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 …
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.
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?”
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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