In those days, the mere suggestion of Madog Perry taking up knitting could lead to dire consequences, like being dangled from the highest prison balcony by their ankles. Perry was a formidable figure in the criminal underworld, towering over others with his commanding presence. Throughout his 16-year stretch behind bars, his reputation as a fearsome enforcer only grew. However, amidst the fear he instilled in everyone else, there was one exception – Claudia.

Standing at a modest height of 5′ 1″ in her stocking feet, Claudia Davis was the daughter of a prominent Bishop. Some would describe her as plain and demure. At 31, she had never worked a day of her life, never had a relationship with a man, or seen anything of the real life. Her life revolved around the church and the cosy confines of the Bishop’s palace. In the outside world Claudia was, indeed, an innocent abroad.

On the contrary, Madog Parry was a worldly individual endowed with acute criminal acumen. He was famed for targeting the innocent, the morally ambiguous, and the blatantly dishonest alike.

Our story begins in the early 1970s with their first encounter. Madog was nearing the end of his stretch at HM Prison Stillwater. After years of tumult and resistance, he had surprisingly mellowed enough to earn privileges, one being access to a volunteer prison visitor — Claudia Davis.

Madog marked Claudia’s sixth attempt at prison visiting; previous inmates had found her overly virtuous (to put it politely) and declined the opportunity to delve further into religious discussions or the finer points of embroidery. Oblivious to the rejection, Claudia once again volunteered to lend a Christian ear, but this time only Madog took her up on it.

Like Claudia, Madog had experienced his share of prison visitors, many declining further encounters with him, some even requiring psychiatric assistance to recover from the experience. It wasn’t that he was rude or said the wrong things; rather, he had a natural knack for intimidation, even when sitting still, silent, and staring. The habit of cracking his knuckles didn’t help matters either? Yet for Madog, these visits meant an hour outside his cell and a chance to unsettle new people, leaving him with a renewed sense of purpose after each encounter.

However that sense of purpose was about to change? On entering the visiting room the prison officer nodded to where Claudia sat; sensing fresh blood Madog puffed himself up for the new encounter and strode manfully towards the table.

Some said on that day, that they had never seen a man deflate so quickly? Upon seeing Claudia his Madog’s ego popped like a balloon at a child’s party. Stopped in his tracks, he only moved again when Claudia beckoned him to join her at the table.

For Madog the next hour went by in a blur. He remained silent in fear that she would bolt like a startled deer and sat gazing upon her gently. For something inside Madog was a feeling that he could not get to grips with, something foreign?

Claudia- as was her way- led the conversation, receiving only a nod from Madog when she asked for his agreement. His responses were typically a mumbled “yes” accompanied by a gentle nod of the head. The only time he completed a full sentence was when the visiting bell chimed, signalling the end of their session, and Claudia began to rise from her seat.
“Will you come again …” There was a pregnant pause as the unfamiliar word struggled to emerge. “…PLEASE?” Unfortunately, the last word came out much louder than he intended, drawing unwanted attention to what remained of Madog’s dignity.
She looked upon him kindly. “Yes, I will. I can even write to you if you wish,” She said gently.
“Please.” he replied, smiling without menace for the first time in his life.

As Madog watched her head towards the door, she turned and waved goodbye. He tentatively raised his hand and waved back, trying not to attract more attention. For a moment, he sat at the table, looking at the space she once occupied, unable to process what had just happened. Lost for an answer, he thumped the table in frustration. Pushing the chair back hard, he abruptly got up and stormed out, leaving a startled room of visitors.

As Madog made his way back to the cell, he grappled with an unfamiliar emotion that nagged at him, a feeling he couldn’t quite name. However, that word was soon to emerge. Sensing a moment of vulnerability, a fellow inmate dared to tease him in front of the others. “Pleeeease, Claudia, pleeeease come back? Look, everybody, Madog is in love!” The laughter was short-lived, quickly extinguishing Madog’s newfound compassion. It took six prison officers to drag him off to solitary confinement, and another two to transport the wise guy to the hospital wing.


Madog’s outburst cost him a month in solitary confinement, causing him to miss the visiting hour with Claudia. However, she did write to him, thus preventing the anticipated meltdown within the prison. Along with the letter, she included a small sample of her embroidery: a beautifully sewn dove with the word ‘Peace’ stitched below it. The gift shattered Madog’s defences, reducing him to tears like a vulnerable child. Alone in his cell, embroidery in hand, Madog spent countless hours staring at Claudia’s gift, grappling with its significance and wrestling with his emotions.

Two months later, they met again after exchanging numerous letters. Their correspondence, initially formal and cordial, evolved as they revealed more of themselves to each other, nurturing a mutual affection. Before the visit, the prison governor decided it was best for all that the meeting to be private, with only a prison officer present. Many speculated that this decision coincided with an unexpected visit from Bishop Davis earlier that month.

On that day, the officer in the room was Maldwyn Pearce, a fellow Welshman who matched Madog in both brain and brawn. He was the only one in the prison that Madog had an ounce of respect for. He always recants that on that day the aura of menace had vanished. Madog’s step was lighter, his demeanour gentler. His once cold eyes now held warmth. It was as if the darkness had lifted, leaving a man unburdened by his past.

As Madog and Pearce approached the office where the visit was to take place, Madog stopped short of the door.

“What’s the matter, man?” said Pearce, looking Madog up and down. “You’ve talked of nothing else for a month. Had a change of heart?”

Madog looked at him blankly. “I don’t know what to say and do?”

Then Pearce did what no other man in the prison would dare to do; he placed his hand on Madog’s shoulder. “Do nothing, say nothing, let her lead. She’s already got you this far.”

A little crestfallen, Madog nodded to the advice.

Pearce opened the door and ushered Madog inside. At the table placed in the middle of the room sat Claudia. Again he hesitated, and again she beckoned him to come to her.

As advised, Madog let her lead, and as the hour rode on, he loosened up to the point that Pearce could even see the humane side arise within him.

It was in the last ten minutes of the visit that the happy tone changed a little; Claudia hesitated before she spoke.

“There are many who are dear to me that have raised concerns about my safety. They tell me you have done awful things in the past. I can forgive you, but they say you will never change – can you?”

Pearce moved closer to the table as he observed that Madog was starting to shake; he needn’t have worried, as through welling tears and a scratchy voice, Madog simply uttered, “Anything for you.”

Claudia’s gaze bore into his, causing his resistance to crumble entirely.

“If that’s the case,” she said, “I require evidence to ease their anxieties—a solution that not only silences them but also soothes the turmoil within you.”

With a graceful movement, she reached for a carpet bag beside her chair, placing it on the table as she continued speaking.

“Within this bag lies a challenge you must conquer and a skill you must master to win my affection. Failure is not an option.”

Pushing the bag towards Madog, Claudia watched as he hesitantly opened it, revealing its contents: six balls of wool, a pair of knitting needles, and a book entitled “Knit with Nancy – a Beginner’s Guide.”

Madog’s confusion deepened as he studied the contents, his gaze flickering between Pearce, the bag, and finally resting on Claudia. “Knitting?” he blurted out, his fear of his masculinity being questioned. Suddenly, a pang of worry gripped him as he realised his outburst might offend Claudia. Pearce noticed him freeze, mouth agape, unable to utter a curse or label her as mad.

“You have one year of your sentence to carry out,” Said Claudia looking intensely at him, “with good behaviour it could be eight months, my father has vouched for you, but only if you rise to this challenge. Tomorrow Asher – a good friend of mine – will be allowed to enter the prison to teach you how to knit, he will continue to do this until he is satisfied that you are competent to learn from the book by yourself. I wish him to be treated with the utmost respect.”

Madog, mouth still agape, nodded in agreement.

“Once my friend informs me that you are competent to knit alone, you are to practise knitting in front of the other prisoners in the day room. You will resist any temptation to rise in anger when provoked. If you can do this and maintain it until you are released, then and only then will I consider you worthy of the faith I have entrusted in you,” Claudia explained.

She gently pushed her chair back and rose to leave.

Her abrupt departure spooked Madog.

“When will I see you again?” Madog asked hastily.

“Next month, but only if you keep your temper in check and do not offend my dear friend. Mr. Pearce has agreed to be present when you practise and will report back to me if you cannot keep your promise,” she said firmly, her gaze steady.

There was a pause, then her eyes softened with warmth once more.

“Madog, there is a beauty inside of you that you have yet to realise. I can see it when others don’t, and I believe you can see that in me too,” Claudia said tenderly.

Turning to Pearce, she added, “Thank you, Mr. Pearce, for your kindness. I feel it is time to leave now.”

Pearce bowed slightly and opened the office door. Claudia departed without saying anything further to Madog, leaving him slumped slightly in the chair, sighing and remaining silent.

“Take your time,” Pearce reassured him. “I’ll be in the hallway until you’re ready to be escorted back.”

“Thank you, Mr. Pearce,” Madog said in a rare show of gratitude.

The Encounter

On the day Asher arrived, Madog rose early to greet the day. Surprisingly, he had slept well during the night. However, upon awakening, a sense of foreboding lingered, refusing to dissipate. It left him tense to the point where he found himself sitting on his bunk, wringing his hands—an old habit he struggled to conceal, a telltale sign of vulnerability. When caught in this act, he would quickly mask it by cracking his knuckles in a tight fist, adding a facade of toughness. In Madog’s brutal world, body language held immense power, revealing lies and granting him an edge in confrontations.

Claudia also understood the power of controlled body language, recognizing its ability to give her the upper hand. To those around her, she exuded an innocence so tangible it suggested she had been shielded from life’s harsh realities. However, the truth was far from that facade; her father had adeptly taught her otherwise. She possessed a remarkable skill for spreading God’s word even in the most challenging environments, avoiding harm and influencing even the most hardened individuals. As for Madog, she could read him like an open book.

Understanding body language can unveil hidden emotions, akin to a “tell” in poker—a physical, verbal, or behavioral cue that discloses information about the strength of one’s hand. The encounter with Asher that day would reveal Madog’s.

The interview room within the prison had been set aside for Madog’s first lesson. It resembled the rest of the prison: cold, with grey-painted walls, concrete floors, and the same sense of austerity pervading its interior. Nevertheless, attempts had been made to spruce it up with a poster of the Queen and a few potted plants to soften the harsh environment for visitors. It was in this setting that Madog now sat, trying not to wring his hands.

Half an hour later than the appointed time, Asher was nowhere to be seen. Nervous and on the verge of losing his temper, Madog was distracted from his frustration by the noise of jeers and catcalls echoing through the prison corridors. The commotion, typically a sign of a female visitor being escorted through the prison, subsided as Mr. Pearce’s voice boomed, demanding silence. Just as abruptly as it had begun, the noise ceased. Moments later, Pearce opened the door to the interview room.

Pearce beckoned his escort into the room.

Framed in the doorway appeared Asher Van Hertog, a thin, immaculately dressed middle-aged man. A suit in a rich shade of burgundy clung to his slender frame, tailored to perfection. It was complemented by a white silk scarf, the tail of which was casually flung over his shoulder. Perched at a jaunty angle upon his blue rinsed hair was a black fedora with a purple band. He carried a green cotton shopping bag adorned with an image of two kittens in a basket.

With a flourish of his hand and a knowing smile, Asher remarked, “Ahh – adored wherever I go,” his voice carrying a hint of amusement at the jeers and catcalls that had followed him through the prison corridors. Unruffled, his demeanour exuded confidence and sophistication.

With a delicate short stride, Asher entered the room, looking around in disdain at its grim interior. As he approached Madog, his demeanour changed to that of delight, with a devilish grin he offered Madog a limp handshake.
Madog hesitantly took his hand. “Don’t worry darling, I won’t bite,” said Asher. “Not yet.”
The tension released inside Madog, and a short chuckle uncontrollably escaped.
“That’s more like it,” said Asher. “I can see we will be good friends.” He said, shaking his hand.
Throughout Asher’s piercing blue eyes had not lost contact with Madog’s; he sensed a killer instinct from within, a contradiction to Asher’s outward demeanour. It unsettled him in a manner he could not fathom? Asher was quick to put him at ease. “You see it too—the sins of the past that haunt the depth of our gaze? We have much in common, Mr. Perry, this I can see.”
It was rare for Madog to be unsettled, less even to feel a chill blow across his soul; in Asher van Hertog, he sensed an avenging angel.
Asher’s grip released from the handshake; he drew his hand back to glance at his wristwatch. In that instant, Madog glimpsed a flash of a tattoo on his inner forearm, the start of a sequence of numbers?
“Much to learn, Madog, and very little time to teach you, let’s make a start,” said Asher, aware of Madog’s attention to the tattoo. He pulled the shirt cuff down to cover it, pulling the bag from his shoulder, he placed it on the table and pulled a chair up close to Madog.
Madog had never been comfortable around effeminate men, let alone endure the flamboyance he was now forced to for the sake of love. It contradicted every notion conditioned into him about men and women, about how a real man was supposed to be. He felt himself boiling and contemplated leaving the room; he just couldn’t bring himself to look Asher in the eye. It was then that the hand wringing began. As Asher began to speak, Madog unintentionally wrung his hands too tightly, causing his knuckles to crack.

“Good, you’re loosening up for the fight. Knitting is not a sport to tackle lightly, Mr. Perry,” said Asher.

The remark enraged Madog, who turned to confront Asher. Asher calmly looked up from Madog’s tightly gripped hands and, without a hint of fear, looked him directly in the eyes. It wasn’t the response Madog was used to; once again, this man instilled fear in him.
Asher slowly looked him up and down, engaging eye contact once more. Then spoke.

“I advised her to stay clear of you, Mr. Perry. Perhaps she was right when she noticed the good in you. Your hands are the poker tell—the insecurity that betrays you. She was spot-on when she read you. Our meeting is not about challenging your masculinity with women’s work; it’s about teaching you to calm the beast inside. Like I said, Mr. Perry, we are very much alike, and this is not the first time I have entered a prison. The only difference between you and I is that I get to leave today,” said Asher, looking into the depths of Madog’s soul.

Madog loosened the grip on his hands; his shoulders dropped in submission. “You were in prison, what for – buggery?” he said sarcastically.

Asher laughed. “No, for killing bigger people than you, darling. The killing was simply business; the buggery is my reason for living.”

Madog laughed out loud.

Asher looked at him confidently. “Now we understand each other, Mr. Perry. Perhaps our common criminality will bond us?”

“And the knitting shit?” said Madog.

“A means to an end, a way to put the beast to sleep and escape the sins of our past. You are not the first to be healed with this unorthodox method. Many are indebted to Bishop Davis and his devious methods. Me included,” Asher’s gaze flitted from Madog to the green bag on the table and back again. “If you get nothing else from the training, at least you can knit a warm scarf to garrote your enemies with this winter,” he said with the same devilish grin he entered the room with.

Again Madog laughed, and with it, his resistance melted. “Put that way, how can I refuse?”

“Precisely, and you also get the pleasure of my delightful company,” said Asher, busily removing the knitting from his kitten bag.

There was a knock at the door. Asher beckoned that they enter. Carrying a tray of tea and biscuits, Mr. Pearce entered the room. He eyed Madog suspiciously. “Not a word to the other prisoners, I’ve a reputation to maintain.”

“My lips are sealed, Mr. Pearce,” said Madog.

Asher invited Pearce to stay for a cup, but he politely declined, citing pressing matters in the prison. It was then that Madog suddenly realised that there had been no prison officer guarding them the entire time? “I’ll be back in two hours as requested, Mr. Van Hertog. Behave yourself, Madog,” said Pearce. Asher thanked Pearce, and he left the room.

Madog was perplexed. He turned to Asher. “You knew my reputation, yet you declined a guard?”

“I trust Claudia’s intuition, and I trust my own ability to take down a man of your size, even at my age. You see, Mr. Perry, people get sloppy when they underestimate others based on their age and gender. I take great delight in exploiting that weakness,” his voice carried a darkness, a chilling tone that hinted at the delight of taking life. There was a pause of unsettling silence.

“KNITTING!” Asher exclaimed, pulling himself out of the darkness. “Where were we?”

Startled, Madog hurriedly suggested having the tea before it went cold, and before Asher went psycho on him again.

Taming the Beast

A frustrated grunt was followed by the swish of a thrown object and the thud of a size 5 knitting needle hitting a notice board. It narrowly missed the picture of the queen and quivered with the impact right next to her ear.

“Sloppy!” said Asher curtly. “What have I told you about reining in your temper?”

It had been two weeks since Asher’s first visit, and Madog had, with some teething problems, learned the basics of knitting. However, his temper was still a problem, especially when he made mistakes.

“Keep your eyes on the prize, be calm, be focused,” Asher said, taking a spare needle from the kitten bag. With lightning speed, he threw it at the notice board. This time it hit the Queen right between the eyes.

“Now that’s what you can achieve with focus, Madog.”

The wicked gleefulness in Asher’s eyes always calmed Madog down. Seated, he placed his hand over his heart and bowed gently. “Thank you, master, for your words of wisdom,” he said mockingly.

Asher smiled. “Now start again, and for goodness’ sake, calm down, or you will never win the fair lady.”

There was a click of needles as they once again started to knit in unison. It would be another two weeks before Asher was satisfied with Madog’s ability to knit and his capacity to not lose his temper. His next step was to perform these newfound skills in public.

The Crucible

It was a day of reckoning for Madog as he prepared to publicly showcase his newfound skills. Security was tight, with the governor hopeful for Madog’s permanent departure. Everything hinged on his conduct.

Asher had given the kitten bag to Madog, who had died a little inside at its giving, but who had accepted the gift with good grace. He was instructed to keep his knitting in the bag and carry it out into the day room when he practised his knitting. Madog knew why, but it was akin to wearing a sign around his neck that said “Punch me, I won’t fight back.” Still, he honoured the challenge and carried it back to his cell, despite all the piss-taking on the way back. This wouldn’t have been his norm, were it not for something Asher had shared during their farewell?

On the first day of his trial, Madog appeared from his cell transformed. Instead of a broken man, he exuded a quiet dignity forged from hard-won peace. As he navigated the corridor to the common room, the weight of judgemental stares was like searing coals, yet he remained unmoved, unfazed, even by the anticipated mockery and scorn awaiting him.

But it did not arise.

Sure, there were sceptical looks, even a few smirks, but this is Madog Perry we are talking about, a man known for the shortest fuse in Christendom, a sideways glance from him would make most people stay way clear. Yet as he sat and made himself busy with his knitting, a strange thing happened—the world around him got on with its own business without a hint of confrontation. That was until Barlock, the convict that Madog put into the prison hospital, approached him.

“Pearce says you can help me,” he said cautiously.

Madog looked up from his knitting; Barlock took a worried step back and eyed the door. He needn’t have; the tough old face that looked back softened, eyed him up and down, then looked back down at his work.

“In what way?” he said, beginning another row and not looking up.

Barlock hesitated before responding, “He said you can make the hate go away.”

Madog paused, meeting Barlock’s gaze. “Not sure I’ve achieved that myself yet,” he admitted, before adding, “But I’m working on it, as you can see.”

Barlock, perhaps regretting his choice of words, remarked, “What with women’s work?”

Madog chuckled softly. “Nah… real men’s work. Taming the beast inside, preventing it from wreaking havoc.”

“With knitting?” Barlock questioned, a hint of incredulity in his tone.

Madog looked up at him, a wry smile playing on his lips. “Are you currently dangling from a balcony by your ankles? No? Well, that’s the proof of the pudding; that’s precisely why Pearce sent you to me. What I am doing is taking the bitter pill to get better. Change doesn’t come easy, and sometimes it means losing face, but it’s the only way to grow and become a better man.”

Madog carefully placed his knitting on the table and stood up to full height; he stood menacingly over Barlock who flinched.

“I can either offer a chance to visit the hospital once again, or a chance of redemption. My time is precious and I will not be messed with, so you have the choice of the bitter pill or the taste of hospital food; it’s up to you.”

Barlock hesitantly pointed at the knitting on the table.

“A wise choice,” said Madog, his gaze softening as he sat down.

“Now take a seat,” he said to Barlock, “and I’ll share with you a tale about a man far braver and deadlier than I’ll ever be—a man who found peace in an unexpected place.”

As Madog resumed his knitting, he began recounting the story of Asher Van Hertog – an assassin, a partisan, a Holocaust survivor, and ultimately, a man who stayed true to himself. He described how he had endured abuse, horror, and hardship, yet found a way to tame his inner demons even amid the most harrowing circumstances imaginable.

Upon concluding his tale, Madog paused, and as if tying up loose ends in his mind. “This isn’t merely about knitting,” he declared. “It’s about anything that challenges your beliefs. It’s about meditation—granting yourself permission to cease reacting and instead, hold onto something deeper.”

Turning to Barlock, Madog continued, “My past now won’t dictate my present, but my future certainly can, provided I’m careful about what I allow into it.”

Madog reached into the kitten bag, he pulled out a set of needles and a ball of wool and offered it to Barlock.

“Hate and creativity cannot exist in the same place; they cancel each other out. If you’re serious about getting rid of the pain inside, try some women’s work.”

The Journey Home

As per Claudia’s promise, Madog’s parole came up in the eighth month. In that time, she had visited him many times. At every visit, she was keen to know how he was getting on. But when questioned about what she was doing, she was either vague or tried to turn the conversation back to what he was up to. This worried Madog a little, but he put it down to them both being in the public visiting room and her not wanting to share information. However, the doubt was still in his mind.

Also, in that eight months, the knitting circle in the prison had expanded from Madog and Barlock to ten others. After an incident with two prisoners duelling with knitting needles, the governor had asked that the knitting group change to needlepoint. It didn’t bother Madog much, as he was still allowed both and rather liked the embroidery more. Still, the group thrived, and the same purpose remained.

Madog was given parole at the first meeting. It was granted on the proviso that he be given into the care of the church diocese until his original sentence expired. This was only four months and depended on his behaviour. During the meeting, he got his first glimpse of Bishop Davis, who came to vouch for him.

Prior to the board meeting, the letters and visits from Claudia stopped. On the day of his release, Madog was deeply concerned. His only relief came in the news that Asher would be picking him up at the main gate.

At 09:00 BST, Madog, carrying his kitten bag, said his goodbye to Pearce and exited the prison via the main door. Outside, a Rolls-Royce sat idling on the prison forecourt. It had a chauffeur, and on the backseat reclined in all his majesty was Asher Van Hertog. The electric window of the car rolled down, and with a royal wave, Asher beckoned him to come aboard.

“Nice car!” said Madog, making himself comfortable.

“Just shows you that crime pays, darling,” said Asher with the usual devilish smile.

Madog did a double take on him.

“I’m kidding, darling. All paid for by honest toil. I own a chain of haberdashery shops—buttons, thread, wool, you know those types of things?”

Madog nodded his approval.

“Where’s Claudia?” said Madog, concerned.

“Not to worry, my dear boy. She’s ready and waiting for you; but first, I must run a few errands on our way—please bear with me. First stop, breakfast for the both of us, and then I need to visit one of my shops on the way.”

A little disappointed, Madog agreed. Yet something was just not right. Why, after all he had achieved, was Claudia not there to meet him, and why the loss of contact?

As the Rolls-Royce began to glide its way into town, Madog turned to Asher.

“Does she still want me?”

“Of course she does, my dear fellow. But with the parole so contentious, she had to meet certain conditions for it all to succeed. All will be revealed after breakfast and one short stop at one of my shops. It will all be worth it, I promise.”

“Okay,” said Madog with some resignation. “Let’s go eat.”

After years of prison food, a full English breakfast was like manna from heaven for Madog. Asher declined and satisfied his hunger with a coffee and a croissant. “One has one’s figure to consider,” he said.

Back in the Rolls-Royce, Asher directed the chauffeur to drive to Barmarsh.

“It’s a little village outside of town, darling, up and coming, with plenty of people to spend money in my shop,” said Asher gleefully. “Fifteen minutes and we’ll be there.”

“And then, Claudia?” said Madog.

“Yes, darling, sooner than you think,” replied Asher.

As predicted, the Rolls-Royce pulled up outside the shop fifteen minutes later. Barmarsh village was idyllic, a quaint old village in the English countryside. The shop itself was a jewel in the crown of commerce, freshly painted, with a sign emblazoned with the name “Van Hertog Haberdashery”. Its windows were full of sewing, dressmaking, and knitting items for sale.

“You will like this shop. Come with me; it’ll only take a few minutes to deal with the business in hand. A new assistant manager starts today, and I need to run a few things by them,” said Asher.

Reluctantly, Madog agreed and followed Asher into the shop. Inside was every item you could ever want for dressmaking, crafts, and knitting, all displayed on newly fitted oak shelving, along with the expensive items under glass at the counters. Asher strode to the counter and rang the service bell.

“You’ll like the shop manager,” he said matter-of-factly.

Madog grunted a yes. He had his back to the counter and had nothing else on his mind except Claudia—well, almost. The stock was very tempting, and for a moment, he was lost in the possibilities of what he could create with them. That was until a familiar voice sounded from behind him.

“Can I help you, sir?” said a woman’s voice.

Madog turned to see Claudia behind the counter, a tape measure draped around her neck.

“Welcome to our shop and your new home, Assistant Manager,” she said with a broad grin.

A wave of relief hit him, harder than any punch he had ever taken. In that moment, Madog Perry, the once feared enforcer of North London’s underworld, stood frozen, his mouth agape. It was as if his dark past was melting away, leaving him suspended in the light of redemption. He felt his legs go weak, his posture slump.

Asher and Claudia guided a stunned Madog into the back parlour, where with a few pats on the back, a hug from Claudia, and a strong cup of tea, he returned to earth.

“How, why?” he said, regaining his faculties.

“Father set me an ultimatum,” she explained, “that if I truly loved you, I must set you a challenge, and if that challenge was met, I would then have to face mine. This is it,” she said. “My challenge was to leave home and make my own way in the world. What you see is what I have made for both of us, with, of course, some much-needed help from Asher,” she said, placing her hand on Asher’s hand. “Now, there is only one left to do, and that is to be happy.”

On saying that, the counter bell sounded.

“A customer,” she said. “Please excuse me for a while.”

Claudia made her way to the shop front, leaving Madog with Asher.

“She did all this all by herself?” Madog wondered aloud once she had left the room.

“Yes,” replied Asher. “With her own money and determination, I simply provide the opportunity and a good deal on the shop. She has revitalised a shop that I once considered a loss and turned it around. As you can appreciate, she has a knack for making good out of bad.”

“Thank you,” said Madog, offering to shake Asher’s hand.

“I need no thanks, nothing else than for you to adhere to the advice I gave you when we last parted. Do you remember?”

Madog reached down and picked the kitten bag from the floor. Out of it, he took a piece of well-worn prison paper. “I wrote it down before it got lost in time. Hopefully, I got it right?”

He cleared his throat and read:

“In the rubble of all we’ve lost, one thing stays true: we control how we react. Our eyes hold stories of dark days, but also redemption. Still, there’s a quiet warning there—a look that says, ‘I’ve seen the worst, and I won’t go back.’ It’s the reminder of what lies beneath, ready to protect our newfound peace, even if it means showing the beast within.”

“Bravo!” said Asher, raising his tea cup to Madog. “I wish you both every happiness.”