I gripped the little girl by the shoulder.
“There isn’t much time!” I warned.
She stared back at me with uncomprehending brown eyes. She was afraid. Not because she had been kidnapped. I don’t think she even realised that. She was terrified of me. Even after Tabitha dragging her abruptly away from the park whilst her older brother was distracted she still had no idea the danger she was in. Tabitha’s round, motherly face had managed to pacify the kid. The kid had been stuffing her face with as much cake and ice cream as she could. The girl had been so engrossed in indulging her sweet tooth, she hadn’t noticed how closely Tabitha was watching her with cold, grey eyes, filled with malice.
There was a brief window of opportunity when the girl was alone. It was also my time to escape the Knock, Knock club. I had promised the club manager, Dennis, that I would find his estranged son, Milo and see him to safety too.
There was a small camera peering down from the corner. I had to pull one of the bar stools over and climb on top of it to reach it but it smashed with ease. Our time was even more limited now. If someone noticed the camera broken they would descend on us an army.
“I don’t want to go!” Sarah shrieked. “The lady said I was to stay here.”
I tried to gently coerce her from the table but she resisted. She swung her silver ice cream spoon at me.
“The lady told me I was to wait here until my daddy finds me,” she insisted.
I snatched at the girl with more force. “The lady lied to you,” I tried to explain. “She will hurt you if you don’t come with me now.”
Time was running out. Tabitha would be back soon. I wrapped my hand around the girl’s mouth to stifle her screams as I bodily lifted her from the table. She kicked and flailed in my arms but in the end my comparatively larger size and strength won. I couldn’t just walk out the door with her. My only chance was to hide and wait until someone made a mistake.
“Please,” I whispered. “I’m not going to hurt you. That lady is bad. She is going to keep you here and you will never see your family again. I will get you out of here but I need you to listen to me.”
The girls eyes blurred with tears. My rough, whiskey sodden breath, matted hair and unshaven face couldn’t compete with Tabitha’s in winning over a child but I had to try. I hid the girl in a small adjoining closet kept for bottles. Since the depression had hit hard it was empty. I broke the window and joined her. There was just enough room for the both of us. I watched Tabitha return through a crack in the wood. A vehement anger washed over her grey eyes. Sarah must have seen it too because she writhed beside me. I hadn’t expected my last minute plan to go off without a hitch but Tabitha saw the empty room, spied the broken window and assumed I had escaped into the alley with the little girl.
She growled at herself. She tore across the room to the main door. It was still locked. Only the key she kept on her person could open it. The ice cold chill of outdoors contrasted the stuffiness of the club so heavily it flushed through the room so completely I could feel the chill on my face.
She stepped outside but when she saw no sign of us she returned. Dennis joined her from backstage.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
I had never seen Tabitha so angry.
“I should have killed the little bitch when I had the chance!” she snarled. “She’s gone,” she admitted. “Sam is too.”
Sarah sobbed beside me. I tried to console her as best I could. We were still in a lot of danger and her sniffs would give us away.
“He can’t have gotten out,” Tabitha reasoned with herself. “Someone would have stopped him. He must still be in here somewhere.”
Dennis obviously agreed with her because immediately his stare fixed on our hiding place. He didn’t point it out.
“They won’t get far,” he said. “The alley is on constant watch. He would have to have went round the front if he wanted to get away without being noticed.”
Tabitha took this as a flippant statement of the obvious but I saw it for what it was. He was giving us a way out.
Tabitha stopped suddenly. She looked behind her towards the hiding spot. A wicked smile traced her lips. Dennis wrapped his long fingers around her arm and pulled her back before she had the chance to move any closer to us.
“They won’t get far,” he repeated. “Right now you are needed upstairs.”
Tabitha looked at him suspiciously but she did leave. As soon as the door closed Sarah tried to climb out of the hiding place. I pulled her back, put my finger to my lips and bid her to remain hidden until a few minutes passed and we could be sure we were safe to leave.
When I was certain that we were alone I ushered the little girl back out into the hall. I couldn’t be certain if I could trust Dennis but I had to take my chances. He may be distracting them and affording me the opportunity to escape or he was playing a cruel joke. It didn’t matter which. It was now or never. If had to at least try. I was as good as a dead man anyway.
First, I helped Sarah climb through the broken window. I followed after her. I pushed myself through the small space which was barely big enough to fit through. I was conscience more of time than of the broken glass tearing in at me. When I dropped into the alley of the Knock, Knock Sarah was inspecting the cuts on her filthy hands. I gripped her arm and we both started towards the front of the building. A busy street ran past so I hoped we would find some kind of refuge in a large crowd. I could hear voices calling out behind us as we ran. I couldn’t tell the emotion of them or distinguish any of the words clearly.
“Where are we going?” Sarah asked.
“I’m taking you home,” I told her. “Do you know how to get to your home from here?”
She nodded. I was surprised. Perhaps we don’t give enough credit to kids or maybe she was smarter than your average one but I couldn’t have found my way home at that point.
Coldridge Park was where Tabitha had taken her so her home must have been close by.
If Dennis had truly aided my escape I owed it to him to check if Milo was safe. I didn’t know where to begin looking for him. I was hoping Sarah’s father would offer me some sanctuary in exchange for bring back his daughter and from there find Milo.
“It’s just down here,” Sarah pointed excitedly.
“Wait,” I warned. “We’re going to have to get your dad on his own.
She lived in a terraced block of beautifully kept town houses. Just at the other end of the park. Most of the homes were empty but for a single room on the lower floor.
We waited at a distance. The shadows of night were beginning to fall. The main door of the home opened and a burly, middle aged man stepped out.
“That’s my dad,” Sarah said.
He collected a silver cigarette case from the pocket of the cardigan he wore. He extracted one and placed it between his lips. He lit the tobacco and sighed as he drew.
I instructed Sarah to wait. I approached her father.
“I have your daughter,” I said by way of introduction.
A guilty look sparked across him and the cigarette was left dancing on his lips.
“What do you want now?” he growled. “I’ll get your money.”
“Wait, you don’t understand,” I tried to explain.
His shoulders tightened and he loomed closer to me. He was a big guy. Much bigger than I was.
“You are from the Knock, Knock right? I’ve seen you there.”
“I am but I have your daughter,” I told him. “She’s safe.”
He shook his head. His strength dissolved. “I couldn’t tell anyone. Who could I tell?” he sobbed.
“Sarah!” I called. “You can come over.”
Her father looked out into the darkness. The light from the porch only illuminated so much of the lawn. The pressure the club was putting him under was beginning to show on his face.
Sarah’s nostrils flared as she ran to him. Her father’s lips widened into the most relieved smile I have ever seen on a man. He lifted her into his arms and showered her face with adoring paternal kisses. Content that I had reunited Sarah with her family safely I turned and left them to their reunion. I began to wonder what life would be life outside the club and how far I would have to go to be free of them.
A crack of a gun sparked. This was closely followed by a small scream from Sarah. Her father dropped her onto the porch. A red fountain began to spring from his forehead. Sarah tried to pull him to his feet but the shot had been too precise. He was gone. Throwing all caution to the wind I dashed to Sarah to pull her away but another shot fired. This time it was the little girl who slumped down. Her lifeless little body lay beside her father.
I looked in the direction of the gunman but there was no way I would be able to see them.
“Bastard!” I screamed at the unknown assailant. A third shot fired. Luckily it hit the ground at my feet. I was left with no choice but to run. A couple more shots came after me.
Running in no particular direction with no particular destination in mind and no hope I found myself back on the street. Someone snatched at me.
“Come with me.”
It was Tabitha. She was dressed in black trousers and an oversized red coat. She had pulled her brunette hair away from her shoulders into a pony tail that cascaded on her shoulders. She looked a completely different person away from the Knock, Knock stage. I began to follow her down a pathway that led through a small play ground before I even realised it was her.
Tabitha sat on a swing. She looked up at me and smiled. There was a hint of laughter on her lips. Without her make-up she looked much younger than I assumed her to be.
“Why don’t you just kill me,” I groaned. “I don’t want anything to do with you or the Knock, Knock. I never did.”
“After everything I have done to keep your ass alive this is how you repay me?” she replied.
“That little girl didn’t have to die…” I began.
Tabitha pushed herself back, kicked out and began to swing.
“If you had listened to me and left her where she was then she would be back at the club
safe and sound, gorging herself on ice cream,” she said.
I hated to admit it but she was right. The kid was dead because of me. Theresa and Maddie were dead because of me. Hell the whole damn thing started because of my megalomaniac grandfather.
Tabitha must have sensed what I was thinking.
“Cheer up, Sam,” she said. “You’ll always have me watching out for you.”
Something about those words left me feeling cold.
“I know something else,” she added. “I know where Milo is.”
‘Damn it!’ I thought. They really were everywhere.
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