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Table Manners

Beckingridge Manor: home to the Beckingridge family for generations.

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. 

Vincent Baines’ latest pupil is a handful.

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.

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

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Nightmare Fuel

“To sleep—perchance to dream.”

Hamlet

I’ve had many strange dreams throughout my life. Maybe it’s the symptom of having an over active imagination. If you follow me on Twitter you may have heard me discuss this (@VivikaWidow).

The dream world has always fascinated me. Those little stories that your mind tells you as you sleep can be vivid and memorable. They can be akin to some of the best experiences of your real world and they can also make you realise worst. Since I’m a lover of all things macabre I’m going to take a look at some of the darker moments I have experienced in the dream world.

Spider child!

Yes you read that right. The earliest dream I can remember must have occurred when I was about six or seven. In the dream I had heard my mum wildly exclaiming at the news. (In real life this was no rare occurrence. She was an excitable sort). She was crying to my dad to get me away from. Whatever was on the news would be too much for my childish sensibilities. It didn’t work though. I saw the report. In the news report the journalist was discussing the spread of an unexplained phenomenon that was effecting children just like me. The footage showed a large spider in a box. This spider was unusual in that it had the head of a child. His name had been Ricky before. Now he was spider boy and not in a friendly neighbourhood spidey kind of way.

This was so upsetting for me. However, before I could process anything this dream was telling me I found myself at an indoor carnival. Who doesn’t hate clowns, right? I just happened to have watched Stephen King’s IT at the time and my elder brothers, the darlings that they were, told me Pennywise hid in my closet and waited for me to go to sleep so he could eat me. So as fun as this carnival was with all the lights, music and rides I was deeply concerned. I was on my own. I was lost. Then I saw a clown. (He was remarkably like Pennywise – no surprise). He was handing some candyfloss to a little girl with blonde pigtails and little pink glasses. The clown turned his attention on me. I knew better. My brothers had warned me so I ran away. I didn’t want any of his damn candyfloss.

Running away I stumbled into a storage room. I could hear the clown and all his clown friends looking for me. I could hear a rattle of something tapping against glass. As my eyes adjusted I could see hundreds of jars, each containing a child with a spider body. Including the little girl with pigtails!

“Come e’re!” The clown cried.

That’s when I woke up. I was so startled by this dream I was crying. It sounds like childhood fantasy now mixed with the unfortunate placement of being the youngest sibling in a household of wind up merchants.

Ducks in a row!

I was just a young teenager when I moved 200 miles away from my home to attend medical school. Needless to say it was a time of stress and big changes. It is common to experience vivid dreams during times like this.

During my first week of classes I had a dream whereby I was walking past a river and saw a group of baby ducks. A raft of ducks I believe is the proper term. These baby ducks were struggling to get back to the river so being the caring soul that I am I decided to lend a hand. I gather the ducks in my arms and start to head to water. One slips out and splats on the ground (complete with side effects and everything!). Then another slips. SPLAT! Then another. Before I know it all the ducks have splattered on the ground. With there being no real logic in dreams I scoop those splattered ducks up in my arms and still take them to the river. The ducks just fill with water …

This dream obviously speaks to my anxiety of beginning a new part of my life and moving away from home at a young age but it was really vivid at the time. It played on my mind for some time afterwards. Well, having just recounted it for you it seems it still plays on my mind …

Dream big!

Dreams aren’t all bad. There have been some where I’ve been rested on a beach with a bronzed hunk. There have been some where I’ve achieved impossible odds or met my idols. There have also been some where my devious sister in law has tried to send me into space or billions of years into the future. My point is, anxiety and hopes, fears and ambitions all reveal themselves in the dream world. When time comes for us to wake again it’s up to us to do decide what to do with that.

So tell me about your dreams. What’s some of the wildest you’ve had?

Speaking of nightmares … The circus is in town and there’s no coincidence home invasion robberies are on the rise.

Performers of Stoker Circus can slip in anywhere. When fresh money making opportunities are offered it may be their downfall.

Tie that Purple Ribbon Tight

Dennis is a disgusting individual. After a brutal attack he’s looking for some kind of redemption. Taking on the church he was raised in might be a good start. 

Whores, thieves and murderers abound and yet none of them are as bad as Dennis Platt. God thing the Wigan church teaches, ‘you cannot be saved.’

“If you think I’m the worst thing that’s out there you ain’t seen nothing, pal.” 

Dennis might be right because there’s a cult abound and their looking for new members. 


Join the cult or join the ones set to bring it down. Your choice …

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How far must a man fall?

Dennis has lived an evil life. A horrific attack leaves him with no choice but to make up for his past deeds. When someone close to him joins a cult he is forced to realise he cannot be saved.  

Career conman, Dennis, is forced to change for the good when an attack leaves his days limited. Some people turn to religion. In the case of the Church of St Wigan, that’s the last thing he needs. 

The docks are a thriving place for nasty men like Dennis. They can also offer some kind of redemption when across the shores the Church of St Wigan calls to him.  

“How far must a man fall before the climb back up becomes too steep?”

A mysterious illness and a desperate phone call sends Cult Deprogrammer Reynolds’ sights on the Wigan faith of Hathfield Bay island. Time to face the past.

Available May 14th 2021

Dennis has had some dirty jobs in the past but when he becomes manager of the Knock Knock club things get downright filthy!

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Grandma Knows Best

When Tabitha is sent to Hathfield Bay to meet her estranged grandma, she is given an inside look at the Cult of Wigan of which granny is a member.

Growing up Tabitha had only heard tales from her aunt of how cruel her grandma was. Now she has the chance to meet her. Will it be tea and biscuits or prayers and lashes? 

Some people become hard hearted trying to protect their soul. Some souls cannot be saved. A last chance to connect with family leads to an unexpected connection. 


A mysterious illness and a desperate phone call sends Cult Deprogrammer Reynolds’ sights on the Wigan faith of Hathfield Bay island. Time to face the past.

Available May 14th 2021

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Knock Knock: Episode 29: Cold Hard Cash

.

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

ALICE BECKINGRIDGE: CHILD KILLER

BILLIONAIRE BOY MISSING.

Had been some of my early articles on the family.

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have an appointment?”

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

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

“Name please?”

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

“Just a minute please.”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Jeremy cleared his throat.

“Reserve price is 2.3 million.”

Liz raised her board. 2.4

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

2.5 million he bid.

2.6 million she returned.

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

2.8 million. Elizabeth’s interest was waning.

3.2 million. The Cappy struck boldly.

3.7 million Elizabeth countered

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

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

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

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

“Lot 004. The Knock Knock Club.”

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

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

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

1.5 million. Elizabeth began this time.

1.7 million countered The Cappy.

1.9 million. Beckingridge Tower was continuing its efforts.

2.1 million. The Cappy was tentative.

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

4 million was Elizabeth’s final offer.

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

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

“Lot 005. Harbour House.”

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

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

“Reserve price is 3.2,” Jeremy explained.

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

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

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

“Lot 006. Pettiwick School.”

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

“Reserve price is 6.7 million.”

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

7 million. The first Owen bid was tentative.

10 million. The Beckingridge bid was a strike.

20 million. Games were no longer being played.

25 million. The flames roared.

30 million. The shine of the steel returned.

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

Chick Owen said nothing. The dragon was down.

“Going once. Going twice …” said Jeremy.

45 million. The dragon was not done.

50 million. Neither was Owen inc.

55 million. The tower was beginning to shake.

70 million. There was still much to do.

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

“Going once. Going twice. Sold!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Reserve price is 11.5 million.”

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

11.6 million. Charles Owen was also being nonchalant.

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

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

“Lot 007. St Michael’s Cathedral.”

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

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

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

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

10.5 million. The Beckingridge dragon roared.

10.6, 10.7, 10.8, 11, 12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth turned to Charles. “Be my guest.”

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

30 million. The first blow struck.

40 million. The Owen counter.

The dance continued and the bites were taken.

50 million. The Tower would not concede.

70 million. Owen Inc was not walking away.

100, 200, 400, 500 million.

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

600, 700, 750, 800, 825 million.

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

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

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

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

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

“Going once. Going twice. Sold.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside Jeremy signed over the deed of purchase.

“Congratulations, Miss Harvester,” he said.

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Waiting for someone?” he asked.

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

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

“You’re not from around here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s your name?” asked he.

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

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

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

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

Raymond swallowed what was left of the Sherry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

He chuckled. “That’s better.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good night, Mr Baines,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“I’ve got 3.4!”

“I’ve got 6.5!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m busy doctor so …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, my dear,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. I just don’t like you.”

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

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

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

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

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

Winslow stayed steady.

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

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

“Take this back,” George ordered.

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

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

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

George was glaring at the doctor. Julia was smiling.

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

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

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

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

“And if I don’t?”

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

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

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

“How dare you!” the doctor roared.

Julia raised her hand.

SMASH.

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

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

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

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

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


Enjoy this?

Complete Season 2 of the Knock Knock series is free to read here on Vivika Widow. com or click below download for Kindle

Care to discover the true whereabouts of the Knock Knock Baroness? Tawny was last seen as a resident of the Shady City’s premier rehab clinic. Check out Vivika Widoow’s hit thriller Harbour House. Free on Kindle Unlimited.

Managing Just Fine


It takes a little bit of extra pizazz to work the KNOCK KNOCK club and to be the manager you got to really have your wits about you. Here’s what our manager, DENNIS brings to the table:

GREET THE CUSTOMERS

There are a lot of regular faces returning to the SHANTIES for the best night in town but as the manger you really need to keep a keen eye out for strangers. The club is invitation only (by orders of the BOSS LADY). Given the nature of the joint there can be a lot of creeps hanging around. Your job as manager is to weed out the miscreants and send them packing. Except if one of those strange faces happens to be a reporter for the COLDFORD DAILY, the biggest publication in the city. Then he goes right on in.

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KEEP THE BOOZE FLOWING

The KNOCK KNOCK girls are skilled at flirting with the customers and making them feel special. A horny man will part with cash quicker than his trousers if he thinks he’s getting something out of it. He’s not. Your job as manager is to keep those drinks flowing so the customers are sent home with a smile on their face one way or another.

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CHEER THE ENTERTAINMENT

No one loves the BOSS LADY more than the BOSS LADY herself so when she takes to the stage it is always on the HEADLINING spot. As manager you have to make sure the crowds are wild and having a great time. It helps to throw in a little whoop and cheer yourself just to get the ball rolling on slow nights.

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PREPARE THE GIRLS

Choosing the girls sounds like a dream job for any hot blooded man but there’s more to our KNOCK KNOCK lovelies than meets the eye. These kittens have got to have claws. There is no use bringing in a new flirty waitress only to have her pack it in a week later. That’s bad for business and its bad for morale. Get those girls prepared, pretty and ready to lash out because in a place like the KNOCK KNOCK club those kittens got to have claws. The SHANTIES are no place for damsels in distress.

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WISH YOU HAD NEVER COME

Alright so this one is specific for Dennis. We’re pretty sure anyone would just love to manage the club but when you have had to leave your family life behind and submit all power you once had it can feel more like a life sentence. Should have kept your hands to yourself then Dennis, you dirty fiend.

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Do you have what it takes to manage a place like the KNOCK KNOCK club? Have we made it seem like an appealing place for a night out?

After it all you can just sit back, relax and consider a job well done.

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COMING 2021

A mysterious illness and a desperate phone call sends Cult Deprogrammer Reynolds’ sights on the Wigan faith of Hathfield Bay island. Time to face the past.

Character Profile: Dominick Cole

Features in: PURPLE RIBBON

Name: His Eminence Dominick Cole

Age: mid thirties

Occupation: Head of the CHURCH OF ST WIGAN

“We are the children of Wigan and our hearts are pure and strong!”

Dominick is a life long resident of the Wigan commune on HATHFILED BAY island. He was known among his people to be a spirited, intense young man and the Wigans have always adored him. He is dedicated to his faith and as such he was granted the leadership of the church. There isn’t much that can sway him from his oath and he is willing to go to ridiculous lengths to spread the word of St Wigan, also known as the Patron Saint of Sinners.

Although he is known to be wild in his pursuit of purity in the world around him he does also have a whimsical side which people usually respond to well. The Church is known as a cult in some circles and cult leaders tend to have a natural effervescence.

Dealing with the city dwellers over on the mainland can be a bit of a culture shock for Dominick. Luckily he is supported by a knowledgeable clergy who help steer him. The sinners would all be battered over the head with an iron cross if His Eminence was left to his own devices.

His church is steeped in history but his mind is set on the future. That future sees him tasked with purifying the Shady City. No easy feat …

“You cannot be saved but repent and you’ll be in his embrace.”


COMING 2021

A mysterious illness and a desperate phone call sends Cult Deprogrammer Reynolds’ sights on the Wigan faith of Hathfield Bay island. Time to face the past.

Available now:

So, what now?

“This too shall pass.”

It’s been quite the year, hasn’t it?

For most people this Christmas has been something quite different. For me being unable to see my little niece and nephew has been tough. 2020 will be forever remembered as a year of struggling but I don’t want to dwell on that. What I want to do is look to the future and think of the positive changes that a new year always brings.

Has there been a year like 2020 where we have been able to see just how strong and resiliant we are? Not to my recollection anyway, so with that in mind let’s approach 21 with the knowledge that we are still standing.

Like every new year, every new month and every new day we are given the chance to strive for something better. Isolation, lockdown, Covid19 and social distancing are all words we will be sick and tired of hearing right now so lets change the narrative. Let’s make the words, family time, pyjama days, self care and mental space.

Targets for 2021 might be a little different but they are still targets none the less. The question then to ask is, what now?

Read more books.

Exercise more.

Start a new hobby.

Try a bold new look.

Although the possibilities might seem limited they are only hindered by our own imaginations. Despite the challenges, 2021 could still be the best year yet. I do wish you all well and for those of you who are struggling, remember to take care of yourself. Reach out. This digital age we live in makes communication much easier than it ever was.

Stay safe, live well and have a great New Year folks! I’ll see you on the other side.


“How far must a man fall before the climb back up becomes too steep?”

Coming Spring 2021

Frequent Fliers: Coldford City Airport

Features in: KNOCK KNOCK ; PURPLE RIBBON

When your looking to escape and the Shady City is where you choose to go then flying in from abroad will bring you to Coldford City international airport. With arrivals from the Great States, Levinkrantz, Subala and Luen it is one of Coldford City’s busiest places. Located in the west of the CARDYNE if you can get there, you can get anywhere!

A recent arrival from the Great States.

Coldford City Airport also boasts being home of Dynasty, the personal jet of Captain Charles ’Chick’ Owen. The Cappy is no stranger to smooth landings so it’s always his first point of contact when he arrives in Coldford to deal with business, pleasure or his unruly family.

The Cappy greets his public.

So book your tickets. Come fly with us or sit in the foyer, enjoying some of the great cafes on offer and do some people watching. We’ve got some strange people passing through the gates! As if the Shady City wasn’t shady enough!

Enjoy this?

Complete Season 2 of the Knock Knock series is free to read here on Vivika Widow. com or click below download for Kindle

Care to discover the true whereabouts of the Knock Knock Baroness? Tawny was last seen as a resident of the Shady City’s premier rehab clinic. Check out Vivika Widoow’s hit thriller Harbour House. Free on Kindle Unlimited.