Vanessa Bixby put down her wine glass and rested her pert behind against the stool edge. “I’m sorry Joe. I’m quite worried about him, I 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.”
“Then we’d better find him, Vanessa.”
“Yes,” she agreed. And her flirtatiousness disappeared for a moment.“What do you need.”
“Let’s begin with your bank accounts and card and e-payments.”
Chapter 8 – Is it safe?
“Let’s begin with your bank accounts and card and e-payments.”
“Mine too?” she asked.
“Might as well. It won’t hurt to see any joint activity. Can rule that out, see. Might be a pattern. Just a quick look now. Then we’ll send them secure to Dacia, my assistant.
She can work through them tomorrow.”
I actually wanted to see her accounts particularly. Unlikely there would be something as obvious as a bacs transfer to Salvatore Guisepio, Hitman to the Mafia. Payment for contract killing. Itemised receipt:
Gloves – 1 pair. Black.
Plastic bag. Extra strong. One.
Baseball bat – aluminium. One
Cement. B&Q. Bag. One
but there could be something.
We went into a downstairs office off the main hall. Wood panels with a large solid wood desk at one end. This was Bixby’s office. The EU flag and UK flag hung together limply from a small flagpole in the corner. A map of Europe covered half of one wall. The UK looked a little tiny on this map.
A smaller one of the UK alone, with the Scottish republic coloured blue, on the other.
A montage picture frame. Boxes in a triangle shape. Each box held a photo. Photo of Bixby with Tony Blair. Bixby standing for MP. Bixby becoming a Lord.
Bixby at some summit with someone who looked a bit like Nasser. Bixby in Brussels with the most forgotten man in history. Herman van Rompuy. None of Bixby and Vanessa. This was his own wall of fame. It would come in handy for his backstory if he ever wanted to go on ‘X’ Factor.
There was a framed wedding photo was on his desk. Marmon in formal, Vanessa in her wedding white. Them coming out of a country church. They looked very happy.
As everyone does on their wedding day.
There was no obvious computer on Bixby’s desk. Just an In-tray with lots of letters and papers. A tray marked ‘bills’
Another marked ‘Guff.’
There was a sword on the wall. Mounted on a wood plaque. Some kind of honour, presentational thing, I guess. Knight of the Grand order of Europhiles. Hero of the European Union,
I picked up a few of his papers from the in-tray. Invites to a few far off events.
Request to attend the engagement party of some friend’s son.
Invoice for hand made brown leather brogue shoes. Size 6. – £400.
Blimey. His feet were almost as small as hers. They really could go to Clarkes Kids together. Save on the VAT.
“order in black” had been hand written on the invoice in fountain pen.
A request to appear on the BBC’s ancestral search sequel show, where you laugh about all the political incorrectness in your recent ancestors. “What do they think they were playing at.” With ‘Say yes’ written in Biro on it.
I handed it to Vanessa.
“Does he have a secretary or a personal assistant?”
“Yes,” she said. “Me.”
“Really? And do you have any servants here? Anyone living in?”
It was a big house. Big for just two.
“No. Just a cleaner. Each weekday. And a gardener. Twice a week. That’s all”
“Just a cleaner in each morning? I’d have thought at least five. However do you cope?” She didn’t rise to the gibe.
“I do most of his correspondence,” Vanessa told me. “Or more honestly, he sorts what he wants. I take it into my work and my PA sorts it. Bixby isn’t very good with computers or online anything much. He reads his mail, emails and phone texts. Tells me what to send in reply.”
“Where’s his laptop?”
She pressed a button under the edge of the desk and the top of the table slid back to reveal a large flat screen. She started to put in a password onto the touch-screen, and looked at me. “Should you be seeing this?” She pouted a little.
“Sure. I need it. All this is going to be sent back to my office. Secure. I use The Department’s encryption data transfer. Its as safe as
Hillary Clinton’s new server.”
“Well, lucky for you its not retina protected. Just a password..”
“Yeah, real lucky.”
Retina protection cracking was even easier than guessing a password.
Bixby’s was even easier than that. Vanessa typed NO2BREXIT and the screen came on.
“Want me to write that down, Joe?”
“I think I’ll remember it. I assume he uses this password or a variation for all his secure comms? Get his emails up, would you.”
She did. “He uses NO2Brexit or Bollox2Brexit. Emails are bollox,” she told me.
“Aren’t they just.”
I scanned his mails. Since GGGDDDPPRR3 spam emails had almost ceased to exist.
It targeted hard marketing mails and sales offers. Requiring a two step verification to receive them Which few bothered with. So they were never received.
Inadvertently the EU had done us a digital favour. But they killed Groupon and LoveHoney doing it.
It was a lot easier to track emails now there were so few.
Bixby’s were the same as his In-tray. Requests to attend this and that. Payment required for his tiny footed shoes from John Stimpson’s of Bond Street. £400 – Size 6. I’ve bought entire suits with shoes and shirts and ties for less than that.
Cobblers to the rich, I thought.
A few tweets from people he followed. They were MEPs. So obviously I had never heard of them. It looked very boring stuff.
“Not much here,” I told her. “Nothing upcoming either. Didn’t he have anything booked for this week? Anything after his BBc appearances?”
“I don’t now. He..he did those himself, mostly. They call him up.”
“Have you found his phone?”
“Its not here. He must have it with him.”
Not so easy to trace. At The Department I could have done it as easy as filling in the form. But I didn’t have access to the masts data any more.
If necessary Dacia could fake up an official looking request. Have the telecoms grid guys send locations back to the fake Department PO box that was directed back to my office. But only in an emergency. Meddling with data was even more serious a crime than using patio heaters. With the whole ‘Vote Leave’ stole your data still causing politicians to weep openly.. Mad Carole Catwoman Cadwalladr still going on about The Russians, all these years later. Ready for her big scoop. Any day now. Just you wait. Any day.. coming right up…really big scoop!
Besides, the telecoms people were very slow. They were semi covered by EU laws, which differed from UK ones. So although they couldn’t ignore a request, they didn’t have to hurry with it either. Even The Department couldn’t make them. So it might be four weeks or more. Which would probably be too late for our purposes.
“Has he a tablet?”
“No. He does have a Super-Fit_byte 3000. I got it for him a few years back. He uses that for emails. I think that’s the only function he knows how to operate on it.”
Bixby and me had more in common than I suspected.
“He has a diary. A book one. I think I saw it in my art room. I’ll find it in a minute.”
“OK. I said. Lets go see inside the safes.”
I looked at her. But she just leaned on the edge of the desk. Took another, bigger, sip of her wine, and said, “You’re the big investigator.
You show me where it is.”
I looked around the office again. Accepting the challenge.
I couldn’t see anything obvious. No CCTV over on opposite walls. No rug to hide a pressure pad. All laminate floor in here.
I thought it over.
He had had the button installed under the desk that activated his all-in-one laptop and screen. So he liked concealed devices. Under the desk because it was easy to activate when next to it. I walked over to the far wall without windows. Interior wall. The one with the Crusader like sword hanging upright, mounted on the wooden base. Maybe Bixby was a Mason? Probably. But would he have a sword? It was a bit out of place in this office. Unless he was a big Game of Thrones. Secret luster of Arya Stark?
There was a down light over the sword. To display it better. It had come on when we’d come in here and she had turned on the lights with the switch by the door.
So this other light switch, near the display sword, seemed to have no purpose. I ran my finger along the top of the wood panel by the sword. My fingertip was partially going through a cut out that was about a centimetre wide.
I pressed the light switch and the sword and mounting slid sideways along the wooden panelling to reveal behind them a small, digital, combination safe.
“My Goodness!” Vanessa exclaimed with what seemed genuine amazement. “How on earth did you know.? Just like that?”
“I used to watch a lot of Derren Brown. And Colombo. I’m a psychic detective. Want to open it for me?”
She walked over the safe and punched in a combination. She turned back and said, “That installation cost a fortune, Joe. It’s supposed to be super secure. What if we had burglars? I’m going to get onto the security firm. Tell them what happened. Just walked in and found it.”
“Best not,” I said.”Until after we find Lord Bixby. Its only the panel. Safe is secure. Any good burglar knows the safe will be in the office. Its opening it you don’t want them to be able to do.”
She took another gulp. The glass was nearing empty. “Fine. I’ll deal with them at a later date.” Little flash of anger. Something quite stimulating in it.
There was nothing of much use in the secure safe. Land deeds. Leases. Property details. Share certificates. Some French documents. One of which looked like a Paris wealth tax statement for the tax that was levied on Parisian properties over 3.3 million Euro. And some corporate attachments in French that looked like the property was for a charity, so no tax was due. Bix was using his Paris home as his charity office and avoiding the wealth tax.
Bixby was genuine 1%. That’s the most they ever paid in tax. 1%. Everything else was exempt.
I closed the safe.
“Shall we look in the good one now? The real safe?” I asked Lady Bixby. I had warned her earlier I would need to see it.
“OK. Follow me Joe.”
She walked out of the office, in her fabulous dress and on her fabulous heels.
I followed along, gazing unashamedly at her firm behind.. As all women suspect all men do. And as all men really, actually do.
Instead of heading into the library, that was my guess for the second safe, she began ascending the spiral staircase.
“We going to the loft?” I asked her.
“No.” She looked back over her shoulder at me, her long blonde hair covering half of her beautiful face.
“To the bedroom.”
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file