The ranch greeted a new guest. Discretely shown to The Cappy’s main den. The Cappy was behind his desk making plans for what was to happen next.
Owen Ranch in the Great States was a much-storied fortress of power. The Owen family had been a Star State feature for generations, priding themselves on pioneering discoveries and using the wealth they had amassed to make their mark on the world. Their entrepreneurial spirit with political ambitions made them a force. Being an Owen was more than having a family name. Their biggest asset was their propaganda machine. Their ownership of many news outlets was brought into call whenever one of their overindulged family members brought negative press upon them. Gerald ‘Jerry’ Owen was one such user. After the attempted rape of Tabitha as a child, her Baroness aunt had caused such a backlash upon the Reverend Owen that all stories in the newspapers had to be shut down. The only ones allowed to circulate were those that suggested Tawny was an alcoholic with serious mental health issues and Tabitha was a whore in the making who had been removed from so many schools no district would accept her. That’s not to say there wasn’t some truth to this. Tawny did have a history of mental breakdowns and Tabitha led a violent life. But that was what the most effective propaganda was, wasn’t it? Take a little truth and exaggerate it to discredit your opponent. The Owens did that better than anyone. No one – not even the Law Makers – could compete on that level. They had the press – including my old newspaper The Coldford Daily – and whilst they had the press, they had public opinion. Public opinion won wars and when that failed there was always brute strength. There was another area in which the Owens were formidable; money. They had it in abundance and so anything could be theirs at a cost.
“The events in Coldford, sir, are disheartening. I am concerned and to much distraction.”
His guest was a patient listener. He was sprightly, cat-like with a solid spine carved from years of discipline and manoeuvres. His name was Ruud Van Holder. His purpose? His team were an anti-terror group called the Black Bands. They called Van Holder the wrangler and he had been known to bring order to parts of the world overrun by militants. Several dictating leaders had fallen at his hands. Enlisting the services of Van Holder was probably overkill for thug groups like Reginald Penn’s Loyalists and Paddy Mack’s Fleet, but The Cappy would take no chances when his family dynasty was at stake.
“Shameful, sure,” Van Holder remarked, referring to Reginald’s brutal slaying of Robert ‘Bobby’ Owen. He scanned the room, detailing its contents. Whilst his eyes were elsewhere his mind still remained on the task at hand.
On a screen played Van Holder’s curriculum vitae. Horse mounted patrols cut through rioting crowds, long standing rebel leaders brought to their knees.
His team were called the Black Bands. The Cappy didn’t mind admitting that seeing them brought into action would be thrilling.
“This will be quite a task you will be undertaking. I’m sure you are more than capable but first I must ask, who are you loyal to?”
Van Holder had lifted a whiskey glass from Chick’s desk. It wasn’t a used glass. It was purely for decorative purposes. On the glass was etched an image of the boat that brought Captain Henry ‘Hen’ Owen to his monumental discovery. Without a moment’s hesitation Van Holder answered. “Doyle,” he said. His lips traced a smile as he played with the words between his teeth. “We’re loyal to Doyle.”
Sergeant Major Doyle, the Judge’s father, had created the Black Bands. He recruited Van Holder personally when he met him living in the harsh jungles of Southern Subala. Taming large jungle cats was his speciality but for Van Holder any wild animal that struck with the bite of a bloody chain would do.
The Cappy smiled. He had directed his son Buddy and his brother Ronnie to a public video of Van Holder, showing him with a lioness he named Baba. In the beginning she was snarling, wild, and had taken swipes at him. She leapt upon him but he managed to fend her off before she could wrap her great teeth around his skull. By the end she was playing with her owner like she was no more than a house cat. Ronnie placed trust in his following Doyle’s command. Buddy returned with a range of emoji reactions that made little sense. Either way the Black Bands were going to make their way to Coldford and, like the Weeping King of Kilmaro, those responsible for the death of an Owen would be brought to their knees.
“You brought me here because I’m the best,” Van Holder had said. “The very fucking best.”
The Cappy hadn’t made his name by searching for mediocre.
“You know who is to be brought to account,” said Chick. “I’ll be following you ova’ in a week or so but I’d like you to make our move quickly and dispatch with an alpha team immediately.” He stroked his chin as he contemplated what was to come next. “At this stage we’re merely looking at containment. Should anything spark…well that’s a barrier we’ll break should it arise. In the meantime, on that there table is a blank cheque. Take it and find yourself whatever provisions you need.”
Van Holder turned to the table behind him. “You’re a determined man,” he said. The Cappy watched the confident bounce in Van Holder’s step as he crossed the room and collected the Owen Inc. cheque. “I’ll see that it’s put to good use,” he said.
Charles ‘Chick’ Owen, better known as The Cappy, grinned. “I know you will.”
“We’re here at Starkland Park for what promises to be a very tense game of football as Coldford Athletic take on their fierce rivals Coldford City. Tensions are already high in the City with the Mack Distillery having closed its gates in Bellfield and the City-sponsoring Auction House seized. We have a whole stadium here so those tensions are going to spill onto the park in what promises to be a very impressive game of football. I’m Henry Daly and with me in the commentary box today is City legend, Grant Miller. Can we expect the players to be putting in their full efforts today Grant? Given what is happening behind the scenes.”
“I think we can Henry. City will be out to prove something today on the pitch and I don’t think they will let what’s happening with the Auction House hold them back. A win today may be just what is needed to raise City Main spirits.”
“That’s true, Grant. We have a lovely game of football ahead and so let’s stay on the matter at hand. The players are lining up now. Athletic captain shakes the hand of the City skipper. They’re showing some sportsmanship here today. There has been so much trouble in the past it would be easy to let things get out of hand. It’s nice to see the players setting an example for their fans. We need some solidarity in the game.”
“The spirit of football is alive and well, Henry. City supporters have always been a spirited bunch but let’s just hope we can leave the trouble at the doors and enjoy the match.”
“Statements have always been made through the stadiums of Greater Coldford but this is one occasion where the fans may be best to just sit back, relax and let the battles remain on the field.”
“The air is thick here at Starkland Park as the players take their places. Sammy Connelly – Athletic’s Golden Boy – is looking super confident. I suppose he will be hoping for an easy day at the office.”
“Well, we’ll be back in just a few moments for kick off. It’s Coldford Athletic versus Coldford City.”
Late afternoon and the Doyle home in Kingsgate was quiet. Karyn Doyle had turned the television on and settled into an arm chair to watch. Her view didn’t take her to Hathfield Bay where Kingsgate Albion – her Sergeant Major father’s own team – took on the islanders. Instead, her interest was drawn to the south of the city where all the trouble resonated. The City Main team always brought trouble with them when they faced their main rivals at Starkland Park, and it was the first face off of the two largest teams since the Auction House had been seized.
Micky brought two cups of sweet tea. He laid them on the coffee table. He sat in silence watching his cousin’s reaction. Sammy Connelly of Athletic could be seen on screen patting his captain’s shoulder with a good natured smile as he took his place and prepared for kick off.
The Judge lifted her cup and took a sip of the sweetness. Her eyes remained on the match but her expression told nothing.
“I hope it all goes smoothly,” Micky commented.
“Why wouldn’t it?” was his cousin’s reply.
The cat, Margot, circled around Karyn’s legs. It locked it’s glowing eyes on Micky. She meowed and displayed her sharpened incisors.
He lifted his cup and sipped just as Karyn had done. The whistle blew. The ball was kicked.
“Sammy Connelly is on the ball! He’s always a danger on that side of the park.”
“The City defence just keep letting him slip past them, Harry, but they’re up against it today. Connelly has come onto the park with determination in his feet and he’s been causing problems from the first blow of the whistle.”
“Oh that’s Sammy down! That seems a cynical tackle there, Grant. Brennan is complaining to the referee, Murphy, but he did charge in there with a lot of force. Probably more force than was necessary.”
“Brennan is a physical player, Harry. The way he’ll see it, if he allows Connelly a clear view of that goal the ball is going in the back of the net. He’ll be quite happy to take a warning from the referee if it means stopping him.”
“Oh wait! It’s not going to be a warning. Murphy is reaching for his cards. It’s going to be a booking. Red! Brennan has been given his marching orders. The travelling support are not happy.”
“That’s really harsh. It was a rough challenge but a warning would have been enough at this stage, a tentative yellow at best. What a terrible decision from the referee.”
“That’s true Grant but Murphy will be looking at the lateness of the challenge and he’s taking no prisoners today. Desperation has been exposed in the City defence. We now have a free kick in a very dangerous area of the park. The City support are still crying their frustration at being a man down in such a critical fixture.”
“They need the win today Harry. They really need that win.”
“Sammy Connelly steps up. He composes himself. The Athletic crowd has fallen silent in anticipation. There is still noise from the visitor stand but Connelly isn’t letting that intimidate him. He takes the shot. He scores!!!! What a beautiful finish!”
“That was a clinical finish Harry. Connelly isn’t the kind of player to let himself be fazed by the big occasions. He will step up and he will deliver.”
“The team from City Main are not happy. It’s all going wrong for them. Team Captain Lala is showing his concern to his players. They need to get their heads back in the game. It’s not good to be having to work damage control this early in the game and with one man down.”
“The spirited City support and their travelling loyalists are still burning from that red card decision from the referee which has ultimately put them one goal behind.”
“Well Grant, it’s a ridiculous decision by the referee and it could cause trouble not just on the pitch but off it too.”
“Back in my playing days, in a cup match against Bournton, Bournton were granted a penalty in the dying embers of the game. The cup competing side failed to pick themselves up after that. A decision like that can really affect a team, Harry.”
“City will have their chance to come back into this. It’s still early but the Loyalists are having none of it. I think we’ve tried to keep things inside the pressure cooker here, Grant, but they are starting to boil over. It’s taking a little while to get the game restarted as flares are thrown onto the pitch. City striker Andre Luis is calling something to the referee. Do you remember things being this tense at the football stadiums, Grant?”
“Oh yes, especially when the fixture was City and Athletic. Going to the games as a boy I remember things heating up really quickly. People in this city are passionate about the beautiful game.”
“Well, Grant, it looks like their enthusiasm is about to be curbed completely. The game is still waiting to restart. The referee has been asked to halt proceedings whilst the security here at Starkland Park is being heightened.”
“If we thought we were avoiding the drama we were very much mistaken. Things are erupting within the City support which is sad to see.”
“It is sad to see, Grant, with everything going on in the city at the moment we would hope that the game would be a way of coming together again. The referee continues to hold the match whilst the security steps up. They aren’t taking any chances today.”
“Definitely heavy handed, Harry and it appears to be making the crowd a little nervous.”
“It’s nerves all round, Grant. City are still one goal down after that terrific free kick from Sammy Connelly. The referee has now been given permission to restart the game.”
It was early morning in the Star State.
“I’m gonna be out of commission for a while. Hold all calls,” Chick Owen informed his executive assistant. She noted the orders. She was a beauty pageant girl, much like his wife. She too had been strutting around on stage in a bathing suit wishing for world peace. She was expertly trained in smiling, waving and following the instructions of coaches. She was the perfect P.A.
“How long should I hold them?” she asked.
“Until further notice.”
When the assistant skipped out to the office to see that her boss was left in peace, The Cappy turned on his screen. The Coldford City European football fixture between Athletic and City was going to be an interesting one. He had already received notice that Van Holder and his Alpha team had brought in hundreds of suspected loyalists as well as Bellfield fleet members. They had been making their presence felt too at City Main rallies in support of Reginald Penn. There was a lot of loyalty built in the city through a mutual love of the sport so the soccer stadiums were a good place to start.
Reginald Penn was still at large He was still building a force in his support. A cold blooded murderer couldn’t be given much chance to flex his authority over City Main – not when there was a prominent spot available for Owen assets.
Coldford Athletic were already one goal ahead thanks to Sammy Connelly. The score didn’t matter. The winner of this game was always going to be the same.
The game commenced. The Cappy smiled.
“Another lash out from striker, Andre Luis, there Grant. He’s starting to show his frustration.”
“That’s the third time his shot has been stopped by the Athletic keeper. He’s a passionate player, Harry, and when he’s up against Connelly he’s going to want to show his worth. It’s not happening for him today though.”
“We’re now at the half hour mark. There’s still time for City to come into the match but to do that they’re going to have to start creating more chances.”
“It’s City’s centre mid, Fang, on the ball. He’s been doing well in dominating the midfield on behalf of City but his pass through to Andre Luis has been intercepted. Now Athletic are on the attack. It’s through to Brown. Connelly has picked it up. The defence are closing in but he’s finding his way through. It’s Connelly…GOAL!!! And Connelly makes it 2 – 0. What a magnificent goal. Starkland Park is alive with celebration.”
“Things are just hitting fever pitch here, Harry. When there’s only one goal difference there’s always a chance but Athletic will be glad to have given themselves that extra space. What a lovely goal.”
“I think the cheers here will be heard all the way up in City Main, Harry.”
“It’s richly deserved. Athletic have kept themselves composed, kept their mind on the game and now it’s paying off for them.”
“Sorry to interrupt you there Grant but Sammy Connelly’s celebration seems to have stopped abruptly. He’s calling something to the referee.”
“It looks like he’s spotted something among the City support there Harry.”
“The travelling support are venting their frustrations at the Black Bands security. A woman there is crying out to one of them. She’s going to get herself into trouble, Grant. The Black Bands have a no nonsense approach.”
“That’s true, Harry. It’s just as well we can’t hear what she’s saying because I’m sure the words she’s using wouldn’t be suitable for live television.”
“The City crowd are going to want to calm themselves here. The Black Bands are carrying out a zero-tolerance policy on violence and disruption at the games. The Fleet and Loyalists have been getting a really hard time lately. She tried to touch his shoulder! She should not have done that. The Black Band is forced to react. Did he just hit her with his truncheon? She’s down. It’s exploding now! The City fans are screaming their displeasure at the brutality but now the Black Bands are moving in. They’re not shy of holding the fans to account.”
“As we said Harry, it’s zero-tolerance and they’re just looking for any excuse to bring loyalists in.”
“Sammy Connelly must have gotten a good view of what was going on from the pitch. He’s still not celebrated his goal. The referees whistle isn’t drawing his attention. He’s still calling to the stands.”
“That’s a sad sight to see, Harry. Connelly has seen the Black Bands remove suspected loyalists from their seats. It will have been the screaming children left behind that will have caught his attention.”
“A little girl has fallen over the chairs! Sammy has left the pitch to try and help her. He’s crossed the fence and he’s now in the stadium. The Black Bands are beating the City crowd back. There’s blood, there’s tears and there’s no mercy being shown. I’ve never seen anything like it!”
“That is a chilling sight. We knew there would be scenes created here today but we could never have bet on anything like this.”
“What a disaster, Grant. Lala, the City captain, is trying to reason with the referee. Sammy Connelly is still among the rival fans trying to pull the fallen girl out before she’s trampled. It shouldn’t be left to one of the players to do that but the Black Bands are stomping over anything as they press in. In all my years of football commentary, never has it come to this.”
“Sammy Connelly has the little girl. He’s pushing through the City crowd. Most days they would be wanting to lynch him, jeering and spitting at him but today they are following him. The Black Bands have hit hard and heavy. The only place left to run is the pitch.”
“They are going to need to bring this into some kind of order, Harry. This can’t go on.”
“Where does it end, Grant? Sammy Connelly is carrying the little girl onto the pitch away from the brutality. If that was her father she was with, she has just seen him being beaten unconscious and dragged away. The referee, Murphy, is calling to Sammy. He’s showing a red card but in a real twist of events it is City midfielder Fang who is protesting it on Sammy’s behalf. The little girl is just covered in blood. Her own blood, her father’s blood, it doesn’t matter. The Black Bands have stained the City badge today.”
By the time I got there, the game had finished. The final thirty minutes were a complete farce. There were mounted patrols of Black Bands everywhere. The horses they used were larger, sturdier than CPD riot patrols. They were war horses.
The route leading to Starkland Park was filling fast. People had learned of the incident and came in search of loved ones they hoped had not gotten caught up in it. I have never been in a war situation before. I’m not a military man nor could I pretend to be, but as the crowd pushed around me, saying nothing, only expelling frosty breath, I got the sense of the kind of tension experienced before a first charge. The force was ill-equipped and outnumbered by their enemy.
The click of horses hooves along the freshly paved grounds of Starkland were like the ticking of a bomb. One passed. A huge man they called Monsta’. There was an unbearable hush. Click. Click. Click. A snort of the huge horse he rode. No one dared call to them. Live television had already entered homes around the city to show what the Black Bands were willing to do.
Monsta’ stopped his horse. I raised my phone. He turned his gaze to me.
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