Basingstoke in winter is no Miami Beach. It’s wet, cold and getting the shit kicked out of you by heavies is no small matter. Harry H was holding me up while Mickey P was doing the damage. Basically beating the crap out of me. And then they were gone and I slumped to the ground.
Thought, another happy punter. I’d not delivered the news they wanted.
And paid the price. Being a PI is like that.
I was stuck in the UK trying to get back to Rehoboth, Delaware USA.
Land of my Dad. Land of the free. Land where I could carry a gun and cap a few bad mother fuckers if needed.
Then call it self-defense. In the UK it’s frowned upon. They’ve unarmed cops for that. Bruised and battered I headed back to Jacobs Alley and the office.
Set in an office block marked for demolition. It suited my pocket just dandy. I was last man standing. All the other merchants of tat had hightailed it out of there. It will be reinvented as another soulless, faceless office building. The only sort they seem to know how to build in the UK.
The elevator was out of order, or had been removed by the local Pikey’s.
On its way, I suppose, to feed the great Chinese export beast. I was on the second floor. So not a problem.
My door was open. Now, I do run an open door policy. But normally I kept it locked. To keep out the riff raff and debt collectors.
I’d no secretary as she’d left, as soon as I said, I’d no intention of getting hitched.
Lack of pay was also an underlying factor.
A Chinese woman was in the office, crying. I introduced myself and sat down.
Her name was Li Zhang and her husband was missing. I advised her to go to the police. She said she had. But they didn’t care about a missing Chink.
How long had he been missing.
Well, I explained, a company will generally wait four days, before calling a package as, lost in transit.
My fee, I told her is £1024 a day, plus expenses. The amount was a clever pun on the amount of Kilobytes in a Megabyte. I had a friend who was a Consultant Linux Guru. And he had this amount on his website. With the proviso he only handled Linux cases. And if they wanted a Windows Guru. They could jolly well fuck off and get someone else.
She agreed and took some money out of her bag and placed it on the desk. 50 Euros total. It was all she had. But she could get more.
I picked it up. Before she changed her mind.
“Yes,” I said, “you can pay the rest later. Now your husband.”
She placed a load of papers on the desk and started crying again. His picture showed he was Chinese. Name of Charlie Zhang. A programmer developer for Red-Storm. A Hong Kong Software Company. He had gone to a meeting with a man called Stringer. At the Red Fox Hotel and had not come home. She feared the worst.
“Mrs. Zhang,” I said, trying to make myself very clear. “If you believe your husband is in danger, or there is any violence involved. You will need to go to the police.”
She said no and I kept the 50 Euros. Oh! Happy days.
I had all her details. Promised to call as soon as I had something.
She left still in tears.
I had made some coffee. When trouble with a capital T just poured in my door. Morg the Knife Taylor and his playmate Hard Ass Tim. Behind them came Carlo “Capone” Masseroni. So called because he went everywhere with a baseball bat. And was known for spontaneously rearranging hair styles. If the fashion did not fit in, with his current business plan. In short, he was a classic bad news bear.
Capone looked around the office and then turned to his shadows.
“Block the door while I speak with this Dick.”
I knew he said it as an insult. And as for blocking the door. I was not exactly awaiting a rush of clients.
Capone took a seat. I watched him and the bat at the same time. He was waving it slowly from side to side as he studied me. Then he smashed it on the desk. Presumably to get my attention. But I was already, all ears.
“What’s your name Dick?”
“Griff Lingo, name is Griff Lingo Mr. Masseroni. And what do I owe this pleasure.”
He looked at me as if I was taking the piss. Which I was. But he seemed to think it was OK.
“You find people. That’s your job right.”
“Well, yes, among other things. I get employed on divorce cases and missing persons and such. Anything that needs a delicate touch.”
“I heard you’re an idiot and a fool. Both of those traits in an individual, are not good for business.”
“I get the job done,” I said.
He was leaning on the baseball bat with two hands. Just staring at me as if a decision was being made behind those devious eyes. His hair was cut, marine sniper short. And looked out of odds with his expensive well-tailored grey business suit.
“I hear you got connections with the NCA.”
The National Crime Agency – dubbed “the British FBI, the all singing and dancing Federal Crime fighting agency. Brought in, to take guys like Masseroni down.
“Yea, I’ve got connections.” Saying it, as a throw away threat, that might save me from another beating.
“Look, there are better Dicks than you. But they aint got the pull, Capiche.”
I Capiched the problem immediately. My connections or connection was with an NCA cop still under investigation for murder. But Masseroni seemed to be unaware of this development. Which was nice.
“Listen Lingo this, has to be done, how shall we say, subtle like. You know what subtle means.” Masseroni was stroking his baseball bat. The essence of subtlety.
“Yea I know what it means. My fee is £1024 per day plus expenses.” I said, concentrating all my mind power on the bat.
Capone just nodded at his guard dog.” Morg, pay the man.”
Morg open a case and started stacking notes on the desk.
“That’s £5K, should be enough to get you going. And I’ll pay you a bonus when it’s finished.
Thought, let me just live.
“So Mr. Masseroni what do I need to do to earn this money.”
“One of our comrades has gone AWOL. And we need you, to find out where. Has he been pulled by the Feds or just taken a short vacation.”
He glowered back at his two pistoleros when he said this. I could gather, that taking an extended sunshine break, without the baseball bats permission, was frowned upon.
“Name is Stringer. And we need to talk to him, real urgently, Capiche.”
I once again Capiched. The name rang a large bell.
“Mr. Masseroni do you happen to know any Chinese companies or people.”
“Who wants to know?”
This was more of a vicious gangland threat, than a question.
“I don’t deal with Chinks period, Capiche.”
I nodded again. Getting the message clear and strong.
“Your job is to check with your NCA people. Then get back to me. If they have him. I want this cleared up pronto, Capiche.”
I was now sick and tired of Capiching. But I nodded, like a pizza delivery serf and assured Capone, my best team would be set on the case. And we would hunt down and find out, just what happened to his man Stringer.
He left me with Stringers addresses and photos. Then just before he departed. He pointed the baseball bat and said the immortal Movie words.
“You’ve 48hrs.” Then flowed out the door with his comancheros. I studied the mound of notes on the desk. Real cash. Enough to get me back to the land where the buffalo roams. Then I shivered a little, due to fear, and a lack of heat in the building.
Zhang went to meet Stringer and both were missing. Find one and I will crack the case. I mean, how hard it can be.
I called Jeff my contact in the NCA. He was still suspended after a bad incident in Malaga. I asked him for help with this guy Stringer. Real name, Chris Ramon. Running with the Capone Masseroni crowd. And while he was at it. Could he run a check on, Charlie Zhang, working with a company called Red-Storm.
He said he was getting bored at home. So he’d do this last favour and get back to me.
I started reading the comprehensive notes on Mr. Zhang. Easier to find if you know their background. He was a senior developer with Red-Storm. Made apps for smart phones. Fitness’ apps, share price apps. Lots of banking apps. Charlie Zhang, was a money app making wizard. Building Mobile apps to access cash. He also was an expert on the virtual money sensation, Bitcoin. I sat up when I read this last bit. Bitcoin was recently in the news. It had plummeted, from a high of $2500 to only a few cents in a matter of weeks. I still had to get my head around what it exactly was. And how it all worked. And why was Zhang, meeting a lowlife like Stringer.
I headed down to the Red Fox Hotel to see if anybody remembered the meeting of East and West. The barman was a busybody and remembered them having an argument and then leaving in a hurry. He confirmed both pictures and took my order for a pint of Dandelion piss that passed for real ale in the UK. I was blending in with the local yokel’s to see if anybody else knew anything. If I could nail this I would be back where I belong. Drinking a bud and soaking up the Rehoboth Beach Delaware sea air.
Charlie Zhang was well known in the pub. It seemed he was an instructor at the local Gung Fu club. Stringer, they said, vaguely looked like that actor from Luther a favorite TV show. I remembered the show and now knew why, Capone, called him Stringer.
So Jackie Chan and Stringer Bell had a meeting. It ended in an argument and then, they both left.
I headed over to the last address of Stringer. A rented apartment on Winterthur. Up the hill from the station. A nice address with a view over rural Baz.
I walked up. As it was pointless, taking the repossessed car I did not have. On the way up I passed lots of Chinese families and business men. Coming and going.
I checked Charlie Zhang’s address. Also Winterthur.
Neighbors, now wasn’t that just fine and dandy.
I had spotted my tail as I walked up the hill.
A slow driving Lexus driven by a couple of Chinese. They drove past, parked and sat. They are missing their boy to. Let me do the work. Clever bastards these Chinky Pooh’s.
I went to visit who ever lived at Stringers address. Mrs. Stringer? A dull short haired bored blond answered. I explained I was employed by Mr. Masseroni, to look into the disappearance of Mr. Ramon.
“And?” Was her reply.
“Can I come in?”
“Yea take a seat. Knock yourself out.” She lit up a cigarette and started puffing out a stream of smoke.
“Do you know where he is? Miz?”
“Ska, name is Ska. No, he went out about two days ago and never came back.”
I looked around the apartment and it did look like she was telling the truth. Just one cup on the sofa table. One plate with a half-eaten hamburger, sitting very much alone. One drink in her hand.
“You want a drink maybe.”
“No, any idea who he was meeting or where he was going?” I asked like a dumb PI. I knew I’d get the usual bums rush.
“Tell Mr. Masseroni I know nothing. Stringer just ran out on me.”
“OK, can you give me a call if he turns up?” Not that it will happen in a month of Fridays. But you gotta cover the basics.
She wrote down my cell as I had no card to give her.
I headed over to Mrs. Zhang.
She was all excited to see me as she thought I had some news.
“Calm down,” I said, “I’m still making inquiries.”
“What have you found?”
“This guy Stringer. Any idea who he was.”
“Yes, an investor in Charlie’s new app.”
“Charlie had a Bitcoin app and Stringer wanted to invest in it.”
There it was again, that name.
“The company warned him to stay away from Stringer. I told Charlie to listen to his Company.”
“Did your husband have a safe house he may have gone to?”
“He was trainer in a Gung Fu club.”
“Yes, in the town centre. The basement of the Purple Dragon restaurant.”
I knew the address and it looked like the best place to try.
I called my Linux Guru. “Phil, it’s me Griff Lingo. Can you give me the dumbed down version of Bitcoin.”
“Wow! When the shoe polisher’s start giving tips, it’s time to get out of the market.”
“Bitcoin,” I repeated. So he filled me in.
Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world. No Banks no middle men. It will, if it gets going be the greatest advance in civilization since the fucking wheel. It’s scarce. Only 21million can ever be made. It’s easily transferred to anyone anywhere in the world with an email, no regulations no currency fees. Did I say No Banks?
You can even memorize the codes needed to access your money and destroy the digital wallet. It’s decentralized. Did I say No Banks?”
“OK I get it. No Banks involved. But their worth, around 22cents now. So what’s the big deal?”
“The forward looking price for one Bitcoin is around $100K.”
“Pull the other one. It’s crashed and burned. Down from $22,500 to 22cents.”
“OK, it’s a volatile market. It goes up. It goes down. But it’s not just about the Virtual money. It can be used for contracts, book deals. Everything’s encrypted. And no fucking middlemen. It’s the future baby. And it will blow hot, hot, hot again.”
“OK, I still haven’t got a fucking clue. But thanks anyway.”
The Purple Dragon was having a slow day.
So the waiter raced up to me, when I entered the premises.
“I’m looking for Charlie Zhang.” The waiter went very Oriental, all of a sudden.
“No know. No know no, Charlie Zhang.”
“Yes know,” I said, “where’s the Dojo?”
“Studio down stairs.”
I headed down the stairs and into a training session. Lots of Students throwing crouching tiger shapes. I sat and watched the session until they stopped. Some headed to the locker room. I headed in and started again with the, where can I find Charlie Z.
No one was talking. Got the usual.
“Know no, know nothing.”
I’m a PI and what I do for a living is observe. So I observed. I came out of the restaurant and crossed over to the other side of the street. There was a three story building next door to the restaurant all dark and gloomy. There was a door in that downstairs studio and it could only be going into this building. I was still pondering this when I was snatched by two oriental gentlemen and bundled into a car. I was driven out of town to a car park. Where I was dumped out to meet Emperor Ming.
“Mr. Lingo we are interested in finding Charlie Zhang as soon as possible. Who we are is not your concern.”
He handed me an envelope with more cash.
“Considered yourself hired.”
Thought, this was getting better and better.
Then he handed me a card, “Call this number as soon as you locate Mr. Zhang.” I was driven back to town and let loose.
My smart phone started buzzing. It was Jeff.
“How the fuck did you get involved with Zhang?” Was all he wanted to know, “As soon as I started asking questions about him, the walls caved in.
MI6 have him on their most serious wall chart. He is a mainland Chinese reverse engineer, software stealer. Not that there is much to steal in this fucking country. As the Yanks have it as soon as it comes out of the fucking printer.”
“What about Stringer?”
“Stringer is a bit player. Keeps money for Capone. Pays the bills. Zhang is a spy. Which makes him more dangerous than a boat load of angry unpaid Hong Kong hookers. Keep out of that game. They play for keeps.”
“And Capone doesn’t?”
“Capone is a Mother Theresa compared to these guys.”
“Thanks for the heads up Jeff. And I hope your Malaga hassle sorts itself out.”
So I had a sort of connection. Stringer with the money. Looking more and more like Capone’s money and a Red Spy with aptitude. Now I just needed to find them. Then I remembered the envelope I had from Emperor Ming. Shit, I am in the game.
I headed back to the Purple Dragon. I liked Baz. It’s very compact.
Unless you wanted to go to a big supermarket. Then you where fucked. But hey, I was light eater. Except for a good steak.
Business at the Purple Dragon had picked up. They were running, one of those all you can eat for £10.
Not a bad deal. If you could take nearly all the food, covered in some sort of red, Chinese radioactive sauce.
This time I didn’t enter. But headed around the back. I climbed over the wall of the neighbor house. Hoping, there was no dog. I hate fucking dogs.
It was dark and cold and I was getting wet, again. This is exactly how I earned my living. Working out of the eternal dustbin of life. Chasing down the shaggers of younger models of their trophy wife’s.
Divorce was the word that paid the bills. When the bastards did pay. Sometimes I got the shite kicked out of me. But I was a self-employed PI and God did I love my job.
I felt the heat almost immediately. Big funnels coming from the back of the restaurant taking away the hot air. Then I spotted some funnels running from the blackened house along the ground and mixed with the restaurant exhaust. Something fishy going on in the basement. I opened the back door. Using some tools I had acquired from a thief. In lieu of payment for a case.
The house was pitch black. But there was a loud humming sound coming from the basement. I headed down. Trying to make as little sound as possible.
A door at the bottom opened and the stairwell flooded with light. I headed back up and hid in the garden.
A guy came out and light a cigarette. Chinese, and he was sweating.
He threw the cigarette away and headed down the stairs. I headed after him.
The room we entered was packed with computers.
All working away. At whatever computers do when they are turned on.
Stringer was talking to Zhang. The noise was deafening so they were shouting into each other’s ears. I stood stunned.
Easiest money I have ever earned went through my head.
Then I was spotted and grabbed by two burly Chinks.
Stringer came over and said, “Who the fuck are you.”
I explained I’d been hired to find them. As they were gone missing. They looked puzzled at this. I was dragged into an office to explain.
I’m no hero. So I broke and told them it all.
Capone, Emperor Ming, Zhangs wife. The cash payments. I was just doing my job.
Close up he did not look a bit like Luther or Stringer Bell. Or even Mandela.
Then again maybe the eyes. As he squinted a sideways confused look at me.
“Capone is looking for me. Shit.”
“My wife went to a gweilo,” was all the shocked Zhang would say.
“Yea, paid the big bucks to find you,” I could not resist in adding.
“So what are we doing here,” I asked.
“Deep sea Salmon fishing. What the fuck, is it to you,” Stringer said in a very unfriendly tone.
“Mining Bitcoins,” said Zhang.
“And no fucking middleman,” I added for color.
“So, we are clearly not missing. Are we?” said Stringer.
“Well, that may be so. But I do need to report back to a swinging baseball bat and a wannbe Emperor.”
“Look.” said Stringer in his most friendly voice. “I invested the million quid, I had for a deal, in Bitcoin. And it’s gone a bit arse shaped.”
“As we expected,” added Zhang.
“Of course,” I said smiling, “everything under control, “An investment of one million sterling, of Capone’s stash, by my math, is now worth around £50 sterling.”
“Technically that is correct,” answered Zhang.
Stringer gave me the squint eyed, sideways look again. He obviously had been practicing in the mirror.
“We just need more time until the market picks up.”
“Its volatile,” said Zhang.
“I’ll tell you what’s fucking volatile. Capone’s baseball bat.”
“Give me your cash and cell phone,” Zhang said grabbing my Emperor Ming payment.
“I’m setting up a crypto wallet and sending you some Bitcoin.” Flipping back and forth between the cell phones like an Xbox nerd. Which I suppose he was.
“Now, you’ve bought some Bitcoin. You’re a Bit player.”
Stringer looked at me with his smart ass squint. “Keep them of our backs for another 24hrs and everything will get sorted”
Thought, was the 24hrs part of the 48rs Capone deadline. Or extra on top? I was, I had to concede, way-out of my league on this case.
I nodded agreement.
Zhang gave me the, “Jackie Chan” inscrutable Asian look. “Let’s be very clear about this. We will snuff you, if you fuck up.”
Thought, get in fucking line pal.
Said, “OK, Capiche.”
Then I was turfed out of the house and ended back in the dark garden.
I headed back to the office. I needed help. So I contacted Jeff.
“Jeff, I’m up shits creek without a boat. And need a favor.”
I filled him in on all the latest updates.
“Look Griff. Capone needs to make a payment of £1million to his supplier in Spain or else he is toast. As you may know. The Colombians are not partial to toast. And Zhang is wanted by MI6 as a player in the game. You need to keep them happy for about 24hrs. So I can set this up.
Thought, is this 24hrs part of the other 24hrs. And what about the original 48hrs.
“Please Jeff, just get me out of this mess.”
“OK, I may have an out. Stay in your office. OK”
As I was not going anywhere. I checked my mail and saw I had an email with my Bitcoin purchase. £5K of Bitcoin at 20 cents a coin. So I was the proud owner of around 25000
Bitcoin. Fantastic. Just like owning, a fucking herd of magical rainbow colored Unicorns.
You know there is a thriving magical market for them somewhere. But you just need to get to it. By catching the Parallel Universe Express now leaving Kings Cross station at platform 2.5 for tomorrow land.
Another email said Bitcoin was down again to 10cents.”Fuck, Fuck, Fuck.”
Harry H and Mickey P came bursting through the door. Still looking for the photos, I didn’t have.
I moved to meet them. But Mickey P just punched me in the gut and I folded.
Harry H was tearing my office apart as I lay on the floor waiting to die.
“Gentlemen if you are not out of here in 10 seconds, start booking your deep six.”
The cold icy voice came from the door. Mickey P and Harry H just looked dumbfounded.
Standing at the door was a whip ass short haired blonde with outstretched arms. Ending in the business end of two Glock 17s.
I took in the boots and the long legs and the mini. I just knew she had a shiv hidden in one of the boots.
Thought, Why Hey! The Calvary had arrived.
I could see they were shit scared as the scurried past me on the floor.
“Get the fuck up and get a grip.”
Was the next thing I heard as I was pulled up and thrown on the desk?
Stringers blonde, was in my face waving a Glock 17 around.
“I’ve come to save your arse.”
“Jeff,” I said hopefully.
“Yea, blew my deep cover. The bastard.”
“Thanks,” was all I could manage.
“Who where they.”
“Nobodies. Different case.”
“Yea born to lose,” I said as I checked my drawers and found my Capone money was gone.
“Mother fuckers. Stole my money. Fuckheads.”
“Nobodies, remember,” she said, “Name is Ska.”
“I, know. Jeff says you’re the Rehoboth beached PI wanker.”
“Yea, Just about sums up my life so far,” so where does two gun “Ska,” come into this.”
“NCA, we’ve been waiting to pounce on Capone for a long time.”
“Wait, you’re fucking Stringer as part of a NCA deep cover operation. Is that even legal.”
“Look, Lingo, nobody gives a fuck, how many bimbos James Bond shags, on Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It gets the job done.”
“So,” I said “type of equal opportunity thingy.”
She sat and I filled her in on the proceeding hours play.
She explained that Capone was about to purchase a large consignment of drugs using the Dark Market. Paying in Bitcoins. The Chinese Government where manipulating the Bitcoin price for their own ends. Which was causing the huge swings in value.
“Zhang is Hong Kong Chinese. Developing software to make it easier to mine or even create new types of Virtual currency.”
“No idea, Taiwan Secret Service perhaps?”
“So how do I get out of this mess?”
“What the fuck?”
“You tell them all what they want to hear.”
“What, get them all to go, to the Bit miner’s 49ers house. That’s a plan?”
“Do it, say you will give them the exact location in 1 hour.”
“She was hard to ignore or disobey. Sparkling blue eyes and a ripped body to die for.”
Said, “All I’ve had, beside grief and some magical Unicorn droppings, is the 50 Euro I got from Mrs. Zhang.”
Ska just grinned at this. “Can I see them?” Then, “Forgery.”
“No, can’t be.”
“Yes Mrs. Zhang is a player. Was she crying all the time?”
“Fuck and Fuck again.”
“The money from Capone was more than likely also false. You would’ve been arrested as soon as you started to spend it.”
“You mean, the only real fucking money, I have, out of this venture. Is rainbow Unicorn Bitcoin droppings. That seem to fluctuate forever downwards.”
“Yep,” she said, “has anyone told you, there’s no middleman.”
I could have cried. I could have committed suicide. I didn’t. I made the calls.
An hour later found us in the back garden of the Unicorn Mining Company. Still dark. Still as cold as fuck.Will this 24hrs never end. Two gun honey was ready to make her move. As soon as the party started. She still looked hot, even in this sub-zero temperature.
We heard the screams and roars as Capone and his heavies entered the building. Emperor Ming will not be far behind.
“Now,” she said, “let’s clear up this mess.” Then she rushed the door. Kicking it in with a swing from them fantastic legs. I followed right behind. We entered the Computer Klondike area. Capone had Stringer and Zhang covered by the large shotguns his shadows where carrying.
“Where’s my fucking money.” Was all I heard before Two-gun-honey start punching out their lights? Capone and his two shadows gone in seconds. Zhang took off. We could hear the arrival of the NCA armed response team upstairs.
Stringer just looked at her in amazement, “Ska is that you.”
Before she blew his brain out. I was next on the list.
“Zhang,” I said, pointing.
She smiled and said. “No loose ends Lingo.”
I knew where Zhang was going and took the lead. I saw Zhang going through the door to the Purple Dragon basement. I went on through and was blocked by Mrs. Zhang now armed and dangerous. Ska came out behind me and stopped. Two guns trained on Mrs. Zhang.
Then they nodded to each other and Mrs. Zhang just left.
“Fuck,” I said “she in on it as well.” Ska ignored me.
She went back and closed the door to the mining house. Then we left by the Purple Dragon front door.
Next door and half the street was cordoned off by police.
We went back to her place and drank whiskey and made a type of mechanical love.
Never been in bed with a killer before.
Mrs. Zhang?” I said as I lay in bed with my Two-Gun-Honey.
“She’s a player.”
“She warned Emperor Ming?”
“Of course and was there to pull Zhang out of the fire.”
“Capone needed to go. Stringer had paid for the Drug Deal with worthless Bitcoins so they were going broke.”
“Means to an end. You’re safe now, Lingo. I mean, who ya gonna call.”
I had been shagged and then kicked out. But I was still alive.
I headed back to my office. It was early morning in Baz and the trains where depositing the usual load of bored admin office workers. A homeless guy was sleeping in front of the Mall. I dropped the fifty Euros into his hat.
I sat and stared at the wall in my office before deciding to go get a pint of Dandelion piss and some freedom fries. As I headed out I passed the Money Exchange. Some cops where bundling some poor bastard into the back of their Van. A crowd had gathered. Caught trying to pass some dodgy currency was the whisper in the crowd.
“I’m innocent, I’m a patsy.” Was what he kept screaming. As they battered him into the Van.
I recognized the homeless guy. Someone added “It’s amazing. Prisons are all full of innocent guys.”
“Yea so true.” Was the general consensus. The crowd broke up and Mr. International Fraudster was driven away. The start of another rainy day in Baz.