Tabitha climbed aboard the night bus that would take her into the city. The driver gave her a suspicious look but she turned and waved to a random woman on the platform. The woman – looking a little confused – waved back. Luckily the driver assumed she was a relative come to see Tabitha off and was drunk instead of confused. She paid for her ticket using Ma’s cash and sat herself at the back. The driver asked no questions.
When the bus arrived in Coldford she wasted no time. She dashed off to the Shanties where the Knock, Knock club lay.
When she finally reached the club the sky was starting to show early signs of dawn. The club was empty. It had been burned out. She stood in silent shock watching what was once her haven now reduced to an empty shell. She had had no idea something had gone down there.
The Knock, Knock club had been where her true family lived. Her aunt, Tawny, being the headliner. The feather dancing girls loved Tabitha too. They all kissed their fingers and tapped her forehead as the lined up to go on stage like Tabitha was their lucky charm. Tawny looked to her watching from the wings of the stage as she sang. Tabitha adored the sound of the cheering audience. She once peeked out from behind the curtain. The audience cheered for her too when they saw the young girl’s beaming face. She waved to them. They applauded in return. Tawny turned, laughed.
“My niece ladies and gents. Isn’t she a beauty?”
Tabitha was pulled back by Agnes, the stage producer. “Stay behind the curtain,” she warned.
Agnes was also Tawny’s girlfriend and the most level headed person Tabitha had ever known. She was the sensible driving force in a wonderful flurry of sequins, music and performance.
True to this Agnes always looked out for Tabitha. She came back stage one evening to find Tawny offering her niece a cigarette.
“You can’t give her that!” Agnes warned, pulling the cigarette away.
Tawny shrugged. “It’s just a ciggy.”
“She’s too young and it’s a filthy habit. Do you really want her picking that up? Jesus Christ Tawn!”
Tawny grinned and pulled the packet off the table. “Well if you’re going to get religious about it.”
“I’ll crucify you if you’re not upstairs in five minutes. Jack is just finishing up.”
“Well I mustn’t disappoint. See you in a bit Trouble.” She kissed Tabitha’s head and took Agnes’ arm. “Madame Dictator, lead the way.” She looked back at her niece and winked.
Agnes smiled at Tabitha too. “We’ll be back soon.”
But would they? It was all gone. Jack the pianist, the feather girls, the stern but loving Agnes, Aunt Tawny who they all called The Baroness. Someone had deliberately destroyed the club and Tabitha – still with the blood of her parents motivating her – would find out who.
The docks were close by so Tabitha made her way there. If something had gone down at the club Aunt Tee would have no doubt returned to the islands where she came from. She hadn’t been waiting long when a man approached her.
“Hey kid, are you lost?” he asked.
Tabitha shrugged and turned away from him. “Not really,” she said.
He stopped and surveyed her. Tabitha’s accent didn’t sound native to the Shanties. “You shouldn’t be out here. This isn’t a safe neighbourhood.”
“I’m waiting for the ferry. I’m going to my aunt.”
He looked out at the docks. “The ferry doesn’t come at this hour,” he said. “There won’t be another one until morning.”
Tabitha became impatient, the image of the burned out club still fresh on her mind.
“What are you? The ferry master?”
He ignored the comment. “Where are your parents?”
“They’re gone. That’s why I’m going to my aunt.”
“What age are you?” he asked.
“Old enough,” Tabitha returned coldly.
“What’s your aunt’s name?” the man pressed. “Maybe I know her. I do a lot of business over on the islands.”
“Do you know the Knock, Knock club?”
He smiled smoothly. He was very well kept and handsome. He seemed like an unusual figure in such a run down area of the city. “Everyone around here knows the Knock, Knock club. Did she work there?” Tabitha was hesitant to say any more. “Look, I’m going to call my wife, okay? She’s a social worker and she’ll help you get in touch with your aunt.”
He removed a phone from the inside pocket of the tailored suit he wore. He dialled, listened briefly before beginning the conversation.
“Hey Liv. Sorry did I wake you?” he asked. He listed to the response. “I’ve got a girl here. She says she’s trying to get to the islands.” Again he listed. He pulled the phone away from his ear and asked Tabitha, “What’s your name kid?” Tabtiha told him. “She says her name is Tabitha.” He listened to the response. “Sure,” he said before passing the phone to Tabitha.
“Hello?” Tabitha said hesitantly.
“Hello Tabitha. My name is Olivia. The man you are with is my husband. His name is Dennis. Are you in any trouble? You just have to say yes or no?”
Tabitha thought about it. “No,” she said.
“That’s good,” Olivia replied genuinely. “The thing is sweetie, where you are isn’t very safe. There are no trains, buses or ferries out of there at this time so Dennis is going to bring you to me. You don’t have to be worried. I’ll be waiting for you and I will help you get in touch with someone. Does that sound okay?”
Tabitha shrugged. “I’ll be fine, really.”
Olivia didn’t press nor did she give up. “Would you at least like a warm drink until transport starts running again?”
Tabitha decided it would be better. She hadn’t heard from Tawny since Pa had forced her from the house.
“What happened to the Knock, Knock? Tabitha asked when she climbed into a car beside Dennis.
“I don’t want to worry you but I heard there was some kind of explosion,” he replied. He kept his eyes on the road. “I’m sure your aunt is fine though. You would have heard otherwise, right?”
“Right,” Tabitha agreed. She glanced from the window just as they passed BOBBY’S LUNCH BOX. Tabitha’s stomach growled. The last thing she ate was Nanny Lynn’s toffees.
“That’s a pretty dress you’re wearing,” Dennis commented. “Where you at a party?”
As the woman on the phone had said she was waiting for them. They pulled into the driveway of a quaint but pretty home in the lower west, not far from where she had met Dennis. Olivia came rushing out to greet them. The headlights caught a heavily pregnant bump.
“Nice to meet you Tabitha,” she said. You aren’t hurt or anything are you?”
“No.” Tabitha felt a little overwhelmed at the concern from a stranger.
“Make yourself at home kid,” Dennis announced when they stepped inside.
“Are you tired?” Olivia asked.
Tabitha shook her head but she was busy taking in the home. She watched as Olivia closed the door to see how it was locked and bolted. She noticed some social work certificates in the name of Olivia Platt. They were signed by Judge Karyn Doyle.
“Do you know Judge Doyle?” Tabitha asked.
“She handles most of my cases,” Olivia replied. “Were you in her care?”
Tabitha shook her head and dismissed the comment quickly. “Just wondered.”
“What’s your poison?” Dennis asked. Olivia scowled at him. “What?” he laughed. “I meant tea, coffee, cocoa?”
“I’ll have some cereal. I’m kinda hungry,” Tabitha admitted.
“What kind do you like?”
“Queen Corn I guess …” the cereal advert still played on her mind.
Tabitha’s gaze started to take in the baby bump. “When are you due?” she asked.
“Any day now actually,” Olivia answered proudly.
“Boy or girl?”
“Boy. His name is Milo.”
Tabitha grinned. Olivia tried to hazard a guess at her age.
“Hi Milo!” Tabitha cheered waving at the womb. “I’m Tabby.”
Needless to say, Tabitha didn’t leave the Platt home the following day on the ferry. She tried to call her aunt on the last number she had but it was out of service. She tried Agnes too but with no luck. When Dennis discovered it was the baroness that Tabitha was related too (a well known figure in the area) he made some enquiries about the Knock, Knock club. From what he found out it was attacked by a group of youths and it was burned out. There was no word of anyone surviving.
Tabitha still wouldn’t discuss where she came from. Whenever Olivia tried to ask her about her home life she became bitter and closed off. Olivia was concerned but Tabitha continued writing letters to her aunt and sending them to any possible place she might be. Olivia fetched clothes for her, put food to her and even involved her in discussions on the imminent arrival of Milo. When the baby was born Tabtiha fussed over him. She ran errands and when Olivia was tired offered to take him walks.
“She’s still not heard anything from her aunt,” Dennis said. “None of the hospitals have heard anything either.”
“What are we going to do?” Olivia asked as they watched Tabitha play with Milo.
“Well we can’t throw her out on the street, can we? She must have family somewhere. I have people all over looking for the baroness but nothing yet.”
More time wore on and Tabtiha became like one of the family.
Olivia offered to alert Judge Doyle to her plight but Tabitha became angry.
“I like you Liv. You’ve been good to me but if you tell her I’m here I will put Milo in the fucking microwave and make you eat him,” she growled.
Olivia was shocked at the outburst. In all her years of working with troubled young people she had never heard such things.
“I just want to get you home, sweetie,” she managed.
Luckily Tabitha softened. “I wouldn’t hurt little Milo,” she giggled. “Unless someone made me,” she was careful to add. “Leave the judge out of it. I’ll find my aunt.”
More time passed and the young girl had firmly cemented herself in their home. Milo was growing fast. He adored Tabitha. Every time he saw her he gave a huge grin.
Dennis too seemed oblivious to the intrusion into their home. What began as inviting a young girl to safety became uncomfortable and stifling. Only Olivia seemed to notice this. Dennis enjoyed the young girl’s company and so did Milo.
Olivia was called to a conference in the city one weekend and she would spend the night there. Her intentions were to visit the Court House and find out more about who Tabitha was. Given her reaction to Judge Doyle that was where the answers lay.
Dennis had been speaking to some associates and when he returned he found Tabitha had put Milo to bed and was watching her favourite show. Relishing the quiet he joined her on the sofa.
“Whatcha watching?” he asked playfully.
Tabitha raised an eyebrow. “It’s right there on the screen,” she said.
He drew closer to her and reached an arm behind and rested it on the sofa. He felt giddy. With Olivia gone it was just the two of them.
“It’s fun having the house to ourselves,” he said. “We’ve grown close, haven’t we?”
Tabitha didn’t take her eyes away from the screen. “Too close. You’re in my space. Move!” she barked.
Dennis ran a hand softly along up her leg. “Come on,” he purred. “You and I can have some fun.”
He clasped her hand and pulled it towards his aching crotch. “Come on,” he said again. This time with a little more force.
Tabitha tried to pull her hand away but he had gripped her tightly.
“Get the fuck off me!” she snarled but Dennis paid no attention. He wanted her then and he would have her.
He grabbed her and flipped her over on the sofa. He pushed behind her with a leering grunt.
“You want this,” he said. “You know you do.”
Tabitha snarled. She bit down on his arm and he yelped in pain. She threw her head back catching his nose and bursting it. She climbed onto her feet and when she saw Dennis hadn’t fallen she punched him heavily on the nose causing a satisfying explosion of blood as it burst. Dennis tumbled to the floor.
“I’m sorry,” Dennis whimpered.
Tabitha laughed with a horrid mixture of childish giddiness and grown up scorn.
“Oh you fucking will be,” she said. “For the rest of your life you will remember this moment as the time you fucked up royally.”
She turned to the television. She pushed the button to change the output and on the screen flashed the scene that had just occurred. A concealed camera had recorded everything.
“This will be a little memento in case you forget.”
“You set this up!?” he gasped.
Tabitha shrugged. “Let’s just say I know creeps like you,” she replied. She watched the screen and laughed again. “You are so fucking screwed!” she cheered with a tune hanging in her voice. “Just not the way you hoped.” She looked closely at her own image. “The camera loves me,” she grinned. “Look at your nose. I really cracked you good.”
The scene was interrupted by Milo crying. Dennis tried to stand to check on him but Tabitha shot him a warning glare.
“You stay here, perv. I’ll check on him.” She skipped across to the steps. “If you ever lay a finger on me telling Liv will be the least of your worries. I will cut your fucking balls off.” She looked back at the screen. “Actually, if I’ve missed my show because of this I may still cut your balls off.” She sighed with amusement at her own jest and finally started climbing the stairs. “Coming Milo,” she called to the crying child.
When Olivia returned she sensed something was wrong but Dennis wouldn’t admit it. Tabitha carried on as she always had.
Olivia had been unable to meet with Karyn Doyle. The district court judge and chair of the child services committee had been involved in an explosion too. A car bomb had left her critical in hospital.
“Do you think those two things are related?” Olivia asked Dennis but he didn’t seem to be listening.
“I don’t know do I?” he finally said.
“Maybe one of your associates would know?”
Dennis mostly ran couriers around the city and as such he came into contact with lots of different people. He didn’t ask any more questions about the Knock, Knock club though. Instead he distanced himself from his wife and child. Olivia noticed his being more subdued.
More time passed. Olivia tried to contact the judge when she heard she had made a miraculous recovery. Dennis finally spurred into action.
“Don’t do that!” he grabbed the telephone from her with a shaking hand.
Olivia remembered Tabitha’s threats on Milo but couldn’t believe that she should take them seriously.
“She needs help Dennis. She needs a home,” Olivia protested.
“She doesn’t want the judge to know she is here.” Dennis was almost pleading with his wife.
“Since when does Tabitha make the decisions around here?” Olivia returned with some venom. “It’s what is best for her.”
Given the urgency of Dennis’ plead Olivia left it. The judge would need time to recover from her ordeal anyway.
Time continued to pass. Tabitha grew older. Milo started to grow up. Until one day Dennis returned home to find Tabitha on the sofa with a packed bag at her feet and a coat on. Olivia was gone to places unknown with no intention of returning. She had taken Milo with her.
“Better get packed,” Tabitha said.
“Where are we going?” Dennis asked.
“To rebuild the Knock, Knock club.”
I stared at him for a little while after he told me this trying to process what it all meant.
“I’ve made some mistakes in my life but that was by far the worst and I’ve been paying for it ever since,”
Tabitha could handle herself whatever age she had been, that much was clear, but what I couldn’t get out of my mind were other little girls who hadn’t been so lucky. Frightened, trembling as Dennis’ long frame leaned over them. Their chances of first love gone forever in some sleazy hotel room with someone old enough to be their father. I could almost hear their painful screams.
“How long?” I growled.
“What do you mean?”
“How long before you met Tabitha did you have a fondness for little girls?”
Dennis’ eyes widened. There was still some self preservation left in him yet.
“It’s easy to condemn. It is sick, unnatural even, but you can’t fight it until you understand it.” he said.
The human part of me wasn’t interested in his excuses but that human part was shrinking more and more. All that was left was the reporter in me and that reporter was that story. It was a something that had to be told to warn others.
When he saw I wasn’t retreating he continued.
“At first I didn’t realise it was happening. There were lots of girls. The foreign ones fresh to the city were the best. They were always so eager to please in the hope you would help them make a home. I loved that vulnerability in them, that submissiveness. I couldn’t get enough so I started seeking them out. The more desperate they were the better. They started to get younger. Teenaged girls that knew what they were doing. After a while that didn’t satisfy me any more. They had to be fresher, easier to control. I didn’t want to feel that way. You have to believe me. It was like an addiction, a compulsion. The opportunity was always there, especially with Liv’s work. The grown ups of Shady City were too busy worrying about themselves. They left their daughters open and free for guys like me. The young girls were all that I lived for. Then Olivia fell pregnant. I began to think about how I would feel if someone did the things I did to those girls with my kid. So it ended. I still felt those impulses, attractions but I controlled it. I concentrated on my wife and I focused on my kid. We had it good. Then, when I saw Tabitha, it all came flooding back. She behaved like an adult but underneath all that make up and bravado she was just as ripe as the rest of them. She knew though, I don’t know how but she did. She knew what her knowing little smiles were doing to me and her touches.”
I had heard enough. My fists curled. I tried to walk away but he pulled me back. I’ve never been a violent man but I swung my fist and caught him a heavy blow on the face. He fell against the bar.
“You sick fuck!” I cried losing all of my usual composure, shaking the pain from my hand.
It wouldn’t be long before Tabitha joined us so I took a deep breath. I was getting out of that place and I was damned if I was going to let another little kid be harmed.
Ready to press on?
Our reporter has heard the story and he has his evidence. It’s time to bring the house down.