Category Archives: Knock, Knock

More on the Knock, Knock graphic novel series.

Knock Knock: Episode 38: Thrill Ride

An invitation was granted for Owen Inc. and Beckingridge Firm to meet at Harvester Farm for a day of bonding and reuniting. Perhaps the nice farm girl, Julia, felt it was time to let bygones be bygones or, what was more likely was, she had some kind of divide and conquer strategy in mind. Either way no one would know for certain until that particular hour glass ran out of sand and needed to be turned again. The nice girl would just smile and say, “I just thought it would be good to have everyone together.” 

Circumstances prevented Chick and Elizabeth attending personally but they both agreed in good faith to send along representatives. So, when I arrived on the farm myself I could see Beckingridge employees in their pin striped, well-tailored suits. Making their way through the fields were

the Owen Inc bodies who could be heard before they were spotted, booted and just itching to fire off some guns. I could also see Buddy, accompanied as always by Dale Cooper and Chad Perry. I was keen to observe him in something of a natural habitat. I was also hoping that chance would give me an opportunity to speak to one of the Kappa So frat boys on their own. 

The Beckingridge crew did look somewhat out of place, sipping fresh fruit drinks and discussing their portfolios. There were children running around too. Their laughter rose into the air and it made quite a charming atmosphere. It was quite a breath fresh air and not just because of the crisp Bourton sunshine.

I kept my distance from Buddy. He looked a little subdued that day. His voice could still be heard cheering and trying so desperately to impress Julia but with a stern warning from The Cappy I could assume this was generally his best behaviour. Cooper had shown an interest in one of the banker girls. He was stood with arms folded. The girl was laughing at a joke he was telling her. 

Buddy had wandered towards the shooting ranges set up courtesy of Stoker Circus on the east acre. Chad spotted where Buddy was heading so he danced after him, probably also under orders from The Cappy to prevent his son from doing something stupid. 

Julia herself, I avoided. The hostess was busy circulating. Farm hand Glenn was stood by Gordon’s paddock introducing his favoured animal to a mix of the Beck employees and the Owen ones. I was enjoying the trip away from the city when I spotted Buddy pick up a rifle. 

“Hit the target and win a prize!” a show runner from the Stoker Circus called. “Hit two targets and win one of our stuffed animals.” 

Buddy lifted the gun. A grin spread across his face. Five targets. He judged them with a trained eye. 

He fired off the rounds. Shot after shot. Five times. 

The Stoker Circus man turned and checked the targets. 

“Better luck next time,” he said. All five targets had been missed. 

Buddy’s lips tightened. His eyebrows raised. 

“What you say, brah?” he asked. 

“No targets. Sorry. You want to try again?” the Stoker Circus man offered. 

“Are you saying I missed them targets? I missed all five of your targets?” 

The man with the attraction carried on, “Sorry, you must just have bad aim.” 

Buddy’s eyes widened. Chad recognising what was happening stepped back.

“Brah!” he warned. “You don’t wanna go messing with my bro.” 

Cooper who must have also caught some wind of the disruption had joined them. 

“I have a bad aim?” Bernard ‘Buddy’ Owen wanted to be sure. 

“Maybe just an off day,” replied the circus man, realising he was making a huge mistake but not quite figuring out how to fix it.

Chad hopped from foot to foot. 

“He ain’t got a bad aim!” Chad insisted. “He’s Buddy fucking Owen. You better recognise!” 

The Stoker Circus should have been familiar with the gun toting skill set the Owen’s possessed. They had after all worked with the Owen’s for years on various nefarious schemes but that is a story for another day. What I was observing at that point was Buddy exhaling breath. Chad was still warning the circus man. Cooper was stood with arms folded ready for whatever situation was about to arise. 

Buddy had had enough. He fished into his belt and drew his own gun. In hindsight this was the most expected situation to arise. The gun he had named ‘Vaj Slapper’. I have no idea and I didn’t care to ask. What was most important was that the shots began to ring out. 

Shoot one. Shoot two. Then three, four and five. All five targets were blasted to pieces. 

“You see that, brah!?” Buddy yelled. “Who’s got bad aim? An Owen never misses a target!” 

Credit in Buddy’s favour he had hit all five targets dead centre. The Beckingridge employees clutched pearls and gave an audible gasp. The Owen ones seemed to have fully expected this scene. 

Julia approached him before anything further could occur. She laid a hand softly on his shoulder. 

“Oh, Buddy,” she said coyly. “You’re such a boy sometimes.” 

He looked at her. He smiled and pushed his chest out. He turned back to the circus man. 

“I’ll take the giraffe,” he said, tucking his own gun away again. 

Who was the Stoker to object? He passed the stuffed animal to Buddy, who placed an arm around Julia and passed it to Chad. 

With Buddy’s ego reset again the afternoon continued on. I had to admire Julia’s ability to bring calm. She was very much in control of the situation. 

I continued to watch Buddy as Glenn’s daughterSusie raced him towards another shooting range. 

“Can I shoot your gun?” Susie asked him. 

Buddy shook his head. “No way, lil mascot. It takes practice.” 

Susie had been ever so impressed by Buddy’s natural skill. To be fair, it really was quite impressive. 

“Will you teach me?” the little girl asked. 

“First rule,” said Buddy. “Always make sure the safety is on.” 

BANG!

The noise made me shudder. Buddy’s eyes widened. 

Susie roared with laughter. 

“Oh? Did I just hit that target?” 

With his back turned he had hit that target dead centre. 

Susie cheered. 

“Do it again!” she urged. 

“No way. I’m all fired out. Wait a minute. I gottatie my laces.” 

Buddy bent over and fired the gun from between his legs. Again, the target was hit dead centre. 

“Ahhhh!” both he and Susie cheered. 

He put his hand to his ear. “Was that target?” he asked.

“Owened!” Susie cried out with glee, pointing to it. 

The little girl jumped onto his back, covering his eyes. Buddy spun around. Even with Susie fully concealing his gaze he managed to hit the target. He had gauged the distance and trajectory by counting steps and sensing wind direction. Ironically it was a skill honed by legendary Stoker Circus knife thrower, Felix Stoker. 

Speaking of Stokers, the circus man’s companions were ushering him away before the gathering realised the games were rigged. The other Stokers were making sure he packed fast. 

Buddy lifted Susie onto his shoulders and pointed to the show runner. 

“You tell that son a bitch!” he yelled across the field. 

“An Owen never misses a target.” 

“Kappa So!” Buddy yelled, as he charged across the field carrying Susie. 

I had caught the whole thing on film. 

***

The set up for the agents at Harbour House was hugely beneficial. Doyle’s office granted the licence to function as the Good Gang and everything seemed to be falling into place. The dust from the Black Bands’ sweep of the Mack Distillery was beginning to settle. The search for Tawny continued but the agency had sparked a new lease of life into Coldford. As always, I was on hand to document everything and with Dan’s help at the Crier I was keeping ahead of the curve. 

“This is great!” Dan cried when he saw the new facilities. 

I looked through photographs of the Distillery I had recently captured. Black Bands still occupied the area. Even if a Mack stepped back in and rang those bells the town of Bellfield was never going to be the same again. They were strong willed people, but where was one to go from complete destruction of the empire that held them together? 

***

Alford. A rural town past Bellfield. It was this part of Greater Coldford where Buddy found himself. He was feeling sickly and all of his usual powder suppliers in Filton had either been attacked by Reginald Penn or had been warned by the Cappy himself to stop providing his son. City Main was even more difficult to score in. After Tabitha’s stunt with the screens Kappa So had lowered their presence in the Shanties too. 

“They have shit gear anyway,” Buddy had mused gloomily. 

So to Alford he went to meet a new contact Cooper had provided. Marshal Cooper, Dale’s father, had quite the fondness for powder too. Travelling on the racing car circuits, the Cooper big dog didn’t like to find himself without his supplies. He had set up what he called pit stops with an ample supply. The bros had decided they would take advantage of this so to the rural town of Alford they went. Buddy wasn’t particularly enthused about visiting what he saw as the ‘ass end of nowhere.’ He especially was loath to be so close to ‘gypo country’. I believe this was a reference to the town of Bellfield. 

It was his own fault really. He had let himself build up his hopes when he spoke to a bro earlier that morning. 

“Yeah, I got some gear Bud,” he said confidently. “I’ll call you later brah.” 

It wasn’t ten minutes when he called back. 

“Yeah, no can do, brah,” he said. 

“Why not?” Buddy demanded to know. 

“I’ve been called back to Star State,” he explained. 

The Cappy was systematically ruining his social life, so Buddy was forced to personally visit the ass crack of Coldford to get some third-rate powder from Marshall’s bottom barrel stores. By the time they reached Alford he was still in a cloudy mood. 

They were told to meet at the Spinner attraction. It was a simple tea cup ride for little kids. The muddy field reminded Buddy of Harvester Farm. He longed to return to Julia. He still pained at the image of her silhouette in the window as they were forced to part. She to head her Harvester brand, he to kiss the Cappy’s ass and hope he would never find out about the golden asset. 

The morning after he had altered the asset, he’d awoken to the biggest come down he had ever felt in his life. As he had absorbed what he had done his heart skipped a beat and that wasn’t just because he had almost given himself a heart attack the night before with defibrillators from the medical school. 

After an argument with the Cappy – well the Cappy yelling, Buddy forced to listen – he had made such a show of being able to do what he wanted. Chad still had his rant on film. He couldn’t go back on it and look weak to his bros so the best he could do was get the asset out of the way whenever someone of note came to visit, like Pops. 

“I thought it was funny!” Buddy had complained to Chad and Cooper at the time as they assessed the damage.

“I hope you can fit that whole thing in your ass, brah, because that’s where it’s going when The Cappy finds out,” Chad stated the obvious. 

“It’s always with ass with you,” Buddy noted.  

Both Cooper and Buddy gave a befuddled look to their brother but they shrugged it off. 

It started to rain in Alford. Buddy groaned. Of course it was raining. Why wouldn’t it? They were in a shitty part of a shitty city. It was a light rain, like an irritating dust. Their new contact had told them to wait by the ride whilst he fetched them their goods and the transaction could be complete. At least that was what they thought. They could barely understand a word he said. 

“Buddy Owen!?” A harsh Bellfield voice was thrown at him. 

A boy of about fourteen of fifteen was calling to him. He was wearing a Mack and Sons hoody. The sudden address caught Buddy’s attention. 

The boy laughed. “I thought that was you. I’m surprised you could fit that chin through the gate.” 

Buddy looked to his bros. “Who the fuck is this little cock sucker?” 

The boy answered for himself. “Alfie Mack. I shagged yer ma!” 

Alfie, the youngest of the Mack sons was grabbing his crotch. His girlfriend, a teenaged girl with a mass of black hair, was laughing hysterically.

“Leave it Alfie,” she was saying but the pats on his shoulder were only encouraging him. 

Alfie had been with his mother – an Alford native – when the distillery was seized. Annie Mack had sent Alfie and his girlfriend, Melissa, out of her way whilst she continued to wade through the mess. Alfie was a spirited boy with all of his father’s resilience. 

“You inbred fucks!” Alfie continued. “Your weans are gonna have foreheads the size of Beck Tower.”

Buddy watched Alfie continuing to chide him. It was the girl’s laughter that irritated him the most. 

“Leave it, Bud,” he could hear Cooper warn. 

“Bud the fud!” was Alfie’s response. 

Buddy’s body was shaking with rage. He took a deep breath. 

“You are pissing me off, you little shit,” Buddy warned again. 

“Then why don’t you take a walk up Love Street and see what happens?” Alfie challenged.  

***

Just when Buddy thought matters couldn’t get any worse, he spotted a white Cooper SUV crossing the way towards them. 

“Brah!” Chad was patting his arm. 

“Yeah, I see it,” said Buddy. 

“It’s Pearl,” said Chad. 

“I can see it.” 

“It’s Billy,” said Chad. 

“Damn it, Chad, I can see, brah!” 

The white Cooper car named Pearl was quite distinctive. She was Billy Owen’s car and if he had driven all the way to Alford from the city he was going to be pissed. 

“Do you think he’s seen us?” asked Chad. 

William ‘Billy’ Owen climbed out of his luxury vehicle. He removed his sunglasses and called to them. 

“I’m here to pick up three retards,” he said. 

“Yep, he saw us,” Buddy stated. 

“What in all the Hells are you three doing down here?” Billy confronted. “You bitches better get in that there vehicle and not an ounce of complaint. I’ve had to drive all the way down here. I got so many damn bugs stuck to my windshield because of y’all.” 

“Just thought we’d check out the shows,” Buddy tried. 

Billy snatched Buddy by the chin and looked deep into his eyes. 

“You better be sober, Bud,” he warned. “Otherwise, you’re going to be stuck on my windshield.” 

“I am,” Buddy protested. 

The little altercation with Alfie Mack had gotten in the way. When Buddy explained what had happened, Billy gave a throaty laugh. 

“Why didn’t you smack the little shit about the head?” he asked. 

“He had a little girlfriend with him,” Cooper said. 

Billy glared at him as though he hadn’t fully understood at first. 

“Then smack the little bitch too. Do I have to do everything? Where did the little pikey go?”  

***

“Are you okay?” Melissa asked Alfie as they rounded the corner away from the bros after they watched Buddy storm off. 

“I’m fine,” he replied. “Just seeing the look on his stupid face…” 

Clearly Alfie was not okay. Why would he be? His entire family had been sent into turmoil. His legacy was lost and now it would be a long time before he saw his brother Paddy again, possibly Kieran too. The worst was his Ma. She was a tough woman. Annie Mack would have to be to keep the Mack clan in order but he knew she was struggling. That was why she had sent them away that day. 

“Yer just gonna get under my feet,” she said pushing him and Melissa out of the door. Alfie knew it was so they didn’t see her weep again. 

He had drafted a letter to Paddy letting him know how proud he was of him and what he was doing. If it wouldn’t give their Ma a heart attack,he would join him. Alfie – or wee Alfie as Kieran called him even though the teenager was almost as tall – could fight the good fight. He could contribute too. Alfie was ready for it. 

“Here,” Melissa passed him a joint. “It’ll calm you down.” 

Alfie drew Kieran’s lighter from his hoody pocket. It was one of those that if it was upturned the sexy female figure would lose what little clothing she was wearing. He had stolen it from Kieran the last time he had been home. 

He inhaled. The calming effects washed over him. 

“Do you want to go home?” Melissa asked. 

Alfie shook his head. He knew his Ma needed to focus. The last thing she should have to worry about was her youngest. The bros had collected their coke and headed off anyway. 

A roller coaster rushed past. Woosh!

Alfie was startled by the sudden noise but Melissa giggled. 

“The line for the Sharp Shooter is down, she screamed excitedly. “C’mon. Let’s have a go.” 

Alfie dabbed the joint against the fence. He slipped it back into his pocket. His mind was awash with cannabis, he had his girlfriend’s hand in his and the stupid look on Buddy Owen’s face was fresh on his mind. He was ready for the next thrill. 

***

Melissa clutched Alfie’s hand. She was shaking. He asked her why she would ride roller coasters if they made her so nervous. 

“It’s the adrenaline,” she said. “That’s the point. It’s fun because it’s scary. You know there isn’t any real danger but there’s always that chance.” 

There was still a line at Alford’s most popular attraction but it was shorter than it had been all day. It was the ride that Melissa really wanted to see. She had been telling Alfie all week about it. 

They slowly moved down a few steps at a time. Like the march of foot soldiers slowly approaching their enemy. The buzz of excitement among those that waited was infectious. Alfie began to feel it too as they drew closer to the entrance. 

An Alford carny opened the gate. Melissa dashed excitedly in. The metal boards leading to the ride rattled. They took up their seats. Melissa had snatched up the front of the carriage. The safety bars pressed down tightly on Alfie’s chest. He tried to push it away to ease it a little but it had locked. He could hear the excited chatter and cheers of those behind them. A younger girl was crying, regretting her decision. It was too late for her now. The ride was locked, ready and starting up. 

“This is it! This is it!” Melissa cheered. 

Click. Click. Click. Click.

The ride turned towards a steep incline. Their body weights pushed back against the chair, relieving the tightness of the bar on Alfie’s chest. The grey sky filled with rain clouds was all they could see ahead. Alfie swung his legs. The floor below was far out of reach. 

Click. Click. Click. Click. 

The ride continued to climb. Melissa squealed with delight. When they finally reached the top, the ride shuddered to a halt. It slowly tipped over the edge. They could see the ground now. People below, so far away, were looking up at them. Some were calling to loved ones. 

“This is it!” Melissa announced. 

ZIP. 

Alfie’s forehead exploded. The blood and brain matter splashed onto Melissa, carried by the heavy breeze that circulated so high from the ground. She screamed before the ride could inflict its thrills.

The carriage tipped over, falling down the steep hill at its fastest speed, slamming Alfie’s skull against his chair, his lifeless body unable to hold it up. Melissa, still screaming tried to waken him but her hands had to clutch her bars as the ride took a sharp corner. Some of Alfie’s blood was thrown onto onlookers. The couple in the seats behind them were trying to call to Melissa, still unsure of the reasons for her uncontrollable screaming. The rest of the riders were screaming too. Some of them were because of the speed of the coaster’s dips. Some because they were unsettled by Melissa’s sudden chilling shrieks. They knelled way more than a dose of adrenaline. 

As the ride turned back along the track Alfie’s arms swung limp. 

“That boy’s hit his head! Stop the ride!” a woman shouted. 

Melissa was no longer screaming. She was now shaking uncontrollably. It did seem at first as though Alfie had hit his head really badly. The crowd was unaware that a gunman lurked nearby. 

“How’d ya like that you little pikey shit,” Buddy grinned. “One down. Six to go.” 

The ride had to complete its rotation. The emergency breaks would only have made it harder for paramedics to reach the injured. 

Despite its death defying loops, its thrilling spills and its sharp corners, no one was screaming any more. By the time it rolled into the end track Melissa had gone almost catatonic. 

Click. Click. Click. Click. 

The Sharp Shooter came to a rest with a gush of steam. 

Zip. 

Now Melissa fell forward too. That was when the screams erupted once again. 

***

“What da fuck, brah!” Buddy was calling as the bros and Billy piled into Pearl. 

Billy gave a cold, callous laugh. “A’body knows those gypos are a stain on society. You gotta cull them little bro.” 

Cooper looked as though he was going to vomit. Chad was rocking in his seat as though he had been the one on the ride. 

“Don’t think because you’re my cousin you’ll get special treatment,” Billy stated as he drove away. “If I need to drive down here again to fetch your ass, I put a bullet in all of you. Am I clear?”

***

Paddy rang off from his mother. Her tears were still fresh and in that moment he felt he would never be able to forget them. Kieran had been watching him anxiously. He knew from his brother’s tone and the look of grief that spilled into Paddy’s expression that something terrible had happened. 

“What’s going on?” Kieran asked nervously. Paddy took a moment to catch his breath. Paddy could only shake his head. 

“Jesus Christ, Paddy!” Kieran barked. “What happened?” 

“It’s Alfie,” he replied, unable to disguise the crack in his voice. “They got Alfie. They shot Alfie. He’s dead.” 

It was now Kieran’s turn to shake his head. “No!” he cried. “Not the wee man!” 

Paddy rushed across the room as Kieran sunk into his chair, giving himself into despair. He wrapped his arms around his brother. Kieran wept into his shoulder. 

Paddy clutched Kieran’s face. “We can’t stay here. We need to keep moving.”

“We need to go back. We need to go to Ma,” Kieran suggested. 

“We will but we have to be careful. They’ll be waiting,” Paddy tried to remain level headed through his grief. 

Kieran’s weeps began to spill over again as the reality of the situation became clearer. “The wee man? I can’t believe it. They’ve got it wrong. Someone’s got it wrong. He’s just a little lad.” 

Paddy wished that it wasn’t true. Shot in Alford was what he had been told. Alford was no longer safe. 

***

Annie could hear her husband’s cry as she ran down the hospital corridor. She had asked that she be the one to tell him. Brendan had obviously found out. He was lying in his hospital bed chained to the bars with cuffs.

“Ya bunch of wankers!” he was screaming, rattling the chains. “You’ve got an old man in a wheelchair when you should be out there bringing in maniacs who are shooting innocent lads! Little fecking babies! Who’s the criminal? Aren’t you going to do something about that?” 

His close friend Tawny, his distillery, his brother and now his son. Brendan Mack had loved and lost more than most. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of seeing him break. 

The two Black Bands that were stood by his bed were unmoved by his rage anyway. The dispenser bullet of Van Holder’s had hit Brendan in the chest. It was painful, already scarred there by third degree burns from the night the Knock Knock Club was attacked, but he lived. He outlived his son. He was now being kept in a secure wing of Coldford General, a section of the hospital seized by the Black Bands.

Judge Doyle promised justice in the Shady City. It didn’t always prove to be the justice we expect or want. Justice is, after all, blind. 

That evening, Olivia Hickes lit a candle for Alfie in her church. The thousands of others were for the rest of the city. 

***

“You hear that?! An Owen never misses a target!”

I checked the footage of Buddy I had gathered at Harvester Farm. With the licence from the Law Makers, we were granted access to their secure servers in the understanding that any evidence we found was to be submitted to them. The footage didn’t prove much. Sure, Buddy had skills with a gun but that didn’t place him at the scenes of the crimes, but at least it was something. So I clicked SUBMIT.  


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Knock Knock: Episode 37: The Good Gang

The visitor room of The Boss was bustling with people. It was a lot less subdued than the more secured wings where visitors were limited. Vincent Baines had frequent visits from David Finn offering updates on the search for Tawny.

The artist seemed dismayed at seeing his friend in prison so he would come, sit at the table and chat about current events. Sometimes he would forget himself and lift his feet up as though they were back in rehab again.

“What are you doing today?” he would ask.

Vincent would find himself smiling. “You know my routine. I’d much rather hear about what is happening outside.”

“They still haven’t found Tawn. Do you think she’s still living?”

David started to sob as he considered the worst. Vincent patted his back.

“David,” said Vincent. “David, lift your head,” he instructed.

With a struggle David listened to the former music teacher. He sat back up and wiped the tears on the sleeve of the shirt he wore.

“You know Tawny wouldn’t want you going to pieces. It’s not going to be easy but…” Vincent stopped himself. He was finding it difficult to finish his words smoothly. He took his spectacles off and started to clean. “I’m so sorry,” he said eventually putting the spectacles back on. “I wish there was more that could be done.”

“Tabitha is still in the Monte Fort,” David said.  

Vincent frowned. “Monte Fort? I thought she was…” he hesitated trying to find the best way to put it. “I thought she was gone,” he said delicately.

David was instantly cheered. “No man! Didn’t you see? She’s still alive. They faked her execution and now Judge Doyle is going ape shit. When Tabitha gets out she’s going to go nuclear on those Kappa So fuckers.”  

Vincent stopped David. He was familiar with the artist’s passion, his loyalty to his friends but he also knew of his habit of running his mouth. He was sure Agnes would have enough to deal with. The Boss Lady shouldn’t be getting that kind of encouragement.

David hunched at the table again but he kept his head up. “I know she didn’t believe in religion or anything like that but I just wish that wherever she is she could give us a sign, you know? That she’s okay.”

Vincent was nodding in agreement, still dealing with his own acceptance of what had happened. David looked past him. His eyes widened. A grin spread across his face.

“Holy fucking shit!” he exclaimed. “Thanks Tawn!”

Vincent frowned as David stood. He looked over his shoulder. David was already crossing the room to an inmate he recognised.

Winslow – former owner of Harbour House and now Coldford Correctional inmate – looked as though he was wishing upon wish that the ground would swallow him and chew the bones.

“David,” Winslow greeted, putting his head down.

David raised his eyebrows. “Oh, it’s David now is it?” he growled. “No more, Mr Finn you need help. Mr Finn, you shouldn’t be doped up. You’re a disgrace Mr Finn.”

“Water under the bridge,” Winslow tried.

“Is it fuck,” said David. “If I’m going to be thinking about everything you did for the rest of my life you are too.” He rolled up his sleeve and exposed his arm. There were no fresh track marks. “I’m sure you‘ll be pleased to know I’m clean. Months with you was enough to put me right off.”

“I can’t leave this table. If I do the guards will stop me,” Vincent was trying to signal a guard.

“Back to your seat,” a guard called.

David gave a parting shot. “Oh and by the way, Tabitha is still alive,” he said. “Just imagine what she’s going to do to you when she gets her hands on you.”

David returned to Vincent who was still watching from across the room. Tabitha was a huge concern for Winslow. If it was public knowledge that she was still alive it meant something had happened on the outside among the Law Makers.

Winslow spotted the teacher as they were being led back to their respective blocks. Winslow stopped him.

“Vincent,” he tried a familiar greeting. “I know we’ve had our differences but as men of intellect I’m sure we can stick together.”

Vincent stopped. “You let that psychopath, George Beckingridge, do whatever he liked with me. You knew I was trying to get my head straight and you let him hurt me and people that I loved. Those aren’t little differences, doctor.”

He observed Winslow more closely. He started to laugh. “Goodness,” he said. “They took your title too.”

The body language of the people he met told their story easily to Vincent. It was a keen insight he had had his whole life. The flinch Winslow made when he used the title coupled with the sweat that broke immediately after helped him deduce. Winslow couldn’t bring himself to admit it.

“We should stick together,” he said.

Vincent shook his head. “I don’t think so. I have enough trouble in here being an ex teacher accused of fondling his pupil. Lies, you sir, could have have stopped George spreading. I really don’t want to be associated with the likes of you. That being said I do have two friends in North Wing who will be absolutely delighted that you have joined us. You knew their mother, quite intimately. I learned that on the last day at Harbour House. You were so concerned with the bailiffs you seemed to have forgotten the journals you had on your desk. You burned them up afterwards of course but I’m an observant man and I like to read. Rita Penn trusted you. She trusted you when she thought she was pregnant and you aborted her baby without her consent. I am going to have to break that to Marcus and Simon gently. I want them to tear you apart for what you did to Tawny first because,” here Vincent gave a bitter laugh. “You sure as Hell are not going to survive what they do to you for hurting their mother.” Vincent was ushered on by an impatient guard. “Shower alone, Gregory,” he called. “It’s a principle I’ve come to live by.”

***

Tawny could hear the door open. She heard the voices. The one that rolled above the others was Buddy’s.

“Gave her the night of her life,” he was boasting to his bros. “Julia was like, ‘will you stay with me?’ and I was like sorry babe that’s just how I roll. Can get too much of good thing, right!?”

“That’s solid, brah,” Tawny could hear Chad Perry agree.

“I don’t think I could stay away. A chick like Julia Harvester throwing herself at you?” Cooper was saying. He must have thought about the farm girl a bit too much. “I’m jonesing, brah.”

The storage cupboard was opened. Tawny was seated with her legs crossed and arms folded.

“Fancy meeting you here,” she jested.

Tawny had managed to keep a brave face but in truth she was terrified. So far it had just been frat boy pranks but she didn’t know how far they would go to prove themselves. If Buddy was anything like his uncle things could turn real nasty, real quick. She was worried, without a doubt, but the more time that she did actually spend with them she began to realise they were nothing more than three juvenile minded boys whose families placed so much pressure on them that the only way they could escape was with drugs. They were messed up. They were looking for their place in the world and causing a lot of destruction trying to find it. They were…Tawny frowned. Was that a golden cock they were carrying?

They had another visitor with them this time. He was watching Tawny with a little bit of drool on his lips. His hair looked as though it had been chopped with a knife. He was carrying a stuffed mouse in his arms which, coincidentally, was wearing a matching Kappa So jacket.

“Hello, George, honey,” said Tawny. “Long time no see.”

The Beckingridge boy had been tormenting his former music teacher within Harbour House so they were already familiar. Vincent Baines had been a close friend of Tawny’s.

***

Jackson threw the newspaper down. The Filton Crier, owned by BeckingridgeFinancial Firm, had printed a story detailing the Owen family being suspected in the disappearance of Tawny, the Knock Knock Baroness.

“That hussy thinks she can walk all over us,” Jackson objected.

“The Cappy knows what he’s doing,” Billy put in.

Jackson scowled at his son. “I worry he no longer has the capacity. I was talking to the board and it is time he tendered his resignation.”

Ronnie raged. “You went behind his back?”

“That’s a low thing to do,” Billy assured his father.

Jackson maintained his stance.

“I had no choice. Since Pops’ death everything has been spiralling out of control.”

The Owen cousin spoke the truth.

“It’s not his fault,” Buddy spoke up. When they all looked at him he said nothing further.

“Who do you suppose would do a better job?” Ronnie asked. “You?”

“Naturally the board would look to me,” said Jackson. “I always worked closely with Pops.”

Ronnie shook his head. “You wouldn’t have achieved half of what Chick has and you know it. These are extenuating circumstances.”

Jackson had fallen cold at the insinuation that he couldn’t live up to The Cappy’sreputation. He spoke calmly.

“That’s what worries me,” he said. “With all that has happened Chick might be losing his nerve.”

At that the door to the den opened. Chick himself greeted them. His eyes looked a little strained as though he had been lost in thought for some time.

“Come in,” he said to his family. “I’ve made my decision.”

They joined him in his room and Chick took his seat behind his desk.

“Things here in Coldford are becoming more and more difficult by the day. It’s becoming more of a struggle for me to put things right,” The Cappy addressed them.

Jackson looked to Ronnie. To him it was confirmation that Chick was in fact losing his nerve.

“It doesn’t help that y’all keep fucking up at every turn and corner.” 

Jackson frowned.

“Ronnie,” he began. “You’re a good man but you let those pikey terrorists walk free. I cannot have that. Billy,” he addressed his nephew, “I brought you here on the understanding that you would bring that murdering nutcase with a chain in. He still walks a free man. Either you up your force or I find someone who will.”

Buddy’s eyebrows raised as The Cappy’s gaze fell on him. “You, boy. Don’t even get me started on you or we’ll be here all night.”

“All of this I could abide. Ya’ll are family. However, when the board turns to me and suggests I stand down because of your mistakes? Well, that about makes me so mad I could spit. Jackson? I know you’re behind it and if you eva’ question my leadership again I will knock your teeth so far down your neck you will shit them out in single file. Am I clear?”

Buddy’s lips tightened. His eyes widened. Then The Cappy stood.

Jackson nodded but The Cappy wasn’t satisfied he had made his point.

“I’m going to need to hear y’all sign off!”

“Yes, sir,” the all replied in synchrony.

Chick took his seat again.

“If I were to step down it would be through my own choice and Jackie, you would never succeed me. Now onto business. We are being pushed into a corner. The distillery has been removed from the playing board but whilst our pretty boy booze hustler is still at large it means nothing. Billy, I want so much CPD presence on the streets that that boy is unable to so much as breathe without having a badge waved in his face. The thieving from our outposts is affecting business. It stops now. It has also become more and more important that Reginald Penn is apprehended. That little bitch, Tabitha, crying curses across the city really got my back up. I want that son a bitch Reginald behind bars before the Law Makers decide what to do with her. If he ends up dead?” Here Chick spread his arms and shrugged. “Well that would be swell.” He took a large intake of breath. “I’m going to give y’all one more last chance to end this. I’m calling Kick Off.”

Buddy’s eyes widened. His grin spread.

“No way!” he gasped but buzzing with excitement.

“I’ve never been more serious about anything in my entire life.

Ronnie was shaking his head. He lowered his gaze.

“It’s kick off time boy!” Billy cheered. “A’body knows when you hear that whistle bitches better start running.”

He clapped his father’s shoulder.

They filed out of the den but Chick stopped Billy.

“Bill,” he said. “I want you to take Betsy.”

Billy beamed with pride. First Kick Off then having the honour of carrying The Cappy’s favourite rifle. It was a good day.

***

The agents and I received an invitation to Harbour House. We weren’t sure as to why but since Elizabeth Beckingridge seemed to have similar motives as ours we accepted.

David described life in Harbour House to me in great detail. When I visited Vincent he did too. It was like the home of a childhood friend. It was comforting and warm but you just couldn’t shake the feeling that something sinister went on between the parents behind closed doors. That was how the musician put it. His description was accurate, I observed, as I stepped inside. It was decorated in the style of a home but the winding corridors were cool and unwelcoming in places.

Elizabeth had been waiting for us in the reception. Her assistant, Mark, was by her side. She had tried everything she could with her money and influence to find Tawny. It had been her own private investigators that led CPD to the body washed up on the Filton Ford, at the foot of the Fullerton Bridge. The remains had been stripped and cleaned of any evidence. They were looking for car crashes reported in the area but it was a wide net to cast and very unlikely to produce anything solid. It was frustrating when the culprit was known but no Law Maker would help until evidence gave them reason to.

“Ta da!” Elizabeth sang.

Mark applauded. The rest of us all looked confused so he stopped.

“Perhaps I should explain to these people what we’re doing here,” she decided. Mark agreed.

“Well, I’ve been following Sam here for a while and I’m quite impressed with your progress. It can’t be easy for you cramped in your little apartment. So I gift you this…” She turned to demonstrate the entire facility.

It was Agent Kim who spoke first.

“You’re gifting us Harbour House resources?

Elizabeth nodded, pleased with her offer. “It’s everything you could possibly want. It has research facilities, secure rooms, space for whatever fight training it is you people do. It also has some lovely gardens. They were beautiful, weren’t they Mark?”

Mark again agreed. “They were. A little overgrown but I’ve got the gardeners coming in tomorrow.”

Elizabeth beamed. “Then it’s settled.”

The agents looked among themselves. It would make a difference.

“You,” Elizabeth pointed to Lydia. “The pretty one.” Kim turned with an exasperated frown. “Don’t you ride a motorcycle? There’s even space to store it.”

Lydia laughed. “My bike is out of commission at the moment. It had a bit of a face off with a bull. Kitty is going to be in repair for some time.”

Elizabeth smiled, girlishly. “Mark, note that she calls the bike Kitty.”

Mark took note.

“Fear not, Kitten,” she said to Lydia. “We’ll have it back together in no time. Anything you need just let me know.  I’ll supply whatever equipment you need, computers, weapons, licences. Oh that reminds me. Mark the agents will need licence from the Law Makers to act as private investigators. Memo to Judge Doyle’s office.”

Mark was busy noting whilst the rest of us were busy trying to comprehend what was happening.

“We‘ll need a name.” Elizabeth’s novelist spirit was taking over as she created the scene in her head. “What about the revengers? No that sounds too aggressive. The force for Justice?” She shook her head. “That’s even worse.”

Kim stepped in before Elizabeth got too carried away. “Thank you for giving us this opportunity. We just want to do some good in the city.”

“We’re the Good Gang,” Lydia chuckled.

It was a tongue in cheek reference but it seemed to have ignited Elizabeth’s excitement again.

“That you are Kitten. You’re the good gang and you should be named after a good person.”

There was only one person I could think of whose name and sacrifice was worthy of such an accolade.

“Hickes,” I said. “Hickes was the one who brought us all together.”

We all agreed. None of us had been expecting to form the Hickes Agency but given the state of affairs in the city it seemed that it was just what was needed. As the saying goes – evil prevails when good people do nothing.

As the agents began to scan the area Elizabeth took me aside. “Hickes is a fine suggestion,” she said. “I wouldn’t have expected anything less from a fellow writer. I read Marble Mantle by the way, we’ll discuss that later.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked her.

She stopped. With Mark aside and the agents inspecting it was just us.

“I put everything I had into finding Tawny. In doing that I learned so much about what was really going on. I spent my whole life in Filton. I had no idea what was happening beyond the manor walls. That was my mistake. Everyone told Ernest that he was naïve. I did too but I realise that I am no different. I don’t want to be naïve. I want to know everything that is going on so I can be prepared for it. Because experience has taught me that all the money in the world doesn’t give you wings when a pissed off bastard from the Shanties wants to throw you out of a hundred story window.”

She was feeling guilt for not having found Tawny. She was experiencing survivor guilt for outliving her brother when she could have pulled the Tower into order any time she chose. Most of all she was feeling guilt for never having given a second thought to the plight of the rest of the city until its troubles came hammering on the manor gates.

She beamed when Lydia returned. “That bike of yours,” she said. “Let’s get it repaired and functioning again.

“It may take a while,” Lydia admitted. “I am waiting for the upgrades.”

“What kind of upgrades?”

“Preparing her for combat situations. Increased torque, armoured body, weapons perhaps?”

Elizabeth clapped her hands with glee. “Yes!” She cried. “I’ll give you what you need because that is happening!”

“I know someone who could help,” I suggested.

She drew a bottle of champagne from behind the reception desk. “Let’s celebrate.”

“This lady is nuts,” Kim commented to me.

“I tried to warn you,” was my reply.

An author’s zeal with billions to back her whims made for a very interesting combination.

“Pretty one?” Kim teased. “Cheeky cow.”

“Well babe, some eyeliner and a touch of lippy wouldn’t be a complete loss on you,” Franklin jested.

When he saw Mark struggle to open the bottle, he offered his help. Their eyes met. Mark gave a wide smile. Franklin pulled the cork. Pop.

“Thanks,” said Mark.

“You’re welcome,” replied Franklin.

Elizabeth took the bottle and glugged from it.  

“Here’s to a promising future,” she cheered.

In a city upturned by the bad, Coldford needed the Good Gang.

***

Excitement was in the air with the formation of the Good Gang. Amidst the struggles, the fears and the upset it offered hope that things could get better. The next stage of the journey brought us to the suburban town of Jameston, known by the locals as Jamestown on occasion. I was one such local and on this particular day I had brought the agents to a garage owned by my father, Samuel (or Sam Senior).

He was always pleased to see me return. When I first left for Coldford it had been he who had warned me against it. The idea of living in the city didn’t well with him. Considering what I had been faced with in that time I can’t really blame him.

My father was a cheery soul who loved good company and what better company on this day than the agents of the Good Gang. As pleasant as it was they had come for a purpose. The attention to that purpose was brought by Elizabeth Beckingridge.

“You must be Mr Crusow,” she said a little flirtatiously when she saw my father.

My father smiled at her. He seemed quite beguiled by her too. It was all quite horrifying for me.

Before my thoughts could wander onto the idea of having Elizabeth as some kind of twisted step mother figure Lydia was captivated by all the bikes and cars the garage had on offer.

When my father noticed he said cheerily, “I have something real special for you. It’s not been easy to get together and It’s not been tested yet but it’s really something.”

“When I was a little kid, I dreamed of a day I’d get to work on something like this,” he said with excitement. Lydia was excited too. We all were.

“I want to thank you for the opportunity,” he told Agent Lowe.

There she was. She was to be Lydia’s own personal transport. In tribute to this the formidable bike was named Kitty. We all gave an audible gasp.

“Terrific job!” Elizabeth cheered.

“That is far out!” gasped Agent Reynolds.

There was no more time to lose. It hadn’t been tested so all that was left to do was for Lydia to demonstrate what it was capable off.

***

“The city descended into anarchy last night as a wave of protests turned violent. The violence was sparked when Elizabeth Beckingridge of Beckingridge Financial firm deliberately destroyed a priceless heirloom of Kappa So,”

“Captain Charles Owen had called for a simple apology from Miss Beckingridge – who has a history of mental illness within her family. Miss Beckingridge refused and was believed to have taunted the destruction that she caused. Captain Owen had called for understanding after Miss Beckingridge’s childish behaviour but anger spilled over last night. Perhaps Miss Beckingridge will make that apology now. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily News.”

***

The service elevator of the Faulds Park building opened. The space was filled by a formidable figure. He was sleep deprived but still spurred on by anger and adrenaline.

“Reginald!” Rita shrieked. She ran from Franklin’s side to her husband who collected her in his embrace. Agent Kim was on her feet, Lydia followed her lead.

“Not one step further,” Agent Kim warned.

She was expecting confrontation, judging by the fury that was laced into his expression. Her estimations weren’t completely wrong. However, the King of Main had come alone. Belta’ slid from his sleeve. Franklin too was now armed.

“Rita, pet,” warned Kim. “I’m going to need you to step back.”

“Please,” Rita plead. “We don’t have to do this.”

Reginald kissed his wife, disregarding the guns aimed at him. “It’s okay, my love,” he said. “I would like to talk peace with the agents.”

At that Rita did let him go. Reginald slowly laid Belta’ on the table. Stepping back he raised his arms.

“I’m here because of my son, Junior. They have taken him and I have learned they are holding him at one of our warehouses. They are looking for me to go fetch him and if I do there will be more blood shed. That is what they have come to expect. Junior could be killed. I hear you agents are good at extraction and infiltration.” Here his lip curled. “My other two boys and Tabitha are testament to that.”

Agent Kim narrowed her gaze. “You want us to do your dirty work for you?”

“I’m asking you to save my boy. I trust you saw the video? You know what they did to him. Tawny was a good friend of mine too and she’s still missing. Will you help them?”

With a nod of her head Kim gestured to Lydia who eased off. Franklin followed suit.

“We’re still on appointment of the Office of Law Makers,” Kim reminded him.

Reginald gave a regal nod.

“I’m aware. That’s why if you agree to bring Reggie home I’ll hand myself into your custody.”

Rita sobbed. She tried to plead with her husband. With tensions eased he was able to take her into his arms.

“I promised I would do whatever it took to bring your baby back,” he told his wife. To Agent Kim he said, “I hand myself to you and your agents alone. I don’t trust CPD.”

“Good,” Kim agreed. “That’s something we can agree on.”

“Find Junior,” Reginald pushed. “Bring him home.”

***

“We’ll do what we can for you,” said Agent Kim to Reginald Penn. “But we have to go now.”

Reginald nodded. “Do what you can for Reggie. No matter what happens to me I need you to bring him home.”

The kick off riots had calmed a little but there was still a lot of tension on the streets. The Good Gang were hoping that whilst that distraction was there Reginald Penn could be brought in without incident.

The King of City Main said a fond farewell to his wife. He told her to give the boys his best. He promised her once again that her baby would be brought home.

A note I have made before on Reginald and one I wish to reiterate at this time was his noble nature. He was a noble man, that much has been noted too but as he departed the tower he gave his thanks and well wishes to his staff. He knew them by name. He commanded their respect.

“Long live the king!” they cried as he made his exit.

Through the bustle and noise of Main, even about the burning and crying of the rioters could be heard the sound of horse hooves.

The agents who had taken Reginald into their custody were closed in by none other than General Van Holder of the Subala Black Bands.

“I’ll take it from here, Agents,” Van Holder warned.

“He’s in our custody,” Agent Kim warned.

“Then I relieve you of your duty,” Van Holder insisted. “He’s under terror charges and that is my duty to the High Court.”

“It’s fine,” Reginald said to Kim. “I’ll go with him.”

If we are all honest with ourselves we would agree there was no other choice.

Through the streets of Main, the King was dragged behind Van Holder’s horse. The Kappa So present taunted and spat on him. The loyalists in support were pushed back as more Black Bands began to flood the area.

On the steps of the High Court, Judge Doyle waited. The law was the law and it was not above kings.

Van Holder brought the King to his knees.

“On King wrangled, Your Honour,” he said.


Enjoy this?

Complete Season 1 of the Knock Knock series is free to read here on Vivika Widow. com or click below download for Kindle

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Reggie Penn was always an odd duck. He liked go off on little adventures. His family knew he would return eventually. If he stayed away too long his father would come looking for him and no one wanted that.

Hathfield Bay island feels a world away from the city and Reggie keeps missing that damn ferry.

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Fixing Broken Things

I’m not the only kid who ever thought about running away from home, you know. But I can bet that there aren’t many who thought about it as much as I did. I was stopped so many times, brought back to the start. They couldn’t hold me forever. 

What was I running from? I don’t run from anything. It was what I was running to. I was running to a better life. I was running to people who could help me fix what was broken.  

The Knock Knock club. That was the place for broken things. Everyone went there, even me. It was for adults only but it was my Aunt’s place so they let me in. The door there was never closed. I wasn’t running from anything. I was running to the Knock Knock club.  

My Aunt Tee was a star. They called her The Baroness. Everybody liked her. They all loved her. She even saw it in her to love me. Even after everything I had done I knew she would still love me so I ran to the club. They were my real family anyway.  

When I got the club it was too late. It had been burned out. Aunt Tee had been taken to a place called Harbour House. She had completely flipped. She couldn’t say anything. Not a word. Not even to Aunt Aggie. The closed the curtains at the Knock Knock but Harbour House would help her. That’s what I was told. It was a rehab clinic. She wasn’t an addict or anything but they said they could fix her. 

At least she wasn’t in that place alone. She had a music teacher, Vincent, with her. Apparently he was a a real creep when they brought him in but captivity changes people.  

The things these must have seen. A stalker, a kidnapper. Those are the kind of things that Harbour House fixes. He was obsessed. Can they fix that? 

Is it important? Of course its important. Obsessions can get real bad. They make people act stupid then things end up broken.  

There are drug addicts in there too. They say don’t judge people until you walk in their shoes. I wouldn’t like to walk in David Finn’s shoes. If anyone should have ran away from home it was him. Now all he has to walk in is hospital issue flip flops. He’s an artist. He had it real good for a while but then he stumbled onto Harvester Farm. He didn’t like what he found there so they locked him in Harbour House too.  

Time is running out, according to the Harvesters. Time for what? Time for the slaughter? 5:02 is the slaughter time for them. That’s when the cut cattle throats and bash bull heads. Well it’s not 5:02 yet at least not for the residents of Harbour House.  

None of this would have happened if the Law Makers listened. They say justice is blind. It is at least in one eye.. What good were they in this dung pile of a city? What good are they for fixing broken things? There are broken things in every inch of This Place. What good are they to anyone when a place like Harbour House exists. 


Read the complete season 1 free here or click below to download for Kindle.


Rehabilitation is the promise. But for three residents, never seeing the outside world again becomes a grim possibility if they’re unable to face their troubles.  

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Coming May 14th! From the Author of MAESTRO ; MUSE and HARBOUR HOUSE , step outside the Knock Knock club and head on over to Hathfield Bay Island for a nail biting, knuckle whiting , full in your face exciting glimpse into the lowest depths of humanity.

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Knock Knock: Episode 36: Rats in the Basement

The ascent to the top of the Faulds Park building in City Main was a journey all of its own. If I held my breath at the bottom I would have gotten dizzy – perhaps even fainted – by the time I reached the penthouse. Luckily, I didn’t have to test that theory.  

The elevator doors opened into a wide-open space with polished floors and classic paintings on the wall. It was chic, it was showy, it was the palace of the King of City Main.  

“How are you?” I asked Rita Penn who had been kept safe after being extracted from the airport by Agent Franklin Rhodes.  

She was still holding Franklin’s hand. She patted it fondly.  

“Franklin has been keeping me company,” she stated.  

Franklin beamed a cheery smile.  

“She’s been showing me the family albums,” he teased. “Seeing the triplets in a very different light.”  

Rita laughed. She looked calm and it seemed a connection had been built between them that suited them. There was always going to be a weight on our shoulders though until she had confirmed the safety of her boys.  

“Any word on Reggie?” she asked. 

I took a seat on the sofa across from her.  

“I’m not one of the agents,” I explained to her. “My name is Sam Crusow. I’m a reporter.”  

“Which paper?” she asked. 

This was a loaded question. In Coldford being a writer for the Daily in City Main or for the Express in the Shanties could make a world of difference.  

“I’m independent,” I told her. “Formerly of the Daily but I left.”  

Rita nodded. “Oh yes,” she said. “You wrote the piece on the Knock Knock Club. You were looking for Mayor Feltz.”  

“That’s correct. I’d like to ask you some questions about your family.”  

Rita didn’t seem too eager at first. Franklin sweeping her away from the airport had spooked her. Reggie’s ordeal had horrified her. Now that she had a reporter in front of her, I could see why she would be upset. She smiled politely though.  

“No,” she said. “I’ll not do that. I should speak to my husband.”  

“I want to do everything I can to help find Reggie. I can help piece things together if you work with me.”  

“Okay,” she agreed with a shudder. “What would you like to know?”  

*** 

“Whoooeeh boy! That cage is starting to stink,” Billy Owen announced with a grin. “E’body knows the smell of human shit really burns your nostrils.”  

Reggie Penn had been put into one of his rat cages in what Billy Owen’s cohorts would call the stress position. Reggie’s weight was concentrated on his hunched legs, one of which had an impacted fracture in the femur. He couldn’t stand or stretch out because if he did … 

ZAAAAP!  

The cage had been electrified. To touch any of the bars would send several volts through his already beaten body. Several broken ribs and a fractured skull made his hunched position even more painful.  

He hadn’t spoken any words since his capture. He had only given some cries of pain. They had brought him to a Penn warehouse located at the back of City Main, towards the northern farmlands. It was a lesser-known location, with the larger Penn warehouses being located in Luen.  

ZAAAAP!  

Billy was starting to grow bored.  

“I’m not surprised it stinks. He’s done nothing but shit himself since he got here.”  

It didn’t help that he had forced enemas down his throat. The diarrhea had left the prisoner further weakened and dehydrated.  

Reggie’s gaze was locked on the body of a rat he had named Smash. He was named after a character in the Coby Games Lonesome Nights franchise. Smash was being rotated on a spit, cooking thoroughly. Between the diarrhea and the cooking rat, the flies were beginning to gather.  

“Wooooosh!” Buddy came running through with all the enthusiasm of a boy on Christmas morning. He hopped up on top of the cage.  

Another rat named Jacket, so called because of the colouring around his torso, had been stuffed. A trusted taxidermist had attached propellers to the rodent so that it could fly around the room. Buddy was having a lot of fun working the propellers. 

“Look, Bill, I don’t give a flying fuck!” he was laughing.  

Billy had just come off the phone.  

“Bud?” he called to his cousin. “Buddy?”  

ZAAAAP!  

Buddy leaped from the cage clutching his rear end as volts shot through his backside. The rat fell out of the air.  

“You shocked my ass, brah!”  

Billy slapped the back of his head.  

“I got some work to do here,” he said. “I ain’t got time for your shit.”  

Reggie groaned a little. Billy turned to him. 

“What you say?” he asked.  

It hadn’t been words, mainly a grimace but Billy focused on his prisoner. He reached through the cage and pulled him against the bars. There was a collar around his neck which was used in method called ‘walling’, where it could be used to easily slam the prisoner’s head against the wall. It was a method that had been disbanded decades ago, but there were no rules to follow when Billy Owen had been given free reign over one of those responsible for the murder of the highly-regarded Pops.  

“I know you’re tired being passed around for a poking but you’re going to have to stay with me. I want you clear and lucid when King Daddy comes here so you can see what we’re gonna do to him.”  

Buddy had fallen quiet as he watched Reggie. He seemed unmoved. He was surely in a lot of pain.  

“Maybe we should at least take him out of there, brah,” he suggested. “He’s gonna pass out if he keeps more pressure on that leg.”  

Billy gave a deep sigh. “Now I know you did not just tell me how to do my job, little bro.”  

Buddy shrugged. “We could get him stuffed,” he suggested. He started to chuckle at the idea of a stuffed King of Main. 

Billy started to laugh too. “We could fly him over City Main. King’s gonna get ya! King’s gonna get ya! While your stuffed dead daddy is buzzing around, that there spit is just aching to pound and turn your mama.”  

Buddy took a moment to observe Reggie’s reaction. There was little but a slight grimace of pain.  

“First thing’s first,” he went on.  

He approached another one of the rat cages and pulled out a white female named Lorry. She squeaked quite fearfully in Billy’s grip.  

“What you doing, brah?” Buddy asked.  

Billy dug his knife into the rodent’s belly. With a death croak he pulled the guts free. He flicked them onto his prisoner.  

“I heard King Daddy called my Pops a hillbilly freak. That’s mighty unkind. You’ll find we’re hospitable people. So, you’re gonna enjoy this hillbilly buffet whilst we wait on him coming for ya.”  

Buddy insisted again. “He’s gonna pass out.”  

When Billy slapped him over the back of the head again he insisted, “I’m just saying.”  

“If I hear another word outta you I’m gonna put you right in there with him, little bro,” Billy warned. “Hush your mouth powder fiend or I’ll make you eat every rat in this damn place and that includes the ones that ain’t in cages.”  

When he noticed Reggie had been watching his exchange with his cousin, Billy asked, “What you looking at, rat boy? I’ll cut your little dick off. I don’t have to keep you with your dick intact you know. He’s my little cuz so I like to pull his pisser from time to time. It keeps him in line. You, on the other hand, I can have some fun with until your daddy gets here.”  

Billy stepped back. His nose wrinkled.  

“Agh!” he called. “How many enemas was he given? He’s shitting again.”  

*** 

‘City funds. City funds. City funds.’ 

Micky Doyle’s mind was focused on the financial future of Coldford as he was escorted to the top of Beckingridge Tower.  

Elizabeth’s assistant Mark eyed him with some distaste. At first Micky thought he had arrived late, but he hadn’t. He had arrived just in time. Perhaps Mark just didn’t like politicians.  

“Go right on through,” Mark beckoned. 

The penthouse office of Beck Tower was immense. It was so large and overbearing that it was uncomfortable, cold and lacking personality. It was very much like a dark cave. Micky himself was no stranger to it. He had been there to visit Ernest Beckingridge many times before. Ernest had tried politics but he didn’t really have the stomach for it. The run for the hot seat took a very specific kind of spirit. It was one that the Beckingridge CEO just didn’t have. There were manuscripts for a new novel on Elizabeth Beckingridge’s desk. The author turn interim CEO was not there. A draft charged across the room. Micky pulled his jacket closer. He crossed to the window. He looked down onto the courtyard below where fifty-nine people had tumbled to their deaths, including up and coming accounts exec Evan Heath. Evan had been a close friend of Micky. His wife Sonya had too. He shuddered again, glad he hadn’t been there that night.  

“Thanks for joining us, Micky,” Elizabeth called to him as she emerged from an adjoining room.  

He was about to correct her and suggest she use his proper title but the words caught in his throat when he saw she was accompanied by Reginald Penn.  

Reginald appeared calm but his chin had tightened. Belta slithered down from his sleeve. Micky backed off. He wasn’t much of a track star but he could try to run.  

“The door has been locked,” said Elizabeth, sensing what he was thinking.  

Micky looked towards the more direct route, the window. Hadn’t it been Marcus Penn who bid that heaving farewell to Evan? Simon Penn the hand that pushed Sonya?  

“I’m calling the police,” Micky stated.  

“Do,” Reginald suggested. “You can ask them where my boy is or you can tell me.”  

Micky’s mind spun quickly. The Boss, he remembered. Marcus and Simon were in The Boss. But that wasn’t it. There was the third. They were triplets.  

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Why should I know?”  

Elizabeth put in, “Because you’re Mayor, your cousin is head of the Office of Law Makers who CPD answer to. Take your pick Michael.”  

Reginald turned to her. She shrugged and gestured for him to carry on. Reginald started to close the distance between he and Micky. The tapping of his shoes on the marble floor echoed the pulsating of his heart.  

“Word is he was taken by CPD, frat brothers in uniform. Where would they take him?”  

Micky whimpered. “I don’t know.”  

He tried to edge towards the door. It was locked but at least he could step away from that damn window.  

“Where is he?” Reginald roared. “Where is Junior?” 

Micky looked to Elizabeth. Her faced had drained of colour. There was a pleading in her eyes that said, ‘for God’s sake just tell him what he wants to know.’ 

“I don’t know where he is,” Micky said. “He was supposed to go to Harbour House. He was supposed to be placed in Winslow’s care.”  

Reginald shook his head. Belta’s coils twisted around his hand.  

“No!” Micky pleaded. “Please no.”  

Suddenly the window was looking like the better option. Elizabeth put her hand to her mouth. It looked as though she was going to be sick.  

“I don’t know where he is.”  

Belta’ tightened further. She was determined to strike.  

“Not in my office, Reginald,” Elizabeth put him.  

“Do you know what they did to him?” Reginald asked the mayor.  

Micky had heard of the video but he hadn’t had the stomach to watch it. He needed some deniability in situations like this.  

“I don’t know where he is,” Micky sobbed.  

Reginald growled. “Then you’re no fucking good to me.”  

Elizabeth screamed, “Reginald!” as Belta’ swung.  

Micky threw his hands in the air.  

“Stop!” he squealed. “Tabitha is still alive. I know where Tabitha is.”  

Reginald lowered his arm. Belta’ swung with disappointment. The taste for blood was still tingling in her links.  

*** 

“You have to be kidding,” said Elizabeth.  

She looked a little more like herself again. The sickness seemed to have passed.  

“It’s true,” the mayor insisted. “When the Office of Law Makers pulled her execution date forward to crush troubles in the Shanties she was moved to a Monte Fort annex. They believe she was given the lethal injection but she’s still alive.”  

“Prove it,” Reginald challenged. “Let me speak to her.”  

“I can’t,” Micky said.  

Reginald growled. He swung Belta’ again and she wrapped herself viciously around the mayor’s neck. Micky gargled but Belta’s constriction was too tight.  

“Really, Reginald?” Elizabeth exclaimed, pushing herself against her desk.  

Reginald lowered himself so he was speaking directly into Micky’s ear.  

“You had better confirm what you’re saying is true or I end you right here and now.”  

“Not in my office,” Elizabeth insisted but Reginald ignored her. 

Micky tried to say something but asphyxiation was making it almost impossible.  

Belta’ loosed her grip.  

“She’ll still be executed. It was just time. You can’t go into the annex.”  

“Then get someone who can…” Reginald warned.  

“Faulty wiring,” suggested Elizabeth. “Send in Coby engineers to grab a quick video feed.”  

“Joshua Coby?” Micky exclaimed. “You can’t.”  

Reginald yanked Belta’ causing her prey to emit a gasp.  

“Do shut up Michael,” Elizabeth tutted. “It’s almost like you want the man to smash your skull in. If you can’t tell him where his son is then the least you can do is confirm what you’re saying.”  

Micky agreed with a nod. His face was starting to redden and hives were starting to break out.  

Micky made a call to Coby Games. As mayor he gave them the authorisation they needed to enter the Annex. Being based in Cardyne it was easily accessible for the Coby Games sparkies. Joshua himself was a survivor of the Free Fall Massacre. Through that he felt indebted to Tabitha, the details of which I would have to follow up at a later date. In the meantime, a tense half hour passed between the three at Beckingridge Tower. Few words were shared. Elizabeth poured herself a drink.  

*** 

“That’s it,” Elizabeth announced as she closed a call from Joshua. She collected a remote from her desk and switched on the screen. it was blank at first. She linked it to the feed that Joshua had given her. A body cam on the shirt of one of the Coby Games staff moved through a narrow corridor. There was a flash of brick wall, a dusty floor, a couple of engineers in Coby boiler suits. There was a very narrow window and then a young woman. She looked up, still blinking at the addition of light in her existence and wincing at the noise of the engineers’ footsteps. She started to adjust. Her hazy mind comprehended her new reality. It was Tabitha. The real Tabitha. When she saw Reginald Penn looking at back at her, her lips spread to expose her gap-toothed grin.  

“Reg?” she asked. 

Reginald sighed the first bit of relief he had felt in some time. 

“Are you okay?” he asked. 

Tabitha nodded weakly. “Can’t keep a good girl down,” she said.  

It was a phrase Tawny always used in times of trouble. It had been one of the first things the show girl had said to him.  

“Just hang tight, sweet heart,” Reginald said. “I’m coming to get you.”  

Tabitha nodded. “If you could do something about my living arrangements that would be fan-fucking-tastic.”  

“I’ll do what I can,” Reginald promised.  

*** 

“If you’re quite finished,” said Elizabeth. “Can you clear my office please?”  

Reginald had promised Elizabeth that in exchange for her putting him directly in touch with the mayor she wouldn’t have any trouble at the tower. The trembling body of Micky showed he was certain as soon as he stepped outside the tower, all bets would be off. 

Elizabeth led them to a service elevator that took them out onto City Main. The instructions to Micky were that once he was clear of the area, the mayoral security he had brought with him would meet him at the Weir Hotel. He was not to breathe a word of Tabitha or Reginald. After facilitating the entrance of Coby Games to the annex, he wasn’t wanting to have to explain himself anyway.  

“They are going to bring you in,” warned Micky.  

Reginald took no notice of the warning. He knew what he had to do. He let the mayor live and continued in his path to find Reggie.  

*** 

I had been in City Main at the time of the event I now wish to discuss. Lisa Luren from the Knock Knock Club had been given an old contact of Kev’s who used to supply Buddy Owen. Conveniently, he lived on the lower levels of the Faulds Park building. As I passed along Time Line where the boutiques, jewellery stores and chic cafés sat, screens everywhere were showing images of the still-missing Baroness.  

“Did you know her?” I had asked Lisa.  

“No,” Lisa said. “But I heard a lot about her. I heard so much it felt like she was my aunt too.” 

I was pondering over this when the screens started to flicker.

  

*** 

City Main was his kingdom, but his kingdom was under siege. Reginald Penn had pulled some of his Loyalist support from attacking Kappa So strongholds to help find Reggie. The destruction of the distillery lit fire to that powder keg. He had received word Rita was safe so at least that was something.  

A sudden darkness gave him cause to stop. It was like there had been a power surge. The Beckingridge Tower screen flickered on. Tawny’s image was replaced by Tabitha’s. 

The crowds of City Main stopped to watch. A woman who had been holding her son’s hand was pulled back. He pointed up. Staring straight into the lens Tabitha greeted the Shady City of Coldford with a brash, gap-toothed smile.  

“Hello tiny peoples of Coldford,” she said. “Those of you who matter know who I am. Those of you who don’t are going to by the time I’m done. I’m coming to you live from some Law Maker hole and in case you didn’t get the message, loud and fucking clear, I’m still alive…”  

*** 

Agnes had been returning to the Mid-East from a meeting with the agents. She had been heading towards City Stadium where the screens showed Tabitha as though she had appeared from beyond the grave.  

“You know something?” Tabitha was going on. “I’m not even pissed at the audacity of you cunts. I’m just going to smile and be the bigger person. They told you I was dead and if you believed them then you’re bigger cunts than they are.”  

Agnes clasped her hand to her mouth.  

“Oh God!” she said.  

A crowd had gathered behind her to watch too.  

*** 

As agreed, Micky’s security met with him in the hotel lobby. They could see he was a little shaken. He buttoned up his collar so as to hid the marks on his neck. The security didn’t ask questions. It wasn’t their job to. He wanted to return to City Face. It was starting to turn into a rather stressful day.  

The City Main masses were all watching in the same direction. Something was happening. Micky stepped outside of the Weir just in time to hear Tabitha’s voice booming over her captive audience.  

“They say they want us to follow the rules. What fucking rules? They keep changing those rules to suit their own. I stand here before you case and point.”  

Micky shook his head. He drew out his phone to call Karyn but before he could punch in the numbers Tabitha went on.  

“The Law Makers can suck cock for all I care. Every last one of them. What are they going to do? Kill me? They don’t have the balls.”  

Micky decided then it would be best to visit Karyn personally.  

*** 

The artist, David Finn, had been at Starkland Park in the Shanties, collecting tickets for him and a friend for the next Coldford Athletic game. He and Tawny being close friends in Harbour House, she had shown him many photos of his niece so he recognised her immediately.  

“Holy fucking shit!” he cried. 

He raised his hands above his head as though his treasured team had just scored.  

“I want the people of the Shanties to know that you’re not the vermin in the city. They are,” Tabitha was saying. “They look down on us as though we’ve shat in their shoes. They come to rape us, rob us, abuse our kids, kill us and we’re the ones out of order? Heavens fucking forfend we stand up for ourselves.”  

It didn’t stop at Starkland Park. All around the Shanties – shopping district screens, sports arenas, pub screens – they relayed Tabitha’s message.  

“You don’t have to put up with that shit. You don’t have to take a bit of what those cunts at the Court House have to say. And if any of those Kappa So wankers think they can talk, guess what? You don’t have to put up with that either.” 

As though the Almighty was speaking to them from above, a fire sparked in the people of the south.  

“Shit,” exclaimed one bro to another.   

Swarms of people would start to leave their homes and they would find themselves outnumbered. 

“Things are getting pretty shitty so it’s time for a little change,” said Tabitha. “Sometimes to make a point you got to give a bitch a real slap to the face. I’m looking at you Judge Doyle, cunt.”  

Vans filled with Kappa So bros departed the Shanties. Tabitha’s warning was resonating. The people of the Shanties were listening.  

“I must dash but you can rest assured the Knock Knock Club will open again. I’ll be joining you soon enough. In the meantime, keep fighting. Don’t let those cunts push you around. We’ll have them on their knees begging to suck our cocks because, you know why? The Boss Lady is back. Until next time…byeeee! Oh, and I want my dress fucking cleaned.”  

At that the footage cut out. The collective city fell silent.  

It seemed when Reginald had closed his contact to her Tabitha had held the Coby engineers behind for a performance of her own.  

“I always wanted to be on TV,” had been her sentiment. 

It was a performance the entire city had seen. It was a performance Aunt Tee would be proud of. It was a real show stopper. Where did that leave the rest of us? What in the Hell would she do next?  


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Knock Knock: Episode 35: Shooting Blanks

Opening a store in Bellfield was not going to be as easy as Julia Harvester had hoped. It certainly wasn’t as easy as taking a place in the city. By the time Julia returned to Harvester Farm she had all but given herself to a foul mood. She was a nice girl though and nice girls weren’t moody. So she tried her best to shake it off. The van pulled into the farm house. Glenn was driving. Curtis had fallen asleep in the back. Glenn had warned him he was going to steal his kidneys if he fell asleep but Curtis’ self-inflicted hangover won over the warning. 

Buddy and his bros were waiting for them. Buddy seemed excited about something. Julia tried to find the energy within herself to care. She was still trying to comprehend the situation in Bellfield. She had been warned the people of Bellfield were dedicated to the Macks. She had hoped her brand could fill the void, now that the distillery had been taken. She could be a friendly shoulder to cry on. It seemed the Macks weren’t so easily ousted and the store was under constant attack before it could even be opened. Julia Harvester was a nice girl. Why wouldn’t they want a nice girl to help put the pieces together? Why wouldn’t they let her help them? 

Instead, it was Buddy Owen who greeted her with warmth. 

He kissed her cheek clumsily. 

“It’s been a long day, Bernard,” she said. “I don’t really have the time.” 

“I’ve got a gift for you,” he said. “I figured after a day with the gypos you’d need some cheering up.” 

Parked by the farm house was a green Cooper car named Forest. Buddy dropped his arm around Julia’s shoulder. 

Julia didn’t really have much of a need for a sports car nor a liking for one but she smiled as any nice girl would. 

“That’s very kind of you,” said she. 

Buddy gave a nervous giggle again. His brown eyes sparkled with life. 

“Let’s go inside, shall we?” she propositioned, shaking his arm from his shoulder and taking his hand. 

She led him into the farmhouse and Buddy’s excitement intensified. He was positively giddy when she led him upstairs. 

“I haven’t had the chance to thank you for taking care of Nathan,” she said. 

Buddy followed her to the bedroom like he was ascending the steps to heaven. 

“He was an asshole,” Buddy said, but the hardness in his groin was beginning to take over the conversation. “Sorry about the fence.” 

Julia stopped one step above him. She turned back and smiled. 

“That’s okay. Gary is still safe and sound,” she said. 

The idiotic grin on Buddy’s face went a long way to giving the farm girl the validation she needed. 

When they got into the bedroom Buddy hesitated by the door. Julia walked towards the bed, shedding her clothes as she did so. By the time she lay across the bed she was in her most beautiful form. Buddy was wide eyed and eager but like a rabbit caught in the scope of the hunter’s gun he couldn’t move. 

“You want this, right?” she teased. 

Buddy nodded stupidly. 

He peeled off his shirt – swimmers build out of commission, sorry ma’am. He dropped his trousers, almost tripping over them as he leapt towards the bed. She dug her nails into his shoulder, turned him over and climbed on top of him. She slid herself onto him so he could savour the sensation. 

“That feels good,” he cheered. 

Julia balled up her panties. She gripped his prominent chin. His mouth opened and she stuffed the panties inside. 

“Shhh,” she said. “Don’t talk.” 

Buddy’s hardness was painful. Never before had he experienced such an intense erection. He didn’t want to disappoint her or mar such a splendid occasion by completing too early so he thought of every possible scenario to prolong himself. 

The Cappy’s ass. A cold shower. That time Nola Wong showed him her saggy tits. Frogs.

Julia bucked her hips and he was almost done there and then but he bit his lip. This wasn’t like fucking the Kappa Si coke whores. This was all romantic and shit. 

Julia’s phone on the bedside table rang. She stopped writhing. 

“Motha’ fucka’” Buddy exclaimed, muffled by the panties.

As though Buddy weren’t there, she answered the phone. 

“Yes?” she said. 

It was a contact she had left behind at the Love Street store in Bellfield.

“I know about the distillery,” she said. She bucked her hips and Buddy groaned. “That’s unfortunate. We were trying to make everything better.” 

Grandma spitting her teeth out. Lectures on muscle torque. Really fucking cold shower! 

She bucked again. 

Baseball. The body of a maggot infested racoon he found. His grandma’s saggy tits. 

None of it was helping. Buddy just wished she would get off the damn phone. He tried to touch her breasts but she leaned back, placing her erect nipples out of reach. 

Julia hung the phone up. Buddy’s excitement throbbed but she climbed off of him. 

“I have to go,” she said. 

Buddy was left alone, naked in her bed, still with a painful hard on. He spat the panties out. 

“Dick down my throat!” he complained. 

***

To discuss current events the Olivia had invited the agents to her office in Harbour House. They were also playing host to Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Owen. As a favour to Olivia, he had agreed to meet with us and discuss a way forward now that a temporary truce was in place between the Cappy and Elizabeth Beckingridge. 

“He’s going to pull the Black Bands back as soon as Reginald Penn is apprehended and the Loyalists are disbanded,” Ronnie was explaining to Kim.

“And will he?” Kim put to him. 

Ronnie maintained his station. “He’s a man of his word. The only reason he came here is because of the murder of our father.” I was taking note of all that Ronnie was saying. 

“He had the Daily slander me,” I reminded him. “What is he trying to cover up?” 

Ronnie was unmoved. “No newspaper would allow a journalist to bring it into disrepute, especially when they only have hearsay to go on. You accused his son publicly of murder, again with nothing to back you up. He took that personally.”

I had to admire Ronnie. He didn’t know what reception he would receive with myself and the agents given the current state of affairs in the city, but he approached the task with a dignity and poise that carried the respect of all those present. 

Olivia had vouched for him. They had worked closely together for years in her capacity as a social worker and his as a lawyer. It had been she initially who had put the task to him to defend Tabitha, which he did with everything he could. Even the best lawyers could only go so far when the client was clearly guilty. 

The door opened. I heard Bellfield accents talking excitedly. It was Paddy who emerged first. He stopped dead when he saw Ronnie. Ronnie was equally as flabbergasted. 

“Who the feck let this gobshite in!?” Kieran was close at Paddy’s back. 

Ronnie turned to Olivia. 

“He’s here to help,” she told the Macks. The Macks themselves there at Olivia’s invitation also. No one had expected them to arrive so soon. 

“My arse he is,” Kieran objected. 

“Kieran, shut yer mouth.” Paddy was still looking at Ronnie with mistrust but he was keeping a calm mind.

“I’m not here to cause trouble for anyone,” Ronnie told them. “I’m here as a peace maker. Reginald Penn was the one who murdered my father.” 

Paddy replied, “He had his reasons.” 

Ronnie nodded. “I’m sure he did.” 

“I couldn’t stop him,” Paddy added.

A silence fell between them that didn’t suit Kieran. 

“What kinda arse bandit is your nephew? You should see some of the gear we picked up at yer chapter house,” Kieran teased. 

Paddy slapped his brother’s shoulder. “Really?” 

Kieran shrugged. “Just wondering…” 

Ronnie hugged Olivia. “I’m going to go,” he said. No negotiations were going to be made and the agents had a job to do. 

“1015,” Kieran announced. “Is that the imaginary inches your nephew thinks he has?” 

“Where did you see those numbers?” 

Both Kieran and Paddy were taken aback by Ronnie’s sudden interest. Kieran fished into his bag and produced Buddy’s golden cock.

“We found it in Paddy’s van. We were starting to think he liked it up the arse.” 

Ronnie wasn’t listening. He was examining the item. On the bottom were still the numbers 1015. 

“The golden asset!” he gasped to himself. “Buddy, what have you done?” 

Kieran continued. “You freak shows keep the strangest things.” 

Paddy growled at him. Kieran shrugged but he quietened. 

I could tell from Ronnie’s expression that something had gone horribly wrong. 

“What’s the matter?” asked Olivia speaking for all of us as we tried to comprehend what had happened. 

Ronnie shook his head. “Captain Henry had a whole series of golden artifacts created for the Coldford expedition. Map holder, gun, playing card holder, whiskey decanter – all of which we have – the compass and this. All of them were stamped with 1035. It was the time his ship set sail.” 

“Why would…” Kieran began to ask. “I suppose, a sailor and all that,” he decided. 

“Kieran if you don’t shut the feck up I’m going to belt ye,” warned Paddy. 

“It wasn’t like this,” Ronnie explained but to Olivia. “If this is truly the golden asset then it was Captain Henry Owen’s telescope. It has been in my family for over two centuries and if that fuck up has-” Ronnie stopped himself before he lost his temper completely. “The Cappy is going to be furious.” 

Kieran grinned. “Can we tell him?” 

“I’m keeping this,” Ronnie said to Paddy. “I’m going to assume that if you have anything to say to Olivia it’s for the good for the city. I’ll also assume that if I were to send the Black Bands to fetch you, you would be gone by the time they got here so I won’t bother. In exchange you will not breathe a word of this and let me handle it internally.” 

Ronnie stored the asset away. The agreement was struck.

***

The Chapter House was beginning to look a little like itself again. Most of it was still a construction site where Reginald and Paddy had led their respective groups to wreck the very building. 

Buddy was resting easy. Things were finally starting to get back to normal. 

“We just have to find the golden cock,” he said. “And I have a feeling I know where it is. Those gypo sons a bitches have it.” 

Chad stood behind him. He started to massage Buddy’s shoulders. Cooper was reading an email from his dad, Marshal Cooper. The father had sent an invoice for the cocaine they had taken from his stash. He was still at the classic car event in Luen but the Coopers had a very business friendly relationship. 

Buddy leaned his head back. Chad’s massaging hands moved down to his chest. Cooper looked up from his phone. Chad leaned his chin on Buddy’s head. Cooper frowned. 

“So, what’s the damage?” asked Buddy. 

“Two thousand,” said Cooper still looking a little confused at Chad who was resting comfortably. 

“What?” Buddy put to Cooper with a frown when he noticed him staring. 

Cooper shook his head.  

“Then give Coop his money, brah.”

Chad went back to massaging Buddy’s shoulders. Their plans were interrupted by Ronnie throwing the door open and storming in in a mighty temper. 

“Ron?” Buddy looked up. “What’s-” 

BANG!

Ronnie fired his gun catching Buddy in a fleshy part of his thigh. He fell forward in pain.

“You just shot me!” he exclaimed, clutching his leg. 

Ronnie pointed the gun at Chad and moved it between he and Cooper. 

“Don’t either of you dare move,” he warned. “I will shoot you where you stand and The Cappy will thank me for it.” 

Chad and Cooper said nothing. Buddy was still wincing in pain.

“What you do that for?” he asked his uncle. 

Ronnie dropped the golden asset. Buddy’s eyes widened with shock. 

The golden asset – the telescope of Henry ‘Hen’ Owen on his pioneering expedition – was the pride of the Owen name. Not only was it a centuries-old heirloom, it was a symbol of Owen power. It was kept at the Coldford Chapter House so that visitors of note like Pops could pay homage to it. Buddy – after a disagreement with his father – fell foul to the effects of powder. He started to boast that the Chapter House was his and he could do what he liked. The drugs, the angst and the brothers cheering him on caused him to make one of the poorest decisions he had made among a lifetime of terrible choices. He had the telescope reforged. 

“If The Cappy finds out about this I will not have what he does to you on my conscience. You’ve put us both in a mighty tough position Buddy and if you weren’t my blood I’d shoot you in the head right now and leave you a vegetable.” 

“Holy Mary, Ron,” Buddy grimaced. “My leg!” 

“I only grazed you. Consider it a warning shot. Get your shit together Bernard, for all our sakes.” 

Ronnie left his nephew. At least the asset was back in Owen hands. Buddy’s future, however, was reliant on the Macks keeping quiet and given their current struggle with the Owens it was likely they had a lot to say.


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Knock Knock: Episode 34: Whiskey Town


Buddy had returned to Owen Estate at The Cappy’s request.

The den seemed less closed off that day. It was unlike Chick to keep the door open when he was in but that day it was ajar. He was standing with his back turned to him. He was observing the various other family heirlooms. 

“You wanted to see me?” Buddy asked nervously. 

The Cappy turned. 

“The agents …” he began. 

Buddy took a deep breath. 

“I’ve had every agent from here to home fight tooth and nail to bring that compass back to me.” 

Buddy sighed with relief. He had meant acquisitions agents. Buddy looked to the space that was supposed to have been filled with the compass.

“I guess sometimes no matter how hard you fight you will always come to losses. Those losses can be great but we carry on. 

He stopped. He narrowed his gaze on his son. 

“Are you alright, boy?” 

Buddy nodded. A sweat was beginning to break on his forehead. 

“Losses and shit,” Buddy repeated. 

The Cappy growled. 

“Are you on powda’?” he asked. 

Buddy shook his head. Truthfully he was sober. His current situation would be a whole lot easier if he weren’t. 

“As I said, we all have our losses,” The Cappy went on “It’s the prickly nature of the competition. We are Owens and we always succeed, even if it takes generations. That is what being a dynasty is all about. That spot on that there wall perhaps wasn’t meant for something from our past. Maybe it stays open for the future. Which brings me to you.” 

Buddy clamped his mouth closed. 

“We’ve had our differences. We’ve had our problems. You were always closer to your mama but I’m to blame for that. I wasn’t there for you as often as I should have been. I had been too focused on taking our family forward. You were left behind with Jerry to teach you. I hoped you would follow my example but I realise now an example could only be set if I were there for you. You grew up to be a lot like Jerry and that’s my own fault. Times are changing. Times are going to get harder. We need to stick together and be on our A game. Can I trust you with that?”

Buddy nodded. The Cappy came from behind his desk and approached him. Buddy flinched as he put his arm out but Chick clasped his son with a grip behind his neck. 

“You are my boy, Buddy. I will do anything for you. A dynasty is carried forward not backwards. Make me proud. Leave stories for our future generations to tell. 

Buddy sighed. “I’m sorry the dragon lady smashed your compass.” 

Chick’s lips traced a smile. “As am I son. As am I.” 

Buddy couldn’t think of what else to say. He asked, “are you okay?” 

Chick’s smile spread. “I will be,” he said. 

Buddy flinched again as The Cappy pulled him closer but it was into an embrace with some warm pats on his back. 

“I love you, son.” 

These were words Buddy had never heard from The Cappy before. Mama said it all the time but she it to everyone. The Cappy on the other hand? He had probably never uttered the words before. Come to think of it Buddy had never said those words to anyone either. How does a bro respond to something like that? Luckily he didn’t have to 

The Cappy smiled again. 

“Besides, we still have the golden asset at the Chapter House. I’m going to have to lean on the Fullertons to make sure that site is cleared and returned to us.” 

“Sure,” Buddy agreed. 

“Alright, go,” he said. “Close the door behind ya.” 

Buddy pulled the den door closed. 

“What the fuck?” he muttered to himself.

***

***

There was an icy wind dancing across Owen Estate. It was time for Betsy to breathe some air. She felt snug, like an enthusiatic lover against The Cappy’s shoulder.

Van Holder watched as Chick took aim. The target cracked at Betsy’s bite. Van Holder applauded.

“Good shot,” he said.

“Are you a marksman yourself?” he asked.

Van Holder raised his chin as he took a better look at the target.

“Guns have uses but I’m more of a hands on man myself.”

Chick laughed. “That’s why I like. It’s good to let your hands get dirty from time to time.”

Van Holder agreed.

“I hear a lot of noise coming from our warehouses. I trust the investment is being put to good use?”

Van Holder’s lips traced a smile.

“Why don’t you come take a look.”

The Cappy gave Betsy to an assistant to be taken back inside. The warmth of Betsy’s body showed she was eager for more but that would have to wait. The two made their way to a warehouse on the Kingsgate Campus that Chick Owen had given for their purposes. When the warehouse doors were pulled open that he was not disappointed.

Hundreds of Black Band appointees were busy building a weapon of the most destructive kind. It would be fatal where necessary and unstoppable. Attention was being paid to a large cow catcher from an old locomotive. Thousands of pounds of power it held. There was not a wall in Coldford that could hold it back.

“Is this the weapon used in Kimaro?” The Cappy asked.

“It had to be brought in for parts. Assembly is taking time,” Van Holder explained.

The device that was used to make a King in Subala take to his knees and weep was but a prototype for what they had before them now.

Charles ‘Chick’ Owen was impressed. Van Holder was only too keen to display their success.

“With your generosity I will be able to make the upgrades we need to tackle the current problem.”

The Black Bands continued to busy themselves with assembly.

Both The Cappy and Van Holder looked at the weapon with admiration.

“She is mighty impressive,” stated Chick Owen.

“She’s called Game Changer,” Van Holder explained.

Chick grinned. “I do believe it is time for the game to change.”

***

Dan had set up the projector in the Filton Press archive room.

The old video played. It displayed shaky and grainy images of Old Bellfield over the last century, you to Brendan Mack as a young man when he took over. He was without his wheelchair then, standing tall and proud with his two elder sons, Paddy and Kieran. Paddy looked a lot like his father.

What interested me the most was the great wars of last century when the Distillery gates had been last closed. Those walls were built to last.

The distillery had originally been gas works. The great wars brought about a ban on alcohol. There were riots and more violence as a result. Sean Mack who worked for the gas works at the time used a small shed on the site to brew his own booze. When the owner of the gas works discovered what he was doing he was delighted. Soon Sean was brewing booze for the entire city. He brought his sons Darragh and Callum in to help. On the grounds of the gas works began Mack and Sons distillery. The gates were closed to keep the authorities from ousting the booze runners.

Stubbon and refusing to move, the distillery built itself around the gas works, becoming the Bellfield monumental structure we know today. Generations passed but those gates still stood strong.

***

The bells started to ring. Brendan Mack and his brother Alan made their way to the gates. Alan was pushing Brendan’s chair.

The entrance created during the dry days of last century I previously discussed to allow the collection of bootleg booze were still there. Only one of their own would know of it. When Brendan and Alan arrived on scene Paddy and Kieran were being greeted by their workers.

“The scoundrels return!” they cheered.

Paddy was being clapped proudly on the back by some of the workers. Kieran was busy retelling their tales of heroism to the workers when Paddy spotted their father. He went to meet him. He wrapped his arms around him and squeezed him tight.

“You look good,” said Brendan holding back emotion.

“Born this good looking is a curse,” Kieran cheered pushing Paddy aside to hug Brendan too

“We had to pull back,” Paddy explained to the reigning Mack Boss. “We were making our way round to Cooper Garages in Reginald Penn was determined to head to City Main. We would have been crushed. I tried to warn him.”

“I heard what happened to Reggie,” said Brendan. “It’d be hard not to do the same if it were on of me own. It leaves us vulnerable though. Did you find anything on Tawny?” he asked with a little hope.

Paddy shook his head. “No,” he admitted. “Sorry.”

Brendan sighed.

“We’ll have to give some thought to our next move but the boys are raring to go.”

Paddy took over the pushing of Brendan’s wheelchair. They passed through the distillery’s main body. Cheers rang out when the saw Paddy home again. The tables had been turned and the distillery equipment was replaced by weaponry. When the distillery gates opened again they would be ready.

“We’re at war lads!” Paddy called to them as he pushed his father down the main aisle, flanked by Alan and Kieran. Cheers were the response.

“Are ye ready!?” Paddy called.

“I said, are you feckin’ ready!?”

The cheers grew louder. The spirit of the distillery was alive. It was boiling over. It was unaware of the danger that rumbled down Love Street towards it.

Kaboom!

***

“The Mack and Sons distillery was brought to ruin earlier today in a Law Maker sanctioned raid as the terrorist group faced off with the Black Bands of Subala. Forty three Mack workers died in the attack as they tried to open fire on the Black Bands. Mack and Sons leader, Brendan Mack, was shot trying to take aim. It is believed that sons Patrick and Kieran escaped and are now concealed somewhere within Bellfield. The distillery has been officially seized and the search for the fugitives continues. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily news.”

***

With help from the Bellfield natives, Paddy and Kieran had managed to escape the devastation at the distillery. They split just after love street. Paddy slipped into a house neary. He took a deep breath.

“I should ask why you’re breaking and entering but given the noise from the distillery the situation explains itself.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs Shepherd,” Paddy replied boyishly, recognising the old councillor for the Bellfield community. “I didn’t want to bring trouble to your door.”

“And yet here you are,” she replied. “Sit Patrick but wipe your feet first. I don’t want you trailing my garden across the floor.”

Paddy obeyed and he took a seat at a small wooden kitchen table. Mrs Shepherd began to brew tea.

“There’s no use going anywhere now,” she said. “You might as well have a cup of tea and wait for things to blow over.”

“I’m fine,” he said.

The old counsellor turned to him with a raised eyebrow. “It’s non optional.”

She made two cups of tea and brought them to the table.

“You’ve always been a troublesome one, Patrick,” she said. “But you’re a good boy really.”

Mrs Shepherd had seen all the Macks grow up. As a counsellor they had been both help and hinderance to her. She knew Tawny well too having met her through Brendan. They had a shared interest in helping the community.

As boys, Paddy and Kieran had spray painted all over the Love Street park. It was she who had marched the boys back and have them repaint it.

“That’s what ye get for being eejits,” Brendan had said when they returned covered in green paint.

“I’ll wring their necks,” Annie Mack had promised. A promise delivered – at least on Kieran.

Mrs Shepherd had also been there to witness Paddy being prepared to take over the distillery. He was cheeky but he had a lot of the Mack endurance.

“I’ll be gone as soon as I can,” Paddy promised.

“That you will,” Mrs Shepherd agreed. “But I wouldn’t forgive myself if I sent you out in that mess.”

Whilst the Black Bands maintained their focus on the distillery, CPD were moving in to catch any who may have ran.

Mrs Shepherd clutched the Albans beads around her neck. They could both hear voices out in the street. There were shouting in Bellfield accents. Paddy hoped Kieran had managed to stay safe. He hoped those left behind at the distillery had survived at least.

The table shuddered as an explosion rattled down Love Street.

Mrs Shepherd took a deep breath. She clutched her beads tighter.

Knock knock.

There was a bang on the door. Paddy stood. Mrs Shepherd stood too.

“Stay here,” she said

She went to answer the door and Paddy crossed to the kitchen drawer. He removed a knife. He hid himself behind the kitchen counter and listened as Mrs Shepherd answered to the caller.

“Roger Kramer, CPD,” he said. “This is Peter Finnegan. We’re looking for Patrick and Kieran Mack. Have you seen them?”

Mrs Shepherd closed the door over slightly but slowly so as not to be suspicious.

“I haven’t seen anything,” she replied. “I had to turn off the television with all that noise down at the distillery.”

Finnegan looked her. Mrs Shepherd closed the door over a little more.

“Can we come in and take a look around?” asked Roger.

“Do you have a warrant to search my property?” she asked. She knew they didn’t.

“We have been authorised to use force if necessary but we’d rather you cooperate,” she was warned.

“Maybe rather than hassling old women and the Mack boys you should do your job and go check out that pervert down Dalley Street that sells drugs to all the weans!”

Mrs Shepherd’s neighbour had come out and was leaning on her balcony.

“It’s fine, Josie,” said Mrs Shepherd. “They were just leaving.”

Roger and Finnegan stayed their ground. The neighbourhood didn’t much appreciate the officer’s presence. They were being scowled at. It was said among CPD and most of Greater Coldford that Bellfield should be fenced off and allowed to police themselves.

“I told you I haven’t seen anyone. I do, however, believe that some of the young ones are unscrewing the wheels of your car,” said Mrs Shepherd.

Roger looked back. “You little bastards!” he yelled.

A group of kids aged around eight scattered. The CPD officers charged towards the car. When they climbed inside the young Bellfield Fleet began to throw stones at them. The officers pursued them towards the Dalley street exit towards Coldford City.

Paddy was at Mrs Shepherd’s back.

“Thank you,” he said gratefully.

“Get out of here Patrick,” she warned but she smiled and hugged him.

“Are ya gonna move!” a voice called from across the street.

Kieran waved his brother towards him.

When Paddy joined Kieran on the boys antagonising the police came running back towards them.

“They went away in their motor,” he announced proudly.

“Good job,” Keiran said , patting the boy’s shoulder.

The three started to make their way briskly to the quieter part of Bellfield to regroup.

The boy explained, “me and my old fella are going to go down to the distillery. We’ll let you know what’s happening.”

“Thanks,” said Paddy with genuine gratitude. “Just don’t go anywhere near the Black Bands. They’re not like CPD.”

Love Street had quietened but it would hear a great noise again.


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Knock Knock: Episode 33: Bull in a China Shop

The moment Nathan learned about Nan Harvester’s arrest he made his way straight to Harvester Farm. Julia had a strained relationship with her mother. She had always been closer to her father but she would need someone with her. She would need someone to help her through. Harvester Farm was quiet and none of the farm hands were out on the fields, not even Glenn or Curtis. He was glad of that. The milking sheds the frat boys had made home were quiet too. He had seen Buddy in the news with his father back on Owen Estate. Hopefully he was out of Julia’s life for good.  

If Glenn and Curtis were out on deliveries it was likely Julia had stayed behind to overlook things. There was always one of them left in charge.  

He drove straight to the farmhouse. He hadn’t been back since that business with Susie. He was keen to check the fallout from it. Buddy may have been grinning for the papers but hopefully Glenn had put the fear of God into him. He would never dare step on the farm again. Susie could have died. 

He rang the bell. It was a deep chime that echoed around the house. Through the frosted glass he could see a someone approach. It wasn’t Julia though. It was a man. The door opened. A wide grin greeted. The man was wearing Kappa So attire. The man was George.  

“Hello Nathan,” he said. “Come to visit Jules? She’s not in at the moment.”  

“Come in. She’ll be home soon.”  

George stepped aside. Speechless, Nathan entered the hallway. George closed the door behind him. That was when he heard laughter in the dining room  

“Buddy!” George called. “Nathan’s home.”  

*** 

“Well, I’ll be a son a bitch!”  

Nathan tried to run. He struggled with the door but George had wrapped his arm around his neck. Nathan threw his arm back and caught George’s face. He tried to struggle but the bros overpowered him.  

Bound to the fence Nathan screamed. George’s nose wrinkled as the screech irritated his ears. Buddy shook his own head.  

“I ain’t even started yet, brah.”  

Nathan pleaded. “Julia would not approve. She would have none of this. Just let me go. I won’t come back.”  

Chad handed Buddy a cannister of gasoline used for the farm equipment. He splashed it on Nathan.  

“You coked up my little mascot, didn’t ya?” Buddy asked.  

“Yes,” Nathan admitted. “It was me.”  

Buddy growled, “You could have killed her. You’re a sicko.” He splashed more gasoline on him. “You almost got me my ass kicked and you had powda’ here all along?” Buddy started to become quite upset. “You’re a real piece of work, brah! I’ve seen some real sick shit in my time but you are something else. You see this guy?” Here he indicated George. “This guy wants to eat your face off but he still ain’t as sick as you.”  

“I’m sorry,” Nathan begged. “Please don’t do this.”  

“Maaaaah!” Gary the goat cried from his pen.  

“This is none of your God damned business Gary,” Buddy warned the goat.  

WHAM!  

“See?” Buddy said to Nathan. “I’ve been learning about these animals and that goat says you’re a dickhead.”  

“Maah!”  

WHAM! 

“I told him, Gary,” Buddy replied. Buddy calmed himself. “Nathan,” he said, “you messed with the wrong bro, brah. I got a ton of shit in my tank right now. For pissing me off you’re gonna sizzle right here on this fence.”  

Nathan cried. A wet stain spread across his crotch.  

“God damnit!” Buddy exclaimed. “He’s gone and pissed himself. Is piss flammable because I really wanted his balls to burn.”  

“No, it’s not,” George explained like quite the expert. “I pissed on my aunt’s cat once and she wouldn’t go on fire.” 

Cooper folded his arms and raised his eyebrows. Chad seemed to be picturing it. Buddy’s lips pursed at the image of a cat running away as felines do, soaked in urine. Buddy must have found this amusing because he started to laugh. The image of George chasing after it still trying to piss on it made him laugh even harder.  

“You see, Nathan? You see the kind of maniacs you’re dealing with here? I know he’s a bit touched but my bro here told you to stay away. You should have listened.”  

“Maaaah!”  

“Not now, Gary.”  

WHAM! 

Buddy’s phone started to jingle. He had no choice but answer.  

“Yeah?” he asked. “Kinda in the middle of something here, brah.”  

“It’s the crime scene, mucker,” came the voice on the other end. “Agents are investigating it.”  

Buddy had been such a bad boy lately he found himself having to ask.  

“Which crime scene?”  

“The shooting. The little girl and her deadbeat dad. It ain’t CPD who are looking. It’s the agents. This is a whole new breed of shit to deal with but we’re doing what we can to keep it clean.”  

Buddy groaned. “Dick down my throat!”  

He rang off. 

Impatient and eager to hear Nathan’s screams George threw the lighter that had belonged to his father and flicked it onto Nathan.  

“I didn’t say so yet,” Buddy complained. “I had a whole speech prepared and everything.”  

George lowered his head. “Sorry, Buddy.”  

Woooosh! The flames erupted, causing the bros to leap back. Buddy had been so enthused he hadn’t been paying much attention to how much petrol he was throwing.  

“Maaaah!”  

WHAM! 

Gary the goat was distressed. Nathan’s screams as he burned shattered the generally calm ambience of Harvester Farm. There was another cry but it wasn’t from the goat. It was the roar of the bull. Gordon wasn’t liking that fuss the bros were causing on his fields. The flames tore along the fence of Gary’s enclosure.  

“Shit!” Buddy exclaimed. “Get water before the whole place goes. Smells like barbeque.”  

“Are we going to eat him?” asked George. Buddy frowned. He turned slowly to Brother Beckingridge. “You got some real problems, brah.”  

Nathan’s screams softened. All pain and power dissolved from them when he gave himself to his end.  

Crack. The fencing broke. The panels holding Nathan were charred and weakened.  

They managed to douse the flames and pull Nathan’s body onto the field but the fencing was ruined.  

“Maaaah!” Gary ran at Chad, catching him in the crotch.  

“Catch that goat!” Buddy yelled.  

George leapt at Gary almost catching him by his hind leg. Gary turned, bit him and escaped, running towards the east acre.  

“God damnit! We gotta fix that fence. Chad? Coops? Find wood.”  

Before the sniggers could start, he said, “Not now, brah. George? Catch that damn goat. We’ve got an hour before Julia gets back. We gotta clear this mess.”  

“We’ll put him in the incinerator,” Chad offered.  

“Are you trying to get funny, brah? We already cooked him.”  

“It’s how Julia gets rid of the bodies – dead cows and shit.”  

Buddy gave a dreamy sigh. “That girl just makes me wanna…” 

Before chasing after Gary, George asked, “Can I keep a bit of him for my collection?”  

Buddy tousled his hair “Of course you can, brah. Go get the goat first.”  

Gordon snorted over his fence.  

‘I don’t like the way that bull keeps looking at me,’ he thought.  

As his bros rushed to bring the farm back into order he looked down at the body of Nathan. There was still a little life left in him. His mouth opened and closed, chomping his last, like a fish out of water. Buddy could have shot him and ended it for him then but he was in no mood for mercy. 

*** 

Buddy had returned to Owen Estate.  That morning he had received a call.  

“Just been down to the shooting site in the Shanties to get it cleared up.”  

Buddy sat forward. His head was pounding and his mouth felt like it had been stuffed with cotton wool.  

“Yeah? So?”  

“It’s already been cleared. The agents must have been there. Are you sure you left a milk bottle?”  

Buddy thought hard. “I did,” he said. “I had been watching for Kev for so fucking long I got thirsty, brah. I was still a little wasted.” 

CPD had always been looking for the shot from the left. The fake nest gave them everything they thought they needed. The trouble was now the agents were tailing Buddy. Big bro Billy couldn’t protect him from that.  

Buddy leaned forward.  

“This is a real shit show,” Buddy said to Cooper and Chad.  

‘Take the little girl out first. Kev gonna learn a God damn lesson,’ Buddy could still hear his instructions.  

Buddy had been so high. He could barely remember pulling the trigger.  

*** 

Lydia arrived waving an envelope excitedly.  

“It’s in,” she said. 

Lydia and Kim had sampled the bottle that had been collected from the shooting site. Blonde hair from Buddy Owen had been extracted from him.  

“This is it,” Kim said. “It’s sketchy at best pet, but it will at least let us bring him in for a closer look.”  

Lydia passed the letter to Kim. She watched her expression as she read.  

“This isn’t it,” she growled. “It says it’s not a match. I was so sure of it. My instincts were crying out!” 

“Maybe the hair wasn’t Buddy’s,” Lydia suggested.  

The hair sample they got had come from my coat, attached from the time I confronted him in main.  

DNA could have put him at the scene of the crime at least. As Kim said though, it was sketchy at best. A good lawyer like Ronnie defending his nephew would have found it easy to convince the judge to throw it out. It was a start though. No match it said. 

“We can’t bring him in with nothing to show for it. Doyle won’t go for that.” 

Lydia suggested, “Then I’m going to speak to him.”  

“Then tread carefully,” Kim warned.  

Word had it that he was on Harvester Farm. If she was going to be able to corner him it would have to be done whilst he was there.  

***

The alarms were screaming. Tawny grimaced with the noise as Cooper rushed around trying to switch them off. There were only seconds before CPD were alerted.  

“Hurry, Coops!” Buddy was calling. “The last thing we need is Billy down here.”  

415 – 29 – 4 – 11 – 12  

Cooper desperately punched the buttons. He managed to deactivate.  

“I want to speak to your Pa,” said Tawny as though she were telling off a neighbourhood child for running in the yard. She glared as though they were in a lot of trouble.  

Buddy was in a lot of trouble. A man hunt was now on for the Baroness, funded by Elizabeth Beckingridge.  

“You don’t know who I am lady,” said Buddy petulantly.  

Tawny pursed her lips. “Owen,” she said. “Obviously.”  

Buddy groaned. The Owens did tend to have a strong familial resemblance but that wasn’t what had caught Tawny’s attention.  

“It’s on yer back, honey. Your jackets…” She pointed to Coops. “Cooper. I’m assuming Marshall Cooper’s son.” She pointed to Chad. “Perry. Do your family own the zoo? That’s a nice zoo.”  

“Shut up, bitch,” Buddy warned. He was still trying to figure out what the Hell he was going to do.  

“Let me talk to yer dad.”  

“No way in Hell. Just shut your mouth. I’m a dangerous guy,” he said.  

Chad was nodding in fervent agreement. He pointed to Buddy. 

“You don’t wanna be messing with my bro, brah!” he warned.  

“Thanks, Chad,” said Buddy.  

“Got your back, brah.”  

Tawny shook her head. It seemed the plan of the frat boys had been so quick to action they hadn’t fully thought out their process. They had just gone along with it. This is no surprise when we’re dealing with three individuals who had spent a lifetime avoiding consequences.  

“Hide her away. I need time to think. I need powder,” Buddy decided.  

Coops looked a little fidgety. He was anxious. He very much needed some powder too.  

“Drugs aren’t the answer,” said Tawny.  

Buddy frowned. “Will you shut up or I’m gonna gag ya.” He glared at Tawny and then started to laugh. To Cooper he said. “We should totally put an apple in her mouth!”  

Tawny pouted. Cooper’s phone began to ring.  

“It’s my dad, brah,” he said.  

“Chad, put her away somewhere. I can’t think straight. Coops, try and find out where Marsh keeps the rest of his stash.”  

Chad gripped Tawny’s arm and led her to the secure storage cupboard.  

“So, Chad is it?” Tawny asked. “You know I had a close friend called Arthur. He knew a Chad. Or was it Brad?”  

Chad became alarmed. Arthur was a crossdressing performer who used to stop by the Knock Knock from time to time. The nature of Chad’s relationship with him I’ll leave open for interpretation, dear readers, but it did cause Chad to tighten the grip on Tawny’s arm and push her into the storage with a lot of intent.  

The door was closed. Tawny took a deep breath. She dropped to a seat on the floor.  

*** 

Lydia stopped in Bournton to have coffee with her sister, Cynthia, en route to Harvester Farm. Agent Lydia Lowe had wanted to wait until close to sun down when the farm hands had left and she would stand a better chance of finding Buddy. Cynthia had been telling her all about their father’s new hobby of watercolours. She showed her sister his first attempts as photos on her phone. Some time with Cynthia had been a breath of fresh air. It gave her a moment to compose herself before venturing on her task to corner Buddy.  

Refreshed, she felt ready as she passed the sign to Harvester Farm. She slowed her bike as much as she could so as not to disturb the animals too much. There was one farm hand lingering on the field. He had parked a Harvester van by the paddock of the stud herd.  

Curtis had been too busy in his own mind mumbling to himself. He hadn’t heard Lydia approach.  

“Whoah!” he gasped when he turned and saw her. There was still a little distance between them. “Stop there,” he ordered.  

Lydia stopped. The last thing she needed was to upset the farm hands.  

“I’m Agent Lowe,” Lydia explained. “I just want to ask a few questions.”  

Curtis raised his eyebrows in an instant mistrust.  

“We don’t like cops here,” he warned.  

He banged his fists against the side of the van. Lydia watched him as he crossed to the rear which was parked towards her.  

Lydia watched the sudden nervousness in him.  

“What’s your name?” she asked.  

Curtis started to become irate. He banged his fist on the rear of the van.  

“We’re working hard here and cops think they can wander onto the farm and ask questions? Let me tell you exactly why that’s not going to happen.”  

He crossed to the left side of the van. He clenched his fist again.  

BANG. BANG. BANG!  

He snatched a cord and pulled the van grate open.  

“Go get her boy!” he yelled as he skipped further around the side of the van.  

From the van emerged a huge black bull named Gordon. In a rage he charged, catching only Lydia in his sight. The agent ran as fast as she could.  

Gordon caught the shine of Lydia’s bike in his eyes. The gleam frustrated him. With his great horns, the bike was thrown and its rear wheel torn away.  

Curtis was now arguing with another farm hand. Lydia managed to swing back down from the ledge she had escaped to as Gordon charged towards the east acre where the dairy herd were kept.  

“Sorry,” Glenn said when he approached them. “We get a lot of our hands from The Boss. We don’t usually get cops here. It makes the hands nervous. “  

“I just wanted to ask about Buddy Owen,” Glenn said.  

Curtis, who was still excitable, said, “Why didn’t you say that?”  

“I never got the chance to,” she said.  

Curtis shrugged. His nerves were eased.  

“The way you came at me, I thought you were here to pick me up.”  

Lydia frowned. “Should I be picking you up?”  

Glenn slapped his arm. “You let Gordon out? Go and get him before he shags one of the dairies.”  

Curtis took rope from the back of the van and dashed off to fetch the bull and lead him back to his own paddock. Glenn led Lydia a little further up. They both leaned against the fence, freshly erected.  

“Sorry about your bike,” Glenn apologised.   

“I just want to ask some questions about Buddy Owen,” she stated.  

“He’s not here,” Glenn admitted. “You missed him. He’s gone back to his fancy estate. I’d watch yourself around him.”  

Lydia smiled. “I’ll keep an eye out.” 

“You’re a Bournton lass?” Glenn beamed when he caught a hint of her northern tones. 

“I am,” she admitted.  

Glenn seemed pleased by this. He looked up and watched Curtis trying to rope Gordon. Gordon shook the rope from his horns and charged at Curtis. The charge was without malice but it caused Curtis to leap the fence.  

“Sorry about him too,” Glenn said. “He’s just a dumb animal.”  

“No hard feelings,” Lydia replied. “I like cows.” 

Glenn frowned. He had been referring to Curtis.  

“Give me a hand, will you?” Curtis could be heard yelling to anyone who would helping.  

Gordon was feeling mischievous and charging anyone who came near him.  Curtis had been forced to leap the fence again.  

“You let him out. You can put him back in,” Glenn returned.  

“Fuck you, Gordon,” Curtis growled, raising his finger at the bull.  

Glenn shook his head. “I’d better help him. I’ll give you a run back home. I’ll tell you what I know about Buddy.”  

“Not a fan of him then?” Lydia asked.  

“This farm has seen more than its share of unwanted ludgers,” he said.  

With Glenn on scene Curtis leapt the fence and the two of them circled a disgruntled Gordon.  

She felt a nibble on her thigh that caused her to step aside.  

“Maaaah!” the pygmy goat named Gary pressed his head to her gently through the fence. She patted his head. Maybe before she left she could get a photo of him to send to Cynthia.  


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Knock Knock: Episode 32: Forgiveness is for Fools

The Chamberlain Docks were preparing for their buy over. Everything had been shut down but it was further into Swantin my story took me that day, to a small church of the Wigan order called St Rowans. I waited outside. That was when I saw him. He had completely lost his natural swagger. His clothes were ill-fitting. He had lost so much weight. His skin was grey. HIV positive. His life could end in two years, it could take fifteen. With modern care he could outlive all of us. Dennis Platt – former manager of the Knock Knock Club, husband of Olivia, but most importantly father of Milo – had been called upon. I had my own reasons for the hatred and spite I bore towards Dennis. I had not long discovered that he was the reason my wife Theresa had died. They had been having an affair but with everything that had happened the needs of the boy outweighed my own misgivings.  

The light of St Rowan shone brightly as the afternoon sun caught the colours of the stained-glass windows. New enemies were arising every day. I was now the enemy of my old newspaper. Considered a threat to society and now under the gaze of an Owen Inc. scope. In order to combat that differences had to be put aside. Knowledge was key to completing my story and no one knew the darkest shades of Coldford better than Dennis.  

He hesitated at first when he saw me. He stopped. I didn’t call to him. I didn’t say anything. My blood boiled but I reminded myself of the bigger picture. Dennis must have sensed this because he gingerly approached.  

“Sam?” he said. “I didn’t think you would be here.”  

What was he going to say? Sorry? 

I continued to watch him until eventually he became more nervous. 

“This has nothing to do with either of us,” I said. “She’s inside.”  

Dennis took a deep breath. He started to make his way up the enlightened steps to the church’s main entrance. He stopped by the doorway. “I’m sorry, pal.”  

“For which part?” I asked.  

Dennis gripped the door. “All of it.”  

“When this is over, I will tell your story,” I said in a way of warning. “Every little detail.”  

He nodded his head. “You should,” he replied.  

At that he pulled the door open and entered St Rowan’s good graces.  

Olivia was seated at the front. She was a spiritual woman and seeking guidance. 

“I invited you down today so we can talk in a calm, peaceful setting. I know you are not much for faith but I find comfort here.”  

“How have you been?” he asked.  

It was a silly question he knew, but Rowan’s embrace didn’t make him feel any better.  

“I’m not good,” she said. “But I will be.”  

“And Milo?” 

“He’s such a strong boy. He’s stronger than either of us.” 

Dennis smiled. “I miss him. I always have. I swear to God,” he jested raising his hand to the Lord.  

Olivia smiled. “I never doubted that for a second,” she said. “He’s missed you too.”  

Dennis looked to the altar. The Wigan cross hung prominently, representative of great sacrifice.  

“Hickes was more of a dad to him than I ever was. A much better one than I ever would be.” 

Olivia clutched his hand tighter. “Joel isn’t here anymore,” she said, not unkindly. “But you still are. That’s why I called you here. I want you to have the chance to know Milo. Milo should have the chance to know you before…”  

Dennis refused at first. “I don’t know, Liv. He’s been through a lot. I’m not going to be around forever.”  

“None of us are,” Olivia reminded him. “It could be tomorrow, next week, ten years from now, we don’t know. But don’t waste what time is left. Give your son memories of you to cherish. Give your son memories he deserves.”  

If there was anything Dennis could do in life it was that. 

“I need you to know, Dennis, that I forgive you. It wasn’t easy but I do.”  

Dennis fell silent. He turned his attention back to the altar. His brow tightened; his chin quivered.  

“Are you okay?” asked Olivia.  

Dennis nodded but he couldn’t look at her.  

Olivia drew a slip of paper from her pocket. “There’s something I want you to hear.” She began to read.  

My dad did a bad thing. Somewhere along the road he went the wrong way. It might make the journey longer but he can turn back.  

Written by Milo Platt. 

Dennis reached his hand up to his mouth. He still couldn’t look at Olivia but the tears of regret began to spill.  

“I can’t,” he began. 

“Does it hurt?” asked Olivia. “Is it painful?”  

Dennis gave into his despair. “Of course it is!” He resisted the urge to curse.  

Olivia spoke softly again. “It should. You did harm to many people but that is your penance and as Milo said, you can still turn back.”  

Dennis gathered himself. “He’s a smart kid.”  

Olivia agreed. “Too smart sometimes,” she jested. “He’d like to know you.”  

“I’d love to see him again,” Dennis stated genuinely. 

Olivia patted his hand. “He’d love that.” She rested her hand on her stomach. “There’s something else you should know. Milo is going to be a big brother.”  

Dennis eyes widened. Finally, he offered her his gaze. 

“Seriously?”  

Olivia nodded.  

“That’s…” he hesitated. “That’s brilliant Liv, it really is. I’m so happy for you. Can I hug the mum to be?”  

*** 

Thinking about Dennis drove me to contact one of my old sources in Swantin. We had all only just met when I was given the assignment on the Mayor. I hadn’t had the chance to build trust between us but we had been on agreeable terms so I was hoping he would be willing to talk to me. He was operations manager at the Chamberlain docks and he had seen all of the ships come and go, bringing girls from afar. I wondered if perhaps Feltz and Waddle had been customers. Perhaps that was what they were running from. It was a mild lead at best, but one that was worth following up.  

As the ringing buzzed in my ear I felt that thrill of the story again, that insatiable bite. I wasn’t at a desk in any big newspaper office but it was making all the difference. Ring ring. Ring ring.  

“Hello?” 

I smiled. Reuniting with an old source was like reuniting with an old friend.  

“Terry! So good to speak to you. It’s Sam Crusow.”  

Buzzzzz. The line went dead. He had hung up on me. I held the phone out. “Well, that’s rude,” I muttered.  

Agent Kim Adams took the phone from me. She redialled and after a brief wait, she said, “Agent Adams, Terry. The agent you spoke to when the docks were seized?” She smiled. “That’s right, Agent Adams. You just hung up on a friend of mine.” She cheered, “Yeah, Sam Crusow. He wants a little natter with you. Will you listen?”  

She passed the phone back to me. “He’ll listen. Go ahead.”  

“Sam? I thought you said Tam. We’ve been getting a lot of prank calls from those skater lads since the seizure.”  

“Uh huh,” I agreed. There was no use arguing. With Owen Inc. continuing to make me look like public enemy number one he wasn’t the first of my old sources to refuse my call.  

“I’m following up on my story on the mayor,” I said. “He and Waddle were friends. I chased Jim Feltz to the Knock Knock Club – well it just so happened to coincide with the Law Makers seizing the club. When I looked into why that was the case, I discovered the owner of the club has gone missing because she may have dirt on someone high up. Those high ups may very well have had dirt on Feltz and Waddle. That brings me back to you, Terry.”  

The line had gone silent. I worried he had hung up on me again.  

“Are you with me there, Terry?”  

The operations manager groaned. “Yeah, I kinda follow you Sam but what use do you think I am?”  

“I’m looking for any information I can get on a prostitute Dennis was close to. He took her to the Knock Knock Club. You remember Dennis Platt, right?”  

Terry was becoming irate. “Yes, everyone around Chamberlain knows Dennis. Got a dose of aids up his arse I heard. What of him?”  

“The prostitute’s name was Chloe Grover. She came to him from Harbour House.”  

“Why don’t you talk to her herself then?” he asked.  

“I already have. She told me all about what they did to her. It could be coincidence but the name Terry Wilson was one she remembered. That’s strange, isn’t it? What’s your surname again Terry?”  

Terry groaned. “What do you want from me Sam?”  

“Chloe’s story is unfortunately the same story a lot of girls down your way share. The Reverend Owen was a frequent purchaser of the young girls but I needn’t tell you that.”  

“If you want me to testify against an Owen you must be cracked. What they’re doing to you now? That is just a warning. They’ll skin you alive.”  

I agreed, “I know. I’m surer now than ever that that’s why the Baroness of the Knock Knock Club is missing but I’m not putting you in the firing line. Your confidence is important to me. I promise whatever information you have given me will be kept strictly confidential.”  
“I haven’t said anything,” he objected. “I didn’t say anything about the Owens.”  

I stayed the course. “But you agree with me that they are deliberately ruining my reputation to shut me up.”  

“Stop putting words in my mouth!”  

“Thanks for your concerns, Terry. They are giving me a hard time but being a powerful name, it’s hard for people like you and me to combat. We’re just average Joes really.”  

“Dammit Sam. I never said anything about the Owens.”  

I was just toying with him then for having hung up on me.  

“If you are wanting to know anything about Chloe, you’d be best speaking to Gail. She was always the one to handle the call girls. She’s a high-class girl. She operates out of the Weir.” 

Of course! The prostitute Feltz paid an obscene amount of money to. 

“Can you put me in touch with her?” I asked. Gail Wright was her full name. I called her and set up an appointment. It looked like I was returning to the Weir.   

*** 

The last time I had been in the Weir it was overrun by Kappa So. This time it was so much quieter. Rodney Weir – a Kappa So brother himself – had been trying to keep a low profile. He was probably concerned his hotel would come under fire from the Fleet and Loyalist factions that continued to tackle the city. The receptionist who had checked me out was on the desk again.  

“Ah, Sam!” she said remembering my name. “Couldn’t stay away? We do have the best suites in the Shady City.” She beamed. “Do you have a reservation?”  

How does one ask for a prostitute’s reserved room without seeming like a customer? If I tried to explain I was covering a story even though my old newspaper was out to slaughter me it would only make matters worse. Luckily, before I had to give an explanation, I felt an arm around my shoulder.  

“It’s alright, darlin’” said Rodney Weir. “I’ll get this.”  

The receptionist beamed but she went back to her work.  

“Here for an hour with Gail, right?” asked the hotelier. 

“Eh, yes…” I had to admit.  

“Come with me. We have the suite all prepared.”  

As far as the Weir was concerned, being shown to Gail was like being shown to royalty. I was given the key to room 605. I didn’t use the key. Instead, I knocked on the door.  

“Come in,” a woman beckoned.  

When I slipped into the room it was warm. The scent of lavender was enticing but not overpowering. The water was running in the adjoining bathroom.  

“I’ll be with you in a minute,” she called. “Just make yourself comfortable.”  

“It’s Sam,” I said. “I’m here to talk about the article I’m writing.”  

The water stopped. From the bathroom emerged a lean woman, flowing red hair and a freckle-filled face. She was dressed in a Weir bathrobe.  She removed it to reveal a thin night dress underneath.

“It’s nice to meet you Sam,” she said. “Take a seat.”  

Gail sat herself across the bed. The blinds from the window cascaded a pattern across her long legs. I choose to sit at the table.  

“I’m here about a girl named Chloe Grover and her handler. A man named Dennis?” 

Gail said nothing but her expression tightened.  

“I shouldn’t really discuss the ins and outs with a reporter,” she said.  

“I’m just looking for whatever you can tell me,” I pushed.  

Gail agreed, “Well, I’ll answer what I can.”  

“Do you remember Chloe? She was a young girl who came out of Harbour House.”  

Gail nodded. “I remember her. She used to be taken to the Knock Knock Club. I found that quite odd. The Boss Lady was never one for allowing that inside the club, neither did her aunts. If she had known what age Chloe was at the time, she would have strung Dennis and the clients up. The girls who worked the Clifton Alleys had the club’s protection, but as for soliciting inside the club that was a no-no. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no angel but Chloe wasn’t given the best deal. She was overworked. I warned Dennis to leave her be. She was still really young. She didn’t have the savvy about her like the rest of us. I told Dennis to leave her with me. I was going to take her off the game. Maybe she could just help out with some of the other girls but Dennis just couldn’t leave her be. The money he was making from her was just too enticing. She said she loved him. How can you argue with that? But Chloe started getting hurt. Girls in my line have to look out for one another. Dennis wasn’t going to listen to me so I went over his head and to the Boss Lady herself. When I told her what was happening, I thought she would have torn him limb from limb there and then but she didn’t. She had a reputation for being a nasty piece of work but she was so calm. She gave me an address to take Chloe to and nothing more was said. I returned to the club to give Tabitha updates on Chloe, and Dennis was still working it. I thought Tabitha was starting to lose her nerve. I asked her about it and all she would say was, ‘I’ve got it taken care of. Just keep an eye on that cunt Feltz for me.’ So my attention turned to the mayor. We spent a lot of time together and he became one of my best clients. It seems Feltz had been one of Chloe’s biggest clients too. City money had been paid to hurt the poor girl. The things he did to her…” 

“He had an appointment with you the day he disappeared, is that correct?” 

“That’s true. But he never showed. Tabitha had let him come to me for weeks, letting him grow comfortable with his ongoing appointment and then she…well, then she made him disappear. Just when I thought Dennis was getting away with it, I heard he had been infected with HIV. Dinner with Cathy. The Boss Lady does have quite a sense of humour.” 

“One last thing,” I asked Gail to indulge me. “The costs of your services are rather steep, even for a high-class call girl. 10,000 deposit. The rest on completion. Just what exactly are those services Feltz was so keen on?” 

Gail gave a mischievous grin. “Why don’t you lock the door and I’ll show you.” 

That was my cue to leave. 

*** 

Keeping my eyes on the headlines at the Daily, it seemed the pages were becoming more and more propaganda filled by the day.  

OWENS ATTACKED 

CAPTAIN OWEN DEMANDS PEACE IN CITY MAIN. 

It was time for me to return and hit back at my old newspaper. If I truly wanted to finish what I had begun then I needed to return to that fateful day when I entered the Coldford Daily building and was given a lead to chase that would change my life forever.  

That morning when I had been going to work I had passed by a homeless man. I gave him what coins I had. He didn’t look too dishevelled. In fact, he was comparatively fresh looking. His change in social status must have been recent but it gave commentary on how things had been in the city since the second recession hit. It was despairing times for most. My wife and I had spent many a night on the sofa wrapped in blankets because we couldn’t afford to heat our home. People were desperate and when desperate people are pushed they are driven to desperate measures, such as pulling a mayor from office or using a newspaper to place blame on every doorstep from Bournton to the tip of Swantin so that people wouldn’t look to the real trouble.  

Being a journalist had always been tough enough but when your job is to shed light on so many shades it could become downright dangerous.   

The Cappy would no doubt be pulling what resources he had at the Daily and appointing his own trusted writers to make sure the flow of information was to his satisfaction.  I had turned to Elizabeth Beckingridge for help from the Filton Press. I still remained independent but she gave the opportunity to use the resources of the Filton Crier.   

As expected, the main news floor of the Crier was bustling. There was a lot of news going around. There was still a whole day before deadline but there was writing to be done, stories to share.   

“I have permission from Elizabeth Beckingridge to be here. I’m Sam Crusow.”  

He gasped. “You’re Sam? Sam Crusow? I’m Danny Larz. You can call me Dan. I’m a huge fan!” 

I was taken aback. “Thank you.”  

He rested his hands on his head and gave an excited cheer. “I never thought I’d get this chance.” He tugged on his curls but then reached out a hand to shake mine, which he did with vigour. “It’s an honour. I’ve been following you ever since I was a student. I must have read everything you’ve ever written. I have a copy of your book MARBLE MANTLE. Would you sign it for me?” He gave another excited gasp. “I can’t believe it’s Sam Crusow.”  

I grinned. Most of my career had been spent putting others in the spotlight. It felt strange being under that glare myself. My book had been purely a passion project. It had only sold ten copies. It seemed Dan was one of those.  

“Thanks Dan. That’s always nice to hear. What’s happening here?”  

Danny shook his head. “Miss Beckingridge is looking to push out the Daily. She’s declaring media war.”  

It seemed the bidding war with Owen Inc wasn’t enough to feed the Beckingridge dragon’s hunger.  

“Dan?” I addressed the Crier’s stand-in editor. “We don’t have a lot of time but I’m writing a piece on Coldford. Can I trust you?”  

Dan beamed with pride. “Sure, Sam. You’re the man! Anything.”  

*** 

“Come on now, Milo,” Olivia called upstairs to her son. “He’ll be here any minute.”  

“Coming,” Milo called back down to her.  

Eventually he wandered into the kitchen holding a box of photographs in his hands.  

“I was worried about what I was going to say to him,” the boy explained, “so I thought I’d look out some old photos and give us something to talk about.”  

Olivia kissed her son’s head. “It’ll be fine,” she said.  

She pulled one of the photos of when Milo was a small infant. “Look at your little squishy face,” she teased.  

Milo plucked his photo back. He shook his head with humour filled exasperation. The doorbell rang.  

“That’s him mum!” Milo announced nervously.  

“I know it is,” agreed Olivia. “Just relax.”  

Milo sat the box on the table. Olivia went off to answer the door. Milo became even more nervous when he heard voices in the living room. His mother’s and his father’s. The kitchen door opened and there was Dennis. Milo had little memory of Dennis, only what the photos inspired. The man who entered the kitchen was not the man in the photos. They say photographs can obscure but the man in the photographs was on top of the world. He was confident and strong. The man in the kitchen was hunched, thin and more nervous than the boy was.  

“Hi Milo,” said the father at first. “It’s been a long time.”  

Milo nodded. “It has.” He thought about it. “Should I hug you?” 

Dennis took a seat at the table. “Not if you don’t want to.”  

Milo nervously fished for more photographs. “Should I call you dad?”  

Dennis eased a little. “That’s something I’ll have to earn, I think.”  

Milo was content with this.  

Olivia patted Dennis’ shoulder. “I’ll leave you two to it,” she said. “I’ll just be upstairs.”  

Dennis started to look at the photos. “So, what do you have here?”  

Milo gathered some and laid them out. They were mostly typical snaps people would have of their first-born child. Sleeping, walking, first steps and trips to the beach.  

“I don’t remember anything from when these were taken. Maybe you can fill in the blanks for me.” Milo handed him a picture of Dennis holding Milo as a baby. Behind him was a large stadium. 

“That’s the old Wiseman stand at Swantin Stadium,” the father explained. “It was pulled down not long after.” 

Milo gasped. He hadn’t known that. It looked nothing like the new part of the stadium that had been built to replace it. 

“Did you take me to the games often?” asked the boy.  

“Not as often as I would have liked. You were really little and the noise got a bit much.”  

Milo looked at the photo again before slipping it back inside the box.  

“Maybe we could go again some time.”  

Dennis beamed. His chest tightened. “I’d love that. Do you still go?”  

“Sometimes,” Milo shrugged. “Mum takes me but she’s a terrible football fan.”  

Dennis laughed imagining Olivia at a football match.  

Milo imitated his mother’s voice. “Get right round their goals my son!”  

He and his father shared a hearty laugh.  

“It’s embarrassing,” Milo jested. “Speaking of embarrassing maybe you can explain this…” 

He passed Dennis another photo. This one was again of Dennis holding Milo as a small child but this time Dennis was sporting a moustache and had a head of curls. 

Dennis burst into peals of laughter. “Where did you find that one?”  

Milo replied, “Among the others. Now explain that hair do.”  

“It was the style then,” Dennis gave a protest. “It was fashionable.” 

Dennis and Milo continued on looking through the photographs, sharing laughs and a bond between them began to grow with relative ease. The photos showed a rosy past. A picture captured in a single moment can’t even begin to tell the whole story. Dennis had taken Milo to football but that same afternoon a fifteen-year-old girl was given to a life of prostitution. A photo only captures a brief moment of sometimes forced smiles. It didn’t capture the bruises, the abuse or the drugs. The door opened with a struggle. Dennis stood.  

“Dennis!” Chloe Grover came running and leapt into his arms.  

“You know Chloe, dad?” asked Milo.  

A shady past was not so easy to escape when it refused to let you go.  

 

*** 

Mum had come downstairs quickly when she heard Chloe’s voice. Chloe wasn’t supposed to have been home for another few hours but the social worker who was spending the day with her had been called away on an emergency. Chloe thought nothing of it and came home. Milo had been told by his mum that his dad had made some mistakes. Was Chloe one of those mistakes? Now that he thought about it, it had been after Chloe came to live with them that mum had told him that he should take all the photos of his father and store them away.  

Chloe had been abused badly. Had his dad done that to her? Had mum felt responsible for her because of what had happened? Milo was confused. He wanted to know his dad. But what if he couldn’t cope with the truth? He knew his mum had forgiven him but if he had hurt Chloe so badly, how easy would it be for the son to forgive him? Wasn’t it the father who taught their sons how to be men? Wasn’t it real men who protected the vulnerable?  

It was. Milo knew this. He had seen it before. He reached onto the shelf and drew off the box that contained the commemorative coin that Judge Doyle had given him.  

Joel Hickes. He was a man who protected the vulnerable. Milo lifted the coin from the box and enjoyed the shine of the silver.   

COLDFORD CITY. SOULS SAVED. SACRIFICES MADE. 

If Milo was to learn to become a man there could be no better role model. He always strived to do the right thing even when that wasn’t easy. He strived to do the right thing even when everyone else was telling him not to. Hickes would never have hurt someone like Chloe. But if Milo was to truly look to a good man, he would see that to be a man also meant forgiving when someone was truly repentant. That meant forgiving Dennis. His father.  


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Dennis Platt is philandering con man who is about the lowest of the low. When someone close to him is embraced by the cult Church of St Wigan he will learn whether or not he can be truly saved.

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Knock Knock: Episode 31: Smash and Grab

“I think a name change should be the first point of order,” suggested the bailiff Colette as she led The Cappy into his newly acquired auction house.  

“The name is already established. It might be a better idea to keep it as is,” suggested Ronnie Owen.  

Chick agreed with the bailiff. “It’s a well-known name but I want the people to know that this hall has well and truly fallen.”  

Ronnie had meant that it would be a better chance of a fresh start. It would keep already established clients of the auction house sweetened until they got used to the new management. His brother was determined to put his stamp on City Main, starting with the toppling of their king – figuratively and literally.  

“The archives list,” Jeremy passed the list of items the Auction House had available. Chick Owen couldn’t disguise his excitement. He had seen Captain Henry Owen’s compass once as a boy. His father had been so proud of it. He had been too. The compass had led Hen to making Coldford what it was. The people owed a lot to that compass, including the so-called King of Main. 

The Cappy sat down a box. It was a small, mahogany box that had housed the compass on that fateful expedition. The compass had been lost after the vicious divorce of Bobby from his second wife.  Chick kept the box, waiting for the day it would be returned. Ronnie had never seen his brother so giddy.  

Chick beamed. “Smile, Ron, you miserable son a bitch,” he cheered. “It’s a good day. When the compass is back in its box, we’ll have the reporters right down here.”  

Ronnie laughed. He too was pleased to have such an heirloom returned. Even if it took 4.5 million and the restructure of a Shady City institution to do it. He read the list.  

“The compass,” he began. He didn’t know how to break the news. “It was sold on.”  

Charles stopped wiping the interior velvet of the box. He closed the box lid over. Embossed in the mahogany was the image of Hen’s ship.  

The Cappy turned to Colette. “I apologise ma’am for what I’m about to say.”  

Colette frowned. She was a Coldford City Law Maker. She had heard curse words before.  

“Where the fuck is my compass?” he growled at Jeremy. “You, your thieving employer and his three crotch demons better hope I get it back.” 

Ronnie laid his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Colette said nothing. Jeremy found himself edging towards the door.  

Ronnie read on, “It says here it was sold on to Ernest Beckingridge.”  

The Cappy looked to Jeremy. His facial expression showed fury but his vocal tone had calmed again. 

“It seems mighty impolite that this information was not disclosed prior to auction. Slipped your mind did it, sir?”  

“I’ll talk to Elizabeth,” Ronnie offered.  

The Cappy shook his head. “It’s no use,” he said. “She knew exactly what she was doing and she’s tougher than a two-dollar steak. I have mind to watch this place burn to the ground if it were not for the Penn mother. Elizabeth on the other hand, we’re not at auction anymore.” Again, he addressed Jeremy, “You are going nowhere until your little deception is put right.” 

*** 

Elizabeth had asked her driver to take a route home to Beckingridge Manor via Pettiwick. She wanted to look upon it. Hopefully it would spur some ideas on how she was going to get it back. The bidding war had left her exhausted. Maybe an exchange? She could return The Cappy’s precious compass if he agreed on the resale of the school. 

The limousine stopped. Elizabeth leaned forward and lowered her window into the driver’s seat.  

“What’s wrong, Thomas?” she asked. 

“The road’s blocked off miss,” he replied. “I can’t get any further. I have to turn around.”  

“Blocked off?” They had driven into the school’s drop off point. The area where she had waved goodbye to Gramps on many a morning and skipped off to her lessons. It should not have been blocked off.  

“Construction, miss,” explained the driver.  

“No!” Elizabeth barked. “Not happening.”  

She climbed out of the car to a bright and dry but frosty day. Just as the driver had said, fencing had been erected around the surrounding area.  

FULLERTON – BUILDING BRIDGES. DEMOLITION IN PROGRESS. 

“Building bridges, huh?” Elizabeth growled.  

Thomas was now by her side.  

“In the car, Thomas. I don’t plan on staying long.” Thomas obeyed.  

She could see a man through the fence. He must have been a site manager.  

“You!” Elizabeth called to him. “You there!”  

He either ignored her or couldn’t hear her over the site noise. She collected a stone and threw it over the fence. It hit his hard hat with a clunk. He looked up.  

“You!” Elizabeth uttered again.  

The manager approached the fence. “Can I help you?”  

Boards were up. She was unable to see what was behind them.  

“You can start by telling me what’s going on here?”  

The site manager was disinterested.  

“Demolition,” he said. “We’re busy so clear off.”  

Elizabeth scoffed. “Clear off?! You better tell me what you’re pulling down or I’m going to drag you through this fence by your testicles.”  

“The Beckingridge Wing.”  

Elizabeth shook her head. She thought so. Chick, you bastard.  

“You can’t do that,” Elizabeth protested.  

“What is it to you?” the site manager asked.  

“Because it’s my name that’s on the bloody building.”  

Ernest had donated the wing. 

“Pettiwick did us well, Liz,” he had said. “Gramps would have wanted it.”  

It was one of the best things Ernest had done during his tenure as head of the family. “I’m not here to speak to a minion. Send out whichever Fullerton fucker is heading this up.”  

The site manager shook his head.  

“Jenna!” he called. “Jenna, you had better come see to this.”  

Fullerton contracts were split between the Fullerton siblings. Caleb had gone off somewhere without notice and the eldest, Jake, was serving time in The Boss so it was up to the sisters to hold the fort. No bridges being built that day, they were being burned. 

Jenna had other pursuits in mind. She had her production company to worry about. It produced adult films but since it was her family money that was mostly funding it, she had to take her fair share of the Fullerton work. More than her fair share really. She had accepted what would have been most of Caleb’s contracts.

“Elizabeth?” she sounded surprised. “I thought you lost out on the school.”  

Elizabeth clutched the fence. “You have no right to pull that building down.”  

Jenna looked to the boards. “I don’t, but the new owner does and he wants it down. I’m just fulfilling a contract.” 

Elizabeth growled. “I’ll sue you. Not Owen, you personally. Pull that construction missy.”  

Jenna pursed her lips and folded her arms. “Sorry hunz, but no can do. You know I have all the papers in place, right? I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”  

“Pull this construction now,” Elizabeth ordered.  

Jenna removed her hat. “Not a chance, Liz. We’ve already been paid and that building is coming down. Your name may have been on it but it was a gift to the school. It’s up to whoever owns the school what they want to do with it.”  

“What reason were you given for it to come down? It was a perfectly fine building. Ernest was good to you.”  

Jenna agreed. “Ernest was a little sweetie, he was, but we’ve got a job to do and I’d tell him the very same thing. I do have something for you though. I kept it. I thought you might like it.”  

Elizabeth thought about Ernest’s memorial plaque. Maybe she could at least hang that in the manor until she got the school back. It had Gramps’ name on it too. Jenna nodded to her site manager. He ran to the office to fetch like a good puppy. When he re-emerged, he wasn’t carrying the plaque. He was carrying a newspaper – a Coldford Daily. He passed it through the fence to Elizabeth.  

“What’s this?” she asked. 

“This morning’s news. Open it to page 2.”  

The headline read: 

SMASHING TO SUCCESS. 

The story detailed The Cappy’s plan for what was going to be standing in place of the Beckingridge Wing. The image showed Chick Owen and Jenna Fullerton shaking hands in front of the building.  

“I thought you might like to keep it and remember the building as it was. You can frame it or something.”  

Elizabeth threw the paper down. “Don’t do me any favours,” she snapped.  

Jenna shook her head but she was smiling. “I’m just doing my job. It was Caleb who built it in the first place. I’m not happy about it either.”  

Elizabeth had turned back to her limo. She stopped. “I wouldn’t know,” she spat. “Your face is so full of collagen that it’s difficult to tell.”  

Jenna scoffed. Demolition was already set. There was no stopping it. Elizabeth could still elicit some damage of her own.  

*** 

When Elizabeth reached Chick, he had been hosting Buddy and his bros at Owen Estate.  

“Elizabeth,” Chick had been waiting for her. “I thought I’d be hearing from you.”  

Elizabeth smiled but her lips were drained of colour and her fire was now resting in her eyes. The video call gave a good clear view of her expression. Elizabeth could see Buddy and his bros standing behind him. Billy was out of frame.  

“I was passing Pettiwick this morning and you can imagine my disappointment when I was informed by Fullerton that my brother’s donated building was to be pulled down.”  

The Cappy continued to speak calmly but the icy temperatures of his words made Buddy shudder.  

“Imagine my disappointment when, after spending a generous amount on the Auction House, I find out you had my compass all along.”  

On screen Elizabeth had set a golden compass on the table.  

“You mean my compass? Bought and paid for fair and square.”  

Chick frowned. “It is mine and you know it. Those oddballs had no right to sell it in the first place. I am a reasonable man. I will offer you a fair price for it.”  

Elizabeth shook her head. “I like it. It’s a very nice piece.”  

“Tread carefully Liz,” The Cappy warned.  

Elizabeth brought a hammer onto her table.  

“Oh! Back the fuck off!” yelled Buddy when he saw what she was about to do.  

Elizabeth ignored him. “If you’re going to wreck property of mine then I guess I’ll do the same. How dare you pull down that wing.”  

“I don’t really need a compass after all. I’m quite good at finding my way about.”  

Elizabeth lifted the hammer. “Hen Owen, wasn’t it? There is an inscription.” She brought the hammer down as heavily as she could.  

CRACK. 

“Stop!” Buddy warned.  

The Cappy kept his focus on the screen saying nothing.  

CRACK. 

Elizabeth brought the hammer down again.  

CRACK.  

The Compass, despite its study build, was damaged beyond repair. Elizabeth stopped for a breath and smoothed her hair.  

“Are you finished?” The Cappy asked.  

Elizabeth smiled. “I’ll be in touch.”

  

The call ended. Buddy rested his hands on his head. “Holy Mary that fucked an angel!”  

“Charles,” Ronnie warned. “Don’t be rash.”  

The Cappy paid no attention to his brother. Instead, he turned to Billy.  

“Do you still have the rat boy?”  

Billy nodded. He too was quietened by what had just happened.  

“Yeah, Captain.”  

“Then it’s time for Reginald Penn to see what happens when someone toys with something that belongs to me.”  

Ronnie pleaded again. “Chick, please think this through.”  

“I have thought about it. I have thought about it long and hard. He murdered our father, he humiliated my boy, and now our heirloom is passed around like a common whore. My fucking compass is destroyed because he sold it away, property that did not belong to him.”  

Ronnie knew there was no use arguing with Chick. Heirlooms were precious to most. They were especially precious to Charles ‘Chick’ Owen, better known as The Cappy.  

*** 

Having made their presence felt in the Mid-West village, at a small Kappa So outpost used for registrations and the occasional meetings, they had skipped across the city to the Mid-East. 

Reginald was overlooking the area they had taken. They had been met with some resistance, more than they expected. The combined Fleet and Loyalist groups took a moment to catch their breath.  

“We’ve got them on the back foot,” Reginald was observing, speaking to Paddy Mack. 

Kieran Mack was busy scrubbing blood stains from his jacket.  

Paddy agreed, “We’ve been smooth so far but the resistance is getting heavier and heavier each time. We need to move back towards the south before one final push into City Main.”  

Reginald nodded in agreement. They had been so successful so far because their attacks didn’t follow any particular pattern, but Billy Owen had been manoeuvring CPD and success was becoming more and more difficult.   

“Reg!” one of the loyalists cried. “They have junior. They’ve got junior!”  

Immediately Reginald’s attention diverted. The loyalist passed him a phone. That’s when the screen showed the youngest triplet, Reggie, in pain, screaming and calling for the eldest triplet, Marcus.  

“Woooh boy! This whore here likes her ass pounded!” Cheering could be heard. “King Daddy ought to see this.”  

The screen showed Marcus held helpless. His support inside The Boss had been gunned down. Simon was flat on the ground with guns to his head.  

“Say goodbye to your brother boys. It’s the last time you’re gonna see him.”  

Kieran and Paddy shared a look. Reginald’s lip curled.  

“Reg…” Paddy warned. “Think about this.”  

Reginald shook his head. “Our next stop is City Main.”  

Paddy continued to plead, “That’s why they wanted you to see that. They hope you’ll do something fecking stupid.”  

Reginald was not to be consoled. “Those cunts have my boys!”  

Paddy, still trying to stay level headed, said, “If it were any of my family, I’d feel the same way but we’re so close, so fecking close Reg, you can’t lose it now. For all our sakes you need to stick to the plan.”  

Reginald’s fury was still throwing a tension on his facial expression and across his broad shoulders.  

“We’ll get Reggie back. We’ll get all of them to safety I promise ya, but we need to stick to the plan.”  

Not particularly friendly to begin with, Reginald Penn and Paddy Mack had managed to put their differences aside for the sake of lost friends like Tawny and Tabitha, lost strongholds like the distillery and the Auction House, and for the sake of the people they wanted to prevent the Owens steam rolling over.  

Reginald found his centre. He found his calm. Junior’s screams and pleads would be the battle cry that spurred him on. But then the phone rang again. Reginald answered. 

“Rita?” he said.  

Kieran and Paddy shared another angst-ridden look.  

“Rita? My love you need to calm down.”  

“My baby! They raped my baby!”  

“I’m going for junior right now. I’m going to get him right now.”  

“Don’t let them kill him Reginald, please! You can’t let them hurt him anymore. He’s so scared. My baby!”  

It was then that Reginald heard a voice over a speaker. It was in French. Flight 10SS to Coldford City was now boarding. She was at the airport. 

“Rita! Rita do not come to Coldford. I’ll bring Reggie to you. I’ll bring your baby to you.”  

It was too late. The phone signal was lost. Rita Penn was to board a flight to Coldford. Coldford City airport, owned by Owen Inc.  

Paddy sighed. He leaned his head back. Kieran shook his head. “Feck,” he muttered. 

Reginald may have been able to use Junior’s cries to spur him into battle but Rita’s sobs for her baby? Those would signal the end for his enemies no matter the cost.  

“My wife has just had to see that. She has had to see what they did to her baby,” said Reginald to Paddy.  

“I’m sorry,” said the Mack in charge. “But my point still stands.”  

Reginald addressed his loyalists.  

“We’re going to City Main. If any of those Fleet cunts choose not to follow, then leave them behind.”

 

*** 

There was little I could do as events unfolded. I tried to get a statement from Elizabeth Beckingridge but she had locked herself in the Tower. The exchange continued to accumulate. There was still no word from the distillery. Its gates were firmly closed. It was now a race against time for Lydia and her agency team to find any evidence they could on Buddy Owen or once again he would walk away after committing the most horrific crimes.  

As I worked to leak the true information to the city, Rita Penn wandered toward danger. Her love for her children had blinded her to the Owen Inc. logos that were darted all over flight arrivals. The plane she had taken from Luen even stopped close to The Cappy’s own Boeing – Dynasty.  

“Welcome to Coldford City,” the attendant greeted. Her blue uniform and carefully made-up face was glamorous, inviting.  

“Thank you for choosing Luen Air. May I see your passport?” 

Rita was in a hurry. She fished into her bag and produced a passport. The check arrivals agent scanned the name Penn and she compared the photo.  

“Business or pleasure, Mrs Penn?”  

Rita was distracted. She knew Reginald was busy. She knew he had troubles so if she could talk to The Cappy, maybe they could reach an understanding. He had a son. She had a son. They could see eye to eye. Perhaps she could speak to Ida Owen. Surely they could speak mother to mother. Buddy was her baby just as Reggie was Rita’s. If the women could just talk a while, they could find a solution and maybe then the men would make sense. There had been so much harm done already. Reginald would be angry she had come to Coldford but she couldn’t sit at their estate in Luen when the next time she saw one of her boys it could be dressing him on The Tailor’s table.  

If Reggie managed to get to safety, he would want to come home. Someone had to be home. Mother would wait for him.  

“I live here. I’ve come home to stay for a while,” she told the arrivals agent. The agent smiled. Rita tapped her fingers nervously on the desk.  

“That’s lovely,” she said. “Well, you’re all set.”  

Rita took her passport and was sent to baggage claim.  

Reggie, poor Reggie. He was such a little boy at heart. It was bad enough with Marcus behind bars. Marcus was her big boy. He was ready to take his father’s place one day. He could take the heat. Simon was physically strong. He fought, he trained and he focused. Her boxer boy would be fine. But Reggie? He was sensitive, inquisitive, nothing without his brothers. They were a whole when they were together. Apart, Reggie was the most delicate piece. 

She saw her bag, an old-fashioned trunk she had packed in a hurry. She hadn’t even given security time to collect her and escort her. She just needed to be closer to her boys. She heaved her bag from the conveyor belt. The exit was so close. The transport to City Main would be waiting.  

She felt a hand on her shoulder.  

“Mrs Penn?” an airport staff member asked. “Come with me.”  

With that she was guided to safety by Agent Franklin.


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Knock Knock: Episode 30: It’s All Over Now

The Browning house had a strange atmosphere. It had been inhabited for ten years and yet it felt like no one had dared crossed the boundary. There were some newer throw pillows on the battered old sofa but they too were filthy. The windows had heavy shutters. The curtains were dusty and thick with mould. ‘How could anyone have lived here?’ Winslow wondered to himself. Vincent Baines, his Harbour House resident, had described it to him many times but he never imagined it to be so filthy. The music teacher had thought to go there for safety but that hadn’t worked out so well for him, now had it? It didn’t work out well for the doctor either, trying to help George, and it wouldn’t work out for Julia. George was a special case. He wasn’t quite driven by his lust the way most young men were. He had his desires but they were different. He didn’t quite think with his brain either the way sane people would.

The doctor had come to the Browning house as instructed, he couldn’t stay in the city where the scope of an Owen’s gun could be on him at any time. He didn’t plan on spending much time there. He would be back on top soon enough and when he did he would be putting Julia out of the game for good.

His heart skipped a beat as the cheap phone he had bought at a store in Bournton rattled on the table. One of the chairs had been broken, no doubt by George in a temper. Micky Doyle was the only person he had given the number to in a message that read:

HAVE TO BE OUT OF TOWN FOR A WHILE. I AM NOT ABROAD SO YOUR COUSIN NEEDN’T WORRY. I CAN BE BACK IN THE CITY WITHIN THE HOUR. SINCERELY G WINSLOW.

The doctor quickly answered the phone. The remoteness of the house made everything seem so much louder.

“Yes Micky? Yes?” he welcomed.

“Good gracious Gregory, where are you?”

Winslow looked at a pair of white briefs that had been discarded on the floor.

“Never mind that,” he said. “I hope you have some good news for me.”

Micky chuckled. “I do indeed. My cousin has finished her investigation into Harbour House.”

Winslow clutched his chest. It was a much needed relief. “I’m so glad.” His stronghold was coming back to him. “I trust all was well?”

Micky replied, “If you hadn’t been hiding yourself away you could have been here to witness the entire thing. They found nothing. It was really quite splendid. Now Karyn is annoyed at the resources that were wasted. The keys of the facility are to be handed over but we need you here to sign the documents.”

It had been a long time since Winslow had felt so jovial.

“You’re sure it is safe?” he asked. “It all went well?”

His good friend Micky Doyle assured it couldn’t have gone better. He was Mayor Micky Doyle now and what was sitting on the Hot Seat of the Shady City if you couldn’t help your friends?

“I have an appointment for you with Karyn at one o’clock but you have to hurry. Do not be late, Gregory. You know she won’t reschedule.”

Gregory tried to remember if Karyn Doyle was an early or late luncher. One o’clock could be a time when her belly was full and she was pacified. It could also be the time when she was still waiting with a ravenous hunger.

“Yes, Micky. Of course. I’ll be there right away.”

After Micky rang off Winslow stepped out on the gravel drive way. He gave thought to Buddy. Surely, he wasn’t still watching? The Browning house was isolated but that didn’t matter. Buddy could be hiding anywhere, still with his scope following him. He almost ducked for cover when a blackbird took flight from a nearby tree. He slipped into his car like a snake and drove away. He had an appointment with Judge Karyn Doyle, arranged by his good friend Micky, and The Judge would not reschedule. He had to collect his Harbour House keys or risk losing them for good. As he drove back to the city, his eyes returning to the rear-view mirror contantly, he was still unable to shake that feeling of Buddy watching him. At least he would be safe when he got inside the Court House. He would retrieve Harbour House and he would deal with Buddy Owen then.

***

Things were changing in the Shady City. Things were changing for the dominant names: Penn, Beckingridge, Harvester, Owen. But things were also changing for individuals, those who had sought to make a name for themselves like Winslow and like Tabitha, even reporters like myself. It took a certain distraction from humanity, a certain disregard for the value of life, honour and morals to succeed. This was something the eminent Doctor Winslow had in abundance.

As he raced along the City Main streets, still fearing being caught in Buddy’s scope, he almost collided with a woman who was carrying a load of Harvester goods in Harvester tote bags. The typical snobbish attitude of the people of City Main caused her nose to upturn.

“Watch where you are going!” she barked as she tried to steady her bags again.

Winslow started to help her with her bags but the bang of a car back firing caused him to abandon that pursuit.

The Court House was the Almighty’s waiting room in Coldford. The smell of polish on the mahogany, the brightness of the shine on the marble floor, all screamed power to Winslow. She was a difficult mistress to please but if she allowed you to sample her sweet delights she could pleasure like no other. Winslow knew this and he salivated at the idea of having a taste, having his Harbour House back complete with the stamp of approval from Judge Karyn Doyle herself. He didn’t want to seem over eager, nor did he want to seem complacent. He hadn’t had the chance to groom properly or brush his teeth at the Browning house so he was a little out of sorts.

“Put your best foot forward,” Papa would always say. “No one likes a man who pays no care to his presentation.”

Winslow was in full agreement with that but there just hadn’t been time for him to present himself properly. He needed Harbour House back and then he would present. Then he would present to the entire city.

“Excuse me, sir,” a Court Clerk stopped him. Her name was Diane and it had been she who had been there to meet in him Luen. She was one of Karyn’s minions, clearly an admirer. She was well presented. In fact, she was so well presented she could be a body double for the Judge herself. Well Diane, it seems your attempts to discredit the good doctor didn’t bore much fruit. If Karyn was annoyed at the wasted resources, Diane may just find herself being to blame.

“I have been personally requested by Her Honourable,” Winslow stated with pride. He couldn’t help but enjoy the way Diane’s face dropped. It added years to her. “I’ll head right on in if you please.”

The hall was lined with well equipped men. They were not bailiffs nor were they clerks. They were members of the much fabled Black Bands. They had been brought together by Sergeant Major Doyle with the intention of creating an elite team capable of stopping rebellions, uprisings and extreme civil unrest. Upon sight of them Winslow slowed his walk to a stop. They weren’t paying him any attention but they cast a dark shadow. He was almost at the point of turning and retreating when Micky leaned out of the door to Judge Doyle’s office.

“Gregory!” he called in a hushed but urgent tone. “Hurry. For God’s sake don’t keep her waiting.”

With his good friend Micky Doyle’s encouragement Winslow passed the Black Bands and entered the lair of The Judge. Karyn herself was sat behind her desk. Four pillars bearing the Law Makers symbol like eyes from above stood tall behind her. She had files placed before her.

Winslow took a seat. “It’s a pleasure Karyn. It’s so nice to see you.”

Karyn Doyle was unmoved. Her pale face expressionless. “I’m in office. You will address me with my proper title.”

“Yes, of course. I do apologise, Your Honour.”

The Judge lifted the first of the files. “On October 19th you were given notice to allow my bailiffs to audit your facility. You were also asked to deliver resident 0109 into my custody. Is that correct?”

Winslow looked to Micky first but the mayor said nothing.

“Yes, ma’am. That is correct,” he eventually replied.

“You refused to respond.”

The judge dropped the file on the table and collected the next.

“On October 25th the case was escalated further. You were served notice of audit and a warrant was given for resident 0109. Is that correct?”

Winslow blinked. They had already been through this. “Yes ma’am. That is of course correct.”

The second file was dropped. “Still you refused to respond.”

Winslow tried to explain, “It was a very busy time. I had so much to do and of course personal issues…Your office takes precedent but my residents were sick and in need of my care.”

The Judge scooped up the final file in her hand.

“On October 30th a full summons was granted and my bailiffs entered your facility by force.”

“I do sincerely apologise for that ma’am. I’m so sorry for any inconvenience that this issue may have caused. As I stated at the time I was under a great deal of pressure.”

Karyn Doyle narrowed her gaze. “Yes, we have documented that. We are also taking into consideration your assistance in the search for Tawny McInney. So now I am willing to move forward. After a thorough investigation of the facility my bailiffs found nothing.”

Winslow grinned. “We aim to heal, Your Honour. Harbour House is the greatest facility in Coldford and can help so many when it is reopened.”

The door opened without knocking. Van Holder of the Black Bands and a companion named Monsta’ – a huge man with an animalistic presence – entered. They stood by the door.

“My bailiffs found nothing. That was until one of your nurses, Beverly Myers, stepped forward,” Judge Doyle explained. “Gregory Winslow, you are under arrest.”

Monsta’ pulled Winslow from his chair.

“Wait!” Winslow screamed. “I’ve done nothing wrong! Beverly is a liar!”

Judge Doyle flicked open the last file. “Your charges are as follows. The torture and exploitation of at least thirty two victims including Martin Winslow and Alexander Ferrald. That number continues to grow. Also, for the murder of Mark McKenzie, Scott Cross and Laura Doyle. This number also continues to grow. Finally, multiple accounts of the rape of Julia Harvester.”

“Lies!” Winslow shrieked.”Micky! Tell her!”

“I’m also in the capacity of my office,” replied Micky. “That’s Mayor Doyle.”

Winslow wouldn’t be able to shake Monster’s grasp. After reading him his rights the Judge was not done.

“I hereby revoke your licence to practice medicine indefinitely. You are no longer to assume the doctor title and any attempts to re-register will be denied. You will now be remanded in custody until your trial. Given the nature and magnitude of your crimes no bail will be granted and I am authorising a full psychiatric evaluation.”

“Micky! Damnit all Micky! I am taking you down with me. I am taking you down!” Winslow shrieked as he was pulled from the office of The Judge.

The Penn Auction House, The Knock Knock Club, Harbour House. There were three down and one more to go. As Her Honourable Judge Karyn Doyle prepared for her next appointment her long shadow was cast over the map of Coldford plunging the Bellfield area into darkness, home of the Mack and Sons Distillery, provider of the finest whiskey in the Shady City and the current whereabouts of fugitive Patrick Mack.

***

The sailing was smooth, although Kumala had vomited a couple of times. She didn’t know how long she had been travelling for. Restless sleep had been intermittent. She and twenty other girls had been locked below deck. In the bottom of the boat was only darkness and the smell of rats. She was told she needn’t be frightened but she couldn’t help it. Her village had been celebrating her thirteenth birthday when they came. They took her and many of the other girls. They told them that they would have a better life. They would be like princess brides, similar to the ones she had read about in story books. Some of the girls didn’t want this. They disappeared through the night. The boat they had been crammed into didn’t seem much like the princess carriages from the books but maybe it would all get better when they reached their destination. One of the girls with them had been beaten by their escorts. She probably couldn’t speak their language. She had tried to comfort some of the other girls but communication was a problem. One of them – a twelve-year-old – had fallen unconscious. She was terribly dehydrated. The girl who couldn’t speak collected some of the rain water that was dripping down on them and rubbed it onto the girls dry, cracked lips.

Never had Kumala been enclosed with so many people and yet felt so alone. The boat continued to tear through the sea towards her destination. Kumala was told all of her dreams would come true in the City of Coldford. She hoped so.

***

It was early morning and the phone buzzing woke Nan Harvester. She leaned over and checked.

SHIPMENT 0612 has arrived.

She sat up. This was good. It had been the first shipment for a while. It was still dark outside. The farm would be stirring soon. She patted Jonathan lying beside her.

“Jonathan,” she whispered. “Jon? You have to get up. I have to go and I need you to keep an eye on things on the farm.”

Jonathan didn’t object. He sat up, stretched and slipped out of bed. Nan watched her son’s naked body as he disappeared into the adjoining bathroom. It was going to be a good day. Another shipment of nanny’s little naughties for the pot. She climbed out of bed herself and crossed to the window. She pulled the green curtains open and allowed the world in. The sun was just beginning to climb up to to the horizon.

She felt Jonathan’s arm slip around her waist, having returned from the bathroom. He was now wearing a beige pair of overalls that once belonged to his father.

“Have a good day, mum,” he said.

“I will Jon,” she replied. “The best day.”

***

By the time Nan arrived at Chamberlain Docks the daylight had dawned on Swantin. A beautiful warmth was glowing through the icy air. Nan met Harbour operator Anthony Runetti.

“Good to see you Nan,” he said. “I’ve got the Ferry Way heading to Hathfield at 11:40. It’ll be coming in to Port at nine. We’ll need your ship turned around by eight.“ Nan smiled sweetly. “I won’t even need that much time Anthony. I’ll be in and away before you know it, just like a little fairy.”

It was then he noticed the tote bag she was carrying. It was filled with fruit, vegetables and meat packets.

“This is for your mum,” she explained handing the bag over. “I’ve not had the chance to pop up and see her yet. You can give her this for me. I’ll be up to see her real soon. Let her know I haven’t forgotten her. I missed her at church last Sunday.”

Anthony collected the bag gratefully. He was supposed to oversee all shipments but he knew Nan. She stood as his confirmation sponsor at church when Uncle Roddy and his dad had a falling out. He supposed it would be no harm to let the sweet farmer’s wife through. Widowed, charitable, Christian woman. He had to take the groceries into the office and store them in the fridge anyway.

It wasn’t until she got to the gangway that the skipper opened the door. Light flooded onto the girls’ eyes. Kumala’s legs were weak. The mute girl offered her arm to help steady her.

Nan smiled at Kumala but it didn’t comfort her.

“I see the travel was a little snug girls. I’m ever so sorry. We couldn’t afford better, I’m afraid. We are a charity after all. But none of you should worry.” Kumala was pushed towards the skipper. “Separate the virgins from those sexually active. I’d like them put to work right away.” She rounded on the mute girl. “I don’t know this one,” she clutched the girl’s face. Exotic. Pure.

“A new addition,” the skipper explained. “She was last minute but we thought you would like her.”

Nan nodded. “I like her very much. She’s beautiful. What’s your name?” Nan asked the girl.

The girl looked to Kumala.

“Do you speak English?” Nan asked softly. She surveyed the other girls.

“The dummy has been thrown from the pram,” she said.

Nan frowned. “Excuse me?”

“Move! Move!” Cries were heard. A blockade was thrown down and a fleet of agents descended upon the scene.

Agents Kim, Lydia, Franklin and Reynolds were on the front line. There was nowhere to run.

Kim grabbed Nan’s arm. “Nan Harvester. I’m placing you under arrest for trafficking.”

Continuing to read her rights, the other agents looked to bring Skipper and the crew in.

Lydia took control of Kumala and the other girls.

“It’s okay. You are safe now,” she assured them. Franklin began to interpret in their native language.

“Well done, Agent Ragrag,” Kim congratulated the mute girl. Agent Ragrag was nineteen but given her youthful looks she had been chosen for the undercover mission. She had allowed herself to be taken and moved with the girls. She had been to hell and back but the girls were now safe. The mission was a success.

Like dominoes, the great pillars of Coldford continued to fall.

***

Having stayed away from the farm all day, it was well past dinner by the time Julia returned home. She dressed in something more comfortable and made her way back downstairs. As the door opened into the entry hall, she didn’t call a welcoming to any family or guests. She was expecting a quiet house that night. In a display of despair Jonathan came tearing from the lounge when he heard her footsteps.

“Jules!” he cried. “I’ve been trying to call you. Where have you been?”

Julia leaned casually by the window.

“I saw your missed calls. I just wasn’t answering.”

“It’s mum,” he explained. “She’s been arrested. They have her for trafficking. The Nan Foundation is closed pending further investigation. They won’t set bail. She’s going to prison. What are we going to do?”

“That is unfortunate,” said Julia softly. She took her brother’s hand. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. Nothing. We’re going to let her rot in prison for the rest of her life.” Jonathan pulled his hand away. His eyes widened. Julia went on, “She let him back in here. You have no idea what it is like to have his disgusting, trembling hands touch you, to satisfy his depraved appetites whilst you watch your father imprisoned in hospital. Do you have any idea what it is like to look into the eyes of someone who knows you are just about to end their life?”

“Jules!” Jonathan sobbed. “She was our mother.”

Julia shrugged. “I don’t care. I have and always will do what needs to be done.”

Jonathan pressed, “What are you saying?”

Julia smiled her sweet smile. “I’m saying I gave the Court everything it needed to go after both of them. I’m saying I will bring you down too and I won’t bat an eyelid.”

Jonathan nodded.

She smiled her nice smile. Julia Harvester was a nice girl. She always had been. She took her brothers hand again. Her touch was softer.

“We’ll be fine with poor mummy and daddy gone. I’ll have to work extra hard but the farm will be just fine. It’s late now. I’m going to have some herbal tea and a nice hot bath.”

A tear spilled from Jonathan’s eye. His sob caught her attention. She turned and agilely crossed the hall again. She opened the window to let the stifling air escape the farm house.

“What’s all this fuss about?” she asked. She pinched his cheek. Her grip twisted. “What’s all the fuss about?”

Jonathan gasped. He had no answer for his little sister.

“I’m just putting everything back in its place. Everything is so much neater when things are in their place. Beck Tower, Owen Inc. and all the other little blocks laid neatly in a row. I have much to do Jon and I can’t have you holding me back. Whilst they all went on bickering among themselves, they failed to notice our farmland grow. They were so distracted with what they could have that our trucks slipped around the city unnoticed. They were all so concerned with protecting their own they hadn’t counted the amount of fresh new Harvesters stores all the way from City Main to our latest on Love Street in Bellfield. I’d very much like to take a walk up Love Street. All the little blocks neatly in a row and suddenly the city becomes a much nicer place. Goodbye Jon.”

BANG.

Jon was shot in the centre of his forehead. His body dropped with the weight of slaughtered cattle. She stepped over the body. She wanted to run a bath, relax and shake off all that had happened.

When I began my story into the mayor I had been warned away from it. My fellow reporters told me it would lead me to dangerous places. The events unfolded and now as the largest titans in the city prepared to face off they failed to notice a great monster rising in the north. What was most dangerous about the Harvester monster, was that it was a friendly face everyone welcomed into their home.

***

The Boss. Bournton’s pride. Now a Kappa So strong hold. For those bearing the name Penn it was not going to be an easy place to make home. Marcus Penn was introduced to this when Kappa So members flooded him in his cell and he was beaten badly. Simon they targeted in the showers. He was naked, he was outnumbered and they taunted him. He fought back but it was to no avail.

Governor Avery West stepped in. The prison he was placed in charge of had been assigned so many new guards since the arrival of Billy Owen to CPD that he barely recognised most of the faces as he crossed the halls of The Boss to his office. Guards, legal staff, even the medics and admin, all were different. There were so many new arrivals. It made the inmates uncomfortable but random outbursts of violence from the guards kept them pacified.

Inside his office Avery was met by two guards. They had in their custody two of the Penns. Their faces matched and their expressions matched too.

“Take a seat, gentlemen,” Avery invited.

Simon seemed hesitant at first but when Marcus took a seat he followed suit.

“Let me begin by apologising on behalf of my guards for the extra attention you’ve been getting lately. I wanted you to know that I am doing all I can to see that it doesn’t happen again.”

“Why?” Marcus wanted to know. This was his first audience with the governor so he was familiarising himself with the type of man he was.

Avery nodded to the guards. They both took a step back. “I want to make you as comfortable as possible,” he admitted. “When you are inside The Boss you are my responsibility. I take the responsibility of any of the inmates very seriously. I have been here a long time and I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen riots, I’ve seen contraband and I’ve seen men hang from the roof. When you both came in we expected a handful but you’ve caused little trouble and you’ve even kept some of the other inmates in line. If you are going to be with me for the foreseeable future we might as well keep our acquaintance friendly. As a matter of fact, in the token of our friendship I have a gift for you. If you will care to follow me.”

Simon and Marcus were escorted to an exercise yard. It was smaller than the main one the inmates used. Two guard towers were perched, each with a gunman to boast. “This is exercise yard B. The guard up there,” here Avery pointed to the left. “His name is Rukov. I’ve known him for years. If you continue to behave like gentlemen he’ll give you no trouble. On the right up there,” here he indicated the other. “His name is Gorvic. I hand picked him especially for my squad here. He will follow the same rules.”

“Why did you bring us here?” Marcus enquired.

Simon had already seen the reason. “Reggie!” he called.

On the other side of the fence sat the final triplet for them to be whole again. Forgetting the gunmen and the guards both the triplets ran to meet their brother at the barrier between them.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” asked Simon with snarl.

“I came to find you,” said Reggie. “You could show a little gratitude.”

Simon shook his head. “Do you have any idea the danger you have put yourself in?”

Reggie shrugged. He sat himself down on the ground.

“He’s right,” Marcus agreed. “You can’t stay here.”

Reggie folded his arms and remained defiant.

“Well I’m not going anywhere. If you two are in danger, I am too. So you might as well just leave it.”

Simon was still shaking his head but he had softened. “You are a fucking idiot.”

Reggie laughed, “Yeah I know, but I’m the idiot on this side of the fence.”

Marcus turned his attention back to Avery. Avery approached them. “No one else will be able to use this area. It’s not a long-term solution but at least you will have the chance to regroup.”

Marcus frowned. “Why are you doing this?”

“Help keep my prison in order and I will make life as easy for you as I can.” Avery took his leave. The two ground guards remained posted at the door. The tower guards kept their look out on the Boss’ rear approach.

The triplets were given the chance to talk.

“So what you’s been up to?” Reggie asked.

Simon frowned. “Well it’s been bed of fucking roses, Reg. What do you think?”

Reggie shook his head. “It’s not exactly been easy for me you know. It’s been no picnic.” This seemed to trigger something. “Marcus, I’ve got a pack of the Harvester Corn chips. You like those, right?”

He stood and with a great heave he threw the packet over the fence. They landed at Marcus’ feet. He scooped them up. “Thanks,” he replied. He inspected the packet. “It’s bacon flavour. Do you have any cheese?”

“What do I look like?” Reggie asked. “A fucking corner shop?”

All three laughed. The sound almost broke the barrier between them. Almost.

“There’s no pleasing you,” Simon put to Marcus. He closed in on the bars and tried to look behind Reggie into the small fishing tent he had set up. “Got any energy drinks?”

“Fuck off. You get your three squares a day. This is the only stash I have.”

Reggie was the most resourceful of the triplets. Like his rats, he was the most effective at squeezing from tight places.

“Have you heard anything about dad?” Marcus asked, peeling open the corn chips bag and dipping his fingers in.

“He’s been hitting and he’s been hitting hard. Snooker halls, dance venues and factories.”

“Why didn’t you go to him?”

“He’s not staying stationary. He’s moving all over the city, from Main to Bellfield. I don’t know where he is and if I did he’d be gone again by the time I get there. We’ll be fine here. He knows you’re both here so he’ll come and get us soon enough.”

“You’re going to get the stare treatment when he sees you’ve set camp up here,” said Simon.

The three remembered fondly. The triplets could be difficult to control but they were raised like gentlemen and taught to respect their mother and respect their family name. If any of them were found to get out of hand, all it would take from their father was the stare. A glance from Reginald Penn that reminded the boys there was a chain of command.

“I haven’t had the stare since that time I wore eyeliner,” Reggie said.

Simon started to laugh. Marcus continued to enjoy the corn chips.

“I already told you you looked like a tit,” Simon remarked.

“Do you remember that Marcus?” Reggie put to the eldest. “Remember, we were about eighteen. I had a bit of a faze going on.”

“You were friendly with the girl from the piercing parlour in those days,” Marcus mused.

“Yeah well I thought I’d try something different. Si, you were the one to start being a dick about it.”

Simon protested, “If you went out looking like that I would have been in so many fucking fights that day. And besides, when you wear make-up it looks like my face with make-up. I wasn’t having that shit.”

Marcus took another corn chip. He gave a shadow of a smile.

Reggie continued. “Yeah, well, I was just expressing myself,” he maintained.

Simon leaned over and fished for one of the corn chips. “You were expressing yourself like shit until you got the stare.”

Reggie nodded. “I was determined. I wasn’t going to listen to you. It was a new me and I had a new shag so I was doing it. It was bold but why the fuck should I care what people think? I grabbed my bag. The shoes were painful mind you. But I was going with it. I forgot I had to cross through the parlour didn’t I? Dad was in there every morning with his first cup of tea. I stopped. He lowered his newspaper. He took one look at me and there it was. The stare. ‘I don’t think that’s appropriate,’ he said. Yeah. I had to change that shit immediately.”

The three boys started laughing again.

Avery came back into the yard. He interrupted them.

“I can’t let you stay here long,” the governor said.

Distance was brought between the triplets again.

“We’ll come back,” Simon assured.

“I’ll just chill out here then, shall I?” Reggie called back.

***

The next day Marcus and Simon were taken to exercise yard B. This time the ground guards remained outside the door. It clicked closed but they all brightened when they saw each other. Reggie had kept his camp.

Simon was a few paces ahead of Marcus. Marcus looked up the left. The gunner was was not Rukov. He looked up to the right. The gunner was not Gorvic.

“Reggie,” he said. “Has anyone seen you?” he asked. “Has anyone said anything to you?”

Reggie shook his head. “No, it’s been quiet. The Warden was out but he just looked over and it was like he was just pretending I wasn’t there.”

The door open and the Warden in question stepped out. Avery was smiling. Pleased to see them.

“It’s nice to see family kept together,” he spoke warmly. “With so much going on.”

Simon agreed with an accommodating expression. Marcus however was unmoved.

“There’s nothing quite like brothers,” Avery said. “When you’re a brother you’re a brother for life.”

Simon’s eyebrows raised. Marcus turned to Reggie. “Reggie!” he screamed. “Run!”

Avery looked up to guard towers. Both the left and the right were pointed on Simon and Marcus. Ground guards flooded the area.

The air quietened. Reggie’s grunting could be heard as he tried to breathe. The views of his brothers were locked on him.

A voice could be heard calling above all of them.

“We are Kappa So,” he sang with a cold softness. “We are Kappa So.” The singing drew closer. “We are Kappa So and we make trouble where we go.” Billy Owen emerged from the CPD who had them surrounded. Buddy, Chad and Cooper were trailing close behind him.

“Well, hello, boys!” Billy grinned. He raised his hand in a gesture to the governor that resembled the letter K. Avery did likewise. “Fine night. Glad I get to spend it with y’all.” Buddy was quiet. He let Billy take the lead.

“I’m Billy,” he introduced. “Your father murdered my Pops. That was a motherfucking mistake that will haunt him to end of his days. Pray to Jesus that’s sooner rather than later. Right now, I’m here to make a little point of my own.” He snatched Reggie by the hair and slammed his face against the fence. Simon and Marcus tried to struggle from the guards.

He stroked Reggie’s hair this time. Marcus took note of the details of Billy’s face, from the deep set wrinkles in his forehead, to the dryness of his bottom lip.

“Fucking let him go!” Simon shouted.

Billy looked to Reggie with a satisfied grin. He resumed stroking Reggie’s hair softly.

“What did the daddy say to you after he had bashed our Pops’ brains in, little bro?”

Buddy was hesitant at first.

“What did he say?” Billy pressed.

“He told me I was a common whore, fucked by a king.”

Billy gave a deep exhale from his nostrils. “Is that so? Fucked you like a common whore, huh? That shit is just disrespectful. Why don’t we show this here whore what it’s really like to be fucked.”

Marcus grimaced. “Let him go.”

Billy stood. “You see, now it still sounds like you’re being disrespectful towards me. You will learn some manners.”

He grabbed Reggie’s trousers by the waist band and pulled them to his ankles. Simon shrieked. “Touch him and you die!”

Billy laughed a raspy laugh that almost verged on a cough. “I ain’t going near him. I ain’t no fag. This guy might be though!”

The one to step forward was not a Kappa So brother. They had brought out an inmate to do their bidding. Billy looked to Reggie’s expression as firm hands were clasped around his waist. He looked to his brothers’ expression as Reggie gave a squeal pain as the inmate pushed inside him. Billy grabbed his hair again and slammed his face against the fence.

“That’s what we like from the whores!” he taunted. “We like them to make a lot of noise.” He pulled Reggie’s head back by his hair again. “Tell your brothers just how much you love getting fucked like a whore. Earn your dollar!”

The inmate had Reggie. Brutally he pounded, keeping Reggie firm against the fence.

“Marcus,” he gasped. A tear began to roll down his cheek.

There was a tear in Marcus’ eye too. There was nothing he good do.

“Woooo! This boy is going at the whore good!” Billy cheered. “Look at him pounding that ass. Does he fuck whores better than big king daddy? I think daddy ought not to miss this.” He pulled a phone from his pocket and flashed it in Reggie’s face. “Beautiful darlin’ just beautiful. Look at the way he’s biting his lip.”

Reggie screamed in pain.

“Oh, he enjoying that shit!” jeered Billy. “What’s this guy in for?” he asked one of the companions of the inmate

“Rape,” was the reply.

Billy continued to taunt. “Give her some that ass slap action. Treat that little whore right.”

The inmate raised a hand. A stinging blow was delivered.

The roar of the Kappa So laughter shook the trees.

They all cheered when the inmate finished. Reggie was pulled away from the fence.

“Say goodbye to your little whore brother boys. This is the last time you ever gonna see him.”

Avery West turned to his guard. “Put the both of them in the prayer room.”

***

The Boss Lady was gone. That was what had been said. But if you go to the farthest reaches of Cardyne, you will find a building no one would care to call home. If you go down to the farthest reaches of Cardyne you will find a building you wouldn’t care to visit long. For this building had held Confessions Killer, Tracey Campbell. It had also held the Wood Chip Killer, Ruth Browning.

Confinement room 34. The guard opened the slot to check. He heard a scream but he closed the slot as quickly as he had opened it, drowning the cries of a desperate woman out.

Tabitha, Boss Lady of the Knock Knock Club, hadn’t spoken to anyone in weeks. It felt like forever. With the death penalty slicing ever closer to her neck like a great pendulum her access to anyone was limited. She exercised alone. She ate alone. She bathed alone.

She had always been a symbol. The Law Makers intended on smashing that symbol and any effect it ever had. From the moment the sentence was declared the people who supported Tabitha cried their dismay. These people needed to be reminded of what happened to those who took the law into their own hands. Using the skeleton ruse, they were led to believe the execution had already been carried out. The coffin even being removed.

“This is not over,” the Boss Lady warned.

But it was over. It was over for so many and yet there were still so many more waiting to stand and be counted.

All of this began for me the moment I stepped into the Knock Knock club and as long as Tabitha does still live it can’t be over. I am reporter Sam Crusow, and as I am writing this now, I take a deep breath and I prepare to describe what happened next.


Disclaimer:

If you have been affected by rape or sexual assault visit rapecrisis.org.uk for more information on support available.


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