by London Lampy
When Vio returns from informing Menna Abbot's family of her death she's grim faced and quiet. I make her a mug of tea, find some chocolate biscuits, arrange them on a plate and put it all in front of her on her desk.
"Thanks mate," she says with a nod, wrapping her hands round the mug as if she's cold, which she can't be as it's a fine, sunny day. "That's one thing I thought I'd never have to do again after I left the force."
"I found out some stuff," I tell her, helping herself to one of the biscuits and flipping open my notebook. "Menna had a boyfriend who works in the telegraph office, but she has an ex too who's been sniffing around wanting to get back together with her, but no one knows who he is, and she might have had an abortion a few months back."
"Might?" she questions, looking interested.
"She approached one of the other girls, Pamela...Pamela," I try to make sense of what I've written, "Stebson I think, about names and addresses of doctors who do that kind of thing."
"If she was knocked up, do we know who might have been responsible?" she asks, taking a mouthful of tea.
"No...but I'd guess the ex, it was too long ago for the telegraph office boyfriend. The ex was bad news according to...Judy Treach."
"We need to talk to the boyfriend before long, but first let's go up to the roof, see if we can work out exactly where she went off."
"You think she went off the roof rather than out of the window?" I ask, picking up another biscuit.
"She didn't go out of the window," Vio gives me a look.
"How do you know?"
"How long have you worked here now?"
"About a year and a half, why?"
"And in all that time you've never noticed that the windows don't open more than six inches? Unless Menna was tiny she went off the fucking roof."
"So she jumped off the roof then?" I look at our office window, she's right, but I'd never noticed before.
"She went off the roof, I didn't say she jumped," I reach for the final biscuit, but Vio bats my hand away and takes it.
"You think someone pushed her off?" I ask, a little shocked.
"I don't fucking know, I wasn't there. My intuition says she did herself in, sounds like the type, but we've no evidence either way right now. I'd really like to speak to the boyfriend, and get to the bottom of this ex business."
We take the elevator up three floors, which is as far as it goes, then walk up the final flight to the roof. The door to the roof doesn't have a keyhole and is locked by a bolt from the inside, the bolt is currently drawn back and we just need to push on the door to get out. I guess no one has been up here since Menna, and she wasn't exactly going to be bolting it on her way back down the stairs. Topher might not think it's summer but on the roof the sun is beating down mercilessly, and it doesn't take long for Vio to develop a sheen of sweat on her forehead.
"I've never been up here before," I say, looking around. There's not much to it, it's just a large flat area covered with wide strips of lead that are sealed along the joins with tar and the occasional air duct sticking up out of it like the head of some kind of strange monster poking out from a grey sea. All around the edge is a wall about three feet high, which means that Menna couldn't have possibly fallen off by accident. Perched on the wall are some grubby city pigeons who scatter as we walk toward them.
"I reckon it must have been about here," Vio stands a couple of feet back from the edge. "Have a look over for me will you?" She still doesn't like heights.
"Yeah, you're right," I say leaning over and peering down. "I can see where the pavement is still shut off."
Vio looks all around. "No sign of a struggle, but I don't know what you'd see up here if there had been."
"Should I search for clues?" I ask. She rolls her eyes at me.
"Yeah, the button that came off the killer's coat, the glove he dropped, and don't forget his perfectly preserved footprints leading to the scene of the crime. It's not really like that you know."
"No, I don't know. I've never been in the police force," I retort.
"I guess you haven't, alright it's like this. Mostly you find nothing useful, you find all kinds of crap, too much really, imagine all the stuff there is out there," she gestures to the city below, "you get a body out there, no way to work out what's relevant and what's just trash. It's only in mystery stories that there's a perfect trail of clues leading to a fucking fiendishly clever, but not quite clever enough, killer. Most of time the killer is thick as pig shit and is normally the corpse's spouse or lover or parent, and all you have to do is lean on them a bit and you've got an arrest, that's it, and that's why I want to speak to this boyfriend."
"We do that now then?"
"Yeah, if he had anything to do with it, and that is a big fucking if, the sooner the better."
"Let's go then," I take a step back toward the door.
"Exit," she puts a hand on my shoulder to stop me. "Look, I'm sorry about before. When I spoke to Mrs Abbot to tell her that her daughter was dead, I saw her world collapse. It was just her and Menna, no other kids, husband dead, and it made me realise, the people who matter...they fucking matter. They might not always do what you think they ought, and I still think you're treating Jack like shit, but we're mates." She shrugs.
"Thanks," I nod, feeling relieved. It's not the biggest one of my problems, but I don't like falling out with Vio all the same.
Vio watches Rodger impassively as his heaving sobs give way to to hiccuping ones, broken by sniffs. He's a delicately handsome man in his mid twenties, and under any other circumstances I'd be admiring his looks, but right now I feel like I'm intruding on something very private.
"If she killed herself, do you have any idea why?" Vio asks once he seems able to speak.
When we explained to the boss of the telegraph office why we were here he showed us into a small back office and brought the unfortunate Rodger in so we could inform him of his girlfriend's death.
"No," he shakes his head. "I'd just...I'd just asked her to marry me. We haven't been together long, but I knew from the start...she was the person I wanted to spend my life with. Things were good."
Vio frowns at me, then looks back at Rodger. "Mrs Abbot didn't mention an engagement."
"No, she didn't know yet," he shakes his head. "We were going to take her out for her birthday, it's next week, and tell her then, it was going to be a surprise." He starts to cry again. When his sobs die down once more Vio asks what he knows about Menna's ex.
"Ex? She was seeing someone a couple of years ago, but he moved down south and they split. Do you mean him?"
"Sir, we have been told by one of her colleges that she had a much more recent boyfriend, someone just before you. Perhaps you didn't know as much about your fiancée as you thought you did." Vio's not being very sympathetic, but then she is trying to find out if he might have killed Menna.
"No, you're wrong! If that was the case she would have told me. She loved me, we didn't have any secrets," he insists.
"What about a pregnancy? We also have cause to believe that she may have been pregnant a few months ago."
"Pregnant...Menna? You're not talking about my Menna, you've got the wrong girl, she doesn't have a baby," he shakes his head, frowning.
"She may have had a termination, it's a line of enquiry that we're following up." Vio leans forward. "Sir, where were you between nine and eleven o'clock this morning?"
"What!" he exclaim angrily. "Are you accusing me of having something to do with this?"
"We need to explore all possibilities," Vio replies calmly.
"I was here, behind the counter. About...oh I don't know, forty or fifty people must have seen me, is that a good enough alibi?" he spits angrily.
"It is if it checks out."
"It had nothing to do with Rodger then," I say as we walk back to our building.
"Not unless he got someone else to do it, but it seems unlikely, there's no obvious motive. He was genuinely shocked when we told him, you can't fake a reaction like that easily."
"So she did kill herself."
"Looks that way," Vio sounds unsure though. "It's the most likely scenario, but I just wish I knew why. She should have been happy about getting engaged, and the ex thing still bothers me." She shakes her head as if she's trying to dislodge something. "Once a fucking cop always a fucking cop."
We talk it over all the way to Municipal Works, it would have been pretty hard for someone to have got into our building past security, taken Menna up to the roof then pushed her off without anyone seeing something. Even if it was someone already in the building, how did they persuade her to go with them to the roof? The typing pool girls were all clear on one thing, Menna was a loner and didn't talk to many people, she had no real friends at work, so if it wasn't someone she knew she was hardly likely to go up to the roof with a stranger. We know what time she left the typing room, the girls have to clock out, even for toilet breaks, and Vin spoke to all the people who work on the upper floors. The only person who saw her was a cleaner, and he swore she was alone, however Vio did point out that if someone took the stairs rather than the elevator they probably wouldn't be seen, very few people bother to use them.
"But if Menna took the elevator and someone else took the stairs how would they have known she was on the roof?" I say.
"They wouldn't, unless there was some sort of prior arrangement to meet...ah fuck...it's all if and buts isn't it? We could go round in circles with it all fucking day and still know nothing. What it boils down to is why would someone want to kill what everyone describes as a nice, quiet, blameless girl? The only skeleton in her cupboard seem to be the possible abortion, but if you ask me that's more a motive to kill yourself than for a murder."
"Guilt. Never underestimate the power of guilt," she looks sideways at me. "You could do with a bit of that."
"I have a lot of it, if you're referring to Jack."
Back at the building we briefly pause beside our reception desk so that Vio can stop to give Caddy a kiss and whisper something into her ear that makes her giggle in a very dirty way, then we head into our office. Unfortunately the other two have returned while we were out and they stare at us as we come through the door. Sonja has a smug expression on her face and that can't mean anything good.
"I can see why you're not a policeman any more," she directs at Vio. The "man" bit is clearly meant and not a slip of the tongue. "You've completely wasted your time today you know."
Neither of us rises to the bait, and we sit down at our desks.
"Don't you want to know what we found?" Kezlo asks.
"Not particularly," I reply.
"Really?" Sonja sounds amused. "Not even if it's Menna Abbot's suicide note?" She plucks an envelope off her desk and waves it in our direction. "I can't believe neither of you thought to look in her locker."
She walks over and drops the envelope in front of Vio, who grits her teeth and uses her pen to flip it over and look at it front and back. I come over to her side of the desk where she is now shaking the contents out of the envelope, her fingers wrapped in her handkerchief. She unfolds it carefully, it's just a few lines typed on Municipal Works headed paper, the sort that Menna would have been using to type letters on everyday.
If you are reading this then I have passed on. I simply could not continue, a dark cloud has been following me for a very long time and the sadness of living was simply too much, I could think of no other way of easing it. I am sorry for all the pain my actions will have caused, but please understand that I am at peace now,
"She was depressed, she did herself in, case closed," Sonja says when we've finished reading it.
Once again using her handkerchief Vio folds the note up and puts it back into the envelope. "How many people have seen this?" she asks.
"Us, Zale, Vin, Sampson and now you two," Sonja replies. Not even trying to keep the triumph out of her voice.
Vio sighs. "And all of them picked it up, took it out of the envelope, touched it?"
"Of course they did, we didn't hold a public reading," Kezlo snickers.
"You fucking idiots!" Vio is not happy. "You do realize that you've completely destroyed any chance of getting fingerprints off this, don't you?"
For a pleasing few seconds Sonja is taken aback, it doesn't last. "Seriously? You think someone wrote this then somehow broke into her locker without leaving any damage and planted the note to cover up their murderous tracks?" she laughs.
"I don't know, neither do you or anyone else, that's why we needed to dust it. No fucking point now," Vio pulls out her smokes and lights one angrily, "since half of the fuckers in this building have had their hands on it."
"It doesn't matter anyway," Kezlo sounds like a sulky child. "Sampson wants us to stop the investigation now we've found the note and we know it was suicide."
"So he sends a wreath of flowers to the funeral and a condolence card to her mother and washes his hands of the whole fucking thing, nothing to stain the reputation of his company." Vio blows out smoke and Sonja conspicuously coughs and waves her hands around.
"That's right," Sonja says. "So you can stop playing policeman and go back to your proper job."
Vio doesn't reply, she just opens one of her desk drawers and pulls out a file, but as she does she also slips the note into the drawer unseen by the other two. Sampson may have told us this is over, but I don't think Vio is planning to take any notice.
"They are all damaged stock, stuff he cannot sell, so Mr Lustrum said I could have them if I wanted." Topher looks very pleased about this, I'm not so pleased. Stacked up on the floor of my flat are about two dozen books, all different shapes and sizes. The gods alone know how he got them back here by himself.
I pick up the top one and read the cover. "Advanced Cooking Techniques?" I question. "What the hell do you want with that? You don't even know any basic cooking techniques."
"It might come in useful," he shrugs.
Topher arrived here with a large suitcase filled with stuff. In the five weeks he's been here despite having very little money he seems to have acquired more stuff; he actually owns more of the things in the flat than I do, and now his new boss is letting him bring home free books. Great.
"How was your first day?" I ask, heading into the kitchen to see if we have any food. That's the one thing he never seems to bring home.
"It was not too bad; I sold some books, I stacked some shelves." He comes to join me, taking a half empty bottle of wine off the side and pouring some of its contents into a glass. "Although there are too many cats."
"How many does he have?" I open the ice box to find half a bottle of milk, some butter and some green and furry cheese. I take out the bottle and drink the milk straight from it.
"About twelve I think, they are fucking everywhere." He grimaces as he leans back against the counter.
"At least he won't have any rats or mice." I finish the milk and put the now empty bottle in the sink. "Want to know what happened to me today?"
"Let me guess, Sonja annoyed you, Vio smoked too much and Vin flirted with you." He says the last bit with a small smile.
"No. Well yes, all of that did happen, but something else did too. A girl from the typing pool jumped off the roof."
"Did she die?"
"It's eighteen floors up, what do you think?" After a quick glance in the cupboards I give up my hunt for food. If we want to eat tonight we're going to have to go out.
"Why?" He sips his wine.
"She left a note saying she wanted to die because she was unhappy, seems like a bloody selfish thing to do to me, kill yourself. We had to go and talk to her boyfriend and tell him, he was devastated, you know? Couldn't understand how someone he loved could have done that to themselves."
"I do know," his voice is flat.
"Oh fuck...I'm sorry." Topher talks about his father so rarely that it's easy to forget what happened to him, that as a consequence of leading the men of his town to their deaths in the war he shot himself. I look at Topher, he looks away, shrugs and drinks.
"What would you like for dinner?" I ask him. "We could go out and eat in a restaurant if you want." One sure way to make Topher happy is to take him out for dinner. I don't think he's that bothered about the food, but he does like being waited on and called "sir".
"Let's go to that fancy place, the one with the fountain," he grins. "I like it there."
He would, it's expensive. "Alright," I agree, leaning over to kiss him. "But please don't order champagne again, not unless you're planning on paying."
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