The BBC junior lawyer had gone. A production assistant had come to tell us “Precording will begin quite shortly. Someone will call for you. It’s going to be in studio six.” She went away.
Ch 66 – Making a few calls.
I noticed there was a small crowd gathering at the wall sized glass window of the Green Room we were waiting inside.
I had noted that significant numbers of men and woman had been passing by the one glassed wall, since we had all come in here. I had been concerned at first. This room was at the end of a corridor. So the only business they should have would be in this room. Yet none of them ever came in.
I was still jumpy. A security guard had tried to assassinate me just a half hour ago.
He’d made it seem like an accident. Kneeling on my neck when the metal detectors had sounded. But it had been deliberate. He had been on the payroll of whoever wanted me to stay silent about the Bixby’s Brexit Breaking Betrayal. Which was pretty much everyone in this BBC Television Studios building. So I had been on my guard as I watched the people outside the glass, who were pretending to have business along this corridor.
I soon realised they were just gawpers. I had noticed that they had had BBC identity lanyards. With different coloured edges to their I.D. cards. Separating them by department. Archive. Editing. Sound. Catering. Maintenance. There was a whole range of them outside. All the colours of the Rainbow Corporation.
The GREAT Lord Bixby, of Remain, was in the building. The Hero of the Liberals.
And BBC staffers just wanted to catch a glimpse of their hero. And perhaps to catch a glimpse of Joe Malone. The man who some said, had tried to murder the Great Bixby.
And so kill off the great hope for their cause.
That they were liberals out there at the window was a given. This was the BBC. 89% had voted to Remain. God Knows what the other 11% were thinking. They were probably Korbynists. No fans of the EU, as that body blocked true socialism. Still, serious career prospect damage if anyone ever found out they hadn’t been full on EU’ers.
Two women were side on to the glass wall. Talking with each other, as if in conversation about something. But their eyes kept swivelling to scan our waiting area. Seeking out the Nobel Lord. And the Gracious Lady. And..over there..that man with the face that sagged like a ruptured inner tube? Was that Joe Malone?
A young man beside the two women wasn’t even pretending. He had jammed his face up to the glass and shielded his eyes with hands, so he could better peer into our area. There were tear stains on his soft, white cheeks where he had been weeping.
Sandra, the security guard, finally lost patience and he left his place by the door and went out to shoo them all away. Though I doubt he had that proper authority to do it, they had all looked young enough and junior enough that they knew they should have been somewhere else anyway, and they hurriedly dispersed. With just lingering glances back through the glass.
Lord Bixby had not noticed them. He was probably used to be starred at wherever he went. He was a publicity hound, and extremely well known. Especially for a politician. Having a beautiful and popular wife did him no harm either. They made a good, if strange, team, the pair of them.
If I was still a cop, I’d have gently questioned one or two of their friends. Just to hear what they thought of the pair of them. Just for curiosity.
I was sat in the work area. I picked up the telephone. On the handset it said ‘0’ for outside line. I dialled a number. I was calling my assistant/Secretary/techexpert/cleaner/accounts manager and general companion,
Dacia. Gave myself a small heart stop as the phone just disconnected. I redialled and got the ringing tone. I must have mis-dialled the first time. But I was very tired. And had to actually write down the special code I used to to bring her number to the front of my memory.
It was good to hear her Eastern European accent.
“It’s me.” I said.
“Of course. Who else know I here? How is all?”
She was on the screen. Had made some changes to her hair. Disguised her features a little. Taken the punk down a tad. She’d remembered what she’d been taught.
“All is good. I want you to meet me at The Sapphire Mermaid. I’ll be there in an hour or two. But you can leave now. Pack up your stuff.”
“I am ready now. You have managed, Fix?”
I thought about that. Bixby was pacing about again. Arms waving. Gesturing to no one as he went through the pitch in his head.
“Joe? Is Fix, yes?” She said again. More urgency in her tone this time.
“I’m going to be on TV, “I told her. Not answering her question.
“Pah. You always on TV. Why I not on TV? I better look than you. You look like potato.”
That was true.
I continued speaking. “When you get to The Mermaid, get Nina to put on the BBC.
What I’m telling them now will be going out as soon as the recording is done. They won’t hang on to this for a Special. You’ll be able to see for yourself if, ‘Is Fix.’”
She was quiet for a moment. Sometimes language difficulties made her slow to grasp or recognise nuances in speech. But she had understood what I had been trying to impart. That this was Endgame.
“You will come to, ‘The Mermaid?’”
“Sure. As soon as I’m able too.”
She hesitated again. Then asked another question. One she sounded slightly afraid of the answer too. “If you cannot be able? What then?”
“Then ask Leo to look out for you. He’s like a father to you.” I said it as brightly as I could manage, while keeping my voice low enough not to be overheard by the others here. Leo was good man. Ex-NYPD. Knew his way around. Was Nina’s right hand man.
Dacia responded much as I had expected.
“Ugh! He is very dirty old man! If he my father, he be paedo father.”
“He’s a loving, married man, Dacey. He will take good care of you.” Though she was right that he fancied the pants off her. He always had. “He knows everyone. If I can’t be there by midday, then I can’t be there at all.”
“Joe..” she said this quickly. Her voice rising as she thought of the importance of what she was about to say. “I have data..I have Lord Bixby. I have all medical..”
I interrupted her flow. “I know, Dacey. I know.”
She carried on speaking. Words rushing out. “He is alive, Joe! Heart and, and lung..All move. All alive, long time when man killed at our work. He not be dead.
Mister Lord Bixby is alive!”
“It’s Ck…It’s all good. Thank you, Dacia, “I soothed her. “I have that information. I have all I need right here. I’m at the BBC right now. It’s OK. Really, it is. Everything is going to be fine. I was just giving you a worst case, Ck?”
“I have case. I pack. Pack already. Is not bad case. Not worst one..”
I felt the familiar smile from just talking with her. She was a good kid.
“Great. Then I’ll see you there later on. With your ‘not worst case.’ At ‘The Mermaid.’
We’ll have cocktails. Those really tall ones you like. Don’t worry about safeguarding the apartment. Security doesn’t matter now. Just pack, and go. I’ll see you in a couple of hours. Bye, Dacia..”
Before she could say any more I put the contacts down on the phone.
I was about to walk away when Sandra, the guard, coughed. I looked at him and he nodded his head towards the sanitised wipes hanging on the wall. I took one and cleaned the phone. Sandra nodded again, in approval. Resumed his place by the doorway. Half protector. Half captor.
As I was sat here, I decided to make another call. One I had been a little reluctant to make. Only for fear that it wouldn’t pan out as I was hoping. But there didn’t seem to be much left to lose.
So I picked up the handset again. Dialled another number. One I knew much easier from memory.
Feminine voice. Slight wariness of tone. This was a private line and she hadn’t recognised the number that was calling her. She hadn’t appeared in the screen. Was stood to the side of it. Wary.
There was a loud beat coming from some electro-dance music, playing in the background at her end. She had answered from the bar, not her office.
“Ahh, Hello,” I said. Trying out a Yorkshire accent that I’d been working on. “My name is Dorsey. Ah’m from the Bureau of Performing Arts. I understand you are the proprietor of the licensed venue know as the Sapphire Mermaid? I am calling concerning your over due kickback to our registered agent.”
“Mister Malone,” Nina said, in her small voice, that was almost lost in the music.
“What a surprise. I had thought you would be out of town by now.” She hadn’t recognised the BBC telephone number. But had spotted the London area code.
“How did you know it was me?” I asked her.
“You’re on a Videophone, Mister Malone.”
I looked at the screen linked to the phone. Nina was still absent. On her screen a young girl in a schoolgirl’s outfit was performing to a Belgian House version of ‘I should be so Lucky.’
Nina spoke. Just load enough to be heard.
“Did you call for anything in particular, Mister Malone? Or were you just hoping to catch the ten minute Free-view?” I must have been watching the girl on the pole for longer than I thought. It was hypnotic.
“I did,” I said as I recovered. “I believe I owe you some money, Nina.”
“You do. But it is not due for repayment quite yet. I never insist on under twenty four hours for repayment. I’m not Wonga.”
“But I would like too pay you back, all the same. I was just calling to confirm that you would be at your establishment. In around, two hours time?”
“Well, I will be now.” Her pretty, but worldly, features appeared on the screen.
“That’s excellent. I will come around. To repay you in person. And to thank you, once again. For your assistance and generosity.”
There was a silence. If you ignored the heavy bass. I waited for her to speak. She had the stillness and patience of a heron. But I knew she had a ton of questions so that she would crack first.
“Is there anything else,” she asked faintly. She wanted to know why I hadn’t fled when she’d given me the cash. Why I was wishing to return to her workplace. When she had told me to leave it, only a few hours ago.
“Yes, there is one other thing.”
“I was wondering if you would like to have diner with me this evening. Say, around eight O’clock?”
There was a pause as she thought about the question. Fine by me. I watched the pole dancer while I waited.
“I work nights, Mister Malone. I believe you are aware of that fact?” She answered.
Delaying her reply with her own question.
“Leo can cover for you,” I told her. I set out my invitation. “I was thinking of us going somewhere a little different. Somewhere together.” There was a pause as she considered it. The dancing girl did some spins.
“Where did you have in mind?” she asked, cautiously.
“I was thinking, perhaps, Iceland?”
There was a longer pause. I couldn’t see her face on the monitor. There was just the girl doing the splits, parallel to the pole.
Nina’s voice came from the speaker. Slowly and still steadily.
“You intend I should take a rare night off? To spend with you? And you propose to use it obtaining frozen foods, from a convenience supermarket?” She gave an affected sigh. “I’m not an awfully huge fan of Young’s Chip Shop Cod Fillets and McCain’s oven chips, Mister Malone.” But I could hear a slight smile on her lips. She was intrigued.
“I meant, Iceland, Iceland,” I explained to her. “The island place. With the snow and..er..Well..Its mostly just snow.”
“I see. Iceland, Iceland. That does indeed sound a little different.”
That’s the first swish of a tail. Now to make her take a closer look at the bait on the hook.
“I thought we might have diner at the Diamond Suites, out at Keflavik. They have a superb restaurant by all accounts. Eskimos swear by it. Best Herring in Scandinavia.”
“I see. Herring. How..Interesting.” she didn’t sound interested. Maybe not a fish course person.
“I’m sure they have other fish too. Other menus available.”
It was fourteen hundred europounds a night. I’m pretty sure you could have whatever you wished. “I though we might eat there. Then go for a dog ride.”
Another pause from her end.
“A dog ride? I don’t believe I have ever ridden a dog before.” The smile on her lips sounding wider.
God..I have. Loads of them. If you came from Fulham it was unavoidable.
“The idea,” I explained, “That I had. Is, that we could take a trip out at night. On one of those dog sled teams they have. They whisk us across the ice. Under the stars.
Clearest sky in the northern hemisphere. Watch the Aurora. See some penguins and ..Snow leopards and some .. erm..some.. mammoth and other , kind of..cold climate, animals.”
“Mammoth? How fascinating! But mammoth? Are you quite sure.” She appeared briefly on the monitor. Trying to keep to the usually flat, neutral and impassive expression she habitually wore.
Her lips just about did as she commanded. Just a slight amused twitch. But her eyes.
They sparkled with amusement.
I continued telling her the itinerary. “Oh for sure. There’s pictures of them in the guide book. Big, woolly, tusky beasts. They live in the caves of a nature reserve. We see them as we sled across the frosted snow. All while safely wrapped up tight under warm blankets made from the skins of the ..er..Great Lake Elk and, er.. the Arctic Llama.”
She disappeared from view again. Just her voice floated from the speaker.
“I’m not certain you’ve researched this quite as well as you might have, Joe. But please, do continue.”
The faint smile on her lips as she spoke was widening. I could tell she was softening.
No woman could resist champagne and moonlight. And ice in a bucket from right outside the door. Also, she’d just called me Joe.
I continued embellishing the idea.
“Well. Once it’s very dark. Which it gets around lunchtime out there. We stop at a cabin on a high glacier. Right in the remotest part. Its made of logs and has a huge open fireplace. The ceiling has a skylight the size of a hockey pitch. So we can watch the moon travel across the sky. Whilst drinking champagne and luxuriating on top of a deep piles of furs. Or relaxing in the natural indoor pool. Heated with the waters from the nearby, volcanic, hot springs.
At sunrise, we could sled over the snow as the sun melts water from the millennia old glacier. We can use some of the run off to make dark coffee. And add a tot of Brandy. Before heading back to the Keflavik Spa, infinity pool and restaurant at our six star, resort hotel.
How does that sound?”
“It sounds…Chilly,” she said. But the smile was very evident is her replies now.
“Or, if you prefer, I can probably still get a room at the Heston services Travelodge.
Up on the M4, by Heathrow? It’s under the flight path, but!..Does that really matter when they have an unrestricted, all you can eat, international, buffet breakfast?”
A brief pause. Before she responded. “How very tempting. Decisions, decisions. If, and I stress, ONLY IF.. I was going to come, what should I pack?”
“For Heston or Reykjavik?”
“I think the Iceland idea just edges out The Heston Services.”
“Well, the answer is the same anyway. Don’t pack anything at all.”
She laughed. “That’s very forward of you, Joe.”
“I meant just come in whatever you have on, now. We’ll buy whatever we need out there.
How about it, Nina? Fancy a night off for a change? I could have you back by tomorrow evening if you want. Or we could make a holiday of it. See how we get on.
What do you think?” A little crack in my voice. Mr Doubt had made an appearance.
Asking someone out for a date never gets easier. What if she said no?
“You had me at, Dog Riding,” she said.
I let out the breath I hadn’t realised I had held.
“Yeah? That’s great. ..I think they are called Huskeys. OK. Well.. that’s good. I will be over to yours in two hours or so. So you make make any arrangements you need, staff wise. And gather only essential items. Favourite snugly blanket and toothbrush.”
“I see you are at the BBC, Joe.” She’d been tracking down this number while we talked. “There hasn’t been any new story about you yet on the Vids. Are you doing something with the BBC?”
“And will you be free to resume your life afterwards?” A slight catch in her voice.
She wanted me to say yes.
I thought about that for a moment. Before answering her.
“I don’t know. It could go a few different ways still. But I’ll know for sure in a couple of hours.”
“I see. Well I shall keep an eye on the news and wait for you here.”
“Yeah, do that. And if you want to spend some time liquidating any assets and transferring them into an easy to port commodity, that might prove useful.”
Her stillness had returned. The line was quiet. The music had stopped. She’d probably shooed the others away a while ago, but I hadn’t noticed.
Eventually she asked, “Just how long were you thinking this short, weekend Iceland trip. Which isn’t in the EU, if I recall correctly, might last? Just so I know exactly what to pack for, you understand.”
“Oh. Sure ..Sure..Well…I don’t really know..No definite timescale. I was thinking, Perhaps, maybe ..Forever?”
A long silence. I wondered if she had gone.
Then she said in a determined tone, “Okay. Good. See you in a few hours. Joe.”
“Okay Nina. I will.” I was about to hang up when she appeared in front of the Vid’Screen. I could see the trace of water on her eyelashes. Tears. Laughter or sadness, I did not know.
“You wouldn’t be thinking of standing me up now, would you Joe? Not on one of my rare free evenings?”
“Hey! No chance,” I soothed. “I’ll see you very soon. Any guy would have to be either held captive or dead to stand you up Nina.”
She just nodded. Then cut the Vid’Screen line.
Which was just as well.
Because in an hour from now I might be either one.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file