Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 3

Leaving the office with my dirty clothes balled up under my arm and my identity card safely back in my pocket, I head down to the second floor and make use of the employees bank to withdraw some money from my account. On my way back through the lobby I glare at the security guards, the older one gives me a smug grin, and I give him a two dirty look in return.

My stomach is protesting loudly by now so I stop off at a café a few streets away for a late breakfast. The weather is just warm enough to sit outside and I'm enjoying a bacon sandwich and people watching when suddenly a group of black dressed nuns walk past, and before I can stop myself I sit up straight running my hand through my hair to try and flatten it down. Once they have passed out of sight I breath out slump back down in my chair and discreetly pat my tail through my trousers to reassure myself it's still there. It's nearly a year since I left the orphanage, I wonder how long it will be before nuns stop scaring me?

Once I've finished my food and head off, stopping only at the dry cleaners to drop my suit off on the way to the tram stop.

My journey home is considerably less eventful than my one in and I arrive home before midday, I live above a small haberdashery shop and I rent my flat from the owner, Mr Costa. I moved in there when I left the orphanage because it's not too far from my old job at the power station, it's kind of a long way from Municipal Works head office but the rent is cheap and I can't really be bothered to move again. I'm a pretty good tenant, I pay my rent on time and keep to myself, it helps that I don't actually have to go through the shop to get in, there's a fire escape up the side that I use, this is also good for getting overnight guests out in the morning, I don't think the Costas would appreciate strange men wandering through their shop when they are selling lengths of ribbon and hat pins to old ladies.

I'm about to climb the steps when Effie, the Costa's daughter, comes barrelling out of the shop door toward me. "Mr Exit, Mr Exit!" She exclaims excitedly, waving at me to stop. "We've got a delivery for you!" It feels strange her calling me mister, she's only a year younger then me. She's a solid girl with wiry brown curls that she always has scraped tightly back from her red cheeked face, and I've never seen her wearing anything other than her unflattering shop girl uniform of dull knee length dresses and clumpy shoes. I'm curious as to what sort of delivery they have for me, I'm not exactly someone who gets a lot of post.

"It's in the sink round the back, come and see." Effie sounds unusually excited, and she's bouncing on her toes

I follow her trying to guess what I could have possibly been sent that needs keeping in a sink, in the shop's small back room I get the answer, a large bunch of deep red roses.

"Are you sure they're for me?" I ask frowning.

"Yes, there's a card with your name on and everything!" She says breathlessly. "A dozen red roses, do you know what that means in the language of flowers?"

I have no idea, but she doesn't stop to let me reply "True love, and..." She drops her voice to a loud whisper and looks around to check if her parents are nearby. "Passion."

I can't think of anything to say to this so I ask her where the card is instead, she indicates the draining board, and I see a plain cream envelope with my name on, while I open it she starts talking again. "Do you have a girlfriend? Are they from her? Is it that tall blond women I see you with sometimes?"

Dear gods, she must mean Vio, my partner and I are the last two people on the planet who would ever be attracted to each other, but I don't really want to try and explain about that to Effie right now.

"No, I just work with her." The card inside is plain cream too, and I'm relived that it doesn't have a basket of kittens or a velvet heart on it. Effie is shamelessly staring at it and her eyes go round as I flip it open and read the message to myself.

"Thank you for last night, I would very much like to see you again. Please get in touch at the address below.

R.J xxx"

"Who's it from?" She asks with far too much interest.

R.J? I still can't remember if his name was Roy or Ray, and the J? I have no idea. I also have no idea how he got my address, did I give it to him?

"Well who?" Effie looks about to burst with excitement and I cut her off quickly "It's from a friend I did a favour for that's all." A great big lie, I know.

"Oh...so you don't have a girlfriend?" She sounds a bit too eager as she asks this.

"No, I don't." I pick up the roses carefully as they are both thorny and dripping water, and leave as fast as I politely can.

Upstairs I put the flowers in my own kitchen sink and take another look at the card. Do I want to see Mr. R.J again? His house is large and in a fashionable part of town, and he had a private room at he club so I guess he has some money, but that doesn't really interest me, I may be a slut but I'm not a gold digger. He was nice looking, I think he had grey eyes and dark curly hair, and a nice body, actually I remember that more from touch than sight. He told me he imports rubber, or buys imported rubber, or something like that anyway.

It seems impolite to not get in touch and thank him for the flowers, not that I really want them, I don't even own a vase and they kind of feel like something that should be sent to a girl. I can't decide what to do right now, I'm too tired and my bed is all I want. I walk back into the living room, which also happens to be the bedroom, shut the curtains, strip off, crawl into bed and pull the covers up around me, I fall asleep almost instantly.

I'm back in the orphanage again, it must be not long before I leave because I'm sleeping in the girls dormitory so it must be after Jack was sent away. I've overslept for morning prayers and none of the girls have woken me. Mother Hardigan has come to find me and she's lifting the end of my bed, banging it back down on the floor and shouting at me "Mr Exit, Mr Exit?"

And then I wake up and realise that can't be right, Hardigan's voice wasn't breathless and she would never call me mister, and the banging is just someone knocking on the internal door, that someone being Effie.

I manage to shout out that I'm on my way, and roll out of bed. I pull my trousers on, not stopping to strap down my tail, and I consider not bothering with my shirt, but then I think better of it. When I finally answer the door she looks at me and blushes. "Were you busy?"

"I was asleep." This comes out grumpier than I mean it to, she didn't know.

"Oh!" She claps hers hands to her mouth. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

Effie looks close to tears at this so I try to reassure her. "Don't worry, I needed to get up soon anyway." Saying this I realise I have no idea what the time is and I glance at the clock, it's just past six. I go and open the curtains and she and she watches me cross the room. "Effie, did you want something?"

"Oh...yes, is Jinks up here? We haven't seen him since yesterday and I'm getting quite worried, it's not like him to miss a meal."

"I don't think so." I look around the room, but their aren't many places a large ginger cat could be hiding in here.

"Maybe he's under the bed?" She suggests, I crouch down and look, hoping Effie doesn't decide to copy me, there are a number of things under there I would rather she didn't see.

"Nope, no cats under there." I say once I've looked.

"The kitchen maybe?"

I open the door to my small, rarely used kitchen. She comes and peers over my shoulder and I realise that she's nearly a head taller than me. I am suddenly very aware of the roses still sitting in the sink, so I quickly pull back, shutting the door behind me.

"Not in there either, let me check the bathroom." He has actually managed to get in there before, he once scared me half to death by streaking past my legs for freedom in the middle of the night.

The smell hits me the second I get the bathroom open, not only is the bloody thing sat smugly in my bath, but he has crapped all over the floor too, I suppose he could well have been in there since I left for work yesterday morning.

"Jinksie! You naughty boy!" As Effie scolds the shop cat he jumps from the bath, dashes past us and leaves via the internal door.

"Look at the mess he's made!" She sighs. "I wonder how long he was shut up in there? He normally only does his dirty business in the yard, shall I clean it up for you?"

I turn her down, I don't really want to pick up cat shit, but I would quite like to get rid of Effie. I manage to shoo her back downstairs, then return to the bathroom with a dustpan and a pair of kitchen tongs. Two unexpected presents in one day, my luck must be in.

Once I've cleaned the bathroom up I'm left wondering what else to do. I'm not due to meet up with Vio until midnight and that's still hours away. I go into the kitchen and look through the cupboards for something to eat, all I can find is a rather old bag of boiled peanuts I don't remember buying, but I eat them all the same, washed down with a glass of tap water. As I stand there my eyes keep being drawn back to the roses and I pick the card up again. Maybe I should kill some time by paying R.J a visit, at least I can find out what his name actually is.

With a plan in mind I get ready, for tonight I will need to wear all black so I change my trousers and shirt, and strap my tail back down again, although to actually break into the cartel's offices I will need to have it out. When we were doing a similar thing during our investigation into Clearwater Vio pointed out that I should paint it black to camouflage it, but that's definitely not happening, ever.

Before I go I spend a while in front of the mirror trying to get my hair to behave, having not had a chance to style it after my shower at work earlier it's sticking out at even odder angles than it usually does. It's not quite like human hair, it's softer and thicker and it doesn't need any kind of wax to make it stand up. The very best thing about my hair though is the colour, it looks black but when the light hits it just right it has flashes of blue in it just like a magpie's wing, I get a lot of positive comments on that. I suppose all echobacks must have hair like mine, but as I've never met another one I don't know for sure, as far as know I'm the only one living in Parnell.

From a distance I'm pretty sure I look like a human, I'm five foot two which is short but not so short that I could be classed as a midget, and if people don't look too closely they don't notice the differences. It's the eyes that are the real give away, whereas human eyes are white, then coloured, then black with round pupils, my eyes are entirely golden except for the pupils which are slit from top to bottom, and in the dark they open right out until almost my entire eye is black. The other thing people sometimes notice are my teeth, the two pointy ones either side of my four front ones are a lot longer and pointier than they are in humans mouths, I sort of like the way they look though. The tail is the biggest difference obviously, but I keep that hidden most of the time, partly to stop people from staring too much, and partly to keep it warm, in wintertime anyway, I hate having a cold tail. It's nearly three feet long and grows straight out of the base of my spine, at the start it's about the width if my wrist, but it tapers down to something like the size of my little finger at the end. My skin is kind of a different colour to most of the people in this part of the world too, it's a light golden brown, but I have seen a few humans with skin that colour so it's not quite such an obvious thing as the rest, and despite the fact that people have been calling me a monkey my whole life I'm not in the least bit hairy, apart from on my head anyway. In the orphanage most of the older boys were issued with shaving kits, the nuns would have never stood for anyone growing any sort of facial hair, but I never needed one.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live in a place where I wasn't different and I looked like everyone else, but so long as I stay in Parnell I don't suppose I'll never know.


Since I first wrote this I've discovered that haberdashery means different things in the US and the UK. In the US it means a gentlemen's outfitters, whereas in the UK it's a shop that sells assorted sewing items and small sundries such a tablecloths and gloves. The Costa's shop is a haberdashery in the UK sense.

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