I set the screen lock to ‘none’ and the timer to one hour. Ate a handful of peanuts.
Drank a half a glass of the water and curled up on the chair with the red velvet cushions. Looked around the private room of the lap dance club. Decided there was nothing else of interest. So I closed my eyes.
And fell asleep.
Ch 34 – Ghost.
Something was beeping. A quiet beep. A radar like pulse sound. It wasn’t alarming. It was quieter and with a lower frequency than a smoke detector. And far less agitating.
But it was as persistent as government advice on sugar consumption.
And as insistent as a subpoena.
It required attention.
So I ignored it. Because I didn’t seem to be anything to do with me. It was just a noise. For someone else to attend with. I felt very relaxed. And content. And the demand of the beeping didn’t alter that.
This day had started with beeping. My smart watch had been going off as I snoozed in my office. Not dreaming of anything. Lady Bixby had come in to that office soon after.
Blonde Vanessa with her red lips and pale blue, well fitting dress. Gloves and bag. Her patrician nose worried about the cleanliness of my workplace.
She had looked gorgeous. And intelligent. And soft.
I felt very sleepy. And washed out. My eyes were too heavy to open, even if I wanted them too. I didn’t want them to open. I was drifting. Very very slowly. I wasn’t worried about it. Wasn’t worried about anything. I felt serene and calm. I felt something on my forehead. Damp, but not unpleasant. It was nice. It was gentle.
I could almost feel her softness by me now. Lady Bixby. I could feel a gentle pressure as she ran her tiny hand along my wrist. The red nails lightly touching the skin as she drew them up, towards my shoulder.
“Sorry! Did that hurt?”
Woman’s voice. Sounded far away. A delicate tone. A little concerned. Sounded like Lady Vanessa.
“Not at all, “ I replied quietly. Enjoying my rest. Not wanting to respond to anyone or anything.
“It’s just that you flinched when I pressed here. I think this may be fractured,”
I decided I should pay some attention to what was happening, after all. So I forced an eye half open. I could see an attractive, shimmering figure. A spectral Blonde Maiden.
“I’m going to put something on this. It will sting a bit,” the ethereal Vanessa informed me.
I didn’t say anything in response. I closed my eyes again. I was very comfortable.
Didn’t want to have to think. To process. Or do anything at all but drift and enjoy the sensation. I didn’t wish to lose this restful dream.
However, despite my best efforts at resistance, I could sense the room around me.
Could feel that I wasn’t in a pool or a lake at all. But on a chair.
I reluctantly opened my eyes a fraction. And let the hazy room very slowly come into a focus.
I saw now that there was a woman here. Right beside me. Blonde and soft. I could see her legs. Silky smooth. Appearing from under a long, maroon dress, that was cut to show off her bust. This Vanessa spirit certainly looked real enough.
Maybe real enough to touch.
I could even smell her cigarette. The vape juice she liked. Cinnamon and Ice Cream.
Or something very similar. Quite pleasant.
The ghost’s hand was smoothing my arm. Pressing something onto it. I looked to see but there was a mist in this room, which she kept fading into.
“I’m putting a dressing on this.” The Ghost Vanessa informed me gently. “I’ve cleaned it already. There was nothing in the cut. Just the puncture wound. Even if it was a gang knife you should be all right. I gave you a shot.” She was looking at me as she spoke. And pulling something around my arm. I could feel that now as the arm was compressed. She was kneeling down beside me. Very close.
“ I’ve cleaned up your ear too. That’s not too bad really. Looks ugly today. But it will heal to look more like a burn. Grow your hair longer. It will cover it. So don’t even think about that.”
“That’s good to know. Thanks,” I told the figure. I wasn’t concerned. I wasn’t concerned about anything. I felt very relaxed. My words came out kind of mumbled.
Muffled As though my lips had been glued.
I wouldn’t have guessed Lady Bixby to be the nursing type. So that settled it for me.
This was a dream. But a really good one.
A good masculine dream where I’d done something pretty foolish, but for a good cause. Something that was also impressively brave and deeply heroic and highly virtuous. And I’d been mildly wounded in the line of duty. No arm or leg missing. Or permanent damage to a bladder or something. Just some superficial wound damage.
That at worst, would only leave a features enhancing scar.
Maybe I’d fought a dragon to rescue this Princess. And she was tending my manly wounds, which hadn’t left me crippled and deaf. Just stoically bearing my man-pain.
As this bewitching lady cared and tended me. Comforted and loved me.
Men have this fantasy dream a lot. It’s one of our favourites. Sometimes the woman brings beer and sandwiches. Sometimes she undresses for no reason.
Don’t judge us, ladies. We are just very simple, basic, creatures.
I tried to thank the ghost Vanessa again, but I was still struggling to talk properly.
Then I realised the reason was I had a cigarette in my mouth.
This was unusual for me as I limited myself to just a few a month. I didn’t even really like vaping that much. I mostly did it to annoy liberals in the street.
Proper consciousness was starting to creep back. The cigarette smoke, Cinnamon and Ice-Cream, wasn’t from the lips of the alluring Lady Bixby. It was the one in my mouth. Wafting clouds around the room. Now I understood that the shimmery mist wasn’t mist at all. It was cig smoke.
And the elegant Lady Bixby, nursing me, wasn’t the young and beautiful Vanessa Bixby after all.
It was the slightly less young, slightly less beautiful, Nina. The proprietor of the Sapphire Mermaid, Gentleman’s Club. The strip club.
A hand reached through the cloud and took the e-cig from my mouth.
And pulled it back and put it into her own, generous, red lips. She pressed a button on her watch. A Fit-Byte 3000. Rose gold on colour. Everyone had one of these damn things, it seemed. The beeping stopped. It had been an alarm. She didn’t seem in any particular hurry for anything.
Nina was knelt down beside me. She had rolled up my sleeve and was now looking at the wound to my wrist. The one I had got in the basement gunfight last night.
“Nina? What are you doing here? This is a private room.” I said to her groggily.
“I own the place, Joe. I go where I please,” she said with a smile. She tapped my wrist again, and it did hurt. I pulled it away, but she put a hand over mine to restrain me, gently.
I was still feeling very fuzzy headed. I was lacking my usual sense of awareness. So I just went with it. And stayed, slumped restfully in the chair. Nina must have put the cigarette into my mouth. Perhaps I’d asked for one. Or she thought I needed some nicotine.
“I think it may be fractured. Your wrist.” She said again. “Its gone very black. And you also have a deep cut up here.”
She moved her hand to where the blood was seeping through from the wound in my upper arm.
“Do you want a doctor?” She asked.
I was still feeling very swimmy. The Vanessa/Nina apparition sounded far away. Even though I could see her next to me, quite clearly.
“No. I don’t need a doctor, “ I answered her. “It doesn’t hurt much.”
“That’s because I had Leo put Novazynka in your drink, Joe.”
Novazyanka? That was a heavy duty pain killer. An illegal high.
It was the drug Gordon Brown was supposed to have been addicted too when he was Prime Minister and behaving like a growling ogre. Throwing phones and eating printer cables. Was rumoured to still be addicted to it now. Had to be locked away for many nights of the year in a special room. With a rubber floor and walls where he sat making wicker baskets.
“He didn’t put much in, Joe. Don’t look so worried. Just enough to take the edge off your pain. I wanted you quiet so I could see your injuries.
I have nurse’s training from my Navy days. You don’t want to see a proper doctor? I have a good one. She’s very discreet. NHS, of course. But she’s always been available to help the girls through their health matters. Whatever the …problem was.”
“That’s nice to know,” I told her. “But I’m fine.”
The haze was leaving the room quickly now. It was all coming back into focus.
Vanessa was all gone. Replaced by all Nina. Not the Swap Shop deal of the week.
But not the worst trade ever made. Not a bad trade at all.
Nina actually did look quite a lot like the Chelsea Girl, Lady Vanessa Bixby. She had a similar figure, though Nina was bigger through the bust, and in the waist. Similar luscious blonde hair. But Nina had a harder face. That reflected her harder life.
“This arm needs stitching. The wrist, as I said, I think is fractured. Or very badly bruised as makes no difference. Except it will heal quicker if it’s only muscle damage. Your ear is going to be fine with only minor reconstruction surgery. Though your hearing is definitely impaired on that side. I doubt that is permanent. But favour the other side if you are listening out for anything.
Scratches and minor bruising to your palms. Knees too probably though I haven’t looked. I thought you would want to keep your pants on.”
She smiled ruefully again as she said that. This was a strip club. Pants were coming on and off all day and all night.
“You’ve been on the news, Mr Malone,” she told me as she rolled down my sleeve.
Now she had finished tightly bandaging the slash in the muscle.
“Yeah?” I asked. “Did I win something? Was it the Euro-Billions lottery? Because I could really use that right about now.”
She stood up. Smoothed down her dress, and dropped the cig into a glass ashtray.
“You are being sought to assist the police with an inquiry. Into an unexplained death of an as yet unnamed person.”
“Its my accountant,” I told her. “I couldn’t help myself. His fees…they were outrageous. I lost control. No jury will convict me, Nina. Not when they see the fees.”
She walked a pace, one hand on her hip. She looked younger than she was. She took a lot of care of herself. Very good figure. Very good skin for someone who lived around alcohol and slept most days the backwards way around.
“My sources tell me the yet to be named deceased was Lord Marmon-Herrington Bixy. And that you killed him.”
She stared at me. Waiting for a response.
“Oh..Yeah..Well…I killed him too. His House of Lords expenses claims were just as outlandish as my accountants. I did the public a favour. And all that constant remoaning. No jury will convict me.”
Not even a flicker of a smile from her. I dropped the weak attempts at humour.
“How bad is it?” I asked her. Flexing my biceps to loosen the bandage she had tied so tightly. I might soon be needing that arm to punch people.
“On all channels. BBc have it as top story. Every fifteen minutes. They are using the ‘have been asked by the authorities for public assistance.’ You are currently, ‘sought in connection with.’”
That wasn’t so bad. When they moved onto ‘public are warned not to approach,’ that was when they would shoot me down on sight. Surprised they weren’t doing that already, really.
“You’re going to have to move on, Joe. They will know you sometimes meet people here. It’s in your files. All those digital expenses claimed receipts. Someone will come to check.
And if really you have killed Lord Bixby, the Remainer’s great hope for stopping No Deal Plus, they will throw all available personnel at this. It will be labelled as terrorism to get the extra funding and authority.
When the liberal media find out who has been killed, they will go into an absolute meltdown. Your image will be on every bulletin until the end of time.
The Mayor is going to want to show he’s doing his bit. He’ll probably close all the clubs for the night, just to show he’s handling the situation.
So you really do need to be going. As soon as you feel ready. And as long as ready means within the next five minutes.”
She looked at me with her hard face.
Not ugly hard.
Just business hard.
She was in a tough line of work. One that involved dealing with men, and their perverse and immoral habits.
She was good at it. Better than most of her male competitors. She could handle trouble. She just didn’t want to have to. If I went now, she could disappear all traces of me.
“No problem,” I said to her. “I feel better now. Much better.”
“That’s the Novazyanka. Got a real kicker in it,” she said to me. Nodding at a small ear-drop sized bottle on the table I hadn’t noticed before.
“But the downer will make you feverish, when it comes. Potassium is best to steady it. You still look dreadfully pale. Take the bottle with you. You need to get some proper food, soon. You should go to the Cafe and Stop, at Tottenham Court Road. See what you can find there.”
I knew the place she meant. On the location of the old Virgin Megastore. A big, cafe, shop, entertainment and vehicle stopover. One of the few places that trucks and other commercial vehicles could legally park up, in the Mayor’s London.
It was next to Crossrail. On the commuter tube lines, Central, and Northern. Charing Cross station, and its Waterloo mainline connection, within walking distance. The AmaZrone landing pad only a stone’s throw away on top of Centre Point’s luxury flats.
A good choice to hide in. A good place to get a way out of here from. All I had to do was get past the Home Office, which was on the route.
“I might just go there.” I told her. Though for what I was thinking of doing, I’d need more money than I had. A lot more.
Nina must have read my mind, for she said, “I’ve put £8,000 Europound cash into your jacket. Clean money. All good, used, notes. Anyone will take it. There’s enough to get you out of here. You can pay me back another time. I know you’re as good as your word. Your reputation is built on it.”
She looked away as she said that. As though she was suddenly interested in the picture on the wall of the near naked girl, hugging a golden African lion, She turned her back to me. Now only looking at the picture.
“Nina.” I called softly. “Why are you doing this? Why are you patching me up..And..and..giving me your money? I mean, I appreciate it, of course I do.
She didn’t turn around. Just looked at the ridiculous picture. I could see her eyes reflected in the glass. They looked sad. As if this hard faced, hard nosed, hard life woman had …been close to tears? She looked vulnerable. A look I’d never imagined I’d ever see from her. I realised she was smaller than I’d ever noticed. Her frame was quite petite. She always exuded a powerful presence. Made her seem taller than she really was.
She still didn’t say anything. So I rose up from the chair, and forced my cramped, stiff legs to bend, so I could reach her. I put my good hand on her shoulder. Tenderly.
“Thank you, Nina. I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything, Joe. There really is no need,” she said that very quietly, so I had to partially lip read the movement of her mouth in the glass reflection. My ear was still ringing with the wound. I couldn’t hear as well as usual.
She put her hand over mine. The one on her shoulder. Still facing away from me..
Then she suddenly took in a deep breath, as if she had decided on something. I felt her shoulder shudder. She turned quickly around to face me, and my hand fell from her shoulder. Back down to my side.
We looked at each other. I could see the wetness that she was blinking back in her green eyes.
I smiled at her. “Thanks,” I said again. “I’ll be back to repay you. Real soon.”
She leaned in close to me, and went onto her tiptoes, so she could reach up, to get her lips against my good ear.
“You’d better be, Malone” She whispered.
Then she moved her body and head sideways, to be directly in front of me. She brushed my lips with hers. Just the faintest touch. The faintest trace of a lipstick kiss before she turned away and walked to the door.
She tapped on it once and it was opened instantly. She glided through it, not saying anything more. Not looking back.
Leo, the bouncer and former Transport Police Inspector stepped through the door.
He had my coat in his hand, which he tossed to me.
“Time to go, buddy. Let’s move. You got all your stuff?”
I picked up the phone, and drug bottle and put them into the jacket, which I then put on.
“Leo,” I said. Surprised to see him. “I thought you’d gone home?”
“Nina asked me to stick around for a while. She’s the boss so what a you gonna do, eh?”
I could feel a thick wad of notes in my inside pocket. As far as I knew, or had ever known, Nina gave nobody, nothing, for free. Yet she had just given me a stash of cash. bandaged my wounds and played nursemaid to my fevered brow. For exactly that nothing in return. I wondered why.
“Why is she being like this, Leo? Nina, I mean?” I asked him. “Why is she helping me? I’m a wanted man.”
“Because she’s in love with you, dummy,” Leo informed me.
“What?” I almost fell back into the chair. “What did..you can’t be..”
“Come on, let’s go. You got to get out of here, Joe. Let’s move.”
He ushered me through the door, out into the corridor. He indicated I should head towards the fire escape doors, just a little way further.
“I don’t believe it,” I told him. Not at all sure what to make of his response. Though it would explain her behaviour.
“Believe what you like. But she’s in love with you, Malone.”
I still didn’t believe it. I hardly knew her.
“How long has this, ‘being in love’ thing been going on?” I asked him.
“I dunno,” Leo replied. The Bronx heavier than ever in his accent. “How long youse been comin’ in here?”
“I guess, maybe..seven or eight years.”
“Then its been going on seven or eight years. Now shove off, Joe. I really need to get to bed and you really need to disappear. Right off the grid.”
He punched a code into a panel to secure the alarms, then opened the fire door exit.
They led onto a similar service alley to the main doors at the front. Only this alley ran north. The way I wanted to head. It was much brighter out now. The sun was right up, and there weren’t any clouds.
I stepped out and walked a few paces, before turning back to Leo.
“I never realised,” I told him. “She never said anything. I just…never knew..She kept her distance from me, mostly. I never…even guessed she might..” I trailed off.
“That’s because you, are… a really .. lousy .. Detective, Malone,” said Leo. Giving me a broad grin. “You Department assholes couldn’t detect a fart in an elevator. How a Munchkin like you ever got into even a crummy outfit like The Department, is a deep mystery.
You’d have never have got into TFL. WE had to be observant. Now..take care of yourself, Joe. See you when it’s all fixed.”
He stepped back through the door, pulling on the bar to close it behind him. It banged shut.
I turned around, and walked a little stiffly up the alley. Thinking about Nina.
I remember when I’d first started coming to her club. Early on I’d brought her in for questioning. Down the station. A minor charge. Liqueur licence date expiration or something. Dragged her down for processing simply to give me a reason to be seen here, from time to time.
I’d never told her it was just a cover bust. I’d just hauled her in. Then, eventually, had uniform let her go, without charges.
She’d never said anything. Hadn’t been annoyed, or even displeased. I thought she was just used to cops being cops and shaking her down.
Now I knew better. She said nothing, because she loved me.
As if I didn’t have enough problems for one day.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file