I wanted some answers.
I wanted some answers right now.
And people in this house were going to give them to me.
Lady Vanessa, for one.
Ch 46 – Honey, I’m Home!
I stood up and checked the phone for a signal. There was plenty. I attached all the photographs and video I had taken to a message and sent it to Dacey. The message received beep was very reassuring for me. She could start on that right now. I’d send her another message in a while. Tell her what to do with what she discovered.
For now, I wanted to find Lady Bixby. See just what she really knew about the mysterious disappearance, and death, and reappearance, of Lord Marmon-Herrington Bixby.
Her bedroom was back through Bixby’s dressing room, and I left his bathroom, shutting off the light with a gesture but leaving the Med-Doc on so Dacia could access it if she could find the upload stream.
The deep carpet was as soft as my mood was hard. My arm with the bad bruising still hurt a lot. It might even be worse than when it had happened and I’d taken a ricochet in the wrist. But even though it caused me to wince in pain, I found I could make a decent fist.
Which was good as I was going to need it to punch in some faces. Literally.
I was in her bedroom before I remembered I’d only just come through here and she hadn’t been here. Not asleep in her bed. The room was empty.
She might not be here in the house at all. If I hadn’t thrown my own Fit_Byte into the Thames to avoid them locating me, I could have seen if she was in the building.
No matter. Do it the old fashioned way. Look behind each door until I found someone.
I remembered too that there was a camera in this bedroom. A CCTV just under the frame of the Vid’Screen that was mounted on the wall. She had lain on the bed in her taut black dress. The satin rising up her thighs as she flirted, tipsily with me. I remembered she had pointed to the camera as we had both laid down on the supersoft mattress.
I had been sloppy again, I realised now. I had been careless in my observations. That damned little black Beckham dress, fitting tightly over those damn fine set of Swinsons, had seriously distracted me.
Then, I hadn’t thought it suspect that she had had a CCTV camera above the safe. It made sense. There were a lot of valuables in there. Her jewels. Cash. Company accounts. His deeds to their French property among other very secret and valuable items.
But now I did think about it again. And it wasn’t right.
No woman would allow a recording or monitoring camera in her bedroom. Not unless she was Sonya the Camgirl.
The room where she slept. Where she dressed. Where she put on her make up.
Where she walked naked. Where she made love.
The cameras on the outside were monitored security. Remote access viewing. The one in here was record. As all the house ones were. But even so. The security firm could access it if they had too. Someone could make copies.
She would never have allowed it.
If the safe had to be monitored, for insurance premiums, then she wouldn’t have accepted it being in their bedroom in the first place.
This was a mansion. Space wasn’t an issue. The Bixby’s could have put the safe anywhere and it be was just as secure. Often they were in a coat room. Or a bathroom. In with all the AV and aircon units.
Bixby wouldn’t be worried about paying a higher premium for not having a 24 hour system on all time watching. He could afford to pay more.
And anyway, half the stuff I’d seen in that safe wouldn’t be covered for insurance purposes.
The 9mm Beretta 92 for one.
The box of diamonds for another.
I went over to the camera and had a good look at it. The light in here was only coming from the hallway, but I could see it well enough. Pinhole camera on Bluetooth. No direct wire I could see. The camera looked very new. But then so did everything in this luxury home.
But if I had to guess, I’d say that camera hadn’t been here very long. There was no dust on the optical lens cover. None at all.
No maid was going to dust a lens protector. They self cleaned.
But dust still formed on the top of the plastic seal where the camera fixed to the wall. I ran a finger over it. It came away clean.
This was a lens. That Bluetoothed the images to a recording device, somewhere else.
And it had only recently been installed.
Perhaps only as recently as a few days.
I heard a rumble of tyres. The first car sound I’d heard. I went across to Lady Bixby’s bedroom window and looked out, down the length of the driveway.
Headlights were there at the gate. The twin beams illuminating the path. The car was waiting for the gates to open. A remote key must have been pressed as nobody got out of the car to enter a code. The gates just began to open inwards, on their electronic motors.
I didn’t have long now.
Whoever it was, was only moments away from coming inside.
Vanessa Bixby had opened this safe when I had last looked inside it. She had used a full face scan. A lot of security.
I lay down beside her on the bed. Same position. Face up. Resting on elbows. Legs off the edge. I looked at her directly. “Now what?”
She extended her arm straight ahead, and pointed her finger with the Eiffel Tower sized engagement ring, at the Vid’Screen. She closed one eye. As if she were sighting down a handgun.
“See.” She asked me.
I turned to face the wall and followed her outstretched arm and saw she was pointing to a very, very small and discrete security camera, just under the frame of the Vid’Screen. Beside it was a retina and biometric scanner.
“I promised you something secret..and very, very private,” She said in a comic, sexual, breathy voice. And she laughed out loud.
I turned back to ask her a question but as I faced her she put her hand on my chest, then leaned forward, and kissed me, lightly on the lips.
Then she sat up and spun her legs to the side of the bed. Her back and shoulders towards me.
“Unzip me, will you Joe? I want to get changed out of this dress. Into something much..much..more comfortable.”
She had used the retina and biometric scanner to open the safe. There was also a fingerprint scanner she had used too.
Ordinarily it would be impossible for me to break into this safe. It was triple lock secure. But I had already seen inside it. And I had taken a note then of the manufacturer and the plate number. I had even photographed it because I thought it might be possibly be useful. But the image was on the phone that I no longer had, as I had tossed it into the river. I knew I remembered the safe manufacturer’s name correctly. That was important. It would be half the code. I knew I recalled it because before that company had made high-tech bank vaults and security safes, they had made ships.
Harland and Wolff White Star Super Deluxe.
These safes had an engineers override in case of a forgotten number.
I was certain that the code for this safe would be 0406 again. Vanessa using her birthdate as the override code, that would be used if the retina or fingerprint scanner failed. But that would also need a key to be inserted into the safe door. And I didn’t have it. Didn’t even know where to begin to look for it.
But I did have the manufacturer’s plate number. This was the code that was used to open the safe for the first time, when they shipped for installation and the keys were sent inside. The plate was on the outside back. So would never be seen once installed.
And they were also on the inside back panel of the safe so the engineer could test it all after installation. They were supposed to delete that install set up code, but mostly never did. Why bother? No one could ever see it unless they were already inside the safe. I had seen that plate still inside. If the engineer never removed the inside plate, unlikely they would have removed the code, either. Lazy bastard.
I had seen the number on the plate. But I hadn’t specifically tried to remember it. I only recalled it at all as I had framed it for a photo from my phone.
The code I now tried to drag from my memory. 9998 I thought.
So I pressed HWWSD9998 into the digital panel below the Vid’Screen.
I heard the car coming up the driveway now. Tyres grumbling over the gravel. It would park right outside or go on into the garage.
The panel, meanwhile, did nothing.
I must have the wrong code. Harland and Wolff White Star Super Deluxe.
Maybe it was HAWWSD9998? I tried that. I heard an electronic whirr. But it wasn’t the safe beginning to open. It was the outside garage door going up for the car to park inside there. I’d have one more attempt and then this thing would lock me out. I needed to think very carefully. Back to when I had looked inside. I had known the panel was important.
I heard the car drive into the parking space. It was too insulated now to hear the engine. Next thing I heard would be the door opening from the internal garage to the utility room.
Then I remembered. It was the election year. That’s what I had noticed.
I always used UK elections. World Cup winners and Olympic as memory year date aides. I’d have mentally done France’98 if it was 98.
A door opened on this level. A bit down the hall from here. Light illuminated the hallway, and partially lit me standing beside the safe like a burglar. There was a soft pad of feet coming down the corridor.
I waited, tensed up. Looking around hurriedly for some sort of weapon I could use.
But all that was on Lady Bixby’s minute dresser was a chrome framed make up mirror and a hairbrush. Unless I was only going to remove some tangles from their hair, I’d just have to just thump whoever it was that came in with my fist.
That was okay. I was in the mood for that.
But the figure went passed the bedroom door without looking in. They were looking away from me, out of the hallway window, so I hadn’t seen their face. Just some silver grey coloured hair. They had been wearing a brown and cream coloured, velour type tracksuit.
I pressed the code again. Deciding against using the ‘A’ for ‘and’. Harland and Wolfe were HW.
Third time lucky.
The Vid’Screen slid back to reveal the safe behind it. This hadn’t just been installed.
It had been here a while. The black rubber marks from the little wheels the screen moved on had left imprinted wear marks on the walls. Also, the wallpaper was much brighter behind the patch where the screen was. Never being faded by the sunlight.
The safe was old. Only the cctv camera was new.
As the screen moved aside, the large safe it concealed, whirred. Numbers on the digipad spun, counting down from 100. Until they set at 067 for some reason. And the safe popped open a few centimetres as I recalled it had done before.
The digital display said,
“Set for reset. Enter HW SI number.”
Which I didn’t know. And couldn’t hope to guess.
I heard a door opening far below, off by the kitchen. Down in the entrance hall.
“Hello,” a closer, male voice called out. Probably the person who had just gone passed this bedroom and headed down the stairs.
“Is that you?” the man called to someone.
There was an answer, a muffled voice I couldn’t make out. More audible were some footsteps coming into the house from the garage.
“Is that you? How did it go?”
I reached into the safe. It was dark inside so I had to feel for what I wanted.
“Did it go all right? Was everything all OK?” The male voice asked again. He sounded vaguely familiar. The voice was a little more distant now. Probably moving down the staircase. Talking to whoever had just come in. I fumbled around in the safe some more. Fingers searching for the thing I wanted. I felt a cold metallic part. Which I gripped and removed from the interior so I could see it more clearly in the light from the corridor.
The digi pad of the safe was becoming more insistent. Flashing a message while its female sounding computer voice demanded I,
“Enter HW SI number NOW.”
I guessed if I didn’t enter the correct code it would sound the alarm. Nothing I could do about that now. I didn’t know the Service Install Engineer Code.
I looked more closely at what I had taken out of the safe. The 9mm Beretta 92. A decent enough weapon.
Average range for a handgun. Below average stopping power. Nothing like as powerful as 1911 colt.45 or a Fabrique Nationale five-seveN.
Good solid pistol grip and not too much recoil. It also had a useful fifteen round magazine.
But that design feature was much less useful for me, as I already knew the magazine was empty. It had been empty when I had looked at this gun before. Just by the weight I knew it was still empty now.
A digital counter began counting down on the safe.
The computer voice counting along with it. Fortunately quite quietly.
I had twenty five seconds. So I left the safe and the room and moved onto the landing. I walked to the head of that fine staircase and looked down. There was the figure in the brown tracksuit at the bottom of the stairs. Still standing on the bottom step or two. He was talking to the couple who had evidently just come from the internal garage, into the main hallway.
The first figure was a blonde woman wearing a short, amethyst coloured, fitted dress, with lace sleeves. With a thin purple ribbon for detailing around her thin waist.
She was taking off a cream coloured raincoat that she handed to the man beside her.
He was a tall man with a large bulk of a frame. He looked heavy. Not fat. Not stout.
Just heavy. As if he was wearing a suit of chain-mail. His carefully parted brown hair emphasised his very ruby coloured lips, that were a naturally bright, shinning full shade of red that ladies envied.
Vanessa stretched her shoulders back. Cramped from having sat in a car for a while.
Her blonde hair was being worn down. Over her shoulders. One side of her hair had flipped back behind her neck when she had taken off her coat. Sir Alan Stuart, the bulky figure beside her, moved it back into the correct position. He walked away from her and opened a door off the hallway.
“Was it all right?” the track suited, grey haired figure, asked them again.
“Fine..fine..no problems,” murmured Sir Alan. He hung Vanessa’s mac on a wooden hanger. Then began to remove his own overcoat to put away.
Vanessa yawned. Putting a hand over mouth. “Lord, I’m so tired. I need a drink.”
“I’ll get it, Mi’lady,” said Sir Alan, making a mock bow towards Vanessa. “For thine Lady, a gin of finest apricot?”
“Whatever,” she said, a little coolly. She’d obviously been in the car with Sir Alan for a while. Was a little fed up with his endless charm. She stretched her back again and raised her arms out at her sides to ease her muscles.
I moved down the round staircase. As quietly as I could. Watching them all the time.
The tracksuit moved off the bottom step and went over to Lady Vanessa.
He was wearing trainers and looked to be only a little taller than her. He put his hands on the sides of her arms and leaned in to kiss her on the lips. She turned her face slightly, so his kiss landed on her cheek. Perhaps as she didn’t want to spoil her lipstick. Perhaps for some other reason.
“Was Elphick there?” tracksuit asked. “I wanted to ask her if ..”
But I never found out just what he wanted to ask. Because the alarm of the safe in her bedroom went off and they all reacted. It was much louder than I had expected.
Connected to the main house sound system. It even made me start and I was waiting for it.
They jumped. Staring around for the source of the sound in a startled gaze. The older figure looked towards the alarm panel at the door. And Sir Alan actually moved towards it. Maybe thinking he had failed to properly secure the alarm system from when he had come in from the garage. Lady Vanessa looked up towards the audio speaker set far up in a corner of the wall behind me. Almost at ceiling height. She was the youngest and had the best hearing. She had identified where the sound was coming from.
As she looked up she saw me, moving down the stairs. Her eyes widened in disbelief. And although the alarm klaxon was very loud, I could make her lips mouth the word, “You!” in surprise.
Sir Alan also stopped himself half way across the large expanse of the hallway. He looked up at me too. “Who’s there? Who is that?” he commanded. His booming voice much louder than hers, able to just be heard above the alarm blast.
He hadn’t recognised me.
The older figure had turned his head around now. To look up where the others were now staring at me.
His hands were still on her arms and he was looking over his shoulder. Up the winding staircase on which I was now running down.
“Who on earth is that?” Is what I thought he was saying. Though I couldn’t hear him any better than I had her, over the din of the alarm. He hadn’t recognised me either.
Though I recognised him. His patrician features and distinguished lines had been on all the recent Vid’Screen news bulletins just as much as mine had, in the last twenty four hours. I hurriedly moved down the final steps of the staircase and went across to him. Putting a big smile on my face to show how friendly I was.
He let go of Vanessa and turned towards me. A quizzical expression on his face.
“Hello Lord Bixby,” I said to the principal architect of the Rejoin-Rejoice movement.
“Who..Who are you?” He asked me.
So I said, “You don’t know me, but I’m with Russian Meerkats Life Insurance dot com. And I’m here about a fraudulent, sudden death claim.”
His eyes showed that he didn’t understand what I was saying to him. And he began opening his mouth. Perhaps to ask for some explanation. But I quickly closed it for him.
By making a fist of my good hand and punching him hard in his surprised face.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file