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.
* * *
Ch 40 – The Plan.
I had been in Lady Bixby’s mansion. In her palatial home I had been in her bedroom. And the en-suite. I thought hard about that. Recalling the images as I’d followed Lady Bixby’s spectacular rear as she went ahead of me, up the spiral staircase, in her black dress. Before she’d changed into her more casual clothing.
Side table, dressing table and ornament table were all that mirrored glass that had also made a comeback. The dressing table was tiny. She must have a walk in dressing room off of here. Maybe one of the closed doors at the end.
The door nearest to me led to a bathroom and shower room.
I could see actual fine sand on the floor of the shower. Arabian Saharan fine gold grains. Layers of it,so that the delicate, soft feet of Lady Vanessa could rest showering on the soft sand. It occurred to me that some maid would have to put fresh sand in after each shower, as the swirling plug would have taken the original away.
There were those large, Caribbean sea shells on the floor of the shower too.
And in one corner a giant turtle shell. And the room had painted clouds on the ceiling. The towel rail looked like a piece of a wooden slat, shanty shack belonging to a beachcomber. Someone really liked the seaside.
I couldn’t see any leads there. The sand, was just sand. A luxury for the dainty feet of Lady Bixby. The feet. They both had tiny feet. Him and Her. What did that mean?
They were brother and sister? With a forty year age gap? Seemed very unlikely.
Though the feet were significant somehow. But I couldn’t quite see how. Just yet.
Then I recalled that I hadn’t only been into her bathroom. I’d gone into his. They had separate bedrooms. I’d made a quip to Vanessa about it. When I was standing and looking around her bathroom.
I couldn’t see into the mirrored bathroom cabinet, but on the shelves and the sinks were hair dyes and skincare products. Sprays and soaps. Lotions and liquids and brushes. Tissues and cotton buds, and perfumes.
“This must be Lord Bixby’s bathroom,” I said.
“Hardly,” Vanessa replied. A little haughtily.
She walked over to her small dressing table and opened a drawer and took out an E-cig.
“His private bathroom s through there.” She nodded to the furthest door. I walked down and opened it.
A very functional bathroom. Large electric glass weight scales and body monitor, connected to a mini video screen. A Med Doc system. Measured all your vitals. Blood, heart, fat, liver, breathing. It also even made doctor’s appointments for you if it found anything of concern. Not NHS, of course.
NHS appointments these days were so hard to come by that the Health Lottery had given up issuing cash prizes and had instant GP appointments as the jackpot instead.
The jackpot indeed. This was the clue. The Med-Doc System. That’s what I had been trying to remember. I pulled Leo’s phone from my pocket. I had to call Dacia.
Just so long as I could remember the number. She had fled after I’d given her the we’re blown codeword. “Valkyrie.” So now she could be anywhere. I had no idea where her safespace was. I’d never called her safe-phone either. No one had. It was an unregistered burner. Never been used. Sat on the charger since the day I gave it to her.
Her flat number was in my phone. Which was at the bottom of the Thames. But this number wasn’t in that device anyway. This was a GOLD number. One that you can pick, when you buy a new sim card. And it costs a lot more than an allocated phone number. But it’s worth it. For situations like this.
Like a good lie, the trick is to be as close to the truth as possible. So it is easy to remember.
Dacia and I always used Vodaph02 network – prefix 07791
Then the simple memory code for the number. You need six digits.
We used an auctioneers code.
Pick a ten letter word, with no repeat letters. Each letter equals a number.
I used DESPICABLY. Easy to remember.
To get Dacia’s number I just number the letters in despicably, 1-10.
Y is zero.
Then, spell out her name. DACIA had repeat ‘A’ so I used DACEY. Given a
possessive to give me the six digits I would need.
07791 1 7 6 2 0 3
It was useful for PIN numbers too. Before we swiped everything and had finger and iris PINs. Write the letters on the back of your card. Say it was 2239. Would be EESL under the code. Or EPSL for even greater security. ‘P’ means duplicate whatever number preceded it. You got this?
Look, if you haven’t, well, this is pretty basic stuff. So if this is hard for you, maybe don’t get yourself involved with the law and the government and being wanted in a massive, nationwide manhunt.
I dialled the number. 07791 176203. Battery level was still good on this phone.
Better than mine had been. That went flat after just a few hours. I might get one of these SamsApples. If I ever got out of this.
The phone answered to Dacia’s sweet, Latvian accent. She spoke softly. Without her usual bravado and FU-world tone.
If anyone was with her, she was supposed to say “Joe Malone?” To alert me that she was not free to talk. But she had said only Joe. Though I thought I’d better make sure.
She was a former street hustler. Former child criminal. Current admin, Personal Assistant. Researcher and I.T. Engineer for me. Not an ex-cop and ex-undercover operative. So I asked,
“Are you in Windsor?”
Any mention of a location was a prompt. She should reply with a yes or no, if she was under duress.
She replied, “Stop ass about. What fuck is now on? Why you kill man?” Dacia had recovered her poise. She was back to her semi-permanent angry self.
“I didn’t kill anyone. Someone framed me.”
“Huh! You not kill him?”
“Of course not! Why would I?”
“I not know! Maybe for Lady. You like Lady. You no like man. You like money. She have money. You say he “Remainer Traitor. Deserve to die.”
“Everyone said that! I Said indignantly. This wasn’t the happy employer/employee reunion I was expecting. “Not just me! 17 million people said the same thing.”
“BBC say you person wanted to assist with crime.”
“Well, that’s true. They do want me. How are you? You OK?”
“I OK. Have not much money. I left bag at flat.”
“Just stay put. You have food there?”
“Of course. I just say, no money.”
“Once I’m clear I’ll send a transfer. But stay inside. Remember, they are looking for me, not you. But they will want to talk to you. Don’t let them, OK. Two days, maximum. Then I will be clear, or caught. If I’m caught, they won’t want you. I’m only really concerned that they will mooch into our business. We’ve been twilight more than a few times. They’ll take me down on a ham and butter possession charge if they have too. You too. So just sit tight. It will all be OK.”
“OK.” she said quietly. I could sense her worry. She had a charge list longer than a lamp stand.
“You alone? Or still with that guy?”
“I not fool, Joe! I no take stranger to safe house!”
“Ok..just checking. Dacia, I have something I need you to do.”
“OK. Is what?”
“Dacia. Bixby had a Med-Doc in his bathroom. He must be on real-time monitoring.
I want to know what time he died. The exact time. Can you access his medical records from where you are?
“Of course. You think he be dead of sick?”
“No. But if he is on RT-meds, his heart rate. Blood Pressure and O2 and all other measurements will be on that record. If he was killed in the trash compactor at our office, his vital signs would stop around the time I found him. If they stopped earlier he was killed elsewhere. You understand? With any luck, then he was killed much earlier on. Maybe even by a few days. Before I’d ever met anyone with anything to do with the man.”
“OK,” she said. 2I can do. Can do from here. I have connection. Have Department codes.”
“Good girl,” I said relieved. I hadn’t known if she had had a backup of our passwords at her safeplace. But she’d thought to do it. Now we could get somewhere with this idea. Things were finally looking up.
“What is his NHS number?” Dacia asked me.
“I don’t know.”
And things were looking down again.
“Or his BUPA? His AmazonPharma account? His GP? Could be he have America health provider? Be more easy with America one.”
There was a silence from me as I thought.
“Come on Joe..I need something for use.”
“I don’t have any of that information, Dacia.”
“OK. We think..” We both thought for a moment. I couldn’t think of anything. Except that I was cold and it was dark. And I actually did need a pee.
“You have Bixby Fit_Byte?” Dacia asked.
A very good suggestion. His watch would link direct to his Medical App. All his data would be traceable from it.
“No,” I told her. “I couldn’t take it. It was on his wrist. I didn’t have time.” We thought some more. I tramped my feet in the cold. The other illegals were milling a little way off. Keeping just on the fringe of the trees. Possibly worried Gill might take off and leave them stranded in the UK, instead of the golden painted lands of Scotland. They mostly looked colder than I did. Their clothes were thinner. They had come through the Mediterranean I supposed.
“I need something Joe.” Dacia’s voice said through the phone. “Can no press just magic show button. Can no just “Ask EUoogle for NI number.”
“I know. Hold on. Let me think a second.”
NHS records were notoriously insecure. NHS computers and clouds being of the windows 3.1 vintage. But there had been a huge scandal when a whistle-blower revealed how all of the public and private service agencies were leaching from the Envy of the World. Me included.
At The Department we would regularly burn through a suspect’s NHS records, searching for a location clue. Treatments. Doctors name and such. Everyone was doing it.
Insurance companies zipped through your data before giving a quote. Loan companies and banks checked the likely symptoms for an early default, of the permanent kind.
Typically, it was local government who fouled it all up for everyone. Going too far.
Checking actual ailments on ‘charts of need’ for housing and care provision. To see if the benefit claimants really had been to the doctor’s when they claimed. They were too incompetent to cover their tracks properly.
When the scandal broke the NHS was pilloried. The press leapt to the defence of the individual. Well aware that the media was one of the worst offenders of medical hacking. For celebrities STDs and pregnancy and drug medications. Likely clinics they could stake out for photographs. Those pictures of Jo Swinson emerging from breast enlargement surgery hadn’t just been a fortuitous coincidence.
Desperate to avoid another phone hacking scandal, they joined with the politicians to avoid a blame game and move to ‘Root and Branch Reforms’ lines and ‘lessons to be learned’ and had buried the issue.
But it did mean NHS records were now properly secured and had protections actually enforced under all the crappy EU private data use laws.
“I know what you can do,” I told her, suddenly having an idea that seemed workable in its unformed embryonic state in my head.
“He is a member of the House of Lords. There are only 4,800 of them at the moment.
See if you can trace his Private Medical cover through the government. He will certainly be in receipt of either free, or hugely discounted Parliamentary medical cover. Start checking the big insurance companies against government client. Bixby is getting on. He might have had some recent medical emergency. Fallen down or something. EUoogle it up. If he was admitted somewhere and it was in the news, you can start a trace from there.”
“Ok, Joe. But is not good leads. To scan like bare blind arse.”
I didn’t have time to figure out what the heck that meant. Except that she was right.
That was a thin lead idea at best. The House of Lords was a good starting place though.
“I know its not much, but do what you can,” I implored her. “We are in deep trouble here, Dacia.”
“No, Joe. YOU in deep trouble. I no kill man with rubbish bin.”
“And I no kill man with rubbish bin, either,” I said back.
“So you say.”
“Good to have you on the team Dacia. Real supportive.”
Then I had an idea. Not a great one. Not even a good one. Actually, a pretty poor one.
Only slightly better than the last one. But probably the only one left.
“Listen,” I explained to Dacey. “I’m going to do something. I’m going to get his NHS records. I know where his account numbers are.”
“At his home. In his personal safe. And on the Med-Doc in his bathroom. I can get them from there.”
There was a pause while she thought about that.
“So now you think go house of dead bin man?”
“Is Crime Scene, yes?”
“Sort of. It’s a place of definite interest.”
“You tell me, many time, Joe. Only Dumbfuck criminal-idiot, go again, crime scene.”
That was true. I had told her that. Many time.
“Yes. I did tell you that.”
“And that how you catch many, many, Dumbfuck, criminal-idiot. By watch at crime scene?”
“Yes. But its the only way. I can’t think of anything else. I’m going to go there. I’m going now. Sit tight OK. I will send you a message with his account and file numbers.
It will be easy once you have them, OK?”
“Ok.” She spoke very quietly. She knew the danger. Going into the Bixby’s home.
Even going near it.
It will be OK, Dacia. I’ll make sure.”
“There will be police there Joe. He is dead man house.”
“There could be. There might not. But if it’s too risky I’ll simply call it off, Ok? Be no worse off than we are now.”
“Ok.” She didn’t sound very convinced. Didn’t think much of my plan.
“I’ll call you later. You stay inside and wait for my call.”
“So long, Dacia.”
“So long also..Joe..” She paused. Then she added softly,
“You dumbfuck, criminal-idiot.”
And she hung up.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file