Root Memory

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The Watcher

Graham always enjoyed this bit. After all the laborious hours spent researching his subject, whether it be online or gathering potential rumours and scandal from his network of casual informants, actually getting out and doing some proper field work was the best part of his job.

Friday being the day that Dixey was routinely due to meet his lady friend, Graham decided to follow him for twenty-four hours if necessary, arriving at his large Putney house a little after 6am.

The previous day, he’d followed Dixey’s wife, Kathleen, to see if he could get anything on her too, but she appeared to pursue a fairly mundane pattern: up at 6.30am; prepare breakfast for Dixey and the two remaining girls still living at home; take them to school; return to the house and switch on the washing machine – all rather predictable stuff. It struck Graham that she looked a good ten years older than Dixey: tired and shrivelled.

Later on, while she was out shopping, Graham attached contact microphones to the kitchen and sitting room windows of the house. Also, he’d hidden a couple of camcorders in garden bushes, aiming them towards what he’d judged would be the most fruitful windows. He’d also used the opportunity to check the dustbins for any useful titbits of information. Nothing earth shattering showed up, but he hung on to some letters from the bank and utility companies for possible future use.

Job done, Graham had retired to his ageing and purposely anonymous-looking Honda Civic, which was parked out in the avenue a little way down from the house, and set up his monitoring equipment on the passenger seat. Then he’d waited for Kathleen to return. Within half an hour the electric gates to the property dutifully opened for her white Lexus SUV. Graham had then donned his headphones and scrutinised the screen on his laptop that was remotely linked to the camcorders. He’d heard the front door open and could see Kathleen enter the kitchen with the shopping bags. She’d spent the next two hours watching TV shopping channels and chatting with members of her family on the phone. It had turned out to be a boring remainder of the day for Graham. Three cans of Red Bull meant it wasn’t long before he’d used his improvised urinal: an old orange juice bottle kept in the glove box.

Today, he waited outside the house in his car and watched the same pattern of events unfold as the day before, until Dixey left for work. Graham followed a discreet distance behind his Range Rover. He’d attached a small tracking device to the vehicle, so was confident he wouldn’t lose sight of it for long, wherever it ended up.

Dixey spent an hour or so at his office then drove up to Oxford after the morning rush. Graham watched him call at several bedsit houses in the Cowley area and then meet up with Lorcan at a semi off The Slade. They were in there some time. When the pair of them emerged, they were followed out by quite a respectable looking middle-aged woman quietly pleading with them as she bashfully checked up and down the road for nosey neighbours.

The day passed slowly. It was now getting dark and Graham ran the engine for a while to get some warmth into the vehicle. 5pm eventually rolled round and Dixey looked to be heading back towards London. However, he pulled off the M40 unexpectedly early, at the High Wycombe turn. After a couple of routine rent collections he pulled up behind some scruffy flats near a railway bridge on the edge of the town centre. By now the commuter crowd had mostly left and were being replaced by early doors Friday night revellers.

Graham parked up and followed Dixey towards the building at a safe distance. He watched him knock at the door of one of the two ground-floor apartments. Frustratingly, he was at the wrong angle to see who opened the door. Having used both of his contact microphones on Dixey’s house, Graham was left with no option but to wait and see what happened – or what didn’t happen. Other residents came and went as he repeatedly glanced at his mobile to check the time. Well over an hour passed before Dixey emerged and climbed into his car. At this point, Graham had to quickly decide if he should continue to follow him or whether there was some significance in his unusually long stay at this address. Suspecting that it could be the home of the woman he was having an affair with, he chose the latter; and anyway, the tracking device would give him a record of Dixey’s subsequent travels.

Graham waited a couple of minutes and then knocked on the door of the flat. A girl answered. She looked to be in her late teens, or early twenties at most; attractive too, he thought: petite and slim, and guessed from her appearance she was perhaps from Eastern Europe. Her accent gave him few clues. Graham made a quick assessment as to what approach to take in questioning her; she seemed a touch distracted and a little vulnerable, so he chose to introduce himself as a plain-clothes detective – flashing a convincing looking ID card at her.

The girl let him in. Graham told her that he was involved in an investigation of the man who just left and that he would like her to explain how she knew him.

“He’s my landlord. He comes every week. I pay him rent.”

Graham pulled out a notebook and started to scribble as he nodded at her reply.

“I see. Do you mind at all if I take your name?”

“It’s Maia.”

“And your family name?”

“Balcescu.”

The sound of her surname put him in mind of the ex-Chelsea football player, Dan Petrescu.

“Is that Romanian?”

Maia gave him a weak smile. “Yes, from near Sibiu.”

“Right. It’s just that I couldn’t help noticing that your landlord was here for quite a while: over an hour. Is that normal?”

Maia turned her eyes away from him at the same time as briefly wiping her nose with the knuckle of her index finger.

“Yes.”

Graham knew she was concealing something, so thought he would try and unsettle her a little into giving him more information.

“This man, Dixey. We believe he’s involved with importing large quantities of illegal drugs into the country. He and anybody who assists him could go to prison for a long time. It would help both of us if you could tell me more about him.”

“I don’t use drugs! That’s not why he comes here.”

“Right, I believe you, Maia; it’s all right. So if he doesn’t just come for the rent, why does he stay so long? Is it that he’s your lover too?”

“No!”

Maia broke down and escaped to the kitchen, sobbing. Graham followed her and attempted to comfort her.

“I’m sorry to upset you, Maia. I can be out of here and leave you alone in no time if you could just give me a bit more to go on; give me some facts.”

Maia sat down and wiped the tears from her eyes. “My family would be ashamed of me if they knew. I work hard in this country; the jobs your people don’t want to do. I wish I’d never come here.”

Graham softened his voice and crouched down next to her. “What, Maia? What are you ashamed of?”

“What he makes me do, that’s what.”

“And what things are those?”

Once again, Maia turned her head away from him as she answered. “Dirty things.”

“It’s important that you tell me exactly what they are, Maia.”

“He makes me sleep with him.”

“You mean he has sex with you against your will?”

“I have to. I owe him money. Rent. I got behind.”

“So you pay him off that way?”

“Yes.”

Realising that was all he was likely to get from the girl, Graham decided to wrap things up.

“Thank you for telling me all this, Maia. Mr. Dixey is a very unpleasant man. The more evidence we can gather on him the quicker we can put him away. Look, I’ll leave you in peace now. You’ve been a great help.”

Maia stared at the wall, withdrawn into her thoughts.

When Nigel got a call from Graham’s mobile a few minutes later, giving him the low down on Dixey’s Friday night visits, he couldn’t help but be reminded how it resembled his encounter with Tonya that evening nearly a month before. At least now he could empathise to some extent with what the girl must be going through. And it reinforced his determination to put an end to the way Dixey callously used people; to hold a mirror up to what remained of any sense of self-conscience he might still possess, and make some small redress for what he’d allowed to happen with Tonya.

Graham had an idea: “This girl Maia looked desperate to me. I reckon you could make her an offer.”

“An offer; what do you mean?

“Well, we’ve got him if we can get proof of what he gets up to with her. If you can talk her into it, I could set up some equipment in her flat and record one of his visits: you know, a few compromising shots that we could threaten to send to his wife and kids.”

The line was silent for a few seconds while Nigel thought around the plan. “Basically, you mean we should blackmail him?”

“Well, if you want to put it that way. It’s up to you what you want to do with the information. I thought you wanted to get him back for what he did to your dad.”

“I do, but I haven’t really worked out what to do exactly. But thanks, Graham, you’ve done a good job.”

Graham seized the opportunity that presented itself. “You couldn’t forward me another two-fifty could you... if you want me to go ahead with putting the surveillance equipment in?”

As soon as he was off the phone to Graham he was on it again, this time to Sabrina. He felt sure she’d be able to conjure up a plan of action. She turned out not to disappoint. He’d barely explained it all before she had a suggestion.

“We need to go and see this girl together. She’s going to need a big incentive to go through with what Gray wants to do. We need to offer her a way out of it all if she agrees to co-operate with us.”

“You really don’t mind doing this? I feel bad about getting you involved. I mean, we’ve only just -”

“If I didn’t mean it, Nigel, I wouldn’t say it. I want to help you. Look, we’ve got to see her before he visits again.”

Graham gave Sabrina Maia’s number and she phoned her up, pretending to be a woman police officer on follow-up enquiries. It was arranged that the girl would get a visit from her and a “colleague” the following Monday morning.

Nigel’s coach arrived in High Wycombe around half an hour before Sabrina’s train was due in from Marylebone, so he walked through the drizzle to the station to meet her. By then he’d had several days to allow the news of his latest windfall to settle in. He still couldn’t really believe it.

At the auction, his dad’s XK120 had sold for just over £63,000. There was no way Jack was going to miss such an event, so they’d both gone along together, bumbling along the M40 at well below the legal limit in his ageing brown Ford Escort. The bids had bounced back and forth between a poker-faced, bloated suit casually lifting his number card in response to each advance made by a telephone bidder. But the telephone won. Even with the commission to be paid sending the final sum below 60k, it was still an awful lot of money. Jack had appeared even more excited than Nigel was at the good news, throwing his Stewart tartan cap into the air and catching it again at the precise moment the auctioneer theatrically tapped his gavel and shouted that the car had been sold.

Nigel must have been miles away in thought when eventually he realised Sabrina was standing in front of him, waving and teasingly asking if anyone was home.

“Oh, sorry; I hadn’t realised the train had arrived.”

She maintained her affectionately mocking tone. “What, with a few hundred tons of metal grinding to a halt before your eyes?”

Before he could stop himself he’d said: “You look wonderful.”

Sabrina performed an exaggerated curtsy. “Why thank you, big half-brother.”

She did look wonderful. Nigel was now accustomed to the way she attracted regular double takes from passing men. And it was no different as they made their way out of the station, through the now steady rain, to the taxi rank. On arriving at Maia’s flat, Sabrina got out first as Nigel leant forward and held out a ten pound note to the driver.

“Thanks. Just give me three change.”

“You lucky sod,” he said with a wink and an approximation of a Sid James cackle as he handed him the coins.

Maia didn’t hesitate in letting them both through the door of her flat. It was just as well, seeing that neither Sabrina nor Nigel felt as easy about impersonating police officers as Graham had done so nonchalantly a few days before. The girl invited them in and pointed towards the sofa for them to sit down. She was clearly nervous and sat on the very edge of her chair, biting her nails. After a couple of minutes of polite introductory chit-chat, Sabrina made their pitch.

“We’re aware that Mr. Dixey forces you to have sex with him because you owe him money, yes?”

Nigel looked sheepish as Maia’s replied. It was like history repeating.

“But it was not my fault! I work for an agency... cleaning. They said I had to wait a week for my next job. I told them I could not miss a week, that I need the money!”

“I can see it wasn’t your fault, Maia. But I’m sure you want this situation to stop as soon as possible and to be rid of this man, yes?”

“Yes.” Her eyes were already beginning to well up and she started to sniffle into the rolled-up paper tissue she was clutching.

Sabrina continued. “We need to prove what he does here; what he does to you. So we’d like to bring some recording equipment into your flat so that we can capture evidence against him.”

Maia stood up and began to pace the room. “No! It’s private. I don’t want people to see what he makes me do. It is dirty!”

Sabrina stood up and placed her arms around the girl and hugged her, offering the girl whispered reassurances. Nigel was unable to hear what she said, but noticed Maia looking into Sabrina’s eyes and nodding through her tears as they murmured to one another. They both returned to their seats and Sabrina turned to Nigel.

“Maia understands she has to do this if she is to be rid of him for good.”

Nigel turned to the girl: “Thank you, Maia.”

“She also knows that if she goes through with this that she must leave this flat and never return. Yes, Maia?”

“Yes. I want to go home, to be with my family again.”

Sabrina smiled at Maia, now with her own tears forming. “Look, we know this must be so so difficult for you, and if there was anything else we could do instead of making you go through this ordeal again then we would. But after this Friday it will be over. And we are quite happy to help you – with money, to get you started again.”

Seeing Sabrina’s cue, Nigel reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. “Maia, here’s £500. You take this today, and then my colleague, the one who spoke to you before, will come and install the equipment and then we will give you another £500. We’ll then wait outside while Mr. Dixey visits you this Friday and monitor what goes on. Afterwards, once there is enough evidence, you will get another £1,000 in cash. Are you happy with this?”

Sabrina gave him a scowl. “I’m sure Maia isn’t happy with any of this. Will that be enough, Maia?”

Maia nodded. “Yes. I will do what you say. If it makes it all stop.”

As they sheltered under a tree waiting for another cab, Sabrina shivered and stamped her feet against the cold.

“So, do you think I was convincing in there?

“Yeah, except you don’t really expect to see many plain clothes women officers wearing quite so much make-up on duty.”

“Well this is as neutral as I get, darling.”

Nigel tilted his head and conceded defeat with a raise of his eyebrows. Then his expression changed and he looked preoccupied. “In there just now, she didn’t bat an eyelid when we offered her the money; you know, at the idea of police handing out cash.”

“I don’t think she really knows what’s going on; seemed a bit of an innocent to me.”

“So, do you reckon we can rely on her to go through with all this?”

“Poor little thing’s scared stiff. The bastard makes her do anal; was a virgin before he... But she knows it’s her only way out.”

Nigel was taken a little off guard by the graphic detail and curled his lip in distaste. “I mean, we’ve got to stop him, haven’t we. If we could just get him to take some of the ibogabeta like I did I’m sure it would change him. He’d know what he does to people is wrong.”

Sabrina looked sceptical to say the least. “I know it worked for you, but it all seems a bit far fetched. What’s wrong with good old fashioned blackmail? If he wants to keep his wife and kids...”

“But he won’t change inside. He’ll just end up going back to treating people like shit sooner or later, no matter what we do. I mean, it’s in his nature, isn’t it? But if we can get him to take the ibogabeta he will change inside, I know it.”

“Personally I think it’s a crackpot idea, but if you’re determined to go through with it... for Christ’s sake, when’s this taxi going to come...”

In response, Nigel stretched his neck out in both directions down the road but saw no likely looking vehicle amongst the traffic. “I know we told Maia that we just need to record what Dixey does this Friday, but maybe there’s some way we can get her to give the drug to him while he’s there.”

Sabrina’s face now looked a picture of concerned despair. “This is all fantasy now, Nigel. You’ve been watching too many spy movies or something. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in real life. And you can’t risk that girl’s safety, she’s been through enough.”

“OK, yeah, you’re right, I know. But I still think there must be a way of giving it to him.”

During the drive to the station both were silent, but when they got out, Sabrina told Nigel she had an idea.

“It’s obvious. We can’t expect Maia to slip him this drug of yours and go through the rest of it. She’s scared half to death of him; he’ll know something’s going on – I’ll have to do it.”

Nigel attempted to ask at least two questions simultaneously, then slowed down and tried again, settling for an observation.

“But surely it’ll be too risky. You haven’t met him.”

Sabrina took on a steely and assertive tone to her voice. “One thing I do know about, Nigel, is men. There aren’t many I can’t handle. From the way he’s treated that girl I know his type. It’s got to be me that gives it him or not at all.”

“But...”

“Look, first we gather the evidence with him and Maia, then we can work out how I can slip him the drug another time. Right?”

“Yes. It’s a lot to expect from you, though. But thank you, Sabrina.”

“Don’t imagine you’re going to be safely out of the way with this, you’ll be in the thick of it as well.”

When Nigel got home he noticed the answering machine flashing. It was the estate agent. A couple were interested in viewing the house. With all the Dixey business in his head, renting the place out had dropped out of his thoughts. He felt a slight tingle of anticipation; things were actually starting to move now.

By the time the following Friday had rolled around, December 1st had been settled on as the date for his new tenants to move in. It was all going to be a little too tight for comfort; just over a week to settle this business with Dixey and head off back north to start his new life on Arran.

Nigel had little opportunity to daydream about the island as there was a great deal to get done before Dixey was due to arrive. Graham was busy threading cables and testing his various bugs, cameras and other technological apparatus he’d got arranged for the evening. The tracker was still attached to Dixey’s Range Rover so Graham was able to follow his movements throughout the day and be prepared to the minute for when he was due to arrive. It was Sabrina’s job to prevent Maia from getting spooked, but seeing the flashing dot on the laptop screen gradually getting closer and closer on the map only made her more nervous.

“Get that thing out of here, Gray; go into the kitchen,” Sabrina snapped.

“OK, OK!”

Maia was crying again and Sabrina was comforting her again. Everyone was on edge. Nigel paced about the room and repeatedly peered out through a small gap in the curtains. Graham called out another update.

“I reckon he’s about five minutes away; difficult to tell with the traffic building up.”

Sabrina took charge. “Thanks, Gray. About time we went out to the car, I think. You two go first, I’ll stay with Maia for a little longer.”

A couple of minutes later out in the car park, Sabrina hunched up against Nigel in the back seat of the Civic while Graham leaned over to the laptop on the passenger seat, tapping away on the keyboard. Nigel shouted a whisper:

“There he is!”

All three dipped their heads instinctively as the Range Rover came to a halt outside the flat.

Graham maximized the screen to reveal three grainy rectangles: the first was the view from the tiny camera hidden in a pot plant facing the sofa where Dixey usually sat; the second one a sidelong view from the curtain pelmet; the third positioned in the bedroom light fitting, looking directly down onto the bed. The fourth quadrant on the laptop screen came to life with a dancing, jagged line as they heard the doorbell ring; the microphones seemed to be working OK. They watched Maia wring her hands as she left the room to answer the front door.

“Come on, Maia, stay calm,” Sabrina repeated over and over like a mantra, willing success.

It wasn’t possible to make out what they were saying while they were still in the hall. As they entered the living room in turn, they could see Maia holding out an envelope and Dixey take it from her. He obligingly sat down on the sofa and scribbled into a ledger balanced on his knees.

“You’re looking very pretty this evening, Maia.”

“Oh... thank you”, Maia replied with a forced smile.

“You’ve cut your hair, haven’t you?”

“Yes... just a little bit off.”

“I’m always saying to my youngest to have hers done shorter like that. They all have to have it so long. She has to be like her mates and have it half way down her back. ”

“You like it like this?”

“I said so, didn’t I. Well, that’s the business done, now time to relax, yeah?”

Maia began wringing her hands again. “I’ll get your drink, yes?”

“Thanks, love. Not too much soda this time.”

In the car, they watched Maia make her way to the cabinet with a nervous and almost robotic gait, then pour the drink and return. She handed the glass to him.

“There you are.”

Dixey took the glass from her with his right hand as he placed his left hand on her waist. Maia flinched at his touch. Then he moved his hand slowly down to caress her bottom while he pulled her closer to him.

“That’s lovely. Might as well start, yeah?

“Yes.”

Maia returned to the cabinet where she’d poured Dixey’s drink and put on a CD. Thumping R&B filled the room together with a wailing female vocal. She returned to her position in front of Dixey and removed her silk-effect dressing gown to reveal skimpy, black lacy lingerie. She gyrated to the beat and raised her arms in the air in practised approximation of a nightclub performer.

In the car, Graham lowered the volume on the laptop. They all looked at one another, not able to say a word.

Dixey settled back in his chair and sipped at his Irish Whiskey while Maia continued to mechanically move her body to the music with a disconnected and distracted lack of grace. The first track ended and another almost identical one began. With this, Maia began to remove her bra while Dixey took another sip. Graham and Nigel shifted uneasily in their seats. Minutes passed and another track started and this time Maia removed the remaining item of lingerie, stripper-style; theatrically slipping her panties down her thighs as she continued to sway her body to the beat. From the car, they watched Dixey finish the last of his drink, place the glass on the table, then and stand up and make a pointing gesture across the room. It was his signal for Maia to follow him to the bedroom.

On the screen inside the Civic, they saw the light come on and Maia walk into the room, followed by Dixey. He pulled her close and attempted to fondle her breasts and kiss her, but she recoiled. Clearly following enduring convention, Maia then turned and lay face down on the bed. Dixey dropped his trousers and slumped himself on top of her.

Nigel opened the car door and climbed out. “I can’t watch any more of this.”

Graham glanced at him momentarily but quickly returned his gaze to the screen, leaning forward intently. Sabrina gave him a shove on the shoulder. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you – you sick little puppy. No need to ask if you’re recording it.” Graham nodded while keeping his eyes aimed keenly at the screen.

Over the distorted laptop speaker, and almost drowned out by the pounding soundtrack from the next room, Sabrina winced as she listened to Maia’s muffled, sorrowful moans and watched Dixey’s pale, bare arse pumping away as he pressed the girl’s head into the pillow with a forceful hand.

He was finished and on his feet again by the close of Rihanna’s Umbrella.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, from the darkness, Nigel saw Dixey’s Range Rover pull out of the car park, the reflection of its headlights gleaming off the damp tarmac as it revved off into the night. He returned to the Civic and found Sabrina sitting there with the door open, wiping her eyes as Graham busied himself in the driver’s seat putting away his laptop and various leads.

Nigel leaned in. “That was horrible, Sabrina.”

“Well what were you expecting after what she told us?

“I know. But to see it on there, to –”

“I think we should go and see how she is. You stay here, Graham, OK?” He shrugged his shoulders.

Maia answered Sabrina’s gentle knock at her door. She was wearing her dressing gown wrapped tightly against her body and her arms folded, gripping herself from shivers. Nigel was directed to make tea while Sabrina sat down with Maia on the sofa, her arm around the girl’s shoulders, trying to console her.

Nigel returned from the kitchen with mugs on a tray, awkwardly waiting for the right moment to speak.

“I’m afraid there’s no milk.”

“Look, I’m going to stay with her tonight. I think you’d better go now; just leave the envelope with me, I’ll sort the money thing out tomorrow.”

“Right, OK... if you’re sure.”

“Yes, Nigel. Go on, I’ll ring you in the morning.”

Back at the car, Graham was in a triumphant mood, boasting about the quality of the footage he’d obtained.

“I’ll print off stills of the best bits and edit down the footage ready for Youtube, if we need it. I think the best thing would be to, you know, email him a private link and threaten to give it to his family.”

“Is that all that’s on your mind after what we just saw?”

“It’s a shame about the girl, sure... but it’s my job.”

“But you don’t have to enjoy it quite so much. Just drop me at the station; I’ve had enough for tonight.”

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