Ch 35 – Deer Stalker.
The sun was well up now. Nina’s Novazyanka had taken me out. I had slept for more than two hours, that was for sure. Leo’s phone said 1.01pm. I tried to set the cheap watch I had taken from the poor boxes. Using my good hand I finally managed to get the watch hands to 1.19 pm. Close enough. I wasn’t going to catch a train. The watch appeared to be working. The second hand ticked along.
So now I had the time of day sorted and a back up time keeper in case I needed to dump Leo’s phone. I had a pocket full of cash and a head full of sleep. All I really needed now was a good teeth clean.
And a plan to get the hell out of the City and of the United Kingdom without being detected by the Police Forces and border agencies, and all their ancillary services and departments.
Good luck with that Joe. Good luck old buddy.
I separated the money into two bundles. One in each inside pocket so the bulges didn’t show.
The alley was running out. It led onto a main street. There were lots of shops here.
Unlike the empty market towns and village high streets, shops were still popular in the tourist districts of London. Tourist district was where I was and what I wanted.
I dipped into a souvenir shop. LONDON was stamped on everything that was for sale.
Tea Towels. Police Bears. Guardsmen and Guards women in red uniform. Royal merchandise was featured. A plastic gold crown. A copy of Harry and Meghan’s divorce papers, sealed in a glass frame.
Everything and anything that could be printed. Sprayed. Lacquered. Embossed. Die cut. Laser engraved or stamped with ‘LONDON’ or “ENGLAND” on it, could be had.
I carefully felt the bundle of notes in my inside jacket pocket. I managed to pull a crisp feeling note out from the bundle, without having to take the wad out of my pocket. If the Chinese owners had seen that bundle I’d have been surrounded in seconds. With every conceivable ‘bargain’ being thrust in my face.
I saw what I wanted hanging from hooks on the far wall. Deerstalker caps.
These were very popular right now. Cumberbatch had recently made a whole batch of ‘New Sherlock’ TV shows. Japanese tourists would snap these up. Authentic British Detective hats. They even had a Calabash pipe which came with the outfit. I decided against the rose pink one, and picked a harvest gold instead.
I couldn’t use the self checkout with cash. Cash was instantly suspect in modern Britain. But it was still acceptable. Just. And in a place like this, it was expected and welcomed. I doubt there was a tat shop in the whole of London’s West End that had ever showed a profit on their books.
I handed over the yellow deerstalker and pipe.
“You want mac?” The Chinese assistant asked. He held up a cheap plastic poncho.
Overprinted with a vague copy of the Inverness Tartan cape pattern. As traditionally worn by Britain’s most famous detective. Though I felt I was about to give him a run for his money in the fame stakes. Notoriety stakes, anyway.
“Yes,” I told him. I assumed he was Chinese. I didn’t recognise Asian facial differences or accents well. He could conceivably be one of the millions of Hong Kong residents who had fled when the People’s Army moved in took over the former colony.
They’d had the misfortune of turning up at the same time as the South African civil war began. They had no chance of refugee status with all the Africans claiming asylum. The fact the new ‘Asian Boat People’ were better educated. Skilled, Had a powerful work ethic. More wealth. And for the most part, spoke good English, really, really counted against them. They had been turned away in their millions.
Many had got into Turkey. When that country got special Euro membership associate status, they’d began making the long trip from safe country to safe country.
Until they eventually hopped across the Channel and ended up here.
I picked up a conveniently stacked box from the impulse stand by the counter that was holding outrageously expensive, cheap chocolates, in boxes whose cover was a pictures of the London Eye.
“May I have a carrier bag, please?”
“Is one Euro-Pound extra, OK?”
I didn’t really want the chocolates. But I did want the bag. And some weight to it.
I paid cash and took the change and before I left the shop put on my bright yellow deerstalker and plastic cape. I even popped the plastic pipe between my lips.
Once I was outside the bright colour of the cap would attract the attention of the CCTV watchers. But it would look touristy. And it covered my features well, from above. I could pull it down, low. The big pipe would cover my mouth a bit. And the bag would make me look just like one of the millions of visitors to the Metropolis.
Who, despite the constant stream of imminent doom stories of the Remainers, insisted on coming to Semi-Brexit Britain.
I pretended to study some boxed die cast models of London AmaZrones and Ubers, while I waited for what I needed. I didn’t have to wait long. A herd of South Korean tourists descended on the shop. Pointing and chatting and touching. Their money sent a long way in London these days. With the falling price of the Euro-Pound, non euro currencies could almost afford to buy a bottle of larger in the Mayor’s city.
I edged my way to the back of the group as they discussed the merit of buying a Finsbury Park Mosque Alarm clock.
The assistant came over and demonstrated. When the alarm went off, it played a very, very loud ‘call to prayer.’ This caused much delight. And the assistant, who seemed fluent enough in Korean, repeated the gag again, to the delight of those who had missed it the first time. The clerk negotiated a bulk price for several clocks and some umbrellas featuring King Charles and Queen Camilla.
He made a brave attempt to introduce some very reduced priced copies of the Mayor’s book. “I did a lot better than dad.”
No one was very interested. And not only because they didn’t speak or read English.
Eventually, commerce having been satisfied, the group of Koreans re hitched backpacks onto shoulders and set off. I walked behind. Close enough to look like a dawdler from the cameras above me. Not too close to worry the back markers of the group they were being stalked by one of the scary London Stabbers.
This was the fringe of London’s shopping zone. Northwards was Covent Garden.
Regent street. Oxford Street. Bond Street. Charing Cross Road and all the clubs and restaurants of Soho and Goodge street.
It was a fair bet that the tourists would be slowly, blunderingly, and annoyingly, making their erratic way towards those areas. I could join the tails of any number of groups this way. It would take a while, but I was confident I could get to where I wanted to go this way. Hiding in plain sight.
Being in a crowd was safety. The image recognition software wasn’t up to speed in large crowds. It was supposed to be able to identify once face in a thousand.
Accurately and efficiently.
If it was looking for a man, beard and stud earring, a camera would sweep a sector.
Submit all the men, beards, and earrings it had seen in the last ten seconds, and fast burst those images into the image files of the database. Comparing against the actual digital image they were looking for.
In reality the software still wasn’t up to it. When it had too many matches in one sweep, which it did all the time, it simply failed.
The software’s ‘near match’ could throw up thousands of people the human camera operators would have to track manually, themselves. Far too many to check in the time they had.
Or, if the system had screened out all the duds and it was left with just five, good facial matches, it sometimes couldn’t decide which was the most promising. So it switched between them all. Evaluating and re-evaluating over and over again. Stuck in a loop. Unable to make a priority choice. Until someone reset the machine. Though as the Met had invested several hundreds of millions in it, they insisted it worked just fine. And each time it didn’t, they claimed a one in a million chance failure, had occurred.
Which was good news for me as I ambled along behind the Korean couple at the back.
This part of London was one of its most congested of all. I’d once come down here at Christmas once and had to walk down the centre of the road as the pavements were too jammed with people to progress.
The Korean man stopped to photograph a pub. He pointed excitedly at it.
“Spoons” he beamed to his companion. Though she didn’t look nearly as pleased as he did with this discovery. He called to his friends and they halted.
“Spoons!” He called again. And pointed to the building. He really did look very pleased indeed.
It was lunchtime, so I was pretty sure they would be going into the Weatherspoons, so I ditched that group and made may way across Leicester Square. This place was packed with cameras. Crime prevention and crowd control. There were always a few of those dim robosentry police units stationed here. This was a top terrorist target.
“Kill the infidel women in their blasphemous skirts and harlot heels who are tempting angry young Islamists with their naked flesh.”
Just over the square was Charring Cross Road. Where there were almost no cameras at all. The street was notorious for its many gay bars. Years ago the ‘community’ had complained to the Mayor after some businesswoman had been outed by CCTV footage shown on the news.
What had happened was a bunch of fringe Eco loons from Extinction Rebellion IV, who were annoyed the planet hadn’t melted in the five years since said it would, had tarred themselves into the road.
Black Cab drivers, furious about all the taxes and restrictions, and especially enraged about an idiotic Guardian piece that day that claimed the ‘Black’ in ‘Black’ cabs reminded everyone of ‘Slavery,’ could not get passed them.
Bandwagon Lammy was tweeting they immediately paint their vehicles painted a ‘non-racist’ colour. Which hadn’t helped.
The cabbies had come across the protesters, who were being protected by just a couple of those police bots.
The drivers, seeing the hipsters on the road, were pushed over the edge into madness, by the road being blocked.
They abandoned their vehicles on the street and pavements and had gone off to get a good, few pints down themselves.
They came out a half hour later, in happier moods and with fuller bladders. Which they proceeded to empty over the firmly embedded greenies.
The whole thing was filmed and made the news. However, a famous celebrity businesswoman was inadvertently caught on the film through the windows of the bar she was in. Snogging her female companions.
The Mayor had declared, despite the advice of every responsible officer, this street be freed from the draconian CCTV and surveillance coverage. That he himself had introduced.
So, naturally enough, within a short time, the bookshops and electronic stores were all gone. And every kind of illegal or semi-legal activity that could be imagined appeared in their place.
This street was where I had once set Dacia up on a sting. She was selling pork pies and sausage rolls. That contravened about a million health, food preparation and religious laws. It worked well too. But there were never any arrests from it. McCarey had told us some of Gina Miller’s friends had been caught buying. So everyone was released with only a non-cautionary-caution.
The lack of any CCTV meant I could ditch my Deerstalker and cape. I didn’t want to look like a tourist on these streets. Tourists were even bigger pigeons than the actual big, fat aggressive pigeons that thrived in this part of town.
I dropped them into the waste bin along with the bag of chocolates, and paid the bin tax in the few coins I had left.
It was much cooler here. The trees that lined each side of the street provided a lot of shade. Useful sunblock for the dealers who called out to me as I walked by. Selling all manner of illegal, banned, illicit or unobtainable products.
“Matches, mate? You want matches? I got Ship. Swan Vestas. Bryant & May. Red tips. Black tips. Gold tips. Extra long? I got lighters too. Safety. Or maybe you’d like something… a bit.. harder? I got Zippos?”
I walked on, ignoring.
A very tall, very fat, bald headed man in just a white t/shirt and sweatpants walked over, and fell into step beside me.
“I can get you a contract for a water cooler. Just imagine that?” he said. Straight into his patter. Looking straight ahead as he talked. As did I.
“Fresh, cool water, delivered to your work place. Imagine how happy your employees would be if they could have an actual, approved for use, contract for a water cooler in your work area.”
I said nothing. Just kept walking. He’d seen my business suit like attire and assumed I had offices in the commercial sector behind the shopping district.
“With all the permits.” he added.
“No thanks,” I told him.
“I can add..now listen to this.. I can get, bottled water. Not reusable, neither. I’m talking single use bottles. Sealed and ready to deliver. H2O. Direct.
Sparkling. Still. Elderflower. Strawberry. Cranberry..Peach? How’s that sound?”
“I’m a cop,” I told him. Which wasn’t strictly the truth. Any more than his story about having genuine permits for a water cooler was true.
Without a word, he about faced and walked back the way he had come. Looking for another mug.
He had made quite good cover. Giving me someone to talk to. Any undercover police working this street and alerted to keep an eye out for Joe Malone, would be looking for a man by himself, as a priority.
That water trader had smelled of something funny. Definitely not the vanilla and mint flavoured bottled water he had promised he could get.
Smelled like mould.
I was coming to the end of the street. But suddenly I stopped. I sat on a bench and took out my phone. Head down, looking at my shoes, while I pretended to make a call. I raised my eyes up, and my head, very slowly until I could just see the Vid’Screen at the top of the road.
The screen was replaying the police chief, McCarey’s, earlier conference. But now my face was clearly visible in an inset on the screen. With Joe Malone underneath as a caption.
I had been named.
I had been outed.
And was the subject of a global manhunt.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file