Ch 60 – Imperial Leather. Rich and creamy.
The water felt very good. I allowed it power down on my scalp and the back of my neck. The jets massaging the muscles. It helped ease my headache. Strong water pressure the Bixby’s had. In my apartment block the water was a trickle. Electric water pumps had been banned under Greta legislation. Water was a scarce resource.
Not rare. Not Soylent absent. Just scarce. Like Toilet Rolls or flour.
Baths had had the overflows refitted. So no more than 14 cms of water could be filled before it ran out ,down the pipe. Like most people I’d allowed the compulsory bathtub refitting work to be done. Then hired an unlicensed plumber to seal the overflow pipe just below the level of vision.
But getting a power shower was the stuff of dreams. Except here. In the Bixby’s guest bathroom. Which was slightly larger than my living room.
The water ran at the temperature you told it. Without the sensory-enhancementsystem’s audio, making a huge fuss and admonishing you to drop five degrees to ‘Save Our Gaia.’
I wiped enough water from my eyes to search among the lotions and bottles on the shelf. One of them looked like a bee on the label. I opened it and sniffed. Honey. That would do. I was generous with it on my body. As you always are with stuff when you aren’t paying. I opened another bottle and sniffed that. But it was menthol. So I put it back. Reluctantly I commanded the taps to switch off. They did, and I stepped out of the shower and searched for the towel on the rail. Finding it I pulled it to my face and dried my eyes so I could see.
The towel was part of a set of three. The other two, larger looking ones, were piled on a small wooden bench. I took them and began drying myself.
In the mirrors above the twin sinks, I could see my naked body. I was a mess. There were two very blue looking bruises on my chest. I’d taken the bandage off when I got into the shower. The one that Nina had so carefully and gently tied around my arm.
She was a god sort, Nina. The strip club proprietor. That reminded me. I owed her eight thousand europounds.
The wound in the top of my arm was a puncture. It had healed enough so it no longer bled. Even as I moved about, not even touching it with the towel, it stung. And itched a lot. It would need antiseptic. The skin around the entrance looked like a lovers lips.
Inflamed and a very angry red.
But it was a simple, straight puncture. Nina had dug some bits out, before. I didn’t feel as if she had missed anything.
The wrist was almost completely black. And my hand had settled into a claw grip.
Barely able to open or close. That would need attention too. If I could get to the BBC and get out of this, then the Bixby’s were going to pay to BUPA me at the finest gunshot clinic in Camden.
There was a shaving mirror on the sink ledge. One that looked to be about a 10x magnification and that illuminated when you put your face to it. I hadn’t wanted to look. Really hadn’t. Disfigurement is so permanent, isn’t it? But when I finally did, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. The top of my ear had been hit by the round from the machine gun. It had burned a furrow along the top of the of the soft flesh. A piece looked to be missing from the edge. But nothing like as bad as I had feared. My hearing had come back in that ear. Though not as good as the other one. At least the incessant ringing had stopped.
So, reporting for duty. One arm was out of action. One ear. That wasn’t so bad. I could manage without them for this final act. If I ended up in a fistfight at the BBC then it had all gone very wrong anyway.
I used a brush to shape my hair. Careful to stay well away from the ear.
In a drawer was shaving foam and a packet of disposable razors. A tiny airline toothbrush and toothpaste, still in the cellophane. Which I unwrapped and used as I searched the other drawers. A dozen different hotel shampoo and shower gel bottles. Comb. A hair dryer. I checked the wattage, simply out of Department enforcement habit. Only 6watts. This blower was EU compliant.
There was a flannel and a bunch of hair slides and clips. Some paracetamol. Which I took a half dozen of. They were out of date and wouldn’t do much.
The third drawer was the best. A medical box. Triangular Eye bandages and burns lotions. Plasters and a pair of latex gloves. But best of all, a compression bandage with a self seal tie. It too was long out of date. But that meant nothing. Only for sterilisation purposes. And this box had probably been in this drawer since the Bixby’s moved in. I managed to fit the bandage over the puncture in my upper arm.
And pulled the tie cord until the bandage sealed itself around the wound. It felt much better straight away.
I noticed I had another cut running along the top of my left thigh. Right up near the buttock. It was long, and didn’t look too deep. But I promised myself the spa treatments of all spa treatments once this was over.
Think that’s a bit girly for a top cop? A Spa day? I’m talking about Penny Hill park.
A six star resort near Camberley. And where the England rugby squad go to recuperate. If it was good enough for a twenty stone all-muscle Full-Back. It was good enough for me. They had plenty of wave machines and massage chairs. Not to mention the finest masseuses outside of Bangkok.
I realised I was dreaming slightly.
I was sitting on the bench on top of the thick towels and I had been nodding off in the last of the steam from the shower. So I stood again. Feeling the muscles cramp. I splashed cold water onto my face and dug out the razor for a shave.
* * *
Having used some aftershave with an all French label, and combed my hair and made myself show time beautiful, I went into Lord Bixby’s dressing room, checking out his stuff.
I was wearing a pink robe, that had been on a hook on the back of the guest room, bathroom door. It said Marriott Hotel, St Kitts, on the crest. I couldn’t wear this to the BBC. Comfortable as it was, it was a bit inappropriate for Newsnight. Probably fine for the One Show. The pinker the better, on there.
I opened a wardrobe. The interior light came on and illuminated the many shirts hanging there. Button downs. Double cuffs. I felt the material of the nearest one. A heavy twill. About ten times the thickness of your average Primark. And ten times the price. But only twice the weight. Bixby had about four dozen hanging here. The label of this first light blue Valentino was two sizes too small for me. The next, a Vivienne Westwood charcoal and red, was also.
Bixby had a lot of clothes in here. I decided to come back and choose something later.
I made my way downstairs into the kitchen. No one else was there. I realised that if you lived in a large house like this, you couldn’t tell if other people were here or not.
Kind of lonely, I thought.
The wine cooler was a floor to ceiling affair. Wide as a Vid’Screen. The Bixby’s sure had a lot of very nice stuff. I remembered something my father had told me, long ago.
“I’ve been a Prince and I’ve been a King. And King is better!”
I guess this is what he meant. No matter how well you thought you were doing in life. Someone else was doing very much better.
I opened the cooler door and looked for a bottle with a champagne type cork. There were plenty of those bottles in there. I took it from its shelf along with a couple of the cold champagne flutes and went back upstairs.
Vanessa wasn’t in her bedroom. I assumed she was in her dressing room. I went to the open window by her dressing table. With some difficulty I managed to pop the cork with just the one good hand. I let the fizz spill outside onto the patio, until it slowed enough that I could get my lips around the neck and swallow. Tasted pretty good. I poured two glasses which frothed up too much. Then I called her name.
“In here,” she said. From behind the closed bathroom door. “Have you brought a drink?”
I said I had. And she asked me to bring it in to her. I took the glasses, and using an elbow, opened the door, and went in.
“Is that for me? Thank goodness. I’m gasping,” she said. She sat up in her bath, making the water swirl, and held out a petite hand. Her previous anger seemed to have dissipated. She was her previous, refined, and elegant self.
Only, this time, unashamedly naked.
I kept my face neutral. Trying to act nonchalant at this unexpected display of nudity.
Wondering if this was a car keys in a fruit bowl moment, that I’d heard the rich, beautiful and bored were into. I passed her a glass. She sat up a little higher in the water as she took a sip. Then she nodded, satisfied.
“Thank you, Joe. I adore a champagne in the bath.”
“I adore watching you have a champagne in the bath.” I replied.
She smiled. But said nothing more. Just let an awkward silence fill the pause. There was a scent of Jasmine. Must have been oil, as there weren’t any bubbles in her bath.
The water was very clear. I could have seen the colour of her toenail polish. If I had been looking at her toes. I wasn’t looking at her toes.
As she dipped and rose slightly in the water, her shoulders ran with rivulets that dripped over her large, firm breasts. She took another long gulp of champagne. Then reached across to hand the near empty glass back to me.
“Want some more?” I asked. She shook her head to say no. Raised her dancer’s leg, so it cleared the water, and rested her hand, lightly, on her knee. She tilted her head back, sighed and closed her eyes.
A gentleman would have closed his too. I felt no compunction to close mine. Where she had raised her knee her thighs had parted. Only a slight ripple in the water from her breathing, allowing her some modesty.
She said nothing. I said nothing. So, somewhat reluctantly, I turned to leave. As I did so she called out, saying, “Stay with me for a minute, Joe.” And added a soft request for comfort “Please.”
So I took my hand from the door handle and went and sat on a small chair, next to the feet end of the bath. The good end.
“Pink bathrobe?” she asked. A sly smile. “How very un-genderist of you.”
“I’d take it off. But I’m naked underneath.”
She looked into my eyes. “I don’t care.”
I wondered about this latest trap. Trying to decide if I really cared much myself.
“Lord Bixby might,” I said, eventually.
She smiled a lubricious smile. Showing her small, perfectly white and even teeth.
“He really wouldn’t.”
Sitting very still, I waited for some explanation. But none came. There was only the sexual tension in the air. She must have assumed a Private Investigator, a top former Department Inspector, could figure it out by himself.
The age gap? Bixby’s possible homosexuality? His illness? Her desire for youthful encounters? Who really cares? All that mattered was she was telling me she was a young, lithe, woman. Able to do as she pleased without any matrimonial repercussion.
When I awoke at my desk in my office a day ago, this woman had come in. All blonde curls, Cinnamon and Strawberry smoke. In a pale blue dress that emphasised the curves of her feminine figure.
Since then I’d been hired for an investigation into the disappearance of her husband.
A leading member of ReJoin. Dined with The Elite at the Reform Club. Been framed for the disappeared man’s murder. Been Shot. Been stabbed. Been forced to flee across the city. My assistant, Dacia, and myself forced to disappear. I’d been evading the forces of law enforcement for more than a day and a night.
Then this morning, I’d been told by another beautiful woman I knew well, Nina, the strip club owner, that she was in love with me. Had been for many years. Though I had had no inkling.
I’d had to rid myself of all my everyday items. Money. Cards. Phone. Tags and even clothes. I’d been reduced to wearing a homeless person’s possessions. Taken a ride with twenty or so East Africans in the secret cramped, airless, compartment, in back of a people smuggler’s lorry.
Then, I’d made my way here. Discovered the deceased Lord Bixby was alive and doing Star Jumps in his workout room. I’d broken into Lady Bixby’s safe. Held her and him and arch manipulator Sir Alan Stuart at gunpoint. Been offered a Million Europounds to keep my mouth shut. Evaded the police again. Punched the lights out of Sir Alan. And voluntarily chosen to wear a unicorn pink, bathrobe.
Yet sitting here now, on the small seat at the edge of Vanessa Bixby’s bathtub, was the most surprising and unsettling thing that had yet happened.
On reflection, I would say this hadn’t been a very typical day for me.
Vanessa’s soft low voice roused me from my thoughts.
“Are we going to Fuck?” she asked.
Her head was tilted back. Eyes closed. The water in the tub was still. I could clearly see all of her nude body.
“What did you say?” I asked her. Thinking I had misheard.
Which I had.
She didn’t open her eyes. Just remained leaning back. Motionless and resting. “I said, ‘Are we Fucked?’”
She opened her eyes. They weren’t afraid. Just sad. Resigned. “All of us? Are we ‘Fucked’?” She repeated. “Or, by some miracle, do you really have a way to get us free of all this?”
The moment had passed. The sexual tension began to drain away. She dropped back down so her nipples were below the water line. “Is there any way out?”
“There’s a possibility,” I told her. Using all my willpower to stay to looking into her eyes. “I’d give us a fifty percent chance. That’s not too bad. I’ve taken longer odds chances that have come off. Anything over forty-five percent is a good chance.”
“Fifty percent is a coin toss,” she told me. Sinking a little lower into the water. “A coin toss isn’t any gamble I’d like to take. Given a choice.”
“You haven’t been given one. I think we either try my idea. Or we all flee the country, right now. And never reappear. Lord Lucan it. Leave everyone and everything behind and just disappear. Forever.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” she said. She looked doleful. The light that usually sparkled in her eyes, absent. “Would you pass me a towel. I ought to get out.”
I searched around. Chose the smallest looking towel I could see. Handed her that.
She sighed. “Well at least turn around. While I get out.” I smiled at this sudden modesty.
“Of course,” I told her. But I didn’t. I watched her as she stepped from the bath. The water running down her long, supple legs, to pool on the mat. She didn’t bother to attempt to cover herself with the tiny towel. Moved to the rail and took a large one that she wrapped around her. Covering her body from the top of her breasts down to her knees.
She rubbed her legs dry as she said, “You didn’t look away. You lied to me.”
“And not just about that,” I answered. “It’s more like thirty percent than fifty.”
“Oh God. Really? That bad?”
I shrugged. “It depends on Marmon. And he’s been acting pretty weirdly. Apart from being involved in all this in the first place. Which was incredibly stupid and frankly, inexplicable. But even tonight. He’s been behaving like a man with advanced dementia. And we are going to need to depend on him. So that lowers the odds. Do you think he can do as he’s asked? Just getting the main points across? Him drifting off is no problem. Would actually help the story we are going to tell Al-Beeba. But he has to get it straight. Because it’s going to be an unbelievable tale even without him messing it up.”
She thought about it as she dried her arms with the small towel. “I suppose he can. Depends what you want from him. He can do…simple things. Can remember. As long as it’s quite clear. I have medicine for him. It’s very helpful. he was lucky really.
He was given some of this Khloroquine. He was given it some years back. When he caught pneumonia.”
“He got the rat-flu? Contracted the Peking Poison? Or the one before? The cat one?”
“Neither. He caught pneumonia while waiting outside in the rain at a supermarket.
Doing that safe distancing thing. They gave him the Khloroquine tablets for that. And we discovered they also helped..his other condition.
But it lowers his immunity when he takes the tablets. Makes him more susceptible to viruses and bacteria. And sends him…into that…foggy zone, once it wears off.
Makes him quite irrational. And difficult. Angry and confused, sometimes. Docile, at other times. Its his illness. It’s not his fault. It’s a sickness.”
I shrugged once more. It was going to be up to him. “OK. Well. He’s all we have.
So do you think he can be relied upon. At the BBC? To get the sequences right? The events in order. Make the explanations believable? Because if he can’t, you and he are going to prison. Tonight. Me too, in all probability. And in the morning, we’ll see which of us who were on suicide watch, strangled themselves to death in their cell.”
“Probably all of us,” she said, drying her tiny foot. “How long do we have to prepare?”
“Sixty minutes. And a little more for the travel time. Hour and a half, maybe.”
“Then why don’t you go and get changed too, Joe? Unless you intend to be interviewed in a ladies, coral coloured robe.”
I looked at my dressing gown. Coral?
Nah! When I did fashion at college this shade was called clitoral pink.
“Pick out something formal looking,” she continued. “Then come back to me here, and tell me just exactly what you propose we do to finish this.”
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file