Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 2

After a brief stop at our office to drop my dirty clothes off we make our way to Vin's office and I'm very grateful for having had a shower first, as he's the last person I want to be smelly and sweaty in front of.

Vio knocks on the door and he calls us inside, I try to ignore the fact that my stomach is doing flips, and I clench my jaw to stop myself from grinning like an idiot when I see him. It's quite embarrassing having an enormous crush on my boss, but I really can't help it, and other than Vio, who notices everything, no one else knows, at least I hope they don't and I'm absolutely sure that Vin doesn't know.

"Violet, Exit, sit down." He gestures to the pair of chairs in front of his desk, and we do as he asks, with Vio grimacing at the use of her full name which she hates, I think he knows that and does it on purpose. The chairs in here are not the standard issue ones we have in our office, but something much more designed and expensive. They are also kind of high and when I sit on one my feet don't quite reach the floor, which always makes me feel like a child.

Vin looks over at both of us from behind his desk and I try not to stare at him too much. He has dark red hair, green eyes and the sexiest crooked smile I've ever seen. He has a scar that stretches from the left corner of his mouth to his jaw, I like to imagine that he got it doing something heroic during the war with Surosa. Like most human men he's taller than me, but he's not that much taller and you can see that he still keeps himself in shape, even though, as usual he's wearing a dark coloured suit, you can just tell that there is a great body underneath. Vio kicks me sharply in the shin and I realise that he has started speaking.

"We've lost another coal shipment to pirates, it's the third in the last two months, and not only is it getting expensive, it's also getting suspicious." Vin says.

"How so Sir?" Vio asks, while I'm still stuck at pirates. The idea seems so old fashioned, like something from a children's story.

"It's starting to look like they may be privateers." Vio nods while I frown in puzzlement, Vin notices this and turns to her. "Explain to him will you?" He asks.

"Privateers are pirates in the pay of a higher power. Sir, who do you think is employing the bastards?"

"We very much suspect the Northern Continent cartel, since we began to move away from their gas toward our own home produced electricity they've been losing money. Their pipeline is in constant need of maintenance, yet their profits from it are steady dropping, meanwhile they are determined to extend their rail network, and to run more trains they need ever increasing amounts of coal. The amount of coal they've found so far is pitiful, there are a few mines in the Rosheen mountains but they don't provide nearly enough. While their gas fields appear almost unlimited all attempts to run trains off gas have ended in disaster, often fatally, so for the time being they are reliant on our coal shipments."

Vin stops to let us digest this and I find myself admiring his eyes, he notices I'm looking at him and frowns at me. "Exit, do you have something to add?"

Shit, what was he talking about? Oh yes. "Um, they're stealing our coal because they're pissed off at us for not using enough gas?"

Him and Vio exchange glances and he continues "No, they're stealing our coal shipments because they can't afford to pay for them, and they can't bear to stop expanding their empire, well that's what we think is happening anyway."

Vio nods in agreement "It seems likely Sir, the shits have never really been subtle, and what the fuck else would pirates do with several thousand tons of coal? It's not an easy thing to just sell on the black market. With the cartel basically forcing everyone up there to use gas it's only really trains and ships that have any need of coal, and they are pretty much all cartel owned."

"Precisely." Vin nods. "Each time it has happened the pirates have surrounded the ship, forced it off course and toward a small cluster of islands known as The Devils Fingers. Once there they held the crew members prisoner on one of the islands for a few days while they took the ship away, we are guessing to Kipp Al Rhea as it is the nearest place with docks large enough to unload a freighter full of coal, not to mention the home of the cartel. They unloaded the cargo then they returned with the freighter, let its crew back on, led them a days sailing away and left them to make their own way back home empty handed."

"Very tidy." Vio says. "And far too organised for pirates alone."

I have an idea. "Why don't we put a bunch of armed men on the ship and next time it happens fight back?"

Vin gives me a level look "Exit, how many coal shipments does Municipal Works send out every week to the Northern Continent?"

I have to think about this "Er, a couple?"

"Yes, normally two, and as we have no way of knowing which one is likely to be attacked we would be paying a fortune for hired muscle just to sit on their asses, I don't think Zale would go for that somehow do you? Added to which space is at a premium on a cargo ship, I doubt we could even fit enough men on to outnumber the pirates."

"Oh." Well I don't know anything about shipping.

"So Sir, what the fuck are we going to do?" Vio asks.

"We need proof, and once we have that we will set up a meeting with the cartel and confront them with it. If necessary we will severely reduce or even stop the shipments all together."

"Won't that lose us a lot of money?" I frown.

"Yes, but it would cripple them, they, like us are increasingly reliant on the the railways for everything. They would come out of it far worse." He gives a crooked smile at this and I lose my train of thought again, life would be a lot easier sometimes if Zale were my immediate boss.

"You need us to try and get proof?" At least Vio's completely unaffected by him.

"Yes, I need you to break into the cartel's offices here and try to find something that may tie them to the pirated coal."

He means he needs me to break into the building, while Vio stands around outside smoking."What am I going to be looking for?" I ask.

"Honestly, I'm not sure, there may not even be anything as it's most likely all arranged from Kipp, but we need to start somewhere. Look for anything about coal, shipping, any wires or anything that looks like it may be in code. Accounts would be good too, perhaps there are records of payments to the pirates."

How am I going to get all that out? Does he expect me to take a suitcase in?

"When are we to do it Sir?" Vio asks.

"Tonight. As you can imagine Sampson is on my ass about this."

I wonder what Vin's ass is like, very muscular I imagine, nicely rounded... "EXIT!" Vio's voice pulls me out of my fantasy. "Can you try paying fucking attention for once, come on we're done in here."

We leave the office with her scowling at me, once the door is closed she speaks. "Give it up, he's married."

"Not my fault." I say sulkily, she sighs.

"Gods, boys are stupid, my brother was just the fucking same at your age, went bright red and stammered every time a half way attractive girl was about. Shit, I must have done something really fucking bad in a past life to get stuck with an overly hormonal teenager as my partner."

She walks off down the corridor and I lope after her. "Violet, you love me really, I know you do."

She turns to look at me and I wonder if I've pushed her too far.

"Watch it, monkey boy." She snaps at me.

I decide it's a good idea to keep my mouth shut for a while after that.


Back in our office I'm relieved to find that Sonja and Kezlo are absent. I decide that the best way to get back on Vio's good side side is to make the tea and so I pick up the kettle and make the tea sign at her. She nods and I go down the corridor to the sink to fill it, unfortunately as I'm carrying the full kettle back I encounter Zale.

"Ah, just the young man I was coming to see, I have a report from the security guards to say that you arrived late, and without your identity card."

The bastards, they didn't have to tell him I was late as well.

He fixes me with his black, blank eyes and I feel a strong desire to step backwards, no warm blooded creature feels comfortable under a visk's gaze, I constantly expect them to strike and sink poison fangs into you. Not that they actually have fangs, or are poisonous, thank the gods, they just act like they are.

"Erm, yeah, that did happen." I confess.

"Why?"

There is no way I want to try and explain it to Zale, not that I think he'd understand even if I did, as far as I know the lizards don't have sex.

"Well...I left my card in my desk when I got changed to go out to the meal last night."

"And you were late because?"

"I drank too much." Not a lie, just not the whole truth.

"Hmm, it is not good enough Exit, this is a professional organisation, not some sort of social club you can come and go from as you please. If this happens again I will have to take action."

Scaly green shit! I want to point out to him that it may a "professional organisation", but unlike the others I have no profession. Everyone else who works here has come from another area, Vin was an army officer, Vio was a copper and so on. The only job I've ever had before this was as a dogsbody at the power station, and the only reason I'm working here is because I can do things humans can't. I decide not to say anything, I'm sure he's expecting an apology but he's not getting one. He gives me one last black stare and walks off in a rustle of robes.

Returning to the office as I put the kettle on the hot plate to boil and go about the business of making the tea I suddenly realise I'm hungry, thirsty and very tired. I think up until now I've been running on adrenalin but my encounter with Zale just used the last of it up. Once the water has boiled I pour it into our teapot and let it brew for a few minutes while I rummage through the biscuit tin. I'm disappointed to find we have no chocolate biscuits left, only rich teas and a single broken custard cream which I quickly eat before I pour the tea into our cups, using a strainer to catch any stray leaves. I get a half full bottle of milk from the small ice box in the corner of the office and add some of that to the two cups of brown liquid before dropping three sugar lumps into mine and stirring it well. I present Vio with her tea then open biscuit tin and push it across the desk toward her.

"Sorry, we only have rich tea."

"Urg." She says peering into the tin. "Who buys those fucking things? They taste like dust."

"Yeah." I dunk one in my tea and eat it fast before it can fall to pieces, then take a sip of tea and stifle a yawn.

"Did you get any sleep at all?" She asks me.

"An hour or two maybe." I grab another biscuit and a memory from last night surfaces, in it I'm getting pounded into the mattress.

"Stop fucking smiling like that, I know what you're thinking about."

"Sorry." I say totally insincerely.

She lights a cheroot and leans back in her chair. "You are such a slut. Look, if we're going to do this shit tonight you should go home and get some rest, I don't want you fucking up because you were too busy getting screwed last night to to sleep."

I agree with her, this is going to be the first assignment I've been involved with that's just ours alone and I really don't want to fuck it up either.

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