Second Exit

by London Lampy

Chapter 9

"Fuck fuck fuck," Vio mutters through clenched teeth, sticking her hand inside her shirt and scratching at her shoulder. "Why the fuck am I covered and you've got none?" she grumbles at me.

"Don't know," I shrug, pouring myself a cup of tea from the pot on the table. "Vin said he got bitten standing outside Sampson's cabin last night though." I may not have any insect bites but I can't say I feel that comfortable either. I fell asleep straight after I came last night, in fact I'm not sure I was ever fully awake while we had sex, and so I woke up this morning kind of covered in dried spunk. Normally this wouldn't be so bad, but there are no showers on the train, just wash basins, and added to that it's got even hotter, the air feels kind of solid, and despite having had a good wash I still don't feel clean. I pick up the small milk jug from the table and pour some into my tea, it looks odd, yellower than normal and much thicker. I sniff it, it smells strange.

"Milk off?" Vio asks. "Not surprised, can't believe a place can be this fucking hot."

"Not sure," I dip my finger into the milk then lick it. "It sort of tastes like milk and sugar mixed together," I say after a moment. "It's kind of nice."

"It's condensed milk," a voice from behind me says. I look up to see Vin with Sampson standing behind him. They take their places at the breakfast table. "Fresh milk goes off too fast this far north, so they use that instead, it comes in tins."

"Anyone else get bitten to shreds last night?" Sampson questions. "Had a damn mosquito in my room, kept flying right by my ear, you know, buzzz..." he does a bad impression of a mosquito whine. "Just like that, buzzz," he does it again just in case we didn't get what he meant. "Nearly came to fetch one of you lot to get it out for me, but then I thought, no Sampson old chap, a general leads from the front, and what do you know? I squished the little sod, got it like this." He slams his hand down on the table, hard enough to make the china rattle and my tea slop over the side of my cup. "What do you think of that, eh?"

"Very impressive Sir," Vin manages to say with a straight face. "You killed an insect all by yourself."

Sampson raises his bushy eyebrows at him. "Do I detect a note of sarcasm there, Govinder?"

Before Vin can reply Kremmen appears, bringing a chair with him so he can sit awkwardly at the end of the table again. "I trust you all slept well?" he asks.

He is dressed exactly as he was yesterday, still in his suit despite the heat, his gloves and dark glasses once again completely covering his hands and eyes. Even Sampson has removed his suit jacket and resorted to rolling his sleeves up, keeping them in place with springy metal bands.

"Not really," Sampson harrumphs. "Bloody insects in my cabin, feasting off my blood all night long, surprised I've got any left," he leans down and scratches his ankle. Vio's raking her nails over her shoulder again, and I notice Vin rubbing his forearm under the table, I guess I was lucky. "Did you get chomped on by the little buggers as well?" Sampson asks him when he comes back up. "Or do you want wear all that," he flaps a hand to indicate Kremmen's outfit. "In bed too?"

"Hah!" Kremmen lets out what sounds like a surprised laugh. "No, of course not. I got bitten, yes I did, just like the rest of you," he nods quickly, "terrible itching." I notice Vin and Vio exchanging glances as he says this.

"Little shits!" Sampson exclaims loudly just as the waitress turns up. "Not you my dear," he pats her on the arm, which she pulls back rapidly. "I mean..." he does his buzzing mosquito impression again, this time with hand motions. I think he's pretending to have wings; she looks terrified.

"Another pot of tea please," Vin says over him. "And could we have the breakfast menus too?"

"Yes...Sir." She scurries off down the carriage, glancing back over her shoulder at Sampson who's still buzzing happily.

I could have easily picked the lock on Kremmen's cabin, but as Vin didn't want the slightest chance of the strange man working out that we're onto him and because there is always a small possibility of breaking a lock when you pick it, although I've never done that, Vin had me pickpocket Kremmen for his key while they chatted. Which wasn't hard as he was keeping it in his outside jacket pocket.

As the stewards are now used to seeing me standing in the corridor they don't give me a second glance, and as soon as the coast is clear I quickly let myself into Kremmen's room. Vin has promised to keep him busy for at least fifteen minutes, which should be plenty enough time to for me to find...actually I'm not really sure what I'm looking for, something to tell us who he is and what he's up to I guess.

I slip inside quickly, shutting the door behind me. His blind is pulled down all the way but there is more than enough light leaking in from around the edges for me to see by. Sometime during breakfast the bed has been turned back into a couch and a small suitcase is sitting beside it. It's the only thing in the room that looks like it belongs to Kremmen other than a toothbrush, a tin of toothpaste and a cake of soap that are balanced on the side of the small sink.

Fortunately the case isn't locked in any way and it simply opens with a click. The first thing I find is a small leather bag of the sort that normally contains wash things. I reach inside and pull out a circular metal tin with the words "Banbridge's Theatrical Make Up - Flesh Tone Extra Pale No.1" printed on it. I remove the lid, under it a round sponge sits on top of a well used cake of make up. I rub my finger over the surface of the cake and it comes away coated with exactly the same stuff that was on the glass last night. I also find a tiny glass bottle containing a thickish looking brown liquid, the bottle has a brush attached inside the lid and when I open it and sniff it smells a bit like the pine scented disinfectant that the cleaners use in the toilets at work. The label says "Banbridge's Spirit Gum - a strong hold guaranteed", so I assume it must be some kind of glue.

I can find nothing else in the wash bag except for an empty soap tin, but beside it is a glasses case, and inside that is a spare pair of dark glasses. I take them out and try them on, I can still make out the room clearly, although it's much much dimmer, but they don't make things look weird so they aren't for helping him to see better, they just cut the light out.

I put the glasses back in their case, then take both the wash bag and the glasses case out of the suitcase. Underneath them are two neatly folded shirts, one of which has been worn as it has the white make up smeared around the collar, and under them are four pairs of balled up black socks, I assume some of them have been worn too, but I'm not about to sniff them to find out. Next to the socks is a handkerchief wrapped around something solid looking. I open it cautiously, and find a gun similar to the one Vin has inside. I wrap the gun back up quickly, feeling kind of unsettled that Kremmen is armed. The final object in the case is an envelope, it's a telegram addressed to "Mr Kremmen, c/o The Excelsior Hotel, Kipp al Reah" and the message inside reads "All in place this end stop Go ahead at your end stop See you in Shelly stop Hamoth Barney stop" I copy it word for word into a small notebook Vin gave me for just this purpose, I don't think he trusts my memory. I also copy the wording off the make up tin and the glue bottle for good measure, log the contents of the case, then repack it as neatly as I can and sneak out of the cabin.

I have to wait until both Kremmen and Sampson have disappeared to tell Vin and Vio about what I found, and this takes until after lunch. Kremmen heads to his cabin saying he wants to take a nap, while Sampson heads toward the toilet, newspaper in hand, muttering something about "needing to unload some excess baggage". The three of us stay sat at the table and I pull the notebook out, feeling very efficient.

"What did you find?" Vin asks quietly, looking over his shoulder to make sure Sampson's really gone.

"In Kremmen's suitcase was had a wash bag, the contents of which I'll come to in a moment..." I spot Vin and Vio exchanging glances, "What?" I ask.

"Nothing monkey boy," Vio looks like she's trying not to smile. "Carry on."

"A glasses case with a spare pair of glasses in it, I tried them on, they didn't seem to be the sort that helps you see stuff if you can't."

"So he doesn't need corrective lenses then," Vin says.

"Does that mean anything?" Vio asks.

"Don't know," he shrugs. "Probably not."

"He had two spare shirts, one that looked dirty, it had a whole load of make up smeared on it, four pairs of socks, and wrapped in a handkerchief..."

"No underpants?" Vio interrupts me.

", not that is saw."

"Interesting point Violet, but I can't see how it's relevant, what else?" Vin nods at me to carry on.

"...wrapped in a handkerchief was a gun." I wait for one of them to comment, neither of them does.

"Anything else?" Vin asks after a moment.

"Yes, there was a wire," I flip the notebook open to the page I copied it into and show it to them.

"Vague enough not to be incriminating," Vin frowns, shaking his head.

"What the fuck does this word mean "hamoth"?" Vio taps the page.

"I thought it might be a name," I suggest.

"Hamoth Barney?" Vin says, looking at Vio. "Does that sound like a name to you?"

"Could be, never heard it before, or Barney used as a second name come to that, but that doesn't mean its not."

"Alright, so what was in this wash bag then?" Vin drums his fingers on the table top.

"A tin of Banbridge's theatrical make up in flesh tone, extra pale number one," I read out. "And a bottle of Banbridge's spirit gum, guaranteed a strong hold, I think it's some kind of glue."

"Yeah, it is," Vio pulls the notebook toward her and looks at what I've written. "It's for sticking stuff onto skin with, actors use it when they have to wear fake beards...or moustaches."

"He's wearing a fake moustache?" it's my turn to ask a question.

"Would seem so," Vin looks puzzled. "Make up and a fake moustache, but why?"

"He doesn't want us to be able to identify him?" Vio adds.

"Maybe, but why so extreme? If it was just the moustache then I'd agree, but he's effectively covering every part of himself, doesn't he realise how bloody suspicious that looks?"

"It's fucking weird," Vio agrees.

"What's f'ing weird?" Sampson says, plonking himself down next to Vio, while Vin neatly palms the notebook before he sees it.

"Kremmen," Vin says smoothly.

"Ah, yes, him. You know I'm starting to think that a lizard would have almost been preferable to him, at least you know where you stand with one of them. That Kremmen chap, oddest bloody human I've ever met."

It's still getting hotter; every mile further north we travel seems to add another degree to the heat, and the sun setting hasn't made a whole lot of difference. The night has also brought another problem, all the mosquitoes who have been hiding away in the daytime are now buzzing about looking for food.

"Got you, you little fucker!" Vio says triumphantly, smashing one against the window.

"Violet, shush," Vin glares at her.

"Sorry," she doesn't look very sorry. "Ugh," she stares at her hand then wipes it on her trousers. "That one was full of blood."

I feel a tickle on my arm and look down, another one has landed on me, I'm about to slap it when it flies off. I've still not been bitten, but poor Vio is really suffering, she now has two bites on her cheek that stand out angrily against her pale skin.

We're all standing in the corridor outside the cabins again because one of us needs to be out here anyway and it's just about the safest place for us to talk about our plans for tomorrow as both Kremmen and Sampson have turned in for the night. Sampson after knocking back the best part of a bottle of brandy by himself. I reckon Vio could go into his room, noisily squash every bug in there and he would stay sound asleep. We've all agreed that we're not going to tell Sampson any of our suspicions, he can't be trusted to keep his mouth shut.

"You should light up," Vin tells her. "Biting insects hate smoke, when I was up here with the army we used to burn fires made of dried donkey dung during the night. Smelt worse than Kipp but it kept them at bay." Vio has never needed any excuse to smoke and she has a cheroot on the go faster than I would have thought possible.

"I have a plan for tomorrow," Vin says once Vio's puffing away. "Whatever Kremmen's up to I'm sure he's going to play his hand when we reach Shelly, that wire more or less confirms it. If he was planning on doing anything on the train I think he would have done it by now."

"What do you think he's going to do in Shelly?" I ask.

"Looking at it logically if he, and judging from that wire at least one other person, has gone to all the trouble of substituting him for the real Kremmen he must be intending to lead us into some kind of trap, and the only reason I can see for that would be to either kill or abduct Sampson."

"It's got to be abduct," Vio blows out a stream of smoke. "If whoever Kremmen is working for wanted Sampson dead it would have been a fuck of a lot easier to do it back in Kipp then go to all this trouble."

"Do you think he's working for Clearwater?" The anti power station group have made threats against Sampson in the past.

"My gut instinct says no," Vin shakes his head. "This simply doesn't feel like something concocted by Knox, he's not this subtle, he would have blown the train up."

Knox is the head of Clearwater, he's a slippery man who no one can ever quite catch, although everyone knows that Vin desperately wants to. Sometimes it feels like he's more interested in getting Knox than actually stopping Clearwater.

"We can't rule it out though," Vio adds, waving her hands around to to spread the smoke.

"No, we can't," he agrees. "I don't think we can rule anything out."

"Why don't we simply confront him?" I suggest. "There's three of us, we could just let him know we know he's not the real Kremmen and get him to tell us what's going on."

"We could, but I he might not tell us anything," Vin says.

"We could make him."

"Monkey boy!" Vio sounds shocked. "Are you suggesting we torture him?"

"Um...not really, we could tie him up and scare him a bit though, make him think we're going to kill him or something."

"No," Vin shakes his head. "It might not work, and if possible I want to catch as many of his cohorts as I can, so I don't want to alert him to the fact we're onto him. What I propose we do is wait until we reach Shelly, it's my guess that when we get there he'll want to lead us off somewhere where his friends are waiting. If he tries to take us anywhere other than the hotel or the cartel offices I'll find an excuse to leave you then head for the cartel offices by myself and hope that they can provide us with some backup. They'll be expecting us sometime tomorrow, the offices aren't far from the station and in a town like Shelly they effectively are the police, so they should be able to handle something like this. If that works then I'll return to you as if nothing is going on, letting the cartel's muscle trail me and we'll simply walk into the trap then let the Cartel take over. That way we can get the whole lot of them, not just Kremmen."

"Sounds workable, except there's one flaw," Vio's onto her second cheroot, I think from now on she's going to be chain smoking. "What if it's the Cartel that's set us up?"

"Then we're well and truly fucked whatever we do," Vin replies.

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