Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 40

"What the fuck are they doing here, and together?" Topher says shaken at the sight of the pair of them.

They look at us, Jasper laughs at something Rufus says, and I recall the time I saw them together before a couple of weeks ago, I'd forgotten all about it until now.

"I don't know, but it can't be anything good, what are they even doing in Kipp?"

There is no way we can avoid them other then by going back into our cabin, and I'm not about to make myself look that much of a coward. "Lets just leave, they're not going to do anything to us in the middle of the ship in daylight, I don't think." I say, taking a step, but Topher doesn't move.

"Come on." I pull him by the arm, as we start to leave the two of them begin to walk toward us.

"Don't say anything to annoy them." I whisper to Topher.

"Hello." Says Jasper in mock friendly tones when we get close to them. "Going into Kipp, does Captain Quint know?"

"Yes." I reply keeping on walking, I haven't forgotten the rule about pets needing permission to go places alone.

"Hold on, don't you want to stop for a chat?" His one eye narrows at us and Rufus smirks.

"Not really." I'm relieved Topher's keeping his mouth shut for once. They stand directly in front of us blocking our way, and I swallow, realising how much larger they are than both of us.

"Me and Rufus, we're old friends, go way back." Jasper grins. "Bet you didn't know that." I keep quiet, unfortunately Topher doesn't.

"Why should I fucking care?" He throws at them.

"Shut up faggot slut." Rufus casually says.

"That's a bit unfair." Jasper mocks. "The poor boy has recently suffered a nasty head injury, or so I'm told, he probably doesn't know what he's saying."

I hear Topher draw breath to speak again so I quickly jump in. "Yes, he has, but nothing worse, luckily." I look directly at Rufus as I say this, pieces of a puzzle starting to fit together in my mind. He laughs and spits on the deck by my feet.

"Did you split the money with Tobias, or is he just so keen to inflict harm on his brother that all you needed to do was suggest the idea and he went along with it?" I ask the red headed man. They both look at me, the surprise on their faces gives them away, but Jasper quickly recovers, while Rufus remains openly gaping.

"I don't have the first clue what you are talking about monkey, but it's in your best interest not to spread unconfirmed gossip around, especially to Quint." The scarred man says, and it's all the answer I need.

"We're going to go now." I say levelly, thinking that if Topher can just stay quiet we can use their shock to get off the ship safely.

We begin walking away from them, and are almost to the ramp when Jasper calls out. "Don't think this is over, either of you."

Neither of us turn to look, but his words send a shiver through me.

"What were you talking about, all that stuff about money?" Topher asks me once we're safely walking through the docks.

"Remember the day before the Admiral's party, we went swimming and you taught me how to float, then I left you and went back because I didn't want to get sunburnt again?"

"Hmm, I remember that, but what's it got to do with those assholes?"

"That's what I'm getting to, I was hungry so I climbed up one of the trees to get some mangoes..."

"You are such a monkey." He interrupts.

"Shut up. Look, while I was in the tree I saw the two of them meet up and Jasper gave Rufus some money, I didn't think much of it at the time, I didn't even know who Rufus was then, but now I'm pretty sure Jasper paid Rufus to get him to give us the cat, or hurt us in some other way."

He takes a moment to think this through.

"Why didn't you tell the Captain what you saw? You could have saved me from concussion." He complains.

"Like I said, I didn't know who Rufus was, and it didn't seem important, I pretty much forgot about it until now."

"We have to tell the Captain."

"I don't know if that's such a good idea, we don't actually have any proof and Jasper's hardly going to admit to it is he? He hates us enough already, adding that in isn't going to make our lives any easier."

"So the fucker just gets away with it?" He asks darkly.

I shrug. "I don't know, but I do know better than to tempt fate."

As we leave the docks I look back and spot a familiar grey ship bobbing among the ranks of others.

"Look, it's the gunship." I point out. "That explains how they got here, but not why."

"And that means Tobias is here too." Topher adds, a note of fear in his voice. I can't blame him, Jasper scares me, Rufus scares me, but Tobias is something else. The two other men are bullies, Jasper is unpleasant and vindictive, but I've never seen him acting violently, Rufus is vicious like a rodent but he doesn't strike me as a man who acts alone, Tobias however likes to cause pain for the sake of it. I'm still haunted by the image of Lottie and Summer chained to their beds, one completely broken by him, the other not far off. I shake my head, not wanting to think about the whole lot of them any more.

"Where are we going?" I ask Topher, as we enter the city proper.

"For a drink?" He suggests. " I haven't been to a bar in ages."

"You're under age, and look it." I point out.

"Not for Kipp."

"What's the drinking age here then?"

"I don't know, but no one has ever tried to stop me."

"Can't we go somewhere...I don't know, a bit more, upmarket?" I ask looking around as he returns from the bar with our second round of drinks, a beer for me and some kind of sticky mixture of fruit juice and alcohol for him.

"What's wrong with this place?" He grins.

"Pretty much everything, we're in a basement, and it smells like one, half the women in here look like prostitutes, I think some of them might be men, and that greasy man at the bar is leering at me."

"No, he's got a glass eye, he's leering at those women." He points to the other side of the room. "But his eye is stuck looking in this direction."

I peer through the smoky gloom at the man again, Topher is possibly right, but the rest is true.

"I thought you were a city boy." He comments after taking a sip of his drink.

"I am, that doesn't mean I want to drink in the sleaziest place in Kipp." I think fondly of the pub Vio and I used to go to after work, it was a cosy place with cut glass mirrors and dark wooden tables, not a smelly, sticky dive.

"This is nowhere near the sleaziest place in Kipp." He laughs.

"How would you know?"

"I know things." He says enigmatically.

"I can't imagine the Captain being seen dead in a place like this, let alone anything worse, so who else have you been out in Kipp with?"

"I haven't." he admits after a moment. "But I often listen to the crew going on about what they get up to on shore leave."

It's my turn to laugh. "At least fifty percent of that is exaggeration."

"Which means some of it is true, and there are worse places than this." He says in triumph.

One drink turns into another, then another and before I know it the table is full of empties and the room has taken on a distorted quality. When I get up to go to the toilet I find myself stumbling over my feet and falling into a very tall woman with five o'clock shadow who growls at me as she totters on her heels.

I locate the gents and almost wish I hadn't, it smells like the river only concentrated, my eyes actually water and I wonder if I can hold my breath for the entire time I'm peeing. I'm also extremely grateful for the fact that I decided to wear my old boots today as the half inch of raw sewage that coats the floor would destroy my shoes, and being in here shoeless doesn't even bear thinking about.

When I come back out, only tripping over the doorstep a little, I see a man standing casually at the table talking to Topher. I look at him warily as I retake my seat, he looks rather annoyed, and he gestures at me and asks Topher. "What about him? He'd do."

"No, definitely not." Topher replies to the man's question.

"Well what the hell are you doing in here then?" The man says with a note of irritation in his voice.

"Having a drink, now fuck off and bother someone else."

He walks away, looking back and shooting us a dirty look as he goes. "Wha' was tha' about?" I ask.

"He thought I was trade, I told him, I don't do that any more."

It takes a moment for me to process this. "Tha's it, lez go." I say.

"Why?" Topher grins at me.

"I don' wan' be mistaken for a pros...a prosss... a whore." I guess I might have said this rather too loudly as a pair of over made up women at a nearby table turn and glare at me. "An' it's time we got back to the ship, wha' time is it?"

Topher shrugs as I get to my feet again and we make it up the stairs with me only tripping over once. When we get out into the street a nasty shock is awaiting us.

"Ohh fuuckk..." I say as I look around.

"It got dark." Topher states.

"Yeah, I can see tha', shhiit."

"Can you remember the way back?" He asks.

I look around, my head is fuzzy and I can't even remember which direction we came from to get here. "Nah, ohh fuuckk, we are in trouble."

"I think it was this way." He points to a street on our left and sets off.

We walk for about twenty minutes until we reach the edge of a group of houses that very much remind me of the rough area we walked through with Tallis earlier.

"I don' think we should go down there." I say, grabbing Topher by the arm to stop him.

We try a different direction, and after another ten minutes or so we end up back where we started, and I'm beginning to feel very sick.

"Lez try the opposite way." I suggest, at least it looks better lit and busier. We start to walk again, and the very real fear that we may not find the ship before it sets sail for Nightport begins to gnaw at me. We end up standing at the corner of a crossroads bickering, with Topher somehow blaming my inability to hold my drink on us being lost when I hear my name being shouted. I look around and spot Zizi on the other side of the street frantically waving at us to come over to her.

"Where the fuck have you two been!" She shouts at us once we are standing with her. "All hell has broken loose because of the pair of you. Quint found Rufus on The Firebrat earlier and had him thrown off, literally. Then when he realised it was dark and you were missing he took all the crew who had remained on board and a bunch of rifles and invaded the gunship, because for some reason he's got it into his head that Tobias and Rufus have got something to do with your disappearance. They are currently chained up in the cargo hold swearing blind that they never touched you. Jasper tried to intervene and tell Quint that he thought you had gone into the city, but the Captain told him to shut up and they nearly ended up in fist fight, I managed to stop that one, so I thought I'd be the voice of reason and have a bit of a walk around to see if I could find you, and I have."

She stares at us both and I find myself unable to move under her black eyed gaze. "So." She continues. "Has your absence got anything to do with the Captain's brother, or are you just a pair of thoughtless idiots who, from the smell of you, got drunk and lost track of time?"

"Um...the second one." I mutter.

"I'm not drunk." Topher protests.

"I don't fucking care if you're high as a kite or not, I'm taking you back to the ship to try and get this mess sorted out. I have no idea what Quint is going to do to the pair of you, but I doubt it will be anything pretty."

Even Topher has enough sense not to answer her back this time, and as we follow her in the direction of the docks my stomach starts to churn from more than just an excess of alcohol.

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