The Prayer Room is located in the Herod Halls of the castle, just off the overpass. It’s an original part of the building where St Wigan, when he was in residence, would lock himself away seemingly with no food or water for days. He emerged when God had delivered his message. Normally this meant someone was burned, hanged, or buried alive in Gregor Court. God could be a nasty bastard if Noah Wigan was to be believed, and Francesca Chamberlain made the perfect nasty vessel to operate through. However, that’s another grisly tale for another grisly day. For now, our story focuses on the Prayer Room in more recent times. The room has no plumbing. It doesn’t have a bowl or sink on offer. You eat and drink very little whilst you’re in there so you find yourself with little to excrete anyway.
As the famed monk said, “God provides the nourishment.”
He may have been able to get a fat soul with conversations with a figment in sky, but for our inmates it drained what little will they had left. There are no windows. You are completely engulfed in darkness. You are left alone with only time to think and to say your prayers.
Jake tried to keep himself awake for as long as possible. He didn’t know how long he would be left to rot. He had no means of counting the hours. He could only try and keep himself awake for as long as possible – not that he would find much of a cosy bed. It was a moss covered, granite floor. In fact, the dampness within the Prayer Room really attacked the lungs. It was common in the prison to hear the cough of an inmate that had spent some time in solitary.
Jake had to keep himself awake. He wanted to stay alert should some of the ghoul guards come for him. That was what the inmates were calling the guards who lost their minds. Jake didn’t pray. He never was the praying sort but the voice inside his head was ringing loud. He tried to keep it ringing as his eyes started to feel heavy. He was slumped on the floor. His issue trousers were damp from the moss. He was in the most discomfort he had ever felt but he couldn’t resist sleep. Those beta brain waves were crying out to him.
“Come on, Jakey. Just close your eyes. Sleep it away. Sleep. Sleep…”
He was jerked awake by a sharp pain. Something had bitten him. He could hear a squeak and felt a draw of a long, worm-like tail across his hand. He pulled it away and as he did so he caught the feel of matted fur.
“Fucking rat,” he grumbled to himself.
There was another sharp bite on his lower leg where the trousers of his kit had slipped up. There was another one there. He could hear the hungry rodents squeak at each other. Then there was another bite at his hand. This one was harder than the others. The broken rat teeth must have pierced skin.
Jake tried to kick his leg out to make them scurry away but they were brave and they were hungry so they took another bite. One ran across his chest, the worm tail drawing underneath his chin. Jake was on his feet by then, trying to shake them off. They finally did scurry away when the doorway was opened.
Parts 1 and 2 of The Boss trilogy is available now.
Contains scenes and themes some may find distressing.
A cult is quite often a religion with unorthodox practices. In a world where the court of public opinion is one which holds the most esteem, being swept up in cult like waves becomes easier and easier. When asked why someone would join a cult the most likely answer is that they can find something there that they can’t find anywhere else. Affection, acceptance, understanding, or a mixture of all those things. It isn’t always some sinister group hidden out of the way of civilised society. You can see it in the chanting of songs at football matches. It can be seen in a crowd of teenagers wearing the latest trends. It can be the way we are hooked to social media.
For the moment allow me to examine the idea of cults in their most natural form. With the help of cult deprogrammer, John Reynolds, I was offered an insight into the depths of these cult groups. Before this interview I would have dismissed the cult idea as foolish people being brain washed. Reynolds helped me understand it better and it was more than that. It was more about a power struggle rather than brain wash. I am reporter, Sam Crusow, and I invite you to join me as we step inside the cults of Coldford.
As I sat in my usual booth at Bobby’s lunchbox looking across to John Reynolds the first thing that became apparent to me was the brightness in his persona. When I had been told I would be meeting with a cult deprogrammer I must admit my mind went to a stereotypical assumption. I expected a brooding character. I expected a troubled soul. When he bounded into Bobby’s Lunchbox with a cheery, “I’m super stoked for the interview, Sam,” my presumptions were completely off.
We took a seat and I began to record.
“For legal reasons I understand that most of your cases are classified,” I began. “I’m not looking to press you. I don’t want to put anyone in a difficult position but I would love to hear your insight.”
Reynolds smiled. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I guess it’s about time I talked about it. Get a load off, you know?”
I nodded. “I am agreed that nothing will go to print without your say so so feel free to talk openly. Consider this entire thing off the record.”
“What do you want to know?” Reynolds asked.
“Why don’t you start with some of the cases that shaped who you are.”
“Funny you should ask,” he said. “The first one that comes to mind, you reported on.”
John took a sip of his water. Although he seemed calm I could see a little tension shake him just below his skin. Giving account of some of his experiences seemed to be taking a toll on him. I pushed stop on the recorder.
“We can take five, if you like,” I asked. “This is your story to tell. It’s up to you how you wish to tell it or how far you want to go.”
I was going to remind him that his story deserved to be told as a way of urging him to open up but it seemed I didn’t need to. He had already decided that for himself.
“No,” he said. “It’s fine. I’ll go on.”
I pushed recorded again.
“You may remember a gnarly story In the Express some time back. It was about a girl named Eileen in her late teens. She had found herself in trouble. She was pregnant by her step father. Her mother was a drug user who accused her of seducing him. She was only a young girl and the step father was a real shitty dude,” John explained.
It was a typical tale of abuse, if you find yourself desensitised to such things.
Eileen was forced to leave. She didn’t have enough money to buy a plane ticket. She didn’t have enough money to pay for a hotel room for the foreseeable future. She found herself on the docks of Swantin. A lot of unfortunate souls found themselves there. Their bodies were the last marketable product they had at their disposal so it stood as the best chance of survival. She had been real close to a small vessel called the ‘Lily Ann’. It was no ordinary boat. It was a floating brothel. She had been almost been at the point of climbing on board when she heard the ferry man calling,
“The 6:15 Hathfield Bay! All about the 6:15 to Hathfield Bay.”
Eileen approached the man.
“Excuse me, sir,” she interrupted. “How much for a ticket to the island?”
The Harbour Master eyed her suspiciously. She had no bag with her, the leather of her shoes was bursting and she had a look in her eyes that suggested she would be drugged and whored before the night was out.
“I have been kicked out of my home and I have nowhere to go,” she went on to explain.
He passed her a ticket.
“I’ll let you on,” he said. “You look like you need a break and I’d be honoured to be the one to give you that chance.”
Eileen looked at her ticket.
FERRY WAY LINE.
CHAMBERLAIN DOCKS, COLDFORD – HATHFIELD BAY ISLAND: ROYCE PORT.
She could see the Royal Chamberlain crest on the side.
“Why are you doing this for me?” She asked. She wasn’t much used to generosity or kindness from strangers.
“I said you look like you need a break. The Wigan commune is over there. If you go to them they will give you shelter. They’ll look after you. They don’t have much but they are welcoming.”
Eileen had taken note of the Wigan pin the man displayed proudly, now it held a lot more interest.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Wigan bless you,” was his response.
She had heard of the Church of St Wigan. She didn’t personally know any members but if they could offer her some shelter and sanctuary it was her best bet. Better off in the hands of a religious commune than a brothel, right? Perhaps.
The travel across the sea was freeing. The waves that lashed against the side of the ferry liner were like her problems being washed away. By the time she arrived on the island she was smiling again. Although the thin rain had soaked the clothes she arrived in. When she reached the entrance of the commune she was feeling a little feverish. Pulled the purple tasseled bell. She could hear the deep knelling ring. Before long she was a greeted by a woman not much older than herself.
“I have nowhere to go,” Eileen said. “Please can you help me? I’m pregnant. I’m with child.”
The girl looked at her blankly at first. Then she smiled. It brightened her freckled face. Her smile was natural and soft. Her hair was long and tangled. She had purple ribbons tied into her braid.
“Wigan embraces all,” she said in response. Her island accent bouncy and warm. “What’s yer name?”
“Eileen,” the young woman said.
The Wigan girl introduced herself. “My name is River. Come in and rest. You are safe now.”
Eileen entered the commune and the door closed behind her.
The first days in the commune were quite pleasant actually. Eileen had no regrets in accepting the Harbour Master’s passage. She had been given clothes. They were real basic but they were warm and comfortable. They even had some elderly women check on her baby. They gave her a lot of old wives tales about the tell tale signs of it being a girl that she carried but they seemed to know what they was doing and according to them the baby was healthy and its heart was beating strong. The real world seemed so far away. Wandering onto the bay at the rear of the commune where she could hear nothing but the waves was her most favourite activity. On this particular day I now detail she had looked up at the sky first. The clouds were thick and grey. The rain wasn’t far off. There was a man sat on the sand, looking out onto the sea. He had drawn his knees up to his chest and was embracing his surroundings like he was seeing them all for the first time. He turned when he heard her.
“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” she apologised.
The man smiled. He had an engaging stare. She could feel herself smiling too. There was some white in his dark hair, despite his youth, just a streak. He reached his arm out beside him.
“Ye might as well sit with me,” he said. “It would be nice to have the company.”
Eileen took a seat, delicately at his side. He kept his attention focused out onto the sea. “So you must be the city dweller they call Eileen.”
Eileen agreed. “Yes, that’s me. I came for sanctuary and I have been given that. I will always be grateful.”
The man nodded. “That’s good to know. I’m glad.”
“Have you been here long?” She asked him.
The man chuckled. “My whole life,” he said.
Eileen was fascinated. “It must have been quite different from the city.”
“They say not much could go on on a little island but you’d be surprised. You really would,” he explained.
“My life was shit over in the city. My mum was a drunk. My step dad forced himself on me. The baby I carry is his. My mum blamed me and the Harbour Master took pity on me. Now I’m here.”
The man turned to her. “Fear not,” he said. “You’re safe here. We are like a big family. We’d love for you to be part of our family.”
“I’m not really a religious person,” Eileen was ashamed to admit. She felt ungrateful given how accepting they had been of her, no questions asked.
“Maybe now’s the time to start,” the man suggested. “Ye can find out quite a bit about yerself.”
Eileen made a vow to try. She really did want to show how appreciative she was.
“What’s your name?” She asked.
“Dominick,” the man returned.
“Your Eminence!?” Came a cry from the commune. There was a monk standing by the entrance in robes.
Dominick looked back. He nodded to the monk who went back inside.
“Your Eminence?” Eileen questioned.
Dominick stood. He reached his hand out and helped her onto her feet.
“I’ve been blessed with the leadership of our church,” he explained. “We always welcome new members.”
Eileen took a vow that very day. She vowed to learn what she could about her new family. Before the baby was born she took a bonafide vow.
Reynolds had been based in City Main at the time. He was working out of the offices of CPD. He had been brought onboard when the Office of Law Makers brought their attention to the rise in missing person’s cases in the Coldford. Reynold’s specialty was people who weren’t necessarily missing. They just didn’t want to come home.
It had taken a few months before Eileen’s mother began to show concern. The deadbeat step father had done the same thing with a neighbour so she threw his ass to the kerb and decided she wanted to reconnect with her daughter. A hand written letter had come to the mother with the stamp of the bay. In this letter it told of Eileen’s indoctrination so far. She was pleased to be where she was. She was turning her hand to all kinds of positive things. She was embracing a religion and it was bringing out the best in her. What she made abundantly clear was the fact that she had absolutely no intentions of coming home sans step father or not. That ship had sailed and it had sailed off to Hathfield Bay carrying Eileen’s mother’s only daughter with it.
Eileen’s mother, whom records had named as Lorna P, made an appointment with our investigator.
“I want my daughter back,” she had plead.
She was preaching to the converted in this scenario because Reynolds wanted the girl back too. The issue was as he looked at her she looked real spaced out. She said she had given up the drinking but she had been rad with it very recently. All the signs were there. Her bulbous nose was red with burst vessels. Her breath was putrid. She had made an effort to dress herself but the clothes had a smell of dampness about them. If this girl was to come back, what exactly would she be coming back to? For better? For worse? It wasn’t Reynolds’ decision to make but he had to make sure she understood.
“I will do what I can to bring her back but you gotta level with me. Are you going to be there for her.”
Lorna scowled. She looked as though she was about to give the usual, ‘are you telling me what to do with my own kid?’ speech but she retracted her statement before it was aired. She knew she had treated her daughter like shit. She should have stood by her daughter. She would be heavily pregnant by now if she hadn’t lost the child. The letter never mentioned either way.
“I want to do better. I want to put the past behind us,” was her claim. “I got a job. I’m cleaning at the Lunch Box.”
Reynolds leaned back in his chair.
“It could get real rad,” he warned. “You need to be ready for that. If she does come back you need to be there for her. The process could take a long time.”
Lorna P nodded. “I’m ready for that,” she assured.
Rule number 88 of a Cult Deprogrammer: First contact with the lost soul could make or break a case. That first contact had to be made.
The meeting had been set for four pm. The location was Bobby’s Lunch Box. With Reynolds’ consultation Lorna P had composed a letter of apology to Eileen. She wished her well. She was not to ask her to come home. She was not to make any demands of her. All the letter was to do was to let her know that the mother was open to meeting should the daughter accept invitation. No mention was to be made of the baby.
In response to this letter Eileen accepted the invitation. She too said nothing of the baby.
Lorna P was keeping an eye out for her daughter. The young woman who had come in her place was not her daughter, at least in everything but the physical sense. She looked nothing like the way she had when she left. She had let her hair grow long. She wore a long, grey dress made from thick fabric. It spilled over her ankles. She had a purple ribbon tied around her neck and a Wigan pin on her breast.
“Who are you?” She asked Reynolds at first.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Eileen,” he said. “I’m John Reynolds. I was asked along by your mum. I was hoping we could have a chat.”
Eileen eyed him suspiciously but she took a seat at the diner booth.
“I don’t go by Eileen anymore,” she said. “I shed my city dweller name. They call me Heather now.”
“Heather?” Asked the mother. “Why Heather?”
Reynolds had encouraged her to ask questions as long as they weren’t asked in a challenging tone.
“It’s my favourite plant. You would know that if you knew anything about me,” the girl responded.
“We’re just here because we’re wanting to reconnect,” said Reynolds.
Heather, formally known as Eileen, scowled at him. She turned back to her mother.
“Been off the booze?” She asked her. “For how long this time?”
“For good,” she said. “I promise.”
Reynolds directed the conversation. “We’re stoked that you came,” he said. “There’s no pressure on you. Your mum told me about your letter. You seemed really thrilled over on the island.”
“I am,” said Heather ney Eileen. She was beginning to wonder who this John Reynolds was. Why would he be associated with her mum? Surely he wasn’t a boyfriend. Although he looked like he was a bit of a boozer too so maybe that was how they were connected. Was he her sponsor?
“When you left you were pregnant,” said Reynolds. “Would you like to share what happened? Are you well?”
Eileen started to soften a little. No, not Eileen, her name was Heather now.
“I had a little girl. I named her Ivy.”
“Pretty name,” said Reynolds. “Your mum is glad to be a grandmother.”
“She couldn’t be a mother. What chance does she have of being a grandmother? Did she tell you who fucking knocked me up?”
“Wigan opens his arms to the sinners. You cannot be saved. Your baby cannot be saved. Your ma most definitely cannot be saved,” Dominick had said to her.
“I want to try, Eileen,” said Lorna P.
“My name is not Eileen! It’s Heather.” The girl shrieked. “I am a child of Wigan and he accepts me for all of my sins. You cast me out and he found me.”
Lorna P made to say something but Reynolds stopped her.
“So you took the oath,” he said with a casual calmness that eased the tension. “Who was your sponsor?”
Eileen was quite taken aback by Reynolds’ knowledge of it. Wait. No. Her name was Heather. She was Heather and she was a daughter of Wigan, not some drunk who let her step dad impregnate her.
“You’re a Wigan?” She asked. He had no tell tale signs. He had no pin. His mannerisms were far too mellow for someone who had taken the oath.
“I’m not,” Reynolds replied. “I am familiar with them though. Have you been to McIvor’s Ice Cream parlour over on the bay yet?”
“I have,” she admitted. “I go there quite often.”
“Do you have a favourite flavour?” He asked.
“Strawberry,” she replied.
“She always loved strawberry,” said Lorna P with some measure of pride.
“Some days it was all you gave me to eat,” responded the daughter.
“Family is more than blood. We are bound here stronger than any mother and child, any father and son, any brother and sister. We are the family of Wigan and we’re all here for each other,” said His Eminence.
It was the family that Heather needed. When she took the oath she felt complete. It was fate that the Harbour Master gave her that ticket. It was fate that she fell in love with His Eminence.
“The weather over there can be a little temperamental,” Reynolds said matter of factly.
Heather smiled. “These clothes keep me dry. These clothes keep me warm.”
The commune keeps you safe. The commune keeps you fed.
“I’m going to call you Eileen,” said Reynolds. “It’s not to upset you. If you have shed that name then that is your decision but your mum wants some closure before you return to the commune and it’s the name she recognises. It could be her chance to shed it too if it is what you really want.”
Lorna looked to Reynolds with some surprise. They hadn’t discussed the possibility of her never returning. That wasn’t part of the deal. She kept her mouth shut though. Reynolds seemed to have a handle on the situation.
“I have nothing left to say,” she said. “You can call me what you like. I know what my name is.”
LET THEM BE CONSUMED BY FIRE!
Coming back the city was not going to be easy. She had seen way too much. Her life had changed.
“If could just sit and maybe hear what your mum wants to say?” Reynolds urged.
Heather, no Eileen, was held in her place.
The smell of the burning flesh was stomach churning. At least it was at first.
Dominick had been screaming, “you cannot be saved!”
He was crazed but in that moment but as she watched him she could only think of how passionate he was and how much he loved his Wigan family. He was leading them into a future with furious fire. She had been so swept up she helped with the torches. The city dwellers screamed in pain but their cries for mercy were drowned out as the congregates began to sing.
‘Eileen. I’m going to call you Eileen. That is your name. You are not Heather. Heather was a bayside lunatic who watched four city dwellers burn. Heather gave birth to a little girl named Ivy. Heather danced with the strangely named River, Autumn and April whilst Ivy was blessed into the Wigan faith. Eileen was still on the docks contemplating becoming a prostitute.
You cannot be saved Eileen.
“Yes you can,” John Reynolds reminded her.
I pondered the question first before I voiced it.
“Did she come home?”
“It was one of those deals where you gotta count your blessings,” Reynolds said. “She was coming home. She had gotten as far as a little fishing boat she planned on rowing herself all the way over from the bay. She had Ivy with her.”
“Then what happened?” I asked.
“Did she return to the commune?” I questioned.
“I don’t think so. She had made the resolve to leave. Rule number 36 of a cult deprogrammer: when the victim attempts to leave, the cult will use any force necessary to keep them.”
The truth of the matter was the little fishing boat had been found, beached just a little while along the coast. The blanket she had wrapped Ivy in was discarded, wet and sandy. Ivy was carried by River back to the commune. The seasons changed and the little girl grew beyond infancy. She didn’t know her mother. She didn’t know Heather. She most definitely would never have recognised Eileen. The Wigan life was what she came to know. Praise Wigan!
Discussing this case gave me a lot of food for thought. We can all find ourselves swept up in an ideology. It’s like an unstoppable force which in the hands of those who wield it well can be destructive. It takes people like John Reynolds to combat that kind of thinking. As he would say, ‘you can be saved. You can succeed. You can come back.’
How far must someone fall though before they are merely a sandy, soggy blanket on a discarded boat? Or a victim of a complete stranger’s anger?
John Reynolds will keep fighting on though until everything is groovy again.
When cult deprogrammer, John Reynolds, has someone close to him leave to join the Wigan cult on Hathfield Bay island he must put every skill he has learned to the test to bring them home.
The Prayer Room is located in the Herod Halls of the castle, just off the overpass. It’s an original part of the building where St Wigan, when he was in residence, would lock himself away seemingly with no food or water for days. He emerged when God had delivered his message. Normally this meant someone was burned, hanged or buried alive in Gregor Court. God could be a nasty bastard if Noah Wigan was to be believed and Francesca Chamberlain made the perfect nasty vessel to operate through. However, that’s another grisly tale for another grisly day. For now, our story focuses on the Prayer Room in more recent times. The room has no plumbing. It doesn’t have a bowl or sink on offer. You eat and drink very little whilst you’re in there so you find yourself with little to excrete anyway.
As the famed monk said, “God provides the nourishment.”
He may have been able to get a fat soul with conversations with a figment in sky but for our inmates it drained what little will they had left. There are no windows. You are completely engulfed in darkness. You are left alone with only time to think and to say your prayers.
Jake tried to keep himself awake for as long as possible. He didn’t know how long he would be left to rot. He had no means of counting the hours. He could only try and keep himself awake for as long as possible – not that he would find much of a cosy bed. It was a moss covered, granite floor. In fact, the dampness within the Prayer Room really attacked the lungs. It was common in the prison to hear the cough of an inmate that had spent some time in solitary.
Jake had to keep himself awake. He wanted to stay alert should some of the ghoul guards come for him. That was what the inmates were calling the guards who lost their minds. Jake didn’t pray. He never was the praying sort but the voice inside his head was ringing loud. He tried to keep it ringing as his eyes started to feel heavy. He was slumped on the floor. His issue trousers were damp from the moss. He was in the most discomfort he had ever felt but he couldn’t resist sleep. Those Beta brain waves were crying out to him.
“Come on, Jakey. Just close your eyes. Sleep it away. Sleep. Sleep …”
He was jerked awake by a sharp pain. Something had bitten him. He could hear a squeak and a draw of a long, worm-like tail across his hand. He pulled it away and as he did so he caught the feel of matted fur.
“Fucking rat,” he grumbled to himself.
There was another sharp bite on his lower leg where the trousers of his kit had slipped up. There was another one there. He could hear the hungry rodents squeak at each other. Then there was another bite at his hand. This one was harder than the others. The broken rat teeth must have pierced skin.
Jake tried to kick his leg out to make them scurry away but they were brave and they were hungry so they took another bite. One ran across his chest, the worm tail drawing underneath his chin. Jake was on his feet by then trying to shake them off. They finally did scurry away when the doorway was opened.
“2011?” The voice of the warden came through the dark. “What’s the story?”
“My daughter,” Jake began. His voice sounded hoarse having not spoken in some time. “My sisters. My cousin.”
“I’m sorry about your family,” Remar told him sincerely.
He had put in a call to Fullerton Villa to find out what he could.
“Lucy’s with her mum, from what I’m told,” Remar said. “She’ll be fine. Lionel received a shot to his shoulder and to chest but from what i hear he’ll be fine. I’ll let you have a call and catch up a little later but if you get out of here you don’t bring me any trouble are we understood?”
Jake nodded. He cleared his throat. “Of course.”
Cerberus held 2011 in his searching gaze. There was something going wrong with the guards and he needed people among the inmates he could rely on should the worst happen.
Occupation: crowned queen five centuries prior to current events.
Despite her not living in current times the presence of Francesca Chamberlain is still felt, most notably in her castle in the northern city of Bournton. The call the castle The Boss because of the way it looms over the town below. It is currently a high security prison for the worst of the worst in the Shady City. It hasn’t changed much in the times since Francesca’s reign in that even then it was a dungeon that many feared to be held behind. Francesca was a bloody and merciless ruler taking great pride in the torture of her prisoners. They called her a witch because of the young maidens she drove to madness.
She may have been ruthless but most rulers in those days were. What she did hold dear though were her nephews, princes James and Edward. As sons of Francesca’s brother Henry, James was the rightful heir to Chamberlain dynasty. Having died in battle Francesca brought the princes to the castle for safe keeping. The intention was to rule in James’ stead until he came of age.
Whilst staying in the castle the younger prince, Edward, fell ill. Francesca believed a witch among them had cursed the little boy but luckily the arrival of a Holy man named Noah Wigan brought the boy back to health. From that moment Francesca was dedicated to the church Wigan was building. She heeded his advice above all and she became quite mad with her devotion.
Times have moved along since those days history books refer to as the Ballad of Blood. The modern Chamberlain family have left swords behind but bloodshed remains stained on the golden crown.
I have told the tale of many families in Coldford. I’ve discussed the dark, the dangerous and the ruthless. The Stoker Circus family encompass all three of things. I’ve never known such a group of people willing to stoop to the lowest levels to keep themselves riding high. Desperate times of recession had given them stiff competition but they never ceased to amaze. They would stop at nothing for the almighty coin. They were a big family so when it came to them against the world the world stood little chance. When it came to being pit against each other there would be a clown parade. Underneath the cotton candy, the organ music and the balloons there was a real heart beating. If only they could stop to hear it. I’m reporter Sam Crusow and this is what happens when a Stoker is offered loadsa bunce but they are asked to split it.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls! Step right up for an outrageous and sometimes dangerous show. I’m Adrien Stoker and welcome to Stoker circus!” The fan fare erupted around the Big Top as the audience in Luen were drawn into the circus as it passed through town. Adrien Stoker beamed a huge smile. His excitement for his act was palpable. The audience grinned right back at him as the clowns in blue and red face paint danced whimsically around him, tying him into a strait jacket. His brother, Hanz, in red tails, joined him in centre ring, playing the role of the villain who had captured him. Hanz made a show of yelling at the clowns to restrain him tighter. They turned him to show the audience four tightly fastened restraints. They even carried Adrien across to the audience for a member to pull on the buckles and confirm it was in fact fastened tightly. A heavily made up woman tugged on them and yes they were secure. When back in centre ring blue and red boards were pulled aside to reveal a tank of water, standing up right, not much larger than a coffin. “The water cell has been banned in the orient. They say once you are submerged there is no escaping. Don’t be alarmed, ladies and gentlemen. I’m willing to give it a try and if I drown … that’s just show business.” Hanz gave a show of his character being desperate to hurry it along. Adrien was lifted, and he was dropped into the water head first. Hanz secured the lid and he stepped on top of his brother’s watery coffin. “Not so amazing now!” He cried theatrically. He accepted jeers from the audience with a wave of his arms. A timer started. The view of Adrien in the water cell was concealed with the boards. “The longest any one has ever held their breath was for eleven minutes. Let’s see how long the Amazing Adrien can last.” The fan fare erupted again. The clowns made another showy dance around the ring as the sands on the timer dropped. The boards were pulled aside briefly to show Adrien still in the cell and seemingly struggling with his binds. “Oh no!” Lady Margerite gasped, watching the show through a set of golden opera glasses. She hoped Adrien would be okay despite what Hanz was suggesting, doing a little jig on top of Adrien’s coffin before leaping back down into the ring. The sands in the timer continued to fall. It had now been minutes since Adrien was submerged. Son’s, Valdrick and Irvine, watched on from the sidelines. The two boys were naturally born showman. Sometimes as the timer ran out Uncle Hanz called upon them to help keep the audience going. It meant audience appreciation. It meant becoming the face of the circus. It meant some coins being thrown their way. “It’s my show, mucker,” Irvine had said. He strongly believed he was the one to follow papa. Val disagreed. “Get down with you,” Val replied with impatience. He had lifted his juggling pins and was waiting for the call. Meanwhile, outside Hanz was saying to the audience of Adrien, “I hope he took care of his affairs …” The timer ran out. “This is it! This is it!” Irvine was muttering to himself. BARAH BA BOOM! The music cut. The lights focused centre ring. Hanz took a peek behind the boards. He started calling to the other performers. Something appeared to have gone dreadfully wrong. Lady Margerite sat forward in her chair. “Oh no,” she gasped as she looked through the opera glasses. The performers appeared to be in a panic. They pulled the boards back to reveal the tank was now empty. Spotlights danced around the audience and landed on the seat beside Margerite. Imagine her surprise when there stood Adrien Stoker, dripping wet, free of his binds and smiling warmly despite his struggles. He raised a glass of what was presumably water from the tank. “To you and yours Madame,” he said. The audience erupted in cheers as Adrien gave a bow and the spotlight followed him back down to the centre ring. Lady Margerite was thrilled. Irvine and Val took a peek out the curtains but quickly retracted when Uncle Hanz came rushing in. He pulled off his tailed jacket and he threw it backstage. “One of you,” he barked at the boys. “Move.” That was when the baby started to cry. Both boys looked back. ‘Not now,’ seemed to be the collective thoughts of the brothers. “The baby is crying,” Irvine stated. “Yeah,” said Val. “I can hear that.” “Move!” Hanz barked again as he headed on back out. For Valdrick, concern over the infant won out. He had to check on his baby brother. Irvine was not so worried. “Sucka,” he cheered as he headed out to centre ring. The boards were pulled back again and to the audience’s amazement there was Hanz in the cell now wearing the strait jacket. As they removed Hanz from the tank Irvine charmed the audience. Lady Margerite gushed over the boy’s charisma. Valdrick was rocking the baby in his arms thinking of the bunce he had lost. “Damn it, Felix,” he groaned. “You choose now to cry?” The baby grinned a gumsy grin at his brother. “You know you lost me an earner, right?” Felix giggled. “Never mind,” said Val. “When we’re older we’ll run the show together. We’ll make loadsa bunce.” “It was a smashing show,” Lady Margarite told her driver on the way home. Adrien Stoker was so attractive with his dark curls and expressive eyes. He was slim and tall and when she found him stood next to her she could hear the breath in his words from the struggle of his escape. “To you and yours Madame!” He had said. Stoker Circus, passing through Luen, had left a lasting impression.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls! Step right up for a swinging, stinging and full in your face ringing show. I’m Irvine Stoker and these are the trapeezy easys.” The spotlight focused on centre ring as Ethel Easy – the female half the trapeze duo climbed a rope to the high wire. She was agile so she reached the top with ease. The music offered an encouraging beat. What audience there was watched her in awe. She gripped the high wire and spun herself round once, twice and three times before holding herself up in a handstand on the wire. She reached her legs out. She let herself drop and her brother Errol had come whizzing across from the high dale of the Big Top. The audience gasped as he caught her in his arms. The two swung across to the other side of the great tent. Ringmaster Irvine stepped off the ring to leave the Easys to do their thing. “We got some bad news, boss.” Irvine had scraped some powder from an old metal box he kept in his coat onto his finger nail. He sniffed and leaned his head back a little. “What bad news?” He naturally asked. Strongman Otto, who was delivering said news, looked concerned. “I’m afraid Aunt Margerite passed away,” said the muscle man. Irvine gasped. He removed his hat and bowed his head. “It’s always the good ones,” he said solemnly. “How did she go?” Otto shrugged his broad shoulders. “Dunno,” he said. “Age I suppose.” Irvine gasped again. “Time,” he said. “It’s cruel Otto. It’s fucking cruel …’ “Will you be alright, boss?” Otto asked sensitively. “I will be,” Irvine said. “I just need to collect myself. I just need to figure out who the fuck Aunt Margerite is. Which one is she?” “Dunno,” Otto answered. “But this letter said she left you a little something.” Irvine stood up straight. He snatched the letter from the strongman. “There’s a will? Why didn’t you tell me that?” “I figured you would want to grieve first.” Irvine’s eyes were already reading the statement to see just how long a mourning period he was going to need. They heard the audience react as the Easys swung across the tent and swapped trapezes. Ethel swung above the audience blowing a kiss to an older gentlemen there with his grandkids. Errol threw a rose to an adoring young woman who snatched it up excitedly. The two met in the middle again. Ethel leapt from her trapeze to clasp her brothers feet. As they soared across she flipped onto the dale and climbed onto the tight rope. “Yes!” Irvine cried out as he read the handsome amount dear Aunt Margerite had bequeathed to him. “Wait a minute,” he said as he read on. “This says I’m to split this with my damn brothers. I was Aunt Margerite’s favourite. She said so all the time … I think … this has to be wrong.” Otto looked at the paper. He read it slowly. “Looks pretty legit.” Irvine snatched the paper away. “Aunt Margerite was a sweet old dear and she sought to leave this money to her adoring and affectionate nephew. I will not have her wishes besmirched by those scoundrel brothers of mine trying to take what she wanted me to have.” “Says here you’ve to split it,” Otto reminded him, running a finger across the words that said as such. “Equal … share…” he said slowly and carefully. Irvine held the letter to his chest. “Who’s side are you even on?” He asked. “Yours boss,” Otto stated. “Then don’t breathe a word of this. Does anyone else know?” “Don’t think so,” said Otto. “Ooooh!” The audience cheered. The Trapeezy Easys were wowing them as Ethel danced foot to foot across the tight rope as Eroll climbed hand to hand underneath her. Ethel tucked her foot under the rope and let herself drop. She caught Errol’s feet, flipped herself onto the wire again and spread her arms for balance. “Whatever you do do not let Val hear about this.” To the heavens he said, “don’t you worry Aunt Margerite. I won’t let your memory be robbed.” Otto nodded solemnly. “RIP Aunt Margerite,” he said. “Was she the one with the mole?” Irvine asked. Otto could only shrug. Eroll swung on his trapeze by his feet. He had his sister’s hands and he launched her towards the dale. Ethel landed on the dale and immediately threw herself back off catching her brothers hands again. Irvine came skipping back to centre ring as the Easys came sliding down the rope as their act came to an finish. “Wasn’t that something?” He said as he slipped his inheritance letter inside his pocket. “We don’t give half measures here at Stoker Circus. The Trapeezy Easys took a bow. The audience applauded. It was a meagre audience but that didn’t matter. The whole time Irvine kept thinking of Aunt Margerite. Now If only he could remember who Aunt Margerite was. More importantly, he had to stop his deplorable brother finding out about it. Split it. Equal share. Yeah right!
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Step right up for a dashing, crashing, full in your face smashing show. I’m Val Stoker and welcome to Stoker Circus.” The audience for the matinee show in the blue tent wasn’t as filled as it used to be but Val let his voice boom to the rafters as if it were a full house. There were a few scattered guests coughing away and giving a half hearted applause. Val’s wife Gigi had felt it too. She tried to keep up enthusiasm as best she could but they were losing them. What little there were of them. The only one who was paying the real attention they would expect of a visitor to the Stoker Circus was a small baby who’s push chair had been pressed up to the front. A smile crossed its face as Val juggled three blue pins. His act was delightful. In bygone days it would have been well received but we live in an age of computer games and technology. The old school circus had stiff competition to work with. It was sad to see such old fashioned fun drip away. What was most despairing was the fact it meant the tents were making less bunce. “We better pull out the big guns, missus,” said Val to his wife. The tall, leggy blonde was already on it. She passed him a set of metal pins. Val flicked them and the ends sparked on fire. “Huh?” He put to his audience. “Impressed yet?” The little baby cried with delight as Val danced in front of him. The flaming torches spiralled in a truly exciting fashion. He spun them higher. He spun them faster. He even got a chuckle out of his audience when he made a show as though his hands were burning and he blew on his palms between the throws. “It’s just not the same these days,” Val commented to Gigi as they stepped out of their ring. “It’s the end of an era, sugar,” said Gigi solemnly, dusting bits of sand off of his jacket. “We’ll get by,” Val assured enough for the both of them. “We always do.” The Stokers were in fact a resilient bunch. They had travelled through the generations and they survived. They survived because they were willing to sink to depths that even the most hardened of people would consider questionable. They robbed houses, they picked pockets, they washed away crime scenes and the tragedy of it all was their show, the thing that was important to all of them, wouldn’t be failing if they were to put their own greed aside and focus on it. Val tried to focus on it. He had loved the tents when his father was around. It was the golden age of the circus and Adrien had made their show one people for miles around would come to see. Now they were lucky if they had half of an audience at matinees. It wasn’t that the quality had dwindled over the years, they were always inventing creative ways to entertain. It was just that they had been so preoccupied keeping themselves on top they forgot the Stokers were a huge family and if they came together they could relive those glory days. ‘Nah! It’s all about the bunce,’ Val thought to himself. ‘What good is anything if you don’t have the cash? The tents would fill again if there was money in the place.’ Val felt a another hand on his shoulder. It was a heavier hand than Gigi’s. It was the hand of Cyril, the Stoker sad clown. “Aunt Margerite died,” he said sensitively. The painted clown face complete with tears showing just how solemn and grief stricken he was. “No,” Val gasped. “What took her. Was it her heart?” “I don’t know,” said Cyril. “I heard Otto telling Irvine.” “Which one was Aunt Margerite?” Gigi sought to ask. Cyril shrugged. “I don’t know any Margerite but she left something. Irvine didn’t want you to know.” Val gave him an affirming pat on the shoulder. HEEHO! HEEHO! “You’re a good cousin for letting me know,” he told him. To Gigi he said conspiratorially. “That bastard thinks he can hide my inheritance. He thinks he can go against dear Aunt Margerite’s wishes? The scoundrel. The absolute …” He stopped to ask Cyril, “was she the one with the mole?” Cyril shrugged. “All I know is she left you some inheritance and Irvine doesn’t want to share.” “Damn that cheating bastard of a brother of mine,” Val exclaimed. To Cyril he asked, “how much was it?” “Don’t know,” Cyril stated. “But we’ll soon find out.” “I hope so,” Val said. “Because I need to know just how sad I am about Aunt Margerite’s passing… Did she have all the dogs?” “That was Angelique,” said Gigi. “And he’s still in Luen.”
When there was a scent of financial gain in the air a Stoker is like a blood hound. As sad clown Cyril informed Val of the deception another deception was taking place. Main clown Olga was sneaking into the back room of the Big Top whilst Irvine was giving his all to his meagre customers. “You’ll have to forgive me,” he was telling them. “But I’m afraid I’m mourning the loss of a beloved aunt who was as close to me as a mother. Dear Aunt Margerite, you will be sorely missed. But ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls she would have wanted the show to go on. She would also want you to put some extra tuppence in that bucket there to go to her favourite charity. It is what she wanted and what better way to remember such a generous woman.” The coast was clear which was just as well because Olga’s shoes squeaked, squeaked and squeaked across the boards. There it was. Sat on the desk was the letter detailing the inheritance left behind by Aunt Margerite. Olga smiled as she reached out to collect it, her face paint making that smile ever so big. But just as she collected the letter a claw like hand snatched hers. It was tattooed, bony and the sharp yellowish nails dug in. Gretel, the legless woman from their freak show, heaved herself onto the table. “Oh shit!” Olga cried. Gretel Stoker may have been born without legs but she could sure pull her way around a room faster than most people with both legs could run. Gretel leapt onto her and tried to snatch the letter. Olga, was a burly clown. She could throw her rounded body for an audience’s amusement so she had quite the heave on her. She grabbed Gretel by her arms and hammer threw the legless woman across the back room. Gretel bounced off the canopy and came rushing across the boards. “Give it back!” She warned. Olga tore out of there with Gretel hot on her heel. “Oh shit!” Olga cried out again as Gretel lashed out and tore a hole in her clown pants with her long, pointed nails. Olga didn’t feel good about it, at least that was what she said afterwards, but the only way she was going to get out of there with the letter was if she took Gretel out. She could give her a kick worthy of an rugby player of course but she saw the fire hose and the clown in her couldn’t resist. WOOOOOSH! She turned the hose on Gretel and sent the legless woman sailing down a small but powerful river back into the back room. She turned on her heel and she bounced out of there. Her shoes were now sounding extra squidgy. “Val?” She cried out when she returned to the blue tent. “I’ve got the letter.” “Well done Olga, girl,” said Val. Olga caught her breath. She leaned over, wheezing a little. “I had to skoosh Gretel back into her box.” Val had already started to read the letter. “Getting Gretel to guard are you, I’m onto you Irvine. Don’t forget I’m the older brother. I’ve been on this planet longer. You can’t outsmart a smartass. Ain’t that right, missus?” “It is, sugar,” agreed Gigi. “People say it all the time.” “We’re rich!” Val exclaimed as he read the letter. “Thank you, Aunt Margerite!” He kissed the letter with a firm mwah! They were celebrating. They still had to get the money though.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Step right up for a slicing, dicing, full in your face enticing show. I’m Felix Stoker and welcome to Stoker Circus!” Felix, the baby of the three brothers, didn’t mind the dwindling audiences so much. Whether it was five or five thousand watching he was thrilled to be entertaining. He didn’t want to think about the tents as a business. He believed in the magic that was bringing a smile to the masses just as his father had. The music rumbled and the two fire breathers, Gisel and Silke, danced around the ring of the blue tent. They blew on their torches and flames around the fence lit drawing an audible gasp from the evening crowd. Silke danced back to centre first. Her partner joined her. Gisel raised her torch. She turned the flames to her lips and she ate the fire. She turned to Silke, kissed her. They parted and it was Silke who blew out the flames like an angry dragon. The thrills were a plenty even if the money wasn’t rolling in. Felix was a knife thrower. He threw them around Silke as she spun on a red and blue wheel. He threw them whilst blindfolded. He threw them whilst balancing on a beam and blindfolded. He always hit the target with those knives. He had so many planted up his sleeves that it just looked like there was no end to them. He would flip and spin and always the knives would stick exactly where they were meant to. Even with the fire breathers throwing flames around him his aim was as accurate as could be. The audience applauded and he took a congenial bow. Behind the noise of the appreciation he could hear his brothers start to bicker. “Thank you everyone for coming,” Felix was telling his audience. “I’m going to ring your fat little neck,’ Irvine could be heard growling at Val. “You have been a wonderful audience and I do hope you come back and join us again soon,” said Felix. “You thieving bastard. You were going to cut me out,” was Val’s retort. “Have a safe journey home and remember …” “Ouch!” Irvine yelped as Val kicked his long shin. He lurched towards Val but Val had decided to run at him with his shoulder. What resulted was a grapple that was worthy of a couple of clowns. “Will you stop this?” Olga requested. “It looks ridiculous.” Gretel had leapt onto Val’s back leaving Cyril no choice but to pull her off. She turned on him and then there were two ridiculous grapples going on. They had been so busy with their petty feud it wasn’t until they both felt a knife at both of their throats they stopped. Both brothers took a step back and raised their hands. “Someone want to tell me what is going on?” Asked Felix. Cyril and Gretel both raised their hands too. Having no legs, Gretel just tumbled to the ground. “We’re just upset,” said Irvine. “I don’t know how to tell you this …” “You might want to sit down,” added Val. “It’s going to be hard one to take mucker,” said Irvine. “It’s really sad news,” said Val. Felix frowned at them both. “Aunt Margerite died,” said Irvine and Val together, both trying to be the first to break the news. Felix sighed. Then he thought about it. “We don’t have an Aunt Margerite,” he said. “Turns out we do. She left us a little something as inheritance,” Val told him. “Not much. Just a little token really,” Irvine explained further. “We don’t even know why we’re fighting over it it is so minuscule,” Val saw fit to add. “Feels silly now,” Irvine stated. In that moment it there was an unspoken agreement made between the two elder brothers as the baby scrutinised them. ‘We cannot let him know he’s named on there too,’ Irvine would no doubt be the first to remind. ‘He’ll probably want to give the whole lot to some charitable cause like pox riddled cats or something,’ Val would consider. This unspoken rule had formed and as untrustworthy as they could be they knew they both had to agree to this or they both would end up with nothing and most likely they both would end up with a sharp end of a knife making them really uncomfortable for causing upset to Felix’s act. “She left something for you too,” Val decided to be honest. “She left you these.” From his bag he removed a statue of two lions. He wasn’t being all that honest. The lions had been handed into his pawn shop. They didn’t look worth much and the word around the shop was they were cursed. The seller certainly seemed quite keen to get rid of them and Val’s little shop of costly curiosities seemed the perfect fit. Felix didn’t know any of this though. He took the lions and inspected them. “She left me these?” He asked. “She must have thought you the most special all,” said Irvine. ‘No need to ham it up. I got this. Then you and I get back to sorting our shit out,’ Val thought. “Huh,” Felix smiled with a nod. “They are unusual aren’t they?” He said of his lions. “It was very kind of Aunt Margerite to leave these to me. I’d better take good care of them.” “You do that,” Val urged. “In fact, you better put them somewhere safe before something happens to them.” Or before the curse gets out. “Will you stop fighting?” Felix asked. Val made the decision for them. “Since it’s just pittance we’ve been given it might be better just to leave it to a charitable cause,” he said. ‘What are you doing?’ Irvine wondered. ‘It needs to be fucking believable.’ Felix was busy inspecting his lions again. “Maybe pox riddled cats,” said Irvine. “I don’t think Aunt Margerite would want you to be fighting. She would be really upset that the good thing she did for us, remembering us on her death bed, would cause an argument,” Felix told them sincerely. “You are right,” Val nodded. He placed an arm around Felix’s shoulder and started to lead him away. “You know, Felix, you never cease to amaze me. Just when I think there are no good men left in this world you remind me of what a gem you are.” “Thank you,” Felix replied. Val stretched. “Well you have set us straight and I think it’s time to turn in.” “Mmmhmmm,” Felix muttered as he departed, still captivated by his lions. Made in Subala it said on the bottom. ‘I wonder when Aunt Margerite was in Subala.’ Gretel climbed up Irvine’s long legs and into his arms. He had Val looked at each other. “So we’re agreed on an equal share?” Val put to the ringmaster. “That sounds fair, mucker,” Irvine told the juggler. Irvine carried Gretel away. Val led Cyril away. They both looked back over their shoulders because when you are such a devious individual you can’t help but expect everyone you meet to be just as sneaky.
The Rumilaw of City Main was where Val’s pawn shop lay. It was also home to dentists who weren’t necessarily fully licensed and to lawyers who weren’t necessarily sober all the time. However, that was where such people like the Stokers conduct their legal business. Val and Gigi were making their way to the offices of Friggan and Moore. Moore was no longer part of that team for reasons that involved a suicide attempt with an axe but they kept the sign because Friggan and Moore sounded more of a legal powerhouse than just plain old Friggan. Stanley Friggan wouldn’t be tearing up the High Court of Coldford any time soon but for a moderate fee he could make sure Val got his inheritance. “What are we going to do with that money?” Gigi was enjoying thinking out loud. Maybe a trip to Luen? Maybe a nice meal at the Delphine restaurant? Val had been thinking of the lousy matinees they had been experiencing. Fixing that would be a good place to start. “I promised Felix when we were kids we would have the best show ever,” Val said to his wife. “We do have that,” Gigi retorted. “We just need people to come along and see it.” “I’ll fix that. I’d like to use some of the money to bring our show up to scratch. Make it something people around here really want to come and see.” “That’s nice,” Gigi agreed. “I thought so,” said Val. “Felix would like that. He’s a good kid.” “You could give him his share,” Gigi suggested. Val frowned. “I said he was a good kid not a fucking bank. Felix wouldn’t know what to do with that money. I’m the eldest brother so it’s best I make the decisions.” “You are a smart man, sugar,” said Gigi. There are wise men and there are smart ones. Often the two are not the same. Val was smart. He was very wiley but he was in competition with a creature just as smart and even more shameless. “Irvine, you bastard!” Just as they arrived at the office of Friggan and Moore they saw Irvine approaching too. A wise man would stop and have a civilised discussion with his brother as to the benefits all could have with such an inheritance. A smart one would dash in to be the first inside the office. Irvine’s long legs gave him an advantage but Valdrick’s stocky frame could be carried like a leaping gazelle when there was money involved. The result was the two caught in the doorway. “We agreed equal share,” Irvine growled. “I was just checking on it for us,” Val assured. “What are you doing here?” “The same. Just checking. I wanted to make sure we weren’t shaken by some huckster law man who can’t stay sober an afternoon,” said Irvine. The finally managed to squeeze inside. Friggan came from his office to meet them. “Come in. Come in!” He beckoned them in a drunken way that oozed relief that he had clients. “You’re brother is already here.” Irvine and Val looked at each other. Before they could question it too much the were ushered into Friggan’s office. Seated already was Felix. “Dear Margarite,” said Felix. “She was a splendid woman.” “She was,” Val said solemnly but with a little hesitation. “She was a one of a kind. You don’t meet women like that often,” said Irvine. “I’ll get the final paperwork,” offered Friggan. As he bounced into his desk and over to his files the three Stokers had a score to settle. “You rotten little cheat,” Val said to Felix. “To cheat you would to take something that isn’t yours. I’m just here for what’s mine,” Felix maintained. “You’re going to give it all away to poxy cats, aren’t you?” Irvine asked. “Don’t you realise what we could do, how much better off we would be if we worked together?” Suggested the knife thrower. “You’re too good a liar. I don’t like that,” said Val. “We just need a signature and we can get the funds released,” the lawyer returned with some documents. “Friggan did good didn’t he? I mean this is a good pay out. You’re gonna want to buy a drink for your old pal Friggan.” “You just need my signature don’t you, since I’m the eldest,” Val made a last ditch attempt. “I’ll need all three,” said Friggan leaning over the paper and looking like he was going to hurl. He looked up and pointed at them trying to count to make sure there were actually three. Gigi’s presence confused matters momentarily. When they finally departed with all the final details taken care of Val wrapped an arm around Felix. “You know some days I wonder where you came from but you are definitely a Stoker.” Felix chuckled. “I learned from the best and the worst.” “We’re going to be alright, baby brother,” Val assured them. “I do feel a little bad. Margarite left me the lion statue and nothing extra for you both,” Felix told them. “Because you’ve always been special,” Irvine said, rolling his eyes. He was still brooding about his payday being cut by two thirds.
The numbers flashed on the screen as the video played. 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 …
“You’re going to have the best day. We’re here to take all your troubles away. You’re going to dance and sing. You’ll smile at everything. Because Stoker Circus are on their way.”
The three brothers watched the old advert play out. The images burned away and were replaced by Adrien, who appeared to just be finishing adjusting his camera. “Valdrick, Irvine, Felix, if you are seeing this then the chances are something has gone wrong for me. Don’t worry though. It was bound to happen. You can’t outrun the Devil forever. You will be grown men now but if you will still take advice from your father I want you to take a look around yourselves. Our tents and our name has stood the test of time because we are able to brace for toughest times like a slug to the gut. It’s admirable and Irvine you are better at that than anyone I’ve ever known. Just remember not everyone wants to throw a punch. I hope you know the difference. Felix, you have such a kindly nature and I am always proud of you. Sometimes even the kindest need to be armed with knives but don’t let it make you forget who you are though. Valdrick, I know you have always been nervous of the future. You were always worrying about what was to come next. Don’t let that stop you enjoying what you already have. The beauty of what is now is when it’s then it’s no longer now and what seems so important now isn’t such a big deal then. You all have the chance to make people smile. No matter what goes on in the world what is the point of anything if you can’t make people smile? A Queen or a maid, a king or a pauper, it’s all same. They all need to smile. It’s worth taking those slugs in the gut for. I should probably tell you who Margerite was. She was a lady of the Luen Court. She was of noble birth and I captured her heart. She was your mother. That makes you royalty.” Val and Irvine’s eyes both widened. Val’s lips pursed in an expression that suggested he had that figured all along. Irvine began flicking his collar wishing he had starched it more. Fuck it. He would have a man servant to do that if he was going to be Royalty. “We’re the sons of a noble woman!?” Adrien seemed to savour their expression for a bit. Then he pouted. “Just kidding. Your mother was a trampolinist who drowned in a barrel of wine,” he told the camera. He smiled. “See? Tragic but you got to smile.” “Grinning ear to ear,” Groaned Irvine sarcastically. “My point is,” Adrien went on, “people like Lady Margarite need to smile and they are always appreciative of our own being able to make them. I hope you use her generosity wisely. Most importantly don’t forget to smile yourselves. There is only one rule in the Stoker tents and that is you cannot leave sad.”
There are many terrible deeds attributed to the Stoker family but I for one like to think of the true heart beneath it all. Adrien was an amazing man. Hanz was a war criminal. Felix was an honest hero always willing to help those in need. For Irvine everything had a price, even human lives. Where did that leave Valdrick? He seemed an explosive mix of all these things. His decisions would determine where the circus rolled to next and what kind of impression they would give. With his father’s voice ringing in his ears Valdrick used some of the money bequeathed by Lady Margerite to improve his show. Not all of it, he wasn’t a complete nonce, but it did breathe life into their dying show. Time would tell just how far this would go but for now I have some hope that Stoker Circus could fulfil Adrien’s wishes and be on hand to make people smile through tough times. Then again, the Circus had rode into Coldford where clowns were right at home.
When the daughter of an enemy comes to Val Stoker looking for a loan, the circus performer thinks his luck as rolled in! He has a conscience though. Not much but it is there and there is a bigger problem brewing.
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From the family of circus performers who hailed from the country of Levinkrantz, Freddy is the grandson of the legendary escape artist Adrien Stoker. Of the three Stoker tents (the red, blue and striped BigTop) Freddy leads the freak show from the red. He is a natural performer, learning from his ringmaster father, Irvine. Drawn to the macabre, Freddy enjoys making his audience squirm as he presents the most freakish sights.
Like the rest of his large family he will always be willing to perform on demand if the right person throws some coin into his ring. On the off season he acts as a crime scene cleaner. He is incredibly thorough in his observations which means cleaning up your messes is no sweat. His gymnastic skills and performance flair also see him well equipped to carry out home invasion robberies. He is a despicable little monster among but hey that’s show business!
The Stoker family contain the good, the bad and the downright fiendish. Freddy is of the latter. So if you have the stomach and the morbid curiosity then come on down whilst the circus is in town.
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Some lives are lived to excess. Some lives are lived well. Some lives are zapped right out of the good for nothing so and so which brings me back to the most shocking resident of this castle. Buzzkill is the end of the line for most of our inmates. His strap-like tentacles are one size fits all. When his three sister switches – past, present and future – are flicked, and Buzzkill begins to shake the life from his prey it causes the lights to flicker deep down here in the lowest depths right up to the dizzying heights.
They say Buzzkill is humane. I ask you, would you find it humane to park your rear in his grasp? As his long arms tighten around you I defy anyone to think to themselves, ‘what a delightful way to go.’
As guards lead in Buzzkill’s next meal, inmate 2000 (incidentally the amount of voltz he’s about have fired through him) we can see from the expression on his face he’s not feeling like it’s all very humane. .
His name was Elder McEery on the outside. He was raised on Hathfield Bay island. He spent his time frolicking in the sands, playing in the sea and bashing the heads of tourists in on behalf of the Church of St Wigan. They were vengeful types and not the hippy, loving, religious sorts they would seem. St Wigan was all about the righteousness and he had Elder believe he was just in dispatching heathens. The High Court of Coldford strongly disagreed. Death was his sentence and a seat on Buzzkill’s lap was the method.
“Do you have anything you wish to say before sentence is carried out?” Inmate 2000 was asked.
Elder sniffed. He would swear he could already feel the electricity firing through his body. The switches hadn’t been pulled yet. It was just the ice cold shards of nerves.
Looking upon Buzzkill’s layer is the viewing room separated by a thick glass partition which Christie and her grief counsellors gathered behind earlier in our tale. Some gather there to bear witness to the end of someone who did them wrong. Others might want to be the last thing the victim sees before that almighty bolt is thrown at them.
The viewing room is rather empty and somber for Elder. There is a woman dressed in modest clothes. She isn’t looking at him. She has her eyes closed. She is praying, clutching a purple ribbon in her hand. A filthy braid with more ribbons tangled in it flows down her back. There is another man there too. He’s a peculiar looking fellow who seems to have a mischievous grin about him even though he isn’t smiling. Mr Kutz has been tasked with assuring Elder is sent on his one-way trip to ask St Wigan himself it the dead tourists were necessary. They can all meet up in Hell and think, ‘well this is embarrassing.’
“For the heathens do not repent,” Wigan had said.
It is tough to repent when you have just watched your baby being crushed under rocks and know you’re going to be next.
“Do you have anything to say?” the inmate was asked again.
Elder could barely breathe. Buzzkill embraced him so tightly.
“Praise Wigan!” he gasped.
Praise him indeed.
The knowing grin of Kutz spread into an actual smile.
“Faithful to the end,” he said. “I suppose that is somewhat admirable.”
The first switch was pulled.
It began as a gentle tremor as Elder’s past caught up with him.
The second switch was pulled
Elder shook a little harder. He was locked in the present. He was locked in Buzzkill’s layer.
Buzz. Buzz. Buzzzzzzz.
The future lit up as the third switch was pulled. The future for Elder was one of eternal torment which is ironic considering the all knowing Wigan had him believe that was what he was saving himself from. I’m sure he can take that up with the manager when the ferryman ushers him to his final destination.
Buzzkill gnashed and Elder shuddered violently in his jaws. The lights flickered. The Wigan girl had interrupted her prayer to observe.
“No need for alarm,” he said in a way that was pleasant but not all reassuring. “That’s to be expected.”
“Gentlemen, for your crimes you are now in servitude to The Boss.”
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Given the new renovations at Perry Zoo were The Cappy’s way of reintroducing himself in a positive light, it was no surprise that the city was buzzing with excitement over its newest attractions.
‘Come meet Snowflake,’ Perry Zoo suggested with tantalising posters all the way from Bournton to Bellfield.
I had been at one of the checkpoints the Law Makers had set up leading from the Fullerton Bridge into Filton. I was following up on a story on Elizabeth Beckingridge. Apparently she had gotten so fed up with her imprisonment inside her mansion home that she made a bid for escape dressed in Gramps Beckingridge’s clothes and driving his old estate car, badly. She got as far as the Fullerton Bridge exit to Cardyne when she was stopped. She pulled the old skip cap off, took a draw of her cigarette, and demanded to know why she couldn’t just nip to Cardyne for a half café frap with cinnamon dusting.
The Law Makers demanded to know why she couldn’t just stay in her home as she was instructed.
“I was coming right back,” Elizabeth maintained. If she was, she wouldn’t have dressed in her grandfather’s jacket. So, the lockdown at Beck Manor was extended and tightened. She would learn, one way or another.
“It’s about time the rich elite got a bit of a lesson,” the Law Maker I had been interviewing gave his opinion on Judge Doyle’s hold on the city. “If that had been any of the rest of us, we’d be getting punished.”
Now that the initial excitement of Article 22 was over and the executions were somewhat slowing to a simmer, that seemed to be the general thinking of the people of Coldford.
“About time the elite of Coldford are held to account,” they said.
It pleased them to see the King of Main put to death for a career of violence when, for too long, his reputation and place in the city had kept him safe. Chick Owen, the man they called The Cappy, was confined to his home and examined closely. All of the money that the Beckingridge family had meant nothing when the picture hit the headlines of Elizabeth throwing her grandfather’s hat at the Law Maker that had dared to stop her.
“None of the rest of us would be getting away with that,” the Law Maker stationed at the bridge was only too happy to announce. It would be easy to assume that the Law Makers did hero-worship Doyle but that same point of view was spreading. The Shanties was still a tougher nut to crack and still believed Tabitha was a saviour. Bellfield wouldn’t see past the Mack family but they were still coughing through the ashes of the Black Bands visit to their distillery, not to mention the continued fight between Bellfield and their Northside neighbours. All in all, Article 22 was truly making a change. The powerhouses of Coldford were having to adapt to new rules and so were leading me on to a phase of Cold War in the Shady City.
As I was interviewing the Law Maker his attention was called to a convoy of trucks heading across the bridge towards Filton. There were five of them in total. The two leading and the two bringing up the rear had the print of Perry Zoo on the side. The one in the middle they were protecting had PROPERTY OF PERRY ZOO. CAUTION LIVE ANIMAL written on the side of it.
I reached my phone up. Click.
Just what Coldford needed when the streets were a circus already – wild animals.
Stoker circus originated in the country Levinkrantz. The Stokers have been a circus family for centuries. From the early days of street performing, to the travelling freak shows, to the modern day spectacles.
Irma Stoker was the first to meet Captain Henry Owen. She had stowed away on his ship when it stopped in Levinkrantz on the way to Coldford. He found her playing poker with his crew. She slept in the Captain’s bed that night and by the time they arrived in Coldford, Irma had already arranged for the rest of her family to join them. It was at a time when Hen needed numbers and the Stokers loved drawing crowds.
The Stoker Circus consisted of three tents. There was the red, the blue and the big top, which was set up in the centre of Perry Zoo. Boards had been put up through the night as they settled Snowflake into his new home.
“He’s a little tired from the journey but he’s doing good,” Austin was telling his zookeepers. “Don’t give him any hassle and keep him well fed or he’ll lash out.”
Milo was mesmerised. “When can we see Snowflake?” he asked Austin.
“Soon, lil’ mate,” he said. Austin was quite personable in his way. “We’re keeping him hush just now but he’ll be making his debut soon.”
“Wow!” Milo gasped. The moment he had heard Snowflake was being brought to Coldford he researched online videos of the creature, mostly feeding time demonstrations. I smiled as I noticed the young boy shake with excitement.
“You must be Sam Crusow,” Austin greeted me with a firm hand shake. “Seen your picture.”
“Chick have it on a dart board, did he?” I jested.
Austin gave a hearty laugh. “You’ve been causing a ruckus all round, mate,” he said. “No hard feelings though.”
Ozzy had a disarming charm. He was the kind of man that drew people to him in an organic sort of way. He put people at ease quickly and after only a few minutes of conversation they would feel they had been his friend for years.
“You guys enjoy the day. There’s lot’s to see and do.”
It was then he noticed Olivia’s pregnancy bump starting to show.
“Oh, and a little critter on the way! Exciting times. There’s a lot of ground to cover so if it gets too much you just let one of my guys know and they’ll set you right.”
He indicated a group of young men removing Kappa So jackets to change into zoo coveralls.
“I’d like to ask you some questions about what you are doing here and get your thoughts on current affairs,” I put to him.
Ozzy nodded. “Sure. You caught me at a busy time right now but we’ll grab a brew and we’ll talk it through. Just give me a day or two to get settled in.”
As we left Austin behind and ventured further into the zoo my mind became awash with memories of when I was about Milo’s age and my own father brought me to the zoo. Behind the gates the noise of the city suddenly seemed so far away.
The Stoker Big Top was mountainous in size. The striped pattern was intended to be whimsical and fun but the material – having lived through freak show attacks, the spreading of a measles outbreak and the Levinkrantz bomb blitz – carried a particular essence along with it. It was battered, beaten and dragged through a horrible history, still to be erected and entertain the masses. It would be admirable, if it weren’t for the fact that the more I learned about the Stokers, the more I was wary of them.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls. Step right up for a knuckle whiting, nail biting, full in your face exciting show. Take your seats. Set your eyes in front and prepare to clap your hands off. I’m Irvine Stoker and welcome to Stoker Circus.”
The audience were pushed closely together inside the Big Top tent. The large man next to me pressed closely. Milo was on my other side.
Irvine, standing in a dusty centre ring, clicked a remote push button and one of two screens behind him flashed on showing a group of clowns with varying make-up styles but in the signature Stoker blue and red.
“Blue tent, Chamberlain Docks, we’ve got some of the funniest clowns you ever did see. Don’t just take my word for it. Go on down and see them. You might just bust a gut!”
Irvine turned to the screen. “Show them what you got,” he said to his clowns.
The main clown, Olga Stoker, stepped up to the screen. She kissed it then spat water at it. As she did so water sprayed down on us in the Big Top crowd. The audience reacted excitedly.
Irvine clicked his button again. The second screen sparked into action.
“Red tent, City Main, we’ve got my boy, my little pride and joy. What you got there for us Freddy?”
Freddy Stoker could be seen on screen in a top hat and tails. He spun, collected a sign and as he turned back to the screen he held it up. It read STOKER CIRCUS PRESENTS: THE BECKINGRIDGE FAMILY.
Irvine laughed. “They might not look like you and I but if you can stomach it, go on up and take a gander.”
The screens disappeared up into the rafters.
“In this tent,” Irvine called with all the circus ring master swaggering showmanship. “Well, in this tent you’ve got me. Bring it on!”
A chorus of trumpets sounded as the lights lowered. Overhead two trapeze artists leapt, catching their swings, and tore across the huge tent from one side to the other.
Milo sat forward in his seat as a troupe of fire breathers danced around the ring. I was keen to keep an eye on Irvine’s whereabouts but I was distracted by the trapeze artists. They called them the Trapeezy Easys. They were a brother/sister duo in matching leotards, Eroll and Ethel. Ethel relaxed her grip as she swung overhead. There was no hesitation as Eroll, holding his own swing by his feet caught her and threw her onto the opposing platform.
I looked up to a balcony that had been created at the higher reaches of the Big Top. I could see Marshall Cooper leaning over with a beer in hand. He was cheering something. Austin Perry and The Cappy himself were sat with him.
Turning my focus back to centre ring, Irvine had disappeared amongst the commotion. The trumpets eased off. A spotlight flashed to the seat directly behind me. Irvine himself was sitting there.
“Don’t stay seated on my account,” he urged. “You need to be on your feet to really enjoy.”
As he leaped with long, insectile legs down the steps back to his ring, a wave of shock ran through the seats. It was just a gentle vibration but it caused the entire audience to stand up and ovate.
The Easys leapt again. This time it was Ethel holding her brother’s feet. As he swung he handed a rose to a young woman in the audience. She was beside herself with the flattery. Swept blonde hair, attractive, muscular tones, the Easys were quite alluring. I couldn’t help but notice Ethel blow a kiss as she passed overhead.
Milo was completely captivated by the performance. His smile was broad as he watched on in awe. Irvine reached his arms up and he was collected by the Easys and dropped onto the platform. He waved his arms comically as though he was going to lose his balance. He tumbled forward and Eroll caught his hands and dropped him safely back in his centre ring.
“Enjoy the show,” he cried.
The lights cut completely.
“What on earth is going on?” was Elizabeth’s question as she tried to reach the phone of board member Presley Cage. He had been having a meeting with the board to discuss Elizabeth’s permanent taking of the chair over her nephew.
“I don’t care,” had been George’s response over breakfast that morning as he peeled apart cold toast.
Elizabeth didn’t doubt that. He didn’t really have the ambition to sit at the top of Beckingridge Tower. It was probably one of the few qualities of his that his aunt actually liked. All he seemed interested in in those days were his Kappa So frat bros. What was giving her cause for concern was his work at Filton University was coming back with full marks. Either he had had a sudden spark of intelligence overnight or the more plausible explanation was someone was doing it for him.
The meeting had ended an hour ago. There should have been confirmation by now.
She could hear George giggling in the lounge.
“What has he gotten into now?” she grumbled to herself.
The noise of the laughter chilled her though. It reminded her of when he was a boy. That rotten little giggle never meant anything good.
When Elizabeth found him in the lounge his giggle had escalated, and he was now rolling around the floor in hysterics in front of the television reporting live news from City Main.
“What’s gotten into you?” she asked. “Shut up!” she barked impatiently.
“I’m a little man,” he laughed.
The aunt rolled her eyes. “Yes, you are. A tiny little man. Now shut up. Your laughing is like a hammer drill and I already have a headache.”
“Oh look, it’s dad!”
It was then Elizabeth turned her attention to the screen. Freddy Stoker was introducing the acts from the red tent to the public.
“I’m Ernest Beckingridge,” said a man in clown make up, “and I’m the saddest clown you ever did see.”
A blue tear drop was painted on his cheek.
Set up directly across from Beckingridge Tower, at the entrance of Weir Hotel. The Stoker red tent was gathering a crowd.
“This is my son, George,” the sad clown Ernest went on.
George was played by Fritz Stoker – a sufferer of dwarfism. George pointed at the little person and laughed even harder. Sad clown Ernest sighed and rested his chin on his hand as little George danced around him and chased passers-by. Astounded by the boldness of the performance people were beginning to stop, raising phones and recording.
Sad clown Ernest sobbed. “That’s my boy. I have a daughter too. She’s a princess.”
Here Freddy ushered a young woman wearing a flowing cloak forward.
Hilda Stoker was a beauty. Her make-up was glamorous.
“Princess?” she said. “More like prisoner. I just don’t know whether I’m coming or going and all I want is a bit of attention.”
Here she lifted her cloak as though she were flashing her underwear with her tongue in cheek. Raising her cloak, she presented Tootsie. Hilda and Tootsie were conjoined twins. The upper body and left leg of Tootsie stuck out from Hilda’s abdomen. A mute Tootsie just stared at the crowd.
Ernest – the sad clown – dropped his head into his hands and shook it in despair.
“I’d be able to cope with the children if it weren’t for my dragon of a sister.”
“That bastard!” Elizabeth almost screamed as a woman dressed similar to her slapped sad clown Ernest causing him to fall into a tumble. The gathered crowd roared with shocked laughter at the Elizabeth portrayal as she screamed at them, waving her arm like some pantomime villain. They called her the dragon lady and playing her to maximum effect was Heidi Stoker – better known as the lizard woman in the circus circles. Her entire body was tattooed with scales, her eyes permanently yellowed, her teeth ground sharp and her tongue forked.
“What you staring at?” she challenged the audience as the Elizabeth character.
There were more gasps, more phones and more recording. Rodney Weir had come to the entrance of his hotel and could be seen watching in the background.
It hadn’t been her own portrayal, though, that had Elizabeth seething. In Heidi’s arms was a small infant. Little Edle Stoker was being held out as a portrayal of Vicky. Like her mother, her skin was completely scaled. If she cried out it would be seen her little tongue was forked.
Elizabeth had been so angered by the freak show comparison, she hadn’t noticed Freddy was wearing Gramps’ clothes the Law Makers had confiscated from her until he slipped on Gramps’ old skip cap.
“I’m Jeffrey Beckingridge,” he said. “They make statues of me, name everything after me and this is my legacy.”
Finally Presley returned the call.
“Have you seen this?” Elizabeth asked without greeting.
“I’ve just had to walk through it,” said Presley. “The whole of City Main has turned out. They’re selling bloody merch!”
“It’s outrageous,” Elizabeth responded. “Shut it down right now before I turn that lizard woman into a fucking purse!”
“We have bigger problems,” Presley tried to say.
“Look at that baby. For God’s sake they’re exploiting the poor child,” Elizabeth went on. “Where at the Law Makers when you need them?”
“Elizabeth, listen to me,” Presley had to interrupt. “I’ve been voted off the board. The board is no longer ours.”
Elizabeth rang off from Presley. She looked to George who was still enjoying the Stoker show. The tower was as good as gone.
It had been a long morning but Chick Owen was pleased to hear of progress being made. Marshall had a list of potential buyers for the Auction House and as he scrolled down the page the offers became higher. He had hoped – for the sake of peace in City Main – The Auction House would be returned to Penn hands but as Marshall pointed out there was likely more money in having their other competitors bid. At least for now. It would make the Penns nervous and make negotiations easier on their side. Besides he had tried reaching out to Reggie. Faulds Park allowed the call through but he was unable to reach the Penn boy. Instead, a young girl was screaming down the phone at him trying to hear what he was saying over the loud music. It sounded like complete chaos and no one seemed to know or be able to locate the master of the house.
Ozzy had confirmed a huge donation on behalf of Stoker Circus and the zoo to various charitable causes. Helping worthy causes of course, but also helping the public see Owen Inc. and its associates weren’t complete monsters.
Finally, Kathleen stopped by to run the Coldford Daily headlines by him and she had captured exactly the stories the city needed. They were the kind of stories that had attracted me to the newspaper in the first place.
COLDFORD CITY STANDS STRONG.
SILENT MARCH ACROSS FULLERTON BRIDGE SPEAKS VOLUMES.
She even had her little chickadees come over to the Chapter House to boot the boys into very visible community service.
Charles ‘Chick’ Owen was pleased. He was resting back easy in his chair considering his next move. He had just been about to consider all was well when the announcement of his brother’s arrival was made.
Ronnie seemed like he was in a bit of a rush.
“Ronnie?” Chick said. “You look like you’ve been ridden hard and hung up wet.”
Ronnie spotted Kathleen. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“How you doing Ron?” Kathleen asked. “Drink?”
“No, thank you,” Ronnie refused.
Kathleen poured her own, a vintage Waldens merlot that she and The Cappy favoured.
“You look like you could use one,” she teased.
“I’d like a word with Chick, if you don’t mind,” Ronnie politely requested.
It was Chick who refused. “It’s fine, Ron,” he said. “We can talk.”
Ronnie knew full well that Kathleen had been helping air Owen dirty laundry since she and The Cappy were teenagers but he was hesitant.
“You’ll be getting word from the Law Makers soon but I wanted to run it past you first.”
Concern ripped across Chick’s face. “What’s Buddy done now?”
Ronnie shook his head. “It’s not Buddy. It’s…”
The two Kappa Elders were eyeing him closely.
“A decision will be made on Tabitha soon. I wanted to see where the line would be drawn with the Law Makers first before I informed you because I will be providing her defence.”
Chick scowled at first. “That girl is to go back to jail where she belongs and she will consider herself in the Lord’s good mercy that she still has her head.”
“I think she should stay at The Knock Knock Club.”
Chick scoffed, shaking his head. “And I think being in this city too long has driven you out of your mind.”
Ronnie tried to explain his reasoning. “If she stays at her club she will be under serious guard and she’s more likely to keep quiet. If she returns to prison she’s just going to keep gnawing her way out and her supporters will continue making trouble on her behalf.”
“Then I return to my previous sentiment. Cut the damn snake’s head off,” Chick growled.
“Then you make a martyr of her,” Kathleen spoke up.
Ronnie was pleased he had some support.
“Legally, the Law Makers are going to want the death penalty carried out but she will be much less of a problem if she stays home. They kill her, her people won’t stand for it and we’re torn away having to cover our asses. A little show of leniency now, or even support, could go a long way to putting things right,” said Kathleen.
The Cappy asked, “How much leniency?”
Kathleen went on. “I’m no lawyer like Ronnie here, but until Mayor Feltz turns up there are plenty of better candidates to take the heat.”
“I’m not hearing that,” warned Ronnie.
“Of course you’re not. I simply mean that Feltz had enemies, lots of enemies. It seems unfair to single the young girl out.”
Ronnie eased off. That had exactly been the defence he had used for Tabitha.
“She’s a troubled little girl who has her crimes – no mistake – but they should have just let her go to the damn club in the first place. I watched interviews with her as a kid. She was a real wild one but what do you do when an animal can’t be controlled? You can put her to death which we’ve already agreed will make a martyr of her or you can lock her away. She’s not going to gnaw through the cage she’s always wanted to be in and it keeps her cheering spectators happy.”
Ronnie grinned. He was pleased to have Kathleen’s support.
“It’s a tough ask, Chick,” the lawyer put to his brother. “But it means dropping Jerry’s charges.” The Cappy’s eyes widened. Before he could say anything Ronnie added, “Jerry was a piece of shit. I have no doubt in my mind what she says about him was true.”
The Cappy knew this. After all he had been cleaning Jerry’s messes when Ronnie was still running around in his little tightie whiteys. As young man, Chick learned that Jerry had taken a couple of girls into his vestry. Both of them were only fourteen years old. Chick warned the girls’ parents to keep them clear and in exchange for their silence – the girls claimed nothing had happened – Pops had Jerry sent to St Michael’s in Coldford. Jerry had made his bed. Now its piss-stained sheets had to be changed every day, he was spoon fed his meals, and there was no way of knowing if he truly regretted almost dragging his entire family to the bowels of Hell with him.
“Before you make any legal move, this is quite an ask as you say and I would like to speak her. If it’s going to put the minds of those that follow her at rest then it might be a good place to start.”
“I don’t think that’s wise,” said Ronnie.
The Cappy was still confident in his decision. “I think it’s something that should have been done a long time ago.”
“We’re moving on, boys,” said Kathleen. “Time to let sleeping dogs lie.”
Ronnie nodded. He stood. There was no time to lose. Chick was good at looking people in the eye that had done him wrong and still maintaining his composure. Tabitha – on the other hand – was not. However, it was the only sure way of removing that pendulum above her head. She would see the sense in listening to options. He hoped.
“Bye, Ron,” Kathleen called as she closed the door of The Cappy’s den over.
“Also,” she said to Chick when they were alone. “When things are put right again she’ll make an excellent scape goat.”
The Cappy raised his eyebrows.
“Just saying,” she added.
Chick smiled and sighed. “Why did I never marry you?”
Kathleen chuckled. “Because I’ve got the bigger balls.”
Laughing, The Cappy declared, “I love you, Kathleen.”
Kathleen collected her designer hand bag to leave. “I love you too, you old prick.”
The car phone was breaking up.
“I can’t hear you,” Jeremy was groaning. “I’ll have to call you when I land.”
The Auction House was being put up for sale again and as the Chief Auctioneer for the Penns and their acquisitions agent, it was important he got the support he needed to get it back where it belonged.
Jean Luc – his counterpart in Luen – hadn’t been happy new king Marcus was unable to see him, and it wasn’t worth having Reggie speak. The youngest triplet was still messed up and kept forgetting things. It didn’t help that he had barely been sober since he got back. His poor mother would be so worried. His father would be too. That was why Jeremy was now having to kiss Jean Luc’s arrogant ass. He wouldn’t be causing such a fuss if Reginald was still alive but the Penns needed the help from Luen. Jeremy was hoping that if he went to Luen he would be able to arrange a call between Marcus and Jean Luc. Marcus would be able to request the help in Coldford that Reggie so desperately needed.
“I’ll arrive around midnight,” Jeremy called to the car phone.
“You are wasting your time,” said Jean Luc. “I’ll speak to Marcus only. It’s disappointing he isn’t able to speak for himself. Too busy being a hired thug for some stupid little girl with a grudge.”
“Enule!” Jeremy barked.
“Pardone?” Jean Luc challenged.
“I said enule. Fuck you! I’m on my way and when we I get there, you’ll talk to Marcus. I’ll arrive around midnight,” Jeremy called to the car phone before cutting it off, hoping that Jean Luc got the message.
The road towards Cardyne across the bridge was thankfully quiet. The Law Makers’ blockade had been removed.
Another call came through. This time it was Reggie.
“I, uh,” he hesitated.
“A lot of City Main ones in,” he said. “They said they know me but I don’t recognise them.”
“Where are the agents?” asked Jeremy.
“They’re outside. They’re not letting anyone in.”
“Then what’s the trouble?”
Reggie coughed. He had been smoking too much weed.
“It just felt rude if they did know me. Turning people away from the door seemed pretty shitty.”
Jeremy inhaled sharply. “Reggie, we spoke about this. It’s dangerous. Just sit tight until I get back. Stay close to Tabitha and do not let anyone in.”
“I know,” Reggie agreed. He was feeling a little tired. It wouldn’t hurt to lay low. “But Tabitha’s not here.”
“Where is she?”
“She’s still being held at the club.”
“Can no one run anything past me these fucking days?!” Jeremy despaired. “Reggie, sit tight. I’m turning back.” Reggie couldn’t be left alone, not with the state he was in. Not with strangers knocking on the doors. The agents were stretched thin as it was, and they could only do so much.
So Jeremy turned at the junction at the Fullerton Bridge Cardyne exit. As he made his way back across, heaving headlights filled his windscreen from an oncoming car.
Jeremy brought his car to a halt. The car in front stopped too. The Auctioneer raised his arm to shield his eyes from the glare.
Through the light, Cherry jerked forward to take the first gnashing bite.
Jeremy pulled his car away as quickly as he could. He slammed his foot onto the pedals and sped off but he had only just managed to get his car up to 70mph when Sunny zoomed past. She had reached the edge of the bridge just as Emerald charged through the darkness into a spin, completely cutting him off.
Click. Click. Click.
Then came the spotter in blue.
Jeremy struggled to catch his breath as he lay in the mud. The Cherry pit crew had beaten him badly whilst Sunny’s watched and Sky click, click, clicked. He thought he was going to drown. He could barely move and with each breath he was taking in a mouthful of mud. He tried to explain such sentiments to his captors but they fell on deaf ears. They were too busy exchanging Kappa So handshakes.
‘Fucking brothers for life. Bullshit,’ thought Jeremy bitterly.
There was quite a group gathering. Buddy and his bros, Jeremy recognised. They had gotten into scuffles with the triplets before and they had been the ones Reginald let go after the execution of Pops.
A door of a white Cooper SUV slammed. Three more arrived. Police commissioner Billy Owen, the circus ring master Irvine Stoker, and his son Freddy.
There was one watching him intently though, as the rest gathered around. The Cappy himself. His attention was stolen by the hand of his cousin on his shoulder.
“Where’s Isaac?” The Cappy asked.
Billy lowered his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “No one’s heard from him.”
The Cappy sighed. “Get your team together Billy,” he warned.
Billy admitted, “I’m afraid it gets worse. There’s something you need to know.”
The Cappy urged him to continue. Meanwhile Austin Perry hovered close to Jeremy.
“What’s going on, Bill?” Chick questioned.
Billy fell into a repenting cry, “I was hoping to be able to clear this so no dirt fell on you but we had an issue with Cameron Doyle. He came looking for rat boy and he pulled a gun.”
The Cappy gasped, “Jesus, Billy, he’s dead?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”
Before Chick could respond further Billy cried, “I’m so sorry Captain. You trusted me with a task and I let you down. You’re gonna be real mad and I don’t blame you. Just tell me what to do to make it right and I will.”
Buddy – so used to disappointing The Cappy – thought to himself, ‘Jeez Bill, reel it in, brah.’
Dale Cooper was busy watching Jeremy, wondering when someone was going to start paying attention to the man writhing in the mud under Ozzy’s boot.
“If you want to put a bullet in my head right now I won’t blame ya,” Billy went on. “I failed,” he said. “I messed up.”
Satisfied with Billy’s repentance, The Cappy clutched his cousin.
“Calm down,” he said, but inside he was thinking, ‘Cameron fucking Doyle!’
Billy opened his eyes to see Marshall Cooper clutching his chest as though to say, ‘Tit.’
“What did you do with the body?” Chick enquired.
“I don’t want to implicate you any more than necessary,” said Billy.
The Cappy patted his shoulder. “It’s fine. I need to know the details.”
“We moved him to an abandoned Bergman mine. It was the only reason I brought that Jew fuck in,” Billy ranted.
“Does Isaac know? Is that why he isn’t here?”
“We’re tracking him down.”
Chick put the question to his team. “So what are we going to do now?”
Irvine Stoker seemed completely undisturbed by the predicament.
“We can stop those sneaky, money grubbing, dirty…Bergmans,” said the ring master with a wry smile.
“Fine we’ll deal with that later,” suggested Chick. “Right now we got more pressing concerns.”
It was then he finally addressed Jeremy.
“You sir,” he began. “I have not forgotten what you did with my compass. You deliberately set out to make a fool of me and I do not take that kindly.”
‘Holeeee fuck!’ Buddy thought to himself. ‘He’s really going to do this.’
The setting – dear readers – which I should make clear now was Perry Zoo. It was a cold night where breath began to escape the lips in a fine mist. Winter was setting in. Jeremy heard something move in the great pool of water behind him. The sign above his head read ‘Snowflake – Coming Soon.’
Austin drew a knife from his pocket.
“Sorry mate,” he said. “War is Hell.”
Jeremy screamed as his Achilles’ tendons were cut. First the right foot, then the left. Jeremy’s shrill cry caused Austin to look back over his shoulders. Ripples were gathering.
“You might wanna step back,” Austin announced to his brothers as he skipped over Jeremy’s writhing body and up the embankment.
“You bastards!” Jeremy managed to scream. “You’ll not get away with this.”
“Dad?” Chad appealed to Austin.
“Just step back there, son,” Ozzy warned.
The Cappy was watching the water.
“C’mon Snowflake, my gorgeous boy. Come and get it,” he muttered.
Buddy shivered. It wasn’t doing him much good watching this sober. Had he been full of powder, it might have been hilarious but with a sober mind his father looked like a real fucking psycho.
Still in pain, Jeremy tried to pull himself up the ledge but kept slipping in the mud. He was losing strength fast. His cries of pain and fear were only drawing interest and the ripples were becoming angrier.
Irvine was grinning, as was Freddy. Billy had lit a cigarette, probably glad he had gotten his own troubles off his chest and could now relax and enjoy the show.
Like some monstrous creature Hen Owen was reputed to have fought upon the high seas, an oversized albino alligator leapt from the water. Jeremy tried to scramble away but he wasn’t fast enough. He only kept slipping back down the verge. Snowflake charged towards him. His reptilian limbs stomped through the mud.
Jeremy just missed the first bite. It only made Snowflake angry.
This time his leg was caught. Snowflake chomped down. His powerful jaws crunched through bone.
“Jesus!” Dale Cooper reacted. Like his bro, he too was having a hard time with the sobriety of the situation. He turned away but he could feel his father’s hand clutch the back of his neck.
“Don’t act like a little pussy,” warned Marshall.
Dale took a deep breath and watched on.
“Wooooh!” Irvine cheered as Snowflake wrapped his jaws around Jeremy’s midriff.
With a great heaving shake of his hefty body and a lash of his tail, he started to drag Jeremy towards the water.
Jeremy’s scream was a gargle of blood and some of the mud he was choking on as he was dragged. The brothers watching him had fallen silent. He could hear the lashing behind him as Snowflake entered the water, pulling him with him. The sudden icy cold chill shocked his heart. Trying to shake free of the alligator’s maw was only causing the razor-sharp teeth to clench down harder. The tear into his abdomen was irreparable so when he slipped under the water, watching the faces staring down at him as he was dragged into the abyss, it no longer mattered.
Snowflake – better known as the puppy snatcher in the parts where he had been picked up – had been causing havoc in Swamp State, snatching up the dogs of little old ladies walking past. Unchecked he had grown so big he began to attack the little old ladies themselves. An alert was raised in the local community. Sightings of the albino monster in the local area were registered.
When the residents of the community stopped walking his prey past the General John Swamp he had made home, he grew bored and ventured further into Johnsville.
Nine-year-old local Ahmed Chauncey called the authorities when he awoke one morning to find the fencing around his family’s property had been torn open. Four of the chickens had been eaten and a still-hungry Snowflake lay at the bottom of the muddied-up family pool.
The Perry Zoo in Swamp State sent their best specialists to capture the beast, led by Ozzy himself. The Cappy had been visiting at the time and instantly fell in love with the alligator.
“What a magnificent snappa’” he gushed.
And so. he organised a sponsorship for it to be kept at Perry Zoo in Star State.
A magnificent snappa’ indeed. Now, a razor-toothed resident of Coldford City.
Chick had come to Harbour House alone. He was greeted initially by Agent Kim.
“I trust my son has been behaving,” he asked.
“He’s quiet for now,” the agent informed him.
“He’s shown remarkable improvement. I hope you will take that into account during your investigations,” said The Cappy.
Kim replied, “I’m taking everything into account.”
The Cappy nodded, “I know.”
“Before you go see him, Olivia Hickes would like a word with you,” said Kim.
At that Chick was led to the office Olivia held at Harbour House for those the agents brought in for support – violent homes, missing persons, addicts, etc.
They shook hands and sat across her desk from each other.
“Mrs Hickes, it’s a pleasure,” The Cappy began.
She smiled. He liked the way she smiled. It was warm, soft and comforting.
“It’s good to meet you, Charles,” she said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
The Cappy laughed. “Don’t believe all the rumours. So, what can I do for you?”
“There’s something I want you to hear,” she said. “It’s from Bernard’s last therapy session. We’re obliged to hold confidentiality unless we feel the resident is a danger or in danger. I don’t want to abuse his trust but I really think it’s important you hear what he has to say.”
Chick found himself feeling nervous. There was a little flutter of butterflies within his stomach he had never experienced before. He was always so sure of his ability to handle anything. With Olivia, it seemed so much more personal. For some reason it wasn’t quite the same when she seemed to be sympathetic towards Buddy rather than complaining about him.
“What’s he done?” was the automatic question.
“He’s not in trouble,” Olivia stated. “But I warn you, what you are about to hear will be a little difficult to take so if you wish for me to stop I will.”
“If there is a cause for concern,” said the Cappy, “I really should hear.”
Olivia brought the recorder over and pushed play. The Cappy recognised Buddy’s cough.
“So, Bernard,” said Justin, the counsellor. “We made some good progress last time getting to the route of your addiction. You were thirteen when you first sampled cocaine, correct?”
“Eleven,” Buddy replied. He coughed again. His voice sounded a little odd, like something really heavy was hanging on the tones. “My Uncle Jerry gave me some. He pulled me into the store closet of the Star State house and I snorted that shit.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“What? No, brah. Not at first. Who wants to be trapped in a closet snorting coke off another bro’s dick? That’s faggy shit.”
Justin stopped him. “Excuse me?”
“Yeah, it was a game Jerry liked to play when I was a little kid. He said if I liked it enough, I’d snort it off anything. I hated that. I just wanted to play cowboys and shit. I was like, leave me alone brah. But when that buzz hit, woohwee, my eyes were opened. I was in heaven and Jerry was God.”
“It’s funny you should use that term with him being a priest,” Justin commented.
“Yeah. He told me he had God Balls. I’m a kid, balls barely dropped and I’m bouncing off the walls thinking it was the funniest shit I ever heard. He told me he’d show me how to have God Balls too.”
“More games?” Justin asked.
“It wasn’t easy. I mean it takes a helluva lot. He believed in me though. He was damn near the only person who did.”
“You trusted his advice?”
Buddy coughed again. “Man never steered me wrong. He was always there for me. Made me what I am today…”
Buddy paused. He must have been giving thought to exactly what he was.
“He’s the reason I am what I am,” he said, softer. As though he were speaking to himself rather than his counsellor.
“E’body laughs at the idea I could have a chick like Lydia. I get that brah, but I got a lot to offer.”
Calmly, Justin commented, “You seem to have trouble forming connections with women.”
“Jerry told me that having God Balls meant you didn’t have to, chicks just lined up to lick those bad boys.”
“Your first sexual encounter with a female was not a pleasant one?” asked Justin.
“I was scared,” Buddy admitted. “I mean I had wood so hard. The girl Jaycee Miles – you always remember your first, right? – she was screaming merry Hell and not in a good way. Not like in the movies. She was screaming because she was hurt. There was blood everywhere. I thought I had burst her or something. Jerry was there yelling at me to keep fucking her. He said she liked it. Brah, she was not liking it. I wanted to stop. Jaycee was crying for her mama. Jerry was tugging on his own dick, watching us. He said that since it was my first time, he wanted to make sure I did it right. I wasn’t a kid anymore. Not after hearing Jaycee scream like that. She was a kid too. Jerry fucked her first to break her in. So, I’m to take my turn and he’s yelling at me. He knew better about it than I did. I wanted those God Balls so I didn’t complain.”
“Did you tell anyone about this?” Justin asked.
“And make it seem like I’m some kind of whiney pussy?” Buddy went on. “Jerry told me that If I did talk about it, he would tell everyone I was a fag. I didn’t want that. Not after seeing what happened with my Uncle Teddy. Besides, who was I going to tell? The Cappy was never there – travelling everywhere and anywhere that wasn’t home, and my mama? When she wasn’t boning Uncle Walt she was passed out. Who would believe me anyway? Besides, he kept giving me powda’. Jaycee tried to call him out. Her family shipped her off to some Christian camp. I was scared bro. I was drugged, buzzing my balls off on powda’ and trying to drown Jaycee’s screaming out. I figured if I could handle that, I could handle anything. I was invincible.”
“Do you realise now that what happened to you was wrong?” Justin put to him delicately.
Buddy gave another cough.
“I didn’t want him making me scream like Jaycee. I did at first. I learned to stay quiet after that. I started to hate that closet, when that door was closed over. I didn’t want any of that shit. I reckon Bill found out. I overhead him one night telling Jerry that if he found another pair of bloody pants, he would cut his dick off. He might not have been talking about me, I had been so careful to hide my bloody pants, but he did stay away from me after that. Then I came to Coldford.”
The recording ended. Olivia pushed a box of tissues towards Chick but he refused them.
“I’m fine,” he said, although the emotions were flooding his mind.
“It’s a lot to take,” Olivia said. “But abuse survivors often fall into self-destructive patterns and addictions.”
‘He was not abused. He was not abused,’ was all the Cappy could think.
“Because of the nature of this recording it is still kept confidential unless Bernard himself wishes to take it further.”
“Thank you, ma’am. My boy is a handful but despite it all you chose to listen to him. You heard his cries for help, something by his own admission I failed to do.”
“He has a long way to go, I won’t lie to you, but now that you know, you can truly help him,” said Olivia.
“If I may request that I keep that recording?” Chick asked.
Olivia was unsure. “You can rest assured it won’t fall into the wrong hands here.”
Chick realised her misunderstanding.
“At this time that is the least of my concerns. I would like to process this and some day when we’re ready, Buddy and I can discuss it.”
“Okay,” Olivia agreed.
Chick found Buddy having just alighted from the pool. Lydia was escorting him. They both seemed relaxed.
“You brought your time down then?” asked the father.
Chick was pleased to see Lydia giggle at Buddy’s enthusiasm. Despite the nature of their meeting and despite the fact he was still technically in her custody he hoped Buddy would stay clean and create a good impression on her. Or stay clean long enough to cleanse himself of the horrific nonsense Jerry had filled his head with.
“Going to lift some weights,” Buddy announced. “You wanna see how much I’m pressing these days?”
Chick smiled. “Sure.”
“You want some coffee, Mr Owen?” Lydia asked.
“Thank you, agent, but I’m fine. Please, call me Chick.”
The recording in question was given to me by Chick himself. I was surprised at this.
“Why not to the Daily or Kathleen?” I enquired.
“Because they will seek to protect me and whilst Jerry shares my name, I won’t risk them trying to protect him. You are independent and I trust you will tell the right people about this at the right time,” was The Cappy’s sentiment.
With an agreement in place for me to hold the recording until requested, The Cappy took Kathleen’s advice and reached out to another of Jerry’s victims.
“Well, hello, cunt,” grinned Tabitha, as she sat down in the room set aside in Harbour House for she and Charles ‘Chick’ Owen to discuss their terms.
Chick was not impressed by her bravado. “My, my. That is mighty foul language for a little girl,” he met the challenge.
“You must have heard worse,” Tabitha retorted. “Or someone hasn’t been passing along my fucking messages.” She looked around her, gauging the exit. “So, what do you want?”
“It occurred to me that whilst we both wish to move forward it makes no sense that we would continue to hold each other back. So, I would like to open negotiations whereby we can discuss terms that are mutually beneficial to us.”
Tabitha pouted. “I know what negotiations means. Why should I?”
“I would help you remain in your beloved bar,” he put to her.
The Boss Lady was sceptical. “Why would you do that?”
The Cappy replied, “Because I believe you will keep your part of the city in order.”
“What’s in it for you?” she asked.
“Peace of mind,” was his response. There was a pause. “There will be a condition attached.”
Tabitha rolled her eyes. “There it is.”
“Should you violate our agreement and trouble stirs, you will be returned to prison or worse. In the spirit of reciprocity, I will make sure your area has no hassle from any of my Kappa So brothers.”
Tabitha was considering her options.
“Here’s the part where you make your terms known,” The Cappy pushed.
Tabitha scowled. She leaned forward on the table. “If you talk down to me one more time, you riddle-spinning cunt, I’m going to open your throat.”
Feeling confident, The Cappy asked, “With what?”
Tabitha’s gap-toothed smile widened.
“I can be very creative,” she assured.
The Cappy looked behind him to check Tawny and Ronnie were still waiting by the door. Satisfied she had made her point; Tabitha leaned back again and folded her arms across her chest.
“I want your son for the murder of a little girl named Sarah,” she requested.
The Cappy shook his head. “Buddy is out of reach. His involvement in any murder was never proven.”
As he looked at The Boss Lady, he couldn’t help but notice the little markings across her nose. It was an unusual thing to notice and such a small thing but it played a huge part in humanising her. He had heard so much about her and now she was sat across the table from him, so close he could see those little markings on her nose. She was so much younger than he.
“I will not give you Buddy. That is non-negotiable. But I will give you Jerry.”
“You would?” Tabitha was liking the direction the negotiations were taking.
The Cappy nodded. “If it will satisfy your vengeance and offer you some closure.”
“Then your son is the one that does it but I want it all documented. I’m not wanting you throwing me to the dogs for it. I’m not that stupid. If any of your freak show family try anything, I put your son down like the sick pup he is.”
“Agreed,” said The Cappy.
“And you will help the Penns – Simon and Marcus – out, too. City Main needs them.”
“And this worries me how?” asked Chick.
Tabitha shrugged. “You said you wanted the city in order. I can speak for the Shanties but City Main will only listen to the Penns.”
The Cappy was given pause for thought.
Tabitha laughed, “How’s that for fucking negotiations?”
“I will consider the Penns,” Chick said.
“It’s the least you could do for killing their dad and don’t get me started on what your lot did to Reggie,” the Boss Lady saw fit to comment.
“Reginald Penn…” The Cappy began, but Tabitha stopped him.
“You killed him, or at least as good as, but if you help Marcus and Simon, I’m sure they might just be willing to keep the peace.”
And so it was, an unprecedented peace agreement was reached, which if anyone had told me Tabitha would be partially responsible for, I would have laughed until my ribs hurt.
“Prison changes a girl, Sam,” she said at the time.
The changes in her and The Cappy were only to show Judge Doyle them playing nice together. They still had their axes to bury. The war between them was far from over. It had just turned cold under Judge Doyle’s hammer.
As he stood to leave The Cappy said to her, “What Jerry did to you was despicable. He tried to steal something from you that should never be stolen from another person. I am sorry.”
Tabitha blinked. It had been the last thing she had expected to hear.
Chick had been thinking of his son when he said, “I just wish you had come directly to me.”
“Would it have made a difference?” Tabitha asked.
“I like to think it would have. Regardless of what you may think, I never condoned his behaviour.”
“I know,” Tabitha agreed. “I wasn’t the one who cut his dick off.”
Chick raised his chin. “Another charge you’ll find removed if you and I can stay out of each other’s way.
“Generous fucker, aren’t you?” Tabitha teased.
“I’m optimistic for the future,” The Cappy told Ronnie as they parted. “We have some kinks still to iron out but we’ll get there.”
Helping the Boss Lady remain at The Knock Knock Club was a bold move for the Owen Inc. CEO. Personally, I would rather swim with Snowflake.
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