The bullets spat from the sub machine gun muzzle in a series of white flashes. I saw a puff of brick shards explode inches from my eyes as one bullet went into the wall in front of me. Instinctively I had hunkered down. As I did I felt a sting on my right ear and heard a bullet thud into the brick of the stairwell. I turned and ran blindly back down to the basement.
Ch 52 – Trussssttttt in Meeeeee.
“Yes, sorry about that, Joe. Dreadful mistake. I don’t know how it occurred. Some overzealous captain of the detachment, I shouldn’t wonder.”
I had asked Sir Alan about the gunfire at the Swabrick building. Asked him why the authorities had me on a shoot to kill list.
I moved the Beretta so the short barrel pointed to the centre of his bear’s chest.
“Joe..I didn’t have anything to do with..that side of it.”
“Where do you want it?” I asked the big man. “Kneecap or elbow?”
I must have looked like I meant it, as I heard Vanessa moan out an “Oh God!” She her put the back of her hand to her lips.
“Joe! Please! Think..Just think. You must know I don’t plan police operations! You know I had nothing to do with what happened in your building!” He raised his hands.
Actually put them above his head. As if he wanted to surrender.
“Then what did you tell them? They went straight to my floor. Didn’t spend any effort looking for the presumed dead, Bixby.”
“Joe..All I did was give a tip off. That there was a possible..incident. That they should be very concerned with and it was at your location. I needed them to go quickly. I had to make sure they went in fully able to detain you. And to find the body in he compactor.
“What did you say to them?”
“I said…that…” He suddenly realised his arms were up above his head. He looked surprised to see them up there and slowly took them down.
“I said..that..there was a terrorist cell in your building. I gave them your office number. I swear that was all. I thought they would surround the building. Get you to come out. Then, they would do a search and find Lord Bixby’s double. Begin their investigations. I never gave them your description. Not even your name.”
But he would have known the first thing they would do was look it up themselves.
Discover a certain Joe Malone, formerly of The Department, was in residence.
“Who did you call in?”
The Met’s own counter-terrorism. Merged from Special Branch [SO12] and Anti-Terrorism [SO13]. And Enforcing Diversity [SO22]. Which is why they were such a bunch of trigger happy morons.
I suspected Sir Alan had calculated with his chess brain, the likelihood of my being killed in a counter-terror operation as being quite high. He had almost been correct.
Would have been if Officer Ansell had been a better shot and not sprayed a magazine into my Vid’Screen before he saw me on the stairwell.
Sir Alan would have been quite pleased if I’d been done away with. Would have allowed his charade to spin on for longer.
But, as had happened, even if I hadn’t been killed, his script wouldn’t be inconvenienced all that much.
The police still discovered a Lord Bixby in the crusher.
Still had a suspect. ‘Fanatical Leaver, rogue cop, Joe Malone.’
Even my having escaped the police and gone to ground hadn’t really hurt his plans.
Had probably only enhanced them. He really had covered every possible angle, long before he began to weave his dark web over us all.
You had to admire him, in a way. Him and all the top spin doctors.
Like Vampires, they were very good at what they do.
“Very clever,” I said. “You told them an Islamic Bomb nut was in my office?”
“Better than that. I told them a Far-Right Hate Criminal was planning an attack.”
“I see. Trump Supporter, did you tell them?” That would move the lard arses in the Met. Far-Right terrorists count double in promotion races.
“No. Actually, I said you were part of a Climate Change Denying group. The one that snips the blades off wind turbines. The Barber-Minecraft Gang.”
I told you he was good. A white, male, English, climate-denier would have got the Service’s immediate attention.
I gave a slight nod. He gave a ghost of a smile. Two professionals recognising each other’s skills.
“But just one thing,” I asked him finally. “How on earth did you think you were going to get away with it?”
I looked at them all, now. One by one.
Vanessa, still curled on the sofa and twisting her engagement ring. Looking the most frightened of any of us.
Bixby. A tuft of hair sticking up. Far too casual in his gym clothes. Always a dapper gentleman on television. Ever the esteemed Lord. But with some spirited flourish to show he wasn’t an old fashioned, out of touch, political relic.
Bright orange tie. Trendy, fashioned cuff links. Tottenham Hotspurs or Sonic the Hedgehog. He wasn’t sitting properly. I wondered again if there wasn’t something wrong with him.
His lip had come up a bit from where I’d walloped him, was all. I hadn’t punched him hard. Not cracked his skull as he deserved.
Sir Alan was still sitting somewhat uncomfortably on Lady Bixby’s designer sofa.
Long legs crossed. Thinking like a computer. Planning his three moves ahead so he could check mate me in as few turns as possible.
I spoke to all three of them again. “You must have known the authorities would find out that the broken corpse in the crusher wasn’t Bixby. That they would do a whole lab full of forensic tests. They wouldn’t just assume he was Marmon. Just because he had been wearing Marmon’s clothes, and watch and shoes.”
“Why not?” Said Lord Bixby. “You did.”
Good point. I had.
So I explained to him why.
“I saw him for a minute at best. I did no tests. No checks. The first sample of blood would probably prove it wasn’t you, Lord Bixby. The unsquashed hand has fingerprints. The broken jaw still had teeth in it. That’s all the old fashioned pathologists would need. Even easier would be the DNA from the blood. The forensic pathologist would only need a drop. That basement contained Enochian rivers of blood. The corpse would be discovered to be someone else very quickly. Just a matter of time and tests. I’m surprised that they haven’t discovered that already.”
As I said it, I looked at Sir Alan. The pathology really should have found out Bixby wasn’t Bixby by now.
“Why haven’t they realised that the body isn’t Bixby, Sir Alan?”
He gave the answer. “The body is in limbo.”
“You what? There’s no limbo. How?”
“Marmon’s Last Will and Testament. It says as a Citizen of Europe, he has the right for his coroner to be a European. The Will has been revealed. The Chief of Police is musing over it. As is the Home Office. It’s already at the Courts.”
“It will never hold. A UK murder is the responsibility of the UK. Even a UK that is still ‘Aligned’ to EU rules.”
“It was only to hold long enough. Long enough that the vote can be won. Two days maximum. Using a legal block means it will take three days at the earliest.”
“What about the DNA? The Samples?”
“We had them switched. They are testing genuine Marmon-Herrington Bixby samples. The investigators do still genuinely believe that it is Lord Bixby in the box.”
“It will never hold,” I said again. “Never. Dental. Heart trace. They have the actual hand from the dead body! They will test it. You must know it can only be a matter of time and the truth will be discovered.”
“Not necessarily. The samples are tested. It’s Bixby. The remains are then transferred to EU temporary jurisdiction, as asked for by Lord Bixby himself in his Will. And by his widow, Lady Bixby.”
There was a silence. I was processing as fast as I could. Even if I hadn’t been half asleep and tired all over I would have had trouble keeping up with machinations of Sir Alan. So I sat and thought. And thought again.
Then I remembered that everything Sir Alan said, and everything he ever did, was, at best, a half-truth. And so starting from that basis, I worked his plan around in my aching head. A Rubik’s Cube of lies.
I couldn’t get all the sides. But I had one already.
They were setting up a Jo Cox style murder. So from that, I should be able, based on what they had told me, to get another.
And I did. More than one.
You see, Sir Alan might have been adept at telling lies all day long. A maestro of deception and false trails.
But I too was a master. Of listening to those same lies and deceptions all day long.
Of hearing all the claims of and protestations of innocence, and finding the kernel of truth in that colostomy bag of dishonesty.
And now I did again.
“You, Sir Alan. You arranged the samples to be switched. You arranged for Bixby to add a piece to his Will, that you know can only hold up an investigation for a few hours at best.”
I was so very tired. So I concentrated hard. And ticked of the points, one by one.
Hoping, better yet, knowing, that that would lead me to the real motives of Sir Alan.
“Therefore, you MUST have had another plan up your sleeve. One that comes into effect any moment now.”
“There is no other plan, Joe. I told you everything,” he lied to me.
“Ask Lady Bixby. You know there is no other plan, don’t you ‘Nessa?”
“There is no other plan, Joe. None,” she answered. “This was it.”
“You didn’t know about Sir Alan’s Plan B, Vanessa. You would have no clue about a Plan C.”
“But Marmon would,” she rightly corrected me.
I thought about that for only a moment. Then shook my head and explained to her, “No. He would not. Not if he was the plan. Not if it was a scenario about him.”
“That’s nonsense, Malone! Utter rubbish!” Sir Alan. Forgetting to call me Joe, now.
Being impersonal. Showing his anger. Encouraging me to believe that I was right.
“Is it? Sir Alan, I don’t know how you managed to convince Lord Bixby to go along with your scheme, but whatever you said, it was effective. Effective enough that, for some reason, he didn’t see the flaws in it.” I recounted the scheme for us all to consider.
“The original plan. A wife lost to a lover, for ReJoin. That might have worked. But it wouldn’t swing many votes, would it? I mean, who really cares about what the rich but not famous, get up too?
I’m sure it would have been spicy. Would have been a Mumsnet gossip special.
Would have had Emily Newsnight sniggering as she read the details.
But what effect would it really have? On the important vote that you needed to win?
I’m guessing, on your spreadsheets and data flow metrics, the answer would be some kind of zero point not much of something percentage.”
I had it now. I could mentally feel the imaginary Rubik’s sides clicking into place.
“So that Plan A was only ever a springboard to Plan B. You used Vanessa. Set her up in a mild piece of trickery about a kiss. But all along, you were aiming for this Jo Cox headline. Top ReJoiner horrifically killed by Leavers. All along, right from the start, that was your goal.”
“I never claimed that it wasn’t, Malone. I’ve been clear about everything.” But he looked slightly concerned as he said it.
“Yes. You were. But what you must have tested, and re-tested, was that once it was known that Bixby wasn’t dead. Once the public realised that they had been duped.
Then your polling for ReJoin would go through the floor.”
“They would never have found out the truth. I had a plan to get around that. One to use in case anything went wrong.”
I was sure that was true. The Grand Master would have had a plan. Some way of getting everyone off the hook in case anything did go wrong. I hoped he did, anyway.
Because we were all going to need it to get out of this mess. However, the fact he had a back up plan, didn’t mean I was wrong about his project ‘C’. So I continued with my theory.
“You knew, that if people thought they had been fooled, by ReJoin, they would turn on you and tear into you like a pack of wolves. Even your Remainstream media wouldn’t be able to ignore the truth.
“Rejoin Lord pretends to be killed to swing controversial vote.”
And online,? They would crucify you. It would be over. “
I set my eyes on the slumping Lord Bixby. And said to him,
“You see, Lord Bixby, you could never be allowed to reappear. From the moment the media thought you were dead in a crusher, you have been living on borrowed time.”
Bixby’s expression didn’t change. He had a little bit of his wine. And smiled back at me. So I spelled it all out in Block Print for the silly old fool.
“The delay in identifying the body in the compactor is only so that Sir Alan has enough time to get the fake Bixby out of the morgue. And have you crushed up to replace him. Then the autopsy will show that you were killed in an industrial machine. Because you would have been. And the Rejoin half of the nation goes into mourning whilst the press hysteria about finding the psychotic killer, Joe Malone, rumbles on.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Thundered Sir Alan.
“It Isn’t. It’s not the only way this could work. But it’s the most effective way. If Bixby was dead. That’s what you, Sir Alan would go for. The most effective.”
“I wouldn’t ever let that happen! Its unthinkable,” interjected Lady Vanessa. “I wouldn’t.”
“You wouldn’t even know about it. He would just do it.”
“How could I make her, Malone? Even if your crazy idea was in any way true. How could I make her go along with it?” The big man turned his gaze onto me. His very direct questioning manner that I had seen many times on the TV News.
“I don’t know. But only because that’s your speciality, not mine. Convincing people black is white and that blackwhite is in their own best interests.
Maybe you’d say to Vanessa that he had had a heart attack. And died. And used your persuasive powers to have Lady Bixby agree to donate her husband to the cause of Rejoin.
Maybe you’d simply blackmail her. Point out that if the story that Bixby was murdered by you came out, she would be an accessory to murder. Whilst by having Bixby in the compactor, would mean she was in the clear, and I was in the frame.
Who the Hell knows. All we really do know, is that Lord Bixby will never leave this house alive.”
* * *
Vanessa looked uncertain now. And even more worried. Worried I might be right. Sir Alan saw her indecision and spoke up.
“Well, Malo..Joe. If what you say is true. That I wanted to kill Lord Bixby all along, then why didn’t I just arrange to have him killed in the first place? Have the real Lord Bixby bundled into the compactor. That way would be far better than farting about with some double. Why didn’t I just do that, eh?”
It was a good point. I didn’t know why for sure. But I could guess.
“You needed Lady Bixby on your side. You needed her to be part of the plan. To address the media. To say what you want her to say. If she thought Marmon really was dead, she might have gone into shock. Gone into breakdown. Refused to talk to the media. Might have taken herself to the Ivy for a week.
But you wanted to make sure she did what you needed. The feminine element is the last piece of your puzzle. The extra few points on the percentage. The woman’s sympathy vote.
So you let her see that her husband wasn’t really dead. Was, in fact, just fine. And here he is. In his house. Then he told her the new plan. And her part in it. She was already involved. With the camera framing. She could hardly back out.”
I could see Vanessa out of the corner of my eye, as I focused on Stuart. She was pensive. Thinking it through.
“Where were you this evening?” I asked her and Alan. “Where had you just come back from?”
Vanessa Bixby answered first. “I ..We..We had been at the lawyers. To do with..the body and the autopsy. I was refusing to release his body from EU jurisdiction. Then, I said a few words to The Guardian. About ..how..We mustn’t let Leave defeat us. Must do the right thing. That it was what Marmon would have wanted.”
I looked to Sir Alan. “That’s why you didn’t want to kill him before. To use her. Its also why you have to kill him now.”
“Preposterous!” Sir Alan spluttered. He looked to her and pointed at me. “He’s just trying to confuse you, ‘Nessa. You know I wouldn’t let anything happen to Marmon.
He is integral to our plans. He is the father of Remain and grandfather of ReJoin. He is a major force. You know that. Don’t listen to this man. He’s just making accusations. He knows nothing!”
There was a silence after his outburst. I couldn’t think of anything more to add.
Either I was right, and she would see that. Or I was wrong, and would have to make a fast exit from this place and await lord Bixby’s media reappearance and my rehabilitation into society. Either of which might never happen. Because I knew I wasn’t wrong. Bixby was as dead as the Layla Moran Liberal Democrats.
Vanessa’s soft voice broke the silence.
“How would Marmon have come back into society?” she asked him. “How could that be arranged?”
“Very easily!” He replied.
“Without giving away that his whole disappearance had been a set up?”
“Vanessa!” he implored. “It was all worked out.” She looked unconvinced.
“Tell me.” She asked.
“Vanessa. Please! Don’t you see what he’s doing? Of course I will explain. But I won’t do it down the barrel of a gun. Come with me into the kitchen and have a drink.
And I’ll explain it all, in minute detail.”
“Tell me.” She asked again. Much colder tone. “Tell me how?”
She meant ‘convince me now.’ I was winning one convert to my side, at least.
“Marmon knows. I already told him. Look. And..Malone..THIS is why I used a second body. NOT the real Lord Bixby, to be crushed. Of course I didn’t want Lord Bixby dead.”
“Then explain how he comes back from the dead, please, Sir Alan.” She said. Her words as cold as a Momentum ice-pick in a Starmerskyite skull.
“I will..Just listen. OK.. It is perfectly simple..” And he explained the final part of his plan.
“Marmon reappears. He tells the police he has been out of the country. He took a private boat to his house in France. Not the Paris mansion. The Normandy shepherd’s place. Amongst the Bocage. To rest. To think. To recuperate from the stresses of his difficult and many duties.
No Phone. No email. No Smart watch or Telly or Applepad. And so he is unaware that he is at the centre of a news-storm. Like that silly woman that went to that Ecoawarenesses -wellness-hippy camp that time. And everyone thought she was abducted. There was no inquiry into it. Everyone just accepted that she had been in a hipster teepee, rebirthing herself.”
He took a deep breath. Eyes on Vanessa. Willing her to believe in him.
“Once Marmon becomes aware, he comes forward to say he is not dead. Is not even harmed. All just a terrific misunderstanding. It’s simple. Deliberately so. Because it’s believable.”
He sat back on the uncomfortable sofa. His foot no longer moving involuntarily. He’d got himself back under full control.
So I thought I’d shake him up again. I was just about to call bullshit on his feeble explanation, when Vanessa spoke up first.
“I don’t think that would work,” she said to him. “I don’t think..it is a very … credible. explanation…at all.”
Good girl. She was so very bright. I wondered how on earth an intelligent woman like her had ever got involved with these creeps? Then I remembered. She was married to one of them.
She reached for the metal box and took out another E-smoke. She was quite addicted.
“Vanessa..” Stuart began, “it would be fine.”
She fumbled for some fluid. Took a scent without out even looking at the flavour.
“It isn’t. How does Marmon explain why he disappeared? Without telling anyone.?
Without even telling me! His wife! That he was going on a holiday?”
“He was under stress. And..Well..You know how he is. He doesn’t think too well at the moment. He needed a break. So he went.”
“Without any luggage?”
“Oh ‘Nessa! We’d say he took whatever he wanted. Who is to know?”
“He took no luggage. No money. No cards? And no one saw him? He didn’t get a taxi? Or an SNCF-LaDrone?”
She was puncturing his fantasy explanation. He would have to do better.
“He was going to the shepherd’s cottage. For just a few days. It’s fully provisioned.
He got a lift from the harbour. Or paid cash to a L’Uber. What does it matter? If I needed to produce a witness for him, then I’d produce one. If the police wanted to talk to a boat captain that took him to France on X and X day at X and X time, then I’d pay a people smuggler to say that they had. But they wouldn’t even ask. Because he is Lord Bixby! He would automatically be believed.”
She drew on her cigarette and thought about his answer for a moment. I let her think it over. I would ask if she didn’t. If she hadn’t spotted the even more obvious flaws in Alan’s plan.
I was trained. So it was like a red flashing emergency light to me. But It would be better for me if she noticed it herself. It was becoming Her and I, against Sir Alan.
Lord Bixby was saying so little he was a neutral.
“What about the clothes?” She asked him.
“I just told you,” he said a touch prickly. Not liking being questioned. No one does when they are lying and dare not tell the actual truth.
“We would tell the press he took all his clothes. Or had plenty there already. Who is to know?”
She took a draw and looked up at the vapour rising to the ceiling. Smelled like something and peach.
“No..” she said shaking her head slightly. “No. I meant, what about the clothes on the body in the morgue. They are Marmon’s.”
“Well..Who would know that..I..I..”
“How would Marmon explain the corpse having his suit? His shoes? His smart watch? How could that be possible?”
She had seen the biggest obstacle to the lie. The electronic device and clothes. Those things had made me and the police assume it was Bixby in the first place. The watch alone was why I was here, right now. Tracking his medical data.
She was very perceptive. Would make a very good detective. The Department would have wet itself for a chance to replace a crusty old saddlebag face like MaCarey, with a blonde beauty like Vanessa Bixby.
The would die to have her do the media briefings on her cases. Not that she’d ever give up her world for mine. Just saying that she probably could. If she wanted too.
Sir Alan looked slightly uneasy. But he was still The Maestro of Deception. He tried to explain it to her. Speaking slowly she grasped it all.
“Look..’Nessa..We would say he lost his watch. And phone..And this, unknown person found them..That’s all. Found the items. Put them on. Got killed. I mean, who cares? The person who is dead is a nobody. No one will care. It would work!”
Vanessa studied him now. Really looked at him. Possibly seeing him for the first time, in the way that I always had. As a devious words twister. An imp, than could spin straw into gold. In exchange for her first born. Guess my name!
“No,” She told him. “It just isn’t credible. The other plans. They could have worked.
But this wouldn’t. It’s not..convincing.”
“That’s because he only just made it up,” I explained to her. Speaking slowly and quietly. So she could see the truth of it all.
She turned her head from him to me as I spoke to her.
“He never had a plan to bring Lord Bixby back into society. As he was never intending to have too. I told you before. Marmon will never leave this house alive.”
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file