Knock Knock: Episode 29: Cold Hard Cash

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The Beckingridge Tower reached lofty heights. It had been the first time I had crossed the courtyard since reading the details of the Free Fall Massacre. The last time I had been inside it had been to talk to Ernest about the apparent suicide of his wife, Alice.

ALICE BECKINGRIDGE: CHILD KILLER

BILLIONAIRE BOY MISSING.

Had been some of my early articles on the family.

The statue of Jeffrey Beckingridge AKA Gramps was clean and well kept. I wondered what he would have thought if he had to learn that 59 of his clients and staff had been thrown from the window. Would he have let things get that far?

The screen still showed the missing persons report, Tawny’s smiling face and a request for more information. It wasn’t easy to get myself an audience with the granddaughter, but Elizabeth and I had mutual interests and it was time we met in person to discuss them.

“Can I help you, sir?” asked the main receptionist. Poised, polite, welcoming.

“I would like to speak to Miss Beckingridge please.”

The receptionist frowned. She took her task as gatekeeper of The Tower very seriously.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No,” I admitted. “But I’m working on her missing persons case. She asked me to come in and catch her up.”

A text message. COME SEE ME WHEN YOU HAVE THE CHANCE. That was what Elizabeth had written. The receptionist eyed me suspiciously.

“Name please?”

I passed her an I.D card. “Sam Crusow. Miss Beckingridge knows who I am.”

“Just a minute please.”

Taking care not to harm her manicured nails the receptionist lifted the phone.

“Hi Mark. It’s Marlene from front desk. I have a Sam Crusow here to see Miss Beckingridge.” She awaited the secretary’s reply. “Yes? Yes of course. I’ll let him know.” She put the phone back down again. “I’m sorry, sir but Miss Beckingridge isn’t in her office at the moment. May I take a message?”

“No,” I said. “I’ll catch her another time.”

***

The embalming fluid gave a clinical smell. Eugene Morris’ workspace was chilled. Not just because of the nature of his calling in life, but because of the character he was as an individual. Like death, whenever he was present people paid notice. Whimsical in the sense that he was never going to be escaped, so really should just be embraced. Most people chose to run from him as long as they could. Eugene was a friendly man but he was never overly familiar with his clients. It wasn’t in his nature, nor was it in his work.

The body of Robert ‘Bobby’ Owen was laid out on the table like a king of old, lying in state. He was already dressed in his best suit Ronnie had chosen for him from the luggage he had brought with him. With expert hands and patient due diligence the head injury that had taken his life was patched, powdered and presented as though the man was good as new. He looked as though he could have been in his prime days, ready to address the masses. He looked as though he was ready to be sent back to the heavenly plane he had descended from.

The Tailor observed the body. The son, Charles, was stood behind him. “It’s awful when death visits someone who still has so much to give. It’s even more terrible when someone else brings that death of their own accord.”

“He returned the body?” Charles Owen enquired. “What did he say?”

Eugene inspected the body closer. “It’s not for me to get involved in those kinds of affairs. I’m merely here to pick up the pieces and kiss the foreheads of those who may otherwise be forgotten.”

“What kind of man is he?” Charles asked, determined to get some kind of insight. He was referring to the king who had slain his father.

“Quite reasonable in his way,” Eugene responded. He pointed to a beautifully carved oak coffin. “He asked that the deceased be treated with the utmost respect. His carriage into the farther reaches was to be the best money could buy. If that there isn’t to your taste he will give you the cost of anyone you like. The coin for the ferry man would be from his own pocket.”

The Tailor drew Charles’ attention to the lining of the casket which was the finest velvet. The lining of the coffin itself was the thickest, purest gold.

“He said the man needn’t have died and on that I quite agree. Other than that I am not offering commentary. If I were to offer my two cents worth it would make matters much messier than they already are.”

Charles inspected his father’s coffin. It truly was of the best quality.

“He may be an animal,” Charles observed. “But at least he has some manners.”

The Tailor was in agreement with this too but he didn’t voice those opinions. Instead he adjusted Bobby’s tie. In every photo he had seen of Bobby this tie was slightly askew to the left. It was a small trait few people would even notice but Eugene’s job was not to decorate the deceased and strive for perfection. It was his job to make them worthy of memorial.

“People hunt for imperfections, son,” Robert had told Charles. “If all they can find is my tie then I’m doing well.”

Charles couldn’t help but smile when he noticed this little attention to detail.

***

The Owen Inc. CEO had never been inside the Penn Auction House before. With its damp smell and rustic architecture he couldn’t say he was particularly impressed. The auction hall was empty despite having many chairs laid out. It was empty save for Chick himself and an auctioneer named Jeremy.

Jeremy was loyal to the Penns but the Law Makers knew they needed a familiar face to smooth the transition. The Bailiffs removing items from the auction house had caused quite a stir. Jeremy stepped in to object on behalf of Rita Penn but somewhere along the line Reginald must have gotten word to him to allow the final auctions to go ahead because Jeremy’s mind seemed to have changed quickly. The auction items that day were not artefacts, nor where they ornaments or heirlooms. It was the very landmarks of the city that had been seized by the Law Makers that were placed on offer.

Chick looked about himself. The time had now struck two o’clock and he was the only bidder. Jeremy took his podium with a cough; the dust of the wooden floors was starting to catch his throat. “I guess we’ll just take an offer,” he surmised.

Chick nodded. “I would prefer to move things along.”

The doors opened. A suited man stepped inside and held the door open to allow entrance to a woman – close to middle age, slim, well dressed. Her pink hair hung with a neat parting.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “Traffic into the city was a bitch and those narrow roads just aren’t meant for limousines.”

She crossed the aisle. Her suited man waited by the door. She chose a seat next to The Cappy.

“Hello Charles. So nice to see you. How are things?”

Chick raised his lip in a smile but there was no humour in it. “Elizabeth,” he greeted. “Always a pleasure.”

Elizabeth Beckingridge – interim CEO of Beckingridge Financial Firm kept on her sunglasses.

“I believe the last time we saw one another was at a benefit for endangered birds, homeless dogs or some cause or another.”

Charles grinned. “You were quite intoxicated as I recall.”

Elizabeth shrugged. “Well, if you can’t indulge yourself you kind of miss the point of the party, am I right? Anyway things are different now that I have the responsibility of the tower. I keep a clear head these days. It makes it easier to see when there are sharks in the water.”

“You are a fine adversary, Elizabeth, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Your brother Ernest – God rest his soul – was a dear friend of mine. We worked together well for years.”

Elizabeth read through the auction item list that had been placed on the chair next to her.

“Ernest was a sweet man. He was everyone’s friend. That was his problem. He was too busy trying to be friends with everyone he didn’t see all the little bites that were being taken out of him. When that maniac Knock Knock girl took it upon herself to have fifty nine of my clients and staff escorted from the tower via the window, where were his friends? They buggered off back to the Great States and took any support with them.”

The Cappy stroked his chin. He wasn’t daunted by Elizabeth’s challenge. “The Free Fall Massacre was a personal attack on my family. I had no choice but to protect our interests.”

“Sure,” Elizabeth nodded. “If that shoe were on Ernest’s foot he would probably have done the exact same thing.”

Elizabeth finished scanning the list. She would no doubt have already made up her mind.

“Then we are agreed?” The Cappy put to her. “It would be best to work together?”

“No,” Elizabeth scoffed. She raised an eyebrow. “I’m not Ernest. You’ll find I won’t be bullied quite so easily.”

The Cappy looked back to the podium where Jeremy was waiting to begin.

“Just a moment, if you don’t mind, sir,” he called. To Elizabeth he said, “Your nephew, George, has already come into the fold. Very soon you will have no choice.”

Elizabeth quietened. She gave it some thought then she turned to The Cappy. “My nephew is a psychopath. Torturing kittens, eating babies, the whole nine yards. He’s cosying up with your boy who, word on the street says has a cocaine problem that makes my Aunt Liza’s one nostril look like a charming little party piece.” Before The Cappy could respond she patted his arm. “Rumours Charles. Only rumours.” She spoke calmly. “My point is, before that dynamo duo takes over what we’ve built I have interests to protect, too.”

“If we’re are speaking frankly, I must ask, why are you looking for The Baroness?” He referred to the city wide search that she had funded for Tawny McInney.

“Why not?” replied Liz. “She’s just a whacko old lady who disappeared from rehab. Her niece is gone so what concern is that of yours?”

Chick frowned. “I like you Elizabeth but don’t treat me like a fool. Do not make an enemy of me when I’d much rather be friends.”

Elizabeth pouted. “I perish the thought. The Baroness was in rehab with a friend of mine. George’s old music teacher? You may remember him from such stories as kidnapping and the death of the Weir Hotel boy. He asked me ever so nicely to help find her so I read up on the old show girl. Your brother Jerry was quite a piece of work, wasn’t he? Anyway, her attitude struck a chord with me. Maybe I’m getting old but I find myself feeling quite charitable these days. If you don’t know where she is then you’ll agree finding her would smooth things over in the south. They liked her. I saw some old videos of her and I quite like her too. You’ll see the number on all the of broadcasts should you hear anything. In the meantime let’s get down to business. Our auctioneer here is sweating buckets.” She patted his arm again. “Let’s see who has the bigger … erm … cheque book.”

The Cappy laughed. “May the best bidder win.” He addressed Jeremy, “Go ahead, sir.”

Jeremy cleared his throat. “Lot 0300 – The Penn Auction House.”

***

The Penn Auction house was hot property. It was home to the Penn power and if their sovereignty were to be given any credence the Auction House was their palace. Elizabeth didn’t want it. It meant nothing to her really. She had read the auction list and had set her sights on other prizes. But it was a prime city location. Some would argue it was the final stop before The Tower. If she let it go into Chick Owen’s hands who knows where he would proceed onto next. He had his reasons for wanting it. He wanted it so badly. Elizabeth decided to let him sweat.

Elizabeth Beckingridge had no need for the Penn Auction House nor did she have any loyalty to the Penns themselves. In fact, hadn’t it been the boys who had helped Tabitha commit the Free Fall Massacre? If she even made one bid it would purely be out of spite. Chick’s family heirloom, his very name, was at stake. The Penns stole the Captain Henry ‘Hen’ Owen’s compass. He would have that compass back in the estate where it belonged. To do that he would have the Auction House, no matter the cost.

Jeremy cleared his throat.

“Reserve price is 2.3 million.”

Liz raised her board. 2.4

The Cappy shook his head. She was playing spiteful after all. He knew she was deliberately drawing the price up because she wanted to clear him out before it reached some of the other items on the list.

2.5 million he bid.

2.6 million she returned.

2.7 million. Going in hard. The Penn Palace would be in the hands of Owen Inc. no matter what.

2.8 million. Elizabeth’s interest was waning.

3.2 million. The Cappy struck boldly.

3.7 million Elizabeth countered

3.9 million. The leaps showed The Cappy’s determination.

Elizabeth lowered her board. She had let him sweat long enough, throwing money away on items she wasn’t all that interested in.

Jeremy waited for a counter offer. It was not forthcoming.

“Going once. Going twice.” The hammer slammed. The Penn Auction House was now property of Owen Inc. Jeremy couldn’t disguise his distaste but he carried on.

“Lot 004. The Knock Knock Club.”

Another prime property that anyone with a good business mind could make work. It could become a trendy bar, revitalising the whole area. It could extend Owen reach in the south. With the Boss Lady gone it was the perfect time to make the move.

Elizabeth kept a poker face. The search for Tawny had drawn her to the club. She looked to what the Baroness had been protesting against. She had learned the reasoning behind targeting her firm. She had met with Agnes. Her and her girls were all that were left. The Knock Knock stood for something and for that reason it had to be kept away from Owen hands.

“The reserve price is 1.2 million. It also includes the attached Clifton shelter used for the homeless.”

1.5 million. Elizabeth began this time.

1.7 million countered The Cappy.

1.9 million. Beckingridge Tower was continuing its efforts.

2.1 million. The Cappy was tentative.

2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 2.9, 3.2, 3.5 the numbers continued to roll in. The club was well above its estimation.

4 million was Elizabeth’s final offer.

“Sold.” The Knock Knock Club was now in the hands of Beckingridge Firm.

Jeremy had no time to pause for thought. More items were available.

“Lot 005. Harbour House.”

The unique rehabilitation clinic had caused quite a stir of late. It had been the cause of scandal when its resident 0109 went missing. Control of the facility could mean a final shut down to the rumours of the Owens being responsible for that disappearance, coupled with the fact it was very profitable.

It was Elizabeth’s interests in finding the truth behind Tawny’s disappearance that pricked her ears.

“Reserve price is 3.2,” Jeremy explained.

4.5 million. Elizabeth jumped in right away. She didn’t care she was exposing her hand too soon.

Charles shook his head. He wasn’t even willing to combat it.

“Sold.” Harbour House was also now a Beckingridge Firm holding but the dragon had reared and exposed a weakness in its belly. Steel and determination could break those scales.

“Lot 006. Pettiwick School.”

The Salinger family had been in the control of the school for generations. Lewis Salinger was a friend of Ernest’s. Pettiwick had educated every Beckingridge since its founding. Even Gramps had walked the halls as a boy. Even George has his time there. Lewis was a complete moron and had been caught by Law Maker forensic accountants, skimming money from the school funds it seemed. The Law Makers dug their claws in deeper and discovered the Salingers had been doing it for years. It was now a seized property but that didn’t mean the children had to suffer. It was still the finest school in the city. Chick Owen had no reason to want it but it was home to the Beckingridge Wing, donated by Ernest. Charles’ poker face was indecipherable.

“Reserve price is 6.7 million.”

It was a big property and going cheap. Elizabeth was likely to fight tooth and nail for it but when the dragon had exhausted all of its flaming breath it made it easier to cut the beast’s head off.

7 million. The first Owen bid was tentative.

10 million. The Beckingridge bid was a strike.

20 million. Games were no longer being played.

25 million. The flames roared.

30 million. The shine of the steel returned.

Elizabeth broke the bidding. “Oh come on Charles. What use do you have for a school?”

Chick Owen said nothing. The dragon was down.

“Going once. Going twice …” said Jeremy.

45 million. The dragon was not done.

50 million. Neither was Owen inc.

55 million. The tower was beginning to shake.

70 million. There was still much to do.

Elizabeth had no choice but to bow out. It was a personal fondness that would have kept her fighting for the school but she couldn’t waste what fire power she had on personal fondness.

“Going once. Going twice. Sold!”

The finest school in the Shady City was to now have a Great States face lift.

“Going to ruin the damn thing,” Elizabeth grumbled to herself. Between the Chapter House in Filton and now Pettiwick, the Owens had way more power in Filton than she liked. There wasn’t time to rest on it though. There was more.

“Lot 006. Coldridge Park from the City Main entrance to the Mid East exit.”

For The Cappy it was the perfect addition to the Auction House. It held the area before the Faulds Park building where the Penns were normally resident. It also contained some sports fields used by Kappa So.

Elizabeth always loved that park. Well, she had spent an afternoon there once or twice. If Pettiwick was going to be used to push into Filton then the park could be used to flood the Owens out of City Main.

“Reserve price is 11.5 million.”

11.5 million. Beckingridge began with the reserve. No one was leaping in for an area that was essentially filled with drug dealers and prostitutes

11.6 million. Charles Owen was also being nonchalant.

12.1 million. Owen budget was depleting. He wanted that property but he couldn’t be silly about it. He bowed out gracefully.

“Sold.” Coldridge Park (from the City Main entrance to the Mid East exit) now belonged to Beckingridge.

“Lot 007. St Michael’s Cathedral.”

The parish hadn’t been the same since the Reverend Owen gave up his flock. No verifiable evidence in the rape of hundreds of little girls but the protests that had gone on outside it, led by the Baroness, had made it a very interesting spot indeed. There may have been no evidence then but what about underneath the cathedral’s floor boards? Structures could speak volumes. What would that old church have to say of the confessions the reverend himself had to make?

Proceedings were ending. As far as elder brother Charles Owen was concerned it was time to close the cathedral for good, throw it to the Fullertons as a chew toy for all he cared. With the cathedral gone the talk of Jerry would quiet to whispers before eventually fading away.

“Reserve price is 10.3 million,” Jeremy informed them. He wasn’t given much time before the first bid was raised.

10.4 million. Owen inc. threw their hat into the ring first.

10.5 million. The Beckingridge dragon roared.

10.6, 10.7, 10.8, 11, 12.

The bidding went on. It was starting to overreach what Chick had intended. The Cappy took a sharp intake of breath. Elizabeth spotted what was to come next. She was going to have to cut her losses.

“Sold.” The Cathedral was going back to the Owen family. The skeletons in the reverend’s vestry damned to Hell.

“Final lot for today,” announced Jeremy. “Lot 008. Chamberlain Docks.”

This was it. The dragon was ready to breath every last flame it had. Seized by the Law Makers due to the trafficking, soliciting and illegal trading. Harbour House would be far more use to Elizabeth with the docks. If they belonged to Owen Inc, the facility could very well be of no use at all. Chamberlain was the main access route to Hathfield and the prime spot for spreading wealth and expanding reach.

Owen Inc knew this too. Returning to the kingdom with the dragon’s head would mean little without it. Charles had the auction house; he had the school and he had his brother’s Cathedral. He could afford to take his time and let the dragon strike first.

The Cathedral didn’t matter when Elizabeth had the Knock Knock Club. Whilst the club still existed, the Owens could still be driven from Coldford. They may bite chunks from City Main but they would be enclosed by the pests from the Shanties and their main competitors in Filton. However, to close them in completely Beckingridge Firm needed to hold Chamberlain docks.

“The reserve price is 20.6 million. It includes the Ferry Way brand and terminal, the allotted sea area and surrounding businesses.”

Elizabeth turned to Charles. “Be my guest.”

Chick smiled and shook his head. “Ladies first.”

30 million. The first blow struck.

40 million. The Owen counter.

The dance continued and the bites were taken.

50 million. The Tower would not concede.

70 million. Owen Inc was not walking away.

100, 200, 400, 500 million.

‘Damnit Liz, don’t be so stupid,’ Chick thought inwardly.

600, 700, 750, 800, 825 million.

‘You know as well as I do the docks aren’t worth anywhere near that,’ Elizabeth thought. ‘Give up Charles. You are not having this one.’

The new algorithms at the firm were going to have to work extra hard. All hands on deck for the accounts team and the traders.

The Cappy made no further bid. The docks were a power play but not enough to exhaust his funds completely. He would find another way.

“Going once. Going twice.” Jeremy halted. The phone he had set on the table before him bleeped. He checked it. “We have a new bidder,” he announced. “The bid for the docks now stands at 1.2 billion.”

Chick and Elizabeth looked to each other. Both were equally as perplexed. Elizabeth couldn’t go any higher, not with the costs of the other properties, not without having to close the exchange for a few days causing a knock on effect for the firm.

“Going once. Going twice. Sold.”

The bidding was closed and neither Owen Inc nor the Beckingridge Firm claimed Chamberlain docks.

Chick and Elizabeth stepped outside into the hustle and bustle of City Main. They shook hands.

“Congratulations,” said The Cappy. “I do so admire your moxy. Things are so much more interesting with a worthy opponent.”

Elizabeth slipped her phone from her bag. “Thank you Charles. You fight dirty but I’ve never minded a bit of mud on my face.”

They separated. Chick watched as Elizabeth put her phone to her ear. Her walk started to become brisk. “Where is she parked?” he asked his driver.

“South street,” was the answer as The Cappy slipped into the town car.

“Get me Ronnie. I need to find out who in the Hell got Chamberlain.”

Meanwhile, the Beckingridge security were in a rush to keep up with their mistress.

“Mark?” she was saying on the phone. “I need you to go down to the exchange right away. Title deeds are changing for Chamberlain Docks. Watch them and message me the name of the new owner the minute they update and I mean stand with your finger on the button. Seconds are a delay too long. I’m on my way back now. I was outbid for the docks and I need to know who else in this city has that kind of money.”

Inside Jeremy signed over the deed of purchase.

“Congratulations, Miss Harvester,” he said.

Julia smiled. All the petty squabbles were nothing to her when she had the route to expansion. Owen Inc, Beckingridge firm, even the Penn and Fullerton names knew the Harvester brand was growing but that nice, sweet presence in homes up and down the city had grown far larger than they had realised. Julia was a nice girl and now if the Beckingridges or the Owens wanted to reach outside of Coldford they were going to have to ask her nicely.

***

By day Waldens in City Main was a wine bar serving expensive drinks to young people with important jobs in the city. It was a meeting place for young professionals looking to escape their responsibilities and drink alcohol in the afternoon. By evening it was something quite different. Decadence, debauchery, licentious behaviour but when twenty eight year old Beckingridge accountant, Raymond, stepped inside it was quiet and calm. The low lighting reminded him of the rectory room at Pettiwick where had gone to school. It had a calming essence. Light jazz music played.

“Good afternoon, Raymond,” barman Gill greeted. “A little pick me up after a long day then?”

“A sherry please, Gill,” Raymond ordered. He had been locked in the offices of Beckingridge Tower since six am working on new algorithms they had been given. He felt he had earned his wind down at the end of the day.

Gill passed the sherry, poured into a perfectly curved glass. Raymond took a seat at the bar, intent on having some quiet time. Liz Beckingridge had stationed herself in the accounting department and despite them all working hard to make the new algorithms profit, she was in a mood about something. Although Raymond could remember her presence being a headache even before she took her brother’s place as CEO.

“You go home, Raymond,” Ernest had said to him once. “If you have a headache you go home incase you’re coming down with something. Go and get better.”

With a similar complaint to Elizabeth she replied, “Headache? What are you four years old? This is your job Raymond and if you haven’t finished running these numbers by close of business you will experience what a true headache is.”

Raymond sipped the sherry. Maybe the accounts department needed Liz’s sharpened tongue. After all The Tower was now performing at the best rates it ever had and the accounts team on the eighteenth floor were what held The Tower up.

He savoured the sherry’s sweetness. His eyes were drawn to a woman sat alone in the corner. She was a little younger than he from what he could tell. Her face wasn’t heavily made up like a lot of the women who came to Waldens. She had a natural, earthy beauty. When he caught her eye she smiled and coyly dropped her eyes to the phone she held in her hand. Raymond absorbed the image of the green dress she wore. The green swirled with the watery blue of her eyes in an almost hypnotic embrace. Raymond lifted his glass and boldly opted to join her at her table.

“Waiting for someone?” he asked.

She looked up and smiled at him as he took a seat. A lot of women could be put off by over eagerness, so Raymond leaned back to prevent his body from being too much in her space.

“I just thought I’d stop by,” she replied. “The noise of the city was starting to get to me.”

“You’re not from around here?”

She shook her head to the negative. She looked shy, as though she shouldn’t be talking to strange men in bars. “I live on a farm so it’s all quite a change of scenery for me.”

“So what brings you all the way down here?” Raymond asked.

Her soft ruby lips stretched into a grin. “I’m collecting meat,” she said.

She giggled at the coy euphemism. Raymond found himself doing the same thing.

Raymond lifted his glass and took another sip. “I’ll have to keep my eye on you then,” he teased.

The farm girl watched him. “You probably should.”

“What’s your name?” asked he.

She reached our hand out to him. He shook it. “Julia,” she said. “Julia Harvester.”

“I know the Harvester brand really well. I work for Beck Firm and we’re just dying to have you on board.” Raymond could see her eyes glaze over. It wasn’t shop talk she had come for. It was a more personal interaction she was after.

“My name’s Raymond. May I buy you a drink?”

“I think I’ve had my fill for now, Raymond, but if you are so familiar with the city perhaps you could show me around. I’m sure you can look after me and see that I get home safely.”

Raymond swallowed what was left of the Sherry.

“I’d be honoured,” he said. “My friends all say that I make an excellent tour guide.” His eyes fell down to her breasts, to her slim stomach. “May I ask which designer you got that fetching dress from?”

Julia took note of her dress as though it were the first time she had noticed she was even wearing it. “Oh this?” she declared. “This was no designer. I made it myself.” Earthy, modest. Julia was like a cool glass of water on a baking hot day. His parents would certainly like her much more than Tatyiana. “I’m good with my hands,” she finished.

At this Raymond leaned in. His empty Sherry glass now rested under him, causing a shimmer of light to dance upon his chin.

“So what parts of the city would you like to see?”

Julia stood. She reached out her hand and took his. “I’d like to see all that it has to offer,” she stated. She pulled him to his feet.

She led him by the hand from Waldens wine bar. The bar man didn’t pay attention to the young woman Raymond had chosen to leave with. Perhaps he should have.

***

Julia Harvester liked Beckingridge Manor. Although it wasn’t intended to be, it felt as open as the Harvester Farm house. It had a cool draught blowing through it. The walls were thick. The ceiling was high.

“I love you Julia,” George Beckingridge stated. He kissed her cheek heartily. She discretely wiped the saliva from her face as he danced towards his bed where Raymond had been stripped and laid to rest under the sheets. He wasn’t dead yet but the Beckingridge accountant wouldn’t be throwing any resistance towards them anytime soon.

“He is quite sweet, isn’t he?” she replied.

George collected a comb from a chest of drawers. He dropped to his knees beside the bed and started to comb Raymond’s hair into a neat side parting.

“He looks just like him,” George said excitedly. “I said so didn’t I? He looks just like him but there’s something not quite right. He not wearing glasses. Mr Baines wore glasses.

Julia reached into the pocket of her coat and produced a pair of spectacles. She passed them to George and with a grin on his face he slipped them onto Raymond’s face.

He chuckled. “That’s better.”

“I’m glad he pleases you. I do try my best.”

George stroked Raymond’s face gently. “He looks like him. I’d like to pretend it’s him. You don’t mind that do you Mr Baines? Are you glad to be back with your best pupil?”

Julia wasn’t listening. Instead her attention was brought to stuffed animal that sat on a shelf looking down.

When she picked him up George’s eyes locked on her. He watched closely as Julia stroked the toy’s fur.

“His name is Cecil,” George explained. “I know I’m a man now but I still like to have him close by.”

Julia cradled Cecil delicately. “We all have things from childhood we like to hold onto now don’t we?”

“When I was five there was a little boy in my school named Cecil. He was pale, skinny and completely bald. I didn’t ask why. I just thought he didn’t want any hair. All the other children looked at him like he was strange. They all looked at me that way too so we became friends. Cecil was always the first to say hi to me in the morning and we called each other every night when we weren’t sleeping over. We played for hours in this very room. I can still hear him laughing sometimes. The music room was where he liked best. I still have the toy train he left here. One day Cecil just stopped coming to school. When I called his mum said he couldn’t come to phone. My mum wouldn’t let any of the drivers take me to see him. A week later Miss Matheson – our teacher – told me that Cecil had been sick for some time. He had died. He couldn’t come to the phone because he was dead. I never got the chance to say goodbye. So when I saw that toy and I realised it’s name was Cecil I had to have him. We are going to be best friends forever, just like we promised.”

A monitor whirred with the sound of a baby’s cry.

“That’s my niece, Vicky,” he informed the farm girl. “Catherine, my sister has gone to a party. She asked me to look after her. Will you check on her for me? She’s in the nursery just down the hall.”

Julia laid Cecil back onto his spot on the shelf. His beetle black eyes were watching Raymond in the bed. The fur around the stuffed mouse’s neck was sticky and matted where he had been held so often.

“Will you be having a sleep over with me and Mr Baines?” asked the Billionaire Boy.

“I’m afraid not,” she returned “I’ll check on the baby and then I have to go.”

George’s attention was now back on Raymond. He kissed his cheek. He knocked the glasses askew. Julia closed the door behind her. George dropped his trousers and stepped out of them. He removed the white briefs he was wearing too and climbed into bed with Raymond, wrapping himself around the accountant. He kissed him again.

“Good night, Mr Baines,” he said.

Julia could hear the baby cry out as she approached the nursery. The door had been left ajar. Inside, the nursery was calmly lit with soft night lights flashing stars and planets on the walls and ceiling. Uncle George had left some classical music playing softly on an old stereo. It had lulled baby Vicky to sleep and she had only stirred again when it stopped. Normally her uncle would sing to her when the music stopped. Aunt Liz would sing to her too but that was only to distract her when she was getting changed or dressed. Liz’s voice was bouncy and fun. George’s soft voice always came through the darkness when it was time to close her eyes and bid farewell to the day. It was always gentle. Almost at a whisper. Tonight it was neither.

Victoria Beckingridge, third in line for the Beckingridge Tower looked up from her cradle with wide, engaging eyes. She had large brown ones like Uncle George. Julia had never met Catherine. Maybe she had the same.

The baby had been tucked perfectly for sleep. Her helpless little body had no room to wriggle.

“Gah!?” she exclaimed when she saw Julia. Julia lifted her from the cradle and into her arms. She carried her across to an armchair by the window. It offered a view of the manor’s lawns. She sat and settled Victoria into her arms, loosening the blanket so she could reach out.

“Hello, Vicky,” said Julia softly. “Uncle George is busy right now,” she caressed the little girl’s cheek. “You go back to sleep now, buttercup. It’s very late for you.”

Vicky’s lips twitched into a smile but her eyes started to get heavy as Julia began to rock her.

***

The main entrance to Beckingridge Tower. Statue of founder Jeffrey Beckingridge AKA Gramps.

With it being Friday afternoon Beckingridge Tower exchange was hectic. Everything was beginning to wind down for the weekend closures.

“I’ve got 3.4!”

“I’ve got 6.5!”

“Going down. It’s time to pull out. Hurry!”

To pass the main reception of Beckingridge Tower you would find yourself on the stock holding floor. It was called the Execution Hall because it was where all the deals were cut and a lot of financial fates were decided.

Elizabeth was crossing the hall, keeping a personal eye on the weekend closures.

“Liz,” someone patted her shoulder for attention. She turned to be faced with Dr Gregory Winslow. Before the doctor could offer any further greeting Liz’s secretary, Colin, stepped in the way.

“Can I help you, sir?” he asked with a scowl.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “It’s fine Colin. Just carry on.”

Colin moved back onto the floor to continue to check on the traders and their final executions for the week. After the bidding those numbers were more important than ever.

“I’m busy doctor so …”

“I’m just here to have my weekly little chat with George so don’t mind me. Is he in his office?”

Winslow had been offering some tuition to George to prepare him for business school at Filton. He had also been talking the Billionaire Boy through his kidnapping, the death of his parents and the boy Kenneth. In truth the doctor’s influence was doing some good as far as Elizabeth could tell. There were moments when he even behaved like a real human being.

Liz Beckingridge wasn’t so naive that she didn’t realise Winslow was only taking her nephew under his wing because he had ulterior motives. No one liked to have to deal with George. Even his own father sighed relief when the music teacher took him away. Like many others Winslow probably saw him as weak. The doctor would see George as a way of gaining power himself in The Tower. Sure George would be sat on the CEO chair but it would be Winslow pulling the strings. George’s mouth would snap open and closed but it would be Winslow’s words he would be speaking. He would sound just like a real boy.

Elizabeth had no intention of ever letting George take control of the firm. She wouldn’t risk him ruining Gramps’ legacy by acting like a cruel child with a magnifying glass. But if the doctor was able to hold onto those strings in the meantime and have him behave she had no reason to stop him.

After all, it had been Winslow who talked George out of placing himself in the Penthouse Office.

“I think the Booker office may be more appropriate for you at this stage,” the doctor had said. George had scowled at first, until the doctor pointed out that it had actually been from the Booker office that the Free Fall Massacre had occurred.

“Yes,” Elizabeth agreed. “He’s upstairs. He’ll be expecting you.”

“Splendid!” Winslow cheered. He departed and allowed Elizabeth to return to the brokers.

The Booker office was still on the top floor but just didn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the Penthouse. As the elevator rose through the tower, Winslow began to wonder how he would look atop of the tower and with control at the firm. ‘Perhaps one day,’ he chastised himself. ‘One thing at a time.’

He didn’t fear George Beckingridge. He was well aware of his psychopathic tendencies. After all, it had been he who had signed the death certificate for his mother. He also handled the body extracted from the lawns of Beckingridge Manor. He had talked extensively with Vincent Baines when he was one of his Harbour House residents. Vincent detailed George’s behaviour and the fear that it had struck in the man who had taken the boy away thinking he was protecting him. Dr G Winslow wasn’t afraid of George Beckingridge because Harbour House had seen it all. Not a psychiatric institute but a rehabilitation clinic and that included rehab for all kinds of trauma.

“Good afternoon, doctor,” he was recognised immediately by George’s appointed secretary. A smiley young girl named Michelle. She too didn’t seem to fear George but that was through naivete bordering on stupidity. “Mr Beckingridge is expecting you. You can go right through.”

“Thank you, my dear,” he said.

He found George sat behind his desk. The doctor’s pride swelled when he noticed the business school text books he had bought the young CEO to be opened on his desk. George himself was dressed appropriately in a suit. The tie had a leaf pattern on it. It was a little more whimsical than anything he would have directed the boy to but at least he was starting to find his own style.

“I was going to call,” George began. “But I thought I would like to see you face to face.”

Winslow took a seat. “Something the matter? Are you having trouble with your studies?”

“I’m fine,” he replied. “I just decided I don’t like you.”

Winslow wasn’t sure he heard correctly but he maintained his composure and prepared to work through one of George’s outbursts.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” was the doctor’s response. “Was it something I said?”

“No. I just don’t like you.”

Winslow licked his lips. “That is a shame. We were such good friends.”

“No!” George barked. “I never did like you.”

This wasn’t going to be one of his outbursts after all. This was going to take a bit more calming.

“Whatever has upset you, I’m sure we can discuss it.”

“No,” George stated, softer this time. “I want you to leave and never come back. I don’t want to see you again and I won’t be giving any money to Harbour House.”

Winslow stayed steady.

“May I ask what has brought you to this decision? Surely after all we’ve been through you can offer me that much?”

George reached into the desk drawer and pulled out an expensive bottle of port and sat it on the table. It still had a gift bow on it from when Winslow gave it to him. It hadn’t been opened.

“Take this back,” George ordered.

“Please,” Winslow steadied his voice. “If you don’t tell me why it has come to this I’m just going to spend all evening worried about you.”

“I don’t need you,” said the Billionaire Boy. “You are just using me.”

“Now who would put that idea in your head? His tone snapped a lot more than he had intended it to. At first he thought it had been Elizabeth but she had little to no influence over her nephew and if she did feel that way about the doctor she wouldn’t have let him near him in the first place. “Who told you that George?”

From the adjoining room where a meeting of investment bankers was taking place emerged Julia Harvester.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Winslow stood. He scowled at the farm girl. “You?” he snarled. “You did this?”

“Did what?” she asked. “Tell you to take your poison and spit it in someone else’s ear? No, Gregory. Why would I do that? We’re still friends. It’s George here who says he doesn’t like you. He’s had enough of your pathetic, whining voice. He’s his own man. He’s big enough to make that choice. Who am I to say what happens in his tower?”

George was glaring at the doctor. Julia was smiling.

“You don’t and never will have a say in what happens at Beckingridge Firm,” George stated.

‘Neither will you, young man. Neither will you,’ Winslow mused bitterly.

Julia stepped behind George and rested her hands on his shoulders. She was the one pulling the strings now.

“Leave,” George insisted. “And when you do, take a route past Harvester Farm and remove every trace you had ever been there. Wipe every surface your wrinkled arse has touched and go.” He reached into the drawer again this time he drew out a long, rusted key. “This is the key for the Browning House. I loved it there. It was my home for ten years. A friend at CPD gave me it. You can have it. Go there and be forgotten about.”

“And if I don’t?”

George slammed his fists on the table. “You do it! You do what I say!”

Julia squeezed his shoulders. The strings were tugged. It was the puppeteer who spoke this time.

“Don’t test me, Gregory. I’ve sprayed for vermin like you before.”

“How dare you!” the doctor roared.

Julia raised her hand.

SMASH.

The bottle of port exploded. Gun fire. Why hadn’t Winslow noticed the window was open?

George was grinning excitedly. “Buddy Owen has his eye on you,” he cheered. “Buddy’s my brother and we’re brothers for life.”

Owen Inc, Beckingridge Firm and the Harvester Brand coming together would never be matched. It would be impossible for anyone to compete against that kind of influence in the Shady City. If anyone could make that happen it would be Julia. There was only one person who could step in the way of that and it was Elizabeth. But who was she going to listen to? The man who allowed the music teacher who she considered a friend to be treated abysmally by George whilst he was in his care, or the sweet farm girl who not only had her nephew dancing to a pleasant tune but also spent the night before cradling her great niece to sleep when the child’s own mother had abandoned her. Not to mention, it had been Elizabeth who had raised the interest in Harvester Farm.

Winslow fled The Tower, taking the Browning House key. If it had held George for ten years it still had its uses. He ran to his car. Every step he took, every corner he turned, he could feel an Owen scope on him. Even when he got into his car and drove away, he still didn’t feel safe. Buddy could be anywhere.

Julia clasped George’s head affectionately and planted a kiss on the crown. He giggled. She crossed to the open window, leaned out and took a deep breath of the fresh icy air. She looked across to the Weir Hotel. She didn’t know exactly where Buddy had placed his nest. She wouldn’t be able to see him with her naked eye but she brought her fingertips to her lips and blew a kiss. Either way he would still be watching.


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