I composed myself. I didn’t want to give any clue that I had seen what happened to Mel. I didn’t trust Dennis but I knew he was the only one who could shed some light on what was going on. Tabitha had mentioned a war. She had insinuated as much to me too. My goal was to find out what this meant and who exactly they were at war with. It would make it easier for me to decide what to do with the evidence I had.
He swallowed the whiskey in his hand. I observed him for a bit, not giving away my presence too soon. I watched him, gauging his mannerisms and judging how easily he would talk at this point.
“Something getting you down?” I asked as coolly as possible.
“You should be upstairs,” he said. “You don’t want to be down here right now, pal.”
I took the stool at the bar beside him. I said nothing at first, just continuing to watch him for a break in his persona that would make him open up to me.
“Seriously,” he said, becoming frustrated. “You really have to go.”
“I’ve been through a lot lately,” I said finally. “I just want a drink. This is a bar, isn’t it?”
Dennis shook his head. He still wasn’t opening up. For a guy who was very full-on most of the time, I suspected he was a tougher nut to crack than it would seem.
“You look like you need help,” I said, hoping to prompt him.
He gave me a reluctant look then, but I seemed to have sparked something in him. I guess it had been some time since anyone had ever suggested helping him. It sure as hell didn’t seem likely that Tabitha would.
“There’s no helping me,” he said, but he laughed as he did so. His Knock, Knock persona was coming back. I was running out of time.
“Look, let’s just level with each other,” I suggested. “You don’t want to be here and neither do I. We can help each other but I can’t do anything unless you tell me what’s going on.”
Dennis looked behind him. He probably could have sworn he heard the click of those high heeled shoes.
“It’s too late,” he said, but this time he didn’t sound so sure.
“It’s never too late. I have to know what is going on here before anyone else is hurt.”
Dennis lifted his empty glass and spoke into it. “I wish I had never met her.”
He could have been referring to anyone but I felt it was safe to assume he meant Tabitha.
Then, with one final question, he threw all caution to the wind.
“What brought you to the Knock, Knock club?”
“Tabitha darling, we’re leaving now,” called Mrs McKinney to her daughter. “Come and kiss Pa goodnight.”
The girl had been sat in front of the television in the lounge. An old show played. The comically mismatched couple had found themselves in another scrape as they juggled the babysitting duties of ten small babies.
Tabitha had no interest in Pa. She barely knew the man. She barely knew Ma either. The days they were at home were spent dressing for parties to which Tabitha was never invited. Tabitha learned quickly that neither of her parents were really interested in their daughter. She was dressed in pretty dresses and told to sit quietly, like she was part of the décor of their mansion home in the privileged town of Filton.
The show ended. The audience were left in excited anticipation for what scenario they would find themselves in next. The screen replaced the show with an advertisement for Queen Corn cereal. A woman was singing and dancing on a beautifully illuminated stage. Her voice was sultry yet fun. The eye-catching leotard she wore underneath the grey gentleman’s blazer sparkled. The way her back-up dancers flocked around her, she looked as though she could rule the world. Tabitha’s heart began to flutter watching her and enjoying the music. The performer gazed at the camera with her smoky eyes, as though addressing the little girl directly.
‘You can have it all,’ her eyes seemed to say.
There was only one person in her life that encouraged her that way. Ma and Pa were strangers to her but her aunt, Tawny, knew her. She had wanted to take her away from it all.
The week before, she had fallen asleep on the sofa when she felt a soft touch on her face. Her eyes opened to a beaming, round face with a sparkle in her eyes that was almost magical.
“Aunt Tee!” Tabitha cheered, throwing herself into the middle-aged woman’s arms. Her aunt hugged her tightly.
“Hello Trouble, how are you?”
“Good,” Tabitha replied. The house that had felt so empty and cold before was now warm and inviting with Tawny’s larger than life presence.
“Are you staying?” asked the niece.
“I’m afraid I can’t. I just wanted to check on you. Where are your parents?”
Tabitha shrugged. “At a party, I guess.”
Tawny shook her head. “They left you alone again?”
“I prefer it when they fuck off.”
Tawny laughed and shook her shoulder playfully. “Language, young lady.”
“Will you stay with me?”
Tawny beamed her wide, affectionate smile. “Of course I will.”
It had been a pleasant evening. They pushed the furniture aside. They danced and sang together across the open floor. They had been having so much fun that Tabitha almost forgot that Ma and Pa would return sooner or later.
Sometime around 2am Pa came charging in like a drunken bull. He pointed at his sister with a great, fat finger.
“You!” he spat. “Get to fuck out of my house.”
Tawny stood. “It’s as much my house as it is yours,” she remarked.
He waved his arms like a frustrated child. “Stay away from my family!”
Tawny laughed. Tabitha felt angry tears build in her eyes.
“Aren’t I family?” she asked.
Ma came tearing in behind Pa. “Just get out,” she ordered.
Pa sneered. A most hateful glare fell onto his fat face. “You are no sister of mine after what you did.”
“What I did?” Tawny reached into the black shirt she wore and produced a handful of instant photographs. “When you did this?” she started to throw them like a magician. “This? And this?”
They fell face down onto the floor, so Tabitha couldn’t see what the photos were of.
Pa grabbed her arm. “Just get out!”
Tawny relented. She raised her arms.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll go, but Tabby comes with me.”
Pa raged. “Out of the question.”
Tabitha ran to her aunt and wrapped her arms around her full waist.
“Please,” she begged. “Just let me go with her.”
Pa grabbed the child’s arm and threw her aside, spraining her arm and hitting her head against the wall.
Tawny lunged and slapped him.
“How fucking dare you!” she growled. “You don’t give a shit about that kid.”
Ma was screaming, “I’ve had enough of this.” The doorbell rang and she charged to answer it. She returned swiftly, accompanied by two CPD officers.
“I found out about your petition for custody,” Pa growled. His expression changed to a satisfied sneer. “Judge Doyle overruled it today. Tabitha ain’t going anywhere.”
“After what you did to her you both should be in jail!” Tawny screamed.
The police officers clutched the aunt’s arms behind her back to restrain her.
“I now have an order against you. You are never to see Tabitha again,” Pa continued, relishing the pained expression on his sister’s face.
“I love you Tabs.” The aunt gave a painful cry as the officers removed her from the house. “No matter what happens remember I love you and I won’t rest until you are away from those monsters!”
When the scene had quietened Pa threw a cloth at Tabitha.
“Clean your face,” he ordered.
Tabitha soaked up the tears and absorbed the pain in her arm.
“Tabby!” Ma screeched this time.
Tabitha sighed. She switched off the television.
She met Ma in the hallway. She was standing with a sturdy woman in a cloche hat and long coat.
“This is Nanny Lynn. She’s going to stay with you whilst Pa and I are out.”
“I hate her,” Tabitha glared at the nanny. “If she stays here I’m going to rip her fucking face off.”
“Watch your mouth,” Ma warned. She threw her arms in the air. “You’re going to be the death of me. I hope you realise that.”
Tabitha glared directly at Nanny Lynn who stood in silent shock. “If you stay here I’m going to rip your fucking face off,” she repeated.
Ma stormed off to the kitchen to fetch one of her pills leaving the nanny alone with the child.
“You’re an angry little girl, aren’t you?” the nanny began hopefully. “If you give me the chance though, I’m sure we will become great friends,” she continued in a patronising tone that made Tabitha’s teeth itch. She reached a pack of JOLLY SHOPPER toffees out to her. “Would you like something sweet?”
Tabitha groaned. Sugar wasn’t going to solve anything. She raised her middle finger.
“Here’s what I think of your fucking toffees. Couldn’t even get the decent kind. Fucking cheapo.”
Nanny Lynn’s mouth was agape. A slur on her toffees was apparently worse than the threat of having her face ripped off.
Ma returned from the kitchen.
“You are staying here with Nanny Lynn whether you like it or not. I’m not having you ruin my night again. You are so selfish. Now come say goodnight to Pa.”
Pa was in a cloudy mood. Nanny Lynn fixed his tie. She stepped beside Tabitha and rested her hands on the girl’s shoulders with a gentle squeeze.
“Don’t pout girl,” Ma barked when she noticed the thunderous mood forming on her daughter’s face. “We’ll see you in the morning,” Ma started to explain but Pa snatched her arm and pulled her towards the door.
“Stop fussing,” he groaned. “I don’t want to be late.”
There was no kiss goodnight for Pa anyway. The little girl couldn’t understand why she had been pulled away from her shows just to watch them walk out the door again.
By the time Tabitha returned to the lounge the dancing woman was gone. It was during those lonely times that Tabitha missed her aunt the most. Aunt Tawny was a quirky woman with black hair and a laugh that always erupted from her stomach. She had a musical accent from the islands where she and Pa had grown up. Pa had lost his accent, striving to fit in amongst Filton society. Tawny wasn’t her aunt’s real name but that didn’t matter. They should have let her go. It wasn’t like they would miss her. Would they even notice she was gone?
That evening Tabitha kept singing and dancing like the woman from the cereal advert. As she did, a memory of Tawny came to her and the reason why her aunt made her smile so. Tawny always had a song on her lips. She wasn’t a graceful mover but there was a skip in her step that was enchanting. She was a cabaret singer and owned a club in the city. The Knock, Knock club sounded like such a magical place then.
“I love you Tabs. No matter what happens remember that.”
Tabitha couldn’t stand it any longer, she and Nanny Lynn alone in the big house, Ma and Pa never there.
“I won’t rest until you are away from those monsters.”
As the evening wore on she kept quiet, sitting in front of the television as Nanny Lynn read a magazine. She pretended to fall asleep on the sofa. Nanny Lynn got up to answer the door sometime after midnight. She heard someone look in on her. Tabitha closed her eyes tightly and pushed some light breathing through her nostrils. The door clicked closed again.
A few minutes later she heard the raised voices of her parents. Their slurred words were heavily laced with gin. Nanny Lynn sounded concerned. Tabitha couldn’t decipher their words but the tones were clear. Pa gave a hearty laugh. It was soon followed by stumbling footsteps up the stairs like a stampeding herd of cows. Ma was giggling.
“You’ll wake the child,” Nanny Lynn warned.
The door along the hall closed. Ma and Pa had gone to bed.
Tabitha waited patiently for an hour. She climbed onto her feet. She danced across the room like the woman from the advert and fetched a knife from the kitchen before creeping back to the bottom of the stairs.
Quietly, she crept along the hall to Ma and Pa’s bedroom. It was the one room in the expansive house that was forbidden to her. That didn’t stop her this night.
She opened the door as quietly as she could. There was movement from the bed. A lot of satisfied moaning filled the air. Pa was sat up. His bare back faced his daughter. Tabitha recited the tune from the cereal advert in her head. It slowed the charge of her heart. No one was paying attention to her. They hadn’t even noticed her come into the room. Ma had a camera phone and was filming Pa mounted onto Nanny Lynn like a breeding dog.
Finally, Ma looked over. She shrieked when she saw her daughter. Tabitha ran at them. She embedded the knife into Pa’s side. He didn’t scream. He emitted a gasp of air as though something heavy had fallen on him.
Ma screamed again as her husband tumbled onto the floor. Tabitha wielded the knife and slashed Ma’s face, leaving a red trace on her milky skin.
Tabitha leapt on top of Nanny Lynn’s naked frame and stabbed into her chest so deeply it was difficult to pull the blade back out.
With one last surge of strength Pa tried to grab at his daughter, but Tabitha curbed his enthusiasm by stabbing him ten more times.
Ma found her strength and charged at her daughter. She grabbed Tabitha around her neck and pulled her. They both fell to the floor.
Tabitha knew then she couldn’t overpower her, and the knife had slipped out of her bloodied hand. She wrapped her lips around Ma’s finger and bit down as hard as she could.
Ma was still locked around her so she reached up to her ear where she had had a recent injury. With an almighty tug Tabitha pulled the stitches and the rest of the ear came with it.
She picked up the knife. Tabitha had to finish the job. She charged at her mother and knocked her on top of Nanny Lynn’s lifeless body. She stabbed her twice. Ma still gasped. Her lips parted slowly. Her lungs had been punctured so she held on for a few moments like a fish out of water. Her last gaze upon her daughter showed she was smiling.
She switched on the lights. The blood-stained sheets were a tangled mess around the occupants of the bed. Tabitha found it quite comical actually. It looked like a sketch from a comedy show. She stifled her giggles.
A young girl wouldn’t get very far on her own. She had to make herself seem older.
She chose Ma’s favourite red dress and took it from the closet. Ma had been quite petite so it was only a little oversized. She pulled Ma’s make-up out of its usual hiding place. It spilled onto the floor. She wiped the blood from her face and sat at the vanity mirror.
The image of her parents and their reluctant lover reflected in the glass. She giggled again. She painted her face with the make-up, a little heavy on the rouge and the red lips but it made Tabitha seem older. With Ma’s clothes and a face of make-up she looked older than she was.
As she made her way to the front door her shoes clicked on the marble floor. This pleased her. She danced along it, singing the cereal song again. With her dress, heels and make up, little Tabitha could easily be the woman from the advert.
With only the cash Ma had in her purse the young girl ventured into the night, not really sure of where she was going yet.
“What happened after that?” I asked.
Dennis shook his head. His story had tired him. I wanted to keep him with me though. I needed him to tell me everything he knew so I poured him another whiskey to stop him sobering up.
“From what I heard Nanny Lynn’s husband was arrested for the murder. They said it was some kind of jealous rage. Tabitha slipped through the system.”
“How did she get into the city?”
“You would be surprised how many people around here are willing to help a young girl dressed like a whore,” he said bluntly.
Ready to press on?
We’re not quite done with you yet. Dennis’ story continues.
You can read the series so far free here at Vivika Widow Online or click HERE to download for kindle.