by London Lampy
After I got back from Ry's house I spent another night unable to sleep, trying to work out what to do with what I know. Lying in bed listing to Topher breathing I ran it through my head. Ry doesn't think that Vin is capable of deliberately killing someone, but Ry might be wrong, and he might be right and all Vin was doing was covering up his affair with Menna by forging the note. The more I think about it the more that seems likely, he's capable of being very deceitful, that I do know. He's not above lying to the police to protect his job, more than lying really, bribing Wendell Browning to take the blame for shooting at Sampson must be an offence in itself.
By the time the light outside my window has turned from black to grey I've decided that I have to tell Vio about what I've discovered and why I think he forged the note. It's a dull morning, the heat of the summer seems to have passed and there's now the first hints of autumn in the air, along with a light drizzle that clings to anything it touches, making everything unpleasantly damp.
The first couple of hours at work slip past without me managing to find an opportunity to get Vio alone. She heads out of the office at tea break time and I follow her, only to find that she's gone to have a smoke and chat with Caddy on the reception desk. I double back toward the office and suddenly find myself face to face with Inspector George Milden, who's coming out of Vin's office.
He stops briefly and looks me up and down, then without a word carries on to the elevator, leaving me feeling sick and nervous. Was he here about me? If he's told Vin that I'm suspected of breaking into the Abbot house then Vin might start to wonder exactly how much I know. Or it could be even worse, perhaps my breaking into the house made the inspector start too look deeper into Menna's life and death and maybe he's discovered the link between her and Vin too and he came here to tell him that. Maybe they'll even arrest him.
The door is still ajar and Vin must have seen me walking past because he shouts out to call me into his office, which can only mean that Inspector Milden was here about me. Oh shit.
I look at Vin, he looks far from happy. I go over and stand in front of his desk, dreading what he has to say to me. "Sir?" I question, my rapidly beating heart trying to break out of my chest.
"Sir?" he repeats. "What's wrong? I can't remember the last time you called me that." He sounds agitated, not angry.
"I just didn't know why you wanted to see me," I reply lamely. "Why was Inspector Milden here?"
He rubs his face with his hand, once again he's not shaved for a while and he makes a rasping sound as he does this. "Nothing to do with you Exit...he was just here to," he glances toward the window. "Tie up some loose ends over Wendell Browning, nothing more, nothing to concern yourself with." He's being odd, evasive, but if Milden was here about me Vin would say something I'm sure, so what the hell was it really about? Has the inspector discovered that Wendell is innocent? That would make sense of Vin's agitation. "I called you in here to tell you that we have to take a trip...up to the power station you didn't blow up. We need to go today, the police up there want to talk to you ...and me. I told them that you were our undercover plant in Clearwater and now they're desperate to talk to you."
"Today?" I question. "Both of us?"
"Yes, it has to be today, I just got a telegram." He waves a piece of paper at me then puts it into a desk drawer. "Go home right now and pack a bag and I'll meet you at the central station in about an hour, we'll be gone at least one night so make sure you brings spare clothes and your wash things. Don't worry about telling Violet, in fact I'd rather she didn't know all the details, this is a very sensitive investigation so let me speak to her, you just go now."
"But what about Topher?" I say. "He'll be worried about me if I disappear again, and he'll want more than a note."
"Topher?" He frowns. "Oh...yes, I guess he needs to know...I know, I'll send Violet round to your flat after work, she can tell him then."
"I suppose that would be alright," I say cautiously. "But couldn't I go to Mr Lustrum's shop on the way to the station and tell him myself?
"You don't have time," Vin insists. "We have to leave right away, just go and pack, I'll send a telegram ahead and book a hotel for us, and I'll see you at the station."
Gods, Vin and me spending the night alone together in a hotel. Topher and Jack are just going to love this.
"You cannot! What about Jack?" Topher protests loudly, making Mr Lustrum look up from the book that he's reading, and startling one of the cats into dashing upstairs. Despite what Vin said I just couldn't leave it to Vio to tell Topher where I'm going. Coming to the book shop is only going to add a few minutes to the amount of time it'll take me to get to the station, but I won't tell Vin I did it.
"I have to, it's my job. Jack will understand."
"I do not think that he will."
"What do you want me to do? I can't say no," I protest, wishing that I had suggested we went upstairs before I told him about this. Mr Lustrum is watching us with interest, and nice though he is I don't want an audience to our row.
"Why does it have to be Vin? Can Vio not go with you instead?"
"It's not really got anything to do with her," I shrug.
"If his boss is going to go with him then that's the way it is." Mr Lustrum puts his book down and peers at us through his thick lenses. "It's the hierarchy of work."
"But you do not understand, Vin is only going with him because he wants to fuck him!"
"Topher!" Mr Lustrum chides. "What have I told you about language in the shop?"
"Sorry," Topher mutters. Good gods, what has Mr Lustrum got that no one else has? Even Captain Quint couldn't get Topher to either apologise for anything or stop swearing. "But I am right, Vin just wants to get into his trousers."
"Is that true?" the old man asks me.
"Yeah...kind of," I reply.
"Huh!" Topher snorts. "More than kind of."
"I'm not going to let him."
"That will not stop Vin," Topher mutters darkly.
"Surely he wouldn't force himself on you?" Mr Lustrum looks shocked.
"No, he wouldn't, I'll be fine, it's only one night." I look at Topher again, who's now pouting.
"Are you going to tell Jack?" he asks.
"Yes! For the gods sake, it's not a tryst, it's work."
"Do not let him get you drunk again," Topher frowns.
"No," Mr Lustrum agrees. "Don't. As an echoback your biological tolerance to alcohol is very low, you should stay away from strong drink all together if you want to keep your wits about you."
"Thanks for the advice." I think Mr Lustrum misses the sarcasm as he smiles at me, which makes me feel kind of bad because he means well.
"I'll be back tomorrow night," I say, stepping over to Topher and putting my arms around him. Topher hugs me back and out of the corner of my eye I see Mr Lustrum making himself busy shifting piles of books around on the table. I kiss Topher on the mouth softly, feeling his lips give under mine. I could never get bored of kissing Topher.
"Be careful," he says against my mouth.
"I will, I promise," I reply.
"Interesting book?" Vin asks from opposite me as the train leaves the suburbs behind and the countryside starts to open up. As it's pre rush hour and we're travelling in the wrong direction for the daily Parnell commuters we currently have an eight seat compartment to ourselves.
"Kind of," I shrug. Mr Lustrum gave me the book to read on the journey. It's about echoback tribal culture and was written by a human who spent several years living amongst the tribes in the forest. It is kind of interesting, but hard to understand in parts too, the writer uses lots of words I've never seen before.
"Would you like to visit the forest again?" Vin questions, surprising me. That's not normally the kind of thing he's bothered about knowing.
"Maybe. I'd like to see Barney and the tribe again, but it's a long way away. I'd need a lot of time off work."
"Hmm," he nods. "Perhaps that could happen, we could find a reason to go there. I'd like to meet all the people you and Violet and Sampson met." Vin never made it into the forest because he escaped being kidnapped by Barney and the others.
If I'm going to go back I'd rather make the trip with Jack and Topher than Vin, one night away with him is enough. I'm absolutely sure he's going to try it on again later and I couldn't take weeks of fighting him off. To change the subject I tell him about my visit to Ry's, I don't tell him my reason for going there, but I explain to him about the telephonic device.
"Don't tell Sampson," Vin laughs. "Or he'll be putting in a bulk order for Municipal Works."
"But wouldn't that be a good thing? They seem pretty useful to me."
"Yes, however that would make Jonas even richer, and I have no desire ever to do that," he grimaces.
"Why don't you like him? He told me you used to be friends a long time ago," I fish.
"A long time ago when I was young and stupid, I've developed better taste in friends now."
"But what happened, why don't you like one another any more? Ry won't tell me what it was." I give up even trying to be the slightest bit subtle.
"I'm not surprised, it doesn't paint him in the best of lights, and I think you're very much the last person he'd want to think badly of him. He betrayed me, badly, that's all you need to know. The details don't matter, it was far too long ago. Don't ever trust him, he's not worthy of that."
"Did he cheat on you?" I'm starting to wonder if it was something like that. I'm sure that they were more than just friends, if those photos Ry showed me were anything to go on anyway.
"For the love of...no!" he frowns. "Exit, not everything in life is about sex you know." That coming from Vin is kind of surprising, but then he's acting very oddly at the moment. "Could we now close this topic of conversation please." This is not a question, it's an order.
"Alright." We both look out of the window, it's raining properly now and there are water trails running diagonally down the glass. Perhaps if he won't talk about Ry and him he might tell me something about what's going on with his wife. "I know about Toni," I say. This provokes an even more extreme reaction than asking him about Ry.
"What?" his head whips round and he looks shocked.
"I know about Toni and what she's done," I repeat.
"Exit," he drops his voice, even though there's no one in the compartment with us. "What the fuck do you know? Tell me."
"I know..." Suddenly the door to the compartment slides open and a uniformed guard comes in to check our tickets, and I swear that Vin jumps in his seat at the interruption. The man clips our tickets, punching a small hole through the middle of them, then hands them back with a cheery thanks. Vin waits until the door is shut and the guard has disappeared from view before he speaks again.
"You were telling me what you know about my wife," he says, almost sounding desperate.
"Just that she's left you, and that you don't know where she is."
He closes his green eyes and lets out a long breath. "Is that what people are saying?"
"Um...yeah. Isn't it true?" While I'm not sure that gossip from Caddy's cousin's friend holds much water, Ry was sure that this was the situation too, but it could still be wrong.
"She's...gone away for a while," he replies after a long pause.
"Is she coming back?"
"It's hardly your fault."
Outside the rain grows heavier as we pull into a station. Without the sound of the wheels on the rails I can hear the rain pelting against the glass. I don't know what to say to him now and I'm saved from having to think of anything by an influx of wet people into the compartment. A female visk with a large, dripping umbrella sits next to me while a pair of grey haired men in long waterproof coats settle beside Vin. Neither of them seems to be aware of the fact that they're almost one another's twin and they both unfold copies of the evening paper and start work on the crossword at exactly the same time. When I look over at Vin I see that he's closed his eyes and is resting his head back against seat, so I return to trying to make sense of my book as the miles slip by.
"Are you sure you don't want a proper drink?" Vin asks, frowning at my glass of lemonade. We're in the hotel bar having a drink after a dinner that was only a shade better than the food in the orphanage. The bar is a small dimly lit room, the hotel owners obviously thinking that if they lower the lighting enough drinkers won't be able to see quite what a bad state of repair it's in. Vin and me are the only people in here other than a barman who's slumped on a stool behind the counter reading a paperback novel. The table we're sitting at is sticky with the residue of every drink that's ever been spilt on it, and the air smells of stale beer and old cigarette smoke.
"No thank you," I reply, remembering Mr Lustrum's warning. "Not after last time."
"Last time?" he quizzes me. I think he might be a little drunk, he put away a lot of wine over dinner and now he has a large glass of gin.
"The night Topher got shot, you bought me all that pink strawberry stuff. I threw up in a bucket at Vio's house."
"Oh, yes," he smiles his crooked smile. "I'd forgotten about that."
"Really? It was the night you tried to fuck Topher." Even though the barman is in a world of his own and at the other end of the room I say this quietly. This is a small, stuffy kind of a hotel in a small town. When we checked in the woman on the desk gave us a strange look when Vin said that we just wanted the one room. She asked if we required a twin or a double, almost spitting out the word double. I quickly jumped in and said twin before Vin could force me to share a bed with him, although under other circumstances I would have enjoyed calling the woman out and saying double.
"Oh yes," he laughs. "It's a shame he wasn't more forthcoming, he's a very pretty little thing, and I do like pretty things."
"Like Menna Abbot?" I hardly mean to say this, it just kind of slips out.
He stops with his glass half way to his mouth, then puts the drink back onto the table, resting it on a stained coaster printed with an advert for a local beer.
"Yes," Vin says quietly. "Like Menna Abbot."
"Did you kill her?" I ask flatly. I've come this far, I might as well say what's on my mind.
His green eyes open very wide in surprise. "Do you think that I did? Do you think that I pushed that poor girl to her death off the top of our building?"
"I..." I shrug helplessly.
"If you think that you are very fucking wrong." His voice is harsh now and he takes a deep swig of his drink.
"I don't, I don't want to anyway...but the note, her suicide note, it was written on your typewriter."
He coughs, choking on his gin. "How the fuck do you know that?" He asks when he's got his breath again.
"The typing on the note matches with your machine, none of the others in the building do."
"Since when have you been clever enough to think of checking that?" he frowns, then his expression changes and he lets out a humourless laugh. "You're not, Violet is though. I've been wondering where the note went, she's got it, hasn't she?"
"Yes," I nod.
"And she knows it was written on my machine?"
"No, she checked all the ones in the typing pool and Miss Collister's too, but we didn't know you had a typewriter as well. I saw it in the cupboard when I was looking for those documents the other day and I came back later that night to test it, but I haven't told anyone what I found yet, not even Vio."
"Why?" Vin asks.
"Because..." I think about it. "Because I don't want you to be a murderer, and if I tell someone it makes it real."
"Exit, I did not kill Menna, not even by accident. Do you believe me?"
I look into his green eyes, I want to believe, he's a good liar, but I don't think he's lying now. "Yes," I say quietly. "You were covering yourself, weren't you? You didn't want people to know about you and her and the baby, that she killed herself because of that, so you forged the note to hide the real reason she killed herself. Was there a real note, one that mentioned you?"
"Oh gods Exit, why did you and Vio have to go and get involved with this?" He doesn't answer my question, instead he asks one of his own.
"It was like Menna's death was just being swept away, someone had to care why she died. Vio said that everyone should matter."
"Everyone should matter?" he repeats, shaking his head. "So that's why you broke into Menna's house is it? Our friend George Milden told me about that, he assumed that I already knew, and I wasn't about to disabuse him of the notion. I didn't want him thinking that I can't keep my staff under control."
"I'm sorry," I say. "We simply wanted to know what happened."
"I should have known that an ex-copper like Vio wouldn't be able to leave it alone, I shouldn't have expected anything different really. The thing is, you two got Milden sniffing around where he hadn't been before."
"I'm sorry," I say again.
He tips the rest of his drink into his mouth and swallows with a grimace, then reaches into his inside jacket pocket and pulls something out that he quickly hides under the table. It's a dull grey something, and when he presses it into my hand I realise with a shock that it's a gun.
"I need to go into town for a bit, you keep hold of that," he nods to the gun.
"What...why?" This is getting stranger and stranger.
"Because there is someone out there who would very much like to see me dead, and possibly you too. That's why I got us out of Parnell, we're safe here I think, but I don't want to take any risks. I shouldn't be gone for long, just lock yourself into the room and don't let anyone in unless it's me."
"I don't understand...who wants you, and me, dead? I thought we were here to talk to the local police about what happened at the power station."
"Sorry about lying to you, but we needed to get out of the city and the truth would have taken too long to explain, I didn't think you'd question coming here. Don't be all dramatic about it please, just go up to the room and I'll tell you everything when I get back."
"Someone wants to kill us, you've all but kidnapped me and you want me not to be dramatic about it?" I struggle not to raise my voice.
"Yes, exactly that."
"Who wants me dead, is it Clearwater? Or Rufus, it's not Rufus is it?"
"Who the fuck is Rufus?" he frowns.
"Gods! This has got nothing to do with pirates, just do as I say and I'll be back soon." He stands up and rapidly walks out of the bar. I consider chasing after him, but I doubt it will do any good, so I'm left with doing what he wants me to do. Hiding the gun in my small bag I climb the narrow stairs up to our room with a million thoughts skittering around in my mind as I try to make sense of what the hell really going on.
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