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Socially Awkward

The past year has brought challenges for all of us, some challenges we never expected to face in our life time. One of my biggest challenges was being separated from my niece and nephews for such a long time. Normally where I would see them almost every week I became nothing but a pixelated face on a screen. It is tough, I don’t mind telling you. The use of modern technology is great and all but nothing can quite replace human contact.

This got me thinking about society in general. As we become such a distant bunch (global pandemic not withstanding) is the art of intimacy becoming a thing of the past? I call it an art because it really is an art form when you think about it. You need the right approach. You need the right mind set. Like a lot of other art though is it becoming far more digitalised? People are more comfortable sending a text message than chatting on the phone (admittedly myself included).

But then this crazy train we called life pulls into an unexpected platform and the option of physical contact is taking away from us. That’s when we miss it the most. That’s when we crave more than just a text message. Video chats give you the essence of speaking to another person but it is all virtual reality at the end of the day. We need that social contact no matter how introverted you may be.

What I have taken from this experience is that no matter how much we distance ourselves from human contact, when ironically it’s never been easier to connect with fellow human beings, we are all animals at heart. We need our loved ones around us, no matter who that is to us. After a long year of lock down in Scotland I know I will be wanting to hug my little babies.


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Knock Knock: Episode 29: Cold Hard Cash

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The Beckingridge Tower reached lofty heights. It had been the first time I had crossed the courtyard since reading the details of the Free Fall Massacre. The last time I had been inside it had been to talk to Ernest about the apparent suicide of his wife, Alice.

ALICE BECKINGRIDGE: CHILD KILLER

BILLIONAIRE BOY MISSING.

Had been some of my early articles on the family.

The statue of Jeffrey Beckingridge AKA Gramps was clean and well kept. I wondered what he would have thought if he had to learn that 59 of his clients and staff had been thrown from the window. Would he have let things get that far?

The screen still showed the missing persons report, Tawny’s smiling face and a request for more information. It wasn’t easy to get myself an audience with the granddaughter, but Elizabeth and I had mutual interests and it was time we met in person to discuss them.

“Can I help you, sir?” asked the main receptionist. Poised, polite, welcoming.

“I would like to speak to Miss Beckingridge please.”

The receptionist frowned. She took her task as gatekeeper of The Tower very seriously.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No,” I admitted. “But I’m working on her missing persons case. She asked me to come in and catch her up.”

A text message. COME SEE ME WHEN YOU HAVE THE CHANCE. That was what Elizabeth had written. The receptionist eyed me suspiciously.

“Name please?”

I passed her an I.D card. “Sam Crusow. Miss Beckingridge knows who I am.”

“Just a minute please.”

Taking care not to harm her manicured nails the receptionist lifted the phone.

“Hi Mark. It’s Marlene from front desk. I have a Sam Crusow here to see Miss Beckingridge.” She awaited the secretary’s reply. “Yes? Yes of course. I’ll let him know.” She put the phone back down again. “I’m sorry, sir but Miss Beckingridge isn’t in her office at the moment. May I take a message?”

“No,” I said. “I’ll catch her another time.”

***

The embalming fluid gave a clinical smell. Eugene Morris’ workspace was chilled. Not just because of the nature of his calling in life, but because of the character he was as an individual. Like death, whenever he was present people paid notice. Whimsical in the sense that he was never going to be escaped, so really should just be embraced. Most people chose to run from him as long as they could. Eugene was a friendly man but he was never overly familiar with his clients. It wasn’t in his nature, nor was it in his work.

The body of Robert ‘Bobby’ Owen was laid out on the table like a king of old, lying in state. He was already dressed in his best suit Ronnie had chosen for him from the luggage he had brought with him. With expert hands and patient due diligence the head injury that had taken his life was patched, powdered and presented as though the man was good as new. He looked as though he could have been in his prime days, ready to address the masses. He looked as though he was ready to be sent back to the heavenly plane he had descended from.

The Tailor observed the body. The son, Charles, was stood behind him. “It’s awful when death visits someone who still has so much to give. It’s even more terrible when someone else brings that death of their own accord.”

“He returned the body?” Charles Owen enquired. “What did he say?”

Eugene inspected the body closer. “It’s not for me to get involved in those kinds of affairs. I’m merely here to pick up the pieces and kiss the foreheads of those who may otherwise be forgotten.”

“What kind of man is he?” Charles asked, determined to get some kind of insight. He was referring to the king who had slain his father.

“Quite reasonable in his way,” Eugene responded. He pointed to a beautifully carved oak coffin. “He asked that the deceased be treated with the utmost respect. His carriage into the farther reaches was to be the best money could buy. If that there isn’t to your taste he will give you the cost of anyone you like. The coin for the ferry man would be from his own pocket.”

The Tailor drew Charles’ attention to the lining of the casket which was the finest velvet. The lining of the coffin itself was the thickest, purest gold.

“He said the man needn’t have died and on that I quite agree. Other than that I am not offering commentary. If I were to offer my two cents worth it would make matters much messier than they already are.”

Charles inspected his father’s coffin. It truly was of the best quality.

“He may be an animal,” Charles observed. “But at least he has some manners.”

The Tailor was in agreement with this too but he didn’t voice those opinions. Instead he adjusted Bobby’s tie. In every photo he had seen of Bobby this tie was slightly askew to the left. It was a small trait few people would even notice but Eugene’s job was not to decorate the deceased and strive for perfection. It was his job to make them worthy of memorial.

“People hunt for imperfections, son,” Robert had told Charles. “If all they can find is my tie then I’m doing well.”

Charles couldn’t help but smile when he noticed this little attention to detail.

***

The Owen Inc. CEO had never been inside the Penn Auction House before. With its damp smell and rustic architecture he couldn’t say he was particularly impressed. The auction hall was empty despite having many chairs laid out. It was empty save for Chick himself and an auctioneer named Jeremy.

Jeremy was loyal to the Penns but the Law Makers knew they needed a familiar face to smooth the transition. The Bailiffs removing items from the auction house had caused quite a stir. Jeremy stepped in to object on behalf of Rita Penn but somewhere along the line Reginald must have gotten word to him to allow the final auctions to go ahead because Jeremy’s mind seemed to have changed quickly. The auction items that day were not artefacts, nor where they ornaments or heirlooms. It was the very landmarks of the city that had been seized by the Law Makers that were placed on offer.

Chick looked about himself. The time had now struck two o’clock and he was the only bidder. Jeremy took his podium with a cough; the dust of the wooden floors was starting to catch his throat. “I guess we’ll just take an offer,” he surmised.

Chick nodded. “I would prefer to move things along.”

The doors opened. A suited man stepped inside and held the door open to allow entrance to a woman – close to middle age, slim, well dressed. Her pink hair hung with a neat parting.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “Traffic into the city was a bitch and those narrow roads just aren’t meant for limousines.”

She crossed the aisle. Her suited man waited by the door. She chose a seat next to The Cappy.

“Hello Charles. So nice to see you. How are things?”

Chick raised his lip in a smile but there was no humour in it. “Elizabeth,” he greeted. “Always a pleasure.”

Elizabeth Beckingridge – interim CEO of Beckingridge Financial Firm kept on her sunglasses.

“I believe the last time we saw one another was at a benefit for endangered birds, homeless dogs or some cause or another.”

Charles grinned. “You were quite intoxicated as I recall.”

Elizabeth shrugged. “Well, if you can’t indulge yourself you kind of miss the point of the party, am I right? Anyway things are different now that I have the responsibility of the tower. I keep a clear head these days. It makes it easier to see when there are sharks in the water.”

“You are a fine adversary, Elizabeth, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Your brother Ernest – God rest his soul – was a dear friend of mine. We worked together well for years.”

Elizabeth read through the auction item list that had been placed on the chair next to her.

“Ernest was a sweet man. He was everyone’s friend. That was his problem. He was too busy trying to be friends with everyone he didn’t see all the little bites that were being taken out of him. When that maniac Knock Knock girl took it upon herself to have fifty nine of my clients and staff escorted from the tower via the window, where were his friends? They buggered off back to the Great States and took any support with them.”

The Cappy stroked his chin. He wasn’t daunted by Elizabeth’s challenge. “The Free Fall Massacre was a personal attack on my family. I had no choice but to protect our interests.”

“Sure,” Elizabeth nodded. “If that shoe were on Ernest’s foot he would probably have done the exact same thing.”

Elizabeth finished scanning the list. She would no doubt have already made up her mind.

“Then we are agreed?” The Cappy put to her. “It would be best to work together?”

“No,” Elizabeth scoffed. She raised an eyebrow. “I’m not Ernest. You’ll find I won’t be bullied quite so easily.”

The Cappy looked back to the podium where Jeremy was waiting to begin.

“Just a moment, if you don’t mind, sir,” he called. To Elizabeth he said, “Your nephew, George, has already come into the fold. Very soon you will have no choice.”

Elizabeth quietened. She gave it some thought then she turned to The Cappy. “My nephew is a psychopath. Torturing kittens, eating babies, the whole nine yards. He’s cosying up with your boy who, word on the street says has a cocaine problem that makes my Aunt Liza’s one nostril look like a charming little party piece.” Before The Cappy could respond she patted his arm. “Rumours Charles. Only rumours.” She spoke calmly. “My point is, before that dynamo duo takes over what we’ve built I have interests to protect, too.”

“If we’re are speaking frankly, I must ask, why are you looking for The Baroness?” He referred to the city wide search that she had funded for Tawny McInney.

“Why not?” replied Liz. “She’s just a whacko old lady who disappeared from rehab. Her niece is gone so what concern is that of yours?”

Chick frowned. “I like you Elizabeth but don’t treat me like a fool. Do not make an enemy of me when I’d much rather be friends.”

Elizabeth pouted. “I perish the thought. The Baroness was in rehab with a friend of mine. George’s old music teacher? You may remember him from such stories as kidnapping and the death of the Weir Hotel boy. He asked me ever so nicely to help find her so I read up on the old show girl. Your brother Jerry was quite a piece of work, wasn’t he? Anyway, her attitude struck a chord with me. Maybe I’m getting old but I find myself feeling quite charitable these days. If you don’t know where she is then you’ll agree finding her would smooth things over in the south. They liked her. I saw some old videos of her and I quite like her too. You’ll see the number on all the of broadcasts should you hear anything. In the meantime let’s get down to business. Our auctioneer here is sweating buckets.” She patted his arm again. “Let’s see who has the bigger … erm … cheque book.”

The Cappy laughed. “May the best bidder win.” He addressed Jeremy, “Go ahead, sir.”

Jeremy cleared his throat. “Lot 0300 – The Penn Auction House.”

***

The Penn Auction house was hot property. It was home to the Penn power and if their sovereignty were to be given any credence the Auction House was their palace. Elizabeth didn’t want it. It meant nothing to her really. She had read the auction list and had set her sights on other prizes. But it was a prime city location. Some would argue it was the final stop before The Tower. If she let it go into Chick Owen’s hands who knows where he would proceed onto next. He had his reasons for wanting it. He wanted it so badly. Elizabeth decided to let him sweat.

Elizabeth Beckingridge had no need for the Penn Auction House nor did she have any loyalty to the Penns themselves. In fact, hadn’t it been the boys who had helped Tabitha commit the Free Fall Massacre? If she even made one bid it would purely be out of spite. Chick’s family heirloom, his very name, was at stake. The Penns stole the Captain Henry ‘Hen’ Owen’s compass. He would have that compass back in the estate where it belonged. To do that he would have the Auction House, no matter the cost.

Jeremy cleared his throat.

“Reserve price is 2.3 million.”

Liz raised her board. 2.4

The Cappy shook his head. She was playing spiteful after all. He knew she was deliberately drawing the price up because she wanted to clear him out before it reached some of the other items on the list.

2.5 million he bid.

2.6 million she returned.

2.7 million. Going in hard. The Penn Palace would be in the hands of Owen Inc. no matter what.

2.8 million. Elizabeth’s interest was waning.

3.2 million. The Cappy struck boldly.

3.7 million Elizabeth countered

3.9 million. The leaps showed The Cappy’s determination.

Elizabeth lowered her board. She had let him sweat long enough, throwing money away on items she wasn’t all that interested in.

Jeremy waited for a counter offer. It was not forthcoming.

“Going once. Going twice.” The hammer slammed. The Penn Auction House was now property of Owen Inc. Jeremy couldn’t disguise his distaste but he carried on.

“Lot 004. The Knock Knock Club.”

Another prime property that anyone with a good business mind could make work. It could become a trendy bar, revitalising the whole area. It could extend Owen reach in the south. With the Boss Lady gone it was the perfect time to make the move.

Elizabeth kept a poker face. The search for Tawny had drawn her to the club. She looked to what the Baroness had been protesting against. She had learned the reasoning behind targeting her firm. She had met with Agnes. Her and her girls were all that were left. The Knock Knock stood for something and for that reason it had to be kept away from Owen hands.

“The reserve price is 1.2 million. It also includes the attached Clifton shelter used for the homeless.”

1.5 million. Elizabeth began this time.

1.7 million countered The Cappy.

1.9 million. Beckingridge Tower was continuing its efforts.

2.1 million. The Cappy was tentative.

2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 2.9, 3.2, 3.5 the numbers continued to roll in. The club was well above its estimation.

4 million was Elizabeth’s final offer.

“Sold.” The Knock Knock Club was now in the hands of Beckingridge Firm.

Jeremy had no time to pause for thought. More items were available.

“Lot 005. Harbour House.”

The unique rehabilitation clinic had caused quite a stir of late. It had been the cause of scandal when its resident 0109 went missing. Control of the facility could mean a final shut down to the rumours of the Owens being responsible for that disappearance, coupled with the fact it was very profitable.

It was Elizabeth’s interests in finding the truth behind Tawny’s disappearance that pricked her ears.

“Reserve price is 3.2,” Jeremy explained.

4.5 million. Elizabeth jumped in right away. She didn’t care she was exposing her hand too soon.

Charles shook his head. He wasn’t even willing to combat it.

“Sold.” Harbour House was also now a Beckingridge Firm holding but the dragon had reared and exposed a weakness in its belly. Steel and determination could break those scales.

“Lot 006. Pettiwick School.”

The Salinger family had been in the control of the school for generations. Lewis Salinger was a friend of Ernest’s. Pettiwick had educated every Beckingridge since its founding. Even Gramps had walked the halls as a boy. Even George has his time there. Lewis was a complete moron and had been caught by Law Maker forensic accountants, skimming money from the school funds it seemed. The Law Makers dug their claws in deeper and discovered the Salingers had been doing it for years. It was now a seized property but that didn’t mean the children had to suffer. It was still the finest school in the city. Chick Owen had no reason to want it but it was home to the Beckingridge Wing, donated by Ernest. Charles’ poker face was indecipherable.

“Reserve price is 6.7 million.”

It was a big property and going cheap. Elizabeth was likely to fight tooth and nail for it but when the dragon had exhausted all of its flaming breath it made it easier to cut the beast’s head off.

7 million. The first Owen bid was tentative.

10 million. The Beckingridge bid was a strike.

20 million. Games were no longer being played.

25 million. The flames roared.

30 million. The shine of the steel returned.

Elizabeth broke the bidding. “Oh come on Charles. What use do you have for a school?”

Chick Owen said nothing. The dragon was down.

“Going once. Going twice …” said Jeremy.

45 million. The dragon was not done.

50 million. Neither was Owen inc.

55 million. The tower was beginning to shake.

70 million. There was still much to do.

Elizabeth had no choice but to bow out. It was a personal fondness that would have kept her fighting for the school but she couldn’t waste what fire power she had on personal fondness.

“Going once. Going twice. Sold!”

The finest school in the Shady City was to now have a Great States face lift.

“Going to ruin the damn thing,” Elizabeth grumbled to herself. Between the Chapter House in Filton and now Pettiwick, the Owens had way more power in Filton than she liked. There wasn’t time to rest on it though. There was more.

“Lot 006. Coldridge Park from the City Main entrance to the Mid East exit.”

For The Cappy it was the perfect addition to the Auction House. It held the area before the Faulds Park building where the Penns were normally resident. It also contained some sports fields used by Kappa So.

Elizabeth always loved that park. Well, she had spent an afternoon there once or twice. If Pettiwick was going to be used to push into Filton then the park could be used to flood the Owens out of City Main.

“Reserve price is 11.5 million.”

11.5 million. Beckingridge began with the reserve. No one was leaping in for an area that was essentially filled with drug dealers and prostitutes

11.6 million. Charles Owen was also being nonchalant.

12.1 million. Owen budget was depleting. He wanted that property but he couldn’t be silly about it. He bowed out gracefully.

“Sold.” Coldridge Park (from the City Main entrance to the Mid East exit) now belonged to Beckingridge.

“Lot 007. St Michael’s Cathedral.”

The parish hadn’t been the same since the Reverend Owen gave up his flock. No verifiable evidence in the rape of hundreds of little girls but the protests that had gone on outside it, led by the Baroness, had made it a very interesting spot indeed. There may have been no evidence then but what about underneath the cathedral’s floor boards? Structures could speak volumes. What would that old church have to say of the confessions the reverend himself had to make?

Proceedings were ending. As far as elder brother Charles Owen was concerned it was time to close the cathedral for good, throw it to the Fullertons as a chew toy for all he cared. With the cathedral gone the talk of Jerry would quiet to whispers before eventually fading away.

“Reserve price is 10.3 million,” Jeremy informed them. He wasn’t given much time before the first bid was raised.

10.4 million. Owen inc. threw their hat into the ring first.

10.5 million. The Beckingridge dragon roared.

10.6, 10.7, 10.8, 11, 12.

The bidding went on. It was starting to overreach what Chick had intended. The Cappy took a sharp intake of breath. Elizabeth spotted what was to come next. She was going to have to cut her losses.

“Sold.” The Cathedral was going back to the Owen family. The skeletons in the reverend’s vestry damned to Hell.

“Final lot for today,” announced Jeremy. “Lot 008. Chamberlain Docks.”

This was it. The dragon was ready to breath every last flame it had. Seized by the Law Makers due to the trafficking, soliciting and illegal trading. Harbour House would be far more use to Elizabeth with the docks. If they belonged to Owen Inc, the facility could very well be of no use at all. Chamberlain was the main access route to Hathfield and the prime spot for spreading wealth and expanding reach.

Owen Inc knew this too. Returning to the kingdom with the dragon’s head would mean little without it. Charles had the auction house; he had the school and he had his brother’s Cathedral. He could afford to take his time and let the dragon strike first.

The Cathedral didn’t matter when Elizabeth had the Knock Knock Club. Whilst the club still existed, the Owens could still be driven from Coldford. They may bite chunks from City Main but they would be enclosed by the pests from the Shanties and their main competitors in Filton. However, to close them in completely Beckingridge Firm needed to hold Chamberlain docks.

“The reserve price is 20.6 million. It includes the Ferry Way brand and terminal, the allotted sea area and surrounding businesses.”

Elizabeth turned to Charles. “Be my guest.”

Chick smiled and shook his head. “Ladies first.”

30 million. The first blow struck.

40 million. The Owen counter.

The dance continued and the bites were taken.

50 million. The Tower would not concede.

70 million. Owen Inc was not walking away.

100, 200, 400, 500 million.

‘Damnit Liz, don’t be so stupid,’ Chick thought inwardly.

600, 700, 750, 800, 825 million.

‘You know as well as I do the docks aren’t worth anywhere near that,’ Elizabeth thought. ‘Give up Charles. You are not having this one.’

The new algorithms at the firm were going to have to work extra hard. All hands on deck for the accounts team and the traders.

The Cappy made no further bid. The docks were a power play but not enough to exhaust his funds completely. He would find another way.

“Going once. Going twice.” Jeremy halted. The phone he had set on the table before him bleeped. He checked it. “We have a new bidder,” he announced. “The bid for the docks now stands at 1.2 billion.”

Chick and Elizabeth looked to each other. Both were equally as perplexed. Elizabeth couldn’t go any higher, not with the costs of the other properties, not without having to close the exchange for a few days causing a knock on effect for the firm.

“Going once. Going twice. Sold.”

The bidding was closed and neither Owen Inc nor the Beckingridge Firm claimed Chamberlain docks.

Chick and Elizabeth stepped outside into the hustle and bustle of City Main. They shook hands.

“Congratulations,” said The Cappy. “I do so admire your moxy. Things are so much more interesting with a worthy opponent.”

Elizabeth slipped her phone from her bag. “Thank you Charles. You fight dirty but I’ve never minded a bit of mud on my face.”

They separated. Chick watched as Elizabeth put her phone to her ear. Her walk started to become brisk. “Where is she parked?” he asked his driver.

“South street,” was the answer as The Cappy slipped into the town car.

“Get me Ronnie. I need to find out who in the Hell got Chamberlain.”

Meanwhile, the Beckingridge security were in a rush to keep up with their mistress.

“Mark?” she was saying on the phone. “I need you to go down to the exchange right away. Title deeds are changing for Chamberlain Docks. Watch them and message me the name of the new owner the minute they update and I mean stand with your finger on the button. Seconds are a delay too long. I’m on my way back now. I was outbid for the docks and I need to know who else in this city has that kind of money.”

Inside Jeremy signed over the deed of purchase.

“Congratulations, Miss Harvester,” he said.

Julia smiled. All the petty squabbles were nothing to her when she had the route to expansion. Owen Inc, Beckingridge firm, even the Penn and Fullerton names knew the Harvester brand was growing but that nice, sweet presence in homes up and down the city had grown far larger than they had realised. Julia was a nice girl and now if the Beckingridges or the Owens wanted to reach outside of Coldford they were going to have to ask her nicely.

***

By day Waldens in City Main was a wine bar serving expensive drinks to young people with important jobs in the city. It was a meeting place for young professionals looking to escape their responsibilities and drink alcohol in the afternoon. By evening it was something quite different. Decadence, debauchery, licentious behaviour but when twenty eight year old Beckingridge accountant, Raymond, stepped inside it was quiet and calm. The low lighting reminded him of the rectory room at Pettiwick where had gone to school. It had a calming essence. Light jazz music played.

“Good afternoon, Raymond,” barman Gill greeted. “A little pick me up after a long day then?”

“A sherry please, Gill,” Raymond ordered. He had been locked in the offices of Beckingridge Tower since six am working on new algorithms they had been given. He felt he had earned his wind down at the end of the day.

Gill passed the sherry, poured into a perfectly curved glass. Raymond took a seat at the bar, intent on having some quiet time. Liz Beckingridge had stationed herself in the accounting department and despite them all working hard to make the new algorithms profit, she was in a mood about something. Although Raymond could remember her presence being a headache even before she took her brother’s place as CEO.

“You go home, Raymond,” Ernest had said to him once. “If you have a headache you go home incase you’re coming down with something. Go and get better.”

With a similar complaint to Elizabeth she replied, “Headache? What are you four years old? This is your job Raymond and if you haven’t finished running these numbers by close of business you will experience what a true headache is.”

Raymond sipped the sherry. Maybe the accounts department needed Liz’s sharpened tongue. After all The Tower was now performing at the best rates it ever had and the accounts team on the eighteenth floor were what held The Tower up.

He savoured the sherry’s sweetness. His eyes were drawn to a woman sat alone in the corner. She was a little younger than he from what he could tell. Her face wasn’t heavily made up like a lot of the women who came to Waldens. She had a natural, earthy beauty. When he caught her eye she smiled and coyly dropped her eyes to the phone she held in her hand. Raymond absorbed the image of the green dress she wore. The green swirled with the watery blue of her eyes in an almost hypnotic embrace. Raymond lifted his glass and boldly opted to join her at her table.

“Waiting for someone?” he asked.

She looked up and smiled at him as he took a seat. A lot of women could be put off by over eagerness, so Raymond leaned back to prevent his body from being too much in her space.

“I just thought I’d stop by,” she replied. “The noise of the city was starting to get to me.”

“You’re not from around here?”

She shook her head to the negative. She looked shy, as though she shouldn’t be talking to strange men in bars. “I live on a farm so it’s all quite a change of scenery for me.”

“So what brings you all the way down here?” Raymond asked.

Her soft ruby lips stretched into a grin. “I’m collecting meat,” she said.

She giggled at the coy euphemism. Raymond found himself doing the same thing.

Raymond lifted his glass and took another sip. “I’ll have to keep my eye on you then,” he teased.

The farm girl watched him. “You probably should.”

“What’s your name?” asked he.

She reached our hand out to him. He shook it. “Julia,” she said. “Julia Harvester.”

“I know the Harvester brand really well. I work for Beck Firm and we’re just dying to have you on board.” Raymond could see her eyes glaze over. It wasn’t shop talk she had come for. It was a more personal interaction she was after.

“My name’s Raymond. May I buy you a drink?”

“I think I’ve had my fill for now, Raymond, but if you are so familiar with the city perhaps you could show me around. I’m sure you can look after me and see that I get home safely.”

Raymond swallowed what was left of the Sherry.

“I’d be honoured,” he said. “My friends all say that I make an excellent tour guide.” His eyes fell down to her breasts, to her slim stomach. “May I ask which designer you got that fetching dress from?”

Julia took note of her dress as though it were the first time she had noticed she was even wearing it. “Oh this?” she declared. “This was no designer. I made it myself.” Earthy, modest. Julia was like a cool glass of water on a baking hot day. His parents would certainly like her much more than Tatyiana. “I’m good with my hands,” she finished.

At this Raymond leaned in. His empty Sherry glass now rested under him, causing a shimmer of light to dance upon his chin.

“So what parts of the city would you like to see?”

Julia stood. She reached out her hand and took his. “I’d like to see all that it has to offer,” she stated. She pulled him to his feet.

She led him by the hand from Waldens wine bar. The bar man didn’t pay attention to the young woman Raymond had chosen to leave with. Perhaps he should have.

***

Julia Harvester liked Beckingridge Manor. Although it wasn’t intended to be, it felt as open as the Harvester Farm house. It had a cool draught blowing through it. The walls were thick. The ceiling was high.

“I love you Julia,” George Beckingridge stated. He kissed her cheek heartily. She discretely wiped the saliva from her face as he danced towards his bed where Raymond had been stripped and laid to rest under the sheets. He wasn’t dead yet but the Beckingridge accountant wouldn’t be throwing any resistance towards them anytime soon.

“He is quite sweet, isn’t he?” she replied.

George collected a comb from a chest of drawers. He dropped to his knees beside the bed and started to comb Raymond’s hair into a neat side parting.

“He looks just like him,” George said excitedly. “I said so didn’t I? He looks just like him but there’s something not quite right. He not wearing glasses. Mr Baines wore glasses.

Julia reached into the pocket of her coat and produced a pair of spectacles. She passed them to George and with a grin on his face he slipped them onto Raymond’s face.

He chuckled. “That’s better.”

“I’m glad he pleases you. I do try my best.”

George stroked Raymond’s face gently. “He looks like him. I’d like to pretend it’s him. You don’t mind that do you Mr Baines? Are you glad to be back with your best pupil?”

Julia wasn’t listening. Instead her attention was brought to stuffed animal that sat on a shelf looking down.

When she picked him up George’s eyes locked on her. He watched closely as Julia stroked the toy’s fur.

“His name is Cecil,” George explained. “I know I’m a man now but I still like to have him close by.”

Julia cradled Cecil delicately. “We all have things from childhood we like to hold onto now don’t we?”

“When I was five there was a little boy in my school named Cecil. He was pale, skinny and completely bald. I didn’t ask why. I just thought he didn’t want any hair. All the other children looked at him like he was strange. They all looked at me that way too so we became friends. Cecil was always the first to say hi to me in the morning and we called each other every night when we weren’t sleeping over. We played for hours in this very room. I can still hear him laughing sometimes. The music room was where he liked best. I still have the toy train he left here. One day Cecil just stopped coming to school. When I called his mum said he couldn’t come to phone. My mum wouldn’t let any of the drivers take me to see him. A week later Miss Matheson – our teacher – told me that Cecil had been sick for some time. He had died. He couldn’t come to the phone because he was dead. I never got the chance to say goodbye. So when I saw that toy and I realised it’s name was Cecil I had to have him. We are going to be best friends forever, just like we promised.”

A monitor whirred with the sound of a baby’s cry.

“That’s my niece, Vicky,” he informed the farm girl. “Catherine, my sister has gone to a party. She asked me to look after her. Will you check on her for me? She’s in the nursery just down the hall.”

Julia laid Cecil back onto his spot on the shelf. His beetle black eyes were watching Raymond in the bed. The fur around the stuffed mouse’s neck was sticky and matted where he had been held so often.

“Will you be having a sleep over with me and Mr Baines?” asked the Billionaire Boy.

“I’m afraid not,” she returned “I’ll check on the baby and then I have to go.”

George’s attention was now back on Raymond. He kissed his cheek. He knocked the glasses askew. Julia closed the door behind her. George dropped his trousers and stepped out of them. He removed the white briefs he was wearing too and climbed into bed with Raymond, wrapping himself around the accountant. He kissed him again.

“Good night, Mr Baines,” he said.

Julia could hear the baby cry out as she approached the nursery. The door had been left ajar. Inside, the nursery was calmly lit with soft night lights flashing stars and planets on the walls and ceiling. Uncle George had left some classical music playing softly on an old stereo. It had lulled baby Vicky to sleep and she had only stirred again when it stopped. Normally her uncle would sing to her when the music stopped. Aunt Liz would sing to her too but that was only to distract her when she was getting changed or dressed. Liz’s voice was bouncy and fun. George’s soft voice always came through the darkness when it was time to close her eyes and bid farewell to the day. It was always gentle. Almost at a whisper. Tonight it was neither.

Victoria Beckingridge, third in line for the Beckingridge Tower looked up from her cradle with wide, engaging eyes. She had large brown ones like Uncle George. Julia had never met Catherine. Maybe she had the same.

The baby had been tucked perfectly for sleep. Her helpless little body had no room to wriggle.

“Gah!?” she exclaimed when she saw Julia. Julia lifted her from the cradle and into her arms. She carried her across to an armchair by the window. It offered a view of the manor’s lawns. She sat and settled Victoria into her arms, loosening the blanket so she could reach out.

“Hello, Vicky,” said Julia softly. “Uncle George is busy right now,” she caressed the little girl’s cheek. “You go back to sleep now, buttercup. It’s very late for you.”

Vicky’s lips twitched into a smile but her eyes started to get heavy as Julia began to rock her.

***

The main entrance to Beckingridge Tower. Statue of founder Jeffrey Beckingridge AKA Gramps.

With it being Friday afternoon Beckingridge Tower exchange was hectic. Everything was beginning to wind down for the weekend closures.

“I’ve got 3.4!”

“I’ve got 6.5!”

“Going down. It’s time to pull out. Hurry!”

To pass the main reception of Beckingridge Tower you would find yourself on the stock holding floor. It was called the Execution Hall because it was where all the deals were cut and a lot of financial fates were decided.

Elizabeth was crossing the hall, keeping a personal eye on the weekend closures.

“Liz,” someone patted her shoulder for attention. She turned to be faced with Dr Gregory Winslow. Before the doctor could offer any further greeting Liz’s secretary, Colin, stepped in the way.

“Can I help you, sir?” he asked with a scowl.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “It’s fine Colin. Just carry on.”

Colin moved back onto the floor to continue to check on the traders and their final executions for the week. After the bidding those numbers were more important than ever.

“I’m busy doctor so …”

“I’m just here to have my weekly little chat with George so don’t mind me. Is he in his office?”

Winslow had been offering some tuition to George to prepare him for business school at Filton. He had also been talking the Billionaire Boy through his kidnapping, the death of his parents and the boy Kenneth. In truth the doctor’s influence was doing some good as far as Elizabeth could tell. There were moments when he even behaved like a real human being.

Liz Beckingridge wasn’t so naive that she didn’t realise Winslow was only taking her nephew under his wing because he had ulterior motives. No one liked to have to deal with George. Even his own father sighed relief when the music teacher took him away. Like many others Winslow probably saw him as weak. The doctor would see George as a way of gaining power himself in The Tower. Sure George would be sat on the CEO chair but it would be Winslow pulling the strings. George’s mouth would snap open and closed but it would be Winslow’s words he would be speaking. He would sound just like a real boy.

Elizabeth had no intention of ever letting George take control of the firm. She wouldn’t risk him ruining Gramps’ legacy by acting like a cruel child with a magnifying glass. But if the doctor was able to hold onto those strings in the meantime and have him behave she had no reason to stop him.

After all, it had been Winslow who talked George out of placing himself in the Penthouse Office.

“I think the Booker office may be more appropriate for you at this stage,” the doctor had said. George had scowled at first, until the doctor pointed out that it had actually been from the Booker office that the Free Fall Massacre had occurred.

“Yes,” Elizabeth agreed. “He’s upstairs. He’ll be expecting you.”

“Splendid!” Winslow cheered. He departed and allowed Elizabeth to return to the brokers.

The Booker office was still on the top floor but just didn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the Penthouse. As the elevator rose through the tower, Winslow began to wonder how he would look atop of the tower and with control at the firm. ‘Perhaps one day,’ he chastised himself. ‘One thing at a time.’

He didn’t fear George Beckingridge. He was well aware of his psychopathic tendencies. After all, it had been he who had signed the death certificate for his mother. He also handled the body extracted from the lawns of Beckingridge Manor. He had talked extensively with Vincent Baines when he was one of his Harbour House residents. Vincent detailed George’s behaviour and the fear that it had struck in the man who had taken the boy away thinking he was protecting him. Dr G Winslow wasn’t afraid of George Beckingridge because Harbour House had seen it all. Not a psychiatric institute but a rehabilitation clinic and that included rehab for all kinds of trauma.

“Good afternoon, doctor,” he was recognised immediately by George’s appointed secretary. A smiley young girl named Michelle. She too didn’t seem to fear George but that was through naivete bordering on stupidity. “Mr Beckingridge is expecting you. You can go right through.”

“Thank you, my dear,” he said.

He found George sat behind his desk. The doctor’s pride swelled when he noticed the business school text books he had bought the young CEO to be opened on his desk. George himself was dressed appropriately in a suit. The tie had a leaf pattern on it. It was a little more whimsical than anything he would have directed the boy to but at least he was starting to find his own style.

“I was going to call,” George began. “But I thought I would like to see you face to face.”

Winslow took a seat. “Something the matter? Are you having trouble with your studies?”

“I’m fine,” he replied. “I just decided I don’t like you.”

Winslow wasn’t sure he heard correctly but he maintained his composure and prepared to work through one of George’s outbursts.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” was the doctor’s response. “Was it something I said?”

“No. I just don’t like you.”

Winslow licked his lips. “That is a shame. We were such good friends.”

“No!” George barked. “I never did like you.”

This wasn’t going to be one of his outbursts after all. This was going to take a bit more calming.

“Whatever has upset you, I’m sure we can discuss it.”

“No,” George stated, softer this time. “I want you to leave and never come back. I don’t want to see you again and I won’t be giving any money to Harbour House.”

Winslow stayed steady.

“May I ask what has brought you to this decision? Surely after all we’ve been through you can offer me that much?”

George reached into the desk drawer and pulled out an expensive bottle of port and sat it on the table. It still had a gift bow on it from when Winslow gave it to him. It hadn’t been opened.

“Take this back,” George ordered.

“Please,” Winslow steadied his voice. “If you don’t tell me why it has come to this I’m just going to spend all evening worried about you.”

“I don’t need you,” said the Billionaire Boy. “You are just using me.”

“Now who would put that idea in your head? His tone snapped a lot more than he had intended it to. At first he thought it had been Elizabeth but she had little to no influence over her nephew and if she did feel that way about the doctor she wouldn’t have let him near him in the first place. “Who told you that George?”

From the adjoining room where a meeting of investment bankers was taking place emerged Julia Harvester.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Winslow stood. He scowled at the farm girl. “You?” he snarled. “You did this?”

“Did what?” she asked. “Tell you to take your poison and spit it in someone else’s ear? No, Gregory. Why would I do that? We’re still friends. It’s George here who says he doesn’t like you. He’s had enough of your pathetic, whining voice. He’s his own man. He’s big enough to make that choice. Who am I to say what happens in his tower?”

George was glaring at the doctor. Julia was smiling.

“You don’t and never will have a say in what happens at Beckingridge Firm,” George stated.

‘Neither will you, young man. Neither will you,’ Winslow mused bitterly.

Julia stepped behind George and rested her hands on his shoulders. She was the one pulling the strings now.

“Leave,” George insisted. “And when you do, take a route past Harvester Farm and remove every trace you had ever been there. Wipe every surface your wrinkled arse has touched and go.” He reached into the drawer again this time he drew out a long, rusted key. “This is the key for the Browning House. I loved it there. It was my home for ten years. A friend at CPD gave me it. You can have it. Go there and be forgotten about.”

“And if I don’t?”

George slammed his fists on the table. “You do it! You do what I say!”

Julia squeezed his shoulders. The strings were tugged. It was the puppeteer who spoke this time.

“Don’t test me, Gregory. I’ve sprayed for vermin like you before.”

“How dare you!” the doctor roared.

Julia raised her hand.

SMASH.

The bottle of port exploded. Gun fire. Why hadn’t Winslow noticed the window was open?

George was grinning excitedly. “Buddy Owen has his eye on you,” he cheered. “Buddy’s my brother and we’re brothers for life.”

Owen Inc, Beckingridge Firm and the Harvester Brand coming together would never be matched. It would be impossible for anyone to compete against that kind of influence in the Shady City. If anyone could make that happen it would be Julia. There was only one person who could step in the way of that and it was Elizabeth. But who was she going to listen to? The man who allowed the music teacher who she considered a friend to be treated abysmally by George whilst he was in his care, or the sweet farm girl who not only had her nephew dancing to a pleasant tune but also spent the night before cradling her great niece to sleep when the child’s own mother had abandoned her. Not to mention, it had been Elizabeth who had raised the interest in Harvester Farm.

Winslow fled The Tower, taking the Browning House key. If it had held George for ten years it still had its uses. He ran to his car. Every step he took, every corner he turned, he could feel an Owen scope on him. Even when he got into his car and drove away, he still didn’t feel safe. Buddy could be anywhere.

Julia clasped George’s head affectionately and planted a kiss on the crown. He giggled. She crossed to the open window, leaned out and took a deep breath of the fresh icy air. She looked across to the Weir Hotel. She didn’t know exactly where Buddy had placed his nest. She wouldn’t be able to see him with her naked eye but she brought her fingertips to her lips and blew a kiss. Either way he would still be watching.


Enjoy this?

Complete Season 2 of the Knock Knock series is free to read here on Vivika Widow. com or click below download for Kindle

Care to discover the true whereabouts of the Knock Knock Baroness? Tawny was last seen as a resident of the Shady City’s premier rehab clinic. Check out Vivika Widoow’s hit thriller Harbour House. Free on Kindle Unlimited.

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How far must a man fall?

We’ve all fallen into holes throughout our lives but do we have the strength pull ourselves out of it?

Dennis has managed the Knock Knock club and never was there a dirtier job. Would you believe me if I told you he had done worse? Does he now have what it takes to put his past behind him?

When you’re a man with nothing to lose, deciding what to do with what you have left is the ultimate test of character.



Coming 2021, from the Author of MAESTRO ; MUSE and HARBOUR HOUSE , step outside the Knock Knock club and head on over to Hathfield Bay Island for a nail biting, knuckle whiting , full in your face exciting glimpse into the lowest depths of humanity. 




Available Now:

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Managing Just Fine


It takes a little bit of extra pizazz to work the KNOCK KNOCK club and to be the manager you got to really have your wits about you. Here’s what our manager, DENNIS brings to the table:

GREET THE CUSTOMERS

There are a lot of regular faces returning to the SHANTIES for the best night in town but as the manger you really need to keep a keen eye out for strangers. The club is invitation only (by orders of the BOSS LADY). Given the nature of the joint there can be a lot of creeps hanging around. Your job as manager is to weed out the miscreants and send them packing. Except if one of those strange faces happens to be a reporter for the COLDFORD DAILY, the biggest publication in the city. Then he goes right on in.

049


KEEP THE BOOZE FLOWING

The KNOCK KNOCK girls are skilled at flirting with the customers and making them feel special. A horny man will part with cash quicker than his trousers if he thinks he’s getting something out of it. He’s not. Your job as manager is to keep those drinks flowing so the customers are sent home with a smile on their face one way or another.

052


CHEER THE ENTERTAINMENT

No one loves the BOSS LADY more than the BOSS LADY herself so when she takes to the stage it is always on the HEADLINING spot. As manager you have to make sure the crowds are wild and having a great time. It helps to throw in a little whoop and cheer yourself just to get the ball rolling on slow nights.

054


PREPARE THE GIRLS

Choosing the girls sounds like a dream job for any hot blooded man but there’s more to our KNOCK KNOCK lovelies than meets the eye. These kittens have got to have claws. There is no use bringing in a new flirty waitress only to have her pack it in a week later. That’s bad for business and its bad for morale. Get those girls prepared, pretty and ready to lash out because in a place like the KNOCK KNOCK club those kittens got to have claws. The SHANTIES are no place for damsels in distress.

224

WISH YOU HAD NEVER COME

Alright so this one is specific for Dennis. We’re pretty sure anyone would just love to manage the club but when you have had to leave your family life behind and submit all power you once had it can feel more like a life sentence. Should have kept your hands to yourself then Dennis, you dirty fiend.

251


Do you have what it takes to manage a place like the KNOCK KNOCK club? Have we made it seem like an appealing place for a night out?

After it all you can just sit back, relax and consider a job well done.

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COMING 2021

A mysterious illness and a desperate phone call sends Cult Deprogrammer Reynolds’ sights on the Wigan faith of Hathfield Bay island. Time to face the past.

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Character Profile: Dominick Cole

Features in: PURPLE RIBBON

Name: His Eminence Dominick Cole

Age: mid thirties

Occupation: Head of the CHURCH OF ST WIGAN

“We are the children of Wigan and our hearts are pure and strong!”

Dominick is a life long resident of the Wigan commune on HATHFILED BAY island. He was known among his people to be a spirited, intense young man and the Wigans have always adored him. He is dedicated to his faith and as such he was granted the leadership of the church. There isn’t much that can sway him from his oath and he is willing to go to ridiculous lengths to spread the word of St Wigan, also known as the Patron Saint of Sinners.

Although he is known to be wild in his pursuit of purity in the world around him he does also have a whimsical side which people usually respond to well. The Church is known as a cult in some circles and cult leaders tend to have a natural effervescence.

Dealing with the city dwellers over on the mainland can be a bit of a culture shock for Dominick. Luckily he is supported by a knowledgeable clergy who help steer him. The sinners would all be battered over the head with an iron cross if His Eminence was left to his own devices.

His church is steeped in history but his mind is set on the future. That future sees him tasked with purifying the Shady City. No easy feat …

“You cannot be saved but repent and you’ll be in his embrace.”


COMING 2021

A mysterious illness and a desperate phone call sends Cult Deprogrammer Reynolds’ sights on the Wigan faith of Hathfield Bay island. Time to face the past.

Available now:

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The Patron Saint of Sinners

It was written many years ago that Noah Wigan crossed from the mainland of what would have been Coldford City to the Island of Hathfield Bay. There had been three attempts but each time the Wigan boats approached and considered landing, the wary islanders gathered on the beaches to see what was heading their way. Ill-educated in the way of God they were a simple people. They mostly frolicked in their nakedness. The women wore garlands of flowers and the men were restless and curious. So Wigan retreated. That night through to early morning he sat in counsel with God.  

“God give me strength,” he prayed. “So that I may teach these people of your ways and bring them into your fold.”  

Deprived of sleep, Wigan heard the Lord speak to him. 

“They will follow if you lead,” said the Almighty. “For your heart is pure and strong. They will see your love for them. You must be prepared to bring the word and as any good father would you must punish the children who will not obey.” 

“We are the children of Wigan and our hearts are pure and strong. We praise our beloved Saint and so we sing this song…”

So, the following morning Wigan took the boats again and travelled to Hathfield. As before, the islanders gathered on the beaches to observe their arrival, but rather than retreat this time Wigan felt himself filled with the grandeur of God. He climbed from his boat. His feet were cooled by the waters of the bay. He crossed onto the sands and he fell to the feet of the first man he encountered. He kissed his feet as the islanders watched on in bewilderment.  

“My friend,” said Wigan. “I come with good news for you and for all of your people. My name is Noah Wigan and I am a messenger of God. Your people cannot be saved but I will show you how you may repent.” 

Wigan stood and looked around himself. His own people who had followed him from the boats were already in good cheer.  

“God has come to Hathfield!” they announced excitedly. “And you should rejoice.”  

The islander man bid him to stand  

“I don’t know of your God,” he said. “But you are welcome friend. Please stand so that we may become acquainted.”  

Wigan stood. He embraced the islander in sight of them all.  

“I’ll teach you of the one true God,” said Wigan. “So that you may find eternal happiness for you, your family and your people.” 

Quite enamoured by the spirit of the new arrival the islanders offered their hospitality.  

“You must be thirsty from your journey across the waters,” said the man whose name was Riley. “You must be hungry from your desire to visit my people,” he added and it was the truth. 

“We know we can’t be saved but repent and you’ll be in his embrace.”

Riley lived on the west of the island with his wife Anna and his two young daughters, Rowan and Willow. He opened his home to Noah and his companions and so for weeks Wigan spread his good word over the island and began to educate them in his ways. Most of them were intrigued and flocked to him to hear what he had to say. A great many of them decided that Wigan’s word – the voice of God on the island – was a path they now wished to follow but it would not be an easy path, Noah Wigan warned. It meant that the fruitful relationship they had always enjoyed with sands and the sea was no longer in their control. It meant that a higher power was what they owed their crops to and not the hard work of their own hands or their own toil. If they were to believe what Wigan was telling them it was a higher power to which they owed thanks to for the fruitful wombs of their women and not the women themselves carrying, birthing and feeding from their breast. That was where the problems for Wigan lay.  

His presence was no longer a novelty. The numbers he had gathered to him were starting to dwindle and the islanders who resisted the outsiders were starting to stir. But Noah Wigan was persistent. He knew the natives of Hathfield Bay would require a little more convincing. He needed to be patient in demonstrating the glory of God. So he gave it more time. He prayed. He began to fall in love with the daughter, Rowan. He began to lose his focus and in desperation he wrote letters home.  

The island is a blissfully happy place.  

The people don’t seem to show any penance for their sins. They fornicate and dance. A man will lie with another man. A wife will lie with a man who is not her husband. It is anarchy and I fear my journey here may have been a little misguided.  

After three more months the islanders were beginning to return to their own ways and those who had opposed Wigan were now preparing to usher him from their shores. Wigan began to lose his faith as his relationship with Rowan deepened.  

“Why would you send me on a fool’s errand?” Noah asked of the Lord as he prepared to leave the following day.  

But the Lord spoke to him again as he took slumber under the sound of the waves. 

“You misunderstand your mission,” said the Lord. “You must punish unruly children for it is said that the hand of the father should be loving but firm. It is for their own good. They will soon respond.” 

At that Wigan was awakened. The waves were now crashing. The people of Hathfield Bay were his children and they had to be taught. 

And so it was that his preaching became more frequent, more filled with rapture and more demanding.  

“Submit yourselves to God,” he warned them. “Or you will be punished.”  

The islanders who opposed him took up arms. It was time to remove the new comer from the sands.  

“I don’t wish to cause any bloodshed,” Wigan spoke of his concern to Riley. “Perhaps we can meet with them and I can explain my view to them. I love the people of this island. I’d like the chance to embrace them. Tell them to come together and I will provide proof of my God.”  

Riley then invited the non-believers to the east of the island. They gathered in the shack on top of the eastern hill that was Riley’s home.  

“Come inside,” they were beckoned.  

“He needs to go,” one non-believer named Yuri spat.  

Riley looked around his family. As any good father would he wanted to keep them safe. His wife Anna was by his side in whatever decision he was to make. His daughter Willow was prepared to follow. But where was Rowan?  

“We are the children of Wigan and we know we can’t relent, until the flesh of every sinner burns or they learn to repent.”

The shack was bolted closed from the outside. St Michael the Punisher, Wigan’s right hand, stepped forward and dropped the first flaming torch. God’s fury fell on them as flames of punishment tore through the shack. The non-believers were burnt in a fiery torment for their refusal. Rowan clutched Noah’s hands and knelt before him as  they listened to the screams of the heathens rise above the waves in a glorious triumph for God.  

Those who chose to believe and follow Wigan survived for God said it would be so. Upon the bones, teeth and ashes of the non-believers was built the first church of St Wigan.  


John Reynolds is an experienced cult deprogrammer. He has spent a lifetime bringing people to their sense. When someone close to him runs off to join the Church of St Wigan he has to delve into th darkest side of the City if he hopes to bring them home.

Coming Spring 2021

So, what now?

“This too shall pass.”

It’s been quite the year, hasn’t it?

For most people this Christmas has been something quite different. For me being unable to see my little niece and nephew has been tough. 2020 will be forever remembered as a year of struggling but I don’t want to dwell on that. What I want to do is look to the future and think of the positive changes that a new year always brings.

Has there been a year like 2020 where we have been able to see just how strong and resiliant we are? Not to my recollection anyway, so with that in mind let’s approach 21 with the knowledge that we are still standing.

Like every new year, every new month and every new day we are given the chance to strive for something better. Isolation, lockdown, Covid19 and social distancing are all words we will be sick and tired of hearing right now so lets change the narrative. Let’s make the words, family time, pyjama days, self care and mental space.

Targets for 2021 might be a little different but they are still targets none the less. The question then to ask is, what now?

Read more books.

Exercise more.

Start a new hobby.

Try a bold new look.

Although the possibilities might seem limited they are only hindered by our own imaginations. Despite the challenges, 2021 could still be the best year yet. I do wish you all well and for those of you who are struggling, remember to take care of yourself. Reach out. This digital age we live in makes communication much easier than it ever was.

Stay safe, live well and have a great New Year folks! I’ll see you on the other side.


“How far must a man fall before the climb back up becomes too steep?”

Coming Spring 2021

Knock Knock: Episode 28: Knock Knock. Who’s there?



“You can’t do this!” Knock Knock barmaid Lisa Luren was complaining. 

The club had been appointed its bailiff. The club’s assets were now being officially seized so that its starting price at auction could be given. 

The bailiff – a woman not much older than Lisa, named Colette – looked down her spectacles at her. “I’m sure you’ll find I can. I have been granted permission by the High Court. Her Honourable Judge Doyle’s signature is on all of it and I have been instructed to close this club and note anything that would be of value.” She raised her phone and took a photograph of a fresh bottle of Macks that had been sat on the bar. 

“You’re putting us out of work. What are we supposed to do for work?” 

Colette sighed. She took another photo of the bar. A fellow bailiff took note. 

“Not my problem. Put on some clothes, get yourself educated and maybe you’ll find yourself a real job. People might start to take you more seriously.” 

“Can’t you at least wait until the owner gets here? She needs to be here,” Lisa protested. 

Colette smirked. “I don’t think the owner is going to be here anytime soon.” 

“I think she means me,” Agnes Wilde stated. She had arrived in a hurry when she received Lisa’s text. 

Colette nodded to her fellow bailiff. He handed a copy of the High Court authorisation to Agnes. Agnes was known as The Broker of Knock Knock. She was partner to The Baroness and beloved aunt of Tabitha. The Knock Knock club was all she had left to hang onto. 

Agnes folded the document in a single sharp fold. She had a naturally ladylike composure, which she refused to drop. “Before she was taken, Tabitha signed her shares over to me. Unless you are here to arrest me, you can’t take anything.” 

Colette was disinterested. She had seen it all and had heard all manner of excuses.

“Check the details of the document I’ve just given you. You will see that I’m not here to collect on Tabitha’s shares. They were already forfeit the minute the investigation into the Headliner Fund was raised. I’m here to collect on part of Tawny McInney. Until she returns, she is considered a fugitive of the law and her name is the first on the Headliner Fund.” 

“What about my own shares?” Agnes protested. “I’m the controlling share holder in this club.” 

Colette took a photograph of the stage. “I’m sure basic maths will tell you that one third share is not the controlling one. Tabitha’s shares are void and Tawny’s are now seized. This club is going to auction.” 

“This is my club,” Agnes snarled. Her irritation was now beginning to show. 

“Then you’re most welcome to bid for those shares back. I’m happy to keep you informed as our collection proceeds.”

Lisa snatched Colette’s shoulder but Agnes stopped her. 

Colette shrugged her off. “I’m just doing my job. Do not add assault to the charge sheet. The court will have its dues one way or another.”

A group of bailiffs brought out a box of costumes belonging to The Baroness. Agnes’ chest tightened when she saw Tawny’s feather head band peeking out from the top. She loved that band. She had had it for years and despite it having lived its best days she refused to part with it. 

“Gives me a classy look, doesn’t it?” Tawny had said. 

Tabitha laughed. “It looks like you stole it from a fucking parrot with mange,” the niece teased.

Tawny laughed heartily. She pulled Tabitha onto her lap and squeezed her tight, kissing her head. Tawny looked into her dressing room mirror and saw Agnes watching them both. Tawny wrinkled her nose and kissed at her enjoying how Agnes’ elegant smile turned to a girlish giggle when she did so. Tabitha took her aunt’s head band and put it on her own. She flicked her glossy brunette locks and posed exactly the way her aunt would on stage. 

“What do you think Aggie?” the young girl put to her. 

“It could at least use a wash.” 

Tawny refused. “Not a chance, honey. You wash off all the luck from it when you do that. I got that feather all by myself. Do you realise how hard it is to pluck straight from a gull’s arse?”

Tabitha laughed heartily. “You talk so much shit Aunt Tee,” she taunted. 

Few heard Tabitha laugh the way that she did when she and Tawn were backstage. That tatty old feather band had all the luck in the world for Tawny and now that luck was being carried out the door of the Knock Knock Club courtesy of agents of the High Court. 

“That’s not worth anything, surely?” Agnes stopped a bailiff carrying one of Tabitha’s signature red dresses. “Do you really need to be taking the clothes?”

Colette shrugged. “Why not? It’s not like she’ll wear them anymore.” Before she could reply the bailiff added, “Custom designed, product of Luen. It all makes a difference.” 

“What are we going to do Agnes?” asked Lisa. They had made plans to visit a friend of the barmaid who used to buy drugs from her boyfriend Kev. They had hoped he could shed some light on who shot her daughter, Sarah. 

“There’s nothing we can do,” The Broker was forced to admit. “I have to stay here but I’ll get you some help. We’re not done.” 

***

I had been in Lydia’s City Main apartment with Franklin when my phone began to ring with a disguised number. Franklin was preparing to leave to rendezvous with Agent Kim. He looked up from pulling on a jacket. 

“Aren’t you going to answer that?” 

It had been a while since any of my old story contacts fromr the Coldford Daily had been in touch.

“Hello?” I answered tentatively.

“Sam?” a woman’s voice, steady, calm, despite the sound of something of a commotion behind her. “Agnes Wilde. I got your number from a note you had left with Dennis.” 

“Yes, Agnes. How are you?” Agnes and I had met before. She had shed a lot of light on Tabitha’s motives. It had been interesting hearing the perspective of someone who loved the Boss Lady like a daughter.

“I’ve been better I’m sad to say. I was going to be helping one of my girls this afternoon but we’ve been met with a swarm.” 

A swarm was a common term in the Shady City for when the bailiffs arrived, due to the biblical plague nature of their descent.

“I’m sorry to hear that Agnes but I’m not sure what help I can be.” 

“I can’t get away at the moment and this girl really could use some support. One of the agents would be a better fit than I am. It’s the little girl, Sam. The little girl that was shot? I can’t contact the agency directly because I need to be discrete but could you put me in touch?” 

“I’ll do what I can,” I agreed. 

I owed it to that little girl to do what I could to find her killer.

I looked to Franklin first. Capable and approachable. He would put Lisa at ease. 

“Sorry,” he said. “Kim and I are heading to the Court House.”

“It’s fine,” I said. “I know someone who might fit better.” 

***

Whilst the bailiffs still swarmed their way through the club noting everything that could be of value down to the silver of the cutlery, Agnes opened the door to what little help there was available. 

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” Lisa growled when she caught sight of Agent Lydia Lowe. 

“We need all the help we can get,” Agnes warned. “Play nice.” 

“That slutty bitch took Tabs away!” Lisa protested. 

“I don’t have time for this. Tabs knew what she was getting herself into. It’s too late for her but if you want to find out what happened to Sarah you need to work with her.”

“Fine,” Lisa agreed, pouting.

A bailiff approached Agnes. 

“Miss Wilde, we need the key for the upstairs apartment.”

Agnes’ lips tightened. “I suppose my toothbrush is worth something, is it?” 

The bailiff didn’t answer. They just stood with their hand out waiting for their key. Agnes dipped into her jacket pocket and handed the key over. 

“Right now, I have to concern myself with who is going to buy into this club. When Tawn comes back she will be devastated that Tabitha is gone. If she realises this place is gone too…” Her voice trailed off.

“Miss Wilde?” another bailiff called. 

“I’m coming!” Agnes barked. 

When she left Lisa and Lydia alone the Lydia asked her to join her somewhere quiet where they could talk. Lydia spoke first. “I’m so sorry,” she said.

She was not apologising for the Boss Lady’s demise. As her own aunt admitted, Tabitha had sealed her own fate. Lydia was offering heartfelt condolences for the death of her daughter, Sarah. If she hadn’t afforded me the opportunity to escape the club with the little girl, she would never have run into the scope of the gunman. 

“Fuck you,” Lisa replied but she was starting to cry. 

“I can’t bring your little girl back but I want to help you. Work with me and we’ll bring in the one that did it.”

“I thought you were one of us, you fake bitch. You took in Tabitha. She treated you like family. We were all like family.” 

Lydia shook her head. She spoke softly. “I think you know that’s not true.” 

Lisa smiled a little. It was true that The Baroness, The Broker and The Boss Lady treated all the girls at the club like family but long before she discovered she was an undercover agent, Tabitha made no secret of a dislike for Lydia. Jealousy? Instincts? Either way, Tabitha was not a fan. It had been club manager Dennis who had managed to gain Lydia access to the club. 

“She’s good at what she does. She’ll draw in the crowds,” Dennis insisted – probably feeling like he could have a piece of Lydia himself.

“Fine,” Tabitha had agreed. “But keep her away from me. She looks like I might catch something.” 

Preparing the girls for the evening Tabitha would do her usual rounds. “Great Lisa,” she would say. “Keep those drinks flowing. We want them pissed before we bring out the tip jars.” To Bette, the matron in charge of the dancer girls she would grin, “Got enough make up on? It looks like you’ve applied it with a trowel!” Bette would laugh at the good-natured ribbing. When Tabitha would turn to Lydia she would sneer, utter an, “Ugh,” and move on. 

“I want to bring Sarah’s killer in. Will you let me help you?” Lydia put to the barmaid. 

“Fine,” Lisa agreed for Sarah’s sake. “I was going to speak to someone who used to buy from Kevin. He might know something.”

“Good,” Lydia gave a chirpy smile. “What’s the address?” 

“He lives in the Mid West now but he was Shanties born. He would never thank me for sending an agent to his door. I’ll go with you. I’ll talk to him first. Hopefully he will tell you all he knows.” 

“We’ll get him, Lisa,” Lydia assured. “One way or another we’ll get that shooter.” 

Lisa lowered her gaze. “I’m never going to have my daughter back. You lied to us. You lied to me. I thought we were friends.” 

Lydia spoke soothingly. “I know I’m the last person you want around right now but I’m good at what I do and I can help find the one who shot Sarah. Let me help you.”

Lisa sniffed. “You’re still a fake bitch and the only thunder you bring is out your arse.”

Lydia shook her head. “Tabitha told you to say that, didn’t she?” 

Lisa replied, “That’s the Boss Lady for you. But yeah, she did.” 

***

Lisa’s contact had done good from what Lydia could tell. It seemed he had managed to escape the poverty trap of the Shanties and was now resident in a clean, respectable apartment in the Mid West. 

“He’ll be a little shy of suits so let me do the talking,” Lisa instructed. 

Lydia wasn’t going to complain. She wasn’t bearing any badge or uniform. It wasn’t her intention to cause any trouble for the contact. She just wanted to bring Sarah’s killer to justice. 

A drug pusher was what Lydia expected from his association with Kev. He had clearly made a profitable business out of it. With bigger fish to fry she let Lisa take the lead. Lisa pushed the buzzer. Someone answered but they didn’t speak. 

“Hey, it’s me,” she said. 

The ring of the secure entry door sounded as it opened to them. Lisa stepped in first. Lydia was close at her back. She gave one last check for anything or anyone suspicious before she closed the door behind her. 

They were greeted by a pleasantly lit, carpeted hallway. It wasn’t quite the Faulds Park building in City Main nor the Beckingridge Manor in Filton but it was clean. It was a typical Mid West apartment with its soft pastel coloured walls and welcoming plants in the corners. They climbed the stairs to the second floor. Lisa crossed an open landing and knocked on the door of apartment 2F. Their informant had been expecting them so the door was answered quickly. 

“Agent Lowe,” Lisa introduced. “This is David Finn.” 

Artist David Finn was sleepy eyed and his hair was tousled. He had clearly dressed in a hurry, his trousers and shirt not matching. He looked to Lydia, his mind still resonating on the word ‘agent’. 

“Can we come in?” asked Lydia.

“Fuck,” was David’s reply. 

***

David let the women into his apartment. The hallway may have been clean and well kept but the apartment itself was not. Clothes, paints, sketches were scattered everywhere. The artist started to straighten up as best he could. 

While Lisa spoke to him Lydia took notice of a board that had been pinned to a wall. On it were photos of the Ferrald family who had raised David. There were also some photos taken from inside Harbour House, showing David with Tawny. She was clutching his face and kissing his cheek. David was smiling widely. His eyes were closed and his nose wrinkled. There was another with Tawny centre. She had one arm around David and the other round a well-groomed man wearing spectacles. Lydia assumed him to be the music teacher, Vincent Baines. Also pinned to the board was a photo of Tabitha as a girl. She was grinning, her two aunts standing proudly behind her. The photo was Tawny’s favourite and David had kept it for her. He knew she would be wanting it back when she was found. 

“Jesus fucking Christ, lady!” David gasped to the Knock Knock barmaid. “You brought the law?” 

“She just wants to ask about Kev,” Lisa explained. “She’s helping me.” 

David nervously watched as Lydia inspected his apartment. 

“Where did you meet her?” he asked. “She’s not CPD.” 

“She was under cover at the club as one of the dancer girls.” 

David’s nerves dissolved to a grin. “Really?” 

“David? David?” Lisa urged but he was now lost in the neatness of Lydia’s form. “David focus!” she snapped her fingers in front of his glassy eyes. 

“Sorry Lees,” he chuckled. “I was miles away there.” 

Lisa pouted with good nature. “I’m sure you were. Can you help?” 

“Of course,” David agreed. 

When Tawny caught wind of Lisa’s daughter, Sarah, being gunned down and it likely being an Owen bullet that had taken her life she had vowed to do whatever it took to expose the killer. David was sure her vow and her disappearance were not unrelated. When he left Harbour House he met up with the Knock Knock barmaid to offer his support. It turned out that when Tawny spoke of Lisa, she had meant Lisa Luren. She and David had gone to school at The Grange together. Lisa was a couple of years above David but she was bubbly, popular and very memorable for a teenaged boy. They hadn’t seen one another in years but they knew each other well. David hadn’t realised the Kev he occasionally bought needles from was Lisa’s boyfriend.

Having given the time to put David at ease Lydia turned away from the board and prepared for her questioning. David kicked a pair of pink lace knickers under the sofa. There was no good explanation for them. 

“So David,” Lydia asked. “When did you first find out about Sarah? What did Tawny tell you?”

“She heard from a friend that a little girl had been shot. That was nothing unusual in the Shanties but she insisted that it was an Owen that did it. The Kappa So creep Buddy Owen. He had been after Kev. He owed money to them.” 

“Did you know Kev well?” 

“Uh…” David turned to Lisa. 

Lisa urged him. “It’s fine,” she said. 

“I used to buy from him when the Kirkton apartments dried up. I haven’t touched anything since I came out of Harbour House though, honest! I’m clean and sober. I haven’t done anything illegal.” 

“It’s okay. I’m just here to try and find out what happened to Sarah,” Lydia assured. “Did Kev ever mention anything to you about owing money to Kappa So?”

“No,” David replied. “But he owed lots of people. He stiffed me a few times too.” 

“What made Tawny say it was Buddy Owen in particular?” 

“She heard he was bragging about it.” David laid a gentle, comforting hand on Lisa’s shoulder. “He told one of his Kappa So brothers that he had deliberately shot Sarah first so Kev could see her skull explode. Then he shot Kev too.” Lisa sobbed so David pulled her close to him. “I’m sorry Lees, but we have to find him.” 

“I know,” Lisa sobbed. “I know.” 

Lydia remained collected. “Do you know the name of the brother that he had been bragging to?” 

“Thad or Brad or some douche bag name like that.” 

Lydia took note. “Thanks David,” she said. 

“So you’re going to arrest him, right?” the artist asked. 

“It’s not quite as simple as that I’m afraid,” Lydia admitted. “I need evidence or there’s nothing that can be done.” 

Memories of Tawny and being confronted with the image of Lisa grieving for his daughter had left David a little emotional. 

“And your looking for Tawn too?” he asked. “She’s loud, brassy, always flashing her tits at people,” he sniffed. “She can’t be missed, right?” he tried a cheerful spin. 

Lydia smiled. “If learning about Sarah is the reason she’s gone missing then hopefully it will lead me to her too,” Lydia assured. “Lay low and say nothing to anyone.” 

“Even CPD?” he enquired. 

“Especially CPD.” 

“The rich dragon lady wants to have a word with me. Can I talk to her?” 

“If you mean Elizabeth Beckingridge then let me speak to her first. I want to find out all she learned from your friend, Vincent.” 

David walked them to the door. 

“Take care of yourself, Lees,” he said to the Knock Knock barmaid with a hug. “I’m here if you need anything.” 

Lisa kissed the artist’s cheek. “I’m outta work just now so if you want a model give me a call,” she jested. 

David laughed, “I will.” 

Lydia shook his hand. “Thanks David. I’ll be in touch.” 

“Sure, agent.” He leaned against the door frame. “Call me anytime. The more models the better…” 

Lydia smiled. Her natural effervescence started to shine through her professionalism. She winked. “Stay safe.” 

As they rounded the stairs Lisa looked back to see David still watching on with a raised eyebrow. His eyes were wide. Lisa shook her head with an exasperated giggle when he exhaled. Lydia had made an impression on him.

***

Kim and Lydia met outside the steps of the Court House. The last time they had done so it had been to discuss the raid on the Knock Knock Club. The dust from the debris had settled and through the dust an underlying problem in the Shady City was discovered. It resonated from all four corners of Coldford but that morning it had been the Chapter House the agents were targeting. The icy winter chill was closing in fast. Lydia blew warm breath into her hands. Smiling, she watched Kim approach. She hugged her agency partner. Kim was the self-appointed leader of their group. She was also the sternest but with Lydia close a warmth danced into her eyes. 

“Let’s not waste time,” Kim suggested. “We need that signature.”

They headed on inside. An old building, the Court House had seen rulings from the first hanging two centuries before (ironically it had been Judge Jessica ‘Jess’ Owen who delivered the conviction. A man sentenced to death for thieving cattle. The cattle in question belonged to her family) right up to to death sentence of the Boss Lady. It had seen so much and still had so much to do. 

The agents were escorted by a clerk on duty. Several members of the black bands were present. They were quiet and structured but their presence was worthy of attention. 

Inside the office of The Judge, they found Doyle herself collecting documents. 

“I must make this brief, agents,” she said. “I’m due in court.” 

“It’s about an investigation I’d like to open,” said Lydia without haste. “With the help of my team.” 

Karyn continued to prepare for court. “What kind of charges are you looking to bring?” 

“Murder – first degree. Possibly several counts of rape, drug possession, whatever I can find.” 

Judge Doyle stopped. “This perp sounds like quite a character. Coldford is no longer your jurisdiction. Why are you doing this? Why not tell CPD everything you know and let them handle it?”

Lydia stood firm. “Ma’am, if I leave it in the hands of CPD it will be brushed away. There is a conflict of interest at the department now.”

“Who is this target?” asked Doyle. 

“Bernard Owen,” Lydia stated. “We have reason to believe he is responsible for the murder of Kevin Marsh and his daughter Sarah. We also have reason to believe he is responsible for the abduction of Tawny McInney.” 

“And these reasons are hunches?” the Judge put to them. 

It was Kim who had to admit. “It is just hearsay at this point, ma’am, but if we put it to CPD we will never discover the truth, not when the suspects cousin is now Chief of Police.”

Doyle gave it some thought. “I’ll grant you two weeks to find out what you can,” she said. 

Kim offered the document that required a High Court signature to open the investigation. Karyn used the same silver pen that had been used to sign Tabitha’s life away. Buddy Owen had now come under investigation. 

“If your enquiries bring up nothing, be prepared. The Captain will not stop at having your badges revoked.” 

“It’s a risk we’re willing to take,” Kim assured. 

“Good,” replied Judge Doyle. “Bring me whatever you find. We will see if a warrant is necessary.” 

***

With more Owens arriving for the funeral of Pops even a place as large as Owen Estate was starting to feel crowded. Billy was occupied by his father, Jackson ‘Jackie’ Owen and The Cappy, so Buddy and his brothers managed to slip their nanny and head off back to Filton. They had said they were to meet with a Fullerton representative to discuss bringing the Chapter House back in order and they were.

“I’ll handle the Fullerton contract,” Buddy had offered. 

Billy laughed heartily and shook his shoulder. “Shit for brains here still thinks he’s Chapter leader. You lost it boy.” 

“I can do this,” Buddy pleaded to his father. “I can make it right.” 

The Cappy scowled with a narrow gaze. “Close the Fullerton deal and then we’ll talk.” 

Billy cheered. He wrapped his arm around his cousin’s neck. “Who’s the leader, little bro?” he asked. 

Buddy could feel Cooper and Chad’s eyes burning on him. 

“You are,” he admitted. 

“Damn right I am. Who has the mighty big balls?” he asked. 

“You do.” 

Billy let him go. “Then let’s head out.” 

Luckily The Cappy interceded. “Let Buddy try this one. I would like to see him produce positive results for once in his life. Billy, you and I should talk on CPD.” 

“Sure thing Captain,” replied Billy. 

So Buddy and his Kappa So brothers returned to Filton but before any meeting with Fullerton could take place they had a stop off to make. 

Chad checked his phone. “Susie is out of the hospital.” 

Buddy gave a sigh of relief. “Thank the fucking Lord Almighty,” he said. “I should send her something.” 

Chad started to tap through his phone. “I have a flower guy I use,” he said. “What kind of flowers does she like? Orchids, lilies, tulips?” 

Buddy stopped and scowled at him. “Flowers? She’s a six-year-old little kid, she likes pony rides and fucking chocolate milk.” He looked to Cooper and scoffed. “Flowers? Can you believe this guy?” 

Cooper shrugged. Chad continued scrolling. 

“You liked the purple tulips, remember?” Chad put to Buddy.

Buddy groaned. “They brightened up the place, brah.”

They had arrived at Cooper Garage. Cooper opened up. The annual luxury car auction in Luen was taking place. The Deluxe Drive event was a big deal among the traders and the Coopers never missed it. The garage had been on lock down since before the Loyalist/Fleet attacks began. As they stepped onto the main show room floor motion sensor lights sparked on. 

Buddy stopped to admire a shining silver Bentley. 

“We’re gotta get back into the Chapter House before Fullerton gets there and find the golden cock. Then I’m going to the farm, find the one who coked up my little mascot and I’m gonna fire ten rounds right up their fucking ass.”

“Yeah!” his brothers cheered. 

“Then I’m gonna have my Chapter House back and I’m gonna make that sicko Penn eat my fucking dick.” 

“Yeah!” the brothers continued in their encouragement. 

“Then when I’m the new Cappy in town I’m gonna bang that farm girl because I’m Kappa fucking So!”

“Yeah!”

The cheer of the brothers rang through the garage. They climbed the steps to Cooper’s father’s office. 

“We are Kappa So! Brothers for life,” Buddy was still ranting. They started in on the Kappa So chant as Cooper opened the door to Marshal Cooper’s office. More motioned sensor lights came on. Buddy pushed him out of the way and stood in the doorway first. He sniffed. He could almost smell victory. 

“With everything that’s been going on I almost forgot we had this bitch!” 

In the corner, hidden away from the rest of the city was Tawny, the one they called the Baroness.

George knew his aunt was looking for her but he always loved the thrill of a game of hide and seek. He especially enjoyed the admiration of his brothers when his Beck Firm informant was able to tell them exactly where Elizabeth was going to be looking next. 

Tawny’s caught sight of Buddy and his bros unlocking Marshall Cooper’s cupboard and helping themselves to a generous helping of powder.

Buddy took the first line. 

“I feel good!” he screamed. “I feel fucking good!” 

“So what are we going to do with her? “ Chad asked Buddy of Tawny.

“Throw a sheet over her, brah. She’s weirding me out.”

Tawny shook her head. “You boys are in so much trouble,” she said.

***

Agnes and I met in Bobby’s lunch box. Whilst the Knock Knock was seized, Agnes had been staying in her Mid East apartment. We had joined for a coffee, the chance to relinquish our breaths and to discuss the power grabbing that had torn through the Shady City since the delivery of the sentence on The Boss Lady. 

Agnes had gotten a text. 

CAN YOU COME DOWN TO KK. HURRY.

I couldn’t let her return alone. When we got to the Shanties the streets were filled. I had never seen the place so busy. Even on the nights the Knock Knock was in full swing there still weren’t as many people pressing towards the club. 

Lisa got talking to someone she knew in the crowd. She started to push through. 

“They killed her!” screamed one. “They’ve done it. They’ve killed her.” 

Mounted Black Band patrol pushed through. Agnes and I got crushed between them. Agnes fell into me but I managed to steady her on her feet. I had seen riot patrols before. I had seen them many times in fact but the crowd control that the Black Bands dealt was not the same. Their horses were larger. Thoroughbreds intended for war. A woman’s scream called out as she was crushed between two horses. A Shanties knife fighter pulled a blade and tried to plunge one of them. The horse reared. It’s horsemen came tumbling down with his baton at the ready. The knife dropped from the aggressor’s hands as the baton smashed against his skull.

“She’s dead! They’ve done it. They’ve killed Tabitha.” 

The Black Bands swept the crowd back like the ocean over a sandcastle. Agnes roared a cry of despair that still tremors in my ears on dark nights when I’m alone.

From a post outside the club hung that red dress, that red dress that meant so much to so many people in the area. The wearer of the dress was gone. A notice on the door of the club read that the execution of Tabitha had been brought forward. No more appeals. No more pleas. All Lydia and Kim could do was lead the people away from the path of the Black Bands. 

Paddy Mack comforted Brendan when they discovered the news. The Mack Distillery owner had known Tabitha since she was little girl. Kieran was pacing. He didn’t dry his tears. He let them flow freely. The bells rang in the distillery from behind the gates.

Agnes wept. It took both Lisa and I to try and usher her away. Don’t look, I hoped she would hear me think. For God’s sake don’t look.


Enjoy this?

Complete Season 1 of the Knock Knock series is free to read here on Vivika Widow. com or click below download for Kindle

Care to discover the true whereabouts of the Knock Knock Baroness? Tawny was last seen as a resident of the Shady City’s premier rehab clinic. Check out Vivika Widoow’s hit thriller Harbour House. Free on Kindle Unlimited.

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Frequent Fliers: Coldford City Airport

Features in: KNOCK KNOCK ; PURPLE RIBBON

When your looking to escape and the Shady City is where you choose to go then flying in from abroad will bring you to Coldford City international airport. With arrivals from the Great States, Levinkrantz, Subala and Luen it is one of Coldford City’s busiest places. Located in the west of the CARDYNE if you can get there, you can get anywhere!

A recent arrival from the Great States.

Coldford City Airport also boasts being home of Dynasty, the personal jet of Captain Charles ’Chick’ Owen. The Cappy is no stranger to smooth landings so it’s always his first point of contact when he arrives in Coldford to deal with business, pleasure or his unruly family.

The Cappy greets his public.

So book your tickets. Come fly with us or sit in the foyer, enjoying some of the great cafes on offer and do some people watching. We’ve got some strange people passing through the gates! As if the Shady City wasn’t shady enough!

Enjoy this?

Complete Season 2 of the Knock Knock series is free to read here on Vivika Widow. com or click below download for Kindle

Care to discover the true whereabouts of the Knock Knock Baroness? Tawny was last seen as a resident of the Shady City’s premier rehab clinic. Check out Vivika Widoow’s hit thriller Harbour House. Free on Kindle Unlimited.

Knock Knock: Episode 26: Hot Date

It hadn’t escaped my notice that the Harvester Brand was spreading fast around the city. It was a swift spread that had happened over such a short space of time. While Julia Harvester hosted both Beckingridge and Owen proposals for investment she, essentially, was the only thing keeping the duelling titans at bay, the only thing keeping Buddy Owen on a low profile and the only thing keeping the city holding a tentative breath.  

“You got to watch her, man,” David Finn, the artist, told me. “You never know what she’s going to do next.”  

David would know. After he fell in love with her as his muse, he had become so engrossed by her that he failed to see two of his closest friends lose their child. The beautiful art work he produced with her image only brought him to Harbour House.  

Regardless of the warnings, I wondered if Julia knew anything about Sarah or Tawny. Perhaps she had heard her guest on the farm brag about the shooting as his brothers had. The very least I could do was make her aware of the kind of person Buddy was, if she wasn’t already. 

She was reputedly a beautiful woman, kind, shy seeming. 

“That’s how she gets you,” David had said. “Bam! Before you know it, she’s got you by the nuts and your saying sorry to her for the cramp in her hand.”  

David’s warnings were taken on board although they were coming from a time when his addiction was at its worst. Even he had to admit the memories were a little faded.  

The moment I saw her, however, I realised why she had caused such a stir. Beautiful she was, but with a natural allure. She even had sweat on her brow as she carried a box into the City Main Harvesters store. She was smiling and laughing with the girls who had come out to help her. I followed her inside.  

She laid the box on the counter. When she turned we were face to face.  

“Julia Harvester?” I put to her. “Sam Crusow. I’m writing a piece…”  

She stopped me with a smile and a gentle caress of my arm.  

“Yes, I know you. You used to write for the Daily. You’re a terrific writer. I was ever so sorry to hear what happened to your wife. Theresa, wasn’t it?”  

I hadn’t expected her to know so much about me. “Yes. Thanks.”  

“And still chasing the story? That’s either very courageous of you or proof that you reporters never give up.”  

Her smile smoothed. My own expression mimicked.  

“I want to finish what I started,” I said to her.  

“That nasty Knock Knock girl is gone now. I’m not sure what help I can be to you.”  

My story began the moment my eyes set sight on the Knock Knock Club sign for the first time but when the door of the club opened it was to the wider city. There was a much bigger story there.  

“I have some questions about your guest, Buddy Owen?” She looked to the phone I had slipped into my hand. “If you don’t mind my asking,” I added.  

She shrugged. “I’m really busy so it’ll have to be quick.”  

“Has Buddy ever mentioned to you about a little girl named Sarah?”  

Julia shook her head. “No.”  

“Has he said anything about the disappearance of Tawny McInney? The Baroness?”  

“No,” said Julia again. “Dreadful business though. I met her a few times in Harbour House. She was friendly with my dad who was a resident too. She was sweet, laughed a lot, really perked everyone up. Why would Buddy know anything about her?”  

“You know the history of the Baroness and Buddy’s uncle?”  

“I do,” Julia agreed. “But that was such a long time ago and Buddy isn’t his uncle. Buddy has been really sweet and helpful to me. That’s all I know. He’s overindulged and coarse but he’s just a big pet, really.”  

“There is reason to believe he is responsible for gunning down a little girl. You’ve heard the rumours that that is why Tawny was taken?”  

Julia stroked my arm again. This time her grip was a little firmer.  

“I would tread carefully, Mr Crusow. If there is a gunman going around you never know when you might step into his firing line.”  

I wasn’t given time to absorb her threats when she opened the box she had placed on the counter and drew out a meat packet. 

“With your wife gone you’ll be having trouble taking care of yourself properly.” 

“I have friends around,” I said.  

“That’s nice.”  

She passed me the meat packet. “Have this on the Harvesters. There’s more than enough to share with friends.” 

The meat was thick prime, tender beef. Succulent.  

“Thank you,” I said sincerely.  

“You’re welcome,” was her reply.  

Julia Harvester was truly a nice girl. 

*** 

With the bitterness setting in, Harvester Farm was being prepared for the winter chill. The coldness was always felt more harshly in the north and the animals and crops needed to be readied.  

Dr Nathan Watt was waiting in the kitchen. He had spent a very restless night in the guest bedroom and it was now early morning. That didn’t matter. Julia would be joining him soon enough. He heard her soft steps. He hoped she had slept well.  

A bowl of oatmeal and a slice of toast – lightly buttered – had been laid out for her. It was her preferred breakfast when a day on the fields beckoned. When she arrived in the kitchen she wasn’t surprised to see him awake but her focus was on a text message on her phone. She gave a giggle as she read. The glow of the screen highlighted her cheek bones, the softness of her eyes shone better then than in any of the images that artist, David Finn, had ever painted of her as far as Nathan was concerned.  

Still absorbed in her conversation, still failing to acknowledge him, Nathan cleared his throat. Julia giggled again as she started to compose a response.  

“I prepared breakfast for you,” Nathan informed her.  

Julia sat down at the table and picked up the cereal spoon. She laid the phone face down.  

“You’re so sweet,” she said, finally offering him a glance. “Shouldn’t you be at the hospital?”  

He hadn’t told her that Coldford General had ordered him on leave. Chief consultant Dr Ferrald had said he lacked enthusiasm.  

“It takes everything you got,” Dr Ferrald had said. “If your mind isn’t on the patients you are going to make mistakes. Take some time and gather yourself. For now though, take a leave of absence.”  

It didn’t matter to Nathan. When he and Julia were together, he could open a private practice. When she became pregnant the farm hands would handle the farm work. She wouldn’t be wanting to go back out onto the fields with the children to take care of and house to keep. Her mother and brother would of course still stay at the house. He supposed Nan Harvester would make a good grandmother for the children. Both of them, a boy and a girl. Hopefully the boy would come first. It would be nice to have a protective brother for his little girl. He would like to see the children to be close siblings. He was an only child. He only had his cousin Kelsey and they hated each other. He always wished it was different. 

He wanted to approach the subject of their being together again but he had to be delicate. She hesitated as she lifted her spoon. She caught his gaze. She smiled. Words were forming on her lips but before she uttered them her phone beeped its little jingle she favoured. She dropped the spoon he had set for her and lifted her phone. Nathan never thought he would ever find her voice irritating, so sweet it was to the ear, but as she laughed at the response to her text it grated on his nerves.  

“Who on earth is contacting you at his hour? It’s only just struck five.”  

Julia pursed her lips. She started to compose another text. “A friend. They’re in business so they have an early start too. Early bird catches the worm and all that.”  

“Oh?” Nathan wondered. “What’s their name?”  

Julia looked up with a slight smile. “It’s not a her, sweetie. It’s a him.”  

It was Nathan’s turn to frown. “I got up early. I made you breakfast. I am here for you presently and you barely speak to me? Instead, you spend your time messaging another man. That’s shameful behaviour Julia.”  

Julia spoke softly. “But I didn’t ask you to do any of those things.”  

Nathan started to become irritable. “I want to look after you, Jules. Why won’t you let me?” 

Julia cocked her head. She pouted. “You poor doe. You know I’m not in need of help. I have all the help I need on the farm.” 

“Eat your breakfast Jules. I made your favourite.” 

Julia pushed her seat out from the table and stood. Nathan stood too.  

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I have a busy day ahead, Nate. Perhaps you should go home.”  

“I’m not going anywhere,” he barked. “Stop texting other men and start showing me some appreciation for everything I do for you.”  

“Oh Nate,” she sighed. “Go home. I’m going to be on the fields all day and you are not needed.”  

“Why don’t we have dinner together?” he tried.  

Julia held her phone by her side. “I already have dinner plans. My friend is taking me to Delphine.”  

Nathan growled. “Isn’t it enough I have to watch that freak show, Buddy Owen, lust after you but now you tell me you have dinner plans with someone else? Why didn’t you tell me?” 

Julia remained calm. She knew his attention would fall to her chest as soon as she took a sharp intake of breath.  

“Don’t be so rude.”  

The phone bleeped again but before she could check it Nathan lunged forward. He tried to tackle her and snatch it from her hand. Used to the charge of angry cattle, Julia was too quick and pulled away holding her phone behind her back. He was leaning over her. His size was larger than hers but she was smiling.  

“Give me the phone,” he demanded.  

Julia raised an eyebrow. “I will not.”  

Nathan made another attempt to grab at it but her reflexes were too quick.  

“Curtis?” she called.  

Farm hand Curtis had been nearby, readying himself for a day on the fields. Nathan hadn’t heard him arrive. Nathan stepped back immediately, seeing Curtis appear in the door way.  

“You ready?” he asked. He took note of the way Julia was leaning back from Nathan and how he was looming over her but he said nothing.  

“I am. I want to get started. We have a long day ahead and I’m sick of oatmeal.”  

The winter preparations on Harvester Farm was an arduous task. Curtis glared at Nathan but he and the farm girl left. Nathan grumbled to himself as he cleared the table. That was when he noticed she had left her phone behind. It was a chance for him to warn this friend of hers off.   

MAKE IT A LUNCH DATE INSTEAD. He text as Julia. 

SURE. DELPHINE. 12PM. I’LL SHIFT RESERVATIONS. XXCX 

*** 

Delphine restaurant was well lit, a large chandelier sparkled down on the luncheon crowd. All of the tables were filled but an empty one for two by the window. Its view was of the Fullerton bridge. Water, escape, building. All of these things told that Julia would have chosen that spot.  

Nathan could see her tell her admirer, “a lovely spot for lunch.” 

She had no right making arrangements for dinner with other men. It was disrespectful towards him. They were going to be together and he demanded she begin by cutting out all other admirers starting with her dinner date. It was difficult enough with the Kappa So frat brothers. He knew Julia was just toying with them to keep them in line but he didn’t like the way that Buddy Owen looked at her. He didn’t like how comfortable he was becoming in Julia’s company. More than that he didn’t like that she was laughing with her dinner date as though he – Nathan – was of no consequence. He gave up everything for her. He devoted himself to her and this was the thanks he was given? 

It was approaching noon. First he would tell this new beau of Julia’s to back off and leave her alone then he would rid the farm of those frat brothers. Julia would see sense. Maybe a grand gesture like that would catch her interest again and show how much she meant to him.  

The admirer had said in his last message to what he thought was Julia. 

I’LL BE OUT OF TOWN UNTIL 2MORROW. I’LL C U AT LUNCH. XxCx 

Was the C a misspelling? Was that his name? He had been tempted to dig deeper but he had to be careful. A lot of information Julia would already know even if they had just met. Julia had her way of ingratiating herself to people quickly. Before long they wanted to offer her everything they had.  

He checked back on some of their exchange. Nothing sexual, thank God. That’s not to say there weren’t deleted messages though. From what he could read they were merely discussing life on a farm. He did ask her if she had ever masturbated a bull but she quickly laughed that off, changed the subject and he sweetened again.  

What kind of company was this for her to keep? Perhaps he was reading too much into it but it seemed like Julia was delighted at the prospect of having a meal with this creep. Nathan would set him straight. 

The time slipped to two minutes past noon. The date hadn’t shown up yet. He was either running a little late or Julia would have been stood up. She did say he was in business. Maybe business had kept him. Maybe that would be the end of it. Perhaps he had messaged again after Julia came in from the fields and took her phone back. Maybe she had learned all about Nathan’s little deception. But that couldn’t be it. She didn’t say anything about it. But then she wouldn’t. She would let him come to the restaurant and let him look a fool. She and her new ‘friend’ in business would be tittering behind their hands at Nathan’s expense. All he could do was return to the farmhouse, demand she call her friend and tell him they were no longer to be in touch. Then he would take her upstairs and show her how much he cared.  

Nathan watched the empty table. The Maitre’d stopped.  

“Sir, we are currently serving our luncheon course. If you don’t have a reservation, I really must ask you to leave.” 

Snobbish and with the slight hint of a Luen accent. Probably put on. She was a severe looking woman with large sagging breasts that tugged on the buttons of her white shirt. Nathan didn’t know what name the business ‘friend’ would have put the table under.  

“I’m meeting someone,” he decided to hang on for an extra few minutes.  

The Maitre’d was not impressed but she left him alone to watch the table longingly. If Julia liked that table so much he could book it for them. With his ordered leave from the hospital he wouldn’t be able to afford it for very long so he would have to act fast.  

A few more minutes passed. It wouldn’t be long before the Maitre’d would be onto him again. He sighed. Bitterly defeated, he resolved to leave.  

Long, pianist fingers clasped his shoulder. A man’s voice hissed in his ear.  

“You must be Dr Watt. I believe you’re here to see me.” 

Nathan was spun round to face a young man of about nineteen in a finely tailored dark, grey suit. His darkening fair hair was neatly parted. His full lips were stretched in a Cheshire Cat grin. His brown eyes were saucer like but devoid of any warmth.  

“George Beckingridge. You’ve been texting me. Let’s eat.”  

*** 

“We might as well use the table if Julia isn’t coming,” said George.  

Nathan said nothing. He followed the Billionaire Boy to the table and took a seat across from him. He watched the heir to the Beckingridge Tower closely. Not only was he the richest young man in Coldford, but if rumours were true he was also a brother murdering, puppy torturing psychopath. He had spent ten years missing when his music teacher kidnapped him. The teacher – Vincent Baines – had been a Harbour House resident along with David Finn and the Baroness. They had been close friends. Mr Baines was now in The Boss regretting the day he accepted George as a pupil. His Aunt Elizabeth was still interim CEO of the Tower but it was only the matter of time before the boy who most claim murdered his mother at age eight, became the controlling force behind the biggest fortune in the shady city, with a shark tank filled with hungry board members at his beck and call.  

“You look surprised,” George gave a nasally laugh. “Didn’t you want to meet for lunch? I had to change the reservations and everything. You text me from Julia’s phone.”  

Nathan could ask how George came about that information but Julia was always far more aware than she would let on. It wouldn’t surprise him if she had deliberately left her phone behind so that he could arrange this for himself. She and her new friend were tittering behind their hands at his expense after all.  

A highly trained silver service waitress approached them. Without rudely interrupting them she waited for George to acknowledge her.  

“Can I get something for you gentlemen to drink?”  

Petite, mid-thirties, skilled at her job. George looked at Nathan though, rather than the waitress.  

“A bottle of Cristal, I think. We’re going to celebrate.”  

Nathan lowered his gaze. “I should go,” he decided.  

“No!” George barked.  

If the waitress was taken aback, she didn’t show it. Some of the other diners looked up though. George gave his nasally snigger again.  

“A bottle of Cristal and we’ll have two of whatever the chef’s specials are today.”  

“An excellent choice, Mr Beckingridge,” the waitress agreed, collecting their menus. “Chef is simply a wonder with veal. You won’t be disappointed.” 

The waitress departed leaving George and his luncheon companion alone. “I come here a lot now,” he stated. “The chef at home is on my aunt’s staff. She might try to poison me. I know the chef here though. I know him very well.” 

“What do you want George?” 

“That’s Mr Beckingridge to you,” George snarled. “I didn’t arrange this. You did. I’m glad you did though. Julia told me what the look on your face would be like and it does look stupid.” Here George giggled boyishly. “I’m acquainting myself with the finer things in life. Julia is quite fine, isn’t she?”  

At first Nathan was speechless but then he managed a whimper.  

“I’m in love with her. She loves me too,” he said.  

George’s lip curled like he was a little boy who still believed girls were a sure way to catch cooties.  

The waitress returned with the bottle of Cristal and two finely chipped Champagne glasses. Nathan placed his hand over his before the waitress could offer him a sample.  

“I’m not staying,” he informed them as the waitress presented the bottle in a perfect silver service manner.  

“Yes, he is,” George insisted. “We’re on a date here and he’s not going to leave me to drink alone.”  

Nathan removed his hand from the glass. The waitress poured.  

George drank first. He sipped. He held the glass the way lessons in etiquette had taught him. He noticed Nathan looking up to stare at him.  

“Do you want Julia?” he finally asked.  

George settled the glass down. “You needn’t worry about me. My tastes lie…elsewhere.”  

“I shouldn’t have come here.” 

George pursed his lips. “Why? I liked the kisses in your text. I liked your sweet words.”  

Nathan couldn’t tell if the Billionaire Boy was being sarcastic. He fell to silence again. George started to laugh.  

“Drink the champagne, Nathan,” he instructed.  

Nathan took a sip of the expensive Cristal but he didn’t savour it.  

“Tastes like feet,” George grinned. “Doesn’t it?” 

“What do you want Mr Beckingridge?” Nathan asked.  

They had never met in person but he had seen him many times on the news. The kidnapping story, the death of his mother and brother, the rumours of psychopathy his aunt wasn’t shy in sharing. He had noted his cold stare through the television screen many times as though he had been addressing him directly. Now being sat across the table from him in person was unsettling.  

“Julia is my friend. She’s the best girl in the world. I like her. But she tells me you aren’t happy with the boys on the farm.” 

With Beckingridge Firm competing with Owen Inc. for a controlling share in the farm it occurred to Nathan that maybe the Billionaire Boy could be a way of ridding Julia of Buddy and his brothers for good. If Julia had befriended George maybe he could too.  

“I worry about those frat brothers around Julia. I’m worried that they will hurt her. Buddy Owen is…” 

Nathan curbed his words immediately when he noticed the soft expression on George’s face dissolve into a scowl. “Shut up!” he barked.  

Nathan’s lips pursed tightly. George saw how uncomfortable he had made the doctor and he relished it.   

“Buddy is a God,” he said. “He says things people are too scared to admit. He leads where most other tiny pissers are afraid to go. He’s a God and you should be thankful your mother opened her legs when she did so you could be there to see him on the farm.” 

If George had actually witnessed Buddy trying to work the farm, he may have felt a little differently. This was not for Nathan to argue though.  

“Did your dad have God balls Nathan?” The question was rhetorical. “Don’t worry. Mine didn’t either but Buddy is going to show me how to be a God. He’s my brother.” George opened the jacket of his suit to show a Kappa So badge on his shirt. “He’s my brother and we’re brothers for life.”  

*** 

George had insisted the doctor stay and have his lunch just like he had used Julia’s phone to arrange. He insisted the doctor be the one to drink the Cristal and finish it.  

“Finish the bottle. I bought it for you,” he said. 

He kept laughing as the doctor grimaced. He was drunk by one o’clock and feeling sick. Nathan tried to excuse himself but George was persistent. He tried to summon the Maitre’d to help but when she turned to the Billionaire Boy and asked, “Is this man bothering you, Mr Beckingridge?” Nathan knew it would be no use.  

George watched on with a grin as Nathan forced all three courses. He hated veal and despite the meat being succulent and well prepared it still caused his stomach to gargle. By the final bite he could barely speak.  

“Drink up,” George kept saying. “Eat up. Don’t play with your food. Don’t waste it.”  

“May I be excused?” Nathan asked. “Please let me go. I think I’m going to be sick.”  

George’s lip curled. He had chosen a large glass of Jolly Shopper soda pop for himself. It wasn’t usually what Delphine served their luncheon crowds but for their best customer they were happy to make an exception. George took the glass in both hands and brought it to his lips. He glugged, glugged, glugged so loudly some of the other patrons looked up at him.  

By the time he left Delphine Nathan’s head was spinning. He emptied the contents of his stomach at the foot of the street where he had parked his car. Luckily the town of Filton was quieter than City Main so he managed to get away without drawing too much attention to himself. He climbed into his car and drove the North route back towards Bournton. A CPD patrol approached but luckily they took the exit to Fullerton Bridge. They seemed in a hurry. They were in too much of a hurry to notice Nathan’s car swaying slightly.  

He did catch the attention of Curtis as the car screeched to a halt at the bottom of the east acre. Failing to park in any cohesive manner Nathan stumbled out of his car and vomited again.  

“Hey cunt!” Curtis yelled at him. “I hope you’re going to clean that up.” 

Nathan couldn’t give him any attention, he simply waved him off and started to stumble towards the farm house. The fresh air dancing around his face was helping clear his head. Julia was nowhere around. She would probably be out on deliveries or maybe she was going on to rendezvous with George so they could laugh about how much of a fool Nathan had made of himself.  

Buddy and his brothers were in the east acre tasked with preparing the ground for the winter. They stopped when they saw Nathan. Still drunk on a full guzzled bottle of champagne Nathan almost stumbled. Buddy emitted an uproarious laugh. His brothers followed suit. Chad cackled along with the chapter leader. Cooper watched with a smile on his face and his arms folded.  

“You’re wasted!” Buddy called to him. “You gotta get me some of your gear, bro!” 

He proceeded to hold his nostril and hop around the field. Chad was now in hysterics. Nathan was in no mood for their nonsense.  

“Can’t handle the Charlie?” 

Nathan rushed towards the farm house. Still Buddy and his friends taunted him.  

“Fucking coke head,” Nathan muttered bitterly when he got inside. He had a plan for ridding the farm of Buddy and his bros. Julia was clearly looking for the next best thing but Dr Nathan Watt could show her she already had the best she was ever going to have. It didn’t matter that Buddy Owen’s family had the chance to make something of the farm that Julia had worked so hard to protect. She would learn who was truly behind her, who truly wanted her and it wasn’t Buddy ‘goddamn’ Owen.  

Having just returned from school in the city, Susie was stood in the hallway. Her pink back pack was still over her shoulders. She was clutching a horse doll, playing with its hair nervously. As she watched Nathan she noted he was drunk. She didn’t like seeing people drunk. She saw her dad drunk once and it frightened her. He had been so frustrated with work and he had drunk too many beers. Grandma was yelling at him to get to bed. He calmed down when he saw Susie cry. He kissed her and said he was sorry he was just a big idiot. His breath smelled awful. He told her she would never see him in that state again and he kept true to his word.  

“You are better than your father,” Grandma reminded him.  

Susie knew no harm would come to her from her daddy no matter how drunk he got but with other drunk men she was not so sure.  

“Hi, Susie,” Nathan greeted. He was starting to stand a little straighter. The cloudiness over his mind was starting to dissipate as he collected his medical bag from a locked cupboard he kept it in.  

“Where are you going?” the little girl asked.  

How to explain it to a child. “I’m going away and I might not see you again.”  

“Oh?” The little girl was taken aback. Nathan had become such a feature at the farm house it hadn’t been what she had expected but she wasn’t too upset. She continued to play with the hair of her toy horse. Mimsy she called it because it looked a lot like the real-life Harvester horse named Mimsy.  

“Bye then,” Susie replied.  

She didn’t notice him reach into his medical bag.  

“We’re friends right?” he put to her.  

Susie managed a smile. He didn’t look as drowsy as he had before. He even looked a little sad.  

“Sure,” she shrugged. 

“And we both like Jules, right?” he asked.  

Susie nodded. She smiled again. Nathan wasn’t so bad. He was a bit of a blow hard – that’s what dad called him – but he was okay really. He wasn’t funny like Buddy and he was always trying to tell her off but that was just his way. Buddy didn’t tell her off. In fact, he found it hilarious when she said things she shouldn’t. He laughed so hard when she told Chad to ‘Fuck off’  

“She’s a feisty little critter cause she’s Kappa So!” he had cheered.  

Excitable, fun, with flowing blonde hair and an accent like a movie star. Susie couldn’t understand why Nathan thought Julia would ever choose him over Buddy. She guessed grown-ups looked for different things.  

“I’ll miss you,” he said sincerely.  

Maybe Nathan wasn’t so bad after all. Julia had always said he was a good friend and he was Susie’s friend too she supposed. He just liked Julia more than she liked him. Grown-ups were weird.  

“You’ll look after Julia for me, won’t you?” he asked of her.  

Looking after Julia and Kappa So mascot. Susie’s pride swelled with her responsibilities on the farm.  

“Sure,” she agreed.  

Nathan’s expression became softer. She still didn’t like the drunken look in his eyes.  

“Can I get a hug goodbye?”  

*** 

Buddy was returning a bucket to the stables like a good boy. He was laying low. His father would be on Coldford soil soon enough and those loyalist sons a bitches would pay for what they did to him and to Pops. Them and their Fleet scum ass kissers. He didn’t let the frustration boil over though. The farm work itself was humiliating but he realised the harder he worked, the more he pretended to care about dumb shit like the horses, the warmer Julia became to him. That and it kept fucking cave man farm hand Glenn off his back. Chad seemed to be taking a step further and prancing around the farm like he was one of them. He even had a beer with Curtis. He would have to be reminded he was a brother and they were brothers for life.  

He dropped the bucket on the shed floor. One of the horses, named Pippen, snorted at him. 

“Shut the fuck up!” Buddy snorted back. Pippen shook his head. The truth was Buddy wasn’t actually annoyed which surprised him. Given the circumstances and the fact that it was now day 7 without powder, he really should have been losing it. Maybe the farm air was doing him good. He never really made the most of ranch life as a boy. He just wanted to shoot the horses in the ass with one of the air rifles. He patted Pippen’s nose as he remembered how fast a little foal had run after he aimed. CRACK. The dumb ass foal tried to leap the fence, got caught and tore the tendon in its front right leg. It had to be shot with a real gun.  

“Ah,” Buddy sighed, still stroking Pippen. “Memories.”  

He had caught Hell for that one. Luckily not from The Cappy. He had been away on business as usual. But Uncle Walt was the best rancher of all of them. He made Buddy run across the enclosure and shot him in the ass with an air rifle. Buddy leapt that fence. He leapt that fence real good and he cleared it. He didn’t get caught like the dumbass little horse.  

Buddy scooped up some feed for Pippen. The horse munched angrily from his hand. Buddy laughed to himself as he remembered Uncle Walt dragging the wayward preteen back to the ranch house to nurse the wound.  

“I had mind to aim straight up your ass, son,” Walt had groaned, “but since I wasn’t going to see you spitting bullets I figured, what’s the point?”  

The air rifle had done enough damage. Buddy was rubbing the fleshy part of his left ass cheek. Walt was a cousin to the The Cappy. He was a prominent figure in Buddy’s life. He was the father when The Cappy himself was rarely around. Buddy suspected Walt was even banging his Mama but there was no proof of that. Buddy liked Walt. Walt knew how to get shit done.  

He thought of Julia. Now those thoughts were stirring. Wait a minute … Wasn’t there naked paintings of her somewhere? An immediate check ensued.

The barn was empty so it seemed no use to waste the quiet time. he reached his hands into his pants. There was a noise of someone stumbling in so he quickly turned.

“Hey, little mascot!” he cheered. “How was school? Shit, right?” 

Susie mumbled something but it was incoherent. It was then he noticed her already large eyes were even larger. They had reddened like she had ingested a zombie virus. Her pupils were hugely dilated. Her little body was trembling. Buddy was no doctor but he knew a lot about cocaine abuse.  

“Susie?” He tried to speak calmly the way the Kappa So coke whores would when they were trying to bring him on a come down. The little girl tried to leap excitedly but she fell on the floor.  

He remembered Chad once throwing ice water over home when it looked as though he was overdosing.  

“Who the fuck gave you coke?” he asked.  

Susie couldn’t answer.  

He lifted the water bucket. He had to act fast. Glenn would have seen his daughter wander towards the shed. He always had an eye on her no matter what he was doing. He was telepathic or something when it came to the kid. Who would get the blame? The fucking powder fiend.  

“Not touched any in fucking days,” he was growling. “What the actual fuck brah!” He poured water over the little girl but it didn’t seem to do much good. “Damn it, Susie!” he pleaded. He lifted her into his arms and gave her a firm pat to her cheeks. “Snap out of it.”  

If Cooper or Chad had given his little mascot coke, he was going to raise all kinds of Hell. There was no way they should have Charlie without telling him. He had been sober for what felt like forever. What the fuck! 

The tremors of the little girl’s trembling body became worse with the addition of the cold water. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like it one bit. She was his little mascot. She was Kappa So and someone had tried to hurt her. No powder in days and the little girl turns up three sheets to the wind. Ain’t no one going to believe he had nothing to do with it. Everything would be ruined. The little girl was sick, The Cappy would be furious but not before Glenn beat his ass. Julia would hate him and all along some asshole had powder on the farm this whole time.  

“Get off her!” Glenn came charging towards him like one of the bulls he was used to wrangling.  

Buddy tried to stop him moving her. She was now struggling to breathe.  

“You’ve gotta get a doctor, bro. She’s taken coke. She’s taken coke!” Buddy tried to warn Glenn. Normally when the coke whores or even one of the brothers had snorted too much they would just be thrown out on their asses. If the exposure got to them before they sobered up that was their own damn fault. This was different. Buddy needed that little girl to live.  

Glenn snatched Buddy by the throat, crushing his trachea. He punched him with a blow ‘The Bournton Blizzard’ would have been proud of. Buddy was sent backwards. The force almost broke a board on Pippen’s paddock.  

“She needs a doc, bro,” Buddy protested.  

Glenn snarled. “I’ll deal with you later.” He picked Susie up into his arms. “You better hope to Christ and everything he stands for that she’s okay.”  

Buddy hadn’t picked himself up yet. The hit from Glenn had removed any strength he had had in his legs.  

“Get her to a doctor, brah.”  

Glenn carried Susie away in a rush. He hoped he could catch Nathan before he left.  

*** 

Deliveries in the city had been more time consuming than Julia had anticipated. Her brother, Jonathan, had taken the City Main ones. Julia had gone further to Cardyne and then on to Swantin.  

Darkness was beginning to set in by the time she had arrived back on Harvester Farm. The lights were on in the dining room of the farm house. Her dinner plans with George were cancelled due to Nathan and she was famished. The fields were quiet. Glenn’s own truck was gone. Some of the farm hands were having a beer as they relaxed after a long day’s hard work. They acknowledged her with a smile. She waved back.  

A light was on in the milking shed where Buddy and his brothers were still stationed. Chick Owen had told them to remain where they were until he arrived from the Great States. The Owen estate could be unsafe and their Chapter House was still devastated after the combined loyalist/fleet attack.  

There was no laughter there which was unusual. Normally Buddy’s voice could be heard above the others. He was certainly nothing if not strong spirited. The warning from Reginald Penn, the loss of his much respected and admired grandfather hadn’t broken him. Why would it when he knew his father would be arriving any minute and would clear the mess in one fell sweep? The Cappy was a powerful man and whilst he was around the son would laugh at the attempts of their enemies to frighten them. But something had given him sobering thoughts. 

There was an eery silence as Julia stepped inside the house. There was no laughter, no merriment from the dining room.  

“I’m home!” Julia called. “My dinner plans were cancelled. I do hope there is enough for one more setting.” 

Julia looked in the mirror that hung by the door. Some strands of hair had escaped her pony tail. She fixed them and tidied her clothes.  

“Mummy? Jon?” she called.  

From the dining hall emerged Nan Harvester.  

“It’s good you’re home, buttercup.” Nan greeted with a warm embrace and a kiss of her daughter’s cheek. “Of course we will have a place set for you. There’s plenty to go around. As a matter of fact, we have a guest. So why don’t you go and get washed up?” 

“Who’s the guest?” Julia asked, taking note of her mother’s excitement.  

Nan patted her arm. “Just hurry and get cleaned. We don’t want to hold dinner back too long.” 

Julia agreed to her mother’s request. When she reached the foot of the stair case her mother added, “Use the new wash. It’s apple scented.”  

Julia paused for thought. Nan smiled sweetly as though the words were of no consequence.  

Julia changed from her Harvester shirt. Without knowing the importance of the guest, she chose a plain white blouse. She used the apple wash on her hands and face, enjoying how the sweet scent covered the smell of the Harvester van she had been riding in all day.   

Returning back downstairs, a warmth was now radiating from the dining room. She could hear voices now. Jonathan was offering their guest an anecdote of his trip abroad. He was telling the story heartily just like their father used to. Jacob could always tell a good story.  

“And here she is, the lady of the moment!” 

Jon’s story was had been interrupted by their guest. Sat at their father’s place at the table was Dr Winslow – eminent clinician, saviour of her father’s life initially and bullying force she had worked so hard to get rid of. 

“My darling Julia, you look so pale. I hope they aren’t working you too hard,” commented the doctor with an accommodating smile.

  

Julia smiled too as she took her seat. “Well, well Gregory,” she replied. “It’s been a while. How have you been?”  

“Terrific,” he replied. “Just terrific. Everything is getting back on track with Harbour House.” 

Julia gushed. “I’m so glad to hear that. It did give so many people hope of recovery.”  

Winslow’s head dropped slightly onto his left shoulder as he observed her more closely. “It’s just a pity one such person wasn’t my dear friend Jacob.”  

Julia’s eyes brightened. “We all have our losses.”  

“We might as well forget our losses and appreciate what we do have. Your mother was kind enough to invite me to join you for this lovely meal. I must say, Nan, it smells positively delectable.”  

Julia reached out and took her mother’s hand in hers. She gave it a gentle squeeze.  

“She’s such a treasure, isn’t she?” said the daughter. She looked across the table to Winslow. “Pass the potatoes please.”  



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