Dan had arrived in his usual excitable way. He was waving a copy of Marble Mantle in his hand.
“Can I get a signature?” he asked laying the book before me.
With a spark of pride, I obliged him.
“What’s this?” Lydia asked lifting the book into her hand.
“Sam’s book,” said Dan. “Only the best read out there today.”
He was giving a lot of credit, but I was pleased he was enjoying my work.
“Awww,” Lydia chuckled. “Look at your picture. That’s so cute.”
“Well,” I mumbled, “I liked to try my hand at a bit of fiction.”
I watched nervously as the agent opened the pages and started to read.
“It was just for fun, really,” I added.
Lydia set the book down. Kim who had been working on a computer at the time leaned back.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Sam wrote a book,” Lydia called her.
I was beginning to blush by this point.
“A book?” Kim asked with some surprise. She took out her phone and within a few moments she announced. “Found it. I’m ordering a copy.”
“It was a passion project,” I started to say. “More a hobby than anything…”
Franklin passed. “Just downloaded it,” he cheered. “Start that tonight I think.”
I found myself giggling anxiously.
“It was a long time ago. It was quite experimental.”
Leaning on my shoulder Lydia asked Dan, “Can I borrow your copy? I prefer paperbacks.”
Dan agreed with a grin. “As long as you’re not a page folder.”
“Nope,” Lydia returned, “I’m purely a book mark girl.”
“I was just trying something a bit different,” I said.
“Just had a read of the first page,” said Reynolds. “Sounds real bomb!”
TO MY FRIEND DAN. I had signed. KEEP MAKING A DIFFERENCE.
As I was called to step back out into the city, it was time to take my own advice.
“Marcus?” Simon Penn whispered. “Marcus?”
He couldn’t see his brother. The prayer room required reflection and for that the sinner was placed in an all-consuming darkness. Marcus could stay quiet. Maybe he was reflecting but it drove Simon to frustration. Had it been days? Hours? Without any natural light it was hard to tell.
He reached out and he could feel his brother’s shoulder. It was unmoving and cold. Had he died? Was he the last triplet?
But alas, he felt Marcus’ hand pat his. Just as he did the door opened.
“Get up,” someone called.
Simon could see Marcus now. His expression was neutral as always. Simon wished he would show some anger or frustration so he could see a reflection of himself and how he was feeling. He made to leave but Marcus held him back.
“Get up,” the voice beckoned again.
Finally, a hand was extended to help them free of their prayers. On this occasion God hadn’t been at home. The hand was callused. The man himself was dressed in the garb of an inmate. Two guards were with him.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said. “I’m Vincent Baines.”
Vincent Baines – ex music teacher of George Beckingridge – looked calm. Simon and Marcus had heard of him. They were curious as to why he would be there to greet them. There was no sign of the governor Avery West.
“Tawny was a dear friend of mine,” said Vincent. “As a favour to her I wanted to make sure you were okay. The governor doesn’t want the place spilling into riots so he’s agreed to put you in North. You’ll be safe there, for now.”
“Did they find Reggie?” Simon asked.
Vincent shook his head. “I wouldn’t know,” he gestured towards the guards that accompanied him. Trust was a tricky thing within The Boss.
Vincent had a cart of books. He had been assigned the duty of passing out reading material to the inmates. He handed a copy of a Liz Beck novel to Marcus who instinctively opened it at the page that had been folded. To a casual observer it would seem like a clumsy reader had closed the book incorrectly. Marcus took note of the words that had been underlined in faint pencil.
Mother. Safe. Your. Is.
He looked up at Vincent who pushed the spectacles nervously from the end of his nose.
“Thank you,” said the eldest triplet.
“I’m just passing on the message,” Vincent replied with a smile.
The Beckingridge Plaque had been salvaged from the wreckage of Pettiwick. Charles ‘Chick’ Owen had examined it closely. It would be returned. He had already allowed himself to fall to Elizabeth’s level of petulance. The site was still busy. The Fullertons continued on their task of breaking and building things.
“Mr Owen!” a woman was waving from the crowd of onlookers. She seemed eager for his attention. She had a warm, wide smile and rosy cheeks.
“It’s alright,” he said to his security.
He approached the woman and allowed her to say her piece. His father always taught him never to leave someone hanging who wished for his attention so badly. Good or bad, people needed to know an Owen never shirked comment.
“My name is Hetty Lynn,” she said. “My son received one of the Owen Scholarships to Filton.”
The woman was beaming with pride. She clutched his hand and was patting it affectionately.
“That’s mighty nice to hear,” said The Cappy. “What field has he chosen?”
Hetty was excited she had the CEO’s attention.
“Sports science. He’d like to work with one of the big football teams one day.”
“I’m pleased we could help.”
Hetty clutched his hand tighter.
“Without that scholarship he would never have been able to. You’ve given my son an opportunity he would never have had otherwise.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Chick replied. “I’m flattered but if the boy has the mind and determination to shoot for that opportunity it’s all down to his mama’s encouragement.”
“You’re a good man, Mr Owen,” she stated.
The Cappy thought of the plaque again.
“In a world where it ain’t easy, I try to do the best I can,” he stated honestly.
“Why you giving free rides?” he had been asked when the scholarship program had been set up. The truth was if Buddy was going to be put through Filton by the grace of his family name at least some of his classmates should be deserving of the place.
Buddy was overindulged. Chick knew that. He wouldn’t change that if he could. He wanted his son to have every opportunity he could. With the support of Ronnie he liked to put mind to those who weren’t so lucky. With Ronnie’s mind and Chick’s push, Owen Inc offered hundreds of scholarships to low-income families with the exciting option of studying abroad in the Great States.
“You tell your boy to keep his head down and continue to make us proud,” said Chick to Hetty.
“I will,” she said. “I will.”
He waved to the crowds, gave some insight into his vision for the school and shared a coffee and photo op with Filton Crier reporters, who couldn’t find a flaw, as desperately as they tried. When the day came to a close, he passed the plaque to an Owen Inc. Employee.
“Send this to Beckingridge Manor,” he instructed. “It’s no use to us moving forward and I’m sure Elizabeth would like to have it back.”
She had lived in Coldford her entire life but Elizabeth Beckingridge had never been in the Shanties before. She had heard many tales spill out from it and she used these tales as inspiration when trying to capture a gritty existence that she herself had never experienced.
“I suppose I should go check on this club of mine,” she had concluded.
She had been advised against taking her usual limo. It would have done her no favours appearing snobbish and car crime was rife in the area. Luxury vehicles that entered the Shanties stood little chance of leaving again. The exception was Tabitha’s red Porche. The personalised B055 L4DY licence plate was the warning.
It was a bumpy ride in Gramps’ old estate car. When Elizabeth finally climbed out, she exclaimed as she took it all in.
‘Wow!’ she thought to herself. ‘People actually live here?’
What had drawn her attention the most was the cries from around Coldford about the good that the Knock Knock Club had being doing under the Baroness and subsequently her sociopathic niece. In a quest to see this for herself, Elizabeth approached the reception of the shelter. A couple of volunteers were doing all they could to restore the facility. An older man was putting cheap flat pack cabinets together.
“I’m Elizabeth Beckingridge,” the financial dragon announced. “I bought over this place.”
A woman who was cleaning windows scowled at her.
“Well, it’s nice for Her Majesty to come down and join us,” she said with some frustration. “I hope you aren’t thinking of selling this place on.”
“I don’t need business advice from a window cleaner,” Elizabeth hissed back.
A woman named Margaret – according to her name tag – stepped behind reception and called, “Don’t listen to her. Andrea? Shut your mouth.”
She led Elizabeth to an open part of the hall. Elizabeth decided a call to Fullerton would be required. The place was badly needing fixed up. She looked to her phone only to find there was no reception.
“Argh,” she gasped. “Do you have some kind of telephone?”
“No,” Margaret explained. “The Law Makers cut our lines.”
Margaret watched the Beckingridge Dragon look around. It was no secret the Boss Lady had stoked that fire when she had fifty-nine people thrown from the tower. Ernest may have been the dragon with no puff but Elizabeth was quite a different character all together.
“Please don’t close the shelter,” she gave her plea. “People around her are passionate about it. We all take our turns to keep it afloat. We need this place here.”
On the walls hung photos of Knock Knock girls, shelter volunteers and some of the people who had found refuge there. There was also Agnes Wilde and Tawny, wearing Knock Knock t-shirts and posing with some of their rescues like they were family. Finally there was Tabitha, the lunatic.
“We need this place,” Margaret reiterated. “Please don’t shut it down.”
The truth was Elizabeth hadn’t really considered what her next step would be. She had only gotten so far as the look on Chick’s face when he didn’t win it. She had considered using its resources as a means to finding Tawny but then there was also Tabitha to consider.
“People fight for all kinds of reasons,” Gramps had once said to her.
This had been because of an altercation she had had as a youngster with some of the other Pettiwick girls but the words still held weight. Even Tabitha had been fighting for something. Wild creatures can become protective, sometimes viciously so.
“I want to help,” Elizabeth decided.
Her focus fell back on those the shelter had supported. Then she viewed Tabitha again. They had something worth fighting for. That didn’t mean there wouldn’t be differences along the way.
The Monte Fort in the far reaches of Cardyne was a lifeless building. Converted from an old prisoner of war camp it now held some of the most dangerous women in the Shady City.
Agnes Wilde had always known she would be a visitor to it one day. Whether it was to see Tawny or Tabitha was up to fate. Fate had decided on the latter. Agnes was glad of it none the less. After her stunt with the screens Tabitha had been moved back from the Annexe. The fallout from the office of Law Makers was still in discussions but for the time being they allowed Agnes to meet with her niece.
In a small room with a swarm of officers outside Agnes was given the opportunity she never thought she would have. Her first reaction was to pull Tabitha into her arms. Her second was to slap her.
“Nice to see you too!” Tabitha pouted.
Agnes hugged her tight again.
“I thought you were dead,” she said.
“So did most of Coldford. Nice to know what faith people had in me,” Tabitha mused. She smiled though. “You’re going grey,” she commented as they both sat at the table.
Agnes’ eyes widened. “I’m not surprised,” she replied. “Do you have any idea what I’ve been through?”
“Were you sentenced to death though?” Tabitha asked.
“Were you though?” she pushed.
Agnes started to laugh. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “The entire city saw you call Judge Doyle a…” Agnes stopped herself before the foul word escaped. “There are still plenty who don’t believe it was real. They think it was a hoax.”
Tabitha giggled girlishly. “I wish I could have been on the street to see me,” she sighed. “Tee would have loved it. Do you think she saw?”
“Perhaps,” Agnes offered the chance. “She would be screaming.”
Tabitha smiled. She softened when she did so. It stood as a reminder that she wasn’t quite as mature as she could seem by looking at her. She was still a young girl playing dress up at heart.
“What’s happening with my club?”
“It’s our club, remember,” Agnes warned. “When the Law Makers seized everything, they brought in a buyer.”
“Who?” Tabitha asked with a severe frown.
Agnes raised her chin. “Promise me you won’t get upset.”
“Who bought it?” Tabitha pressed.
“Beckingridge,” she admitted.
Tabitha shook her head. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”
“It was either that or Owen inc. Since Ernest Beckingridge is dead and buried it was his sister, Elizabeth, who took over.”
“The one that writes all those shitty books?” Tabitha scoffed. “That’s worse.”
Agnes disagreed. “No,” she said. “What would have been worse would have been it taken completely. That was a very real possibility. At least Elizabeth has agreed to leave it as it is.”
Tabitha folded her arms across her chest and huffed. “I suppose.”
Agnes stood. She crossed round the table and wrapped her arms around Tabitha’s shoulders.
“I’m so relieved your alive,” she said.
Tabitha reached her hand and rested it on Agnes’ arm. Agnes kissed her head. They both knew it was far from over. Tawny didn’t nickname the girl Trouble for nothing.
Of course Karyn hadn’t been at her office when he got there. Micky Doyle knew his cousin and it wasn’t likely she hadn’t seen the screens.
“Looking at you Judge Doyle,” Tabitha had said. “Cunt!”
Karyn was going to be furious. One of her clerks, Eileen, had taken a statement from him. He tried to explain the coercion he had faced. He tried to place the blame at the feet of Reginald Penn but Eileen only seemed interested in one thing.
“Why was the execution not carried out as planned?”
“You should bring Elizabeth Beckingridge in,” said Micky in response. “She helped Reginald. She’s aiding a known criminal.”
Eileen tapped on her computer keys with her long finger nails. She looked up from her screen at him.
He had no choice but to admit everything. He was taken to holding. He wasn’t too concerned. It was probably best for his own safety. At least it was the Bailiffs he was dealing with and not the Sergeant Major’s Black Bands.
Excruciating days passed. Karyn didn’t personally appear. Bailiffs and clerks attended him. They had him retell and retell his version of events until he was physically and emotionally exhausted. His tears and sweat and dehydrated him. All the while they asked, “Why was Her Honourable’s execution order not carried out?”
Eventually Karyn did appear. Her ghostly pale face didn’t seem real at first. Micky’s mind tried to wake him up from the nightmare but alas she was still there.
“I’m sorry,” he sobbed. “I’m so sorry, Karyn. I made such a mess of things.”
Karyn said nothing. She watched him with a cool, predatory stare. “I realise how much of a mess this is. I didn’t want anyone to talk to Tabitha. Reginald Penn threatened me. He was going to kill me.”
Karyn’s expression didn’t change. There was no flicker of emotion on her lips or in her eyes. No anger. No pity. No sorrow.
“Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. I’ll do whatever it takes to make this better. Please Karyn just say something.”
The Judge’s lips parted. Finally she spoke. “I’m here in the capacity of my office. We aren’t family in here. You will therefore address me with my proper title.”
“Your Honour,” Micky whimpered.
“You disgraced yourself. You disgraced your position as mayor and you disgraced the Doyle name.”
“I’m so sorry,” Micky tried again.
“Not only that,” Karyn went on, but you also have potentially allowed a dangerous criminal to walk free. A criminal my office, my agents and my clerical staff worked hard to bring to justice. Court Clerk Melanie Wallace was murdered. The reporter, Sam, was pit against his colleague. The entire South of the city has been torn apart and because of your ineptitude it could all have been for nothing. Quite a feat I must say, when you have only been in office a few months. So, I ask you, why was my execution order not carried out?”
Micky had almost fallen to the floor.
“I want to make it better,” he said. “Let me make it better.”
“You will begin by making a public address. You will inform the people of Coldford of what you did and why you did it. You will speak the truth to them regardless of how it makes you look.”
Micky agreed. He was finally removed from holding and taken to City Face.
Evening had fallen. City Face boomed its ticking across the lawns. Media feeds were set up relaying to all outlets and screens. Because of the part played by Coby Games, they had been sanctioned by the Law Makers. Joshua Colby was cooperative. The signed permission from the mayor was his protection.
The Black Bands had assembled under the control of Van Holder. Monsta’ was by his side. They crowd was held back. They dared not move any closer than the Black Bands would allow them. The football matches, the seizure of Mack Distillery by force, the very presence of the Black Bands was becoming enough of a deterrent.
Micky was brought to the podium. Like the stunt that brought him to the position he was in, Micky’s image was delivered to all parts of Coldford.
“People of Coldford,” he began. He hadn’t prepared a speech this time.
He felt it best the words come to him naturally. “It is with deep regret that I come to you with a confession. I, Michael Doyle, have abused my position as mayor. I have abused the trust you put in me. On advice of a doctor whom I considered a friend.” Here he stopped. He changed his mind. “I was given an opportunity to profit from the death of a criminal who was due for execution. I deliberately concealed this criminal, having you believe that she was already dead, so that the sale of her organs could be arranged. This is a criminal act of which I take full responsibility. I deeply regret my actions and I now throw myself on the mercy of the High Court and I ask for leniency.”
Micky looked through the crowd. His whole body trembled. Where was Cameron? There was someone he recognised though. The figure offered little comfort. Whimsical old-style clothing, long wig-like hair. Eugene Morris, aka The Tailor clutched his hat to his chest. There was a priest of the same order muttering a prayer. They called him the Holy Brother.
‘Why was he there?’ Micky wondered. Before he could enquire, The Judge took over proceedings.
“Michael Doyle,” she said. “You have given a confession here today witnessed by thousands. Your abuse of power has left me with little choice. What we see here today is a waste of talent, of potential and of lives. When I accepted my position in the High Court, I took an oath that said I would make no exceptions. I swore that if those of my own blood were brought before me, showing favouritism is something I would never do. The disgrace you have brought upon yourself and the city will be punished to the fullest extent of the law granted to me. Letting a criminal walk free after giving my signature to her execution is something I would also never do. I hereby invoke article 22 which states that should a member of high office be convicted of a capital crime sentencing can be given immediately without a trial of jurors. For authorising the unlawful killing of a convict you are found guilty. For trafficking human organs for print you are also guilty. For treason against the city by your own admission you are guilty. I hereby sentence you to death by firing squad.
The crowd had fallen so quiet, only the clicking hooves of the Black Band’s mounted patrol echoed, timing with the ticking of the City Face.
Micky screamed. “No! Karyn don’t do this!” His foggy breath trailed in desperation in front of him.
The Judge ignored him. “Due to the nature of your crime, because of the mistrust you have brought to the legal process and because of the obligations of my office, sentence will be carried out immediately.”
Micky was escorted to the killing fields. It was an area in front of the building that had been where the gallows stood in days of old. During the Great Wars it was the spot where those convicted of espionage were executed. It had fallen out of use as legal battles turned more to court rooms and offices but that day as eight gun men rounded on Micky Doyle there was a return to the past.
“Aim,” ordered Van Holder.
Now the clicking of guns seemed to drown out the clock and Micky’s screams.
Bullets erupted. One tore through Micky’s heart. With that, the second mayor of Coldford in such a short space it time lay dead on the lawns of City Face.
Tabitha had witnessed the execution. She watched Micky Doyle die and for the first time she had been lost for words. It appeared her future hadn’t been written by quite so friendly an author.
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