Private Investigator is at the Reform Club. A guest of Lady Vanessa Bixby, as she meets with her diner guests. Mandelson and Stuart.
So finally I stood up. Lifted the tray from the waiter’s hands and set it on our table.
“Thanks, Pal,” I said to him. “You arrived just in time. Seems my companions are suddenly in need of a stiff, drink.”
Ch 18 – Revelations
I gave them a moment to process the news. A detective was at their table. And he wasn’t even a club member.
“When did he go missing?” Sir Alan finally asked. Brushing his feminine red lips with a manicured fingernail.
“Just a short while ago. Less than three days.”
“What..? And..no word Vanessa?” said Mandelson. He sounded worried. As he should be.
“No word as yet Lord Peter,” I answered for her.
“Well..why didn’t you just tell us he was missing? You know we are only too willing to help in any way we can. Good heavens! Should I call Cressida? She still has contacts. Or Hercule? At EuroPol !” Mandelson had raised his voice. Loud enough to be heard. I saw a couple down at the bar area looking over at us. They obviously recognised him. The woman looked like that foxy weather announcer from Eurochannel 4. Sonja somebody.
I decided to calm Mandelson down a little.
“It was me that asked Vanessa not to mention this to you. It was my doing.” I told him. “I only had an entry in Lord Bixby’s diary. A meeting. I didn’t know who he was going to see here, tonight. It was me who asked Lady Bixby to not say anything to whoever his guests were.”
“But why?” He sounded a little hurt, at not being immediately trusted. Process that.
The most malevolent spinner in existence had a little hurt feelings.
“In case you were involved in some way,” I told him, bluntly.
They both looked more surprised. As if it had not occurred to them that they might be suspects. Not that it should have. They were only suspects to me.
“Why would we be involved in Lord Bixby’s disappearance?” Asked Sir Alan.
“I do not know. That’s what I am here to investigate.” And seeing another opening, I decided to take it. “Would you care to answer some questions?”
“Of course, I would not object. Do you fear something untoward might have happened? Some foul play?”
“I really don’t know. He might be on a secret stag weekend in Prague. One of his House of Lords buddies getting hitched to his personal assistant. And Bixby is still chained to a Czech stripper in some hotel room,” I offered.
No one looked very convinced. So I pressed on.
“Lord Bixby was last seen leaving BBC Radio City in Regent Street, London.. He had recorded a broadcast for the Bbc.
He got into a private hire vehicle from UbOOer. An automated vehicle. No driver.
His details and card transactions show he paid with his own card and was dropped off at Green Park underground and AmaZrone pad. No further sightings since then.
That was just two days ago. His diary shows he should have met with you, Lord Peter, right after that BBc interview.
AS and PM..were the initials in his diary. And tonight he would have been here, to see you again. He’d be showing up, about now.”
I made a show of turning my head and looking around the room.
“He’s not here”
“Have you any idea where he might have gone?”
“No idea at all. He might have gone anywhere. Lord Bixby travels extensively. Have you called his mobile, Vanessa?” asked Lord Peter.
“Yes,” I quickly said for her. “And all other avenues for investigation are being explored.” Keeping him focused on my questions, I asked, “What was your meeting, here, the other night with Marmon-Herrington Bixby, about?”
“Just a routine get together. Strategy for the May-Rory-Warsi, withdrawal agreement’s, forty fifth return to parliament. How to play it in the Lords.”
“Who was present?”
“I think it was just the three of us. Bixby and Alan and myself.”
“Bixby’s diary says he was meeting PM and NC. Tonight your table place was reserved for an NC and OR. Who is NC?”
“That would be Nicholas Clegg.”
I thought about that for a second. Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister?
And now a leading member of the regulate the internet campaign?
Is that “FaceBook Nick?” I asked him. He looked appalled at the use of Clegg’s common appellation.
“Yes. He was also leader of the Liberal Democrats you may recall.”
“I don’t recall the Lib Dems. I blocked them out for eternity. Why was he meeting with you both, here?”
Sir Alan answered. “Nick was briefing Bixby on the successes so far of banning any far-right hate speech on online platforms.”
I was intrigued. “What exactly constitutes a far-right hate speech site?”
“That was what we were going to discuss. Myself and Bixby feel that any sort of hate speech should be covered. Especially blogs which support Leave or Populism, or Independence of any sort.
Nick, as Facebook’s representative in Europe, felt business interests must play a part in the decision. So there must be some way of curbing them, and not killing them off.”
“And who is OR?”
“Oliver Robbins. He was to join us this evening. But now he’s EU Commissionaire, and as the Italian banking bailout has occurred again, he was unable to attend.”
“I hadn’t heard about any new banking bailout for Italian banks?” I hadn’t. And I actually pay attention to the news.
“That’s because Commissionaire Robbins is very good at his job. But…and this is top secret so please don’t repeat, Mr Rosewood, there is a huge bailout going on. The Germans are livid. They feel their Italian allies have let them down. As usual. It will all come out in a few days. By then the measures to prevent a panic will have taken place. So if you could keep that quiet for forty eight hours or so, I would be grateful.
“Of course.” Note to self – Sell any Italian or German bank or business shares I had.
“Why would Oliver Robbins be meeting with you and Lord Bixby, here?”
“He was going to tell us exactly what far-right hate speech is. And what it will be in the new Anti-meme and parody crackdown laws. The EU does not have much of a sense of humour, Mr Rosewood. They believe politics is a serious business.”
“Just out of curiosity,” I asked him, “Does anyone look into far-left hate speech?”
“I suppose someone does,” Mandelson answered, vaguely.
“Someone somewhere. Probably takes a mild interest,” Sir Stuart added. “Momentum types are as much a nuisance to orderly corporatism as are those awful British Blue-Jackets.”
“Did Bixby give any indication that he might be concerned about anything? Worried in any way? Did he mention any threats to his person?”
Both Mandelson and Stuart let out booming guffaws at that. From the corner of my eye I saw Sonja the weather babe look round again.
Sir Alan actually roared with laughter. He slapped his thigh with his palm. Like a pantomime pirate discovering the cabin boy is actually the disguised Governor’s daughter,
“Detective Rosewood,” said a smiling Mandy. “Bix is one of the most senior campaigners for Remain! He receives death threats and hate mail on an almost daily basis. There are a lot of very unhinged, illiberal, regressive leavers out there, as I’m sure you know….I mean..as I’m sure you know from being an Investigator. Not because you are a leaver.”
Sir Alan agreed with He who must not be named. “Marmon has a file full of metaphorical green ink letters. All sorts of evil wished upon him.”
“I didn’t see any such file in his home,” I told them.
“That’s because I have it,” said Mandelson. “He gave it to me a few days ago. At the diner that we had here. The one you were just asking about.
And, Detective Rosewood. It is full…Just full of what I surmise are juicy leads for you. It’s a file full of nothing but Far-Right hate mail.”
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file