” asked Justin. 

“I was scared,” Buddy admitted. “I mean I had wood so hard. The girl Jaycee Miles – you always remember your first, right? – she was screaming merry Hell and not in a good way. Not like in the movies. She was screaming because she was hurt. There was blood everywhere. I thought I had burst her or something. Jerry was there yelling at me to keep fucking her. He said she liked it. Brah, she was not liking it. I wanted to stop. Jaycee was crying for her mama. Jerry was tugging on his own dick, watching us. He said that since it was my first time, he wanted to make sure I did it right. I wasn’t a kid anymore. Not after hearing Jaycee scream like that. She was a kid too. Jerry fucked her first to break her in. So, I’m to take my turn and he’s yelling at me. He knew better about it than I did. I wanted those God Balls so I didn’t complain.” 

“Did you tell anyone about this?” Justin asked.  

“And make it seem like I’m some kind of whiney pussy?” Buddy went on. “Jerry told me that If I did talk about it, he would tell everyone I was a fag. I didn’t want that. Not after seeing what happened with my Uncle Teddy. Besides, who was I going to tell? The Cappy was never there – travelling everywhere and anywhere that wasn’t home, and my mama? When she wasn’t boning Uncle Walt she was passed out. Who would believe me anyway? Besides, he kept giving me powda’. Jaycee tried to call him out. Her family shipped her off to some Christian camp. I was scared bro. I was drugged, buzzing my balls off on powda’ and trying to drown Jaycee’s screaming out. I figured if I could handle that, I could handle anything. I was invincible.”  

“Do you realise now that what happened to you was wrong?” Justin put to him delicately.  

Buddy gave another cough.  

“I didn’t want him making me scream like Jaycee. I did at first. I learned to stay quiet after that. I started to hate that closet, when that door was closed over. I didn’t want any of that shit. I reckon Bill found out. I overhead him one night telling Jerry that if he found another pair of bloody pants, he would cut his dick off. He might not have been talking about me, I had been so careful to hide my bloody pants, but he did stay away from me after that. Then I came to Coldford.”  

The recording ended. Olivia pushed a box of tissues towards Chick but he refused them.  

“I’m fine,” he said, although the emotions were flooding his mind.  

“It’s a lot to take,” Olivia said. “But abuse survivors often fall into self-destructive patterns and addictions.”  

‘He was not abused. He was not abused,’ was all the Cappy could think.  

“Because of the nature of this recording it is still kept confidential unless Bernard himself wishes to take it further.”  

“Thank you, ma’am. My boy is a handful but despite it all you chose to listen to him. You heard his cries for help, something by his own admission I failed to do.”  

“He has a long way to go, I won’t lie to you, but now that you know, you can truly help him,” said Olivia.  

“If I may request that I keep that recording?” Chick asked.  

Olivia was unsure. “You can rest assured it won’t fall into the wrong hands here.” 

Chick realised her misunderstanding. 

“At this time that is the least of my concerns. I would like to process this and some day when we’re ready, Buddy and I can discuss it.”  

“Okay,” Olivia agreed.  

Chick found Buddy having just alighted from the pool. Lydia was escorting him. They both seemed relaxed.  

“You brought your time down then?” asked the father.  

“One minute fifty!” Buddy cheered. “Kappa fucking so!”  

Chick was pleased to see Lydia giggle at Buddy’s enthusiasm. Despite the nature of their meeting and despite the fact he was still technically in her custody he hoped Buddy would stay clean and create a good impression on her. Or stay clean long enough to cleanse himself of the horrific nonsense Jerry had filled his head with.  

“Going to lift some weights,” Buddy announced. “You wanna see how much I’m pressing these days?”  

Chick smiled. “Sure.”  

“You want some coffee, Mr Owen?” Lydia asked.  

“Thank you, agent, but I’m fine. Please, call me Chick.”  

The recording in question was given to me by Chick himself. I was surprised at this.  

“Why not to the Daily or Kathleen?” I enquired.  

“Because they will seek to protect me and whilst Jerry shares my name, I won’t risk them trying to protect him. You are independent and I trust you will tell the right people about this at the right time,” was The Cappy’s sentiment.  

With an agreement in place for me to hold the recording until requested, The Cappy took Kathleen’s advice and reached out to another of Jerry’s victims.  

*** 

“Well, hello, cunt,” grinned Tabitha, as she sat down in the room set aside in Harbour House for she and Charles ‘Chick’ Owen to discuss their terms.  

Chick was not impressed by her bravado. “My, my. That is mighty foul language for a little girl,” he met the challenge.  

“You must have heard worse,” Tabitha retorted. “Or someone hasn’t been passing along my fucking messages.” She looked around her, gauging the exit. “So, what do you want?”  

“It occurred to me that whilst we both wish to move forward it makes no sense that we would continue to hold each other back. So, I would like to open negotiations whereby we can discuss terms that are mutually beneficial to us.”  

Tabitha pouted. “I know what negotiations means. Why should I?”  

“I would help you remain in your beloved bar,” he put to her.  

The Boss Lady was sceptical. “Why would you do that?”  

The Cappy replied, “Because I believe you will keep your part of the city in order.”  

“What’s in it for you?” she asked.  

“Peace of mind,” was his response. There was a pause. “There will be a condition attached.” 

Tabitha rolled her eyes. “There it is.”  

“Should you violate our agreement and trouble stirs, you will be returned to prison or worse. In the spirit of reciprocity, I will make sure your area has no hassle from any of my Kappa So brothers.”  

Tabitha was considering her options.  

“Here’s the part where you make your terms known,” The Cappy pushed.  

Tabitha scowled. She leaned forward on the table. “If you talk down to me one more time, you riddle-spinning cunt, I’m going to open your throat.”  

Feeling confident, The Cappy asked, “With what?”  

Tabitha’s gap-toothed smile widened.  

“I can be very creative,” she assured.  

The Cappy looked behind him to check Tawny and Ronnie were still waiting by the door. Satisfied she had made her point; Tabitha leaned back again and folded her arms across her chest.  

“I want your son for the murder of a little girl named Sarah,” she requested.  

The Cappy shook his head. “Buddy is out of reach. His involvement in any murder was never proven.”  

As he looked at The Boss Lady, he couldn’t help but notice the little markings across her nose. It was an unusual thing to notice and such a small thing but it played a huge part in humanising her. He had heard so much about her and now she was sat across the table from him, so close he could see those little markings on her nose. She was so much younger than he.  

“I will not give you Buddy. That is non-negotiable. But I will give you Jerry.” 

“You would?” Tabitha was liking the direction the negotiations were taking.  

The Cappy nodded. “If it will satisfy your vengeance and offer you some closure.”  

“Then your son is the one that does it but I want it all documented. I’m not wanting you throwing me to the dogs for it. I’m not that stupid. If any of your freak show family try anything, I put your son down like the sick pup he is.” 

“Agreed,” said The Cappy.  

“And you will help the Penns – Simon and Marcus – out, too. City Main needs them.”  

“And this worries me how?” asked Chick.  

Tabitha shrugged. “You said you wanted the city in order. I can speak for the Shanties but City Main will only listen to the Penns.”  

The Cappy was given pause for thought.  

Tabitha laughed, “How’s that for fucking negotiations?”  

“I will consider the Penns,” Chick said.  

“It’s the least you could do for killing their dad and don’t get me started on what your lot did to Reggie,” the Boss Lady saw fit to comment.  

“Reginald Penn…” The Cappy began, but Tabitha stopped him.  

“You killed him, or at least as good as, but if you help Marcus and Simon, I’m sure they might just be willing to keep the peace.”  

And so it was, an unprecedented peace agreement was reached, which if anyone had told me Tabitha would be partially responsible for, I would have laughed until my ribs hurt.  

“Prison changes a girl, Sam,” she said at the time.  

The changes in her and The Cappy were only to show Judge Doyle them playing nice together. They still had their axes to bury. The war between them was far from over. It had just turned cold under Judge Doyle’s hammer.  

As he stood to leave The Cappy said to her, “What Jerry did to you was despicable. He tried to steal something from you that should never be stolen from another person. I am sorry.” 

Tabitha blinked. It had been the last thing she had expected to hear.  

Chick had been thinking of his son when he said, “I just wish you had come directly to me.”  

“Would it have made a difference?” Tabitha asked.  

“I like to think it would have. Regardless of what you may think, I never condoned his behaviour.”  

“I know,” Tabitha agreed. “I wasn’t the one who cut his dick off.”  

Chick raised his chin. “Another charge you’ll find removed if you and I can stay out of each other’s way.  

“Generous fucker, aren’t you?” Tabitha teased.  

“I’m optimistic for the future,” The Cappy told Ronnie as they parted. “We have some kinks still to iron out but we’ll get there.”  

Helping the Boss Lady remain at The Knock Knock Club was a bold move for the Owen Inc. CEO. Personally, I would rather swim with Snowflake.  


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Knock Knock: Episode 44: Sick ’em

“Fire up the incinerator. Clear the fields. Turn the soil and plant.”  

Harvester Farm was far from sitting pretty but Julia Harvester was an expert at keeping up appearances. What made her so nervous? Article 22 could reach as far as Bournton which made Harvester Farm the first stop for the High Court bailiffs on their pursuit North.  

“Hurry! Hurry!” she called to the farm hands as they carried documents to the incinerator shed.  

“I accept full responsibility,” Micky Doyle had said. “I now lay myself at the mercy of the High Court.” Mercy was death by firing squad. Judge Doyle showed no favours – not even to her own cousin.  

As expected, a timeless car made its way along the path to the farmhouse.  

“Susie,” farm hand Glenn said to his daughter. “Go inside.” 

“What’s wrong?” asked Susie.  

Glenn gently urged the little girl towards the entrance to the house. “Just do as you’re told.”  

Susie didn’t argue any further.  

When the car reached the farmhouse, it parked. A man alighted from it in a long black coat. His gothic appearance would have him mistaken for a Doyle if it weren’t for his fairer hair and engaging smile.  

“The farm is just as beautiful as I was told,” he said. He brought himself before the farm girl. He took her hand in his and patted it. “You must be Miss Harvester. The word of your beauty wasn’t spoken in lies either.” He looked to Glenn. “I’m sorry, this must seem so intrusive of me. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mr Kutz. I’m from the office of Law Makers and if your colleague wouldn’t be offended, I would like to speak to you in private.”  

Julia obliged. Her whole life she had been taught to be a nice girl. When nice girls receive unexpected guests, they paint on their nice smiles and search the kitchens for something to make their guest feel at home.  

“I was just preparing lunch,” explained the farm girl. “Would you join us?” 

Kutz gave a wide smile. “That would be delightful. I am afraid my job may keep me here for most of the afternoon.” There was no regret in his words. “At least,” he added.  

Julia led Kutz to the kitchens. The smell of beef was already lending a fragrant air to the farmhouse. It seemed to delight Kutz.  

“I have heard so much about the Harvester steaks,” he said. “I’ve been so long in Luen, it would be a treat to sample one. I learned a little trick from Chef Marceau. May I?”  

Julia nodded.  

Kutz took a knife and began prodding at the steak that was heating on the frying pan. The juices sweated from the meat under the prod of his knife.  

“It’s all about due care and attention,” explained the Law Maker. “When you are able to apply heat evenly not a single bit of meat escapes without being at its most delectable.” 

Kutz’s attention was snatched up by a painting – a David Finn original. The image was of Julia. It was sultry but also theological. It was the sort of image one might find in books on mythology.  

“Stunning work,” Kutz commented.  

“It was a favourite piece of Dr Winslow,” Julia explained. “He was resident here before he was arrested. I haven’t had the time to remove it yet.”  

“It would be a shame to,” said Mr Kutz. “It’s beautiful.”  

He dropped a piece of the steak on a plate and carried it back to the table and took his seat. “I’m sure my presence here – as pleasant as it is for me – is a little unnerving for you so let me put your mind at ease. I’m from the department of the Law Makers that have been tasked with double checking old cases that might be changed with the introduction of Article 22. On the face of it I would be happy to simply mark your farm off my list and be done but there are procedures to follow, I’m afraid. I just want to ask a few questions.” 

“I already told everything I know to the High Court,” Julia said.  

Kutz cut a piece of the meat and dropped it into his maw. He chewed thoroughly before answering. “And we were very grateful for that,” he assured. “Which is why we hope you will indulge us again.”  

“Winslow ran the Harbour House project.”  

Kutz nodded as though he was wholeheartedly agreeing with her.  

“That is quite so, by his own admittance. We have accounted for most of the bodies but there’s just one that alludes me. Does the name Nathan Watt mean anything to you?”  

Julia smiled. “He’s a friend of mine.”  

A frost began to gather on Kutz’s tone. “His mother has brought it to our attention that he came here a few weeks ago and he hasn’t been seen since. It’s almost like the boy came to your lovely farm and simply vanished. If he’s still here I’d just like a quick chat with him to put the poor old dear’s mind at rest.”   

“I haven’t seen him,” Julia admitted. “We had a little bit of an argument and he left.”   

“That’s a shame,” said Kutz. He watched her closely through some awkward silence. “Was that before or after he went to the Delphine?”  

*** 

“Have a nice flight, Captain,” the Coldford City airport manager waved off The Cappy as he made his way to the west runway where his plane, Dynasty, was being prepared for take-off. He was making a return trip to the Great States. Just when he had managed to bring his son Buddy back to Coldford and put him in rehab, he received a call from Owen Inc. board member Austin Perry.  

“Jackson has filed the papers to have you removed,” he said. “He’s not stopping there though. He has a private investigator digging up as much as he can on you and Bud. It sounds like he wants you dead, mate.”  

“I’m on my way,” Chick stated.  

He was needed in the Great States. The board had called a meeting he wasn’t invited to. The only way they would be able to meet without the permission of the CEO was if Jackson’s motion to have him removed had taken its next steps. He would have to be there in person to remind them that the company was his. It was a long flight back to the Star State but at least it would give him time to think.  

He had been consumed with plans and the rattle of the wheels of his flight case when his co-pilot stopped him. Chick looked up to see the entrance walkway blocked by a heavy man who was no stranger to weight lifting. He was watching them approach, but it was the stare of the woman beside him that caused Chick’s blood to run cold.  

“Captain Owen?” asked the man. “This is Ms Sophie Bergman. We are from the Office of Law Makers. We need a private room. We need to speak.”  

Chick turned to his co-pilot. 

“Hold the flight,” he ordered. To the Law Makers he beckoned, “Follow me.”  

To a private room in the captain’s lounge, they went.  

***  

With the door closed behind them Ms Bergman took a seat. Her colleague remained standing.  

“So, what can I do for you?” asked the Cappy.  

“I’m here to interpret,” said the man. “Ms Bergman will ask some questions.”  

The whole time Sophie Bergman was watching Chick. Her expression told nothing. She was middle aged, raven haired and full lipped. She had pale, witch-like features resonating in a beautifully intimidating persona.  

She had been hand-picked by Doyle for her remarkable eye for detail and her ability to spot fakes. Like a Golem by her side at all times, her interpreter was also a sworn protector. His massive presence was difficult to get past.  

Ms Bergman turned to her Golem and signed. Chick had never learned sign language so he was lost trying to translate what she was saying. Long fingers gave her request. When she finished she turned, locking her eyes on Chick again. Golem nodded in receipt of his instructions.  

“She will now ask you some questions,” he said.  

Born deaf, Sophie Bergman was given a unique view of the world. She paid more attention to body language than most and in doing so she could see the truth on people’s lips even when the words they spoke were laced with lies. Most importantly she could see things others missed because the noise of the world drowned them out.  

“Of course,” Chick agreed. There was no other option.  

Sophie signed to her Golem.  

“You will be aware of Article 22,” she had said. “Would you like the full details or are you learned enough to that I may continue?”  

Chick nodded. He was familiar enough with the Article and so urged her to go ahead with her questioning.  

“Cases 2198 and 2199 are being re-examined. Those cases both relate to your brother Gerald and involve The Knock Knock Club.” 

“I understand,” he said. “I’ll tell you all I know but I fear it won’t lead any further forward.”  

Golem didn’t need to sign. Sophie had read every word on his lips.  

Still watching The Cappy, she raised her arms slowly and danced her fingers into signs. When she finished, she looked to the subject of her questioning. Chick flinched as her brow tightened as though she had seen something, a little detail that intrigued her. She turned to her Golem, flexed her fingers again into a sign of something additional to say.  

“With the current orders on Tabitha McInney we are looking closely at The Knock Knock Club.”  

“If it helps,” Chick replied. “I’d be happy to oblige the courts with my cooperation.”  

“On the night the club was attacked you said your brother never contacted you?”  

“It could be days or weeks between my hearing from Jerry,” explained Chick. “He only ever called when he needed something.”  

Sophie’s head began to nod slightly. She signed again. As she did so she maintained her focus on her interviewee. If the delicacy of her hand movements were anything to go by Chick imagined she how soft her voice would be. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe she would be a clash of soft touch but harsh voice. Either way it was Golem’s words that echoed for her.  

“‘If I find out this is true, I will cut your balls off myself.’ Does that phrase mean anything to you?”  

“I was appalled at the rumours of his behaviour. I warned Jerry a number of times,” was Chick’s reply. 

“When was the last time you gave this warning?” asked Sophie in sign.  

“I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess,” the Cappy replied. “I expressed my disapproval many times. It was hurting my family both professionally and personally.” 

Neither of them replied. Sophie allowed the silence she was experiencing to fall on the others. The Golem awaited his instructions. Sophie finally raised her fingers again to sign. The Golem observed. 

“Are you sure you had no contact with Gerald on the night the club was attacked?” the question was put.  

“I’m sure,” The Cappy returned.  

She watched his lips for the truth.  

“We’re going to have to ground you. Until we close the file, we’re detaining you in Coldford. All procedure. All authorised by the High Court.” 

Article 22 had caused a new wave of detainments across the city. The power houses that cast the shades over Coldford were being locked in their palaces and where they were found wanting, they were forfeiting their lives.  

Charles ‘Chick’ Owen’s wings were clipped. Thanks to Jackson stirring trouble with the Law Makers, Chick couldn’t leave Coldford, couldn’t have his say with the board and if he ended up losing his life as a result, well that would be just gravy. 

*** 

“Good morning, Elizabeth.”  

Shown to her guest by the house keeper, both Elizabeth Beckingridge and her guest were seated on a green chesterfield sofa in the lounge of Beckingridge Manor. The man was smiling warmly and offering her a bright-eyed look.  

“Thanks for coming, Presley,” said the Beckingridge CEO. 

“I would have been at our usual meeting but – well – circumstances,” he replied.  

Elizabeth was under house arrest. Mayor Micky Doyle had managed to bring her name to the attention of Judge Karyn Doyle before his execution. When she received her summons, she couldn’t read past the phrase ‘Article 22: Under charges of assisting known terrorists.’ Article 22 had been all over the press.  

“I’m in a lot of shit,” Elizabeth stated.  

Presley nodded. “You are indeed. What were you thinking?”  

Elizabeth shrugged. “I guess I wasn’t.” 

Presley smiled again and opened his arms. “Well, if anything, it gave me the chance to visit your lovely home. I haven’t been here since before Ernest died.”  

Presley Chance was chair of the Beckingridge Board. He was a financial wizard and mentored by Jeffrey Beckingridge – better known as Gramps – himself.  

He and Elizabeth had agreed her nephew, George, couldn’t be allowed to take his place in charge of the tower.  

“Disaster is what this could spell if you don’t tread carefully,” Presley pointed out. “For all of us. We’ve had a tough enough time fending off the bites from the sharks in our own tank. That stunt with the compass now has trouble heading from the Owen Board.”  

Elizabeth giggled. “It was rather funny to see the look on his face.”  

Presley grinned. “Oh, it was hilarious,” he admitted, “but we have bigger problems. Article 22 is no stunt. I attended Michael Doyle’s cremation. It doesn’t get any more real than that.”  

“I want to make sure Vicky is well provided for. If I leave it to Catherine she’s going to grow up and have nothing in her future.”  

Presley seemed to fall cold. He had expected her to be more disagreeable, to fight more. Her preparations had caught him off guard. 

“I also want to pass the details of my investigation on George to my agents. Kitten will know what to do. She can finish what the other investigators started.” 

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Presley. “We can’t make any moves until the Law Makers serve against you. Micky’s hearsay – which he is no longer in the position to voice – is all they have. It falls to whatever Reginald Penn told them and how little he wanted to involve you.” 

Elizabeth took a sip of the Macks she clutched.  

“I should be okay then. Reginald was nothing if not a noble bastard.”  

Presley agreed. “He was but we still need to prepare you for the worst. If the safety of his family was on the line, he would choose them over you any day of the week. You know I’m forever an optimist but Article 22,” he clasped his hands together, laced with gold rings. “We have reached a point in the city we haven’t known for some time. The savagery of it all is making me lose my appetite. Gramps spoke of seeing the last man in Coldford hang on the lawns. They called him the final. When the rope dropped on the killing fields outside City Face, Coldford swore then there would be no more public executions. Seeing that man hang affected your grandfather. As young as he had been at the time, he never forgot it.” He sighed. “I just can’t wrap my head around it.”  

The damning article had led Lewis Salinger – the headmaster of Pettiwick – whose family had run and owned the private school for generations, to arrest. It was discovered that naughty Lewis had been embezzling funds. When it came to light that some of those funds had been feeding the Loyalists of City Main with weaponry he was put to death. Presley had watched Lewis’ eyes widen just the way an animals would when it spots the hunter with the gun pointed.  

‘Assisting known terrorists’ had been the charge. Death was the sentence. The needle was pricked through his neck. The toxins were pushed into the blood stream. Lewis didn’t lose that wide eyed look. His head simply fell onto his right shoulder, caught in the jaws of a predator. 

Lethal injection was Lewis’ chosen fate because in the west wing of The Boss lay the healing halls. Medical practitioner Harold Fishman was in residence. He was a specialist toxicologist and claimed the fastest, most humane method of execution. 

“I can trust you to keep the board in hand for the time being,” Elizabeth put to Presley, more as a hope than a request.  

“I will but it won’t be long before the smell of blood in the water makes them ravenous. I can only keep George at bay for so long. A majority of the board see him as the rightful appointee and more beneficial to them.”  

All the resources of the firm’s legal team had been redeployed to learning about Article 22 and preparing for charges that were set to befall Elizabeth.  

“What can I do?” she asked. In the absence of Gramps, Presley was the best source of advice.  

“Stop making things worse for yourself. For lack of a better phrase, learn to behave.”  

The door opened and Catherine came in carrying her daughter, Victoria, in her arms. 

“Well hello, darling Vicky,” said Presley cheerily. “You look more precious every day.”  

Catherine stayed quietly in the door way.  

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t realise you were meeting.”  

Returning to the house and seeing the bailiffs surrounding the area left Catherine on edge. It hadn’t been the first time she had been forced to realise her own mortality and that of those around her but the presence of the High Court on the Beckingridge lawns seemed more final.  

“I’m sorry, Aunt Elizabeth,” said Catherine. “Can I get you anything?”  

Aunt and niece had their history. Elizabeth walked with a prosthetic leg because of her. Despite having lost a father, a mother, a brother, a teacher and a friend, she hadn’t raised herself to the responsibility of her child. Article 22 had its way of putting things in perspective. Catherine had seen the footage of Micky’s execution.  

“It’ll be alright, baby girl,” her father, Ernest, would have said.  

It wouldn’t be alright. Not by a long shot. That was a promise no one in the Shady City could make when the courts of the land called for the heads of anyone who would dare stray from their rules. 

“I can take Vicky,” Catherine said. “I was going to stay here anyway.”  

Elizabeth reached out her arms. “Give her here,” she said. “Come to me Vicky. I want to keep you close.”  

Vicky giggled as she was passed into her great aunt’s arms. Presley and Elizabeth spoke for a while about matters of the firm, the running of the Beckingridge Tower. but he could tell she was losing her concentration.  

“For what it’s worth, I don’t believe they’ll push for capital providing you cooperate.”  

Elizabeth’s confidence was starting to return as she tickled Victoria’s chin.  

“Can I tell you something?” Elizabeth put to him.  

Presley beamed. “Of course you can.”  

“I have never been more uncertain in my life. I am scared.”  

“We all are,” Presley replied. “But we must trust in Reginald keeping his promise.”  

Catherine had wandered into the kitchen. She looked out of the window onto the manor lawns. Perhaps Reginald would have protected them but when the bailiffs caught scent of the history buried at Beckingridge manor there would be no stopping them.  

*** 

*** 

The Mother Board. An unusual looking building. The seat of power in the Cardyne area of the Shady City. Cardyne is considered the technological centre of Coldford and home of Coby Games inc. with Joshua Coby himself born and raised there. Some would even say he was responsible for making it what it was. He was, after all, the man responsible for the Cardyne Grid, an essential in powering the city and giving it its fastest access to the world beyond its borders.  

Joshua is unconventional, fresh and most importantly honourable. That was how Coby Games liked to do business. Joshua was well aware of how things were conducted in Coldford. He had had stern words with Reginald Penn, the so-called King of Main, when plans were put in place with Fullerton Construction for a new game store in his area. He also had been present at the Free Fall Massacre. They called him Mr 60 because the Fallen 59 should have made that number. He never spoke of what happened that night but it had truly spooked him. Despite it all, despite the threats from the other Coldford power houses, he refused to change how he conducted business.  

A video comm from his secretary was what alerted Joshua to a visit from the Law Makers.  

“A Mr John Capital and a Mrs Michelle Logan to see you Josh,” she said. She was bright cheeked, bubbly and dressed in a Coby games shirt rather than traditional office attire. “Bailiffs. They have a warrant from the High Court.”  

Joshua’s face remained at ease. “Send them in and move my twelve o’clock to four, please Shirley.”  

The call closed and before long the two Law Makers – previously introduced – entered.  

“Come in. Makes yourselves comfortable,” Josh stood from behind his desk to shake the Law Maker’s hand. When they were seated, he took his own seat again.  

“Can I get you anything? Water? Tea? Juice?”  

Mrs Logan spoke first. “We don’t want to disrupt your day too much Mr Coby so if you don’t mind, we’ll just get on with our warrant.”  

Josh shrugged and leaned casually on his desk. He chuckled. “Is a warrant really necessary?  If there was anything here you wanted to see you only have to ask.”  

“It’s not a warrant to search the premises. It’s a warrant to detain you,” said Mr Capital. Before Josh had a chance to reply he added, “Just whilst we ask you some questions.”  

“I’m under arrest?” Asked Joshua.  

“Not exactly,” ensured Mrs Logan. “We only wish to ask you some questions.” 

“But the questions must be answered,” added Mr Capital.  

“I gave my official statement regarding the entry into the Monte Fort. The signed agreement from the mayor was submitted to your office. My statement was fact checked by the High Court and independent investigators.”  

Both the bailiffs were at ease in Joshua’s office. They knew him to be a reasonable man.  

“As you will be aware Article 22 is in effect. As such, previous investigations have been opened to new light. This includes the Free Fall Massacre. Have you had any contact with Tabitha McInney of The Knock Knock Club?”  

Joshua gave a friendly smile. “I’d hate to seem uncooperative, but I’ll have my legal rep here for our discussions if you don’t mind.”  

“That’s your right, Mr Coby. But we’d really like to avoid delays where possible,” Mrs Logan said with a little impatience. 

“I won’t hold you long. He operates from this building.”  

Mrs Logan and Mr Capital couldn’t argue. Joshua was well within his rights. They couldn’t stop him. Joshua pushed a button to summon his secretary again. Shirley’s face flashed on the comm screen.  

“Can you send in Anthony, please?” he requested. “Tell him we have bailiffs waiting. It’s urgent.”  

“Sure, Josh,” she replied. “He’s on his way.”  

Efficient, fast communication was important at Coby Games. When your bread and butter was fast connections and a future thinking spirit, it couldn’t be anything less. 

Joshua smiled at the bailiffs. “Sure I can’t get you anything? Anthony will be here soon enough.”  

Mr Capital rested back in his chair. It was a clean office, he observed. A collection of monitor screens surrounded them, displaying live footage from around the Coby empire, including a competitive Lonesome Nights tournament in the gaming room on The Mother Board’s third deck.  

Before long there was a knock on the door. It opened to allow entry to a black man in his mid-thirties. He was full faced, sharply dressed in a crisp white shirt and smiling despite the ominous presence of the bailiffs.  

“Anthony,” greeted Joshua. “This is bailiffs Mrs Logan and Mr Capital. They want to ask me some questions. With Article 22 now in place I thought it would be best if you were here. I don’t really know much about it so you’d be better placed to answer what the High Court needs to know.” 

Anthony frowned. “Article 22 doesn’t void the statement that was already given.” 

Mrs Logan agreed, “Correct but it reopens old cases for re-examination. The Free Fall Massacre, for instance.”  

Anthony’s frown deepened.  

“Mr Coby,” Mr Capital addressed Joshua directly. “We don’t want to be intrusive but given the extent of Article 22 we need to make sure all the tees are crossed; all the i’s are dotted and initials are on every page.” 

“Do I look like a dumb shit to you?” Anthony asked. 

Both Mr Capital and Mrs Logan locked their eyes on the lawyer. “I gotta ask because you just ignored what I said like I’m some dumb shit.”  

Mr Capital turned to Joshua again. “The investigation into The Knock Knock Club is still ongoing. Our office would like to close it as soon as possible.”  

“Getting your stats up isn’t our problem,” said Anthony. “If you are suggesting that my client may be involved in an Article 22 case you better stop treating me like a dumb shit.” 

Mrs Logan frowned. “We are just hoping for some cooperation from Mr Coby.”  

“He’ll cooperate,” Anthony assured. “But when you come in here with a warrant waving a mother fucking Article 22 you are going to allow my client due process.”  

“Our warrant has the signature of Judge Doyle,” stated Mr Capital.  

Anthony was unmoved. “Then get me Judge Doyle,” he insisted. “I want to speak to Judge Doyle right fucking now.”  

“So, you are contesting?” asked Mr Capital.  

“Seriously!?” Anthony gasped looking to Joshua and pointing to himself. “Are the words coming out of my mouth not making any sense?”  

Joshua kept a neutral expression.  

“I never said I was contesting,” Anthony stated. “I said I want to speak to Doyle.”  

“Her Honourable is busy…” began Mrs Logan but Anthony cut her off.  

“If my client has a High Court warrant on his ass, I have the right to the terms and conditions. That can’t come from you. With Doyle’s signature on that warrant, it can only come from her. My client has the right to know why he is being held for information. Get Doyle on the God damned phone.”  

Mr Capital removed his phone with a scowl.  

Joshua leaned back in his chair. “Maybe you’ll take that water now.”  

*** 

After some convincing and being passed through departments of Doyle’s office, they finally reached the judge. Joshua had the call beamed onto the conference screen. The large wall mounted panel showed the ghostly pale woman with a gaping scar across her left eye. Her naturally red lips were puckered.  

“Good morning, ma’am,” Anthony greeted first. “I appreciate you taking the time to explain to us the warrant your bailiffs have here.”  

“I believe the details are quite clear,” Judge Doyle stated. “I have issued a warrant for information from your client. Under Article 22, if he refuses, he can be treated as hostile.”  

“We’re not refusing, Your Honour,” Anthony assured. “What we object to is a warrant being served on my client with no prior notice. There’s been no warning and no previous charges. When the Freefall file was closed you said yourself he had been nothing but helpful.” 

Judge Doyle nodded, “Go on.”  

“My client wants to help out but if this investigation reopens, I need to make sure my boy is protected professionally, personally and legally because no matter what he has to do, he’s gonna piss some mother fucker off. With Article 22 looming over the city, it’s making people crazy. The article states that when repeals are made by the High Court, a fourteen-day grace period is allowed for legal reps to familiarise themselves so we can uphold the mother fucking due process.”  

A slight smile traced Doyle’s lips.  

“As always, Mr James, you’re well informed. The language, though? I suggest you check your words when speaking to me or any representatives of my court.”  

“I apologise, Your Honour,” Anthony replied. “But my point still stands.”  

Doyle nodded. “I’ll grant you a grace period. When we reconvene, I trust Mr Coby will work fully with the court. I have always known him to be an upstanding man.”  

“He’s a good man, Your Honour,” said Anthony. “His mama made me promise I’d keep him that way.”  

Judge Doyle gave a glance to Joshua through the screen. “I’ll be hearing from you then, Mr Coby. When you recant your statement to the court, I trust no details will have changed.”  

“It’ll be word for word, Your Honour.”  

Doyle closed the call. The bailiffs had no choice but to leave.  

Anthony closed the door to Josh’s office.  

“Ohhh,” he exclaimed, catching his breath. “That judge is one scary ass bitch!”  

Joshua’s neutral expression dissolved to finally allow for concern.  

“What can this Article 22 mean?” he asked.  

“It means if you’re convicted of a capital crime your ass can be fried before anyone asks why. We’re talking about drive through executions, delivered in thirty minutes or less or get your money back kinda shit.” 

“But I haven’t done anything wrong,” Josh said.  

“Not now, playa’, but I highly recommend your set your ass back from this Boss Lady. She is trouble with a capital T. We aren’t playing games anymore.”  

*** 

“It’s been two bastard weeks!” Elizabeth complained to her niece and nephew. George and Catherine weren’t exactly ideal company but at least it was someone to yell at who wasn’t wearing a bailiff uniform or Law Maker pin.  

“Screw all of them!” Liz barked. “I’m going out.”  

“You can’t,” said Catherine. “They’ll arrest you.”  

George was sat picking at Cecil’s fur. He was way too old to be finding comfort in a stuffed animal but that was really the least of his quirks.  

“I can go out,” he said. “They can’t stop me.”  

Elizabeth frowned. “How splendid for you.”  

George grinned.  

“Why don’t you just do us all a favour and die already,” she went on. Her frustrations were peaking. Under house arrest in a large manor would seem not so bad for some but when that manor was shared with a nephew with psychopathic tendencies, it wasn’t ideal.  

“This isn’t helping,” Presley Cage had warned Elizabeth of her treatment of the bailiffs on her lawns. “You’re going to have to suck it up until the Law Makers make their next move. For helping Reginald Penn, it could be their next move is your execution. Do not give them any excuse. All this Article 22 nonsense is beyond barbaric.”  

“How am I to get through this?” Elizabeth asked.  

“I’m going out,” George announced excitedly. “Gonna smash some hoes with my bros! I might stay out all day,” he teased.  

“Do fuck off George,” Elizabeth barked.  

George stood, grinning. He left Cecil sitting in his place at the breakfast table. Elizabeth was considering her next move when a knock at the window disturbed her. George had stepped outside and was waving in at her. There was a stupid grin on his face. 

Elizabeth stormed towards the window. She pulled a hose from underneath the sink. She threw open the window, turned the taps and pushed the hose through not only soaking George but also two bailiffs who had been passing at the time. They scowled severely at her. Her nephew skipped off, giggling.  

“I’m sorry,” said Elizabeth sarcastically. “Maybe if you did your jobs properly and caught real criminals, I wouldn’t be having to hose psychopaths away from my windows. Get off my fucking lawns!” She pulled the window closed again. “Imbiciles,” she mused.  

“You’re going to have to calm down and stop yelling at them,” her niece advised.  

“Catherine,” Elizabeth warned. “I know you’re trying to help but…you’re not. Do shut up.”  

Catherine scowled. “I hate you,” she grumbled.  

“Not to worry, before too long you may not have to deal with me anymore.”  

Catherine’s baby, Vicky, began to cry, having awoken from her afternoon nap.  

“I’ll fetch her,” Elizabeth stated.  

*** 

The afternoon wore on. When it reached four pm, Elizabeth could hear some discord in the gardens. From the window of Vicky’s nursery, she could see bailiffs becoming excitable. There was a lot of discussion and waving of arms.  

The door was thrown open and Catherine entered looking a little flustered.  

“You’ve been asked to come downstairs,” she said.  

At the bottom of the stairs a bailiff was awaiting her.  

“Her Honourable, Judge Karyn Doyle to see you,” they informed her.  

“Go look after Vicky,” said Elizabeth to her niece. “It looks like I’m going to have a chat with the ghoul herself.”  

The judge was in the den. She was stood with her hands behind her back, watching the bailiffs circulating the area from the window.  

“We’ll make this swift,” she said. 

Elizabeth felt she could have swallowed a full glass of cool water her mouth had been so dry. Instead, she lit a cigarette. She took a seat in Gramps’ old armchair. When the Judge offered her gaze all she could think was how she wished she wore a patch over that ghastly left eye.  

“Were you made aware of the charges against you?” she asked.  

Elizabeth nodded. “I was,” she said. “Quite the pile of bullshit.”  

Karyn Doyle’s expression didn’t change. “Is that so? You had no dealings with known terrorists? Reginald Penn was not in your office threatening the sitting mayor? Is that your plea?” 

“Don’t admit to anything. Don’t agree to anything. Above all do not act smart with Judge Doyle,” Presley Cage had warned the Beckingridge dragon.  

What had Reginald Penn said about the incident with Mickey at the Beckingridge Tower? Had he admitted it was Elizabeth’s plan to send a Coby game team in to Tabitha? 

“I really should have a lawyer present,” said Elizabeth dismissively.  

“I think this matter would be served better by a prompt solution. You’ve had two weeks now to seek legal counsel. The evidence that was brought before me confirmed that you allowed Reginald Penn access to your office. The evidence also suggested that you deliberately organised a meeting with Mickey Doyle – hereby known as the deceased – so that Mr Penn could threaten him. Do you concur?”  

“I do,” Elizabeth said taking a draw of her cigarette. “Reginald wasn’t threatening the deceased for no reason. He believed CPD had taken one of his triplets.”  

“I heard,” was the judge’s response. “Is that why you chose to help Mr Penn when you knew he was wanted by my office for acts of terrorism?”  

‘Don’t agree. Don’t admit. Do not look into that damn grotesque eye.’  

“I had no prior arrangements with the man, Your Honour. Quite frankly the Penns and all their ilk are no concern of mine.”  

Karyn’s lips pulled back, giving her a hungry wolfish snarl. 

“I would think altercations within your office would be concerning.”  

The Beckingridge dragon fire didn’t like to be awoken from its slumber.  

“That office has seen its fair share of drama. You of all people should know that. No matter how tall we build the damn thing the fights on the ground always seem to reach us.” 

The dragon, as much fire breath as it had, didn’t frighten the hungry wolf. It had set itself on a delicious meal. Dragon meat could be juicy and tender.  

“How did you first come into contact with Mr Penn?” the judge was weighing the evidence.  

“I’ve known him for years,” said Elizabeth dismissively. “That’s no secret.”  

The dragon was curling its tail around to guard its belly. The wolf was still circling.  

Judge Doyle narrowed her gaze. 

“You know fine well I mean after he returned to Coldford.”  

“Do I?” Elizabeth played petulantly. The dragon was gaining confidence, perhaps overly so. 

The wolf was having none of it. Filled with pride and purpose it offered a snapping warning of its jaws at the dragon’s tail.  

“We have a statement from Reginald Penn. If yours doesn’t match his completely you will be giving me cause for concern. Should I be concerned?”  

Elizabeth pushed herself back into Gramps’ chair.  

“He called me out of the blue. He was worried about his son.”  

“Did he threaten you?” Doyle asked.  

Is that what Reginald had said? Must match completely and accurately. Doyle’s expression still offered nothing. The dragon roared but it was without the full heat of its fire.  

“I have been pulled into this when all I wanted to do was help,” she said.  

“Did Reginald Penn threaten you?” asked Judge Doyle.  

The wolf raised its snout. It could smell blood leaking from somewhere. Where was the wound?  

“Threaten me with what?” Elizbeth tried.  

The judge responded quickly, “Yes or no?”  

What had Reginald said? He perhaps had told his captors that he had threatened her into helping him to cover for her. Or maybe had told the truth and they were trying to catch her out. Maybe he had said nothing at all and they were putting the hangman’s noose into her own hands. 

“He was very upset about his son.”  

“Yes or no.”  

“There was a lot going on.”  

The dragon shifted its great, fire breathing body into the corner. The wolf’s shadow was getting longer and longer as it loomed closer, snarling and peering through that stomach churning space where a left eye ball should be.  

“I don’t know what would have happened if I refused. He would stop at nothing to protect his family.”  

“For the last time, yes or no?”  

“Yes,” Elizabeth took a gamble on the true nobility of the King of City Main.  

Karyn stopped cold. “Are you sure about that?”  

“No.”  

“Very well.” The judge stood straighter. “I hereby hold you in contempt for misleading our investigations with false statements. Your house arrest will continue indefinitely.”  

“Wait!” the dragon roared.  

The wolf gnashed. She had her meal exactly how she liked it.  

“Miss Beckingridge, you and I have the privilege of birth. Wealth, opportunity, education. This is something not all can lay claim to. As such, it is expected of us to be held to a higher standard. We set an example.”  

“That example is having your own cousin killed, is it?” Elizabeth cried.  

The immovable judge stood strong.  

“As opposed to a nephew? I hear everything the city has to say, even things people think have just passed into the wind. I will hold you under house arrest for now. I am showing leniency given your contribution to the city. However, I will not forget you aided a known terrorist, under duress or not. My final decision will be made when an appointee matches your full story with Mr Penn’s.”  

At that, the dragon’s cave was blocked off again, immuring the creature inside.  

*** 

Peter Millicent had been spending less and less time in the city. The noise the followers were making had to be coordinated somehow so he kept to Dominick’s side where possible. On this day, whilst the Law Makers tore through the Coldford powerhouses, the Wigan priest made his way across on the early ferry, to City Main of Coldford and to the Office of Law Makers. Sophie Bergman and her Golem awaited him.  

“Thank you for taking the time out to meet with me,” Peter began in a friendly way but taking care not to be overly familiar. “I trust you are very busy right now so I’ll not hold you any longer than necessary. My concern is with my church, first and foremost. We’ve been at the centre of a lot of controversy over the years which I would very much like to put to an end. I speak on behalf of His Eminence when I say we wish nothing but the best for the people of the city. Unfortunately, we’ve been met with a lot of derision, especially from CPD. His Eminence has called for patience and understanding from our congregation but still tensions rise and our people are being targeted. The last thing any of us need is more violence. I appreciate the notice that you have delivered to the commissioner on our behalf. A tighter leash must be tied around them.” 

Sophie watched quietly, reading Peter’s words from his lips. She continued to watch as Peter drew a pile of statements from his bag.  

“These are the complaints against CPD officers that you requested. These are only from the ones willing to step forward at this point, I’m afraid. They worry that nothing will be done about it. The only one who could reassure them, the only person who could bring them any real solace would be Dominick Cole.”  

Sophie frowned when she read the name. She leaned back in her chair. She turned to Golem. She signed. Golem nodded in receipt of her request.  

“Mr Cole is still under caution for inciting violence.”  

Peter nodded. “Yes, correct. A terrible misunderstanding. I must urge though that he be allowed to visit our parishes here. Refusal of that will only fan the flames and I would hate for it to seem like this office of balanced scales is taking the side of CPD.”  

A smile twitched on the corner of Sophie’s lip. Once again, she turned to Golem and signed.  

“Step carefully,” the Golem warned the priest. 

“I will,” Peter agreed. “His Eminence only wishes to bring comfort to our people. The fear in City Main, the dead in Northside and the uncertainty in Swantin, those of our faith would find comfort in Dominick’s words. It will calm them. Let us bring some succour.”  

A tense quiet fell. Sophie tapped Golem’s arms and she signed.  

“Should trouble stir, you will be held accountable,” the Golem recited Sophie’s words.  

Peter shrugged. “I’m willing to take that responsibility. I hope our church has shown that we are more than happy to work with your office for a safer environment for all of us.” He reached into his bag and produced another document.  

“In the spirit of cooperation, I have here a statement regarding case file 105. The Nan Harvester foundation? We would not stand for our church being used as a front or involved in any way with child trafficking. I have been authorised by His Eminence to provide you with a confession from one of our monks named Jonah. Nan Harvester – the crafty soul that she was – managed to evade this office for so long because she had someone of status helping her. I am delighted to inform you that Jonah was able to confirm who this person was. He alleged that Sergeant Major Doyle had not only used his connections to cover for the Nan foundation but Jonah even went so far as to confess the man was a client.”  

Sophie frowned a little more severely. She stopped Peter. She turned to Golem and in sign he confirmed, “Sergeant Major Doyle.”  

Sophie turned back to Peter. Her blue eyes were burning.  

“One of our sisters placed at the Monte Fort confirmed this with Nan,” Peter added. 

“You are claiming Sergeant Major Doyle was a paedophile?”  

“Was, is, I’m not saying anything for certain. Allegations are of course only allegations. His Eminence is handing Jonah to your custody and we leave it in your capable hands to get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, I would reiterate my request that Dominick be allowed to visit our parishes here. Let him speak to our people without unwarranted persecution from CPD.”  

Sophie pulled Jonah’s confession towards her chest. She started to glance over the words.  

Peter stood. “I know I’ve given you a lot to think about so I’ll leave you to it.”  

Sophie and her Golem stood too.  

“Ms Bergman, it’s always a delight to see you. Mr Raminoff, an equal pleasure.” 

Peter made his way to the door. He stopped.  

“Just one last thing. We saw one of your family freighters heading to the inlet. It was quite a surprise. We had thought the mine there had been closed down. I’m sure your brother is well aware of it but I thought I had better bring it to your attention. The area had to be closed off, you see, due to the radiation levels. It was covered over and deemed safe again but we wouldn’t want any breaches or spillages into the water. Have a lovely day.”  

When the Wigan had vacated the office, Sophie turned to Golem. The work on Hathfield had been closed. 

*** 

Over on Hathfield Bay, the atmosphere was one akin to that you might feel in awaiting the birth of a child. There was plenty of excitement, some nervousness and a lot to be considered and prepped.  

Dominick had been expressing this sentiment as he held court within his church. When his sermon was finished and the church had emptied, a nervous looking man approached his altar. Dominick noticed his hesitation.  

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Come forth my brother. You look like you’ve got something you want to say.”  

Bart stepped aside and drew down the hood of his robes.  

“Will you take a confession, Your Eminence?” the man asked.  

“Of course,” said the church leader.  

The man seemed even more nervous still. He couldn’t look Dominick in the eye. 

“What’s yer name?” Dominick pressed. 

“Arthur. I’m new to the church,” he admitted.  

“Welcome Arthur. Speak yer mind. Wigan is listening.”  

Arthur didn’t really like that idea at all. He looked up to the large wooden cross that hung above the altar. Pain, sacrifice, sin. 

“It’s not really my confession,” he said. “But I was listening to you when you said that if we allow others to sin without repercussions it can make us just as guilty.”  

Dominick nodded. He looked to Bart. Bart said nothing.  

“I used to be a guard at The Boss. I have done my job for twenty years. They have it rough in there. I thought I had seen it all but then the damn frat boys started waving their dicks,” Arthur stopped. “Sorry for the language, Your Eminence.”  

Dominick smiled. “Fear not. I’m familiar with the frat boy tackle being swung around.”  

Arthur started to gain a little more confidence in his words.  

“I had been doing the job for twenty years. I thought I had seen it all. Then they brought the Penn boys in. I knew they would be given a hard time. I knew they’d give it right back. That’s what you expect in prison. Then one night we got word that the third triplet had turned up. I thought we were going to just chase him off. When I got there, there were a team of Kappa So. The governor is a brother for life. I didn’t realise that. They get a hold of the third triplet and they beat him, they raped him and held his brothers at gun point so they could watch the whole thing.”  

Dominick raised his eyebrows. He looked to Bart again. The monk’s mouth had fallen open.  

“That’s a terrible thing,” said Dominick.  

“I can still hear him screaming. It gives me nightmares, Your Eminence. I keep seeing the whole thing playing out in my head and I hate myself because I should have done something about it. What could I do though? What if they did the same to me?”  

The official statement had been that Reggie Penn stumbled into the hands of Kappa So brothers looking to make a name for themselves. The Cappy had condoned them. The Good Gang left him no choice in that matter when they retrieved the elusive triplet. Reggie, facing troubles of his own, had opted not to take it any further. His medical records were sealed. With Judge Doyle watching, the kicking was very much being kept under the table. Leave it to St Wigan to want to shout about it.  

“You’ve unburdened yourself, brother,” Dominick assured. “Wigan bless ye.”  

Arthur sniffed. “I should have done something. I hate myself for not speaking out. That commissioner has a lot to answer for.”  

“The commissioner?” Bart asked. “You mean, Billy Owen?”  

“He was the one that set the whole thing up. He was there, taunting the boy. It was all his doing.”  

“You’ve done the right thing,” Dominick said. “Wigan will embrace ye. He will forgive you your faults.”  

“Thank you, Your Eminence,” Arthur replied. His relief lifted the tones of his voice. 

Arthur departed the church with his penance. 

To Bart Dominick said, “well isn’t that something?”  

“It’s a pity he spoke to Wigan in confidence,” Bart said.  

“I know,” was Dominick’s response. He thought about it. “Still, it sounds like it was a mighty ordeal for poor Benji.”  

“Reggie,” Bart corrected. 

“For Reggie…”  

“So, what are we to do?”  

“Nothing would please me more than to see that peacocking bastard of an Owen get what he deserves. Wigan?” he asked, turning his attention to the roof of the church. “If there’s someone needing struck down, it’s that man. Not that I’m telling how to do your job, I’m just making observations.” Dominick gave some more contemplation. “I feel bad for the boy. I really do. What a thing to happen to poor…Reggie?” 

Bart confirmed the name again.  

“Poor Reggie.” 

“Maybe we should send someone over. Just to check up on him.”  

Knock Knock: Episode 43: From the top Maestro

“We’ve just received word that Tabitha McInney, better known as the Boss Lady of The Knock Knock Club, has escaped custody in the last hour. Officers on scene were injured after a knife attack by what was described as rebellious supporters of the Shanties cause. Tabitha’s current whereabouts is unknown so the public is advised to be cautious. If you see anything contact the office of Law Makers immediately. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily news.” 

“No!” I cried. “This can’t be happening.”  

To most of the city, Tabitha was a deranged killer. To the people of the Shanties, she was a queen who was willing to do anything it took to protect them. There was a group in the Shanties named the Red Rebels who were loyal to her. I had to assume that the blades of the knife attack on the escorting officers had been in their hands.  

“They have to find her,” I said to no one in particular, pacing the floor. What if she came to find me? 

“What if she comes to find me, pal?!” ex club manager Dennis had said when I informed him.  

What ifs indeed! 

*** 

“She’s out!” Tawny cheered. 

The three bros looked among each other. They were still holding the Baroness but their trip to the Great States had left them a little drained.  

“Ye have to let me speak to your pa,” Tawny insisted. “Please, just let me speak to him. I have to get out of here. I don’t want Tabitha to get into any more trouble.”  

The three bros let the news of the Boss Lady’s escape sink in.  

When they first brought Tawny to Cooper Garages to hold her, they had no idea what they would do with her. A lot of shit went down, they went to the Great States leaving Tawny under the supervision of George. When they got back, they had expected George to have eaten her or some shit but she was still in one piece.  

“What we going to do, brah?” Cooper asked. “My dad will be over here soon and he’ll be opening the garage up for the new season.”  

“Let me speak to your pa,” suggested Tawny.  

Buddy took his gun. He had given it a lot of thought. He was an Owen and he had to do what needed to be done. 

*** 

“Captain Owen’s office, how may I direct your call?”  

“I need to speak to the Cappy,” said Buddy, still with the gun in his hand.  

“And who may I say is calling?”  

“It’s Buddy. I need to speak to him right away.”  

“Tell her it’s urgent, brah!” Chad suggested 

“I know,” said Buddy a little impatiently. To the secretary he said, “It’s urgent.”  

The secretary’s chirpy tones were replaced with the smooth Great States accent of The Cappy. He was seated at his desk and looked a little frustrated at the interruption.  

“Buddy,” he enquired. “This had better be good.”  

“Well,” Buddy began. “You know, like how you’re always telling me to make the family proud and to start acting like an Owen.”  

The Cappy became increasing skeptical.  

“What are you saying, Bud?”  

Buddy hunched. He tried a laugh. Chad joined him quite enthusiastically. Cooper watched on with his arms folded.  

“You are going to laugh your balls off,” Buddy assured.  

The Cappy didn’t look like he was going to laugh anything off. 

“What have you done?” the father asked.  

He was a powerful man. He was a respected figure. He had faced a lot, but he was never suitably prepared for the outcome when his son called him and told him he would laugh his balls off at something he had done.  

“I’m an Owen,” Buddy cried, his gun still in his hand. “I’ve been taking care of shit.” 

“Buddy?” the Cappy barked. “What did you do?”  

Buddy cleared his throat. He slapped Chad’s shoulder who was still enthusiastically preparing The Cappy for a real laugh riot. Buddy turned the camera. The Cappy almost choked when he saw Tawny. She was seated in a chair. She waved at him.  

“Hi there!” she said. “Remember me?”  

“You see!” Buddy cheered. “I Owened that shit.” 

Buddy and his bros had decided that if they acted like it was the greatest achievement in the world, The Cappy might see it that way too.  

“What in the entire nations is she doing there?” Chick asked.  

Their theory didn’t work but I suppose it was worth a try.  

“Chilling, as they say,” Tawny replied. “Your boys have been looking after me,” she teased. She reached up to her shoulder injury where the bros had been playing a game called ‘whale harpoon’. Buddy grabbed her hand and pulled it away.  

“What do you want?” Chick asked her.  

“I just want to go home,” she said. “A lot has gone down. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt on my account. I’m sure you heard about Tabitha.”  

Chick managed to smile but it was a cold one.  

“I just let you walk and I find myself with more hassle than I need right now. My father is dead.”  

“I’m sorry, honey. I really am, but don’t make me recite the list of dead I have because you wanted me to shut my gob. You know I was telling the truth.”  

The Cappy scowled.  

“I just want to go home. Let’s put an end to this.”  

The Cappy chuckled. “I would take your word for it but I’m a cynical man.” 

“I’m not wanting to cause any fuss, cross my heart,” she laughed. “But I’m not a complete nutter. I don’t want to be waiting for one of those bullets that seems to go astray with you lot. There’s still life in this old gal yet. When I was young my ma used to tell me that I’d make friends with the devil himself, so let’s bond. I wouldn’t take the word of an Owen but I know money talks.”  

“You want me to buy your silence?” The Cappy pressed.  

“I don’t need yer money,” said Tawny. “But there’s lots of people in the Shanties that could use it. Invest in my charity. Help me do what I do and there’s a bond I would never dare break. You wouldn’t either.”  

Chick folded his arms across his chest. He leaned back in his chair.  

“Buddy…” he said. “Good job.”  

The three bros looked at each other. “Huh?” 

*** 

A city-wide search was underway for Tabitha and Reggie Penn. Given he was still severely injured, the whereabouts of Reggie was a cause for great concern. In light of this I had arranged a visit to The Boss to speak to his brothers. Given the Good Gang agents had brought Reggie in safely, I was hoping Marcus and Simon would be willing to offer what help they could. Although it wasn’t much. 

“Have you heard from your brother?” I asked Marcus.  

“If he’s gone anywhere, it would be to Luen,” was Simon’s suggestion.  

Marcus, however, disagreed. “That would be the logical thing to do but he won’t leave these shores whilst we’re still here and mother hasn’t been buried.”  

Simon thought about what his brother had said.  

“I suppose. He’ll want to stay close by. He has hiding spots all over the city. It was how he managed to stay out of CPD hands for so long. Places we don’t even know about.” 

My experiences of the triplets before this were of violence and murder. The loss of so much seemed to have sobered them a little. At least it had Simon. Marcus’ expression was still indecipherable. He pushed the spectacles from the end of his nose and seemed to lose himself in thought.  

“What worries me is that Tabitha is also missing,” I explained. “The airport and the docks are all on high alert. They’ve set up check points on all city exits. They both need to be brought in before they get hurt, or worse. Do you think they would be together? Do you think they would know where to find each other?”  

A little personal concern was falling into my voice. Simon must have noticed this because he smiled a little.  

“Story isn’t quite so easy to write now, is it?” he teased. 

“Simon,” barked Marcus in warning.  

I took a deep breath. Agent Kim Adams and Agent Lydia Lowe were waiting close by but if they really wanted to, the triplets could lash out.  

“If Reggie is hurt, he needs to be found. He stands his best chance with the agents.” I paused for a breath. “As does Tabitha.”  

Simon frowned. “We have no idea where he might be right now but if you find him…”  

“I’ll do what I can for him,” I agreed.  

Marcus leaned back in his chair. In light of the death of his father, the people of City Main would be looking to him as their new ‘king’. Not much use in servitude to The Boss, but my concerns had to remain with Reginald Penn Junior and yet again the Boss Lady of The Knock Knock Club. 

*** 

Having been given Tawny’s share of Knock Knock, I turned to David Finn in the hopes he might have something to contribute. He had little information to offer but he did suggest I come to his apartment in the Mid West where Agnes was currently residing with him until the Bailiffs were done stripping the club apart.  

“I need to find Tabitha,” I said to the artist over coffee at Bobby’s lunchbox. 

“And Reggie?” the artist put in.  

“Yes, of course Reggie too,” I added.  

Reggie had to be found. That much was certain. Not only would it pacify his brothers and keep peace in City Main, but it could help bring those who attacked him to account. Tabitha could not be allowed to run loose in the Shady City. Reggie would likely lie low without his brothers. Tabitha though? She would be monumentally angry – with what happened to her aunt, to her club, to her friends – and that anger would turn towards those responsible. The city was being vigilant. I, myself, hadn’t slept a full night.  

I looked out of the window of Bobby’s Lunchbox and I couldn’t help but notice a hush. Things hadn’t been the same since the public execution of Reginald Penn but now something was else brewing. I was certain of it. Tabitha was biding her time and plotting her elaborate scheme. I have already detailed people pushed from high rise windows, throats being slit in alleys and butchered body parts circling greater Coldford, and that was just my first 24 hours of knowing her! She loved to make a scene and she had publicly called out those who stood in her way, calling Judge Doyle a cunt while she was still in prison.  

It had been sobering spending the afternoon with David Finn. No matter how much I tried to explain this to him he didn’t see Tabitha as anything other than magnificent because that was how Tawny had felt.  

“What about Reggie?” I asked him. 

“Reggie is sound, man,” he replied. “Been gaming with him for years before all this happened believe it or not. A vet friend of mine treated his rats. Reggie is a decent guy really. He’s just got that life I guess.”  

David was still coming to terms with what holding a piece of The Knock Knock Club entailed so I forgave him for his naïveté. His instruction manual had come from the Baroness herself who was well known for seeing Tabitha as her mischievous little Trouble and Reggie as the sweet triplet with a halo of blonde curls. Violent sociopaths, both of them!  

David insisted on paying for the coffees and as he did so I watched his transaction from afar.  

“They’re on the house,” Bobby said with a smile across to me.  

“No, man!” David urged. “I can’t do that.” 

He pushed some money across the greasy counter.  

“Your money is no good here,” said Bobby.  

David wouldn’t retrieve his money though.  

“Then keep it to cover a hot drink for someone who needs it then, man.” 

He was still reading from the Baroness’ manual. She was a charitable woman above all else and always spoke of how important helping others was to her Knock Knock Club. She had been responsible for he ’pay it forward’ system for those in need at Bobby’s Lunch Box. David Finn, already a generous soul too, was taking his new position in the city very seriously.  

“Agnes is back,” David informed me when he returned to the booth after having checked an alert on his phone.  

With that we headed to the Midwest where I could ask the Broker about her wayward niece.  

*** 

“She’s been though a lot, man. I don’t want you to upset her,” David warned me as we climbed the steps to his apartment. “She’s already answered tonnes of questions to the Law Makers.” 

I was fond of Agnes too so I could understand his apprehension. If she didn’t want anyone to know the whereabouts of Tabitha then she would die before giving her location. I did want to check on her anyway and see how she had been doing.  

“I won’t keep you long,” I assured.  

As we got the second floor of the building where David’s apartment lay, we could hear voices. There was some laughter.  

“You must have visitors,” I said.  

David shrugged. “I get all sorts of people coming and going these days. Maybe Harper and Gabby stopped by.” 

David’s gallery-owning friends had become close to Agnes too. It suited both David and Agnes to surround themselves with people in times of trouble. A lot of the Knock Knock girls stopped by as well, much to David’s amusement.  

As David pushed open the door, he could hear the noise of a video game battle. Alex Ferrald – his vet friend – must have joined them.  

“Blam! Take that, cunts!” a young man cried.  

No! I shook my head. That was not mild-mannered Alex Ferrald. It was a City Main twang. David was just as perplexed as I because whilst the entire city had been torn apart, barriers put in place, Law Makers giving speeches at City Hall; one of the most wanted men in Coldford was sat on his sofa, playing a video game. Reggie looked up when we arrived, a cigarette dangling on the end of his lips.  

“Hey Finn! Good to meet you in person.”  

I would have scoffed at the youngest triplet’s cavalier attitude if it weren’t for the fact that my focus was now stolen by the one person in the city more sought after than he was. Next to him in the sofa, quite comfortably, was Tabitha.  

“Hello Sam,” she grinned at me, that gap between her teeth a menacing snarl. My absolute nightmare come true. I had been pursuing her, hoping she would be found and there she was, grinning at me like I was the intruder.  

“David! I can explain!” Agnes came dashing from the bedroom.  

“What’s going on?” David asked. Tawny’s manual must have accounted for her niece making a scene, surely.  

“I had to shower,” said Tabitha to the artist matter-of-factly. “I haven’t shaved my legs properly in months.” 

Focused back on his game, Reggie chortled. “It’s true. It looked fucking disgusting.”  

Tabitha slapped his shoulder coquettishly.  

“Fail to give you a razor in prison, did they?” I asked sarcastically.  

Tabitha scowled. “I’ve been through a lot, you insensitive cunt. Don’t act like you’re not glad to see me.”  

“Tabitha!” warned Agnes in her teacher tone.  

Tabitha pouted but she fell silent.  

“Go get dressed. You both aren’t staying here,” instructed the Knock Knock Broker.  

“Fine,” whined Tabitha. 

As she stood, she passed round the sofa towards me. Stopping, she raised herself onto the balls of her feet. Her cool grey eyes met mine.  

“I guess our story isn’t over,” she teased.  

“Tabs!” warned Agnes again.  

Tabitha danced off to the bedroom to check if Agnes had brought one of her signature red dresses.  

Agnes and I had never locked horns before but I had a feeling we were going to clash over her niece.  

“This place is going to be filled with Law Makers,” I warned. “And now you’ve brought David into it.”  

“I’ve already spoken to Ronnie Owen,” she explained. “He knows David had nothing to do with this. He’s already cleaned Dennis’ charges against Reggie providing he undergoes psych evaluation. Given the botched execution of Reginald and the fake execution of Tabitha, the Law Makers are willing to hold them under supervision providing your agency friends escort them, watch them and question them.”  

“No!” I protested. “I’m sorry Agnes but they should at least be held in the Harbour House lock down where they belong.”  

“House arrest is the standard procedure until the Law Makers complete their investigation.” 

I thought of Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Owen – Chick’s younger brother – who ironically had been the one to defend Tabitha on her murder charges. He was a decent man – selfless in his way and despite the history between his family and The Knock Knock Club, he had defended her with everything he could considering his client was clearly guilty. With the Owens getting involved it made me wonder if The Cappy had seen opportunity in the escape.  

The buzzer screeched. David opened the door to Agent Kim Adams and Agent Lydia Lowe. Tabitha emerged from the bedroom in some of Agnes’ clothes, disgruntled that she hadn’t been given her red dress. She scowled when she saw Lydia.  

“Seriously? You brought the skank?”  

Lydia shook her head, smiling. She brushed off the comment. Kim on the other hand was in no mood for her games. 

“The slightest bit of trouble out of either of you and I drop you,” she warned. “You!” here she pointed at Reggie. “My agents spent a lot of time and resources bringing you home. If you try anything I will hurt you.”  

Reggie raised his arms. “I just want to go home, like,” he said. 

Kim turned her attention to Tabitha. “And as for you,” she said. “There is still an execution order on your head. Step a foot out of line and that order is carried out.”  

Kim allowed her warning to resonate a little to see if she would have any back lash. There was none. With that Tabitha and Reggie, Boss Lady and Rat Boy, were taken home. 

“You would think we were the villains here,” Tabitha grumbled as they left. 

*** 

It all began when they were children. Tabitha – a preteen having not been long introduced to the triplets by Tawny – had found a friend in Reggie. She never really had someone her own age to spend time with before. She was close to Simon and Marcus too but with Marcus striving for efficiency in all things, he could be a bit of a cold fish. Simon being naturally abrasive, she expected they would fight a lot. She knew she was abrasive too. How they did fight in those first days of knowing each other, but a sibling bond formed and whilst they fought, they were protective of each other against outsiders.  

“Why hit a punch bag when you can hit his fucking face?” Tabitha encouraged as she accompanied Simon to the gym. The parents had hoped that Tabitha, too, might find an outlet for her frustration but she spent most of the time sat on a bike machine watching everyone work a sweat around her.  

Yes, Marcus and Simon were close to her but her full affection for the triplets had come when she met the one with all the rats. He had a black and white one he named Snuggles hanging from his shoulder. He had promised himself he wouldn’t name them but he couldn’t help it. Snuggles was just so affectionate and smart. She deserved a name.  

“Reggie,” he introduced himself. 

Tabitha inspected the creature closer. She reached out to pet Snuggles. Snuggles sniffed the tips of her fingers. 

“Like your dad?” She asked.  

Reggie plucked Snuggles from his shoulder. True to her name she tried to nuzzle his ear.  

“Nothing like my dad,” he admitted. “But, yeah, the name’s the same.”  

Reggie was the one Tabitha would spend all night speaking to on the telephone when things got really bad at home and she couldn’t escape to the club.  

Most of the trouble they got into they got into together. So, they found themselves an attic space just outside of City Main enroute to Filton. It was their half way point when they wanted to meet up and it had a little space that only they knew about. Fullerton reps sometimes came by during the day but it was usually to collect money from people in suits to keep the site untouched. They didn’t know who it really belonged to, but anytime anyone did come to visit it they wouldn’t hear the little rats scuttling around in the attic space.  

After escaping her custody, Tabitha had thought to lay low. It took her a couple of days to reach it on foot, avoiding populated areas as best she could. When she finally arrived, the building was empty. She climbed the broken fencing like she had as a girl, removed the loose bricks that would give her access to the building, climbed the rickety access to the attic space and hauled the door open. 

Reggie, still looking a little worse for wear, was huddled in the corner.  

She ran to him to hug him.  

“Careful!” he gasped. “I’m still a little delicate.”  

“I heard what they did to you,” Tabitha replied. “Going to The Boss? What were you thinking?”  

“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” Reggie shrugged. “There’s a lot of our crew in there.” He referred to the Loyalists of City Main, glorified thugs dedicated to the Penn family. ‘Long live the king’ was their motto.  

He reached beside him and snatched up a box of Jolly Shopper Queen Corn cereal and threw it to her.  

“Here,” he said. “You must be starving.” 

Tabitha pulled the box open, scooped out a handful of cereal and scoffed it greedily.  

“We’re going to have to go easy on the water. I’ve only got the one bottle.” 

Tabitha lay herself on the floor next to him, resting her head delicately onto his chest. He kissed her head and his body relaxed a little. He sat a phone he had acquired in front of them and they passed the night watching March of Our Times soap opera reruns. Agnes would have no doubt received some kind of word from the Red Rebels that Tabitha was safe but CPD, Agents and Law Makers would be watching closely. Contact would have to wait until it was safe to do so. 

*** 

David had been on the main club floor when he heard a noise. There was some shouting out in Clifton Lane. The place made him uneasy already but he felt he always had to be on alert for shit going down. He had a part of Tawny’s club now, and it was his responsibility to protect the place and Tabitha.  

He knocked on the Boss Lady’s changing room door.  

“Yes?” she replied.  

“You decent?” David asked.  

“What is it, David?”  

David pushed the door open. There he found Tabitha. She had her long, lean leg raised on a chair. It would have made quite a seductive pose, if it weren’t for the fact that it was because she was trying to hack off her Law Maker tag from her ankle. 

“There’s some fuss going on outside,” the artist explained. “I think it’s Law Makers.” 

Tabitha gave up on her tag and clutched the knife. “If they think they’re coming in here again let’s go and say hello,” she said.  

“Tabs!” David followed after her.  

He was trying to warn her that coming at Law Makers with a knife was not going to do her any favours. When they got back to the main club floor, the shouting had gotten a little heavier.  

“What’s going on, man?” David wondered to himself.  

Before he could check the window Tabitha pulled him back. She turned him round and gave a glance over him for red marksman dots.  

On the bar, a tray had been knocked over. They were already inside.  

“What do you want, cunts?” Tabitha growled.  

The main lights cut off. The stage lights flashed on. Tabitha gripped her knife tighter.  

“They’re trying to shut us completely down,” she surmised.  

Music began to play. It was an old cabaret tune that always made Tabitha smile. It had been one which Vincent Baines had written with Tawny whilst they were in rehab.  

“Good evening folks, and welcome to The Knock Knock Club.”  

David and Tabitha were perplexed.  

“Put your hands together and welcome back on stage, the one, the only, the fabulous…”  

The curtains were thrown aside and strutting out as she had done many times before was… 

“Surprise!” Tawny cheered.  

“Aunt Tee!” Tabitha cried, dropping the knife and rushing on stage to the Baroness, leaping into her arms.  

“I missed you, Trouble,” Tawny said, showering Tabitha’s head with kisses.  

Tawny turned to David. He was speechless. The artist had been so taken aback at the sight of his friend he could only watch with tears falling down his face.  

“Awww, Davey,” Tawny cried, reaching her arm out. “Come here.”  

David rushed to her and the Baroness held them both close to her.  

“I thought you were a goner,” he sobbed.  

Tawny laughed. “I’m made of tougher stuff than that,” she said. “I’m a favourite of someone up there.” 

Later that evening, Agnes returned to the club. When she saw the looks on David and Tabitha’s faces, she knew something was up. She took a seat at the table and sat her designer handbag on top.  

“What’s with the grinning?” she asked. “Did I miss something.”  

She could hear footsteps behind her but before she could turn, a pair of hands clasped over her eyes.  

“Guess who?”  

Agnes didn’t have to guess. She knew the voice all so well. She knew the soft touch. She knew it all.  

“Tawn?” she cried.  

“That’s right!” Tawny cheered, removing her hands from her eyes.  

Agnes was on her feet. She threw her arms around the Baroness.  

“I can’t believe it!” she gasped.  

“You better believe it, honey,” Tawny teased. “It’s so good to see you again.”  

She squeezed Agnes tighter. She lifted her from her feet a little and kissed her. The both laughed heartily.  

David and Tabitha were still grinning. The Knock Knock Club was awash with merriment.  

*** 

“I never thought I’d be excited to see this place again,” Tawny jested as she and David walked arm in arm to the entrance of Harbour House.  

“I can’t wait to see the look on his face,” David grinned. 

The two had come along to the clinic in the hopes that they would catch Vincent Baines whilst he was there for a psych evaluation. They were hoping for something of a reunion before he was returned to his servitude.  

“I’m so excited,” Tawny cheered, feeling a little giddy.  

When they got to the reception the matron nurse, Beverly, was waiting. She had been manning the reception desk.  

“Hey Bev,” Tawny greeted warmly. “How are ye?”  

Beverly smiled but it looked a little subdued. She was probably overworked.  

“I’m good Tawn,” she replied. “It’s good to see you. We were all worried about you.”  

“Thanks,” Tawny returned with a smile. “We’re here to see music man. I hope we haven’t missed him. Any chance of five minutes?” 

Beverly stood. “Before you do anything, there’s someone I’d like you to talk to. Will you come with me?”  

“Sure,” said Tawny a little hesitantly.  

David was still excitedly contemplating their reunion so he hadn’t paid attention to the expressions of concern. Tawny took his arm again. She flashed him a warm smile and they followed Beverly to a small office. She knocked on the door and pushed her head in.  

“They’re here,” she said.  

To Tawny and David, she ushered, “Go on in.”  

Inside the office stood a kindly-faced man whose natural charm was managing to push through, despite the emotional toil time seemed to have taken on him.  

He reached out his hand and shook that of Tawny.  

“I’m John Reynolds,” he said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”  

He shook the hand of the artist too.  

“You’re the fella Simon mistook for a punch bag,” said Tawny. “I heard about it. I know he gets a little bit frustrated at times but he just thought he was protecting things. He’s a good boy really.”  

Reynolds smiled. “I don’t take it personally. We both did what we thought we had to do. That’s not why I asked to speak to you though.”  

“What’s this about?” asked David. “A friend of ours is going back to The Boss and we want to catch him before he does.”  

“Take a seat,” Reynolds urged gently.  

Tawny and David did so. Now David started to become a little nervous. “What is it, man?”  

“There’s no easy way to do this so I’ll just get down to the skinny. I’m afraid Vincent Baines is dead.”  

A silence dropped for a few moments. Reynolds let it lie.  

David shook his head. “No,” he said. “You’ve got it wrong, man. He was on his way back to The Boss. He was getting help here. You got the wrong guy.”  

“I’m afraid not,” said Reynolds.  

“You’re mixed up,” David insisted. “It’s someone else. Vincent’s still here. I’m sorry, man. They must be working you so hard you’re getting things confused.”  

“Davey,” Tawny soothed him. She took his hand in hers.  

“What happened?” she asked, as her heart began to thud in her chest.  

“He was murdered by one of the nurses here.”  

“Why?!” David demanded to know. The grief finally swept over him.  

“They’re treating it as a psychotic break on the nurse’s part. His father, who had been with him at the time, died too. Frederick Baines was found dead on scene with a severe shock reaction.”  

“This is not fucking right, man!” David had started to cry.  

Tawny pulled him closer to her. He rested his head on her shoulder.  

“I wanted to speak to you because I have reason to believe the father was the real target. You’re familiar with the Church of St Wigan, correct?” 

Tawny agreed, “I grew up with them on the bay.” 

“I know Vincent was adopted from the Wigan order as a boy. The nurse who carried out the attack had strong Wigan sympathies. They had written a lot about a ballet Frederick composed some time back which told a story of St Rowan and St Wigan. It was condemned by the church at the time as sacrilegious. Extremist following over the years has grown and I have reason to believe the attack was in response to this.”  

“Why wasn’t this all over the news?” Tawny asked. “Why are we just finding out?”  

Reynolds replied, “I’m a cult deprogrammer. That is my specialty. I’ve been focused on the Wigan church expanding its hold in the city. They are dangerous, radical and they’ve already caused a lot of destruction. There has been a press shield over most of the details but news is breaking now. I thought before it did, it may be best to hear it from me. The Daily has been spinning it that Reg Penn’s loyalists are the threat, but there is something much worse and it is already here. They’re preaching outside all of the major buildings and every ferry trip brings more of them onto the docks. I’ve done all I can to hold them back but I want you both to be aware.”  

“You don’t need to tell me, honey,” said Tawny. “They almost drowned me when I was younger trying to cleanse me.”  

“I’m so sorry about Vincent,” Reynolds said. “I’ll do all I can to get to the truth of the matter. I promise.”  

David sat up. “He had his problems,” he said of the musician. “He struggled every day but he was a good friend. He was there for us when no one else was…”  

Reynolds stood. “It’s a lot to take in. I’ll give you some space to deal. Take all the time you need.”  

*** 

I had just arrived as Tawny and David were leaving. They were both understandably upset. Beverly stopped them.  

“I have something you might want,” she said, reaching behind the reception desk and drawing out a pen drive. “It’s some of the recordings you made while you were here.”  

Tawny collected the drive with a smile.  

“Thanks, honey,” she said trying to keep her voice steady.  

I wanted to approach. I had begun believing there would never be the chance to meet the Baroness in person, but they had just been dealt a heavy blow and it wasn’t the time. David was struggling. He was clutching Tawny’s arm. His face had drained of all colour.  

“We have to go,” Tawny said to him, smoothing the bleached hair away from his face.  

She was the loving, caring person the stories told of. I could see why Tabitha was so close to her. I could see why Agnes loved her. She had stories to tell, but to impose my presence on them at that time would have been distasteful and disrespectful. For me, her stories could wait. There was someone though, who didn’t have such hang ups or consideration.  

“Hi, Tawny!” cried a thin, bony-faced woman with straight brown hair. She was wearing a peach skirt suit and matching neckerchief. She reached her scrawny claw with its long talons out. “Sandra Wake from the Coldford Daily. We had a chat just the other day when you returned home?”  

“Of course,” Tawny said, feeling a little flustered but still managing an accommodating smile.  

“Do you have any comments on the death of Vincent Baines?”  

“Woah, lady,” David growled.  

“Do you think he frightened the nurse? Do you think it could be self-defence?”  

“What the fuck?” David exclaimed.  

I couldn’t stand back any longer.  

“Hey!” I barked. “These people need some space. Can’t you see they are upset?”  

“Sam!” Sandra turned her plastic smile on me. “We’re missing you on the news floor.”  

“I’ll bet you are,” I replied sardonically.  

To Tawny, Sandra continued to press. “Did Vincent discuss his compulsions with you?”  

As she asked the question, she waved to her cameraman who raised his camera onto his shoulder, opened the lens and pointed it at Tawny. Tawny in turn frowned, but it was an expression of confusion rather than anger.  

I put my hand on the cameraman’s lens and pushed him back.  

“Sam, man…” David uttered a warning.  

Sandra grinned like a she-snake ready to strike her prey.  

“This is my story, Sam,” she said. “Why don’t you leave it to the real reporters with a real newspaper to write.”  

She adjusted her hair and neckerchief. She nodded to her cameraman and he raised his camera onto his shoulder again. I stepped in front of the lens.  

“Just let these people go. If they want to speak to you, I’m sure they’ll find you in whatever boggy hole you crawled out of.” 

Sandra still smiled but her nostrils flared a little.  

“You see, it takes a real reporter to want to get to the truth, as ugly as it may be. If you spent as much time reporting properly as you do decorating your little blog with pretty words, you would remember that.”  

“Truth!” I scoffed. “You really believe the drivel you spout is truthful? Which part of it? From what I read it’s all the work of fiction, terribly written fiction too I might add.”  

Sandra laughed a cold little laugh. “Terribly written? Those are bold words from the author of Marble Mantle.”  

“How dare you!” I snapped.  

“You know Mr Baines well. Our viewers would like to know more about the man behind the composer creep,” Sandra put to Tawny and David.  

“You’ve got it wrong,” David started to protest. “He was a good guy. He was just a bit confused.”  

“So confused he would kidnap a little boy and hold him for ten years?”  

“No!” David insisted. “You’ve got it wrong.”  

“So, he didn’t kidnap a little boy? Is that what you’re saying?”  

The cameraman moved around me to get a shot of David.  

“He was confused,” David said. “You didn’t know him or what he was going through.”  

“Your words are getting a little slurred Mr Finn,” said Sandra. “How are things with your drug addiction?”  

“David, don’t say another word. This interview is over,” I insisted, pushing the cameraman back once again. 

“He’s trying to steal my story,” Sandra laughed.  

“There’s no story here,” I told her. “You’re manipulating these people when they are dealing with grief. Vincent Baines was a real person and you will not feed on his corpse, you vulturous harpy.” 

I put my arm around David and led he and Tawny from Harbour House. Behind me Sandra had already began a story that made me seem like an interview thieving jackal. Her words weren’t particularly creative. Personally, I’ve heard better reporting from primary school projects.  

“No one is fooled, Sandra,” I could hear myself calling as we left.  

When we got outside Tawny and David were relieved.  

“So, you’re Sam,” Tawny said when she had gathered herself. “The reporter fella Tabby was seeing?”  

Seeing her to the inside her of her cage perhaps… 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said. “I’m sorry about Vincent,” I stated.  

“Thanks,” said Tawny with a sniff. “I’m still trying to process it.”  

“It’s best you go home,” I suggested. “Take care.”  

David nodded nervously. “You take care too, man.”  

He hugged me and the two returned to the Shanties. 

*** 

Back at the club, David put the pen drive into an old laptop and played the recordings.  

“Coming at you live from rehab,” was the opening from Tawny.  

“My voice always sounds funny recorded,” David could be heard speaking. “I bet I sound a real tool,” he jested.  

Tawny could be heard laughing.  

“Take it away, Maestro!” she cheered.  

“What should I play?” Vincent asked.  

“Something with a bit of bounce,” suggested the Baroness.  

The noise of a piano tinkled as Vincent ran his fingers along the keys.  

David and Tawny listened to the recording together. The Baroness held the artist in her arms. The tune that Vincent played offered hope and cheer. They had held onto it then as they had held onto each other listening later.  

“We don’t have much but we’ve at least got us,” Vincent sang.  

“And that’s a whole lot,” Tawny chimed in.  

The three laughed merrily when the tune ended.  

“Sounds good,” David could be heard assuring.  

“It still needs a little work,” Vincent was heard replying.  

“You’re too much of a perfectionist,” Tawny teased.  

Vincent could be heard chuckling.  

“It’s goodnight from me,” said Tawny.  

“And me,” David joined in jovially.  

“And it’s farewell for now from me,” Vincent added. “The Maestro is out.”  

He ran his fingers along the keys again. The recording closed.  

“Rest easy, man,” said David.  

*** 

*** 

“Thanks for letting me know,” Elizabeth Beckingridge said on a call to Reynolds. “I had a feeling something had gone wrong when I hadn’t heard from him. I’ll- I’ll have to go.”  

“If you need to talk just leave a message here. I’m heading over to Bellfield but I’ll get back to you as soon as I can,” Reynolds offered.  

“I’ve got to go…” said Elizabeth again. 

She rang the phone off abruptly. She raised her hands to her face. She took a deep inhalation and then she cleared her throat. She turned and she looked at her reflection in the mirror. She fixed a lock of her hair that had fallen across her face. She turned to the lounge.  

“George?” she called. “There’s something I need to tell you.”  

Her nephew was sat on the sofa in his shirt and underwear. He had Cecil sat on his stomach. The way he looked up at her, clutching the stuffed animal, his appearance was similar to the boy Vincent had met initially when he accepted George as his student. He looked every bit a deranged goblin then as he did these years later. He was mad. He was sick. There was one thing consistent in his life though, and that was his attachment to his old music teacher.  

“What?” George asked.  

The Beckingridge family had a strange living arrangement. Neither aunt nor nephew would leave the manor to live elsewhere. They were both stubborn, and I have to say Elizabeth could be just as manic as the billionaire boy when the right buttons were pushed. The manor was large enough to house them both comfortably. It was so expansive that should they choose to, they didn’t have to see each other. They just couldn’t resist getting under each other’s skin. Such are the mind games of the super wealthy.  

Elizabeth had no intentions of antagonising her nephew on this day. She was dealing with the news herself. The passing of Vincent was one of those rare sentiments she and George shared.  

“I’m afraid Vincent has died,” she said.  

George scowled at first. Then his lips tightened. He dropped his gaze and he clutched Cecil. He started to pick at the fur behind his ear.  

“How?” he asked.  

“He was murdered by a nurse,” Elizabeth explained.  

George hugged Cecil to his chest.  

“So, he’s dead? Mr Baines is dead?”  

“Yes George, dead. You should know what murder means. Are you not listening to me?”  

George’s scowl deepened. His lips pursed even tighter. “Mr Baines is dead!” he cried. 

Elizabeth nodded. “I’m afraid so.”  

“Someone murdered my teacher?!”  

“A nurse,” said Elizabeth. “They were a member of the Wigan church it seems, and didn’t like that his father had written a ballet about their damn saint.”  

“Cecil,” said George to the mouse. “They murdered Mr Baines. I’m so sorry Cecil.”  

Elizabeth watched him.  

“Are you going to be okay?” she asked.  

George hugged Cecil as though the stuffed animal were a weeping child. “It’s going to be okay.”  

“Is it?” Elizabeth asked. She honestly wasn’t sure.  

He raised the mouse to his ear as though it were whispering to him. To Elizabeth he said, “Cecil is angry.”  

Elizabeth folded her arms. “I can see why he would be.”  

George listened again. This time he made himself angry.  

“Mr Baines was my teacher!” he screeched. 

“George…” Elizabeth warned.  

“Get away from me!” he screamed throwing Cecil across the lounge and leaping onto his feet. 

“We really don’t need the extra dramatics,” said the aunt.  

George leapt forward and he snatched her by the neck. He squeezed hard with his long fingers. Elizabeth grabbed his left ear lobe and tugged firmly. George yelped, releasing his grip.  

“Mr Baines!” he cried. He lurched forward again but this time he fell into Elizabeth’s arms. 

“There, there,” said Elizabeth patting his back. Not really sure what else to say. “I know you’re upset, but grab me again George and you’ll join Vincent sooner than you think.”  

George sobbed snot and tears onto her shoulder. He squeezed her tighter. “I wish you would choke on one of your cigarettes.”  

“And I wish I had a normal nephew. That’s life. We don’t always get what we want.”  

George broke free of Elizabeth’s arms.  

“I miss him,” said George.  

“I know,” said Elizabeth.  

At that he stormed off to the music room where he and Vincent had first met.  

*** 

“The pure are the body of my church. Sinners, should they repent, will be welcomed. I will show them the way to paradise,” it was written that Noah Wigan had said.  

Finding one pure of heart or willing to repent in the Shady City was a tough ask – even for a Saint – but the ominous church on the bay was still seeking.  

The ferry to Hathfield landed ten minutes earlier than expected. It was a rain filled afternoon. Thick, heavy clouds hung in the darkening blue sky. A crowd of excited visitors wearing purple ribbons about their person were making their way along the promenade towards the ancient church on the dunes.  

Standing outside the church was a man in Wigan robes. His name was Peter Millicent. He was greeting the congregates warmly. He was shaking hands and offering well wishes as the visitors filtered inside.  

“Miserable day, father,” one older woman commented, removing her woollen hat to step inside.  

“It is that,” Peter agreed with a charming smile. “Not to worry though Mrs McConnell. I do believe the sunshine will break a little later.” 

As Mrs McConnell headed on inside to take her seat, Peter looked to me.  

“I don’t believe I’ve seen you before. Welcome to the Church of St Wigan.”  

I thanked him.  

Peter was the legal mind behind the order. His prowess in fighting for the rights of his church had played a huge part in building the reach they had. My focus wasn’t on Peter though. He was a reasonable man all things considered. He had a reputation for being quite a gifted mediator. I wasn’t needing a mediator. To get a better idea of the church, I wanted to wander among them and feel the raw emotion that was tearing through the city.  

Inside the church was standing room only and even that was limited. The pews were filled, the aisles were filled too leaving a small parting that led to the altar. There was the usual older sect you would expect to find in a church but I noted that there were a lot of younger attendants too. Most of them had come from the commune dressed in sombre, modest clothes. Their excitement was palpable. Their eyes were wide and pupils dilated. They were high on heether mushrooms, a hallucinogenic drug found naturally on the island. As they awaited the arrival of the man considered the living word of their beloved saint, the exhilaration was infectious.  

Ding ding. Ding ding.  

The congregation rose to their feet. A monk, also dressed in robes, with a hood pulled over his head carried an iron Wigan cross through. His name was Bart, named after the church’s patron saint of carriers. Bartholemew the Carrier had brought Wigan’s cross ashore as he set to convert the islanders. He had also carried St Michael the Punisher’s sword when he set to cleanse the city.  

Bart was an interesting figure but what my attention was most focused on was the man who followed closely behind him to the altar. The congregates gazed upon him with reverence like nothing I’ve ever seen.  

“Brothers and sisters,” His Eminence Dominick Cole called as he stepped onto his platform to face his followers. They remained standing in their eagerness. “It warms me to see so many of ye here today. So many new faces.” His wild, dark eyes scanned the crowd. They focused on me for a few moments, then he continued. He opened his arms to his followers and he smiled. He really was quite engaging.  

“I am so blessed that I’m able to stand before ye. I’m blessed that you would be so strong in our faith that you would come out here on such a miserable day to listen to the words of this humble man.”  

“Praise Wigan!” the congregates cheered like fanatics at a concert.  

Dominick took a few moments to absorb the admiration.  

“It’s good to welcome you but we’ve not had it easy of late,” he went on. His voice was strong in the Hathfield Bay accent which gave him a natural bounce to his tones that was quite musical.  

“We’ve had brothers falling from the sky above and I ask ye, what am I to make of that?” he paused to let his words absorb. “I’ll tell ye what I’ll make of that. The city is frightened, my brothers and sisters. They are lashing out with murderous intent. They think that it will stop us bringing our message. All the Law Makers and their rules couldn’t stop it. All the corruption in the city and their heretical ways couldn’t stop it. That message is simple.”  

I jerked as the congregates roared with chorus of, “You cannot be saved!”  

“You’re right,” Dominick responded, even more vigour gathering in his speech now. “You cannot be saved. Not your mother, not your children, not any of us. But fear not, for St Wigan is willing to accept you into his arms. He is willing to accept even the worst. All he asks of us is that we repent.”  

“Praise Wigan!”  

“Repent!” Dominick cried as he crossed his aisle. “And you may yet reach paradise.” He scanned his crowd again. “They tell us we’re disturbing the peace? Their peace should be disturbed, they’re all bound for Hell.”  

“They cannot be saved!” 

The sermon continued. Dominick Cole held his audience captive. They were enraptured by his words. I myself felt swept up by his impassioned speech. When the service had ended, I pushed through his adoring followers before they had the chance to swamp him.  

“Dominick!” I cried. “Dominick?” I finally caught his attention outside the church.  

“Sam Crusow,” I introduced. Bart had stepped in front of him.  

“Did you call for the death of Vincent Baines?” I asked.  

Dominick gave a scowl at first but then he smiled. “I have no idea what you’re talking about brother.”  

“Frederick Baines wrote a ballet piece on Noah Wigan. Don’t you think it’s a little hypocritical that your church is fighting for free speech when the great composer was hounded by your followers because of a piece of music? Did you see the piece yourself?”  

“I don’t get to the ballet as often as I’d like,” said Dominick in response.  

“Did you call for the death of the great composer and his son?” I asked again.  

Dominick laughed. “I’m a holy man,” he stated. “If someone has died it must have been Wigan’s will.”  

It was then Peter Millicent took over.  

“Are you press?” he asked.  

“Not exactly,” I explained. “I’m working independently.”  

“Yes, I know who you are,” said Peter. “You’re the blogger that was let go from the Daily.” 

“You owe an explanation to the Baines family and the friends left behind,” I continued to press Dominick.  

“Sam, did ye say yer name was?” Dominick returned to me. “I think ye’re needing to find some peace in yer life. You’re most welcome to pray with me and we’ll find that peace together.” 

“I’m an atheist,” I said to him.  

Dominick grinned. “That explains why you’re so uptight. Have some faith and you’ll see it will change your life. Let St Wigan show ye.”  

He reached out and grabbed my shoulder. I thought he was going to hit me at first but then he smiled.  

“Watch yer step there Sam,” he warned. Then he looked over my shoulder. “Those steps can be quite slippery.”  

Let Wigan into your life. Let a religious cult into the Shady City. Either way, dear readers, damnation was on the cards.  

Trauma, obsession and addiction are just some of the ailments that are being treated with rehab at Harbour House.

When a ballet depicting the love of St Wigan for a woman named Rowan the cultish church aren’t best pleased. What can the city expect when the church was built on the bones of non believers.

Knock Knock: Episode 41: Long live the King

The Knock Knock Club had been lost and found again. It was now sitting in limbo waiting to make its next move. Large empires like the Beckingridge Firm and Owen Inc were on lockdown. Article 22 tore through the city like a sharpened sword, gutting and ripping as it went. We lost many to it. I lost old associates who had sought to help the Mack cause. The Macks of Mack Distilleries received the worst dealings of all. The law set its sight on them and it ignited a long standing rivalry whilst they lay vulnerable. The west part of Greater Coldford was split in two. The Tullochs of Northside were baying for blood and sought opportunity after the Black Band terrorist-wrangling group seized the distillery in Bellfield held by the Macks for generations. One of the Macks’ own died. The funeral procession the rest had gathered for led them like lambs to the slaughter. I say the rest but there was one. Paddy Mack escaped the funeral purge and whilst he existed the whiskey dynasty continued.  

Everywhere I looked, I saw Article 22 – headlines, satirical comics, TV shows and radio broadcasts. It was on the mind of everyone. Whilst many found the smell of execution on their streets distasteful, they couldn’t deny the strides the change in law was making in dealing with the filth that had grown over the city, like a moss, for too long.  

The crime rates were dropping quickly with this zero tolerance policy. It was a little authoritarian in its action but it certainly quietened the people of Coldford. Coldford was now being held to an old book of legalities. It was barbaric and outdated but effective in holding terrorists, murderers, rapists and abusers to account. The High Court was held under the heavy hammer of Judge Karyn Doyle and I couldn’t see it any other way.  

With that in mind, my wanders through City Main became something of an uncomfortable experience. The days were becoming shorter, colder, darker. People were staying in their homes. Windows and doors were bolted. They were anticipating the death of a king. His kingdom, the Penn Auction House. Reginald Penn – a loyal friend, a dedicated father, a convicted terrorist – was next. I took a walk past City Face a lot in those days. While the newspapers regurgitated hearsay and speculation, I found that the ominous ‘Tick Boom’ of the large clock face on City Hall told the people of Coldford everything they needed to know.  

On the day I now bring you to there was a new notice on the Coldford City Board.  

EXECUTION OF REGINALD PENN SENIOR – 5pm.  

DEATH BY FIRING SQUAD – Notice issued by Judge Karyn Doyle.  

His triplet prince sons would be beside themselves. Two of them – Marcus and Simon – in servitude to The Boss for murder and assault respectively. The third – Reggie – still missing, in the hands of their Owen Inc enemies. But it was with his wife, Rita, whom my sympathies lay the most. She was a rare innocent in a world of villains.  

“You cannot be saved!” cried a monk of the Church of St Wigan, a cultish group who resided over on the bay. The more convicts that died at the hands of Doyle, the more they believed the city needed spiritual guidance. Now, most of the major buildings had a preacher placed outside.  

With Article 22 sweeping the death penalty across the city it was time for heroes to take their places. I am reporter Sam Crusow and the Shady City would run red with more blood before my story was over.  

*** 

Eugene Morris of Morris Funeral Care was well known in the city. He was a highly respected man and despite the state of affairs in Coldford, he had the attentive ear of everyone. He was held in high regard. They called him The Tailor because that essentially was what he was. What made him such a figure of note was that it was his job to fit people for their final suits. Rich or poor, good or evil, all roads lead to the same place in the end and Eugene Morris awaited all, no matter how they lived their lives.  

The eccentric-looking man had decided on a lunch engagement. As Reginald awaited his scheduled execution, The Tailor sat to a meal with the king.  

“The meat is unsurprisingly subpar,” Eugene commented as he cut a piece of ham.  

Across the small, wooden table from him Reginald had barely made a dent. As I’m sure you’ll understand, his mind was elsewhere. In testament to his absent mindedness he said, “It’s a little too salty for my taste.”  

Eugene was nodding in agreement.  

“It is, but your tastes will be extra bitter at the moment. That is to be expected.”  

Eugene was familiar to the sensations experienced at the end of life.  

Reginald gave a slight scowl to himself and dropped his cutlery.  

“What difference does it make?” he asked. “What difference does it make if I eat my fill? Tomorrow is already written.” 

Again, Eugene was agreeing but he was studying Reginald closely. He had made his name in violence as a young man and ran the Auction House with astute business sense, but it was his nobility and fierce protection of the people of Main that made him royalty in their eyes. It didn’t matter though. Reigns end, lives end, and as I said, all roads lead to the same place in the end. Eugene didn’t interrupt though. He allowed Reginald to speak.  

“They should have at least let me see my wife and sons,” he barked. That bitter, salty taste on his lips again.  

That was a non issue as far as the Law Makers were concerned. With the death of the beloved Detective Hickes on Reginald’s hands, they would not risk his escape. Doing so would negate all of the lives lost so far to Article 22. Lewis Salinger of the Pettiwick School, Kappa So brother Brad Daley, and William Bass of Beckingridge Firm, to name a few.  

“They could have at least waited until they found Junior and I knew he was safe.”  

The agents of the Good Gang had been close to finding Reggie Penn but the enemies that held him had moved on. Efforts in the search continued.  

Eugene wiped his lips with a crisp, white napkin.  

“If you have lost your appetite we might as well move on.”  

Reginald frowned again to himself. His stomach rumbled. The chair scraped as he pushed it back to stand. He finished the red wine that lay at the bottom of his glass and wandered to the middle of the room where he stood with his arms outstretched.  

From his pocket, Eugene drew a measuring string. It was old and frayed but still served its function much like Eugene himself. He stretched the measure across Reginald’s chest. The Penn patriarch kept his focus straight ahead. Eugene measured his arms and legs. He then wrapped the string around his neck. Reginald could feel Eugene’s cool breath on his cheek as he leaned in closer to him. It caused the skin to prickle.  

“Do you have any preferences for your final suit?” asked The Tailor.  

The king shook his head. “Just make sure I have something of my family close. Rita will choose the tie.”  

Eugene Morris AKA The Tailor acquiesced to the request.  

*** 

“Five shooters. One live round,” explained CPD Officer Grant Miles. “This is going to be public so we need everyone to be on their A game. The Black Bands will be working crowd control so it’s up to us to make a clean shot to the heart.”  

The Black Bands were already generating fear. The fear was turning hostile so it would have been unwise to have the foreign group of terrorist-wranglers killing Coldford natives.  

Police Commissioner William ‘Billy’ Owen was disgruntled at the arrangement, to say the least. He had requested that he be one of the shooters. He certainly had the ability as a marksman but his motives didn’t sit well with Judge Doyle. It had been his Pops who had been bludgeoned to death by Reginald. It had been his cousin on his knees and made to watch while he begged for his life. It had been his Kappa So brothers that had been attacked.  

“You will submit your firing squad to my office for approval,” insisted the judge. There was no changing her mind.  

It was a cold night on the lawns of City Face when the time came around. Ice was beginning to form on the blades of grass. My breath was a thick fog before me. I could see Billy standing beside his assembled firing squad still looking a little peeved at not being able to join them. The Owen family were lovers of chaos and the efficiency of the occasion probably didn’t suit Billy’s agenda.  

“Fucking piece of shit,” Billy murmured under his breath as the man of the hour was brought before them.  

I had expected cries of protest or weeping, anything that would break the overall somber atmosphere but the quiet remained as cold as the chill that was beginning to set in. It was the clicking of horses’ hooves that brought a distraction. Reginald Penn was escorted by CPD to the spot on the lawns where executions of old had taken place. He was stood underneath the large clock that tick boomed as its hands danced around time. Elsa and Seth Bergman – brother and sister of the Bergman Diamond dynasty – had gone to sit with Rita at her home in the Faulds Building. Their father, Howard, had come to City Hall to be there for the loyalist king. He respected Reginald as a friend and supporter in City Main, where the Bergman Diamond Parade lay.  

The voice of the judicial minister reading the sentence rose above the others like a priest reading a funeral around a graveside. He spoke of the right to a fair trial and he spoke of the right to life. They weren’t Reginald’s rights he referred to but the rights of his victims, taken away without lawful reason. A lot of blood had been shed in Reginald’s pursuit and in judgement of that more would be shed still.  

From Reginald’s point of view those gathered to witness his final moments were faceless but as he raised his chin, he could see Eugene standing by ready to dress his body. Beside The Tailor, in long robes and with a heavy wooden cross around his neck, was the Holy Brother. He was muttering a prayer with thin lips. His head was raised to the heavens but his eyes were closed. The Holy Brother was of the Albans order. The order had taught the Penns through St Albans School for generations.  

The rights had been delivered. Legal ones and final ones. The shooters lined up. Judge Doyle hadn’t removed her focus from Reginald since the moment he had arrived on scene.  

“Reginald Penn Snr, for acts of terrorism and murder you will be shot until you are dead. Do you have any final words before sentence is carried out?” 

Reginald took a deep breath.  

“To my wife Rita – I love you more than life and I don’t want you to be afraid. I’ll see you again some day. To my sons Marcus and Simon, you both have a tough road ahead of you but you have what it takes. To Junior, if you’re listening, your family will never give up on you and you will be brought home. Finally, to the people of City Main. You are what I fought for. For as long as the Penn name continues you will always have someone fighting for you.”  

“Long live the king!” a cry rang out.  

Van Holder’s second in command, a behemoth of a man named Monsta’, turned his attention to the crowd and it quickly sobered again.  

“Load!” called the execution officer.  

The firing squad prepared. Mostly populated by Kappa So brothers, they were practically salivating at the prospect of killing a king.  

However, on the top floor of an abandoned building that belonged to the Weir Hotel, someone was overlooking the event with different ideas. Bernard ‘Buddy’ Owen had arrived just in time to hear Reginald’s rights. A nest was already prepared. Buddy was surprisingly calm as he rested the rifle against his shoulder and took aim.  

“For as long as the Penn name continues you will always have someone fighting for you,” Reginald was saying as the scope of Buddy’s rifle landed on his forehead. 

“Aim!” the officer called.  

Buddy took a breath. As his finger gently squeezed the trigger he said, “For Pops. Suck my God balls, Your Majesty.”  

BANG. 

Five bullets were given to the firing squad, four of which were blank. One hit his heart as instructed, but not before another fired from the Owen shooter and an Owen never misses a target. With a bullet between his eyes, the King was dead.  

*** 

Brought back from the Great States by force, Buddy had decided he was a new man. He was going to live quietly like a shaman or some shit. He was going to leave his addiction to cocaine behind. Although the mandatory rehab treatment at Harbour House left little choice in that matter. He was going to settle down and bore himself to tears with his father’s lectures on their family history and consider taking over the family business some day. He had every reason to want to put a hole in Reginald Penn’s skull. That son a bitch had him and his bros on their knees and he watched his poor Pops’ brains being splattered on the Chapter House floor. That mother fucker…nope. Buddy stopped himself. He was a new man.  

Bernard Owen CEO. That sounded pretty good. One thing that his time in the Great States had taught him was that he needed the right woman behind him. He needed someone who was by his side, who could tame the beast within him, who could shoot a gun, who had a pretty face, who was fun, smart too he supposed, all packaged into a tight body. Even though she had brought him back to Coldford and thrown him into rehab, he had taken quite the shine to Agent Lydia Lowe.  

“Need to man up, brah,” Buddy sighed to his Kappa So brothers, Chad and Cooper. “If I’m going to bone a chick like Lydia I’m going to have to start acting like the Cappy.” 

“You’re right Bud,” Chad agreed.  

Cooper nodded too.  

So they carried out their Law Maker appointed community service at a care home. It wasn’t so bad really. Some of the old folks had stories to tell.  

Most nights on their community service the brothers gathered in Hanz Stoker’s room. He was a good time old boy and part of the Stoker Circus family. The three bros loved his stories. He had seen some shit. His family were old school circus people but when the tents were taken down they were tasked with the job that no one else wanted to do, especially in a place like Coldford. They cleaned crime scenes.  

“Gotta do something between seasons,” Hanz’s nephew, Irvine, had jested. Cleaning blood and guts had gotten them through some tough times. They became quite successful at slipping in under the noses of the good people of Coldford to wipe away the mess that others didn’t have the stomach to look upon. In light of this, Hanz had seen some real shit. He had a collection of photos he kept in an old metal biscuit tin under the bed. The advertisement on the tin was decades old and written in a foreign language. They were of images of old crime scenes. Morbid curiosity delighted the boys.  

“You’re a freak, brah!” Buddy laughed as they looked through them.  

“People are animals deep down,” said Hanz and he was correct. “Probably the most blood thirstiest animals on this planet,” he added. He would know. Buddy, Chad and Cooper discussed at length how they suspected Hanz had been responsible for some of the crime scenes he had photographed. One he seemed particularly proud of was a prostitute who had been filmed having her legs cut off. The snuff film was complete with a bullet to her head. Hanz only had photographs of the aftermath but he spoke about it with such passion and detail he had to have been there.  

“It must be quite a boon to you knowing that man is going to die after what he did to Pops,” Hanz remarked.  

“That piece of shit,” Buddy groaned. 

“I can tell the family to keep some photos of the aftermath to send to his boys,” 

Hanz offered. His lips tightened as though he was thinking about it.  

Buddy laughed a little nervously. “You’re a freak, brah, ” he said again. 

I learned that among the Stoker family was a Kappa So brother, sworn to the Chapter House and loyal to the Owens. It was the reason that for part of their community service the bros were sent to the gated community, just outside Kingsgate, populated by retired Stokers and their circus performers. Chamberlain Heights retirement community was its true name. Among the Stokers themselves it was termed The After Show.  

“Today’s your lucky day, mucker!” They were interrupted by Hanz’s nephew, Irvine. His limbs were spread to take up more room in the doorway. His voice was booming and he was grinning from ear to ear.  

That was when the plan to give Buddy a gun came to pass. The Stokers confirmed Buddy had been at the care home the entire time. CCTV footage showed him arriving with his bros and leaving again with them. His alibi was air tight. When it came time to clear the crime scene, Irvine’s son, Freddy, left no trace of the nest.  

When Billy was afforded the chance to meet up with Buddy and his father, Chick, at Owen Estate afterwards he was beside himself.  

“You sons a’ bitches!” he cried. “You didn’t tell me!” His raspy laugh caused his shoulders to shudder.  

“We required a genuine reaction,” The Cappy explained.  

Billy punched Buddy’s shoulder playfully.  

“Y’all knew and I’m standing like a handicap, slapping my wrist waiting on the moment to hit. I was out of my mind thinking that the son a’ bitch was gonna get away with murdering Pops without one of our own having sum’n to say about it. Fucking monks waving hands, Black Band bastards everywhere then blam! Bullet right between his eyes when e’body was aiming at his dang heart. We’re gonna get some shit for that boy,” Billy cheered, still giddy. 

“Yes, Buddy,” the Cappy put in. “You should have shot him in the heart.”  

Buddy frowned, turning to his father.  

“You told me to aim for the skull,” he protested.  

With a chuckle Chick shook his head.  

“Now, Buddy,” he said, unable to disguise his smile.  

“You did!” Buddy maintained. He continued, imitating his father’s strong Great States accent, heavier than his own, “Boy, you better put a bullet right between that son a’ bitch’s eyes because the thought of him dying and it not being at the hands of one of our own really dills my pickle.”  

Both Billy and The Cappy laughed.  

“Come now, Buddy,” Chick chortled. “Stop it now.” Joy still laced his tone.  

Buddy raised his eyebrows to his cousin. Billy wrapped his arm around him and pulled him closer. The Cappy collected three small glasses and a bottle of his favourite bourbon. He poured two glasses with the bourbon and one with Jolly Shopper fizzer. Buddy, after all, was still in rehab.  

After he had passed out the drinks, he too wrapped an arm around his son and tousled his feathery blonde hair.  

“You did good, Bud,” he said sincerely. “Pops would be proud. Thanks to you the king was was well and truly Owened.”  

“To Pops!” Billy cheered.  

“To Pops.”  

They clinked their glasses together. 

***

Simon Penn was just a young boy when he was told his anger and frustration was better aimed at a punch bag. He had lost his father and he had never felt such frustration. Reginald had been gunned down whilst the city looked on. His triplet brother, Marcus, wasn’t much comfort. He had decided to immerse himself in books instead, reading about Article 22. It had already claimed their father’s life. What difference did a fucking book make?!  

WHACK!  

Simon punched the bag. The gym facilities in The Boss weren’t exactly of great quality but he just had to hit something.  

WHACK!  

Adding insult to injury, the execution of his father had been deliberately botched. Marcus had tried to talk to Judge Doyle but again, what good did that fucking do?  

WHACK!  

“Time’s up,” announced the guard.  

It had only been thirty minutes but it was better than nothing. If he didn’t hit the punch bag he would have to hit something. Earlier that morning a fellow inmate had almost learned that the hard way.  

“I’m sorry,” Warden Remar had said to the Penns when he learned of Reginald’s fate. It had been a sincere condolence but it had not been what Simon wanted to hear. It would suit him much better to discuss what was to happen to those who deliberately botched it. He just had to hit something. As he had an inmate by the neck, he could hear Marcus bark at him.  

“Leave him,” he said.   

Simon managed to pull through his rage. He threw the inmate to the ground and stormed off to the gym.  

“Time’s up Penn,” the guard announced.  

Simon turned round to face the guards. When they saw the expression on his face, they both reached for their tasers. Simon cracked his neck but he decided to return to his brother without fuss.  

Marcus wasn’t in the library anymore. The guards informed him he had moved out to the yard. It seemed the eldest triplet had decided he wanted to see the expression on the faces of his enemies in their final moment too.  

*** 

It had been a tough road in prison for Gregory Winslow, former Doctor Winslow. Of all the despicable human beings I have had the misfortune to meet during my time in Coldford, he ranked one of the worst. Organ trafficking, rape and unauthorised abortions. He was a foul man who was now at the mercy of The Boss. So far, he had managed to keep himself safe. As one of his patients in Harbour House, Vincent Baines had learned that the triplets had lost an elder sibling. Seeing him as a friend, Rita Penn had come to Winslow with news that she thought she was pregnant. He raped her as she lay unconscious and he aborted Reginald’s baby. Now Winslow jumped every time he heard a gate close. He didn’t know when the triplets would confront him about it. He didn’t know if Vincent had been bold enough to tell them. Thanks to the prison now holding a population of Kappa So brothers he sought them for protection, a barricade to hide behind. As time went on, he began to consider Vincent didn’t have the moxy to tell the Penns. Perhaps he wasn’t in as much of their favour as he had believed. 

A few weeks prior to the events of Reginald’s execution Winslow had found some confidence. Dressed in white shorts and T-shirt with ‘Property of The Boss’ across his back he stepped into the yard. It was icy cold but he was able to find himself some peace.  

“Good evening, Gregory,” Vincent had greeted from the entrance.  

“What do you want Baines?” Winslow scoffed. He had been waiting for the axe to fall with Vincent’s threat for too long. When he saw the remorseful expression in Vincent’s eyes, he couldn’t help but smile. When he noticed the bruising around the former music teacher’s neck, he became a little giddy.  

“They are animals,” he commented. “I did try to warn you. If that foetus had been allowed to grow it would have been much the same.”  

“You mean Rita Penn’s baby?” Vincent asked.  

Winslow sniggered. He knew better than to make a full admittance out loud but he was emboldened by Vincent’s apparent desperation. He had tried to offer him friendship but Vincent had been so disgusted by him after his treatment in Harbour House he refused, then threatened him with the Penns. As he observed the former music teacher, Winslow noted he wasn’t looking quite so confident in his friendship with the thugs of City Main.  

“They are going to carry out Reginald Penn’s sentence soon,” Vincent had said.  

He saw the flicker of Winslow’s lips as he processed the information. Was he trying to smile? 

“Reginald Penn…” Winslow sighed. “Now there is a character. I can’t say I’m sorry to hear that.”  

“I bet you’re not,” Vincent replied.  

There was a long-standing rivalry between the king and the disgraced doctor. There was a rivalry for respect, a rivalry for power and a rivalry for Rita’s affections. There wasn’t really much rivalry involved. It was all built in Winslow’s head because the reality was, he could never compete with Reginald on any of those counts.  

“So, you have decided that it is best we stick together then? I think it may be to both our benefit. Safety in numbers and all that,” Winslow stated.  

“Oh no,” was Vincent’s retort. “I still think you are the foulest thing in this city and given what you’re up against that speaks volumes. I have been thinking a lot lately about the expression on the faces of people when they know they’re going to die.”  

Vincent reached out and clasped Winslow’s face with his long fingers. He looked deep into his eyes and he smiled. “That seems about right. I’ve also been thinking about what you did to Rita. You know how my head can get so noisy sometimes. In the clinic you advised me to write my thoughts down. I couldn’t stop thinking about Rita and what you did to her so I wrote it all down. I still couldn’t settle, pianist fingers you see, so I clutched all those pages I had written, folding them with care. I would have stopped there but still, so noisy. I thought it might help to pack what I had written away into a little envelope. It did help but I just can’t bear the sight of a blank envelope. I had to put some address on it.” Vincent started to laugh. “I don’t know why but I thought the warden, Remar, would find it interesting. It was still a little noisy so I wrote it all out again.” 

Winslow scoffed, “I’m already in prison. Remar can’t do much.” 

Vincent nodded in agreement. “Maybe. Maybe not.” Vincent went on, “After I wrote it down, I tried to lose myself in books so I clumsily left a note tucked away in a volume in the library. Then I thought to myself, ‘Hang on? Did that happen to be the book Marcus was reading?’ It did feel a little quieter still, but then I thought of Simon. As the middle child he may feel a little left out, so I wrote some music for him and would you believe it? Every note told him what you did.” 

That was a few weeks ago. Reginald Penn was now dead and Vincent had been taken to Harbour House for psych evaluation. Maybe he had been bluffing. 

Winslow had been so focused on Vincent’s threat, he hadn’t paid attention to Marcus and Simon stepping into the yard.  

“Help!” Winslow squealed. “Help me!”  

As expansive a structure as The Boss could be, Winslow’s pleas were heard by a group of Kappa So brothers. The Penns were outnumbered four to one. Simon’s shoulders tightened. Marcus stared at them keenly.  

“Thank you, brothers,” Winslow cried. “These men were going to hurt me.”  

The Kappa So brothers didn’t care much about Winslow but the opportunity to throw down with the Penns was tempting.   

“What’s this all about?”  

A man with salt and pepper hair, long features and cool dark eyes pushed through to check on the brothers. When he noticed two of the triplets, he took note of Winslow again.   

“Twenty minutes,” the warden offered. “You, frat boys, clear out of here.”  

“No, wait!” Winslow plead. “They’re going to hurt me. Brothers for life!” he cried desperately. 

One of the eldest Kappa So bros chuckled. “You ain’t Kappa So, brah.” 

“Kappa So!” the others cheered.  

“Alright, you’ve made your point,” said Remar. “Move out.” 

“Kappa So!” the bros began to chant as they departed the yard. 

Winslow squealed at the warden, “They’re going to hurt me.” 

“Boo fucking hoo,” Remar laughed. “I heard what you did to their mother. I’m pro-life by the way.”  

“You can’t do this!” Winslow cried desperately.  

“You’re in servitude,” was Remar’s response. “You no longer have a say. Welcome to the fucking Boss.” 

Winslow’s breath caught in his throat as the door to the yard clicked closed. Twenty minutes of just him and two very pissed off Penns.  

*** 

“Boys,” whimpered Winslow. “I know you’ve been through a lot. It’s news just reaching me that your father is dead. I suppose I can tell you that I loved your mother.” 

Marcus growled.  

Simon warned, “Don’t you dare speak of our mother.”  

“Whatever Vincent told you it was a lie. He’s a sick man and he hates me.” 

WHACK!  

A punch from Simon sent Winslow to the ground. He shuffled along the tarmac floor and tried to dash between Simon’s legs but Marcus kicked him to the floor. Simon gripped him around his neck and pulled him to his feet.  

“Help!”  

No one was going to answer.  

Marcus glared at him so closely Winslow could see his petrified expression reflected in the eldest triplet’s spectacles. 

“You are going to learn a lesson today, Gregory,” warned Marcus. “You are not going to die but you will learn a lesson. You will come to realise that women are not your property. Death is not a game for you to play or to decide for others. Most importantly, you will learn what that ugliness within you looks like when brought to the surface so that every time you look in the mirror it will be all you’ll see.” 

Winslow started to cry.  

Simon’s nose wrinkled. “You’re also going to learn you do not fuck our mother.”  

Winslow had been distracted so he hadn’t seen it coming. Marcus had a blade and swiped it at his face. The facial nerve was lacerated. Winslow felt a wave of paralysis sweep down his face.  

“First one’s for Reggie. You will spill no more lies.”  

Winslow grabbed at the rat’s claw mark but he could feel no sensation.  

*** 

The Kappa So bros could hear the screaming. One of them shuddered and pleaded to the elder.  

“We should do something, brah,” he protested. 

The elder had his back turned. The screams of pain were making him feel uneasy too but he wouldn’t interfere.  

“Those loyalist cunts man,” said another.  

“Keep out of it,” Remar had warned. “It’s not your fight.” 

The Kappa So bros knew The Cappy hated the man just as much as anyone, and for that they were willing to quite literally turn their backs.  

The elder pulled a cigarette from his sleeve. He lit it with his last match and passed it to his frat bro who clutched it between shaking fingers, almost dropping it when Winslow emitted another shrill shriek. It was going to be a long twenty minutes. 

*** 

“Stop! Stop!” Winslow tried to cry. The facial paralysis caused him to gargle his words. “Plllleeeeeesh,” was the best he could beg.  

Simon lifted him back onto his feet. He wiped blood from his face to give himself a blank canvas when he cut into Winslow’s face. He then moved the blade to his eyelid.  

“For me,” he said. “You have trouble sleeping. You should have trouble sleeping, you’re a deplorable cunt. You should have to think about what you did every hour of every fucking day.” 

The shriek that Winslow emitted was clear despite the paralysis, despite the blood beginning to choke him. Simon threw him to the ground. He wiped the blood and flesh away from his blade. The boxer had left Winslow on the canvas. 

Marcus was next. Winslow was kicked onto his front. He barely had the energy to struggle anymore. He could feel Marcus’ foot stamp down on his lower back.  

“You are a broken man with a broken back. That will show on your broken body.”  

WHACK! First spinal damage to the motor nerves. 

WHACK! Next spinal damage to the sensory nerves.  

*** 

The Kappa So elder couldn’t help but look back over his shoulder when he heard the clang of a metal bar drop.  

He shuddered. He had never heard cries like it.  

He could hear one of his bros taking a sharp intake of breath as the final lesson of the day began. 

*** 

The beast that was formerly Winslow cried and scuffled across the ground again. He could feel himself being dragged back to the fence.  

WHACK!  

Nothing more than a rag doll he was sat against this, most of his body hung loose. The parts that still had sensation ached unbearably.  

“This last one is for our brother or sister who would have been. You took their life before they had even taken a breath.” 

Vision was blurred and red but the beast could see the frame of Simon. He appeared to be carrying a barrel of some sort.  

SPLASH!  

A waterfall of hydrochloric acid was dropped on the beast. He screamed as best he could, before choking on the blood. He was unable to tell if he could feel pain anymore or not but he writhed anyway.  

*** 

Blam! Rewind. Blam! Rewind. Blam!  

Reggie Penn had been made to watch his father’s death over and over again. Video footage from someone in the crowd had found its way into Kappa So hands. Now it was playing on loop on the large screen beside the small cage Reggie was being held in. The cage had been one he normally kept some of his pet rats in. The rats were all dead now. Billy Owen saw to that. Cooked, gutted, shot for fun. He still said nothing. He couldn’t bring himself to speak so they left him in his cage to watch the fall of the king.  

He must have dozed off. When he stirred again his father was still being shot but he could hear voices. More brothers had come to the compound just outside the airport. The voices were excitable and they had women with them. It seemed they were planning a proper send off for the Penn triplet. Bon Voyage Reggie Penn, next stop, Star State. Thank you for flying Owen Air.  

He was left alone in his father’s purgatory and this time when he dozed off a longer spell must have passed because he could sense it was night time again. The party was heating up. Girls were cheering, furniture was being smashed and a repetitive beat thudded against the walls in the pretence it was music.  
Eventually the door was opened and a brother Reggie didn’t recognise entered with a Kappa Si sister on his arm.  

“You wanna see the rat boy?” he said. He was high on cocaine, his arm swung limply by his side holding a bottle of Macks whiskey. The girl giggled.  

“I heard he thinks he’s a rat himself,” said the girl. She had heard so many rumours through the grapevine and that wasn’t the worst.  

The brother laughed. “He squeaks when you stab him.” 

The girl wandered over to the cage. She clutched the bars and leaned over. Reggie caught her in a cool stare but it wasn’t vacant. The bars of the cage cast him in shadows, like a rat caught in the corner of the basement. The cat toying with its prey.  

“Hello Reggie Penn. How are you doing?”  

Reggie didn’t answer. They both kept their gazes locked on one another. The girl sighed as she felt her skirt lift and the brother stroked her buttocks with a gentle but clumsy hand. He ran his hands round to her breasts and pushed her tighter against the cage. Still, she kept her focus on Reggie and he on her.  

The Kappa So brother grunted as he started to pull the Si sister’s underwear down. She turned to him and playfully pushed him away.  

“It’s not really doing it for me,” the girl complained.  

The brother growled at Reggie.  

“You’re a fucking boner killer!” he yelled. In frustration he kicked at the cage. Reggie still staring, still saying nothing. He made the brother uncomfortable. The brother clearly didn’t want to seem intimidated in front of his girlfriend. He gripped the bars, spat on Reggie and cried, “They’re going to throw you out of the plane half way across the pond.” 

Zap!  

The brother fell back. The electrified bars of the cage had been switched on. A small smile traced Reggie’s lips.  

“What ya’ll tryna do in here?” Billy Owen demanded to know. “I ain’t running no zoo.”  

“She wanted to see Rat Boy,” the brother explained. “I heard he likes to watch people fuck so I was giving him a treat.”  

Billy’s nose wrinkled. “E’body knows he only watches when it’s one of his brothers, sick fucks. Now you’ve just gone and made me disappointed. If I had known you were going to give her a bit of the old doggy action against that there cage, I would have waited to throw on the sparks. Slap, slap, slap oh my! Buzzz! You’d be writhing around, still fucking her, currents coursing!” Billy laughed at the image he had created in his head. He looked at the brother who was now regarding him with some nervousness. Billy slapped him across the back. “C’mon. I’m only pulling your pisser. What kind of sick mind would do a thing like that?”  

The brother wasn’t so sure. He did notice Billy taking one last look at the cage. The room became swarmed with brothers.  

“Billy,” cooed the girl. “Can you let me see the cock pit?”  

“Girl, you’re a freak,” Billy laughed but she took his arm. Billy shoved the brother from the room.  

When he was left alone Reggie noticed that the cage had been opened. A bottle of water and protein bars had been left behind. If he managed to step outside there was no telling what he would be walking into. Fight or flight. Survival of the fittest. Self-preservation. Whether it was rats or humans, given the opportunity to run, they were always going to take it.  

*** 

Run child, as fast as your feet will carry you.  

Don’t pause for a breath or stop to tie your shoe.  

You can look around, cry for help if you like,  

But this is one time the monster will strike.  

You can run deep into the forest, you can hide in the dark,  

But we will always find you, for you have the mark.  

You will never survive; you’ve already begun to rot,  

You can gather wood, set camp just like daddy taught.  

It all seems so fruitless now, so close to the end,  

When a monster lurks behind every bend.  

Our paths are made from the bones of the others,  

Somewhere waiting for them are weeping mothers. 

You will discover as they did, there is no way out,  

Burst your little lungs trying to scream and shout.  

Just listen please, to the noise of the trees.  

They will warn you of what lurks in every inch of this place.  

Creatures waiting to snatch you, all eager for a taste.  

They won’t wait long, for they are hungry indeed. 

Only the blood of a child will fulfil their greed.  

All roads lead to the same place in the end.  

We all go without a coin, a care or a friend,  

So look up child and see what lies in wait.  

Thank you, little child, for taking the bait. 

I have always admired just how much of a survivor Reginald Penn Junior was. In his way he was the strongest of the three triplets. He had been through so much and still he survived. His survival nature served him well that night because a rescue operation was underway.  

I had said that heroes were to take their place and thankfully they did that night, just in time. Before Reggie met an unfortunate fate more gun fire rang out in protest. The agents of the Good Gang contained the scene and rescued Reggie.  

Agent Lydia Lowe, who had been the Kappa Si girl infiltrating the scene earlier, checked on him.  

Reggie had drawn into himself so he wasn’t very responsive, but I can imagine the relief he felt at the sight of Lydia’s smile.  

The members of the Hickes Agency, named after Detective Joel Hickes who is sadly no longer with us, brought a much-needed injection of honour, kindness, bravery and leadership to the shades of Coldford. In testament to that, they carried Reggie to safety, even as the son of the man who murdered their inspiration.  

Now, Billy Owen was in a predicament. His brother Theodore ‘Teddy’ Owen had just been inducted as a member of the Good Gang. After all the trouble the agents had gone through to return Buddy home, The Cappy would also be keen on smoothing this over. There was only one thing for it. They had to put an Owen spin on the entire scenario.  

“It was confirmed last night Reginald Penn Junior was found by CPD officers and some Good Gang agents. A heroic extraction conducted by Commissioner Billy Owen helped the son to return home after the family had faced tragedy with the execution of Reginald Penn Senior on terrorism charges. 

Commissioner Owen was offered commendations for his undercover work in his attempts to weed out corruption within Kappa So. The commissioner said, “I don’t mind the danger. It is important to me and my family that our fraternity is the best it can be. I would personally like to thank the Good Gang agents for their support.”  

On behalf of Owen Inc and of the city we wish Reggie Junior a speedy recovery, and perhaps city main herself can now begin to heal. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily News.” 

Dr Winslow was a well respected doctor. Harbour House was his vision of rehabilitation. Sometimes even the best vision can become clouded with greed.

Join reporter Sam on the story of his life as he investigates the disappearance of the city mayor.

Complete Season 1 now available for kindle.

Building Bridges: Fullerton Construction

“We are Filton!”

Location: FILTON

Features in: KNOCK KNOCK  ; HARBOUR HOUSE ; MUSE ; PURPLE RIBBON

The biggest names in construction in the Shady City the Fullerton family firmly established themselves as the premier provider of construction and demolition services. With the monumental Fullerton bridge to their names no one can argue their reputation for knowing how to build sound structures. They are also responsible for the building of other notable buildings in Coldford such as the Faulds Park Building, the WEIR HOTEL and the BECKINGRIDGE TOWER.

A large family the Fullertons are known to have their fingers in a lot of different pies around the city. Brothers Jake and Caleb head the construction contracts, whilst their sister Jenna makes her name in the adult film industry. Until recently matriarch grandma, Lynette Fullerton sat the top of the family table but unfortunately she was one of the fallen 59 in the event known as the FREE FALL MASSACRE.

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Lynette Fullerton provides some tough negotiations for the Beckingridge Financial Firm.

They are an old money family from the wealthy town of Filton. Keen to show pride in their town they have ownership of one of the University teams. They aim of which is to build bridges between the two main institutions of higher learning in the city.

The construction empire currently in the hands of Jenna Fullerton

Whether it is tearing it apart or building it back up, Fullerton Construction are on hand in the Shady City.

Enjoy this? Check out these thrillers currently available:

Episode 40: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The people of Bellfield had crowded outside the Love Street Harvester store. They were banging on the windows and crying in words that Julia couldn’t quite hear or understand through the accents. They were using local dialects but given their tone it wasn’t difficult to decipher their sentiment.  

She was glad Glenn and Curtis had accompanied her as they prepared to set up and have the store opened.  

“It’s getting a little rowdy out there Jules,” Glenn warned. “I don’t like the look of them. They’ve got bloodshot eyes.” 

Julia was nervous but she didn’t show it. She knew the people of Bellfield would be sensitive to a new name and brand being opened when they had just lost their identifying feature in the distillery. They had lost their beloved Macks and the Black Band presence was still being held on their street. The store needed to be opened and if it hadn’t been for the Black Bands nearby, she would have waited. Time was of the essence though and in order to cover the losses from the purchase of the docks all stores needed to be operational as soon as possible. She had been welcomed with open arms by the rest of Coldford. Even then, even as they called at her, she was certain that Bellfield wouldn’t be any different. Given what they had just gone through they would most likely require extra sweet-talking. The Harvester brand was about bringing people together. If there was any part of Greater Coldford that needed their home comforts it was Bellfield. It was an area that prided itself on community and the Harvester brand could provide them that.  

“I should speak to them,” suggested Julia.  

Glenn was hesitant. “Maybe we should just wait a little. They just lost their distillery. It doesn’t seem like they are keen on welcoming new outsiders. They got the funeral for the little Mack too. Now’s not a good time.”  

“We can’t waste time staying closed. This store needs to open,” Julia had to admit.  

Curtis was busy pulling shelves together. “If we open now, they’re just going to come in and wreck the place. Those gypos have laws of their own.”  

“Then I really need to speak to them. I don’t want them thinking I’m the enemy. They will be welcomed as part of the Harvester family. Hiding in here and then staying closed is only going to confirm their fears. If I don’t speak to them then the purchasing of this store will be for nothing. We are their friends.”  

Curtis moved and took a look from the window. “I don’t think those cunts got that message.” 

Julia was becoming more sure. “They just need to know who we are.”  

She opened the door. Glenn nodded to Curtis to be by her side.  

“Thank you all for coming,” she said. “I am so glad to be here in Bellfield. We still have much to do but thank you for coming down.”  

“How about you take your store and shove it up yer arse!” called one of them.  

Julia could feel Glenn and Curtis close in on her.  

“With recent events I can understand why you are so upset but I look forward to joining you and working towards a promising future.”  

A brick was launched. It cracked the main store window. Curtis had drawn out his cattle prod.  

“Back off!” he warned. “You better back off.” 

Julia clutched his arm. She didn’t want to give up so easily. “We all want the same thing.”  

“The smoke from the distillery is still in the air and you step over the ashes thinking you’re one of us? Feck off!” called one.  

“We can rebuild,” Julia made one last suggestion.  

Another stone was launched. Glenn pulled her back.  

“Now’s not the time. We’ve got to pull back.”  

Her bold move in purchasing of the docks had left the Harvesters financially vulnerable and now Owen Inc and Beckingridge Firm were rebuilding at a rapid rate. She not only needed the Love Street store to open but she needed it to be a success. Bellfield was going to be a tough nut to crack.  

*** 

“We got a lot of shit to take care of little bro,” said Billy Owen as he and Buddy drove the south bypass. It’s hard enough I gotta work my own tasks at CPD but now I gotta have you along with me, hanging from my ass like a dangler that just won’t shake off. When The Cappy asked me to keep an eye on you I thought you could at least lie low at the Chapter House for a couple of days.” 

“I didn’t …” Buddy began. 

“Shut the fuck up!” Billy barked. “Did I say you could talk? I’m commissioner remember? I know what they found. Jerry gone and be sat at the retirement home like a drooling vegetable and you are still doing his dirty work. Why can’t you be more like your old man?” 

“You and me, Bud,” Jerry insisted. “The rest of them ain’t got nothing on us.”  

“You’re treating me like your own personal cleaning crew and you’re making The Cappy look a fool. I ought to slam you in The Boss for that. Every powder house in Coldford closed down and you still manage to score. I’d admire your resourcefulness, cuz, if it didn’t make you such a dick head,” Billy was going on. “I hear from some of the brothers that you were as high as a kite when you promised The Cappy you wouldn’t touch none. You’re going to push his loyalty to the limit one day, if you don’t push mine first.”  

“Are you finished?” Buddy snapped.  

Billy slammed his feet on the brakes. He turned to Buddy with a scowl.  

“You wanna ask that again?” he challenged. 

Buddy had nothing to say. He stared straight ahead and the car started up again.  

“I thought so,” Billy grumbled. “All this shit going down and I find you at Harvester Farm chasing that Julia chick around like a dog trying to hump her leg.” Billy gave a throaty laugh. “Didn’t take long in dropping your ass when a bigger cock was on offer though, huh?”  

Buddy leaned huffily on his car door. He could see his scowl in the side mirror but he kept his curses inward. It had been his collection from the farm that had rendered Buddy angry. Billy had made a complete show of it as he liked to do, ever since they were boys.  

“What’s wrong, Buddy?” Susie had asked him. 

Buddy smiled at his little mascot. “I got some unfinished business kid.”  

Susie nodded. She didn’t know what the unfinished business was but she sensed its importance.  

“I gotta speak to Julia,” he decided.  

He had come to the farm for that purpose. He had given himself three different whores to try and distract himself but it didn’t work and the itch he now had wasn’t worth it. The brief moment he had spent with Julia couldn’t be erased from his mind. He had been so distracted by it he even called home to star state.  

“I’m in love, Mama!” he announced.  

“Huh?” was Ida’s response. She had either been so surprised by her son’s statement that she was rendered dumb or she was already on her third cosmopolitan.  

“Did my baby just say he’s in love?” she finally cheered. “Oh, Buddy boy!”  

She started to ask all sorts of questions about Julia but her words started to slur. He could hear her the cork rattle on the stone floor of the ranch kitchen as she started to pour a fresh drink. Buddy became impatient.  

“I’m gonna go,” he said. She had already dropped the phone in the sink anyway.  

“I’m gonna do it,” Buddy decided. “I’m gonna tell her. I’m gonna…I don’t know…”  

Susie put in, “Tell her you fancy her?”  

Buddy laughed. He patted Susie’s shoulder. “Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.” 

They had been leaning against the fence of the stud herd enclosure. Gordon was already on his way across the field to knock him off.  

‘That fucking bull hates me,’ Buddy mused.  

Gordon did seem to take personal issue with him. He didn’t seem to mind Susie leaning on his fence. Buddy’s backside, however, was aching for a horn as far as Gordon was concerned.  

Buddy wasn’t looking to impress Gordon though. His focus lay on Julia.

“Julia!” he cried when he saw her arrive. He rushed across the West Acre to her. “Julia!” He hated how his voice sounded in that moment. It was almost singing. It did catch her attention though. She stopped and looked back at him with a smile.  

“Have you been here all morning?” she asked.  

“Just got here,” he replied. “Where’s the car?”  

Realising he meant the green sports car he had gifted to her, she replied, “I parked it in the city. The pathways here aren’t really kind to low riders.”  

There was his chance. “Speaking of riding,” he said shuffling nervously. “Maybe we can finish what we started. You know, the other day…”  

Julia frowned at first. It was a statuesque frown. The forehead wrinkles were so delicately formed they still held a feminine beauty. When she realised what he meant she started to laugh.  

“Oh sweetie,” she said. “I just get a little distracted sometimes. Never mind that.”  

Buddy could see Susie watching eagerly, hoping it went well for him. She gave him a thumbs up. She was rooting for him. He wished he had brought Chad and Cooper with him though. Cooper was somewhat successful with women that didn’t require payment or powder. He took a deep breath.  

“I like you Julia,” he said. It was brand new territory for him. Should he have bought flowers or something? “I don’t mean I just want to bone. I mean I do want to bone but like nice boning. I don’t know…”  

Before Julia could reply her attention was caught by flashing lights. A single CPD car came tearing up towards the farmhouse. Glenn and Curtis were immediately on alert with their cattle prods. Julia shielded her eyes to see who was joining them. A man climbed out of the driver seat clutching a megaphone in his hand. He put it to his lips.  

“Bernard Owen,” he cried. “You’re under arrest…for being a dickhead.”  

“Is there trouble Buddy?” Julia asked seeming genuinely concerned.  

Buddy couldn’t enjoy her concern. He was growling.  

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s my cousin.”  

“Just y’all cool your jets there boys,” Billy warned the farm hands.  

“Get off the damn farm,” Curtis raged.  

Before he could wave his cattle prod a gun was in Billy’s grip and he had shot it from Curtis’ hand.  

“I’m just here for my little cuz. Don’t make this something it ain’t.” 

Julia rushed to approach Billy. “Can I help you, officer?”  

Billy, who had keeping his attention and gun on the farm hands, grinned when his focus fell on Julia. He spun the sharp shooting pistol and slipped it into a holster on his belt.  

“Well, hi there ma’am. I’m sorry if I upset your boys there. I gotta pick up my little bro.”  

Julia gave an accommodating smile. “No harm done. You’re a fast shooter,” she noted.  

Billy’s grin intensified. “Fast, hard and always hit the right spot.”  

Julia giggled. “I’ll bet it takes a lot of practice.”  

“Every day and night, ma’am,” Billy returned.  

Buddy was aggrieved. His arms were clenched by his side like a school boy who had been sent to detention.  

Julia stroked Billy’s arm casually. “The thing is, I don’t want any trouble.”  

“No trouble ma’am, Billy assured. “I wouldn’t want to mess your pretty farm with all your nice animals here. I just want my cousin.” To Buddy he called, “You!” He brought the megaphone to his lips again. “Get in the car dickhead!”  

He lowered the megaphone and spoke to Susie who had come running and was now clinging to her father. 

“I apologise for my cussing, little lady. Now don’t you go repeating my words, ya hear? It’s just, when someone is acting like a dickhead, you gotta call them out as such.” Into the megaphone he spoke again. “Get in the damn car.”  

Buddy started walking towards Billy’s car. When he was close enough Billy slapped him over the back of his head.  

“I’m sorry if he’s been bothering you, Miss Harvester,” said Billy. 

Buddy had slipped himself into the passenger seat and was glaring through the window.  

“You got some experience with animals so you’ll understand that I gotta put this one back in his cage.” 

“Daddy? Is that man going to hurt Buddy?” Susie pleaded to Glenn.  

Even though Julia herself confirmed it had been Nathan who had given Susie the cocaine and even though Buddy’s affections for Susie seemed genuine, he hoped so.  

“You’re a disgrace, little bro,” Billy reminded Buddy as they took the east exit from the bypass towards Northside. 

*** 

Northside was a bitterly cold part of Greater Coldford. Wet, miserable and filled with industrial estates. Most of those were empty units waiting for the industry to return to them.  

“You could’ve dropped me at the Chapter House,” complained Buddy.  

Billy drew the car into what looked like an abandoned unit. The name Tulloch was on the sign.  

“I’ll drop you alright, boy. You’ll go to the house when I’m good and ready to take you back there. Until then you’ll be glad I don’t whoop your ass. Stick by my side.” 

The headlights of Billy’s car flashed in the window of one of the units.  

As though summoned, the door of the unit opened and into the yard stepped a man with a weasel like face and close set eyes. His scrawny arms reached out to the car.  

“Billy boy!” he cheered in a harsh Northside accent, the words of the people losing the musical intonation past Bellfield. “Is that you?” 

Billy climbed out of the car. “Who else?” Billy asked.  

The man seemed delighted. He gave a wide grin. Buddy was feeling anxious so he joined them. The man from Northside tried a Kappa So salute but Billy slapped his hand.  

“Get yourself in order,” he said. To Buddy he made introductions, “This is Kez Tulloch. He’s a pathetic piece of shit but he’s the best we got to take The Distillery.” 

Tulloch laughed as though it were a jest. Buddy knew Billy was serious in his sentiments. Tulloch was clearly made uncomfortable by Billy’s presence.  

“This is my cousin, Buddy. He’s along for the ride but the less attention you pay to him, the less stupid you’ll be, so let’s get on with it.” 

“Billy boy,” Tulloch said again. “You’re going to be impressed.”  

From what Buddy could observe Tulloch was about one sweet word away from dropping to his knees and sucking Billy’s cock.  

They followed him into the unit where a group of Northsiders were building weapons. They were primitive, the kind used in inner city gang fights, but they would be effective in the right hands. A group like the Black Bands wouldn’t have much trouble quashing them but they weren’t for use against the Black Bands. That would be suicide. Having lost The Distillery, their plan had been to pursue the Macks and complete the takeover of Bellfield that Northside had been looking to do for years. Centuries before, Northside and Bellfield used to be the same area. Religious disputes split the area in half and even though time went on both areas still bore their grudges. Billy’s plans had been to take advantage of the weakened force in Bellfield to appoint control of The Distillery to someone of The Cappy’s choosing. 

“Preparing for something then?” asked Buddy, the sense of determination and nerves among the Northsiders started to cause a buzz to ring within him.  

Tulloch grinned a mouthful of blackened teeth.  “We’re going to hit them. Maybe hit them at the funeral.” He gave a callous laugh. “What you think Billy boy?”  

“Damn shameful,” was Billy’s return. “Attacking a funeral? Y’all should be ashamed. Let them have their time to mourn. They ain’t going nowhere. They’ll get what’s coming to them.”  

Tulloch’s shoulders hunched.  

“The only good Mack is a dead one,” he said. He looked to Buddy. “Your cousin agrees. I saw what they did to your pops.”  

“Quit running your mouth,” Billy warned. Both he and Buddy became a little testy at the mention of their grandfather. “That’s family business. You worry about The Distillery. We want it opened again and ready for business as soon as we can.” 

“Sure boss.” Tulloch leapt, excited. “Follow me.”  

He led them to benches where men were hard at work. Like the others they were fashioning make shift weapons. If they were taking over The Distillery the people of Bellfield weren’t going to be happy and the people of Northside were going in prepared. When the Black Bands removed their presence and left them to it, The Distillery needed to be held under the leadership of the Tullochs. Northside’s prominent family seemed the best option until a buyer for The Distillery could be found.  

Scattered around were piles of black clothing Northside heavies had become associated with in their attacks on the Macks and Bellfield. The masks were chilling. CPD under Hickes’ influence had helped curb the violence between the areas. Under Billy it still had some use. On the walls were photos of an old Northside football team playing on a muddy, uncared-for pitch with a rain lashing down heavily. The glass was churned and the kits they wore were old fashioned. It was a commemorative image of when Northside beat Bellfield in a city-wide cup final. It was the first victory since the areas split. A promotional poster hung beside it. On the poster was a hand clutching a Macks bottle so tightly it was cracking. The slogan read A BITTER TASTE; LANDS TO WASTE  

They were bitter, Buddy observed. Trust Billy to be not only using that to his advantage but to be organising them. He could beat what Mack support remained in Bellfield without Kappa So or CPD getting their hands dirty. If things didn’t work out all they had to do was have CPD scoop up the Tullochs and their Northsiders and be the city’s heroes.  

While Billy began inspecting the preparations they were making for taking and holding The Distillery, Tulloch decided he wanted to engage Buddy. He stepped into Buddy’s space. Buddy was close to shoving him away when he said, “Your cousin is some man.”  

“Yeah, he’s something alright,” Buddy replied.  

“Those Macks are scumbags,” he said assuredly. “Absolute tinkers.”  

Buddy had never heard the term ‘tinker’ used before but it amused him so he stored it in his vocabulary for a later date. 

“I mean, the things they were saying about a golden cock they found at the Chapter House…” Tulloch went on.  

Buddy really wished he would stop running his damn mouth. Billy stopped immediately what he was doing and frowned at his cousin. 

“What’s he talking about?” Billy asked.  

“Tinkers be crazy,” Buddy suggested.  

Luckily Billy started to laugh. “They do be crazy.” 

“I would have my cock fashioned in gold but no one would be able to lift it,” Buddy jested, hoping that if he prodded Billy’s humour, he wouldn’t think about it too much.  

Billy laughed even harder. Luckily the humour in phallus shaped statues ran in the family.  

“You are cock obsessed little bro. I oughtta knock that out of you.”  

Buddy looked back at the rebel poster. ‘A good Mack was a dead one.’ 

Attacking a funeral was a low move but, Hell, it was a tinker funeral after all and they were going to wish they had kept their mouths shut about the Chapter House.  

***

“Mum’s not here,” Cameron explained to Agent Lydia as she crossed the threshold into the Doyle home in Kingsgate.  

She was greeted by a large hallway with a cascading staircase leading to shadowy floors above.  

“It’s actually you I wanted to speak with,” she said, smiling to comfort the young man. “It’s about your friend, Reggie Penn.”  

Cameron became nervous. “I, uh. We know each other,” he admitted. 

“Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble,” Lydia assured. “I just need to know if you have spoken to him.”  

Cameron eased off but only a little. He still wasn’t willing to open up to her. “We play a game together. Lonesome Nights. Have you heard of it?”  

Lydia nodded. “I’m familiar with it.” It wasn’t the first time Coby Games had cropped up in her investigations.  

“Reggie and I have played for years,” said Cameron. He checked his words and closed off again. “Just online. Just the game.”  

“Do you have some of your chat logs?”  

“Some of them,” he admitted. “I’m not supposed to but if he shares upgrades or coins or anything like that.” Cameron started to ease off a little further. “I heard what happened to him at The Boss. Did you arrest the ones that did it?”  

“My priority is bringing Reggie home safely. We have a team together and we’re doing what we can to arrest the ones that hurt him but in order to stop Reggie getting hurt further or worse I need all the help I can get. Can you do that for me?”  

Cameron agreed. If It would help Reggie.  

“When did you last speak to him?” The agent asked. 

“He had just escaped CPD. He needed help.”  

“And you helped him?”  

“He logged into Lonesome Nights. It was the only way he could contact someone. He wanted to go to The Boss because that’s where his brothers are.”  

“And you heard nothing from him after?”  

“I helped him get the bus to Bournton. I lost touch with him after that. Please don’t tell my mum that I helped him. She will be furious. I only told you in case it can help Reggie.”  

Lydia nodded. “I’ll keep it between us. At this point your mum is only interested in what evidence we can bring her. I’ll keep you out of it as much as possible.”  

Lydia’s phone beeped. She answered a call from Reynolds.  

“Not much here,” she said to her fellow agent.  

Cameron could hear Reynolds’ voice faintly. “We’ve checked out the warehouse. It definitely looks like that’s where they have him.”  

“I’m on my way back,” Lydia said before closing the call. 

She patted Cameron’s shoulder.  

“Sit tight,” she advised. “We’ll bring him back.”  

Cameron closed the door after the agent. Uncle Micky was gone, Reggie was hurt, his mum was holding the roof of her office up with steel arms. The house in Kingsgate was becoming colder and there was little even a strong young man like Cameron could do to help.  

*** 

“Ain’t no woman alive gonna fuck you lil bro. Dead ones, maybe you stand a chance,” Billy teased as he cleaned Betsy. “That’s why you gotta pay them all the time. It’s like compensation for what they’re about to endure.” 

Buddy was sat on Reggie’s cage. “I did bone her,” he insisted. “I boned Julia.”  

Billy gave a guttural laugh. “Sure you did.” 

“I’m telling you we boned and it was beautiful,” Buddy protested.  

Billy zapped the cage but Buddy had been watching his hands so he leapt onto his feet just in time. 

Reggie gave a groan that caught both their attention. Billy pushed Buddy out of the way to address his prisoner.  

“Daddy going to be coming to get you any minute, boy, don’t you worry,” he teased.  

Reggie Penn had been moved around the cage. He was no longer in the stress position and he was no longer reacting to the shocks from the electrified bars. It didn’t matter. The end game would be upon them soon enough. Bored of waiting for Reginald’s valiant rescue of his son, Billy leaked information to the loyalists through a brother who had slipped among their ranks of where they had Reggie.  

‘Come and fucking get him, King Dick,’ was Billy’s thoughts on the matter.  

Surveillance had been set up around the warehouse.  

“Buddy,” Billy called to his cousin. “Buddy?” Buddy had been too busy watching Reggie. He hadn’t heard at first. “Buddy get your ass over here!” Buddy followed the instruction. “Watch him. I just saw a signal on the west mark. If you see anyone approach you holla’.”  

Buddy nodded. “Sure.”  

“You can do that right can’t ya?” Billy gripped his cheek.  

Buddy shook him off. “Yeah I can.”  

Some time passed. Another signal on the west mark was given again but this time a little closer to the warehouse. Through the window Buddy caught sight of Billy’s discrete signal back. It fell quite. Buddy cocked his gun.  

Buddy looked to Reggie. Reggie looked up. Their eyes met. With unease Buddy headed to the entrance to assist his cousin.  

Two more signals were given on the west mark. Even closer still they were to the warehouse now. Buddy spotted a figure dressed in black. Buddy tapped the butt of his gun on the floor twice. Loud enough for Billy to hear but not so loud it would startle the intruder. The two taps alerted Billy that he had a visual on one intruder.  

Looking outside Billy processed through the cascade of signals that were being passed his way. One possible intruder. Not much of a rescue party for a so called Prince of Main. It was likely one of the agents wishing to slip in quietly. He could hear their footsteps. They were loud, crunching the debris of the forest floor. They crept towards the warehouse. He pulled a gun. They didn’t appear to be agency trained but trained none the less. They knew how to handle a gun but just didn’t appear to have done it too often.  

Billy cocked Betsy. It appeared they were trying to pull the wool over their eyes with a discrete extraction. Not today. Billy watched as the noble rescuer edged towards the warehouse. They were trying to be quiet but the twigs kept cracking under their heavy feet.  

They closed in on the warehouse, a gun in hand. They slid themselves along the building. They tried the first door but it was locked.  

Billy tapped on the window closest to him with his finger tips. Loud enough to alert Buddy who had prepared his gun and aimed towards the door.  

Billy confronted them. “Boy have you come on the wrong day.” The intruder was startled. Billy had the scope of Betsy on him. “Don’t move an inch or I’m gonna be forced to blow your god damn head off. Now drop your gun.”  

The intruder clutched their gun tighter. With a shaking hand they raised it. They pointed it at Billy Owen.  

BANG.  

There were few gunmen alive who could beat an Owen to the shot. When Buddy heard the gun fire he lowered his own weapon.    

The shot had been fired just as he arrived at his cousin’s side. He crouched down to removed the mask off of the attempted rescuer. Billy frowned. He knew the agents. This wasn’t one of them.  

“Oh you are so fucked, cuz!” Buddy exclaimed, unable to disguise his delight that he wasn’t the only screw up.  

“Who the fuck is this?” Asked Billy.  

“That’s Cameron Doyle, The Judge’s son and you just shot him with Betsy!”  

Billy groaned. “Well that’s-” 

“A dick down your throat?” Buddy suggested.  

Billy punched his arm. “Help me get this little prick out the way. We’ve got some real trouble coming now.” 

*** 

A Mack funeral was attended by every Mack regardless of circumstances. Because of the sensitive nature of the event, Brendan had been tagged and allowed to return to Bellfield. The Black Bands would give him the space to grieve. Alfie Mack was no concern of theirs. Afterwards he would be returned to their custody. With the distance given from the Black Bands, Paddy managed a call to his father.  

“I’m coming in,” he said. “I’m coming home.”  

“Don’t you fecking dare,” Brendan warned. “They’ll swipe you and that will be the end of it. It’ll all be for nothing. You stay put.”  

Paddy scowled. “I’m coming to the funeral. I’m coming to say goodbye to the wee man.”  

“Then you’re an eejit,” Brendan said. His attitude dissolved. “Don’t make me bury another son. I don’t think I could take it.”  

Paddy drew back the tears. “It can’t not come, da. It’s Wee Alfie.”  

Brendan had to hold it together. “Alfie would understand. Do you know what he said to me when I told him about you slipping The Distillery?”  

Paddy managed a smile. “What?”  

“They ain’t ever going to catch Paddy. He runs like lightening and punches like a boxer.”  

Paddy laughed. He always had Alfie’s adulation. He just hoped he made him proud and gave him good reason for it.  

“He’ll know you’re thinking about him. Just please stay away,” suggested Brendan. “It’s bad enough we’re trying to find Siobhan. You know what your sister is like. She’s gone off on some party tour of some kind. She still doesn’t know.”  

“I’ll be there,” Paddy said. “One way or another.”  

“For Christ’s sake be careful,” Brendan returned. “But tell your brother to get his arse home.”  

Kieran frowned and slipped into the shot of the video call. “Thanks, da,” he said.  

Brendan smiled. Seeing his two sons helped sooth the ache. “They won’t mind you. Come and be with us. Paddy, I’m afraid you’re going to have to sit this one out.”  

Paddy closed his eyes. It was a difficult dish to swallow that he wouldn’t be able to walk in Alfie’s funeral with the rest of the family. It was one that was still difficult to digest.  

*** 

Annie Mack wrapped her arms around Mary Wilson – mother to Melissa.  

“Oh Mary,” she cried. “It’s just terrible.” 

“Pray to Jesus they find the ones that did it,” was Mary’s resounding reply.  

Both women, dressed for a funeral, preparing to bid farewell to their children, allowed themselves to weep in each other’s arms. Melissa and Alfie had been friends since they were toddlers. Both mothers had all kinds of plans of what they would become. When they reached their teenaged years and their relationship developed the families were thrilled.  

“I hear wedding bells!” Annie had cheered.  

“Feck off, ma,” Alfie objected. “I’m only thirteen.”  

“Don’t curse at yer ma!” Brendan chastised.  

“Tell her to stop planning a wedding,” Alfie requested.  

“Let the woman plan. You stop being a wee dick.”  

Both Alfie and Brendan had laughed at this.  

There would be no wedding. Instead, there was a funeral bidding farewell to a life that could have been. The procession began from the tip of Love Street.

 

*** 

“The area of Bellfield was shaken today when the funeral of Mack and Son’s youngest, Alfie Mack, was attacked by masked anarchists. A rain of petrol bombs, gun fire and knife blades left 34 dead and a further 30 severely injured. Reports from first responders confirmed that none of the Mack family were among the survivors. It is believed that the attack arose from an inflammatory rivalry between the areas of Bellfield and Northside. As Bellfield enter yet another period of mourning the rest of the city prepares for retaliation. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily News.”  

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Coming Next:

Career conman, Dennis, is forced to change for the good when an attack leaves his days limited. Some people turn to religion. In the case of the Church of St Wigan, that’s the last thing he needs. 

Knock Knock: Episode 33: Bull in a China Shop

The moment Nathan learned about Nan Harvester’s arrest he made his way straight to Harvester Farm. Julia had a strained relationship with her mother. She had always been closer to her father but she would need someone with her. She would need someone to help her through. Harvester Farm was quiet and none of the farm hands were out on the fields, not even Glenn or Curtis. He was glad of that. The milking sheds the frat boys had made home were quiet too. He had seen Buddy in the news with his father back on Owen Estate. Hopefully he was out of Julia’s life for good.  

If Glenn and Curtis were out on deliveries it was likely Julia had stayed behind to overlook things. There was always one of them left in charge.  

He drove straight to the farmhouse. He hadn’t been back since that business with Susie. He was keen to check the fallout from it. Buddy may have been grinning for the papers but hopefully Glenn had put the fear of God into him. He would never dare step on the farm again. Susie could have died. 

He rang the bell. It was a deep chime that echoed around the house. Through the frosted glass he could see a someone approach. It wasn’t Julia though. It was a man. The door opened. A wide grin greeted. The man was wearing Kappa So attire. The man was George.  

“Hello Nathan,” he said. “Come to visit Jules? She’s not in at the moment.”  

“Come in. She’ll be home soon.”  

George stepped aside. Speechless, Nathan entered the hallway. George closed the door behind him. That was when he heard laughter in the dining room  

“Buddy!” George called. “Nathan’s home.”  

*** 

“Well, I’ll be a son a bitch!”  

Nathan tried to run. He struggled with the door but George had wrapped his arm around his neck. Nathan threw his arm back and caught George’s face. He tried to struggle but the bros overpowered him.  

Bound to the fence Nathan screamed. George’s nose wrinkled as the screech irritated his ears. Buddy shook his own head.  

“I ain’t even started yet, brah.”  

Nathan pleaded. “Julia would not approve. She would have none of this. Just let me go. I won’t come back.”  

Chad handed Buddy a cannister of gasoline used for the farm equipment. He splashed it on Nathan.  

“You coked up my little mascot, didn’t ya?” Buddy asked.  

“Yes,” Nathan admitted. “It was me.”  

Buddy growled, “You could have killed her. You’re a sicko.” He splashed more gasoline on him. “You almost got me my ass kicked and you had powda’ here all along?” Buddy started to become quite upset. “You’re a real piece of work, brah! I’ve seen some real sick shit in my time but you are something else. You see this guy?” Here he indicated George. “This guy wants to eat your face off but he still ain’t as sick as you.”  

“I’m sorry,” Nathan begged. “Please don’t do this.”  

“Maaaaah!” Gary the goat cried from his pen.  

“This is none of your God damned business Gary,” Buddy warned the goat.  

WHAM!  

“See?” Buddy said to Nathan. “I’ve been learning about these animals and that goat says you’re a dickhead.”  

“Maah!”  

WHAM! 

“I told him, Gary,” Buddy replied. Buddy calmed himself. “Nathan,” he said, “you messed with the wrong bro, brah. I got a ton of shit in my tank right now. For pissing me off you’re gonna sizzle right here on this fence.”  

Nathan cried. A wet stain spread across his crotch.  

“God damnit!” Buddy exclaimed. “He’s gone and pissed himself. Is piss flammable because I really wanted his balls to burn.”  

“No, it’s not,” George explained like quite the expert. “I pissed on my aunt’s cat once and she wouldn’t go on fire.” 

Cooper folded his arms and raised his eyebrows. Chad seemed to be picturing it. Buddy’s lips pursed at the image of a cat running away as felines do, soaked in urine. Buddy must have found this amusing because he started to laugh. The image of George chasing after it still trying to piss on it made him laugh even harder.  

“You see, Nathan? You see the kind of maniacs you’re dealing with here? I know he’s a bit touched but my bro here told you to stay away. You should have listened.”  

“Maaaah!”  

“Not now, Gary.”  

WHAM! 

Buddy’s phone started to jingle. He had no choice but answer.  

“Yeah?” he asked. “Kinda in the middle of something here, brah.”  

“It’s the crime scene, mucker,” came the voice on the other end. “Agents are investigating it.”  

Buddy had been such a bad boy lately he found himself having to ask.  

“Which crime scene?”  

“The shooting. The little girl and her deadbeat dad. It ain’t CPD who are looking. It’s the agents. This is a whole new breed of shit to deal with but we’re doing what we can to keep it clean.”  

Buddy groaned. “Dick down my throat!”  

He rang off. 

Impatient and eager to hear Nathan’s screams George threw the lighter that had belonged to his father and flicked it onto Nathan.  

“I didn’t say so yet,” Buddy complained. “I had a whole speech prepared and everything.”  

George lowered his head. “Sorry, Buddy.”  

Woooosh! The flames erupted, causing the bros to leap back. Buddy had been so enthused he hadn’t been paying much attention to how much petrol he was throwing.  

“Maaaah!”  

WHAM! 

Gary the goat was distressed. Nathan’s screams as he burned shattered the generally calm ambience of Harvester Farm. There was another cry but it wasn’t from the goat. It was the roar of the bull. Gordon wasn’t liking that fuss the bros were causing on his fields. The flames tore along the fence of Gary’s enclosure.  

“Shit!” Buddy exclaimed. “Get water before the whole place goes. Smells like barbeque.”  

“Are we going to eat him?” asked George. Buddy frowned. He turned slowly to Brother Beckingridge. “You got some real problems, brah.”  

Nathan’s screams softened. All pain and power dissolved from them when he gave himself to his end.  

Crack. The fencing broke. The panels holding Nathan were charred and weakened.  

They managed to douse the flames and pull Nathan’s body onto the field but the fencing was ruined.  

“Maaaah!” Gary ran at Chad, catching him in the crotch.  

“Catch that goat!” Buddy yelled.  

George leapt at Gary almost catching him by his hind leg. Gary turned, bit him and escaped, running towards the east acre.  

“God damnit! We gotta fix that fence. Chad? Coops? Find wood.”  

Before the sniggers could start, he said, “Not now, brah. George? Catch that damn goat. We’ve got an hour before Julia gets back. We gotta clear this mess.”  

“We’ll put him in the incinerator,” Chad offered.  

“Are you trying to get funny, brah? We already cooked him.”  

“It’s how Julia gets rid of the bodies – dead cows and shit.”  

Buddy gave a dreamy sigh. “That girl just makes me wanna…” 

Before chasing after Gary, George asked, “Can I keep a bit of him for my collection?”  

Buddy tousled his hair “Of course you can, brah. Go get the goat first.”  

Gordon snorted over his fence.  

‘I don’t like the way that bull keeps looking at me,’ he thought.  

As his bros rushed to bring the farm back into order he looked down at the body of Nathan. There was still a little life left in him. His mouth opened and closed, chomping his last, like a fish out of water. Buddy could have shot him and ended it for him then but he was in no mood for mercy. 

*** 

Buddy had returned to Owen Estate.  That morning he had received a call.  

“Just been down to the shooting site in the Shanties to get it cleared up.”  

Buddy sat forward. His head was pounding and his mouth felt like it had been stuffed with cotton wool.  

“Yeah? So?”  

“It’s already been cleared. The agents must have been there. Are you sure you left a milk bottle?”  

Buddy thought hard. “I did,” he said. “I had been watching for Kev for so fucking long I got thirsty, brah. I was still a little wasted.” 

CPD had always been looking for the shot from the left. The fake nest gave them everything they thought they needed. The trouble was now the agents were tailing Buddy. Big bro Billy couldn’t protect him from that.  

Buddy leaned forward.  

“This is a real shit show,” Buddy said to Cooper and Chad.  

‘Take the little girl out first. Kev gonna learn a God damn lesson,’ Buddy could still hear his instructions.  

Buddy had been so high. He could barely remember pulling the trigger.  

*** 

Lydia arrived waving an envelope excitedly.  

“It’s in,” she said. 

Lydia and Kim had sampled the bottle that had been collected from the shooting site. Blonde hair from Buddy Owen had been extracted from him.  

“This is it,” Kim said. “It’s sketchy at best pet, but it will at least let us bring him in for a closer look.”  

Lydia passed the letter to Kim. She watched her expression as she read.  

“This isn’t it,” she growled. “It says it’s not a match. I was so sure of it. My instincts were crying out!” 

“Maybe the hair wasn’t Buddy’s,” Lydia suggested.  

The hair sample they got had come from my coat, attached from the time I confronted him in main.  

DNA could have put him at the scene of the crime at least. As Kim said though, it was sketchy at best. A good lawyer like Ronnie defending his nephew would have found it easy to convince the judge to throw it out. It was a start though. No match it said. 

“We can’t bring him in with nothing to show for it. Doyle won’t go for that.” 

Lydia suggested, “Then I’m going to speak to him.”  

“Then tread carefully,” Kim warned.  

Word had it that he was on Harvester Farm. If she was going to be able to corner him it would have to be done whilst he was there.  

***

The alarms were screaming. Tawny grimaced with the noise as Cooper rushed around trying to switch them off. There were only seconds before CPD were alerted.  

“Hurry, Coops!” Buddy was calling. “The last thing we need is Billy down here.”  

415 – 29 – 4 – 11 – 12  

Cooper desperately punched the buttons. He managed to deactivate.  

“I want to speak to your Pa,” said Tawny as though she were telling off a neighbourhood child for running in the yard. She glared as though they were in a lot of trouble.  

Buddy was in a lot of trouble. A man hunt was now on for the Baroness, funded by Elizabeth Beckingridge.  

“You don’t know who I am lady,” said Buddy petulantly.  

Tawny pursed her lips. “Owen,” she said. “Obviously.”  

Buddy groaned. The Owens did tend to have a strong familial resemblance but that wasn’t what had caught Tawny’s attention.  

“It’s on yer back, honey. Your jackets…” She pointed to Coops. “Cooper. I’m assuming Marshall Cooper’s son.” She pointed to Chad. “Perry. Do your family own the zoo? That’s a nice zoo.”  

“Shut up, bitch,” Buddy warned. He was still trying to figure out what the Hell he was going to do.  

“Let me talk to yer dad.”  

“No way in Hell. Just shut your mouth. I’m a dangerous guy,” he said.  

Chad was nodding in fervent agreement. He pointed to Buddy. 

“You don’t wanna be messing with my bro, brah!” he warned.  

“Thanks, Chad,” said Buddy.  

“Got your back, brah.”  

Tawny shook her head. It seemed the plan of the frat boys had been so quick to action they hadn’t fully thought out their process. They had just gone along with it. This is no surprise when we’re dealing with three individuals who had spent a lifetime avoiding consequences.  

“Hide her away. I need time to think. I need powder,” Buddy decided.  

Coops looked a little fidgety. He was anxious. He very much needed some powder too.  

“Drugs aren’t the answer,” said Tawny.  

Buddy frowned. “Will you shut up or I’m gonna gag ya.” He glared at Tawny and then started to laugh. To Cooper he said. “We should totally put an apple in her mouth!”  

Tawny pouted. Cooper’s phone began to ring.  

“It’s my dad, brah,” he said.  

“Chad, put her away somewhere. I can’t think straight. Coops, try and find out where Marsh keeps the rest of his stash.”  

Chad gripped Tawny’s arm and led her to the secure storage cupboard