Ch 39 – The Truck.
It was dark, here in the back. Inside the secret compartment of Gill’s 7.5 tonne Mercedes truck. The space was only the depth of an average sized individual. The width was as wide as the entire cab. But it was shallow. One person shallow.
The secret smuggling compartment was chair shape. We could sit, my illegal travelling companions and I. Knees going forward. Feet on the floor. But our faces were very, very close to the sheet metal false wall. No soft coverings on our side. I’d folded my jacket as a pillow in front of my face to stop bashing my nose with every jolt of the vehicle as it went on our journey northwards. Out of London.
The jacket across my face was also useful to cover the smell. There were at least ten of us in here. And the sweat smell was strong. I wished this were a diesel truck and not a hybrid. That would cover the stink a bit. But then we might all have died of monoxide poisoning.
It wasn’t too noisy in here. Even though we were sat over an axle. Gill had been right when he told me it wasn’t very comfortable.
“Seats thirty nine illegals! Tha’s wha’ e’ sae’s in th’a truck’s handbook,” He had told me, surprisingly proud of this fact.
There was no way thirty nine people could fit in here. Not if any wanted to live.
But for ten or so, it was alright. Quite adequate, really. I’d seen a lot worse when I was with The Department. Had once found a boat with aquariums fixed under its hull.
Instead of being filled with water, the tanks held air. And the migrants were inside them. Looking out at the fish in the channel. Air was pumped into the tanks for the journey.
I felt a dig in my ribs. It was the man next to me. He had said his name was ‘Simon.’
and was ‘From Syria.’ Neither of which were true. When I’d asked what Syrian city he was from he’d just replied, ‘Big City.’
I couldn’t really complain. I’d told him I was Bodie. Doyle Bodie. From Cowley.
Tip for you. When you lie, make it easy to remember.
“Mango?” Simon said.
I didn’t know what he meant. Until I felt a slippery wet slice in my hand. I put it up to my lips. It was too lightless in here to see anything. I hoped it was Mango. And it was, A slice of Mango. I had nothing to give him in return.
I couldn’t see his features. It was very dark in here. The only light was a sliver that came from a poorly fitting joint along the roof of the trailer. Just a thin line that gave only a tiny glimmer of light. And even less air. I would be glad when I could get out of this box.
“Thank you,” I said to him.
“Yes.” he said back.
Which was how our conversation had gone. His English was at the point and nod level. I’d tried him on French. The colonial language of Syria. But he had still only replied “Yes.”
My Arabic was non existent. Anyway it wouldn’t have mattered if I was fluent in it.
By his accent he was from Eritrea.
There was no one on my other side. Gill had given me a luxury, first class spot. The wall of the trailer was on my other side.
We had resorted to just one shared word of understanding.
I used it now.
“Scotland.” I said.
“Aahhh..Yes. Scotland!” I could faintly make out a smile where his mouth should be. “Scotland!”
I could hear the word echo down the line from other male voices, down the whole row of us. It was a magical word. Full of promise.
Free housing. Good jobs. Unlimited welfare payments. Instant acceptance for status as a national of the Republic of Scotland. Family allowances of the size an entire village could live on back in the homeland. Free phones. Free TV. Free stuff! It was the Holy Grail of Immigrants.
Some of that was even true. Or had been. The streets weren’t paved with gold. But they were, perhaps, bronze. For the right sort of ‘New Scotlander.’ Which was anyone voting SNP. Preferably multiple times.
The block vote was holding up. Even as people integrated and adapted to their new lives. And found out they weren’t quite as well off as they thought they were going to be. There was a sizeable opposition to the SNP. But the gerrymandering and bennies buckets kept the ruling socialists in power. Despite their policy of banning anything they didn’t approve of. And making compulsory anything that they did.
Scotland’s Hard Border with England was more for keeping Scots in. Than stopping people coming from without.
Queen Nippy liked to to change the electorate as often as she could. It was the EU and UK and UN that stopped her having unlimited immigration. And the fact Scotland’s twenty nine million population was largely non contributory to the nation’s taxes. The place was heading for the usual socialist failure. Or would have been. If its special place as proxy economic war zone between the UK and the EU and the USA ,wasn’t seeing billions in subsidies and bribes flooding in to the coffers of the Republic.
“Scotland!” I said. And smiled.
I hadn’t really yet thought about what I would do. Now I was a wanted killer. Being innocent wasn’t going to do me any good. The person I was supposed to have squished to death, being one Lord Marmon-Herrington Bixby. The Remainer’s Remainer.
They’d want revenge for that. The remain supporting judiciary would doubtless approve a Joyloony intervention. One that temporarily brought back hanging. Just long enough to stretch my neck. I could appeal. But Lady Hale and The Remainer Supremes would only add Drawing and Quartering to the sentence.
I’d get a fairer trial in China than I would in Britain.
I was heading to Scotland right now, only because it was the smuggling,
importing/exporting centre for non-EU and EU countries. Trade was booming. And they’d all be richer than Soros if they didn’t piss it all away on Socialist vanity projects that went nowhere.
Personal wind farms were the latest wheeze. Cashing in on Scotland’s inexhaustible supply of free breeze. Every garden had a massive pylon in it. By law.
It would be a good place for me, Scotland. The Border was real. The Wall was real.
A guy like me would be useful. Flitting across the restricted zone. Down tunnels and over the wire. I could survive in the People’s Social Democratic Republic of Free Scotland. I could even try and learn the language. Make a whole new life. Shipping in contraband and shipping out shortbread. All butter biscuits were as illegal in England as alcohol was in Scotland.
There was no extradition between the UK and Scotland. I couldn’t be brought back for Bixby’s murder. Not legally. Though Scotland had never forgiven England for voting to leave. They would find a way to get shot of me.
It hadn’t been my intention to hide out there. I’d just wanted to be clear of the UK.
Find a passage to somewhere else. Canada maybe? Now the wets had been defeated and the lumberjack types were taking chainsaws to the years of vegetarian-soy, virtue signalling, legislation, the place was looking normal again.
Alberta. That sounded good.
Or America, perhaps? Alaska. That was remote enough for me. I could be a fisherman. It was beautiful up there. If a bit cold.
However, if the Greta Cult was correct, global warming would soon make Alaska like Dubai. I could buy some crappy ice bound cabin with my few Dollar Pounds.
And who knows? In a year’s time I could be sitting on fine beach front, tropical, real estate.
Or I could go to Wyoming. I could maybe be a small town Sheriff somewhere in some dust bowl. It wouldn’t be easy illegally getting into America. Not with the crocodile lakes and snake pools. The electrified wall. The guard towers and lava rivers and all the other horrendous obstructions the liberal media had told me were part of the border now.
I could do it, though.
“Mango.” My companion said again. And fumbled for my hand. Where he placed another slippery juiced slice.
“Thank you. Simon.” I said. There was a silence. Just the rumble of the tyres on the road. The creak of the truck body.
“I no Simon.” my new friend said hesitantly. Testing his English to the limit. “I..
Yonas. .. I Simon. No… All..Yonas.”
I nodded to say I understood. Though I doubt he could see it in the darkness. He was Yonas. Not Simon. He was only pretending to be Simon.
“I ..papers. Simon.”
“You have papers for Simon?”
“Yes. Paper. Simon. Simon ..Grave.”
“What? Simon Grave. You are Simon Grave?” I asked.
But he didn’t understand. Just said, “I ..Simon. Simon…Grave.” again.
Then I got it. He was using papers for a person called Simon. Who was in a grave.
The real Simon was dead.
It was unlikely Yonas had killed him. More probable that the smuggler had sold him these papers. For a resident of Scotland called Simon Somethingorother. Taken from an infant that had died without ever applying for adult documentation.
Gill was registering the dead for passports. Which was the way to do it. Real people were easier to get official documentation for. Anyone could forge. But even a good forgery is still only a forgery. This way, with a lazy bureaucracy, you could get genuine papers for someone. They would be legit.
The word Grave was stuck in my mind though. I let it sit there. I don’t know what the significance was. If I tried to force the thought the thread would break and the idea would be lost. So I sucked on my mango and let the idea work itself. And slowly, my own subconsciousness did its work.
I was fleeing because I had murdered Lord Bixby.
But I knew I hadn’t murdered anyone.
So, as he was dead, someone else had killed him.
Lord Bixby was in my basement.
In a compactor.
Folded like an origami swan napkin.
Someone had put him there.
And whoever had done that had killed him.
So far, so obvious.
Now the real thought came to me.
Whoever had killed Bixby might have done it days ago. Bixby had been missing for three days.
They just stored the body somewhere. Then tipped him into the squash maker and he was all done.
They might have taken Bixby, alive to my basement. But why risk that?
The compactor had looked newly installed when I’d seen it. Hadn’t been properly wired in. That could have been done at any time. Delivered and installed.
But leaving a body in it for a few days would have been out of the question.
So Bixby was possibly killed before he was crunched up. He could have been drugged, and dumped in, sure. But I didn’t think so. The whole purpose of the crusher was to destroy the evidence. Just a mush for the autopsy. So it was likely that Bixby had been done away with at some other location. Bashed his head in. Or strangled or something.
And then the idea came. Popping super bright into my head like a bulb before it implodes.
If Bixby had been killed earlier, say a day before, I would have an alibi. I had been everywhere. It was quite possible that whatever the time of Bixby’s death had been, I would have been somewhere, with someone.
Take the night before Lady Bixby had come into my office. I’d been out with some old colleagues the whole night. Only back to the office in the early hours.
I let the excitement of the thought fade. The big flaw was obvious. I would need to be able to find and to prove when Lord Bixby had been killed. The where wasn’t as important as the when.
How could I do that? Find out his time of death. I rested against my jacket as I bounced on and off the bulkhead as the truck went across some potholes. A headache was beginning. Behind both eyes. That would be the effects of the Novazynka Nina had drugged me with. It would only get worse. Red pins in the eyeballs. A nasty after effect of that particular drug. No wonder Gordon Brown was always so angry.
I thought back to what I had asked Vanessa for when we first met and she asked me to look into her husband’s disappearance.
“I can look around if you like, “I told her. “Check out some of his haunts. Use some contacts to examine some data. I’ll need information. Credit card numbers. Phone numbers. Email. Twitter. Access to his bank statements.”
“Do you really need all that private information, Mr Malone?”
Yes. I had. But there hadn’t been anything there. Not that I could recall now. As I sat in the back of this freezing truck. The body heat of us all here should have made it hot. But it wasn’t.
There had been something. Something I had seen. And not needed to examine as it had not been important. Not then. Not at the time I was first in Lady Bixby’s house.
When she had been slightly tipsy. And flirty. In her Black Beckham dress.
What was it I had seen? The wine? Some super fancy label. Bixby was a drinker?
Maybe. So what?
Think, Joe! What else had you seen in her home. Posh cushions and expensive linen.
Fine wines and finer clothes.
I had examined Bixby’s bedroom. He had had a silk dressing gown. I remembered that. That was no help either.
I wasn’t going to be able to force it. I would have to memory jog. Back to the moment Vanessa had opened the door for me when I’d arrived by AmaZrone. To the time we left in her car. When I has seen her punch her code into the alarm system in the Hall. I knew that code.
She had been careless. I’d seen her punch it into the numeric pad. It had been the same code as her birthday. 0406. The same number that had been on the letter addressed to Bixby that they had given me at the Reform Club. The same as the one Bixby used for his cards. I’d remembered it as I had suspected she would use her birth date for the alarm panel. Most people used a birthday. Their own or one of their children. She had no children. I remember thinking a fancy place like hers should have a better alarm system than one that only used a four digit panel.
I let my mind drift. Concentrating on the Bixby’s entrance hall. The amazing staircase. The rooms off the hall. The marble floor.
I felt a jolt as the truck began slowing. A sound like gravel under tyres. We slowed and then came to a halt. The sound of our vehicle reversing. The beepers going.
Then two taps on the side of the cabin. Right by my side. Two knocks. That was Gill telling us we were at a stop. Somewhere on the old greenbelt, I guessed.
I heard the metal rasp of bolts being drawn back. The trailer’s large cargo door being opened and banging flat against the side of the container. Footsteps. Then the double rap of knuckles again. Gill’s signal. A sound of screws being undone with a power tool. And then a section of the false wall came away. The light only increased fractionally, so far back into the truck were we. A face with a turban appeared in the gap in the wall. And Gill called,
“Any of youse gels need to use tha’ bathroom, then now’s tha’ time. Only th’are’s nae bath. And nae room. Youse piss and shit in these woods. I have paper.”
And then it came to me. The elusive thought I’d been unable to pin down.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file