Category Archives: Thrill Reads

Diamonds and Stripes

Within the Shady City there are the shades. Everyone has their motives – greed, desperation, a selfless pursuit or the unwavering protection of others. There are the shades and then there are two colours that are so polar opposite you could never imagine them emerging into a pleasant picture. In Kingsgate, the ancient part of town, where the cobbled stones are engrained in centuries of law and order reside the Bergman family. They are owners of the Diamond Parade in City Main. They are wealthy and influential in Law Maker circles. Patriarch, Howard Bergman, is a kind man. He is a law abiding man and raises his son and daughter to always do the right thing when they are faced with challenges. He is a fine role model for his nephews. If you were to ask any in City Main they would tell you that Howard is an upstanding man. That is, of course, those who don’t have an agenda against him and by agenda I mean a complete lack of understanding that someone with such integrity could possibly exist. 

Then, at the opposite end of such a spectrum, exists the Stoker family. Proprietors of the Stoker Circus they live an existence that sees them travelling here and there. They are not people of integrity. They are such that they will carry out any task, no matter the filth, if the pay is right. Their family is of a huge number not only of blood relatives but of circus stow aways they have picked up on their travels. They have three tents. First is the red, featuring the stunt shows and in ode to travelling performances of old, macabre freak displays. This lies under the control of Freddy Stoker. Freddy is ideal for leading the exhibit of oddities because he is something of an oddity himself. He is boyish and engaging in a car wreck sort of way. The blue tent is next and this lies in the hands of Freddy’s Uncle Valdrick or Val as he is more commonly known. The blue tent is ironically the holder of shows to cure your blues. The clowns, comedians and animals are generally what you will find on offer. Val himself is a juggler so he is adept at handling many things at once. He prefers to reside himself in the Rumilaw of City Main. If you aren’t familiar with this particular area, it is home to unlicensed dentists, cheap lawyers and to no surprise a villainous little juggler who operates a pawn shop. Val and his treasured wife, Gigi, are looking to make a home for themselves in Coldford but before your mind rings with, ‘that’s a terrible idea’ let me complete the tents with the great striped Big Top. Clasped tightly in the long fingers of Val’s younger brother and Freddy’s father, Irvine, The Stoker Big Top really is a site to behold. Even when she is raised among their struggling theme park in the Alford area she brings a glory of past days that will probably never be rekindled. 

I’m reporter, Sam Crusow an

***

If you were to ask Howard Bergman how he managed to make such a name for himself, whilst not finding himself a target, he would tell you modestly that ‘doing the right thing,’ is his policy. He prides himself on his consideration for others and showing respect. What he wouldn’t tell you was that believing in that simple truth was what helped him cope with a traumatic experience he had many years before. He arrived in Coldford as a young child, seeking refugee from the Country of Levinkrantz. A political upheaval there had led to an event termed the bomb blitz that literally and figuratively tore young Howard’s life apart. He believes that had more people with integrity come together, such a disaster could have been avoided. When the Good Gang took shape it gave him great relief to see all that he had held onto through his darkest times step into the light.

Howard Bergman raises a glass to the future of Coldford.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up for a sensational, inspirational, full in your face expectational show. I’m Adrien Stoker and welcome to Stoker Circus!” 

The image was a little grainy but the advert was allowed to run in its entirety. Sat on the floor with the empty bowl in his lap Freddy Stoker smiled at the advertisement for an old Stoker show. 

I’ve introduced the current Stoker players but allow me to take a moment to discuss Freddy’s grandfather. Adrien Stoker was known as the Amazing Adrien. His magic and escape acts as the Stoker ringmaster earned him this title. What also cemented the amaze that preceded his name was his commitment to bringing joy to the people of Levinkrantz even during their darkest time. 

“We’ll be here for three weeks so be sure to come on down and check out our exciting new acts. It’s fun for all the ages and remember, there is only one rule for the Stoker tents and that is you are not allowed to leave sad.”

Adrien beamed a wide smile. The advert jingle played. The message was fun and clear but being spoken in the language of Levinkrantz added a coldness. The advert disappeared into the screen. Despite warnings against inviting undesirables into this tent, Adrien continued to play his shows. The brewing civil unrest caused everyone to live in a climate of fear. Adrien, with his circus spirit, broke it as best he could. The Amazing Adrien was a man to be admired. 

Freddy smiled at the blank screen. Freddy was not the same as his grandfather. 

A hand landed on his shoulder. He moved little as though he’d been expecting it. Behind him was Gretel Stoker better known as ‘the legless woman’. She was one of Freddy’s oddities. Gretel joined the family when her own well to do parents discarded her in a river as a child. I suppose in that respect it could be said that they are still doing their part in bringing people together. Freddy exploits his exhibits for the feel of a coin in his hand. That same coin keeps them loyal to him. 

“We better go,” Gretel said. 

Climbing to his feet he took off the glasses he had been wearing. Turning to the sofa he observed the body lying with his head resting towards his right shoulder. Freddy slipped the glasses back onto the corpse with gloved hands. He stepped back and observed a little closer this time. Leaning forward again he adjusted a few locks of the departed’s hair. He took the spoon from the cereal bowl, opened the corpses mouth and gathered DNA on it. The spoon and the bowl, with only a small dribble of milk left lying at the bottom was set aside but at an askew angle so that it appeared casually discarded. 

He lifted a bag that was now filled with valuable possessions that had been found about the home. Nothing too large or ambitious. Small items such as jewellery or cash were easier to carry and when the circus was moving town you had to learn to be mobile. It had to look less conspicuous too when the police arrived and uncovered the body. 

Freddy had not committed murder. The corpse was Mr Brewer. He had a middle class home in Swantin. He sat himself on the sofa with the intentions of enjoying the latest instalment of soap opera, MARCH OF OUR TIMES when he felt his heart flutter and he took his final rest. He had been lying there for so long a smell began to resonate with the neighbours. When attention was called to this, the telephone of the City Pest Control rang and who should answer but Ellard Stoker. Ellard listened to the neighbour suggestion that an animal of some kind had gotten trapped in vents and died. 

It was only a matter of time before Ellard, pest controller by day and animal trainer by night, had alerted his nefarious relatives. 

There was a pest in the building, that much was true and that pest had cleared the home of any viable loot. He was now taking one last look at the room to confirm it was exactly what the police would expect to find. 

“Time to go,” said the legless Gretel again. 

Freddy opened his arms. Climbing up his leg, Gretel rested into his clutch and he carried her from the house. 

Falling from the Amazing Adrien, to scavenging the homes of the recently deceased is quite reflective on who the Stokers are. They have that hero in their family the likes of which Howard Bergman would be admiring of. However, they take their inspiration from that bag of loot. If only they watched those old adverts a little longer. 

The effect Amazing Adrien had on those who came to see his show wasn’t completely lost on his eldest son, Valdrick. Val did admire his father. His Big Top was a symbol of joy in a war torn land. It would rise above the chaos that was being left behind with its vivid blue and red stripes. The problem was one man’s symbol of joy was another’s symbol of disobedience. Such are the way things go.

‘You were a real trooper there,’ Val thought of his father. But joy ain’t going to do jack shit when the real world starts to bite. Joy isn’t going to feed such a big family. No worries there kiddies, you might not have had a solid meal in days but we got plenty of joy. Grab a plate and we’ll spoon that shit out. Tastes great joy does but when that moments over you’re still hungry and still freezing your ass off in a tent because you can’t afford any warm clothe. Wow! Pass me another plate of that joy. That first one was so good I just to have me another before I blow my Goddamned brains out I’m so fucking ecstatic. 

Money makes the world go round and it’s easy for wealthy people like the Bergmans to feast on a complete diet of joy. Who wouldn’t be joyful when their whole existence is diamond encrusted? 

Money is the route of most problems and the biggest problem you can have is having no money. Where his nephew was scavenging from homes no longer required Val was accepting any item of value for pawn, an arguably more legitimate but no less despicable route. The gross mark downs offered and the money lending on the side made Val no less than a juggling little swindler. He knew this. He was okay with this. He knew his father would have expected better than him. He knew with the blood of the Amazing Adrien in him he could do great things. Think of all the joy you could get with that! Val knew these things and he thought about them more than he would ever care to admit. He should have had the Big Top. He was the head of the family but he just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t bring himself to be amazing. He had to think of himself and his beloved wife Gigi too of course. Val and Gigi had the blue tent but they had all but left the life behind. They wanted a quiet existence now. They actually wanted to do better things if what I’m told is true and that meant leaving the circus behind. There was only one thing holding them back and it certainly wasn’t a lack of joy. 

“This is just getting worse, missus,” Val complained. He was staring into a mirror, adjusting a tie. 

Gigi, who’s height towered a considerable amount above his own, was adjusting the collar of his shirt. 

“I know, sugar,” she replied, looking over her husband’s shoulder, tidying her platinum blonde hair. “But we’ve got a whole lot of trouble coming our way and we can’t exactly pay our way out of it.” 

The trouble was stirring from the motherland. It was a bit of baggage that should have long been left behind and never brought to Coldford. The money lending business had been proving quite fruitful but when the bills came in faster than you could fleece the suckers it left you with a very firm final reminder situation. They didn’t need reminding. They just needed to get themselves as far away from Coldford as they could. If only you could fly on joy. 

“Good morning, Mr Whitley,” Val said into the mirror as though rehearsing. “I’m Mishokov Froraderick and this is my wife, Sue,” 

“Hello!” Gigi yelled in a heavy Levinkrantz accent, leaning on Val’s shoulder and reaching her hand out as they she were shaking the hand of the unfortunate sap they clearly had their mark on. 

“She doesn’t speak much English but we’re in the market for a new home and the more fancy pantsy the place is the better. Give me a whole lot of a joy with five bedrooms.” 

“Do you have one with pool?” Gigi asked the mirror man in this rehearsal of misfortune. 

Val broke character. He turned to his wife. 

“Do you have pool?” He imitated her character’s accent. 

“The leaflets that were made up said pool,” Gigi was certain. 

Val shook his head. “Yes, I know, my dove, but you don’t speak much English remember? Why would you ask for a pool?”

“I could speak enough English to know to ask for a house with a pool,” Gigi surmised. 

None of this mattered though. The byplay they were in the middle of was interrupted by a little jingle. That little jingle may as well have have been the sound of joy because through the doors of the pawn shop in shady city’s shadiest corner of Main stepped Diamond Daughter, Elsa Bergman. 

Val and Gigi both turned to her like dancers on a music box. That joyish little tinkle lit a smile on their faces. 

“I need to borrow some money,” said Elsa. She didn’t want to pretend she was in their domain for any other reason. 

“Your daddy’s loaded,” Val frowned. “What would you need to borrow money for?” 

“I’m in a spot of trouble,” Elsa admitted. “I’d rather keep my dad out of it.” 

The word around the city was that Elsa was losing bad at gambling. That is certainly something the clean cut Howard Bergman wouldn’t want to become public.

“How much?” 

Whatever amount Elsa asked caused Val and Gigi to turn back round again. 

“This is the big break we’ve been waiting for!” Val said in an aside. 

Gigi wasn’t so certain. “She’s Howard’s daughter.” 

“I know!” Val stated, thinking that was just about the cherry on top of the proverbial cake. 

He had known Howard a long time. They were friends once. He decided the level he was bothered by this did not match his need to set he and Gigi up. 

“Alright, Missy,” he said to Elsa. “I hope you know what you are getting yourself into.” 

The deal was done, debts were reshuffled and Elsa left the Rumilaw with some easing of her shoulders. She was a little cash cow that was going to bring a whole lotta joy! 

Val and Gigi Stoker outside the Big Top.

***

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up for a knuckle whiting, nail biting, full in your face exciting show. I’m Irvine Stoker. Welcome to Stoker Circus!” 

The ring master of the three tents was Val’s younger brother and Freddy’s father, Irvine. Irvine Stoker is a striking man and that is before he adorns his Stoker jacket and ring master garb. He has a looming, insect like frame that can bend into interesting shapes. He is full of charisma as you would expect. To meet him on the street you would find him odd but intriguing. His welcoming voice would catch your attention. The bright colours surrounding him would draw you closer and then before you knew it you were swept up in his arms and taken along for a journey you didn’t realise you had already paid for. 

Irvine kicked the dust of the centre ring aside. One of the animals had shat there again. The whole place was falling to the pits. He reached his arms up and in a swift movement another set of hands clasped his from above. He was raised up and he went soaring towards where the audience would be seated later that afternoon. He clutched the arms of trapeze artist Eroll Easy, who with his sister, Ethel formed a duo called the Trapeezy Easys. Irvine was dropped in among the audience area and he skipped back towards centre ring. Before he reached there Ethel had swung down and collected him under his arms and they soared towards the middle. She dropped him back on his starting point. He landed in the animal excrement he had kicked dirt over. 

“Eugh!” Irvine groaned. As if things weren’t shit enough. “You wanna watch were you’re dropping?” He called up to the easys.

“Sure thing, boss,” Eroll swung past. 

Irvine shook his head, wiping his shoe in the sand and readied himself to start all over again. Rehearsals were cut short though because he received a call from his strong man, Otto.

“It’s time, boss,” he said. 

There was a show to get going but Irvine took the time out of rehearsals to bid farewell to one of their own. They would expect him to say something. 

Coming together in times of loss was something the Bergman family and the Stoker counterparts would share. The two Easys dropped down and they made their way to the back of the Big Top where a group of mourning Stokers were gathered. They parted when they saw their ring master. Irvine made his way to the front laying a consoling hand on Otto’s broad shoulder. He removed his hat and he turned to his family. 

“She was a fine mare,” he said. “It’s always a tough one to take when one of us dies. Trot on Sparkles.” 

“To sparkles,” the others sounded off. Sparkles was the leading Dressage horse of the Stoker Circus. They weren’t kidding when they said she was a sore loss. She was a beautiful animal. She was also the highest earner of the herd. This is where the Bergmans and the Stokers differ in their thoughts on loss. 

After offering a respectful send off to the stables in the skies the carcass was dragged off to be disposed off. Luckily Olga the clown arrived on scene with her replacement. Olga had on her blue and red clown face paint on but was yet to complete with her wig. 

“What the fuck is that?” Irvine asked.

“It’s what the Perry’s sent,” Olga informed him. It had been she who had brought the animal from Perry Zoo. 

“We asked for a horse,” Irvine claimed. 

“It is a horse,” Olga shrugged. 

“That is not a horse,” Irvine growled impatiently. 

“It looks like a horse,” Olga reasoned. 

“That is a fucking donkey,” said Irvine, clasping the animal’s snout and shaking him. The donkey did not appreciate this in a slightest. He hee hawed his objection.

Olga handed him the rein. “I’m just passing it on. You’re the ring master, boss, you deal with it.”Deal with it? Teaching dressage to a donkey just about summed up the state of affairs for the Stoker family. 

***

And those, dear readers, are the Stoker and Bergman families. One, a symbol of kindness and integrity. The other a symbol of greed and selfishness. However, like most things in Coldford there are the shades. The Bergman struggle could very well test their integrity and as the Stokers continue to keep themselves breathing above water it could offer them the chance the realise that whilst it is easier to con, fleece and sneak their way through life, in the long term doing the right thing will see them much better off. Joy, they would find, is a currency worth spending. 

The Stoker Circus family and the Bergman diamond merchants have a long history. They finally find common ground when a cult group gathers popularity. They are very different though so deciding how to deal with it will prove problematic.

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Dinner At The Manor

Beckingridge Manor was a place that many would dream of living in. It was a beautiful old mansion house that had been in the family for generations. They were old money but Jeffrey Beckingridge aka Gramps was who made it really what it was. But behind those mansion walls lay skeletons. Like for instance, Alice Beckingridge. She had been accused of murdering her son. The boy had been born deformed. He had been hidden inside the manor, few even knew of his existence until his life was cut short and his body discovered buried in the Manor House lawns. She’s dead now too so plays little part in the following events.  

Then there was Alice’s sister in law, Elizabeth. Growing up in the world of privilege she had never really learned what it meant to consider others. Spoiled and selfish as you would expect Elizabeth set herself apart from the rest of her family by having a conscience. She did try. What made her the same was she had her skeletons too. The became less over the years with Gramps no longer around to lock them away.  

Elizabeth makes attempts to distract her nephew by hiring a music teacher.

Then there was Alice’s daughter Catherine. School shootings, extorting teachers and running her aunt Elizabeth over with the car so that she now walked with a prosthetic leg. Young Catherine was quite the up and comer. The society pages of the Filton Crier were keeping a very close eye on her indeed. Now she had her own baby, little Vicky. Time would tell where Victoria Beckingridge would fit into her family.  

Probably the most notable in terms reputation would be George. Elizabeth’s nephew and Catherine’s younger brother. He had hit first hit the headlines at age eight when it was he who had discovered his mother’s body. The already famous Beckingridge heir became even more so when he was kidnapped by his music teacher, Vincent Baines. Dead dogs, dead relatives, dead teachers were left behind. If there were a competition for the ûmost skeletons among the Beckingridge’s the safest bet would be George. Psychopathic tendencies is what they say about him but given his status in the city no one seemed prepared to do anything about it. The music teacher instantly regretted his decision to take the boy away from what he felt was a toxic environment. The Manor House was indeed toxic but stealing him away just gave George a whole new playground for ten long years. The musician’s life was made a misery but the family sighed relief being rid of little George for a while. When he was found they would have denied him if they could.  

George and his beloved companion Cecil.

So quite a mess as I’m sure you will agree and it rested on the shoulders of patriarch, Ernest Beckingridge. Sweet natured Ernest didn’t have the bite of his sister, Elizabeth. He didn’t have the iron will of his wife, Alice either. Quite frankly he didn’t have what it took to lead the Beckingridge Empire or keep his son and daughter in line.  

“Stop killing things!” Ernest cried in despair. “Why can’t you just act like a real boy?”  

George grinned. It was only feeding his temperament.  

“It’s okay, baby girl,” Ernest said to Catherine. “We’ll be fine.”  

Ernest Beckingridge has a lot on his shoulders.

Catherine snuggled into her father’s arms. At her age she really should have been learning responsibility but it was easier to hug her and keep her quiet. Ernest wouldn’t be around forever and Catherine was in for a rude awakening when she didn’t have her billionaire father to protect her. Elizabeth tried to warn her brother of this. She had experienced the same thing when Gramps died.  

Disfunction. A term used when a family unit is broken but carries on anyway. Blood is thicker than water. Money and entitlement make you even thicker than that to the ways of the world. But despite all their troubles life at Beckingridge Manor went on. Dinner was always served promptly at eight.  

*** 

The salad course had only just been served. George hadn’t ate much of it. Instead he made a fuss of it with his fork then left the shredded pieces. He had spilled some of them onto the table. Catherine wasn’t paying much attention as usual. With one hand she was trying to feed her baby. Vicky was leaning forward in her high chair trying to catch the spoon in her mouth but her mother’s eyes were too busy reading her phone.  

“George, will you take that disgusting thing off of the table!” Aunt Elizabeth barked.  

It was a stuffed mouse she referred to. It’s fur was matted, the stuffing was crushed and for some reason it smelled like garlic. He named it Cecil and he took it wherever he went.  

George glared at Elizabeth. “Cecil stays here,” he stated.  

“You’re eighteen,” Elizabeth chided. “It’s ridiculous that you would carry that filthy thing around with you.”  

Ernest looked up from his plate. He finally decided to speak up.  

“Come on now George,” he said. “Take it off the table.”  

Elizabeth wasn’t satisfied. “We’re trying to eat here and I need to look at those … stains? What even is that?” she wrinkled her nose. “Never mind. I don’t want to know, just get the damn thing away.”  

George grinned. Seeing his aunt get upset made him giggle. Cecil tended to have that affect on people. 

“May I be excused?” Catherine asked in what should have been a polite request but was instead laced with frustration.  

“No you may not,” Elizabeth said. “If you didn’t have your face stuck in that blasted phone the entire time you would be done by now. Eat your salad.”  

Catherine looked to her father. Ernest raised his eyebrows but said nothing. It wasn’t his problem. He had ate his salad.  

“How is the tuition going, George?” He decided to attempt polite conversation with his son. “Are you coping with it?”  

George wouldn’t be an easy pupil to teach. The general public scoffed at the idea of a grown man removing his pupil from his home only to become the kidnap victim himself but Ernest knew his son. It was indeed very plausible. The most unsettling thing about the whole scenario was how George had returned to the manor after all that time and it seemed like nothing had happened. The Beckingridges could adapt to any scenario. It was what helped them keep the flow of cold hard cash to the city.  

George nodded. “It’s okay.” He looked at Cecil. In his mind Cecil must have said something he didn’t approve of so he knocked him over. He could see Elizabeth stifle a stomach lurch at the toy.  

“And Kappa So?” Asked the father. “It’ll be pledge week soon.”  

Ernest had been a member of the exclusive Filton Fraternity back when he was George’s age. He wasn’t exactly one of the in crowd but Charles ‘Chick’ Owen who was the Chapter Leader at the time accepted him as one of their own. The fraternity was now under the guidance of Chick’s son Buddy. George had taken a shine to him. He even started to imitate him quite a bit, using turns of phrases he wouldn’t normally.  

“Kappa So!” He would scream, already wearing his blazer even though he hadn’t officially been accepted.  

“Buddy said you’re a peg legged whore and the only time you shut up is when you have a dick in your mouth,” George gleefully announced to his aunt.  

“George!” Ernest finally decided to intervene.  

It was too late though. Elizabeth was already on her feet. He had her fork in her her hand, pointing it at her nephew like Satan with his trident. She decided against it. With a clang she dropped the fork onto her plate and lifted her glass of wine instead.  

“Liz!” Ernest tried to stop her but it was too late. She emptied the glass into George’s face.  

“That’s disgusting!” He complained. “It tastes like feet.”  

Elizabeth sat back down. Her scowl had dissolved into a wry smile as she watched George try to dry himself with the table cloth, almost knocking his plate to the floor.  

“Gah!” Vicky started to reach out for her great aunt.  

“May I be excused?” Catherine asked again.  

“No,” Elizabeth barked. “We’re a family and we have dinner together. Even if we must share the table with lunatic Larry over there.”  

Ernest was shaking his head. “Can’t we just have one meal where someone doesn’t empty a glass of wine of another’s head. Don’t we deserve some quiet after everything the family has been through?”  

“Oh Ernest do shut up,” Elizabeth barked.  

Ernest sighed. He attempted to change the subject. It was always especially volatile between George and Elizabeth so he decided to engage his daughter.  

“So Catherine,” he began. “Did Vicky sleep through the night? I don’t believe I heard her.”  

Catherine shrugged. How would she know? If baby Victoria had been screaming merry hell from her nursery it still wouldn’t have been her mother to go and fetch her.  

“I think she was trying to say da da,” Catherine offered.  

Elizabeth was turning her empty wine glass in her hand. “It’s a pity she doesn’t know who Da Da is,” she commented.  

“I hope you choke pills and die you cantankerous old shrew,” Catherine snarled.  

Elizabeth gave a hearty laugh. “Oh Catherine, I wouldn’t have to be cantankerous if you didn’t leave your child for everyone else to look after.”  

Vicky had woken up through the night as it happened. Catherine wouldn’t have known this because she had ignored the baby’s cries until Elizabeth had come to fetch her.  

“Come to me my little darling,” she had heard Elizabeth whisper to her daughter over the monitor in a sweetened tone she used with no one else. It was so alien to her aunt that at first she didn’t realise who it was.  

Catherine raised her finger at her aunt. George was giggling to himself, his fair hair still stained with red wine. Ernest was almost burying his face in what was left of the salad in despair.  

“Can we leave the vulgarity please!” Ernest requested with a little more passion than they were used to. “It’s not for the dinner table.”  

“May I be excused?” Catherine asked again.  

“No.” This time it was her father who requested that she stay.  

“I’m not hungry,” she tried.  

“Maybe not,” said Elizabeth, interrupting Ernest. “But your baby still is.” 

“I have a vulgar story,” George put in. 

“No George,” said Elizabeth. “You don’t.”  

*** 

Later that evening the Beckingridge manor quietened. Elizabeth had decided to take a walk around to try and tire herself out. She sensed that evening would be one where sleep would not come easily. As she passed by Vicky’s nursery she could hear singing. At first she thought it was a figment of her imagination it had been so soft and tender. She recognised the song but couldn’t quite place where from. It was a male voice. Ernest wasn’t an easy sleeper then either so perhaps he had gotten up to spend some time with his granddaughter. Was the song the lullaby their nanny used to sing to them as children? Elizabeth still couldn’t decide. She didn’t want to disturb the sweetness. She actually found herself enjoying the tone. She pushed the door open gently. The nursery was bathed in soft nightlights. Stars danced across the roof. Vicky had pulled herself up onto her feet in her cot. It wasn’t Ernest who was singing to her though. It was George. The lighting had subdued his normally sneering expression. At the least the light had provided some of the softening. Some of the serene look had been given from the way he was watching his niece.  

George loved music lessons as a child.

He hadn’t heard his aunt behind him. His focus remained on his niece. Victoria tried to reach through the bars of her cot to Cecil. 

“No,” said George, again surprisingly calmly. Normally he threw a tantrum when anyone tried to take Cecil. It was ridiculous to see a young man of nineteen who was supposed to lead the Beckingridge Tower one day throw a tantrum like a toddler over a stuffed animal. He smiled at Vicky though. It seemed the after dinner entertainment was called off.  

“You don’t want Cecil,” George explained to the child. “He’s not a nice toy.”  

It had been the first time Elizabeth heard George admit he was a toy. Every other time he was insistent that it was his friend. Elizabeth knew he had just being doing it to create a scene. What frightened her the most about that realisation was that she would have created a scene too if someone irritated her the way she seemed to irritate George.  

George lifted a stuffed monkey and passed it to the infant.  

“Here. You have ‘cheeky monkey,” he said.  

Vicky grinned and clasped the monkey to her chest. Cheeky Monkey looked exactly like the little monkey on the pink onesie she wore.  

“Cheeky Monkey is a much better toy for you,” the uncle explained. Vicky seemed to agree but she kept her eyes on Cecil.  

“Cecil!” Vicky garbled in toddler language pointing to him.  

“That’s right,” George agreed.  

He seemed to take closer note of Vicky behind the bars of her cot.  

“They won’t keep you in here all the time,” George went on. “I won’t let them. It was so easy for them just to lock that door and forget me when I was a little boy. I won’t let them do the same to you. I know it can get scary in here sometimes. The door is heavy and the windows are high up but you won’t be locked in here. You can’t let them see you get angry. That’s when they lock you in here.”  

“Gah?” Vicky said almost agreeing. Her tantrum earlier had seen her banished to the nursery just like Uncle George said.  

“Yeah, that’s right,” said George. “They just lock you in here, sometimes for days. They would always have you smile. They would always have you laugh. You can’t say anything no matter how much you want to scream and rip into someone’s belly. But don’t you worry Vicky. You won’t be like me. You won’t need crusty old Cecil. I won’t let them lock you in here.  

He leaned over and kissed her head. “You are cute!” He gushed.  

Vicky giggled. “Yes you are.”  

“That’s enough George,” Elizabeth finally interrupted.  

George turned round finally paying heed to his aunt’s presence. 

“She was crying,” he said.  

Elizabeth insisted. “Then I’ll see to her.”  

“She wanted me,” George was adamant.  

Vicky lay herself down in her cot, clutching Cheeky Monkey closely. She yawned. George and Elizabeth left her room to let her drift back to sleep.  

“Good night, Aunt Elizabeth,” George said neither sweetly nor sneering. For a few moments he could be mistaken for a real boy.  

“Good night George,” Elizabeth replied.  

“Sleep well,” added the nephew.  

Was that a threat? Was that a genuine request? Was he deliberately being a nice to essentially be an irritating prick? Elizabeth found Ernest in the lounge and when she had relayed to him the conversation she had overhead with Vicky it seemed to make him uneasy. They had locked him away often when he was a child but what choice did they have? He was out of control. Who’s fault was that?  

George pulled the sheets up to his chin. Cecil sat balanced on his belly watching him with his beady black eyes. That was when he heard his door click, locked from the outside.  

Behind those mansion walls lay a whole host of skeletons. The Beckingridge family experts at locking them away.  


The Beckingridge family can buy just about anything. What they can’t buy is peace of mind from the psychopath that lives in the manor with them.  

The Beckingridge family thought they had it made. An obsessed music teacher took their problems away but ten years later it was back in the manor and the teacher in Harbour House rehab.  

1105: Interview with Vincent Baines

Vincent had a good life with his partner Daniel Weir.

I am now speaking to a well presented gentleman. He is groomed, well dressed and watching me keenly. Former music teacher, Vincent Baines, initially appears to be a person whom most would respect and even admire. He is after all a talented musician. However, he struggles with serious personality issues and his residence at Harbour House came at a huge cost.

Interviewer: Son of the great composer, Fredrick Baines. A concert pianist by age 12 and a professional violinist by age 15. By all accounts you are an accomplished man so I must ask, where did it all go wrong?

Vincent: I thought that much would be quite clear. It was all over the newspapers at the time.

Interviewer: It was indeed. Murder, kidnapping and making an enemy of the richest family in Coldford City. But I’d like to hear it from your own perspective. Can you tell me a little bit about where it began?

Vincent: (Taking a deep breath) Must we?

Interviewer: I’m afraid we must.

Vincent: I was contacted by Elizabeth Beckingridge. She was looking for a music tutor for her nephew, George. George had been exhibiting severe behaviour problems and she thought it might help. He was a natural with the piano.

Interviewer: But the tutelage didn’t go so well did it?

Vincent: I did what I thought was best. When I first arrived at the Beckingridge Manor there was still police tape. How was I supposed to know?

Interviewer: You suffer from Obsessive Personality Disorder, correct?

Vincent: All my life, yes. It did me no good with the Beckingridge family though. When I met George all I could think about was getting him away from such a toxic environment. I didn’t realise he was the cause.

Interview terminated by my own choice. Vincent continues to struggle with what he did and it may be best he be allowed to settle into the Harbour House rehabilitation facility before reconvening.

#amreading #harbourhouse2020 #thriller by @VivikaWidow


Bring me your sick. Bring me your troubled. Bring me those that society can no longer cope with for they will always have a home here at Harbour House. 

Did your aunt tell you she murdered someone? No, she would leave that part out.” 

Killing is a game for the rich. 

When Vincent Baines is given the job of teaching music to little George Beckingridge he expects a typical commission from a privileged, wealthy family. George’s outbursts become more and more violent. His father is always absent, his aunt is afraid of him and his sister has been sent away to boarding school. Vincent is the only one who can get to the bottom of what is causing the child’s manifesting distress and unearth the terrible things the boy has seen.

***** A thrilling read ***** Hits all the right notes

1310: Interview with David Finn

David Finn arrives at Harbour House rehab clinic.

A scruffy young man is sat before me. His hair is bleached, his body thin and a little malnourished. He’s been through a lot it seems but brought to Harbour House to combat a drug addiction he’s on the list of those we aim to make better.

Interviewer: You were once described at Coldford City’s most promising young talent. You were a truly terrific artist. But you threw it all away on drugs, didn’t you, you rogue.

David shuffles a little. It seems the close scrutiny is making him nervous or perhaps withdrawal from needles is already getting to him. Still, no fix until he begins to cooperate.

David: You know what happened. You’re the reason I’m here, man.

Interviewer: How do you feel?

David: Like I got a life that ain’t worth saving.

Interviewer: A little bleak but I can see why it seems hopeless for you right now.

David: It’s the baby that got me the most. Elliot? What’d he do? What did his mums do?

Interviewer: You feel responsible for what happened?

David: Of course I do! He’s not the first kid I’ve said goodbye to either.

Interview terminated. Resident 1310 became too distraught to continue. Awaiting notice from Dr Winslow.

#amreading #thriller #harbourhouse2020 by @VivikaWidow


“No Davey, No!” where the last words he heard him cry. It took some time for him to remember his childhood but now the artist’s ‘tortured boy’ piece is ready, thanks to his latest muse.

Bring me your sick. Bring me your troubled. Bring me those society can no longer cope with for they will always have a home here at Harbour House.

Character Profile: Daniel Weir

Age: (At time of Maestro events) 26

Occupation: Photographer

Features in: MAESTRO ; HARBOUR HOUSE

Daniel is son of hotelier Rodney Weir. He is heir to the WEIR HOTEL chain with sights set upon running the City Main Weir after his father retires. Running a hotel in the Shady City isn’t without its challenges. It requires complete discretion, the ability to overlook shady doings and a firm hand when guests get out of control. This lack of moral thinking never really sat well with Daniel and through it he and his father clashed. Rodney had at least hoped the support of KAPPA SO brothers would help Daniel survive in the Shady City but pledging required a spirit that Daniel just didn’t possess. A night at the CHAPTER HOUSE left Daniel in hospital. After this event Daniel swore he no longer wanted anything to do with his name sake hotel or the father who was pushing him to be someone he just wasn’t.

Coldford City’s premier hotel. Shady Suites for Shady people.

Kind spirited, trusting and loving, Daniel sought the quiet life of a photographer instead. When he met a music student, VINCENT BAINES, he finally started to drift into the life he had always wanted. A loving partner, a nice home and a promising career it seemed Daniel had it all. But that danger his father had always tried to prepare him for ran deep under the grounds of Coldford. Even the beautiful suburbs of FILTON was not far enough away to escape it. His partner had issues, his home could not lock out psychopaths and his career would be cut short. If he had listened to his father, taken his place at the Weir and allowed himself to embrace the bad blood that ran through his veins, that same blood that allowed the Weir to survive, things might have been different.

Trusting Daniel was helping Vincent tackle his issues.

Daniel learned the hard way that trust and kindness only get you so far when the policy of your family hotel is that once the reservations are made you pay no mind to what goes on behind the closed doors. His partner, Vincent, didn’t want that life for him either. He knew what good a person Daniel was and he shuddered to think of what the hotel life would do to him but no matter how far you run you can’t escape your true calling. Isn’t that right, Vincent?

When he stepped through the gates of Beckingridge Manor, that’s when it all went wrong.

I am reading @VivikaWidow. #maestro #harbourhouse2020 #thrillerfan #blogreads

Out Now.

Daniel can’t help but notice his partner, Vincent, is acting strangely. The muddy footprints, the unexplained absences. He’s letting his obessions get the better of him again and someone is going to get hurt.

Coming Soon.

Vincent Baines has made many mistakes in his life. What happened to Daniel was the biggest. He just can’t help his obsessions hurting the ones he loves.

As long as it takes

Quiet. The noise of the workers on Chamberlain Docks faintly resonated in the distance. The ferry from the Island of Hathfield Bay would be arriving in soon. The 11:15. It always left port on time and the crossing was always a precise 56 minutes. What would it be bringing? Who would be returning? It didn’t matter because all of that was behind the tall hedges obscured from view. You see, it wouldn’t do good for the residents of Harbour House to look at what went beyond the safe little world that had been created for them. No that wouldn’t do at all, according to DR WINSLOW. Harbour House was a place of rehabilitation. Maybe seeing what was beyond the hedges, fences and walls would do them some good? Maybe it would give them some hope of returning to normality, but they weren’t there to hope. They were there to get better. They were there to shed all kinds of ailments. 

One such resident was music teacher, VINCENT BAINES. 1105 was the number he was given and obsession was his reason for being confined to Harbour House. The air of the place was fresher than he had ever sampled deeper in the city and for that he was grateful. The noise of the birds chirping formed a pleasant little melody to accompany the blossoming rhododendrons. He had circulated the gardens three times when he came to a stop again. The door leading back into the facility slammed as a woman joined him. She looked a little surprised at first to see that she wasn’t alone but she smiled at Vincent and wandered to a bench and sat herself. She was slim of face and body. Her soft eyes were like clear blue pools of water. The way she had hunched nervously gave Vincent reason to deduce that she was new to the ways of HARBOUR HOUSE. She had been crying. She was still in clothes one would have worn outside. An intervention staged perhaps? Her family refusing to return for her until she was ‘normal.’ What was normal? No one was normal. Especially not in the city of Coldford. 

“It will take a while to settle in but you’ll get there,” Vincent decided to say to her. 

The girl looked up and smiled. “Thanks. I’ll be fine.” 

Vincent nodded. She wasn’t a drug addict. She wasn’t a victim of trauma. Something else had brought her to them. He checked himself though. Ever since he was a little boy he had been drawn to the vulnerable, to those who needed help. His obsession meant that he was in no position to help. His obsessions just made things worse. The girl just needed to be left alone. At least Harbour House was helping him with something. 


“How long do you have to stay here?” The girl asked just as Vincent was preparing to make another stroll of the gardens. 

Her face was soft. She was pleading to him. She wanted his help. He could help. He had to help. She needed him. What was her name? Should he ask? If they shared their names that connected them. That made them a pairing and when you know someone who needs help you should help, shouldn’t you? Her watery blue eyes were begging him. ‘Help me, please!” 

Vincent took a deep breath. “As long as it takes I suppose.”

The girl nodded. “I thought so.” 

Vincent pushed his spectacles further up his nose. “You’ll get the help you need here.” 

That much was true and that was all he would have to say on the matter. He had to leave it at that. If he thought about it more and started to question her as to what brought her there he would set himself back and Harbour House had been doing him good. 

The door was thrown open again. TAWNY, an a old show girl and fellow resident leaned out. She had a cigarette dangling from her lips. 

“C’mon honey!” She called to Vincent. “We’re going out to the roof.”

She giggled as the artist, DAVID FINN, also a resident, pushed beside her in the doorway. 

“I painted my walls with pudding and they think its shit!” He laughed. 

Vincent shook his head. “Very mature, David,” he replied but he was laughing too. 

He made his way to join his friends. He stopped at the girl on the bench. “You’ll be fine,” he said. 

The girl smiled in return. “You think so?” 

Vincent didn’t dare allow himself to ponder the question. 

A matron of the facility, Beverly, was making her way to the gardens. 

“I know that was pudding!” She barked at David, slapping his arm. 

David and Tawny fell to laughter. “Had you going though!” David teased. 

The three made their way to a quiet spot on the roof. Beverly called to the girl. 

“Emily?” She said. “I need you on the floor.” 

The girl nodded, took a deep breath and stood. Her family had left her there. They wouldn’t return until she was better but she wasn’t a resident. She was a nurse. Just like the residents she would be there as long as it took. 

#amreading #harbourhouse2020 by @VivikaWidow

Vincent thought he had his life together. A loving partner, a thriving career and all the blessings life can offer. When he accepts a wealthy new pupil his obsessions threaten to derail everything.

Celebrating 4 years! Read the hit novella that brought Mr Baines to Harbour House.

Those little mind worms can wriggle deep. But you have an public persona that you need to keep. They wriggle, the squirm and they embed. You can’t get those thoughts out of your head. There’s one place obsession can meet its cure. In Harbour House, that I can assure.

Character Profile: Evan Heath

Age: 47

Occupation: BECKINGRIDGE FIRM accounts adviser.

Features in: MAESTRO ; KNOCK KNOCK

A skilled negotiator for the most part, Evan is charming but also very full on. He started his career in sales for COOPER Garage when he was a budding accounts student at FILTON University. With his proven stats behind him he was head hunted for the advice team for Beckingridge Firm. This suited Ethan. BECKINGRIDGE TOWER was the one place in Coldford he wanted to work. There he thrived and there he also met his wife, Sonya.

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Mr and Mrs Heath are two HIGH FLIERS from the Beckingridge Firm

So what exactly does the accounts advice entail? Evan, being a proven salesman with a head for numbers formed a formidable team with his wife. They were placed in charge of bringing in wealthy new clients for the financial giants to invest their money. They were also charged with pushing old clients to invest in new projects. All with that ultimate goal – Cold Hard Cash.

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The Heaths are tough negotiators.

Successful at their job and paid well the Heaths bought a lavish residence in Filton. Fancy cars and expensive restaurants like the DELPHINE are all part and parcel. They just can’t get enough which is why their teenaged son is still sent drug errands to the Shanties.

Times change and the flow of wealth in the Shady City can be treacherous. As music teacher, VINCENT BAINES, watched the Heaths leave for work one fateful morning he couldn’t help but notice that Filton had no soul. Who needs a soul when you can sell it for a mansion house?

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Ernest Beckingridge describes a phone call in the middle of the night that alerted him to trouble with the Heaths at The Tower.

 

Music teacher Vincent Baines shudders when he arrives at the home of his latest pupil. Behind mansion walls are where the true skeletons lie. 

Mr and Mrs Heath found themselves on the wrong side of the Knock Knock Boss Lady. It was time to take a leap of faith. Complete Season 1 of the Knock Knock graphic novel series is free to read here or click below to download for Kindle.

Justice Is Served


The Shady City has always made rules of her own but the line is now drawn.

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City Main has it’s distinctive sky line in large part due to Fullerton Construction. As viewed from the northern town of Bourtnon.

Offenders will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law by the power given to the HIGH COURT. No exceptions.

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Coldford City High Court. Located in City Main

Self proclaimed kings and queens will fall. Answers for crimes committed will be given. Judgement will be swift, it will be given with no personal feelings considered and its decision will be final.

Now, just like her niece, Tawny McInney, HARBOUR HOUSE resident 0109 will come before the Judge to answer for her crimes.

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Tawny and Agnes work through the hard times of Knock Knock together.

They call her The Baroness and her activist spirit is legendary. To some she is the lovable KNOCK KNOCK show girl. To the LAWMAKERS she is the next target and rehab will not excuse her.

Coming May 02: Welcome Tawny McInney to Harbour House.

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Resident 0109: Tawny McInney. TRAUMA.

Complete season 1 of the Knock Knock graphic novel series is free to read HERE.

Or click HERE to download for Kindle.

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Look me in the Eye

When I was a little boy they said I was mean.

When I grew older they tried to hide me away.

The only one able to keep my mind keen,

Was the teacher who came to visit me each day.

He taught me music and how to calm my mind.

I listened, smiled, said what he wanted to hear.

I even pretended to be sweet and kind.

Now he’s in Harbour House where no one can go near.

Coming 2020.

Broken and disgraced. A music teacher, an artist and an old show girl form an unlikely friendship. Inside Harbour House all they have is each other.

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OUT NOW.

Little George Beckingridge has become too much for his family to handle. Perhaps music lessons from the talented Mr Baines will give him something more positive to focus on.

Read Vivika Widow’s hit thriller by clicking HERE

MAESTRO_bookad

Ten things you (probably) didn’t know about George Beckingridge

He’s an adorable little psychopath, right? Well perhaps not. He tends to rile the readers but he does give a lot to talk about. So with that in mind here are ten things you (probably) didn’t know about the heir to the BECKINGRIDGE TOWER.

This may contain some MAESTRO spoilers so if you haven’t read and wish to do so click HERE.

1: Crazy on his mother’s side.

KNOCK KNOCK readers will have met ERNEST BECKINGRIDGE, George’s father, in ISSUE 17: HIGH FLIERS but Maestro readers will remember George’s mother, Alice. Tall, demanding and with a reputation of being a bit of a dragon Alice had a reputation that resonated through the town of Filton and with good reason. She was tough, charismatic and was ahead of her husband in leadership of the Beckingridge Manor. What you may have not known was that Alice was treated as girl for rage bouts and psychopathic tendencies. It seems its like mother like son for Alice and George.

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Beckingridge Manor: home to the Beckingridge family for generations.

2. Cecil

Before music teacher, VINCENT BAINES, came into his life George had no friends. The Peterson twins in the neighbouring mansion house avoided him as best they could. The only person he had ever grown close to or would even consider a friend was a little boy named CECIL. Cecil was sick though. George was never told what had happened to him but when he failed to turn up at school one day George was informed by their teacher, Miss Matheson, that the little boy had died in the night. George was inconsolable.

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As a grown up George still keeps the stuffed animal he named Cecil close.

3. Allergies

To say that George has strange quirks would be putting it mildly. But among those quirks George has a deathly allergy to bee stings. At age seven George had been stung whilst in the gardens of his manor home. His tongue and throat were swollen but his mother Alice, watched him. He was close to death when finally his father gave him his epipen. George, as you can imagine, hates bees.

4. Highly intelligent; emotionally stunted.

Even as a grown up George still has the tendency to behave like a child and a very spoiled one at that. He has the emotional level of an eight year old but when tested he showed an extremely high IQ. Some doctors reckoned most of his childish outbursts were an act. He seemed to enjoy shocking people.

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Ernest Beckingridge: CEO of Beckingridge Financial Empire

5. Twin birthdays.

Speaking of spoiled. The Peterson twins, with some hesitation, offered an invitation to the Peterson manor for their joint sixth birthday party. George accepted. However, seeing the attention the twins were being showered with GEORGE created a scene the way only George could. Ernest had been present but unable to stop his son wrecking the gifts that had been brought for the twins and attacking Oliver Peterson with a soiled nappy. Twin, Ollie was a feisty little boy though and George was sent home with a burst nose.

6. A night at the movies.

We all enjoy a good flick, right? George does too. In fact he had been sat in front of the television so often as a tot with little else to stimulate him it became something of a nanny. He especially enjoys the older films when actor, LAURENCE DUBOE was in his prime.

George loves messy play.

7. On display.

George was sent home from school one afternoon when he was eight after exposing himself to the entire class. Ok maybe that’s not exactly a big surprise but he enjoyed the wave of shock he had brought to the room. Perhaps enjoyed a little too much. It wouldn’t be the first time he exposed himself, nor would it be the last.

George always loved lessons with Mr Baines. Now he knows where to find him, Harbour House rehab.

8. Preservation.

After his mother died George became interested in the embalming and preservation process. He learned everything he needed to know from books he had insisted on getting from the library and even had a shed full of dead pigeons he planned on putting his knowledge to the test on.

9. A distraction.

When Vincent first meets George’s Aunt ELIZABETH, she informs him that his latest pupil may be a bit of a handful. It seems Beckingridge Manor has had some trouble keeping its heir in line. Vincent has been enlisted as a music tutor not only to offer the boy some refinement but also to distract him. Vincent fails to ask what exactly they are trying to distract him from. He finds out for himself soon enough.

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Elizabeth seeks a tutor in the hopes music lessons will give her nephew something positive to focus on.

The reason music is chosen rather than martial arts, drawing or any other pursuit is because George’s favourite place as a boy was the music room. He would spend most of his time in there and when he was in there Alice could lock the door and forget about him for a while.

10. 10 years is too soon.

George was a kidnap victim. After seeing what George was capable of and what the Manor environment was doing to him his teacher offered him a way out. Naively, perhaps but at least it did keep him out of trouble for a while.

Now George is back. He’s all grown up and he’s ready to take the reins of his father’s empire. Part of that empire leads him to Harbour House and the place where his favourite teacher is now resident.

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Assigned as tutor to George Beckingridge, Vincent arrives at the manor.

#amreading #thriller #harbourhouse2020 by @VivikaWidow


When a respected music teacher with obsessive personality disorder meets a psychopathic new pupil he found himself in need of rehab at Harbour House.

Available now!

Behind mansion walls are where the true skeletons lie. If you want to take a peek inside Beckingridge Manor check Vivika Widow’s best selling thriller MAESTRO.