An attractive blonde had surprised Private Eye Joe Malone as he was resting his hangover. She was standing in his Investigator’s office. Surveying him and her surroundings. Not quite sure if this oddly antique office was the place she wanted. Or this crumpled former specialist the man she wanted either. The Bbc Vid’Screen blabbered on as she studied her man.
“Mind if I Vape, Mr Malone?” she finally asked.
“Go ahead,” I sad. Passing her a battery.
“And call me Joe.”
Chapter 4 – Getting to know you.
The mystery blonde in the pale blue dress blew out a stream of vapour from her e-cig. It smelled like strawberry and cinnamon Ice-cream. Sweet as summer with a hint of cyanide. Suited her. She let her eyes roam around the office. I didn’t know who she was yet. Or what she wanted. But she was pleasant enough to just look at. And I had nothing better to do anyway. I let her gaze. She’d tell me what she wanted me to let me know in her own time.
“Let them settle,” I always told myself. “Don’t rush them.” It sometimes takes a while. If they needed a Private Eye they were already suspicious or complicit. Nerves. Guilt. Regret. This was often a point of no return for somebody. A change was coming to their world and it might be a big step for them to take. Not a pleasant one, either.
It’s an easier step to take when you haven’t anything much to lose. She looked like someone who had a lot to lose. So I said nothing. Just gazed back at her. As casually as I could.
I wished the BBC ‘Newsshare’ would pipe down. But it was impossible to mute. And it had thirty minutes left to run before I could legally change channels or turn it off.
Of course I could bypass it, easily enough. Anyone like me could. But I didn’t know who she was, yet so I wasn’t going to do anything criminal in front of her. She might be from TV licensing and monitoring for all I knew. But I didn’t think so. Those freelancers were on commission only. I doubt they could have afforded as much as one of her perfectly curled, eyelashes. And anyway, she seemed not to notice the Vid’Screen’s babble. I glanced at the screen and saw BBC Morning presenter, Ahmed Al-Askari, informing us in a sombre tone that the Mayor’s new head of preventing youth knife-crime, had been stabbed.
I followed her gaze. She was looking at my framed diplomas and certificates that hung on the wall. And the pictures. From my days with The Department.
“You were with The Department, Mr Malone? That’s impressive.” She moved closer to look at the dates. 2005. Enrolment. “Straight in at Sub-Inspector? Not as a trainee agent?”
So she knew how The Department worked. Usually years of ground work required to get a promotion up the ladder. But I’d been one of the special program. One of the first of the Blairite strategy to politicise and place holder every public sector organisation for their own, New Labour, benefit. Back then they didn’t know I wasn’t a placemen. Neither did I.
“I was in a graduate program,” I told her. “Coming in at a middle manager level. It was a new way of working. Changing working practices and traditions for modern management methods. That was the idea.” .. Jesus. I sounded like a spin doctor explaining the corruption.
“You must have been unpopular,” she said without any feeling, either positive or negative. “Coming in over the heads of long serving officers and technicians.”
She was perceptive. Even some of the idiot Government Ministers who championed such schemes in the name of diversity and social mobility had never considered the effects that promotion jumping would have on the long service employees. The resentment made life difficult for everyone.
“We managed,” I said. “As long as you got results, everyone was happy.”
Which wasn’t true at all. As long as you got the correct results, the politically acceptable results, the top brass was happy and you got on in life.. And everyone else could take a long walk into an incinerator and go recycle themselves.
I saw her looking at my medal. I had considered not putting it up on the wall. But it really was quite rare. And spoke for its holder. Like a Victoria Cross for a soldier tells of heroics.
I figured those who knew what it was for would understand. And those that didn’t would assume it was just the usual long service award everyone gets. 1 years service. 2 years service. 1 weeks good conduct. That kind of government department, all shall have prizes, crap. I had drawers full of those in the other desk.
She tapped the small glass case the medal was displayed in.
“The PR. …With Silver Leaves.” She peered to read the citation. But I could tell she already knew it. “Supreme Efficiency and Personal Responsibility.” She turned to look at me. “With Silver leaves,” she added again. Like the leaves were a big deal.
Which they were.
So she knew what it was. Probably knew what it was for. Had done her research. But I told her about it as she obviously wanted me to.
“I stopped a protest. Got the traffic moving. The Mayor was very pleased. He even said thanks. Gave me two tickets to his City Hall Ball. We had those salmon vol-auvents.”
She smiled her not-quite-smile again. “More than just getting the traffic moving, I think, Mr Malone. Anyone could do that.”
“Not in rush hour they couldn’t. Its faster to crawl across town than ride, these days.”
But she was right. What I had actually done was end the UK Yellow Vest protests of the bridges.
It was just AB – After Brexit.
Parliament hadn’t yet ‘taken back control’ from the people. But they were getting there. Agitating for an extension to A50. The People’s Meaningless Vote proposals. All that Stop Brexit stuff.
Some voters were feeling betrayed and began copying the French direct action tactics that had eventually forced President Micron to hold an election.
One morning, about 6am, the UK Yellow’s had blocked London’s bridges. Every single one. Groups of builders and painter/decorators. Delivery drivers and electricians. Roofers and scaffolders. Plumbers and farmers had parked their vans and trucks tractors, trailers and cars on the bridges. Blocked them the whole way along. End to end. Removed the wheels and refused to move.
The Mayor of London went through his usual range of emotions and options. First he threatened to arrest them. Then bribe them. Then shoot them. Then ignore them. Then plead with them. Before finally settling on his usual tactic of just blaming it all on someone else and making it their problem. In this case he blamed The Department.
The Commissioner General got on to the Chief. Who got onto the Inspector General and so on down the line until it came to me. Duty Inspector.
“Malone. The capital is completely gridlocked. There are protests on every bridge. Some of these scum have even cemented the concrete anti suicide-truck bollards, from one side of the bridge to the other. There are media there from all over the damned world watching. So this has got to be stopped. But no violence. No force. At least, not on camera. Do whatever you have to. Just make it all go away, Now!”
So I did.
The Department has a lot of powers. More than almost any other government branch, except maybe the Cyber and Twitter Police. So I used it.
I got the Foreign Office to declare all the bridges in London were now temporarily leased to the Chinese government. Then I paid the Chinese to drive some of their tanks that I had arranged to be flown in, up to the bridges. And informed the protesters to disperse. Or the Type 99 People’s Liberation Army tanks would crush them and all their wheels. I knew these were mostly self employed people. They needed their vehicles to make a living. They knew they were now in the People’s Republic of China and could expect no mercy.
So they moved out. And The Department fixed up the damage. The bridges returned to TFL control. And I got medals and promotions and “Achiever,” which is a Politically Correct term for ‘Nutjob,’ stamped on my file.
“Supreme efficiency and personal responsibility.” citation
Yeah, they hated that. Especially the personal responsibility bit. That was a big nono. Even in The Department.
But it had been a success. I did as was asked. Nobody died and the Mayor was mostly delighted. Though he did have to buy those twenty four Chinese tanks that was also part of the deal he didn’t know about.
Not my fault. He expressly said he ‘didn’t want to know’ how it was going to be done getting rid of his protesters.
Anyway, he had a whole building of public relations people to spin it for him. They said the tanks were an unrelated purchase for anti terror and riot control. And we even got to keep two at The Department. Which pleased the Commissioner General no end.
Yeah. A big personal success. But also a personal failure. I’d shown independence and ruthless efficiency. Two very bad things for a potential political appointee to a high public office to posses.
Plus, I’d ended a legitimate protest, for legitimate reasons. By using the power of the state and without regard to future consequences. So my greatest triumph was also the beginning of the end of my time with The Department.
And how I ended up here. On the top floor of the Swarbrick building. With the grimy film on the windows and the beautiful blonde touching the glass of my medal display case.
“Did you really go to the Mayor’s Ball?” she asked me.
“Sure. He asked me. We were best buds, for twenty minutes or so.”
“I’ve been to a few. Such wonderful people didn’t you think?”
I couldn’t recall them. Only the free bar. But I nodded agreement.
“Mr Malone,” she said suddenly, looking at me directly, “I require assistance. I was told I should come here. Its about a missing person. A missing man.”
Then she stopped. Saying no more. Just looking at me.
So I gazed casually around the office. Picked up the waste-paper basket beside my feet and peered in. Looked back at her and said.
”He’s not in here.”
“Its serious, Mr Malone.” She puffed on her E-cig. “I think something might have .. might have..happened ..to him.
“Happened to who?” I asked her. Getting impatient with the process of getting down to business.
There was a silence as I processed that. Broken only by the BBc telling us that Singapore was holding the world throat singing contest. And Nish Kumar was hosting it.
Bixby! I thought.
Lord Bixby of Remain?
Surely not him?
This was bad.
“And what is your relationship to Bixby..Miss..?” I finally quizzed her, deciding I needed a name.
“I’m Lady Vanessa Bixby.”
And this ….was worse.
* * *