Joe Malone, Part Seven

Private Investigator, Joe Malone, has been hired by Lady Vanessa Bixby to find her husband, Lord Bixby, a major figure in the Britain-Must-Remain movement. Joe is on his way to meet with the young, blonde, Lady Vanessa at her home in North London.

* * *

Stanmore is at the end of the Jubilee line. It’s as posh as Richmond. As champagne socialist as Islington. As luvvie as Chiswick and wealthy as Greenwich and has more green trees than either of those leafy London places.
It was very pleasant. And very far from my place south of the river. Especially since the tube network was now solar powered.
The Rebecca Long -Bailey law, passed under the Bercow precedents. A total cockup. She didn’t realise the sun couldn’t operate underground. And as all politics was now partisan, and there were all sorts of rainbow coalitions of lefty-rightie-looneynationalist-populist-communist configurations, her idiot bill had passed into law. And so the London Underground only worked on the overground stretches. Travel on the underground parts of the tube was still possible, but with some changes to the pre-Brexit, Pre-collapse of opposition/government politics days.

Firstly, there was no smoking. No drinking. No eating.
No knives, guns, or any ferrous implements.
No offensive posters, slogans, bags, T/shirts or hats. And ‘offensive’ was whatever the Mayor decided was offensive that week. Fast food. Tall people. White teeth.
Everything was offensive to somebody. So everything got a spell on the banned list. It was also a bit of hassle to get through the huge numbers of security cameras and scanners and TFL’s transport police.
And the other thing was, because of it being solar powered, there were no actual trains running on the underground.

Instead people used their Oyster card to go down to the station and await a guard and driver. The former tube driver now rode on a small electric cart. He had a miners lamp helmet and passengers jumped down onto the now de-electrified tracks and formed up behind the driver. When he was ready, the guard’s whistle blew and the ‘train’ procession moved off. Like a crocodile of primary school kids. Travelling the tunnels to the next station. Because none of the old TFL underground train regulations had been repealed, all the old ones still applied. The driver still had to ensure all ‘doors’ were closed. Any red signal encountered had to be obeyed. The number of people in procession was the same as the maximum number of people on an underground train. And so on. Some wag commuter always shouted out ‘ Mind the Gap.’

The drivers still got their old TFL salary. And were just as likely to go on strike on any London derby soccer match day as before they were made carriage-less. And without a ‘driver’ or guard, these pedestrianised trains would not be allowed to leave a station. So the usual TFL chaos reigned.

You non Londoners might wonder why anyone would even bother to use this expensive self-walking service.

Well, the main reason was, it worked.

Taxis and private hire were in perpetual war. With the black cabs and Uber and Uber clones engaged in a total war. The Mayor had final say and depending on how many votes he thought he might win or lose, he flip-flopped his decision like everyone else in high office.
So one day Uber’s were banned from the streets. Next day black cabs were limited to zone 8 and beyond.
The buses were also in the ever present carnage of no one really being in charge.
There were loads of them. But air pollution had become the virtue signaller’s rally banner.

So the Mayor banned the entire diesel fleet. All 10,000 of them And replaced them with electric. Which could not be charged quickly enough. So only a maximum of 2,000 of the 10,000 ever ran. And then they were also being banned when electric suddenly became as unpopular as fracking, when the Green lobby won a few extra Assembly seats. The electric bus was being replaced with wind powered buses. Which has been a huge, green success. If not a transport one.

Pollution levels fell faster in London than anywhere else in the world. The traffic was gridlocked, except on windy days. But the air was clearer.

The massive rise in personal vehicle ownership, to overcome the sudden lack of public transport, was soon swept from the streets by the £300 daily congestion charge. And the myriad fines and additional toll fees for using an outside lane.
Turning right. Exceeding the 5 mph speed limit or some other traffic sign infringement.

So cycling and walking became the main form of transport in the Capital.

The advantage of the London Underground train-walk was soon apparent.

It was faster down there than up here.

It was organised. It flowed. Everyone moving in just one direction. It was out of the normal London weather. The damp drizzle.
And, with all the security to get down to the tube, it was much safer than walking around above ground with the moped thieves and drug related shootings and stabbings. The homeless, the mad. And the beggars big-ishoos, guilt trippers, pickpockets, flashers, muggers, rapists and con artists that were part and parcel of surviving in a big city.

Amazingly, despite the huge protests and rioting in the wake of the transport fiasco, once it had settled down a bit, the people of the metropolis discovered they actually preferred it this way. It was cleaner and quieter and healthier. There was suddenly more space available without cars everywhere. There was no road rage or parking frustrations. The Mayor was re-elected by an increased margin.

New ways of delivering goods and services sprang up. Innovation and business, as always, solved the problems the politicians had created.
While also creating a whole load of new problems for politicians to mess with.

One of which I was about to take to lady Bixby’s home in Stanmore, North London.

The AmaZrone.

* * *

Since Transport For London had virtually banned all public and private vehicles, the AmarZrone had become the commuting method of choice. While TFL legislated against the smallest and cheapest of cars and the widest and fattest of trucks, it completely failed to pass any legislation on the skies. And Amazon, with their usual keen and hungry eyes, took full advantage.

The AmaZrone was a person sized drone. They operated like a Boris Bike. Call up one on your phone. Pay the Europound price. Enter destination and the nearest mansized drone would arrive shortly.

You entered the six digit code you were given at payment, into the drone’s guidance keypad. Paid the £40 deposit for use of jumpsuit and helmet. Climbed onto the low board that was just under the drone and strapped yourself in. And off it went. There was some tax loophole about not being a private vehicle if the passenger was strapped underneath, so drones with cabins were few.

The drone was registered abroad in a shell company. And was always booked to take its passenger to its own destination country, to avoid any licensed taxicab laws. The fare always included an additional £1,000 charge, that was refunded the moment the user decided to ‘terminate their journey early’ at the place they actually wanted to go to. It was pretty neat. The companies paid no taxes and operated under evaded UK laws, and because they were piloted by some remote Chinese worker, or even a Filipino child, cost almost nothing to run.
But transport was so screwed up not even politicians would dare to poke about in a system that was helping them out of the hole they had dug.

Zrones would sometimes make daring flights under bridges or telephone wires. Skim rooftops and circle church spires. The mapping was first rate. And surprisingly there were very few officially licensed AmaZrone fatalities. {Other providers available.}

Unlicensed deaths, joyriding kids and drunk fliers and such, there were thousands.

Regular commuters would have their own Lycra, jazzy, jumpsuits. Ostentatious overalls and swanky shoes. The airborne cyclists leapt onto the new mode of transport with all the zeal of the urban wealthy with a new food fad. Zronewear was always on people’s Christmas lists.

I too had my own gear. It was advisable. Unless you wanted to wear the sick streaked and phlegm filled helmet, and piss stained and smelling jumpsuit which the drone usually arrived with.

The AmaZrone I had hailed had taken me a remarkably direct route and below the 100ft legal height limit, straight to Lord Bixby’s beautiful home on the edge of London civilisation. An old ivy walled Priory look on the outside. But extremely modern and comfortable inside.

Vanessa Bixby had answered my bell press, even as the security cameras were measuring and recording me.

“Oh my,” she exclaimed, opening the door in a sleek black dress and shoes. She motioned me inside, out of the cold chill of the dusk. “You came by drone? How exciting.” we were inside in a marble hallway with various doors leading off to other rooms and a grand winged staircase leading up to at least another two floors.

“You look like you need a drink, Joe,” she said, as I removed my jumpsuit to reveal my best business suit and tie. “Care for a gin and Absinthe? Or are you a beer man?
Or are you on duty and not drinking?”

“Beer is good. I’m not on duty. I’m not with any agency but my own. And I operate very liberal workplace rules.”

I walked with her to the kitchen where she took my jump suit and crash helmet and put them on one of the red and silver stools for the granite kitchen breakfast bar.
She crouched down to peer into a lower cool fridge. Giving me a great view of her bare legs as the short black dress rode up and the split sides opened felicitously across her upper thighs, giving a glimpse of stocking hold-up tops. She selected a bottle and handed it to me. Ice cold. She tottered slightly on her heels.

“Its Belgian,” she said. “Bixby gets them from Brussels.” She gave an impish smile.
The one she had used in my office.
“You OK, with a European Beer, Joe?”

“Sure. I’m a leaver. I love European Beer. Its only the EU I’m not so fussed about.”

She fished a bottle opener from the kitchen console drawer and passed it to me. Took an open wine bottle from the counter top and poured herself a large measure of red into a wine glass that was large enough to hold a few litres. I noticed her cheeks were a little flushed. I wondered how many glasses Lady Bixby had had already.

“What do you think?” she asked, as she picked up the large glass now filled back up with red wine.

Domaine Rostaing Côte-Rôtie the label read. I didn’t know if that was just good or very good. The ones in my apartment only had a label that said “Red.”

“Oh..erm, very nice. Very nice home. I like your splash back wall.” I nodded to the bespoke glass paint-swirl patterned fixture that hung along the back of the counter tops and covered a whole wall of her bespoke kitchen. I didn’t know the proper name for these artworks. But I’d seen them in many wealthy people’s kitchens and I knew they were proud of them. And that they cost ten thousands upon ten thousands.

She gazed at the glass wall, and then back at me. Straightened herself to full height and held out her arms, like a Christ.

“I meant … What do you think of this?”

She displayed her aerobic firm body, and slowly turned herself around in a little circle, so I could see all sides of her.

Back to face me again she lowered her outstretched arms so that her hands now rested on her curvaceous hips. One ankle turned to outward.

I thought the answer to my ‘how many wines’ question might well be, ‘several.’

“This dress, Joe?” She prompted. “ Its new. Arrived today. It’s a Victoria Beckham.
You know her?”

“Sure. She used to play for Inter Milan. But there’s no name and number on the back of your dress?”

“You know my name. The only number was on the price tag. £2,850. I decided to treat myself last week. And its only just arrived.”

“It’’s Superb.” I said. And it was.

A short, fashion pleated panelling shift-silhouette black dress. With a modern cut-outto-shoulder and asymmetric finish.

Surprised you, reader huh? Well I studied fashion design in college. You think I always wanted to join The Department? I’m not ashamed. What the hell did you do in college? Go fish yourself.

She nodded and smiled. “Thank you.” she said sweetly. She raised her glass again.
“Cheers, Detective Malone.” Then she giggled. A very girlish giggle. “Designed by a Spice Girl, turned fashion house. Tell me what you want…what you really, really,..want…detective,” and she giggled again.

“Inspector. I was an Inspector. And now, just an Investigator.”

“Then cheers to you, Investigator Malone.” She took a very large glug from her glass.
“What do you want to ..investigate….tonight?”

She leaned forward slightly. The tip of her tongue scraped the bottom of her angel white front teeth.
Her left hand played with a gold chain and and diamond and Lalique pendant that hung at the top of her cleavage.

This was interesting. Unexpected and disturbing. I’m well aware I have a face like a jacket potato. A mashed one. With beans.
Some women like to slum for a while. With the bad boys. And I’m a very bad boy with the citations to prove it. But I’m a good boy, bad boy.

She was a young, attractive woman, married to an old money pot, twice her age and half her libido, who devoted himself to dull, dull politics.
She mixed in social circles where social acceptance depended on group think and group thoughts. Where politically correct speak and deed and endless signalling of virtue was a requirement to avoid social banishment.

She might be looking for a diversion. A young woman in a loveless marriage of convenience who wanted a little escapade with a south of the river type.

She might be predatory like this any time she’s had a glass of the vino. It was her house and I didn’t know her at all.

But this was not the behaviour of a worried spouse whose husband had gone missing for reasons unknown. Nor the behaviour of a person who had hired someone to investigate that event.

I mentally told little Joe to cool down and told her,

“I’m here to investigate the disappearance of Lord Marmon-Herrinton Bixby. Your husband. Or have you found him.”

“No, “ she said. And put down her glass and rested her pert behind against the stool edge. “I’m sorry Joe. I’m been quite worried about him, I still am ..really am. Still no call or message. Sometimes he’s been gone twenty four hours without a call. But not this long. Its very unusual. I had a few drinks to calm myself.”

“Then we’d better find him, Vanessa.”

“Yes, “ She agreed. And her flirtatiousness disappeared for a moment. “What do you want from me?”

And although little Joe perked up with a suggestion of his own, I ignored him and told her, “Let’s begin with both of your bank accounts and card and e-payments.”

© Bill Quango MP 2019 – Capitalists @ Work

Audio file