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 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 by mother, Rita Penn, but there was something that set Reggie aside. He had the Penn penchant for violence. He also had a softness and curiosity to his nature. 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 closed sign on the Auction House highlighted 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 with 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. I should be with my brothers,” Reggie protested. Kim 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 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.
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, drug addiction, 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 Seaton in the mideast. 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 a’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 park ranger officers approached them.
“Don’t hassle us,” 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. He kept his head lowered.
“We’re looking for someone. He escaped custody earlier. He is early 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 kept his gaze lowered.
“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 does 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 ,” Chuck answered for him. “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 ranger directly.
The second 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 her but his impression had actually captured the essence of Karyn Doyle so well Chuck and Carl were rolling with laughter. Even the first ranger 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.
Rangers on the other side of the park called to them, seemingly having found a trace of the missing triplet leading them elsewhere.
“Take it easy,” warned the other ranger.
The walkie talkie of the second ranger 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?” Carl 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,” Carl 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 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. Chuck and Carl 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.
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 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?”
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. Your a real good mate. 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 @VivikaWidowTweet
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