Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 46

Vio invited me to stay with her when we returned to Parnell, but I turned her down. I want to go back to my flat, I want to be on my own and if I'm honest her father scares me.

She helps me out of the cab and up the path to the Costa's shop, carrying the bag of clothes that she had brought for me even though I protested that I could do it myself.

"You just concentrate on hopping monkey boy." She tells me firmly.

The strangest thing is that everything is exactly the same as when I left, the small shop still has its window display of coloured buttons and ribbons, the sign above the door is still in need of repainting and the steps up to my flat are still rusty. How can this be when I feel so different?

"Do you need me to help you up?" She asks, pointing to the stairway.

"No, I think it'd be easier on my own." I reply, I can picture the pair of us ending up in a heap at the bottom if she helps.

"All right, but do you want me to come up with you?" She looks at me with concern.

"No, I'll see you tomorrow." I've got to go to the office and see Zale, Vin has been communicating with him by wire from the ship.

She passes me my bag and watches as I slowly and awkwardly ascend the stairs. When I get to the top I turn and wave to her, then unlock the door with a spare set of keys that she got from the Costas.

I'm not sure what to expect inside, an inch of dust and maybe some cat crap is my best guess, but to my surprise not only is the place both clean and animal excrement free my vase is stood on my small table and filled with fresh red roses, and has an envelope propped up in front of it with my name written on. I open it up and read the note inside.

Dear Exit,

Welcome home.

I did not want you to return to a dusty house so I had one of my maids come in and give the place a clean. I also took the liberty of restocking your kitchen and purchasing some fresh toiletries for your bathroom, I very much hope you do not mind.

I should like to see you again sometime, but I have been told by Govinder that you have been through something of an ordeal in these past few months, so I understand if you would prefer not to.

All my love,


I go into the kitchen and find it contains more food than it ever has before, he's even left me some bottles of beer and I open one and take it back through to the other room. I've just sat down on the couch and taken a swig when someone knock on the internal door.

"Mr Exit, hello, I saw you come back, are you in there?" Effie's voice calls out.

"Yes, come in." I sigh. I don't really feel like seeing her, but it would be rude to turn her away. She lets herself in and stands looking down at me hesitantly.

"Sit down Effie, if you want." I pat the couch next to me. "If you feel like a beer I've lots more in the kitchen."

"No, thank you." She sits down on the edge of the seat. "I hope you didn't mind me letting that man in, he said he was a friend of yours and that he wanted to make sure the place was ready for you when you came back. Father told me off, said he could have been a burglar, but he seemed nice. He hasn't stolen anything, has he?" She looks around anxiously.

"No, he's kind of done the opposite really, and yes, he is nice." I feel a little guilty at forgetting all about him.

I sit forward to put my beer on the table and wince as a sharp pain shoots through my leg.

"Oh, are you all right?" She frowns at me.

"I hurt my leg." I reply. I'm not all right, I'm not sure I'll ever be all right again.

"When you didn't come back when you said you would father wanted to evict you, so I went to your office building to try and find out what had happened, they wouldn't tell me but they agreed to pay your rent until you came home."

"I know, thank you, I appreciate it."

"It was nothing." She turns a little pink. "Mr Exit, do you mind me asking, where have you been?" She glances at me shyly.

"Effie, how old are you?"

"Seventeen." She replies. Same age as Topher.

"Please don't call me mister, I'm only a year older than you."

"Sorry." She looks down.

"I'm not cross, it just sounds strange, that's all." I try and smile to reassure her. "Do you really want to know where I've been?"

"Only if you want to tell me."

So I tell her, all of it. Well, I leave out a few certain details that she doesn't need to know. I'm sure I shouldn't be talking to her about this, I signed a secrecy agreement when I first joined Municipal Works, but I really don't care any more. I don't even know if I still have a job with them, or if I still want one.

By the time I've finished talking it's getting dark and I stand up and limp over to the light switch.

"Is all that true?" She asks quietly as I sit down again.

"Every word, I promise, I don't think I could make something like that up."

"Oh, you poor poor thing." She looks to be on the verge of tears, and I realise I am too.

"Please don't cry Effie, or I think I might."

"Sorry." She sniffs. "Do you want to go back?"

"Yes, but I don't think I'd be very welcome, I betrayed them." I say sadly.

"You didn't though, did you? Not in the end."

"I don't know, I keep thinking about everything, what I could have done differently, I...I don't know." I shrug helplessly. She puts a hand out and tentatively squeezes my arm, and I realise that after talking to her I actually feel a little better.

"Please don't tell anyone any of that, I could get in a lot of trouble."

"Can I tell Jinks?" She says smiling.

"If you want to, how is he?" I'm kind of surprised that the cat hasn't put in an appearance yet.

"He got in a fight with a bulldog."

"That doesn't sound good."

"It wasn't. The dog's owner is really cross with us, apparently it's too scared to go out now."

I start to laugh.

"It wasn't funny, he wanted us to pay compensation for ruining his guard dog, father refused, of course."

"Do you like chocolate?" I ask when I've regained my composure.

"Yes, but mother doesn't let me eat it, says it's bad for the complexion."

"Ry left me a box, do you want to share it with me? I won't tell your mother, I promise."

The small grin she gives me tells me the answer is yes.

I sleep better than I did on the freighter, but I'm still frequently woken by pain in my leg and I spend much of the night lying awake. The bed feels too big, I'm used to sleeping in a much smaller one or with a warm body wrapped around me, and I don't think I've ever felt this lonely in my life. When it gets light I climb carefully out of bed and take a shower. The wound on my thigh is looking much better, it's a clean scab now with no sign of infection and I wonder how bad the scar is going to be when it finally heals completely.

I'm halfway through my breakfast, a slab of fruit cake, when I hear a knock at the door. I'm expecting a cab to come and pick me up and take me into the city centre but I didn't think it was due for another couple of hours, and when I answer the door it's not a cabbie standing there but Vin.

"Good morning, I hope you don't mind me coming round here but I wanted to speak to you before you went to the office."

I nod and let him inside.

"Cake for breakfast?" He questions as he looks at my plate.

"Yes, do you want some?" I offer.

"No, I think I'll pass, thanks." He sits himself down on the couch and I join him.

"How are you feeling?" He asks, fixing me with his green eyes.

"Do you mean how does my leg feel, or how do I feel?" I say flatly.

"Both, either." He puts out his hand and rests it on top of mine, half of me wants to pull my hand away, the other half wants to lace my fingers between his, I do neither.

"I'm miserable, my leg doesn't hurt quite as much as it did."

"I can't do much about your leg, but what would help you be less miserable?" He gives me a small crooked smile.

"Nothing." I shrug.

"Broken hearts mend you know, you will get over it."

"Is this what you came here to talk about?"

"Did you know you look really sweet when you sulk?" He asks, and I scowl at him, I don't need this. "No, that just makes it worse, it makes me want to kiss you again."

"Well for fucks sake don't!" I snap, getting to my feet awkwardly and moving away from him.

"You find the idea that objectionable?" He looks at me with amusement, one eyebrow raised.

I find the idea totally objectionable, and totally appealing, and if I don't put some physical distance between us I'm afraid of what might happen.

"If you've got something to say about work say it, otherwise go away." I'm backed right up to the wall now.

"Calm down, I won't touch you if you don't want me to, I promise." He holds his hands up as if in surrender. "Come back."

"I'm fine here."

"No, you're not, you've got an injured leg, sit down. I'll go and stand over there if you want."

"No that would be stupid." I protest.

"As is you standing there, for the gods sake sit down again." I do so reluctantly, sitting as far away from him as possible on my small couch.

"Zale and Sampson are going to be asking you to give evidence in a formal setting in front of members of the cartel and the board of Municipal Works about the pirates involvement with the cartel and the stolen coal."

"No, I won't do that."

"Yes, I though you might say that." He sighs. "Which is why I wanted to give you a chance to think it over before you meet with them."

"I've got nothing to think about, I'm not doing it."

"Then you won't have a job any more. All you're being asked to do is tell the truth, nothing else, just that they are working for the cartel."

"What will happen to the pirates, will we attack them if I do?"

"I can't see that happening, all we want them to do is to stop stealing our coal, and get the cartel to make reparations. Whatever else they are doing is no concern of ours, I can't imagine Sampson wanting to spend the time, money or manpower on them, and it's hardly our job to police international waters."

"I'll think about it." I say quietly. Quint and the Admiral had no real loyalty, or even liking for the cartel, they would probably quite like for them to suffer a little.

"Good, I don't want to see you sacked, you're one of the most useful assets we have, and I'd miss you." He smiles at me again, and I look away.

"I'll go now." He stands up and moves toward the door. "But I'll see you later, and please try to think of coming home as a good thing."

"Goodbye." I say as he lets himself out.

The cab drops me outside the office building and Vio meets me in the lobby. It's a chilly misty day and despite wearing several layers of clothing I'm still cold. I have my tail strapped back to my leg and I feel uncomfortable and restricted.

As we enter the office I notice that once again everything is exactly the same as it was, all that has changed is Vio has tidied my desk up a bit.

Sonja and Kezlo are at their desks when we walk in and they both stop what they are doing and stare at me.

"You're back then." Kezlo says unnecessarily. He then tilts his head on one side and looks thoughtful, and for a moment I'm reminded of Zizi. "You've changed colour." He observes.

"He's got a suntan moron." Sonja joins in. "It's hot up there."

I wonder how much they've been told about what happened to me.

"So." Sonja flicks her long black hair. "Pirates kidnapped you? All boys together, I bet you hated that, rumour has it you didn't want to come back."

"Shut the fuck up." Vio growls at her, Sonja just laughs.

Vin appears in the doorway. "Get yourself settled in then come and see me in my office please." He asks me.

"Yes Sir." I reply quietly.

In his office he asks me if I've come to a decision over the question of giving evidence.

"I'll confirm the link to the cartel, nothing else."

"Good." He gives me a smile. "That should be enough."

I thought about it all morning, and I decided that I don't want to lose my job. It's not that I like it that much but I don't know what else I'd do right now.

"Are you ready to come and speak to Sampson and Zale?"

"If I have to." I'm not looking forward to this.

"It won't be that bad, I know Zale is a bit of a shit but Sampson's all right, he's actually a little envious of you."

I look at him incredulously, why would anyone envy me?

Vin laughs. "He thinks you've had some sort of marvellously exciting adventure, like the stories he read when he was a boy."

A marvellously exciting adventure? Maybe, not a story though, but a true one, and one I didn't want to end.

The air is cold but the low winter sun is bright as I squint out to sea. The beach here isn't sand but shingle and the waves make a rattling sucking sound as they lap at the pebbles by my feet.

I didn't have to give formal evidence in the end, the cartel backed down and some sort of agreement was come to, I don't know the details, I'm not important enough to be told that kind of thing.

I'm staying with Ry at his beach house, once the whole cartel matter was sorted out Municipal Works offered me some paid time off and I took them up on it, they described it as "compensation for being injured in the line of duty." My leg has almost completely healed, it just aches in the mornings now, or when I'm tired, and the scar isn't that bad.

I contacted Ry to thank him for what he did at my flat, and when I told him that I was having some time off he suggested we came down here. Actually he said I could go alone, or with a friend if I preferred, but I didn't want to be on my own and I don't know anyone who could come at short notice, and anyway I like Ry and am happy with his company. He has insisted on us having separate rooms, he told me he didn't want to take advantage of me while I was still getting over everything, and that I wasn't to to feel that I owed him anything either. I very much appreciate this but I think I'm going to put an end to the separate bedrooms thing tonight, not because I'm grateful to him, but just because I want to.

The sea is an opaque grey colour, nothing like the clear blue of Nightport, but all seas run into each other don't they? I wonder if any of these waves have ever broken over soft golden white sands, and if one day they will make their way back there, and if one day I'll make my way back there too.

The End

(For Now)

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