After finding our home ransacked, Theresa decided to stay with her mother. She said she would be home the following afternoon. She pleaded with me to go with her but in desperate times, my job at the newspaper was important. Through the night I had been restless. I watched the quiet streets from my window until my eyes were burning. After falling asleep on the sofa for a few hours I left to meet Madeline for lunch at the local diner. She was already waiting for me at a table by the window with a bowl of watered-down soup in front of her. An empty one left by the previous occupant had been pushed aside.
“Are you okay?” she asked as I sat on the booth bench across from her. She hadn’t seen me since the house breaking. She was filled with genuine concern. She had spent an hour on the telephone with Theresa the night before.
The white washed walls of BOBBY’S LUNCH BOX were harsh on my tired eyes.
“I’m fine,” I said, not convincing anyone. “I don’t think they’ll be back.”
I tried a smile. Madeline shook her head sympathetically. A large middle aged, grey haired waitress with thick rimmed spectacles approached. “Just some coffee please,” I told her. She grunted and disappeared back to the kitchen to fetch the coffee. “She’s a charmer…” I commented.
“Are you sure you are okay?” Madeline asked again.
“I told you I am fine,” I insisted. “Unfortunately, these kinds of things are happening a lot these days.”
“Nothing was stolen though. If it was a robbery surely they would have taken something.”
“There isn’t much to steal at my place. We sold the best bits to pay the rent.”
“Theresa told me about your visit to the Knock, Knock club.”
“The woman I spoke to wasn’t much help.”
“What was her name?” Madeline couldn’t help but press like a reporter.
She clasped my hand.
“You should be careful Sam,” Madeline warned.
“Do you know the club?”
“I’ve been there once or twice,” she stated. “I tried get a story on it before but the owner wouldn’t give me anything. They try to keep it hush hush.”
“The house breaking and the visit to the club could just be coincidence but I’m going to have to go back and talk with Tabitha. Maybe I will get you your story after all.”
“Don’t do anything stupid Sam.”
As if I would…
That evening I returned to the Knock, Knock club. Perhaps my journalistic instinct was getting the better of me or perhaps I wanted to avoid the confinement of my empty home. Either way, there I was knocking on the door as the sign suggested. Dennis was the one to answer.
“Table for one?” he asked with an ironic smile. “Sometimes it is more hassle than it’s worth to bring the missus isn’t it?”
“I’m not staying,” I explained to him. “I just want to speak to Tabitha.”
“I shouldn’t let you in at all after the stunt you pulled the other night. Didn’t your mother teach you that it’s rude to barge your way into a lady’s room? Luckily for you, I hate to lose a customer.”
I tried to push past him. “I’ll be quick,” I said.
“Just a minute pal. Miss T isn’t here tonight.”
“Perhaps you can help. You manage this place right?”
Dennis raised his dark eyebrows. “I shouldn’t be talking to the papers.”
“Have you seen the mayor around?”
He shrugged off my question. “You see all kinds of faces in a joint like this.”
“Surely you would know the mayor of the city when you saw him,” I pushed.
Dennis’ expression softened. “When the lights go down they all look the same,” he said.
I stood my ground, refusing to be brushed off.
“I get it. You need to be quiet around here. I don’t want to cause anyone unnecessary hassle so the quicker I get some answers the sooner I can leave you to carry on doing whatever it is you do here.”
Dennis’ dark eyes widened. “You must have a death wish.”
“Why would you say that?”
“You say you don’t want to step on any toes and you have no idea just whose toes you are talking about. Let’s not stand around here talking about it though. Come in.”
The club seemed surreal lying empty. It was like the life had been drained from it.
“You have no idea the shit storm that would fall on me for talking to a reporter. Besides, Tabitha knows more than I do,” Dennis continued.
“Is this club hiding the mayor?” I asked.
Dennis laughed. “Not quite.”
“There is a connection here. It’s going to come out one way or another.”
“Don’t let the Knock, Knock club fool you. I mean I love the old girl like my own but she doesn’t look like much on the surface. Still you don’t want yourself caught up in what’s going on here.”
“So what is this about then?”
“We do whatever it takes to survive,” said Dennis matter-of-factly.
I knew times were desperate for the people of the city, but the way Dennis said it seemed as though there was more to it than that.
“I can keep your name off record if you tell me what you know,” I suggested.
Dennis shrugged his shoulders, unmoved. “It wouldn’t matter. You have no idea what they are capable of doing and how high this goes. You would be dead before anything got to print.”
It wasn’t the first time someone had threatened me to stay away from a story. It just made me bite down harder. Before it all got out of hand I admit I did think this was going to make one hell of a story.
I followed Dennis across the club. His lean frame was much taller than mine. He strode confidently with long legs. An older woman stopped him. She was dressed in a black dress and her raven hair was pulled severely back. She was the matron of the dancing girls and she had been an employee of the club since before Tabitha’s time. Her face was so thick with make-up it almost looked like a mud mask.
“She’s on the phone again,” she whined.
Dennis shook her off. “Not now Bette. Can’t you see I’m busy?”
Bette was relentless. She continued pleading her case. “If your little whore is going to keep calling here I’m telling Miss T.”
Dennis gripped both of her shoulders. He was clearly frustrated but he still spoke in a calm tone. “Listen, why don’t you tell T all about it when she gets back.”
Bette must have decided that it wasn’t such a great idea. Her expression changed from sour to fear.
“She just needs help okay. I’ll deal with it,” Dennis groaned.
Without another word the girl dashed off towards backstage. Dennis flashed me a charming smile.
He showed me to an empty room that appeared to be having some work done. He pointed over to the bar where Lisa – the blonde serving girl I met before – was playing a game on her phone. She looked up and beamed her pretty and engaging smile.
“I’ve gotta go,” Dennis said. “Tabitha told me to give you a drink and send you packing if you stopped by. I highly recommend you not be here when she returns pal.”
Dennis was ensnared by the club. If Tabitha wasn’t around I thought there was no point in me being there. I had hoped to nosey around but since there were few people in the club at that time I wouldn’t go unnoticed. By the sounds of how tightly Tabitha kept a hold on things, I doubted anyone would be willing to talk to me anyway. I could only count on Dennis’ support so far and that wasn’t much.
Lisa dropped her phone and hopped behind the bar.
“Nice to see you again sweetie,” she said.
Dennis nodded to her and disappeared deeper into the club to deal with the drama on the telephone. Lisa filled a glass with clear liquid.
“How long have you worked here?” I asked.
“Oh long enough,” she replied.
“Do you like it?”
She shrugged her shoulders and giggled. “It pays the bills.”
I lifted the glass and sniffed it. There was no real detectable scent.
“What is this?” I asked.
Lisa tipped a wink and beamed. “It’s on the house is what it is honey. We don’t give much away for free in here you know. You may as well take it whilst it’s going.”
She was right about that.
I took the glass and gulped the liquid down. It did taste like very dry gin with little life left in it.
Lisa waved me off.
“Bye bye honey!” She called. “Come back later when we’re open. It’s sure to be a real hoot.”
Tabitha clearly hadn’t told her what I was.
The drink rested warm in my belly. As I left the club behind me and made my way from the ominous dark alley to the bright lights of the street I actually started to feel quite giddy. By the time I reached my home the giddiness had given way to haziness.
I fell in the door, barely able to hold myself upright. Theresa was home. I hadn’t expected her. Before I could question her I felt myself fall over. The last thing I remembered as my vision clouded was her terrified expression as she looked down at me.
The next morning, I awoke to a thundering headache. My mouth was filled with cotton. Slowly I came back from the land of nod into the land of reality. The questions that plague us every morning queued up like always. ‘Where am I? What has happened?’ I realised quickly that I was at home in my own bed. The sun was streaming through the window so I guessed it was around noon. As I turned I felt a heavy object beside me. The haze in my eyes cleared. I felt Theresa beside me. I shivered.
“I don’t know what happened last night,” I said. “I must have had way more than I should have.”
Theresa didn’t respond.
I looked beside me and that’s when I saw her. Stone cold dead. A bullet wound from an expert shot in her forehead.
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