Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 9

Vin is waiting for us outside the cabin, he's leaning on the rail and watching the goings on of the docks below, and I have a strong urge to go up and put my arms around him, he looks very sexy from behind.

Vio clears her throat to get his attention, and he turns to us. "Violet, can I have a word in private?" He asks.

"Of course Sir." She replies.

They walk away to the far end of the ship, I can still see them but I can't hear anything they're saying. Vin seems to be telling her something and every so often she nods and glances at me while I pretend to be staring over the side, but actually I'm watching them out of the corner of my eye. It could be something personal to do with Vio's dad, although I get the feeling they're talking about me.

When they've finished Vio stays where she is while Vin comes over to where I'm stood and leans beside me. "Be careful please, I want you back in one piece. I know being young you think your immortal, but your not."

I'm sure Ry said that exact same thing last night. "I'm not stupid Sir."

"You are sometimes." He gives me a crooked smile as he says this, and I forgive him instantly.

"Goodbye Exit, I'll see you when you get back." For a moment I think he's about to touch my cheek, but he doesn't, he pats me on the shoulder and gives me a strange look instead.

"Goodbye Sir, see you soon." He climbs back down the steps, and I watch him leave over the side until he's just red haired dot on the crowded docks.

"Stop mooning over him." Vio's voice brings me back. "Come on, lets see if there's any tea on this fucking boat, I could kill for a cup."

"Is their a cafeteria on board?" I ask, I haven't thought about where we would eat before.

She sighs. "It called a galley, I doubt the food will be up to much, but I can't imagine it's any worse than the crap we used to get in the police canteen."

"Or I used to eat in the orphanage." I add.

A sailor walks past and Vio calls out to him. "Excuse me mate, where's the galley?" He gives her directions and we head off.

We find a room full of tables and long benches, all bolted to the floor. The air smells of overcooked meat and boiled vegetables, and I can feel the heat and steam from the kitchen all around me.

"Shit, this is almost exactly like being back in the orphanage." I whisper to Vio.

"You see any fucking nuns?" She asks me.

"No, just sailors." There are a handful of men at the tables eating breakfast, most of them are smoking as well, Vio's going to fit right in here.

"Well you're not in the orphanage then are you? Come on, I need tea." She walks over to the counter and I follow, watching her as she helps herself to tea from a large steaming urn. I do the same when she has finished and grab a handful of biscuits that are laid out on a plate. We find a seat at one of the tables and Vio immediately lights up, taking a deep drag and blowing out a mouthful of blue smoke. "What card games do you know?" She asks.

"None really, I can play snap."

"Fucking great, I'll teach you some, we have to do something to pass the time."

I dunk a biscuit in my cup, chocolate digestive, even if the food is bad I could live off these. By the time we've finished our tea the room has emptied and we are the only ones left at the tables. The ship seems to suddenly lurch and I look at Vio.

"I think we're off, want to go up top and wave the city goodbye?" I nod, feeling a little strange at the thought of leaving Parnell.

The ship doesn't move fast, and it seems to take an age until the last of the city's buildings slip past and we are out into the countryside. It's really odd to see nothing but fields and trees, a lot of space and hardly any people, just a few farms and a handful of houses. It must be really boring living out here, no pubs, no theatre, no shops, only green things and animals. And it smells strange. Vio says it's the cows, or at least the cow shit, I suppose no one goes round and cleans it up like they do with the horse shit in the city.

After a while the smell changes and I catch the fishy salty smell I first noticed back at the docks.

"We'll be out on the open sea soon, look." Vio points and I can see where the land stops with nothing but water beyond. "You've never seen the sea before have you?" I shake my head.

"That's Eastnor." She points to a small town up ahead with her cheroot. "When I was young my Aunt used to live there, and we'd stay with her in the summer. It rained most of the fucking time, but when it didn't we'd spend all day on the beach. We always got sunburned to hell, but it was worth it."

"What do you do on a beach all day?" I ask.

"Make sandcastles, catch crabs, eat ice cream, dig a big hole, fill it with water and throw your little brother in, just kid stuff."

Maybe when I get back I'll take Ry up on his offer of a weekend by the sea. As we get closer to the sea the smell gets stronger, and soon we are sailing out of the river and into nothing but open water. There are a few other boats around us but we are the biggest by far and it doesn't take long for us to leave them all behind, as the land gets further and further away it really hits me how far from home we are going to be travelling.

Once there is nothing more to see we go back to the galley and Vio spends most of the rest of the day trying to teach me a variety of card games. She manages to persuade a number of crew members on their breaks to join us in a poker game and by the time the evening comes around she's won a fair amount of money. I gave up after I lost half the cash I brought with me, but it was more fun to watch Vio playing anyway.

The food is just as bad as we feared, dinner is liver and bacon with lumpy mashed potato and grey cabbage. I manage the mash, and one of the sailors happily eats the rest, explaining that on board a ship as far as food is concerned it's "quantity not quality" that counts.

Night is long, the two crew members we are sharing the cabin with snore, Vio snores too and I hardly sleep. It doesn't help that I'm too hot, I normally sleep naked in all but the coldest weather, but I can't do this with strangers in the room so I'm sweating in pyjamas.

Somewhere in the early hours of the morning I give up and leave the cabin, I make a quick trip to the "head" as I've learned the toilet is called, and then lean on the rail and watch the sea passing below us. I wonder if I've travelled over this spot before? I must have come to the city by boat when I was an infant but I don't remember any of it, my earliest memories are all of the orphanage, nothing before that.

It's not something I think about often but knowing how close we are going to be sailing to where I was born makes me wonder about my parents. A lot of the children I grew up with were foundlings, abandoned very young on the orphanages steps, is that what happened with me? Did my parents not want me? I was told I was found alone far from any town, maybe I had just got lost and if the damn priest had just left me there I would have been found by my family sooner or later, but then maybe not, maybe I'd have just died. As I'm stood wondering whether my life would have been better or worse if I had never been brought to the city I notice that in the distance the colour of the sky is just starting to change, and for the second day running I watch the dawn break.

After a breakfast of toast and rubbery scrambled eggs, for want of anything else to do I go back to bed. It's easier to sleep without the snoring chorus and I stay there until midday when Vio comes to wake me up.

"Hey, monkey boy, you can't sleep all fucking day." She says, shaking my arm.

"Why not?" I grumble.

"Because I'm bored and none of the sodding crew will play poker with me any more."

"That's your own fault for winning all their money yesterday, I'm not playing with you either, I already lost too much."

"All right, just come and keep me company, the cooks made golden syrup sponge and custard, if you hurry up their might still be some."

That gets me out of bed, luckily it hasn't run out and I eat two portions.

The next few days pass slowly. Vio teaches me a few more card games, and we spend a lot of time playing something she calls shithead with anyone who will join us.

One evening we have dinner with Captain Hyde in his private dining room, although it's still the same food everyone else is eating. It turns out he used to be in the fighting navy and was involved in the war sailing on a hospital ship, it seems likely that he brought Vio's dad back home.

The further north we sail the hotter it gets, and the air seems to feel different. The sea below us has changed colour too. When we set off it was a murky grey, but now it's a deep blue and around the ship we see dolphins following us. Sometimes they leap out of the water and turn somersaults in the air, and I pass the time watching them off the back of the ship.

I'm doing just this on our fifth day away from home when Vio comes to find me. "There's two ships headed directly towards us, it's them, we're up monkey boy."

I'm not sure if I'm glad that we've finally got to the whole reason for us being here, or scared shitless, but either way we've got a job to do. I follow Vio back to our cabin and get ready for the next part of our mission.


For the full story of how Exit was found as a small child and brought to the city see my ficlet "The Outset", it's only a single chapter long and fills in the details he can't possibly know at this time.

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