by London Lampy
"What are you looking so happy about?" Vio asks me across our desks at mid morning tea break, her pale eyebrows drawn together.
"Life is good," I reply with a shrug.
"No it's not, and you're normally complaining about one thing or another. What gives?"
"Jack and Topher have settled their differences," I say, dunking a chocolate biscuit in my tea.
"He was, he went back this morning."
"Didn't he want to stay at my place?" She looks a bit put out.
"He turned up while I was still...away." I glance at Sonja and Kezlo, they're deep into some sort of investigation of coal price fixing and aren't paying us the slightest bit of attention, but I'd still rather they didn't hear about my Clearwater "adventure". "Him and Topher had dinner...Jack spent the night..." I'm not sure how much of this to tell her, or how much she wants to know. "Then I got back and...things kind of went from there."
Vio narrows her eyes at me, looking like she's reading between the lines. "You ever hear the phrase two's company and three's a crowd?"
"So what happens if two of you want to do one thing and one of you wants to do another, or if one of you decides that the other two are spending too much time together and gets jealous?"
I think back to yesterday when Jack and Topher spent the afternoon together, I did feel kind of left out, even though I was at work and couldn't have expected them to do anything else. "I don't know...but it's got to be better than them avoiding each other and me running all over the city to make sure I spend time with both of them."
"And what about Jack and Topher; do they think this is a good solution to your problem?"
"Yes, of course they do, it was Topher's idea!" I protest, feeling annoyed with Vio for pointing all this stuff out.
"His idea, to make you happy, not himself."
"Yeah...I know, but him and Jack really like each other."
"Do they?" she questions, taking a mouthful of her tea.
"Yes, a lot."
"So how would you feel if they fell in love with each other? Because from the way you're telling it it sounds like it's fucking likely to happen, if it hasn't already. How are you going to cope when they go through the head over heals obsessed bit with each other when you've you've already been through that with both of them and aren't going to be a part of it?"
"I...I don't know, it'll be alright. Why are you so determined to make me miserable?" I pick up the last biscuit and take a large bite out of it.
"I'm not, you do that well enough on your own. I'm just being realistic, that's all. This is real life, not some fucking fairytale, you don't just get given a happily ever after, you have to work at it. I'm not saying that the three of you can't work, I'm just pointing out the pitfalls. You always go into things blindly assuming stuff will work out because because that's what you want to happen, and simply ignoring all the things that could go wrong. Don't you think it's better to acknowledge the possibility of future problems rather than wilfully ignoring them then tripping over them when they happen?"
"You don't like me lecturing you, do you?" I scowl back, she laughs. "Stop pouting."
I'm not. "I'm not."
"You are, you look like Topher, you've been learning bad habits off him. Finish your tea, we've got work to do."
"I miss Jack," Topher sighs, peeling off the top slice of bread on his sandwich and peering at the filling in the light of dusty a sunbeam that's found its way into the shop between the book shelves.
"He's only been gone a few hours," I reply, suspecting that Vio's assessment of the situation may be correct, at least as far as Topher is concerned. "It's chicken and cucumber."
"Yuck, bland. What have you got?"
"Cheese and lettuce, and I'm not swapping or I'd have to take the chicken out and then all I'd have is a cucumber sandwich." The interior of the shop is cool and dim, and if you can ignore the slight smell of cat pee a pleasant place to eat lunch on a hot city day.
"Or you could stop being so picky and eat the chicken. If we were not meant to eat animals the gods would not have made them so tasty."
"Next time I won't bother bringing you lunch to the shop when you're by yourself if you're just going to complain about it."
"I like you bringing me lunch, I just hate the food in this fucking city," he replies, taking a small bite from the sandwich. It's as close to a thank you as I'm going to get so I take it. "We should go and live somewhere else."
"Where?" I ask, starting on my own sandwich.
"Somewhere closer to where Jack is." Gods, Vio really is right, Topher's got it bad for him.
"The food wouldn't be any better, it's still on the West Island, just a hundred or so miles away from Parnell."
"Huh," he says, taking another bite.
A black and white cat picks its way across the shop floor toward us, looks up at Topher, makes a growling sound then runs off in the other direction. "Do you kick them when Mr Lustrum isn't looking or something?" I ask, this is pretty much the way all the old man's cats react to Topher.
"No!" he objects. "It is them who bully me, not the other way around." I laugh at the image of the cats ganging up on him. "It is not funny, one bit my hand the other day when I tried to get it off a box of new books so I could open the box up."
The bell tinkles and and a customer comes into the shop. It's a woman with thick blond hair piled up onto the top of her head dressed in the sort of casually expensive way Vin's wife Toni normally is, although Toni's a good bit younger and thinner than this woman. She's sweating, red faced, is carrying several full shopping bags and looks cross. "I need a book that will tell my stupid cook how to make a proper gala pie. Last time she failed to get the egg running all the way through the middle, she showed me right up," she says, frowning in our direction.
"Food books are upstairs," Topher replies, waving his hand in the direction of the half hidden stairs.
"I don't want to have to search for it, I want to know if you have one," she says sharply.
"I do not know," Topher shrugs. "I told you, food books are upstairs."
"Then you should go up and look," she orders him; not a good idea.
"I will do so when I have finished my lunch." Topher looks back at her, taking another bite out of his sandwich.
"What about you?" the woman turns her gaze onto me. "Are you prepared to be helpful?"
"I'm sorry, I don't actually work here," I say. If she was being a bit more polite I might be prepared to go up and look for her, if I had any idea what a "gala pie" was anyway.
"You people," she spits, turning her attention back to Topher. "Isn't it enough that good Twin Island's men died because of your invasion of our territory, but now you have the gall to come here and take a job that someone born here could be doing?"
"You can't say that to him!" I object.
"And you," she glares at me. "I don't even know what you're doing here, you should be in a forest somewhere." I've heard this so many times that I don't bother to argue any more, you can't change idiots.
"Get out of the shop," Topher says, surprisingly calmly.
"Don't worry, I will, and I won't be bringing my custom back," she says, gathering up her bags and barging noisily out of the door, scaring a cat that had just settled down on the mat.
Once she's gone we look at one another. "What a lovely woman," I say.
"Yes, she was," Topher replies. "As I was saying earlier, why do we not go and live somewhere else?"
"My job, Jack, Jack's job."
We finish our lunch in silence. Once we're done I crumple up the paper the sandwiches were wrapped in and thrown it into the rubbish bin while Topher opens a drawer in the table that serves as the shop's counter and and pulls out a large and rather battered book. "Mr Lustrum got it for me," he says, showing me the cover. It reads "A Photographic Record of the Palaces and Great Houses of Surosa".
"That was nice of him."
"That is because he is an extremely nice man." Topher has become very fond of his boss in the time he has been working for him. "He got it for me because it has a picture of my home in it."
A page has been marked with an old receipt and he flips the book open to show me a black and white photograph of an enormous house. The house is built on a rise overlooking the sea and a gentle slope leads down from it to the beach. I can see a few small boats out on the waves, the water is catching the sunlight and reflecting back to the camera in sharp bursts. A caption under the picture reads "The family seat of the earl of Breakspear".
"That's where you grew up?" I ask.
"Yes. That..." he touches the tip of a finger to one of the windows. "Was my bedroom."
I put a hand on his back and rub it. "It's even bigger than I imagined."
"Not is, was. It is no longer there, I suppose there are ruins..." I can hear his voice shake a little, and I don't know what to say, I know I can't take the pain away for him. "...maybe someone has built something else there by now, but it is still my land."
"It's your land?" I question.
"Of course. With my father dead, I am the earl, so the land is mine."
I look at him, I've known that he's an earl for a long time, but I didn't really think it meant anything more than a title. It never occurred to me that he owned land. "Could you sell it?" I ask.
"No!" he retorts loudly. "That is my family land to be handed down. Maybe one day someone will rebuild the house."
I think about this, I understand the bit about him not wanting to sell it, but I'm not so sure about the other bit. "Topher, who is it going to be handed down to? I mean unless there's something you're not telling me I don't really see that you're ever going to have any children."
"My older sister, Kinsey, as far as I know she is still alive, and she is married." I remember him telling me about her, she married some distant relative more than twice her age to keep a roof over her head after they lost everything. "She might have children by now, in fact I would be surprised if she did not."
"Have you ever tried to contact her?" I ask this carefully, he can be very touchy about anything to do with his family.
"Yes, but I had no reply to my letter. She could have moved on, or she might not have wanted to write back, we were not close. She was close to my father, she loved to help him run the estate and resented the fact that I would be the one to inherit it, not her." I can imagine that situation easily. "When I left Nightport I had two places in mind I could go, one was to return to Surosa and find her, and the other was to come to Parnell and find you, but I wanted to find you much more."
And I'm glad he did. "Maybe we could both go together, I'd like to see where you come from."
"Perhaps, and maybe Jack could come too."
"Maybe." Gods, Topher really is smitten with him, but I know why.
"I would like to try and find my Grandmama too. That is my mother's mother, my father's mother was a fucking horrible old bag who died years ago," he says, looking at the photograph again.
"Do you think she's still alive?"
"Probably, she lived in the east and things were not so bad there after the war. Also she was not so old when she had my mother, and Lolly, my mother, was not so old when she had me. My Grandmama cannot be much over sixty, and she is one of those people who you cannot imagine allowing death to take them, she is a tough woman."
I glance up at the shop's clock, if I want to make it back to the office on time I need to go now, but it's so unusual for Topher to talk about this stuff that I don't want to leave either. In all the time I've known him apart from when he told me how he ended up with Quint this is the most he's ever told me about his family.
"You need to go?" he asks, seeing me looking at the clock.
"I...yeah, sorry." I can't be late back, I'm not in anyone's good books because of the whole Clearwater thing.
"Fine, you had better go then," he shuts the book abruptly, a note of resentment in his voice.
"Bring the book home, we can continue this later," I try to sound encouraging, but I doubt he will, I think that the moment may have passed.
Back at work the afternoon crawls by. We have a backlog to clear caused by all the time we spent looking for the theatre gunman and I spend slow hours sifting through reports and papers that have been ignored for the last few weeks.
Vio and me still don't what to do about Wendell, I'm all for us keeping our mouths shut, that way nobody really looses. Wendell gets his debts paid, gets to keep all his body parts and with good behaviour he should be out of gaol in a few years, meanwhile we get to stop running into brick walls looking for the real shooter. Vio is fifty-fifty, on one hand she agrees with me, but on the other hand she has a stronger respect for the law than me and from that point of view an innocent man going to gaol bothers her, even if that innocent man is agreeable to the situation.
Towards the end of the day I need to find an old case file so I can cross reference it with a new report about a subcontracted firm possibly charging for top quality materials but actually buying substandard ones and pocketing the difference. Vio says the name of the man in charge of the company is familiar and that she remembers a similar thing happening some years ago so she tells me to go to Vin's office and look in the cupboard where old files are kept.
"Do I have to?" I grumble. Vin's been acting strangely recently, I really don't want him hugging me again, and he's not going to try to hug Vio.
"Yes, go on you lazy fucker, it's only a few doors away," she throws back at me.
"If you go I'll make you a cup of tea," I offer.
"I don't want tea, just go and do it."
I look at Sonja and Kezlo and consider asking one of them to go, but that would be more trouble than Vin, so I head out of our office and knock on his door.
"Come in," he calls out, so I do. He looks a bit better than he did yesterday, at least he's showered anyway. He smiles at me as I head toward his desk, asking me why I'm there so I explain. He sounds a little disappointed when he hears that I'm only there to look in his cupboard.
"It's should be in there somewhere," he says, opening a desk drawer and pulling out a small key which he tosses over to me.
I unlock the doors of the large wooden cupboard and look up. It's six shelves high, and mostly filled with box files and folders of paper, I have no idea where to start.
"By the way," he says once I've half hard-heartedly begun rummaging through the cupboard's contents. "I had one of the policemen who was involved in the power station incident up here today."
"Yes?" I reply, opening a file at random and wondering where he's going with this.
"You apparently managed to escape so thoroughly that all they saw of you was a disappearing blur. None of them got any sort of good look at you, so think yourself lucky." I do. I don't want to be wanted by two police forces at once, it's bad enough that the Parnell police suspect me of breaking into the Abbot house, not that Vin knows about that, I hope. "That's good," I say, flipping through a pile of yellowing papers.
"It is for you, but you might be even happier to learn that the man who followed you over a sheer drop isn't dead. He has a broken ankle, cracked ribs and concussion apparently. His claim that the man who he chased escaped by jumping clean over a seven foot high gate is being put down to that last one, once again luckily for you."
"Thank the gods," I mutter, not that his word is being doubted, but that he's still alive. I've been worrying about him, it was bad enough when I thought I'd condemned Ev to death by shooting him in the leg in a burning house, even if he had been a very unpleasant person who would have happily seen me dead. The policeman was only doing his job, if he had died I really would have killed an innocent man.
"Try nearer the top," Vin suggests, glancing over his shoulder at me. "That's where the older files are."
"I can't reach up there," I point out, jumping to reach a shelf above my head and bring a snowfall of paper down onto me and the floor as a consequence.
"For the god's sake," Vin sighs. "Clear that up then do what I do, stand on a chair."
After picking up the papers and stuffing them back onto a shelf I drag one of the oversized chairs from in front of his desk over to the cupboard then climb up onto it.
Standing on the chair means that I can see right into the top of the cupboard, and at the far end of the top shelf are a number of things that aren't files or paper. There are three grey metal lockable cash boxes identical to the one Clearwater housed their bomb in, a small collection of vacuum tube containers, an ornate marble ashtray that must have belonged to Vin's predecessor and at the very far end, squatting in the shadows like some kind of large, black, spiny insect, is a typewriter.
It's past midnight and the fourteenth floor of Municipal Works headquarters is in darkness, but that's not a problem for me. There's no one around but even so my palms are damp, my heart is beating fast and I feel sick and jumpy as I pick the lock on Vin's office door. It doesn't take me long and soon I'm inside. I don't switch on the light as I don't want to draw attention to myself, and for a heart stopping second I think that Vin's in the room, but it turns out to be a raincoat that he's left hanging on his coat stand by the window. I take the cupboard keys from his desk drawer and unlock the cupboard with shaking hands and then go and get the chair again so that I can reach the top shelf. I slide the typewriter off the shelf and with it cradled in my arms I carefully step back onto the floor. I place it on Vin's desk, take a blank sheet of Municipal Works headed paper off a stack and wind it into the machine. Unlike Vio I don't attempt to recreate the whole of Menna Abbot's suicide note, I just type a few rows of characters, making sure to include plenty of lower case e's and upper case m's. Then I pull the paper out, hold it up to the window where even this high up the light from the city's thousands of street lamps shines through, and thoroughly examine it.
I don't want it to be true but the evidence is clear in front of me. The flaws from the original note exactly match up with what I have on the paper and I'm left in no doubt that this was the typewriter used to type the suicide note. Which now leaves Menna's death with one prime suspect. Vin.
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