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.
Ch 43 – Dark, Warm, Soft and Furry.
I was in the hallway of Lady Bixby’s wonderful home. Staring at the illuminated alarm panel.
The panel was silent. I had pressed no keys to make it stop. It had never sounded.
When I pulled the patio door open the alarm cacophony I’d heard had all been in my imagination. As I began my run towards the alarm panel, I understood no alarms were really announcing an intruder. No lights were flashing. No warning voice was shouting an alert. It was all in my head.
I regained composure and slowed my run to a silent footed creep. Going back to the patio door and pulling it closed behind me.
I skirted the white Baby Grand, and the silver sofas, and moved towards the hall, footsteps silent on the deep pile carpet.
Thinking about the patio door I realised It wasn’t that much of a surprise to discover the it hadn’t been locked. Lord and Lady Bixby lived within a secure, concealed, monitored, gated compound. Their nearest neighbours were a half acre away. Hidden behind thick hedges and tall trees. They had no need to lock their doors when they were at home. Probably only did so when they went to bed.
Possibly, with all the commotion of Marmon’s death, someone had simply forgotten.
Or else, the open door meant that Lady Vanessa was still in the house.
I didn’t want to run into her. For one or two very sound reasons.
That she thought I had recently murdered her husband. Squished him up until he looked like a half eaten, breakfast grapefruit.
Quite possibly, she had killed him herself. And framed me for his death.
Either way, I wanted to stay out of her way until I had Bix’s medical monitoring data. His exact heartbeat monitored records. His electrocardiograph from his smart watch optics. The spirometry functions measure. That would display the level of oxygen or CO2 in his lungs.
That is, of course, if that data was still available. If it hadn’t been deleted.
If Bixby had been murdered by some Brexit fanatics, then it wouldn’t be touched. It would all be on file. The moment his death occurred. Date and time, recorded. After which, nothing at all.
But if Vanessa had done her old man in herself, she might have been wise enough to destroy it. Or someone might have done it for her. She had enough powerful friends who could be looking out for her. Covering up the crime.
But I figured it would be still there. Bixby was a major, major Remoaner. If she had had him done away with, the establishment wouldn’t be rushing to protect her, as his killer. Even is she was one of their own.
The hallway was marble floored, as I remembered. Noisy with these shoes. I recalled Vanessa’s high stilettos clacking off them. I debated taking my shoes and socks off for silence, but decided I’d likely be needing to run, rather than hide.
The doors to the room I was in were open. I could see almost all of the hallway.
It was empty.
I moved as quietly as possible across it. Only stopping to look at the owner’ alarm panel to see its setting. It was just illuminated to signal to the homeowner that it was working. No letters by any of the rooms shown on the display, indicated any alarm setting. So no room in the house was alarmed.
That was very good news. There were no keys in the front door. It could be locked or unlocked. I couldn’t tell without trying it. But I didn’t want to make any noise. I was standing on a vast expanse of marble flooring in a mostly empty hallway. Just a large green plant in a ceramic pot, that wound its way up the height of the staircase. A sunken interior garden at the other end of the hall. Where another set of dangerously unsafe for human use stairs were the rear staircase. The Bixby’s really did like their unconventional vertical access. Their interior designer must have impressed them with ‘its exiting, daring!’
But this was not a good hiding place if someone came by. Unless I could crouch really low and pretend to be a silver fern.
Bixby’s office was next along. I peered into the darkness. Breathing controlled to a tidal level. Light from this hallway let some things in there be discernible. I could see the display sword on the far wall that hid his day safe. I could clearly make out Bixby’s office desk. Could just about see the outline of Bixby’s black leather swivel chair.
Could also see a pair of bright green eyes looking out from that chair. Staring straight back at me.
I was about to run. Dash to the nearby front door and see if my good fortune was continuing, and the door would be unlocked. Otherwise I’d have to go back the way I’d come.
I’d taken two, fast, heavy, steps when I heard a rustle of the fabric of the chair.
Controlling the urge to just continue running away from this place, I stopped. There was no point running. I needed to be here. If this was confrontation time, then I was ready.
I turned back and peered into Lord Bixby’s darkened office. The green eyes on the chair still looked back at me. Unblinking. They were a little low in the seat for an average height person to be sitting in the chair. Whoever was there was slumped down. Slouching deep in the seat. Those green eyes narrowed to better focus on my face.
Vanessa had blue eyes. But it could be her sat there. The dim hall light refracting the colour so that they only appeared green. She might have her glasses on.
She could be sat in there, watching me.
I’d disturbed her. The young widow seeking comfort at her husband’s office desk.
Beside his everyday things. His personal possessions, in his personal space. His lifetime achievements were in that room. Wedding photographs. Parents photographs.
Graduation pictures. Family and relative pictures. Portraits.
His framed successes. Awards. Certificates. Honours. Letters of thanks from Ministers and Prime Ministers.
His personal items. Favourite pen. Piles of his correspondences. A clunky joke ornament she’d bought him for a present. “Lordships do it on Red Leather.”
She would be alone in there. In his office. With the lights out so the staff wouldn’t see her tears. Sat silently. Mourning, in the late Marmon-Herrington Bixby’s chair.
“Vanessa?” I called out, but so quietly, I doubt she would have heard. Just seen my lips move.
There was a soft thump, like a pillow falling from a bed. Those green eyes had disappeared from view.
A moment later a sleek, black cat, with a red velvet collar and tag, padded out of the office and came and brushed against my leg. Turned back. Gave me a sniff. A little mew. Another leg rub.
I put a hand out and stroked the animal’s head, hoping that would soothe it. I didn’t have any pets myself. Wasn’t sure what they did or what they wanted.
My heart rate slowed. I was calmer now. Just a cat, Joe.
I looked at the identity tag. Wondering if the Bixby’s had gone in for the recent fad of naming pets after political figures. Palmerston or Atlee. Chairman Meow for the Corbynistas. Though comical twisting was more the game now. ‘Bolsover’ was popular with Tory dog owners, now that seat was firmly in their kingdom. ‘Moggie Thatcher’ or ‘Jacob The Mogg’ were with their cat lovers. I doubted any of those would do for this Labour-Liberal household.
I put a finger under the pet’s tag and tilted it so I could read. The name was engraved above a phone number. ‘Guy VerhofKadt.’
The black cat, sensing that I had no Dreamies about me, and that I looked like a stupid person who wouldn’t know where the treats were kept, wandered off into the kitchen to do cat things.
Black cat on a black chair. And it had scared me to death. I’d really thought it had been her in there. I was nearing the end if a stupid cat could panic me so much.
I had once waited in a hole knocked into a plasterboard wall. With just a wardrobe in front of me. The wardrobe hadn’t even had a solid back to it. Just a fake one. A dark fabric curtain, that I hid behind. I had recorded the conversation of some Haitian sweet n’ lo, sugar dealers, setting up an exchange with a coffee shop chain. I wasn’t half as scared then. Even though the people I’d been recording had been heavily armed and very dangerous. The retail coffee chain management people, especially so.
Now I was shaking. From a damn cat. I could be cracking up. It’s very stressful being the most wanted man in Britain.
I went as quietly as I could to the circular staircase. Last time I had gone up it Vanessa Bixby, in her tight, black, Beckham dress, had been in front of me. Giving me a view that made Fiona Bruce’s ‘Rear of the year’ look like a half spilled cement sack.
This staircase was a Health and Safety violation all of its own. Like its owner it was expensive. Refined. Beautiful. Teasing and dangerous.
I very slowly climbed up to the next level. Making no sound. Stopping after each few steps to listen for any movement. Any sound. A Vid’Screen running. Or a shower or a toilet flush. There was nothing. Whoever was here was being very quiet.
Probably asleep. Even reading makes some noise. Even on a tablet. But there was nothing.
The Hall’s enormous chandelier had been on. Though set to dim. It bathed the whole staircase in light. As I neared the top step I saw the upper landing. There were six or seven doors leading off in all directions. I knew Lady Bixby’s was the first one on the right. The door on the left was open. It was a bedroom. It was darker up here with just a single up-lighter on. However there was enough light to see that this room was another bedroom. The bed was made. The room empty. The en-suite door was open too. Dark in there. No one was taking a shower or brushing their teeth. I ignored that room and headed for the Bixby bedroom.
Her door was open too. The room dark. Illuminated from only the hallway light and the outside moonlight. I had noticed all the windows had curtains. None of which were drawn. The Bixby’s had no neighbours who could overlook them. They had thick glass, quad-glazed windows. So the curtains were probably never closed.
Probably just pure decoration.
Her enormous bed was made. Quilt turned down. Loads of those fancy pillows that are not for sleeping on, that women seem to desire so much, were covering all the actual sleeping pillows. More decoration. It was like being in an advert for ‘Not My Country Life.’
I rounded the bed and headed down to the far door that I knew led to Marmon’s dressing room. Off of there would be the bathroom. And his Med-Doc. With the National Insurance and BUPA registration codes. With those I could have Dacia hack his medical records. If I could find out who was providing his real-time health monitoring. Then hopefully, hack that to see his medical history on a rolling day to day basis.
I’d need to be quick. Leo had given me his phone at the Sapphire Mermaid. Had said he was going to report it missing later on. After six hours or so, the networks shut down a phone reported missing. Sent a signal that caused the phone to display a ‘lost’ message. The finder just pressed the green touch button on the screen and the phone dialled the network. However, if that message stayed on screen for over thirty minutes, the network sent the burner. Caused the device to overheat the moment it was powered on. Destroying all data and frazzling the chip. Rendering it useless. I suppose I could use the phone on Lady Bixby’s night stand. That would be ironic.
I’d worry about it in a minute. First I had to get his medical records.
I opened the door into Bixby’s dressing room. Not expecting anyone in there. And there wasn’t. Just his suits and shirts and ties. I suppose these would all end up in some charity shop. Lady Bixby didn’t look the ebay type. His expensive little shoes would go to the far east. Where someone might just have tiny soles small enough to fit in them.
Something bothered me about his shoes. I couldn’t quite catch the thought now. But it persisted enough that I picked up the nearest black lace up. I pulled on a closet door and it opened a fraction. A light coming on inside the cupboard. I held the shoe to the light sliver and examined it.
John Stimpson’s of Bond Street. Size 5.
Nothing came to me now, so I put the shoe back and made for the bathroom. The door opened easily and silently. This was a well maintained house.
No squeaks and squeals. No loose hinges. No ‘I’ve been meaning to fix the latch –
for the last ten years,’ about it. The gardener she said she had must also double as a handyman. The bathroom light automatically switched on as I opened the door.
I let it stay. I’d need the light on to work in here. The risk was low. There was a window in here that looked out over the driveway. No one would be concerned about that. With the door closed, and the deep pile carpet, light from in here wouldn’t show under the door.
His bathroom was a functional one. Hers was all murals and shells and flowers and sand on the shower floor. His was almost clinical in its functionality.
Large, quite ugly, metal looking sink with a U shaped spout with the long on, off, taps. The sort you could switch with your elbows. Like on a medical scrubbing up basin.
Walk in shower with similar steel looking large shower head and wall jets on black tiles. Silver towel rail and glass cabinet that held hand and face towels.
Functionally large bathroom wall cabinet. Glass shelf for razor and tooth brush.
Both in place, I’d noted that last time I was here. Though he probably had dozens of each. So I hadn’t thought it meant much. Though men do tend to have only a single, favourite razor.
On the wall was the object of this search. The grand prize. The reason I’d come to this house in the first place.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file