“I think a name change should be the first point of order,” suggested the bailiff Colette as she led The Cappy into his newly acquired auction house.
“The name is already established. It might be a better idea to keep it as is,” suggested Ronnie Owen.
Chick agreed with the bailiff. “It’s a well-known name but I want the people to know that this hall has well and truly fallen.”
Ronnie had meant that it would be a better chance of a fresh start. It would keep already established clients of the auction house sweetened until they got used to the new management. His brother was determined to put his stamp on City Main, starting with the toppling of their king – figuratively and literally.
“The archives list,” Jeremy passed the list of items the Auction House had available. Chick Owen couldn’t disguise his excitement. He had seen Captain Henry Owen’s compass once as a boy. His father had been so proud of it. He had been too. The compass had led Hen to making Coldford what it was. The people owed a lot to that compass, including the so-called King of Main.
The Cappy sat down a box. It was a small, mahogany box that had housed the compass on that fateful expedition. The compass had been lost after the vicious divorce of Bobby from his second wife. Chick kept the box, waiting for the day it would be returned. Ronnie had never seen his brother so giddy.
Chick beamed. “Smile, Ron, you miserable son a bitch,” he cheered. “It’s a good day. When the compass is back in its box, we’ll have the reporters right down here.”
Ronnie laughed. He too was pleased to have such an heirloom returned. Even if it took 4.5 million and the restructure of a Shady City institution to do it. He read the list.
“The compass,” he began. He didn’t know how to break the news. “It was sold on.”
Charles stopped wiping the interior velvet of the box. He closed the box lid over. Embossed in the mahogany was the image of Hen’s ship.
The Cappy turned to Colette. “I apologise ma’am for what I’m about to say.”
Colette frowned. She was a Coldford City Law Maker. She had heard curse words before.
“Where is my compass?” he growled at Jeremy. “You, sir, better hope I get it back.”
Ronnie laid his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Colette said nothing. Jeremy found himself edging towards the door.
Ronnie read on, “It says here it was sold on to Ernest Beckingridge.”
The Cappy looked to Jeremy. His facial expression showed fury but his vocal tone had calmed again.
“It seems mighty impolite that this information was not disclosed prior to auction. Slipped your mind did it, sir?”
“I’ll talk to Elizabeth,” Ronnie offered.
The Cappy shook his head. “It’s no use,” he said. “She knew exactly what she was doing and she’s tougher than a two-dollar steak. I have mind to watch this place burn to the ground if it were not for the Penn mother. Elizabeth on the other hand, we’re not at auction anymore.” Again, he addressed Jeremy, “You are going nowhere until your little deception is put right.”
Elizabeth had asked her driver to take a route home to Beckingridge Manor via Pettiwick. She wanted to look upon it. Hopefully it would spur some ideas on how she was going to get it back. The bidding war had left her exhausted. Maybe an exchange? She could return The Cappy’s precious compass if he agreed on the resale of the school.
The limousine stopped. Elizabeth leaned forward and lowered her window into the driver’s seat.
“What’s wrong, Thomas?” she asked.
“The road’s blocked off miss,” he replied. “I can’t get any further. I have to turn around.”
“Blocked off?” They had driven into the school’s drop off point. The area where she had waved goodbye to Gramps on many a morning and skipped off to her lessons. It should not have been blocked off.
“Construction, miss,” explained the driver.
“No!” Elizabeth barked. “Not happening.”
She climbed out of the car to a bright and dry but frosty day. Just as the driver had said, fencing had been erected around the surrounding area.
FULLERTON – BUILDING BRIDGES. DEMOLITION IN PROGRESS.
“Building bridges, huh?” Elizabeth growled.
Thomas was now by her side.
“In the car, Thomas. I don’t plan on staying long.” Thomas obeyed.
She could see a man through the fence. He must have been a site manager.
“You!” Elizabeth called to him. “You there!”
He either ignored her or couldn’t hear her over the site noise. She collected a stone and threw it over the fence. It hit his hard hat with a clunk. He looked up.
“You!” Elizabeth uttered again.
The manager approached the fence. “Can I help you?”
Boards were up. She was unable to see what was behind them.
“You can start by telling me what’s going on here?”
The site manager was disinterested.
“Demolition,” he said. “We’re busy so clear off.”
Elizabeth scoffed. “Clear off?! You better tell me what you’re pulling down or I’m going to drag you through this fence by your testicles.”
“The Beckingridge Wing.”
Elizabeth shook her head. She thought so. Chick, you bastard.
“You can’t do that,” Elizabeth protested.
“What is it to you?” the site manager asked.
“Because it’s my name that’s on the bloody building.”
Ernest had donated the wing.
“Pettiwick did us well, Liz,” he had said. “Gramps would have wanted it.”
It was one of the best things Ernest had done during his tenure as head of the family. “I’m not here to speak to a minion. Send out whichever Fullerton fucker is heading this up.”
The site manager shook his head.
“Jenna!” he called. “Jenna, you had better come see to this.”
Fullerton contracts were split between the Fullerton siblings. Caleb had gone off somewhere without notice and the eldest, Jake, was serving time in The Boss so it was up to the sisters to hold the fort. No bridges being built that day, they were being burned.
Jenna had had to step up and take what would have been most of Caleb’s contracts.
“Elizabeth?” she sounded surprised. “I thought you lost out on the school.”
Elizabeth clutched the fence. “You have no right to pull that building down.”
Jenna looked to the boards. “I don’t, but the new owner does and he wants it down. It’s just fulfilling a contract, innit?”
Elizabeth growled. “I’ll sue you. Not Owen, you personally. Pull that construction missy.”
Jenna pursed her lips and folded her arms. “No can do, Liz. You know I have all the papers in place, right? I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
“Pull this construction now,” Elizabeth ordered.
Jenna removed her hat. “Not a chance, Liz. We’ve already been paid and that building is coming down. Your name may have been on it but it was a gift to the school. It’s up to whoever owns the school what they want to do with it.”
“What reason were you given for it to come down? It was a perfectly fine building. Ernest was good to you.”
Jenna agreed. “Ernest was a sweetie, he was, but we’ve got a job to do and I’d tell him the very same thing. I do have something for you though. I kept it. I thought you might like it.”
Elizabeth thought about Ernest’s memorial plaque. Maybe she could at least hang that in the manor until she got the school back. It had Gramps’ name on it too. Jenna nodded to her site manager. He ran to the office to fetch like a good puppy. When he re-emerged, he wasn’t carrying the plaque. He was carrying a newspaper – a Coldford Daily. He passed it through the fence to Elizabeth.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“This morning’s news. Open it to page 2.”
The headline read:
SMASHING TO SUCCESS.
The story detailed The Cappy’s plan for what was going to be standing in place of the Beckingridge Wing. The image showed Chick Owen and Jenna Fullerton shaking hands in front of the building.
“I thought you might like to keep it and remember the building as it was. You can frame it or something.”
Elizabeth threw the paper down. “Don’t do me any favours,” she snapped.
Jenna shook her head but she was smiling. “I’m just doing my job. It was Caleb who built it in the first place. I’m not happy about it either.”
Jenna scoffed. Demolition was already set. There was no stopping it. Elizabeth could still elicit some damage of her own.
When Elizabeth reached Chick, he had been hosting Buddy and his bros at Owen Estate.
“Elizabeth,” Chick had been waiting for her. “I thought I’d be hearing from you.”
Elizabeth smiled but her lips were drained of colour and her fire was now resting in her eyes. The video call gave a good clear view of her expression. Elizabeth could see Buddy and his bros standing behind him. Billy was out of frame.
“I was passing Pettiwick this morning and you can imagine my disappointment when I was informed by Fullerton that my brother’s donated building was to be pulled down.”
The Cappy continued to speak calmly but the icy temperatures of his words made Buddy shudder.
“Imagine my disappointment when, after spending a generous amount on the Auction House, I find out you had my compass all along.”
On screen Elizabeth had set a golden compass on the table.
“You mean my compass? Bought and paid for fair and square.”
Chick frowned. “It is mine and you know it. Those oddballs had no right to sell it in the first place. I am a reasonable man. I will offer you a fair price for it.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I like it. It’s a very nice piece.”
“Tread carefully Liz,” The Cappy warned.
Elizabeth brought a hammer onto her table.
“You better back off bitch!” yelled Buddy when he saw what she was about to do.
Elizabeth ignored him. “If you’re going to wreck property of mine then I guess I’ll do the same. How dare you pull down that wing.”
“I don’t really need a compass after all. I’m quite good at finding my way about.”
Elizabeth lifted the hammer. “Hen Owen, wasn’t it? There is an inscription.” She brought the hammer down as heavily as she could.
“Stop!” Buddy warned.
The Cappy kept his focus on the screen saying nothing.
Elizabeth brought the hammer down again.
The Compass, despite its study build, was damaged beyond repair. Elizabeth stopped for a breath and smoothed her hair.
“Are you finished?” The Cappy asked.
Elizabeth smiled. “I’ll be in touch.”
The call ended. Buddy rested his hands on his head. “Holy Mary that fucked an angel!”
“Charles,” Ronnie warned. “Don’t be rash.”
The Cappy paid no attention to his brother. Instead, he turned to Billy.
“Do you still have the rat boy?”
Billy nodded. He too was quietened by what had just happened.
“Then it’s time for Reginald Penn to see what happens when someone toys with something that belongs to me.”
Ronnie pleaded again. “Chick, please think this through.”
“I have thought about it. I have thought about it long and hard. He murdered our father, he humiliated my boy, and now our heirloom is passed around like a common whore. My fucking compass is destroyed because he sold it away, property that did not belong to him.”
Ronnie knew there was no use arguing with Chick. Heirlooms were precious to most. They were especially precious to Charles ‘Chick’ Owen, better known as The Cappy.
Having made their presence felt in the Mid-West village, at a small Kappa So outpost used for registrations and the occasional meetings, they had skipped across the city to the Mid-East.
Reginald was overlooking the area they had taken. They had been met with some resistance, more than they expected. The combined Fleet and Loyalist groups took a moment to catch their breath.
“We’ve got them on the back foot,” Reginald was observing, speaking to Paddy Mack.
Kieran Mack was busy scrubbing blood stains from his jacket.
Paddy agreed, “We’ve been smooth so far but the resistance is getting heavier and heavier each time. We need to move back towards the south before one final push into City Main.”
Reginald nodded in agreement. They had been so successful so far because their attacks didn’t follow any particular pattern, but Billy Owen had been manoeuvring CPD and success was becoming more and more difficult.
“They have Junior, sir,” he said delicately.
Immediately Reginald’s attention diverted. Emmerson passed him a phone. That’s when the screen showed the youngest triplet, Reggie, in pain, screaming and calling for the eldest triplet, Marcus.
“Woooh boy! This whore here likes her ass pounded!” Cheering could be heard. “King Daddy ought to see this.”
The screen showed Marcus held helpless. His support inside The Boss had been gunned down. Simon was flat on the ground with guns to his head.
“Say goodbye to your brother boys. You ain’t ever going to see him again.”
Kieran and Paddy shared a look. Reginald’s lip curled.
“Reg…” Paddy warned. “Think about this.”
Reginald shook his head. “Our next stop is City Main.”
Paddy continued to plead, “That’s why they wanted you to see that. They hope you’ll do something fecking stupid.”
Reginald was not to be consoled. “Those cunts have my boys!”
Paddy, still trying to stay level headed, said, “If it were any of my family, I’d feel the same way but we’re so close, so fecking close Reg, you can’t lose it now. For all our sakes you need to stick to the plan.”
Reginald’s fury was still throwing a tension on his facial expression and across his broad shoulders.
“We’ll get Reggie back. We’ll get all of them to safety I promise ya, but we need to stick to the plan.”
Reginald trusted Paddy’s advice. He found his center. He found his calm. Junior’s screams and pleads would be the battle cry that spurred him on. But then the phone rang again. Reginald answered.
“Rita?” he said.
Kieran and Paddy shared another angst-ridden look.
“Rita? My love you need to calm down.”
“My baby!” was all she could cry.
“I’m going for junior right now. I’m going to get him right now.”
“Don’t let them kill him Reginald, please! You can’t let them hurt him anymore. He must be so scared!”
It was then that Reginald heard a voice over a speaker. It was in French. Flight 10SS to Coldford City was now boarding. She was at the airport.
“Rita! Rita do not come to Coldford. I’ll bring Reggie to you. I’ll bring your baby to you.”
It was too late. The phone signal was lost. Rita Penn was to board a flight to Coldford. Coldford City airport, owned by Owen Inc.
Paddy sighed. He leaned his head back. Kieran shook his head. “Feck,” he muttered.
Reginald may have been able to use Junior’s cries to spur him into battle but Rita’s sobs for her baby? Those would signal the end for his enemies no matter the cost.
“My wife has just had to see that,” said Reginald to Paddy.
“I’m sorry,” said the Mack in charge. “But my point still stands.”
Reginald addressed his loyalists.
“We’re going to City Main. If any of the Fleet choose not to follow, then leave them behind.”
There was little I could do as events unfolded. I tried to get a statement from Elizabeth Beckingridge but she had locked herself in the Tower. The exchange continued to accumulate. There was still no word from the distillery. Its gates were firmly closed. It was now a race against time for Lydia and her agency team to find any evidence they could on Buddy Owen or once again he would walk away after committing the most horrific crimes.
As I worked to leak the true information to the city, Rita Penn wandered toward danger. Her love for her children had blinded her to the Owen Inc. logos that were darted all over flight arrivals. The plane she had taken from Luen even stopped close to The Cappy’s own Boeing – Dynasty.
“Welcome to Coldford City,” the attendant greeted. Her blue uniform and carefully made-up face was glamorous, inviting.
“Thank you for choosing Luen Air. May I see your passport?”
Rita was in a hurry. She fished into her bag and produced a passport. The check arrivals agent scanned the name Penn and she compared the photo.
“Business or pleasure, Mrs Penn?”
Rita was distracted. She knew Reginald was busy. She knew he had troubles so if she could talk to The Cappy, maybe they could reach an understanding. He had a son. She had a son. They could see eye to eye. Perhaps she could speak to Ida Owen. Surely they could speak mother to mother. Buddy was her baby just as Reggie was Rita’s. If the women could just talk a while, they could find a solution and maybe then the men would make sense. There had been so much harm done already. Reginald would be angry she had come to Coldford but she couldn’t sit at their estate in Luen when the next time she saw one of her boys it could be dressing him on The Tailor’s table.
If Reggie managed to get to safety, he would want to come home. Someone had to be home. Mother would wait for him.
“I live here. I’ve come home to stay for a while,” she told the arrivals agent. The agent smiled. Rita tapped her fingers nervously on the desk.
“That’s lovely,” she said. “Well, you’re all set.”
Rita took her passport and was sent to baggage claim.
Reggie, poor Reggie. He was such a little boy at heart. It was bad enough with Marcus behind bars. Marcus was her big boy. He was ready to take his father’s place one day. He could take the heat. Simon was physically strong. He fought, he trained and he focused. Her boxer boy would be fine. But Reggie? He was sensitive, inquisitive, nothing without his brothers. They were a whole when they were together. Apart, Reggie was the most delicate piece.
She saw her bag, an old-fashioned trunk she had packed in a hurry. She hadn’t even given security time to collect her and escort her. She just needed to be closer to her boys. She heaved her bag from the conveyor belt. The exit was so close. The transport to City Main would be waiting.
She felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Mrs Penn?” an airport staff member asked. “Come with me.”
With that she was guided to safety by Agent Franklin.
It hadn’t escaped my notice that the Harvester Brand was spreading fast around the city. It was a swift spread that had happened over such a short space of time. While Julia Harvester hosted both Beckingridge and Owen proposals for investment she, essentially, was the only thing keeping the duelling titans at bay, the only thing keeping Buddy Owen on a low profile and the only thing keeping the city holding a tentative breath.
“You got to watch her, man,” David Finn, the artist, told me. “You never know what she’s going to do next.”
David would know. After he fell in love with her as his muse, he had become so engrossed by her that he failed to see two of his closest friends lose their child. The beautiful art work he produced with her image only brought him to Harbour House.
Regardless of the warnings, I wondered if Julia knew anything about Sarah or Tawny. Perhaps she had heard her guest on the farm brag about the shooting as his brothers had. The very least I could do was make her aware of the kind of person Buddy was, if she wasn’t already.
She was reputedly a beautiful woman, kind, shy seeming.
“That’s how she gets you,” David had said. “Bam! Before you know it, she’s got you by the nuts and your saying sorry to her for the cramp in her hand.”
David’s warnings were taken on board although they were coming from a time when his addiction was at its worst. Even he had to admit the memories were a little faded.
The moment I saw her, however, I realised why she had caused such a stir. Beautiful she was, but with a natural allure. She even had sweat on her brow as she carried a box into the City Main Harvesters store. She was smiling and laughing with the girls who had come out to help her. I followed her inside.
She laid the box on the counter. When she turned we were face to face.
“Julia Harvester?” I put to her. “Sam Crusow. I’m writing a piece…”
She stopped me with a smile and a gentle caress of my arm.
“Yes, I know you. You used to write for the Daily. You’re a terrific writer. I was ever so sorry to hear what happened to your wife. Theresa, wasn’t it?”
I hadn’t expected her to know so much about me. “Yes. Thanks.”
“And still chasing the story? That’s either very courageous of you or proof that you reporters never give up.”
Her smile smoothed. My own expression mimicked.
“I want to finish what I started,” I said to her.
“That nasty Knock Knock girl is gone now. I’m not sure what help I can be to you.”
My story began the moment my eyes set sight on the Knock Knock Club sign for the first time but when the door of the club opened it was to the wider city. There was a much bigger story there.
“I have some questions about your guest, Buddy Owen?” She looked to the phone I had slipped into my hand. “If you don’t mind my asking,” I added.
She shrugged. “I’m really busy so it’ll have to be quick.”
“Has Buddy ever mentioned to you about a little girl named Sarah?”
Julia shook her head. “No.”
“Has he said anything about the disappearance of Tawny McInney? The Baroness?”
“No,” said Julia again. “Dreadful business though. I met her a few times in Harbour House. She was friendly with my dad who was a resident too. She was sweet, laughed a lot, really perked everyone up. Why would Buddy know anything about her?”
“You know the history of the Baroness and Buddy’s uncle?”
“I do,” Julia agreed. “But that was such a long time ago and Buddy isn’t his uncle. Buddy has been really sweet and helpful to me. That’s all I know. He’s overindulged and coarse but he’s just a big pet, really.”
“There is reason to believe he is responsible for gunning down a little girl. You’ve heard the rumours that that is why Tawny was taken?”
Julia stroked my arm again. This time her grip was a little firmer.
“I would tread carefully, Mr Crusow. If there is a gunman going around you never know when you might step into his firing line.”
I wasn’t given time to absorb her threats when she opened the box she had placed on the counter and drew out a meat packet.
“With your wife gone you’ll be having trouble taking care of yourself properly.”
“I have friends around,” I said.
She passed me the meat packet. “Have this on the Harvesters. There’s more than enough to share with friends.”
The meat was thick prime, tender beef. Succulent.
“Thank you,” I said sincerely.
“You’re welcome,” was her reply.
Julia Harvester was truly a nice girl.
With the bitterness setting in, Harvester Farm was being prepared for the winter chill. The coldness was always felt more harshly in the north and the animals and crops needed to be readied.
Dr Nathan Watt was waiting in the kitchen. He had spent a very restless night in the guest bedroom and it was now early morning. That didn’t matter. Julia would be joining him soon enough. He heard her soft steps. He hoped she had slept well.
A bowl of oatmeal and a slice of toast – lightly buttered – had been laid out for her. It was her preferred breakfast when a day on the fields beckoned. When she arrived in the kitchen she wasn’t surprised to see him awake but her focus was on a text message on her phone. She gave a giggle as she read. The glow of the screen highlighted her cheek bones, the softness of her eyes shone better then than in any of the images that artist, David Finn, had ever painted of her as far as Nathan was concerned.
Still absorbed in her conversation, still failing to acknowledge him, Nathan cleared his throat. Julia giggled again as she started to compose a response.
“I prepared breakfast for you,” Nathan informed her.
Julia sat down at the table and picked up the cereal spoon. She laid the phone face down.
“You’re so sweet,” she said, finally offering him a glance. “Shouldn’t you be at the hospital?”
He hadn’t told her that Coldford General had ordered him on leave. Chief consultant Dr Ferrald had said he lacked enthusiasm.
“It takes everything you got,” Dr Ferrald had said. “If your mind isn’t on the patients you are going to make mistakes. Take some time and gather yourself. For now though, take a leave of absence.”
It didn’t matter to Nathan. When he and Julia were together, he could open a private practice. When she became pregnant the farm hands would handle the farm work. She wouldn’t be wanting to go back out onto the fields with the children to take care of and house to keep. Her mother and brother would of course still stay at the house. He supposed Nan Harvester would make a good grandmother for the children. Both of them, a boy and a girl. Hopefully the boy would come first. It would be nice to have a protective brother for his little girl. He would like to see the children to be close siblings. He was an only child. He only had his cousin Kelsey and they hated each other. He always wished it was different.
He wanted to approach the subject of their being together again but he had to be delicate. She hesitated as she lifted her spoon. She caught his gaze. She smiled. Words were forming on her lips but before she uttered them her phone beeped its little jingle she favoured. She dropped the spoon he had set for her and lifted her phone. Nathan never thought he would ever find her voice irritating, so sweet it was to the ear, but as she laughed at the response to her text it grated on his nerves.
“Who on earth is contacting you at his hour? It’s only just struck five.”
Julia pursed her lips. She started to compose another text. “A friend. They’re in business so they have an early start too. Early bird catches the worm and all that.”
“Oh?” Nathan wondered. “What’s their name?”
Julia looked up with a slight smile. “It’s not a her, sweetie. It’s a him.”
It was Nathan’s turn to frown. “I got up early. I made you breakfast. I am here for you presently and you barely speak to me? Instead, you spend your time messaging another man. That’s shameful behaviour Julia.”
Julia spoke softly. “But I didn’t ask you to do any of those things.”
Nathan started to become irritable. “I want to look after you, Jules. Why won’t you let me?”
Julia cocked her head. She pouted. “You poor doe. You know I’m not in need of help. I have all the help I need on the farm.”
“Eat your breakfast Jules. I made your favourite.”
Julia pushed her seat out from the table and stood. Nathan stood too.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I have a busy day ahead, Nate. Perhaps you should go home.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he barked. “Stop texting other men and start showing me some appreciation for everything I do for you.”
“Oh Nate,” she sighed. “Go home. I’m going to be on the fields all day and you are not needed.”
“Why don’t we have dinner together?” he tried.
Julia held her phone by her side. “I already have dinner plans. My friend is taking me to Delphine.”
Nathan growled. “Isn’t it enough I have to watch that freak show, Buddy Owen, lust after you but now you tell me you have dinner plans with someone else? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Julia remained calm. She knew his attention would fall to her chest as soon as she took a sharp intake of breath.
“Don’t be so rude.”
The phone bleeped again but before she could check it Nathan lunged forward. He tried to tackle her and snatch it from her hand. Used to the charge of angry cattle, Julia was too quick and pulled away holding her phone behind her back. He was leaning over her. His size was larger than hers but she was smiling.
“Give me the phone,” he demanded.
Julia raised an eyebrow. “I will not.”
Nathan made another attempt to grab at it but her reflexes were too quick.
“Curtis?” she called.
Farm hand Curtis had been nearby, readying himself for a day on the fields. Nathan hadn’t heard him arrive. Nathan stepped back immediately, seeing Curtis appear in the door way.
“You ready?” he asked. He took note of the way Julia was leaning back from Nathan and how he was looming over her but he said nothing.
“I am. I want to get started. We have a long day ahead and I’m sick of oatmeal.”
The winter preparations on Harvester Farm was an arduous task. Curtis glared at Nathan but he and the farm girl left. Nathan grumbled to himself as he cleared the table. That was when he noticed she had left her phone behind. It was a chance for him to warn this friend of hers off.
Delphine restaurant was well lit, a large chandelier sparkled down on the luncheon crowd. All of the tables were filled but an empty one for two by the window. Its view was of the Fullerton bridge. Water, escape, building. All of these things told that Julia would have chosen that spot.
Nathan could see her tell her admirer, “a lovely spot for lunch.”
She had no right making arrangements for dinner with other men. It was disrespectful towards him. They were going to be together and he demanded she begin by cutting out all other admirers starting with her dinner date. It was difficult enough with the Kappa So frat brothers. He knew Julia was just toying with them to keep them in line but he didn’t like the way that Buddy Owen looked at her. He didn’t like how comfortable he was becoming in Julia’s company. More than that he didn’t like that she was laughing with her dinner date as though he – Nathan – was of no consequence. He gave up everything for her. He devoted himself to her and this was the thanks he was given?
It was approaching noon. First he would tell this new beau of Julia’s to back off and leave her alone then he would rid the farm of those frat brothers. Julia would see sense. Maybe a grand gesture like that would catch her interest again and show how much she meant to him.
The admirer had said in his last message to what he thought was Julia.
I’LL BE OUT OF TOWN UNTIL 2MORROW. I’LL C U AT LUNCH. XxCx
Was the C a misspelling? Was that his name? He had been tempted to dig deeper but he had to be careful. A lot of information Julia would already know even if they had just met. Julia had her way of ingratiating herself to people quickly. Before long they wanted to offer her everything they had.
He checked back on some of their exchange. Nothing sexual, thank God. That’s not to say there weren’t deleted messages though. From what he could read they were merely discussing life on a farm. He did ask her if she had ever masturbated a bull but she quickly laughed that off, changed the subject and he sweetened again.
What kind of company was this for her to keep? Perhaps he was reading too much into it but it seemed like Julia was delighted at the prospect of having a meal with this creep. Nathan would set him straight.
The time slipped to two minutes past noon. The date hadn’t shown up yet. He was either running a little late or Julia would have been stood up. She did say he was in business. Maybe business had kept him. Maybe that would be the end of it. Perhaps he had messaged again after Julia came in from the fields and took her phone back. Maybe she had learned all about Nathan’s little deception. But that couldn’t be it. She didn’t say anything about it. But then she wouldn’t. She would let him come to the restaurant and let him look a fool. She and her new ‘friend’ in business would be tittering behind their hands at Nathan’s expense. All he could do was return to the farmhouse, demand she call her friend and tell him they were no longer to be in touch. Then he would take her upstairs and show her how much he cared.
Nathan watched the empty table. The Maitre’d stopped.
“Sir, we are currently serving our luncheon course. If you don’t have a reservation, I really must ask you to leave.”
Snobbish and with the slight hint of a Luen accent. Probably put on. She was a severe looking woman with large sagging breasts that tugged on the buttons of her white shirt. Nathan didn’t know what name the business ‘friend’ would have put the table under.
“I’m meeting someone,” he decided to hang on for an extra few minutes.
The Maitre’d was not impressed but she left him alone to watch the table longingly. If Julia liked that table so much he could book it for them. With his ordered leave from the hospital he wouldn’t be able to afford it for very long so he would have to act fast.
A few more minutes passed. It wouldn’t be long before the Maitre’d would be onto him again. He sighed. Bitterly defeated, he resolved to leave.
Long, pianist fingers clasped his shoulder. A man’s voice hissed in his ear.
“You must be Dr Watt. I believe you’re here to see me.”
Nathan was spun round to face a young man of about nineteen in a finely tailored dark, grey suit. His darkening fair hair was neatly parted. His full lips were stretched in a Cheshire Cat grin. His brown eyes were saucer like but devoid of any warmth.
“George Beckingridge. You’ve been texting me. Let’s eat.”
“We might as well use the table if Julia isn’t coming,” said George.
Nathan said nothing. He followed the Billionaire Boy to the table and took a seat across from him. He watched the heir to the Beckingridge Tower closely. Not only was he the richest young man in Coldford, but if rumours were true he was also a brother murdering, puppy torturing psychopath. He had spent ten years missing when his music teacher kidnapped him. The teacher – Vincent Baines – had been a Harbour House resident along with David Finn and the Baroness. They had been close friends. Mr Baines was now in The Boss regretting the day he accepted George as a pupil. His Aunt Elizabeth was still interim CEO of the Tower but it was only the matter of time before the boy who most claim murdered his mother at age eight, became the controlling force behind the biggest fortune in the shady city, with a shark tank filled with hungry board members at his beck and call.
“You look surprised,” George gave a nasally laugh. “Didn’t you want to meet for lunch? I had to change the reservations and everything. You text me from Julia’s phone.”
Nathan could ask how George came about that information but Julia was always far more aware than she would let on. It wouldn’t surprise him if she had deliberately left her phone behind so that he could arrange this for himself. She and her new friend were tittering behind their hands at his expense after all.
A highly trained silver service waitress approached them. Without rudely interrupting them she waited for George to acknowledge her.
“Can I get something for you gentlemen to drink?”
Petite, mid-thirties, skilled at her job. George looked at Nathan though, rather than the waitress.
“A bottle of Cristal, I think. We’re going to celebrate.”
Nathan lowered his gaze. “I should go,” he decided.
“No!” George barked.
If the waitress was taken aback, she didn’t show it. Some of the other diners looked up though. George gave his nasally snigger again.
“A bottle of Cristal and we’ll have two of whatever the chef’s specials are today.”
“An excellent choice, Mr Beckingridge,” the waitress agreed, collecting their menus. “Chef is simply a wonder with veal. You won’t be disappointed.”
The waitress departed leaving George and his luncheon companion alone. “I come here a lot now,” he stated. “The chef at home is on my aunt’s staff. She might try to poison me. I know the chef here though. I know him very well.”
“What do you want George?”
“That’s Mr Beckingridge to you,” George snarled. “I didn’t arrange this. You did. I’m glad you did though. Julia told me what the look on your face would be like and it does look stupid.” Here George giggled boyishly. “I’m acquainting myself with the finer things in life. Julia is quite fine, isn’t she?”
At first Nathan was speechless but then he managed a whimper.
“I’m in love with her. She loves me too,” he said.
George’s lip curled like he was a little boy who still believed girls were a sure way to catch cooties.
The waitress returned with the bottle of Cristal and two finely chipped Champagne glasses. Nathan placed his hand over his before the waitress could offer him a sample.
“I’m not staying,” he informed them as the waitress presented the bottle in a perfect silver service manner.
“Yes, he is,” George insisted. “We’re on a date here and he’s not going to leave me to drink alone.”
Nathan removed his hand from the glass. The waitress poured.
George drank first. He sipped. He held the glass the way lessons in etiquette had taught him. He noticed Nathan looking up to stare at him.
“Do you want Julia?” he finally asked.
George settled the glass down. “You needn’t worry about me. My tastes lie…elsewhere.”
“I shouldn’t have come here.”
George pursed his lips. “Why? I liked the kisses in your text. I liked your sweet words.”
Nathan couldn’t tell if the Billionaire Boy was being sarcastic. He fell to silence again. George started to laugh.
“Drink the champagne, Nathan,” he instructed.
Nathan took a sip of the expensive Cristal but he didn’t savour it.
“Tastes like feet,” George grinned. “Doesn’t it?”
“What do you want Mr Beckingridge?” Nathan asked.
They had never met in person but he had seen him many times on the news. The kidnapping story, the death of his mother and brother, the rumours of psychopathy his aunt wasn’t shy in sharing. He had noted his cold stare through the television screen many times as though he had been addressing him directly. Now being sat across the table from him in person was unsettling.
“Julia is my friend. She’s the best girl in the world. I like her. But she tells me you aren’t happy with the boys on the farm.”
With Beckingridge Firm competing with Owen Inc. for a controlling share in the farm it occurred to Nathan that maybe the Billionaire Boy could be a way of ridding Julia of Buddy and his brothers for good. If Julia had befriended George maybe he could too.
“I worry about those frat brothers around Julia. I’m worried that they will hurt her. Buddy Owen is…”
Nathan curbed his words immediately when he noticed the soft expression on George’s face dissolve into a scowl. “Shut up!” he barked.
Nathan’s lips pursed tightly. George saw how uncomfortable he had made the doctor and he relished it.
“Buddy is a God,” he said. “He says things people are too scared to admit. He leads where most other tiny pissers are afraid to go. He’s a God and you should be thankful your mother opened her legs when she did so you could be there to see him on the farm.”
If George had actually witnessed Buddy trying to work the farm, he may have felt a little differently. This was not for Nathan to argue though.
“Did your dad have God balls Nathan?” The question was rhetorical. “Don’t worry. Mine didn’t either but Buddy is going to show me how to be a God. He’s my brother.” George opened the jacket of his suit to show a Kappa So badge on his shirt. “He’s my brother and we’re brothers for life.”
George had insisted the doctor stay and have his lunch just like he had used Julia’s phone to arrange. He insisted the doctor be the one to drink the Cristal and finish it.
“Finish the bottle. I bought it for you,” he said.
He kept laughing as the doctor grimaced. He was drunk by one o’clock and feeling sick. Nathan tried to excuse himself but George was persistent. He tried to summon the Maitre’d to help but when she turned to the Billionaire Boy and asked, “Is this man bothering you, Mr Beckingridge?” Nathan knew it would be no use.
George watched on with a grin as Nathan forced all three courses. He hated veal and despite the meat being succulent and well prepared it still caused his stomach to gargle. By the final bite he could barely speak.
“Drink up,” George kept saying. “Eat up. Don’t play with your food. Don’t waste it.”
“May I be excused?” Nathan asked. “Please let me go. I think I’m going to be sick.”
George’s lip curled. He had chosen a large glass of Jolly Shopper soda pop for himself. It wasn’t usually what Delphine served their luncheon crowds but for their best customer they were happy to make an exception. George took the glass in both hands and brought it to his lips. He glugged, glugged, glugged so loudly some of the other patrons looked up at him.
By the time he left Delphine Nathan’s head was spinning. He emptied the contents of his stomach at the foot of the street where he had parked his car. Luckily the town of Filton was quieter than City Main so he managed to get away without drawing too much attention to himself. He climbed into his car and drove the North route back towards Bournton. A CPD patrol approached but luckily they took the exit to Fullerton Bridge. They seemed in a hurry. They were in too much of a hurry to notice Nathan’s car swaying slightly.
He did catch the attention of Curtis as the car screeched to a halt at the bottom of the east acre. Failing to park in any cohesive manner Nathan stumbled out of his car and vomited again.
“Hey cunt!” Curtis yelled at him. “I hope you’re going to clean that up.”
Nathan couldn’t give him any attention, he simply waved him off and started to stumble towards the farm house. The fresh air dancing around his face was helping clear his head. Julia was nowhere around. She would probably be out on deliveries or maybe she was going on to rendezvous with George so they could laugh about how much of a fool Nathan had made of himself.
Buddy and his brothers were in the east acre tasked with preparing the ground for the winter. They stopped when they saw Nathan. Still drunk on a full guzzled bottle of champagne Nathan almost stumbled. Buddy emitted an uproarious laugh. His brothers followed suit. Chad cackled along with the chapter leader. Cooper watched with a smile on his face and his arms folded.
“You’re wasted!” Buddy called to him. “You gotta get me some of your gear, bro!”
He proceeded to hold his nostril and hop around the field. Chad was now in hysterics. Nathan was in no mood for their nonsense.
“Can’t handle the Charlie?”
Nathan rushed towards the farm house. Still Buddy and his friends taunted him.
“Fucking coke head,” Nathan muttered bitterly when he got inside. He had a plan for ridding the farm of Buddy and his bros. Julia was clearly looking for the next best thing but Dr Nathan Watt could show her she already had the best she was ever going to have. It didn’t matter that Buddy Owen’s family had the chance to make something of the farm that Julia had worked so hard to protect. She would learn who was truly behind her, who truly wanted her and it wasn’t Buddy ‘goddamn’ Owen.
Having just returned from school in the city, Susie was stood in the hallway. Her pink back pack was still over her shoulders. She was clutching a horse doll, playing with its hair nervously. As she watched Nathan she noted he was drunk. She didn’t like seeing people drunk. She saw her dad drunk once and it frightened her. He had been so frustrated with work and he had drunk too many beers. Grandma was yelling at him to get to bed. He calmed down when he saw Susie cry. He kissed her and said he was sorry he was just a big idiot. His breath smelled awful. He told her she would never see him in that state again and he kept true to his word.
“You are better than your father,” Grandma reminded him.
Susie knew no harm would come to her from her daddy no matter how drunk he got but with other drunk men she was not so sure.
“Hi, Susie,” Nathan greeted. He was starting to stand a little straighter. The cloudiness over his mind was starting to dissipate as he collected his medical bag from a locked cupboard he kept it in.
“Where are you going?” the little girl asked.
How to explain it to a child. “I’m going away and I might not see you again.”
“Oh?” The little girl was taken aback. Nathan had become such a feature at the farm house it hadn’t been what she had expected but she wasn’t too upset. She continued to play with the hair of her toy horse. Mimsy she called it because it looked a lot like the real-life Harvester horse named Mimsy.
“Bye then,” Susie replied.
She didn’t notice him reach into his medical bag.
“We’re friends right?” he put to her.
Susie managed a smile. He didn’t look as drowsy as he had before. He even looked a little sad.
“Sure,” she shrugged.
“And we both like Jules, right?” he asked.
Susie nodded. She smiled again. Nathan wasn’t so bad. He was a bit of a blow hard – that’s what dad called him – but he was okay really. He wasn’t funny like Buddy and he was always trying to tell her off but that was just his way. Buddy didn’t tell her off. In fact, he found it hilarious when she said things she shouldn’t. He laughed so hard when she told Chad to ‘Fuck off’
“She’s a feisty little critter cause she’s Kappa So!” he had cheered.
Excitable, fun, with flowing blonde hair and an accent like a movie star. Susie couldn’t understand why Nathan thought Julia would ever choose him over Buddy. She guessed grown-ups looked for different things.
“I’ll miss you,” he said sincerely.
Maybe Nathan wasn’t so bad after all. Julia had always said he was a good friend and he was Susie’s friend too she supposed. He just liked Julia more than she liked him. Grown-ups were weird.
“You’ll look after Julia for me, won’t you?” he asked of her.
Looking after Julia and Kappa So mascot. Susie’s pride swelled with her responsibilities on the farm.
“Sure,” she agreed.
Nathan’s expression became softer. She still didn’t like the drunken look in his eyes.
“Can I get a hug goodbye?”
Buddy was returning a bucket to the stables like a good boy. He was laying low. His father would be on Coldford soil soon enough and those loyalist sons a bitches would pay for what they did to him and to Pops. Them and their Fleet scum ass kissers. He didn’t let the frustration boil over though. The farm work itself was humiliating but he realised the harder he worked, the more he pretended to care about dumb shit like the horses, the warmer Julia became to him. That and it kept fucking cave man farm hand Glenn off his back. Chad seemed to be taking a step further and prancing around the farm like he was one of them. He even had a beer with Curtis. He would have to be reminded he was a brother and they were brothers for life.
He dropped the bucket on the shed floor. One of the horses, named Pippen, snorted at him.
Buddy snorted back. Pippen shook his head. The truth was Buddy wasn’t actually annoyed which surprised him. Given the circumstances and the fact that it was now day 7 without powder, he really should have been losing it. Maybe the farm air was doing him good. He never really made the most of ranch life as a boy. He just wanted to shoot the horses in the ass with one of the air rifles. He patted Pippen’s nose as he remembered how fast a little foal had run after he aimed. CRACK. The dumb ass foal tried to leap the fence, got caught and tore the tendon in its front right leg. It had to be shot with a real gun.
“Ah,” Buddy sighed, still stroking Pippen. “Memories.”
He had caught Hell for that one. Luckily not from The Cappy. He had been away on business as usual. But Cousin Teddy was the best rancher of all of them. He made Buddy run across the enclosure and shot him in the ass with an air rifle. Buddy leapt that fence. He leapt that fence real good and he cleared it. He didn’t get caught like the dumbass little horse.
Buddy scooped up some feed for Pippen. The horse munched angrily from his hand. Buddy laughed to himself as he remembered Uncle Walt dragging the wayward preteen back to the ranch house to nurse the wound.
“I have mind to aim straight up your ass, boy,” The Cappy had groaned when he learned what had happened, “but since I wasn’t going to see you spitting bullets I figured, what’s the point?”
The air rifle had done enough damage. Buddy was rubbing the fleshy part of his left ass cheek. Teddy was a favourite of the The Cappy. He was a prominent figure in Buddy’s life. He was the father when The Cappy himself was rarely around.
He thought of Julia. Now those thoughts were stirring. Wait a minute … Wasn’t there naked paintings of her somewhere? An immediate check ensued.
The barn was empty so it seemed no use to waste the quiet time. he reached his hands into his pants. There was a noise of someone stumbling in so he quickly turned.
“Hey, little chick!” he cheered. “How was school? Shit, right?”
Susie mumbled something but it was incoherent. It was then he noticed her already large eyes were even larger. They had reddened like she had ingested a zombie virus. Her pupils were hugely dilated. Her little body was trembling. Buddy was no doctor but he knew a lot about cocaine abuse.
“Susie?” He tried to speak calmly the way the Kappa So coke whores would when they were trying to bring him on a come down. The little girl tried to leap excitedly but she fell on the floor.
He remembered Chad once throwing ice water over home when it looked as though he was overdosing.
“Who the fuck gave you powder?” he asked.
Susie couldn’t answer.
He lifted the water bucket. He had to act fast. Glenn would have seen his daughter wander towards the shed. He always had an eye on her no matter what he was doing. He was telepathic or something when it came to the kid. Who would get the blame? The fucking powder fiend.
“Not touched any in fucking days,” he was growling. “What the actual fuck brah!” He poured water over the little girl but it didn’t seem to do much good. “Damn it, Susie!” he pleaded. He lifted her into his arms and gave her a firm pat to her cheeks. “Snap out of it.”
If Cooper or Chad had given his little mascot coke, he was going to raise all kinds of Hell. There was no way they should have Charlie without telling him. He had been sober for what felt like forever. What the fuck!
The tremors of the little girl’s trembling body became worse with the addition of the cold water. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like it one bit. She was his little mascot. She was Kappa So and someone had tried to hurt her. No powder in days and the little girl turns up three sheets to the wind. Ain’t no one going to believe he had nothing to do with it. Everything would be ruined. The little girl was sick, The Cappy would be furious but not before Glenn beat his ass. Julia would hate him and all along some asshole had powder on the farm this whole time.
“Get off her!” Glenn came charging towards him like one of the bulls he was used to wrangling.
Buddy tried to stop him moving her. She was now struggling to breathe.
“You’ve gotta get a doctor, bro. She’s taken powder. She’s taken coke!” Buddy tried to warn Glenn. Normally when the coke whores or even one of the brothers had snorted too much they would just be thrown out on their asses. If the exposure got to them before they sobered up that was their own damn fault. This was different. Buddy needed that little girl to live.
Glenn snatched Buddy by the throat, crushing his trachea. He punched him with a blow ‘The Bournton Blizzard’ would have been proud of. Buddy was sent backwards. The force almost broke a board on Pippen’s paddock.
“She needs a doc, bro,” Buddy protested.
Glenn snarled. “I’ll deal with you later.” He picked Susie up into his arms. “You better hope to Christ and everything he stands for that she’s okay.”
Buddy hadn’t picked himself up yet. The hit from Glenn had removed any strength he had had in his legs.
“Get her to a doctor, brah.”
Glenn carried Susie away in a rush. He hoped he could catch Nathan before he left.
Deliveries in the city had been more time consuming than Julia had anticipated. Her brother, Jonathan, had taken the City Main ones. Julia had gone further to Cardyne and then on to Swantin.
Darkness was beginning to set in by the time she had arrived back on Harvester Farm. The lights were on in the dining room of the farm house. Her dinner plans with George were cancelled due to Nathan and she was famished. The fields were quiet. Glenn’s own truck was gone. Some of the farm hands were having a beer as they relaxed after a long day’s hard work. They acknowledged her with a smile. She waved back.
A light was on in the milking shed where Buddy and his brothers were still stationed. Chick Owen had told them to remain where they were until he arrived from the Great States. The Owen estate could be unsafe and their Chapter House was still devastated after the combined loyalist/fleet attack.
There was no laughter there which was unusual. Normally Buddy’s voice could be heard above the others. He was certainly nothing if not strong spirited. The warning from Reginald Penn, the loss of his much respected and admired grandfather hadn’t broken him. Why would it when he knew his father would be arriving any minute and would clear the mess in one fell sweep? The Cappy was a powerful man and whilst he was around the son would laugh at the attempts of their enemies to frighten them. But something had given him sobering thoughts.
There was an eery silence as Julia stepped inside the house. There was no laughter, no merriment from the dining room.
“I’m home!” Julia called. “My dinner plans were cancelled. I do hope there is enough for one more setting.”
Julia looked in the mirror that hung by the door. Some strands of hair had escaped her pony tail. She fixed them and tidied her clothes.
“Mummy? Jon?” she called.
From the dining hall emerged Nan Harvester.
“It’s good you’re home, buttercup.” Nan greeted with a warm embrace and a kiss of her daughter’s cheek. “Of course we will have a place set for you. There’s plenty to go around. As a matter of fact, we have a guest. So why don’t you go and get washed up?”
“Who’s the guest?” Julia asked, taking note of her mother’s excitement.
Nan patted her arm. “Just hurry and get cleaned. We don’t want to hold dinner back too long.”
Julia agreed to her mother’s request. When she reached the foot of the stair case her mother added, “Use the new wash. It’s apple scented.”
Julia paused for thought. Nan smiled sweetly as though the words were of no consequence.
Julia changed from her Harvester shirt. Without knowing the importance of the guest, she chose a plain white blouse. She used the apple wash on her hands and face, enjoying how the sweet scent covered the smell of the Harvester van she had been riding in all day.
Returning back downstairs, a warmth was now radiating from the dining room. She could hear voices now. Jonathan was offering their guest an anecdote of his trip abroad. He was telling the story heartily just like their father used to. Jacob could always tell a good story.
“And here she is, the lady of the moment!”
Jon’s story was had been interrupted by their guest. Sat at their father’s place at the table was Dr Winslow – eminent clinician, saviour of her father’s life initially and bullying force she had worked so hard to get rid of.
“My darling Julia, you look so pale. I hope they aren’t working you too hard,” commented the doctor with an accommodating smile.
Julia smiled too as she took her seat. “Well, well Gregory,” she replied. “It’s been a while. How have you been?”
“Terrific,” he replied. “Just terrific. Everything is getting back on track with Harbour House.”
Julia gushed. “I’m so glad to hear that. It did give so many people hope of recovery.”
Winslow’s head dropped slightly onto his left shoulder as he observed her more closely. “It’s just a pity one such person wasn’t my dear friend Jacob.”
Julia’s eyes brightened. “We all have our losses.”
“We might as well forget our losses and appreciate what we do have. Your mother was kind enough to invite me to join you for this lovely meal. I must say, Nan, it smells positively delectable.”
Julia reached out and took her mother’s hand in hers. She gave it a gentle squeeze.
“She’s such a treasure, isn’t she?” said the daughter. She looked across the table to Winslow. “Pass the potatoes please.”
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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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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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
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.
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.
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?
I am reading @VivikaWidow. #maestro #harbourhouse2020 #thrillerfan #blogreads
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
George is the youngest child and only son of CEO ERNEST BECKINGRIDGE. He is a young man with every possible privilege in life laid at his feet.
Having spent 10 years in the hands of a kidnapper, George is still adjusting to life back at BECKINGRIDGE MANOR with his Aunt Elizabeth, his father, sister and his new born niece, Vicky. As accommodating as the manor and its staff can be it seems he isn’t overly excited about being home. He always did find it quite a constricting place when his mind was set on doing whatever he wanted.
He has a psychopathic nature with a wealth and family name behind him that would have him see no consequences. George is a dangerous presence among polite society.
He is rarely found without a stuffed mouse toy named Cecil in his arms. Cecil doesn’t make a fitting accessory for a young Filton man ready to take his place at the top of the BECKINGRIDGE TOWER but those close to George have learned not to try and take it away from him.
Having missed out on a great deal of schooling a team of tutors have been assigned to bring the Billionaire Boy up to speed in preparation for him taking his father’s place at the BECKINGRIDGE FIRM. There is only one tutor George requests though and that is music teacher, VINCENT BAINES, who had been assigned to him as a boy of eight. George had been quite a handful at the time and his family felt that music lessons would give him something more positive to focus on. The trouble is though, thanks to those lessons Mr Baines is now resident of the rehabilitation facility HARBOUR HOUSE.
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.
An old property in the affluent town of FILTON. It has been in the BECKINGRIDGE family for generations. More rooms than would ever be required it is a distinctive building that sits at the head of the town. Home to ERNEST and his sister ELIZABETH BECKINGRIDGE , along with Ernest’s children, his wife, Alice, having died.
Elizabeth Beckingridge aka thriller novelist Liz Beck
Some cut offs of police tape can be found in the bushes surrounding it from the days it was closed of as a crime scene. Now that is all anyone in the town ever sees of it. It was the first thing music tutor VINCENT noticed too when he was appointed to teach the younger Beckingridge, George.
It is a beautiful home but never had it been a happy one. Murder, madness and resentment in the air. Despite Elizabeth’s best efforts to create a home after the business with Alice it will always be cold. Even having money to burn won’t heat it up.
The say behind mansion walls are where the true skeletons lie.
#amreading @VivikaWidow and have music lessons with Mr Baines! 🎶 #maestro #harbourhouse2020
ELIZABETH Beckingridge had seen it before. As a former wild child herself she was familiar with the concept. It came from too much money and privilege with little sense of the real world. This was different though. Her nephew George was something different.
“He’s just spoiled,” she told her brother ERNEST. Ernest was sweet natured, kind and completely incapable of delivering the discipline. His wife, Alice, was though.
When Alice died this could no longer be denied.
She walked a long the Main Street of the beautiful town of Filton, heading towards the Beckingridge Manor with a COLDFORD CITY TRAVEL MUG in hand filled with black coffee.
“Elizabeth!” A familiar voice called her name, using the full name knowing her well enough to know she hated the shortened versions of Liz or Lizzie.
It was Mrs Peterson. The manor house’s closest neighbour. Her twin boys Ollie and Oz were playmates of George’s.
“Good morning, Mrs Peterson,” Elizabeth greeted hoping she wouldn’t be kept in conversation too long.
“I didn’t know you were back in town.”
“I never left,” replied Elizabeth. “After Alice’s funeral I decided to stay on and help Ernest out. I didn’t see you at the funeral, she added.”
Mrs Peterson pouted. “Alice was a dear friend of mine but I didn’t think that it was very appropriate given everything that happened. I heard that there was a bit of a fuss, picketers still calling her a child murderer.”
Elizabeth sighed. She wasn’t getting away without a satisfactory explanation to the nosy neighbour.
“We’re really just trying to focus on what’s ahead of us and try and get back to normality. You should send the twins over. I’m sure George would love to see them. He tells me they avoid him at school.”
Mrs Peterson’s face screwed as though she sucked on a lemon. “I’d rather the boys didn’t come over and it was me who told them to not speak to him. They don’t make great friends and there is always trouble.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Just say what you mean. You don’t want to be associated with a child killer. An accusation that was acquitted I might add and you don’t want your precious twins associating with my nephew because the last time they did there was a torn designer shirt, a broken nose and a beheaded dog to contend with.”
Mrs Peterson pouted. “Then you can see my point?”
Elizabeth sighed. “We are trying to do what we can to calm him down. These days he spends most of his time locked in the music room.”
Mrs Peterson seemed conflicted about something. “I have a music tutor I use for the boys. Oz is positively a prodigy on the cello. Perhaps some music lessons could give him something positive to focus on.”
“Short of having him committed you mean,” Elizabeth said in return but it was more of a mumble to herself.
“Mr BAINES is his name. You will find his flier on the town notice board. I must dash but do tell Ernest I send my best.”
George did enjoy tinkering with the piano. Perhaps it would give him some focus. With all the other kids shunning him it would help for him to have something to fill his day. Elizabeth wondered if this music teacher had what it took to keep George Beckingridge as a pupil.
When Elizabeth’s young nephew starts asking of the murder his mother was acquitted from she feels it’s time to find the disturbed little boy something to focus on. Music lessons might be key.
Elizabeth is a real force to be reckoned with. Some say she should have been the one to lead the BECKINGRIDGE EMPIRE but as she would quite happily state, she wants nothing to do with the running the family business. Her only interest in BECKINGRIDGE TOWER lies with her own investments, her family name and the support of her brother ERNEST.
A former wild child Elizabeth opts for the quiet life mostly but when she does appear in public she is guaranteed give the press reason to talk about her. She is a snappy dresser, bold conversationalist and you will find yourself either loving or hating her. She doesn’t care which.
Although she is impatient and challenging she is also warm hearted. When things are getting out of hand at the Beckingridge Manor it is she who still stands in protection of the family. As her nephew, George, begins to get out of control it is she who calls upon the music teacher, VINCENT BAINES, to try and give him something to focus on.
A large presence in the Shady City like Beck Tower needs a strong leader to steer it through dangerous waters. They call the financial industry in Coldford the Shark Tank and even although Elizabeth has sharper teeth than most it would take a tragedy to find her at the helm.
Novelist, Elizabeth Beckingridge has her hands full helping her brother cope with the children after the loss of his wife. Calling on music tutor, Vincent Baines, to help only leads to more trouble.
The Beckingridge fortune is paying for a comfortable stay in Coldford City’s best rehabilitation facility for music teacher, Vincent Baines. They had no choice, teaching their son and heir is what put him there in the first place.