by London Lampy
"There's four sugars in it," Vio says, placing a mug filled with milky looking tea on the grimy desk in front of me. "And I managed to scare up a bar of chocolate for you too," she hands me the foil wrapped bar. I squeeze it between my fingertips until I feel the chocolate start to soften, but I don't attempt to open it.
"Drink the tea," Topher adds, putting a hand on my back and rubbing it.
"He's right, you should," Vio agrees as she sits down on the other side of me. "You need some sugar, it'll help with the shock."
I let go of the chocolate and wrap my hands around the mug trying to warm them. I feel like my bones are filled with dirty, freezing water, but I have no intention of drinking it. I threw up in the hotel corridor and someone gave me a glass of water to rinse my mouth out with, but I'm sure if I'd swallowed even a mouthful of that I'd have been sick again, and I also know that neither the tea nor the chocolate would want to stay down.
The police station interview room is stark; two bare, bright bulbs illuminate white washed walls, a stack of hard wooden chairs and the desk that we're sitting behind. I'm glad of the white and the brightness after the sickly gloom of the hotel room, and the darkness of the small, jolting police wagon that I rode in to get here. The wagon smelt of piss and drink and it also contained Toni. She was wide eyed, silent and blood stained, staring at nothing, her hands cuffed behind her back with one of Milden's men holding tightly onto her arm the whole way. When we got here Topher, Vio and me were led to an interview room because Inspector Milden wants to talk to me about what happened at the hotel. I don't ever want to talk about what happened in that room.
"Is there anything you want?" Vio asks. I hate it when she uses her concerned voice, it's not her.
"I want to sleep." I push the mug away, fold my arms on the desk top and and rest my head on them. It's not really sleep I want so much as to be unconscious, to be as far from all of this as possible. Right now I'd like to slip into a soft back nothingness and never come back. I feel Topher hug me and I'm grateful for his warmth and comfort, I wish that Jack was here too.
"You haven't asked how and why we're here yet, do you want to know?" Vio questions.
"Yeah," I lift my head from the desk and rest it on Topher's shoulder. Listening to her might stop me from replaying Vin's death over in my head for a bit, although it's actually Topher who speaks first.
"A while after you came to the bookshop to tell me you were going away Toni turned up. I recognised her from that time I met her in the pub, but she was being kind of odd. She said she was looking for you, and that you were not at Municipal Works or in the flat and she remembered where I worked so she thought that I might know where you were."
That matches exactly what she told Vin earlier. Vin, who's now dead, it hits me all over again. I want to cry. I mean I want to cry, but I can't. I swallow hard, Topher continues.
"It was weird, she was being really weird, and she had all these scratches on her arms and legs like she had been running through brambles. I told her where you were though, and that you were with Vin, because at the time I could not see any harm in it. She started laughing, and it was not nice, then she said that finding the two of you together would be killing two birds with one stone, and then she left." As he's speaking Vio lights a cheroot and I find the smell of the smoke oddly comforting. Topher clearly doesn't though and he waves a hand to try to dispel it. "The way she was felt so wrong, even Mr Lustrum, who has never met her before, thought so. However I did not know what to do seeing as you had already left, but I was worried. It occurred to me that she might have found out about you and Vin and was out for some kind of revenge."
"And he was kind of right," Vio puts in. No, that's not really right at all, but neither of them knows the full story yet.
"Yes, I was right," Topher agrees. "And Mr Lustrum let me go early so that I could go to your work and see if I could find where you would be staying and get a message to you. I know that they have a telegraph machine in the building."
"The things is," Vio picks up the story. "Vin didn't fucking tell anyone that you were off, let alone where you'd both gone, the gods know why. Toni had already been to Municipal Works looking for her husband, I didn't see her but she spoke to Caddy, and Caddy told me, and it seemed pretty bloody odd. What the hell was Vin playing at?"
"He was running away and trying to take me with him," I say miserably. I tell them about the case full of money and the boat tickets that I found, and about Vin's plan for the two of us to go to the Northern Continent.
"Ah, that explains some of it," Vio nods. "Well, when Topher turned up at the office and told me about Toni's visit to him I put it together with her coming to our office looking for Vin and suddenly a whole load of crap fell into place."
"The diary entry, GWT, Govinder's wife Toni," I mutter.
"Yeah, exactly," she agrees. "I must have been fucking blind not to have seen it before. When I realised there was a fair chance that Toni had something to do with Menna's death I knew that this had gone far beyond keeping it to ourselves, so I took Topher down to see George Milden for a chat."
She goes on to relate that Milden had taken her fears seriously, but he didn't tell Vio the part about the clinic and Toni having escaped earlier in the day so I fill them in on that bit. The police were concerned enough to make the trip out here, apparently they didn't want Topher and Vio to come, but the two of them weren't having any of it and they all caught the next train together.
"Before we left Municipal Works I checked the sent telegraphs record," Vio's finished her smoke now and she stubs out the butt on the corner of the desk where a bunch of other scorch marks suggest that many people have done the same thing before her. "And I found that Vin had sent a wire to this hotel so at least we knew where to look for you, and it seems as if we turned up just in time."
"Just in time?" They were too late.
"Yeah, for you. Who knows, she might have turned the gun on you next." Vio squeezes my shoulder.
"But Vin's dead," I say quietly, and I finally feel the tears start to come. "He's dead." He was my friend, for a time he was my lover, he was the person who rescued me from a life spent in the rafters of the Parnell power station. I could have loved him, at times I hated him, I'm not sure I ever really knew him, and now I never will. He's dead, Vin is dead. I put my hands over my face and cry, I don't know how long for but after a while I hear the door opening and Vio telling someone that I'm in no fit state to be interviewed.
"Sorry Violet, but we need to speak to him," Milden's voice replies. I look up to see the Inspector's bulky form in the doorway. He enters the room, walks around to the other side of the desk and takes a seat. Vio passes me a clean white handkerchief from the inside pocket of her suit jacket and I take it off her, dry my eyes, blow my nose, then look at the policeman. He's grim faced, I suppose even someone in his job doesn't see the aftermath of a point blank bullet to a person's head that often.
"If it has to be now we're staying with him," Vio growls, challenging him to disagree.
"That's fine, he's not under arrest, I just need his account of tonight's events, seeing as he's the only witness. The young woman is not being very forthcoming." He sounds unimpressed by this. "So, Exit, can you tell me, in your own words," he glances at Vio as he says this bit, meaning that she's not to speak for me, "exactly what happened. Take your time son, we've got all night, none of us will be going back home until the morning."
"It might have been an accident, they were fighting over the gun because Vin thought that she was going to shoot me and it might have gone off accidentally."
"Alright, that's interesting, but can you start from the beginning. Let's get the story in order eh?"
As I talk he makes pencil notes in a small black book. Occasionally he asks a question to get me to explain something more thoroughly, and occasionally Vio buts in, earning herself a glare from the Inspector each time that she does. "You'll get your chance later," he eventually snaps at her, after the fifth interruption. I hear her take a breath as if she's about to say something, but she doesn't, however she does light up another smoke.
Topher stays unusually quiet while I'm speaking, just squeezing my hand, which he's holding under the desk. However he can't keep his mouth shut when I get to the part about Toni also being responsible for shooting him, which was without a doubt an accident.
"She fucking shot me too!" he exclaims loudly.
"Yes," I look at him. "Apparently she was aiming for Vin."
"That explains the whole Wendell Browning crap," Vio puts in, and this time Inspector Milden doesn't shush her, instead he agrees.
"Hell, that does explain it," Milden agrees, nodding thoughtfully and stroking his moustache with his fingertips. "I knew he had nothing to do with it, man's far too much of a coward to shoot anyone, but I couldn't work out why he was so insistent he was guilty."
"I might as well tell you what I know," Vio says, blowing out a plume of smoke. "Vin agreed to pay off Wendell's gambling debts in return for him taking the blame for the shooting. The stupid fucker had borrowed money off Mother," Milden rolls his eyes and shakes his head at the stupidity of this. "Up until this moment I thought Vin had done it to protect his job and keep Samson off his back though, not to move any suspicion away from his wife."
"You knew for sure that Wendell was innocent?" the inspector frowns. "You should have disclosed that to us."
"Should have, didn't," she shrugs. "It's pretty much moot now."
"I could arrest you for withholding evidence."
"Go on then," she puts her hands together on the table as if she's expecting to be cuffed, her smoking cheroot still held between her fingers.
"Fuck off," he says amiably, making Vio laugh. It's like she doesn't care that Vin's dead, maybe she doesn't, they were more colleagues than friends.
After that I finish my story, stopping when I get to the part where the police break into the room because he already knows about that.
"Thanks son, that'll be all for tonight," he says once I'm done. "Try and get some rest and don't think too much about what you saw." I can't really see how it will be possible to do either of those things when every time I close my eyes I see blood splatter roses.
When Inspector Milden said that no one was going home until tomorrow he meant it. In fact not only are we not going back to Parnell tonight but he doesn't even want us to leave the police station. They're still questioning Toni and the police want to keep the whole thing under wraps for as long as they can.
This is because Toni is the daughter of a very wealthy and powerful man. Her father owns a bank, or lots of banks I suppose, I don't mean just one building, once it gets out the press will be all over it. It's exactly the kind of story the newspapers love, a beautiful rich young woman with a cheating husband who meets a violent end. Sex and murder, the perfect combination for selling thousands of extra copies.
I was afraid that they might make us sleep in one of the cells but instead they've set up three creaky fold-out canvas beds in an upstairs office, pushing the normal furniture back against the walls to make space. They've given us a few scratchy blankets and a handful of pancake flat pillows and told us to make ourselves as comfortable as we can.
Somehow Topher falls asleep within minutes of Vio switching off the light. We've pushed our two beds together and he's lying close up against my body so I know he's asleep from the way his breathing has deepened. I shouldn't really be surprised though, Topher can sleep anywhere and under any circumstances if he wants to.
I know Vio's not sleeping because she's not snoring, and although I feel utterly exhausted I doubt I'll sleep either. After about half an hour of trying to think about anything other than Vin while lying in semi-darkness; the room has no blinds or curtains at the windows and a street lamp is burning right outside, I hear creaking. I open my eyes to see Vio climbing off her bed and then letting herself out of the room. I follow a little while after, needing some company other than the sleeping Topher. I find her sitting on the lino floor at the end of the corridor, her face buried in her hands, crying the way I was earlier. She looks up when she hears me coming, her usually pale face is flushed and her eyes are pink and puffy.
"Thank fuck it's you," she mutters thickly as I sit down beside her.
"I've still got your handkerchief from earlier." I pull the now crumpled ball of white cotton out of my pocket and offer it to her.
"Thanks, but you can keep it." She wipes her face with her shirt sleeve instead.
"I didn't think you were upset, you were making jokes and laughing with Inspector Milden." I tuck the handkerchief away again.
"I wasn't about to lose face in front of old George," she replies gruffly. "When you're a copper you're not meant to let it get to you, you make jokes instead. Black humour, it's a cop's speciality. If you want to cry you take yourself off as far away as you can and do it, and you never, ever, tell anyone. Especially if you're a woman, then you've got to be twice as hard, you don't want to get a reputation as some hysterical female who's only good for doing the filing and making the tea."
"But you're not a cop any more."
"Once a cop, always a cop," she shrugs.
"This is different though, you knew Vin, he wasn't just some dead stranger."
"Yeah, stupid fucker of a man. If he could have kept it in his pants he'd still be alive, and Menna too."
"I know," I lean against her. "And it's partly my fault."
Oh fuck, Exit, don't blame yourself, all that's going to achieve is to make you miserable...even more miserable," she sighs.
"Toni was meant to be my friend."
"I never really liked her you know. She's always pissed me off, turning up at the office whenever she felt like it, playing lady bountiful with her baking. She's never worked a day in her life, rich daddy and everything that goes with it. Her one act of rebellion was to marry beneath her, although I've always thought in a funny kind of way that Vin was better than her."
"How can you possibly think that?" I frown.
"Vin deserved... no he needed someone who truly loved him, I'm not sure she ever did. It was the idea of him she loved I think, not the real man. They were both using one another, it was a fucked up marriage from day one. I never thought it would last, but I couldn't have ever predicted it would end like this."
"She wanted his baby," I remind her. "That's kind of why she pushed Menna off the building."
"I think all things considered it's a fucking good job that never happened," Vio says after a moment's pause. "Vin's father well and truly fucked him up, can you imagine what sort of person a combination of Vin and Toni would be?"
"Pretty, and pretty messed up."
"I'm really going to miss him," I feel the start of tears again as I say this. "Topher and Jack, they don't get it, why I like...liked him, but he was..." I search for the right word, and fail.
"Someone you had a crush on from the first day you met him," she supplies. "It was always so fucking obvious."
"Gods," I wince. "But it was more than that. When I left the orphanage I had absolutely no one, the nuns were just happy that they'd finally found me a job and could get rid of me. They arranged somewhere for me to live and kicked me out of the gates. I didn't know anyone on the outside in the city, and no one at the power station ever talked to me, they either stared at me or ignored me. Vin was the first person since Jack who actually wanted to know me, he seemed to like me, which wasn't something I was used to."
"That's because he did like you," Vio says. "He told me once when he was drunk, this was when you were off on your pirate adventure and we were starting to get really worried about you, that if he'd met you before he'd met Toni he would have never married her."
"Why didn't you tell me that before?" I question.
"Because I couldn't see how it would do you any good whatsoever to know he felt quite so strongly about you." I can see her point, but I still wish she had told me.
"Do you think if him and me had been together he would have cheated on me?" I ask after a few minutes silence.
"Honestly? He probably would have, but probably not as much, fuck I don't know. It was in his blood I think, passed down from father to son," she snorts. "But I do think he wanted to be loved as well, he just couldn't show it."
I suddenly feel horribly sorry for Vin. I wonder if he ever was truly, properly in love with anyone, and loved back in return just as much, somehow I doubt it. "I'm going to go back to bed," I say, standing up and rubbing my rear end which is now numb from sitting on the cold, hard floor. I want to wake Topher up and tell him how much I love him. "Are you coming?"
"I'm going to have a smoke first then I'll be in," she replies, pulling out her cheroot packet and matches.
As I turn to go she calls out my name so I look back. "It'll be alright, in the end. When my mum died I thought it would never stop hurting, and I still miss her, but it gets better over time, I promise."
"Thanks," I say. Vin might have been the first person who cared about me outside of the orphanage, but Vio was the second, and she's been a better friend to me than I sometimes deserve.
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