Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 1

I have absolutely no idea what part of the city I'm in, where the nearest tram stop is or even what direction to start walking in. I'm also due at work in twenty minutes, am in the same clothes I wore out last night and am in desperate need of a shower. I look around me to try to get some bearings, I was drunk, in a cab and otherwise engaged when I arrived here last night and nothing looks familiar, of course I could try and get back into the house behind me and ask Ray or Roy or whatever the hell his name is for directions, but that would just be far too embarrassing.

In the distance I hear what sounds like it could be the rattling of a tram car so I head toward the noise, because going somewhere is better than going nowhere, and as I reach the bottom of the road I thank the gods, I can see at the next intersection the welcome sight of tram lines and a whole lot of people waiting at a stop.

The tram is packed but even so I seem to have a few inches of space all around me, I guess I possibly don't smell so good, I drank far too much champagne last night and the heat of so many people around me is making me sweat alcohol, added to that even though I don't smoke my suit seems to have absorbed the scent of every persons cigarette and cigar I came into contact with, and I had quite a lot of sex last night and haven't showered since, all in all not a good smell.

I can see the clippy making her way through the car and as she stops by me she wrinkles her nose and pulls back a little. "Where to?" she asks fiddling with her ticket machine.

"Fairfax Road" She looks me in the eye and I see her expression change to one of surprise and she forgets herself for a moment as she's too busy staring at me. "How much?" I ask to hurry things along, I'm quite used to this reaction by now, but this morning I can't be bothered with it.

"Um.. one and six" she pulls her gaze away from me and rings up the ticket, I put my hand in my pocket for the coins only to find it empty, I try the other side and pull out a sixpence and my door key, nothing else. If I was wearing my regular trousers I would have another half dozen pockets to try, but these are my suit pair and my heart sinks as I realise I can't pay my fare.

"Sorry that's all I have" I say handing her the tanner, she gives me a flat look

"If you can't pay sling your hook." The woman gestures to the door at the back of the tram. The rest of the passengers watch with interest, peeking over their newspapers and giving me sidelong glances, all hoping for a bit of extra entertainment with their morning commute. I have no choice, the clippy is not going to let me off the fare, and I can't see any of my audience coming to the rescue of a broke, smelly young man. In fact they most likely think that I'm a tramp who stole someone's suit, although of course that would never happen, I couldn't fit into anyone else clothes, not that they know that.

Heading to the back of the tram  I decide to jump off rather than wait for the next stop and I land squarely on the pavement, the annoyed shouts of the clippy receding into the distance as the tram continues on its way.

I'm a little closer to work now, but not close enough to make it in time so I begin to run. I can run very fast and as I pick up speed I find myself dodging around the other pedestrians, whose tuts and curses fill the air. A large woman with three small yappy dogs block my path so I bend my knees and jump over the pooches, who yap in protest. Landing on the other side of them I nearly up end a delivery boy with his arms full of a stack of newspapers, and I have to jink sharply to the right to avoid a waiter setting up the tables outside a café, and he throws a series of phrases at me that would make a docker blush.

I'm getting closer to the city centre now and the pavement is becoming too busy so I move into the road. Now I'm subject to a barrage of bicycle bells and swearing cabbies, one even lashes out at me with his whip when I dash across in front of him and cause his horse to spook, but I easily dodge the cracking leather and keep going, leaping a pile of manure, but in the process causing a cyclist to wobble off his bike and topple into the shit, but at least he had a soft landing.

I'm nearly at the office now, I glance up at the clock on a nearby bank building, only ten minutes late, maybe no one will notice, maybe. With a final leap I mount the pavement again, slow to a walk and take a few gulping breaths. I wipe my face on the sleeve of my suit jacket, run a hand through my hair to try and neaten it, then climb the front steps of the Municipal Works building.

The lobby is all inlaid marble and polished granite pillars with a centre piece statue of Mina, the goddess of commerce and enterprise holding aloft a burning torch made of ten large electric light bulbs that is meant to represent the companies chief product, the electricity that powers and lights almost the whole of the Twin Islands. Unfortunately the maintenance department constantly struggle to keep the thing lit, and as usual today two of the light bulbs are are out. Once, a long time ago the company was called Municipal Mine Works, that was when it was exclusively a mining company, but then someone worked out that you could burn coal to make electricity, and as the company already had plenty of coal they branched out into building and running power stations and supplying electricity to peoples homes too, so they dropped the "Mining" part out of the name.

We have to go through a security checkpoint to get in, I walk towards the guards and grin at them hopefully, I'm meant to show them an identity card with a small photograph of me on it and I know exactly where it is, it's in the pocket of my trousers that are sitting upstairs in my desk draw.

They glare at me, the older one pulls a disgusted face. "Card." He barks.

"Sorry, don't have it." I give him an apologetic shrug. "Come on I'm late, you know who I am, no one else looks like me."

He sweeps his eyes over me while the other one busies himself with checking in a pair of typists who give me a wide berth, one even goes so far as to place her hand over her nose and mouth, I suppose the sprint here didn't help my odour any.

"I'm not sure I should let you through." He's enjoying making me suffer, I can see it in his face.

"Please." I resort to begging.

"All right." He eventually concedes, and I breath a sigh of relief. "But I'll have to inform Mr Zale about it." My heart sinks. There is no reason at all why he has to tell Zale, he's just being an evil bastard, but time is passing and pleading with him would probably just make things worse so I give the man a grudging thanks, pass through the checkpoint and head toward the back of the lobby.

I briefly weight up whether to take the lift or the stairs, although the lift would be quicker, right now being in a small enclosed space with a bunch of other people might not be the best thing to do so I opt for the stairs.

Even though I bounce up the steps two at a time they seem to be never ending. The Municipal Works building is less than two years old and up until a few months ago when the Empire Hotel was completed it was the tallest building in the whole city of Parnell. Standing at twelve stories with two lifts and fully fitted out with electric lighting and power it is a marvel of modern engineering, it's also a complete pain in the ass to get up on foot when your office is on the tenth floor.

Eventually I reach my goal and once again I stop for a moment to get my breathing under control. When I feel ready, or at least as ready as I'm going to get today I push open the door to the Municipal Works Investigation Division.

I nod to Caddy the receptionist who glances at the clock then cocks an arched pencil eyebrow at me as if to point out my lateness. I don't stop to say hello, partly due to the time and partly because I like her and she doesn't deserve me stinking up her work area. I head straight down the corridor past a series of doors, grateful that no one is about until I come to my office tucked away at the end. The smell of cheroot smoke is drifting out from inside, letting me know my partner Vio is in, not that she's likely to be late, and I can hear a mix of voices that indicates the other pair of investigators we share the room with are also present, worst luck. I open the door and prepare my self for the abuse I'm about to get, for a moment three pairs of eyes just stare at me and then it starts.

"Good afternoon." That's from Kezlo, original as always

"Are those the same clothes you were wearing last night? Oh dear, did we have to do the walk of shame in this morning?" Sonja really is a bitch, she gives me a smug little smile with her bright red mouth and tosses her jet black hair over one shoulder.

Vio blows a cloud of smoke out of her nose, sighs and shakes her head at me, but I catch a hint of concern in her ice blue eyes, well hidden behind the irritation. I walk over to our desks, which are pushed back to back as the office is tight for space, and carefully sit down, adjusting myself as I do so. She stubs her smoke out in an overflowing ashtray and frowns at me, sniffing.

"Fuck me Exit, you smell worse than a week old corpse in summer."

"I know, I need to shower, do I have time?"

Before Vio can reply Sonja has to have her say "Ugh, gods, you stink, this office get more like the zoo every day."

Kezlo laughs at this, missing the fact that it's almost as much of an insult to him as it is to me.

"You stink monkey boy." He add unnecessarily, especially as being a visk he has very little sense of smell.

"Shut up fuckwit." Vio throws at him, he starts to protest but she stares him down, and he does as she says. No one really wants to get on the wrong side of her, I think she even scares Vin and Zale a little. Luckily she thinks of me as a slightly retarded child, so I don't manager to annoy her too much, which is a very good thing. She's over six foot tall and solidly built, so physically she's kind of intimidating, but she's extremely smart with it. She has these very light blue eyes that make you feel like she knows what you're thinking when she locks them onto you, close cropped white blond hair and the sort of face and attitude that commands respect, or fear, or a little of each. Both Kezlo and Sonja suddenly find their paperwork to be very interesting, and after a few moments the clatter of typewriters fills the air.

"Vin wants to see us in his office but I don't reckon you should go like that, you got a change of clothes and shower things here?" Vio says once the other two have gone back to their work.

"Yeah, I've got the stuff I wore in yesterday, and soap and a towel." I reply.

Vio comes with me to the showers and interrogates me while I wash, standing by a bench smoking one of her foul smelling cheroots trying to find out what happened to me last night.

"So, Exit, let me get this clear, we go out for a departmental meal so Sampson can congratulate us on our handling of the latest Clearwater business."

"Mmm" I agree, lathering soap into my hair, thinking that I must buy some shampoo to leave at work.

"A select group of us, including you and myself move on to a private members club, where you get completely bladdered on champagne."

"I wasn't that bad." I protest as I rinse the last of the suds from out of my hair and begin to wash my body.

"Yes, you fucking were."

She's probably right, I can't hold my drink, but in my defence I'm not very big, and I don't drink that often. Of course Vio can drink everyone under the table, I once saw her drink a pint of vodka and it had no more effect on her than tap water.

"Then." She continues "You disappear, although there's an unconfirmed sighting of you heading towards a back room, and the next confirmed sighting of you is here, still in the same clothes and smelling like a fucking a pub carpet."

I stand under the water and let it run over me until all the soap is gone, then I turn the tap off and step out, grabbing my towel.

Vio is giving me her best questioning cop look, the one that's broken many suspects. I dry my hair and face before I answer her.

"Nothing much, I met this bloke, he invited me for a drink in one of the private rooms and I went home with him. I was late because I had to get in from a part of the city I don't know, and I smelt bad because as you pointed out I was in the same clothes, and I ran most of the way here." I know I'm underplaying it a bit, but I am an adult, just.

"You had sex with this "bloke"?"


To avoid looking at her I pay close attention to drying my tail, I coil it up and around my stomach so I can get to the underside, it's not good to leave it even slightly damp there.

"At his house?"

"Yeah." I'm finished with the towel now and I step over to the bench where Vio and my clothes are.

"Do you realise how fucking insane that was? You go off, paralytic, with a complete stranger in the middle of the night to the gods know where, you don't tell anyone you're going, he could have done anything to you."

I know she's right but it's annoying having it pointed out, I can look after myself, I always have.

I grab my binding and strap my tail down to my left thigh, then pull my trousers and shirt on. Vio shakes her head at me and when she speaks it's more softly.

"For fucks sake, I don't want to see you dead, or worse. Vin charged me with looking after you and I take my responsibilities seriously."

"I thought we were partners, not nanny and child." I grumble. In reply she just gives me a look, and I think about what she said. "Vio, what's worse than dead?"

"We are partners, but I'm twelve years older than you and I've been doing this for a long time. As for what's worse than dead, pray to every fucking god you ever heard of that you never have to find out."

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