by London Lampy
"Exit, a word please," Vin calls out from his office as I walk past. Damn, I was hoping that his door would be shut this morning and that he wouldn't notice me coming in late. Again.
"Sir?" I question, shutting the door behind me and sitting myself down in one of his oversized chairs where my feet don't quite meet the floor. Whenever I'm in here now I have to make an effort not to think about all the details of that night when we fucked in here, not to look at the window and recall doing it against it, not to look at Vin sitting in his chair and picture me on top of him, both of us naked...
"Your timekeeping, or recent lack of it, has not gone unnoticed." His words pull me back from my smutty memories. "You might be Sampson's golden boy since your little "adventure" in the forest together, but you won't be for much longer if you continue to arrive late." He fixes me with his green eyes; I wonder if he ever thinks about that night when I'm in here with him like this?
"I know, I'm sorry. I'll try not to be late again," I say as apologetically as I can manage.
He looks at me and smiles his crooked smile. "It seems to me that this spell of lateness has coincided with the arrival in the city of a young Surosian man, am I right?"
"Maybe," I shrug. He laughs.
"And that perhaps in the mornings he's proving somewhat of a distraction to you getting out of your flat?"
This time I just shrug.
"You do know that there's a very simple answer to your problem don't you? Just set your alarm clock a bit earlier, then you'll have time to do..." he raises his eyebrows, "whatever it is you want to do, and not be late for work."
Why didn't I think of that? "Yes sir," I reply.
"By the way, I'm curious. When you fuck, who's inside who?"
I frown at him, "I don't think that's any of your business." He is far too interested in Topher and me. I know why, Topher's very much his type, and he likes the idea of us together. I suppose I should be annoyed at this and I am a bit, but Vin's still Vin, he's still sexy and I can't say I haven't thought about what it would be like to have him in bed with us. However thinking is different from doing, and the doing isn't going to happen.
He laughs again, and is about to say something else when there's a knock on his door. "Come in" he calls out smoothly, and into the room walks Vin's very beautiful wife Toni. As usual she's immaculately dressed and perfectly groomed. Today she's wearing a very yellow sun-dress that on anyone else would look gaudy, but on her looks bright and cheerful. While not quite the last person I want to see she's pretty low down on the list. Not because I dislike her, I don't, but because whenever I see her I feel guilty about having had sex with her husband, and the conversation she unknowingly interrupted just makes this worse.
"Hello Exit sweetheart," she says when she sees me. "I hope my husband's not being a meanie to you."
"No, just reminding me to be in on time." I glance at Vin, who's looking at her. I wonder if he ever feels guilty? I'm not sure that he does. "And I was just going."
"Are you sure? I'm not here for anything important, I just popped in to say hello to Govinder on my way to an appointment. I'm sorry, I haven't been baking today, so no treats, but I promise I'll make something with chocolate in it for you next time."
"That's fine," I reply standing up to go.
"And you must come over to our house one night and bring your new boyfriend, I'm dying to meet him. Govinder has told me all about him, he sounds just darling." I'll bet he hasn't told her all about Topher, at least not what he wants to do to him.
"Thanks," I say as I head for the door, "I'll see you later." I'm not sure which one of them I'm saying it too, I just want out of there as fast as I can.
My office is only a few doors down and as I let myself in Vio looks up from her desk. "Nice of you to join us," she says pointedly, then glances at her watch.
"I've already had a telling off from Vin," I reply as I sit at my desk, which is pushed up against hers so we face one other. "I don't need another one."
"If I was him I'd dock you a day's wage for every minute you were late." Sonja says from across the other side of the room. She has a large pile of papers in front of her and no doubt she's been here for at least an hour already. She likes to get in early, and she likes to everyone to know that she gets in early too. "Or maybe he should just dock you," she laughs nastily.
"Sonja, you do not make jokes about that." There's a touch of menace in Vio's voice, she knows just how much Tippit has suffered from having had his tail chopped off.
"Oh yes, I forget you were running a rest home for dispossessed tailess monkeys now."
"Ignore her," I say quickly as Vio is drawing breath to throw back an insult. I don't want one of their full on battles breaking out over this.
"I'm going anyway." Sonja stands up, she's wearing a tight black skirt and a crisp white blouse. The only colour I've ever seen her wear is red, and then only a belt or a scarf, although she always has a slash of bright red lipstick across her lips. She throws back her long black hair and glares at her partner Kezlo, who's been quietly watching the whole thing like a spectator at a sporting match. "Come on," she snaps at him. "We need to go and interview that foreman about how the copper wiring we supplied to him mysteriously disappeared. The only mystery being who exactly he sold it too, and how many other people were in on it, not that you'll be much use to me. This time if you haven't got anything sensible to say just keep your lizard mouth shut."
Kezlo doesn't say anything in reply, just follows her out of the office, but as he leaves he glances back at us and I give him a sympathetic "what can you do" shrug. For a visk he's alright, even if he does think that he's cleverer than everyone else. I wouldn't wish Sonja as a partner on my worst enemy.
"Tram broke down again did it?" Vio asks me once they've gone, raising her pale eyebrows at me.
"Um, no, it was Topher's first day at his new job," I say by way of an excuse. A very bad excuse.
"And that made you late?"
"Mmm," I nod, picking up a report on a new power station that's planned for the countryside to the south east of here that will finally bring electricity to the small towns and villages in that area. "Clearwater aren't going to like this," I say, showing it to her.
"No, they're not. I expect we'll be seeing some trouble from then again soon, worst luck. Stupid fuckers, you can't stand in the way of progress. If they had their way we'd all be back living in caves, or in your case up trees, and eating what we could grow or catch."
I think back to my time in the forest, the tribe we stayed with lived like that. It was a pretty nice way of life, but tough too, and I wouldn't have wanted to stay there forever.
Vio starts to look through our desk diary. "Do you still need the afternoon off at the end of the week?" she asks.
"Yes," I engross myself in the report.
"Why?" she lights a cheroot.
"Because that's the day Jack's coming back and I want to meet him from the station." I don't look at her.
"You still haven't written to tell him, have you?"
"Do you think that's fair?" Vio really likes Jack, and she was really happy about the two of us getting back together. For my sake she's trying hard to like Topher, but because of Jack he'd already got a black mark against his name. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if Topher wasn't...Topher. I've tried to explain to Vio that you need to get to know him, and not to take what he says too seriously, but it's an uphill battle.
"Do you think it would be any fairer for me to have written to him and told him, for him to find about Topher miles away by himself?" I retort. This is an old argument.
"I think that it would have been fairer not to have moved that little blue br...person in with you the minute his back was fucking turned." She takes a drag on her cheroot and blows out a stream of smoke.
"You think I should have sent Topher away?" I frown. "He doesn't have anywhere else to go."
"I'm not saying you shouldn't help a friend in need," she waves her cheroot at me to make her point. "But there's a big fucking difference between doing that and moving him into your place permanently, and him sleeping in your bed with you."
"Gods," I feel like banging my head against the desk. "You don't understand. I didn't ask to find Jack again, and I didn't ask for Topher to walk back into my life just after that happened, and I don't want to choose between them."
"You're going to have to," she shakes her head at me.
"Because you can't have two boyfriends at the same time."
"Why?" I've been trying to figure this one out myself. Topher doesn't mind, if I can persuade Jack not to mind, which is admittedly a very big if, I can't see what's so wrong with the whole idea.
"Because it's not right, it's not the way normal people do things."
"I'm not normal people," I point out.
"You mean 'cos you're not human? I were in the forest with you remember, I didn't see echoback men with a whole lot of wives. If I understood right they took marriage very seriously."
Her accent is getting stronger, a sure sign that she's annoyed. "That's not what I mean, I mean that I'm not like most people. I don't belong in the forest, I don't really belong here, and it's not like I'm married, or planning to marry either one of them. I couldn't even if I wanted to, for the god's sake you of all people should understand that. If I'm not normal to start with why should I even pretend? I might just as well do things the way I want, I could hardly make myself any more of an outsider." This is turning into a serious row.
"Stop using your fucking personal situation to justify cheating on Jack."
"I'm not cheat..." I never get to finish my sentence because something large comes flying past our office window. Something large that's screaming, something large that's never going to survive its impact with the ground because we're on the fourteenth floor.
"What the fuck..!" Vio exclaims as we both rush to the window, with me vaulting over our desks to do so. As we peer out far below us whoever it was has hit the ground. A crowd is already gathering and even from this distance I swear that I can see the pavement turning crimson.
"Dr Morrison pronounced her dead at the scene," Sampson is saying. It's been a couple of hours since she came hurtling past our window and he has called us into Vin's office to fill us in. Vio briefly rolls her eyes at me, we hardly needed a doctor for that, it's been more a case of finding and scraping up all the bits. Thank the gods that wasn't my job. "Turns out she was one of the girls from the typing pool, name was Menna Abbott, twenty three. Can't say I can place her myself, all those girls look alike to me." Vin nods in agreement, and I know what they mean. I see them in the lobby or going up and down in the elevator, but I don't think I've ever known one of their names. I would have trouble recognising any of them in a crowd. "But she was employed by me, at least by proxy anyway, and we owe it to her family to try to find out how she ended up as a red puddle on the street."
"Sir, with all due respect, isn't this a matter for the police?" Vio asks. "I can't see that this is one of those things that's covered by our arrangement with them." When it's something that directly effects or concerns Municipal Works we are allowed to investigate it rather than them. It was a deal brokered by Sampson to avoid all sorts or awkward situations, and justify him employing us, his own private police force.
"I'd prefer not to have a load of flat footed nosey coppers poking about in here, they'd just upset everyone and get in the way," Sampson says. Clearly forgetting what Vio did before she came to work for him. "I had a little chat with an old school chum of mine, quite high up in the force as it happens. He's happy for us to look into this one ourselves, so long as if you find anything unsavoury you turn it over to them, not that I think you will. Of course if something should happen to turn up that doesn't show the company in...um...the best light shall we say, perhaps you could make it disappear?" he raises his bushy eyebrows. Sampson might have phrased this as a question, but it's clearly an order. "Not that I think you will. These young girls today, wrong time of the month, row with boyfriend, all that, they get a bit melancholy and poof, off the top of a building or a bridge they go, happens all the time," he waves his hands dismissively. "I think you'll most likely find that it's a tragic case of suicide, eh?" he fixes each of us in turn with his steel grey eyes. "Nothing at all the papers would be interested in."
"Sir, let us investigate and see what we find," Vio's voice is flat. I don't think she likes being told what conclusion to come to.
"What she means is," Vin puts in swiftly, "is that you're probably right, but we need to look into it."
"Have you informed the family yet?" Vio asks with a trace of irritation.
"No, thought you lot could do that," Sampson says airily, "not really my place to, see." Which means that he doesn't want to, but then who would?
"I'll do it," Vio volunteers, "I've done it before. Do we have an address?"
"It'll be on file somewhere, ask in the hiring and firing department," Sampson replies. "While she does that perhaps you could ask around the typing pool girls," he looks at me. "Find out why they think she might have jumped off the roof, see if you can come up with a good explanation." In other words it's now my job to create a story to support Menna Abbott killing herself, regardless of any other evidence I might find.
I look over my notes, so far I've learned that Menna was a quiet girl who none of the others knew very well. One of them told me that she thought Menna had been seeing a man who worked in the telegraph office but she wasn't entirely sure, and another told me that she was sure that Menna didn't drink alcohol because she came to her birthday party, had two lemonades then went home. None of this is much use, but I will check out the boyfriend thing later. There are a lot of typing pool girls, over twenty of them in all, so to save time I'm interviewing them in pairs. The next two are a small, dark-haired, olive skinned girl named Judy who wears large glasses that seem to take up most of her face, and a tall, busty girl with lots blond hair and quite bad skin that's smothered in a layer of concealing make up named Pamela. Pamela comes across as a lot more confidant and worldly than Judy.
I start by asking them how well they knew Menna. Pamela says not at, but Judy confesses that they sometimes ate their lunch together in the park.
"She was such a pretty girl," Judy says, the tears in her eyes magnified behind her thick lenses. "She didn't seem to know it though. I kept telling her that she could be a photographer's model, but I don't think she believed me."
"If I had half her looks I wouldn't be working here, that's for sure," Pamela adds. "But she always hid her face behind her hair, like this." She pulls her hair forward over her face to illustrate what she means. "Like she didn't want people to see her."
"One of the others told me that she had a boyfriend who works in the telegraph office, do either of you know anything about him?" I try to sound like a proper investigator, rather than a person who only has this job because they can climb stuff.
"His name is Rodger, I saw him once when he came to pick Menna up from work," Judy says. "They've not been together long, only about two months, but she said it was getting serious, although..." she hesitates.
"Although?" I prompt her.
"There was someone else, before Rodger. They broke up a few months ago but since she's been seeing Rodger he's been in contact again, apparently he wanted to get back with her. She told me she wished that he would just leave her alone, that she didn't want to start things up again but that when she was around him she found him kind of...how did she put it, like an addiction? She knew he was bad for her but she couldn't help herself."
"Oh yeah, nothing like a bad boy for fucking up your life," Pamela chips in, nodding. "Don't tell me about that; been there, done it."
"Do you know who he was?" I think I'm getting the hang of this interviewing thing now.
"No," Judy shakes her head. "I don't think he's from around here because I never saw him come to meet her or anything, and she didn't tell me his name, didn't really want to talk about him much at all I got the feeling. The only thing I know is that she wanted him out of her life, but was finding it hard."
"I know something," Pamela says quietly, "I kind of forgot up to now. It was a while ago, but if I tell you you've got to swear to keep it to yourselves, alright Ju?" she looks at the other girl.
"Cross my heart," the dark girl says seriously, crossing her heart with her finger.
"What about you?" Pamela frowns at me.
"Well, I'm meant to be investigating this; you know, why she died, so I can't promise."
"But you won't tell any of the girls will you?" Pamela makes it sound very important that I don't.
"I can promise you that, I'll only share it with Vio for now."
"She's that tall one who wears suits and knocks about with Caddy isn't she?" the blond girl asks.
"Yes, that's her," I confirm.
"That's fine, she's sound. Alright, this happened maybe three, four months ago. Like I said, I never really knew Menna, she's a quiet sort, and I'm not, but one day I was on my way home and she kind of...followed me. I asked her what she was doing because I know she lives right on the opposite side of the city to me...shit...that should be lived shouldn't it? Anyway, she told me she wanted to ask me something, but I wasn't to tell anyone what she'd asked me, it was a big secret. She made me swear, she was really intense, like it was life or death. So I took her to a café and she told me she had a friend that was in trouble, but she didn't have any friends that I knew of, and when someone says that they always mean themselves, don't they?"
"Gods," Judy breathes, her eyes wide behind her glasses. "Poor Menna."
"What sort of trouble?" I ask, and they both look at me like I'm stupid.
"You know, girl trouble?" Pamela emphasises the "girl", but I'm still in the dark.
"Sorry," I shake my head, this is a code I don't understand. "You're going to have to explain."
"She was...pregnant," Pamela drops her voice to a whisper as she says this.
"Oh, yes, that sort of trouble," I nod, finally getting it. "No one else said anything about her expecting a baby."
"Well she wasn't when she died, was she? That's what she wanted to ask me about, she wanted to know if I knew anyone who could get her out of trouble. I guess she thought that I'm the sort of person who knows that kind of thing, which I am. Not that I've ever been in that situation myself," Pamela hastily adds. "I'm careful, not stupid, but Menna clearly hadn't been careful, or at least not careful enough."
"She had an abortion?" I ask.
"I think so, I gave her a couple of names and addresses that I know, and I never saw her with a belly so I assume she went through with it. We didn't talked about it again though, not sure we ever talked again at all really, like I said, we weren't friends as such."
"Poor Menna," Judy says again with a sniff. "I never knew."
The two of them wait and watch while I write all of this down in my notebook, then I ask them if they can think of anything else to tell me, but they can't so I thank them and tell them they can go. As they're heading out of the door Pamela turns back to look at me. "By the way," she says. "Trisha really fancies you." Which one was Trisha, was she the one with frizzy hair and big earrings, or the one with the very short skirt and all the clanking bangles? I can't remember. "But she's too shy to tell you. Now I told her I was pretty sure she was barking up the wrong tree with you, if you get me, but I thought I'd tell you just in case she's not."
"Um...thanks, but yeah, wrong tree," I say.
"Thought so," she nods. "I can always tell, I'm talented like that."
"I didn't think any of you knew who I was." I didn't know who any of them were before today.
"Are you kidding me?" Pamela looks surprised. "Everyone in this building knows who you are."
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