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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?

Enjoy this?

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.