Skype (9) – The Fleece

Fleece

Richard Hall did not believe Mandy when she said David Conway was at the Reception Desk demanding to see him. Nevertheless, he put the phone down, walked out of his office, and down the hallway that led to the Reception area. Propping the heavy security door, that separated the Reception area from the offices and conference rooms, with his body weight, Richard Hall faced a man he was very familiar with but never expected to see in that setting.

“Thank you Mandy, I will take it from here” declared Richard Hall. Without a word being exchanged between them, the soberly dressed middle-aged man walked passed Richard Hall and the two disappeared down the corridor in silence.

Five minutes later, the man emerged through the same door but this time he was unaccompanied, said nothing to Mandy and left the building. Mandy thought it unusual for visitors not to be escorted out by the lawyer receiving them; it was the firm’s policy to escort visitors in and out of the building as a matter of courtesy and security. However, Mandy was busy registering another visitor at the time and let the matter pass; it won’t do to cause fuss when it came to one of the senior partners. She was sure Richard Hall had his reasons for not escorting the important looking gentleman out. Her only concern up until that point was that the visitor had not been recorded on the all-important online “Visitors Log” so in a way, she was relieved he had left.

Indeed, Richard Hall had a very good reason for not escorting his unscheduled visitor; he was lying dead on the floor of his office.

*****

Jones: Well Mrs Conway, I have arranged for you to stay in a safe house; apartment to be more precise

Sam: Thank you Chief Inspector. Is it in London?

Jones: Yes it is. I will take you there when you are ready. It is getting late in the day and you need to have a proper rest

Sam: There is no need to go to so much trouble, Chief Inspector. Just give me the address; I know my way round London

Jones: You can’t move in public places unescorted Mrs Conway; it is too risky for now. Anyway, I am going that way, so it’s no trouble

Sam: Oh, how come?

Jones: I live there

Sam: Excuse me? Are you saying the safe house is your own place?

Jones: Yes I am. Police officers who wish to, volunteer to offer their homes as temporary safe houses. In return, they get a small amount as compensation. It works very well since the subject being protected gets to be housed temporarily and be guarded by the police officer at the same time; it’s a good scheme really

Sam: And you just happen to be registered on this scheme, right?

Jones: Indeed! I registered many years ago when I was a junior on the force because I needed some extra income and I wanted the experience. I had forgotten all about it until today.

In fact, Hilary Jones was not entirely truthful there. She only registered half an hour earlier so she could have Samantha Conway under her direct supervision and monitor.

The registration process is relatively straightforward; it is done online using the Metropolitan Police Force Intranet system accessible only by the members of the London Constabulary. You access the relevant page, enter your ID number, your name and address is brought up and all you have to do is tick a few boxes related to the standard of security measures you have at home, such as intruder alar, gated apartments, etc., and then you are asked to enter your personal password. A few seconds later, you are registered as a Temporary Safe House Provider or “TSHoP”. The small letter “o” in this case was squeezed in by an I.T wit, who developed that feature of the system, claiming it referred to the second letter of “House” so the acronym can read like “Tea Shop”. Temporary in this case is a maximum of 1 week for any given “guest”. To extend it beyond a week, it has to go to a Commander or higher rank for approval.

To be on the safe side, Chief Inspector Jones recorded on the system that Samantha Conway was temporarily housed at Inspect Jack Rigsby’s home. She did that not for extra security purposes, since the Force’s Intranet is extremely secure and it is almost impossible to hack but, she didn’t want to be accused of meddling in the case Sir Derek Dedman relieved her of earlier that day. Hilary Jones determination to achieve results gave her licence to get round what she called “irrelevant rules”, such as following orders from superiors to the letter, even if they come from the scariest of them all, Deadly Derek. This particular character trait was highlighted to her on previous occasions such as her annual appraisal and cautioned that it might get her in to trouble one of these days. But Hilary, is Hilary and she is fearless.

The two women gathered their belongings and walked out of C.I Jones’ office. As they were leaving the building around 6:15 C.I Jones noticed a light on in the large open plan area of the Day Room were many detectives worked during the day (evening shift staff worked in a separate and much smaller area), so she walked over to see who was still working late. To her surprise she noticed Constable Appleby deep in thought reading something on the screen.

Jones: Constable Appleby, don’t you have a home to go to?

Appleby: Yes, Ma’am

Jones: Well then, you had better pack up and go

Appleby: I am just finishing off a couple of things I am investigating, Ma’am

Jones: What things?

Appleby: What you asked me to do, Ma’am

Jones: Do you have anything for me to look at?

Appleby: Not yet, Ma’am but will have something soon

Jones: If you do and it is particularly interesting, call me

Appleby: Yes, Ma’am

Jones: Good night, Constable

Appleby: Good night, Ma’am. Good night Mrs Conway

Sam: Good night, Constable

Sam was surprised by the feminine elegance of Hilary Jones’ apartment. It was not what she had expected. Yes, she expected it to be tidy and immaculate but, to see tasteful soft furnishings, watercolour paintings on the walls and a few candles positioned on corner tables came as a bit of a surprise to her. The Chief Inspector displayed a hard exterior at work and her home reflected a gentle side to her personality Sam had not experienced in their dealings.

Sam: You have an elegant and warm home Chief Inspector

Jones: Thank you. Please make yourself comfortable while I prepare the spare bedroom for you

Sam: Please let me do that Chief Inspector, you have done enough already

Jones: Can we agree on something? In private, can we call each other Samantha and Hilary? I am fed up with the formalities

Sam: Okay Hilary, but please call me Sam; family and friends call me that

Hilary: Tell you what, I will take you to the bedroom and give you the sheets to make your bed and unpack and then I will go to the kitchen to prepare something for us to eat. Would you mind simple pasta and wine, Sam?

Sam: I would love it, yes please, Hilary

Hilary: Great: what would you like with it, tuna, garlic, tomato sauce, olive oil, pesto, lemon juice?

Sam: Actually, I am happy with lemon juice, olive oil and garlic, if that’s okay with you

Hilary: Perfect, my favourite way of doing it. “Comfort food from the Gods”, I call it

They both laughed in each other’s presence for the first time since they first met.

*****

Great Western Train journey to Kemble was relatively straightforward, if somewhat boring. The 15:36 train was full of business commuters and day-trippers, most of who decanted in Reading, Didcot and Swindon. Inspector Rigsby alighted at 16:52, two minutes later than scheduled. The Inspector took one of the taxis waiting outside the station and asked the driver to take him to the Fleece Hotel in the Middle of Cirencester Town. The taxi dropped him at the hotel at 17:09.

Inspector Rigsby checked in at the quaint hotel in the high street and called Inspector Evans at Cirencester Police Station, identified himself and the Inspector welcomed him to the Cotswolds, promising to send someone to fetch him in five minutes.

Sure enough, a young ruddy-faced police officer turned up at the Fleece Hotel within 5 minutes, which impressed Inspector Rigsby until the officer explained that the station was just a 2-minute walk across the road by the courthouse.

Evans: How can we help you, Inspector Rigsby?

Rigsby: Jack.

Evans: And I am Geoff. How can we help you, Jack?

Rigsby: We have a tricky situation on our hands in London. It could be major organised crime; it could be terrorism, we don’t know at this stage. We have evidence to suggest that an element of the story is based here in Cirencester.

Evans: So what can you tell me about the connection with us?

Rigsby: We have reason to believe that a certain David Conway was here in the last week or so and he replaced his iPhone with a new one using a local Vodafone outlet in town

Evans: I take it this is not the crime itself, Jack

Rigsby: Indeed not, Geoff. This gentleman seems to have staged his own suicide, destroying his phone in the process, so he replaced the handset and carried on with his funny business

Evans: What exactly is this funny business, Jack?

Rigsby: Can I talk off the record and between two old-world officers, Geoff?

Evans: You can trust me 100%, Jack

Rigsby: All I can tell you is that those pansies from MI5 are now in on the act and that means it is national security issue of the highest order. My boss and I are pretty hacked off and believe we can sort this one out without those spreadsheet jockeys distraction

Evans: What is your theory then?

Rigsby: You must have heard about the explosion in London night before last, yes?

Evans: Of course I have, is it linked to this Conway chap?

Rigsby: He worked for the company that occupied the building in question, Geoff

Evans: Bugger me? This is a right tasty case you got there, Jack

Rigsby: Now, his company does software stuff for big companies such as supermarkets, energy companies and the like to show them trends in how consumers behave; I think they call it big data analytics or something like that, don’t ask me what this bollocks means, because I don’t know. All I can tell you is that it is expensive software

Evans: Where is the security angle in all of this? Supermarkets are not in to organised crime, Jack!

Rigsby: You are right there, Geoff. But, and here is the big “but”; this chap David Conway was supposedly fired by his company, only for us to find that he and his wife have £20 million worth of shares in the company. That doesn’t add up, does it?

Evans: Christ almighty, Jack! I wish I could get fired on those terms

Rigsby: There is another thing though. David Conway’s wife went to see a private detective, an ex copper himself, to help her find her husband. The poor man gets blown off by an assassin on the very same day

Evans: You’re joking me!

Rigsby: There are a few more twists and turns in this whole sordid affair, which I won’t bore you with but, what you have here are the main bones of the case

Evans: Right, let’s go grab a bite at our local Chinese here in town, perhaps it is not as fancy as what you get in London, but it is good grub. We can discuss how to sort out the Cirencester connection before your MI5 eggheads beat us to it

*****

Around 9:15 pm Joanna Appleby sat back in her chair and wondered what to do next. She already gathered some useful information but she was stuck and was getting herself deeper and deeper into Cyberspace without going much further than some academic and high maths stuff and the occasional pornographic site. She needed help from somewhere. However, this was a sensitive investigation; that much she knew.   Both Inspector Rigsby and Chief Inspector Jones stressed that more than once to her. Jack Rigsby was away in the middle of the English country so the only option was to call Chief Inspector Jones for permission to involve the person she had in mind. Finally, she gathered her courage and called C.I Jones on her mobile.

Jones: Constable Appleby? Don’t tell me you are still at work

Appleby: Eh, yes Ma’am I am

Jones: What did I tell you earlier this evening?

Appleby: I got carried away Ma’am but I am finishing off in a few minutes, I promise

Jones: I will check the records tomorrow morning and if I find out you were there after 9:30 you are in big trouble, got it?

Appleby: Loud and clear, Ma’am

Jones: Anyway, I am sure you didn’t call me to be told off, what do you have?

Appleby: Two things, Ma’am. I found out Global Software lists of board of directors and shareholders, they are interesting. If you like, I will leave them on your desk to have a look at in the morning

Jones: No, email them to me on my secure private email, you know where to find it?

Appleby: Yes, Ma’am

Jones: What else Constable?

Appleby: Beg your pardon, Ma’am?

Jones: You said you had two things to tell me

Appleby: Oh right. The second thing is not information; it is a request, Ma’am

Jones: Go on

Appleby: I am stuck in my investigation and I need help

Jones: What kind of help, I.T?

Appleby: No Ma’am. I would like to ask a friend of mine who is a Cyber Investigation expert

Jones: I assume he is even more of a computer nerd than you are. Does your friend work for the force?

Appleby: No Ma’am, he doesn’t

Jones: Don’t tell me he is one of those bloody hackers, Appleby

Appleby: Well, he only hacks for good reasons, not to cause damage or play tricks. He is a clever investigative journalist. He was behind uncovering a lot of corporate abuse such as insider trading and illegal hedge funding

Jones: Constable Appleby, you do realise we are already skating on thin ice and we are not even supposed to be dealing with this case anymore, don’t you?

Appleby: Yes, Ma’am but I think we are on to something big here. Wait until you see the list of directors and shareholders

Jones: Send the bloody list straight away

Appleby: What about asking my friend for help?

Jones: Listen to me very carefully, Constable Appleby. I do not give permission for involving non-authorised persons to have official access to confidential information in our possession. Do I make myself clear?

Appleby: I think so, Ma’am

Jones: In that case, repeat what I had just said

Appleby: Ma’am?

Jones: Repeat my instruction to you

Appleby: You do not allow outsiders to have access to confidential information

Jones: Appleby, that’s not what I said! Repeat what I said word for word

Appleby: Oh, right. You said: “I do not give permission for involving non-authorised persons to have access to confidential information in our possession”

Jones: Almost right, but not quite. I said “official access”

Appleby: Very good Ma’am

Jones: Good night Constable. Now go home and get some rest

Appleby: Good night Ma’am, I will

Jo Appleby looked up Chief Inspector Jones’ secure private email, attached the two one-page files to it and sent it off. She switched off her computer, gathered her things, turned off the lights and walked out of the station. The evening shift staff were working quietly in the Nigh Room next to the office she just left. For once, she didn’t bother to look inside and say good night to them. If she had, she might have gathered a vital piece of information.

Jo Appleby was busy analysing what the Chief Inspector had told her at the end of their conversation. Why would the C.I ask her to repeat a relatively simple instruction? She ran that instruction in her mind a number of times as she drove off the station car park on her way to Streatham, where she lived south of the River Thames in London.

I do not give permission for involving non-authorised persons to have official access to confidential information in our possession.”

Before she drove over Lambeth Bridge, Constable Jo Appleby had decided to call her old university colleague, ex-boyfriend and now long-term trusted friend Sebastian Patterson.

*****

In the Night Room at the police station, the two MI5 agents Smythe and Cavendish were in a huddle with another middle-aged man looking over the shoulder of a uniformed police officer who was taking instructions from them and typing away on a computer in front of him. They were looking at the ‘TSHoP’ part of the Force’s Intranet; the screen showed Jack Rigsby’s home address.

*****

Hilary and Sam had their pasta and white wine and were discussing the case when the call from Constable Appleby came through. Hilary shared with Sam further information such as the possible death of Steve McGill, the CEO of Global Software and the Cirencester connection. Sam was surprised that her husband might have triggered this entire mess from Cirencester, not because he had no connections with this small Cotswold Town but because he had a lot of connections with it; he was born and raised in Cirencester. Hilary found this new revelation very interesting but didn’t know why, yet!

*****

The two inspectors were sitting at Tatyans of Cirencester Chinese restaurant at the opposite end of the town main street from the Fleece Hotel and the Police Station.

Evans: If David Conway staged the Skype stunt from a hotel room, supposedly in Edinburgh, then we can substitute Cirencester for Edinburgh and check the local hotels in town. There are only two hotels worth considering, the Fleece where you are staying and the Kings Head just a few doors up the street on the other side.

Rigsby: That’s a great idea Geoff. Can we do this tonight?

Evans: I don’t see why not, we have to go passed the Kings Head on the way back to your hotel anyway

Rigsby: Tomorrow we need to visit the Vodafone shop; I noticed we passed it on the way to the restaurant

Evans: We can make a start now

Inspector Geoff Evans raised his arm up high and waved to a woman collecting takeaway at the front of the restaurant.

Evans: Patsy, over here

Patsy: Hello Geoff, how is it going, pet?

Evans: Patsy, this is a friend of mine from the London Metropolitan Police, Inspector Rigsby; Inspector Rigsby, meet Patsy Evans, my kid sister, she is the manager at the Vodafone shop

Rigsby: Pleased to meet you, Ms Evans

Patsy: “Patsy” to you, any friend of Geoff is a friend of mine

Rigsby: And I am Jack. We need your help investigating a sensitive case, can we come to see you tomorrow

Evans: Tomorrow can go bugger itself; Patsy love, can we do it tonight?

Patsy: Let me take the food to Brian and the kids. I will be as quick as I can, pet

Evans: That’s a good girl! Meet us in an hour at the Fleece Hotel; we will be in the lounge. Give Brian and the kiddies my best

*****

Hilary: Okay, the email from Constable Appleby has arrived; let’s have a look

Sam: Great!

Hilary: The first is a list of shareholders, I will read them out and you tell me if any of them rings a bell. Steve McGill: 550,000 shares; Levant Investments: 1,000,000; Gulf Sovereign Funds: 2,100,000; S.A Holdings: 1,900,000; Samantha Conway: 75,000; West Africa Exporters: 1,500,000; Richard Hall: 125,000; David Conway: 125,000; Cotswold Trust Fund: 150,000; Dr Menard Skedie: 200,000; Global Software: 2,000,000; Staff Incentive Scheme: 275,000 shares

Sam: That’s a total of 10 million shares

Hilary: That’s very quick!

Sam: I am an accountant; numbers are my life

Hilary: I wonder what is the total value of Global Software then

Sam: Well, on paper and before the explosion, it would have been over £26 Billion but now, who knows; it is probably worthless

Hilary: Wow! That is serious money

Sam: Going back to the list of shareholders though, I recognise the obvious ones of David, my husband and of course, Richard Hall. How the hell Richard Hall got in on the act to the tune of £30 million is beyond me

Hilary: Very strange indeed. Do you know any of the companies named there?

Sam: Not really. The one that jumped at me was the ‘Cotswold Trust Fund’; it seems too close to David’s part of the world to raise my suspicion

Hilary: Quite. There is one other individual, Dr Menard Skedie, any clues there?

Sam: No, none. I never heard of him

Hilary: Strange name though

Sam: I have come across the surname Skedie before, I think it is Australian or Kiwi name but I can’t be sure

Hilary: For some funny reason, call it instinct; it rings a bell with me though. Let’s have a look at the list of company directors then

*****

Somewhere in Willesden Green, North London, an unmarked car with two men inside parked outside Jack Rigsby’s semi-detached house he bought with his nurse wife 30 years earlier and spent the next 28 years repaying the mortgage. The house was their only significant asset and they were so relieved to have paid off their debt they began considering retirement. With two grown children already married and living independent lives, Anne Rigsby was spending the evening on her own since her husband had called her that afternoon to say he was going to the West Country for a day or two. She lived with her beloved husband for over 30 years and she knew he had to do “things” every now and again so she learnt not to ask too many questions; he would tell her in his own time.

The two men kept an eye on the house, monitoring movement outside and watching lights being turned on and off. The only excitement they observed since they parked the car at 19:05 hours was a man wearing a hoodie who walked up the path and inserted an ad urging the occupants to forget about cooking after a long day’s work and order take away ‘Piece-a-Pizza’ where delivery and two cans of coke were free.

*****

Patsy Evans, carrying Tatyans’ Chinese takeaway for her, her partner Brian, son Kyle aged 12 and daughter Zoe aged 10 never made it to her car parked in the town’s municipal car park near Tesco Supermarket. She was overpowered by two big men and bundled in to a car, which sped out of town on a 15-mile drive towards Cheltenham, the home of British Government GCHQ; the very high security centre of Cyber Monitoring and Analysis.

To be continued…

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