Then I saw that almost concealed between the two uniformed officers had been Vanessa. Her slight frame easily masked by their bigger bulk. They all reached the car at the same time as a single group. As they did so one of the uniforms opened the rear door of Gloria’s Police Bentley. And Chief Inspector Flittock and Lady Vanessa Bixby slipped inside.
Ch 57 – It’s a knockout.
I had been preparing myself for the last few minutes as I had pretended to consider Sir Alan’s ‘Who wants to be EuroMillionaire offer. Balancing my breathing so the lungs had taken in as much oxygen as possible without making it obvious. Deciding how to make the most of my one good arm. Planning the action in my mind. Like a rehearsal. So when it happened I would be mentally prepared. Fully able to take any follow-up action.
As it happened none was required.
As soon as I saw Vanessa’s lithe legs slip into the front seat of the police car, I dropped the Beretta from my good hand, letting it fall to the carpet. I wasn’t worried it might discharge accidentally.
Firstly, because it was a very well made firearm, with exceptionally good safety features. And secondly, it wasn’t even loaded.
I spun my torso through a two seventy degree arc. Building momentum in the turn as I balled my now empty hand, into a fist.
If I’d ever managed to complete the Monday Maths, I’d have been able to calculate the exact force required to stun a large, solidly built man, like Sir Alan.
But I could never even get beyond the first line of #MM.
So I just drove the punch as hard as I possibly could into the surprised face of Sir Alan Stuart. And hoped for the best.
The blow caught him under his chin just he was opening his mouth. The bottom plate crashed into his upper one with an audible crack. He spun completely around, then fell backwards against the corridor. His back thudding into the wall. Just missing that ever so fragile looking console table by inches.
His eyes registered his surprise Then turned to anger. His heavy brows arced downwards as he pushed himself with his shoulders, so that he came away from the wall. I worried we were about to get into a full blown fistfight that would have London’s Finest Police Force dashing up here to tazer both of us.
I also worried that the article I had read about him having got a Blue for Boxing at university, might actually be true.
But instead of taking up a boxer’s stance his eyelids flickered, and then closed. He slumped back against the wall. His feet went forward and he sank down until he rested on his bottom on the thick peach coloured carpet. His head fell forward onto his knees. He looked like a cash-point Romanian. I could see the soles of his shoes.
They were very new. Had hardly worn at all. I could read the manufacturers fine script.
John Stimpson’s of Bond Street. Size 12.
I went across and pulled up his head by his hair. His breathing was normal but his eyes were unfocussed. I dropped his head back unto his raised knees.
It had gone even better than I had hoped.
I bent down and picked up the pistol, and put it into my pocket. It had worked well enough as a threat so far. It might do so again.
Looking out the window I saw the police hadn’t moved. Two officers stood waiting, outside of the car. While Lady Bixby and Chief Inspector Flittock stayed inside the vehicle.
I wondered why Flittock hadn’t powered off down the driveway with his freed hostage. The idiot had probably forgotten his driver held the ignition tags. Then I remembered that Flittock had got into the back seat of the car. So his driver should have got into the front and been rapidly wheel-spinning down the driveway. Making thick, deep, tyre tracks in the gravel that would have Lady Bixby’s gardener cursing in the morning.
The driver was just standing around doing nothing. Possibly the tow of them hadn’t made their intentions clear to each other before taking her with them. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I just continued with my own half-baked plan.
I bent low, below the long window level and crawled down the landing towards the bathroom, out of sight of any police. I got passed the windows and then stood.
I still heard nothing. No roaring of engine. No squealing tires. Flittock was letting a golden exit opportunity go to waste.
Perhaps they couldn’t get the gates open. Vanessa’s own Fit-Byte, social-lifestyle watch, should have enabled that.
Chief Inspector Willow Flittock would have to send someone inside to do the code manually, as soon as Vanessa told him what it was.
Whatever the reason for the police’s glacial response, slower than the EU responding to a health crisis, it allowed a terrific opportunity for me.
My foolish plan was to grab a hold of Bixby. Use him as a shield. Hope not to get shot or tazered or CS gassed. Keep yelling his name until one of the police realised who he was. Then begin making threats and accusations and demanding ever more lawyers and doctors and ministers and reporters and wing it from there.
Yeah, I know. Weaker than a Labour Anti-Semitism inquiry. But I was all out of good ideas. And the good ones had only brought me here in the first place. Time for some bad ones. And trust to luck.
I opened the bathroom door. Lord Bixby wasn’t in there. I closed the door and opened the one to his dressing room. No sign of him here. He must be in his own bedroom.
Separate bedrooms in the Bixby household. I’d seen that before. I opened that door and went in.
Bixby was sitting in a comfortable looking chair. It was a fine red leather wing-back that didn’t go with any of the other modern silver and grey furniture in the room.
Must be one of Lord Bixby’s possessions from before he met Vanessa. Something he wouldn’t part with. She had managed to banish it to his bedroom. While she plotted schemes to one day, be totally rid of it.
Bixby was quite still. He looked at me and smiled. Turned back to the back screen.
He didn’t appear at all worried. Not by what he’d done. By the police outside. By the fact the man who had just been holding him at gunpoint and had very recently just punched him in the mouth, was now standing in his bedroom.
He was very vague on reality. Wasn’t always quite with us. Was in his own, semiparallel world. I’d thought that while I’d been questioning them all.
He was watching the large Vid’Screen that was on the wall opposite his bed. The news was on. Not about Bixby and me for a change. This was another story.
Something about the Chinese ventilators. Ten thousand had been rush ordered for the Great Pandemic. But by the time they were delivered, the virus had gone. So they had been mothballed, for the next big superbug attack.
Bixby turned to look at me. “Have you seen this, Malone?” He said in a soft voice.
Not at all like his usual commanding, patrician tones.
“Some bright spark at the Ministry of Health has tested some of these old ventilators.
They don’t work. Not a one. All those ventilators. They only suck. Not blow. Would rip the lungs out of a patient.” He signed deeply and sadly.
“That’s why we need to be in the EU, you see! Proper standards. Proper regulations.
Proper certification. The Project. It’s for the best, it really is. You see that, don’t you?” he looked imploringly at me. He wanted me to understand.
“They would never have been made in time,” I explained to him. “If we had ordered them to EU specs at the time of the Great Pandemic, they would only just be arriving about now.”
“At least they would have worked,” he told me. He had a point. “These things are going to take major modification to make them functional. Lots of money wasted.” I noticed Lady Vanessa’s black cat was curled asleep on the bed. Perhaps it was his cat.
I had no real idea who it belonged to.
“Hanging on to them was money wasted, Bixby. We only mothballed them as EU directives required we be ready to fight the last clinical war. The next viral attack might cause serious vomiting sickness. Liver damage. Blindness. We don’t know.
Having these ready to go, might be a total waste of time and money.”
“Admit you are wrong, Malone. These were bought without EU guidance, and are a total crock of shit.” He wagged an admonishing finer at me. I didn’t know why. It’s not as if I had personally ordered the crappy things.
“I believe that it was the Labour party that insisted the government order them.” I told him. “Then insisted they be stockpiled, rather than put into hospitals.”
“They don’t work, Malone. Admit you were wrong.”
“I admit it. We should remain in the EU forever and ever. Amen. Now will you come with me please, Lord Bixby? There are some policemen here I want you to talk to.” I was prepared to wrestle him and carry him down the stairs, if necessary. But Bixby flicked his thumb over the remote and the Vid’Screen went off. He stood up from his chair.
“Certainly. Vanessa already told me. About you, I mean. She said, to wait here for you. Wait here. And then do whatever you said. She said you were going to help me.”
“Vanessa said that?” I was surprised. Only a few minutes before I held them all at gunpoint. Only an hour ago I’d whacked this man in the face. And twenty four hours ago he had set me up in a trap for his own murder.
“Yes. Just now. She said, do whatever Malone says.”
So… She had planned to go with the police all along. Hadn’t been talked into it.
She’d left Bixby here. Telling him to do as he was told. She knew he was going to become a hostage once she was gone.
“Where are they?” Bixby asked. “The police?”
“They are going to be arriving downstairs in just a minute. I just want you to say who you are. And let them confirm your identity. That is all. OK?”
“Of course. I shall talk to them Malone. They will listen to me. I’ll tell them..” His brow furrowed. He put a hand to his temple as though he had a headache. He looked quizzical. As if he couldn’t quite remember what he was about to say. Perhaps Vanessa had given him a tranquillizer.
Then his features cleared. “I’ll tell them …something.” And he smiled. A bright smile that made him look much younger. More like the Television Lord Bixby who had seemed to appear on every political panel. Every pundits expert. On every comedy panel and phone in since the referendum result was announced in 2016.
“Shall I change out of these gym clothes first?” he asked me.
If we had had more than fifteen seconds to spare, I’d have readily agreed he should. It would be better if Lord Bixby looked like Lord Bixby. Not some Slimming World, fitness advisor. But we had pushed the time far beyond reason. I fully expected, any second, to hear the thud of boots on the Bixby’s polished marble Entrance Hall floor.
“Let’s go Marmon,” I said to him. I hadn’t needed to get out the pistol. He was docile enough.
I held the door open and he walked through. Calm as can be. Very upright and erect.
His posture the one I’d seen many times on the news. Confident and righteous. He looked better than he had earlier. Even if he was still behaving oddly. Childlike.
We went through his dressing room and out onto the landing.
“Hullo!” Marmon exclaimed as he saw the slumped Sir Alan Stuart. “What’s happened here?”
“He drunk a bit too much. He’ll be all right in a minute or two. Just needs a rest.” I explained.
Bixby went across and lifted Sir Alan’s head. “He looks damned pale. Feeling a bit sick is he? Maybe we should get him to bed?”
There was a sound of a car door opening and closing. That could be one of the other police getting in. Or the driver belatedly realising he needed to be in his seat if the car was to function. I heard the car engine start. Flittock had finally sorted whatever he needed to sort.
“You might be right,” I said to Lord Bixby. Not wanting to go down the stairs until I had reviewed the situation. One cop or two? Drone overhead or none? Thermal tracker set up by the porch, or not? I thought we’d stay up here for a moment. Let the police come to us. I’d call out to them as they were coming up the staircase. That would have them unable to move except up or down.
“Perhaps we should get the poor man into bed. Could you get a hold of his arms?” I asked Bixby. Just to give him something to do.
Lord Bixby was a bit like an Alzheimer patient. Drifting in and out of the present day.
Aware of where he was and who he was. But but not of the events happening around him. Alzheimer’s could be the explanation. Though I’d never read anything or seen anything about him behaving strangely. Apart from being a fanatical Remoaner, I mean. He was a batty as an Adonis on that level. Maybe even more so.
I meant, that he hadn’t yet been caught regularly sniffing some young, Pro-Join, staffer’s hair. Or calling his wife his mother. If he did have Alzheimer’s he wasn’t at the Joe Biden stage. Yet.
The car drove off. I could hear it moving away. Not fast. In fact quite slowly. Health and Safety training failing to overcome the situational requirements.
“Malone. Stuart has got blood in his mouth,” Lord Bixby informed me. He was tilting Sir Alan’s head back and peering inside. “Has he lost a tooth?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” I said as casually as I could manage. I had changed my mind. We would go downstairs. Right now.
“I do worry, Malone. He might dribble on the carpet.”
“I’m sure it will be fine.”
“You might be sure! I’m certain it won’t be. Blood on this carpet! She’d go into the most frightful bate. Vanessa, I mean. You don’t know here like I do, Malone. She has a fierce temper. I once spilled oysters on this very carpet. You’d have thought I’d done it on purpose. The way she went on and on about it.”
“Well, let’s not worry about that now. Come with me, Marmon. We are going downstairs.”
He straightened up. But still looked slightly concerned at the state of Sir Alan. Or the possibility of a little dripping blood.
“On and on she went. Such a fuss. We do have cleaners, you know. It’s not as if she really had to clean it all herself. And I paid for the damn carpet in the first place! If anyone should have been angry, it was me.
Should I put a hanky in his mouth, do you think?”
“Just leave him. He’s fine. Let’s go and see who’s at the door.”
He moved to the stairs and started to go down. Still mumbling something about carpets and tempers. I positioned myself just behind him. Using him as a shield.
I was close enough that if the police tried to do anything, I could get Lord Bixby between us all.
We were almost at the bottom steps. I heard two footsteps on the porch and so mentally prepared myself for the police coming in to arrest us. I had no solid plan.
This was totally winging it. I was hoping they would call out before coming in. That would let me know if we were in a negotiation situation or not. They might talk first.
Or might not. Might throw some flash-bangs in.
I put my bad arm around Marmon’s throat. Cutting off his mumblings and pulled him very close. My good hand was getting the Beretta out. we were going to have a little stand-off. I’d react to whatever the police did. I was as mentally prepared and poised and physically ready for whoever came through that front door as I could possibly be.
Except I wasn’t.
I blinked in surprise as the satin blue dress came through the door. Lady Vanessa Bixby looked at us.
“What on earth are you doing, Joe? Let my husband go!”
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file