by London Lampy
"What is it?" I ask Ry, who's proudly showing me his latest purchase that's sitting on a side table in his drawing room. It's a strange wooden box with a crank handle on one side, a wire coming out of the back that disappears into the wall, something that looks like a small gramophone horn attached to the front and an even smaller gramophone horn attached to the side of the box by more wire that is hanging on a brass hook on the opposite side to the crank.
"You hold this bit against your ear," he says, picking up the smaller of the two horns and holding it against my ear, the wire being long enough to reach that far. "Then you wind this bit," he turns the crank handle.
"Is something meant to happen?" I frown up at him, because nothing is.
"Just wait," he grins.
"Hello sir," a voice suddenly says into my ear, a voice that is coming out of the thing Ry is holding. I'm so surprised that it makes me jump, not least because it's a familiar voice, it's Tippit.
"Go on, say hello back," Ry indicates the larger of the two horns on the front so cautiously I bend a little and speak into it. "Um...hello?" I say.
"Oh, hello Exit," Tippit seems a bit surprised. There's a background crackle and he kind of sounds like he's down a well, but it's unmistakably him. "Do you or Mr Jonas need something?"
"I don't think so," I look up at Ry again. "He wants to know if we need anything."
"It's fine Tippit," Ry says, leaning down and speaking into the horn in the same way I did. "I was just showing him the new telephonic device."
"Very good sir," I hear Tippit say, then Ry takes the bit that's against my ear away and hangs it back on the hook on the side.
"How the hell does that work?" I ask, frowning at the box. Unless Ry's somehow shrunk Tippit and put him inside it, which I very much doubt as Tippit let me in when I arrived and he was his normal albeit rather small size then, Tippit has to be in another part of the house.
"Dammed if I know, but it does. All I know is that if I crank the handle a bell on its twin in the butler's pantry rings and either Tippit or Dawkins answers it."
"And they can hear you just like you can hear them?"
"Yes, fantastic isn't it? I predict it's going to be the next big thing, so much so I bought the company that makes them. Well, when I say company it's two industrious little men in a back room at the moment, but it won't be that small for long, soon everyone's going to want one."
I think about this. "I don't want one, I don't have a butler. If Topher's in the kitchen or the bathroom all I have to do is raise my voice a bit and he can hear me."
Ry laughs and leads me to the couch where he's already placed drinks for us on the table in front of it. "But what about at work? You could simply turn the handle and speak to someone on a different floor, no more running up and down stairs, no more sending notes in vacuum tubes."
"I suppose so," I say.
"You don't sound convinced," he replies, taking a sip of his whiskey and ice cubes. "How about this then? The inventors think that they could connect a whole lot of them up over long distances via overhead or underground wires, like electricity or the telegraph. Their plan is to run them all back to a central point in the city then from that point a person working there could connect you to any other place that had a telephonic device." He uses his hands to attempt to illustrate what he means, drawing invisible wires in the air. "Then you could speak to someone on the other side of Parnell in an instant, maybe one day even the other side of the world."
"People will want that." I finally see what he's getting at.
"They will. In the future every business, maybe even every house, is going to own a Jonas telephonic device," he agrees. "And it's going to make me an even richer man."
I pick up my lime and soda and take a large gulp, trying to work out how to bring the conversation around to the reason I came to see him this evening. Namely, Vin.
Ry's know Vin since they were children, Vin may be a long way from perfect but I'm having a hard time believing that he's a murderer, even though all the signs are pointing in that direction. When I got home last night after my midnight trip to the office I couldn't sleep and I found myself going over everything that I know about the Menna Abbot case in my head, lying next to Topher, who never even knew I'd gone out in the first place because he slept through me both going and coming back. I was bargaining on his being a deep sleeper to stop him from finding out what I was doing and asking me about it. I wouldn't have lied to him if he had woken up, but I'm not going to volunteer the information either, not yet anyway.
In Menna's diary she often had encounters with a "G". Vio and I assumed that this "G" was her persistent ex, the bad boy as described by Pamela and Julie from the typing pool. Vin's full name is Govinder, we don't call him that but a lot of people do, maybe Menna did. He is persistent, very, that much I know from my own experiences, and I suppose some people could see him as a bad boy, or at least bad, he's in his mid thirties, hardly a boy. That and the initial "G" aren't that incriminating on their own, but if you put them together with the dates in the diary it becomes more damning. "G" disappeared from Menna's life in the spring, and it was soon after that she found out she was pregnant. Vio, Sampson, Vin and myself went to the Northern Continent in the spring, and didn't come back until over two months later, by which time Menna had aborted the baby and met Rodger. There's no evidence that she told "G" about the abortion, but there's none that she didn't either. However we do know that "G" reappeared in her life a few weeks before she died, wanting her back.
On the day she died her entry read "GWT", I still have no idea about the "WT" part, but was the "G" for Govinder? Did she meet him just before she died?
From the photographs I've seen of Menna she was small, fine boned and very pretty, exactly Vin's type. Then there's the most damning piece of evidence of all, the suicide note, written on Vin's typewriter.
The least worst explanation for that I can think of is that she did commit suicide and he wrote the note and planted it in her locker for Sonja and Kezlo to find to make people think that Menna jumping to her death had nothing to do with him at all. The worst worst is that he pushed her off the roof in cold blood and wrote the note to throw everyone off the scent. He must have either picked the lock on the locker or got hold of the master key, neither of those things would have been hard for him to do. If anyone had caught him he could have easily lied and said he was looking for evidence of what had happened to her, and then produced the note. Having Sonja and Kezlo find it was even better though, it removed any connection between the note and him.
When I think about Vin I find it really hard to imagine him killing a young woman. He's not afraid to kill when it's in self defence, in my final moments aboard the Firebrat he killed Jasper, and would have killed Captain Quint too if I hadn't intervened, but that was very different, Menna was no physical threat to his life. The only motive I can think of for him killing her was that she had threatened to tell Toni about their affair, but that somehow doesn't seem enough for murder, at least not for Vin. He's sometimes bad, but he's not evil.
I glance over at Ry, I came here hoping that he was in, claiming that I was passing and that I still hadn't seen the pictures he took of me. It was a flimsy excuse, but he seemed pleased to see me, and I can't believe he'd guess the truth behind my visit in a million years.
"How are things?" he asks me. I assure him that things are fine. He asks about Jack and Topher, and I explain to him what's been going on, that we've found a solution to the problem. Unlike Vio he doesn't point out all the stuff that could go wrong, he just laughs and shakes his head. "That's the stuff pornographic stories are made of," he says, sounding amused.
I don't want to spend all evening chatting about other things so I take deep breath and ask him just how well he knows Vin.
"About as well as anyone I'd say," he replies, looking at me thoughtfully. "Perhaps in a way better than anyone. I knew him long before he learned the trick of keeping his emotions under wraps, why?"
"I..." I can't say that I'm worried that he might be a murderer. "He's been behaving oddly recently." It's the best I can come up with.
"Did you know that Toni's left him?"
"Kind of, I'd heard a rumour."
"The rumour is true. She seems to have gone to ground, no one knows where she is, but then if she's just discovered that her husband has been fu...having affairs left right and centre, I can't blame her."
Vio told me that she'd disappeared too...shit, maybe she's dead as well!
"You look shocked," Ry frowns at me.
"I...no, I'm fine," I shake my head.
"You're feeling guilty perhaps? Don't, not too much anyway. I don't wish to sound rude, but you were just one of many."
I do feel guilty, but that's not the problem right now. "Do you think he's capable of doing something really wrong?" I ask.
"Define wrong. He's a man who married a wealthy, well connected woman for her status, or so his mother could have some of her status anyway. Then he cheated on her pretty much from the wedding day, most people would see that as really wrong."
"I don't know, worse than that..." I'm struggling to say this without giving anything away.
"Worse that that?" Ry raises his dark eyebrows. "Well, he is his father's son I suppose, and his father liked to indulge himself in pretty much every vice going, but normally Vin confines himself to sex."
"Do you think he might...hurt someone...physically?"
Ry looks like he's thinking about this seriously, and it takes several long seconds for him to answer. "No, I don't. Emotionally, yes, but not physically. Exit, you haven't got it into your head that he's done something to Toni have you?"
That's as good a reason as any for my questions. "Perhaps," I shrug.
"He wouldn't. Really, I'm sure he wouldn't. He's not vicious, sometimes he's even been known to be...noble."
"Noble?" That's not a word I'd ever associate with Vin.
"Don't forget, I've know him a long time."
"Did you know his father too?" As Ry said, Vin's his father's son.
"I met him a couple of times...he was a force of nature, swept everyone and everything along in his wake. Vin both loved him and hated him in equal measures."
I wonder if Ry knows about Knox. "Did his father have a lot of lovers too?"
"Yes, a great many, but all girls as far as I know, the boys seem to be exclusive to Vin."
"Did his father have any other children?"
"Have you heard something?" he throws back.
"I...maybe that Vin has a half brother, a notorious one."
"That's true," he locks his grey eyes onto mine. "It's a well kept secret though. Now there's a person Vin might actually want to harm, but not Toni. I've always had the feeling that he cares for her a lot...he just has an odd way of showing it." I nod, agreeing with what he's saying, I've always thought that too. "Him and me, we haven't been the best of friends for the last..." he frowns. "Twenty years? Shit, can it really be that long? But in a way I'm quite fond of him, although I don't think he is of me. We were very good friends once upon a time." He looks kind of sad as he says this.
"How good?" I question, wondering if there's more to this than I know.
"That," he replies, taking a sip of his drink. "Is a story for another day, but what I will say is that he hasn't killed Toni, if that's the rumour doing the rounds. I'd stake my fortune on it."
I'm relieved at Ry saying this, I just don't want to believe that Vin could be a murderer. But I still have more questions than answers.
"Do you think Toni knows about his affairs?" It's something that I've always wondered. If she does then that's out the window as a motive for him killing Menna.
"She'd have to be blind and stupid if she didn't, and she's neither of those things. But I don't know if she acknowledges that she does, if you know what I mean. It's one thing to be aware, but it's another to admit it out loud, even just to yourself."
"I do understand, but what I don't understand is how he can be so hypocritical. He hates his father for what he did to his mother, but he does exactly the same to Toni."
Ry finishes his drink, tipping what's left of the ice cubes into his mouth and crunching them up, looking thoughtful. "It's not exactly the same, I'll grant you that on the surface it looks to be, but it's not. Maxwell could be a cruel man, he'd flaunt his women, he even installed the mother of his other son and their child in a Parnell flat that belonged to Vin's mother Vesta for a time. I believe it's the one she lives in now, it's one of the few things that the debt collectors couldn't get their hands on after he died because it was hers not his. And of course Vin and Toni have no children, the gods know that doesn't excuse him, but at least the only people getting hurt are adults. Vin's father really messed him up."
It's strange to think of Vin as being a child, as someone who could be messed up, he always seems so in control. "Why don't they have any children?" I ask.
"That's hardly something Vin's going to confide in me about, but it does surprise me. His mother would love it if they did, it would cement her connection to Toni's family. Maybe Toni didn't feel ready, she's still quite young, or maybe she didn't want to bring a child into that mess."
"That would make sense."
"Stay there," he says, putting his empty glass back onto the table. "I'll be back in a minute, I've got some things you might like to see." And with that he gets up and leaves the room.
I finish my own drink while I wait, and when he's not back after a few minutes I go and look at the telephonic device again, but I don't try to use it. If Jack had one and I had one, I could talk to him every day, that would be amazing. I might even be able to speak to Tallis, I'd love to do that again, but then maybe it wouldn't work on a ship if you need wires. Ry's right, once people find out about these things everybody's going to want one.
"See, now you're aware of its potential you're interested aren't you?" Ry says as he enters the room again, a lidded wooden box tucked under one arm.
"Yes," I agree, following him back to the couch. "Now I know it's not just for ordering your butler around with."
He gives me a look as we sit down, then rests the box on his knees and opens it and I can see that it's full of photographs.
"They're not in order, hell, I haven't even looked at them for years." He takes out a handful and rapidly flips through them. "My father loved taking photos, of course cameras are a lot better now than they were then, most of these are either under or over exposed." He shows me one that looks like a pale ghostly image of someone, I can't even tell if they're male or female, sitting on a horse, at least I think it's a horse. "The gods know why I kept that," he mutters, throwing it back into the box. "Ah, here we are." He picks up and looks at another picture, that sad expression that he had earlier back on his face. "Do you recognise the people in it?" he says as he passes it to me.
In the photograph are two teenage boys, or more specifically, a teenage Ry and Vin. Ry is the taller of the two, as he still is, but much skinnier than he is now, making him appear lanky. He's staring straight at the camera, his arms by his side, a serious expression on his face. His dark hair is shorter and tidier then it currently is and he's wearing both a shirt and tie, something only older men like Sampson do now on all but the most formal occasions. He also has on dark trousers and sturdy shoes, he looks as if he's off to chapel. Vin is in complete contrast to him, he looks as if he's just got out of bed. He has an arm thrown around Ry's shoulders and is grinning insolently, his hair is longer than it is now, and looks as if it hasn't seen a brush for a while, it's standing up on one side and even though the picture is black and white I can easily imagine its flaming red colour. His shirt only has three buttons done up and is untucked from his trousers, his sleeves are unevenly rolled up and there's no sign of a tie. The two of them are somewhere outdoors, with grass under their feet and leafy trees in the distance, but even so Vin isn't wearing shoes.
"How old were you?" I question, not able to take my eyes off the picture.
"I'd just turned seventeen, but I was a very young seventeen. Vin was coming up for eighteen, and going on twenty five. I'd lived an extremely sheltered life, no school, I always had a private tutor, I spent most of my time in our country house with only my mother and my tutor, by that time an old man, for company. Vin came to stay with us that summer to keep him away from his father, his mother was afraid that Maxwell would corrupt, or even kidnap his son, so Vesta foisted him on my mother," he laughs, rummaging through the box again and coming out with another photo that he gives me.
This one is a party scene, a garden party, with all the woman wearing the kind of dresses that had gone out of fashion before I was born. It's a long shot of the party with Ry and Vin off to one side of a table that despite being outdoors is fully laid with a table cloth, plates and knives and forks, and even a floral display in the middle. Ry and Vin are sitting next to one another, Vin looks like he's saying something into Ry's ear, and Ry looks like he's trying not to laugh. This time both of them are smartly dressed, but Vin still looks insolent.
"It's really strange seeing you both looking so young," I say.
"Yes, because I'm ancient now," he replies dryly.
"I didn't mean that...you know what I mean."
"Sorry, yes I do. And I suppose it was along time ago, sometimes it doesn't feel it though." He passes me another picture taken at the same party. Vin and Ry and some children and other teenagers arranged with the smallest at the front and the largest at the back. The two of them are in the back at the middle and they're looking at one another, not at the camera, Vin's angling his head upwards slightly they seem to be looking into one another's eyes, it almost seems intimate. One of the children in the front, a little boy of about six or seven, bears a striking resemblance to Ry, with dark hair and eyebrows and pale skin.
"Is that your brother?" I ask, pointing at the boy.
"No, I don't have a brother. I did, but he was older and was killed in a riding accident when I was eight. That's my cousin, in fact this..." he gestures around him. "Was his father's house. My cousin was meant to inherent when his father died, but he threw it all away to follow his dream of becoming the next great Parnell artist." Ry rolls his eyes to show how stupid he thinks this is. "We're still waiting for that to happen."
I hand him back the pictures, and he glances at them then carefully places them back into the box and closes the lid.
I really don't know what to make of all this history, but it does prove that they were friends once, and judging from that last picture especially, maybe more. Ry clearly knows Vin very well and he thinks that he's no killer, and I believe him, but I can't ignore what I've discovered about Menna's death either. Gods, what am I going to do?
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