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A Prisoner in The Old king’s Castle

Sonya couldn’t count the days she had been held behind bars. The sun had risen and fallen but since her prison allowed no light she couldn’t tell how many times. What had been her crime? The beloved King Roman had fallen ill. Since then, the Kingdom of Navaria had fallen into anarchy. Cries of witchcraft spread panic throughout the snow covered land like untamed fires blazing through a dry forest. General Drenisov of the Navarian Guard had taken a firm grasp of the people. He held them in fear. He allowed the rumours of the cursed kingdom to circulate unhindered because the more frightened the people were, the more they turned to him for leadership. The sick king had been falling further and further into madness. His second wife, Annabelle, had retired from public view without explanation.

Sonya had been expressing her views.

“We’re being treated like animals,” she said. At first she had only whispered this to a few friends in the marketplace but before long more and more had gathered to hear what she had to say. She stood on top of a box to voice her opinion further. She lifted her skirts as she climbed to the new height. The hem was muddied from the ground where the snow had been trodden into filthy slush.

“We are stronger than they and they know it. We have had no word from the castle because they don’t deem us important enough.”

A merchant cried, “Here, here!” from behind his stall. Some of the gathering nodded in agreement with a firm shade of anger across their brows. There were others who hunched their shoulders and cowed away for fear that they would be seen listening to such thoughts.

“We demand to know what ails our beloved king. There are no such things as witches in Navaria, merely a symbol of fear designed to keep us under the control of the Guard.”

As she said this, the crowd began to part. Through the ragged clothing of sombre peasant colours charged a group of tall, young guards wearing the vibrant red and gold that was their signature uniform. Word of her malcontent must have reached The General at the grey, brooding castle that sat high on the mountain looking down on its subjects below.

Two guards snatched Sonya by the ruffled collar of her dress. She fell onto her knees in the mud. No one moved to help her, not even the grey haired, doe eyed merchant who had been cheering her on moments before.

“Don’t let them silence you!” she shrieked. “We are stronger than they.”

Sonya was taken to the castle and locked away in the dungeon. Word reached her that King Roman had been murdered. She heard two guards discuss it as they brought in a new prisoner. She even heard it from The General himself.

“You have murdered the king and doomed this land with your witchcraft,” Drenisov barked. She heard heavy footsteps on the stone floor. She pressed herself against the small window to the outside corridor on the door of her prison. She could only see the red of The General’s coat. There was no reply from the prisoner. The guards departed and all fell silent.

“Stay strong, comrade,” she said, not sure if her fellow prisoner would hear her.

“Is someone there?” The voice that returned to her was that of an adolescent boy. Sonya guessed him young enough to be her son.

“They can’t keep us here forever,” she assured.

The boy’s voice was eerily calm for the horror that he had no doubt just endured. “The king is dead,” he stated. Although youthful, the voice carried the wisdom of age. It’s owner must have been well educated. The son of a nobleman.

A deep motherly instinct that Sonya possessed looked past the obvious maturity of the boy and sought to lay comfort at his young feet.

“It’s a terrible tragedy. I heard The General say you are the murderer but I don’t think that is so. When the eldest prince, James, is granted the throne Drenisov will have no choice but to release us.”

The boy gave a laugh, the kind that bordered on hysterical. It held no real humour.

“I salute your optimism, my dear woman, I truly do. I fear that here in this darkness is where we will live out our last days.”

Sonya was chilled by the youth’s acceptance of fate. “Prince James…” she began.

“The prince can do nothing to help,” the boy interjected.

Sonya could feel tears on her brittle eyelashes. “He will …” Now it was she who was needing comfort.

“Take solace in knowing that soon it will all be over,” said the boy softly.

“I will get word to the Prince,” Sonya offered. “He is much like his father. He will help us.”

“He already knows your plight. My lady, I am Prince James and any chance I ever had of helping my people died with the king.”

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Talking about my generation

‘We weren’t like that’ is something I’m sure every generation grumbles about the one coming after them. I hear my fellow generation Xers despair about the millennials and how disconnected they are from the world. If it is true what we read we can assume them to be whiny, incapable of looking after themselves and completely unprepared for the harsh realities of life. If could be just that I’m on the wrong side of thirty and my fellows like to have something to moan about. The fashions, the television shows and the obsession with Ed Sheeran (as good a musician as I’m sure he is) are all strange to the genX. Then again, the Spice Girls, gladiators and skousers (skirt trousers) certainly raised a few eyebrows in the 90s and early noughties so who are we to judge?

Is it just a generational thing or is there a lack of understanding in the millennials? I don’t think so.

The millennials get a lot of stick in the media but I for one can see the amazing changes they are bringing to the world. My eldest niece (a millennial) defies what the media has to say about her generation. She is a confident, well educated and independent young woman who has just started her own business and is thriving. Like many of her peers she is ready to take the world on.

Despite the man buns and snap chat second life our millennials are up and coming and sure to do great things for our world. They will always fight for social justice. They work hard despite educations costs rising and getting on the property ladder is more difficult. So to you millennials, your ways seem strange to us but you will change the world for the better. Your contributions are invaluable.

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Knock, Knock (Episode 6): Picking Up Strange Women

Following my wife’s death I lived at the ‘Knock, Knock’ club. I spent most of my time in the spacious but neat apartment at the top of the building they had granted me. Someone had placed a photograph of the club founders in it. I only knew this was my grandfather, having never met the man, because of the striking resemblance he bore to my mother. From what I could understand of the club I was now at the mercy of, they paid homage to him as one of their founding members. I hadn’t gathered enough nerve yet to ask more than they had already told me. The club was no more than a cult. When my mother gave birth to me – the son of a lowly fisherman – she ran to the city of Coldford from her island home in Westcliff. As the last remaining member of the Crusow family, half of The Group wanted me dead and the other half, like the Knock, Knock club manager Dennis and the cabaret performer Tabitha, were striving to keep me alive.

Since my first visit my wife, Theresa, had been murdered by those trying to flush me out. Tabitha had put a bullet through the Mayor of Coldford’s head because his wife was a member of the club and his affairs, gambling and general wasting of the city’s money was beginning to bother her. I should have left then but I had nowhere else to go and that until I embraced the club’s protection I wouldn’t be safe anywhere. I didn’t fear that. I guess what kept me there so long was that I was a reporter by trade and this was a story too rich to let go. The club spread to very high places and if I kept quiet long enough I could blow the whole thing open. I realise now how naïve I was in thinking this but I had nothing else.

According to Tabitha, the club allowed protection for its members even through depressions like the one that Coldford was experiencing at that time. Times were desperate and the members need not suffer the indignity of poverty when there was so much of the flesh, blood and belongings of non members to go around.

I couldn’t really tell if I was being held prisoner or not. After all, having the same name as my grandfather, Samuel Crusow, they held me in such high regard. I never tried to leave. Tabitha – niece of The Group’s co founder, Tawny – made it quite clear that there was no point. Their influence spread far and wide. The police had already suspected me as being responsible for Theresa’s murder. All the club had to do was to call into their members at Coldford police department and I would snapped up and put in a cell for the rest of my life. Given the choice, my room at the club was much more comfortable.

The girl’s at the club kept me kept me supplied with food and drink.It wasn’t great quality. The meat was gritty and the cider was on the turn but it was better than anything outside and there was enough of it to feed a large family. When I looked out of the window I could see men, women and children scrounging in the alley for a decent meal. The Coldford depression being so severe even the soup kitchens couldn’t stay open. I had taken to putting what food I could into plastic bags and dropping them from the window so the wretched homeless would be able to find something to eat.

I started to become familiar with the patrons and staff at ‘Knock, Knock’ without actually getting to know them. I didn’t like being on my own so much so I loomed about the club like the ‘Knock, Knock’ mascot. One afternoon I wandered down into the main club floor. The last stragglers from the matinee sessions were beginning to clear out to make way for the dinner visitors. Dennis was leaning against the bar, overseeing the rush of staff, preparing for the biggest show of the day.

Take a load off Sam,” he instructed.

Normally only people who know me well enough called me Sam but Dennis was one of those types who treated everyone like they were life long friends. It didn’t matter if he had known them five minutes or five years. I had come to expect it from him.

The girl behind the bar, A flaming haired beauty barely out of her teens named Lisa, poured a whiskey and slid it over to me.

What’s happening?” I asked.

Nothing more than the usual,” he replied.

Tabitha came tearing from backstage. She wore gents trousers, white shirt and black waistcoat. Her lips were tightened with fury. She was clutching a blood stained shirt in her hand which she threw at Dennis. Dennis barely flinched.

One life for another. It’s only fair don’t you think?” he remarked.

Am I missing something?” I asked. My reporter mind was ready to take note. If there was some division between Tabitha and Dennis I could exploit then perhaps getting away from them would be easier than I thought.

Tabitha just sneered at Dennis. “He was mine!” she snarled before storming backstage again.

Dennis turned into the bar. He threw the bloodied shirt to Lisa. “Trash that will you kid?” he instructed. The girl disappeared through a narrow door at the end of the bar that led onto the alley. No doubt the spot where the Knock, Knock club disposed of its evidence.

Tabitha told me her story. She was born into this. How did you come to be involved?” I asked. I hoped Dennis would assume I was enquiring as a friend and not a nosey journalist.

***

Dennis relayed his tale to me. Before the ‘Knock, Knock’ club he lived in the small town of Millefort, outside of the city, towards the coast. It would have been the first piece of civilisation my mother would have met when she carried me in her arms from Westcliff.

Dennis and his father, David, were traders who thrived on their ideal location between the docks where exciting food, clothes and trinkets would arrive from foreign lands and the city of Coldford where there were (at that time) plenty of customers willing to spend on such treasures. They had a happy life – at least that was how Dennis described it. He was married to a beautiful, if not a little neurotic, woman named Julianne. She was carrying their first child. Perhaps a boy? Perhaps a girl? They didn’t care as long as the baby was healthy. David Platt had bid Dennis’ mother a heartfelt farewell as she ended a long suffering year of a disease doctors couldn’t combat but whilst David had his son and a grandchild on the way he wasn’t ready to join her yet.

As Dennis set the scene it made me consider that this kind of contentment was only the pleasant, sun drenched calm before the storm. After all, he had went from family man with everything most people would covet to a grotty back alley club in Coldford where murder is all part of the entertainment.

Ships had been arriving with new products and Dennis had been at the Millefort Harbour to greet them. As the deliveries were being carried from the ship to the waiting ‘Platt and Son’ van, one of the helpers allowed the crate he was carrying to slip from his fingers.

Woah!” Dennis cried as some of the coffee beans it contained spilled out from torn packets. “Be careful with that or I’m going to have to charge you.”

Sorry sir,” murmured the helper.

Just get it loaded into the van,” said Dennis, checking his watch to see how much time had been wasted.

As the delivery men busied themselves loading the van, Dennis spied a girl sat at the edge of the pier. She had pulled her heavy fur coat close to her chin. Her white stockinged legs dangled over the edge.

Are you okay kid?” he asked, approaching her slowly so she wouldn’t be frightened by the sudden appearance of a stranger.

She looked up at him. Her rich attire and the diamonds that sparkled in her ears were unusual for Millefort. It was a laid back town, with earthy people. Her eyes were a pale grey, her lips painted a vibrant red. “I need to get to Westcliff,” she said.

They don’t have any passenger ships here,” instructed Dennis. The girl looked solemnly out across the water. “What is your name?”

Tabitha.”

Where have you come from?”

Filton. I’m looking for my aunt. She’s in Westcliff.”

Dennis, looking back at the delivery men who were closing the van up, said to Tabitha, “A boat ain’t going to magically appear kid.” He reached out and helped her onto her feet again which were clad in crushed velvet shoes. “Why don’t you come home with me and we can get you sorted.”

Dennis had expected Tabitha to resist climbing into a large blue van with a man she didn’t know but she thought nothing of it. She rode in silence beside him. Dennis had many questions that he wanted to ask her but he followed her lead and said nothing.

When they reached his home he finally said, “Don’t worry, I’ll smooth it over with my wife.”

The van crawled in front of a whitewashed bungalow. It was early evening by then. Darkness was smothering the sun underneath a pillow of stars. The lights in the houses were beginning to illuminate the narrow street. A large window at the front bathed the dark, tidy lawn in an azure glow.

A woman came charging into the light of the headlamps. She was dressed in a thin nightdress and was barefoot despite the chill in the air. She was heavily pregnant.

Dennis grunted, brought the van to a complete stop and rolled down the window. He leaned out and called to her, “Julie, what the Hell are you doing? I could have ran you over!” He climbed out and Tabitha followed.

What kept you?” asked Julianne. “I was worried.” She linked her arm through her husband’s and stared at the stray girl he had brought home.

You know its a long drive. I found this girl. She was lost.”

Julianne reached her free hand out and took Tabitha’s in hers. “Who are you?”

My name is Tabitha. I need to get to my aunt in Westcliff.”

This is the wrong direction,” said Julianne coldly. “You won’t get far tonight. You had better come inside.”

Tabitha’s grey eyes clouded. She pulled her coat closer to her frame. “I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you,” she said as she followed the couple heading towards their front door.

My husband has brought his fair share of strange women into my home.” Julianne pulled her arm away from Dennis and entered the house first.

Despite Julianne’s obvious discomfort at having her there, Tabitha remained with them. The days rolled on and the weeks went by. Julianne avoided her where possible. Dennis managed to decipher that her parents whom she lived with in Filton had died in a terrible accident. The details of this accident were too painful to discuss. The only living relative she had left was an aunt (her grandfather’s sister) who lived on the island of Westcliff. The only worldly possessions she had were the expensive clothes she had been wearing when Dennis met her and a bankers note that would allow her to draw on her parent’s accounts which were extensive. She was hesitant to do this. She settled into the home of the Platt family and despite her eagerness to get to Westcliff on the first day, she never mentioned it again.

What age do you suppose she is?” Julianne asked as she and Dennis watched the stranger from a distance. The stranger they had invited into their home for a night was now sat comfortably in their sofa – blue leather with delicately carved wooden trimmings that was Julianne’s pride and joy – watching their television.

I don’t know. Sixteen, seventeen maybe?”

Julianne groaned and rubbed her swollen womb. “She said she was going to board a boat to Westcliff weeks ago. Why is she still here? The baby will be here any day now and we will need the room back.”

Tabitha’s explanation of her life in Filton was sketchy. She wouldn’t draw on her parent’s accounts to pay for her upkeep or find somewhere more luxurious to live. Judging by what clothes and jewellery she had with her she was wealthy. Filton was a haven for the rich. She did what she could to earn her board by helping David – who lived next door to his son – with the accounts for their trading. She did this with the meticulous detail of an expert. She didn’t pay for her food but she fetched whatever they needed and cooked it so that Julianne didn’t have to. She told them that she had written to her aunt, inviting her to the mainland to help her sort her parent’s affairs and was awaiting a response.

More time went by. A little baby boy with Dennis’ dark eyes and the soft wisps of Julianne’s chestnut hair was brought into the family. He was named Milo and even Julianne had to admit that Tabitha’s help in dealing with the infant was invaluable. Tabitha held Milo in her arms a lot. She sang to him, she danced around the room with him. Whenever he saw her face he would break into an adoring, gummy grin. David adored her too. At the end of the day Tabitha was quiet and solemn but when it came to people she was a vibrant performer. Times were bliss for the Platt family. Life was complete.

That baby of yours must be keeping you up all night,” quipped one of the Coldford buyers when Dennis struck a deal much lower than he normally would.

You’ve just caught me in a good mood,” Dennis laughed. “Don’t expect the same next month.

Don’t let him kid you,” piped up another. “It’s that young girl writing the accounts that’s got him in such high spirits.” Dennis shrugged off the comment and made his way back home.

The house had been surprisingly quiet. Milo wasn’t crying. There was no bickering between Julianne and Tabitha. Tabitha was alone in the den. She was sat on the edge of the sofa wearing her coat. There was a large deep crimson blood stain across the wall as though something or someone had been whacked hard with a heavy blunt object.

What happened? Where’s Julie?” asked Dennis.

She’s gone,” murmured Tabitha. “She tried to hurt me. She tried to hurt Milo but I stopped her. She took him and now she’s gone.”

Dennis was breathless. His wife and child were gone. A thick blood stain was all that remained. He checked Milo’s room to see with his own eyes if what Tabitha told him was true. His instincts then drew him towards his father.

David’s gone too,” Tabitha called after him as he darted next door.

Dennis found his father’s door open. His television was blaring loudly as it always did. There was a bullet hole in the back of his head. His eyes were wide. The image of the assailant still printed on the whites.

Tabitha had followed behind him and laid a consoling hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “It’s time I cashed my parents accounts. We can get out of here.”

Dennis shook his head, forcing back the sobs in intense breaths. “She murdered my father. She took my boy.”

There’s nothing here for either of us. Come with me to Coldford. My aunt has written to me. She will meet us there. She will find Julianne faster than the police ever could.”

Dennis finished his story. I leaned back against the bar. I realised I was still holding the same empty glass I had had at the beginning of his tale.

So you came to Coldford with Tabitha. You believed that your wife suddenly went crazy, murdered your father and ran off with your boy? Didn’t it occur to you that it was probably Tabitha – you know, the member of this ridiculous group who believe they have licence to murder.”

A smile crawled across Dennis’ lips. “Of course it did. It still does.”

Then why come here?”

I believed her when she said she could find my son. She loved Milo. I had no reason to think she would hurt him. Like you, I had nowhere else to go. The club replaced the family I lost. Now I can’t be without them. Whatever happened to Julianne, Milo is still alive. I know it.”

How long ago was this?”

About eight … no ten years ago. Milo will be ten now.”

How can you look her in the eye? She could have been responsible for it all,” I felt the need to remind him.

Dennis emitted a cold peal of laughter. “Did it occur to you that she may have had something to do with the death of your wife too?”

I hadn’t really considered it before but Dennis’ words hit me like a bolt of lightening. “I guess she could have …”

Like me you will always have that at the back of your mind but you will never leave this club. I am no founding member,” Dennis explained. “I don’t have any family name to hold on to. The club would rather see me dead than expend any effort in keeping me sweet. I have no choice but to play their game.”

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Check out the story from the beginning:

Knock, Knock (Episode 1): Welcome to the Club

Knock, Knock (episode 2): Don’t Come Knockin’

Knock, Knock (Episode 3): Sleep Tight Sam

Knock, Knock (Episode 4): Take A Bow

Knock, Knock (Episode 5): Big City Kid

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Knock, Knock (Episode 5): Big City Kid

The grey skies of Westcliff were fitting for its rugged and harsh landscape. It was a cold, windy island were it rained frequently. Upon a large hill, at the highest point on the island stood a manor house, viewed with awe and respect. Therein lived the Crusow family. No one on the island spoke of it but the Crusow patriarch – Samuel Crusow – had amassed a great deal of power within the community. Samuel had one daughter. His sons were long gone. Emily Crusow had been walking the halls, carrying a child in her arms, sobbing for so long that the very stone of the building was beginning to vibrate with her grief. She had managed to keep the father of her child secret for the first few months of her son’s life. She should have known she couldn’t have kept him hidden forever.

Her father had been summoned by the jingling of bells as servants began to lay the long table for two. Samuel Crusow sat himself at the usual spot at the head of the table. A plate of thick broth was placed under his nose. Samuel immediately set about breaking bread. He had built up quite a hunger that day as it happened.

“Will you stop with that incessant crying!” he barked at his daughter. Bread crumbs fell onto his full auburn beard.

“Please, just let me and my baby go,” cried Emily. “We are no use to you now.”

Samuel smiled with a mouth full. He swallowed the masticated bread and replied, “Even if the little boy is a half breed, he can still be of use. He bares my name and bares my blood. He could find himself at the very top of our food chain if he is raised correctly. He has the chance here to become a great leader. He could have everything he could want and yet you wanted to take him away so he could starve and fade away like the rest them? You lost all chance of being his mother when you made that decision. When he is finished nursing you can go and join the rest of them on the ash heap but the boy stays.”

One of the maids who was most sympathetic to Emily’s plight tried to urge her to sit at the table. Emily pulled her baby closer to her. “You have to eat something,” groaned Samuel as he turned his attention to a newspaper one of the maids had left for him. “It’s not good for the baby.”

In the cover of darkness, in the silence of the night, Emily carried her baby away from the only home she had ever known, the monstrous building she had only just seen the outside of. A small fishing boat was waiting for her on the coast. She had to hurry. Her father’s reach was long and far. She didn’t know who she could trust. Her life had been dominated by ‘The Group’. Until she met Perry – a simple fisherman – she couldn’t conceive of a life outside the group. She didn’t wish for her son to suffer the same. With the help of some of the staff she managed to reach the outside. She didn’t shy away from the cutting wind, she embraced it. For Emily it meant freedom.

“Where are you going?” Tawny McInney had been watching the Crusow house for most of the night. She had been meticulously noting in her mind the changes in lighting through the windows and any shadows moving behind the curtains. Her face was reddened and weather beaten. Her mass of mousey brown curls were hidden beneath a hood.

“Please don’t hurt Sam,” Emily cried, knowing that pleading with Tawny wouldn’t do her much good.

Tawny leaned over and moved the sheets that the baby was wrapped in away from his face. He was fast asleep. He smacked his lips and turned towards the heat of his mother. “Your father is shuddering under the weight of ‘The Group’. He has lost touch with the principals we were founded on.”

Emily looked towards the water edge where Perry’s brother, Peter, was waiting to take her to the mainland and to safety. “I have to go,” said she. “I have to get away from my father before he hurts Sam or hurts me.”

Tawny had never been much of a sympathetic woman. In ‘The Group’ she was probably the most blood thirsty, even more so than Samuel. Something was brewing. ‘The Group’ had been questioning Samuel Crusow’s leadership. Tawny would be the one to step forward and take his place.

“The Group is about to change in terrible and glorious ways. You do not want to be caught in the middle. Take your child to the safety of the mainland. Care for him. Perhaps one day when he is a man we will call upon him.”

To allow Sam to fall into the hands of Tawny and the other’s was a worse fate than anything Samuel would have in store. However, Tawny was offering her something that Emily didn’t have – time. Emily’s immediate concern was getting Sam away from the island. He could grow up away from ‘The Group’. Maybe they would find him one day but in the meantime taking him to the city was the best chance Sam would have. There in Coldford no one had yet heard the name, Samuel Crusow.

***

“So my grandfather was a lunatic and he began this group who felt they were so above the rest of humanity that they could kill for whatever reason they felt necessary?” I said, probably sounding a little more concise in my head than the nonsense that escaped my lips.

Tabitha leaned back against the bar. She had long finished her tall glass of gin and soda. I was still nursing the whiskey in my hand, having held it so long it was warm.

“That’s a rather crude way of putting it but that is the gist. Although, I must profess, your grandfather wasn’t a lunatic. He was a great man but he had lost his way. In the midst of the first great depression the islands were a harsh place to live. There were three prominent families – yours and mine included. Your grandfather saw to it that the worthy ones were provided for. Space, money and even blood and flesh had to be taken from the lowers otherwise the worthy ones would suffer and the lowers would feast on them like parasites.”

“That is awful!” I exclaimed.

Tabitha laughed. “Well listen to the righteous man with the Crusow name.” She shook her head. “This was at a time when there was no trade to the island, the land couldn’t be cultivated and there were far too many mouths to feed. Something had to be done. The lowers were dying at a rapid rate anyway and if left unchecked they would have brought everyone down with them. They were going to die anyway but their lives didn’t have to be in vain. Like cattle raised for the slaughter they helped provide food, shelter and provisions for the worthy ones. Life could go on much as it had before.”

“So what does that have to do with me?” I asked, trying to comprehend how I fit into it all now.

Tabitha tipped her glass over and began to roll it on its edge. “Well you are the key to it all. You are the last remaining Crusow. One of the founding members. That is a pretty important role don’t you think? My aunt was right to let your mother leave with you. In doing that ‘The Group’ managed to grow from some miserable little island cult to something much grander. When your mother had a child with one of the lowers it caused the members to look at how things were run, how it was decided who was lower and who was worthy in the first place. It was dangerous to keep you around, my aunt saw that but your grandfather didn’t.”

“Where is my grandfather now? Is he still alive?”

Tabitha stopped fidgeting with her glass and stood it back upright. “When your mother escaped a sort of civil war was born within ‘The Group’. My aunt and your grandfather made for pretty powerful allies. They both still believed that those of lesser importance should be sacrificed for the benefit of those in authority. Samuel’s blood had mixed with that of the lowers when you were born. Some didn’t like that. Whilst the others bickered over the purity of ‘The Group’ my aunt set about restoring it to its former glory. My family followed you to Coldford. My aunt had promised your mother that she would find you. When she came to Coldford she saw the corruption in high places, like your mayor friend, the miserable wretches that swamped the streets. She had only just bought the club and cemented herself in Coldford society when she died and the second depression hit. Some of ‘The Group’ followed my aunt and thrived in the city. Others stayed behind with your grandfather and died out.”

The weight of grief began to press down on me again as I considered the scale of the situation I was in. “My wife is dead because of this. Theresa had nothing to do with any of this.”

Tabitha raised her eyebrows. “I’m genuinely sorry for what happened to Theresa. It was not our doing. There are still some out there who don’t like the idea of ‘The Group’ being led by a man who was sired by a fisherman. Theresa’s murder was a warning.”

“Where does the mayor come in?” I had pondered the question constantly from the moment Dennis pulled a gun to the mayor’s head.

“Mayor Feltz was a stupid man. His wife had used her connections with ‘The Group’ to gain political office. He then treated his wife and child terribly. The aid we gave him in getting his job was in the understanding that we would have influence in his office. He wasn’t willing to share. He felt that now he was mayor he could get away with anything. No one is above ‘The Group’.”

“How have you managed to get away with this for so long?”

“It’s very simple really,” she answered. “If you approach someone in power and tell them they have the right to decide the fates of those lower than them they tend to jump at the opportunity. Flattery is a very powerful tool. When that fails there is always good old fashioned threat of violence.”

I knew then that it was never going to be so easy as to walk out the door of the ‘knock, knock’ club and leave all this behind. They had people everywhere and now they were trying to make me their leader because I had the same name as the man crazy enough to begin it all in the first place. I asked myself again, not for the last time … what had I gotten myself into?

Enjoy this?Subscribe to the page and have each episode of the thriller blog series sent straight to your inbox!Catch up from the beginning:Knock, Knock (Episode 1): Welcome to the ClubKnock, Knock (episode 2): Don’t Come Knockin’Knock, Knock (Episode 3): Sleep Tight SamKnock, Knock (Episode 4): Take A Bow

 


Knock, Knock (Episode 4): Take A Bow

So what happened?” asked the police officer, Coogan. He had already asked me the same question one hundred times at least.

I told you!” I spat with venomous frustration that probably wasn’t helping my case. “The last thing I remember was that I returned home from the club and went to sleep. Theresa wasn’t at home. She was at her mother’s. I woke up and there she was beside me… dead.”

The image of my dead wife will be forever etched in my mind. The cold stare, the haunting paleness of her skin. I couldn’t begin to grieve because as quickly as I had discovered her corpse lying next to me, I was whisked off to the Coldford jail and accused of being the one responsible. With the finger of blame pointing in my face I couldn’t find a suitable excuse or explanation that would satisfy the wagging tongues of the town and the suspicious eyes of the Coldford police force.

Officer Coogan looked at the papers in his hands again. The statement that I had made on arrival was there in plain writing for him to read over and over again.

So you say you were returning from the ‘Knock, Knock’ club?”

Yes …” I grumbled. “Must we do this again?”

And that was Thursday evening?”

No!” I snapped. “It was Tuesday. Stop trying to trip me I up. I know what I meant and I meant what I said.”

Coogan’s stare narrowed on me. “The officer who attended the scene was called on Friday.”

My head began to spin with the information I was being dealt. Coogan continued, “That means that there are two days unaccounted for. The victim had been lying for two days. Do you care to fill us in?” I shook my head. I couldn’t handle Theresa being referred to as a victim. “Blunt force trauma to the back of the head. You did it, didn’t you?”

No I didn’t!” I protested. “I have no idea what happened to her!”

Coogan folded his arms and leaned back in his chair, his lips pursed tightly. He had the slightest self satisfied grin that most coppers get when the think ‘I’ve got ya!’

There was a knock on the door. Coogan looked at his watch. He frowned to himself, scraped his chair back with a deafening screech and went to the door. He didn’t open it fully. He pushed his bald head through and spoke to the visitor in a hushed voice. When he came back to the table he held an expression that was akin to his wife having told him he had lost his manhood.

You are free to go,” he groaned.

I was confused. Subjects of murder investigations don’t just walk free. “But what about my wife? Don’t you want to ask me more questions? What about the investigation?”

I had never known anyone outside the canine community to growl but that is what Coogan did then. “Do you want me to keep you here?” he tried.

I shook my head. My whole body was trembling. In some feat of unconscious acrobatics I was on my feet and out the door standing under the archway that was the main entrance to the police station.

Mr Crusow?” I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to find Tabitha from the club. She wore a long grey coat and a hat, the brim of which cast a shadow over her steel grey eyes.

What are you doing here?” I stammered.

Her painted lips stretched into a smile. “A simple thank you will suffice.”

You had me released. How? I was being held for my wife’s murder.”

They just needed to be reminded that you were Samuel Crusow. That is all.”

Do you know what happened to my wife?”

Tabitha shook her head. “Sorry no. I can help you find out though and faster than the police I dare say.” She linked her arm through mine and walked me down the steps of the police station and onto the street like a child. “Go home and pack your belongings. Leave everything you can spare. Meet me at the club.”

***

If someone could break into my house and have my wife’s dead body lie next to me without my even realising there was no way I wanted to take any chance of living at home alone. I arrived at the club around noon bringing with me only a small bag of clothes. Dennis and Tabitha were waiting, as though they had anticipated the exact time of my arrival.

Good to see you Sam!” Dennis beamed pulling my bag from my shoulder and handing it to one of the girls. This time she wasn’t scantily clad in sequins but in a long black dress with a man’s suit jacket over it. “Lisa, take this to Mr Crusow’s room.”

As the girl disappeared with everything I deemed important enough to bring with me the cloud of uncertainty began to break. A peak of informative sunshine shone through. “I have nowhere else to go,” I said.

Dennis patted my shoulder and drew me closer to him. “This is the only place that you need to be. We are so excited to have you with us where you belong.”

Tabitha disappeared behind the bar and began to pour three whiskeys. She sipped at hers, Dennis took a drink then wandered off to oversee preparations for that night leaving the rest on the bar. I swallowed mine in one gulp.

This was going to be my life now and I was damned if I even knew who they were…

***

I had been given a luxurious room considering the face of the club. It was a spacious room at the very top of the building with a vaulted ceiling and a window that looked out onto the street below. I could actually see my old home from there. On the night stand was a photograph of a man with auburn hair like mine, the same emerald eyes that I bore and a smile that looked all too familiar. It had to have been the original Samuel Crusow. My grandfather had been mentioned several times but not once had I been told where he was. Was he still alive? Dennis had mentioned me as a suitable replacement for him so I guess it was likely he was dead.

I couldn’t hear any of the music or frivolity downstairs. At around eight, the waitress, Lisa, came to my room with a freshly prepared meal. She spoke to me but I heard none of it. I gathered that she was inviting me downstairs but I was too busy writing a letter in my head to Theresa’s mother.

After the club closed I still couldn’t sleep. Given that they treated me like a celebrity I was sure they wouldn’t mind if I helped myself to the bar. The corridors upstairs were in darkness. It was like the whole club had gone to sleep.

As I pushed the door open into the main hall I discovered that the club had not been asleep upstairs but had merely brought itself to the belly of the building and quietened its noise to a sombre thoughtfulness. The house lights were down but the tracing lights twinkled like diamonds. Tabitha, Dennis and most of the staff were gathered. When Dennis saw me he darted onto the stage.

Ladies and Gentlemen! Samuel Crusow!”

They all turned to me and began to give an applause. Flabbergasted by the sudden attention when all I wanted was a quiet drink, I climbed onto the stage and said to him, “I am here now. I think you ought to start explaining to me what this club is all about.”

Dennis opened his arms. “Even better. I will show you.”

Tied to an office chair with wheels, the Mayor of Coldford was pushed onto the stage. His mouth was gagged. His eyes wide with alarm. His face was bloodied from a very severe beating. He was still wearing the same suit that he had had on when he first disappeared.

You are responsible for this?” I gasped.

Dennis shrugged his shoulders. “Not me personally.”

I looked at the most powerful man in Coldford, now crying like a terrified infant. “You have to let him go,” I warned, hoping that some of their adulation for me would translate into obedience.

Dennis shook his head. “Sorry this came straight from upper management.”

What is this place?”

As I said before we are a group of the elite. We have been granted authority by a higher power to survive by any means necessary. This man has taken from the people of Coldford and embezzled their funds causing another depression. We could have let that go but then he embezzled the clubs funds. That we cannot allow.” Dennis saw that I had retreated so he gripped my arm and pulled me back.

Tabitha, sick of Dennis’ theatrics and my hesitation, pulled a gun and shot the Mayor through the back of his skull. “He can be thankful that I was feeling merciful today,” she griped.

I stumbled backwards. Blood had spattered over both me and Dennis. The rest of the staff began applauding again.

I tried to pull away. “I will go to the police!” I said as if they would have just let me go.

Dennis and Tabitha looked at each other and shared a laugh. “If the club could be stopped by being reported to the police do you really think we would have lasted for generations?”

I was finding it difficult to breathe. I could see the dead frame of Mayor Feltz in the corner of my eye. “His wife! I will tell his wife!”

Dennis removed a silver cigarette case from the inside of his pocket. He pushed one between his lips and fished out a petrol lighter. He sighed with satisfaction after his first draw. “Go ahead. Mrs Feltz is a member.”

What had I gotten myself into?

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Follow the story from the beginning!

EPISODE 1: WELCOME TO THE CLUB

EPISODE 2: DON’T COME KNOCKIN’

EPISODE 3: SLEEP TIGHT SAM

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EPISODE 5: BIG CITY GIRL will be live 6pm (UK time) Sunday 23rd April.


A Last Bid for Mercy

My dearest uncle,

I beseech you. I have written thrice before and have yet had no response. I hear that your kingdom is in turmoil. I long to help you bring the traitors to justice but if I leave my post they will hang me for desertion.

Three days ago, in the early morning, I was given a notice that I am accused of treason. This suggestion that I have led the rebellious forces against you was signed by your own hand. I have spent my life being nothing but loyal to you as my uncle and as my king. Just say the word and let me return home safely. I will find the ones spitting poison in your ears and I will have their heads.

Should you decide that my death is necessary just remember, my mother loved you. She took her own life because she couldn’t be with you. The idea of the separation was too much for her.

I hear that the one they call Annabelle now rules beside you. Be wary of her, for she has the eyes of a hawk and the tongue of a viper. A darkness follows her, the likes of which I have never seen.

Should I never see you again please know that I went to my death continuing to proclaim my innocence.

Your loving and devoted nephew.

Charles

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April 11, 2017 | Categories: Red Snow, Red Snow Tales | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


The Mind Map of a Maniac Maestro

The mind of an author can be strange place, escpecially when building a story from the mind of a crazed killer.

Here’s a little look at the early thinking behind thriller Maestro!

maestro planning promo

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April 10, 2017 | Categories: Maestro, Vivika's Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment