by London Lampy
Between the two beds is a small chest of drawers. I've put Vin's gun on top of it beside a shaded lamp and I feel that everywhere I go in the small room it's looking at me, mocking me for all the secrets I don't know. Just like the bar the bedroom is shabby, the walls are covered in peeling paper that's patterned with splotches of too bright red roses and on the floor is a carpet that must have once upon a time been cream, but is now a mass of overlapping stains that I hope are the result of nothing more than spilt drinks.
The daylight beyond the window is starting to dim. The rain clouds in the sky are making it darker than it would normally be at this time of day and I flick on the shaded lamp, not because I need the light to see by but because the greyness outside is unsettling in this strange room. The lamp makes little difference. I was hoping that it would add some cheer to the place but it does almost nothing, however I leave it on as the sun is beginning to set and the room is only going to get darker.
I sit down on my bed, or at least the bed that doesn't have Vin's suitcase on it, which I guess makes it mine, and look at Vin's case on top of the other bed. I'm suddenly struck by the size of it, Vin isn't the sort of person who needs to take everything he owns with him when he goes away for a night or two, but the suitcase is huge, almost a trunk, and it looks brand new too.
The catches on the front are open and it would be very easy for me to flip open the lid and look inside, to find out exactly what he's got in there. Maybe it's a whole load of weapons to defend us from whoever it is that wants us dead, if that's even true, I really don't know what to believe any more. Vin has done nothing but lie, first over the whole Menna thing, and now about his reasons for brining me here, so why should he be telling the truth now?
Something occurs to me, Vin told me to go straight home and pack because we were in a hurry and he even said not to tell Vio that I was going, he'd do that then meet me at the station. I had to wait at the station quite a long time before he arrived, which was kind of annoying as he'd made me hurry, but what if he didn't tell Vio where we were going, what if he told her something else, or nothing at all? He even told me not to stop off and see Topher on the way, but now I'm extra glad that I ignored him and went to the bookshop. Maybe maybe no one would know our whereabouts if I hadn't told Topher. If Vin's lying to me about someone being after us then why has he brought me here? Hell! Maybe he wants to kill me for knowing too much about Menna! No, that can't be right, if that was the case then why would he have given me his gun?
I pick the gun up and check it, it's fully loaded, if someone wanted to kill you they wouldn't give you a loaded gun to look after. I walk the two paces from the bed to the door and double lock it, then feeling like the worst kind of snooper I open Vin's case. On the very top is another case, it's Vin's black briefcase that he normally brings to work with him, I try to open it but it's locked via two small brass locks either side of the handle, and I take it out and put it to one side for now. Underneath are his clothes, far too many of them for one night; I slide my hands through the garments doing my best not to disrupt anything, Vin's packing is neat, much neater than mine and I know he'll know that I've been snooping if I'm not very careful.
A hard lump at the bottom of the case turns out to be nothing more than a pair of shoes in a cotton bag, and a knobbly item is a canvas wash bag which when I inspect it contains nothing I wouldn't expect to find, including a tin of lube, which confirms my suspicions about him trying it on at some point. The only unusual thing about the items in the large case are the quantities of them, and I'm beginning to suspect that Vin is not intending on returning to Parnell any time soon.
If I want to know what's in the briefcase I'm going to have to pick the lock. I hesitate, I shouldn't be doing this, but then Vin shouldn't have brought me here under false pretences. There are too many things going on that I don't understand, things that seem to concern me and I decide to break into it and to hell with the consequences if Vin finds out.
I don't have my lock picks on me but after a quick look around the room for some kind of substitute I notice a matching pair of pictures on the wall above the beds. One is of a large eyed girl selling flowers from a tray around her neck, and the other is of a large eyed boy, appearing to be her twin, selling ribbons from a tray around his neck. I take down the boy from above my bed, the girl now seeming to look down at me in disapproval at what I'm doing to her partner, and unwind a strand of picture wire from the back, bending it to and fro until a short length snaps off in my fingers. I rest the picture against the wall on the far side of my bed, the boy's face turned away from me, I don't want any extra witnesses to this.
Using the wire I swiftly pop the locks open, then push up the lid of the case to see what's inside. On the top is a large, brown envelope, and I take that out and am about to open it when I see what's underneath, and that stops me dead. The case is full of money, bundles and bundles of notes, each bundle held together by a strip of gummed paper. There must be well over a thousand pounds right in front of me, it's the sort of thing I'd imagine someone would have after robbing a bank, but Vin has money, and my gut feeling is that this isn't stolen. This is his money, newly withdrawn from the bank, enough money to keep a person on the run, or even two people on the run, going for an awfully long time.
With trembling hands I open the envelope and shake out the contents. The first thing I find is a bank receipt for the cash, it's dated with today's date and countersigned by Vin himself. The second and final thing in the envelope is another, smaller envelope, this one made of thick, cream coloured paper and with the name of a shipping line stamped on the front. I open the cream coloured envelope and pull out two open, one way tickets to Kipp al Reah on the Northern Continent, sailing not from Parnell but a smaller port slightly to the south, a port that we're only a few hours train journey away from right now. One of the tickets is in Vin's name, the other is in mine, he is running away, and he intends to take me with him. The conversation we had on the train here about whether I'd like to return to the forest comes back to me, he was testing the waters, suggesting a reason why I might want to go back to the Northern Continent.
What the hell makes him think I'd willingly go with him though? He must know that it's the last thing I'd want to do. Is he planning on holding a gun to my head, locking me into our cabin on the ship and not letting me out until we reach Kipp? Surely he must realise that he can't keep me against my will forever, that as soon as his back is turned I'll make my own way home to Parnell.
Parnell, that's exactly where I need to be now, even if I have to stow away on a goods carriage like last time I'll happily do it. I need to get out of here before Vin comes back from wherever he's gone, and then it occurs to me where he is. I'd bet all the money in his briefcase that he's out buying train tickets for first thing tomorrow morning so we can get straight down to the port and out of the country as soon as possible, he won't want to linger here after tonight.
I'm about to replace the contents of the envelope when I hear a knock at the door and my heart sinks. Not only is Vin back but there's a very good chance he's going to suspect that I've been up to something if I try to stall him outside the door for too long.
"Hello?" I say loudly, quickly trying to put everything back the way it was.
"Is that Exit?" A voice calls out, a voice that's not Vin's. It's a woman's voice, a familiar one at that, and hearing it here under these circumstances just doesn't make any sense. But I suppose it does prove that she's still alive.
"Um...yes?" I reply, closing the suitcase, my mind working fast in an attempt to fit her into the already very strange picture that is this evening.
"Is my husband with you?"
"Not at the moment, he's gone out, but he'll be back soon." I don't know if I should be telling her this, but then I haven't a clue what's going on.
"Exit, sweetheart, perhaps you could let me in to wait for him? I'm damp from the rain and I'd like to sit down, it's been a very long day."
Bizarre as the situation is I can't see any harm in letting her in so I unlock the door. I haven't seen Toni for several weeks, I try to think back to the last time but it escapes me, however since then she's lost weight and seems to have grown older. She wasn't a large woman to start with and now she's scrawny rather than slender, her long brown hair is more dull than glossy and her caramel skin is sallow. She's wearing a short sleeved blue and white spotted dress that hangs off her frame, the top part sags down where her bust no longer fills it as she sits on Vin's bed, and oddly her arms and legs are covered in scratches that make her look like she's been climbing through brambles.
"This hotel's a bit of a hole, isn't it?" she says, looking around the room.
"Um...yeah." I perch on the end of my bed, not really knowing what else to do. I want to ask her why she's here, but as she hasn't offered this information herself I can't think of a way to do it without sounding rude, so I stay quiet.
"Separate beds," she comments, staring straight at me.
"Yeah," I look down at my boots, wondering again just how much she knows.
"Did Govinder tell you I'd been away?" she asks. I can feel her gaze on me, burning into the top of my head.
"Did he tell you where?"
"He said you were staying with an old school friend." That's what he told me, although it doesn't seem to be the truth.
She's laughs, there's no humour to it. "He's lying, as usual. Do you want to know where I've really been?"
I do, but it's also not really my business. "If you want to tell me." I raise my gaze to her scratched legs, they reminds me of the way my arms looked after I ran down the sheer hill from the power station.
"In Dr Morningside's clinic for nervous illnesses."
"You've been ill?" Why would Vin lie about that?
"No sweetheart, the "nervous illnesses" part is a euphemism for insane asylum, my darling husband had me committed. Oh, it's a very nice asylum, very exclusive, no screaming lunatics or overfilled wards or nasty smells, it's all very serene and quiet. However the doors are still locked at night and if you try to leave they make it quite clear that you're there until someone decides you're sane enough to be let out, and that if you try to climb over the walls on the other side you'll find nothing but thick thorn bushes to break your fall." She rubs her arms.
I look up and into Toni's eyes to try to see if she's telling the truth or not, she holds my gaze steadily until I blink and look away, it's the truth.
"Why?" I whisper.
"Because he wanted me out of the way, but now I've come back. I left early this morning." From the state of her skin I'm guessing via the hard way. "I came home to Parnell, to see Govinder, but he wasn't at home, and he wasn't at work, and stranger still when I asked around Municipal Works no one seemed to know were he was. That rather tarty bottle blond receptionist told me both you and him had gone missing earlier in the day, that you were presumed to be together, but no one knew quite where."
I was right, he told no one either that we were going, or where. He didn't tell anyone where we were going so they couldn't follow us when they realised we were missing. I only told one person, and I have a horrible feeling that she's dragged him into this. "So how did you find us?" I ask quietly.
"Topher," she confirms. "I knew that Govinder was far too slippery to be found if he didn't want to be, but you're much more guileless. I took a guess that maybe you'd told Topher where you were off to, as you actually seem to care about him, and I was right. I did think that maybe my husband had taken you somewhere other than where Topher told me you were, but luckily for me he didn't. Once I arrived it wasn't hard to locate you, it's not a large town, and the two of you are hardly an inconspicuous pair."
"Toni," I start, deciding to tell her what's in Vin's case, "he's going to be back soon, and I was just about to leave and go home before that happened. I looked in his luggage, he's bought boat tickets for us to sail to the Northern Continent, and there's a lot of money too. I think he's planning on going and not coming back, but I swear I didn't know, he told me we were coming here for work. This isn't what I want."
She gives a small nod, she understands. "He's afraid, and he's running," she says.
"I know, he thinks someone wants to..." Then it hits me like a speeding train, Vin thinks someone is after him, someone who wants to kill him, and maybe me too. I assumed that he was talking about Clearwater, but now I realise I was very far off the mark. He meant someone much closer to home, he meant the person sitting on the bed opposite me, that was why he had her committed, he must have found out that she had escaped and decided that the safest thing to do was to get away. Out of the corner of my eye I can see the dull grey shape of the gun sitting on the top of the small chest of drawers between the beds, I could easily reach over and pick it up, but I don't. I don't want her to think I'm a threat to her. However I wish that the damn thing wasn't quite so visible.
"Someone wants to?" she prompts me.
"Kill him," I breath. "And maybe me too."
"You drive him crazy, do you know that?" her voice is now conversational, gossipy even. "He hates things he can't have, and you've put yourself just out of his reach. He's obsessed with you, I think he may even be in love with you, in so much as he's capable of loving anyone."
"I don't love him, I don't even want him. I just want him to leave me alone," I say wretchedly.
"But that's the problem you see, the more you push him away the more he'll want you, he's perverse like that." I nod, thinking about Menna Abbot, she wanted him to leave her alone, but he wouldn't. "If you'd carried on sleeping with him he may well have got bored and moved on by now, but you didn't, you left him high and dry, and he hates that."
"I'm sorry," I say. Once again that small word isn't enough.
"I'm used to his betrayals by now. You're not even the first one of my friends, it's the embarrassment I can't stand any more, people laughing at me behind my back because I can't keep my husband happy. It would be different if I was some poor, ugly girl who couldn't get anyone else, but I'm not, I could have had my pick of men, and I chose him. I hate him, and I'm done with him. Would you like me to ask him to leave you alone too?" she says this last part in a strange, almost mocking way.
"No, I can do that myself." I want no part of this.
"At least with you there's no way he's going to get you pregnant, you're never going to tell me you aborted his baby." Her voice is bitter now, and she spits the words out like they taste bad.
What does she mean? Did she know know about Menna...oh...fuck, now I remember the very last time I saw Toni, it was the day Menna died. Toni was wearing a bright yellow dress, it was a hot day, I was in Vin's office and she came in saying that she couldn't stay long because she had an appointment to get to, that was about twenty minutes before Menna came screaming past my office window. Menna's diary from that day read "GWT", we couldn't work out what it meant, but now I know. GWT, Govinder's wife Toni, Toni's appointment was with Menna. And the suicide note, Vin wrote it not as an alibi for himself, but for his wife. He must have realised what she'd done almost straight away and tried to cover it up, and now I'm in a small hotel room with a murderer who has every reason to want me dead too, and a gun sitting out in the open. Oh shit.
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