Mayor Jim Feltz gave a lot to the city. Coldford was a demanding mistress though. It had earned its nick name as the Shady City not just because of the gloomy weather but because everything was there for the taking for anyone who wasn’t hindered by morals or conscience. Jim was such a man.
Whilst the city’s funds depleted he squirrelled away as much as he could. There was a war brewing on the city streets and he was damn sure he wasn’t going to get caught up in it. Things were going to implode soon. It was only a matter of time. The regeneration projects he had promised during his last campaign were halted by the Law Makers in the city. The poorest area known as The Shanties had been left worse off than they ever had been. The Tradesmen of the city were fighting back.
People in high positions – people he considered friends – had pilfered the money away leaving those lower on the ladder high and dry.
As the class war raged it left no money for the expecting mothers the mayor swore he would help. School budgets were cut to compensate for any losses caused by riots and looting. Only the exclusive Alban’s Boarding School managed to weather the storm.
What did it matter? When campaign time came again he could blame the opposition. He was just dealing with the mess they had left behind. Half of the city would believe it and the other half wouldn’t care either way. But he was done with all that.
“Will you be home on time?” Sylvia Feltz asked her husband as he prepared to leave. “We have the Weirs coming to dinner,” she added. “I need you here.”
The plan to leave everything behind had been in the works for weeks. The day had finally come. He had enough money to start over now. When the finances of the city finally tumbled like a house of cards and the war spilled onto the streets he would be out of the picture. Sure his family would have to face the music at first but they would get out of it cleanly for the most part.
His eldest daughter, Lacey, kissed him.
“I’ll be by the office this afternoon,” she said. “We need to go over a campaign plan.”
Lacey was her father’s daughter in every sense – so like him she was. She had gotten involved in his political career right from the beginning. The day he announced he was running she was by his side. She had aspirations on becoming the city’s first female Mayor. She had a naïve view of politics though. A certain lack of compassion was required despite what many might argue. She would learn that soon enough.
He stepped outside of his building. People were becoming irate so he kept his security close. His silver town car wasn’t waiting for him at the entrance of the building as it always was. He trusted his driver, Shane. He was nothing if not punctual. He looked at the security guard he was assigned. He was expressionless with hands clasped on his stomach. His cold stare was masked behind spectacles. He recognised the man’s face. He had been with him before. His name was Marcus the mayor believed. As soon as the mayor was in his car though Marcus would be left behind and Shane would take him to the airport. The mayor said nothing to the body guard. He just looked at the empty space where the car should have been and couldn’t help but worry something had gone awry.
His heart increased the tempo of it’s beat when the silver car pulled round the corner. It was really happening. The car pulled close but Shane in the driver’s seat was covered by tinted windows. Marcus leaned over and opened the door. The mayor made to climb in but he hesitated. A woman was sat waiting for him. She shifted over and patted the seat beside her.
“Don’t be shy,” she said.
Her ruby lips curled into a pretty smile. The collar of the grey coat she wore was pulled up around her neck. Marcus pushed him in and sat beside him.
“Isn’t this cosy?” she remarked.
He tried to control his breathing. He called upon every political stoicism he had in the hope he didn’t look worried. The sweat gathering on his brow didn’t lie.
“What do you want?” he asked.
The woman looked out of the tinted windows and watched the city pass by at greater and greater speeds.
“I just wanted to give a proper farewell,” she replied. “Surely you wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye to little old me?”
Fear erupted inside him. He didn’t care that he would be leaping from a moving vehicle. He clutched for a door handle but Marcus snatched his wrist and twisted it causing the bones to crunch together.
“Let me out!” he cried.
The woman laughed. “Don’t worry,” she said. “We’re not going far. The city wishes to thank you for your service.”
Her name was Tabitha and he should have known there would be no escaping.
The car stopped. The driver opened the door. It wasn’t Shane after all. It was a woman. She wore a plain white blouse and simple black trousers. She had a familiar face but he couldn’t place her. If he paid more attention to the people he threw money at he would recognise her as the scantily clad girl who spent some glorious time on his lap during his last visit to the Knock, Knock Club. He had paid her extra to finish the job but that was all but a distant memory.
Tabitha stepped out first. They had parked outside an office block in the business district not far from his home in the North Side. Marcus pushed the mayor out onto the street.
He was escorted into the building. Tabitha was in front of him and Marcus loomed behind to make sure he wasn’t going anywhere.
Tabitha said nothing as they climbed the steps. The mayor was sobbing. Each time he thought they had reached the end of his torture they had another floor to climb. They finally reached the top. Tabitha fished a key from her coat pocket and unlocked the green door that greeted them. It still had a sign that said ‘BECKINGRIDGE FINANCIAL FIRM’ on it but it had been mostly scratched off.
“Your daughter wanted to say good bye.”
His youngest daughter, Amber, was tied to a table. Her arms and legs spread. She had been stripped to her underwear. Jim moved to run to her but Marcus grabbed him with great clenching hands and pulled him back. The room was empty save for a chair, a large machete blade that leaned against the wall and the table that held the seventeen year old girl. Amber’s mouth was covered but she was screaming. Her eyes were wide and terrified.
Back when the BECKINGRIDGE FIRM operated from this building it had been a golden age. They were one of the largest organisations in the city and had been for generations. When the war erupted between the Law Makers and the Tradesmen the firm became collateral damage. The office had remained empty ever since the FREE FALL MASSACRE. Fifty five people lost their lives that day and no one dared take over the space again.
“Leave her alone!” The mayor cried desperately. “She’s done nothing to you.”
Tabitha clutched his face and rested her chin on his shoulder.
“You have really pissed me off Jim. You think you can abandon ship just like that? I have to take it out on someone.”
“I wasn’t leaving. I just needed time to think. The Law Makers are pushing me more and more. I could come back and be of more use to you.”
Tabitha slid her hand into his pocket and pulled out the flight reservations. She looked at them and dropped them on the floor.
“You see,” she said, “the thing is, I would love to believe you. I really would. This is a one way ticket though.”
“Let her go,” the mayor sobbed. Tears were rolling down Amber’s face. “I’ll pay anything.”
Tabitha shook her head. She stood up straight. “It’s not about the money,” she stated. “We have that already anyway. This is personal now.”
She sat across his lap and kicked her long, slim legs out.
“A girl could be insulted with a man running out on her like that. I thought you liked my little club.”
“I do,” protested the mayor of Coldford.
Tabitha grinned. There was a gap between her front teeth that gave her a quirky, girlish quality.
“Let’s see how much then, shall we?”
With a nod to Marcus he swung the blade and cut her left hand. The sharpened blade swiped through flesh and bone with ease. Her screams of agony were muffled by the cloth over her mouth.
Her father screamed too. He didn’t have time to gather himself when Tabitha pointed again for Marcus cut off her other hand.
“You’ve made your point!” said Jim. “Let her go!”
Tabitha gave a raspy laugh. “And miss the chance to see Marcus at work? The man is an artist, isn’t he?”
The mayor tried to push against the binds. Tabitha was on her feet again. She walked over to the table and took the blade from Marcus.
“I will give you a choice,” she offered. “Since your girl is going to die anyway I can either continue cutting her up into little pieces or just end it now for her. What do you want me to do?”
The mayor sobbed. “Please just leave her.”
“I didn’t quite catch that.”
“End it,” the mayor cried louder. “End it for her.”
He had averted his gaze unable to see the pained look on his youngest child’s face. Her eyes were hazy. She was going to pass out from the blood loss soon.
“I will if you tell me I’m pretty,” Tabitha teased.
“Just kill her! Just kill her now! Please!” the mayor roared.
Tabitha’s grey eyes widened. “That is your daughter!?” she gasped. She grinned. “You are a nasty piece of work Jim.”
She lifted the blade and centred it on Amber’s forehead. Before the point penetrated her skull there was a flash of realisation on Amber’s face.
The mayor cried. He knew he was playing a dangerous game but never would he have thought it would come to this. He was leaving his life behind for sure but not in the way he had intended.
Tabitha dropped the blade, circled behind him like a predator and began massaging his shoulders.
“Well Jim, we must dash. You know what it’s like when I’m away from Knock, Knock too long. Well … Well it can be just murder!”
Times have been desperate for the people of Coldford, better known as the Shady City. Once upon a time executives now reduced to rummaging through their neighbours’ trash to find a meal. Many are hunting for shelter wherever they can find it – like stray cats. Their once well tailored suits now hanging in rags. It’s surreal to see once proud captains of industry reduced to the indignity of soup kitchens. Nowhere to go, no means of rising back up to their ivory towers.
My name is Sam 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 latter. I have been a freelance journalist ever since finishing college. As the financial belt tightened it was harder and harder to get a full time position with a news paper so I (and most of my colleagues) went from story to story just trying to make it. Most of my stories sold to the biggest newspaper in the city – COLDFORD DAILY.
I thought I had managed to successfully navigate through the choppy waters of recession until the day I discovered that beneath the harsh surface lay a more terrifying truth. But I get ahead of myself. I write these notes so that everyone can know the truth. Chances are I will be gone by the time you read this. I am on borrowed time as it is.
It began just as summer was breaking. We were experiencing one of the warmest spells we had had in quite some time.
The Mayor – Jim Feltz – had disappeared without a trace. That morning he had kissed his wife, a voluptuous and formidable woman named Silvia, and his eldest daughter, Lacey, goodbye. He straightened his power tie in the mirror and made his way to wade through the city’s financial crises, which if you were to believe the tabloids were largely his fault. Normally he would have been escorted to the office by security of some kind. The citizens of Shady City, riled at the very sight of the Mayor, only made matters worse. However, that morning he never arrived at his office. Making his way down his street in his luxury silver car was the last anyone saw of 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 I had been spending more time at the offices of the Daily. The Daily was the only source of news on the mayor by Mrs Feltz’s request and being area’s largest newspaper. It was also the provider of food on my table. Hiring freelancers had been their way of protecting themselves. It meant that they were only paying for the material they needed, 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. He must have been quite the charmer. When I interviewed his mistress she told me that he was planning on leaving his wife (which is probably what they all say). On the morning he disappeared he had been planning to visit her. They were going on a trip together, which is why he had wanted to be discreet. The mistress, Cindy, had waited for him for most of the morning in her lavish apartment that the city coin had paid for. She flipped between anger and worry as she did. By two in the afternoon the police swamped her, acting quicker for such a public figure than they would have for any ordinary citizen.
Neither his wife, his mistress nor his gambling associates could offer the police any idea as to where he went, so on that warm morning I made my way to the stretch of tower blocks that housed the newsroom in the North Side. My mind was occupied by ways 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 man. He was young, filthy and with a mop of thick hair. Like many of the others forced to live on the streets. He sat with his back against the wall and brought his knees to his chest. His eyes were dulled by the effects of alcohol. He held a core of an apple and made breakfast of it. Sights like these were shocking when the recession first hit but they became more common and so you no longer noticed. The mighty had fallen and the rest of us became desensitised to their plight. I gave him what coins I had left. With very little I could do to help him, I entered the tall grey building with the large towering sign on top that read ‘Coldford Daily’.
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. Nothing quite so stimulating as a looming deadline. The brown leather satchel that I always carry my articles in 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 her presence with a smile. 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. I don’t think 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.
‘Maybe if I slept with him he would change his mind,” she had said. She was joking of course but everyone had their motives in Shady City so it wouldn’t surprise me.
Madeline was an athletic woman in her late twenties. Her shoulder length brunette hair fell loosely around her shoulders. Her skin was a warm caramel colour like she had come from a sun kissed land. Her pale blue eyes were sharp and feline. That morning she wore a white shirt and a plaid skirt. She sat herself on the edge of my desk with the leap of 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 in those days of hard work I was 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 farthest end of the newsroom where the fresh coffee was being brewed.
I knocked on the door of the editor’s office. I could hear Eric’s voice inside having a one sided conversation which suggested that he was either conducting a telephone call or some journalist was on the listening side of a hostage situation. I pushed the door ajar slightly. I caught a glimpse of Waddle standing behind his desk. His back was to me. He had a black telephone receiver placed 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. Eric Waddle was a tall man. He had a thick beard and always wore a long, black pony tail.
“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. Jim and I go way back and even I had no idea what he was up to.”
“I have nothing new really,” I ventured.
Eric reached his heavy hand across pulled 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 the best which is why they want you Sam.”
“Want me for what?”
“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 probably less expensive than the MACK AND SONS brand he was used to but decent alcohol was becoming increasingly difficult to come by. “You don’t have to be hanging around here all day. Go home and tell your wife the good news. You can start fresh tomorrow.”
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 trying to discourage her from doing so. Theresa didn’t want to take any chances on a writing career when housewife was the most stable job to be had. I never corrected my mother-in-law as to whose 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. When I was caught up chasing stories I often missed what was happening to the people closest to me. Theresa would be excited though. I couldn’t wait to tell her the news.
I was out of breath by the time I got home, my heart beating forcefully with exertion and excitement. The drums of anticipation rattled in my ears. I fumbled for my keys in my pocket. I leaned against the door as I reached deeper into my pockets. As I did so the door fell 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 happening a lot in our neighbourhood on the South West Side.
Our humble home 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 any extra cost. The scent of baking apples danced from the kitchen. Theresa had been baking apple pie which 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 was uncombed. When I pushed the swinging door open 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 wasn’t expecting you so early,” she said. “A woman was looking for you.”
“What did she want?” I asked.
Theresa gathered her wits. “She gave me an invitation to a club.”
“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.”
Theresa wandered into the living room and dropped herself amongst the blankets sobbing. “She told me that this story on the Mayor could put you in danger. She told me that you would return to me one day in pieces. She said you were getting involved in something you shouldn’t.”
I sat beside her and put my arm around her shoulder. “That’s all nonsense, I promise.”
Theresa shuddered. “She gave me this…”
She gave me a black business card. On the front read ‘Knock, Knock Club’ with two finely shaped female figures on either side. It was an exclusive club in town. A club I would visit that night and my life would be changed forever.
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