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.
Ch 36 – The Megastop.
I got up from the bench, keeping my head down, and moved up so I could hear what the screen news was saying. But before I got within earshot the bulletin ended.
Moving onto a story about the amazing success London had had in removing rough sleepers from the streets. And the amazing rise in the number of Veggs, the popular Vegan bakery, on the High Streets.
Without making the obvious connection.
By the time I passed under the screen, ITV was on an ad-break. Ray Winstone was offering 3-1 that ‘The suspected, white, male, killer, Joe Malone, would be arrested within 24 hours. Bundle up with an accumulator that today’s London stabbing number would be less than ten.”
I thought 3-1 was a decent bet they would get me. With all the resources they would be throwing at this Bixby death. But it was a sunny day. Still warm. Would be a day for having evening drinks in the city. More drunks about than usual, maybe? So the ‘less than 10’ number looked a bit low to me. So I wasn’t tempted by the wager.
“And don’t forget the ‘Stab App’,” Ray advised in his Gangster tones. “It keeps counting, so you don’t ‘ave too. Pick the annual number and win big!”
No thanks, I thought. Moving on away and from the Screen. I wanted some distance. Londoners wouldn’t pay much attention to the screen. Wouldn’t even register it. But tourists and visitors would. Not used to seeing such giant screens. I walked on at a brisk London pace, as Ray advised me to “. …Bet responsibly.”
The place I wanted wasn’t far up ahead. I could see the flashing sign, even though it was bright sunlight. The Megastop.
Though everyone called it the Cantina.
“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
If you ignored the House of Commons.
* * *
The Cafe was busy, which was good. It was a big place, over several floors. So it took a lot of people to make it seem busy.
I ordered from a screen and took a seat by the back wall of the ground floor. So I could observe without being observed from behind.
I wasn’t worried about CCTV in here. They had to have it. It was the law. All public places had CCTV. And over a certain size, they must be remotely monitored by police or agencies.
This place was just outside the mayor’s camera free zone. So there were hundreds of cameras along the edges. I’d made sure to keep my head well down and looking to the right as I’d timed the traffic lights to move quickly from the CCTV free, to the policed zone. I knew exactly where the cameras were on Tottenham Court road. I’d worked from them many times. The one on the Flying Horse was the newest.
In here, there was very good surveillance equipment. As the law insisted every public place must have.
However, there was always an issue with it.
A carelessly placed box on a shelf blocked the lens. A fast growing fern in a pot shot up to block out another. A bunch of helium balloons floated up to the ceiling, and blocked yet another. Always some problem at The Cantina. Some ‘unforeseeable accident’ that meant their CCTV records were never, ever, worth viewing.
My coffee arrived. A very bored waitress dropped it off her tray at my table. Without a comment. I was hoping to find what I wanted in this place. What I wanted was a people smuggler.
I could see plenty of likely looking types in here already. But I wanted a particular smuggler. One that wouldn’t double cross me.
I could hand over the cash in my jacket pocket, and they’d turn me in at the first customs E-checkstop and pocket any reward too.
I scanned the rooms. There were all sorts in here. A man was chatting up a woman.
His mates looking on, smiling. He was looking pleased with himself. Felt he was making some progress with the pretty lady. Possibly didn’t realise she was a prostitute.
Two black guys were arguing. Loudly enough, and with enough aggressive arm waving and pointing that they had caught the security guard’s attention. I could see him zooming in on their table on his monitor.
The two men suddenly stood up, and pressed close, forehead to forehead. Anger in their eyes. Before suddenly laughing out loud, shaking hands and walking away from each other in separate directions. Whatever they had been staging that distraction for, had gone unnoticed by either the security guard or myself.
What I was looking for wasn’t here yet. I ordered another coffee from the buttons in the table top and settled in to wait.
Time was ticking by. If I didn’t find what I wanted soon, I’d have to abandon this place. The security guard had already noticed I was sitting here alone. I’d made a show of looking at my watch and pretending to call my ‘delayed companion’ on the phone. I’d read some texts. Watched the Vid’Screen. And tried to look as innocent as possible.
The guard wouldn’t be worried about someone passing time here. That was usual. But the Vid’Screen kept flashing up my face. I didn’t want him to recognise me.
I thought I had found someone earlier. He’d come in and ordered a big breakfast of only semi-legal continental hams and some pastries. He had a big belly under his big jacket. A big moustache too. He had pulled some papers from his pocket and put them onto the table beside his plate and mug.
I’d got up, leaving my booth, and went and ordered the same salami platter and sat at the table just across, and just in front of him.
He looked up from his noshing. Movement having caught his eye. I looked at him.
At his plate. And at mine. And smiled widely. “C’est bien, oui?”
“Oui.” he nodded, cutting up some more meat and piling it onto his fork. He took a bite from his bread, paying me no more attention.
I ate alongside him, in silence. I’d hoped native language, same meal, might stir him. It hadn’t. No matter. It was his papers I really wanted to see. The shape and colour of the documents in their protective cover was unmistakable.
EU customs checks digital papers. Processed away from the border and for rapid access to the continent. No sitting in the Boris lane for this guy.
He munched on, studying his travel route. As he tilted the documents towards himself, I could see he was going to be no good. He was heading for Rotterdam. The yellow diagonal on the back of the documents meant Rotterdam.
Although a great port to get to anywhere in the world from, it was also highly policed. Unlike the French, the Dutch had no intention of allowing unlimited asylum seekers to camp out wherever they felt like. Populism in Holland had very nearly toppled the liberal elite. The country had wobbled so badly that for months, Nethexit had been a difficult to say bulletin word in all the news rooms.
Eventually a very right leaning coalition had come to power. And a lot of border controls had taken place. Free movement was out. Quota immigration was in.
Though, of course, not officially. The ‘Dutch Cap’ as Farage had described it in the EU Parliament, was allowed.
Wisely, for once, rather than, as they usually did, interfere to make a bad situation much worse, the EU had pretended not to notice what was happening in Holland.
I didn’t want to go to Rotterdam. So I left my plate and headed to the toilets.
As I used the unisex urinal, I heard a sweet signing coming from the stall behind me. A sweet, but strong voice. Singing the old Rod Stewart song. The one that had also been a minor hit for former MP, Rory Stewart, too.
“I am sailing…I am sailing..up the Khyber..” It sounded to me. The Scots accent was thick. Not Glasgow. More Dundee. The softer vowels.
I washed my hands and waited. The singing continued. The singer had a decent voice. Singing in a harmonious tone. Only spoiled by the loud plops into water. And some very long belches that punctuated the lyrics.
Eventually, with a sigh, and with the handclap of a man who is about to begin some manual labour, I heard the person standing up. I’d assumed it was a man.
From the noises and pitch of the voice. And the smell. And because although the toilets were unisex, no women ever used them if at all possible. They went to the disabled ones. Which, thanks to the latest EU regulations, were now the size of common rooms. They were full of sofas and plants and cushions and soft pop music.
I’d once seen a table tennis table in one.
I didn’t blame the ladies one bit.
The electronic voice of the toilet commanded the user in the stall to deposit his water use tax. I heard the beep of a tapped phone payment. The slightest of flushes as the system cleaned up. The clunk of a buckle and the slide of a bolt.
The door opened and the Scottish singer emerged. I stared at him in some surprise.
He was shorter than my imagination had prepared me for. Also, I hadn’t expected the turban.
As he stepped out, he saw me looking. I must have stared longer than I had intended as he demanded, “Wha’ the feck are youse lookin’ aht?”
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file