It was a blazing warm day in the Shady City. Sarah came to the north side of Coldridge park with her dad, Kev. Since the sun shone brightly she was promised they would have some fun together then go for ice cream but when they reached the park some of Kev’s friends called him over. Whenever Kev suggested they go to the park there were always friends waiting for them.
“I thought we were going to kick the ball?” Sarah protested. The friends Kev met always held him up until it was too late and they had to go home again.
“I won’t be long,” Kev said.
Sarah patted Ricky. The dog panted appreciatively. She tried not to pout. Her dad always got mad when she pouted. He would go off with his friends regardless. Maybe they would still get ice cream when he was done if she kept quiet.
“Stay here,” he warned.
“Kev!” one of the men called to him.
Kev smiled and raised two fingers to them before wandering off and leaving his daughter behind.
Sarah smiled at Ricky and kicked the ball for him to chase but the dog chased its owner instead. Sarah grumbled and sat on concrete steps that led to a supply shed.
As she watched her father exchange with his friends she realised he wouldn’t be returning any time soon. She picked up the shining red ball she had brought with her and started to play around with it.
She hadn’t made any team in school that year but the coach, Mrs Watson, told her that she showed promise and if she practised maybe she could the following year. Sarah kicked the ball. She flipped it up, trying to a move a Coldford City player had made famous. Unlike him it didn’t land at her feet. It rolled away. She chased after it. It was stopped by a woman.
The woman picked it up. She was pretty but not like Sarah’s mum. The woman had a movie star quality with long blonde hair and designer sunglasses.
“You ought to be careful,” she said. She had a warm voice, smooth like honey. “You wouldn’t want to lose your ball now would you?”
Sarah smiled at her. “Thanks Lady,” she said.
“Is that your dad over there?” the woman nodded towards Kev. He was still engaged in conversation. He hadn’t noticed the woman approach his daughter.
“Yeah the bald one is dad,” Sarah giggled. “That’s my dog too.”
“We’re going to get some ice cream,” Sarah divulged.
“He looks busy,” the woman replied. “Perhaps you and I can go get some while you are waiting.”
Sarah’s face lit up. She had been warned not to talk to strangers but the woman wasn’t at all like the strangers she imagined. She smelled of sweet perfume instead of alcohol. She was glamorous and pleasant. She was not at all like the rough looking, gin soaked men she had been warned of. The way she passed Sarah’s ball back to her was engaging and fun. She really did want that ice cream. It was still early morning but the temperature was soaring.
“I’m not supposed to leave the park.”
The woman ignored her statement. “You know, I don’t even have a favourite flavour. Maybe you could help me pick one out. We could get some for your dad too. His name is Kev right?”
Sarah was surprised. “You know him?”
“Of course I do,” said the woman. “I know you too, Sarah.”
Sarah beamed. “Yeah, that’s right.”
The woman pulled her sunglasses down and smiled at the child. She had a prominent gap between her front teeth that gave her a girlish, almost whimsical appearance.
“How do you know my dad?” Sarah asked.
The woman put her arms around the child’s shoulder and the started towards the north east exit.
“Let’s get that ice cream and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“What’s your name?” Sarah asked.
“Tabitha,” was the reply.
When Kev finished talking to his friends – one of whom he sold Ricky to – he returned to the steps to find his daughter was gone and all that was left behind was a shiny red ball.
I had been so angered by Dennis’ story of how Tabitha had come to own the Knock, Knock club and how he came to be involved I didn’t sleep at all that night. I locked the door of the room I had been given and lay on the bed to rest. I gathered my strength and waited for the morning when I could take the evidence I had to CPD. I gave myself some time to shake off any suspicion or watch the club had over me. It was early morning when I emerged again. I was glad to find none of the staff were there yet. Dennis would be nursing his wounds. I didn’t have to worry about him. He wouldn’t admit he had been talking to a reporter anyway. Tabitha on the other hand could make things very difficult for me.
It was when I reached the main part of the club I saw little Sarah sat at a table. She was completely unaware of the danger she was in.
‘Damn it,’ I thought to myself. I couldn’t leave her there.
“Hey,” I said.
She looked up and smiled back at me. She was cute kid, with blonde hair and warm eyes. She seemed familiar somehow.
“Hey,” Sarah replied.
“What brings you here?” I took a breath and tried to sound as casual as possible.
“The lady told me I was to wait here,” Sarah explained. “She’s getting ice cream.”
I kept my distance, not wanting to scare her but I had a feeling I knew the lady she referred to. I was running out of time.
“Ice cream for breakfast? That’ll give you a stomach ache.”
Sarah shrugged with a smile.
“The lady that told you to wait here, was she tall, slim, gap in her teeth, kinda goofy looking?”
Sarah laughed. “Yeah, Tabitha,” she said.
Time was definitely running out.
“Listen to me kid,” I said, trying not to frighten her with my sudden seriousness. “My name is Sam. That lady is not your friend,” I said.
Sarah seemed confused. “I should wait here.”
I was filthy, unshaven and still stank of last night’s booze. I could see why the girl wouldn’t trust me over Tabitha.
“Where are your parents?” I asked.
“I was at the park with my dad,” she said. “Tabitha brought me here and told me to wait for her.”
“You can’t stay here,” I urged. Tabitha would be back any moment. “You are going to get hurt here. I’ll take you back to your dad but we have to leave now.”
Sarah blinked. She must have read something on my face because her instincts told her to believe me. She hadn’t felt quite right coming to the club without her dad knowing. She stood and followed me.
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “I’ll look out for you.”
We got to the exit of the club where we met Lydia.
“Going somewhere?” she asked. Her eyes locked on Sarah.
“I’m getting out of this place and I’m not leaving without this kid,” I said to the dancer.
Lydia remained calm. “You have to be careful, Sam,” she said.
I was exhausted and in no mood to argue. “You can’t keep us here,” I said referring to myself and the little girl.
“I’m not trying to,” Lydia replied. “I’m saying you need to be careful. When you get to the alley turn left. If you go right they will see you.”
I thanked her. My first priority was getting Sarah back to her dad and then I was going to CPD with everything I knew.
What I didn’t know was that as I made my way from the club, relishing daylight again, the pocket I had kept the evidence phone in was now empty. Lydia had retrieved it.
“Where do you stay?” I asked Sarah as we got onto the street.
She pointed to the park entrance.
“Just at the other side of Coldridge,” she explained.
I took a firm hold of her arm. “We better hurry,” I urged her and we made our way to the park at a run.
We crossed the park to the south west entrance where a row of rundown buildings lay.
“There he is. That’s my dad,” Sarah cheered. Kev was on the phone I stopped her before she could run to him. I started looking around. I couldn’t see anything amiss. “Okay, go to him,” I pushed.
I watched as Sarah and Kev were reunited. He lowered the phone.
“Where did you run off to?” he growled angrily. “I was trying to phone your fucking mother.”
“The lady was going to get us some ice cream but the man brought me back,” Sarah explained.
Before Sarah could point me out, a shot cracked from somewhere in one of the buildings.
Kev cried out. Before he could catch his daughter another shot rang out.
It had come from what seemed like nowhere. My knees weakened. I had the strongest urge to vomit. My attempts to protect the little girl had brought her straight into the line of sight of a gun man with pin point accuracy.
When I left the Knock, Knock club I swore I would never let another kid get hurt. Creeps, murderers, degenerates. The Shady City had them all and she didn’t like that I was trying to fight back.
I will never forgive myself for what happened to that little girl that day. I was so overwhelmed with the sight of Sarah and her father being gunned down I didn’t hear steps approach me. I turned but before I could register the person behind me I was punched. Solid knuckle dusters caught me on the side of the head knocking me out cold.
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