Tag Archives: thriller

Managing Just Fine


It takes a little bit of extra pizazz to work the KNOCK KNOCK club and to be the manager you got to really have your wits about you. Here’s what our manager, DENNIS brings to the table:

GREET THE CUSTOMERS

There are a lot of regular faces returning to the SHANTIES for the best night in town but as the manger you really need to keep a keen eye out for strangers. The club is invitation only (by orders of the BOSS LADY). Given the nature of the joint there can be a lot of creeps hanging around. Your job as manager is to weed out the miscreants and send them packing. Except if one of those strange faces happens to be a reporter for the COLDFORD DAILY, the biggest publication in the city. Then he goes right on in.

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KEEP THE BOOZE FLOWING

The KNOCK KNOCK girls are skilled at flirting with the customers and making them feel special. A horny man will part with cash quicker than his trousers if he thinks he’s getting something out of it. He’s not. Your job as manager is to keep those drinks flowing so the customers are sent home with a smile on their face one way or another.

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CHEER THE ENTERTAINMENT

No one loves the BOSS LADY more than the BOSS LADY herself so when she takes to the stage it is always on the HEADLINING spot. As manager you have to make sure the crowds are wild and having a great time. It helps to throw in a little whoop and cheer yourself just to get the ball rolling on slow nights.

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PREPARE THE GIRLS

Choosing the girls sounds like a dream job for any hot blooded man but there’s more to our KNOCK KNOCK lovelies than meets the eye. These kittens have got to have claws. There is no use bringing in a new flirty waitress only to have her pack it in a week later. That’s bad for business and its bad for morale. Get those girls prepared, pretty and ready to lash out because in a place like the KNOCK KNOCK club those kittens got to have claws. The SHANTIES are no place for damsels in distress.

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WISH YOU HAD NEVER COME

Alright so this one is specific for Dennis. We’re pretty sure anyone would just love to manage the club but when you have had to leave your family life behind and submit all power you once had it can feel more like a life sentence. Should have kept your hands to yourself then Dennis, you dirty fiend.

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Do you have what it takes to manage a place like the KNOCK KNOCK club? Have we made it seem like an appealing place for a night out?

After it all you can just sit back, relax and consider a job well done.

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COMING 2021

A mysterious illness and a desperate phone call sends Cult Deprogrammer Reynolds’ sights on the Wigan faith of Hathfield Bay island. Time to face the past.

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Character Profile: Dominick Cole

Features in: PURPLE RIBBON

Name: His Eminence Dominick Cole

Age: mid thirties

Occupation: Head of the CHURCH OF ST WIGAN

“We are the children of Wigan and our hearts are pure and strong!”

Dominick is a life long resident of the Wigan commune on HATHFILED BAY island. He was known among his people to be a spirited, intense young man and the Wigans have always adored him. He is dedicated to his faith and as such he was granted the leadership of the church. There isn’t much that can sway him from his oath and he is willing to go to ridiculous lengths to spread the word of St Wigan, also known as the Patron Saint of Sinners.

Although he is known to be wild in his pursuit of purity in the world around him he does also have a whimsical side which people usually respond to well. The Church is known as a cult in some circles and cult leaders tend to have a natural effervescence.

Dealing with the city dwellers over on the mainland can be a bit of a culture shock for Dominick. Luckily he is supported by a knowledgeable clergy who help steer him. The sinners would all be battered over the head with an iron cross if His Eminence was left to his own devices.

His church is steeped in history but his mind is set on the future. That future sees him tasked with purifying the Shady City. No easy feat …

“You cannot be saved but repent and you’ll be in his embrace.”


COMING 2021

A mysterious illness and a desperate phone call sends Cult Deprogrammer Reynolds’ sights on the Wigan faith of Hathfield Bay island. Time to face the past.

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The Patron Saint of Sinners

It was written many years ago that Noah Wigan crossed from the mainland of what would have been Coldford City to the Island of Hathfield Bay. There had been three attempts but each time the Wigan boats approached and considered landing, the wary islanders gathered on the beaches to see what was heading their way. Ill-educated in the way of God they were a simple people. They mostly frolicked in their nakedness. The women wore garlands of flowers and the men were restless and curious. So Wigan retreated. That night through to early morning he sat in counsel with God.  

“God give me strength,” he prayed. “So that I may teach these people of your ways and bring them into your fold.”  

Deprived of sleep, Wigan heard the Lord speak to him. 

“They will follow if you lead,” said the Almighty. “For your heart is pure and strong. They will see your love for them. You must be prepared to bring the word and as any good father would you must punish the children who will not obey.” 

“We are the children of Wigan and our hearts are pure and strong. We praise our beloved Saint and so we sing this song…”

So, the following morning Wigan took the boats again and travelled to Hathfield. As before, the islanders gathered on the beaches to observe their arrival, but rather than retreat this time Wigan felt himself filled with the grandeur of God. He climbed from his boat. His feet were cooled by the waters of the bay. He crossed onto the sands and he fell to the feet of the first man he encountered. He kissed his feet as the islanders watched on in bewilderment.  

“My friend,” said Wigan. “I come with good news for you and for all of your people. My name is Noah Wigan and I am a messenger of God. Your people cannot be saved but I will show you how you may repent.” 

Wigan stood and looked around himself. His own people who had followed him from the boats were already in good cheer.  

“God has come to Hathfield!” they announced excitedly. “And you should rejoice.”  

The islander man bid him to stand  

“I don’t know of your God,” he said. “But you are welcome friend. Please stand so that we may become acquainted.”  

Wigan stood. He embraced the islander in sight of them all.  

“I’ll teach you of the one true God,” said Wigan. “So that you may find eternal happiness for you, your family and your people.” 

Quite enamoured by the spirit of the new arrival the islanders offered their hospitality.  

“You must be thirsty from your journey across the waters,” said the man whose name was Riley. “You must be hungry from your desire to visit my people,” he added and it was the truth. 

“We know we can’t be saved but repent and you’ll be in his embrace.”

Riley lived on the west of the island with his wife Anna and his two young daughters, Rowan and Willow. He opened his home to Noah and his companions and so for weeks Wigan spread his good word over the island and began to educate them in his ways. Most of them were intrigued and flocked to him to hear what he had to say. A great many of them decided that Wigan’s word – the voice of God on the island – was a path they now wished to follow but it would not be an easy path, Noah Wigan warned. It meant that the fruitful relationship they had always enjoyed with sands and the sea was no longer in their control. It meant that a higher power was what they owed their crops to and not the hard work of their own hands or their own toil. If they were to believe what Wigan was telling them it was a higher power to which they owed thanks to for the fruitful wombs of their women and not the women themselves carrying, birthing and feeding from their breast. That was where the problems for Wigan lay.  

His presence was no longer a novelty. The numbers he had gathered to him were starting to dwindle and the islanders who resisted the outsiders were starting to stir. But Noah Wigan was persistent. He knew the natives of Hathfield Bay would require a little more convincing. He needed to be patient in demonstrating the glory of God. So he gave it more time. He prayed. He began to fall in love with the daughter, Rowan. He began to lose his focus and in desperation he wrote letters home.  

The island is a blissfully happy place.  

The people don’t seem to show any penance for their sins. They fornicate and dance. A man will lie with another man. A wife will lie with a man who is not her husband. It is anarchy and I fear my journey here may have been a little misguided.  

After three more months the islanders were beginning to return to their own ways and those who had opposed Wigan were now preparing to usher him from their shores. Wigan began to lose his faith as his relationship with Rowan deepened.  

“Why would you send me on a fool’s errand?” Noah asked of the Lord as he prepared to leave the following day.  

But the Lord spoke to him again as he took slumber under the sound of the waves. 

“You misunderstand your mission,” said the Lord. “You must punish unruly children for it is said that the hand of the father should be loving but firm. It is for their own good. They will soon respond.” 

At that Wigan was awakened. The waves were now crashing. The people of Hathfield Bay were his children and they had to be taught. 

And so it was that his preaching became more frequent, more filled with rapture and more demanding.  

“Submit yourselves to God,” he warned them. “Or you will be punished.”  

The islanders who opposed him took up arms. It was time to remove the new comer from the sands.  

“I don’t wish to cause any bloodshed,” Wigan spoke of his concern to Riley. “Perhaps we can meet with them and I can explain my view to them. I love the people of this island. I’d like the chance to embrace them. Tell them to come together and I will provide proof of my God.”  

Riley then invited the non-believers to the east of the island. They gathered in the shack on top of the eastern hill that was Riley’s home.  

“Come inside,” they were beckoned.  

“He needs to go,” one non-believer named Yuri spat.  

Riley looked around his family. As any good father would he wanted to keep them safe. His wife Anna was by his side in whatever decision he was to make. His daughter Willow was prepared to follow. But where was Rowan?  

“We are the children of Wigan and we know we can’t relent, until the flesh of every sinner burns or they learn to repent.”

The shack was bolted closed from the outside. St Michael the Punisher, Wigan’s right hand, stepped forward and dropped the first flaming torch. God’s fury fell on them as flames of punishment tore through the shack. The non-believers were burnt in a fiery torment for their refusal. Rowan clutched Noah’s hands and knelt before him as  they listened to the screams of the heathens rise above the waves in a glorious triumph for God.  

Those who chose to believe and follow Wigan survived for God said it would be so. Upon the bones, teeth and ashes of the non-believers was built the first church of St Wigan.  


John Reynolds is an experienced cult deprogrammer. He has spent a lifetime bringing people to their sense. When someone close to him runs off to join the Church of St Wigan he has to delve into th darkest side of the City if he hopes to bring them home.

Coming Spring 2021

So, what now?

“This too shall pass.”

It’s been quite the year, hasn’t it?

For most people this Christmas has been something quite different. For me being unable to see my little niece and nephew has been tough. 2020 will be forever remembered as a year of struggling but I don’t want to dwell on that. What I want to do is look to the future and think of the positive changes that a new year always brings.

Has there been a year like 2020 where we have been able to see just how strong and resiliant we are? Not to my recollection anyway, so with that in mind let’s approach 21 with the knowledge that we are still standing.

Like every new year, every new month and every new day we are given the chance to strive for something better. Isolation, lockdown, Covid19 and social distancing are all words we will be sick and tired of hearing right now so lets change the narrative. Let’s make the words, family time, pyjama days, self care and mental space.

Targets for 2021 might be a little different but they are still targets none the less. The question then to ask is, what now?

Read more books.

Exercise more.

Start a new hobby.

Try a bold new look.

Although the possibilities might seem limited they are only hindered by our own imaginations. Despite the challenges, 2021 could still be the best year yet. I do wish you all well and for those of you who are struggling, remember to take care of yourself. Reach out. This digital age we live in makes communication much easier than it ever was.

Stay safe, live well and have a great New Year folks! I’ll see you on the other side.


“How far must a man fall before the climb back up becomes too steep?”

Coming Spring 2021

Knock Knock: Episode 28: Knock Knock. Who’s there?



“You can’t do this!” Knock Knock barmaid Lisa Luren was complaining. 

The club had been appointed its bailiff. The club’s assets were now being officially seized so that its starting price at auction could be given. 

The bailiff – a woman not much older than Lisa, named Colette – looked down her spectacles at her. “I’m sure you’ll find I can. I have been granted permission by the High Court. Her Honourable Judge Doyle’s signature is on all of it and I have been instructed to close this club and note anything that would be of value.” She raised her phone and took a photograph of a fresh bottle of Macks that had been sat on the bar. 

“You’re putting us out of work. What are we supposed to do for work?” 

Colette sighed. She took another photo of the bar. A fellow bailiff took note. 

“Not my problem. Put on some clothes, get yourself educated and maybe you’ll find yourself a real job. People might start to take you more seriously.” 

“Can’t you at least wait until the owner gets here? She needs to be here,” Lisa protested. 

Colette smirked. “I don’t think the owner is going to be here anytime soon.” 

“I think she means me,” Agnes Wilde stated. She had arrived in a hurry when she received Lisa’s text. 

Colette nodded to her fellow bailiff. He handed a copy of the High Court authorisation to Agnes. Agnes was known as The Broker of Knock Knock. She was partner to The Baroness and beloved aunt of Tabitha. The Knock Knock club was all she had left to hang onto. 

Agnes folded the document in a single sharp fold. She had a naturally ladylike composure, which she refused to drop. “Before she was taken, Tabitha signed her shares over to me. Unless you are here to arrest me, you can’t take anything.” 

Colette was disinterested. She had seen it all and had heard all manner of excuses.

“Check the details of the document I’ve just given you. You will see that I’m not here to collect on Tabitha’s shares. They were already forfeit the minute the investigation into the Headliner Fund was raised. I’m here to collect on part of Tawny McInney. Until she returns, she is considered a fugitive of the law and her name is the first on the Headliner Fund.” 

“What about my own shares?” Agnes protested. “I’m the controlling share holder in this club.” 

Colette took a photograph of the stage. “I’m sure basic maths will tell you that one third share is not the controlling one. Tabitha’s shares are void and Tawny’s are now seized. This club is going to auction.” 

“This is my club,” Agnes snarled. Her irritation was now beginning to show. 

“Then you’re most welcome to bid for those shares back. I’m happy to keep you informed as our collection proceeds.”

Lisa snatched Colette’s shoulder but Agnes stopped her. 

Colette shrugged her off. “I’m just doing my job. Do not add assault to the charge sheet. The court will have its dues one way or another.”

A group of bailiffs brought out a box of costumes belonging to The Baroness. Agnes’ chest tightened when she saw Tawny’s feather head band peeking out from the top. She loved that band. She had had it for years and despite it having lived its best days she refused to part with it. 

“Gives me a classy look, doesn’t it?” Tawny had said. 

Tabitha laughed. “It looks like you stole it from a fucking parrot with mange,” the niece teased.

Tawny laughed heartily. She pulled Tabitha onto her lap and squeezed her tight, kissing her head. Tawny looked into her dressing room mirror and saw Agnes watching them both. Tawny wrinkled her nose and kissed at her enjoying how Agnes’ elegant smile turned to a girlish giggle when she did so. Tabitha took her aunt’s head band and put it on her own. She flicked her glossy brunette locks and posed exactly the way her aunt would on stage. 

“What do you think Aggie?” the young girl put to her. 

“It could at least use a wash.” 

Tawny refused. “Not a chance, honey. You wash off all the luck from it when you do that. I got that feather all by myself. Do you realise how hard it is to pluck straight from a gull’s arse?”

Tabitha laughed heartily. “You talk so much shit Aunt Tee,” she taunted. 

Few heard Tabitha laugh the way that she did when she and Tawn were backstage. That tatty old feather band had all the luck in the world for Tawny and now that luck was being carried out the door of the Knock Knock Club courtesy of agents of the High Court. 

“That’s not worth anything, surely?” Agnes stopped a bailiff carrying one of Tabitha’s signature red dresses. “Do you really need to be taking the clothes?”

Colette shrugged. “Why not? It’s not like she’ll wear them anymore.” Before she could reply the bailiff added, “Custom designed, product of Luen. It all makes a difference.” 

“What are we going to do Agnes?” asked Lisa. They had made plans to visit a friend of the barmaid who used to buy drugs from her boyfriend Kev. They had hoped he could shed some light on who shot her daughter, Sarah. 

“There’s nothing we can do,” The Broker was forced to admit. “I have to stay here but I’ll get you some help. We’re not done.” 

***

I had been in Lydia’s City Main apartment with Franklin when my phone began to ring with a disguised number. Franklin was preparing to leave to rendezvous with Agent Kim. He looked up from pulling on a jacket. 

“Aren’t you going to answer that?” 

It had been a while since any of my old story contacts fromr the Coldford Daily had been in touch.

“Hello?” I answered tentatively.

“Sam?” a woman’s voice, steady, calm, despite the sound of something of a commotion behind her. “Agnes Wilde. I got your number from a note you had left with Dennis.” 

“Yes, Agnes. How are you?” Agnes and I had met before. She had shed a lot of light on Tabitha’s motives. It had been interesting hearing the perspective of someone who loved the Boss Lady like a daughter.

“I’ve been better I’m sad to say. I was going to be helping one of my girls this afternoon but we’ve been met with a swarm.” 

A swarm was a common term in the Shady City for when the bailiffs arrived, due to the biblical plague nature of their descent.

“I’m sorry to hear that Agnes but I’m not sure what help I can be.” 

“I can’t get away at the moment and this girl really could use some support. One of the agents would be a better fit than I am. It’s the little girl, Sam. The little girl that was shot? I can’t contact the agency directly because I need to be discrete but could you put me in touch?” 

“I’ll do what I can,” I agreed. 

I owed it to that little girl to do what I could to find her killer.

I looked to Franklin first. Capable and approachable. He would put Lisa at ease. 

“Sorry,” he said. “Kim and I are heading to the Court House.”

“It’s fine,” I said. “I know someone who might fit better.” 

***

Whilst the bailiffs still swarmed their way through the club noting everything that could be of value down to the silver of the cutlery, Agnes opened the door to what little help there was available. 

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” Lisa growled when she caught sight of Agent Lydia Lowe. 

“We need all the help we can get,” Agnes warned. “Play nice.” 

“That slutty bitch took Tabs away!” Lisa protested. 

“I don’t have time for this. Tabs knew what she was getting herself into. It’s too late for her but if you want to find out what happened to Sarah you need to work with her.”

“Fine,” Lisa agreed, pouting.

A bailiff approached Agnes. 

“Miss Wilde, we need the key for the upstairs apartment.”

Agnes’ lips tightened. “I suppose my toothbrush is worth something, is it?” 

The bailiff didn’t answer. They just stood with their hand out waiting for their key. Agnes dipped into her jacket pocket and handed the key over. 

“Right now, I have to concern myself with who is going to buy into this club. When Tawn comes back she will be devastated that Tabitha is gone. If she realises this place is gone too…” Her voice trailed off.

“Miss Wilde?” another bailiff called. 

“I’m coming!” Agnes barked. 

When she left Lisa and Lydia alone the Lydia asked her to join her somewhere quiet where they could talk. Lydia spoke first. “I’m so sorry,” she said.

She was not apologising for the Boss Lady’s demise. As her own aunt admitted, Tabitha had sealed her own fate. Lydia was offering heartfelt condolences for the death of her daughter, Sarah. If she hadn’t afforded me the opportunity to escape the club with the little girl, she would never have run into the scope of the gunman. 

“Fuck you,” Lisa replied but she was starting to cry. 

“I can’t bring your little girl back but I want to help you. Work with me and we’ll bring in the one that did it.”

“I thought you were one of us, you fake bitch. You took in Tabitha. She treated you like family. We were all like family.” 

Lydia shook her head. She spoke softly. “I think you know that’s not true.” 

Lisa smiled a little. It was true that The Baroness, The Broker and The Boss Lady treated all the girls at the club like family but long before she discovered she was an undercover agent, Tabitha made no secret of a dislike for Lydia. Jealousy? Instincts? Either way, Tabitha was not a fan. It had been club manager Dennis who had managed to gain Lydia access to the club. 

“She’s good at what she does. She’ll draw in the crowds,” Dennis insisted – probably feeling like he could have a piece of Lydia himself.

“Fine,” Tabitha had agreed. “But keep her away from me. She looks like I might catch something.” 

Preparing the girls for the evening Tabitha would do her usual rounds. “Great Lisa,” she would say. “Keep those drinks flowing. We want them pissed before we bring out the tip jars.” To Bette, the matron in charge of the dancer girls she would grin, “Got enough make up on? It looks like you’ve applied it with a trowel!” Bette would laugh at the good-natured ribbing. When Tabitha would turn to Lydia she would sneer, utter an, “Ugh,” and move on. 

“I want to bring Sarah’s killer in. Will you let me help you?” Lydia put to the barmaid. 

“Fine,” Lisa agreed for Sarah’s sake. “I was going to speak to someone who used to buy from Kevin. He might know something.”

“Good,” Lydia gave a chirpy smile. “What’s the address?” 

“He lives in the Mid West now but he was Shanties born. He would never thank me for sending an agent to his door. I’ll go with you. I’ll talk to him first. Hopefully he will tell you all he knows.” 

“We’ll get him, Lisa,” Lydia assured. “One way or another we’ll get that shooter.” 

Lisa lowered her gaze. “I’m never going to have my daughter back. You lied to us. You lied to me. I thought we were friends.” 

Lydia spoke soothingly. “I know I’m the last person you want around right now but I’m good at what I do and I can help find the one who shot Sarah. Let me help you.”

Lisa sniffed. “You’re still a fake bitch and the only thunder you bring is out your arse.”

Lydia shook her head. “Tabitha told you to say that, didn’t she?” 

Lisa replied, “That’s the Boss Lady for you. But yeah, she did.” 

***

Lisa’s contact had done good from what Lydia could tell. It seemed he had managed to escape the poverty trap of the Shanties and was now resident in a clean, respectable apartment in the Mid West. 

“He’ll be a little shy of suits so let me do the talking,” Lisa instructed. 

Lydia wasn’t going to complain. She wasn’t bearing any badge or uniform. It wasn’t her intention to cause any trouble for the contact. She just wanted to bring Sarah’s killer to justice. 

A drug pusher was what Lydia expected from his association with Kev. He had clearly made a profitable business out of it. With bigger fish to fry she let Lisa take the lead. Lisa pushed the buzzer. Someone answered but they didn’t speak. 

“Hey, it’s me,” she said. 

The ring of the secure entry door sounded as it opened to them. Lisa stepped in first. Lydia was close at her back. She gave one last check for anything or anyone suspicious before she closed the door behind her. 

They were greeted by a pleasantly lit, carpeted hallway. It wasn’t quite the Faulds Park building in City Main nor the Beckingridge Manor in Filton but it was clean. It was a typical Mid West apartment with its soft pastel coloured walls and welcoming plants in the corners. They climbed the stairs to the second floor. Lisa crossed an open landing and knocked on the door of apartment 2F. Their informant had been expecting them so the door was answered quickly. 

“Agent Lowe,” Lisa introduced. “This is David Finn.” 

Artist David Finn was sleepy eyed and his hair was tousled. He had clearly dressed in a hurry, his trousers and shirt not matching. He looked to Lydia, his mind still resonating on the word ‘agent’. 

“Can we come in?” asked Lydia.

“Fuck,” was David’s reply. 

***

David let the women into his apartment. The hallway may have been clean and well kept but the apartment itself was not. Clothes, paints, sketches were scattered everywhere. The artist started to straighten up as best he could. 

While Lisa spoke to him Lydia took notice of a board that had been pinned to a wall. On it were photos of the Ferrald family who had raised David. There were also some photos taken from inside Harbour House, showing David with Tawny. She was clutching his face and kissing his cheek. David was smiling widely. His eyes were closed and his nose wrinkled. There was another with Tawny centre. She had one arm around David and the other round a well-groomed man wearing spectacles. Lydia assumed him to be the music teacher, Vincent Baines. Also pinned to the board was a photo of Tabitha as a girl. She was grinning, her two aunts standing proudly behind her. The photo was Tawny’s favourite and David had kept it for her. He knew she would be wanting it back when she was found. 

“Jesus fucking Christ, lady!” David gasped to the Knock Knock barmaid. “You brought the law?” 

“She just wants to ask about Kev,” Lisa explained. “She’s helping me.” 

David nervously watched as Lydia inspected his apartment. 

“Where did you meet her?” he asked. “She’s not CPD.” 

“She was under cover at the club as one of the dancer girls.” 

David’s nerves dissolved to a grin. “Really?” 

“David? David?” Lisa urged but he was now lost in the neatness of Lydia’s form. “David focus!” she snapped her fingers in front of his glassy eyes. 

“Sorry Lees,” he chuckled. “I was miles away there.” 

Lisa pouted with good nature. “I’m sure you were. Can you help?” 

“Of course,” David agreed. 

When Tawny caught wind of Lisa’s daughter, Sarah, being gunned down and it likely being an Owen bullet that had taken her life she had vowed to do whatever it took to expose the killer. David was sure her vow and her disappearance were not unrelated. When he left Harbour House he met up with the Knock Knock barmaid to offer his support. It turned out that when Tawny spoke of Lisa, she had meant Lisa Luren. She and David had gone to school at The Grange together. Lisa was a couple of years above David but she was bubbly, popular and very memorable for a teenaged boy. They hadn’t seen one another in years but they knew each other well. David hadn’t realised the Kev he occasionally bought needles from was Lisa’s boyfriend.

Having given the time to put David at ease Lydia turned away from the board and prepared for her questioning. David kicked a pair of pink lace knickers under the sofa. There was no good explanation for them. 

“So David,” Lydia asked. “When did you first find out about Sarah? What did Tawny tell you?”

“She heard from a friend that a little girl had been shot. That was nothing unusual in the Shanties but she insisted that it was an Owen that did it. The Kappa So creep Buddy Owen. He had been after Kev. He owed money to them.” 

“Did you know Kev well?” 

“Uh…” David turned to Lisa. 

Lisa urged him. “It’s fine,” she said. 

“I used to buy from him when the Kirkton apartments dried up. I haven’t touched anything since I came out of Harbour House though, honest! I’m clean and sober. I haven’t done anything illegal.” 

“It’s okay. I’m just here to try and find out what happened to Sarah,” Lydia assured. “Did Kev ever mention anything to you about owing money to Kappa So?”

“No,” David replied. “But he owed lots of people. He stiffed me a few times too.” 

“What made Tawny say it was Buddy Owen in particular?” 

“She heard he was bragging about it.” David laid a gentle, comforting hand on Lisa’s shoulder. “He told one of his Kappa So brothers that he had deliberately shot Sarah first so Kev could see her skull explode. Then he shot Kev too.” Lisa sobbed so David pulled her close to him. “I’m sorry Lees, but we have to find him.” 

“I know,” Lisa sobbed. “I know.” 

Lydia remained collected. “Do you know the name of the brother that he had been bragging to?” 

“Thad or Brad or some douche bag name like that.” 

Lydia took note. “Thanks David,” she said. 

“So you’re going to arrest him, right?” the artist asked. 

“It’s not quite as simple as that I’m afraid,” Lydia admitted. “I need evidence or there’s nothing that can be done.” 

Memories of Tawny and being confronted with the image of Lisa grieving for his daughter had left David a little emotional. 

“And your looking for Tawn too?” he asked. “She’s loud, brassy, always flashing her tits at people,” he sniffed. “She can’t be missed, right?” he tried a cheerful spin. 

Lydia smiled. “If learning about Sarah is the reason she’s gone missing then hopefully it will lead me to her too,” Lydia assured. “Lay low and say nothing to anyone.” 

“Even CPD?” he enquired. 

“Especially CPD.” 

“The rich dragon lady wants to have a word with me. Can I talk to her?” 

“If you mean Elizabeth Beckingridge then let me speak to her first. I want to find out all she learned from your friend, Vincent.” 

David walked them to the door. 

“Take care of yourself, Lees,” he said to the Knock Knock barmaid with a hug. “I’m here if you need anything.” 

Lisa kissed the artist’s cheek. “I’m outta work just now so if you want a model give me a call,” she jested. 

David laughed, “I will.” 

Lydia shook his hand. “Thanks David. I’ll be in touch.” 

“Sure, agent.” He leaned against the door frame. “Call me anytime. The more models the better…” 

Lydia smiled. Her natural effervescence started to shine through her professionalism. She winked. “Stay safe.” 

As they rounded the stairs Lisa looked back to see David still watching on with a raised eyebrow. His eyes were wide. Lisa shook her head with an exasperated giggle when he exhaled. Lydia had made an impression on him.

***

Kim and Lydia met outside the steps of the Court House. The last time they had done so it had been to discuss the raid on the Knock Knock Club. The dust from the debris had settled and through the dust an underlying problem in the Shady City was discovered. It resonated from all four corners of Coldford but that morning it had been the Chapter House the agents were targeting. The icy winter chill was closing in fast. Lydia blew warm breath into her hands. Smiling, she watched Kim approach. She hugged her agency partner. Kim was the self-appointed leader of their group. She was also the sternest but with Lydia close a warmth danced into her eyes. 

“Let’s not waste time,” Kim suggested. “We need that signature.”

They headed on inside. An old building, the Court House had seen rulings from the first hanging two centuries before (ironically it had been Judge Jessica ‘Jess’ Owen who delivered the conviction. A man sentenced to death for thieving cattle. The cattle in question belonged to her family) right up to to death sentence of the Boss Lady. It had seen so much and still had so much to do. 

The agents were escorted by a clerk on duty. Several members of the black bands were present. They were quiet and structured but their presence was worthy of attention. 

Inside the office of The Judge, they found Doyle herself collecting documents. 

“I must make this brief, agents,” she said. “I’m due in court.” 

“It’s about an investigation I’d like to open,” said Lydia without haste. “With the help of my team.” 

Karyn continued to prepare for court. “What kind of charges are you looking to bring?” 

“Murder – first degree. Possibly several counts of rape, drug possession, whatever I can find.” 

Judge Doyle stopped. “This perp sounds like quite a character. Coldford is no longer your jurisdiction. Why are you doing this? Why not tell CPD everything you know and let them handle it?”

Lydia stood firm. “Ma’am, if I leave it in the hands of CPD it will be brushed away. There is a conflict of interest at the department now.”

“Who is this target?” asked Doyle. 

“Bernard Owen,” Lydia stated. “We have reason to believe he is responsible for the murder of Kevin Marsh and his daughter Sarah. We also have reason to believe he is responsible for the abduction of Tawny McInney.” 

“And these reasons are hunches?” the Judge put to them. 

It was Kim who had to admit. “It is just hearsay at this point, ma’am, but if we put it to CPD we will never discover the truth, not when the suspects cousin is now Chief of Police.”

Doyle gave it some thought. “I’ll grant you two weeks to find out what you can,” she said. 

Kim offered the document that required a High Court signature to open the investigation. Karyn used the same silver pen that had been used to sign Tabitha’s life away. Buddy Owen had now come under investigation. 

“If your enquiries bring up nothing, be prepared. The Captain will not stop at having your badges revoked.” 

“It’s a risk we’re willing to take,” Kim assured. 

“Good,” replied Judge Doyle. “Bring me whatever you find. We will see if a warrant is necessary.” 

***

With more Owens arriving for the funeral of Pops even a place as large as Owen Estate was starting to feel crowded. Billy was occupied by his father, Jackson ‘Jackie’ Owen and The Cappy, so Buddy and his brothers managed to slip their nanny and head off back to Filton. They had said they were to meet with a Fullerton representative to discuss bringing the Chapter House back in order and they were.

“I’ll handle the Fullerton contract,” Buddy had offered. 

Billy laughed heartily and shook his shoulder. “Shit for brains here still thinks he’s Chapter leader. You lost it boy.” 

“I can do this,” Buddy pleaded to his father. “I can make it right.” 

The Cappy scowled with a narrow gaze. “Close the Fullerton deal and then we’ll talk.” 

Billy cheered. He wrapped his arm around his cousin’s neck. “Who’s the leader, little bro?” he asked. 

Buddy could feel Cooper and Chad’s eyes burning on him. 

“You are,” he admitted. 

“Damn right I am. Who has the mighty big balls?” he asked. 

“You do.” 

Billy let him go. “Then let’s head out.” 

Luckily The Cappy interceded. “Let Buddy try this one. I would like to see him produce positive results for once in his life. Billy, you and I should talk on CPD.” 

“Sure thing Captain,” replied Billy. 

So Buddy and his Kappa So brothers returned to Filton but before any meeting with Fullerton could take place they had a stop off to make. 

Chad checked his phone. “Susie is out of the hospital.” 

Buddy gave a sigh of relief. “Thank the fucking Lord Almighty,” he said. “I should send her something.” 

Chad started to tap through his phone. “I have a flower guy I use,” he said. “What kind of flowers does she like? Orchids, lilies, tulips?” 

Buddy stopped and scowled at him. “Flowers? She’s a six-year-old little kid, she likes pony rides and fucking chocolate milk.” He looked to Cooper and scoffed. “Flowers? Can you believe this guy?” 

Cooper shrugged. Chad continued scrolling. 

“You liked the purple tulips, remember?” Chad put to Buddy.

Buddy groaned. “They brightened up the place. Don’t be saying that shit.”

They had arrived at Cooper Garage. Cooper opened up. The annual luxury car auction in Luen was taking place. The Deluxe Drive event was a big deal among the traders and the Coopers never missed it. The garage had been on lock down since before the Loyalist/Fleet attacks began. As they stepped onto the main show room floor motion sensor lights sparked on. 

Buddy stopped to admire a shining silver Bentley. 

“We’re gotta get back into the Chapter House before Fullerton gets there and find the golden cock. Then I’m going to the farm, find the one who coked up my little mascot and I’m gonna fire ten rounds right up their fucking ass.”

“Yeah!” his brothers cheered. 

“Then I’m gonna have my Chapter House back and I’m gonna make that sicko Penn eat my fucking dick.” 

“Yeah!” the brothers continued in their encouragement. 

“Then when I’m the new Cappy in town I’m gonna bang that farm girl because I’m Kappa fucking So!”

“Yeah!”

The cheer of the brothers rang through the garage. They climbed the steps to Cooper’s father’s office. 

“We are Kappa So! Brothers for life,” Buddy was still ranting. They started in on the Kappa So chant as Cooper opened the door to Marshal Cooper’s office. More motioned sensor lights came on. Buddy pushed him out of the way and stood in the doorway first. He sniffed. He could almost smell victory. 

“With everything that’s been going on I almost forgot we had this bitch!” 

In the corner, bound, beaten to within an inch of her life and weakening fast was Tawny, the one they called the Baroness.

George knew his aunt was looking for her but he always loved the thrill of a game of hide and seek. He especially enjoyed the admiration of his brothers when his Beck Firm informant was able to tell them exactly where Elizabeth was going to be looking next. 

Tawny’s blurry vision caught sight of Buddy and his brothers unlocking Marshal Cooper’s cupboard and helping themselves to a generous helping of powder her ordeal was only just beginning. 

Buddy took the first line. 

“I feel good!” he screamed. “I feel fucking good!” “So what are we going to do with her? “ Chad asked Buddy of Tawny.

“Throw a sheet over her, brah. She’s weirding me out.”

***

Agnes and I met in Bobby’s lunch box. Whilst the Knock Knock was seized, Agnes had been staying in her Mid East apartment. We had joined for a coffee, the chance to relinquish our breaths and to discuss the power grabbing that had torn through the Shady City since the delivery of the sentence on The Boss Lady. 

Agnes had gotten a text. 

CAN YOU COME DOWN TO KK. HURRY.

I couldn’t let her return alone. When we got to the Shanties the streets were filled. I had never seen the place so busy. Even on the nights the Knock Knock was in full swing there still weren’t as many people pressing towards the club. 

Lisa got talking to someone she knew in the crowd. She started to push through. 

“They killed her!” screamed one. “They’ve done it. They’ve killed her.” 

Mounted Black Band patrol pushed through. Agnes and I got crushed between them. Agnes fell into me but I managed to steady her on her feet. I had seen riot patrols before. I had seen them many times in fact but the crowd control that the Black Bands dealt was not the same. Their horses were larger. Thoroughbreds intended for war. A woman’s scream called out as she was crushed between two horses. A Shanties knife fighter pulled a blade and tried to plunge one of them. The horse reared. It’s horsemen came tumbling down with his baton at the ready. The knife dropped from the aggressor’s hands as the baton smashed against his skull.

“She’s dead! They’ve done it. They’ve killed Tabitha.” 

The Black Bands swept the crowd back like the ocean over a sandcastle. Agnes roared a cry of despair that still tremors in my ears on dark nights when I’m alone.

From a post outside the club hung that red dress, that red dress that meant so much to so many people in the area. The wearer of the dress was gone. A notice on the door of the club read that the execution of Tabitha had been brought forward. No more appeals. No more pleas. All Lydia and Kim could do was lead the people away from the path of the black bands. 

Paddy Mack comforted Brendan when they discovered the news. The Mack Distillery owner had known Tabitha since she was little girl. Kieran was pacing. He didn’t dry his tears. He let them flow freely. The bells rang in the distillery from behind the gates.

Agnes wept. It took both Lisa and I to try and usher her away. Don’t look, I hoped she would hear me think. For God’s sake don’t look.

Frequent Fliers: Coldford City Airport

Features in: KNOCK KNOCK ; PURPLE RIBBON

When your looking to escape and the Shady City is where you choose to go then flying in from abroad will bring you to Coldford City international airport. With arrivals from the Great States, Levinkrantz, Subala and Luen it is one of Coldford City’s busiest places. Located in the west of the CARDYNE if you can get there, you can get anywhere!

A recent arrival from the Great States.

Coldford City Airport also boasts being home of Dynasty, the personal jet of Captain Charles ’Chick’ Owen. The Cappy is no stranger to smooth landings so it’s always his first point of contact when he arrives in Coldford to deal with business, pleasure or his unruly family.

The Cappy greets his public.

So book your tickets. Come fly with us or sit in the foyer, enjoying some of the great cafes on offer and do some people watching. We’ve got some strange people passing through the gates! As if the Shady City wasn’t shady enough!

Enjoy this?

Complete Season 2 of the Knock Knock series is free to read here on Vivika Widow. com or click below download for Kindle

Care to discover the true whereabouts of the Knock Knock Baroness? Tawny was last seen as a resident of the Shady City’s premier rehab clinic. Check out Vivika Widoow’s hit thriller Harbour House. Free on Kindle Unlimited.

Knock Knock: Issue 27: Protect and Serve

“Central control.”

“Evenin’ central control. This is flight 118 Dynasty. We’re beginning our descent.”

“Copy that Dynasty. We see you. Nice and smooth as always.”

“Bring out the chilled beer, central. It’s been a long flight.”

Air traffic controller Rick Monroe smiled. He watched the blips and bleeps on his radar screen.

“It’s all clear for landing Captain. It’s a cold night here in Coldford but a clear one. The west runway is clear for a landing.”

“Copy that central.”

Rick pushed his chair back from the table. He lifted the phone from the wall.

“Get the landing party out on the west runway. We have incoming. Orders received. Time to greet flight 118 Dynasty. Notify hospitality, they’re going to want to be there.”

A buzz was sent through the airport. A privately commissioned jet was preparing to land and with an important guest on board.

The traffic directors were on the front line. The west runway was one of their longest. It was usually reserved for large commercial flights to the Great States or further afield. When controller Neil was told it was a private jet, he naturally assumed the kind of smaller air craft the privileged class, who found themselves in need of hopping from country to country, liked to use. His excitement lifted when he spotted a Boeing cast a shadow down upon them as it followed it’s directed pathway. The wheels dropped from its enormous body and it touched the ground with the smoothness of a bird of prey snatching its meal from the forest floor.

The hospitality staff were put on high alert. The airport lounge was buzzing with anticipation of the Great States arrival. A kettle of squawking reporters hopped around waving recording devices, ready to peck at the juicy meat of a story being thrown to them.

Freshly pressed uniforms, straightened backs, standing to attention. District manager of the Coldford City Airport, Rebecca, looked on in awe as the gangway slowly approached the craft. I arrived just as they were lining up to welcome the guest of honour.

“Best foot forward girls,” instructed Rebecca.

From the pilot’s cockpit and onto the gangway, wheeling a flight case behind him and in full uniform, stepped Captain Charles Owen. He looked rejuvenated after flying the sizeable aircraft from the Great States. Whilst he wore a black tie to show his family still mourned the loss of Bobby Owen, he beamed and waved to the waiting press core. Flanked by his co-pilot and two finely dressed stewardesses, The Cappy took centre stage.

“Welcome back to Coldford, Captain,” Rebecca stepped forward. As district manner she had the honour of greeting the Owen Inc. CEO. “I’m afraid the press has caught wind of your arrival so you won’t be able to escape discretely.”

Chick removed his hat. “I have no mind to,” he assured her, clutching his hat to his chest. “In fact, I believe I will have a few words.”

“Of course,” Rebecca agreed. She stepped aside to allow The Cappy and his staff to present themselves.

Without allowing himself to be overwhelmed by the flood of questions he had to wade though, Chick spoke to the reporters.

“It makes my heart mighty glad to see all these familiar faces. Peter?” he pointed to one of the reporters. “Nice to have you back. I hope you are well recovered.”

Peter giggled shyly but he still hungrily clutched his recording device. “I’m happy to answer some questions but given recent circumstances I’m afraid I’ll have to keep it brief.”

“Captain! Captain!” cried a feisty female reporter in a skirt suit, she was pushing her assistant who was holding her recorder in front of her.

“Yes, Margaret?” The Cappy chose her first. Sometimes it was best to start by feeding the hungriest of the animals. It stopped them getting too eager.

“Firstly, condolences on the loss of Bobby from all of us at the Coldford Express. He was a lovely man and a sad loss.”

“Thank you,” Charles returned. “Do go on.”

“Is it purely the loss of Pops that has brought you back to Coldford?” the reporter asked. The press had been left feeling sketchy on the details.

The combined loyalist/fleet attacks had been kept from public news as much as possible. Covered with stories of random violence that was nothing new to Coldford.

Destruction, asbestos, and rejuvenation of the area were all delivered to the news feeds (Owen Inc. owned) and these falsities were spat back out in the face of the public. Maybe they would learn the truth eventually but in that moment the truth did not suit The Cappy’s agenda. Given that the City Main King had to remain low key as best he could, as well as Paddy Mack, the Owens had the chance to control the information leaked to the public. They stopped their allies from having cause for alarm and their enemies having reason to be emboldened.

“It is my sad duty to bid farewell to a great man, a much-loved man and my father. He will be sorely missed but I do have business in this great city of ours. My family’s heart is at home here so I will always have cause to return.”

“Can you give us some details on your father’s death?” asked another reporter.

“I’m afraid at this time, Taylor, I cannot. I will brief you when the time is right, but for now I ask that you respect my family’s privacy and allow us to deal with our grief.”

Margaret pushed in again. “Will you still be continuing to pursue your investment into Harvester Farm?”

Chick nodded. “Of course, and whole heartedly. Pops would be the first one to say, ‘Boy, family is of the utmost importance and it is in business we pave the way for our family.’ I would be delighted to have Miss Harvester hear the ideas I have for the future of her brand.”

The stewardess to the left, a brunette with a sharply cut bob, gently tapped on his shoulder. She whispered into his ear.

The Cappy turned back to the reporters again with a smile.

“I’ve just been informed that my time is up. I thank y’all for coming out. I will provide a statement in a timely manner. But for now, there is much to be done.”

The reporters clashed as they hopped after The Cappy for one last morsel of meat. With some laughing with his co-pilot, he left them behind and his Boeing craft named Dynasty to be serviced and refuelled. It was to be housed in Coldford for the foreseeable future.

***

Owen estate would seem like a great monster hidden deep in the northern farmlands should one venture that far. Not a tall building but spread wide. It emerged from the wilderness on approach like a hungry predator, its windows like eyes locked upon its prey. A single light was on. The occupier was home.

Back in his natural habitat, Buddy Owen stood in his father’s den. His whole life he had been visiting the estate and he was only allowed in the den by his father’s invitation.

Buddy, Chad and Cooper watched on as The Cappy silently cleaned his gun. A favoured Ruger 10/22 with a hardwood frame. He called it Betsy. Buddy much preferred an AR15 for hunting but The Cappy had a fondness for an antique look. The Ruger was after all one of the most successful rifle designs in history.

The bros watched as Chick pushed the cleaning rod into the barrel. He was lost in thought as though he had forgotten he had even summoned them and asked them to stand to attention. When he finally spoke, Buddy’s heart leapt. He had been so drawn in by the silence. Behind The Cappy hung a musket rifle used by Corporal Arthur ‘Arty’ Owen. Above that were maps drawn by Archibald ‘Archie’ Owen as he and his wife rounded a group of islands called San Mojo. There was one blank space specially reserved. Its place was to be given to a compass belonging to Henry ‘Hen’ Owen on his pioneering mission that put Coldford on the map. It had been acquired by the Penn Auction House. The Penns would only return it at cost. Chick was adamant that it belonged in his family and was insulted that he would be asked to pay for such an item that rightfully belonged to him. The auction house insisted that such a historical item should be placed for auction to allow anyone with an interest the opportunity to own it. Lawyers had kept the matter at a stale mate for years. With the Auction House seized, there may still come a chance for The Cappy to complete his collection.

“Chapter House, ruined.” He cleaned. “Our brotherhood, humiliated.” The dampness was drawn out of the barrel. “My father, dead.”

“They caught us off guard,” Buddy explained. “It won’t happen again, sir.”

“It most certainly won’t,” was The Cappy’s reply. “I’ve already taken steps to bring the matter in hand. What I would like to know is which one of you geniuses thought it would be a great idea to give your muck powder to a six-year-old child. Weren’t my express orders for you to be on your best behaviour whilst you were on that farm?”

“Yes, sir,” all three brothers replied in synchrony.

“If that is your best behaviour then y’all are bigger dumbasses than I ever gave you credit for. Have you set a challenge with yourselves to disappoint me?”

“No, sir,” again all three replied together.

“Then which one of you did it?”

“None of us, sir,” Chad protested. “We ain’t had no powder since we left the Chapter House.”

Chick looked up from his gun cleaning. His eyes met those of his son.

“We ain’t,” Buddy agreed. “Been damn hard but we ain’t. After what happened to Pops, I wanted to stay sober. I want those mother fuckers to pay so I wanted a clear head. Someone is trying to make me look bad.”

“Every time you open that mouth of yours, son, it makes you look bad.”

“I didn’t do it. Someone is against me.”

“Just like those teachers were against you? Just like the local authorities were against you?” Chick’s attention returned to Betsy. He handled her with a gentle, loving hand.

“This time it’s true. I will find out who and I will deal with it,” Buddy resolved.

“See that you do. For now, I am paying for the child’s care privately. I’m told by her nurses that she will be just fine. Whatever the father wishes to do to you I’m not making any of my concern. So, if you aren’t responsible, I suggest you find out who was and fast before the father’s attention is no longer occupied by a sick child. That powder habit of yours may have been charming to some when you were a boy but you are a man now, Bernard. It’s time for you to start behaving like one. If you are unable to kick that habit, I am more than happy to find someone who can help you.”

“What do you mean?” The moment Buddy asked this he regretted it.

“Harbour House. I hear it can do some good. Their twelve step programme is proven to be 90% effective.”

“You wouldn’t put me in rehab,” Buddy gasped, but it was more a plea than challenge.

“I would if I thought it would do you any good. Prove me wrong. Start acting like a man.”

“I will,” Buddy agreed. He was already measuring in his head the monumental mess he was having to clean up. What The Cappy knew was but the tip of the iceberg.

“You are now stripped of any authority you had. If you wish to have the Chapter back you will have to earn it. I have ordered some help for you. You are thirty-four years old and I’m calling in a baby sitter. You should be ashamed of yourself.” The Cappy distracted himself with shining Betsy’s glossy body.

“Who?” asked Buddy.

“When I was last in Coldford I told you if you were to disregard my requests, I would send someone to fetch you proper.”

Cooper and Chad looked to Buddy. They could see his eyes widen.

“Who?” he asked again with a little more desperation. Judging by Buddy’s reaction, his Kappa So brothers guessed he already knew.

“The expected time of arrival for the flight is four pm. You will be at the airport to greet our guest,” said Chick. He laid Betsy down gently, admiring her glow, her shapely form, her willingness to be held. He took in the three Kappa So brothers. “Now get out. The sight of ya’ll is ruining my appetite.”

The three turned towards the door but Chick always had one last thing to say.

“Oh, and Bernard, speaking of Harbour House, while you are finding this mysterious stranger who gave the little girl cocaine maybe you can also find the Baroness bitch. The search for her is heating up and I have not forgotten the artist boy pointing the finger in my face. If you are in any way responsible for her missing status, you and I are going to go on a hunt.”

The den door closed over. Buddy turned to his brothers with a sob.

“What does that even mean?!”

***

“Good afternoon, Charles. I trust you’re well and your flight was a good one?” greeted Judge Karyn Doyle as the staff of Owen Estate showed her to the den. Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Owen was already there. Chick’s younger brother had surprised the Coldford community when he was the one to step up and defend Tabitha during her trial. I myself had been surprised to hear it, when Tabitha’s murder spree had stemmed from the accusations that the Reverend Jerry Owen had attempted to rape her as a child along with countless other young girls. Judge Doyle had no evidence other than the word of the girls the Baroness was encouraging to step forward. Taking matters into her own hands, Tabitha had essentially ended her own life.

What I did observe through the trial was that Ronnie wasn’t there to proclaim her innocence. It was far too late for that. He wasn’t there to seek vengeance for his brother either. He knew what Jerry was. He merely asked the jury to take into account the events that had brought Tabitha to do what she did. They were the actions of a mad woman for the most part but they shed a light on a much bigger problem in the Shady City. Sexual assault was at epidemic levels and as difficult as it was to hear, a great many of these girls were still children. For her part Judge Doyle listened to both sides of the story but when the voice of the girl who called her out in her own court, murdered at least fifty-nine people, taunted the missing mayor and had a history of violence was up against a Reverend from a highly respected family, who had given a lot of charity to the city and had no physical evidence against him, that was how the scales of justice measured up. The Judge had heard the cries of those girls though. No matter how loudly they sang Tabitha’s praises she was not going to be forgiven her crimes. The sentence was death. I just hoped that in Tabitha’s death justice would be found for all those other girls she sought to protect.

“I am much obliged for you coming at such short notice. With the troubles we’ve been having, I fear I’m locked to the homestead for the time being.”

Karyn Doyle nodded. “It’s not a problem. The sooner we get things back on track, the better for all of us and for the city. The death of Joel Hickes and the escape of Reginald Penn Junior not to mention Patrick Mack being at large, has taught me that CPD needs to come under new management, immediately.”

Charles nodded. Ronnie also agreed.

“I recommended that this only be a temporary station,” put in the younger brother. “I stand by that. The Black Bands have been incredibly successful in bringing in known instigators but CPD must have a longer-term goal.”

Charles smiled. “Whilst the murderer of our father is at large I will stop at nothing. Are you agreed on that Ron? I would hate for us to move forward if we weren’t of the same mind.”

“I agree. Reginald Penn must face justice for his crimes. The city has already been torn apart enough,” said Ronnie.

“Then it’s time to do what needs to be done, starting with a stronger hold on CPD.”

Charles ‘Chick’ Owen, better known as The Cappy, slid a paper across the desk to her Honourable Judge Karyn Doyle. She supplied her signature. Ronnie witnessed. In a combined agreement between Owen Inc. and the High Court of Coldford City the police department were to be appointed a new commissioner.

***

“I think the first thing we should do, darling, is check into the hotel. We don’t want to be carrying our luggage around longer than is necessary, now do we?” Mr Johnson said to his wife as they waited in the airport lounge for notification from their transport to City Main. Mrs Johnson held a glass of Macks whiskey, on the rocks. It was early for hard spirits but it had been a bumpy flight and they were supposed to be enjoying themselves after all.

Mrs Johnson took a sip. “The exhibit closes at six. I would have really liked to have seen it. They are moving it on to Luen in the morning. This would be our only chance.”

Mr Johnson took out his notes. “It says here that the museum is just a five-minute walk from the Weir. It’s just gone four now. We’ll have plenty of time to check in, freshen up and pop along and still catch the exhibit.”

As she and her husband looked closer at the City Main tourist map he had brought up on his phone, she hadn’t realised her handbag had been kicked out from underneath their table. A man in filthy clothes who had been hanging around the airport for most of the afternoon, but not caused enough fuss for security to do anything about, closed in. He casually strolled towards the exit as though he had been intending to leave. As he passed Mr and Mrs Johnson he snatched up the handbag.

“My bag!” Mrs Johnson screeched.

Mr Johnson was on his feet but the thief was already at the exit door. As the door opened he ran into a broad man with a naturally muscular physique. His head was shaved. His eyes were heavy having just arrived on a private long-haul flight. He was brought to alert by the woman’s cry though. He snatched the man. He pulled his finger back with an aburpt snap. The man squealed with pain. The man picked up the handbag. He fixed the Kappa So uniform he was wearing.

“You damn near ripped my shirt you weaselling son ‘a’ bitch!”

The airport security swooped in and apprehended the thief. Mrs Johnson rushed up to the man to retrieve her bag.

“Thank you!” she stated sincerely. “How can I repay you?”

The man grinned. “It’s no worry ma’am. No yella bellied thief gonna get by me.”

“At least let me buy you a drink.” She turned to her husband. “Roger?” she cried. “Buy the man a drink.”

Mr Johnson had been so relieved for the return of his wife’s bag he didn’t hesitate. She had been carrying all of their reservations and travel documents.

The man followed her to the table she and her husband had chosen. He stopped her and spun her round so they could meet eye to eye.

“You’re a pretty thing,” his grin widened. “I’m mighty glad to have met your acquaintance.”

Mrs Johnson tried to smile too but he had pushed himself so close to her it made her uncomfortable.

He reached up and clutched her face with a rough hand. “You are mighty pretty,” he said again. “For a negress.”

Mr Johnson returned. He slammed the glass down on the table.

“How dare you speak to my wife that way.”

The man frowned. The wrinkles on his forehead deepened. “Can’t a man deliver a compliment these days?” He placed a hand on Mr Johnson’s chest and shoved him into a chair.

“Sir! I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

The man took a seat at their table, scraping it noisily across the floor.

“You invited me to drink and I got time to spare. Let’s drink.” He looked up to an aghast Mrs Johnson. Her husband hadn’t made any further movement. “Sit down, darlin’ and keep me company. Your pussy assed husband here might like to see what a real man looks like.” Mr Johnson was frowning severely but said nothing. The man gave a roaring laughter. “Where’s your sense of humour?”

“I’m going to call security,” Mr Johnson decided.

The man drank his whiskey. “Don’t bother. You’re just going to cut into your vacation time.”

“Who are you?”

“Billy!” a loud, Great States voice called across the lounge. Billy stood, throwing his chair back.

“Bud!” he yelled back as Chad, Cooper and Buddy Owen crossed to greet him. Billy swallowed the rest of the whiskey and abandoned the table. He charged towards his brothers, catching Buddy in a headlock.

“Little bro!” he cheered, rubbing his knuckles roughly on Buddy’s head. He let him go and turned his attention to Chad and Cooper. “So, this is the cream of the Kappa So crop these days. You look like a couple of fags. What’s with this?” here he imitated Cooper’s usual folded arm stance. Buddy laughed heartily.

William ‘Billy’ Owen was the son of The Cappy’s cousin Jackson ‘Jackie’ Owen. He was close to Buddy, but the Owen lessons over the years had given him a bullying nature. If anyone could hold Buddy to account it would be him. Whether that was a good thing or throwing petrol onto the fire remained to be seen.

“So The Cappy been chewing your ass, huh?” Billy put to Buddy as they started to exit the airport, leaving a flabbergasted Mr and Mrs Johnson behind.

All they could hear was Billy scream, “You lost the fucking Chapter House!”

Billy slapped Buddy over the back of his head. “You are a fucking moron. Pops would be ashamed – God rest his soul. We gotta spray the whole damn house now. A’body knows those gypos bring all kinds of diseases.”

***

Briefing room 40 was filled to capacity. The City Main precinct of the Coldford Police Department was brought together to meet their new commissioner.

“Bryant!” called Archer to old time detective Bryant McGregor.

Archer was younger, more energetic. Bryant was in his early sixties with wisdom etched on his brow. He was nearing his retirement. No one would have blamed him for wanting to rest easy and leave the force, especially after his close friend Hickes had been killed. Bryant wasn’t so easily swayed though. Like the others he waited in anticipation to meet the newly appointed chief of police.

Officer Ricky Marshall was also there. He had a warm hand shake and an embrace for Bryant. They hadn’t seen one another since Hickes’ memorial. Ricky had been partners with Hickes in their early days before he was moved on to a drug task force and Hickes gained his detective badge. Ricky looked stressed out. He always looked stressed. Matched with Hickes’ cool approach they had always made an effective partnership. His chestnut brown hair was greying. They were all getting older, Bryant had to admit. They weren’t newbies any more. Beside Ricky sat Lennon. He looked better than the last time Bryant had seen him. Lennon was a fine detective – probably one to rival Hickes in his prowess but he had been out of the force for a while in order to deal with a gambling addiction. He had lost his house, his car, but Joel Hickes had picked up on the telltale signs before he lost himself.

“Get your fucking shit together,” Joel had warned him. “Do you want your kids living in a fucking caravan? Do you want to lose those kids?”

If anyone else had put that question to Lennon he would have lashed out at them, but from Hickes it made a lot of sense. It was his shit and he did have to get it together.

I wasn’t given the chance to attend the briefing that day. It was internal only but from all I had heard of the fall out as explained to me by Bryant himself, Hickes’ integrity, his influence over his fellow officers had never faded.

The group looked to Bryant for his leadership as the longest serving. They trusted in him. They trusted that he would be true to Hickes’ example.

“Any word on the new chief?” asked Ricky.

Bryant responded, “All I could get was that it is a he and they have brought him in from abroad.”

Ricky shook his head. “I don’t like this,” he said. “They should be promoting one of our own. Bryant, that was your spot. It could have been Hickes’ place one day.”

“It should have been you,” Olivia Hickes had said to Bryant on the phone the night before. “But we’ll know better their thinking when we find out who this person is. You’ll know the right thing to do. I trust you.”

It didn’t sit well with any member of the police force to have someone come in from outside to lead them, especially when the privately-commissioned Black Bands were spreading farther and farther around the city – essentially taking the laws the CPD were sworn to protect and uphold out of their control. But the department had become flooded with corruption. Judge Doyle wasn’t leaving it up to a few good men like Bryant, Archer, Ricky and Lennon, to wade through. It would take someone with an outside perspective to clear the way.

Deputy Chief Michelle Crawly took the speaking spot. A hush washed over the nervous police officers.

“Okay, I know you’re all eager to meet the new chief,” she said, “and there’s a lot of work to do so we’ll be brief. Ladies and gentlemen, Police Commissioner Owen.”

A lot of the room erupted into an applause. Whoops and cheers rang out. The doors were thrown open and the overbearing presence of William ‘Billy’ Owen came sauntering through. He had a grin on his face and he could be heard muttering to Michelle, “I’ll take it from here darlin’.”

He clutched both sides of the podium and bared his teeth down on them.

“Well, well, well,” he began. “It’s good to be here. Time to whip y’all into shape. Am I right?”

“You’re right, brah!” one of the officers called back. Bryant shot him a fiery stare but Archer patted his arm and urged him to keep calm. Bryant couldn’t.

“This is not Kappa So,” he said.

Billy glared. “Whatcha say, old timer?”

“This is not Kappa So and this is not your frat house. Isn’t it enough with the Black Bands?”

“Sit down, Mc Gregor,” Michelle warned.

Bryant could hear the rumble of chairs behind him. Like a virulent disease the Kappa So influence in CPD had been spread quickly. It was how it had been so easy to declare one of them as chief. That coupled with Billy’s special ops background, for some he was seen as the saviour the department needed.

Billy laughed, raspy and unkind.

“You let a pussy Penn triplet escape your custody. You failed to find him. You let a bitch in a whore dress murder, steal and call herself a queen. Ya’ll are a disgrace. Worst of all, you let one of your own have his brains splattered all across the side walk. And you have the audacity to wonder why I had to drag my ass all the way over here to put things right?”

Some of the officers cheered. Bryant and his companions were sickened.

“You didn’t know Hickes,” Bryant snapped back.

Billy shook his head in exasperation. “And now I never will. You lost the rat fingering triplet, you lost that hippy dyke they call the Baroness and to cap it all off where’s the god damn mayor?”

Bryant stepped forward but Archer stopped him.

“No hard feelings old timer. In fact, you remind me of my granddaddy. He spent his final days pissing himself and thinking he was an astronaut. You got balls, but you better watch yourself. If you can’t handle the heat then it’s time to drop your badge.”

Bryant growled. He stormed to the aisle and approached Billy. The new chief of police for Coldford held his hand up to prevent any of his Kappa So brothers among the force from intervening. Billy smirked. Their faces were close. Bryant pulled the badge from around his neck and dropped it onto the floor. He walked out but before he had reached the door, Archer, Lennon, Ricky and those others dedicated to Hickes joined him.

“Was it something I said?” they could hear Billy jeer sarcastically.

CPD had its failings but its human element was what gave it the heart it had. That heart was torn from its chest that day.

***

They called it the pride of the north. The Boss looms over the town of Bournton like a great, waiting crocodile. Contained within its maw was the Shady City’s most notorious criminals. Thieves, rapists, murderers all called it home. With the newly-appointed chief at CPD it was about to come under new management.

“Yo Monty!” greeted the new guard.

Monty turned, took his cigarette from between his lips and grinned.

“Ethan? Brah!” he cheered. “How ya doin? I thought you were still in the Great States.”

“Moved Chapter. Coldford needs all the help she can get.”

They shared a lengthy Kappa So hand shake.

“It’ll be good to have some brothers around,” Ethan admitted.

One of the inmates had been playing basketball nearby. He threw the ball but it bounced on the basket and came rolling towards Ethan and his brother.

“See what I mean about this piece of shit scum here?”

They both rolled eyes at one another. The inmate, Tommy, collected the ball.

“You struggling to shoot straight there?” asked Ethan but, given how close they had gotten to the inmate, Tommy was on the defensive.

“Get outta my face,” he warned.

Ethan looked to Monty. He sniggered.

“Would you check the balls on this one?” he teased. “It’s almost like he believes we won’t beat his ass.”

Ethan grabbed Tommy and slammed him against the metal railing face first. The force caused a rattle.

“You’re going to apologise for throwing your ball at my bro here,” Ethan urged. “It was damn disrespectful.”

“I didn’t,” pleaded Tommy. “It just rolled away.”

Monty sniggered. “Are you saying your ball control is shit?”

Ethan slammed his head against the fence again. This time it was his skull that rattled. “Then why the fuck did you throw the ball? You owe us both an apology?”

“Fuck you!” Tommy returned with a spit. “I didn’t do anything, cunts. I just threw the ball.”

Ethan spun him around. He pulled the baton from his belt. He smashed Tommy’s left knee. The inmate yelped in pain but they didn’t let him fall.

“Fuck you!”

Ethan grabbed Tommy by the hair. They dragged him to an enclosure.

“If you’re shit with the ball you ain’t gonna need to be running around. You better slow down.”

The truncheon crunched his right knee. Tommy cried out.

“I didn’t do nothin! I didn’t do nothin!”

He looked up to the guard tower where an armed guard was stationed. He was young, tanned. Tommy had been inside The Boss for five years. He knew most of the guards but the tower guard was new. He had a naïve look on his face but he had seen everything. He had seen that Tommy had done no harm. Police brutality. The tower guard pointed his gun down. The two ground guards – Ethan and Monty – looked up. Ethan grinned and gave him a gesture with his hand that resembled the letter K. The guard with the gun did likewise.

“If he tries to get away, shoot him,” Ethan called up.

The tower guard replied, “I got your back brah.” He steadied the aim of his gun.

“Brothers for life,” Monty said to Ethan.

Ethan swung the baton. The first hit only fractured the tibia of Tommy’s right leg. The pain fired through his entire body. The second hit broke the fibula. Monty cracked his own baton across Tommy’s jaw. Tommy could feel a heaviness in his throat that preceded the need to vomit. He couldn’t feel the pain – although every crack of bone crunched in his ears. He was mostly dizzy and sick now. Even if there wasn’t a gun on him, he couldn’t have fought back. None of the other inmates opted to help him. Even his buddy Carl looked on in awe but wouldn’t risk the tower guards shooting him. Any of them could be gunned down where they stood and no one would bat an eyelid.

Tommy wasn’t taken to the infirmary. Instead, his aching body was discarded in a room with a damp mud floor and thick metal door. It allowed no light. It was known among the inmates as the prayer room. Many had found Jesus in there. Tommy would only find the pain of his fractures and breaks failing to heal properly. Whether he would have proper use of his legs again remained to be seen. He could be left there in pain for weeks before having a doctor’s attention. It would all be determined by how long the brothers intended to keep him in the rotting hole in the deepest depths of The Boss. The new chief of police in Coldford was a Kappa So brother and they were all brothers for life.


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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 25: The Beautiful Game

The ranch greeted a new guest. Discretely shown to The Cappy’s main den. The Cappy was behind his desk making plans for what was to happen next.

Owen Ranch in the Great States was a much-storied fortress of power. The Owen family had been a Star State feature for generations, priding themselves on pioneering discoveries and using the wealth they had amassed to make their mark on the world. Their entrepreneurial spirit with political ambitions made them a force. Being an Owen was more than having a family name. Their biggest asset was their propaganda machine. Their ownership of many news outlets was brought into call whenever one of their overindulged family members brought negative press upon them. Gerald ‘Jerry’ Owen was one such user. After the attempted rape of Tabitha as a child, her Baroness aunt had caused such a backlash upon the Reverend Owen that all stories in the newspapers had to be shut down. The only ones allowed to circulate were those that suggested Tawny was an alcoholic with serious mental health issues and Tabitha was a whore in the making who had been removed from so many schools no district would accept her. That’s not to say there wasn’t some truth to this. Tawny did have a history of mental breakdowns and Tabitha led a violent life. But that was what the most effective propaganda was, wasn’t it? Take a little truth and exaggerate it to discredit your opponent. The Owens did that better than anyone. No one – not even the Law Makers – could compete on that level. They had the press – including my old newspaper The Coldford Daily – and whilst they had the press, they had public opinion. Public opinion won wars and when that failed there was always brute strength. There was another area in which the Owens were formidable; money. They had it in abundance and so anything could be theirs at a cost.

“The events in Coldford, sir, are disheartening. I am concerned and to much distraction.”

His guest was a patient listener. He was sprightly, cat-like with a solid spine carved from years of discipline and manoeuvres. His name was Ruud Van Holder. His purpose? His team were an anti-terror group called the Black Bands. They called Van Holder the wrangler and he had been known to bring order to parts of the world overrun by militants. Several dictating leaders had fallen at his hands. Enlisting the services of Van Holder was probably overkill for thug groups like Reginald Penn’s Loyalists and Paddy Mack’s Fleet, but The Cappy would take no chances when his family dynasty was at stake.

“Shameful, sure,” Van Holder remarked, referring to Reginald’s brutal slaying of Robert ‘Bobby’ Owen. He scanned the room, detailing its contents. Whilst his eyes were elsewhere his mind still remained on the task at hand.

On a screen played Van Holder’s curriculum vitae. Horse mounted patrols cut through rioting crowds, long standing rebel leaders brought to their knees.

His team were called the Black Bands. The Cappy didn’t mind admitting that seeing them brought into action would be thrilling.

“This will be quite a task you will be undertaking. I’m sure you are more than capable but first I must ask, who are you loyal to?”

Van Holder had lifted a whiskey glass from Chick’s desk. It wasn’t a used glass. It was purely for decorative purposes. On the glass was etched an image of the boat that brought Captain Henry ‘Hen’ Owen to his monumental discovery. Without a moment’s hesitation Van Holder answered. “Doyle,” he said. His lips traced a smile as he played with the words between his teeth. “We’re loyal to Doyle.”

Sergeant Major Doyle, the Judge’s father, had created the Black Bands. He recruited Van Holder personally when he met him living in the harsh jungles of Southern Subala. Taming large jungle cats was his speciality but for Van Holder any wild animal that struck with the bite of a bloody chain would do.

The Cappy smiled. He had directed his son Buddy and his brother Ronnie to a public video of Van Holder, showing him with a lioness he named Baba. In the beginning she was snarling, wild, and had taken swipes at him. She leapt upon him but he managed to fend her off before she could wrap her great teeth around his skull. By the end she was playing with her owner like she was no more than a house cat. Ronnie placed trust in his following Doyle’s command. Buddy returned with a range of emoji reactions that made little sense. Either way the Black Bands were going to make their way to Coldford and, like the Weeping King of Kilmaro, those responsible for the death of an Owen would be brought to their knees.

“You brought me here because I’m the best,” Van Holder had said. “The very fucking best.”

The Cappy hadn’t made his name by searching for mediocre.

“You know who is to be brought to account,” said Chick. “I’ll be following you ova’ in a week or so but I’d like you to make our move quickly and dispatch with an alpha team immediately.” He stroked his chin as he contemplated what was to come next. “At this stage we’re merely looking at containment. Should anything spark…well that’s a barrier we’ll break should it arise. In the meantime, on that there table is a blank cheque. Take it and find yourself whatever provisions you need.”

Van Holder turned to the table behind him. “You’re a determined man,” he said. The Cappy watched the confident bounce in Van Holder’s step as he crossed the room and collected the Owen Inc. cheque. “I’ll see that it’s put to good use,” he said.

Charles ‘Chick’ Owen, better known as The Cappy, grinned. “I know you will.”

***

“We’re here at Starkland Park for what promises to be a very tense game of football as Coldford Athletic take on their fierce rivals Coldford City. Tensions are already high in the City with the Mack Distillery having closed its gates in Bellfield and the City-sponsoring Auction House seized. We have a whole stadium here so those tensions are going to spill onto the park in what promises to be a very impressive game of football. I’m Henry Daly and with me in the commentary box today is City legend, Grant Miller. Can we expect the players to be putting in their full efforts today Grant? Given what is happening behind the scenes.”

“I think we can Henry. City will be out to prove something today on the pitch and I don’t think they will let what’s happening with the Auction House hold them back. A win today may be just what is needed to raise City Main spirits.”

“That’s true, Grant. We have a lovely game of football ahead and so let’s stay on the matter at hand. The players are lining up now. Athletic captain shakes the hand of the City skipper. They’re showing some sportsmanship here today. There has been so much trouble in the past it would be easy to let things get out of hand. It’s nice to see the players setting an example for their fans. We need some solidarity in the game.”

“The spirit of football is alive and well, Henry. City supporters have always been a spirited bunch but let’s just hope we can leave the trouble at the doors and enjoy the match.”

“Statements have always been made through the stadiums of Greater Coldford but this is one occasion where the fans may be best to just sit back, relax and let the battles remain on the field.”

“The air is thick here at Starkland Park as the players take their places. Sammy Connelly – Athletic’s Golden Boy – is looking super confident. I suppose he will be hoping for an easy day at the office.”

“Well, we’ll be back in just a few moments for kick off. It’s Coldford Athletic versus Coldford City.”

***

Late afternoon and the Doyle home in Kingsgate was quiet. Karyn Doyle had turned the television on and settled into an arm chair to watch. Her view didn’t take her to Hathfield Bay where Kingsgate Albion – her Sergeant Major father’s own team – took on the islanders. Instead, her interest was drawn to the south of the city where all the trouble resonated. The City Main team always brought trouble with them when they faced their main rivals at Starkland Park, and it was the first face off of the two largest teams since the Auction House had been seized.

Micky brought two cups of sweet tea. He laid them on the coffee table. He sat in silence watching his cousin’s reaction. Sammy Connelly of Athletic could be seen on screen patting his captain’s shoulder with a good natured smile as he took his place and prepared for kick off.

The Judge lifted her cup and took a sip of the sweetness. Her eyes remained on the match but her expression told nothing.

“I hope it all goes smoothly,” Micky commented.

“Why wouldn’t it?” was his cousin’s reply.

The cat, Margot, circled around Karyn’s legs. It locked it’s glowing eyes on Micky. She meowed and displayed her sharpened incisors.

He lifted his cup and sipped just as Karyn had done. The whistle blew. The ball was kicked.  

***

“Sammy Connelly is on the ball! He’s always a danger on that side of the park.”

“The City defence just keep letting him slip past them, Harry, but they’re up against it today. Connelly has come onto the park with determination in his feet and he’s been causing problems from the first blow of the whistle.”

“Oh that’s Sammy down! That seems a cynical tackle there, Grant. Brennan is complaining to the referee, Murphy, but he did charge in there with a lot of force. Probably more force than was necessary.”

“Brennan is a physical player, Harry. The way he’ll see it, if he allows Connelly a clear view of that goal the ball is going in the back of the net. He’ll be quite happy to take a warning from the referee if it means stopping him.”

“Oh wait! It’s not going to be a warning. Murphy is reaching for his cards. It’s going to be a booking. Red! Brennan has been given his marching orders. The travelling support are not happy.”

“That’s really harsh. It was a rough challenge but a warning would have been enough at this stage, a tentative yellow at best. What a terrible decision from the referee.”

“That’s true Grant but Murphy will be looking at the lateness of the challenge and he’s taking no prisoners today. Desperation has been exposed in the City defence. We now have a free kick in a very dangerous area of the park. The City support are still crying their frustration at being a man down in such a critical fixture.”

“They need the win today Harry. They really need that win.”

“Sammy Connelly steps up. He composes himself. The Athletic crowd has fallen silent in anticipation. There is still noise from the visitor stand but Connelly isn’t letting that intimidate him. He takes the shot. He scores!!!! What a beautiful finish!”

“That was a clinical finish Harry. Connelly isn’t the kind of player to let himself be fazed by the big occasions. He will step up and he will deliver.”

“The team from City Main are not happy. It’s all going wrong for them. Team Captain Lala is showing his concern to his players. They need to get their heads back in the game. It’s not good to be having to work damage control this early in the game and with one man down.”

“The spirited City support and their travelling loyalists are still burning from that red card decision from the referee which has ultimately put them one goal behind.”

“Well Grant, it’s a ridiculous decision by the referee and it could cause trouble not just on the pitch but off it too.”

“Back in my playing days, in a cup match against Bournton, Bournton were granted a penalty in the dying embers of the game. The cup competing side failed to pick themselves up after that. A decision like that can really affect a team, Harry.”

“City will have their chance to come back into this. It’s still early but the Loyalists are having none of it. I think we’ve tried to keep things inside the pressure cooker here, Grant, but they are starting to boil over. It’s taking a little while to get the game restarted as flares are thrown onto the pitch. City striker Andre Luis is calling something to the referee. Do you remember things being this tense at the football stadiums, Grant?”

“Oh yes, especially when the fixture was City and Athletic. Going to the games as a boy I remember things heating up really quickly. People in this city are passionate about the beautiful game.”

“Well, Grant, it looks like their enthusiasm is about to be curbed completely. The game is still waiting to restart. The referee has been asked to halt proceedings whilst the security here at Starkland Park is being heightened.”

“If we thought we were avoiding the drama we were very much mistaken. Things are erupting within the City support which is sad to see.”

“It is sad to see, Grant, with everything going on in the city at the moment we would hope that the game would be a way of coming together again. The referee continues to hold the match whilst the security steps up. They aren’t taking any chances today.”

“Definitely heavy handed, Harry and it appears to be making the crowd a little nervous.”

“It’s nerves all round, Grant. City are still one goal down after that terrific free kick from Sammy Connelly. The referee has now been given permission to restart the game.”

***

It was early morning in the Star State.

“I’m gonna be out of commission for a while. Hold all calls,” Chick Owen informed his executive assistant. She noted the orders. She was a beauty pageant girl, much like his wife. She too had been strutting around on stage in a bathing suit wishing for world peace. She was expertly trained in smiling, waving and following the instructions of coaches. She was the perfect P.A.

“How long should I hold them?” she asked.

“Until further notice.”

“Yes, Captain.”

When the assistant skipped out to the office to see that her boss was left in peace, The Cappy turned on his screen. The Coldford City European football fixture between Athletic and City was going to be an interesting one. He had already received notice that Van Holder and his Alpha team had brought in hundreds of suspected loyalists as well as Bellfield fleet members. They had been making their presence felt too at City Main rallies in support of Reginald Penn. There was a lot of loyalty built in the city through a mutual love of the sport so the soccer stadiums were a good place to start.

Reginald Penn was still at large He was still building a force in his support. A cold blooded murderer couldn’t be given much chance to flex his authority over City Main – not when there was a prominent spot available for Owen assets.

Coldford Athletic were already one goal ahead thanks to Sammy Connelly. The score didn’t matter. The winner of this game was always going to be the same.

The game commenced. The Cappy smiled.

***

“Another lash out from striker, Andre Luis, there Grant. He’s starting to show his frustration.”

“That’s the third time his shot has been stopped by the Athletic keeper. He’s a passionate player, Harry, and when he’s up against Connelly he’s going to want to show his worth. It’s not happening for him today though.”

“We’re now at the half hour mark. There’s still time for City to come into the match but to do that they’re going to have to start creating more chances.”

“It’s City’s centre mid, Fang, on the ball. He’s been doing well in dominating the midfield on behalf of City but his pass through to Andre Luis has been intercepted. Now Athletic are on the attack. It’s through to Brown. Connelly has picked it up. The defence are closing in but he’s finding his way through. It’s Connelly…GOAL!!! And Connelly makes it 2 – 0. What a magnificent goal. Starkland Park is alive with celebration.”

“Things are just hitting fever pitch here, Harry. When there’s only one goal difference there’s always a chance but Athletic will be glad to have given themselves that extra space. What a lovely goal.”

“I think the cheers here will be heard all the way up in City Main, Harry.”

“It’s richly deserved. Athletic have kept themselves composed, kept their mind on the game and now it’s paying off for them.”

“Sorry to interrupt you there Grant but Sammy Connelly’s celebration seems to have stopped abruptly. He’s calling something to the referee.”

“It looks like he’s spotted something among the City support there Harry.”

“The travelling support are venting their frustrations at the Black Bands security. A woman there is crying out to one of them. She’s going to get herself into trouble, Grant. The Black Bands have a no nonsense approach.”

“That’s true, Harry. It’s just as well we can’t hear what she’s saying because I’m sure the words she’s using wouldn’t be suitable for live television.”

“The City crowd are going to want to calm themselves here. The Black Bands are carrying out a zero-tolerance policy on violence and disruption at the games. The Fleet and Loyalists have been getting a really hard time lately. She tried to touch his shoulder! She should not have done that. The Black Band is forced to react. Did he just hit her with his truncheon? She’s down. It’s exploding now! The City fans are screaming their displeasure at the brutality but now the Black Bands are moving in. They’re not shy of holding the fans to account.”

“As we said Harry, it’s zero-tolerance and they’re just looking for any excuse to bring loyalists in.”

“Sammy Connelly must have gotten a good view of what was going on from the pitch. He’s still not celebrated his goal. The referees whistle isn’t drawing his attention. He’s still calling to the stands.”

“That’s a sad sight to see, Harry. Connelly has seen the Black Bands remove suspected loyalists from their seats. It will have been the screaming children left behind that will have caught his attention.”

“A little girl has fallen over the chairs! Sammy has left the pitch to try and help her. He’s crossed the fence and he’s now in the stadium. The Black Bands are beating the City crowd back. There’s blood, there’s tears and there’s no mercy being shown. I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“That is a chilling sight. We knew there would be scenes created here today but we could never have bet on anything like this.”

“What a disaster, Grant. Lala, the City captain, is trying to reason with the referee. Sammy Connelly is still among the rival fans trying to pull the fallen girl out before she’s trampled. It shouldn’t be left to one of the players to do that but the Black Bands are stomping over anything as they press in. In all my years of football commentary, never has it come to this.”

“Sammy Connelly has the little girl. He’s pushing through the City crowd. Most days they would be wanting to lynch him, jeering and spitting at him but today they are following him. The Black Bands have hit hard and heavy. The only place left to run is the pitch.”

“They are going to need to bring this into some kind of order, Harry. This can’t go on.”

“Where does it end, Grant? Sammy Connelly is carrying the little girl onto the pitch away from the brutality. If that was her father she was with, she has just seen him being beaten unconscious and dragged away. The referee, Murphy, is calling to Sammy. He’s showing a red card but in a real twist of events it is City midfielder Fang who is protesting it on Sammy’s behalf. The little girl is just covered in blood. Her own blood, her father’s blood, it doesn’t matter. The Black Bands have stained the City badge today.”

***

By the time I got there, the game had finished. The final thirty minutes were a complete farce. There were mounted patrols of Black Bands everywhere. The horses they used were larger, sturdier than CPD riot patrols. They were war horses.

The route leading to Starkland Park was filling fast. People had learned of the incident and came in search of loved ones they hoped had not gotten caught up in it. I have never been in a war situation before. I’m not a military man nor could I pretend to be, but as the crowd pushed around me, saying nothing, only expelling frosty breath, I got the sense of the kind of tension experienced before a first charge. The force was ill-equipped and outnumbered by their enemy.

The click of horses hooves along the freshly paved grounds of Starkland were like the ticking of a bomb. One passed. A huge man they called Monsta’. There was an unbearable hush. Click. Click. Click. A snort of the huge horse he rode. No one dared call to them. Live television had already entered homes around the city to show what the Black Bands were willing to do.

Monsta’ stopped his horse. I raised my phone. He turned his gaze to me.

Click.


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Knock Knock: Episode 24: Nice girls finish last

Lydia and Franklin’s apartment was quiet. The agents were gone, preparing for another mission and without my old newspaper to report to, it gave me cause to think. As I looked over the footage of the City Main woman talking about the arrest of the triplets, my attention was drawn to a group of Kappa So brothers in the background. ‘Had Mayor Feltz pledged?’ I wondered. It appeared everyone in the city with authority was a brother. Without Hickes’ presence it seemed even CPD wasn’t willing to hold them to account, not just for the shooting of Sarah or the disappearance of Tawny, but for a whole mess of cover ups that had been going on for years. That was when the latest issue of Coldford Daily dropped through the letterbox.

OWEN FAMILY STANDS STRONG.

On the front page were three Kappa So brothers – Chad, Cooper and Buddy Owen. The photo had been taken on Harvester Farm. The three brothers were smiling nicely. The article discussed the death of Robert ‘Bobby’ Owen. Buddy expressed his grief coherently. He was pleased to have his fraternity brothers with him for support. He was also pleased to be building friendships on Harvester Farm. It was what Pops would have wanted. Kappa So were good young men from prime stock with elite family names. They were future leaders. That nasty old Penn had attacked them. Those vulgar Macks – who were always causing trouble, mind – had set out to assault them. That was what the article would have the reader believe. An Owen-owned newspaper was never going to print anything else. I looked at the article writer. It had been composed by Eric Waddle, the Daily editor himself. It seemed none of the other journalists would do. I had recognised his writing style. I had read lots of Eric’s work before. The words Buddy was quoted as saying, his explanations, it had been Eric that had put them there. They were written to be clear on the Penn and Mack villainy and sketchy on the details as to why they attacked the Chapter House in the first place. That was why I had to write the truth. I didn’t set out to make anyone in particular look good or bad. I wanted to make clear the real shades of Coldford so that people could decide for themselves. Even with Tawny’s face everywhere people were starting to forget. They were forgetting about the missing Baroness, forgetting about the little girl that was gunned down in the street. I would not let Sarah be forgotten.

***

I caught up with Buddy Owen outside of the City Main Harvester store. He had been making himself useful to the brand by taking on deliveries, no doubt having had express orders to ingratiate himself to the Harvesters. At least that was how it seemed. The truth was he had come in search of powder. Most of his contacts had gone into hiding. He didn’t have his two companions in tow. Buddy was storming back towards the Harvester van, shoulders hunched and grumbling to himself. I managed to catch up with him.

“Buddy? Bernard?”

He stopped and offered a scowl.

“Yeah? What?” he returned. He seemed to recognise me which was surprising. We had only been in each other’s company once before. He and his father were touring their newspapers and they had come to the Coldford Daily. At the time he seemed to have been more interested in my fellow writer, Madeline. I would have been lucky if he even remembered my name. He hadn’t been lusting after Madeline though. He kept looking to her as though she was going to say something to The Cappy he didn’t want her to. Buddy’s uncle, Jerry Owen, had pulled Madeline from the story of an assault on the hotel heir, Daniel Weir, when it led her to his nephew. Madeline said nothing though. After that incident she had been relegated to nonsense stories and bottom of the barrel news. She had fought hard to get back on the upper floors, she wasn’t prepared to start again.

“You’re a reporter, right?” Buddy challenged.

“Something like that,” was my reply. “Can I ask you some questions?”

“No bro. I already said everything I have to say.”

I ignored Buddy’s refusal. “How are you coping with the death of your grandfather?” I put to him.

Buddy frowned. “How’d you think? Get out of my way.”

I had already hit record on my phone.

“Does your Uncle Jerry know his accuser has gone missing? Does he know the girl he tried to rape was given the death penalty?”

Buddy grabbed my by the collar of my shirt. I held my phone tight. It was still recording.

***

Buddy had just returned from City Main when he received a call from The Cappy.

“I’m still on Harvester Farm,” explained the son.

“So I can tell,” the father said.

“I was stopped by a reporter,” Buddy said.

Chick nodded. “They’ve swarmed the estate. I’ve had to send a crew to bring your Chapter House into order and take your grandfather’s body and have it buried proper.”

“Those motherfuckers are gonna to pay,” Buddy groaned.

Chick Owen was staying on topic. “They seemed convinced we know where the one they call the Baroness is.”

“Didn’t find anything though, did they?” Buddy put to his father.

“That’s not the point. When the stink of her leaving the Harbour House facility so abruptly falls on our family it concerns me. Where is she?”

“How should I know? I never met the fat whore.”

“Is that so?” The Cappy was unconvinced. “That artist boy seems to feel differently. He’s been shouting his mouth off about her and he seems certain someone with our name took her.”

Buddy protested, “You’re listening to the opinion of some doped up scum from The Shanties over your own son?”

The Cappy paused. He was looking for the holes in his son’s protest of innocence. “I didn’t say he was from the Shanties.”

It was then Buddy who was given cause to pause. “You mean David Finn, right? He was in Harbour House too. Everyone here knows who he is. Didn’t finish rehab though. Probably still a fiend for the big H.”

Chick dismissed his son’s comments. “That may be but we have a bigger problem. I don’t know what concern finding that club bar clown is of Beckingridge Tower, but Elizabeth Beckingridge is making it her business. She is also making it her business to invest in that farm you now stand upon.”

Buddy was starting to become bored. “So?”

“So? Boy, do you have any idea how much that Harvester brand could be worth? The influence they could have in the city with the proper push behind them?”

Buddy just wanted to go home. The smell of manure was starting to give him a headache. The want for some powder up his nostrils was making him frustrated.

“You will stay on that farm and make yourself mighty useful. No more going into City Main until I arrive,” the father instructed. “Ingratiate yourself. Bring the Harvesters into the fold and perhaps you may find yourself worthy of my chair one day.”

‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,’ Buddy thought inwardly.

“Keep your brothers in line. Work hard.” It sounded as though The Cappy was signing off. “Oh, and Bernard, if I find out you are lying about the whereabouts of Ms McInney and your grandfather, my father, died as a result, you and I are going to go a long walk. If it weren’t for respect of my father and his wishes you would be on your way back to me right now. Lay low, charm the Harvester farm hands and make yourself useful to them in any way they need. Am I clear?”

“Yeah,” Buddy replied.

“Yes what?”

“Yes sir.”

Buddy closed the call. He looked across to the fields where he could see Julia tending to the meat herd. She looked up and caught him watching. She smiled and she waved. He waved back.

***

***

The milking sheds were where Buddy and his brothers decided they liked best. Buddy tried his hand at the farm work, more to impress Julia than to appease his father. It turned out that being the golden boy of a ranch and doing actual farm work were two completely different things. It was muddy, smelly and a complete pain in Buddy Owen’s ass.

“The milking herd needs dealt with,” Curtis warned him.

“I ain’t milking no damn cow,” Buddy protested.

Chad clasped his nipples. “It’s easy Bud. You just grab and pull. Coop? You try. Grab my nipples.”

Cooper, leaning against a fence with his arms folded, shook his head. “I ain’t tugging on your tits brah.”

Buddy shoved Chad in frustration. “You got milk? Are you a fucking cow?”

Julia Harvester, carrying an empty bucket of feed, approached them.

“Something wrong boys?” she asked in a sweetened tone as though she hadn’t noticed the commotion that was starting to gather between them.

Chad had stopped dead. He was still clasping his nipples. Buddy punched his shoulder again so he would stand straight.

“I grew up on a ranch,” Buddy stuttered. “My family own a ranch.”

Julia smiled. “So you must be at home here then?”

Buddy nodded his head smoothly. “I got it all under control. Don’t you worry ma’am.”

A Great States cowboy was surely impressive. Julia Harvester of the Harvester brand didn’t seem to be so sure though.

“That’s good,” she said. “You’ll know then that the milking herd can get a little uncomfortable if they aren’t milked.”

“Yeah,” Buddy agreed. “I was just telling my bros that. They gotta be juiced.”

Chad frowned. “He doesn’t know how to milk a cow. None of us do…”

Buddy shot him a warning glare.

“Don’t worry,” Julia assured. “You’ll learn. I bet you can ride a horse better than anyone though…”

Buddy beamed at the massage of his ego. “Yeah I ride. I ride really good. I ride better than anyone.”

Julia gave a coy giggle. “I’ll bet you do. Maybe later you can ride with me. But right now what we need is milking.” She took his hand and stretched out his index finger. She clutched it softly but firmly. “It’s easy,” she smiled, catching him in eye contact. “You just hold the teat firm.” She began to run her hand along his finger’s length. “And tug gently. The milk will come out.” Buddy’s mouth was agape. The brothers were staring at it to. “Milk,” she stroked. “Milk. Milk. Milk.”

Buddy was lost in the sensation of her grip. She dropped his hand. “I would do it myself but I’m just so busy.”

“I’ll milk those cows for you ma’am,” Buddy straightened his shoulders and stuck out his chest. “No worries there. My ranch, I grew up on a ranch, so I know cows.” He hoped he was having some kind of cowboy appeal. “Just leave it to me.” He turned to his brothers. “Okay, bros, didn’t I say we were to milk the cows?”

Coops nodded. “Sure, brah…”

Chad added an enthusiastic, “got your back, brah!”

Buddy stuck his chest out again. He tightened his shoulders hoping she would notice his natural swimmer’s build. “We’ll do thing you need.”

Julia giggled. “If you could do some milking we would appreciate it.”

Buddy watched her leave. A few paces ahead she stopped, turned and flashed him a smile.

“To the milking sheds!” Buddy announced.

Julia passed Glenn who had been watching the entire affair from a distance. She rolled her eyes. Glenn gave a laugh.

“Keep an eye on them,” she ordered.

***

Debs, Harvester Farm’s largest dairy cow, shuffled and groaned distractedly as Buddy clutched onto two of her teats.

“Milk. Milk. Milk,” he chanted as he squeezed and started to fill a metal bucket. Cooper found himself at the excretion end of the animal. Standing, underwhelmed he watched Debs relieve herself onto the shed floor. The Kappa So bro wrinkled his nose.

“Chad?” Buddy called to the brother on the other side of the cow. “What the fuck, brah?”

Chad was pulling on the teat vigorously like a porn star tugging on a throbbing cock. He stopped, spat on it and continued with gusto. Coopers eyes widened as he leaned over to inspect what was going on.

“Chad!” Buddy barked again.

Chad finally stopped.

“Sorry Bud,” he said. “I was just doing what the girl showed us.”

Buddy and Cooper shared an astonished look. “She didn’t fucking spit on it.”

“Mooooo,” Debs became restless. She took a few steps forward, almost knocking the bucket over.

“See,” Chad objected. “She was enjoying it.”

Debs shook her head and cried out again.

Buddy grinned. “Suck it,” he teased.

Chad looked at the teat. “No way brah. I’m lactose intolerant.”

“Just suck it,” Buddy pressed.

His facial expression dissolved into a mischievous grin. Chad looked to Cooper who said nothing but raised an eyebrow.

Chad giggled. He shuffled forward to reach Debs again. He gripped the teat and stuck his tongue out. Before he could close his mouth around it Buddy grabbed another teat and squirted the milk in Chad’s face.

“Ewww,” Chad complained. “It’s warm!”

The other two began to laugh. Chad joined in. Buddy had been laughing so hard he fell against Debs who started to object.

“Mooo!” She complained.

Buddy slapped her hind.

“Shut up or I’ll make you a steak.”

Debs tried to turn, knocking into Cooper who ended up with the rest of her faeces on him. She bumped into Buddy again too. Her strength almost knocked him from his feet and into the deposit she had left on the shed floor.

“Fuck! We gotta calm this cow down!” yelled the Kappa So chapter leader.

He snatched up a branding iron. There was nothing to heat it, but swung with enough force it could severely injure even a well-built animal like Debs.

“Bud, brah, I wouldn’t do that,” said Cooper.

“I’m gonna knock it out. That’s what you do, right? Put these things out their misery.”

The humiliation from Reginald Penn, the chastising from The Cappy, the missing golden cock. All of it boiled in Buddy Owen. He swung the iron. Luckily she had turned again and instead of cracking her skull he hit her hind quarters. The animal screamed in pain.

“Bud!” warned Cooper. “I don’t think that’s how you calm them.”

Chad who, had cleaned his face with an old rag, offered his expertise. “Yeah, brah, that’s just gonna piss it off.”

Between the three oh so genius minds they possessed they each suggested ways of calming Debs so they could get their milking done. All of which the poor animal objected to quite vehemently.

BANG. BANG. BANG.

The bros stopped dead. In the doorway glaring brutally was Glenn. He was clutching his cattle prod tightly by his side. If you may imagine the scene he uncovered you will understand why the farm hand was annoyed.

The brothers filtered out of the barn. Glenn watched them with his lip curled, keeping the doorway as blocked as his frame would allow so they would be forced to squeeze past him with their heads lowered.

When they had cleared the area he approached the animal and gave her a soothing pat on the neck.

“Don’t listen to them, lass,” he said. “They’re just assholes.”

***

She tried to run but she bumped into a bucket of manure, almost knocking it over.
“Whatcha doing?” Chad asked as he snatched the little girl by the arm. Chad estimated she was about six or seven years old.
“Get off,” the little girl growled. She lifted her foot and kicked him on the shin.
Chad lost his grip on her as he tried to massage his leg.
She squealed and she ran. Her exit from the stables was prevented by Buddy.
“Where are you going?” he asked with a grin.
“Let me go shit head or I’ll call my daddy.”
Buddy frowned. “Who the fuck’s your daddy?”
“Him.” The little girl pointed outside. Glenn was directing some of the farm hands in the west acre, as they stared to round up the meat herd.
Buddy thought about The Cappy’s warning again. He thought about Glenn’s reaction to the bros meeting his daughter. Mostly he thought about Julia’s tits.
“Hello, little lady,” he grinned. “My name’s Buddy.”

***

“We’ve got enough shit up our asses without the kid making a fuss,” Buddy reasoned.

Cooper sniggered.

“Shut the fuck up!” Buddy pointed at him. “You know what I meant. We will find the golden cock, we will get back to the Chapter House and I’m gonna bone that farm girl.”

“Sure Bud,” Chad agreed.

Buddy turned back to the little girl who had sat herself on a bale of hay.

“You’re alright little lady. He won’t hurt you.”

The little girl pursed her lips and folded her arms. “I’ll kick his balls if he tries.”

Buddy laughed heartily. To his brothers he said, “I like her. She reminds me of my mama. What’s your name?”

“Susie,” the little girl answered.

“You know the farm lady?” he pressed.

Susie frowned. “You mean Julia? Yeah. She’s my friend. She gave me a room in the farmhouse all to myself.”

“Cool,” Buddy replied. “If you talk me up to her and tell her what a stand up guy I am I’ll make it worth your while.”

Susie grinned. Her full cheeks reddened. “You fancy her?” She put to the Kappa So leader.

Buddy’s grin extended further. “You don’t understand, kid. When adults like each other they really want to bone. I want to bone that farm girl.”

Susie giggled and hid her mouth behind her hand. Buddy laughed too. He enjoyed playing big brother. His real sister, Beth, was a pain in the ass but little Susie, with her Bournton spirit, charmed him.

“She has lots of boyfriends,” Susie explained. “But I like you. I want you to be her boyfriend.”

Buddy cheered. “Sure you do!”

He lifted the little girl up and heaved her onto his shoulder. “Cause we are Kappa So little lady and you’re our new mascot. Any ya’ll wanna mess with my lil sis here you’re gonna have me to deal with.”

Susie giggled as Buddy paraded her around the barn.

“We are Kappa So!” He cried. “What are we?”

“Kappa So!” Susie replied in a cheer.

“Yeah we are.”

“Susie,” barked Glenn, who had taken note of his daughter’s disappearance from the farm house.

Buddy laid Susie down.

“I just came to pet the horses,” the little girl explained. “We were just playing, daddy.”

Glenn was unmoved. His focus was on Buddy although he spoke to the girl. “Get back to the house,” he ordered.

“But daddy, can’t I pet the horses?”

“Now,” Glenn barked. Susie said nothing further. She gave one last smile to Buddy before slipping off back to the farm house.

Glenn’s scowl was severe.

“Stay away from my daughter,” he warned the brothers. There would be no misunderstanding the serious of his statement.

Buddy raised his hands. “She came to us. She’s a cute kid. I was just playing around.”

Glenn took in all three of them. “Get on with your work.”

Buddy returned to work with a lighter air. Susie would be telling Julia how much she liked him. Buddy liked the little mascot. Like all mascots she was going to spur the team on to victory.

Susie came rushing into the Farm House where she found Julia at the kitchen table with Dr Nathan Watt. Nathan had been in charge of her father’s care before Winslow took over and confined the old Harvester to Harbour House. He and Julia remained close friends. She had expressed something of an interest in being a couple and sharing their life together. She had made it clear though that nothing could happen until she had secured stability on her farm. The stability was there now but the affections she promised were not. She was probably one of the most sought after women in the Shady City. Not only was she beautiful and alluring but she also brought a long established name with her. Julia Harvester had her fair share of suitors. Nathan could only continue to hope she meant to keep to her promises. He just had to hope a better option didn’t come along in the meantime.

“Jules! Jules!” Susie called excitedly. “I was talking to the man in the stables and he likes you.”

Julia laughed. “Now, now, buttercup, don’t go spreading stories.”

“He does,” insisted Susie. “Buddy said he’s my bro and he wants to bone you.”

Julia laughed again. Nathan was frowning though.

“Susie,” Julia chastised. “That’s not the way for a young lady to speak.”

“It’s true though,” Susie continued her protest. “I’m the new Kappa So mascot.”

“Keep away from those boys Susie,” Nathan warned. “Your father wouldn’t want you talking to them.”

Ignoring Nathan, Susie spoke to Julia. “I like Buddy. He’s funny. He should be your boyfriend Jules. Daddy said he’s a fucktard – whatever that means – but you like him, right?”

“Sure Susie,” Julia assured. “I like Buddy.”

Susie was content with this. She felt she had completed her duties well. Dr Nathan Watt wasn’t so sure though. He didn’t like that Julia was allowing Kappa So such leeway on the farm.

***

The rectory was silent. There were many candles lit, like sparkling little jewels but Nan Harvester – mother to Julia and head of Harvester Farm – lit another. A gust of wind caused it to dance as though it was taking a message to her dearly departed husband, Jacob.

She clasped the St Wigan pin on her chest and bowed her head in prayer. Her thoughts were soon interrupted by the door to the rectory clicking closed behind her. She looked up to find Dr Winslow. She smiled a pleasant smile.

“If my girl knew you were here, doctor, she would have some repercussions for you.”

Winslow raised his hands in submission.

“It wasn’t her I came to see,” he said. “It was your good self. How have you been my dear?”

“Just fine, doctor, just fine,” she replied.

“Being a widow suits you,” Winslow commented.

“Grief can always look becoming on a woman if worn a certain way. Right now my focus is on my children and my foundation.”

“I’d like to get involved with your foundation. The Owen’s owe me some support.”

“I knew the Reverend Owen very well. He was one of the charity’s biggest supporters. My little kiddies did so well from him.”

Winslow grinned. “You needn’t play any pretences with me, my dear. I know all about the girls the Reverend had shipped over using the foundation. I was the one to assess them.”

Nan clutched the Wigan pin on her chest again. She turned back to her candle.

“We’re the best of friends, doctor, but as I said my daughter would not be best pleased with you being here. A mother has to protect her little children.”

“Family is of the utmost importance,” agreed Winslow. “As you will know from your husband’s care, we are all like family.”

Nan closed her eyes as though in prayer. “What’s your point?”

“I have a generous donation to give to your foundation. It can be made available any time. I am trying to reopen Harbour House and I need your support in shooing off those pesky Law Makers. Your daughter could make trouble for me in doing this. She’s an ambitious girl and needs a mother’s loving guidance.”

Nan opened her eyes again but kept her focus on the altar.

“I heard that Micky managed to halt the investigation for the time being.”

“Things became – shall we say – difficult to manage. Julia busied herself trying to escape my grasp when all I ever wished to do was help her flourish.”

Nan blessed herself. “Yes, she told me all about what you wanted to do with her.” She tutted. “Looking for more of the same then, are you?”

“In exchange for a generous donation you can make sure your daughter plays nice whilst I clear the mess and have my facility reopened.”

Nan asked, “How generous?”

Winslow grinned. Keen that he was making headway. Winslow had some old scores to settle with Buddy Owen and it wouldn’t be Julia who would give him that opportunity, it would be Nan. With the Beckingridge Firm and Owen Inc. conducting a bidding war to become investors in the brand, he wanted a piece of that pie.

“As generous as it needs to be,” he said.

Nan took his hand in hers. Her long, bony digits clasped tightly. She closed her eyes, bowed her head and clutched her Wigan pin again.

“Pray with me doctor,” she said.

***

There were a few acres between the Harvester Farm and their nearest neighbours but as Nan drove the Harvester van towards the main farm route Mrs Pellman was passing the opposite way in her own pick-up truck and flagged her down. Nan pulled gently to a stop. Mrs Pellman did likewise and climbed out. The two women met at the side of a quiet, dusty road.

“How are you, Nan?” Mrs Pellman asked amicably.

Nan smiled sweetly. “Good. Good. As well as can be expected.”

Mrs Pellman gave a suitably sympathetic smile. “If there’s anything I can do to help please let me know.”

Nan reached out and took the other woman’s hand. Mrs Pellman took note of the tea length dress Nan wore. It wasn’t completely funeral black. There was a white feather pattern across it. The Wigan pin still sat proudly on her breast.

“When the ladies and I heard about poor Jacob dying in hospital we rushed right round to check on young Julia.”

“Yes. She told me about the beautiful basket the ladies gave her and how delicious Mrs Manny’s pot roast was.”

“We haven’t seen you around for a while,” Mrs Pellman commented. “Or your boy Jonathan.”

Nan needed to go. She had promised she would be around to check on the new arrivals.

“My foundation was keeping me busy abroad,” she said. “Jon was kind enough to come along and assist me.”

Mrs Pellman nodded consolingly. “I’ve been watching all the news about your charity. You are doing great work for those young girls.”

Nan beamed. “We’ve now reached more countries than ever, helping little girls get educated, setting them up, giving them a start in life. When Jacob and I did our little tour before Jon was born I saw all those little girls and the lives they were destined for. I just knew I had to do something.”

Mrs Pellman agreed. “You’re a kind soul. The ladies and I are having lunch next Friday at your Harvester Café in main. Do come along and join us. Bring Julia too. The ladies just love Julia.”

Nan began to put distance between herself and her neighbour. “That sounds lovely. I must dash. There’s still so much to be done.”

“Don’t let me keep you.” Mrs Pellman was apologetic. “Call me though if you need anything and I’ll pop right round.”

Nan opened the van door again. “Thank you. You are too kind.”

With a wave the two women parted. Nan drove the van along the long path that led onto Harvester farm and to the house. She parked the van in front of the entrance to the farmhouse.

In the main hall Jonathan was waiting for her with a phone in his hand.

“The new arrivals have just came in,” he stated.

Nan kissed his lips, long, lingering.

“Go check that those frat boys aren’t tearing up the fields again. I’ll look at the new arrivals from the study.”

“Yes mum,” he said.

The house was quiet. Everyone was busy. Nan locked the study door behind her. One couldn’t be too careful.

The home screen on the computer was a photo of her, Jacob and their two children, smiling widely, full of hopes, full of love. A happy family.

She clicked on the notification. She was more computer savvy than most people her age. She had taken some classes at Coldford Central library. William was a very patient and informative instructor.

The notification brought her to a series of photographs. They were of a girl. Aged twelve, black. She had full lips and a ripe young body. She was bound and gagged. Her eyes were rolling with the drugs they had given her. She was bruised badly. They had been violent in their extraction but never mind. Nan smiled. She lifted the phone. It was time to let the foundation supporters know the new arrivals were in place.


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