by London Lampy
Even sitting in the shade of an air duct the sun is brutal out here on the roof. Vio wanted to talk to me about the stuff I took from the Abbot house but as we couldn't do it in the office we came up here, it felt kind of appropriate. Before we start I decide to tell Vio about the strange woman who followed me the other day. Vio's wearing a pair of dark glasses, I think she must have borrowed them off Tippit and I can't see her eyes behind them, but even so I can tell the incident has worried her.
"If it ever happens again come back to the office and tell someone, too much weird shit has been happening recently for you to take chances."
"I thought she might be a cop," I say.
"Possibly, but I don't recognise her description, and frankly she sounds like she's crap at tailing. If that had been me following you you'd have never even know I was there." I'm not sure how easy it is for a six foot tall, white-blond woman wearing a man's suit to go unnoticed, but I decide not to contradict her. "Alright, putting the strange woman aside lets talk about Menna Abbot." She produces the diary from the pocket of her jacket which is lying by her feet. "The letters weren't much fucking use, most of them were from Rodger, the fiancée, and we already know he had nothing to do with it, and the rest were from an old school friend who's moved to the East Island. There's one from the friend that has a passage about how it must have been a difficult decision but it was probably for the best, which judging from the timing of the letter was probably about the abortion, but no hard facts. What I'd really like to see are the letters that went the other way, the one's from Menna, no fucking chance of that though. I can't go over to the East Island at the drop of a hat, and I have no official capacity to write to the girl and ask her to send me her dead friend's letters."
I'm kind of glad this girl lives on the other island, I'm pretty sure Vio would have me breaking into her house too if she was local. I start to flip through the diary, it looks like it's all written in some kind of code. "We need Kezlo to decipher this," I say, unable to understand any of it.
"No, it's not code, it's abbreviations, look." She points to an entry that reads "R*pm".
"What the hell does that mean?" I ask.
"I'm pretty sure that it means she slept with Rodger that night, her diary mostly seems to be record of that kind of thing."
I look again, for the last few weeks of her life there are quite a few "R*pm" 's or occasionally an "R*am" , morning sex I guess. Every few weeks she's drawn a circle at the top of the left hand page, the ones after her death are white inside but the ones from before her death are all filled in with pen, all except one, and that one has a row of exclamation marks after it.
"What does that mean?" I ask, pointing it out.
"She draws a circle on the page of the week her period is due, then when it arrives she fills the circle in. What you're looking at is the one she missed when she had fallen pregnant." Vio takes the diary back off me and advances a few pages to show me an entry that reads "DG" , beside this Menna has drawn a sad face.
"DG...Doctor Gruber?" I question.
"Yep, I'm pretty sure it is. From the dates I can pin point more of less exactly when she got knocked up." She flips back again. "For a few weeks at the start of the year she was seeing a "G", look, plenty of stars for him." She's right, whether G is the one who got her pregnant or not it doesn't tell us, but she was certainly having a lot of sex with him. "Then that seems to end abruptly, G disappears suddenly about four week before she discovers she's pregnant."
"So it's G we need to find?"
"Yeah." She lets out a humourless laugh. "Could be a first name, a family name, a nickname, fuck knows." Vio reaches into her jacket again, this time she brings out her smokes and lights up while I peruse the pages.
"What's this?" I point to an entry from a few weeks ago. "GWT"
"That's the day she died. I'm buggered if I know what it means, but it's important."
"GWT...what could that stand for?" I frown. "Gin with tonic...good wide trousers...great white toad?"
"Don't be fucking flippant," she growls. "She died, remember?"
"Sorry. But really, it could be all kinds of things, do you think it's the same G that she was at it with back in the winter?"
"Maybe," she inhales on her cheroot thoughtfully, "but why the WT?"
"That's the key isn't it, GWT?"
"I think so," she nods, a pall of blue smoke hanging around her head in the airless heat. "Three little fucking letters, if we knew what they stood for we could unlock the whole damn thing."
Each day that passes seems to be hotter and more oppressive than the last, and every single damn one is spent talking to the people who were in the audience that night in the Empress, or if not that then looking into the backgrounds of the staff or the performers. However for all of this work we find absolutely nothing except the limits of our boredom. As the temperature climbs tempers begin to fray, Sampson shouts at Zale about our lack of progress, so Zale shouts at Vin and Vin shouts at us, the only result of all this shouting is that everyone gets pissed off with everyone else. We did try my idea of contacting Clearwater, but we had no reply, and at the end of two weeks of failure to turn up anything useful relating to the assassination attempt on Sampson the atmosphere on our floor is heavy and tense, even Caddy's usual cheerfulness seems dulled by it.
Vio and I have got no further in our private investigations into Menna Abbot's death either, once again we've hit a wall and between this, the weather and our lack of progress in the other matter Vio is in a foul mood and is taking it out on whoever crosses her path. By the final day of the second week when the air is so humid that I feel like I should be swimming through it the sky turns from blue to a dense, dark, grey and thunder begins to roll around the city, echoing amongst the tall buildings like cannon fire.
I leave work just as the first fat drops of rain are starting to splat onto the pavement, the sky so darkened with rain clouds that it's almost night. I cram onto a tram with what feels like half the population of the city, all of who are hot, sweaty and cross. The overfilled tram crawls away from the stop just as the rain begins to lash down and it's raining so hard that there aren't individual rain drops any more, just a continuous torrent of water washing down the windows and turning the street into a temporary river. From where I'm standing I have a clear view through the front window at the road ahead and I can see drivers struggling to keep their horses under control in the deluge. A sudden huge clap of thunder from straight overhead sends one rearing onto its back legs, tipping its carriage over and throwing the driver. Then a sheet of lightning fills the sky, there's another bang, this one more like door slamming than rolling thunder, the air suddenly smells like singed hair, the tram stops dead and all the internal lights go out. The power cut doesn't seem to be confined to the tram either, outside I can see that all the lights have gone out in the shop windows too, and on the other side of the street a tram that was travelling in the opposite direction has stopped on its tracks just like us.
A collective groan goes up from the passengers as they realise what has happened, and we all look at one another wondering what to do next. What we actually do is nothing, at first anyway. People go back to reading their newspapers or gossiping or staring at the adverts for soap and cigarettes and chocolate bars that cover the walls. However as time passes and the thunder moves off into the distance but the tram stays static and the rain goes from torrential to merely heavy people begin to get off and walk. After twenty minutes of waiting to see if the power comes back I too decide that if I want to get home tonight I'm going to have to walk. I know I'm going to get wet but it could be hours before the tram moves again.
Approximately two minutes later I come to the conclusion that I've made the wrong choice. Every inch of me is soaked, my boots are filled with water and I can even feel it trickling down my tail inside my trousers. Looking for a cab is pointless, there's not a chance of finding one unoccupied and all I can do is put my head down and walk through the rain in the direction of home. When I turn off the main road into a quieter side street I notice that a private carriage seems to be keeping pace with me and I peer at it, trying to see who's inside, but whoever it is has hidden in the darkness of the interior. I make another turning and the carriage turns with me, I look up at the driver but he ignores me, staring straight ahead, the hood of his cloak pulled up over his head so I can barely even see his profile, but when I stop walking he reins the horse in and the carriage stops too.
Feeling more than a little nervous I wonder who it is that's following me, but I'm also wet and annoyed so I stand staring at the door, waiting to confront the person inside. The door soon swings open and I can make out two figures sitting inside, and my hear begins to race when I realise that one of them is the crop haired woman who tailed me to Mr Lustrum's shop a couple of weeks ago. The other person is a man who I don't think I've seen before, but before I can get a good look at him she starts to speak.
"Would you like to get out of the rain?" she asks, patting the seat beside her. Her accent isn't local and her voice is deep and husky.
"Who are you?" I ask, very aware that water is running down my face and dripping off my nose.
"Come on into the dry and find out," she replies.
"Are you with the police?" This makes both the woman and her male companion laugh out loud.
"Police, that's a good one. No Exit, we are not with the police."
"How the hell do you know my name?" This whole thing is very weird.
"Because we've made it our business to know." This time the man speaks, his accent is similar to the woman's but not so strong.
"Get in and you'll find out," the woman replies. "We're not going to hurt you."
"How can I be sure?"
"He really is very distrustful, isn't he?" she says to the man.
"He has reason to be, the way he's been used." What the hell is he talking about?
The rain is growing heavier again, however I now can't get any wetter than I already am. I'm not really considering getting into the carriage until another streak of lighting forks out of the sky and grounds itself somewhere near enough for me to hear a bang and smell burning again. Whoever these people are getting into a carriage with them has got to be better than being fried alive and I jump in, the woman moving over to make room for me.
Once inside I take a good look at the man, he's maybe thirty, maybe a bit younger, his hair is shaved down to a close stubble but what I can see of it looks to be a reddish brown colour and this is echoed in his eyebrows. His eyes are midway between green and brown and there is something about his face that reminds me of a fox. His body is lean and bony and his skin looks well tanned, like he spends a lot of time outdoors, and his clothes, all in shades of green and grey and sandy yellow seem to bear this out. "We should have bought towels," he says, glancing at the rain water that has dripped off me and pooled on the leather seat and the floor, my feet are surrounded by a large puddle.
"Who are you?" I ask again, using my hand to wipe the worst of the water off my face.
"We're people who want to help you," the woman says. Close up her tanned face is deeply lined around her dark brown eyes and her hair is sprinkled with grey above her temples. I realise that she's older than I took her for before, at least in her forties. She's wearing a plain black jacket and tight stone coloured trousers, on her feet are a pair of well worn boots that lace up to her mid calf.
"I don't need help, I just want to get home."
"And we will take you there." The man opens the window, leans out and says something to the driver and the carriage begins to move off. When he's done he pushes the window shut with a thud, wipes a few spots of rain off his face and tells me that we're on our way to my house now.
"So you're not kidnapping me?" I've been kidnapped twice now, I really don't want to make it three times. They both laugh at this, and by now my annoyance is staring to outweigh my fear. "Then you're just two people who happen to know both my name and where I live and out of the kindness of your hearts want to give me a lift home?" I say crossly.
"We want to do more than that, we want to help you with your problem," the man smiles and locks his eyes onto mine. I get a very odd sensation, I know that smile, and I don't like it, but at the same time I do like it. I'm very sure I've never met him before but something is weirdly familiar about him.
"With what problem?" My biggest problem at the moment is the whole Topher and Jack situation and I can't see how these two could help there.
"What is it you need to know more than anything else?" the woman asks.
What the hell I'm meant to do about being in love with two people at the same time? "I don't know," I shrug.
"Who attempted to kill Mr Sampson?" the woman prompts.
"Oh...that." I think about it. "Do you know who did it?"
The two of them look at one another. "We might do," the man says. "Have you had any luck with trying to contact Clearwater?"
"No," I shake my head. "They didn't reply to our letter, do you know how I can contact them?"
"We do," the woman smiles. "We can take you to them right now if you like."
"I'm not really the best person for that job. Come to the Municipal Works office tomorrow and Vin can go with you, he's in charge of the investigation."
The man looks highly amused, in fact he seems to be trying not to laugh, which is very annoying. "No Exit, they want to speak to you, and only you. We can take you to them now."
"I...I don't know if I should." I look from one to the other. "Where are they?"
"Somewhere outside the city," replies the man.
"How far outside the city?"
"Several hours journey."
"I can't, not just like that. Maybe tomorrow after I've told Vin I could go with you."
"I'm afraid it's now or not at all," he says.
It's not a sensible idea to go with them, but if they can take me to Clearwater, and they do admit to attempting to kill Sampson then things can go back to normal at work and we can stop all the stupid interviewing. "I need to tell someone I'm going, I can't just disappear or people will be worried." Well, Topher and Vio will be worried.
"We thought you might say that." The woman glances out of the window. "We're getting close to your home now, when we get there go inside, pack a bag with some overnight things and tell your little Surosian boyfriend that you'll be gone for two or three days. We'll wait outside for you."
"And you promise that you're not kidnapping me, that you'll take me to see Clearwater then bring me back?"
"We promise," they both say.
Twenty minutes later I'm in dry clothes and have a bag packed. Topher wasn't at all keen on me going off with a pair of mysterious strangers but I told him that they had promised that they were not kidnapping me and that they would bring me back. This didn't make him much happier but he couldn't really stop me from going. I asked him to pass a message onto work telling them where I am, hopefully Vin will understand why I had to go without consulting him first.
As they said the carriage is waiting for me out on the street and I jump into the back and take my seat again next to the woman. I know that this could possibly turn out to be one of the stupidest things I've ever done, but I can't deny the sensation of fizzing excitement that's growing inside me at the thought of another adventure.
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