Category Archives: Knock, Knock

More on the Knock, Knock graphic novel series.

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 49: Godballs!


“So, Bernard,” began Justin the counsellor. “I thought after your reaction to the last group session it might be better for a little one-on-one.” 

A violent attack on his counsellor as he poured through his problems? Not exactly, dear readers. Buddy Owen was dealing with his sobriety, just not in a particularly mature way. Justin had a fading handprint on his face to attest to that. 

“I got a little into the session. You did say to let it all out. I was psyched, brah.” 

“I must say, you are looking much better,” the counsellor went on.

“Five days sober,” Buddy groaned. It would have been much longer if it hadn’t been for the stash Copper had found at the bottom of his pocket where a bag must have burst open. 

“You seem a little anxious without your fraternity brothers,” the counsellor pointed out. 

Buddy sighed. He hadn’t thought about it but now that it was pointed out he would rather have had his bros with him. 

“You ever been in a frat, brah?” he asked Justin. 

“No,” the counsellor admitted. “I don’t think the life would be much for me.” 

“You might think it’s all about pussy and coke but it’s more than that. It’s about knowing your bros got your back. It’s about being brothers for life.” 

Justin anticipated Buddy leaping onto his feet and yelling Kappa So so he calmed him. 

“Tell me a bit about your relationship with Dale Cooper and Chad Perry.” 

Buddy scowled. “We’re not fags, brah.” 

“That’s not what I meant,” Justin said, almost forgetting the kind of mindset he was dealing with. “All I meant was you are close. That kind of co-dependence is common with addiction. Addressing that can go a long way to getting to the route of your problem.”

Buddy’s expression softened. 

“We got each other’s backs, no matter what shit we have to deal with.” 

The resident hesitated.

“Go on,” Justin urged. “You needn’t worry about me. I’ve seen it all. Young men like yourself with an overbearing father, the expectations on you. It’s a lot of pressure to deal with. Tell me, how do you get along with your mother?” 

“Don’t be talking about my mama!” Buddy warned.

‘An over-indulging mother,’ thought Justin. ‘Of course.’

Addressing his problems was never going to be easy for Buddy Owen, for he had many. Facing it sober was going to make it even more difficult. He wanted to be a better man but there was always something pulling him back. Why did Kim have to show him that crime scene photo?

“Sarah, her name was,” Kim had screamed. 

Buddy didn’t want to know her name. Why did Kev have to be such a fucking scumbag? If he hadn’t tried to stiff on his coke bill, none of it would have happened. 

‘The girl first,’ was the instruction. An Owen never misses. 

Maybe it was the sobriety giving him nightmares but he couldn’t shake the image of Cooper and Chad being gunned down. 

“Why does that frighten you?” Justin asked. 

“I couldn’t cope without them,” Buddy admitted. 

***

Resident 3717: Chad Perry

It was smiles all round for the Perry family as son Chad met them in the rec room of Harbour House. Dad, Austin, and mum, Amy, joined him at the table. It was the first time the parents had chance to meet wih the boys since they spent most of their time away from rehab on community service.

“It’s great to see you guys,” he beamed. 

“Not a bad place,” Ozzy observed as he looked around himself. “It’s so fucking clean.” 

Amy nodded in agreement. 

“You’ll never guess where we took grandma,” she said. 

Chad gave it some thought. “You guys went to the canyons without me?” he asked. 

“We sure did,” Amy replied. “They were something else, weren’t they Ozzy?” 

Visiting Canyon State had been a trip the Perry’s had been hoping for for a long time. 

“You could’ve been with us if you hadn’t gotten yourself into trouble, mate,” Ozzy stated. “You’ve gotta stop putting that shit up your nose.” 

Chad lowered his head. It was true. 

Amy beamed. “Grandma got you something.” 

She reached into the bag she had left at her feet and drew out a t-shirt. On the chest read:

I WENT TO CANYON STATE AND SAW THE WORLD’S LARGEST CRACK.

Chad laughed heartily. Grandma had a great sense of humour and she knew Chad would get a kick out of it. Amy threw it to him. He pulled it on over the shirt he was already wearing. 

“We’ll go back if you keep your nose clean,” Austin offered. 

“I’m sorry guys,” said Chad. “I really let the family down. I should have been at Canyon State.” 

Amy hushed him. “We all make mistakes.” She put her hand to her mouth and whispered, “I’m pretty shit faced right now.” 

Chad laughed. 

When the time came to leave, the parents hugged their son. Amy squeezed him tightly. Austin held him the longest. 

“Be cool lil mate,” he said. “Take care of yourself. I need you out there helping me. Snowflake is a bugger to keep and we need all hands on deck.” 

“You’re putting me on Snowflake? No way!” Chad cheered excitedly. “You’re not shitting me are you? Mum? Did you know about this? I bet you did.” 

“I did,” Amy guffawed. “You’ll do great with him. We were going to surprise you  but dad can’t keep his big bazoo shut.” 

Austin chuckled. “I couldn’t help it. Snowflake needs a Perry to look after him and the other enclosures.” 

“What’s in the other enclosures?” Chad asked. 

“Snowflake’s dinner,” Austin replied. 

Some people have the best of intentions but to raise a child it takes a parent not a friend. Being too much of a friend can lead to a lack of discipline, leading to addiction.

Resident 2904: Dale Cooper

Cooper had been sat across from his mother, Chastity, for ten minutes. They had barely shared a word except for her to say, “You break my heart,” the A of which sounded heavy.

‘At least it was just her,’ Coops thought to himself. But unfortunately, it wasn’t. Arriving ten minutes late and making a scene as usual was Marshall.

“Look at the state of you,” was his welcome to his son. 

There was a bad report from the counsellor it seemed. Justin must have blabbed about catching the bros trying to snort the inside of Dale’s pocket. 

Chastity turned on her ex-husband. 

“Don’t go yelling at him, you shit. Coming in here like you give a damn. Can’t even turn up on time for your own boy.” She pronounced it ‘boya’. “But you’ll always be on time for your whores.” 

“Fuck you,” Marshall spat back. “You’re the one supposed to be looking after him and look how he’s turning out.” He started to clap his hands. The snap catching the attention of the rest of the rec room. “Well done!” he said sardonically. “Well fucking done. You’re doing a fine job.” 

“Maybe if his father was in his life he’d have someone to look up to. The only time you want anything to do with him is when you need photo ops. Oh yeah what a great father you are! You cheap bastard. You ain’t ever paid for a day in his life.”

“Is that right?” Marshall argued back. “Then what was the three mil for?” 

Chastity turned to someone at the neighbouring table, now regretting they had looked up. 

“He’s asking why he had to pay for his own son.” The stranger tried to look away. They didn’t really want to be involved in the argument. “The only reason I got that was because it was a court order.” 

Dale took a deep breath as though he was going to say something but when both parents turned to him and scowled his eyes widened and he decided to say nothing. 

“Fat lot of good my three mil did anyway. Sent him to the best school in the country and the brat still acts like he should be on the spectrum.” 

“Mr big shot!” Chastity laughed, involving the neighbouring table again. “You think you’re a fucking genius. You don’t know shit. The only reason he’s in this mess is because of you and your fucking problem. There I said it!” 

Marshall glared. “I don’t have a fucking problem.” 

“Where do you think he sees it? I gave up powda’ years ago. You can’t go anywhere without it. This is your fault.” 

“You can’t look after your own son and I got a problem?” Marshall barked, throwing his chair back. “I don’t need your shit.” 

“Tell it to my law’ya!” was Chastity’s reply. 

As he stormed out, Marshall yelled at a nurse. “That woman needs locked up,” he said, pointing to his ex-wife. 

Dale still said nothing as his mother went onto a call to her lawyer to see what wiggle room she might have getting one of the mad dogs from him. 

Addiction can be a cry for help. When the people tasked in your life with guiding you won’t listen to word you say and your life is a constant argument, the drugs make a perfect numbing agent. 

Resident 3520: Bernard Owen

Upon arrival of The Cappy at Harbour House, Buddy wondered what his father would make of the place. 

“It seems a very efficient facility,” Chick commented as he gauged his surroundings. “It seems to be doing you some good too. You look well, boy.” 

“How are you doing Buddy boy?” asked Ida Mae. 

“I’m fine, mama,” was Buddy’s reply. He flexed his arms. “Been working out. Hitting the pool. Got myself a new chick.” 

“Awww,” Ida gasped. “What happened to Julia?” 

“Things with Julia weren’t going to work out. It was tough but I let her down gently.” 

Ida pouted. “Was she disappointed?” 

“She was screaming. She was begging me to come visit the farm but I was like, babe, we had it good but sometimes even the best parties get busted. I was all philosophical and shit.”

Chuckling, Ida Mae remarked, “You should be writing poetry.” 

The Cappy was watching his son with one eyebrow raised. 

“Julia Harvester?” he asked. “You’re saying Julia Harvester was begging you not to leave her?” 

“She was all crying and shit,” Buddy went on, either ignoring his father’s scepticism or not registering it. “I said, ‘Sorry babe, but that’s life.’” 

“I hope you weren’t too harsh with her,” said Ida Mae with genuine concern. “It’s not going to be like Nola Wong all over again.” 

“Julia Harvester?” Chick asked a second time. 

Buddy felt the urge to move on. “Besides, the new chick I got is ten times better than Julia.”

As he took a sip of the water that had been provided for him Chick assumed Buddy had decided to pursue one of the other residents. It was probably one of the biggest coke whores in Coldford knowing Buddy.

“Agent Lydia Lowe.” 

The Cappy almost spat the water everywhere as the shock of the statement caught in his throat. 

“You mean the girl hired to cross to the Great States and drag your ass back here?” 

“Chick,” Ida scorned. “Our baby is in love.” 

“Sure am, mama. I really want to bone her,” Buddy stated. “We went through a lot.” 

Chick shook his head. “But Buddy, she’s a…” 

“A chink, I know. But so was Nola Wong.” 

The Cappy rolled his eyes. “I was going to say a woman of the law. You know what son? You say this woman is the one that got you in the pool and keeping you sober?” 

“Yeah,” Buddy said as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I really want to bone her.” 

Ida Mae and Chick shared a look. 

“If you would like some fatherly advice,” The Cappy offered. “Resist all your natural urges with this one,” he said. 

As they were leaving, Chick said to Buddy, “You and I have had our problems but I’m proud of the progress you’re making. When you get out of here you and I are going to spend some time. In the meantime, keep it up. Keep out of trouble and if you really like that girl, we’ll have her by the estate. We’ll get you sorted proper.”

It was a very promising proposition indeed for Buddy Owen. All he had to do was escape Harbour House without getting into trouble. Easy for some. Almost impossible for Buddy. 

Addiction can come from a need to ease the pressure on your shoulders. It’s easier to dull the ache of expectation with pharmaceuticals. Recovery only comes when the addict is prepared face those expectations. 

***

Splash! 

Buddy surfaced with a gasp of breath. 

“Time?” he asked.

Lydia, who was watching over him as he swam lengths of the Harbour House pool, checked the stopwatch. 

“Two minutes,” she said. 

“Damn,” Buddy groaned. The best time in his peak was one minute thirty. He had brought it down from four minutes since he started so there was huge progress.

He peeled off the swim cap and goggles and threw them onto the edge. 

“You’re doing good,” Lydia agreed. “That’s a huge improvement.” 

“I feel good,” Buddy cheered. “Feel fucking good.” 

As the words echoed back to him he realised the only time he uttered that sentiment was usually when he was high. 

“Come in and join me. Water’s good,” he said suggestively

Lydia laughed and shook her head. “I don’t think so.” 

Remembering his father’s words, he tried to resist all the natural bro-ness. Lydia was a dynamite chick and needed the old charm. 

“Do you know why I like swimming so much?” he asked. 

Lydia narrowed her gaze. 

“Why’s that?” 

“When I was in Luen, or was it Subala? No, it was Luen. I always got to the pool when it was that time of night when the sun gave the sky the right glow. The sky was all nice and pink and everything was quiet. Every time I swim I think of that. It’s all romantic and shit.” 

Lydia started to laugh heartily. “I really thought you were going to say because it gets you wet.” 

Buddy roared with laughter. 

“Ahh!” he cried. “You filthy bitch.” 

He threw himself back into the water starting into a backstroke. 

‘Damn,’ he thought to himself. ‘This water’s so fucking cold. I hope she doesn’t notice.’ 

***

“Here puss. Here puss, puss,” Elizabeth Beckingridge wandered onto the lawns in search of a wayward feline. 

A Law Maker approached her. 

“Miss Beckingridge,” he warned. “You really should be back inside.” 

“Oh, do shut up. I’m allowed to wander my own gardens, right?” 

For most people that would have been true but given the sheer size of Beckingridge Manor, the lawns fell out with the distance allowed by the Law Maker sanctions. 

“Here puss!” she called again. “Here puss, puss.” 

The Law Maker knew he was going to regret it, but he said, “Miss, please go back inside.” 

“I’ve lost my cat,” she said. “She’s not an outdoors cat. She must have gotten out and it’s freezing.”

The Law Maker relented. “What colour is she?” 

Elizabeth answered, “Mostly black, with some white patterns. She answers to the name Winkle. Susie Winkle is her full name.” 

The Law Maker turned. He leaned over and looked under some bushes.

“Here puss,” he called. “Tsk, tsk.” 

Another Law Maker arrived on scene. He called to his colleague. “What you doing, Vic?” 

Vic stood up. “Have you seen a cat? Black with white patches? Answers to the name … What was the name again?”

“Winkle,” Elizabeth answered. 

“Answers to the name Winkle.” 

“No,” Vic’s fellow Law Maker replied. “Have you checked round the garages?”

“If any of you have knocked her down…” Elizabeth warned, but before she could make her threat George came running across the lawns towards the house. 

“Here kitty, kitty, kitty!” he laughed hysterically. 

“I swear George, if you have tried to piss on her again I’m going to throttle you,” Elizabeth screamed, chasing after her nephew. 

***

“The Chapter House sure looks a little worse for wear,” Commented Ozzy Perry as he and Marshall Cooper crossed the lawns to the Coldford home of Kappa So. 

“It’s the fucking pits,” Marshall spat. “What the fuck have the boys been doing with this place? No wonder Chick has been going insane.” 

“They were attacked,” Ozzy reasoned. “The boys had it tough.” 

“Tough? Shiiiit. If it were in our day Reginald Penn would be on his knees sucking our dicks. Who’ve they put in charge now whilst the three geniuses are in rehab?” 

Ozzy laughed. “George Beckingridge. He’s got big bucks from what I hear.” 

An introduction to George Beckingridge was made when the boy answered the door to them. 

“Kappa So!” he cheered. 

The elders would have admired his commitment to their frat house but what caught Ozzy’s attention first was the fact he was stood in his underwear. That was an unfair comment to make on the Beckingridge boy. He was at least wearing his Kappa So blazer.

The inside of the Chapter House was surprisingly orderly under George’s watch. 

“You’re the big guns then?” George grinned. “I want to show you something.” 

He pulled a bag from behind the sofa and when he laid it on the floor at their feet it started to wriggle. Marshall and Ozzy took a step back. From the bag slipped a black and white cat. George gripped it by the scruff of its neck and raised it to face him. The feline screamed a meow but George continued to look into its bright, green eyes. 

“Here kitty, kitty,” he said softly. “Who’s a good kitty,” he cooed. “You are!” 

“What’s the deal with the cat, mate?” Oz finally had to ask. 

George looked to the elder with admiration. “You talk funny,” he said. 

Austin turned to Marshall. Neither of them was a native to Coldford but it seemed the Southern Hemisphere buzz amused the boy. 

A call came in and George laid the phone on the coffee table. He answered the video and it was his aunt who was speaking.

“What do you want George?” she asked having just received a message for her to be in touch. 

George lifted Susie Winkle, for it was the cat Elizabeth had been searching for. He sat her on his lap, stroking her so heavily the animal started to object. Marshall pulled Ozzy out of the frame. 

“Found Susie Winkle,” he beamed. 

Elizabeth became concerned. 

“You let her go,” she barked. 

George giggled that rotten little giggle. 

“What you doing there, mate?” Ozzy asked but Marshall hushed him. He was quite keen on seeing what was about to escalate. 

Susie Winkle tried to cross the table towards her mistress, curious of the screen, but George heaved her back by the tail. He pushed her belly down onto the table. 

“That compass you broke wasn’t a toy,” he warned in an attempt to sound like a scorning grown up. “Captain Henry Owen, my brother, used that compass to steer his ship. He always relied on it to return him to Coldford again.” 

Elizabeth was no longer listening to her nephew. She was too busy watching her cat. 

“You broke it,” George snarled. “You broke it so now I break something of yours.” 

This had been how Alice Beckingridge, George’s mother, had dealt with his behaviour as a child. It didn’t do much good. All it really resulted in were a lot of broken toys. 

That was when he pulled a hammer from underneath the table. He grabbed Winkle by the neck. 

“No!” a collective scream was given. 

WHACK! 

The first hit stunned the cat. 

“You don’t break things that don’t belong to you!” George screamed, eerily echoing Alice Beckingridge’s words. 

WHACK!

The second blow was heavier and smashed the cat’s skull. 

WHACK. WHACK. WHACK! 

The last hits were beating on a dead body. The small, feline skull now only a soup, which George dipped his fingers in. 

“Kappa So!” he screamed and the call was ended. 

The two elders stood watching him in disbelief. George was catching his breath. He looked to them for approval. 

“I think you took pounding pussy way too literally, lil bro, ” said Marshall.

Ozzy punched Marshall’s arm playfully. 

“If I was in trouble with the animal rights people before, they’re gonna have a field day with this. Crikey! Look at this mess.” 

George sat back in the sofa. “Can I feed her to Snowflake?” 

“Tell me he’s talking about the cat,” Ozzy put to Marshall. 

Marshall laughed. “I honestly don’t know.” 

“Chick knew this boy was a nut. He could have warned us, the bastard!” Ozzy commented in jest. 

***

I had a little trouble readjusting back at home so I was glad of a visit from Lydia. 

“How are you coping?” she asked. 

“Better than expected,” I returned and it was the truth – although it didn’t sit well with me that Tabitha knew where I lived. 

Lydia had gone to the club to check up on Tawny. She wasn’t quite sure what to expect and of course Tabitha wasn’t exactly thrilled to see her. 

“Ye caused a lot of trouble, missy,” Tawny had said to her. “I don’t think I really want anymore.” 

Tabitha was stood behind her aunt, scowling quite severely in a childish sort of way. 

“The trouble was already there,” Lydia explained. “If anything, I stopped it getting worse.” 

Tawny would hear none of that though. As far as she was concerned her little Trouble was not the culprit. She was friendly enough towards Lydia though, which was more than could be said for Tabitha. 

“Do what you need to do to help Sarah,” said the Baroness. “I’m never going to stop you with that. But honey, if I find out you’re trying to slip in here again you’re out on your arse.” 

The Baroness was a bold woman. Her niece was even bolder. Walking back into The Knock Knock Club was no easy task for Lydia but when she demonstrated her commitment to helping, Tawny gave her more space. Tabitha on the other hand, was watching her every move. 

Our conversation turned to Elizabeth Beckingridge and her continued house arrest. 

“I can’t imagine what living in that house would be like right now,” I commented. “I don’t envy the Law Makers trying to keep her in.” 

“I like her,” Lydia stated. “I think she’s nice.” 

That was an easy assessment from Elizabeth’s pride and joy. 

That was when Lydia received contact from an excited Kim. 

“We did it!” she cheered. “I’m down at a drug bust in the Shanties and one of them spilled everything. He says he was the one who told Buddy where to find Kev Marsh. We’ve got a witness! We’ve got a God damned verifiable witness! It won’t hold him for long but we can bring him in. I’m heading up to the Chapter House now. We’re going to bring him in and I couldn’t be prouder of you, pet.” 

“I’m on my way,” Lydia said.

I lifted my phone. There was no way I was missing this.

***

The Kappa So bros gathered around to hear stories from brother George. Chad in particular, was engrossed. 

“Tell us again about the time you caught your teacher doing it.” 

George leaned in. He was quite a gifted storyteller. “It was at the Browning House. I could hear the shower running.”

Cooper had already began sniggering in anticipation. It was a story he had heard hundreds of times but he never seemed to tire of it. 

“So I climb the stairs … I opened the door … I pulled back the curtain …” 

Pause for effect.

“And he was shagging her!” 

“Ahhh!” the bros returned excitedly. 

“What did you do?” asked Buddy in elation. 

“I stabbed her!” 

“Ahhh!” the bros were now rolling with laughter. 

“You little cock blocker,” Buddy guffawed, wiping a tear away from his eye.

Who needed powder when you had your bros and the Chapter House? This new man thing was going to see him alright. It was a fine sentiment but when someone lived their life the way that Buddy Owen did, it was always going to catch up with him. The agents and I arrived on site. I knew the Daily would unleash hell on me for this but I clicked record. 

“Lydia?” it was she who Buddy noticed first. 

Kim was wasting no time. She didn’t even afford me the chance to set my angle right. 

“Bernard Owen? I’m arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Sarah and Kev Marsh.” 

“What the?” 

High as a kite, Buddy could still remember the instructions. 

“Take them both out. Make sure you get the girl first.” 

Buddy tried to protest but it was George who kicked up the most fuss. 

“You can’t take Buddy,” he cried. Kim shoved him back. “You can’t take Buddy!” he screamed. 

Kim stopped. She pulled Buddy’s arms behind his back. “Back away,” she warned George. 

George grinned. “You can’t take Buddy. I did it. I shot them. I put bullets right in their heads.” 

Kim scowled in warning. “Back off.” 

“There was a bottle there, right?” George said. “Strawberry? I love strawberry. You can ask my aunt. She’ll tell you. It’s my spit on it.” 

Here he stuck his tongue out. 

Lydia looked to Buddy but the chapter leader was flabbergasted. He prayed his expressions gave nothing away.

“I killed them. I killed them!” George was chanting. 

It was far from what she wanted to hear but Lydia said to Kim, “If he’s confessing we have to take him in.” 

“Mother fucker!” Kim screamed, throwing Buddy and almost landing him on the ground. 

“Police brutality!” he chided. 

Kim ignored him as he took George into her grasp instead. 

“You know what you got there, George? You got the biggest set of God balls I’ve ever seen in my life.” 

“Kappa So!” they all cheered. 

George was thrilled by this. He was grinning ear to ear. When I covered the story of his mother, Alice, years ago I saw a photograph of George. I remember thinking to myself at the time, ‘I wonder what will become of that little boy,’ and there it was.

“Kappa So!” 

“I also killed my teacher, Miss Matheson.”

The bros gasped.

“And my dog.”

“The boy’s crazy. You crazy, brah!” 

George heard it as praise and he couldn’t imagine a higher honour. 

Kim pushed George to the car.

Wham!

She was sure to catch his head. Once inside, George pressed his face against the window. Still laughing, Buddy turned to see Lydia was watching him. His expression fell away.

“Kappa So!” George kept yelling from the back of the car, taking the fall for his brother. 

***

“Elizabeth, honey, you are not making this easy on yourself,” said Tawny as she watched the Beckingridge dragon stomp around the lounge of her manor prison. 

Elizabeth was still outraged at the possibility that the charges against George wouldn’t hold. The agents had a difficult decision to make over releasing George in order to catch the real culprit. His aunt was relaying her frustrations on a video call to Harbour House where Tawny and David Finn were present.

“Come now. You heard it all from Vincent. You know better than anyone that George should be locked up.” 

Agent Kim had confined herself to what the other agents called her wreck room. It was a place set aside with old computers and other assorted items she could trash and relieve her temper on. She emerged from the room, sweaty and still a little seething by the looks of things. David Finn watched nervously as she took a seat at the table with him and Tawny.

“You can’t let him go,” Elizabeth insisted. “He’s a criminal and needs to be caged. Did you see what he did to poor Winkle? The boy has been cutting heads off of animals ever since he was little. If that isn’t a sure sign of a psychopath then I don’t know what is.”

“Yes, but, Elizabeth, if he’s not-” Agent Kim started to say.

Elizabeth cut in. “I don’t care if he’s not responsible for this particular crime. I stand by my word that he needs to be locked up.” 

Agent Kim scowled. “Whatever crimes George has committed he will be put away for. But I made a promise to that little girl’s mother. I swore I would bring Sarah’s killer to justice and that is not George. I need you to help me. If you can assist in proving George wasn’t responsible for Sarah’s murder I will make sure he is put away for his real crimes.” 

Kim watched David’s reaction. He was withdrawing into himself. 

Elizabeth gave it some thought. “As if he could be a sharp shooter anyway. The boy can’t even piss into the toilet bowl without spraying it all over the walls.” 

David shook his head and rubbed his temples. “I don’t think that is what the agent is looking for,” he said.

Elizabeth was hearing none of it. “If you can bring him in on charges regardless then I’m holding you to that Kim. I told Ernest on his fifth birthday he needed a cage when he was running around trying to stick pins in butterflies.” 

“I need to know the truth. If there is anything that can prove George wasn’t responsible for Sarah’s death then I can bring her real killer in.”

Elizabeth folded her arms. 

“As if he could have killed that little girl. He wouldn’t know how to load a gun let alone fire one. Besides, how could he have even been there when he was boffing Vincent at the time?” she huffed. 

David’s eyes widened. “Elizabeth, stop talking.” 

Kim focused on the artist. “Can you verify his whereabouts at the time of the murder?”

“Agent,” David replied. “I made a promise…” 

Kim growled. She was very serious and it was not at all advisable to challenge her. 

“Can you verify the whereabouts of George Beckingridge at the time of Sarah’s murder?”

Elizabeth looked to David completely misinterpreting the situation. 

“Of course you can,” she said. “He was coming to Harbour House for a conjugal.” “Elizabeth, now might be a good time to shut yer gob,” said Tawny when she could see David was starting to writhe under the pressure.

“David,” Kim warned. “If you can verify that Vincent was with George at the time of the murder you will confirm that right now.” 

“No,” David insisted. 

Elizabeth frowned. “Oh please. There are videos and everything. Do you think he hasn’t already shown them to his frat brothers?” 

“Elizabeth, honey,” Tawny cried. “Please, stop talking!” 

Kim had locked her eyes on the artist. Tawny dropped her hand onto his shoulder. 

“If you know he wasn’t there you will make a statement.” 

David was visibly shaking but he maintained his stance. 

“No agent,” he said. “I made a promise.” 

Kim leapt to her feet, upturning the table. Both David and Tawny shrieked as she grabbed David by the neck and pulled him away. The chairs toppled. Tawny was moved back. David cried out in pain and anguish, his arms and legs lashing. When Agent Kim was on a mission there was nothing that was going to stop her. Tawny chased after them, trying to help the artist who now being dragged into Kim’s wreck room. 

“Leave him alone!” Tawny was calling. 

“Aaaah!” David shrieked. 

She had snatched him by the hair and threw him bodily into the room. 

“Lydia!” Tawny tried to call help from Agent Lowe. 

Lydia did makes steps to intervene but Kim had wedged a chair under the door handle. All they could do was batter on the door and beg her to stop. 

“Agent…” David tried to plead. 

Wham! 

Kim had snatched up a phone book and clobbered him to the ground. She pressed her foot down heavily on his chest. 

“Was Vincent with George at the time of Sarah’s murder?” 

David wheezed, “I can’t.” 

“I don’t give a fuck what he was doing. Was he with him at the time of the murder? A little girl was killed and her killer is walking free. If you can help me put him away you are going to tell me everything I need to know.” 

“There’s nothing to tell,” the artist groaned. 

Tawny’s eyes widened as Kim pulled David up and pushed him into a chair. 

“She’s going to kill him,” shrieked the Baroness. 

Agent Kim ignored the pleas of those outside. She took a lamp and pulled the wire from it. The electric current sparked. 

“Was George Beckingridge with Vincent?” she asked. 

David hesitated. That was a mistake. Kim stuffed the wires into his trousers and shocked them against his testicles, causing him to yelp in pain. 

Tawny appealed, battering her fists on the door, “Leave him alone!” 

ZAP.

“Alright, alright. George couldn’t have shot that little girl because at the time he was shagging Vincent,” David sobbed.

Kim dropped the cable. 

“Where is the video?” asked she. 

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I honestly don’t know.” 

It seemed that whilst resident of Harbour House, Winslow had granted George access to his music teacher – for a nominal fee, you understand.  Overjoyed at this, George wished to document their intimacy. Already accused of taking advantage of his pupil, Vincent was distraught at being placed in such a predicament. He had struggled badly with his issues but the one thing he had to hold on to was he never took advantage of his pupil. That claim was stolen from him. Who would ever believe that now? Winslow assisted in stripping him of his dignity, figuratively and literally. 

When he admitted it to Tawny and David, they had promised it would go no further. Trying to protect their friend’s memory, it wasn’t an easy admission to make. Volts of electricity to the genitals seemed to help. 

Somewhere a video would show an excited George almost drooling in anticipation, swing his camera round to watch his hesitant teacher unbutton his shirt. 

“Like a common whore. I guess that makes me your pimp,” Winslow had commented at the time. “Not to worry though. Your client paid top dollar.” 

He knew Vincent would rather die than admit to relations with George. 

“Please don’t make this about Vincent,” David said, a little shaken. “He hated that time of his life and that’s not him. That’s not what he should be remembered for.” 

Kim sighed. “I just want the truth,” she said. “I’ll make sure it goes no further than it needs to.” 

David – beaten, shirt torn – was rested back in the rec room to recover. 

“Are you okay?” Tawny comforted him. She wiped the blood from his face and handed him an ice pack which he sat on his groin.

He could only nod. 

A silence fell between them. Tawny couldn’t let it fall for long. 

“Are you sure you’re okay? I told you that agent was scary. I heard she pile drove a guy in a bar once.” 

Still a little dazed, David tried to gather his strength. 

“I’m still buzzing, man,” he said.

“She zapped yer nuts, honey,” Tawny stated. 

David sighed. “I know.” 

Tawny gave a laugh. “Ugh, you enjoyed it, didn’t you? You artists are all weird.” 

David smiled, Tawny’s cheer helping him feel a little better. 

Elizabeth, who was still on the video call, remarked, “That might have been something I said.” Her admittance actually showed some personal growth. 

“It was most definitely something you said,” Tawny retorted. 

Elizabeth shrugged. “I honestly thought it was common knowledge.” 

“It is now,” said David. 

“Well if you had just admitted to it in the first place we wouldn’t have had to see that entire ugly scene,” was Elizabeth’s reasoning. 

Tawny patted David’s hand. “Elizabeth, honey,” she said. “Yer still talking.”

***

“He’s a God damned hero, brah,” Buddy wept on Coops’ shoulder. “An honest to God hero. You don’t think you’ll ever see shit like that in your lifetime but there it was. God balls!” He stretched his hands out to emphasise just how big those God balls were.

Cooper was nodding. It was true. It was very true.

Chad was rubbing Buddy’s back.

“That crazy little son a bitch gone told the agents it was him. He’s going away, brah. He’s going away for a long time and what does he do? He yells Kappa So! I ain’t ever seen commitment like that. That boy needs a plaque or something. He needs a big old painting right there on the wall so all future bros can see what God balls really look like. He went above and beyond. He gave me a real chance to be a new man. Every time I’m boning Lydia I’m going to be thinking, George.” 

Here Cooper stopped nodding. 

“That’s gay, brah,” he stated.

Buddy shook it off. “It’s not faggoty if it’s God balls. Ya’ll should be thinking of George when you’re boning a chick. It’s through his incredible sacrifice that we live to bone another day. The only way any of us get to give true God balls is if we think of George. I’m sure as hell giving Lydia those God balls.” 

“Still a little gay, brah,” Cooper returned with a raised eyebrow.

“Hey,” Chad interrupted. “If he wants to think of another bro whilst pounding pussy that’s his choice.” 

“Thanks Chad,” Buddy agreed.

“Got your back, brah.”

***  

“Murder One. Multiple counts. Spared from Article 22 pending psychological evaluation. Sentence: Life in servitude to The Boss.” 

George Beckingridge didn’t seem at all bothered by this revelation. He was most likely the richest boy in the Shady City and there he was, content to be inmate 2006 of Coldford Correctional.

“I heard you have a beast here,” George grinned. 

“We’ve got a lot of beasts here, buddy,” Remar replied. 

“I mean a real beast,” George went on. “The beast of the Boss.” 

Remar had heard that term used. They really did a number on that guy. He got it worse than former screws. Even kiddy fiddlers had it easier. But…

“Yeah, we got the beast,” he admitted. 

George was breathing heavily through his nose. That was how excited he was. He patted his hands on his thighs. 

“I want him,” he said. “I want the beast.” 

“You’re going to your cell and you’re going to keep your mouth shut 2006,” Remar warned. 

George scowled. “I want it. I want the beast.” 

When Remar glared at him George lowered his gaze. 

“I’ll pay,” he said a little more softly. “That’s how it’s done, isn’t it? I’ll pay you whatever you want.” 

Remar thought about it. What did it really matter? The beast was the lowest of the low anyway. He was barely a human life form. There was one thing The Boss’ great collective could agree on and that was they didn’t like the beast. 

“I’ll pay,” George grinned. “To whatever cause you want.” 

Remar wasn’t going to argue. Who the fuck really cared about the beast anyway? 

“Fine,” Remar agreed. “I’ll move him in with you.” 

Patting his thigh nervously George asked, “Can I have a leash for him?” 

Remar frowned again. This was a stark reminder he was dealing with a psychopath.  Seeing the warden’s hesitation George gave in to despair. 

“I’ll walk him. I’ll look after him. Pleeeaaaaaase!”

“Fuck it,” he said. “Why not?” 

Goerge beamed, almost drooling. 

“Hurray!” 

***

Inmate 2011: Jake Fullerton, head of the Fullerton construction company was lying on his bed in the 10×10 enclosure and all because of aggravated assault. Two years in servitude. His cell mate Matty Lane was at the desk writing a letter. You could pass word onto the outside world but there was no guarantee of a reply. Such was the way of The Boss. All one could do was submit to their slavery and hope the great mistress of Bournton saw fit to let you go eventually. 

They both heard a stirring from the main gangway. There was a lot of shouting. That was nothing now. If anyone had something to shout about it was the slaves of The Boss. 

Jake looked across to Matty who was shaking his head. He was trying to ignore it and continue with a letter to his son. 

Jake climbed out of the bunk. Surely there wasn’t going to be another riot. 

The commotion grew louder and louder. Men were screaming, whooping, cheering. 

‘What the fuck is going on?’ Jake thought to himself. He approached the bars and gazed out. The motion sensor low lighting of the gangway sparked on towards them. 

“Kappa So! Kappa So! Kappa So!”

The chant rang out. Jake would normally have just chalked it up to frat boy bullshit but this was different. This wasn’t the usual privileged white boy chant. This was a declaration. 

“Kappa So! Kappa So! Kappa So!”

“Those frat bro muppets are starting shit again,” Jake commented to Matty. 

Matty shook his head but he kept his focus on his letter. They were so used to the bros of Kappa So causing a fuss. It wasn’t dulling down though. They were really excited about something. 

“Kappa So! Kappa So! Kappa So!”

What they didn’t see, walking along the gangway, grinning like a Cheshire cat, was George Beckingridge. His imprisoned bros met him with joy and elation as word of his heroism on behalf of the Chapter House spread. George had a leash in hand and that leather strap was tied to the neck of a creature that became less human by the day. Unable to walk properly, he shuffled along as his master tugged his neck. His arms and hands were permanently disfigured. His face had all but been burned off with acid. Winslow – former Doctor Winslow if you please – now the Beast of the Boss. Vincent Baines had once told the eminent doctor that throughout his whole life everyone had seen George as a puppet that could dance for billions but it was impossible for anyone to keep ahold of those strings. 

“Kappa So!” George yelled to his brothers. 

“Kappa So!” they returned. 

The beast gargled. 

“No!” George snapped, kicking him. 

He would have sent him falling to the ground if it weren’t for the pull on his leash. 

“Bad!” he yelled as he slapped the beast’s nose. Both with a lifetime of servitude ahead of them, they were now in servitude to The Boss. 


They are no longer free men. They are no longer considered with any kind of humanity. They are in servitude to THE BOSS

COMING APRIL 2022

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.  


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

Knock Knock: Episode 46: Calamity

Howard Bergman had been on a trip to Subala so his sister, Law Maker Hell Hound Sophie, had left a message at their estate over there to contact her as soon as possible. In the meantime, she had her Golem, Mr Raminoff, seek information on the unexpected freighter the Wigan had mentioned.  

“Find out who authorised it,” she instructed.  

Speaking in his native tongue of Levinkrantz, the Golem made some enquiries as to the mysterious freighter. Howard was never one to make such an oversight so it was expected that it would be confirmed that no such event had ever occurred and the Wigan was merely making conversation, or was mistaken in some way. Imagine Sophie’s surprise then, if you will, when Golem told her that a Bergman freighter had been sent to the inlet. Not only that, the authority on it was her son, Isaac. 

The next course of action was to speak to her son. It seemed Isaac had gone to a girlfriend outside of the city and hadn’t been seen since. A message was left with him, too.  

“Call home immediately,” Golem warned.  

Isaac didn’t return the call.  

*** 

WELCOME TO VIOLET. 

The purr of the luxurious Cooper car with glistening purple paint could be heard approaching CPD in City Main.  

PARKING ACTIVATED. 

The smooth long body took its place. Emerging from the spectacular vehicle was the long frame of Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Owen. Ronnie entered the CPD building at a dash.  

“I need to speak to Billy,” he told the front desk.  

The bro that had been placed on such desk obliged. Given the scrutiny The Cappy was under at that time, fast access to the commissioner was given to any who shared his blood. For all intents and purposes, Ronnie’s legal presence was welcome. The commissioner was under a lot of strain.  

William ‘Billy’ Owen was on a call with Irvine Stoker who had been informing him of the enquiries that Sophie Bergman had placed.  

“Those fucking bead rattlers,” he was complaining of the Wigans.  

“It’s lucky we got told, mucker,” Irvine assured. “I’ve had to pull the plug but the body has been moved. We just need to find Isaac. We paid a visit to the girlfriend he was supposed to have gone to see but she didn’t know anything. She says she hasn’t seen him.”  

“So, the risk lies in the hands of a Shylock that knows everything?” Billy wanted to clarify with some frustration.  

“Even if he does squeal, he’ll have to prove it. That’s where we got your back,” was Irvine’s reply. 

Billy nodded. “Keep an eye out for him. Let me know the minute he comes slithering back.” 

“Will do,” Irvine agreed.  

“A’body knows those Bergmans are all psycho. Ain’t nobody that nice.”  

Irvine offered his agreement and then the call was closed. Upon doing this his cousin, Ronnie, entered the scene.  

“About time,” Billy exclaimed. “You done anything yet about the damn Cappy?” he asked.  

“He’s still on lockdown at the ranch. I’ve asked for Jackson’s proposal. He’s thinking about it.”  

“Thinking about it?” Billy growled. “That’s fucking mighty kind of him. My own father. I never thought myself spawned from such a limp dick. Do I look like the spit of a limp dick?”  

Ronnie raised an eyebrow. “I’ve not been at the board meetings for a while so I don’t know how all this will go down. I can’t leave Coldford in case they call me in to testify. I’m here because of the complaints that are being brought against the department.”  

“I’m getting shit done,” Billy stated.  

“On paper you’re doing swell,” Ronnie concurred. “But this Wigan situation needs to be resolved. The office of Law Makers is looking to remove you. I told you when you first got here, they wouldn’t be comfortable letting our Kappa So boys take over.”  

“A’body knows those Wigan fucks are needing run out the damn city. I’m the man for the job,” was Billy’s response with a cold raspy laugh. He was still full of confidence despite the dark shadows of stress underneath his eyes. 

Ronnie finally took a seat. “I need you to tell me every dealing your department has had with the Wigan church. Peter Millicent is good at what he does so I need to be armed with everything I can.”  

Billy grinned. “You ready for that cuz?” he asked.  

Ronnie didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic but he was no stranger to the darker shades of Coldford. He was, after all, an Owen.  

*** 

“He’s gotta be removed. After the accusations against Jerry and his side of the family, Chick should have stepped down in disgrace years ago!”  

That was the sentiment of Jackson ‘Jackie’ Owen. He had been locked out of his social media accounts several times but each time he kept coming back. The Owen-owned publication, the Coldford Daily, was admitting to a divide on the board of Owen Inc. and their enemies were smelling blood. Not to mention it was surfacing family troubles, which was something the generations of Owens before them would never have done no matter how mad they were at each other. Times were tough. With Charles ‘Chick’ Owen under lock and key by the Law Makers it seemed unwise to air dirty laundry on such a public forum.  Jackie seemed confident in his statements, though. All week he had been blasting his views across social media about how Owen Inc. had no business being led by the brother of a known child rapist. He said that The Cappy had been incompetent for a long time. He even posted photos of a dishevelled looking Chick being escorted from the airport by Bailiffs.  

“Is this the future of Owen Inc?” he had captioned with a large, bold question mark.  

That wasn’t my decision to make. I was merely there to tell the story, but as an outsider I could see Jackson was making enemies. That was how businesses in Coldford were run so I’m sure he knew what he was doing. Still, it seemed unwise but as I said, it was not for me to comment, only observe.  

“Jackass!” was all that an email from his son, William ‘Billy’ Owen had said to him.  

Some might have thought it was in agreement with his father against The Cappy but that wasn’t it. Billy was on team Chick through and through. Familial loyalty was to his cousin once removed. As far as Billy was concerned his father was being a jackass.  

Disruption and chaos on the Owen board was only increased by The Cappy having had his wings clipped by the Law Makers of Coldford.  

“I feel for my cousin,” said Jackson in an official statement. “What he is going through is unprecedented. But the law is the law and he should stand down if he values the rest of us. Pops would be so ashamed.”  

Jackass!  

That had been his son’s cry because as far as Billy was concerned, they were entering a whole new era for Owen Inc. and they needed The Cappy at the wheel to navigate.  

“The balls on the man!” Billy said admiringly of Chick. He wasn’t shy of telling anyone who would listen that his cousin had huge God balls like no other. He had what it took to lead Owen Inc.  

Jackson had expected his son to come around. It didn’t matter what Billy said though. Jackson was what the company needed. He was not a shy man nor was he a stupid one by his own reckoning. The Owens were having everything thrown at them. He couldn’t have handled it any better than Chick had. He knew that. He was no fool. But that wasn’t for the board to know. So, he spoke to the press of his concerns for his family, his cousin especially, and for the future of Owen Inc.  

“I fear he has been using William’s special ops training to bully his way into CPD. Why would you use your cousins like that? What do you have to hide? Do the right thing Chick and resign now! #chickmustresign” 

“Jackass!” Billy raged at the quote now going viral. “Throwing me under the bus now, are ya?”  

For failing to flock to Jackson’s side immediately he set his sights on discrediting his son.  

OWEN INC. CEO NEEDS TO STEP DOWN. 

THE CAPTAIN IS DRUNK AT THE WHEEL. 

“I’m going to string him up!” The Cappy warned.  

“Leave it, Chick,” Ronnie advised. Chick’s younger, lawyer brother had been keeping a close eye on Jackson’s activity. “We’ve got enough to deal with, with Tabitha and Reggie Penn. Not to mention the Law Makers all over the estate. Sit quiet. I’ll see about a gagging order.”  

Jackson had already managed to leak some old photos from Billy’s military days, where he was shown to be less than accommodating to Subalan prisoners he had taken. Naked, on their knees, begging for mercy, Billy was shown to be taunting them.  

“I’m going to the Great States, right now. I’m gonna see that damn traitor myself,” Billy decided. 

Again, Ronnie had to be the level head. “Leave it Bill,” Ronnie instructed. “The moment they see you leaving on a plane they’re going to come down hard,” he said of the Law Makers. “The only reason they haven’t put you under arrest too at this point is out of politeness. You still have a position in this city. Don’t give them an excuse.” 

Jackson had attempted to bring an alliance with the Beckingridges. He knew it would be a sure-fire way of gaining influence in The Shady City so he reached out to one of the richest families in Coldford.  

“And who are you!?” spat Elizabeth Beckingridge, still frustrated with her own lockdown.  

Jackson tried to explain but as far as Elizabeth was concerned it was better the devil you know.  

“Jackie Owen ma’am. Think of what we can achieve!” he propositioned her. 

“I deal with the organ grinder not the monkey,” she said dismissively. “Have Charles call me if he wants to talk.”  

Jackson refused to give up.  

“I’m going to be taking over things,” he told her. 

She seemed to have been distracted by Law Makers on her lawns. “Fuck off!” she yelled. “The rose bushes assaulting you? Maybe if we weren’t stepping all over them, we wouldn’t get pricked by thorns.” 

“Ma’am, if you would…” Jackson tried to call her attention. 

Elizabeth sighed, “I don’t really have time for whatever your nonsense is, nor would I care for it if I did. I’m not shopping at the moment but if I ever need whatever it is you’re selling, I’ll call you.”  

“Ma’am, if you’ll hear my…” 

“Gah! He just won’t shut up,” she murmured to someone else who must have been in the room with her. 

“It’s important that we talk,” Jackson suggested. 

“Who even are you?” she asked again. 

“Jackson Owen.” 

“No,” she returned sharply and rang off. 

Elizabeth would rather battle Chick on her terms than play nice with a distant cousin she had never met. Presley Cage had already advised her against getting involved in the Owen dispute anyway. Bored under house arrest, she was finally starting to listen.  

‘She’s not the real CEO anyway,’ Jackson grumbled. ‘She’s a stuck-up author who’s throwing her grandfather’s money about like she has her own mint.’ 

With this in mind he turned to George.  

“Kappa So!” he yelled down the phone at him. “You ain’t got the God balls.”  

Jackson could swear he heard Buddy’s squealing laughter in the background. Weren’t they supposed to be on community service?

“As frustrating as it can be we need to play the Law Maker game right now,” was Ronnie’s suggestion.  

Chick groaned but he hadn’t gotten as far as he had by letting things get to him. He may not have been able to get to the Great States and stop his board from abandoning him completely but he still had those loyal to him. 

Marshall Cooper – VP of finance and distribution. Austin Perry – VP of marketing. Both of them were Kappa So and Chick’s brothers for life.  

*** 

8am. Star State. The Owen Inc. board was assembled. The smell of fresh coffee was in the air. A plate of pastries that had been baked just that morning was on the table.  

Jackson had deliberately kept Austin Perry and Marshall Cooper at bay. He only needed a 70% vote anyway. He was convinced of all but those two. The motion to remove Chick was all but done. What choice did the board have? They were in a sticky situation and things in Coldford were getting worse by the minute. Jackson himself looked pleased. He had it. It was so close he could feel it in their hands. They only had to vote.  

“We’ve got a lot to do today so I’m just going to go ahead and get started,” Jackson announced.  

“Shouldn’t we wait for Ozzy and Marshall?” Kathleen spoke up. She was an old squeeze of The Cappy’s and the mother hen of Kappa Si sorority. 

Jackson frowned at the interruption. After paying a visit to the Sorority House he thought they had an understanding.  

“Chick doesn’t care about you,” he had said the previous night. “He only cares about his own damn dynasty. He’ll screw anyone that gets in the way of that.” He had tried to ply her with alcohol but it had been he who had passed out, not she. Still, he figured they had reached an agreement.  

“Austin and Marshall have made their feelings clear already,” stated the meeting’s chair.  

Kathleen gave a wry smile. “You’re really going to do this?”  

“Gross incompetency, criminal activity, allowing profits to fall because of theft from terror groups. Tell me why I shouldn’t do this?”  

Kathleen’s smile spread a little wider.  

“When you showered this morning did you clean your ass?”  

The rest of the board looked to Jackson for an answer to this all-intriguing question.  

Jackson scowled. “What’s your point Kathleen?”  

Kathleen pursed her lips. “I’m just saying. If you’re going to show everyone else’s skid marks you better make sure your ass is squeaky fucking clean.”  

“I’m worried,” was Jackie’s reply, trying to keep a professional tone. It was, after all, to be his first meeting as the Owen Inc. CEO. 

“We’re all worried,” was the reply.  

Marshall Cooper of Cooper Garage and Austin ‘Ozzy’ Perry of Perry Zoo had decided it was a board meeting worth attending after all.  

“We’ve got a word from our real CEO,” said Austin. A thick Southern Hemisphere accent danced on his tongue.  

He tapped his phone a couple of times and an image of Chick flicked onto the board room screens.  

“Good mornin’,” he greeted with a warm smile. “I’m sorry I can’t be there with y’all in person but I guess we all have to take our turns sitting on the naughty step from time to time. I don’t need to tell you that, huh Dutsy? Been in every penitentiary in the state and still carrying on.”  

Dusty – addressed by The Cappy – chuckled nervously.  

The Cappy went on. 

“I can see y’all are set up quite nicely. CJ, you lay off those pastries now. You know Marsha is worried about your cholesterol.” 

CJ shied away. He had probably already been thinking about the pastries.  

“I would just like for you all to know that I have no intentions of leaving you. I most certainly wouldn’t be leaving you in Jackson’s hands. Bless him. Snakes don’t have any arms. Those of you who object to that can feel free to depart your stations, no hard feelings. If you do choose to stay, however, you are on the understanding that it is my leadership that you abide by.”  

Chick awaited the response from his board. When there was none, he continued. He turned to Jackson.  

“Jackie,” he began. “You and I need to have words but I worry that if I begin, I might not be able to curb my cussing. These good people don’t need to hear that. They don’t need to see me having a dying duck fit because you are one slimy, yella, egg-sucking son a’ bitch. So, it’s sufficed to say you are to pack your belongings and, as much as it would hurt our dear pops, you are never to grace my office or my home ever again. In not so many words – you’re fired. The rest of you? Should you choose to continue you will be toeing a very thin line. If those terms aren’t agreeable to you then join Jackson there as he scrambles to pack his suitcase. Need a help there Jackie? Marsh, give him a hand there, will ya?”  

Marshall Cooper lifted Jackson’s briefcase and slid it across the conference room table. Jackson caught it just before it fell off the other side.  

“Damn it, Chick!” Jackson grumbled.  

The Cappy was unmoved. “That’s Captain to you,” he replied with a slight curl of his lip. “If you could slither out of my conference room with a little more urgency, I’d be much obliged.”  

“Now that we have that most unfortunate business behind us, I have some ideas for the next quarter that Marshall will be happy to take you through.” 

“We got projections,” agreed Marshall eagerly. “Good projections.”  

“Then I’ll leave you to it,” said Chick. “I’m only a phone call away and despite what Jackson would have you believe, I’m not in prison. I’m merely helping the Law Makers of Coldford with their investigations.”  

Jackson did depart the office. They would still have the vote but there was sure as hell no way they were going to motion for The Cappy’s removal now. His thoughts were to regroup. The Cappy had other ideas.  

*** 

“Barbara!” Jackson was yelling down the phone in a message to the secretary. “Chick has pulled a fast one with the board. The board won’t vote on the appeal. Damn it, Barbara! I need you to book me the next flight out of here.”  

ZOOM. 

He had fled the Owen Inc. building in such a rush he hadn’t realised how far onto the road he had stumbled. He had almost been hit by a prestigious looking blue car.  

“I’m fucking walking here!” Jackson screamed after it sped off round the corner onto Second Street.  

“Barbara, call me back as soon as you get this.”  

Unbeknownst to Jackson, Barbara was at her table listening to the message but she wasn’t accepting any calls. Instead, she was stood with a group of Kathleen’s Kappa Si around her – her little chickadees.  

“Just let the call go,” the Chapter Leader warned her.  

Barbara didn’t really have much choice.  

The roads were getting busy. The little blue compact car had just turned the corner when a yellow one – stream lined and sleek for speed – came rushing by. Jackson had just managed to get out of its way, edging onto the sidewalk opposite the Owen Inc. building. 

“Fucking world’s gone mad,” Jackson was still grumbling but as the road quietened again, he came upon a most luxurious vehicle. A shimmer glinted from Marshall Cooper’s personal car. Long, stately and with a body to die for she was named Jewel and she was Marshall’s pride and joy.  

“You fucking prick, Marshall,” Jackson scowled at the car.  

He could see his angered expression reflected in Jewel’s tinted windows. It actually helped him to feel a little better.  

Zoom. 

Apparently, there were no fucking speed limits on the road because this time a green car zipped past. Was that a Cooper badge on its ass? Probably. They were all Cooper cars in these parts.  

Jackson took a pen knife from his pocket. The alarms would start screaming the moment he touched the precious jewel like a big old rape alarm but hopefully he could at least get in some deep scratches before she bit back.  

The tip of the knife touched the paint.  

BOOM! 

A car fired its exhaust with gusto. Its bark seemed to bring all other sounds to a halt. The birds in the trees near by hushed their song.  

Jackson turned. Shit! It was Cooper badges on those other cars. He should have known. Marshall had brought his show cars with him, the fleet he proudly called the Mad Dogs.  

The red one, Cherry, was now facing him. Her engine was growling deeply. Named after the deep red paint on her sturdy body, Cherry was the dog with the loudest bark. 

BOOM! 

Her exhaust fired again sending angry flames sparking behind her. Jackson backed away from Jewel. He dropped the knife and ran through the alley that led onto second street but just as he got there Sunny – the yellow dog – was racing down the road towards him. He had stupidly dashed towards a quiet section of the area where no one was around. Sunny was sleek and fast. Even Jewel herself would have trouble keeping up with her. That dog was a racer and she loved to run.  

At a slower pace, the blue one – Sky – rounded the corner. She didn’t need speed. With a compact, two-seater body, Sky was the dog with the ears. Navigation was her attribute and she was the spotter on the hunt. True to her nature she stopped and she watched as Sunny darted to the bottom of the road towards Third Avenue, rounded on open ground and turned to come back.  

BOOM!  

Cherry barked her exhaust angrily as she turned the corner from Main onto Second to join her pack.  

“There’s one more,” Jackson remembered with a gulp.  

Where the fuck was the green one, they called Emerald? 

As though in answer to that Emerald came charging through the alley. Stream lined and with a steering system so tight there wasn’t a corner she couldn’t handle. Emerald was the performer of the Mad Dogs and she loved to show how smoothly she could take the sharpest of corners, dance and nip into tight spaces. She charged through the narrow alley which would prove problematic for the muscle-bound Cherry or even the speedy Sunny. The breath escaped Jackson with a sudden whack against his back as Emerald nuzzled him onto the road.  Sunny cut his path as he scrambled forward. All the while, Sky kept her eye on her pack’s prey.  

BOOM!  

Jackson was thrown back by Cherry’s fiery bay. The heat of the flaming exhausts sizzled on the skin of his face.  

Still gasping for breath, Jackson tried to clamber to his feet. His heart was racing. The hit from Emerald had blurred his vision. He could hear Cherry’s engine rumble in a low growl. The sun glinted on Sunny’s shining body obscuring the vision of all else.  

“Wait!” gasped Jackson.  

SCREECH! 

Emerald skid. Her wheels screamed and Jackson was thrown forward just as Sunny zoomed past catching him as he fell.  

BOOM! 

Cherry roared and dashed towards him.  

Thud. The full weight of the bulkiest dog crushed his leg beneath her paws.  

SCREECH!  

Emerald twisted and leapt, only just nudging the body over onto its back. Jackson choked as blood began to gather in his lungs.  

CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.  

Sky rolled a little closer. 

The Mad Dogs’ chew toy had just enough consciousness to see the pack of primary colours draw in on him, ready to tear him apart as per their master’s command.  

Page Break 

*** 

Bleep. Bleep.  

The crash test car appeared excited to be put to use. The motion-sensor lights sparked to life as the Cooper drivers wheeled Jackson to the back of the garage. The Cooper Crash car, Calamity, had already been set up for a frontal impact test.  

“Let’s try thirty-five miles per hour,” it was suggested. The excitability of the attack had calmed to cold callousness.  

Jackson was placed in position in the driver’s seat. The paint that would normally be splashed onto the high impact areas of the dummy was splashed on the him instead.  

The passenger door opened. Jackson’s head dropped onto his left shoulder. The driver of Sunny popped her head in. She raised a phone and took a photo.  

“Before and after,” Marshall had requested.  

Jackson had no more energy to resist or object. The pain of the injuries they had inflicted on him was starting to intensify as the shock wore off. A dummy was on the seat beside him. Its head was turned towards him. He tried to reach out and push it away but the strength in his arm failed him. There was knocking on the window. The Mad Dogs were watching him. Their faces were covered with their protective gear. The wash of colours of their signature suits seemed quite surreal.   

He looked out the window and could see the driver of Sky head to the control panel. The button was pushed. Thirty-five miles per hour. The car smashed into the concrete wall. It was a crushing impact. Don’t try to take the driver’s seat if you can’t keep a hold of the wheel.  

*** 

A week passed after Jackson ‘Jackie’ Owen’s death. When I learned of it, I contacted The Cappy to gather his thoughts.  

“An automobile accident,” he said. “That is most unfortunate. I always told him to keep his mind on the road. That is a busy juncture there outside the building. He had been caught short before, I don’t mind telling you. I had warned him he was going to meet an untimely end if he weren’t careful.” 

I knew then that there was more to it.  

“An accident, was it?” I pressed.  

“Now, Mr Crusow, I have answered everything I am prepared to regarding that. As far as Jackson is concerned, I would appreciate it if you allowed me to deal with my own family affairs.”  

That had been that. Accommodating enough that he didn’t seem to have anything to hide and dismissive enough to show he was not inviting any more questions.  

“Jackass!” was all Billy would say on his father’s death. 

The Cappy seemed confident that he had managed to navigate the choppy waters so far. The Law Makers were easing off, finding everything in order as far as Jerry was concerned. It seemed the call made to Jerry the night of the club attack had come from none other than Jackson. Coincidence? Of course. The truth? Highly unlikely. So, whilst Sanjay took a closer look at the call records, Sophie and her Golem were treated to all the hospitality Owen Estate had to offer.  

Marshall Cooper had taken a detour from his showcase in Luen to the board meeting in the Star State but was now on his way to Coldford promising the arrival of his Mad Dogs in the city. Joining him was Austin Perry, Ozzy to his friends, and given everything that had happened in Coldford thus far it was actually good to see a little vibrancy and excitement garner around the zoo located in the heart of Coldridge Park.  

So, when Jewel pulled up outside of Owen Estate there was a reunion of old Kappa So brothers and one would be treated to seeing Charles ‘Chick’ Owen, respectfully tilted The Cappy, greet his old bro with a Kappa So handshake.  

“Coops!” he cheered. “Good to see you, brah.”  

A young man with a law maker pin approached them demanding to know the name of the visitor for the record. 

“My name?” Marshall scowled. “You little prick. What’s your name?” 

“Cooper,” the Cappy answered for him. “He’s Cooper. He’ll provide identification.”  

Marshall reluctantly dug into his wallet and showed the Law Maker his driving licence. Satisfied he had completed his duty the Law Maker wandered off to liaise with his superior. 

“Little prick,” Marshall grinned. “How you doin’ Chick?”  

Chick gave a hearty laugh. “You son a’ bitch. It’s been too long.”  

“Kappa So!” 

They were interrupted by a Southern Hemisphere voice as Austin arrived on scene.  

“Bugger me,” he said. “I just had to show my damn ID to get onto the property. They really got you hemmed in, mate.” 

The handshake was shared between them and more reunions were made. It was time to get down to business.  

“Hello boys,” greeted Kathleen, who was waiting for them in The Cappy’s den. “You all took your time. When you are done sucking each other’s cocks I’d really like to get things moving. I got an appointment at four.”  

“Good to see you too, Kathleen. Flight was fine by the way,” Austin replied in a tease.  

The Cappy took a seat behind his desk.  

“There’s a lot of trouble going on here in the city and I sure could use your help in straightening it out,” Chick put to them. “Firstly, the Coldford Daily is hanging by a thread, competing with independents and that kitty box liner set up by Elizabeth Beckingridge.”  

“Why is she having her say?” Marshall demanded to know. “Where the fuck is George and why hasn’t he taken control? The fucking compass? Bitch…”  

“George is in the fold but, well, you’ll see for yourself when you come to meet him. Suffice to say he ain’t got the sense the good Lord gave a goat. Kathleen, I would like you to take charge of the Daily. If there’s anyone I can trust to whip it into shape, it will be you.”  

“Sure,” Kathleen agreed. She was a PR maven and most of her Kappa Si chicks were following close at her heel.  

“Damage control is priority. Then we permanently remove the competition.” 

Kathleen nodded.  

“Marshall, I would like for you to take the Auction House. Now that the phoney king is gone and two of his crotch goblins are behind bars, it’s time to make some use of it and by use, I mean money. The Penn line is in the hands of the youngest. He doesn’t seem to remember much from his time with our boys but tread carefully because who knows when he may suddenly spark a brain cell. If he retrieves his Auction House back it will avoid some difficult questions later but I want to make sure we don’t leave the arrangement without recuperating some losses.” 

Marshall groaned and bit down on his own cigar. “You’re leaving me to deal with the dim wit? Bro, that sucks.”  

Chick shook his head. “I’m entrusting you with the Auction House,” he said. “It’s an important piece of the puzzle here in Coldford and if there is anyone who can get it off of our hands and still gain something from it, you’re the man.”  

Marshall relented. He removed his phone from his pocket and immediately started to research the Auction House in City Main.  

“Looks like a shit hole,” he commented as he took a draw on his cigar.  

“Ozzy, I will need you on your best behaviour because you, my friend, are going to be just what this city needs. You are going to entertain, charm and draw the crowds with the help of them Stokers.” 

Austin grinned. “I didn’t realise the circus had come to town.”  

Chick nodded. “It never really left. It’s always a three-ring circus around here as you will all find out soon enough. The Stokers need somewhere to set up and your zoo sounds about right. Does that agree with you?”  

Austin whole heartedly agreed. “Piece of piss, brah,” he said. “People don’t visit zoos the way they used to. Too many animal activists. Most of them doing more harm to the animals than good.”  

The Cappy leaned back in his chair. He had been so long dealing with his son’s antics, he was close to forgetting what it was like to work with a competent team.  

“We got a lot of work to do,” Chick assured them. “But I am mighty glad ya’ll are here. First thing’s first. Harbour House are allowing us to visit the boys in rehab. We’ll start by checking just how much those rascals have learned.”  

“Spoke to Dale just last night,” Marshall explained. “He said his bed is comfortable, the food is good and he’s got a gym. Shit! He’s supposed to be learning a lesson and that dumbass thinks it’s a fucking resort.” 

Kathleen craned her neck and looked out of the window.  

“Chick,” she asked. “Was that a Law Maker lady I just saw pass by your window?”  

Chick looked behind him. “That’ll be Sophie. Thankfully, she and her colleagues will be making a timely departure. Do any of you speak sign language?”  

*** 

It had been on an afternoon when I was visiting Olivia and Milo that I first became alerted to the presence of the Kappa Elders in Coldford.  

Olivia and I were discussing current affairs in the city and her support of Harbour House in her capacity as a social worker. She had been to Faulds Park to visit Reggie so I was keen to hear what she had found. 

“Reggie still maintains he remembers as far as getting to Coldridge but it’s blank until he met up with Tabitha,” she said. 

“Do you think he’s lying? Covering for someone?”  

Olivia shook her head. “I don’t think so. He asked for his mother when he got back. It had to be explained to him all over again. His grief was real. The doctors working with him say that it’s like some loose wiring that will repair over time. They wanted him to look at the video and see if he could remember anything but I didn’t think that was wise. He’s not ready for that. The one who actually committed the rape died in prison the day after Simon and Marcus left the prayer room.” 

“How did he die?”  

“He was hung in his cell. I don’t think it was Marcus or Simon. I fear if they had gained access to him, they would have done much worse. It was most likely one of the Kappa So brothers covering their tracks.”  

“What about Tabitha?” I asked.  

Olivia said, “I tried to explain to her that the death penalty is still very real but she’s settled back at the club for now and is teaching David Finn about running the Knock Knock.”  

“Dear God,” I gasped.  

Olivia laughed. “She truly does want what is best for the people in the Shanties. With Tawny around she’s trying so hard…”  

“Mum, look!”  

Milo came dashing in, having just arrived home from school. When he realised his mother had company he stopped.  

“Sorry,” he said. “Hi, Mr Crusow.”  

I smiled at him. The boyish innocence was a breath of fresh air.  

“How are you, Milo?” I asked.  

“I’m good,” he said genuinely. He had been spending more time with his dad and it seemed to be going well. Reynolds – who had been working closely with Dennis recently – seemed to think the boy was doing him good.  

“I just saw this through the letter box,” he passed his mum the flier.  

STOKER CIRCUS PRESENTS FUN TIME AT THE ZOO. 

  • Sponsored by Owen Inc. 

”Can we go?” Milo asked.  

If this was going to be The Cappy’s return to Coldford it was going to be a circus indeed. So, I took up the invitation and arranged to tag along. 



Enjoy this? Check out these other graphic novels. Available now.

Knock Knock: Episode 45: M.I.L.D.R.E.D

“Damnit playa’” Anthony had cried over the message. “You better get your ass back here. We’re down on the second deck and we’re in a whole loada shit. I mean like mountain of shit. Like truck loads!” 

“Yeah, I got the point,” Joshua responded. 

He was already on his way to the second deck of the Motherboard building. This particular floor housed Coby Games’ main I.T suite. It was also where the Main Information Local Drive Reader and Encryption Device sat, or MILDRED for short. MILDRED was the main Coby server. Putting it simply, she was the main power house of the Coby Games empire. She was the heart of the Motherboard. 

On this morning, as Joshua rushed to see who was gaining access to MILDRED’S information, he was greeted by a man in black. 

“Good morning, Mr Coby,” he greeted. “I’m Professor Lynch.” 

The Law Maker pin on his lapel introduced his purpose before he said anything further. 

Beads of sweat had started to gather on Josh’s forehead but his body language remained composed.

“If you have a warrant I’d be happy to open up the servers for you.” 

Professor Lynch smiled. It would have been personable if the man weren’t so sure of himself. 

“The warrant is within. You don’t have to worry. We already have access to your servers. If you’ll be so kind and step inside with me. My charge has some questions he would like to ask about what he’s found so far.”

Professor Lynch pushed the door open to the main frame room. The heat within was like stepping into an oven no matter how many fans were operating. At the table next to MILDRED, hidden mostly by a hefty laptop with the Law Maker symbol on the lid, was a boy of about ten years old. His name was Sanjay Rappapor. He was a remarkable young man. Certified genius at age seven he already had degrees in information technology from Kingsgate University. 

Coincidentally this was where he had met his handler, Professor Lynch. Lynch was a retired academic. His specialty was history and communication. He had been tasked with overlooking the boy, honing his skills and providing service to the Office of Law Makers’ forensic accountants. 

He was a part of their ‘Hell Hound’ team, the other two of which we’ve already met. 

Joshua looked to the registry screen. 

‘LIL_SNIFFLES LOGGED IN’

That was the name he went by in the cyber world. He called himself that as a tongue in cheek play on the name the Black Bands gave him when they learned of his ability to spread viruses through online communities. He was a Subala native, raised by Van Holder himself. He had been brought to Coldford and educated by Judge Doyle. 

Lynch went on to explain, “We’re going to start by searching the archives for any time the name Tabitha McInney turns up.” 

BLEEP.

The search Lil Sniffles had initiated produced one result. 

“We’ll copy those files as part of our investigation,” added Lynch. “You’ll find the details in the warrant.”

BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP.

More search finds popped up. 

“We’ll take into account the sensitivity of some of the other user data on the servers, employee details etc. Only information used in evidence will be presented.”

BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP.

Sanjay looked up from behind his computer. To Joshua he seemed delighted by what he had found. 

BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP. 

Sanjay raised an eyebrow at his screen. He then tapped on some keys. 

BLEEP. Another one? Does that win a prize?

The door was thrown open by Anthony. 

“Wooooh!” he gasped having rushed from his office on the fourth deck. “Got here as quick as I could.” 

Professor Lynch addressed the Coby lawyer. “You must be our legal correspondent. You will have been made aware we’ve been granted at least three hours of your server time to gather what information we can.” 

BLEEP. BLEEP.

“That little mother fucker is going to cause all kinds of shit,” Anthony said to Joshua in an aside. 

“I’ve not done anything wrong,” Joshua maintained. 

Anthony agreed. “I know but they ain’t going to see it that way. If our users find out the Law Makers are tracking servers they’re going to pull out. Your dealings with the Boss Lady…” 

BLEEP.

“God damn it, will you shut that thing up!?”

Sanjay scowled behind his laptop screen. 

“Feel free to go about your business for now,” said Lynch. “We wouldn’t want to hold you back. I think we have everything we need here. We’ll call you should anything turn up.” 

A cacophony of bleeps sounded from Sanjay’s laptop then. He stopped. He leaned back in his chair. He took a sip of the milkshake that had been brought for him. 

‘LIL SNIFFLES HAS JOINED THE CHAT’ 

Joshua read the server screen. ‘I know that user name,’ he reflected. He was the one that wrecked the Lonesome Nights server just last year.

BLEEP. BLEEP. 

***

The game had been glitching all day. The support thread had been filling for most of the afternoon. People were asking a lot of questions as to where their profiles had gone. It was a major data breach. A lot of money was lost too, as users logged out and the stock at Beckingridge Tower dropped rapidly. One gamer tag, LIL_SNIFFLES, kept filling the error logs with complaints. 

REG3 ONLINE – error code 1304

FINND ONLINE – error code 1504

LEXF1 ONLINE – error code 1104

It took two hours for Joshua, backed by two of Coby’s best technicians, to break the firewall that LIL_SNIFFLES had thrown up. When they finally managed to confront the user there were no verifications, no apologies, but his message had been simple. 

LIL_SNIFFLES has joined the chat.

LIL_SNIFFLES: Your servers have now been infected by a rapidly replicating virus. In the next few hours it will have destroyed your mainframe’s hard drive. You will already be experiencing a 60% fall in your processing speed. I’m not looking to cause any permanent damage. I have the code to write the virus out.”

Joshua looked to Anthony at the time. 

“What do we do about this?” he asked. 

“Find out what the mother fucker wants,” Anthony suggested. “Those stocks are still falling and if we don’t do something about this we’re gonna end up flat broke.”

Joshua sighed. He took one of the stations. 

COBYPLAYER1 has joined the chat. 

COBYPLAYER1: What do you want? 

It didn’t take long before there was a response.

LIL_SNIFFLES: The Murabe village in Southern Subala is under a constant wave of attacks from nearby rebels. I will send you a video file which confirms some of the atrocities. You will circulate this as far as your networks will allow. Once this has been done I will write the virus out of your system.” 

Joshua checked the footage. It was difficult to stomach. There were graphic images of men, women and children being put to the slaughter. It was a humanitarian crisis in a part of the world that Coldford seemed to have forgotten about. It was brought back to mind that day. As agreed, the awareness was spread and the virus was removed. LIL_SNIFFLES had bested the brightest minds of Coby games, including Josh Coby himself. 

***

Three hours after gaining access to the server room, Joshua returned to the second deck to check on them. He wanted to politely remind little Sanjay and his handler that it was time to leave. 

When he entered the heat again Sanjay was still behind his laptop. 

“Time now, Sanjay,” said Professor Lynch. 

He had been pacing, admiring the Coby games hardware. 

Sanjay logged out of the mainframe and stored his laptop away in a black shoulder bag. On this bag was the badge of the Subala Black Bands. 

After they were gone, Anthony asked Josh how many occurrences of the Boss Lady being mentioned they found. 

Josh shook his head. “Adding her full name, Shanties and Knock Knock Club to the search, two hundred and forty six.”

***

I didn’t get much opportunity to visit Cardyne. It was an area of the city that set itself aside from the rest. It is the technological center of Coldford, as previously discussed. As I made my way to my meeting point, I passed glittering arcades, hip hop dance demonstrations on the streets and swarms of smiling, excited faces. It was a buzzing, bright place. 

I arrived at The Planetarium restaurant. To access the unique building, you were taken aboard a glass elevator with a 360 view. Once inside you were raised to the sky-scraping platform where the space themed eatery sat. The view over Cardyne you were given was beyond remarkable. The light show from the Gigantidome Complex as darkness set in was worth spending a few extra minutes at the restaurant entrance to watch. 

Waiting inside at our reserved table was Joshua Coby. He was a down to earth man on first appearance. He waved me over but before I could join him, I was stopped by a waitress. 

“Table for one?” she asked. 

“I’m here to meet with Mr Coby,” I explained. 

The waitress turned back for confirmation from Josh. 

“He’s with me, Lorraine,” he confirmed. 

The waitress handed me a menu with a smile. 

“I’ll be your server,” she said. “I’ll give you a few moments. Can I get you something to drink?” 

“Just coffee please,” I ordered. 

“Thanks for taking the time out to meet with me,” I said to Josh as I took the seat across from him. 

“The Express and the Daily have been hounding me. I had to file grievances against them when they both printed contradicting stories without my say so. They both have their agendas so I’d rather talk to you,” Josh explained.

Such was the way of mainstream press. 

“I thought it would be better to talk to a guy who had been through it too,” he added.

“I appreciate it,” I assured him. I couldn’t help but feel a bitter glee at the thought of Sandra Wake’s reaction when she saw my ‘little blog’ had an exclusive interview with Mr 60 himself. 

“Tabitha is clamped at the club for now until the Office of Law Makers do what they have to to lock her up again. How do you feel about that?” 

“She’s really something,” Josh laughed nervously. “I knew this would blow up, that’s why I thought I had better set my part of the story straight.” 

He seemed to think about how he felt about Tabitha’s limited freedom. In an expression that surprised me he seemed to be quite pleased at the idea. “It’s good for the Shanties, I suppose,” he said. “I heard the Baroness was back on stage at the club, too. They’ll be glad. A lot of people were put out of homes and left without help when the Law Makers shut them down.”

“A lot of people benefited from The Knock Knock Club,” I admitted. “Do you think it was worth the lives lost, though?”

“You can’t put a price on life,” said Josh. “All I know is we all gotta wake up to what’s going on around here.” 

“I couldn’t agree more,” I said. “Freefall was a wake up for you?” 

“I had never been more woken in my life. I don’t think I slept for days after.” 

***

Click. Click. Click. 

The noise of the high heels slowly crossing the marble floor resonated in Joshua’s ears. He clutched the huge Beckingridge table he was sat at. The dead body of one of the firm’s employees still lay on top.

He was shivering uncontrollably. It could have been the breeze. The window was still open where fifty nine people had fallen to their deaths. 

Click. Click. Click. 

“You seem a decent kinda guy, so I’ll level with you.” 

Josh looked up. The girl in the red dress perched herself on the table next to him. 

“I did what I did tonight because I’m standing up for those who cannot fight for themselves,” said she. “I’m like a fucking superhero.”

Josh cried, “I think you made your point.”

“Maybe,” replied Tabitha. “Do you think I’ve made my point?” she asked Reggie Penn. 

Reggie snatched Josh by the collar and dragged him to the window. Josh emitted a shriek when he was held out. Given the height of Beckingridge Tower it was a little blurry but the mess of body, blood and brains below made his stomach turn. 

***

“I had therapy for a while afterwards,” Joshua explained. “I’m doing better now but I was a mess at the time.” 

“I can imagine,” I said. 

Given all that I had faced since Tabitha came into my life I could completely understand. 

“So, I got this.” 

Joshua rolled up his sleeve, displaying a tattoo on his arm that showed the number sixty. I snapped a picture of it.

“It reminds me how close I came,” said he. “I came so close to spilling my guts on the Beck Tower courtyard. It reminds me every day that no matter what happens, I have to do business right. No matter how much easier it would be to cut corners. It was really my commitment to doing the right thing that saved my life that night. It stopped at fifty nine. It stopped at me.” 

“Was anything mentioned about Mayor Feltz and what she had done with him?” 

“No,” Josh stated with certainty. 

“After what she put you through, why would you listen to anything she has to say?” 

Josh thought about it. “It was fear at first,” he said. “I’ve never dealt with anything like that in my life. My games can be violent sometimes but never have I seen anything like that in reality. I’m Cardyne born and we’ve got a small community here. It’s a culture shock when you go into City Main. Reg Penn was no man to mess around. The triplets aren’t either. Tabitha? She was something else. As the night wore on, the more she dropped her stage act. She let her performance fall behind the curtains and I could see she was desperate. You would have to have been to do what she did. She was right on a lot of things though. Too many people were being overlooked. Someone had to catch attention.”

“That’s one way of looking at it,” I said. “I can’t agree with you, though. There was nothing right in what she did.” 

Josh nodded. “I know, but if you were backed into a corner what would you do? I never thought I would find myself listening to the ramblings of a crazy little bitch in a red dress. If you had told me before I would have said, ‘I’d fight her off no sweat,’ but I didn’t.” 

This made me think of Madeline, my former colleague and friend. I had been backed into a corner then both figuratively and literally. If someone had asked me, I would never have said I was capable of taking a life. I guess we can’t predict even our own behavior under certain circumstances.

The tone of our conversation, which was a polite and courteous exchange, was broken by a Coby games jingle that sang from Joshua’s pocket. 

“Sorry,” he excused himself removing the device. “I have alerts on all the newsfeeds. It looks like the Daily has something.”

I shook my head. “This I’d love to see.” 

“Becker screen, Shirley,” Josh called to the waitress. On receipt of her orders, she switched on a large screen that hung above the entrance to the kitchens. The screen showed a cartoon icon from a game called ‘Chomper Dash,’ rush across. It was then replaced by an image of Sandra Wake, standing before her camera lens, poised with a microphone in her hand. She was camped outside the Coby Games building. 

“In the last hour we’ve received reports that Joshua Coby of Coby Games inc has been remanded in custody by the Office of Law Makers for being complicit in the Freefall Massacre event which saw the deaths of fifty nine members, associates and staff of the Beckingridge Firm. When the event occurred, Mr Coby had stated that he had no prior meetings with Tabitha McInney of The Knock Knock Club. He did have acquaintance with Reggie Penn of the Penn Auction House, who helped orchestrate the tragedy. A Coby Games whistle blower has confirmed that Mr Coby and Reggie Penn had a long friendship and it is alleged that the Coby Games servers were used to spread information regarding the victims, access the Beckingridge Tower and lead the victims to their unfortunate deaths. Mr Coby has claimed himself Mr 60 and said he was always grateful to have survived. It could have been luck on his behalf or maybe it is something more sinister. Mr Coby has refused comment. More to follow as the events unfold. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily, your only source for the real news in the Shady City.” 

246 mentions found by Sanjay on his servers. Reggie had a lot of friends in that cyber world. Joshua had been confident he was innocent of any wrong doing as well he should have been, but the more he thought of his servers the more ill at ease he became. 

“That rotten to the core witch,” I found myself grumbling. 

I’m not proud of it but the idea of my old newspaper continuing to tear reputations apart got under my skin. If anyone was going to push someone like Joshua Coby to do underhanded things it was those hyenas. It strengthened my resolve to tell the true stories, no matter where I found them. The truth was Joshua was a good man. His empire brought thrills to many. His tactics of encouraging and inspiring was admirable. I couldn’t let him be dragged through the mud. 

“It’s time to get the truth out Josh. We don’t have a lot of time before this spreads so I’ll make a quick video now and we can do a full piece later. We need a response to this before it gets too hot.” 

Joshua looked nervous. He bit his lip at first but then he managed a smile. 

I opened my phone to camera. The video we recorded isn’t of much relevance. It basically reiterated the details of Josh’s experience at Beckingridge Tower. I asked him his opinions on all those involved which he gave respectfully but truthfully. I gathered the video to upload quickly. We were in a race against time before the latest Daily drivel became viral. 

ERROR 65 CANNOT ACCESS

“It won’t let me upload,” I said, feeling thankful at having the tech mogul with me. “Error 65.” 

Josh raised an eyebrow. “You use the Scroll On software, right? That’s one of ours. Let me see.” 

I passed my phone to him for examination. He peeled off the back. Pressed an inner button that allowed for some kind of reset. When he tried again, he sighed. He took his own phone. His screen asked him for his server I.D. When he presented this his screen also read Error 65.

“What’s going on?” I asked. 

“They’ve shut down our servers,” Joshua admitted. “I’m sorry, Sam. I have to go and check on this.”

Joshua departed our interview in a hurry. I warned him to be careful if Sandra was hovering around his building still. Left alone, I contemplated how I was going to get around my own predicament. If it was true and the servers had been shut it meant all my previous stories and interviews were gone. I had essentially been thrown into the media dark. 

As I looked up at the Becker screen the image cut. ERROR 65 it now read. 


Enjoy this?

Complete Season 1 is now available on kindle!

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 B