“Vanessa too, Bixby. She will go to prison as well.”
He looked back to where she was still seated. She was watching us both. Puzzled by why we had seemed to argue over nothing at all. He gave her a nod. She smiled back at him.
“Ahh..Yes. Vanessa. I was…Well…I ..I wouldn’t..if it were possible..”
His face fell a little. The fanatic’s fire in his eyes dimmed. The heat turning down.
He said no more. Turned around and headed towards the door where his former Labour MP colleague, Ooma Queen, now a top pension pot at the BBC, was just making her way in to the room. Coming to gather us all up to go to studio. To begin to record our explosive, breaking-news, revelation story.
Ch 69 – The Final Countdown.
The first young BBC woman who had escorted us in here came into the room. I had noticed that the BBC had already used three people to do the job of one. Those budgets cuts always seemed to mean axing programs. Rather than personnel. I wondered if those young women were the daughters, sisters or nieces of other BBC people? You could almost the bisto and diesel from the gravy train.
Behind the assistant’s slim form was the tugboat like build of Ooma Queen. She wallowed in behind the other employee, fanning her hot and perspiring, moon face, with a cardboard foolscap file. She wore very flat shoes. They made her look like she had settled very low into the water. An overloaded freighter at some fetid watered, South American jungle harbour.
“If you would all like to gather up any belongings. We are going into the studio in just a moment,” she said, slight breathlessly. The walk from the lift to this Green Room having taken its toll. “I shall explain the procedure for the interviews and the process to VT, once we are inside studio. It is a quiet zone, so all electronic devices must be left with the reception desk outside, please.”
I doubted that was true. She just didn’t want any of us contacting anyone during the interview stage.
“The producer thought we would do three simultaneously. In different sections. One on ones. Then a group one. Then, if all is well, the director will decide which format works best. Single tape, express or short cut together. Or a group Q&A style. I’ll leave it to the technical people. They are the experts and this is their field. It’s only content that I need to approve. With upstairs. Before anything is broadcast.” She smiled as best she could. But her pudgy face wasn’t built for it. Her lopsided sneer of a mouth just made her seem psychotic. A transvestite version of the clown from the IT movies.
She came over to me. She was tapping the mustard coloured file against her palm.
“Mr Malone. I wonder, if just before we go to precording, you wouldn’t mind speaking alone. Away from your companions?”
“Why is that?”
“It’s not terribly important. Only that as you are, shall we say, the person who has been labeled as an aggressor. Quite wrongly, I’m sure. I thought perhaps you might like the opportunity to speak away from the others. In private, so to speak.”
“I could do that in the studio.”
She smiled her attempt at a human face. This time it was more like Krusty’s pacemaker malfunction grimace than The Joker. “I thought perhaps you might enjoy the opportunity to say something, before any recording had taken place.”
Now she was close up I realised that it was the lipstick that was making her appear so clownish. She must apply it with a four inch paintbrush. Maybe a wallpaper roller. You’d think that here, where the were more make-up artists than in all Knightsbridge, someone would have told her.
I assumed the underlings were too scared of her. She was very senior at the BBC.
And I’d noticed before that the Elite ‘Talent’ of the BBC often had wayward clothes and odd beauty looks. Take that Linekar. No one had had the courage to tell him his style of beard had gone out of fashion with David Brent. Or that the orange-brown foundation that Maitlis used, made her appear to have been embalmed.
“The lawyers asked you to ask me?”
“They thought. I mean..We all thought, it might be beneficial.”
She didn’t respond. Just tried her corpse bride smile again.
“Why not,” I said. I had nothing to lose. And it might hurry them up. I’d left Sir Alan sealed in the boot of a classic car. I’d made a few air holes. But he was a big man in a small space. And would have been fuming. Burning up his oxygen in a rage. I needed to call someone as soon as this was done to let him out. Otherwise they really could pin a murder on me.
“Excellent,” she said. “I’ll just let them know you’ve agreed. I won’t be a moment.”
She slopped away to the reception desk outside. Asked to be put through to somebody.
I looked at the others, who were standing around waiting, as I was. Vanessa still over by the desks. Away from Marmon.
I was really feeling the tired now. Headache getting worse. I wonder if any one had any paracetamol.
Bixby looked at the Mini’Vid again. The same weather girl that had angered him before was still on. Melania Humps. This show was like the old CNN: The Weather in your region.
She was describing South East Asia now. Running her fingers slowly along her throat as if wiping away jungle perspiration. Saying something about, “ Ze…incredible… burning heat. Andz zat steamy. Musky, soaking wetness .. Zis..will surely tire even ze most muscular of men out, before too long.”
“I won’t turn on ReJoin, Malone,” Bixby said suddenly. The feeling of a chill creeping along my arms. I hadn’t been expecting anything more from him. But he’d started off again.
It was like being with a maniac. I wondered how much sanity he actually left. His James O’Brien Syndrome was like Dementia. At some point he would slip into the Remainer’s world and never come back.
Anna Soubry had gone like that. She’d been rumored, at the end, to have ordered her entire body tattooed in the EU colours. Her eyes looking out of the gold stars of Finland and France, on her completely blue face. The madness wasn’t far away in Lord Bixby anymore. The medicine couldn’t cure him. Only ease his suffering.
He had reached a personal decision point and so said, “I won’t admit a conspiracy. I won’t betray my friends on this.” His face was still a reddish colour. He might have had too many of his JoBBy pills. Tripping out on his fantasies.
“Then they will betray you, Bixby,” I told him coldly. “They will hang you out to dry. And then just hang you. Look, Its over. If you want to keep breathing, go out and tell the world what we all just recently agreed, happened. You’re implicated, sure.
But you have good lawyers. You’re a member of the House of Lords. You can spin the whole thing as you wish. This way you get to be free. We all do. You get to be with Vanessa again.”
Bixby said nothing. Didn’t even look over to glance at his life-partner. “I can’t abandon ReJoin, Malone.”
“She will go to prison. So will you. Are you prepared for that possibility?”
He said nothing. Only looked at the screens again. I gave him some new information.
Something he hadn’t known before.
“You can’t say anything different, Marmon. My assistant, Dacia. She has copies of all your medical data. I sent them too her. All of it. All from your Medi-Doc.”
That was true. I had been smart enough to ship her the lot.
“If necessary, It will prove that I had nothing to do with your disappearance. It shows you were alive and well, when you claimed to have been abducted. An abduction would leave some very serious heart spikes on your ECG. They aren’t there. A bump on the head leading to temporary amnesia, would have you in an unconscious state. Your records won’t show anything like that. Bixby, If I don’t send Dacia a prearranged signal, in the next hour. She will release those data disks she has to the entire media. The Brexit ones will jump all over it.”
That last bit was a really good idea. I wish I had thought to have told her to do just that. Ah, well. Can’t think of everything.
“I won’t damage remain, Malone. Not for you, or for me or anyone.”
He said no more. Neither did I. We’d made our point. Conversation done for both of us. I’d know when he started his interview if he had changed his mind. That would be one heck of a risky time to discover it.
Vanessa was still in the seating area. She was watching on her monitor the Newsnight Set, where we would record. A shot seen from behind the interview desk.
Technicians and sound and floor managers were still bustling about, even as the time for the broadcast drew very near.
It made making television look exciting. In the same way that a TV show made TV police work look exciting. Which it was. If you ignored the 95% pure joyless, administrative, drudgery and boredom that went on beforehand.
I looked at a fire escape plan that was placed between the monitors. That’s what you did. If you were EX-Health and Safety enforcement. I noted that we were fourth floor. And should not use the lifts in an emergency.
Vanessa suddenly asked me. “Why DID you vote for leave, Joe? What on earth possessed you to do such a silly thing?”
I sighed heavily. A regretful sound that someone who believes they have made a really big mistake might make.
“I saw this sign on a bus,” I told her.
“I knew it!” Thundered Lord Bixby, spinning around to look at me. Elated to finally have his very deepest suspicions confirmed. “It WAS Teh Bus!”
“Yeah! And there was a sign about three hundred pounds for the NHS. That was on the side of a plane!. An Airbus. And, now I remember it, there was this guy,” I continued. “I didn’t know him. But he contacted me online. Said he’d got my details from some far right, unread comments, blog site. Took everyone’s emails with hacking. He called my home. Promised me money if I voted to leave. He was foreign. He had a strong accent.. I think.. It’s possible..Actually, now I think about, I’m sure of it. That he might even have had a Russian accent.”
“Good Lord! That is unbelievable,” exclaimed Lord Bixby. “It’s incredible! Would you be prepared to tell?” His face animated. Arms waving. “Will you come with me to the current tenth investigation into anomalies in the Brexit vote? Of which I am the Chair. Come to one of my committees? The watchdog on parliamentary voting?”
“Of course!” I said happily. “Do you think I should tell them about the Chinese woman too?”
“What Chinese woman is this?” Asked Lord Bixby.
“Well,” I explained this new development to him, “She promised to ‘Love me long time,’ if I voted to ‘No assistee, European Onion.”
“Good Heavens!” Bixby exploded again. Really active now. More even than when the Newz-Stripper had upset his moral compass.
“He’s just teasing you Marmon,” Vanessa told him without emotion. Ruining the game. She was not looking at him. She was looking at me. With her beautiful, pale blue, eyes. The faintest trace of a smile on her lips. The smallest sparkle of mischief in those pools.
“What?..Who?..Him?” He pointed a finger at me. “Are you, Malone? Teasing me?”
Demanded Lord Bixby.
For all his cleverness. And he genuinely did have the high IQ he always claimed, he was a bit simple. A bit gullible. No wonder he believed what he did. It was a religion for him. It was a faith. There could be no argument. The EU was his God. He would worship it without question. He would not falter. If he was troubled. He would seek answers in The Book. Somewhere, in the nine hundred and thirty three thousand, million words, of The Treaty of Maastricht, he would find answers.
He was beyond salvage.
I continued looking back at Vanessa and felt the corners of my mouth turn up in a grin. She, on the other hand, could have been saved. If we had had more time. And it had been different circumstances.
Vanessa picked up her bag. Opening it to take out her phone and keep it in her hand. So she wouldn’t forget to hand it in when we left, as we had been asked. She obeyed ze orders. She joined us as we waited. Me with my had ear and bad joke. Him with his grumpy face, and happy pills.
The main Vid’Screen in front of us had flipped back to BBCNEWS24/7/365. The pictures showed a man in a black dinner suit being escorted by police, down some very steep, very ornate stone steps. He had what looked like a menu held up in front of himself. Using it to cover his face from the photographers.
The story was about the arrest of a long serving Maître D’ at the Reform Club.
Vanessa and I both both looked, surprised. Then at each other. Then back to follow the story. The reporter was speaking from a street. He was under one of the few remaining lit street lamps in London, on Pall Mall.
“Robert Henshaw, the Head Waiter at The Reform Club, has been arrested on charges of conducting espionage for the Republic of China. Authorities acted after a tip off from the newly reformed, FBI.
Henshaw has reportedly been passing on very many valuable secrets. Stock trades.
Share sales. Business secrets. Banking and currency plans. Also, stories of private scandal. Sexual encounters and other society gossip. That he gleaned from the very top echelons of the British aristocracy. The civil service. The banking sector. Police.
The art world. The church. Business leaders. And even the British military.”
Henshaw was bundled into a barred police van. Some plain clothes types in shot sat beside him. I recognised one of them as Samantha Archer, from The Department. She took the menu from him and threw it out of the door. Then leaned to grab the handles to close the rear doors. She was a very ambitious women. Very good at her job. But hugely determined to get whatever she wanted. Modesty prevents telling you how I know this. She was destined for the very top. With no wish to do it the long winded way. She was always on the lookout for the quickest route she could find. This should do it. If she was part of the surveillance operation that had caught him. Expect some rapid promotion.
I looked at Lady Vanessa and said to her, “I Told you he was a Red.”
That was true. I had told her exactly that when we had been at the Reform Club.
“Lucky guess,” she replied.
That was also true. It had been a complete guess. I’d never met the man before that moment. Never, even heard of him, before then. I’d just said it when we were flirting.
We’d been actually at the signing in moment at The Reform Club, when I’d used an alias. Just to mess with her. To see how she would react.
“No, I’m sorry, Henshaw,”she told him. “Lord Bixby is not with me.” He passed her an electronic guest book to sign, as the law now demanded. “I’m here tonight with a very good friend. This is J…”
“I’m Victor Maitland,” I interrupted her. Stepping forward and extending my hand to Henshaw. Somewhat surprised he took it. “Good to meet you Henshaw,” I said pumping his hand. Giving Vanessa a little time to adjust to the situation.”Swell place you have here. What is this building? About thirty years old or even a little more, I would guess?”
Vanessa asked a question. “You used an alias at the Reform Club. It was familiar.
What was it?”
“I said I was Victor Maitland. Art Dealer. Its just a name I use. Something easy to remember.”
“Who is Victor Maitland?”
“Beverley Hills Cop. He’s the baddie. Sometimes I use him. Other times, when I want to be more official, it’s Detective Foley. Detective Rosewood. Or Sergeant Taggart. Depends on the situation. I felt somewhere classy like The Reform Club needed an art dealer.”
She gave her small laugh. “Doesn’t anyone ever notice those names are from a film?”
“You didn’t. Anyway, people only partially listen when you tell them your name.”
She smiled at me. Remembering how she had got me into The Club without signing the E-register or showing any identification. She chuckled a little.
“We made a good team, didn’t we?” She said.
“We could do it again, Joe. We could make a very good team.”
I looked up to where her husband was, just a few steps away. Still watching the weather girl, with ever increasing annoyance. It wasn’t his sort of thing at all.
Especially as she was doing the Middle East. Using her now removed short skirt as a veil.
“I’ll handle Marmon,” she said, keeping her eyes on me. “I’ll arrange it with him now.”
“I doubt you can, Vanessa,” I replied. Deliberately pretending to misunderstand the meaning behind her words. “He’s been on the JoBBy pills. He’s as excited as Jean-Claude Junker on Saint Patrick’s Day, eve.”
“It will be alright. He will be just fine. But don’t aggravate him anymore, OK. Just don’t do or say anything to antagonise him. It will all be fine. And once this interview is done, I’ll tell him that you and I have some.. other business to complete?” She finished with an up tilt of her tone into a question.
I really didn’t think he would be fine. He was far too far gone into the happy valley of Rejoiner dreams. And she? I never knew what to believe around her. Even now.
Right now at this final place. I still didn’t know if I could trust her to put her soft lips on my cheeks. And not a hard steel blade between my ribs.
Ooma Queen, Bixby’s BBC contact and very senior member of the BBC management structure reappeared. She rolled to the doorway and poked her fleshy camel face, around. Clapping her pudgy hands together she called, “Shall we?”
Moving off towards the studio that was only in the next corridor.
Lord Bixby followed her. Settling in to walk beside her. Vanessa and I followed behind them. We were led to to the reception desk where Vanessa deposited her bag.
“Besides,” Vanessa whispered to me. “Too late to back out now, isn’t it?”
Ooma moved off again, towards the Newsnight studio. As we walked I could hear the heavy tread of Sandra Batkawayo’s boots right behind us. The massively built security guard was coming along too.
I’d need to do something about that. If my new plan was going to have a hope of working out.
* * *
The next turn, took us down a curving corridor that was covered in a deep pile, buttermilk carpet. Thick pile like this was unusual for a workplace. Nightmare to clean. I expected that the BBC claimed they needed it to deaden sound and have complete silence. Dampen every tread. Because of all the filming and recording going on. More likely they had just wanted the luxury of sixty-two europounds a meter carpeting.
We had only gone a few steps down this corridor when a door marked ‘Diversity. Sports Department,’ opened. A man wearing a business suit, and a tan raincoat stepped out.
“Mr Malone? May I have a word. I’m Mister Simms. From BBC Legal. Miz King said you might like the opportunity for a private chat. Just for a few minutes?”
Vanessa and Bixby looked at me.
“Joe?” Vanessa asked. “What is this about?”
“It’s alright. I agreed to give them a few minutes. You go on into the studio. We have a deadline. I will be right with you.”
“It’s perfectly alright, Mrs Bixby. Mr Simms is our very best representative,” Ooma explained to her.
“Joe?” she said again, more urgently.
“Mr Simms is reviewing my compensation, Vanessa. He’s one of those no win no fee top legal people. A ‘Have you been involved in a stabbing that wasn’t your fault?’ lawyer. Isn’t that so, Mister Simms?”
He didn’t seem too bothered about being portrayed as an ambulance chaser.
“Shall we go in here?” He opened the door of the Sports Diversity room. I could see in to a central, large, oval table with ten or so padded office chairs around it. A dark haired woman sat at the table. A yellow legal pad in front of her. She had a kind of Middle Eastern set of features. Sat very upright.
I couldn’t see behind the door, or under the table, or into the corners. But it was a well lit room. Strip lights in the ceiling made it bright enough. Assassins prefer dark areas and shadows, mostly.
“I’ll catch you up in a minute. Don’t hog all the mascara,” I said to Vanessa.
“I don’t use it,” she said back.
“I was talking to Marmon,” I told her. And stepped through the open door.
* * *
I was sat at the table. There was a flat screen embedded in the table in front of each seating place. I was tapping on it. Trying to access The Department’s unrestricted search engines. I didn’t have time for the crappy EuOOgle to tell me that what I required was ‘Unobtainable. Unlisted or Classified.”
Simms was seated beside the attractive, dusky skin toned woman. He was still wearing his raincoat, though it was very warm in here. I saw there were raindrops on it. And a small puddle had formed under his sleeve where it rested on the table top.
There must have been a shower going on outside. There was no way of knowing.
There were no windows on this side of the building. All the glass was at the front.
This side was all for studio area. Simms must have only just arrived from wherever he had been summoned from. Not within this building.
She had said nothing. He hadn’t stopped talking. But had said very little. He was taking his time getting to the point. So far it was all, ‘Terrible misunderstanding. Unfortunate decision process conflicts. Junior’s may have exceeded their authority. Most regrettable. Etc etc.’ I tapped idly on the screen in front of me. Hoping that all my recent television exposure hadn’t reminded some admin clerk at The Department that they should have deleted my access code and changed my password long ago.
I decided I couldn’t wait for Rain Man to come to the reason for this meet, any longer.
So I asked him straight. “What do you want from me, Mister Simms?”
He folded his arms and leaned forward. “Mr Malone this is a very delicate situation.
Very important members of the establishment are implicated in what some people might think of as an anti-democratic attempt to influence a political vote of the most important nature. Democracy is sovereign, Mister Malone. It can never be seen to be usurped by one side or another. It is not something for sale. Something that can be influenced. You see how that would undermine people’s faith in the whole democratic system?”
“It did mine,” I replied. “I’m devastated. I tell you. My faith is shattered. I may never recover.”
I tapped some more. These desk tablets were fast. The BBC had very good broadband.
Simms sat back and glanced at his companion. She wrote something on her pad which he read. Then leaned in to me again. Clasping his hands once more. I wondered if he’d been taught to do that. ‘Body language techniques for looking earnest.’
“Mister Malone. This sort of story could damage you too. Damage you, financially.
You see, in any sort of investigation, all of your background would be examined.
Every Tweet or social media retweet, uptick, approve, or follow, you’ve ever made would be searched and scrutinised. Any remark you’ve ever made on say, a right wing, comments unread blog, could be checked for examples of gender bias. Or for discrimination. Racial crimes. Hate speech. Un-diverse opinions.”
“You would be checking?”
“Oh, not me.” He raised his hands to show nothing was contained within them. “I’m impartial. I’m strictly impartial. I’m BBC. I meant, whoever is the prosecution in any trial. Whoever wants to prevent an investigation. They would seek to smear your reputation. To discredit you. You could easily lose your private investigator’s licence. Lose your livelihood. Even without that, who would come to you for your services? If your past was displayed everywhere in the very worst possible light?
Every time you have ever used an inappropriate word online, it would be highlighted.
Did you once type, Black cats matter? Racism! Ever used the word, Pumpkin? Or Love? Racist and sexist, if taken into new context.”
He looked as she pointed to something on the pad.
“It wouldn’t be very hard for a good investigation team to come up with something usable. What with your former well publicised involvement with a Far Right character of, shall we say, dubious notoriety?”
I said nothing. Didn’t even look at him, except from the corner of my eye. I typed some more.
Simms spoke slightly louder. Worried he wasn’t being heard clearly enough. Perhaps wondering if the shot that hit my ear had made me a little deaf.
“I’m referring, of course, to your involvement with a certain Mister Tommy Robinson. Of the extreme Far Right? A bit of a gift for any prosecution team, wouldn’t you agree?”
I pressed enter on the screen key bar. Then sat back, looking at the women who was obviously in charge of this interview. Or whatever it was supposed to be.
“N.H.R.N.” I said to her.
“Pardon,” Simms said.
“NHRN. That’s not his real name,” I said to her again.
Simms waited until she gave the very slightest nod with her eyes. Then he answered with a, “Yes, I actually did know that. I believe he has an unusual double-barreled name, doesn’t he?”
I continued staring at her, as I casually said, “You misunderstand. I didn’t mean Yaxley-Lennon. I meant Mister Simms. That’s not his real name.”
I made the search display on my tablet available for them to see on their screens.
“There is no record of a Mister Simms, or any variation of that name, having worked for any of the retained BBC legal practices, within the last ten years.”
She looked down at my search. A long list of names and appointments. These were employment records and payslips. General Data Protection Regulation, normative and extensional, wasn’t something The Department ever worried about.
She looked back up. Her expression unchanged. But perhaps a hint of admiration in her eyes? They were very expressive, her eyes. Perhaps I imagined it.
Simms looked a little ruffled by the idea he wasn’t registered at BBC Legal or associated partners. He probably should be. Just registered. He wouldn’t ever work there. His mouth was moving silently as he thought of an explanation.
Before he could think up something unlikely, I sent the second page so they could view it on the screens in front of them.
“There is, however, a Michael Simmons. Who bears a considerable similarity to the man at this table. Michael Simmons, of “CI5.” That’s Criminal Intelligence 5, isn’t it?”
I knew it was.
Simmons CI5, Red page was on screen. The Red page was actually a white page.
With a red stripe through the top corner. That went across the file photo held by paperclip. Michael Simmons. Rank DC1. Seven years at CI5. Formerly, Royal Military Police.
She might well be military if he was CI5. She might be a military lawyer. CI5 were the agency between both civil and military. Counter terrorism. Espionage. Only they could rival The Department for designated powers. Reporting directly through the JIC. Not stuck under the Home Office as The Department was.
They also had responsibility for the protection of British parliamentary democracy and economic interests.
I told you. Never use your real name if you don’t have to. If any one asks you why.
Tell them Victor Maitland said so.
He could have used any name and I’d not have found him. Without uploading his picture and searching through facial recognition. That was never quick. But he’d used one so close to the one he’d given me, that even the basic run of The Department’s payroll search had found it easily enough. Just by using the ‘all variations’ check box.
I’d had DI6 and MI5 and CI5 listed as database parameters.
Because these two had seemed like spooks from the very beginning.
“You have suffered a great deal, Joe. You should be compensated,” the lady lawyer said, speaking for the first time. A faint trace of some middle eastern, Arabic sounding accent. She was being good cop.
This was the arrangement, then. He had been threatening me with vague hints of social banishment and economic ruin. She was going to make some offer.
About time. I’d been waiting long enough. And I had a broadcast to record.
“You have been injured in your line of work. That deserves some recompense. And that can be accommodated.”
“Its all about keeping it, on a very small scale though,” Simmonds said. “Not any financial settlement. That can be an appropriate amount. I rather meant any, involvement, of any member of Her Majesty’s government or member of the House of Lords. That involvement must be, minimized.”
“We are happy to assist you with the preparation of your statement, Mister Malone.
One has been prepared that would be acceptable to everyone involved.” The female lawyer lifted her pad. Underneath was a sheet of paper. She put a hand on it, and pushed it across the table towards me. She wasn’t bothered about Covid-22. Wasn’t in the most ‘At-Risk’ category. Balding, white men. Over forty six years old. Under five foot ten. That was the latest from the WHO.
I looked down at the sheet of paper. It was empty of any words. It was just a white piece of good quality, plain paper.
“It must be upside down,” I said to them. As it was blank. But I didn’t reach out to turn it over. I knew what was coming.
“That is the statement, Mister Malone. That is what we would like you to say to the BBC during this broadcast,” she made clear. Her expression still neutral. But her words, forceful.
“It would be best,” continued Simmonds, “if you didn’t say too much at this stage.
Perhaps just mention, nothing at all. That would probably be for the best. For all concerned.”
I regarded them both. Good suits. Good complexions. But both had some muscle tone. I knew they were not regular lawyers. They were probably field trained. That’s why they had been chosen to come here.
“You want me to go into an interview. That I have actually asked for. Concerning a nationally important news event. That I am central to. And then say nothing at all in answer to the questions I will be asked?”
“You can always state your name,” she said.
There was a silence among us. They wanted me to be very clear about what they were not saying. So I made it easy for them.
“Am I right in thinking you are offering me and not offering me, an unspecified arrangement? In which I may, or may not, receive some compensation for events in which I may, or may not, have not been involved? In return for making no comment about the same, known, unknown events?”
“That sounds about right,” he said. Scratching the side of his head with a finger. “I think that sums it up adequately. Only, I wold add that it isn’t quite like that. We shall speak to the BBC on your behalf. To make sure everything get straightened out.”
“I see. And if I did decide to speak to the BBC, there might be some consequences to me. Such as a loss of my licence to operate. A series of tax audits. VAT returns examined. Any area of the state that has an impact upon me. From council taxes to recycling bins, will be asked to participate. In short, you will make my life, very, very difficult?”
Neither of them said anything. They really didn’t need too. It was crystal. So I asked a question of my own.
“Is this a Matrix Churchill thing?” I now feared it was something like that. Worse than I could ever have imagined.
I began to fear that this wasn’t just Sir Alan Stuart and Lord Marmon-Herrington Bixby setting up this false murder. That they weren’t just fanatical Remoaners on a rogue operation. But that it all originated at an even higher level. Perhaps higher than they could ever hope to float. And they were both very near the Lalique glass ceiling as it was.
Matrix Churchill had been a company that the British government had asked to sell banned equipment to Iraq, for them. When the press found out about it, the government denied all knowledge and left the directors to face trial and imprisonment, alone.
This whole plot might have had the knowledge, and support of the government itself.
It wouldn’t be the first time the government had sought to find a way of thwarting itself. Of sabotaging its own negotiators. In order not to implement any exit at all from the European Union.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a Matrix affair,” Simmonds said. “The financial doesn’t come into it. What we are concerned about today is the effects of a scandal. On, society.
We don’t want a scandal, Mister Malone. Not at the moment. With things how they are. This business has all the trappings of a Profumo affair. Something salacious enough that the press would run with it like a dog with a dinosaur bone. Something with enough juicy gossip that the media would be regularly returning to it in between their cycle of pandemic doom and celebrity news. We worry that it could easily bring down a government.”
“This is a more troubling Profumo type event,” the lawyer said. “With government and high society in the unenviable role of being caught out like John Profumo was.”
“And with you cast in the role of Doctor Steven Ward,” Simmonds added. He paused to let me think about that.
I knew the good Doctor Ward had been left friendless. That the judge had ran a trial that he had no hope of justice in. And that he had eventually killed himself. Dr Kelly style.
Simmonds spread his hands. “I meant only that you could find yourself in the very position that Doctor Ward did.”
“What was that?”
“Not quite as important as he thought he was.”
Lady Suits eyes flashed a little. She might have thought Simmonds had gone too far.
He was virtually saying if I said anything at all, I’d be Epsteined.
We all waited in the silence. Until I thought I should ask.
“Now,” she replied, looking pleased that I had asked, “You tape your interview. In which you will say nothing. You will withdraw any accusations of any kind you have made. Explain that this is on advice of counsel. Lady Bixby and Lord Bixby will make their statements. The BBC will have to make their choice of what they wish to say. We could not possibly influence them in any way.”
They wouldn’t have too. Their were more Pro-EU fanatics in this building than in Brussels.
“We shall watch on the monitors. Once the recordings are done, we shall all meet in the Green room to discuss how we thought it went.”
“Unless you can think of anything else?” She put her pad away into a shoulder bag.
I stood up.
“Best of luck,” Simmonds said to me as I left the room. “Or is it, they say, ‘break a leg?’”
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file