by London Lampy
The room feels like it's closing in on us, it's almost completely dark outside now and Toni and me are sitting in the puddle of dull light that the small lamp is throwing out. I feel breathless with the knowledge that Toni killed Menna Abbot. "Menna," I try to say, it comes out as a horse croak, my mouth now dry as dust.
Toni frowns at me, her delicate eyebrows drawing together. "How do you know about that? Even Govinder didn't know about her baby until after she died."
I can do nothing but tell the truth. "Vio and me have been looking into how and why she died...unofficially." The gun seems to grow and pulse in the corner of my vision, but I still can't bring myself to pick it up.
"So you already know everything?" she sounds curious.
"Not everything," I try to swallow. "We don't know what actually happened up on the roof that day." But I'm starting to get an idea.
"Of course you don't, there were only two people there, one of them is dead and the other one has never told the whole story." Toni shakes her head as if this should be obvious.
"Would you like to tell me now?"
"Do you think I killed Menna?" she replies to my question with a question of her own.
"I think...you were there," I say carefully. "Two of you went up to the roof and only one of you came back alive...but I don't know whether it was deliberate or an accident...or if Menna chose to jump."
"My husband assumed that I had pushed her straight away," her tone is angry now. "You at least are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt." She rubs her palms together as if she's cold, indeed it does feel as if the temperature in the room has dropped in the last few minutes. I'm very aware that Vin will be back soon, and I don't want to think what's going to happen when he comes in and finds her here.
Toni leans in close to me, close enough that I can smell her perfume, it's something sweet, a bit too sweet, and underling it is a sharp tang of sweat. Outside the rain grows heavier, slapping against the window, sealing us together inside this small room with the too bright red rose wallpaper and the stained carpet. She rubs her hands over her scratched arms, which I notice have pebbled up with goose bumps, one of her grazes breaks open and she smears a little blood along her skin, she doesn't seem to notice. "I was just so angry with her," she breaths.
"Because she was sleeping with Vin?" I prompt after a few seconds of silence.
"Not that, no," she laughs, it's a horrible sound. "Dear gods Exit, if I was angry enough to kill every stupid little tart who's opened their legs for him since we've been together I'd never have a single moment of piece in my mind. No, it wasn't that, it was the baby. I want his baby, it would make me more...special than the others. He loves his mother, and he would love the mother of his child." She looks at me and I'm sucked into a cold, dark place.
"Aborted the baby, she told me. But you see she'd done, easily done, accidentally done, what I can't seem to do. I try and try, but there's no baby." She puts one of her hands on her flat stomach and strokes it. "Do you know what Menna actually wanted, why she met with me?"
"No," I shake my head. I'm so close to the truth now.
"She wanted me to get Govinder to leave her alone, isn't that the funniest thing you've ever heard?" she lets out a short giggle, then clamps her hand over her mouth. "She wanted me to stop him," she laughs again, I wish she'd stop. "Didn't she realise that I couldn't do that, that if I could I would have done so years ago?" She takes a deep breath and her hysterical laughter stops as quickly as it came. "She wrote to me, asking me to meet her on the roof of the Municipal Works building because it was a place that she liked to go because no one else ever went up there and we could talk unseen and uninterrupted. Menna told everything that had happened between her and my husband, and how sorry she was," Toni almost snarls the word sorry. "And how she was engaged now, and that no matter how hard she tried to tell him to leave her alone Govinder wouldn't, then she told me about getting rid of his baby. I think she told me as a measure of how desperate she was...the lengths she was prepared to go to to get him out of her life. She was standing near the edge, looking out over the city, I don't think she could look me in the eye. I just wanted to shut up the stupid little typist who was telling me about the baby, about how sorry she was that she had slept with my husband and about how she wished he'd now leave her alone...I never meant to kill her, I swear. I just wanted her and her horrible, hurtful words to go away."
Toni hugs herself. Toni, who killed Menna because of a baby that was never even born, Menna who met with Toni to ask her to get Vin to leave her alone, Vin who cheated on Toni and got Menna pregnant. The chain of events is so clear now I know.
I don't know how long we sit in silence for, but when the silence is broken it's by the inevitable sound of a key unlocking the door. Vin steps into the room, he's wet from the rain, his red hair darkened by water and slicked back against his head. He sees his wife sitting on the bed the second he's shut the door behind him. He looks from me to her and back again, his green eyes wide with shock, an expression I've never seen on him before.
"I don't think he was expecting to see me here," Toni whispers stagily to me.
"No, I wasn't," Vin says, regaining some of his composure. "Toni, you shouldn't be here, come with me and I'll take you back, I expect that Dr Morningside will be concerned about you." He briefly flicks his eyes in my direction, then glances at the chest of drawers between the beds where the gun is. I'm pretty sure that he means for me to take the gun, but I don't move to pick it up. I want no part of him threatening his wife with a weapon.
"But darling, I don't want to go back," Toni says mildly, almost as if she's refusing a second cup of tea. "And I very much doubt you thought to pack a sedative filled syringe in your case to stick me with this time. However, according to Exit you have got some rather interesting things in there."
Vin's head swivels in my direction, the picture is still off the wall and the wire I picked the briefcase locks with is sitting on the bed covers, it won't take much for him to work out what I did. Although in this room right now I think I am the least guilty person.
"Sorry," I apologise. "But I saw the boat tickets, and the money. I won't be going with you, you must know that."
"Govinder, you've slipped," Toni admonishes. "Perhaps you should have bought a sedative after all."
"Shut up Toni, you've forfeited your right to an opinion," Vin says.
"No one wants to hear from a crazy woman you mean? But Govinder, I'm not crazy, even Dr Morningside agrees with that." A gust of wind from outside sends rain beating hard against the window, and the window panes rattle in the frame. I should just get up and go, but I feel like I'm anchored down to the bed, unable to move.
"Would you rather be in prison?" Vin throws back. "Because until you can see sense that's your only other option. I've done my best to keep you out of gaol, but if you don't return to the clinic that's where you'll end up."
"And your mother wouldn't like that, would she? First a husband who drank and whored himself to death, then a son who fucks everything in sight, and finally a daughter-in-law in prison, that wouldn't do much for her social standing."
"For fuck's sake Toni, this isn't a joke! Whether you believe it or not it has nothing to do with my mother," Vin sounds angry now. "You will go to gaol for a very long time if the police find out what you've done, why can't you see that?"
"And you think years spent in Dr Morningside's clinic is a better fate?"
"Of course it fucking is!" he shouts. "And it doesn't have to be years, just until you see sense."
"You mean until I see sense and agree not to try to kill you again?" What? She's already tried to kill him? Gods, no wonder he gave me the gun.
"Basically, yes, and can keep your mouth shut about the whole sorry incident, about what you've done."
"What you, my darling, drove me to do." She stands up, stepping so that she's directly in front of Vin, standing close enough to kiss him. "And while I go back to heavy medication and supervised walks around the rose bushes, you run off the gods know where with him," she flings her arm out, pointing at me but never taking her eyes off Vin.
"And what do you suggest I do?" he spits back. "Stay in Parnell and wait for the police to come and arrest me? You breaking out of the clinic has really got Milden's juices flowing. Earlier today he came to the office to tell me about your escape." That must have been when I saw the Inspector coming out of Vin's office, which was just before Vin told me that we needed to come up here. "He tracked you down yesterday apparently, went to speak to you this morning, but found that you had absconded. He doesn't know the full story, but he knows something is going on, and his prime suspect in the murder of Menna Abbot is now me."
"You running I understand, but under the circumstances don't you think it's a bit rich trying to take Exit with you?"
They both look at me, I don't know what to say, so I say nothing. "Maybe," Vin shrugs. "But I didn't want to go without him, I'd miss him." He gives me a small, sad smile, I look away.
"Can't you see he doesn't want you?" Toni's voice is tinged with glee, she's found something to hurt him with. "He doesn't love you, I'm not sure that he even likes you."
I glance at Vin again, for a tiny moment his face is nothing but pain, and then it's gone. "I do like him," I say, my voice seeming very loud in the small room. "And if things had been different from the start I think I might have loved him." I think maybe a bit of me does, but it was always all wrong. Even when I did finally have sex with him, that first time in his office, I did it because I was miserable and lonely. Losing Quint and Topher was still raw and I wanted to be with someone who I knew cared about me, no matter how wrong it was.
"Thank you," Vin says quietly.
"But I can't go with you, I need to go home to Topher, and I think it would be best if both of you went to the police and told them everything. If nothing else Menna's mother and her boyfriend have a right to know that she didn't kill herself."
"And if we don't, will you go to the police?" Vin asks carefully.
I think about it. "No, not if Toni returns to the clinic, but if the police come to me and ask me what I know I'm not going to lie. Also, I don't think Vio's far off finding out the truth, and she will go to the police."
Toni moves, taking the narrow path between the beds she comes and sits beside me, and right next to where the gun is. "So sweetheart, you've finally found your principals have you?" she asks, resting a hand on my arm.
"Leave him alone," Vin snaps.
"Why? You can't." She turns and looks at the chest of drawers, reaching out one slender hand to pick up the gun. I turn to look at Vin, a pulse of fear running through me, we lock eyes, he gives a small shake of the head. Is he telling me that this is bad, or that I shouldn't have left it there?
"It doesn't matter if there's only three bullets in this one, does it?" she says, caressing the dull metal as if it were something beautiful. "And even I couldn't miss from here, three would be plenty, one for Exit," she points the gun at me, more gesturing than aiming. "One for me," she points it at herself, "and one for you my dear husband." This time she does aim, resting her finger on the trigger, pointing it straight at Vin's crotch. "Shall I shoot you there? It really would be poetic justice."
"Toni," Vin's voice only betrays a small hint of a tremor. "Give that to me."
"No, I think I'll keep it," she shakes her head.
I look at the door, I could run, but no matter how fast I go I'm not faster than a bullet.
"Toni, please," Vin takes a step toward the bed.
"Govinder, get back over there," she waves the gun at him, he retreats.
The wind and rain outside grow harder, the small light in the room briefly dips before returning to normal. "Toni," I say softly, looking at the floor. "I know that you have every reason to hate both of us, but hurting anyone, even yourself, isn't going make things any better."
"It might make me feel better," she muses. "But you know, I do actually owe you an apology." She puts out a hand, places her slim fingers under my chin and tilts my head up until I'm looking at her, her brown eyes are much too wide and too bright. "Or actually should I say owe your boyfriend an apology."
Which one does she mean, and why?
"Toni..." Vin's voice is full of warning.
"Shut up Govinder," she waves the gun at him again.
"Topher or Jack?" I question.
"Little Topher," she confirms.
I wait, but she doesn't explain so I have to ask. "Why do you owe him an apology?"
"For shooting him. It was an accident of course, I have no argument with him, he just happened to be sitting next to my husband, and let's just say I'm no crack marks-women," she laughs.
Toni shot Topher? Topher was sitting next to Vin, Topher was hit in the arm on the side next to Vin. We all assumed that someone was attempting to assassinate Sampson, and Vin never encouraged us to think any differently. Vin can't have known that night, that was the night he got me drunk and tried to get me to go to his office with him for sex, but he must have found out soon after. The whole thing with getting Wendell Browning to take the fall for the shooting makes sense now. Vin wasn't trying to protect his job, he was trying to protect his wife. It wasn't long after that night he told me Toni had gone to stay with an old friend, when he had actually had her taken to the clinic, where she stayed until she escaped in what must have been the early hours of this morning.
"You could have killed Topher!" I remember how sick I felt when I realised that if the bullet had penetrated a few inches further over he might have died. "You could have killed him and he's got nothing to do with any of this!"
"I said I'm sorry," she doesn't sound sorry, she sounds amused.
"No, fuck it," I stand up. She could have killed Topher, because of her one of the people I love most in the world might have died. "I know he's a lying snake," I point at Vin, who frowns at me. "But Menna didn't deserve to die because of him, hell, she was asking for your help to get him to leave her alone, and Topher..." I see his face in my head, I want to go home and see him, I want to go home to where things are normal and leave these two selfish idiots to sort themselves out. "...Topher turned your husband down when tried it on with him, he's utterly innocent and he got hurt. Give me the fucking gun," I put my hand out. "I'm going home and I'll take it with me. I don't care what you two do, just leave Topher and me alone from now on."
Toni looks up at me, I see her shoulders slump, I got through to her. "Exit, I am sorry." This time she means it.
"Then give me the gun and let me go home." She nods slightly and lifts her arm, pointing the gun at me, passing it barrel first.
"Toni, NO!" I hear Vin shout, then he throws himself at her from across the other bed, knocking her backwards as he lands on top of her. He must have thought she was about to shoot me. I'm sure she wasn't, at least I think I'm sure. "Give it to me!" he says as he tries to wrestle the gun out of her grip, pinning her down to the mattress as she struggles to get free. I get kicked in the back by one of her flailing feet so I swiftly move away to the far corner of the small room to avoid further injury.
I can't see the gun, it's sandwiched between them as they fight. Vin has her held down but he can't do much else, and she's bucking her body wildly trying to get him off her, grunting with the exertion.
The sudden sound of someone hammering on the door makes me jump, but neither of them acknowledges it. The banging repeats itself and this time there's a shout of "Police, open the door!" to accompany it.
"The police are here!" I say desperately. Toni is now forced right up against the wall and has her teeth in Vin's shoulder, he's managed to get a hand between them and I can see the occasional flash of grey metal between their bodies.
"Open this door now or we'll break it down!" comes a shout from the corridor.
I take a step toward the door to open it, but then it happens. In the small room the noise is excruciatingly loud. I automatically tense, waiting for pain to rip through me, but none comes, this bullet didn't go into me. I look at the two of them on the bed at the same time as something thuds against the door, making it shudder in its frame.
There are now more bright red roses on the wall than there were before, and they spread out across the bed covers, the small chest of drawers, the lamp shade and the floor too. The door gives and people tumble into the room beside me, but I don't move, I can't move. Inspector Milden and two of his men rush past me to the bed, and suddenly arms are wrapped around me, two pairs, and improbably I'm being hugged by both Vio and Topher. Vio has me crushed against her chest, while Topher presses his face into my shoulder, and I can hear him mutter "thank the gods" over and over.
One of Inspector Milden's men drags Toni off the bed, the gun now dropping limply out of her hand to the floor from where the another man recovers it.
Milden himself is looking at Vin, or what's left of him. The bullet must have gone into his jaw at point blank range, leaving a large, ragged hole that's still spewing blood, then come out the back of his head. Milden rolls him over and where his hair once was I can see red stained white bone like shattered china, with something grey leaking out from amongst the shards.
"Don't look," Vio breathes, covering my eyes with her hand. I'm grateful for the darkness, I don't think I could have ever stopped looking on my own.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]