Whilst I digested the information that I was uncovering and as the city readied itself for the trial of the KNOCK KNOCK BOSS LADY, the lady herself was still in custody at Coldford City Police Department. She wouldn’t be transferred to the MONTE FORT women’s correctional facility until after she had been served justice. The Monte Fort had homed such women as the Confessions Killer, Tracey Campbell, who murdered half of her anatomy class in a series of brutal killings throughout her second year at Filton Medical School. It was also where RUTH BROWING still resided. Ruth had slaughtered her daughter, born of incest to her father, and fed her body through a wood chipper.
Tabitha was set to make home among such women and I dare say she would fit right in, but as always other plans were in motion.
She looked around her four bare walls and grumbled. She was angry, thirsty and loathed that they had taken her signature red dress from her to put her in prison garb. She noticed something small, black at her feet. She flicked it with the toe of the most hideous shoes they could ever find for her. It was the body of a roach. She wrinkled her nose in disgust and unnecessarily stepped on it, listening to the sound of it crunch underneath her foot. The door began to unlock.
HICKES popped his head in.
“You gotta visitor Tabitha,” he announced free from expression.
“About fucking time too,” she groaned.
Hickes led her along a corridor. She was surprisingly quiet.
“Just five minutes, mind,” Hickes warned as he opened the door. “I’m taking a huge risk as it is.”
Inside the room sat a middle-aged woman with greying black hair and a stern expression on an otherwise attractive face. She was Agnes Wilde, the Broker and co-owner of the club, lover of the old Baroness and, to Tabitha, Aunt Aggy.
Tabitha smiled excitedly but she kept her movements slow and easy. She didn’t want to give any excuse to pull her away. Hickes stepped outside and left them alone.
“You took your sweet time,” complained Tabitha.
Agnes pursed her lips. “Believe it or not, no one in this city is willing to defend you. The LAW MAKERS are shutting down and revoking licences of anyone who even considers trying. This is a fine shitty mess you’re in. They are appointing someone of their own choosing.”
“So, whom have they got?” she asked.
“I’ve only heard through the grapevine but RONNIE OWEN seems to be the top contender.”
Tabitha gasped. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! An Owen? The last time an Owen came anywhere near me I just about cut his cock off.” She could see Agnes’ expression was not changing. “They think they’ve got me backed into a corner but when have you ever known me to not come out fighting.”
Agnes softened. Her eyes glazed. She tried to remain strong but seeing Tabitha in her current predicament wasn’t easy. “They could put you away for a long time Tabs. They are looking to bring back the death penalty.”
Tabitha shrugged. “They don’t frighten me,” she said with some childish impetuousness.
“Tabs!” Agnes shot her a warning glare.
Tabitha raised her eyebrows. “I’m not afraid of those fuckers,” she maintained.
Agnes’ frustration began to show. “Then maybe you should give some thought to those who are frightened for you. Do you think I like seeing you like this? What about Tawn?”
At the mention of the BARONESS Tabitha’s usual self-confident air clouded over.
“How is Aunt Tee?” She asked.
“I know this isn’t easy for you, but I need you to sign these,” said the Broker.
She was surprised when Tabitha gave little resistance. If there was anything in the world precious to her other than Tawny, it was the club. That was how Agnes knew what she had to say next was not going to be received well. She waited until the signature – a curly, childish scrawl – was on the page.
“I’m thinking of selling the club,” she said.
Tabitha’s eyes widened. “Over my dead fucking body!”
Agnes returned the tension. “Yeah? Well carry on the way you are, lady, and that might just be exactly what happens. I’m not having that on my conscience. Enough is enough. I’m ending this.”
Tabitha folded her arms across her chest and pouted. She growled but her eyes pleaded in a way that was rarely seen.
“I’m stuck in here with those fuckers trying to do everything they can to get to me and you’re pissing your granny panties?”
Agnes shook her head. “I’m being cautious. We’ve already lost enough.”
Hickes interrupted. “Time’s up,” he announced.
Tabitha was still frustrated. “There’s no way that was five minutes, you bald sack of shit.”
Hickes refused to let himself be drawn in. “It’s as long as you’re getting.”
Agnes stood. “I wish I could convince you to be cautious,” said Agnes.
Tabitha returned her self-confident smile. “Just don’t sell my fucking club.”
Agnes stopped by the door and raised an eyebrow. “It’s our fucking club.”
Tabitha shrugged. She thought about it then she asked of The Broker, “talk to that reporter, Sam. If anyone is going to help, it will be him.”
She had a lot of faith in me. I just wanted to get to the truth. I wasn’t sure that would leave Tabitha in the best of lights.
Leaving, Agnes said to Hickes, “look after her. Please.”
When half the city wanted to throne her and the other half wanted to throttle her that would be no easy task.
“Oh, and Hicksey,” she called down the hall after them. “Call the exterminators. You’ve got a bug problem in here and it’s fucking disgusting.”
AGNES had been at the Knock Knock Club since its founding. It was she and the BARONESS who began the club. So, to me she was a person of great interest. With the gagging order issued by Judge Doyle’s office I was holding back on pressing her for an interview. Therefore, it came as a shock to me when she contacted me first on an unknown number. With Tabitha expressing an interest in opening up to me I couldn’t resist the opportunity in spite of the danger of the Law Makers.
There were a few topics she demanded stayed off the record. One was Tawny and another was the whereabouts of the mayor. “I don’t know where he is and I don’t much care,” she said over the phone. “If you can’t agree to those terms, I have nothing to say to you.”
She was tough. I couldn’t expect anything less from someone who brought a place like the KNOCK KNOCK CLUB to life. Tabitha claimed she had reasons behind her madness. My main objective was finding out what they were and if there was any truth to her claims.
I had been waiting in Bobby’s Lunchbox for about fifteen minutes. I decided to arrive early so that if any Law Makers surveillance were on me it would seem natural. I was watching through the window and sipping a cup of coffee when a middle-aged woman with greying, dark hair entered. She had a pretty face, vacant of expression.
The Mid East of the city seemed a whole world away from the rest. It was quiet, untouched like it had no idea what had just happened down in the Shanties. The Mid East folk didn’t care that Knock Knock club had been burnt out. Why should they care about a filthy cabaret club in a part of the city that was home to drug addicts, car thieves and whores? Perhaps if they read about it in the newspapers they would sigh a ‘that’s a shame’ when they learned that Jack, the old compère, had died along with several of the dancer girls. They might shrug a shoulder of pity if they read that many of the MACK workers from the DISTILLERY had perished in the fire. The dead included Orla Mack – cousin to the then head of the Mack clan, Brendan. That was, of course, if the papers printed the story – the proper story. The DAILY sure as Hell wouldn’t. None of them would tell that those dancer girls were gunned down on the stage. They wouldn’t tell that Jack – dear old Jack – caught a bullet in his right temple as he rushed to protect them. That was when the petrol bombs were thrown in.
‘KAPPA fucking SO,’ Agnes thought to herself bitterly. They were responsible but no one would ever know. She couldn’t tell anyone. She had already lost too much. She remembered screaming at TAWNY to get off the stage as bullets rained in from expert marksmen. The BARONESS was holding a dead dancer girl named Jill in her arms, refusing to move as the carnage intensified.
Now it was quiet. Apart from the occasional steps of the Macks, who had accompanied her to her Mid East apartment, it was silent. She had been sat on the sofa, trying to ward off a migraine when the phone rang. She sat up with a start and lifted the phone from the floor. The sofa and the phone were the only pieces of furniture there. The apartment was being leased out whilst she and Tawny lived at Knock, Knock. It took a little persuading from Agnes but luckily the tenant was able to vacate at short notice.
“Yes?” She answered. “Hello?”
She had only given the number to a few. She swallowed to contain her nerves. She was met by an automated voice.
“You have a interior call from HARBOUR HOUSE. Do you accept?”
“Yes,” Agnes declared. “Yes,” she added again for extra clarification. Holding the phone in one hand she reached up to her forehead with the other to continue easing her headache.
“Hello?” Came the musical tones of a HATHFIELD accent. “I can’t hear anything on this bloody thing,” Tawny complained to someone beside her.
“I’m here Tawn,” Agnes spoke up.
“Oh, thank God,” she declared. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I’m just a little shaken up. Some of the Macks are with me.”
“Listen, I need you to go and fetch Tabby,” she requested.
“I’ve tried to reach her,” said Agnes. “Rob wouldn’t allow her to come to the phone.”
“No,” Tawny said urgently. “I mean I need you to go and fetch her. You have to bring her to the Mid East with you.”
Agnes shook her head. “After what happened the last time you took her away from that house…”
There were three things important in the life of the Baroness. One was Agnes, who she would give her life for, the second was the wretched club that she adored, and the third was her niece, Tabitha, who she saw as the most precious thing in the world.
Agnes learned quickly that Tabitha was a handful. She was strong-willed, foul-mouthed and with all the makings of a sociopath, but one thing was clear; her aunt was everything to her. Through this, Agnes came to see a loving side of the would-be Boss Lady that not many others did. Whilst she couldn’t condone her behaviour, they grew close through their mutual love of Tawny and the damned club. Because it couldn’t be denied, Agnes’ blood flowed through Knock Knock too. Where most people only saw a seedy cabaret club, to her it was life. Kappa SO knew this; the Owens that sent them to destroy the place knew this also.
“Rob and Linda are never going to let me take her away,” Agnes tried to explain.
Tawny was sounding much better, much more like herself but she still wasn’t seeing the practicalities. Her worry intensified. “Please,” she cried. “You have to get her away from them. They will kill her. Offer them money if that’s all they really want.”
Agnes sighed. “They aren’t going to murder her Tawn.”
“You don’t know that. If those filthy Owen pricks want to silence her, they will.”
Agnes had grown used to Tawny being on the eccentric side. It was part of her charm. The BROKER was the sensible counter balance but given the lives lost already, it wasn’t complete paranoia that was speaking. It wasn’t outlandish to consider that something unfortunate could happen to the little girl who called the OWEN family out on their bullshit.
“I’ll go and speak to her and her parents,” Agnes offered.
“When you see my brother, tell him I’m going to string him up by the balls,” stated the Baroness.
Agnes laughed. “I’ll be sure to let him know.”
“As soon as I know you and Tabby are safe, they can do whatever they like to me in here. They can stick an electrode up ma arse or plug me into the national grid if they like.”
Agnes found herself shaking her head but with a smile on her lips. “They aren’t going to give you electro shock.”
“They think I’m off ma rocker,” replied Tawny.
“You are,” Agnes teased.
Tawny laughed. It was a comforting, melodic sound. “Maybe a little.”
A bleeping sound signalled the call was to end. “Oh, come on now,” said Tawny away from the receiver. “It looks like I have to go,” she added, her voice coming back clearer.
“It’s so good to hear your voice.” Agnes’ migraine was starting to ease off.
“Recorded for quality and training purposes,” Tawny imitated the automated voice. The phone bleeped again. “Alright. I hear ye,” she said to it.
“I’ll be in to see you soon,” said Agnes.
“Bring Tabby with you,” requested Tawny.
Agnes’ heart began beating a little faster. “I’ll do the best I can.” It was all she could promise.
“Love you, bitch,” Tawny teased.
Agnes returned. “Love you too, bitch.”
Agnes didn’t visit Filton much. She was a Mid East girl through and through. Even when she gave up the apartment to reside about the club, she was still an artsy woman at heart. Even for a Mid East girl, living in a fabulous place like Filton was like a dream. The beautiful mansion homes were like fairy tale castles. But fairy tale castles could be oppressive, even to foul-mouthed, uncontrollable little princesses like Tabitha.
It didn’t matter what trouble she had gotten into, Agnes owed it to Tawny to at least discuss with Rob letting Tabs visit her aunt in Harbour House. But Rob was an unreasonable man from what Agnes could deduce – completely different from his sister. Agnes had brokered some tough deals over the years but this was going to be the most difficult. There was so much to ask for and so much at stake. Things were becoming worse for Tawny. Sometimes she would call and she would laugh and joke as though nothing had happened, other times she would sound so subdued and slurred from the medicine they were giving her to keep her calm, other times she would just weep.
Rob’s home in Filton was a two-story building in a quiet corner. It wasn’t as elaborate as some of the mansion houses but the Beckingridge family lived not so far away. She didn’t want to arrive unannounced with some Macks in tow. It would only be met with aggression and deals aren’t made easily with angry people. This required a sweetened approach. So, she asked the boys to stay nearby. It was likely the Owens were watching.
The last time Tawny had been at the house to check on Tabby, Rob and Linda had called the police. It was all Agnes could do to stop Tawny from going back and physically removing the girl with as many of the Macks as she could when the official notice from JUDGE DOYLE came through stating her petition for custody had been denied. It also stated that any investigations into the claims of a paedophile ring run by Jerry Owen were closed and wouldn’t be taken any further.
Trouble or not, no little girl deserved to be sold like property to sleazy old men as far as Agnes was concerned. Tabs was no angel but she was like a daughter to Tawny, and for that Agnes loved her too and would do anything she could to remove her from such a home life.
As beautiful as the homes in the northern town of Filton were, it was in the grotty little cabaret club that Tabitha was safest and most at home. The Knock Knock Baroness had a reputation in the area. She was loved but not really what most people would consider a stable guardian. However, if things had been different for Tabitha she would never have been without the love and support a troubled little girl sorely needed. As it happened, Doyle’s refusal of the custody petition had been the beginning.
She rang the bell but someone had left the door open having pulled it closed behind him or her. It likely hit off the lock and bounced back open without them noticing. Filton was a safe area. People rarely locked their doors but Agnes felt it a little strange to be left ajar. She didn’t know if Rob and Linda had staff. Most Filton people did but from what Tawny had said they were merely playing posh. That could have been a little bitterness talking. Linda had lived in Filton her whole life. Her mother was an executive assistant at BECKINGRIDGE FINANCIAL FIRM. It wasn’t the top floor of BECK TOWER but respected enough to be a part of the family. Her father was a driver for the Owen’s. The father was handsomely paid and led the team of drivers required to carry the family from point A to point B. Linda had even made friends with some of them. It was how Rob and Linda had come to know Jerry.
Filton life suited Rob McKinney. According to his sister, to be hob-nobbing with the rich folk was all he ever wanted. When he and Tawny first came to the city from the Hathfield Bay island they parted on bad terms. She went south to the Shanties busking for her supper and he north, glass collecting in some of Filton’s most exclusive restaurants until opportunity presented itself with Linda and her family as they dined in Delphine – the finest Luen cuisine in the city. They didn’t speak again until an early morning call came to the club from Rob to tell her she had become an aunt. As Linda’s family flocked around, he must have realised his sister was all he had.
Agnes pressed the bell again. Its knell echoed inside the bell of the large house. A breeze charging through pushed the door open further.
“Rob? Linda?” Agnes announced her presence with a light knock on the door. “Agnes Wilde. I’ve been trying to call.”
She stepped inside a long, dark hallway listening for voices or life within. There was none.
“Tabs?” called Agnes up the large, open staircase for the Baroness’s niece.
She first made her way to the Den. A television had been left on paused on the Jolly Shopper show. The remote control was discarded on the floor. The cushions from the sofa had been cast across the room. Agnes’ heart started to race.
“Tabs?” she called out again. “Tabs? Rob? Linda? I don’t want to cause trouble. I just want to take her to visit her aunt. I will bring her straight home.” Agnes attempted but there was no response.
In the kitchen a drawer had been pulled free of it’s resting place. A clutter of cutlery lay discarded on a shining, freshly mopped floor.
Agnes clamped her hand to her mouth. Something had happened. The cold house had the ache of death about it.
In Linda’s dressing room the wardrobe of expensive dresses had been left open. Some had been pulled from the hangers and they lay discarded on the floor. Tabitha was nowhere to be found
Now Agnes was really concerned.
The door of the master bedroom was open. There were three bodies. The slim, toned, naked frame of Linda lay across the bed. Her ear had been ripped off. The bulky frame of Rob with a knife wound in his ribs had fallen on the floor. There was a third Agnes didn’t recognise. She had a knife wound in her chest.
A large knife had been left behind. It almost looked ceremonial. Agnes, without thinking, lifted the weapon and hid it in her purse. She called the Macks in. They helped her dispose of the bodies and clean the scene to make it look as though Rob and Linda had gone on a trip.