Exit Wounds

by London Lampy

Chapter 19

Only Vixen, Knox, Cricket and myself are going in, the rest are making their way to some sort of prearranged meeting point several miles west of the power station. So this was Clearwater's plan all along, they just needed an excuse to get me to come with them here, willingly if possible, but I'll bet that if I had put up more of a fight Vixen would have pulled her gun sooner. All that stuff about getting me to understand their point of view was more or less crap, they simply wanted me as compliant as possible. They want to destroy the power station, humiliate Municipal Works, and I very much suspect anger Vin in the process. This means that their promise to let me go was a lie; they will have to keep me at least until the photographs reach their targets, if not longer, but the worst thing of all is that I was stupid enough to walk willingly into their trap.

The four of us crawl through the hole in the fence, Vixen behind me to ensure that I don't run, and Knox up front with a pack on his back that I can only assume contains the bomb. "Don't even think about trying to escape or raise the alarm, Vixen isn't the only one of us who's armed," Knox says to me once we reach the other side. "Just do everything you're told to do and you won't get hurt."

I nod, slumping my shoulders and attempting to look defeated, like I'm in no danger of doing what he just told me not to; I have to try though, even if I get hurt doing it. Not because I want to escape from them, even though I do, or to prevent them from taking incriminating photos of me, but to stop the workers in the power station from being injured, or even killed in the blast.

The area between the fence and the buildings has been cleared of all trees and bushes and even the grass has been cut short. I assume that this is to make it harder for intruders to get in unseen. There are also flood lights fixed to the side of the buildings that illuminate several yards out into the grass, and I pray that someone will see us, but we make it to a long, low, grey concrete structure without detection.

"He was right, no one keeps watch at this end of the grounds," Vixen says quietly as we stop in a dark space between two buildings. I wonder who "he" is, do they have a man on the inside here?

Knox pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket and tips it toward the light. It looks like a hand drawn map of the area and this deepens my suspicions that someone who works here is helping them. Him and Vixen have a short conversation about where we need to go next, and while they're distracted I consider running. I turn my head to see Cricket staring at me, up until now I've thought of him as a nice but misguided young man in thrall to Knox and Vixen, but he shows me what he has clutched in his hand, a small but very sharp looking knife that's pointed directly at my stomach, and I revise my opinion of him. He clearly looks up to the other two, both of whom are willing to use him and potentially make a murderer out of him. And they think Sampson is evil.

"This way," Knox says quietly. We weave in and out of the shadows until we come to a small door with "NO ADMITTANCE" painted on it in white letters. It seems to be a back door into the main building, Knox tries the handle, he appears to be expecting it to be open because he swears loudly when he finds that it's locked. "Fucking idiot, he was meant to leave it open!" he curses, rattling the handle again.

"You can get us in," Vixen quickly assures him, glancing over her shoulder. For the first time I see her looking nervous.

I'm half expecting them to ask me to pick it for them, but clearly Crow didn't tell them I can do that because Knox pulls out a small pocket knife and jams the point of the blade into the keyhole, poking about blindly. He's doing it all wrong, but I'm not going to tell him and after a couple of minutes with no success the frustration is starting to show on his face.

"Just kick the fucking thing in," Vixen orders her son. Her voice is now a long way from her normal serenely assured tone, they clearly hadn't planned for this setback.

Knox steps a few paces back from the door then runs at it, his foot collides with the lock but nothing happens. He swears, tries again and after three more attempts it springs open. The noise doesn't seem to have alerted anyone on the inside to our presence and we enter. Inside is a dimly lit set of dusty and I'm guessing infrequently used concrete stairs that lead down to a long corridor below. As we get near to the bottom of the stairs I start to hear a low throbbing sound that I recognise from my time working in the Parnell power station as the noise of the main generator, which means that we must be close to it. It makes sense, if they want to do the maximum amount of damage they need to destroy, or at least badly damage, the generator. This would leave the town and all the smaller places that the power station supplies without electricity for a long time.

From the look of it few people come down this corridor, the floor is dirty, our feet leave tracks in the dust, and at least half of the light bulbs have burnt out leaving the place ill lit and shadowy. "The room we're looking for should be the second one on the right," Knox says, consulting his map again.

"Are you ready for your photo shoot Exit?" Vixen asks, I don't respond.

We stop outside the second door on the right, the noise here is louder still, a deep chugging rumble that vibrates through my body in an unpleasant way. I look further down the corridor, it stretches away for at least twenty more yards before it comes to a stop at another closed door. I could risk making a break for it now, but if that door is locked as well I'm done for; somehow I can't see them showing much mercy if they catch me. My only other option is to run once we're back outside, this means that the bomb will have already been planted, but if I can't stop the place from being blown up maybe I can make sure that everyone gets out before it is. Perhaps once the deed is done they'll relax a bit and won't be paying quite so much attention to me.

Knox has taken his bag off his back and is removing an object from inside, it's a grey metal box, of the sort that's often used to keep cash locked inside, with a hole drilled in one end. It's not a very big box, but I know enough about explosives to know that it doesn't need to be, a box that size packed full is enough to blow up a sizeable chunk of the building. He then takes out a second object that looks like a large reel of cotton that I recognise as a length of fuse.

"Do you know what that is?" Vixen points to the reel.

"Yes," I say quietly.

"Good. In a minute you'll be lighting it and Cricket will snap some nice pictures catching you in the act, then once you've got it going you run like hell, if you want to live that is."

I nod. I'm not going to have much time to raise the alarm and I wonder why they're using a fuse not a timer, maybe they don't approve of clocks, or maybe they don't know how.

As Knox has his hands full he asks Cricket to open the door for him, muttering about how this one had better not be locked too, but the door handle turns freely and the door glides open. As I'm behind the two of them the first sign I have that something is wrong is Knox exclaiming "Fuck!", which is followed by a voice loudly calling out for us to drop our weapons and hand over the bomb.

"It's a fucking trap!" Vixen hisses from behind me. For a split second I'm relieved, then I hear footsteps coming from the direction we came in and I turn to see two uniformed policemen, both of them holding guns, running toward us. One fires a warning shot overhead and Vixen begins to run in the other direction, pulling me with her.

Chaos breaks out. Shooting is now coming from inside the room as well but there is no way I'm going to stop to see what's going on. I speed past Vixen down the corridor in the direction of the opposite end, praying that the door isn't locked. It isn't and I go flying through it, crashing into the central part of the power station. This is where the generator is that Clearwater were trying to destroy. It's a huge chamber, the floor of it is sunk below ground level but the machinery is so large that it reaches several stories high and the roof is way above us. It's hot and noisy in here too and the sounds of the generator almost drown out the shouts from behind me.

I don't stop, this may not be the power station I worked in, but it looks much the same with everything built out of bolted together steel girders and cross braces. All I need to do is to find something to climb up onto and I can attempt to make my escape upwards. Ignoring everything going on around me I jump up as high as I can, managing to grab a support that runs between two large water tanks I pull myself up and run along it until I'm able to find another, higher beam, then another and I keep on doing this until I'm at the hight of the roof and am half way across the enormous room. Beneath me I can just about make out gun shots over all the other sounds, but fortunately none of them seem to be coming in my direction, I think I got in here fast enough that the policemen didn't see my assent.

I run along girders until I find what I've been hoping I might find, a small ladder bolted to the wall that leads to a hatch in the roof. I climb the ladder and let myself out, the sky is completely dark now and a half full moon hangs oblivious above me. Up here the smell of smoke is so strong that I struggle not to cough and the taste fills my mouth with every breath I take. I could stay up here wait it out in the hope that no one saw me come up, or will think to check the roof, but it's a risk. However so is carrying on and attempting to get out of the compound.

I can see the lights of the town spread out in the valley below. Knox and Vixen told me there was a train station there, this may have been a lie, but I suspect not, it's a large town and large towns normally have stations. I decide to attempt to get out of here and down into the town as soon as possible, I want this whole awful thing to be over with even if it means getting the dressing down of my life from Vin when I get back.

At the far end of the roof there are a mass of thick wires running out and away across the countryside in one direction, and into the town in the other. I could climb along these, but I don't want to risk several thousand volts of electricity going through my body that would either fry me alive or cause me to fall to my death. I scout around the roof for a while, climb carefully down onto the lower levels and eventually find another access ladder, this one attached to the side of the building that I use to get me back to the ground. My next problem is getting out, I can't go over the razor wire fence or I'll be cut to ribbons, and I can't possibly go back to the hole that we came in through, that's where they'll be looking for me and it would be much too risky. There must be a front entrance to the place, which of course will be guarded, but I have the element of surprise. I can't stay here all night waiting to get caught so I creep around the side of the building keeping to the shadows as much as I possibly can until I find what I'm looking for.

The entrance is a five yard gap in the fence with a gate blocking it, but the gate is only about seven foot high, and it doesn't have razor wire along the top. To one side of the gate is a small hut that must contain a security guard or two to man it and let people and carts in and out. I can still see no one out here looking for me, but I doubt that will last much longer. I'm hoping that they still think I'm hiding inside as they wouldn't have been expecting anyone to get out the way I did. Even so I'm going to have to go past the guard's hut that must be manned, maybe there is even another armed policeman inside, but the odds are slightly in my favour as I have surprise and speed on my side. I look at the gate, with a good run up I think I can clear it in a single leap so taking a deep breath I back up a few paces and start to run. When I leave the grass and hit the cinder path my feet are suddenly making a loud crunching noise but I can't worry about that, all I can do is keep going and pray to every god I can remember that this works.

Just before I hit the gate I jump, and I clear it with a few inches to spare, but the sound of a voice shouting out in surprise from the hut proves that my suspicions were right.

"STOP!" the voice shouts from behind me. "ARMED POLICE!" And to prove he's telling the truth he discharges his gun nosily into the night air.

The road ahead seems to wind down the side of the hill and I assume that it ends at the town below. The gate behind me must have been opened because I can hear footsteps echoing on the path, and although I can outrun this man the road only goes to one place, and there may be more of them waiting for me at the bottom. One side of the road drops away steeply into a mass of trees, bushes and rocks, in short it looks like a place the cop won't follow and without stopping to think too much about what kind of damage this is going to do to me I veer sharply to the right and then jump. Landing on a boulder below gravity takes over and I keep moving, just about managing to stay upright while bouncing off trees and rocks. To my amazement the man does seem to have followed me, or at least attempted to. I can hear crashing and terrified sounding swearing coming from above me, a landslip of small and not so small stones pelts me in the back and shoulders, then there there's a long, loud scream and a crash, and then silence. I can't stop to think about the implications of this, actually I can't stop at all, it's all I can do to stop myself from ending up in the same situation.

Eventually the drop grows less steep and my uncontrolled descent becomes more controlled until I'm jogging through a patch of scrubby trees and bushes toward the lights of the town. I slow to a walk and then stop altogether at the edge of a street of houses. I'm panting as much from fear as from exertion, looking up at the sheer slope behind me I can't quite believe I threw myself down it and survived. I check myself for injuries, my shirt is badly torn especially on the sleeves where I used my arms to protect myself from thorn bushes and tree branches, the material stained from dozens of blood oozing scratches. I can feel a lump forming on the back of my head where I was hit by a falling stone and my legs and tail seem to be covered in bruises, but nothing is broken and I've faired a lot better than the cop. Thinking about him gives me a nasty, sick sensation in my stomach that he may be lying dead or fatally injured somewhere above me and I briefly consider going back up to look for him, but even if I found him I'm not sure what I'd be able to do to help.

I limp into the town, trying to keep off the main well lit streets as much as possible. Even if none of the policemen from the power station have got as far as thinking to search the town for me I know I must look awful in my torn, blood smeared clothes. In Parnell I'd just be taken for a down and out and ignored, but this is a much smaller place and I can't imagine vagrants are all that common here, especially ones with golden eyes. I don't want to draw any more attention to myself than I have to.

My next task is to to find a way back home. I have no money as it was all in my bag that got left with the non bomb planting members of Clearwater, but looking the way I do right now even if I could afford the fare I'm not sure anyone would sell me a ticket. I find the railway station by following the train line, I see a train rumbling over a bridge above a street and it's not that hard to trace the tracks until I come to the station. A quick look through through the booking office window tells me that the trains from here do indeed go all the way back to Parnell, more of less once an hour, and the last one of the day is due in soon. Everyone knows that at the back of every train are a handful of goods carriages that if you're hard up you can sneak into and ride for free. However I've never tried doing it and neither, as far as I know, has anyone I know, despite it being common knowledge.

I pretty soon find that it's not as easy it it sounds. I can't get onto the platform without a ticket so I have to jump over the fence a way down the line, then creep back up toward the station and hide out of sight in a siding until the Parnell bound train arrives. Once it has arrived the cloud of smoke and steam it emits together with the dark provide me with a bit of cover and I attempt to slide open the door of the last goods carriage. This is kind of hard, it's not locked but it is latched shut with a stiff iron latch and I've only just got it open when the whistle is blown and the train starts to pull away from the station. I have to swiftly run along side as the train is picking up speed then vault in and slide the door quickly shut and latch it again from the inside before I fall out.

The goods carriage is almost completely packed full of crates and boxes and the only place I can sit is in top of them all, so high up that my hair is brushing the roof. However this is still better than being stuck in a strange town looking like a tramp, having no money and being hunted by the police for attempting to blow up a power station.

With nothing to do but sit in the dark and think I run the events of the night back in my head to make sense of them. I can't say I ever trusted Vixen and Knox much from the start but I didn't think that they were intending to use me quite so callously. The whole thing was nothing more than a ruse to embarrass Sampson and piss off Vin, but for them it went very wrong. They nearly got caught, I think that their man on the inside must have betrayed them somehow.

The cuts on my arms are starting to sting badly and my whole body aches as I try to lie back and make myself as comfortable as I can on a pile of splintery wooden crates. I know with absolute certainty now that I should have never gone off with Knox and Vixen in the first place, and I curse my stupidity as the train eats up the miles all the way back to Parnell.

It's nearly three o'clock in the morning by the time I arrive back at the foot of the metal staircase that runs up the side of the Costa's shop to my flat. Jinks is balanced on the handrail yowling loudly at the half moon and when he sees me approach he flattens his ears and hisses. During the dark small hours this is his territory alone and he wants me to know it, but I ignore him and wearily climb the steps. I unlock the door as quietly as I can not wanting to disturb Topher and step inside. The place is still and quite and I decide to shower before I go to bed, I need to clean up the scratches and I don't think Topher would want to wake up next to a dirty and blood stained me. I start to walk toward the bathroom, in doing so I go past the end of the bed, I glance at it and I see something that stops me dead like a punch to the gut.

Sticking out of the bottom of the bed, toes pointed to the floor are a pair of feet, a pair of feet that are both too large and too pale to belong to Topher. I take a ragged breath, trying to think of any explanation for this other than the obvious, but there is none. I feel inclined to drag Topher out of bed right now to get him to tell me what the fuck is going on here. Is this what he does as soon as I'm away? After the way he reacted when I accused him of having sex with Vin I can't believe he'd do this, I wouldn't believe it if the evidence wasn't right in front of me.

It could even be Vin in my bed, or perhaps that artist who wanted to paint Topher, and I decide to find out exactly who he's been cheating on me with before I wake him up and lay into him. I go around to Topher's side of the bed, stepping over a pair of underpants that look like they've been thrown onto the floor. I can't see Topher's face, just a mop of midnight black hair sticking out from above the covers. His bed partner's face is turned to one side and pushed down between the pillows so at first I can't make out who it is, but then the bits I can see start to come together to form a familiar image in my head, and I can't quite believe that I'm right. I step closer, realising now that even the feet are familiar, I know only one person with feet that large, only one person whose feet hang off the end of the bed when he's lying fully stretched out. It is utterly, unmistakeably, Jack. It's Jack asleep in bed with Topher. Jack and Topher have slept together? This makes absolutely no sense, yet there they are, snoring quietly and I try to understand it, but it's like trying to put together a puzzle made of mismatched pieces. Jack. Topher. Together in bed. How the hell did that happen?

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