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Knock Knock: Episode 32: Forgiveness is for Fools

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

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

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

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

What was he going to say? Sorry? 

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

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

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

“For which part?” I asked.  

Dennis gripped the door. “All of it.”  

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

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

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

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

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

“How have you been?” he asked.  

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

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

“And Milo?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?” asked Olivia.  

Dennis nodded but he couldn’t look at her.  

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

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

Written by Milo Platt. 

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

“I can’t,” he began. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Seriously?”  

Olivia nodded.  

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

*** 

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

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

“Hello?” 

I smiled. Reuniting with an old source was like reuniting with an old friend.  

“Terry! So good to speak to you. It’s Sam Crusow.”  

Buzzzzz. The line went dead. He had hung up on me. I held the phone out. “Well, that’s rude,” I muttered.  

Agent Kim Adams took the phone from me. She redialled and after a brief wait, she said, “Agent Adams, Terry. The agent you spoke to when the docks were seized?” She smiled. “That’s right, Agent Adams. You just hung up on a friend of mine.” She cheered, “Yeah, Sam Crusow. He wants a little natter with you. Will you listen?”  

She passed the phone back to me. “He’ll listen. Go ahead.”  

“Sam? I thought you said Tam. We’ve been getting a lot of prank calls from those skater lads since the seizure.”  

“Uh huh,” I agreed. There was no use arguing. With Owen Inc. continuing to make me look like public enemy number one he wasn’t the first of my old sources to refuse my call.  

“I’m following up on my story on the mayor,” I said. “He and Waddle were friends. I chased Jim Feltz to the Knock Knock Club – well it just so happened to coincide with the Law Makers seizing the club. When I looked into why that was the case, I discovered the owner of the club has gone missing because she may have dirt on someone high up. Those high ups may very well have had dirt on Feltz and Waddle. That brings me back to you, Terry.”  

The line had gone silent. I worried he had hung up on me again.  

“Are you with me there, Terry?”  

The operations manager groaned. “Yeah, I kinda follow you Sam but what use do you think I am?”  

“I’m looking for any information I can get on a prostitute Dennis was close to. He took her to the Knock Knock Club. You remember Dennis Platt, right?”  

Terry was becoming irate. “Yes, everyone around Chamberlain knows Dennis. Got a dose of aids up his arse I heard. What of him?”  

“The prostitute’s name was Chloe Grover. She came to him from Harbour House.”  

“Why don’t you talk to her herself then?” he asked.  

“I already have. She told me all about what they did to her. It could be coincidence but the name Terry Wilson was one she remembered. That’s strange, isn’t it? What’s your surname again Terry?”  

Terry groaned. “What do you want from me Sam?”  

“Chloe’s story is unfortunately the same story a lot of girls down your way share. The Reverend Owen was a frequent purchaser of the young girls but I needn’t tell you that.”  

“If you want me to testify against an Owen you must be cracked. What they’re doing to you now? That is just a warning. They’ll skin you alive.”  

I agreed, “I know. I’m surer now than ever that that’s why the Baroness of the Knock Knock Club is missing but I’m not putting you in the firing line. Your confidence is important to me. I promise whatever information you have given me will be kept strictly confidential.”  
“I haven’t said anything,” he objected. “I didn’t say anything about the Owens.”  

I stayed the course. “But you agree with me that they are deliberately ruining my reputation to shut me up.”  

“Stop putting words in my mouth!”  

“Thanks for your concerns, Terry. They are giving me a hard time but being a powerful name, it’s hard for people like you and me to combat. We’re just average Joes really.”  

“Dammit Sam. I never said anything about the Owens.”  

I was just toying with him then for having hung up on me.  

“If you are wanting to know anything about Chloe, you’d be best speaking to Gail. She was always the one to handle the call girls. She’s a high-class girl. She operates out of the Weir.” 

Of course! The prostitute Feltz paid an obscene amount of money to. 

“Can you put me in touch with her?” I asked. Gail Wright was her full name. I called her and set up an appointment. It looked like I was returning to the Weir.   

*** 

The last time I had been in the Weir it was overrun by Kappa So. This time it was so much quieter. Rodney Weir – a Kappa So brother himself – had been trying to keep a low profile. He was probably concerned his hotel would come under fire from the Fleet and Loyalist factions that continued to tackle the city. The receptionist who had checked me out was on the desk again.  

“Ah, Sam!” she said remembering my name. “Couldn’t stay away? We do have the best suites in the Shady City.” She beamed. “Do you have a reservation?”  

How does one ask for a prostitute’s reserved room without seeming like a customer? If I tried to explain I was covering a story even though my old newspaper was out to slaughter me it would only make matters worse. Luckily, before I had to give an explanation, I felt an arm around my shoulder.  

“It’s alright, darlin’” said Rodney Weir. “I’ll get this.”  

The receptionist beamed but she went back to her work.  

“Here for an hour with Gail, right?” asked the hotelier. 

“Eh, yes…” I had to admit.  

“Come with me. We have the suite all prepared.”  

As far as the Weir was concerned, being shown to Gail was like being shown to royalty. I was given the key to room 605. I didn’t use the key. Instead, I knocked on the door.  

“Come in,” a woman beckoned.  

When I slipped into the room it was warm. The scent of lavender was enticing but not overpowering. The water was running in the adjoining bathroom.  

“I’ll be with you in a minute,” she called. “Just make yourself comfortable.”  

“It’s Sam,” I said. “I’m here to talk about the article I’m writing.”  

The water stopped. From the bathroom emerged a lean woman, flowing red hair and a freckle-filled face. She was dressed in a Weir bathrobe.  She removed it to reveal a thin night dress underneath.

“It’s nice to meet you Sam,” she said. “Take a seat.”  

Gail sat herself across the bed. The blinds from the window cascaded a pattern across her long legs. I choose to sit at the table.  

“I’m here about a girl named Chloe Grover and her handler. A man named Dennis?” 

Gail said nothing but her expression tightened.  

“I shouldn’t really discuss the ins and outs with a reporter,” she said.  

“I’m just looking for whatever you can tell me,” I pushed.  

Gail agreed, “Well, I’ll answer what I can.”  

“Do you remember Chloe? She was a young girl who came out of Harbour House.”  

Gail nodded. “I remember her. She used to be taken to the Knock Knock Club. I found that quite odd. The Boss Lady was never one for allowing that inside the club, neither did her aunts. If she had known what age Chloe was at the time, she would have strung Dennis and the clients up. The girls who worked the Clifton Alleys had the club’s protection, but as for soliciting inside the club that was a no-no. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no angel but Chloe wasn’t given the best deal. She was overworked. I warned Dennis to leave her be. She was still really young. She didn’t have the savvy about her like the rest of us. I told Dennis to leave her with me. I was going to take her off the game. Maybe she could just help out with some of the other girls but Dennis just couldn’t leave her be. The money he was making from her was just too enticing. She said she loved him. How can you argue with that? But Chloe started getting hurt. Girls in my line have to look out for one another. Dennis wasn’t going to listen to me so I went over his head and to the Boss Lady herself. When I told her what was happening, I thought she would have torn him limb from limb there and then but she didn’t. She had a reputation for being a nasty piece of work but she was so calm. She gave me an address to take Chloe to and nothing more was said. I returned to the club to give Tabitha updates on Chloe, and Dennis was still working it. I thought Tabitha was starting to lose her nerve. I asked her about it and all she would say was, ‘I’ve got it taken care of. Just keep an eye on that cunt Feltz for me.’ So my attention turned to the mayor. We spent a lot of time together and he became one of my best clients. It seems Feltz had been one of Chloe’s biggest clients too. City money had been paid to hurt the poor girl. The things he did to her…” 

“He had an appointment with you the day he disappeared, is that correct?” 

“That’s true. But he never showed. Tabitha had let him come to me for weeks, letting him grow comfortable with his ongoing appointment and then she…well, then she made him disappear. Just when I thought Dennis was getting away with it, I heard he had been infected with HIV. Dinner with Cathy. The Boss Lady does have quite a sense of humour.” 

“One last thing,” I asked Gail to indulge me. “The costs of your services are rather steep, even for a high-class call girl. 10,000 deposit. The rest on completion. Just what exactly are those services Feltz was so keen on?” 

Gail gave a mischievous grin. “Why don’t you lock the door and I’ll show you.” 

That was my cue to leave. 

*** 

Keeping my eyes on the headlines at the Daily, it seemed the pages were becoming more and more propaganda filled by the day.  

OWENS ATTACKED 

CAPTAIN OWEN DEMANDS PEACE IN CITY MAIN. 

It was time for me to return and hit back at my old newspaper. If I truly wanted to finish what I had begun then I needed to return to that fateful day when I entered the Coldford Daily building and was given a lead to chase that would change my life forever.  

That morning when I had been going to work I had passed by a homeless man. I gave him what coins I had. He didn’t look too dishevelled. In fact, he was comparatively fresh looking. His change in social status must have been recent but it gave commentary on how things had been in the city since the second recession hit. It was despairing times for most. My wife and I had spent many a night on the sofa wrapped in blankets because we couldn’t afford to heat our home. People were desperate and when desperate people are pushed they are driven to desperate measures, such as pulling a mayor from office or using a newspaper to place blame on every doorstep from Bournton to the tip of Swantin so that people wouldn’t look to the real trouble.  

Being a journalist had always been tough enough but when your job is to shed light on so many shades it could become downright dangerous.   

The Cappy would no doubt be pulling what resources he had at the Daily and appointing his own trusted writers to make sure the flow of information was to his satisfaction.  I had turned to Elizabeth Beckingridge for help from the Filton Press. I still remained independent but she gave the opportunity to use the resources of the Filton Crier.   

As expected, the main news floor of the Crier was bustling. There was a lot of news going around. There was still a whole day before deadline but there was writing to be done, stories to share.   

“I have permission from Elizabeth Beckingridge to be here. I’m Sam Crusow.”  

He gasped. “You’re Sam? Sam Crusow? I’m Danny Larz. You can call me Dan. I’m a huge fan!” 

I was taken aback. “Thank you.”  

He rested his hands on his head and gave an excited cheer. “I never thought I’d get this chance.” He tugged on his curls but then reached out a hand to shake mine, which he did with vigour. “It’s an honour. I’ve been following you ever since I was a student. I must have read everything you’ve ever written. I have a copy of your book MARBLE MANTLE. Would you sign it for me?” He gave another excited gasp. “I can’t believe it’s Sam Crusow.”  

I grinned. Most of my career had been spent putting others in the spotlight. It felt strange being under that glare myself. My book had been purely a passion project. It had only sold ten copies. It seemed Dan was one of those.  

“Thanks Dan. That’s always nice to hear. What’s happening here?”  

Danny shook his head. “Miss Beckingridge is looking to push out the Daily. She’s declaring media war.”  

It seemed the bidding war with Owen Inc wasn’t enough to feed the Beckingridge dragon’s hunger.  

“Dan?” I addressed the Crier’s stand-in editor. “We don’t have a lot of time but I’m writing a piece on Coldford. Can I trust you?”  

Dan beamed with pride. “Sure, Sam. You’re the man! Anything.”  

*** 

“Come on now, Milo,” Olivia called upstairs to her son. “He’ll be here any minute.”  

“Coming,” Milo called back down to her.  

Eventually he wandered into the kitchen holding a box of photographs in his hands.  

“I was worried about what I was going to say to him,” the boy explained, “so I thought I’d look out some old photos and give us something to talk about.”  

Olivia kissed her son’s head. “It’ll be fine,” she said.  

She pulled one of the photos of when Milo was a small infant. “Look at your little squishy face,” she teased.  

Milo plucked his photo back. He shook his head with humour filled exasperation. The doorbell rang.  

“That’s him mum!” Milo announced nervously.  

“I know it is,” agreed Olivia. “Just relax.”  

Milo sat the box on the table. Olivia went off to answer the door. Milo became even more nervous when he heard voices in the living room. His mother’s and his father’s. The kitchen door opened and there was Dennis. Milo had little memory of Dennis, only what the photos inspired. The man who entered the kitchen was not the man in the photos. They say photographs can obscure but the man in the photographs was on top of the world. He was confident and strong. The man in the kitchen was hunched, thin and more nervous than the boy was.  

“Hi Milo,” said the father at first. “It’s been a long time.”  

Milo nodded. “It has.” He thought about it. “Should I hug you?” 

Dennis took a seat at the table. “Not if you don’t want to.”  

Milo nervously fished for more photographs. “Should I call you dad?”  

Dennis eased a little. “That’s something I’ll have to earn, I think.”  

Milo was content with this.  

Olivia patted Dennis’ shoulder. “I’ll leave you two to it,” she said. “I’ll just be upstairs.”  

Dennis started to look at the photos. “So, what do you have here?”  

Milo gathered some and laid them out. They were mostly typical snaps people would have of their first-born child. Sleeping, walking, first steps and trips to the beach.  

“I don’t remember anything from when these were taken. Maybe you can fill in the blanks for me.” Milo handed him a picture of Dennis holding Milo as a baby. Behind him was a large stadium. 

“That’s the old Wiseman stand at Swantin Stadium,” the father explained. “It was pulled down not long after.” 

Milo gasped. He hadn’t known that. It looked nothing like the new part of the stadium that had been built to replace it. 

“Did you take me to the games often?” asked the boy.  

“Not as often as I would have liked. You were really little and the noise got a bit much.”  

Milo looked at the photo again before slipping it back inside the box.  

“Maybe we could go again some time.”  

Dennis beamed. His chest tightened. “I’d love that. Do you still go?”  

“Sometimes,” Milo shrugged. “Mum takes me but she’s a terrible football fan.”  

Dennis laughed imagining Olivia at a football match.  

Milo imitated his mother’s voice. “Get right round their goals my son!”  

He and his father shared a hearty laugh.  

“It’s embarrassing,” Milo jested. “Speaking of embarrassing maybe you can explain this…” 

He passed Dennis another photo. This one was again of Dennis holding Milo as a small child but this time Dennis was sporting a moustache and had a head of curls. 

Dennis burst into peals of laughter. “Where did you find that one?”  

Milo replied, “Among the others. Now explain that hair do.”  

“It was the style then,” Dennis gave a protest. “It was fashionable.” 

Dennis and Milo continued on looking through the photographs, sharing laughs and a bond between them began to grow with relative ease. The photos showed a rosy past. A picture captured in a single moment can’t even begin to tell the whole story. Dennis had taken Milo to football but that same afternoon a fifteen-year-old girl was given to a life of prostitution. A photo only captures a brief moment of sometimes forced smiles. It didn’t capture the bruises, the abuse or the drugs. The door opened with a struggle. Dennis stood.  

“Dennis!” Chloe Grover came running and leapt into his arms.  

“You know Chloe, dad?” asked Milo.  

A shady past was not so easy to escape when it refused to let you go.  

 

*** 

Mum had come downstairs quickly when she heard Chloe’s voice. Chloe wasn’t supposed to have been home for another few hours but the social worker who was spending the day with her had been called away on an emergency. Chloe thought nothing of it and came home. Milo had been told by his mum that his dad had made some mistakes. Was Chloe one of those mistakes? Now that he thought about it, it had been after Chloe came to live with them that mum had told him that he should take all the photos of his father and store them away.  

Chloe had been abused badly. Had his dad done that to her? Had mum felt responsible for her because of what had happened? Milo was confused. He wanted to know his dad. But what if he couldn’t cope with the truth? He knew his mum had forgiven him but if he had hurt Chloe so badly, how easy would it be for the son to forgive him? Wasn’t it the father who taught their sons how to be men? Wasn’t it real men who protected the vulnerable?  

It was. Milo knew this. He had seen it before. He reached onto the shelf and drew off the box that contained the commemorative coin that Judge Doyle had given him.  

Joel Hickes. He was a man who protected the vulnerable. Milo lifted the coin from the box and enjoyed the shine of the silver.   

COLDFORD CITY. SOULS SAVED. SACRIFICES MADE. 

If Milo was to learn to become a man there could be no better role model. He always strived to do the right thing even when that wasn’t easy. He strived to do the right thing even when everyone else was telling him not to. Hickes would never have hurt someone like Chloe. But if Milo was to truly look to a good man, he would see that to be a man also meant forgiving when someone was truly repentant. That meant forgiving Dennis. His father.  


Enjoy this?

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Dennis Platt is philandering con man who is about the lowest of the low. When someone close to him is embraced by the cult Church of St Wigan he will learn whether or not he can be truly saved.

Available May 14th 2021, Pre order now for kindle.

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Knock Knock: Episode 31: Smash and Grab

“I think a name change should be the first point of order,” suggested the bailiff Colette as she led The Cappy into his newly acquired auction house.  

“The name is already established. It might be a better idea to keep it as is,” suggested Ronnie Owen.  

Chick agreed with the bailiff. “It’s a well-known name but I want the people to know that this hall has well and truly fallen.”  

Ronnie had meant that it would be a better chance of a fresh start. It would keep already established clients of the auction house sweetened until they got used to the new management. His brother was determined to put his stamp on City Main, starting with the toppling of their king – figuratively and literally.  

“The archives list,” Jeremy passed the list of items the Auction House had available. Chick Owen couldn’t disguise his excitement. He had seen Captain Henry Owen’s compass once as a boy. His father had been so proud of it. He had been too. The compass had led Hen to making Coldford what it was. The people owed a lot to that compass, including the so-called King of Main. 

The Cappy sat down a box. It was a small, mahogany box that had housed the compass on that fateful expedition. The compass had been lost after the vicious divorce of Bobby from his second wife.  Chick kept the box, waiting for the day it would be returned. Ronnie had never seen his brother so giddy.  

Chick beamed. “Smile, Ron, you miserable son a bitch,” he cheered. “It’s a good day. When the compass is back in its box, we’ll have the reporters right down here.”  

Ronnie laughed. He too was pleased to have such an heirloom returned. Even if it took 4.5 million and the restructure of a Shady City institution to do it. He read the list.  

“The compass,” he began. He didn’t know how to break the news. “It was sold on.”  

Charles stopped wiping the interior velvet of the box. He closed the box lid over. Embossed in the mahogany was the image of Hen’s ship.  

The Cappy turned to Colette. “I apologise ma’am for what I’m about to say.”  

Colette frowned. She was a Coldford City Law Maker. She had heard curse words before.  

“Where the fuck is my compass?” he growled at Jeremy. “You, your thieving employer and his three crotch demons better hope I get it back.” 

Ronnie laid his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Colette said nothing. Jeremy found himself edging towards the door.  

Ronnie read on, “It says here it was sold on to Ernest Beckingridge.”  

The Cappy looked to Jeremy. His facial expression showed fury but his vocal tone had calmed again. 

“It seems mighty impolite that this information was not disclosed prior to auction. Slipped your mind did it, sir?”  

“I’ll talk to Elizabeth,” Ronnie offered.  

The Cappy shook his head. “It’s no use,” he said. “She knew exactly what she was doing and she’s tougher than a two-dollar steak. I have mind to watch this place burn to the ground if it were not for the Penn mother. Elizabeth on the other hand, we’re not at auction anymore.” Again, he addressed Jeremy, “You are going nowhere until your little deception is put right.” 

*** 

Elizabeth had asked her driver to take a route home to Beckingridge Manor via Pettiwick. She wanted to look upon it. Hopefully it would spur some ideas on how she was going to get it back. The bidding war had left her exhausted. Maybe an exchange? She could return The Cappy’s precious compass if he agreed on the resale of the school. 

The limousine stopped. Elizabeth leaned forward and lowered her window into the driver’s seat.  

“What’s wrong, Thomas?” she asked. 

“The road’s blocked off miss,” he replied. “I can’t get any further. I have to turn around.”  

“Blocked off?” They had driven into the school’s drop off point. The area where she had waved goodbye to Gramps on many a morning and skipped off to her lessons. It should not have been blocked off.  

“Construction, miss,” explained the driver.  

“No!” Elizabeth barked. “Not happening.”  

She climbed out of the car to a bright and dry but frosty day. Just as the driver had said, fencing had been erected around the surrounding area.  

FULLERTON – BUILDING BRIDGES. DEMOLITION IN PROGRESS. 

“Building bridges, huh?” Elizabeth growled.  

Thomas was now by her side.  

“In the car, Thomas. I don’t plan on staying long.” Thomas obeyed.  

She could see a man through the fence. He must have been a site manager.  

“You!” Elizabeth called to him. “You there!”  

He either ignored her or couldn’t hear her over the site noise. She collected a stone and threw it over the fence. It hit his hard hat with a clunk. He looked up.  

“You!” Elizabeth uttered again.  

The manager approached the fence. “Can I help you?”  

Boards were up. She was unable to see what was behind them.  

“You can start by telling me what’s going on here?”  

The site manager was disinterested.  

“Demolition,” he said. “We’re busy so clear off.”  

Elizabeth scoffed. “Clear off?! You better tell me what you’re pulling down or I’m going to drag you through this fence by your testicles.”  

“The Beckingridge Wing.”  

Elizabeth shook her head. She thought so. Chick, you bastard.  

“You can’t do that,” Elizabeth protested.  

“What is it to you?” the site manager asked.  

“Because it’s my name that’s on the bloody building.”  

Ernest had donated the wing. 

“Pettiwick did us well, Liz,” he had said. “Gramps would have wanted it.”  

It was one of the best things Ernest had done during his tenure as head of the family. “I’m not here to speak to a minion. Send out whichever Fullerton fucker is heading this up.”  

The site manager shook his head.  

“Jenna!” he called. “Jenna, you had better come see to this.”  

Fullerton contracts were split between the Fullerton siblings. Caleb had gone off somewhere without notice and the eldest, Jake, was serving time in The Boss so it was up to the sisters to hold the fort. No bridges being built that day, they were being burned. 

Jenna had other pursuits in mind. She had her production company to worry about. It produced adult films but since it was her family money that was mostly funding it, she had to take her fair share of the Fullerton work. More than her fair share really. She had accepted what would have been most of Caleb’s contracts.

“Elizabeth?” she sounded surprised. “I thought you lost out on the school.”  

Elizabeth clutched the fence. “You have no right to pull that building down.”  

Jenna looked to the boards. “I don’t, but the new owner does and he wants it down. I’m just fulfilling a contract.” 

Elizabeth growled. “I’ll sue you. Not Owen, you personally. Pull that construction missy.”  

Jenna pursed her lips and folded her arms. “Sorry hunz, but no can do. You know I have all the papers in place, right? I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”  

“Pull this construction now,” Elizabeth ordered.  

Jenna removed her hat. “Not a chance, Liz. We’ve already been paid and that building is coming down. Your name may have been on it but it was a gift to the school. It’s up to whoever owns the school what they want to do with it.”  

“What reason were you given for it to come down? It was a perfectly fine building. Ernest was good to you.”  

Jenna agreed. “Ernest was a little sweetie, he was, but we’ve got a job to do and I’d tell him the very same thing. I do have something for you though. I kept it. I thought you might like it.”  

Elizabeth thought about Ernest’s memorial plaque. Maybe she could at least hang that in the manor until she got the school back. It had Gramps’ name on it too. Jenna nodded to her site manager. He ran to the office to fetch like a good puppy. When he re-emerged, he wasn’t carrying the plaque. He was carrying a newspaper – a Coldford Daily. He passed it through the fence to Elizabeth.  

“What’s this?” she asked. 

“This morning’s news. Open it to page 2.”  

The headline read: 

SMASHING TO SUCCESS. 

The story detailed The Cappy’s plan for what was going to be standing in place of the Beckingridge Wing. The image showed Chick Owen and Jenna Fullerton shaking hands in front of the building.  

“I thought you might like to keep it and remember the building as it was. You can frame it or something.”  

Elizabeth threw the paper down. “Don’t do me any favours,” she snapped.  

Jenna shook her head but she was smiling. “I’m just doing my job. It was Caleb who built it in the first place. I’m not happy about it either.”  

Elizabeth had turned back to her limo. She stopped. “I wouldn’t know,” she spat. “Your face is so full of collagen that it’s difficult to tell.”  

Jenna scoffed. Demolition was already set. There was no stopping it. Elizabeth could still elicit some damage of her own.  

*** 

When Elizabeth reached Chick, he had been hosting Buddy and his bros at Owen Estate.  

“Elizabeth,” Chick had been waiting for her. “I thought I’d be hearing from you.”  

Elizabeth smiled but her lips were drained of colour and her fire was now resting in her eyes. The video call gave a good clear view of her expression. Elizabeth could see Buddy and his bros standing behind him. Billy was out of frame.  

“I was passing Pettiwick this morning and you can imagine my disappointment when I was informed by Fullerton that my brother’s donated building was to be pulled down.”  

The Cappy continued to speak calmly but the icy temperatures of his words made Buddy shudder.  

“Imagine my disappointment when, after spending a generous amount on the Auction House, I find out you had my compass all along.”  

On screen Elizabeth had set a golden compass on the table.  

“You mean my compass? Bought and paid for fair and square.”  

Chick frowned. “It is mine and you know it. Those oddballs had no right to sell it in the first place. I am a reasonable man. I will offer you a fair price for it.”  

Elizabeth shook her head. “I like it. It’s a very nice piece.”  

“Tread carefully Liz,” The Cappy warned.  

Elizabeth brought a hammer onto her table.  

“Oh! Back the fuck off!” yelled Buddy when he saw what she was about to do.  

Elizabeth ignored him. “If you’re going to wreck property of mine then I guess I’ll do the same. How dare you pull down that wing.”  

“I don’t really need a compass after all. I’m quite good at finding my way about.”  

Elizabeth lifted the hammer. “Hen Owen, wasn’t it? There is an inscription.” She brought the hammer down as heavily as she could.  

CRACK. 

“Stop!” Buddy warned.  

The Cappy kept his focus on the screen saying nothing.  

CRACK. 

Elizabeth brought the hammer down again.  

CRACK.  

The Compass, despite its study build, was damaged beyond repair. Elizabeth stopped for a breath and smoothed her hair.  

“Are you finished?” The Cappy asked.  

Elizabeth smiled. “I’ll be in touch.”

  

The call ended. Buddy rested his hands on his head. “Holy Mary that fucked an angel!”  

“Charles,” Ronnie warned. “Don’t be rash.”  

The Cappy paid no attention to his brother. Instead, he turned to Billy.  

“Do you still have the rat boy?”  

Billy nodded. He too was quietened by what had just happened.  

“Yeah, Captain.”  

“Then it’s time for Reginald Penn to see what happens when someone toys with something that belongs to me.”  

Ronnie pleaded again. “Chick, please think this through.”  

“I have thought about it. I have thought about it long and hard. He murdered our father, he humiliated my boy, and now our heirloom is passed around like a common whore. My fucking compass is destroyed because he sold it away, property that did not belong to him.”  

Ronnie knew there was no use arguing with Chick. Heirlooms were precious to most. They were especially precious to Charles ‘Chick’ Owen, better known as The Cappy.  

*** 

Having made their presence felt in the Mid-West village, at a small Kappa So outpost used for registrations and the occasional meetings, they had skipped across the city to the Mid-East. 

Reginald was overlooking the area they had taken. They had been met with some resistance, more than they expected. The combined Fleet and Loyalist groups took a moment to catch their breath.  

“We’ve got them on the back foot,” Reginald was observing, speaking to Paddy Mack. 

Kieran Mack was busy scrubbing blood stains from his jacket.  

Paddy agreed, “We’ve been smooth so far but the resistance is getting heavier and heavier each time. We need to move back towards the south before one final push into City Main.”  

Reginald nodded in agreement. They had been so successful so far because their attacks didn’t follow any particular pattern, but Billy Owen had been manoeuvring CPD and success was becoming more and more difficult.   

“Reg!” one of the loyalists cried. “They have junior. They’ve got junior!”  

Immediately Reginald’s attention diverted. The loyalist passed him a phone. That’s when the screen showed the youngest triplet, Reggie, in pain, screaming and calling for the eldest triplet, Marcus.  

“Woooh boy! This whore here likes her ass pounded!” Cheering could be heard. “King Daddy ought to see this.”  

The screen showed Marcus held helpless. His support inside The Boss had been gunned down. Simon was flat on the ground with guns to his head.  

“Say goodbye to your brother boys. It’s the last time you’re gonna see him.”  

Kieran and Paddy shared a look. Reginald’s lip curled.  

“Reg…” Paddy warned. “Think about this.”  

Reginald shook his head. “Our next stop is City Main.”  

Paddy continued to plead, “That’s why they wanted you to see that. They hope you’ll do something fecking stupid.”  

Reginald was not to be consoled. “Those cunts have my boys!”  

Paddy, still trying to stay level headed, said, “If it were any of my family, I’d feel the same way but we’re so close, so fecking close Reg, you can’t lose it now. For all our sakes you need to stick to the plan.”  

Reginald’s fury was still throwing a tension on his facial expression and across his broad shoulders.  

“We’ll get Reggie back. We’ll get all of them to safety I promise ya, but we need to stick to the plan.”  

Not particularly friendly to begin with, Reginald Penn and Paddy Mack had managed to put their differences aside for the sake of lost friends like Tawny and Tabitha, lost strongholds like the distillery and the Auction House, and for the sake of the people they wanted to prevent the Owens steam rolling over.  

Reginald found his centre. He found his calm. Junior’s screams and pleads would be the battle cry that spurred him on. But then the phone rang again. Reginald answered. 

“Rita?” he said.  

Kieran and Paddy shared another angst-ridden look.  

“Rita? My love you need to calm down.”  

“My baby! They raped my baby!”  

“I’m going for junior right now. I’m going to get him right now.”  

“Don’t let them kill him Reginald, please! You can’t let them hurt him anymore. He’s so scared. My baby!”  

It was then that Reginald heard a voice over a speaker. It was in French. Flight 10SS to Coldford City was now boarding. She was at the airport. 

“Rita! Rita do not come to Coldford. I’ll bring Reggie to you. I’ll bring your baby to you.”  

It was too late. The phone signal was lost. Rita Penn was to board a flight to Coldford. Coldford City airport, owned by Owen Inc.  

Paddy sighed. He leaned his head back. Kieran shook his head. “Feck,” he muttered. 

Reginald may have been able to use Junior’s cries to spur him into battle but Rita’s sobs for her baby? Those would signal the end for his enemies no matter the cost.  

“My wife has just had to see that. She has had to see what they did to her baby,” said Reginald to Paddy.  

“I’m sorry,” said the Mack in charge. “But my point still stands.”  

Reginald addressed his loyalists.  

“We’re going to City Main. If any of those Fleet cunts choose not to follow, then leave them behind.”

 

*** 

There was little I could do as events unfolded. I tried to get a statement from Elizabeth Beckingridge but she had locked herself in the Tower. The exchange continued to accumulate. There was still no word from the distillery. Its gates were firmly closed. It was now a race against time for Lydia and her agency team to find any evidence they could on Buddy Owen or once again he would walk away after committing the most horrific crimes.  

As I worked to leak the true information to the city, Rita Penn wandered toward danger. Her love for her children had blinded her to the Owen Inc. logos that were darted all over flight arrivals. The plane she had taken from Luen even stopped close to The Cappy’s own Boeing – Dynasty.  

“Welcome to Coldford City,” the attendant greeted. Her blue uniform and carefully made-up face was glamorous, inviting.  

“Thank you for choosing Luen Air. May I see your passport?” 

Rita was in a hurry. She fished into her bag and produced a passport. The check arrivals agent scanned the name Penn and she compared the photo.  

“Business or pleasure, Mrs Penn?”  

Rita was distracted. She knew Reginald was busy. She knew he had troubles so if she could talk to The Cappy, maybe they could reach an understanding. He had a son. She had a son. They could see eye to eye. Perhaps she could speak to Ida Owen. Surely they could speak mother to mother. Buddy was her baby just as Reggie was Rita’s. If the women could just talk a while, they could find a solution and maybe then the men would make sense. There had been so much harm done already. Reginald would be angry she had come to Coldford but she couldn’t sit at their estate in Luen when the next time she saw one of her boys it could be dressing him on The Tailor’s table.  

If Reggie managed to get to safety, he would want to come home. Someone had to be home. Mother would wait for him.  

“I live here. I’ve come home to stay for a while,” she told the arrivals agent. The agent smiled. Rita tapped her fingers nervously on the desk.  

“That’s lovely,” she said. “Well, you’re all set.”  

Rita took her passport and was sent to baggage claim.  

Reggie, poor Reggie. He was such a little boy at heart. It was bad enough with Marcus behind bars. Marcus was her big boy. He was ready to take his father’s place one day. He could take the heat. Simon was physically strong. He fought, he trained and he focused. Her boxer boy would be fine. But Reggie? He was sensitive, inquisitive, nothing without his brothers. They were a whole when they were together. Apart, Reggie was the most delicate piece. 

She saw her bag, an old-fashioned trunk she had packed in a hurry. She hadn’t even given security time to collect her and escort her. She just needed to be closer to her boys. She heaved her bag from the conveyor belt. The exit was so close. The transport to City Main would be waiting.  

She felt a hand on her shoulder.  

“Mrs Penn?” an airport staff member asked. “Come with me.”  

With that she was guided to safety by Agent Franklin.


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Knock Knock: Episode 30: It’s All Over Now

The Browning house had a strange atmosphere. It had been inhabited for ten years and yet it felt like no one had dared crossed the boundary. There were some newer throw pillows on the battered old sofa but they too were filthy. The windows had heavy shutters. The curtains were dusty and thick with mould. ‘How could anyone have lived here?’ Winslow wondered to himself. Vincent Baines, his Harbour House resident, had described it to him many times but he never imagined it to be so filthy. The music teacher had thought to go there for safety but that hadn’t worked out so well for him, now had it? It didn’t work out well for the doctor either, trying to help George, and it wouldn’t work out for Julia. George was a special case. He wasn’t quite driven by his lust the way most young men were. He had his desires but they were different. He didn’t quite think with his brain either the way sane people would.

The doctor had come to the Browning house as instructed, he couldn’t stay in the city where the scope of an Owen’s gun could be on him at any time. He didn’t plan on spending much time there. He would be back on top soon enough and when he did he would be putting Julia out of the game for good.

His heart skipped a beat as the cheap phone he had bought at a store in Bournton rattled on the table. One of the chairs had been broken, no doubt by George in a temper. Micky Doyle was the only person he had given the number to in a message that read:

HAVE TO BE OUT OF TOWN FOR A WHILE. I AM NOT ABROAD SO YOUR COUSIN NEEDN’T WORRY. I CAN BE BACK IN THE CITY WITHIN THE HOUR. SINCERELY G WINSLOW.

The doctor quickly answered the phone. The remoteness of the house made everything seem so much louder.

“Yes Micky? Yes?” he welcomed.

“Good gracious Gregory, where are you?”

Winslow looked at a pair of white briefs that had been discarded on the floor.

“Never mind that,” he said. “I hope you have some good news for me.”

Micky chuckled. “I do indeed. My cousin has finished her investigation into Harbour House.”

Winslow clutched his chest. It was a much needed relief. “I’m so glad.” His stronghold was coming back to him. “I trust all was well?”

Micky replied, “If you hadn’t been hiding yourself away you could have been here to witness the entire thing. They found nothing. It was really quite splendid. Now Karyn is annoyed at the resources that were wasted. The keys of the facility are to be handed over but we need you here to sign the documents.”

It had been a long time since Winslow had felt so jovial.

“You’re sure it is safe?” he asked. “It all went well?”

His good friend Micky Doyle assured it couldn’t have gone better. He was Mayor Micky Doyle now and what was sitting on the Hot Seat of the Shady City if you couldn’t help your friends?

“I have an appointment for you with Karyn at one o’clock but you have to hurry. Do not be late, Gregory. You know she won’t reschedule.”

Gregory tried to remember if Karyn Doyle was an early or late luncher. One o’clock could be a time when her belly was full and she was pacified. It could also be the time when she was still waiting with a ravenous hunger.

“Yes, Micky. Of course. I’ll be there right away.”

After Micky rang off Winslow stepped out on the gravel drive way. He gave thought to Buddy. Surely, he wasn’t still watching? The Browning house was isolated but that didn’t matter. Buddy could be hiding anywhere, still with his scope following him. He almost ducked for cover when a blackbird took flight from a nearby tree. He slipped into his car like a snake and drove away. He had an appointment with Judge Karyn Doyle, arranged by his good friend Micky, and The Judge would not reschedule. He had to collect his Harbour House keys or risk losing them for good. As he drove back to the city, his eyes returning to the rear-view mirror contantly, he was still unable to shake that feeling of Buddy watching him. At least he would be safe when he got inside the Court House. He would retrieve Harbour House and he would deal with Buddy Owen then.

***

Things were changing in the Shady City. Things were changing for the dominant names: Penn, Beckingridge, Harvester, Owen. But things were also changing for individuals, those who had sought to make a name for themselves like Winslow and like Tabitha, even reporters like myself. It took a certain distraction from humanity, a certain disregard for the value of life, honour and morals to succeed. This was something the eminent Doctor Winslow had in abundance.

As he raced along the City Main streets, still fearing being caught in Buddy’s scope, he almost collided with a woman who was carrying a load of Harvester goods in Harvester tote bags. The typical snobbish attitude of the people of City Main caused her nose to upturn.

“Watch where you are going!” she barked as she tried to steady her bags again.

Winslow started to help her with her bags but the bang of a car back firing caused him to abandon that pursuit.

The Court House was the Almighty’s waiting room in Coldford. The smell of polish on the mahogany, the brightness of the shine on the marble floor, all screamed power to Winslow. She was a difficult mistress to please but if she allowed you to sample her sweet delights she could pleasure like no other. Winslow knew this and he salivated at the idea of having a taste, having his Harbour House back complete with the stamp of approval from Judge Karyn Doyle herself. He didn’t want to seem over eager, nor did he want to seem complacent. He hadn’t had the chance to groom properly or brush his teeth at the Browning house so he was a little out of sorts.

“Put your best foot forward,” Papa would always say. “No one likes a man who pays no care to his presentation.”

Winslow was in full agreement with that but there just hadn’t been time for him to present himself properly. He needed Harbour House back and then he would present. Then he would present to the entire city.

“Excuse me, sir,” a Court Clerk stopped him. Her name was Diane and it had been she who had been there to meet in him Luen. She was one of Karyn’s minions, clearly an admirer. She was well presented. In fact, she was so well presented she could be a body double for the Judge herself. Well Diane, it seems your attempts to discredit the good doctor didn’t bore much fruit. If Karyn was annoyed at the wasted resources, Diane may just find herself being to blame.

“I have been personally requested by Her Honourable,” Winslow stated with pride. He couldn’t help but enjoy the way Diane’s face dropped. It added years to her. “I’ll head right on in if you please.”

The hall was lined with well equipped men. They were not bailiffs nor were they clerks. They were members of the much fabled Black Bands. They had been brought together by Sergeant Major Doyle with the intention of creating an elite team capable of stopping rebellions, uprisings and extreme civil unrest. Upon sight of them Winslow slowed his walk to a stop. They weren’t paying him any attention but they cast a dark shadow. He was almost at the point of turning and retreating when Micky leaned out of the door to Judge Doyle’s office.

“Gregory!” he called in a hushed but urgent tone. “Hurry. For God’s sake don’t keep her waiting.”

With his good friend Micky Doyle’s encouragement Winslow passed the Black Bands and entered the lair of The Judge. Karyn herself was sat behind her desk. Four pillars bearing the Law Makers symbol like eyes from above stood tall behind her. She had files placed before her.

Winslow took a seat. “It’s a pleasure Karyn. It’s so nice to see you.”

Karyn Doyle was unmoved. Her pale face expressionless. “I’m in office. You will address me with my proper title.”

“Yes, of course. I do apologise, Your Honour.”

The Judge lifted the first of the files. “On October 19th you were given notice to allow my bailiffs to audit your facility. You were also asked to deliver resident 0109 into my custody. Is that correct?”

Winslow looked to Micky first but the mayor said nothing.

“Yes, ma’am. That is correct,” he eventually replied.

“You refused to respond.”

The judge dropped the file on the table and collected the next.

“On October 25th the case was escalated further. You were served notice of audit and a warrant was given for resident 0109. Is that correct?”

Winslow blinked. They had already been through this. “Yes ma’am. That is of course correct.”

The second file was dropped. “Still you refused to respond.”

Winslow tried to explain, “It was a very busy time. I had so much to do and of course personal issues…Your office takes precedent but my residents were sick and in need of my care.”

The Judge scooped up the final file in her hand.

“On October 30th a full summons was granted and my bailiffs entered your facility by force.”

“I do sincerely apologise for that ma’am. I’m so sorry for any inconvenience that this issue may have caused. As I stated at the time I was under a great deal of pressure.”

Karyn Doyle narrowed her gaze. “Yes, we have documented that. We are also taking into consideration your assistance in the search for Tawny McInney. So now I am willing to move forward. After a thorough investigation of the facility my bailiffs found nothing.”

Winslow grinned. “We aim to heal, Your Honour. Harbour House is the greatest facility in Coldford and can help so many when it is reopened.”

The door opened without knocking. Van Holder of the Black Bands and a companion named Monsta’ – a huge man with an animalistic presence – entered. They stood by the door.

“My bailiffs found nothing. That was until one of your nurses, Beverly Myers, stepped forward,” Judge Doyle explained. “Gregory Winslow, you are under arrest.”

Monsta’ pulled Winslow from his chair.

“Wait!” Winslow screamed. “I’ve done nothing wrong! Beverly is a liar!”

Judge Doyle flicked open the last file. “Your charges are as follows. The torture and exploitation of at least thirty two victims including Martin Winslow and Alexander Ferrald. That number continues to grow. Also, for the murder of Mark McKenzie, Scott Cross and Laura Doyle. This number also continues to grow. Finally, multiple accounts of the rape of Julia Harvester.”

“Lies!” Winslow shrieked.”Micky! Tell her!”

“I’m also in the capacity of my office,” replied Micky. “That’s Mayor Doyle.”

Winslow wouldn’t be able to shake Monster’s grasp. After reading him his rights the Judge was not done.

“I hereby revoke your licence to practice medicine indefinitely. You are no longer to assume the doctor title and any attempts to re-register will be denied. You will now be remanded in custody until your trial. Given the nature and magnitude of your crimes no bail will be granted and I am authorising a full psychiatric evaluation.”

“Micky! Damnit all Micky! I am taking you down with me. I am taking you down!” Winslow shrieked as he was pulled from the office of The Judge.

The Penn Auction House, The Knock Knock Club, Harbour House. There were three down and one more to go. As Her Honourable Judge Karyn Doyle prepared for her next appointment her long shadow was cast over the map of Coldford plunging the Bellfield area into darkness, home of the Mack and Sons Distillery, provider of the finest whiskey in the Shady City and the current whereabouts of fugitive Patrick Mack.

***

The sailing was smooth, although Kumala had vomited a couple of times. She didn’t know how long she had been travelling for. Restless sleep had been intermittent. She and twenty other girls had been locked below deck. In the bottom of the boat was only darkness and the smell of rats. She was told she needn’t be frightened but she couldn’t help it. Her village had been celebrating her thirteenth birthday when they came. They took her and many of the other girls. They told them that they would have a better life. They would be like princess brides, similar to the ones she had read about in story books. Some of the girls didn’t want this. They disappeared through the night. The boat they had been crammed into didn’t seem much like the princess carriages from the books but maybe it would all get better when they reached their destination. One of the girls with them had been beaten by their escorts. She probably couldn’t speak their language. She had tried to comfort some of the other girls but communication was a problem. One of them – a twelve-year-old – had fallen unconscious. She was terribly dehydrated. The girl who couldn’t speak collected some of the rain water that was dripping down on them and rubbed it onto the girls dry, cracked lips.

Never had Kumala been enclosed with so many people and yet felt so alone. The boat continued to tear through the sea towards her destination. Kumala was told all of her dreams would come true in the City of Coldford. She hoped so.

***

It was early morning and the phone buzzing woke Nan Harvester. She leaned over and checked.

SHIPMENT 0612 has arrived.

She sat up. This was good. It had been the first shipment for a while. It was still dark outside. The farm would be stirring soon. She patted Jonathan lying beside her.

“Jonathan,” she whispered. “Jon? You have to get up. I have to go and I need you to keep an eye on things on the farm.”

Jonathan didn’t object. He sat up, stretched and slipped out of bed. Nan watched her son’s naked body as he disappeared into the adjoining bathroom. It was going to be a good day. Another shipment of nanny’s little naughties for the pot. She climbed out of bed herself and crossed to the window. She pulled the green curtains open and allowed the world in. The sun was just beginning to climb up to to the horizon.

She felt Jonathan’s arm slip around her waist, having returned from the bathroom. He was now wearing a beige pair of overalls that once belonged to his father.

“Have a good day, mum,” he said.

“I will Jon,” she replied. “The best day.”

***

By the time Nan arrived at Chamberlain Docks the daylight had dawned on Swantin. A beautiful warmth was glowing through the icy air. Nan met Harbour operator Anthony Runetti.

“Good to see you Nan,” he said. “I’ve got the Ferry Way heading to Hathfield at 11:40. It’ll be coming in to Port at nine. We’ll need your ship turned around by eight.“ Nan smiled sweetly. “I won’t even need that much time Anthony. I’ll be in and away before you know it, just like a little fairy.”

It was then he noticed the tote bag she was carrying. It was filled with fruit, vegetables and meat packets.

“This is for your mum,” she explained handing the bag over. “I’ve not had the chance to pop up and see her yet. You can give her this for me. I’ll be up to see her real soon. Let her know I haven’t forgotten her. I missed her at church last Sunday.”

Anthony collected the bag gratefully. He was supposed to oversee all shipments but he knew Nan. She stood as his confirmation sponsor at church when Uncle Roddy and his dad had a falling out. He supposed it would be no harm to let the sweet farmer’s wife through. Widowed, charitable, Christian woman. He had to take the groceries into the office and store them in the fridge anyway.

It wasn’t until she got to the gangway that the skipper opened the door. Light flooded onto the girls’ eyes. Kumala’s legs were weak. The mute girl offered her arm to help steady her.

Nan smiled at Kumala but it didn’t comfort her.

“I see the travel was a little snug girls. I’m ever so sorry. We couldn’t afford better, I’m afraid. We are a charity after all. But none of you should worry.” Kumala was pushed towards the skipper. “Separate the virgins from those sexually active. I’d like them put to work right away.” She rounded on the mute girl. “I don’t know this one,” she clutched the girl’s face. Exotic. Pure.

“A new addition,” the skipper explained. “She was last minute but we thought you would like her.”

Nan nodded. “I like her very much. She’s beautiful. What’s your name?” Nan asked the girl.

The girl looked to Kumala.

“Do you speak English?” Nan asked softly. She surveyed the other girls.

“The dummy has been thrown from the pram,” she said.

Nan frowned. “Excuse me?”

“Move! Move!” Cries were heard. A blockade was thrown down and a fleet of agents descended upon the scene.

Agents Kim, Lydia, Franklin and Reynolds were on the front line. There was nowhere to run.

Kim grabbed Nan’s arm. “Nan Harvester. I’m placing you under arrest for trafficking.”

Continuing to read her rights, the other agents looked to bring Skipper and the crew in.

Lydia took control of Kumala and the other girls.

“It’s okay. You are safe now,” she assured them. Franklin began to interpret in their native language.

“Well done, Agent Ragrag,” Kim congratulated the mute girl. Agent Ragrag was nineteen but given her youthful looks she had been chosen for the undercover mission. She had allowed herself to be taken and moved with the girls. She had been to hell and back but the girls were now safe. The mission was a success.

Like dominoes, the great pillars of Coldford continued to fall.

***

Having stayed away from the farm all day, it was well past dinner by the time Julia returned home. She dressed in something more comfortable and made her way back downstairs. As the door opened into the entry hall, she didn’t call a welcoming to any family or guests. She was expecting a quiet house that night. In a display of despair Jonathan came tearing from the lounge when he heard her footsteps.

“Jules!” he cried. “I’ve been trying to call you. Where have you been?”

Julia leaned casually by the window.

“I saw your missed calls. I just wasn’t answering.”

“It’s mum,” he explained. “She’s been arrested. They have her for trafficking. The Nan Foundation is closed pending further investigation. They won’t set bail. She’s going to prison. What are we going to do?”

“That is unfortunate,” said Julia softly. She took her brother’s hand. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. Nothing. We’re going to let her rot in prison for the rest of her life.” Jonathan pulled his hand away. His eyes widened. Julia went on, “She let him back in here. You have no idea what it is like to have his disgusting, trembling hands touch you, to satisfy his depraved appetites whilst you watch your father imprisoned in hospital. Do you have any idea what it is like to look into the eyes of someone who knows you are just about to end their life?”

“Jules!” Jonathan sobbed. “She was our mother.”

Julia shrugged. “I don’t care. I have and always will do what needs to be done.”

Jonathan pressed, “What are you saying?”

Julia smiled her sweet smile. “I’m saying I gave the Court everything it needed to go after both of them. I’m saying I will bring you down too and I won’t bat an eyelid.”

Jonathan nodded.

She smiled her nice smile. Julia Harvester was a nice girl. She always had been. She took her brothers hand again. Her touch was softer.

“We’ll be fine with poor mummy and daddy gone. I’ll have to work extra hard but the farm will be just fine. It’s late now. I’m going to have some herbal tea and a nice hot bath.”

A tear spilled from Jonathan’s eye. His sob caught her attention. She turned and agilely crossed the hall again. She opened the window to let the stifling air escape the farm house.

“What’s all this fuss about?” she asked. She pinched his cheek. Her grip twisted. “What’s all the fuss about?”

Jonathan gasped. He had no answer for his little sister.

“I’m just putting everything back in its place. Everything is so much neater when things are in their place. Beck Tower, Owen Inc. and all the other little blocks laid neatly in a row. I have much to do Jon and I can’t have you holding me back. Whilst they all went on bickering among themselves, they failed to notice our farmland grow. They were so distracted with what they could have that our trucks slipped around the city unnoticed. They were all so concerned with protecting their own they hadn’t counted the amount of fresh new Harvesters stores all the way from City Main to our latest on Love Street in Bellfield. I’d very much like to take a walk up Love Street. All the little blocks neatly in a row and suddenly the city becomes a much nicer place. Goodbye Jon.”

BANG.

Jon was shot in the centre of his forehead. His body dropped with the weight of slaughtered cattle. She stepped over the body. She wanted to run a bath, relax and shake off all that had happened.

When I began my story into the mayor I had been warned away from it. My fellow reporters told me it would lead me to dangerous places. The events unfolded and now as the largest titans in the city prepared to face off they failed to notice a great monster rising in the north. What was most dangerous about the Harvester monster, was that it was a friendly face everyone welcomed into their home.

***

The Boss. Bournton’s pride. Now a Kappa So strong hold. For those bearing the name Penn it was not going to be an easy place to make home. Marcus Penn was introduced to this when Kappa So members flooded him in his cell and he was beaten badly. Simon they targeted in the showers. He was naked, he was outnumbered and they taunted him. He fought back but it was to no avail.

Governor Avery West stepped in. The prison he was placed in charge of had been assigned so many new guards since the arrival of Billy Owen to CPD that he barely recognised most of the faces as he crossed the halls of The Boss to his office. Guards, legal staff, even the medics and admin, all were different. There were so many new arrivals. It made the inmates uncomfortable but random outbursts of violence from the guards kept them pacified.

Inside his office Avery was met by two guards. They had in their custody two of the Penns. Their faces matched and their expressions matched too.

“Take a seat, gentlemen,” Avery invited.

Simon seemed hesitant at first but when Marcus took a seat he followed suit.

“Let me begin by apologising on behalf of my guards for the extra attention you’ve been getting lately. I wanted you to know that I am doing all I can to see that it doesn’t happen again.”

“Why?” Marcus wanted to know. This was his first audience with the governor so he was familiarising himself with the type of man he was.

Avery nodded to the guards. They both took a step back. “I want to make you as comfortable as possible,” he admitted. “When you are inside The Boss you are my responsibility. I take the responsibility of any of the inmates very seriously. I have been here a long time and I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen riots, I’ve seen contraband and I’ve seen men hang from the roof. When you both came in we expected a handful but you’ve caused little trouble and you’ve even kept some of the other inmates in line. If you are going to be with me for the foreseeable future we might as well keep our acquaintance friendly. As a matter of fact, in the token of our friendship I have a gift for you. If you will care to follow me.”

Simon and Marcus were escorted to an exercise yard. It was smaller than the main one the inmates used. Two guard towers were perched, each with a gunman to boast. “This is exercise yard B. The guard up there,” here Avery pointed to the left. “His name is Rukov. I’ve known him for years. If you continue to behave like gentlemen he’ll give you no trouble. On the right up there,” here he indicated the other. “His name is Gorvic. I hand picked him especially for my squad here. He will follow the same rules.”

“Why did you bring us here?” Marcus enquired.

Simon had already seen the reason. “Reggie!” he called.

On the other side of the fence sat the final triplet for them to be whole again. Forgetting the gunmen and the guards both the triplets ran to meet their brother at the barrier between them.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” asked Simon with snarl.

“I came to find you,” said Reggie. “You could show a little gratitude.”

Simon shook his head. “Do you have any idea the danger you have put yourself in?”

Reggie shrugged. He sat himself down on the ground.

“He’s right,” Marcus agreed. “You can’t stay here.”

Reggie folded his arms and remained defiant.

“Well I’m not going anywhere. If you two are in danger, I am too. So you might as well just leave it.”

Simon was still shaking his head but he had softened. “You are a fucking idiot.”

Reggie laughed, “Yeah I know, but I’m the idiot on this side of the fence.”

Marcus turned his attention back to Avery. Avery approached them. “No one else will be able to use this area. It’s not a long-term solution but at least you will have the chance to regroup.”

Marcus frowned. “Why are you doing this?”

“Help keep my prison in order and I will make life as easy for you as I can.” Avery took his leave. The two ground guards remained posted at the door. The tower guards kept their look out on the Boss’ rear approach.

The triplets were given the chance to talk.

“So what you’s been up to?” Reggie asked.

Simon frowned. “Well it’s been bed of fucking roses, Reg. What do you think?”

Reggie shook his head. “It’s not exactly been easy for me you know. It’s been no picnic.” This seemed to trigger something. “Marcus, I’ve got a pack of the Harvester Corn chips. You like those, right?”

He stood and with a great heave he threw the packet over the fence. They landed at Marcus’ feet. He scooped them up. “Thanks,” he replied. He inspected the packet. “It’s bacon flavour. Do you have any cheese?”

“What do I look like?” Reggie asked. “A fucking corner shop?”

All three laughed. The sound almost broke the barrier between them. Almost.

“There’s no pleasing you,” Simon put to Marcus. He closed in on the bars and tried to look behind Reggie into the small fishing tent he had set up. “Got any energy drinks?”

“Fuck off. You get your three squares a day. This is the only stash I have.”

Reggie was the most resourceful of the triplets. Like his rats, he was the most effective at squeezing from tight places.

“Have you heard anything about dad?” Marcus asked, peeling open the corn chips bag and dipping his fingers in.

“He’s been hitting and he’s been hitting hard. Snooker halls, dance venues and factories.”

“Why didn’t you go to him?”

“He’s not staying stationary. He’s moving all over the city, from Main to Bellfield. I don’t know where he is and if I did he’d be gone again by the time I get there. We’ll be fine here. He knows you’re both here so he’ll come and get us soon enough.”

“You’re going to get the stare treatment when he sees you’ve set camp up here,” said Simon.

The three remembered fondly. The triplets could be difficult to control but they were raised like gentlemen and taught to respect their mother and respect their family name. If any of them were found to get out of hand, all it would take from their father was the stare. A glance from Reginald Penn that reminded the boys there was a chain of command.

“I haven’t had the stare since that time I wore eyeliner,” Reggie said.

Simon started to laugh. Marcus continued to enjoy the corn chips.

“I already told you you looked like a tit,” Simon remarked.

“Do you remember that Marcus?” Reggie put to the eldest. “Remember, we were about eighteen. I had a bit of a faze going on.”

“You were friendly with the girl from the piercing parlour in those days,” Marcus mused.

“Yeah well I thought I’d try something different. Si, you were the one to start being a dick about it.”

Simon protested, “If you went out looking like that I would have been in so many fucking fights that day. And besides, when you wear make-up it looks like my face with make-up. I wasn’t having that shit.”

Marcus took another corn chip. He gave a shadow of a smile.

Reggie continued. “Yeah, well, I was just expressing myself,” he maintained.

Simon leaned over and fished for one of the corn chips. “You were expressing yourself like shit until you got the stare.”

Reggie nodded. “I was determined. I wasn’t going to listen to you. It was a new me and I had a new shag so I was doing it. It was bold but why the fuck should I care what people think? I grabbed my bag. The shoes were painful mind you. But I was going with it. I forgot I had to cross through the parlour didn’t I? Dad was in there every morning with his first cup of tea. I stopped. He lowered his newspaper. He took one look at me and there it was. The stare. ‘I don’t think that’s appropriate,’ he said. Yeah. I had to change that shit immediately.”

The three boys started laughing again.

Avery came back into the yard. He interrupted them.

“I can’t let you stay here long,” the governor said.

Distance was brought between the triplets again.

“We’ll come back,” Simon assured.

“I’ll just chill out here then, shall I?” Reggie called back.

***

The next day Marcus and Simon were taken to exercise yard B. This time the ground guards remained outside the door. It clicked closed but they all brightened when they saw each other. Reggie had kept his camp.

Simon was a few paces ahead of Marcus. Marcus looked up the left. The gunner was was not Rukov. He looked up to the right. The gunner was not Gorvic.

“Reggie,” he said. “Has anyone seen you?” he asked. “Has anyone said anything to you?”

Reggie shook his head. “No, it’s been quiet. The Warden was out but he just looked over and it was like he was just pretending I wasn’t there.”

The door open and the Warden in question stepped out. Avery was smiling. Pleased to see them.

“It’s nice to see family kept together,” he spoke warmly. “With so much going on.”

Simon agreed with an accommodating expression. Marcus however was unmoved.

“There’s nothing quite like brothers,” Avery said. “When you’re a brother you’re a brother for life.”

Simon’s eyebrows raised. Marcus turned to Reggie. “Reggie!” he screamed. “Run!”

Avery looked up to guard towers. Both the left and the right were pointed on Simon and Marcus. Ground guards flooded the area.

The air quietened. Reggie’s grunting could be heard as he tried to breathe. The views of his brothers were locked on him.

A voice could be heard calling above all of them.

“We are Kappa So,” he sang with a cold softness. “We are Kappa So.” The singing drew closer. “We are Kappa So and we make trouble where we go.” Billy Owen emerged from the CPD who had them surrounded. Buddy, Chad and Cooper were trailing close behind him.

“Well, hello, boys!” Billy grinned. He raised his hand in a gesture to the governor that resembled the letter K. Avery did likewise. “Fine night. Glad I get to spend it with y’all.” Buddy was quiet. He let Billy take the lead.

“I’m Billy,” he introduced. “Your father murdered my Pops. That was a motherfucking mistake that will haunt him to end of his days. Pray to Jesus that’s sooner rather than later. Right now, I’m here to make a little point of my own.” He snatched Reggie by the hair and slammed his face against the fence. Simon and Marcus tried to struggle from the guards.

He stroked Reggie’s hair this time. Marcus took note of the details of Billy’s face, from the deep set wrinkles in his forehead, to the dryness of his bottom lip.

“Fucking let him go!” Simon shouted.

Billy looked to Reggie with a satisfied grin. He resumed stroking Reggie’s hair softly.

“What did the daddy say to you after he had bashed our Pops’ brains in, little bro?”

Buddy was hesitant at first.

“What did he say?” Billy pressed.

“He told me I was a common whore, fucked by a king.”

Billy gave a deep exhale from his nostrils. “Is that so? Fucked you like a common whore, huh? That shit is just disrespectful. Why don’t we show this here whore what it’s really like to be fucked.”

Marcus grimaced. “Let him go.”

Billy stood. “You see, now it still sounds like you’re being disrespectful towards me. You will learn some manners.”

He grabbed Reggie’s trousers by the waist band and pulled them to his ankles. Simon shrieked. “Touch him and you die!”

Billy laughed a raspy laugh that almost verged on a cough. “I ain’t going near him. I ain’t no fag. This guy might be though!”

The one to step forward was not a Kappa So brother. They had brought out an inmate to do their bidding. Billy looked to Reggie’s expression as firm hands were clasped around his waist. He looked to his brothers’ expression as Reggie gave a squeal pain as the inmate pushed inside him. Billy grabbed his hair again and slammed his face against the fence.

“That’s what we like from the whores!” he taunted. “We like them to make a lot of noise.” He pulled Reggie’s head back by his hair again. “Tell your brothers just how much you love getting fucked like a whore. Earn your dollar!”

The inmate had Reggie. Brutally he pounded, keeping Reggie firm against the fence.

“Marcus,” he gasped. A tear began to roll down his cheek.

There was a tear in Marcus’ eye too. There was nothing he good do.

“Woooo! This boy is going at the whore good!” Billy cheered. “Look at him pounding that ass. Does he fuck whores better than big king daddy? I think daddy ought not to miss this.” He pulled a phone from his pocket and flashed it in Reggie’s face. “Beautiful darlin’ just beautiful. Look at the way he’s biting his lip.”

Reggie screamed in pain.

“Oh, he enjoying that shit!” jeered Billy. “What’s this guy in for?” he asked one of the companions of the inmate

“Rape,” was the reply.

Billy continued to taunt. “Give her some that ass slap action. Treat that little whore right.”

The inmate raised a hand. A stinging blow was delivered.

The roar of the Kappa So laughter shook the trees.

They all cheered when the inmate finished. Reggie was pulled away from the fence.

“Say goodbye to your little whore brother boys. This is the last time you ever gonna see him.”

Avery West turned to his guard. “Put the both of them in the prayer room.”

***

The Boss Lady was gone. That was what had been said. But if you go to the farthest reaches of Cardyne, you will find a building no one would care to call home. If you go down to the farthest reaches of Cardyne you will find a building you wouldn’t care to visit long. For this building had held Confessions Killer, Tracey Campbell. It had also held the Wood Chip Killer, Ruth Browning.

Confinement room 34. The guard opened the slot to check. He heard a scream but he closed the slot as quickly as he had opened it, drowning the cries of a desperate woman out.

Tabitha, Boss Lady of the Knock Knock Club, hadn’t spoken to anyone in weeks. It felt like forever. With the death penalty slicing ever closer to her neck like a great pendulum her access to anyone was limited. She exercised alone. She ate alone. She bathed alone.

She had always been a symbol. The Law Makers intended on smashing that symbol and any effect it ever had. From the moment the sentence was declared the people who supported Tabitha cried their dismay. These people needed to be reminded of what happened to those who took the law into their own hands. Using the skeleton ruse, they were led to believe the execution had already been carried out. The coffin even being removed.

“This is not over,” the Boss Lady warned.

But it was over. It was over for so many and yet there were still so many more waiting to stand and be counted.

All of this began for me the moment I stepped into the Knock Knock club and as long as Tabitha does still live it can’t be over. I am reporter Sam Crusow, and as I am writing this now, I take a deep breath and I prepare to describe what happened next.


Disclaimer:

If you have been affected by rape or sexual assault visit rapecrisis.org.uk for more information on support available.


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Knock Knock: Episode 26: Hot Date

It hadn’t escaped my notice that the Harvester Brand was spreading fast around the city. It was a swift spread that had happened over such a short space of time. While Julia Harvester hosted both Beckingridge and Owen proposals for investment she, essentially, was the only thing keeping the duelling titans at bay, the only thing keeping Buddy Owen on a low profile and the only thing keeping the city holding a tentative breath.  

“You got to watch her, man,” David Finn, the artist, told me. “You never know what she’s going to do next.”  

David would know. After he fell in love with her as his muse, he had become so engrossed by her that he failed to see two of his closest friends lose their child. The beautiful art work he produced with her image only brought him to Harbour House.  

Regardless of the warnings, I wondered if Julia knew anything about Sarah or Tawny. Perhaps she had heard her guest on the farm brag about the shooting as his brothers had. The very least I could do was make her aware of the kind of person Buddy was, if she wasn’t already. 

She was reputedly a beautiful woman, kind, shy seeming. 

“That’s how she gets you,” David had said. “Bam! Before you know it, she’s got you by the nuts and your saying sorry to her for the cramp in her hand.”  

David’s warnings were taken on board although they were coming from a time when his addiction was at its worst. Even he had to admit the memories were a little faded.  

The moment I saw her, however, I realised why she had caused such a stir. Beautiful she was, but with a natural allure. She even had sweat on her brow as she carried a box into the City Main Harvesters store. She was smiling and laughing with the girls who had come out to help her. I followed her inside.  

She laid the box on the counter. When she turned we were face to face.  

“Julia Harvester?” I put to her. “Sam Crusow. I’m writing a piece…”  

She stopped me with a smile and a gentle caress of my arm.  

“Yes, I know you. You used to write for the Daily. You’re a terrific writer. I was ever so sorry to hear what happened to your wife. Theresa, wasn’t it?”  

I hadn’t expected her to know so much about me. “Yes. Thanks.”  

“And still chasing the story? That’s either very courageous of you or proof that you reporters never give up.”  

Her smile smoothed. My own expression mimicked.  

“I want to finish what I started,” I said to her.  

“That nasty Knock Knock girl is gone now. I’m not sure what help I can be to you.”  

My story began the moment my eyes set sight on the Knock Knock Club sign for the first time but when the door of the club opened it was to the wider city. There was a much bigger story there.  

“I have some questions about your guest, Buddy Owen?” She looked to the phone I had slipped into my hand. “If you don’t mind my asking,” I added.  

She shrugged. “I’m really busy so it’ll have to be quick.”  

“Has Buddy ever mentioned to you about a little girl named Sarah?”  

Julia shook her head. “No.”  

“Has he said anything about the disappearance of Tawny McInney? The Baroness?”  

“No,” said Julia again. “Dreadful business though. I met her a few times in Harbour House. She was friendly with my dad who was a resident too. She was sweet, laughed a lot, really perked everyone up. Why would Buddy know anything about her?”  

“You know the history of the Baroness and Buddy’s uncle?”  

“I do,” Julia agreed. “But that was such a long time ago and Buddy isn’t his uncle. Buddy has been really sweet and helpful to me. That’s all I know. He’s overindulged and coarse but he’s just a big pet, really.”  

“There is reason to believe he is responsible for gunning down a little girl. You’ve heard the rumours that that is why Tawny was taken?”  

Julia stroked my arm again. This time her grip was a little firmer.  

“I would tread carefully, Mr Crusow. If there is a gunman going around you never know when you might step into his firing line.”  

I wasn’t given time to absorb her threats when she opened the box she had placed on the counter and drew out a meat packet. 

“With your wife gone you’ll be having trouble taking care of yourself properly.” 

“I have friends around,” I said.  

“That’s nice.”  

She passed me the meat packet. “Have this on the Harvesters. There’s more than enough to share with friends.” 

The meat was thick prime, tender beef. Succulent.  

“Thank you,” I said sincerely.  

“You’re welcome,” was her reply.  

Julia Harvester was truly a nice girl. 

*** 

With the bitterness setting in, Harvester Farm was being prepared for the winter chill. The coldness was always felt more harshly in the north and the animals and crops needed to be readied.  

Dr Nathan Watt was waiting in the kitchen. He had spent a very restless night in the guest bedroom and it was now early morning. That didn’t matter. Julia would be joining him soon enough. He heard her soft steps. He hoped she had slept well.  

A bowl of oatmeal and a slice of toast – lightly buttered – had been laid out for her. It was her preferred breakfast when a day on the fields beckoned. When she arrived in the kitchen she wasn’t surprised to see him awake but her focus was on a text message on her phone. She gave a giggle as she read. The glow of the screen highlighted her cheek bones, the softness of her eyes shone better then than in any of the images that artist, David Finn, had ever painted of her as far as Nathan was concerned.  

Still absorbed in her conversation, still failing to acknowledge him, Nathan cleared his throat. Julia giggled again as she started to compose a response.  

“I prepared breakfast for you,” Nathan informed her.  

Julia sat down at the table and picked up the cereal spoon. She laid the phone face down.  

“You’re so sweet,” she said, finally offering him a glance. “Shouldn’t you be at the hospital?”  

He hadn’t told her that Coldford General had ordered him on leave. Chief consultant Dr Ferrald had said he lacked enthusiasm.  

“It takes everything you got,” Dr Ferrald had said. “If your mind isn’t on the patients you are going to make mistakes. Take some time and gather yourself. For now though, take a leave of absence.”  

It didn’t matter to Nathan. When he and Julia were together, he could open a private practice. When she became pregnant the farm hands would handle the farm work. She wouldn’t be wanting to go back out onto the fields with the children to take care of and house to keep. Her mother and brother would of course still stay at the house. He supposed Nan Harvester would make a good grandmother for the children. Both of them, a boy and a girl. Hopefully the boy would come first. It would be nice to have a protective brother for his little girl. He would like to see the children to be close siblings. He was an only child. He only had his cousin Kelsey and they hated each other. He always wished it was different. 

He wanted to approach the subject of their being together again but he had to be delicate. She hesitated as she lifted her spoon. She caught his gaze. She smiled. Words were forming on her lips but before she uttered them her phone beeped its little jingle she favoured. She dropped the spoon he had set for her and lifted her phone. Nathan never thought he would ever find her voice irritating, so sweet it was to the ear, but as she laughed at the response to her text it grated on his nerves.  

“Who on earth is contacting you at his hour? It’s only just struck five.”  

Julia pursed her lips. She started to compose another text. “A friend. They’re in business so they have an early start too. Early bird catches the worm and all that.”  

“Oh?” Nathan wondered. “What’s their name?”  

Julia looked up with a slight smile. “It’s not a her, sweetie. It’s a him.”  

It was Nathan’s turn to frown. “I got up early. I made you breakfast. I am here for you presently and you barely speak to me? Instead, you spend your time messaging another man. That’s shameful behaviour Julia.”  

Julia spoke softly. “But I didn’t ask you to do any of those things.”  

Nathan started to become irritable. “I want to look after you, Jules. Why won’t you let me?” 

Julia cocked her head. She pouted. “You poor doe. You know I’m not in need of help. I have all the help I need on the farm.” 

“Eat your breakfast Jules. I made your favourite.” 

Julia pushed her seat out from the table and stood. Nathan stood too.  

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I have a busy day ahead, Nate. Perhaps you should go home.”  

“I’m not going anywhere,” he barked. “Stop texting other men and start showing me some appreciation for everything I do for you.”  

“Oh Nate,” she sighed. “Go home. I’m going to be on the fields all day and you are not needed.”  

“Why don’t we have dinner together?” he tried.  

Julia held her phone by her side. “I already have dinner plans. My friend is taking me to Delphine.”  

Nathan growled. “Isn’t it enough I have to watch that freak show, Buddy Owen, lust after you but now you tell me you have dinner plans with someone else? Why didn’t you tell me?” 

Julia remained calm. She knew his attention would fall to her chest as soon as she took a sharp intake of breath.  

“Don’t be so rude.”  

The phone bleeped again but before she could check it Nathan lunged forward. He tried to tackle her and snatch it from her hand. Used to the charge of angry cattle, Julia was too quick and pulled away holding her phone behind her back. He was leaning over her. His size was larger than hers but she was smiling.  

“Give me the phone,” he demanded.  

Julia raised an eyebrow. “I will not.”  

Nathan made another attempt to grab at it but her reflexes were too quick.  

“Curtis?” she called.  

Farm hand Curtis had been nearby, readying himself for a day on the fields. Nathan hadn’t heard him arrive. Nathan stepped back immediately, seeing Curtis appear in the door way.  

“You ready?” he asked. He took note of the way Julia was leaning back from Nathan and how he was looming over her but he said nothing.  

“I am. I want to get started. We have a long day ahead and I’m sick of oatmeal.”  

The winter preparations on Harvester Farm was an arduous task. Curtis glared at Nathan but he and the farm girl left. Nathan grumbled to himself as he cleared the table. That was when he noticed she had left her phone behind. It was a chance for him to warn this friend of hers off.   

MAKE IT A LUNCH DATE INSTEAD. He text as Julia. 

SURE. DELPHINE. 12PM. I’LL SHIFT RESERVATIONS. XXCX 

*** 

Delphine restaurant was well lit, a large chandelier sparkled down on the luncheon crowd. All of the tables were filled but an empty one for two by the window. Its view was of the Fullerton bridge. Water, escape, building. All of these things told that Julia would have chosen that spot.  

Nathan could see her tell her admirer, “a lovely spot for lunch.” 

She had no right making arrangements for dinner with other men. It was disrespectful towards him. They were going to be together and he demanded she begin by cutting out all other admirers starting with her dinner date. It was difficult enough with the Kappa So frat brothers. He knew Julia was just toying with them to keep them in line but he didn’t like the way that Buddy Owen looked at her. He didn’t like how comfortable he was becoming in Julia’s company. More than that he didn’t like that she was laughing with her dinner date as though he – Nathan – was of no consequence. He gave up everything for her. He devoted himself to her and this was the thanks he was given? 

It was approaching noon. First he would tell this new beau of Julia’s to back off and leave her alone then he would rid the farm of those frat brothers. Julia would see sense. Maybe a grand gesture like that would catch her interest again and show how much she meant to him.  

The admirer had said in his last message to what he thought was Julia. 

I’LL BE OUT OF TOWN UNTIL 2MORROW. I’LL C U AT LUNCH. XxCx 

Was the C a misspelling? Was that his name? He had been tempted to dig deeper but he had to be careful. A lot of information Julia would already know even if they had just met. Julia had her way of ingratiating herself to people quickly. Before long they wanted to offer her everything they had.  

He checked back on some of their exchange. Nothing sexual, thank God. That’s not to say there weren’t deleted messages though. From what he could read they were merely discussing life on a farm. He did ask her if she had ever masturbated a bull but she quickly laughed that off, changed the subject and he sweetened again.  

What kind of company was this for her to keep? Perhaps he was reading too much into it but it seemed like Julia was delighted at the prospect of having a meal with this creep. Nathan would set him straight. 

The time slipped to two minutes past noon. The date hadn’t shown up yet. He was either running a little late or Julia would have been stood up. She did say he was in business. Maybe business had kept him. Maybe that would be the end of it. Perhaps he had messaged again after Julia came in from the fields and took her phone back. Maybe she had learned all about Nathan’s little deception. But that couldn’t be it. She didn’t say anything about it. But then she wouldn’t. She would let him come to the restaurant and let him look a fool. She and her new ‘friend’ in business would be tittering behind their hands at Nathan’s expense. All he could do was return to the farmhouse, demand she call her friend and tell him they were no longer to be in touch. Then he would take her upstairs and show her how much he cared.  

Nathan watched the empty table. The Maitre’d stopped.  

“Sir, we are currently serving our luncheon course. If you don’t have a reservation, I really must ask you to leave.” 

Snobbish and with the slight hint of a Luen accent. Probably put on. She was a severe looking woman with large sagging breasts that tugged on the buttons of her white shirt. Nathan didn’t know what name the business ‘friend’ would have put the table under.  

“I’m meeting someone,” he decided to hang on for an extra few minutes.  

The Maitre’d was not impressed but she left him alone to watch the table longingly. If Julia liked that table so much he could book it for them. With his ordered leave from the hospital he wouldn’t be able to afford it for very long so he would have to act fast.  

A few more minutes passed. It wouldn’t be long before the Maitre’d would be onto him again. He sighed. Bitterly defeated, he resolved to leave.  

Long, pianist fingers clasped his shoulder. A man’s voice hissed in his ear.  

“You must be Dr Watt. I believe you’re here to see me.” 

Nathan was spun round to face a young man of about nineteen in a finely tailored dark, grey suit. His darkening fair hair was neatly parted. His full lips were stretched in a Cheshire Cat grin. His brown eyes were saucer like but devoid of any warmth.  

“George Beckingridge. You’ve been texting me. Let’s eat.”  

*** 

“We might as well use the table if Julia isn’t coming,” said George.  

Nathan said nothing. He followed the Billionaire Boy to the table and took a seat across from him. He watched the heir to the Beckingridge Tower closely. Not only was he the richest young man in Coldford, but if rumours were true he was also a brother murdering, puppy torturing psychopath. He had spent ten years missing when his music teacher kidnapped him. The teacher – Vincent Baines – had been a Harbour House resident along with David Finn and the Baroness. They had been close friends. Mr Baines was now in The Boss regretting the day he accepted George as a pupil. His Aunt Elizabeth was still interim CEO of the Tower but it was only the matter of time before the boy who most claim murdered his mother at age eight, became the controlling force behind the biggest fortune in the shady city, with a shark tank filled with hungry board members at his beck and call.  

“You look surprised,” George gave a nasally laugh. “Didn’t you want to meet for lunch? I had to change the reservations and everything. You text me from Julia’s phone.”  

Nathan could ask how George came about that information but Julia was always far more aware than she would let on. It wouldn’t surprise him if she had deliberately left her phone behind so that he could arrange this for himself. She and her new friend were tittering behind their hands at his expense after all.  

A highly trained silver service waitress approached them. Without rudely interrupting them she waited for George to acknowledge her.  

“Can I get something for you gentlemen to drink?”  

Petite, mid-thirties, skilled at her job. George looked at Nathan though, rather than the waitress.  

“A bottle of Cristal, I think. We’re going to celebrate.”  

Nathan lowered his gaze. “I should go,” he decided.  

“No!” George barked.  

If the waitress was taken aback, she didn’t show it. Some of the other diners looked up though. George gave his nasally snigger again.  

“A bottle of Cristal and we’ll have two of whatever the chef’s specials are today.”  

“An excellent choice, Mr Beckingridge,” the waitress agreed, collecting their menus. “Chef is simply a wonder with veal. You won’t be disappointed.” 

The waitress departed leaving George and his luncheon companion alone. “I come here a lot now,” he stated. “The chef at home is on my aunt’s staff. She might try to poison me. I know the chef here though. I know him very well.” 

“What do you want George?” 

“That’s Mr Beckingridge to you,” George snarled. “I didn’t arrange this. You did. I’m glad you did though. Julia told me what the look on your face would be like and it does look stupid.” Here George giggled boyishly. “I’m acquainting myself with the finer things in life. Julia is quite fine, isn’t she?”  

At first Nathan was speechless but then he managed a whimper.  

“I’m in love with her. She loves me too,” he said.  

George’s lip curled like he was a little boy who still believed girls were a sure way to catch cooties.  

The waitress returned with the bottle of Cristal and two finely chipped Champagne glasses. Nathan placed his hand over his before the waitress could offer him a sample.  

“I’m not staying,” he informed them as the waitress presented the bottle in a perfect silver service manner.  

“Yes, he is,” George insisted. “We’re on a date here and he’s not going to leave me to drink alone.”  

Nathan removed his hand from the glass. The waitress poured.  

George drank first. He sipped. He held the glass the way lessons in etiquette had taught him. He noticed Nathan looking up to stare at him.  

“Do you want Julia?” he finally asked.  

George settled the glass down. “You needn’t worry about me. My tastes lie…elsewhere.”  

“I shouldn’t have come here.” 

George pursed his lips. “Why? I liked the kisses in your text. I liked your sweet words.”  

Nathan couldn’t tell if the Billionaire Boy was being sarcastic. He fell to silence again. George started to laugh.  

“Drink the champagne, Nathan,” he instructed.  

Nathan took a sip of the expensive Cristal but he didn’t savour it.  

“Tastes like feet,” George grinned. “Doesn’t it?” 

“What do you want Mr Beckingridge?” Nathan asked.  

They had never met in person but he had seen him many times on the news. The kidnapping story, the death of his mother and brother, the rumours of psychopathy his aunt wasn’t shy in sharing. He had noted his cold stare through the television screen many times as though he had been addressing him directly. Now being sat across the table from him in person was unsettling.  

“Julia is my friend. She’s the best girl in the world. I like her. But she tells me you aren’t happy with the boys on the farm.” 

With Beckingridge Firm competing with Owen Inc. for a controlling share in the farm it occurred to Nathan that maybe the Billionaire Boy could be a way of ridding Julia of Buddy and his brothers for good. If Julia had befriended George maybe he could too.  

“I worry about those frat brothers around Julia. I’m worried that they will hurt her. Buddy Owen is…” 

Nathan curbed his words immediately when he noticed the soft expression on George’s face dissolve into a scowl. “Shut up!” he barked.  

Nathan’s lips pursed tightly. George saw how uncomfortable he had made the doctor and he relished it.   

“Buddy is a God,” he said. “He says things people are too scared to admit. He leads where most other tiny pissers are afraid to go. He’s a God and you should be thankful your mother opened her legs when she did so you could be there to see him on the farm.” 

If George had actually witnessed Buddy trying to work the farm, he may have felt a little differently. This was not for Nathan to argue though.  

“Did your dad have God balls Nathan?” The question was rhetorical. “Don’t worry. Mine didn’t either but Buddy is going to show me how to be a God. He’s my brother.” George opened the jacket of his suit to show a Kappa So badge on his shirt. “He’s my brother and we’re brothers for life.”  

*** 

George had insisted the doctor stay and have his lunch just like he had used Julia’s phone to arrange. He insisted the doctor be the one to drink the Cristal and finish it.  

“Finish the bottle. I bought it for you,” he said. 

He kept laughing as the doctor grimaced. He was drunk by one o’clock and feeling sick. Nathan tried to excuse himself but George was persistent. He tried to summon the Maitre’d to help but when she turned to the Billionaire Boy and asked, “Is this man bothering you, Mr Beckingridge?” Nathan knew it would be no use.  

George watched on with a grin as Nathan forced all three courses. He hated veal and despite the meat being succulent and well prepared it still caused his stomach to gargle. By the final bite he could barely speak.  

“Drink up,” George kept saying. “Eat up. Don’t play with your food. Don’t waste it.”  

“May I be excused?” Nathan asked. “Please let me go. I think I’m going to be sick.”  

George’s lip curled. He had chosen a large glass of Jolly Shopper soda pop for himself. It wasn’t usually what Delphine served their luncheon crowds but for their best customer they were happy to make an exception. George took the glass in both hands and brought it to his lips. He glugged, glugged, glugged so loudly some of the other patrons looked up at him.  

By the time he left Delphine Nathan’s head was spinning. He emptied the contents of his stomach at the foot of the street where he had parked his car. Luckily the town of Filton was quieter than City Main so he managed to get away without drawing too much attention to himself. He climbed into his car and drove the North route back towards Bournton. A CPD patrol approached but luckily they took the exit to Fullerton Bridge. They seemed in a hurry. They were in too much of a hurry to notice Nathan’s car swaying slightly.  

He did catch the attention of Curtis as the car screeched to a halt at the bottom of the east acre. Failing to park in any cohesive manner Nathan stumbled out of his car and vomited again.  

“Hey cunt!” Curtis yelled at him. “I hope you’re going to clean that up.” 

Nathan couldn’t give him any attention, he simply waved him off and started to stumble towards the farm house. The fresh air dancing around his face was helping clear his head. Julia was nowhere around. She would probably be out on deliveries or maybe she was going on to rendezvous with George so they could laugh about how much of a fool Nathan had made of himself.  

Buddy and his brothers were in the east acre tasked with preparing the ground for the winter. They stopped when they saw Nathan. Still drunk on a full guzzled bottle of champagne Nathan almost stumbled. Buddy emitted an uproarious laugh. His brothers followed suit. Chad cackled along with the chapter leader. Cooper watched with a smile on his face and his arms folded.  

“You’re wasted!” Buddy called to him. “You gotta get me some of your gear, bro!” 

He proceeded to hold his nostril and hop around the field. Chad was now in hysterics. Nathan was in no mood for their nonsense.  

“Can’t handle the Charlie?” 

Nathan rushed towards the farm house. Still Buddy and his friends taunted him.  

“Fucking coke head,” Nathan muttered bitterly when he got inside. He had a plan for ridding the farm of Buddy and his bros. Julia was clearly looking for the next best thing but Dr Nathan Watt could show her she already had the best she was ever going to have. It didn’t matter that Buddy Owen’s family had the chance to make something of the farm that Julia had worked so hard to protect. She would learn who was truly behind her, who truly wanted her and it wasn’t Buddy ‘goddamn’ Owen.  

Having just returned from school in the city, Susie was stood in the hallway. Her pink back pack was still over her shoulders. She was clutching a horse doll, playing with its hair nervously. As she watched Nathan she noted he was drunk. She didn’t like seeing people drunk. She saw her dad drunk once and it frightened her. He had been so frustrated with work and he had drunk too many beers. Grandma was yelling at him to get to bed. He calmed down when he saw Susie cry. He kissed her and said he was sorry he was just a big idiot. His breath smelled awful. He told her she would never see him in that state again and he kept true to his word.  

“You are better than your father,” Grandma reminded him.  

Susie knew no harm would come to her from her daddy no matter how drunk he got but with other drunk men she was not so sure.  

“Hi, Susie,” Nathan greeted. He was starting to stand a little straighter. The cloudiness over his mind was starting to dissipate as he collected his medical bag from a locked cupboard he kept it in.  

“Where are you going?” the little girl asked.  

How to explain it to a child. “I’m going away and I might not see you again.”  

“Oh?” The little girl was taken aback. Nathan had become such a feature at the farm house it hadn’t been what she had expected but she wasn’t too upset. She continued to play with the hair of her toy horse. Mimsy she called it because it looked a lot like the real-life Harvester horse named Mimsy.  

“Bye then,” Susie replied.  

She didn’t notice him reach into his medical bag.  

“We’re friends right?” he put to her.  

Susie managed a smile. He didn’t look as drowsy as he had before. He even looked a little sad.  

“Sure,” she shrugged. 

“And we both like Jules, right?” he asked.  

Susie nodded. She smiled again. Nathan wasn’t so bad. He was a bit of a blow hard – that’s what dad called him – but he was okay really. He wasn’t funny like Buddy and he was always trying to tell her off but that was just his way. Buddy didn’t tell her off. In fact, he found it hilarious when she said things she shouldn’t. He laughed so hard when she told Chad to ‘Fuck off’  

“She’s a feisty little critter cause she’s Kappa So!” he had cheered.  

Excitable, fun, with flowing blonde hair and an accent like a movie star. Susie couldn’t understand why Nathan thought Julia would ever choose him over Buddy. She guessed grown-ups looked for different things.  

“I’ll miss you,” he said sincerely.  

Maybe Nathan wasn’t so bad after all. Julia had always said he was a good friend and he was Susie’s friend too she supposed. He just liked Julia more than she liked him. Grown-ups were weird.  

“You’ll look after Julia for me, won’t you?” he asked of her.  

Looking after Julia and Kappa So mascot. Susie’s pride swelled with her responsibilities on the farm.  

“Sure,” she agreed.  

Nathan’s expression became softer. She still didn’t like the drunken look in his eyes.  

“Can I get a hug goodbye?”  

*** 

Buddy was returning a bucket to the stables like a good boy. He was laying low. His father would be on Coldford soil soon enough and those loyalist sons a bitches would pay for what they did to him and to Pops. Them and their Fleet scum ass kissers. He didn’t let the frustration boil over though. The farm work itself was humiliating but he realised the harder he worked, the more he pretended to care about dumb shit like the horses, the warmer Julia became to him. That and it kept fucking cave man farm hand Glenn off his back. Chad seemed to be taking a step further and prancing around the farm like he was one of them. He even had a beer with Curtis. He would have to be reminded he was a brother and they were brothers for life.  

He dropped the bucket on the shed floor. One of the horses, named Pippen, snorted at him. 

“Shut the fuck up!” Buddy snorted back. Pippen shook his head. The truth was Buddy wasn’t actually annoyed which surprised him. Given the circumstances and the fact that it was now day 7 without powder, he really should have been losing it. Maybe the farm air was doing him good. He never really made the most of ranch life as a boy. He just wanted to shoot the horses in the ass with one of the air rifles. He patted Pippen’s nose as he remembered how fast a little foal had run after he aimed. CRACK. The dumb ass foal tried to leap the fence, got caught and tore the tendon in its front right leg. It had to be shot with a real gun.  

“Ah,” Buddy sighed, still stroking Pippen. “Memories.”  

He had caught Hell for that one. Luckily not from The Cappy. He had been away on business as usual. But Uncle Walt was the best rancher of all of them. He made Buddy run across the enclosure and shot him in the ass with an air rifle. Buddy leapt that fence. He leapt that fence real good and he cleared it. He didn’t get caught like the dumbass little horse.  

Buddy scooped up some feed for Pippen. The horse munched angrily from his hand. Buddy laughed to himself as he remembered Uncle Walt dragging the wayward preteen back to the ranch house to nurse the wound.  

“I had mind to aim straight up your ass, son,” Walt had groaned, “but since I wasn’t going to see you spitting bullets I figured, what’s the point?”  

The air rifle had done enough damage. Buddy was rubbing the fleshy part of his left ass cheek. Walt was a cousin to the The Cappy. He was a prominent figure in Buddy’s life. He was the father when The Cappy himself was rarely around. Buddy suspected Walt was even banging his Mama but there was no proof of that. Buddy liked Walt. Walt knew how to get shit done.  

He thought of Julia. Now those thoughts were stirring. Wait a minute … Wasn’t there naked paintings of her somewhere? An immediate check ensued.

The barn was empty so it seemed no use to waste the quiet time. he reached his hands into his pants. There was a noise of someone stumbling in so he quickly turned.

“Hey, little mascot!” he cheered. “How was school? Shit, right?” 

Susie mumbled something but it was incoherent. It was then he noticed her already large eyes were even larger. They had reddened like she had ingested a zombie virus. Her pupils were hugely dilated. Her little body was trembling. Buddy was no doctor but he knew a lot about cocaine abuse.  

“Susie?” He tried to speak calmly the way the Kappa So coke whores would when they were trying to bring him on a come down. The little girl tried to leap excitedly but she fell on the floor.  

He remembered Chad once throwing ice water over home when it looked as though he was overdosing.  

“Who the fuck gave you coke?” he asked.  

Susie couldn’t answer.  

He lifted the water bucket. He had to act fast. Glenn would have seen his daughter wander towards the shed. He always had an eye on her no matter what he was doing. He was telepathic or something when it came to the kid. Who would get the blame? The fucking powder fiend.  

“Not touched any in fucking days,” he was growling. “What the actual fuck brah!” He poured water over the little girl but it didn’t seem to do much good. “Damn it, Susie!” he pleaded. He lifted her into his arms and gave her a firm pat to her cheeks. “Snap out of it.”  

If Cooper or Chad had given his little mascot coke, he was going to raise all kinds of Hell. There was no way they should have Charlie without telling him. He had been sober for what felt like forever. What the fuck! 

The tremors of the little girl’s trembling body became worse with the addition of the cold water. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like it one bit. She was his little mascot. She was Kappa So and someone had tried to hurt her. No powder in days and the little girl turns up three sheets to the wind. Ain’t no one going to believe he had nothing to do with it. Everything would be ruined. The little girl was sick, The Cappy would be furious but not before Glenn beat his ass. Julia would hate him and all along some asshole had powder on the farm this whole time.  

“Get off her!” Glenn came charging towards him like one of the bulls he was used to wrangling.  

Buddy tried to stop him moving her. She was now struggling to breathe.  

“You’ve gotta get a doctor, bro. She’s taken coke. She’s taken coke!” Buddy tried to warn Glenn. Normally when the coke whores or even one of the brothers had snorted too much they would just be thrown out on their asses. If the exposure got to them before they sobered up that was their own damn fault. This was different. Buddy needed that little girl to live.  

Glenn snatched Buddy by the throat, crushing his trachea. He punched him with a blow ‘The Bournton Blizzard’ would have been proud of. Buddy was sent backwards. The force almost broke a board on Pippen’s paddock.  

“She needs a doc, bro,” Buddy protested.  

Glenn snarled. “I’ll deal with you later.” He picked Susie up into his arms. “You better hope to Christ and everything he stands for that she’s okay.”  

Buddy hadn’t picked himself up yet. The hit from Glenn had removed any strength he had had in his legs.  

“Get her to a doctor, brah.”  

Glenn carried Susie away in a rush. He hoped he could catch Nathan before he left.  

*** 

Deliveries in the city had been more time consuming than Julia had anticipated. Her brother, Jonathan, had taken the City Main ones. Julia had gone further to Cardyne and then on to Swantin.  

Darkness was beginning to set in by the time she had arrived back on Harvester Farm. The lights were on in the dining room of the farm house. Her dinner plans with George were cancelled due to Nathan and she was famished. The fields were quiet. Glenn’s own truck was gone. Some of the farm hands were having a beer as they relaxed after a long day’s hard work. They acknowledged her with a smile. She waved back.  

A light was on in the milking shed where Buddy and his brothers were still stationed. Chick Owen had told them to remain where they were until he arrived from the Great States. The Owen estate could be unsafe and their Chapter House was still devastated after the combined loyalist/fleet attack.  

There was no laughter there which was unusual. Normally Buddy’s voice could be heard above the others. He was certainly nothing if not strong spirited. The warning from Reginald Penn, the loss of his much respected and admired grandfather hadn’t broken him. Why would it when he knew his father would be arriving any minute and would clear the mess in one fell sweep? The Cappy was a powerful man and whilst he was around the son would laugh at the attempts of their enemies to frighten them. But something had given him sobering thoughts. 

There was an eery silence as Julia stepped inside the house. There was no laughter, no merriment from the dining room.  

“I’m home!” Julia called. “My dinner plans were cancelled. I do hope there is enough for one more setting.” 

Julia looked in the mirror that hung by the door. Some strands of hair had escaped her pony tail. She fixed them and tidied her clothes.  

“Mummy? Jon?” she called.  

From the dining hall emerged Nan Harvester.  

“It’s good you’re home, buttercup.” Nan greeted with a warm embrace and a kiss of her daughter’s cheek. “Of course we will have a place set for you. There’s plenty to go around. As a matter of fact, we have a guest. So why don’t you go and get washed up?” 

“Who’s the guest?” Julia asked, taking note of her mother’s excitement.  

Nan patted her arm. “Just hurry and get cleaned. We don’t want to hold dinner back too long.” 

Julia agreed to her mother’s request. When she reached the foot of the stair case her mother added, “Use the new wash. It’s apple scented.”  

Julia paused for thought. Nan smiled sweetly as though the words were of no consequence.  

Julia changed from her Harvester shirt. Without knowing the importance of the guest, she chose a plain white blouse. She used the apple wash on her hands and face, enjoying how the sweet scent covered the smell of the Harvester van she had been riding in all day.   

Returning back downstairs, a warmth was now radiating from the dining room. She could hear voices now. Jonathan was offering their guest an anecdote of his trip abroad. He was telling the story heartily just like their father used to. Jacob could always tell a good story.  

“And here she is, the lady of the moment!” 

Jon’s story was had been interrupted by their guest. Sat at their father’s place at the table was Dr Winslow – eminent clinician, saviour of her father’s life initially and bullying force she had worked so hard to get rid of. 

“My darling Julia, you look so pale. I hope they aren’t working you too hard,” commented the doctor with an accommodating smile.

  

Julia smiled too as she took her seat. “Well, well Gregory,” she replied. “It’s been a while. How have you been?”  

“Terrific,” he replied. “Just terrific. Everything is getting back on track with Harbour House.” 

Julia gushed. “I’m so glad to hear that. It did give so many people hope of recovery.”  

Winslow’s head dropped slightly onto his left shoulder as he observed her more closely. “It’s just a pity one such person wasn’t my dear friend Jacob.”  

Julia’s eyes brightened. “We all have our losses.”  

“We might as well forget our losses and appreciate what we do have. Your mother was kind enough to invite me to join you for this lovely meal. I must say, Nan, it smells positively delectable.”  

Julia reached out and took her mother’s hand in hers. She gave it a gentle squeeze.  

“She’s such a treasure, isn’t she?” said the daughter. She looked across the table to Winslow. “Pass the potatoes please.”  



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Knock Knock: Episode 23: Reg3 online

The Penn triplets were high on the Judge’s list. The only thing higher was their father. As the Shady City darkened, I was conscious of what was to come next. They say all omens come in threes. Marcus – taken for the murder of Court Clerk Melanie Wallace – had already had his chance. He had been found guilty. Murder in the first degree would keep him behind the bars of The Boss for a long time. The video evidence I had provided was what confirmed that fate.

Then there was Simon. They called him ‘Punchline Penn’. When he crippled the Bournton Blizzard no one saw the humour in the joke. Anger issues, middle child anxiety despite being born on the same day as his identical brothers. Assault was what confined him to The Boss and would continue to do so for the time being.

Then there was Reggie, the baby of the group. His experience of life was unlike his brothers. He was privileged and over indulged like so many at the root of causing the problems but there was something that set Reggie aside. He had the Penn penchant for violence but he didn’t have the spirit to see it through alone. That didn’t matter. In the Shady City innocence was a difficult scale to comprehend. Who was innocent? I myself couldn’t claim that. Without his brothers though, Reggie Penn was in a tight spot. Like the rats he was fond of keeping, he would have to squeeze through.

City Main – the busiest part of Coldford – stood silent. Sure, there was the noise of the traffic and the movement of people but there was a calmness, like that after a storm. The seized sign on the Auction House was the wreckage left behind. I drew out my phone and began to take photographs. It wasn’t quite the aftermath yet. I could see bailiffs moving around behind the gates, taking note of everything from antique earrings to large pieces of furniture. Reginald Penn wouldn’t be returning to his castle any time soon. He and Paddy Mack were still combining efforts to flush Kappa So out of Coldford.

“It’s quite sad, isn’t it?” a woman stopped.

I smiled in agreement and took another photograph.

“I’ve known those boys since they were little. Rita Penn will be so upset.”

City Main people were always keen to talk and swap stories.

“Did you see the seizure take place?” I asked her.

“I saw them take two of the triplets away. I guess if you live by the sword you die by it. I blame Reginald. He raised those boys to be thugs. It was only a matter of time before they ended up in jail.”

I couldn’t disagree with that. I had witnessed first-hand what Marcus Penn was capable of and I had seen what Simon had done to Reynolds.

“Would you give a statement?” I asked her.

The woman’s interest ignited. “You’re a reporter? Which paper?”

“Independent for now,” I explained.

She turned her face towards the natural light of the midday sun. “On camera?”

“If you don’t mind,” I urged.

She smiled and waited as I held my phone.

“Go ahead,” I said. “When you’re ready.”

“I had been walking by. I had some bags from Harvesters, just down there.” Here she pointed towards the City Main Harvesters store. “I heard one of the boys shouting. He was complaining to CPD. The police were taking him and his brother away. They had Marcus, the one with the glasses. The other was Reggie. He was doing the screaming. He was yelling merry hell at CPD, at everyone. I don’t know what they were being taken in for but I can only imagine.”

My old sources at The Boss informed me that Marcus and Simon had arrived, been given their induction and now began their time but there was no Reggie. Two out of three was not bad results but if he wasn’t with his brothers it meant he had either slipped CPD custody or had been taken somewhere else entirely.

“Were the two triplets put in the same van?” I asked the woman.

“No,” she said. “They split them up. Marcus was taken in CPD transport. Reggie was put in a black van.”

***

Reggie Penn was lost. He was in a part of the city he didn’t know so he was physically lost. His triplet brothers were in The Boss so he was emotionally lost. He was…lost. It frustrated the hell out of him. Normally he’d be reliant on Marcus’ guidance but he wasn’t around. Simon would be second to step in but they had already picked him up when they raided the Knock Knock Club. Reggie had assumed they would put him in The Boss along with his brothers. He could handle that. It would only be a matter of time before their father, Reginald, would have them out again anyway. He wasn’t going to make a fuss as they removed them from their family’s Auction House. He was taking Marcus’ lead. The eldest triplet by a few minutes coolly followed the agents and accepted their custody, saying very little. Marcus was never one for much emotion showing. Reggie had planned on doing the same but when the CPD officers started to handle him roughly he became annoyed.

“You guys got a gaming room at The Boss?” asked Reggie. Some sarcasm, a little genuine wonderment.

“A gaming room?” the officer asked. “Will you listen to this one?” he put to his partner.

“I got some mad skills,” Reggie insisted with a grin. Marcus could show the officers they hadn’t broken him without uttering a word but Reggie couldn’t. He had to let them know.

“Reggie!” Marcus barked. “Stop.”

City Main was at its busiest. Reggie was sure the officers were deliberately making a show of him. They called the Penn triplets the Princes of Main, their father being the King. They were well known in the area and seeing two of them being escorted from their kingdom in handcuffs sure drew attention. There was a mixture of fear and relief on the faces of passers-by. The Penn name was equally feared and respected. A woman in an expensive coat pushing a buggy stopped. She was staring. Separated from his brother and being pulled towards a waiting task force van, Reggie stared back.

“Got a good look?” Reggie asked her. “Fuck off!” he warned.

“Reggie!” Marcus barked again.

“They’re deliberately making a show of this,” complained the youngest triplet.

More distance had been put between him and his brother. Marcus was being pushed into the back of a CPD prison van. It wasn’t black like the one they were taking Reggie to.

“Keep your mouth shut or I break your fucking knees,” one of the CPD officers warned him.

Reggie sighed, not caring for the warning. “Just get us to The Boss already.”

The officer tightened his clutch on his arm. “You think that’s where you’re going?”

Reggie frowned. “What’s he talking about?” he asked the other officer who was carrying out his duty quietly.

“Marcus?” he called to his brother. “What’s he talking about?”

It was too late. Marcus had been put inside the van. Reggie Penn was on his own.

With the Penns in custody the officers had no need to heed any warning from any of them.

“You ain’t going to The Boss,” the officer hissed in his ear with delight. “You ain’t even going to CPD holding.”

Reggie tried to shrug free. With Marcus now out of sight he felt so much more vulnerable. He no longer paid attention to the City Main crowds that were still passing.

“Where are you taking me?”

The CPD officer laughed. “We’ve got an appointment for you with the doc. You’re going to Harbour House.”

Reggie screamed, “No! You can’t take me there. I’m not a fucking druggy. You can’t take me there.”

The CPD officer laughed. “They’re going to dope you up so badly you’ll spend the rest of your life flicking your dick wondering what day it is.”

Reggie screamed again and tried to pull free but the CPD officer drew a taser from his belt and pressed it into his kidney.

“Paulson!” barked a woman. Her challenge made the officer stop dead. His partner maintained his hold on the prisoner but still said nothing.

The woman was Agent Kim Adams. It had been her team that had led the raid on the Knock Knock Club and subsequently brought in the triplets.

“They can’t take me to Harbour House. I’m not going to Harbour House,” Reggie protested but Kim ignored him. She kept her focus on her CPD support.

“We want this done cleanly and as quickly as possible. If I find you deliberately antagonising him again, I will pull you and bring you up on charges. Do you hear me?” she asked.

Paulson lowered his head but his grip on Reggie tightened.

Reggie didn’t expect much sympathy from Kim. She seemed the type who would dry hump her career if it meant promotion. Adding to that was the fact she was the daughter of Sonny Adams – better known as the Bournton Blizzard – a gentlemen boxer who stepped into the ring with Simon ‘Punchline’ Penn and was left paralysed as a result. She didn’t seem to be holding any personal grudges though. She just wanted to get all three little piggies safely into their houses by order of the big bad wolf, Judge Karyn Doyle.

Assault would hold Simon. He had left one of Kim’s agency friends beaten pretty badly during the raid. Murder was what would bring down Marcus. Footage I had obtained of him slaying Court Clerk Melanie Wallace had been the damning evidence.

There was no evidence against Reggie. That’s not to say he was innocent. He had helped Tabitha and his brothers orchestrate the rape and deliberate infection with HIV of club manager, Dennis Platt. That was just his most recent crime. There was nothing that would hold him though. There was no evidence against him but Judge Doyle was determined to complete the entire set.

Diagnosis of Conduct Disorder in his youth was a good place to begin. He was always deliberately violating social norms and the rights of others. With some manias thrown in for good measure, the obsession with keeping rats and the violence he was exposed to through his family name made him a perfect candidate for rehabilitation at the dock side clinic known as Harbour House.

“Not a psychiatric unit,” facility owner Dr Winslow was always careful to remind the public. “A rehabilitation centre for all manner of ailments.”

Reggie’s diagnosis was served up to Doyle on a plate and she wolfed down every last crumb. It wasn’t The Boss, but it would be better in a lot of ways. With the right treatment on hand, they could hold him more steadfastly and longer than the prison should that be her whim. No trial necessary.

Lock him away boys. Drug him up and keep a check on the vitals. The doctor said so.

Even though the eminent Dr Winslow was a good friend of his mother, Reggie was guaranteed nothing and the idea of being hospitalised – possibly for life – was a terrifying prospect.

He was pushed inside the task force van, trapped in a cage like one of his rats.

***

It shouldn’t have taken so long for them to get to Harbour House from City Main if they took the east bypass to the south east where Chamberlain Docks lay. Some work was being carried out on the Fullerton Bridge so the transport was diverted through the west instead. They made their way to the Shanties where they could use the south bypass instead.

Reggie tried to stay calm but all he could think of was who would take care of his rats. They were his pets. They knew him. If anyone else tried to handle them they would probably become irate. They would probably bite. Mother didn’t like them very much. She wasn’t a fan of rodents. What if they bit mother? He didn’t need Harbour House. He didn’t need rehab. He wasn’t a Shanties shooter. If they weren’t putting him in The Boss with his brothers then why weren’t they just letting him go?

The van rumbled to a stop. Reggie waited. He could hear the van doors open. It fell silent for a while. The other door opened. Before long the back doors opened and Reggie was exposed to the night air. A lone officer beckoned him forward.

“Hurry,” he said.

Reggie stood and went to the door hesitantly, waiting for the joke’s punchline to fall. They weren’t at Harbour House. They weren’t even at Chamberlain Docks. They weren’t even in Swantin. They had only gotten as far as the lower reaches of the Shanties. The officer helped Reggie out of the van and uncuffed him.

“What are you doing?” the Penn triplet asked.

The officer spoke low. “He’s gone for a piss,” he said. “Now’s your chance.”

Reggie rubbed the ache from his wrists. “You’re letting me go?”

“For the king,” he said. “Now run.”

“Hey!” Officer Paulson yelled, returning from relieving himself.

Reggie took to his heels just as a gun cracked into the darkening night air. Paulson had been shot dead. Reggie started to run towards the Knock Knock Club. No, he couldn’t go there. The Law Makers had the Knock Knock in their grasp. He turned towards City Main. He couldn’t go there either. Without his dad or his brothers, his kingdom was no longer safe. There was only one other option. The Shanties opened up to the south east entrance of Coldridge Park.

He planned to head out to the Mid East. Perhaps he could find some help there. Knock Knock owner Agnes – Tabby’s aunt Aggie – had a house there. If Knock Knock was shut down that’s where they she would be.

He managed to catch his breath. He walked a little slower so as not to seem out of place. The park stretched the entire length of the city. He wasn’t sure whether he was heading north or east he just followed the path to what he thought was the centre. For all he knew he could be walking right back into the hands of CPD custody. He had only the black t shirt he had been wearing when the Auction House was raided. The air was starting to nip as it darkened. He rubbed warmth back into his bare arms.

“Fuck it’s cold,” he mumbled to himself.

There was a bonfire lit not too far off. A couple of men in tatty clothes were warming themselves around it. They looked up as he drew nearer.

“You’re all right,” one said. He was old, bearded, black teeth. “You can warm yourself if you want.”

Reggie joined them, grateful for the warmth as the flames of the fire licked onto his face.

“Where you from, kid?” asked the other.

“City Main,” he said. “What about you? Where do you stay?”

The men laughed at the innocence of the question. “You’re in our home, boy,” the bearded one explained.

“Welcome to Hobo Hotel,” cheered the second. He was black, about mid-fifties and waving a cheap bottle of wine. “It’s damp, it’s cold but it’s free,” he grinned. “And e’body welcome.”

Reggie reached his hands out to the flames. “Why don’t you have homes?” he asked.

They both looked at each other and laughed.

“You really are a City Main boy, aren’t you?” the black man said as he passed the wine to his companion.

“We’ve all got our stories. Booze mostly,” he explained before taking his own taste of the wine. “I’m Chuck. This is Carl.”

Carl grinned. He was quite a warm spirited character despite his circumstances. His Great States accent told that he had travelled a far way to be homeless.

“I meant why aren’t you in the shelters. I thought the Knock Knock Club was helping.”

Carl nodded. “They were. We had a nice little bed each but the place had to be shut down when the club went. We had nowhere else to go.”

Carl reached into his sleeping bag and removed a smelly old jacket and a beanie hat. “It’s not much but it’s going to get cold so you had better wrap up.”

Reggie pulled on the coat and hat. He took the bottle. The wine tasted like vinegar but the burning in his stomach was welcomed.

“Do either of you have a phone?”

Chuck and Carl both laughed again. “Sorry, son,” said Chuck. “We don’t stay connected. We’re old school here. Real old school.”

It was Carl’s turn for the bottle. “So, what brings a City Main boy down here to warm himself with us?”

Before Reggie could answer two CPD park officers approached them.

“Don’t hassle us officers,” complained Carl. “Don’t you think we got it bad enough? We’re just trying to warm ourselves here.”

The first officer looked at Reggie. Having pulled the hat over his head and in Chuck’s jacket he wasn’t instantly recognisable.

“We’re looking for someone. He escaped custody earlier. He is mid-twenties, dangerous.”

Carl pulled the attention from the Penn triplet.

“Us three have been here all night and we ain’t seen nothin’. We heard some shootin’ though. Maybe you should go check that out.”

“What’s your name?” the officer asked Reggie.

Reggie lowered his gaze.

“That’s Pete. Pete Grove,” said Chuck answering for him. “You might recognise him from that old chocolate advert he did as a kid. Have you heard of him? He did great impersonations.”

The officer frowned. “I can’t say I have.”

“You’re a film star?” the other officer asked Reggie, obviously not convinced.

“Not any more but after he broke onto the scene as a kid in those adverts, he was everywhere. That’s what they do though. They use you up and throw you away. Been with us a couple of years now, ain’t ye Pete?”

Reggie nodded tentatively, trying not to look at the officer directly.

The second officer circled in on Reggie. “You do impersonations? Let’s see then.”

Reggie stared back. He could run but it seemed unfair to leave his new friends behind when they had been so welcoming. He had to think fast. He pursed his lips, furrowed his brow, glared at the officer and said, “I need a good shag to put a smile on my face because I’m Judge fucking Doyle.”

It was the first person he had been thinking of. It was probably unwise to mock The Judge in front of CPD but his impression had actually captured the essence of Karyn Doyle so well Freddy and Carl were rolling with laughter. Even the first officer cracked a smile. It seemed to make the other angry though. Mentioning Judge Doyle reminded him that CPD had allowed a valuable asset to escape and now an officer was dead. If they didn’t bring the situation in hand soon the Judge would feel compelled to correct it herself and none of them wanted that.

Another squad of CPD called to them, seemingly having found a trace of the missing triplet leading them elsewhere.

“Take it easy,” warned the other officer.

The walkie talkie of the second officer buzzed. It seemed they had apprehended Reggie’s noble rescuer. They rushed off to see what the dirty loyalist scum had to say for himself.

“You’re not dangerous, are you Pete?” Chuck asked when they were alone.

“Lock him away. He’s a danger to himself and others,” Reggie continued in his Judge Doyle impression.

Chuck wiped a tear of laughter from under his eye. “You had better stay with us for a little while,” he suggested. “They’re going to be everywhere soon.”

“I’m…” Reggie started to explain.

Chuck stopped him. “I didn’t ask and it’s none of my business. To us you’re Pete.”

“The way I see it,” Fred put in, “we help out a City Main boy, we got good things coming to us.”

That had been a few weeks ago but rather than things easing off they tightened even further. A group came one night and roughed them up. Reggie fought them off as best he could but there were too many of them. They weren’t CPD. Reggie guessed they were Kappa So.

Reggie had been sat on a bench one afternoon beside a woman. She was smoking a cigarette, busy reading the newsfeed on her phone – celebrity gossip rather than real news. Apparently, actor Laurence DuBoe was linked to an affair with his soap opera co-star Scarlett. Reggie sniffed the tobacco. Freddy and Chuck had showed him how to collect discarded cigarette ends and make whole cigarettes out of them but it wasn’t really the same.

“Can I have a cigarette?” he asked the woman. “I ain’t had a proper one in weeks.”

The woman looked at him. His filthy hat, his filthy jacket, his smell. The woman hoped to get rid of him as quickly as possible. She sniffed and tried to hide her disgust. She fetched the packet from her hand bag and passed it to him, along with a lighter.

“Thanks.”

She went back to her phone again. Reggie couldn’t remember any phone numbers off by heart. The line for the Auction House did ring in his mind but that would do no good. Suddenly it occurred to him where he could get some help.

“I couldn’t use your phone, could I? Just to send a quick message?”

The woman looked unsure. She was finding it harder to disguise her disgust. She was a little frightened now too. Wishing she had just walked off the moment he had sat down she reluctantly passed her phone. She had been robbed before. The CPD officer at the time had told her if it happened again not to argue. It put her life at risk.

He didn’t run away with the phone though. Instead, he scrolled onto her app store and started to download the Coby Games app. With the cigarette now between his lips he handed the phone back to her. “It needs your thumb print.”

The woman, still staring pressed her thumb to the device and the app started to download. He logged into the Lonesome Nights game she had stopped her son from playing.

Reg 3 Online it confirmed.

He opened the chat log.

NEED HELP. CAN YOU MEET ME?

The message confirmed as sent. Read. A reply bubble popped up.

***

Cameron Doyle closed the game down. Mum and her Law Makers were looking for Reggie. Sure, Reggie was his friend but that didn’t matter. Mum still wanted to put him away. He could try and explain Reggie Penn to them but he feared that might make it worse.

He agreed to meet Reggie. He cut the chat off quickly and deleted the log. Mum had the habit of making checks on his browser history without notice. It didn’t matter that Cameron was a grown man of nineteen now. Whilst he lived under the roof of the old Doyle home it was her house and her rules.

He filled a bag with some non-perishable foods, some of his old shirts and an outdoors jacket he never used. He pulled on an old sports jacket and slipped the back pack onto his back. He had to pass through the main lounge where mum was to get to the front door. He took a deep breath and braced himself.

Mum was in her favourite arm chair by the fire. Shadows were cast across her pale face, highlighting her torn eye which she refused to cover. The cat, Margot, didn’t seem to sense the tension. She purred in mum’s lap. The Judge stroked the feline gently. Margot looked up at Cameron as he passed through but she quickly lost interest.

“Where are you going?” asked the Doyle matriarch.

Cameron stopped cold. He clutched the straps of his back pack.

“I’m just going to meet a friend,” he explained.

“Where?” she asked. “What is their name?”

Cameron lowered his head. “Jackson. You know Jackson. He has some new games he wants me to see.”

Doyle continued to stroke the cat but her view was firmly on her son.

“What’s in the back pack?”

Cameron swung the bag back over his shoulder and unzipped it. He pulled out a bag of Jolly Shopper corn chips.

“We might be a while so I thought I’d bring some snacks.”

Doyle narrowed her gaze.

“Fine but be home by midnight. I don’t want you wasting your whole evening with junk food and video games.”

Cameron agreed, “Yes, mum.”

Cameron was glad to have escaped outside and feel the cobbled stones of the Kingsgate streets under foot. Kingsgate was a small part of town. It was also the oldest section of Coldford. Wrought iron fences surrounded a central garden where mum jogged most mornings.

A tall man in his mid-twenties stood by the Kingsgate entrance sign. A beanie hat covered his head. He was filthy and malnourished but Cameron recognised him as Reggie Penn from the Auction House that his mum had closed down.

“Reggie?” he enquired delicately to make sure.

They had been online gaming buddies for years but had never met in person. Reggie looked up and a look of relief washed over his face.

“Cam? Good to meet you finally.”

Cameron was nervous. He heard a car move on the opposite end of the gardens. “You can’t hang about here. My mum is looking for you. Everyone is looking for you. My mum will have you taken in.”

Reggie had walked into the lion’s den but where else was he going to go?

“I have to go to The Boss,” he told his gaming friend.

Cameron frowned. “Why would you go there?”

Reggie shrugged. “It’s where my brothers are. I need to get to them.”

Cameron passed him the provisions he had collected.

“There’s some food in there and bottles of water, some clothes and a tent too. It’s just a fishing tent but it it’s a start.”

“Thanks,” said Reggie gratefully. “You’re a true pal. Do you know where the bus station is? I need to get to Bournton.”

With both of them being accustomed to being chauffeured everywhere, the bus transport system of Coldford was a new experience for them.

“I have to be back by midnight,” Cameron warned.

The two wandered off in the direction of Kingsgate bus station.

***

Kingsgate bus station was small, but clean and well lit. it was tucked away at the far end of Kingsgate Main Street. A few spaces for buses and a small stand serving coffees was what was on offer. Reggie stopped to look at a schedule pinned to the wall.

BOURNTON – FILTON – FULLERTON BRIDGE – CARDYNE MAIN – KINGSGATE

Reggie groaned in despair.

“Was this written by fucking scientists? Does this make any sense to you?”

Cameron took a look too but from what he could tell the route was going the wrong way.

Frustrated Reggie turned away. “Maybe I could get someone to explain it,” the triplet decided. “0800. Does that mean when it leaves or when it gets here?”

Cameron could only shrug. He snatched Reggie’s arm though to stop him approaching a member of staff. “We can’t draw attention. If anyone recognises me here, they might tell my mum. They’ll recognise you too and if she learns I was here with you…”

A coach wheezed into station point 3. On its windscreen it read BOURNTON.

“That one,” Reggie pointed. “Maybe that’s it.”

When the last of the impatient passengers alighted, Reggie called up to the driver from the bottom steps.

“Are you going to The Boss?”

The driver looked perplexed. “The Boss?”

“Yeah, you know, Coldford Correctional?”

“I know what The Boss is,” replied the driver testily.

Reggie turned to Cameron. “Is he serious? If he knows what I’m talking about why the fuck is he looking at me like I’m crazy?”

Cameron shook his head.

“I go as far as Bournton Main Street. You’ll see The Boss from there. You can’t miss it,” the driver explained.

Reggie enquired, “How much?”

“Is it a return?”

“Return?”

The driver rolled his eyes. “Are you planning on coming back? Today? Tomorrow? Next month? After a ten year stretch?”

“I’m visiting my brothers. I don’t know when I’ll be back,” said Reggie.

“Of course you are,” the driver sighed. “It’s 10.99 one way.”

Both young men were used to automatically being extended credit wherever they went. Again, it was an alien concept to them.

“Shit!” Reggie fished into his pocket and drew out a handful of coins. His long fingers filtered through them.

“I got 5.20. Cam, what you got? Oh wait, 5.21.”

Cameron produced a Coby Games themed wallet. “I only got five,” he said. He looked in his wallet. “Oh wait, ten. Here.”

He gave Reggie the ten. Neither of them noticed the Bus Driver shake his head in exasperation.

Reggie hugged Cameron again. “Thanks pal. I’ll owe you.”

“Hop on,” the driver instructed.

“Will you let me know when we’re in Bournton?” Reggie requested. He had never been in the northern town before.

The driver positioned himself at the wheel. “Oh, you’ll know when we’re there,” he said.

With a hiss the bus doors closed. Reggie Penn was heading to The Boss after all.

#amreading #knockknock #graphicnovel series by @VivikaWidow


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knock knock: Episode 22: Deals, Feels and Election Steals

“A fine office. A very fine office indeed.”

Mayor elect Micky Doyle accepted the compliment from an old friend. He wasn’t really supposed to take up occupancy at City Hall until after proper inauguration but, with possible murder being the reason the last mayor vacated the office so abruptly, City Hall wasn’t quite so picky. Things moved fast in the Shady City and the Hot Seat could never be allowed to cool down.

“I think it suits me,” Micky grinned. “Some might even say it was what I was born for.”

“Indeed. We all have our callings in life. Political office was most definitely yours.”

The old friend was Doctor Winslow, chief clinician of the Harbour House rehabilitation facility. When the Knock Knock Boss Lady was sent down, the Law Makers demanded that the good doctor hand over her Aunt Tawny who was one of his residents. Custody of the Knock Knock Baroness was not forthcoming. Eventually she disappeared without trace from his keep. Winslow maintained that he had no knowledge of Tawny’s current whereabouts and even offered to assist in the search for her. That arrangement suited him just fine because when the Bailiffs were there to greet him in Luen it had looked as though he was running from something. They wanted to peek behind the walls of his precious clinic and he couldn’t have that. His good friend Micky Doyle just happened to be in one of the most prominent positions in the city. His good friend Micky Doyle just happened to be cousin to the fiercest sitting High Court Judge. Both of these things thankfully managed to smooth things over for Winslow. Karyn Doyle was no fool though. She knew his abrupt trip to Luen was no holiday but whilst he made himself useful, he kept himself out of immediate danger. At least until they found his missing resident.

“You keep that pesky cousin of yours off my back and I’ll scratch yours,” was what Winslow put to Micky.

“Gentlemen,” said another. “I would very much like to get to the matter at hand.”

The other cut an interesting figure. He had long curling hair that almost looked like a wig. He had an old fashioned presence complete with top hat – which he kept on whilst they conducted their meeting. His name was Eugene Morris. They called him The Tailor around the city and he was the premier funeral director in Coldford. He was more than that though. He was highly respected and catered to the deaths of so many from all walks of life.

“Yes, of course,” Winslow agreed. “Quite so. Filthy business this is gentlemen but business none the less. I met the girl on many occasions. I considered her aunt not just a resident of mine but a dear friend. Death is such a frequent visitor in my profession that one must put personal feelings aside. I need not tell you that though, Eugene.”

Micky looked across his desk. “So what is to happen?”

Winslow stood and turned his attention to a fresh skeleton. It had been fitted in the Boss Lady’s signature red dress. A wig of soft human hair had been draped on its skull and allowed to flow over the shoulder.

“Preservation is a must,” said Winslow observing the bones. “The bones are fine but I feel her organs – kidneys, liver, spleen – could all be put to good use.”

“Profiteering from her death is highly distasteful,” Eugene put in.

Winslow tutted. “I quite agree. Perhaps you misunderstand me. I don’t mean to profiteer. I’m merely stating the fact that Tabitha’s demise – warranted or not – could help many others live.”

Eugene stood and he too was examining the skeleton.

“Yes but you mean to use the fact the organs once belonged to a prominent figure to drive up the price.”

Winslow shook his head. “My dear friend, I admire your nobility but if I may be candid, profit is what makes the whole world circulate. Without it we may as well all just go straight to your good self for our final suit.”

“The skeleton itself,” The Tailor saw fit to comment. “Cheap sensationalism, unbefitting of a man in high office. What would Her Honour say?” He flicked the red dress and stared into the empty eye sockets.

Micky grinned. “If I am to be Mayor of this city I cannot hide in my cousins shadow. I need to make my own mark. That girl stood as a symbol against everything we were trying to build. Not only that, she was an extortionist and a murderer. Her death and the display of her remains will show others who look to step up to her place that the Shady City will no longer be a home for those who have such a blatant disregard for the rules. Not while I’m mayor.”

Winslow grinned. “Bravo!” he said. “Spoken like a true man of the Hot Seat.”

Eugene didn’t seem convinced but he said nothing.

“The skeleton will be a symbol,” he said, “but doctor, you will deal with the organs as tactfully as Harbour House will allow.”

Eugene nodded. Winslow clasped his hands together.

Micky’s telecom buzzed. He pushed the button to answer.

“Yes?”

“You’re campaign adviser, sir. He’s here to go over your inauguration speech.”

“Thank you. Hold him there for a few minutes.”

The Boss Lady skeleton would be stored away. The office would be tidied. The business of the city would go on.

***

Coldridge Park was home to an expansive cemetery. It was the final resting place of Detective Joel Hickes who had been bludgeoned to death during the transport of Paddy Mack from CPD custody to Coldford Correctional.

Hickes was a good man. He tried to keep a neutral head. I guess it was only inevitable that the tension in the city would catch him in the cross fire.

Lydia took my arm as we entered the gathering of mourners.

“You okay, Sam?” she asked kindly.

I wasn’t. After everything that happened I was far from it, but realising that there were many more worse off than me meant there was still a long way to go.

“I’ll be fine.”

Reynolds and Franklin were the first to greet us. Both of them were members of Lydia’s agency team. They had been particularly close to Hickes. Reynolds looked better. I hadn’t seen him since he had one knock out round with Simon ‘Punch Line’ Penn. He had tried to stop Tabitha escaping the Knock Knock club.

“It’s so sad,” said Franklin. “I never know what to do at these things.”

“Bid a fond farewell, I suppose,” was my suggestion.

Franklin gave a solemn nod of his head. In the distance I spotted Hickes’ wife Olivia. She was swarmed by well wishers and mourners. She seemed to be holding up well. She clasped the hand of her son – Hickes’ step son – Milo. The boy appeared to have garnered a strength beyond his age.

I released Lydia’s arm. “I’m going to speak to Olivia, see if there’s anything she needs.”

The three agents departed. Franklin put his arm around Lydia’s shoulder.

“C’mon babes,” he said with his usual extravagance.

The mourners that swamped Olivia parted as I approached. Releasing her son’s hand Olivia hugged me with a sombre smile.

“I just wanted to see how you were,” I said. It was silly enquiry. Is anyone ever okay with such a loss? Having faced a similar one with my wife, Theresa, I should have understood. I knew what she was going through but death was such a personal thing. I never would fully understand her experience.

“Thank you, Sam,” she said.

She turned to Milo.

“Milo, this is Sam Crusow. He was friend of Joel’s.”

I shook the young man’s hand. He had a strong grip. Just a child, forced to hold it together in an environment that would have broken people many years his senior.

“It’s nice to meet you,” I told him sincerely. “I just wish it could have been under better circumstances.”

Milo managed a smile. “Thank you, Mr Crusow. He was a good man.”

Milo spoke the truth for the adults. He spoke it for the city. Hickes was a good man and the fact of the matter was there would be many more good men and women lost before it was over.

“Mrs Hickes?” We were interrupted. The woman’s voice harsh but suitably sober for the occasion. Thin of face, with black hair and pale complexion. Her expression was severe but genuinely mournful. The Law Makers pin on her blazer glinted. Judge Karyn Doyle, destroyer of the Shanties, closer of City Main and breaker of the Boss Lady offered her condolences.

“Thank you, ma’am,” replied Olivia.

“We’re doing all we can to bring Detective Hickes’ killer to justice. He is a sad loss to the department and to the city.”

She drew a small box from the pocket of her coat. She opened it and a silver commemorative coin with the seal of the city was contained within.

“This rightfully should have been his to thank him for his service. Perhaps in his stead this young man could hold onto it as a reminder of the order we aim to bring to this city.”

She passed the coin to Milo. The little boy was in awe of it.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said.

“Remember what it means and what your step father gave his life for.”

Milo nodded. He closed the box over and looked to his mother.

“This is Sam Crusow,” Olivia introduced me.

Doyle narrowed her gaze on me.

“I have been following your progress Mr Crusow. I assume now that the trial is over you will be returning to the Coldford Daily?”

“No,” I admitted. “Not right away.”

“The press is a difficult world to navigate,” said The Judge. “I do hope we can come together to bring the shade of the city into new light.”

I agreed. The press had power to topple those on top. It had the power to expose those in the highest positions for the true people underneath. I had to be a level head in a city torn. With those thoughts in mind we bid farewell to Detective Joel Hickes and the way the city used to be.

***

The apartment the agency had given Lydia was welcoming. Not much time had been allowed to make it a home but attempts by Lydia had made a difference. There was a photo of her and her sister on the table. Cynthia was homelier than Lydia but equally as pretty. Glasses, warm smile, a vet. There was also a photo of her, Franklin, Reynolds and Agent Kim. Before the camera captured their image Lydia must have said something to Kim that caused her to laugh. They were a close knit group and they had welcomed me with open arms. I was thankful for their support then and have been grateful for it every day since.

“Here you are,” Franklin said emerging from his room in the apartment carrying fresh bedding for me.

“Hurry. It’s about to start,” Lydia informed him. Franklin laid the bedding down and threw himself into the sofa, myself sat between the two agents. Lydia passed him a slice of pizza. He examined it.

“You’re a bad influence on me, babes,” he said but he ate it none the less.

On screen a broadcast had been set up outside of City Face, the Mayoral office. The large clock that gave the building its name ticked down on the gathering.

Normally I would have been among the press covering the story but recent events had left me in the need to distance myself. It was the only way I was going to be able to find my own perspective.

“We’re here at City Face where we’re about to welcome Micky Doyle as he takes his place as Coldford City Mayor. I’m Anna Baker from Coldford City News,” the reporter facing the camera explained.

The footage opened to show the lawns outside the building filled with reporters, public and security teams tasked with protecting the mayor.

“I’m surprised they didn’t ask us to run security detail,” Franklin commented.

The camera scanned the crowd. Karyn Doyle could be seen waiting by the side of the stage with her son Cameron.

“City Hall has its own detail,” Lydia answered still watching the screen.

“Didn’t do Feltz much good, did it?” Franklin put in.

Lydia raised her eyebrow. “Do you want to be following Micky Doyle around all day?”

Franklin’s hand raised to his chest. “Ugh, no,” he exclaimed. “The man gives me the creeps.”

The man in question stepped up to the pulpit to give his first speech to the people of Coldford as their mayor.

***

“We’ll be ready for you in just a couple of minutes, Mr Mayor,” the campaign manager said.

Micky Doyle had never been nervous of public speaking in his life. Head of his debate team at Kingsgate Secondary, student class president for all four years of his undergraduate studies at the university, voted most likely to enter a career in politics. He was nervous then though. It was what Micky was built for. It was what the Doyle blood flowed for. Power. Position. Authority.

Mr Mayor. That was him now and he had the whole city at his feet.

“I will be a fair and just ruler!” he had cried as a boy with a red super hero cape tied around his neck. The D on it was for Doyle. The other boys said it meant Dwarf Dick. Who was laughing now though? You would have to reach beyond the Shady City and all her farthest regions to find a position of authority that was higher than the one he was about to assume. Dwarf Dick Doyle had come far.

Karyn watched him intently from the crowd. Without her father – Sergeant Major Doyle – around, it was to her the leadership of the family fell. Even Micky’s own father looked to the Sergeant Major’s command. Micky supposed some might say the High Court was an authority above the Mayor’s Office and Karyn’s presence in the crowd served as a reminder of that but he wasn’t about to split hairs.

“Good luck Uncle Micky,” Cameron had said.

Kindly boy, beaten down and squeezed below a very thick thumb. What was to be expected when his mother was reputedly the most ferocious sitting High Court Judge the city had ever seen. Micky understood Cameron’s position. The Sergeant Major was pretty much the same. He was always trying to toughen his nephew up. He only had the four girls – Karyn, Ashley, Leslie and Laura – so he saw it as his duty to make a man out of Micky.

The Sergeant Major had torn the cape from him.

“Superheroes are nonsense,” he spat. “It’s a pleasant fiction for children with no other hope or opportunity. They are created in boardrooms to sell toys to gullible fools and children with no one else to look up to. You are better than that. You are a Doyle.”

The Sergeant Major took his cape and disposed of it but he gave Micky something much better in exchange. He gave him the confidence to soar higher than the cape would ever have taken him. Now he was stepping up to the highest office in the land.

“We’re ready for you now, Mr Mayor,” the campaign manager beckoned.

Cheers. Applause. Respect. Appreciation.

“Thank you,” he began. This gave him the chance to remember the opening to his speech. From there the rest of the words would flow.

“It’s an honour and a privilege to be in service of the city.”

Excellent start.

“But it is with sadness that I fill this role when my predecessor had made such a mark and had a fruitful career ahead of him. Jim Feltz was a great man.”

Need to stop referring to him in the past tense when no body has been uncovered yet.

“Jim Feltz is a good friend. He is sorely missed but let us stay positive. After all, what is Coldford if not able to stay positive through trying times. I owe it to Jim and to everyone else who has ever taken the Hot Seat to do the best I can. I owe it to all who voted for me. I am grateful for the faith you have shown in me.”

Give a few moments to absorb the applause.

“I will clear this city of the lawlessness and deprivation that it faces. Criminals no longer have a place here. We are good people and will no longer be held captive by corruption.”

Good use of word choice.

“Moving forward my office is open to those who need it most. Thugs, murderers and cop killers be damned. This is your warning. It is time to leave Coldford.”

Smile. Look determined. Look sad at the loss of Hickes. Breathe.

There was a thunderous applause. Even Karyn’s tight lips etched a smile. The Sergeant Major would be proud.

A Hot Seat isn’t occupied long.

***

“Where are you going, mum?” Milo asked.

“I just have a little appointment. I’ll be back by five,” Olivia assured her son.

“Do you want me to come with you?” Milo asked, taking his duty as the man of the house seriously.

Olivia smiled. She brushed his black hair back and caressed his cheek warmly. “I’ll be fine, Jiggles.”

Milo laughed and pulled himself away. “Mum…” he complained. He was too old now for the pet name used for him when he was a baby. It was a name that Tabitha had been first to grace him with because of the way his tubby belly jiggled when he laughed as an infant.

Olivia tousled his hair. “You’re getting too big for your own good,” she commented. “But you’ll always be little jiggles.”

Milo shook his head in exasperation but he was glad his mother was in good spirits.

“I need you to stay here and keep Chloe company.”

Chloe Grover, a skinny girl, simple natured, was a victim of Olivia’s ex husband, Dennis. Prostituted by the Knock Knock manager, Olivia gave her shelter after Dennis was taken in by the Law Makers. She was sat on the floor in front of the television. She was nineteen but Milo was more mature.

“Milo!” she called. “It’s on again.”

Her cheer had come as an advertisement for a new brand of Jolly Shopper Biscuits flashed on screen. Actor Laurence DuBoe was holding a long tailed Macaque named Omari, speaking to her as though they had been friends for years.

Chloe pointed to the screen. “It’s so cute. He can talk to monkeys.”

“I won’t be long,” Olivia kissed her son’s head.

The pregnancy test was positive. The visit to the doctor was all but a formality. The spirit of Detective Hickes would live on after all.


Enjoy this?

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Knock Knock: Episode 21: It ain’t over ’til it’s over

It was tough going. From the best seat at the Coldford Daily newspaper to packing up my make shift home at the Weir Hotel. A lot had happened in between then. I had witnessed murder, pleas of innocence and I had watched justice fall hard. Some would argue too hard but, in a city filled to the brim with murderers, thieves, rapists and drug addicts, what was too hard? 

I had seen the city quiet before on walks through the streets in the early hours but this was different. There was a chill in the air and not just because of the rapidly changing weather. Sure, summer had closed its door with a slam and cold winter opened its embrace, but the brittle air resonated from the discarded banners outside of the Court House. 

JUSTICE FOR TABITHA. 

FREE OUR QUEEN.  

The Boss Lady of the Knock Knock Club was gone, sentenced to death for her crimes. The club itself was now in the hands of the office of Law Makers and their Bailiffs.  

Justice was served swiftly but it wasn’t the justice the south of the city had wanted. Tabitha had fought for them. The blood she shed was for them.  

The CLOSED sign over the entrance of the Penn Auction House struck fear in City Main too. Two of the Penn triplets, Marcus and Simon, were resident of Coldford Correctional, better known as The Boss because of the way it loomed over the northern town of Bournton. The third triplet, Reggie, had slipped Law Maker custody and was currently missing. Their father, Reginald, was rumoured to have returned to Coldford. The man who many addressed as the King of City Main was set on retrieving his sons regardless of the consequences.  

Fear in the city was but a prelude to the fear felt in the western town of Bellfield when the gates of the Mack and Sons Distillery closed. This was something that hadn’t been known since the days of the Great Wars of previous generations. Second eldest Mack son, Paddy, had also escaped CPD leaving behind several dead officers including Detective Hickes, a good man caught in the middle of a deadly face off.  

Then there was Tawny, the old Baroness of the Knock Knock Club and Tabitha’s beloved aunt. She had been a resident of the Harbour House rehabilitation clinic after an attack on the club caused a complete mental breakdown. Being treated for trauma she had been safe within the clinic until Tabitha’s trial. As the Law Makers moved in to take her into custody she was gone. Owner of the facility, Dr Winslow, refused to give statement until he had placed himself in the good graces of the Law Makers. Beckingridge Financial Firm had funded a campaign which sent missing person’s reports all around the city and displayed on the screen at Beckingridge Tower, in the hopes of shaking whoever had her or knew of her whereabouts. Thanks to the financial muscle there was not a corner of Coldford that didn’t show an image of Tawny’s smiling face, as all those who knew her and loved her would remember her.  

I wasn’t sure what Elizabeth Beckingridge’s thinking had been behind this. At the helm of the financial giant it would have been her decision, but Tabitha had caused the death of 59 of her clients and staff at an event known as the Free Fall Massacre. Elizabeth had no reason, nor loyalties to Tawny. I could only surmise until her part of the story became more apparent.  

I spoke with a fellow resident of Harbour House, drug addicted artist David Finn. Time in the clinic for his addiction seemed to have done him well. He had been close to Tawny, was fearful for her safety and adamant that the Owen family where responsible for taking her due a long held grudge they had with her. He was willing to tell me all she had ever told him about the Owens and the club but the word of a recovering addict was little for me to go on.  

The room at the Weir was comfortable enough. The red and gold décor matched the hotel colours. I had been housed there ever since Tabitha was taken into custody and my own home became a crime scene. I couldn’t feel safe there though, locked in the centre of City Main. I would much rather have returned to my home in the sleepy suburban spot of Jamestown. But the story still lay in the Shady City and I wasn’t quite ready to abandon it when there was still so much to be told.  

My phone rang in a video call. Answering it brought me the pretty, warm and friendly face of Agent Lydia Lowe. She had been by my side and taken great personal risk to keep me safe throughout. It comforted me that she rarely allowed voice calls. She always requested video, forcing me to open up to her.  

“Hey roomie,” she smiled. “I just wanted to check on you and see how you were doing.”  

“Good,” I said. I tried to hold the camera steady offering her nothing but unflattering angles and a view of the roof. “Just packing up now.”  

Lydia giggled as I tried to hold the phone steady. 

“I’ll be back by the time you get here. I’m just wrapping things up with Kim at CPD.”  

Kim was the leader of Lydia’s agency team sent in to bring down the Knock Knock Club and its Boss Lady. She had kindly offered me sanctuary at her City Main home, giving me time and space to clear my own where the perfume of my dead wife, Theresa, still resonated.  

“We’ll get a pizza, a cold beer and figure out our next move. How does that sound?”  

I grinned. It sounded much better than another night alone at the Weir.  

“Sure,” I agreed. “I’ll be there soon.”  

“See ya!” was her cheery sign off.  

I took one last look at my room. I wasn’t sad to leave it.  

I pulled my suitcase into the old-fashioned styled elevator. Bell Boy, Ralph, was on duty wearing the gold and red uniform.  

“Allow me,” he offered, taking the burden of my case. “You might want to get checked out quickly. Things are getting a bit crazy downstairs.”  

Before I had the chance to ask him what he meant the lift doors opened again.  

The main foyer had been swamped by Kappa So brothers, a fraternity based at the University of Filton and founded by the Owen family. It was accusations against this brotherhood and its founding members that caused the city to be split in two in the first place.  

An excitable Kappa So brother leaping around bumped into me, almost knocking me from my feet.  

“Watch out the way, brah!” he yelled in a strong Great States accent even though he was the one who had fallen into me.

He must not have liked the scowl I gave him in return because he shoved me with a scowl of his own. Luckily one of his brothers screamed over to him and motioned for him to join them in the bar where more of his brothers were harassing a bar maid. Glasses had been smashed and cheers rang out. Chairs were over turned in the foyer. The receptionist looked terrified.  

“We are Kappa So!” chanted another group just arriving from a bus that had pulled up outside.  

Rodney Weir himself was filtering among them. He was wearing his Kappa So blazer to show he too was a brother, but was trying to bring some order to the chaos.  

“Checking out.”  

I handed my key to the receptionist. She was a heavy set girl, mid-twenties with a sweet face but completely out of her depth when it came to dealing with the chaos that was coming her way. She accepted the key gratefully but before she could say anything a jeer erupted in the foyer where one of the brothers had climbed on a sofa and knocked it over. He was now lying on the ground. His brothers fell into peals of laughter around him. A storm hit the hotel that day and I was caught in the middle of it. Trying to speak to the receptionist was difficult through the noise.  

“What’s the name?” she asked.  

I hadn’t heard her at first. I was hit on the head with an inflatable penis, the kind one may find in a hen party. One of the brothers, without apologising, grabbed it and waved it as though it was his own penis. He launched it back across the foyer like he was pitching a baseball. The group that had just alighted from the bus were now pushing into the reception desk. The one who had tipped the couch hadn’t gotten back up. A drug cocktail, it seemed, was keeping him down. One of them kicked him. The rest of them sauntered to the bar.  

“What’s the name?” the receptionist asked again.  

“Sam Crusow,” I explained. “Room 415.”  

She started to check the computer. Her manicured nails tap, tap, tapped on the keys. There was a scream from the bar. On a dare, one of the brothers was trying to french kiss eighty-year-old Mrs Riley. He was pushing into her with his tongue protruding and his hands reaching out for her breasts.  

“Thank you, Mr Crusow,” the receptionist said having checked there was no cost left on my room. “I hope you enjoyed your stay.”  

“Hey fatty boom boom we need a room room,” said one of the new arrivals.  

“Excuse me?” she replied. It would have been much easier if she had just given them the rooms.  

“No drama,” the brother cheered. “Can’t smell it.”  

The other brothers laughed.  

“Just give us our damn room,” groaned another, more irate brother. He was high on cocaine, or powder as it was known in the Shady City.  

“I’m just finishing with this gentleman,” she said.  

“It’s fine,” I assured her. “I’m done.” 

“Don’t piss her off, brah. She gonna eat ya,” said another, also high on powder.  

“Mr Weir?!” the receptionist called to Rodney.  

The hotelier’s attention was caught. It didn’t take much explanation for him to deduce what was happening.  

“It’s fine, darling,” he said. “Open up the fifth floor.”  

I checked out. I left the bedlam behind. I could still hear the screams as I stepped onto the streets of City Main. The anarchy and all the new arrivals were because Robert ‘Bobby’ Owen was touring the Kappa So Chapter Houses and his next stop was to be Coldford.  

I am reporter, Sam Crusow and my story is far from over.  

*** 

“Listen up bitches. My Pops is comin’ so this place better be ready to receive!” yelled Buddy Owen to his Kappa So brothers who were busy getting the celebrations started at the Coldford Chapter House located on the Filton University Campus.  

The excitement of meeting Bobby Owen wasn’t just Buddy blowing hot air. Despite Buddy’s father, Charles ‘Chick’ Owen – or The Cappy as he was respectfully titled – being the current CEO of Owen Inc, the grandfather was still seen as a deity among the Kappa So brothers. His portrait hung prominently in the main lounge of the house. His reputation as a founder and pioneer spread throughout all the Chapters across the world.  

“I’ve been buzzing all day brah,” stated Chad, one of Buddy’s closest brothers at the top of the Kappa So chain. He wasn’t the only one.  

Buddy went on to address the others. “We’re talking about the Commander in Chief himself coming to visit ya’ll! The great, the legendary, the much admired Bobby fuckin’ Owen. My pops. They sing songs about him in the Great States you know. He’s going to be walking in here any minute and the place smells like a vaj factory!”  

He addressed the lesser brothers, ”Ya’ll better recognise just how lucky you are to have him even want to look at ya. The world out there has gone to shit. You can’t call a nigger a nigger. You can’t call a whore a whore. People are changing gender like their fuckin’ dirty drawers and no one cares about tradition anymore. Our brotherhood survives because the monumental Bobby Owen said it was so. He gifted us our Chapter so we could follow tradition. He set foot in this shitty city so that the people here would see our yellow and black and know it meant something.”  

“We are here so that we can remind people of tradition. Thanks to the awesome and spectacular Bobby Owen we will let the Shady City know that there is an order in life and we are top of that order. We take our place at the top of that order before things get out of hand and we can’t say fuck noodle without offending some vegan, cross-dressing, feminist asshole who identifies as a fuckin’ tree. I am sick and tired of people telling me my words offend them. They should be offended. I got shit to say that people ain’t gonna like. The incomparable Bobby Owen didn’t make this brotherhood what it was so we would have to care about other people. Am I right my brothers?” 

A cheer rang out from the fraternity. Buddy grinned. His cocaine high buzzing even harder as he absorbed his brothers’ excitement.  

“The man in charge himself, my pops, will knock all ya’ll bitches into line. You better be ready to bow because the man is royalty. He is a God here at Kappa So and you should be thanking your mamma she had the good sense to open her legs in time for ya’ll to be here to witness this marvellous…fucking awesome occasion. And don’t forget, contained within his God balls is the essence that created me, your other God.”  

Here Buddy gave a raspy laugh and the other brothers cheered some more.  

“Those are great balls, Buddy,” Chad said, caught up in the excitement.  

Buddy stopped.  

”Thanks Chad,” he said. 

”Got your back, brah, ” Chad replied.  

On his right side, Dale Cooper, son of the legendary racing family, Cooper Garages, folded his arms across his chest and waited for Buddy to continue.  

Cheryl, a Kappa So cheerleader, honours student in the first year at Filton, now scraping by, was brought forth. She was so high on powder she could barely walk. She grinned as she was ushered forward and kneeled before Buddy.  

“Go forth,” he ordered, “and let all the whores know that there will be rich old cock to be sucked tonight.” He reached his hand out to Chad to summon him. “Chad?” he called. “Fetch me the golden cock!” 

Chad leapt excitedly. “I’ll get your cock, Buddy.”  

He turned his focus back to Cheryl. The aptly titled ‘coke whore’ was swaying. Her eyes were burning red with the blood vessels bursting through the whites. 

Chad returned and placed a penis made of gold into Buddy’s hand. It was generously proportioned and as anatomically correct as could be found gilded from precious metal.  

A sombre silence fell over the Kappa So hall as Buddy held the golden cock out.  

“With this cock you will summon the best whores,” he said as though a priest delivering mass.  

Cheryl bowed her head. “I will, Buddy,” she agreed.  

“You will treat it with the appropriate respect,” he said. 

“I will Buddy,” she replied again dutifully.  

He passed it into her outstretched hands as though she was accepting communion.  

Buddy pointed to the door.  

“Now go forth. Your task has been assigned.” 

Cheryl climbed onto her feet. Her drug addled stupor made it a bit of a task. She certainly wasn’t as agile then as she was on the cheerleading squads of the university. When she finally did get onto her feet she skipped off, taking the golden cock to the Kappa Si house. The sorority would see the penis etched in gold and the sisters would know that there was a sugar daddy available to please.  

The fresh air as she stepped outside hit her so hard she almost stumbled but the powder pushed her forward. She ran excitedly.  

Harsh headlights came charging towards her like a bull.  

WHAM! 

Cheryl collided with a black van. The van continued on its charge.  

SMASH!  

Kappa So Chapter House received a blow to its west side as the van crashed through.  

*** 

Before they could react – most of them too drunk or drugged to do much anyway – the brothers of Kappa So were swarmed by thugs from the Coldford City football team. They called themselves the loyalists and they descended upon the brothers under the leadership of Reginald Penn, head of the Penn dynasty and the one they hailed as King of City Main.  

In an unprecedented coupling The Fleet from the Bellfield team had joined them. Normally fierce rivals, these two groups had put aside their differences in order to tackle a common enemy.  

Paddy Mack and his brother Kieran were among them.  

“Get the feckers together,” Kieran was calling. “They got some explaining to do.”  

A struggle, violence, bloodshed ensued. Buddy and his brothers were taken to the lawns of the Chapter House. On their knees, beaten badly and sobering fast the brothers looked about themselves, still trying to comprehend what had just happened.  

The loyalists were wrecking the house, whilst the Macks and their Fleet held the brothers to account. The air was tense. Buddy could only hear the noise of the search and the screams of some of the brothers they had found hiding upstairs faintly from the outside. He was in a dream like state and only taking things in in small captions.  

“The king!” cried out a City Main voice.  

“Yer fecked now,” Kieran Mack cheered.  

Buddy tried to focus through his powder high. Through the sea of bodies emerged a commanding presence. Tall, greying fair hair and with an Olympian magnetism, Reginald Penn’s patience was wearing thin. Buddy Owen and his brothers were a pestilence in his way.  

“I will speak to the one in charge,” Reginald said.  

The Kappa So brothers, including Chad and Cooper looked to Buddy. Buddy stared straight ahead and said nothing. Reginald took note of Buddy’s particular discomfort. 

“I’m here because rumour has it you took a friend of mine from Harbour House. A good woman. They call her the Baroness. If she is here we will find her so you might as well make it easier on yourself.”  

Still no brother saw fit to respond. Chad kept looking between Reginald and Buddy. Buddy still made no move.  

A Loyalist brought a thick chain to his king. Reginald accepted it.  

“I call this Belta,’” he said. Some of the loyalists were giddy with excitement. Paddy Mack was expressionless. “She’s going to bash in the brains of every last fucking one of you until you tell me where Tawny is.”  

“Bud, bro,” Chad whimpered, trying to urge Buddy to speak up for them.  

Reginald circled in on Buddy. He pointed Belta at him. She hissed through her coils.  

“You must be an Owen,” he said. “You’ve got that inbred look.” 

The Loyalists chuckled. Buddy still said nothing. “Where is Tawny?” Reginald snarled.  

He raised Belta. Buddy’s sordid life flashed before his eyes. The drugs, the whores, the chaos.  

“I believe, sir, your quarrel is with me.”  

Robert ‘Bobby’ Owen arrived on scene, fresh from the Filton University spa. He had come as a matter of urgency. His shirt still hung open.  

“Leave the boys alone,” he ordered.  

Buddy had never been so glad to see his pops. 

“Bobby Owen,” the elder introduced. “This is my Chapter House you are trespassing upon and I do not care for the intrusion.”  

Reginald remained stationed. Buddy watched Belta swing from his hand like a hypnotist’s time piece.  

“If you are saying you are in charge then we have a problem,” Reginald warned.  

Bobby shook his head. “Your hooligans will not find what they seek here.”  

The elder Owen was surrounded by Loyalists. They took him into custody but Bobby didn’t resist. 

“He’s an old man,” Paddy protested but it did little good. With two of his boys contained within The Boss, another missing and now word spreading that the Owens had taken a good friend of his, the Penn father was intent on blood.  

Bobby Owen was pushed to his knees before the king.  

“Your maniac children belong behind bars. It isn’t afore long. You will join them soon enough. Your friend? I have no idea where she is and I care not. She and her lying whore of a niece are a stain on this city that needed to be wiped clean,” said Bobby.   

Reginald growled. Paddy clutched his arm. 

“Reg …” he warned but Reginald shook it off.  

Reginald took a deep breath.  

WHACK!  

The first blow of the chain sent Bobby Owen onto the grass. Loyalists lifted him back onto his knees. Already his consciousness was waning.  

WHACK! WHACK!  

Some of the brothers cried out seeing the skull of the God among them reduced quickly to a bloody mess. None of them saw fit to try and help. Paddy Mack turned away. Kieran laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. 

Reginald gasped, catching his breath again.  

WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! 

The highly respected Bobby Owen, the one the people of the Great States sang songs of, was dead. His blood dripped from Belta’s fangs.  

“You are an Owen, ain’t ya,” Reginald hissed at Buddy. “What’s your name?”  

“Buddy,” the Chapter leader replied, trying not to look at the body of his dead grandfather.  

“He’s the son of The Cappy,” Kieran Mack confirmed.  

Reginald swung Belta as he gave it some thought.  

“Get me a phone.”  

One of the loyalists passed a phone to their king who in turn threw it to Buddy. The KSO brother didn’t make a move to catch it. It bounced off his chest and onto the grass.  

“Pick it up,” ordered Reginald Penn.  

Buddy obeyed. He clasped the phone in a trembling hand.  

“Get your father on the phone. We need to talk,” the king proclaimed.

 

*** 

“Mr Owen’s office. How may I direct your call?” the secretary’s light voice answered.  

“Put me through to The Cappy right away,” said Buddy, still on his knees, still with a wary eye on Belta clasped tightly in Reginald Penn’s hand.  

“May I ask who is calling?” the secretary asked. She seemed distracted by something that was going on in her office.  

“It’s Buddy, you dumb bitch. Get The Cappy on the phone now.”  

“Oh Bernard. I’m so sorry. I didn’t recognise your voice. You sound a little different. Is everything okay?”  

Buddy was losing breath and losing patience. “Tell my father I’m in a bind. It was a phrase Buddy had been taught as a youngster. It would let his father know immediately he was being coerced.  

The secretary fell silent. Reginald scowled at Buddy.  

The secretary rang off. Within seconds the phone screamed a reply in the form of a video call directly from Chick Owen.  

“Answer it,” Reginald ordered.  

The screen opened to show the face of Charles ‘Chick’ Owen. He was in his office in the Great States and aggrieved at the disturbance. Buddy’s words to his secretary had placed him on alert.  

“Buddy?” he asked initially. “Are you hurt?” 

“No,” Buddy replied. “Pops!” The screen was turned to the battered and bloody corpse of Bobby. Reginald snatched the phone from Buddy and addressed Chick directly. The Cappy’s gaze burned through the screen. 

“I was wondering how long it would be before you reached out, Mr Penn.”  

“The old man didn’t have to die. My hand was forced. All I ask is that you hand over Tawny.”  

Cappy raised an eyebrow. “Who?”  

Reginald snarled. “You know who she is and word has it you know where she is.”  

Chick Owen remained calm. “If you are referring to the bar clown who owned the Knock Knock Club then I am somewhat familiar but as for where she is…her current location alludes me.”  

“You talk shite!” Kieran spoke up. Reginald turned to him with a warning stare. Kieran stepped back.  

“You have her and if you hurt her it’s going to be the last thing you ever do,” Reginald warned.

 

The corner of Chick’s upper lip raised. “You take the word of some junked up artist? I thought you were much smarter than that. I heard the rumours too but I challenge you to find any foul play in my Chapter House.”  

“If I find you are lying more of your blood will be shed.” 

Here Chick smiled but it was icy. “You realise we do not recognise any monarchy here in the Great States, self proclaimed or otherwise.”  

Reginald gripped Belta tighter. “This isn’t the Great States. Welcome to fucking Coldford. Have I made my point?”  

The Cappy raised his chin. “Loud and clear.” He reached over and closed the call. The screen fell to darkness.  

*** 

The night chill was setting in. It was sobering. The high Buddy had felt earlier was but a memory. He believed he had never felt so sober. The city was behind him. As they headed north they must have taken a wrong turn on the way to Owen Estate. The true north they called it. It was an expanse of farmlands and empty space. His feet were cold and wet as he and his bros skipped across open fields. None of them had the energy to complain anymore, except Buddy whose irritability was driving him on.  

“That son ‘a’ bitch is gonna pay,” he growled. “Him and his three stooge sons. Fuckin’ triplets. That’s fuckin’ weird.”  

Cooper stopped him.  

“We’ve taken a wrong turn, Bud. Where’s the estate?”  

“How should I know?” Buddy returned with a groan. “C’mon Coops, I’m freezing my balls off just as much as the rest of ya.” 

“I saw a barn about a mile back,” Chad stated. “Maybe we can rest up there and find out where we are.”  

Suddenly beaming lights spotted on them with a booming noise as though the Lord himself was laying down judgement. A voice echoed through the blinding shine.  

“You are trespassing,” it said. It was a deep voice, a man’s voice. It had the bounce of a Bournton accent.  

How far north had they come, Buddy wondered. 

“In these parts we have permission to shoot.”  

Buddy made a move to step forward. The crack of a gunshot warned him to stay where he was.  

Buddy reached his arm up to shield his eyes from the beams.  

“My name is Buddy Owen,” the Kappa So leader spoke up. He was at the end of his tether by then. “I’m having a really shitty night, brah,” he sobbed. “My pops died. One of our whores is in pieces in the street. We had to walk here all the way from City Main.” He was almost sobbing then. “I lost my golden cock!”  

Cooper laid a comforting hand on Buddy’s shoulder.  

Silence fell. Two men walked towards them; their frames silhouetted in the bright light. One was a large burly man with swept back blonde hair. The other was shorter, dark hair and a long face. The both wore shirts with a Harvesters logo.  

The smaller one looked to his companion.  

“Did he just say he had a golden cock?”  

*** 

“I’m Glenn,” the blonde one explained. “You are on Harvester Farm.”  

Buddy whined, “I just want to go home, brah. I was trying to get to Owen Estate. It’s my family’s place.” 

Glenn still didn’t seem so sure.  

It was Cooper who made their plea next. “Dude,” he said. “We gotta get some help. We gotta get some clothes man. We’re freezing our asses off.”  

Buddy turned to Chad. “Will you stop flicking your dick? I can hear you tap, tap, tapping away.”  

Chad lowered his head. “Sorry, Bud.”  

“What do you say, man? Give a bro a break here.”  

“What the fuck was that about a golden cock?” asked the other farm hand.  

Glenn scowled at him. “Leave it, Curtis.”  

The one named Curtis shrugged.  

Glenn sighed. “Follow us up to the east acre. I’ll see what I can do.”  

Grateful for the sanctuary Buddy and his brothers followed the truck deeper into Harvester Farm. Curtis spun the wheels throwing mud onto the the already distressed brothers.  

Glenn laughed and punched his arm.  

“Leave them,” he said. “They’ve been through a lot. He said his grandad died.”  

Curtis shook his head. “The spoiled little cunt seemed more upset at losing his golden cock, whatever the fuck that was.”  

Glenn laughed again. “Let it go.”  

The brothers skipped across the gravelled pathway, yelping at the pain in their feet but they were presented with a large farm house. A light was on in the lower floor.  

Buddy beamed as he made his way towards the house. Glenn pulled him back.  

“Oh no you don’t,” he said. “None of you go anywhere near that house. Do you hear?’ 

“Yeah I hear you, brah,” Buddy relented. ”I need a phone,” he pleaded. “I need to call my dad. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Chick Owen? They call him the Cappy.”  

Glenn shook his head, not really listening. “I can’t say we’ve met.” He pointed towards a barn. “Take your brothers to the milking sheds. It will be warm enough in there. I’ll get some blankets and clothes to you.” 

Buddy’s powder high was well and truly gone by then and every pain in his body was magnified. The stench of the farm was already giving him a headache.  

Holding himself up on the fence, Buddy led his brothers to the milking sheds. Curtis was waiting on them, holding the door open.  

“MAAAH!”  

A scream ripped through the night breaking the solemn silence of the brothers.  

WHAM! 

Buddy had a blow to the side as he was knocked away from the fence he was trying to hold himself up on.  

“What the fuck is that!?” He yelped with despair.  

Sharp horns and small, glowing eyes charged at the fence again.  

WHAM! 

The fence rattled.  

“What the fuck is that!?” Buddy asked again, almost in tears.  

“It’s a goat,” Chad explained calmly taking a look over the fence at the animal beyond. “A Pygmy of an old Hathfield breed by the looks of it. Genus Caspar aegugrus.”  

The brothers were now staring at Chad, perplexed.  

Chad Perry was the heir to the Perry Zoo chain. Despite that, being a frat brother, it could be assumed his university degrees had come from special treatment. However, Chad had actually learned quite a bit about his field of zoology. 

“MAAAH!”  

WHAM! 

“Well do you know how to shut that god damn thing up?”  

“MAAAH!”  

“Fuck you, brah,” Buddy screamed at the animal. He stuck his leg through the fence to try and kick it but it skipped away. “You son ‘a’ bitch. You better run!” He yelled but this leg was caught. He tried to pull himself free again but fell into the mud. 

“Aaaah!” He screamed in frustration. “This night sucks dead dong!”  

Cooper helped Buddy up.  

“C’mon bro. They’re watching us.” 

As Glenn had said there was a warmth to the milking sheds. Having grown up on Owen Ranch the bros looked to Buddy as their authority on what to do next. All their leader could do though was kick over a bucket. Forgetting he was bare footed the pain rang through his toes.  

“Medic!” he bawled.  

A short while later the shed door opened and a woman came to them carrying a bundle of blankets in her arms. Buddy’s eyes lit like the beams from the trucks. A beautiful woman, firm bodied, healthy. Her brunette hair was tied back, serving to highlight her shining blue eyes and soft, naturally rosy lips.  

“Welcome to Harvester Farm, boys,” she said. “I’m Julia Harvester.”  


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Music teacher, Vincent Baines, let his obsessions get the better of him when he met his wealthy new pupil.

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