I only knew I was cold. And aching. And had a king size headache. I’d like a good rest in Lady Bixby’s emperor sized bed. Preferably resting my head on her chest.
Even if she had framed me for murder, she was still soft and warm.
I continued that happy fantasy, which was partly a hangover from that drug Nina had given me. I could tell, from the happy glow feeling that came as it wore off. I’d taken it before. I knew how it worked and was aware that it gave the user a euphoric feeling of invincibility. Which was possible why I was feeling so confident that this stupid plan might just work.
Ch 42 – The Bixby Home.
I was in sight of Stanmore Station. Lady Bixby’s house was off the main road. No more than ten minutes walk. All I really remembered when I’d flown in before on the AmarZrone was it was that her house was on the left of the main road. From the air it had had a clearly marked drone landing pad in the back garden.
I didn’t remember the name of the place, but I would recognise the yellow brick pillars that held the gates. They had had grey gargoyles atop them.
Within fifteen minutes I spotted them. The pillars. The gates and walls ran right up to the main road. The driveway and gravel area, ornamental fountain, were all within the gated enclave.
The gates were closed. That wasn’t a problem. To the sides of the property the thick stone front walls gave way to hedges that formed the border between Bixby’s and her neighbour’s property. They didn’t have stone walls. They were wood fence. Piece of cake to open up. I could get through there, then through the hedge border, if I didn’t mind ruining my clothes. Which, seeing as they had come from a charity box for the homeless, in a churchyard of the church or Weird, I didn’t.
Surprisingly there were no media outside the Bixby’s home. Most likely they were camped outside Vanessa’s London apartment. Much more likely that Vanessa had been there. And more convenient for the London bubble media to get too.
Or maybe they had been moved along. Flittock, from the Met, would have done that, if asked. Even though where I stood now off of her boundary, was public highway. He would have threatened the media with some kind of obstruction charge.
Started asking the wattage of their generator trucks and what fuel they consumed.
That would have hurried them away.
I walked up to the electronic iron gates and peered through the bars. The mansion was a long way up the driveway. I was only looking for lights on inside. There were a few. The hallway. A few upstairs ones. That was OK, They could be security lights.
Once I was through the hedge I’d see how bright they were. There were no cars on the driveway or parking area. They might be in the garage. The electronic door was down.
I was aware there was a camera on this gate. And more covering the grounds. And they had infra red capability. Though that might well be switched off. There were some large night creatures in these parts. Deer and badgers and urban foxes the size of wolves. They would be setting off the heat detectors all the time and annoying the home owner, when the security monitoring sent a warning alert.
If they weren’t switched off I’d trigger them when I hit the security zone. They’d be paired beams at least. Maybe even quads for a set-up like Bixby had.
I had a special tool in my office safe. For detecting all manner of infra red beams.
Audio. Laser. Pulse. Crosstalk. Single or multi-channel.
Shame I didn’t have it with me right now.
If I crossed the beams the alert would sound. I’d not know about it. Just a light on the panel. Some techs-pert in the Philippines would check all the vidscreens to see it was an axe murderer moving around, or just another squirrel.
I decided I’d have to try and look like a gardener, once I was through the hedge.
Possibly I could find a spade in the rose beds or something. Break into a shed if I could see one. If there was a wheelbarrow in there, that would help. I could stroll around like I was working there. Weeding up some beds. I was warming to this idea before the reality sunk in. Just as hard and just as painfully as it had for Jon Lansman reading that exit poll that time.
What would a gardener be doing working at night?
Secure Monitoring would send a drone for sure.
I was getting sloppy again. I did need real sleep. I was losing real concentration. I was about to go into the very belly of the beast. I wouldn’t have long to do what I needed. And what I needed to do was tricky. I wouldn’t get another chance. So wake up Joe! And stop thinking you can find a floppy hat and gumboots and carry a rolled garden hose into the open garage and access the house that way. It just won’t happen!
And then I had a bright idea. A really bright, what the hell, nothing to lose, idea. I punched Vanessa’s birthday into the keypad on the gate.
And the electric motor of the gates began to whirl and then slowly the gates swung back to allow me access.
Columbo, you genius, I thought to myself.
You see kids. Don’t use the same password. Especially not your birthday. The cybersecurity advice was relentless about this. Which just went to show how pointless all this government hectoring actually was.
I was lucky that these gates were old. From the 2015’s at least, I guessed. Anything more modern would use retina, face scan or thumbprint. Or all three.
These were just 4 digit pin-pad. Like the house alarm. Possibly they hadn’t upgraded them as there had been a huge problem with the newer ones when they were first introduced to the market. The cyber shielding and connectivity firewalls were very poor. And they weren’t nearly as ‘Smart’ as they were advertised.
Criminals had robbed houses simply by phoning the house telephone. Waiting for the answer-phone to kick in and then yelling as loudly as they could, “Alexa – Open the door!”
I walked through the gates before they closed again and set off towards the house.
Crunching along up the gravel driveway. I wasn’t at all worried about CCTV now. If the gate had opened with a code, then I was obviously someone who had access. The private monitoring agency wouldn’t be concerned in the slightest.
As I approached the large house I could see the lights on in several locations. But single lights. If the Bixby clan was here there would be lights all over. These people could afford the green taxes. They weren’t sitting huddled in a single room, under a single 10w bulb like a Putney pensioner.
From memory, the one light that was on upstairs, was the landing. The kitchen had a whole bank of low lights on. They were the ones fitted to the trim of the units and along the counter tops. Mini diamond blue LEDs. Very pretty. And the main hall had the huge chandelier on, in a dimmed mode.
I was pretty sure everyone was out. Or asleep. Could be asleep. Lady Bixby might be under sedation. With family and nursing care support.
I decided to avoid the front door for now. There was a side path that led around the side to the back of the property. The recycling bins were stored along there. Those ugly, many different coloured wheelie bins, hidden from my view now, behind a rustic looking wooden gate. I pushed on the gate but it didn’t move. Peering through the wood slats I could see it was just a latch lock on the other side.
I looked around in the moonlight and saw a flowerbed where some orange blooms were growing. Feeling around in the earth looking for a branch or a twig, I found something better. A plant stick. It was simple to fit through the slats and pop open the metal latch. The gate squeaked on a rusty hinge that sounded terrifyingly loud. But probably couldn’t really be heard further than a metre away.
The gate bumped against the recycling wheelie bins. One had been left too close to this gate and it bumped with a plastic whump as I bashed it.
I froze, listening for some sound of movement from inside. Some stirring in the house.
There was nothing. The hoot of an owl, far away. No traffic noise at all. And no noise from inside.
I pushed the gate closed and snapped a small piece off the plant stick and placed it across the latch so it wouldn’t be able to lock. I might need to come flying back this way in a hurry.
For the same reason I also moved the yellow wheelie bin, as silently as I could, so it didn’t block the path any more. It was a bright yellow. Visible even in the darkness of the night. There was a label on the lid that was written in phosphorescent print. That was a nice touch from the local council, I thought. Most people put the bins out at night. And most houses had ten or more Greta recycling containers. With terrible penalties for putting the wrong item in the wrong bin. So ‘read in the dark’ labelling was a good idea.
This one said,
“For Polyvinyl.Polyethylene.Polypropylene.Polystyrene ONLY”
Wow. They were really specific about recycling in this London borough of Harrow.
I carried on round the back. Shoes making a louder noise on the flagstones than I would have liked.
Suddenly a bright light came on, shining down upon me. Illuminating me very clearly to anyone who was looking.
I was preparing to sprint back down bin alley. Before the barked halt command..
Then I realised it was just a security light that had come on. Motion activated.
Except to my heart which was beating harder than an S&M act.
The light was useful though. I could see the entire back of the house. At the far end was a very large conservatory or possibly it was an indoor pool that connected to the house at an ‘L’ angle.
I took a few steps and looked through the nearest window. It was a TV room. A ten seat,curved and reclining sofa ran around two walls. A giant Vid’Screen covering almost an entire opposite wall. It was dark in there. Only the tiny red and green lights of various electronic devices.
I moved along the outside wall. Next window was a triple. These were kitchen windows. I’d been in there when I had come here before. The glow from the lights allowed me to view the room with ease. All the units were fitted and contoured. The triple oven was running a program. Green LED numbers and symbols were changing on the touch screen. Possibly cooking something up for its owners. Maybe cleaning itself. Might be communicating with the refrigerator. Scanning bar-codes to see what food was approaching its use by. Ordering in the ingredients for the next supper.
It was an expensive oven. A SmartChef Avalon. The refrigerator, I couldn’t see. It was concealed among the fitted units. But I was sure it would be a walk in one.
The large central island where Vanessa had broken out the wine was reflecting a lot of light from its granite top.
I examined the windows. They were locked shut, so I’d need to break them to get in.
This wasn’t the best spot. I’d have to climb up on something out here. Break the glass and then I’d be jumping over the sink and super heating, boiling water tap. The counter held an Espresso maker and Kitchenaid mixer. Colour changing glass kettle.
See-Through toaster. Knife rack. Some kind of sushi cutlery case, that was posh enough that it was allowed on display in Lady Bixby’s kitchen.
I thought I’d try the next window.
I moved along the outside. The light went off, plunging me into darkness. But came back on as I crossed another sensor. Felt like searchlights when that happened.
Though at least I knew where the sensor limit was. I looked around and saw some tall, wide, concrete designed plant pots. More of those orange blooms were growing in them. I went over and broke one of them off. Laid it down as a marker on the patio stones at the blind spot between the sensors.
The room through this window was the formal lounge. With the silver sofas and those fancy, rare bird feather, cushions. I’d sat in there reading Bixby’s emails.
Drinking Bixby’s beer. Glimpsing the legs of Bixby’s wife.
The windows were set each side of the rear patio single door. On an impulse I pushed the handle down. Fully expecting it be secure and not to move at all. To my astonishment the handle went down, and I froze my wrist’s movement.
If the door had been left unlocked by accident, but the alarm was active, it would trigger the system as soon as I moved it another millimetre.
If the door was unlocked on purpose, and no alarm triggered, it meant someone was in the house.
I took a deep breath. Considering the best options as my hand began to shake with the tension.
If the alarm sounded when I pulled this door open, I had sixty seconds to get to the alarm panel and enter Lady Bixby’s code. I was fairly sure the panel was right the other side of this room. That this room led onto the hallway, and the panel was to the left of the front door.
0406. That was all I’d need to punch in.
If the alarm didn’t sound that meant it wasn’t on. Which was good, as no one would be alerted. But bad, as it would mean I could run into someone inside there at any moment. And I had to get upstairs. Into the late Lord Bixby’s bathroom. Or into the Widow Bixby’s bedroom and into her safe. From the darkness on the ground floor, I’d assumed if people were in, then they were upstairs. In their bedrooms. Possibly up on the third floor that were staff and guest and gaming areas.
I let the breath I’d been holding go and pulled the handle right down and towards me and door opened and the alarm bells rang like a fire engine.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file