Times are desperate for the people of Coldford. Once upon a time executives reduced to rummaging through their neighbours trash to find a meal. Hunting for shelter wherever they can find it – like stray cats. They’re once well tailored suits now hanging in rags. Its surreal to see proud captains of industry reduced to the indignity of soup kitchens. No where to go, no means of rising back up to their ivory towers.
My name is Samuel Crusow. When the depression hit, two industries were saved. Entertainment and news. People always need to know what’s happening in the world and people always need an escape from their reality. Luckily for me I’m with the former. I have been a freelance writer ever since finishing college. I realised quickly that no newspaper was willing to hire on a full time basis. They were fewer however, willing to buy any story I had written for them so It basically amounted to the same thing. I thought I had managed to successfully navigate through the choppy waters of recession until the day I made the discovery that beneath the harsh surface lay an even more terrifying truth.
But I get ahead of myself. I write these notes so that no one else has to suffer as I did. Chances are I will be gone by the time you read this. I will have taken my own life with the pistol I have perched at the edge of my desk. It will be my only way out.
It began just as winter was beginning to break. Autumn had held champion over the city long enough. It was time for the next season to bring its snow and hail.
The Mayor of the town – Gilford Feltz – had disappeared without a trace. That morning he had kissed his wife – a voluptuous and formidable woman named Silvia and his sixteen year old daughter, Olivia goodbye. He straightened his red power tie in the mirror and made his way to the office to wade through the city’s financial crises. If you were to believe the tabloids was largely his fault. Normally he would have been escorted to the office by some security of some kind. The citizens of Coldford riled and the very sight of the Mayor only made matters worse. However, that day he had braved it on his own. He never arrived at his office. Making his way down his street in his luxury silver car was the last anyone saw him. Some of the neighbours remembered hearing loud music blaring from his open windows as he passed which was most unlike the buttoned down, conservative man that he was.
I had been covering the story as it developed. This meant that I had been spending more time at the offices of The Coldford Chronicle which had been lapping up my articles. The Coldford Chronicle was the premier source for news and the city’s largest newspaper. It was also the provider of food on my table. I guess hiring freelances had been their way of protecting themselves. It meant that they were only paying for the material they could use when the needed it without any full time mouths to feed.
I never liked Mayor Feltz. I certainly didn’t vote for him. As I pursued the story I uncovered gambling debts and a mistress at the far end of town. His political misdeeds had been just the beginning. When I interviewed his mistress she told me that he was planning on leaving his wife (which is probably what the all say). On the morning he disappeared he had been planning on visiting her. The mistress, Cindy, had waited for him for most of the morning in her lavish apartment which the city had paid for. She flipped between anger and worry as time drew on. By the afternoon the police swamped her, acting quicker for such a public figure than they would have for ordinary folk.
His wife, his mistress and his gambling associates could offer the police no idea as to where he went. On a frosty morning weeks later I made my way to the stretch of tower blocks that housed the newsroom. My mind was occupied by ways in which I could spin the same story or offer a new angle.
Close to the office the clang of metal bins falling over drew my attention. From behind the cans crawled a middle aged man. His greasy chin was covered in thick, black stubble. Like others forced to live on the streets he still wore a suit. It was long past its better days. His eyes were dulled by the effects of alcohol. He reached out with a gloved hand and sdug out the core of an apple from the spilled waste and made breakfast of it. Sights like these were shocking when the recession first hit but the mind learned to ignore them as they became more common. The mighty had fallen and those who could help were desensitised to their plight. With very little I offer him I carried on past and into the tall grey building with the large towering sign on top that read ‘Coldford Chronicle’.
The newsroom was hot and thick with the smell of coffee. Full time reporters had become scarce but those of them who did remain in work dashed back and forth trying to perfect their articles. The approaching deadline spurred them into action like bloodhounds that had caught a scent. The brown leather satchel I carried my writing was dropped on an unoccupied table. I rested at the desk, drew out my notes and began to review them. I had to ignore the hum and chatter around me to focus on the words.
“Hey Sam,” came the voice of Madeline Lower. I looked up and briefly acknowledged my long term friend. Madeline and I had been friends since college. She too was a freelance writer although she would admit her stories weren’t selling as well. It wasn’t that my writing was any better than hers, its just that the editor, Eric Waddle, was a bit of a chauvinist and what articles of hers he did accept were probably grudged. Madeline was an athletic woman in her late twenties. Her long black hair was piled on top of her head In a messy bun. Her skin was a warm bronze like she had come from a sun kissed land. Her pale blue eyes were sharp and feline like. That morning she wore a black turtle neck with a pin striped grey skirt. She sat herself on the edge of my desk with the leap of a soccer player and no feminine grace. “Waddle was looking for you,” she informed me. “He told me to kick you into his office as soon as you got here.”
“Thanks,” was my reply, still absorbed in my reviewing. I brushed my auburn hair away from my face. I was always pale but I trust in those days of hard work and little reward I seemed even paler. I gathered my strength. Discussions with Waddle took a lot of energy. He was the kind of man who didn’t talk to you but talked at you.
“You look like Hell,” Madeline commented – ever the crusader for honesty. “Go see what he wants and I’ll get us some coffee.
Madeline slipped off the desk and made her way to the further end of the rectangular room where the fresh coffee was being brewed.
I knocked on the oak door of the editor’s office. I could hear Eric’s voice inside having a one sided conversation. He was either conducting a telephone call or some journalist was on the listening side of a hostage situation. I pushed the door ajar. I caught a glimpse of Waddle standing behind his desk. His back was to me. He had a black telephone receiver clamped to his ear. He heard me as I stepped inside because he swivelled round, smiled and waved at me, gesturing me to sit down.
“I gotta go, sweetheart,” said Eric. “If I hear anything I will let you know.”
I took the seat across the desk from Eric laying my papers on top. True to his name, Eric Waddle was a colossal man. He was a giant at foot three and a barge at two hundred and fifty pounds.
“That was Silvia Feltz,” he informed me even though I hadn’t asked. “Poor thing is still in shock. Trying to piece together what happened. Gil and I go way back. He never told me he was in trouble.”
“I have nothing new really,” I ventured.
Eric reached his heavy hand across and slid my papers towards him. “It doesn‘t matter. People can’t get enough of the story. They’re swallowing it down like buzzards and coming back for more.
“I think I’ve spoken to everyone he ever met. That is everyone but you…” Eric had been quite adamant that he not be included in any of the articles but I didn’t become the reporter I was by not chancing my luck.
“I have nothing to say,” Eric snatched up a glass bottle filled with whiskey and poured himself a generous share into a square shaped glass by his hand. “I asked you to come here because there is something that I wanted to talk to you about.”
“As you know, times are tough. We can only handle best which is why they want you Samuel.”
“Want me for what?” Normally I hated the name Samuel but in Eric’s case I made the exception.
“I’m talking about full time,” Eric said. His face beamed with excitement.
“I don’t know what to say,” I stammered.
“Say yes!” he bawled before emitting roars of laughter. “These kind of opportunities aren’t easy to come by these days.”
I stood. My actions became subconscious. “That is a great offer. I am very grateful. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me, just do what you do best,” Eric dismissed, downing his glass of whiskey in one single gulp. The bottle was less expensive than he was used to but decent alcohol was difficult to come by. “You don’t have to be hanging around here all day. Go home and tell your wife the good news.”
My wife, Theresa, had studied journalism too. In fact that’s where we met. When Theresa and I married she gave up a career. Her mother blamed me for this but the truth was I had been the one tried to discourage her from dropping her changes of a job. Theresa didn’t want to take any chance on a writing career when housewife was the most stable job to be had. I never corrected my mother – in – law as to who’s decision it had been to give up. She already hated me anyway. She thought me too self absorbed to be a suitable husband for her daughter. Her concerns weren’t completely without merit. I was caught in my own world. Theresa was a large part of that world though. I couldn’t wait to tell her the news.
I was out of breath by the team I got home, my heart beating forcefully with exertion and excitement. The drums of anticipation crescendoed in my ears. In fumbled for my keys in the pocket of my oversized grey coat. The coat had been a kindly donation from a colleague when they saw I had nothing warm to wear through the winter. I leant against the door as I reached deeper into my pockets. The door creaked aside. It was very unlike Theresa to leave the door unlocked even when she was at home. She was a cautious little thing and home invasion robberies were on the rise.
Our humble home was on the outskirts of town. It was a small, one bedroom terrace amidst an array of similar granite buildings. What separated ours from the rest was the addition of an emerald green front door. Green was my favourite colour and it matched the shade of Theresa’s eyes. I called for my wife but there was no response. Heaps of blankets lay across the worn brown sofa which kept us warm without the cost of heating. The scent of baking apples danced from the kitchen. Theresa had been baking apple pie. She always did when she had had a rough day. The kitchen was a direct off set from the living room. I found Theresa in there lurched over the cooker. She was weeping heavily. Her mousey brown hair uncombed. When she heard my footsteps she gripped a knife that was close at hand. She stumbled backwards emitting a frightful shriek.
When she saw it was me she dropped the knife, ran at me and threw her arms around my neck. She didn’t ask why I had come home so early. It was I who asked the questions.
“What happened?” My heart was now beating to a completely different rhythm.
“I’m so glad you’re here. That woman was looking for you. She was horrible. Just horrible!”
“Calm down,” I urged, more as a mantra to myself as I had tried to decipher what happened to get her so upset.
Theresa gathered her wits. She took a deep breath and a tear began to roll down her cheek. “A woman came asking for you…”
“And who was she? What was her name?” I enquired, assuming it to be someone I had been questioning on the Feltz story.
Theresa shook her head. “She didn’t say. She had a Westcliff accent, same as yours.”
Westcliff was a small island a short distance away where I had been born. My mother had brought me to Coldford as a baby but I developed the harsh but musical tone that the accent carried listening to her.
“What could she possibly have said that would have gotten you so upset?”
Theresa wandered into the living room and dropped herself amongst the blankets sobbing. “She told me that you were in danger. She told me that you would return to me one day in pieces.”
I sat beside her and put my arm around her shoulder. “That’s all nonsense, I promise.”
Theresa shuddered. “She gave me this.”
From the pocket of her skirt she gave me a card. It was a black business card. On the front read ‘Knock, Knock’ across an ominous grey door. It was a cabaret club from the look of it. One which I would visit that night and my life would be changed forever.
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