In the largest office of the Law Makers, adjacent to the COURT HOUSE, dwelled a figurehead that loomed over the city like a great vengeful deity. JUDGE KARYN DOYLE. She began her career as the youngest district court judge in Coldford history and the first woman to sit on the Children’s Services Committee. She was a pioneer in a lot of ways. Justice was always her objective but what did that mean? On the face of it, that meant wrongdoers were put behind bars. People like TABITHA and the HEADLINERS wouldn’t be tolerated in her city and she would stop at nothing until satisfactory justice had been served. Justice is a set of scales though. They had to weigh up and balance. Therefore, justice was also seeing families made homeless because of unpaid rent. Justice was tearing families apart because fathers didn’t have work permits. Justice was punishing someone for fighting to protect him or herself. Justice was having a young girl’s underwear on display because some depraved rapist took advantage of her. Justice could see a rich, powerful family using their influence to protect them from slander. After everything I’ve seen in the Shady City, nothing surprised me. Justice, however, was supposed to be blind. Cold facts and evidence were supposed to be the deciding factors. Tabitha had committed some horrendous crimes and she would pay for them, but how would those scales of justice weigh up against her? Would justice even listen to the truth or would the sight of the red dress and an unrelenting attitude blind them? Tabitha wouldn’t break easily. What worried me was the extent the LAW MAKERS, who had her in their grasp, would go to in order to make sure that she did. Justice loved breaking down those who would not follow her laws. She fed on it. Tabitha deserved punishment but who else would come to harm in the process? For the time being she still had two well-polished fingers held up at them and she taunted. “You know where to find me. Come and get me.” There was nothing they could do. There were rules to follow and what was justice without rules? But as AGENT LYDIA, relieved of her under cover duties at the KNOCK KNOCK CLUB and her supervising partner AGENT KIM climbed the steps of the Law Makers office the rules were about to change.
The agents stood before the large desk. The Law Maker symbols on the pillar behind her felt like the eyes of Gods watching. Judge Doyle remained silent until Buddy had cleared the room.
“Congratulations on your success,” the Judge broke the heavy silence. “I hear she is now in custody.” She referred to Tabitha, Boss Lady of the Knock Knock Club.
Kim responded, “Yes, Your Honour. We have also taken the Penn triplets into custody.”
“A job well done then,” stated Doyle coldly. The mother of the triplets, Rita Penn, didn’t take much to do with the running of things ever since the father of the triplets, Reginald, left them the Auction House. It was their chance to bring order to both the Shanties, home of the Knock Knock Club, and City Main, the area that housed the Penn Empire.
“Agent Lowe,” the judge turned her attention to Lydia. “I will expect a full report by tomorrow. We need to move things along quickly whilst we can.”
Lydia nodded in agreement. “Yes, ma’am.” Lydia knew better than most how much of a slippery fish Tabitha could be so time was of the essence.
“The Bailiffs will take it from here but I do have a specific request for you, agent.”
Lydia looked to Kim first then back at the Judge to wait for her instructions. “I have issued a gagging order on the reporter, Sam Crusow. I can’t have him talking to anyone about what happened until trial is fixed. Am I correct in saying you formed something of a bond with him? You were the first to recover him from the club and you testified to his innocence in the death of his colleague, MADELINE LOWER.”
“I had a little chance to talk to him. Getting him on the inside is the thing that gave us what we needed to bring Tabitha in. She pitted his colleague against him and he defended himself. He’s a good man.” Lydia spoke warmly on my behalf.
Doyle pursed his lips. “Good man or not, reporters are dangerous. There will be enough fuss to shut out from the press because of this and I can’t have someone with his insight at large. He is a key witness and as such I want you to stay close to him. For his own protection of course and to make sure he does not under any circumstances violate my order. You have a rapport with him. Keep him calm and keep him safe.”
Lydia agreed, “Yes ma’am.”
So the agent was tasked with being by my side. As trial was set and events continued to spill out I would be glad to have her close by me.
As they stepped outside the Court House into the warm afternoon air Lydia felt ill at ease.
Lydia expressed her concern to her mentor.
“Something is a bit off about this,” she said. Her instincts were telling her something was wrong but until more motives revealed themselves she couldn’t quite put her finger on what that was.
Kim agreed. “I know, pet. Just keep your eyes open.”
“Tabitha will use any trick she has to get away,” added Lydia. She had seen some of the extents the Boss Lady had been willing to go to to get her way.
Kim shook her head. “Then let’s hope we’ve delivered her to the one person in the city who can put her away for a very long time.”
Judge Doyle was already aware of the questions that were formulating in my head. For example, where did this bad blood between the Boss Lady and The Judge first begin?
“Case file 03300347,” announced the clerk.
The room was almost empty. A woman sat at the back holding two boys close to her. Tabitha watched them. One of the boys looked up and managed a small smile. Tabitha returned with a similar gesture. None of the family looked like they had slept much in days. Their black skins were lack lustre and the mum’s eyes were blood shot.
“Case file 03300347. McInney. Step forward,” the clerk ordered.
Aunt Tee patted Tabitha’s arm. “Alright honey, it’s now or never.” She shuffled from the pew they were sat in, a few rows in front of the family. Tabitha waited patiently. A cold draught blew around her with her aunt’s curvy frame removed. She had been staying at the Knock Knock Club for the past few weeks. Her parents were of course furious, but they didn’t care enough to retrieve her. TAWNY, the old Baroness of the club swore to her that she didn’t have to go anywhere. Not at least until they had had their day in court.
Tawny saw that her niece was nervous that morning so she tried to fill her with confidence.
“It’s all about creating a good impression,” said the aunt. She held a pair of old spectacles to her face. “Business woman,” she pulled them away. “Gal on the go.” She put the glasses to her face again. “Business woman.” She pulled them away. “Party girl!”
Tabitha had giggled. Her smile calmed Tawny’s own nerves.
Before she faced the Judge she flashed her niece a confident smile. Tabitha could see the fear behind her eyes. There was so much at stake.
“Good morning, ma’am,” greeted Tawny keenly.
Judge Doyle offered an emotionless stare from behind her desk. She motioned for Tawny to come closer.
“I see you have raised a petition for custody,” began the Judge. “The child in question is your niece. Is that correct?”
Tawny answered smoothly. “Yes ma’am. That is correct.” She gave a fleeting glance back at Tabitha as though she was checking she was still there.
“Both of her natural parents are still living?”
Tawny agreed. “Yes, ma’am. They reside in FILTON.”
“I see,” Doyle mused. She flicked through some pages of notes that lay on her bench. “You do realise it is never the intention of this court to remove a child from their parents unless there are extenuating circumstances.”
Tawny remained cool but the emotion in her voice wavered a little. “There are circumstances, ma’am, really dire ones.”
Doyle pushed the notes aside. She wanted to address the petitioners directly. She leaned forward a little and fixed her gaze on the Baroness. Her eye and her neck were fine in those days. Her scars non-existent.
“Then why don’t you explain it to me.”
Tawny took a deep breath. She hadn’t wanted to discuss what had happened in such a public forum for Tabitha’s sake but she was left with no choice.
“My brother and my sister-in-law accepted money in exchange for the prostitution of my niece.”
Judge Doyle’s expressionless deportment fell into a severe frown. She reached for her notes and again flicked through them.
“That is a pretty damning accusation,” stated the Judge.
Tawny fidgeted with the blazer she wore in an attempt to seem official. “I was appalled when I heard ma’am. She’s just a little girl.”
The judge gave no clue to her thinking in her expression. “I see no police report here.”
Tawny had to admit. “It wasn’t reported.”
As the Judge rested back in her chair to observe Tawny clearer, a shadow cast across her eyes.
“Why ever not? Surely if you found out such a thing it would be your first course of action? A crime of that magnitude against the child should have been reported?”
“My brother has some pretty powerful friends. It wouldn’t have helped. That’s why I wanted to appeal to you directly, ma’am. I was worried it wouldn’t reach the right ears.”
“And you were there? You saw this exchange take place?”
“No,” Tawny had to admit. “But Tabitha told me about it. My sister-in-law’s family have been drivers for the Owen family for years. They were having a party one night and made Tabitha their center focus like she was some kind of prize. Reverend Jerry Owen was the one who organised it. He was the one that gave them the money.”
“I know Reverend Owen personally. He is a very well-respected member of the community, a charitable man. Are you saying he raped her?”
Tawny shook her head. “He didn’t get the chance to. She fought him off like a champ and ran to me.”
“So he never actually touched her?”
Tawny frowned, “What difference does that make?”
Judge Doyle waved for her to be quiet. “Suppose I accept your story and this is true. Are you fully prepared to accept responsibility for your niece?”
Tawny beamed, thinking she was finally getting through the icy exterior. “Of course.”
“Where would she be schooled?” asked the Judge.
“I … errr …” Tawny hesitated. “In the city I guess.”
The Judge leaned over and whispered something to the clerk. He took note.
“And what is it you do?” The Judge asked her.
“I’m a performer. I own a club in the city. The Knock Knock Club.”
Without looking at Tawny, Judge Doyle began taking notes. “I’ve heard of the Knock Knock club. It has quite the reputation. A night club isn’t exactly the appropriate place for a child.”
Tawny replied, “Maybe not ma’am but she has had more love and support there than she ever did at home. Ye have no idea what they’ve put that girl through!” As she became more desperate her Hathfield Bay accent started to creep in.
The judge read from the notes. “I see you have a partner.”
“Yes, a loving woman. Agnes.”
Judge Doyle looked up. Her focus locked on Tawny again. “I notice that she isn’t here with you. Is she also willing to accept responsibility for the child?”
Tawny tried to mask her frustration but it spilled into her words. “She loves Tabitha just as much as I do.”
Judge Doyle abandoned her notes and crossed her arms in front of her.
“Tell me something. Is your niece happy at home?”
Tawny frowned – an alien expression on her round, pleasant face. “Of course, she isn’t. Her parents are monsters.”
Judge Doyle returned to her notes once again. A silence washed over them as she read more. Footsteps in the corridor outside broke it. The woman at the back began sobbing silently on the shoulder of her eldest son, still wrapped up in her own drama.
Judge Doyle addressed Aunt Tee again. “I see here you had a mental breakdown – acute anxiety disorder. Is that correct?”
Tawny shook her head. She hadn’t prepared for that coming up. “That was a long time ago,” she explained. “I was overworked, setting things up with the club. I just want to protect my FUCKING NIECE! …” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry ma’am. I just want to protect my niece. She’s just a little girl.”
The gaze of the judge narrowed. “I understand that emotions are running high but you will conduct yourself properly in my court or I will dismiss your case immediately. It is admirable that you want to protect her but let’s not forget that this is a troubled young girl. I see she has been in Jefferson Hall no less than five times. Assault and battery, mostly.”
Jefferson Hall was the juvenile detention center in Coldford for wayward children who were too young to be sent to the Monte Fort or Coldford Correctional.
Tabitha stood up. “You don’t know me!” She screamed, startling the family in the back. “You can’t say that.”
Tawny turned and tried to usher her to sit down. “Tabby, honey,” she said. “It’s fine. Just sit. It’s okay.”
Tabitha clamped her hands on her hips and scowled. “That cunt thinks because she’s sat behind the big desk in her big fucking chair she knows me! Because of a few bits written on a piece of paper.”
Aunt Tee tried again. “Tabby, please just calm down.”
Judge Doyle gathered the notes she had authoritatively tapped together on her desk. Her lip curled and her nostrils flared.
“Young lady, approach my bench,” she spat with venom. Tabitha obliged but she was still furious. When she stood before her The Judge said, “this court will not tolerate that kind of behaviour and for that I am dismissing your case indefinitely.”
“No!” Tawny lost her composure. “You can’t! Please just give us a chance.”
“From what I see, you are not fit to be a guardian.”
Tawny stepped forward. “I’m begging you, ma’am, please. She is not safe in that house. Please just let her come with me.”
Judge Doyle kept an icy stare on the aunt. She passed her notes to her clerk. “I’ve made my decision,” stated she.
Tawny started to sob. “She’s a good girl really. She has had her problems but she’s a good girl. They tried to buy her so she could be passed around society perverts. They stripped her down and put her on display. Please don’t send her back to that. Let her stay with me where she will be safe.”
Doyle’s arm dropped. She looked at Tabitha. The mother at the back pulled her boys closer.
“Given these accusations I have no choice but to raise it with my colleagues at the Child Services Committee. They will investigate. You are to return her to her parents within the next 24 hours until this investigation is complete. If you fail to comply, I will revoke the licence of your club and you will find yourself under charges. Do you understand?”
Tawny pulled Tabitha closer to her.
“This isn’t over,” Tabitha growled.
#amreading the #thriller #graphicnovel #knockknock by @VivikaWidowTweet
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