Skype (10) – Sharp Shooters

Shooting

The alarm went off at 5:00 on Saturday morning and Jo Appleby wished she hadn’t booked such an early target practice session that morning. But, maintaining a proficiency level of 90%+ target hits can only be done through regular practice; that much she knew. But she also knew she needed her sleep and she had another thing on her mind: Global Software and how to get beneath the obvious to unearth the “not-so-obvious”. She needed to speak to Sebastian Paterson as soon as possible. She was never sure where he was at any given point in time and whether or not he was accessible. Jo’s method of getting in touch with close friends and family was through What’s App on her personal iPhone, which cost her a small fortune to run but she kept it because she wanted to have a normal side to her life. For work related communications, she used an old Nokia set that screamed to be left to retire in peace but, her employers ran a very tight public budget and would never contemplate giving out advanced and expensive instruments such as an iPhone or a Samsung to junior police officers. The chances are, the I.T Department would let her have a second-hand set left by a more senior officer who wanted something more advanced but, even with hand-me-downs, she had to compete with many other junior police officers.

Jo sat up at 5:10 and typed a quick message to Sebastian on her iPhone. She got out of bed, showered, dressed in jeans and baggy sweatshirt, had a bowl of cereal and left her apartment at 5:35 on the 45-minute drive to the College of Policing on Aerodrome Road, Hendon in North West London. Her session was booked for 6:30 a.m. Luckily, traffic was light that morning and in fact, she made the drive in 35 minutes, arriving at 6:10.

She presented her ID at the reception who confirmed her target practice slot at 6:30, gave her a key to a locker in the changing room to leave her personal belongings and change in to suitable clothing if necessary, which was not in her case. All she needed was the face protection gear, the ear mufflers, and firearm & ammunition which is normally handed in as you enter the area in the basement set aside for the multi lane target practice.

Jo left her handbag and phones in locker 369 and walked out towards the desk at the entrance to the target practice area, known by police officers as the “Shooting Gallery”. It was still 6:20 so she sat down in one of the chairs and passed the time by looking at the High Score Roll on the display screen to see if she had been overtaken since the last time she was there two weeks previously. She was relieved to see she remained at Number 5 in the all-time ladder. Jo was very proud of the fact that she was the highest-ranking woman police officer but not so proud for not making any further progress for the last 6 months; she really wanted the coveted top spot. That spot had been almost permanently occupied by a larger than life figure of none other than Sir Derek Dedman, the current Metropolitan Police Commissioner who was spoken of in hushed tones as a legendary sharp shooter who attained 98.5% average score and the next person on the list was an inspector whose average score was 93%, then a young constable with 92% who is spoken of as the one most likely to threaten Sir Derek’s status. The fourth person on 91.8 was a highly decorated and experienced police officer, called Higgins, who tragically died in a hostage taking incident where he and the rest of the squad managed to release all hostages without loss of life or injury to any of them while killing all three hostage takers, but at the cost of Officer Higgins life who was always in the front when it came to storming dangerous situations.

Jo’s score was 91.6% and she felt that she was in personal competition with the other young police officer at number 3. She felt sure she can at least get to position 4 first and then aim for 3 and 2 as they were pretty close to her own score. As for getting to the dizzy heights of 98%+, that was a dream which she was sure, would require practicing more often than once every two weeks. Jo thought: ‘Wouldn’t be incredible to topple Deadly Derek during his tenure as the Commissioner and her ultimate boss?’

The scoring system is very complicated and requires for each participants to submit a score at least once a month. The combined scores, for fixed and moving targets, are entered on a system devised by some mathematical fiend and it takes all kinds of parameters in to considerations such as your scores over the previous 3 months where you have to better the average of the three months otherwise you lose certain percentage points; on and on the parameters ran and frankly, no one knew how to do it by hand so, you went in, did your best, submitted your scores and waited to see what the computer has decided if your average score has gone up, down or remained unchanged.

*****

Sir Derek Dedman was not concerned with his target practice score that morning, nor the fact that a junior police officer, he had never heard of, dreamt of usurping his top spot. Come to think of it, he hadn’t thought about that for over 15 years when he last had time to go and practice. He decided to give up that part of his activities, like many other curricular activities as his responsibilities increased each time he took another upwards step on an impressive career trajectory that got him to the top police position in the UK as one of the most powerful people in the UK and arguably one of the most powerful law enforcement officers in the World.

Sir Derek, affectionately known as ‘Deadly Derek’ by the thousands of police officers under his command. He knew that was his nickname but no one was brave enough to call him that to his face. With a double first in psychology from Cambridge University and a Masters Degree in Criminal Law, he was a man with immense intelligence and very little patience, especially with lazy or incompetent subordinates and bosses alike. He had his fare share of battles with politicians, especially those who did not do their homework and established the facts before they tried to tell him how to do his job.

His job was being made difficult by outside circumstances, such as buildings being blown up in his beloved City of London, as well as other government agencies like MI5 and some of his officers. He had a particularly hostile call from the Head of MI5 berating him that his officers are still meddling with a national security case MI5 was handling at the direct instructions of the Prime Minister and wanted to know why a certain Chief Inspector Jones was directing a small team of officers to continue with the investigation after it was agreed to hand the matter over to MI5.

Sir Derek didn’t know the answer to that last question but he was not a man who went about his business by telling other senior government employees he didn’t know what his officers were doing in strict defiance of his orders. To say he was furious would be putting mildly; he intended to punish Chief Inspector Hilary Jones very severely and make an example of her to all other police officers. How dare she disobey his orders and make him look a fool in front of Head of MI5, whom he disliked immensely?

While Constable Appleby was practicing at the Policing Academy, Sir Derek was pacing up an down in the lounge of his 5 bedroom converted barn home in a rural part of West of Ealing which can just about be considered to be part of Greater London. He had so many things to consider that weekend and take control of the situation before it really went out of hand. He needed to bring London under control because it won’t do to be called to Downing Street for a personal report to the Prime Minister. He also needed to bring his police force under control and make sure his orders are not ignored so blatantly by an “ambitious Bitch” who is trying to make a name for herself at the expense of his authority.

But, he had a few other equally important things he needed to take care of. That was not the way he wanted to bring his proud and illustrious public service career to an end.

*****

Things were moving slowly for Inspector Rigsby that morning. He and Inspector Evans had a pretty fruitful evening the night before by establishing that David Conway had indeed been staying at the Fleece for one night, which turned out to be the night Samantha Conway had claimed her husband mounted his attempted (or allegedly attempted) suicide. Inspectors Rigsby and Evans planned to check the room out the following morning as they had more urgent matter of finding out what David Conway got up to at the Vodafone Shop the following day after his apparent suicide. But Patsy Evans never turned up that evening. Geoff Evans called her partner at home who was already fretting about her lateness as the children were getting hungry and tired. Inspector Evans had a pang of guilt coursing through his veins and felt he had to take charge of matters to make sure his beloved kid sister didn’t come to any harm so he needed to reassure her family first; “Listen Brian, don’t worry about Patsy I will find her. You just look after the kiddies for now”.

Evans walked up the short distance to the Police Station, asked the duty Sargent if there were any reports of accidents and when assured nothing unusual had taken place that evening, typical evening in Cirencester, he allowed himself to relax a little. He signed for a police car and drove over to the Fleece Hotel, collected Inspector Rigsby and they went out for a drive around town to look for his sister’s car. Within 20 minutes, they found it at the Tesco Supermarket Car Park, still locked but no sign of Patsy. However, they found three youngsters sitting on a low wall by the car park, tucking in to a Chinese takeaway. Inspector Evans put the car in neutral and got out. He went over to the youngsters and had an exchange with them. One of them, an overweight girl with greasy hair in her twenties was pointing in a certain direction with a hand that held a half-eaten samosa and a half-smoked cigarette. Inspector Evans nodded, turned around and returned to the car where Inspector Rigsby was watching the scene without the benefit of sound so his curiosity was pretty acute by then.

Rigsby: What was that all about Geoff?

Evans: I thought it weird those kids had so much food, they don’t have a fiver between them so I asked them where did they get it from. At first they tried to say they paid for it but they knew I knew them well enough not to believe that. Anyway, the dominant one, the girl, is called Sam and she came clean

Rigsby: You mean they stole the food from Patsy?

Evans: Not quite. They picked it off the floor. Patsy was attacked by men in suits and driven off out of the car park

Rigsby: Bloody hell Geoff! Do you think she is okay?

Evans: I have a feeling she is kind of alright. At least she is not in mortal danger, that’s for sure

Rigsby: What makes you so sure, Geoff?

Evans: Think about it Jack. You come to me with a case MI5 is interested in; here we are in Cirencester 15 miles away from Cheltenham; what does that tell you?

Rigsby: GCHQ! You reckon MI5 picked her up and took her to GCHQ then?

Evans: I will put money on it. This is the 3rd time in my career I experience this kind of stunt. They take their target over to GCHQ, which is like a fortress and there they can question them in total privacy

Rigsby: But GCHQ is about electronic spying and cyber monitoring, not a “secret police head quarters”

Evans: It is that but, it is also a convenient base for MI5 and MI6 to use as a secure location where they can be sure no intruders or eavesdroppers can get to their activities, not even the Russians or Chinese can penetrate that electronic fortress

Rigsby: So what do we do now Geoff?

Evans: Let me just give Patsy a call on her mobile to make absolutely sure

Rigsby: How will that help?

Evans: Look, if those who took her were a bunch of thugs, then one of the first things they would do is to get rid of the phone to stop the authorities from tracing its owner and her location. If however my theory is right, then the MI5 people would want to open the line without speaking to see if they can get a new clue. They maybe clever but so are we old plodder, eh Jack?

Rigsby: I have to hand it to you, Geoff! You are a credit to the force

Evans: Cheers mate. Now let’s try her number

Satisfied that Patsy is with the authorities but of no help to them, the two officers drove back to the Fleece Hotel to check out the room David Conway had occupied a few days earlier.

*****

Jo Appleby was pleased with her shooting that morning, she submitted her score, handed back the shooting gear and headed to the changing rooms. She opened locker 369 and found her iPhone had a ‘What’s App’ message from Sebastian Paterson. His message was short and to the point: ‘Call me b4 9 or aft 3’. She gathered her things and headed for the car park to call Sebastian from the privacy of her own car.

“Hello Sebastian, long time no see”, she began. “I know; busy, busy, busy! How are you keeping?”, he responded in his usual half asleep style. “I am fine thanks. Have to say, I have been busy too to be honest”, she confessed. “Anyway, I need your help again, Seb. Do you know anything about Global Software?” There was a silence for a few seconds then Sebastian said “Are you taking the piss?” “No, why do you say that? I am investigating the explosion from a couple of nights back”. “Well, it’s just that I have been following this company’s weird behaviour for the last two years and just as I was getting closer to a story, my apartment is ransacked, the company is blown to smithereens and then you call me with a seemingly innocent question, all within 48 hours. Don’t tell me these things are not connected because I am not an idiot, Jo”

Jo was completely taken aback and decided to be open with Sebastian, he was too sharp to try and fool him. “Look Seb, I agree there must be a connection between all these things. In fact, there are a few other funnies going on; this is why I am calling you to help me”. “What do you want to know, Jo?”. “Why would a company that produces analytics for supermarkets and the likes have enemies that are prepared to blow it up?” Sebastian laughed out loud and for long.

“What’s so funny Seb?” Sebastian said: “Okay, how long do you have?” Jo said she had as long as he wanted, she was all ears. For the next hour or so, Sebastian told her the incredible story he was working on but still had gaps in it he was hoping to fill.

*****

When Inspectors Rigsby and Evans reached the Fleece Hotel shortly after midnight, their plans to check out the David Conway room had to be postponed. Waiting for them in the lounge next to the reception desk were Patsy Evans and two suited men.

“We are MI5 agents and we would like to talk to you, officers”, one of the agents said.

At the beginning, the exchanges between the four men were testosterone filled and aggressive with threats to escalate matters to higher authorities, whose jurisdiction it was to conduct investigations, etc. Finally, common sense prevailed and the four men agreed to sit down to discuss things in a more civilised manner. Hotel staff knew Inspector Evans well enough not to interfere. In fact, they were pleased when everyone calmed down that the duty manager, Nigel Morffin, came over and offered to bring tea and coffee for everyone. Inspector Evans was anxious to have his sister go home to her worried family. He called her partner to reassure him and he drove her to the Tesco Supermarket car park, kissed her on the cheek and made sure she drove off safely before driving back to the Fleece Hotel to re-join the other three law enforcement officers.

The agents apologised for taking Patsy away so melodramatically but explained it was as much for her own protection as for their desire to keep things under control. All they wanted to establish was how much she knew about the case and once they were satisfied she had no idea who or what they were investigating, they brought her back to the two Inspectors who knew considerably more about the case.

The discussion then focused on David Conway and the MI5 agents disclosed they already knew he stayed at the Fleece Hotel and had the room checked out three days earlier but nothing of interest there. They also told them that the Vodafone Shop did indeed provide a replacement phone to David Conway but that line of investigation proved a dead end. The two agents refused to discuss the case in the wider context and would not elaborate on why the disappearance of an average salesman such as David Conway was of interest to MI5. The agents’ only concern was to convince the two police inspectors to drop their interest in the matter as it was of no consequence to them.

Inspectors Evans and Rigsby were experienced enough to know when to abandon a line of inquiry and take time to rethink their tactics. So, they agreed to stop digging around, shook hands with the two agents who felt they have contained matters very satisfactorily and left the hotel back to Cheltenham feeling pleased with themselves.

As it was well after 1:00 in the early hours of the morning, the two Inspectors decided they both needed a few hours rest and agreed to meet again around 8:30 later that morning to discuss their next move.

As Inspector Rigsby disappeared to his room, Inspector Evans went over to the duty manager, Nigel Morffin and had a brief exchange with him which made him leave the hotel feeling more cheerful than he had expected “Geoff, you are a clever old detective”, he told himself.

*****

Jo Appleby plugged her iPhone into the car charger to make sure the phone didn’t die on her. Sebastian began to explain:

“Over 2 years ago I got a call from a friend who worked for the I.T department of one of the big banks telling me I might be interested in investigating a company who sold them a very expensive software without the deal going to tender. There was no normal process of requirements analysis and specification before being sent out for bidding companies to submit expression of interest followed by formal bids, presentations, submission of financial probity, etc., etc. One day, the Head of IT announced they had purchased this major piece of software and that it needed more hardware, a lot of hardware, also at a considerable cost. The unbudgeted software, hardware, installation, training etc., came to over £12 million. It sounded unusual to me and maybe there was a certain amount of corruption involved but, to be honest, it didn’t push my buttons as a case so, I thanked him and let the matter rest as far as I was concerned”

– “What was the software all about, Seb?”

– “It was BDA type of system”

– “Big Data Analytics?”

“Yes. Anyway, a month or so later I was looking at the website of another big bank and went to their annual report section. I can’t remember what directed me to their capital expenditure part of the finances but I noticed there was a significant increase in IT spend compared to budget, well over £10 million. I made a mental note of that and got on with other things that seemed more interesting at the time.

“A couple of weeks later, I met that friend from the first bank. It was not a planned meeting; we just bumped in to each other at a train station. After the usual chat about life, football and girlfriends he asked me if I followed his lead. To be honest I couldn’t remember what lead he was referring to and I said something like it was going slow. He said he had a friend at another bank who told him they too spent a hell of a lot of unplanned software and there was a lot of protests from the IT director there who was then fired for his troubles.”

“Are you saying they all bought the same software?”

“No wait, Jo! I didn’t know that much at that stage. Anyway, what interested me was the IT Director at the third bank, Martin Corfield is an old friend of mine; I knew him very well so I was feeling concerned about him and whether he got another job because he was getting on a bit, late fifties I would say. So, later that day, I called Martin who was a brilliant and honest IT professional, he helped me in lots of things in the past; I learnt so much about technology and how it works from him. He was really cut up about what happened to him and told me there was something very smelly about the whole thing and he was not going to rest until he got to the bottom of what was going on. He effectively was mounting an investigation, gathering information about the software company who supplied the application.

“We agreed to meet for a drink that weekend and he was going to brief me on his investigation. That was the last time I spoke to him. Two days late his wife found him hanging from a joist in his garage without a note or anything. It was explained away that he was depressed about losing his job at the bank and when I called to confirm our drink his wife, Pat told me what happened and asked me to go to see her straight away.”

“Oh my God Sebastian! I am so sorry for you and poor Martin and Pat”

“Yeh well, that really got to me Jo, he really was a mentor to me and I don’t mind telling you I loved him for his honestly, integrity and brilliance. Anyway I went to see Pat and she clearly was very affected by what had happened to her beloved Martin. We talked for a while and Pat was convinced he committed suicide because of what happened to him at the bank. Then she handed me this folder with papers and a memory stick. She said Martin had said to her he was seeing me on Saturday and asked her to remind him to take this folder with him as he intended to pass it on to me.

“That was enough for me to decide to take the whole thing more seriously. I owed it to Martin to find out what had happened at the bank. I had a couple of things on the boil at the time, I shelved one of them for another time and the second one just needed a couple of days to finish off so I did that and was ready to dedicate most of my efforts to the Martin Corfield Case. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t investigating his death as such; I wanted to see if there was a link around this software thing and whether major corruption was going on in the UK financial world. This was some 2 years ago and I am still investigating.

“And how far did you go?”

“Pretty far but not far enough. Jo, this is big, very big. You are the first person I share this information with and I am so glad you contacted me; the whole thing is getting too heavy bear on my own and I don’t mind telling you I am frightened. I am now convinced Martin did not commit suicide. My apartment was not ransacked by opportunist burglars, and Global Software building did not have an unfortunate gas explosion. If you hadn’t sent me a message asking for a chat, I might have called you asking for protection. In fact, I left my apartment and now I am sleeping on a friend’s sofa until I get my head round what is happening to supposedly civilised Great Britain.

“Seb, I am coming to get you straight away; you can move in with me, I have a spare bedroom. Where are you staying right now?”

*****

Jones: Good morning Sir Derek, I didn’t expect a…

Sir Derek: And I didn’t expect you to disobey my orders Chief Inspector! Have you gone stark raving mad?

Jones: No Sir! I felt the investigation was under control

Sir Derek: Thought? Thought? I did not order you to think Jones, I ordered you to turn the investigation over to MI5

Jones: Yes, Sir

Sir Derek: Chief Inspector, you are suspended from all duties pending a disciplinary procedure, do you understand?

Jones: Surely, this is over the top, Sir Derek

Sir Derek: How dare you question my judgment! You seem to have a cavalier attitude to authority the likes of which I have never encountered; how you managed to get to Chief Inspector is beyond me. Do not even attempt to report to work from this point onwards, or you will be arrested on the spot, do I make myself clear?

Jones: Perfectly

Sir Derek: Your access to all premises, facilities and systems of the Metropolitan police are also frozen. Your command privileges are withdrawn which means you cannot issue orders to any of your subordinates, not even for buying a single roll of toilet paper; is that clear too?

Jones: It is

Sir Derek: Good day to you

Hilary Jones felt like she had been mauled by a vicious dog; she had never been so severely admonished as a child or adult. Of the thousand thoughts swimming in her head at that moment, she was struck by the absurdity of Sir Derek’s last few words: ‘Good Day to you’. It was a typically ironic disingenuous British courtesy to wish someone a good day having made every effort to ensure they would have anything but a good day.

Sam Conway emerged from Hilary’s spare bedroom and immediately realised there was something wrong. “Good morning Hilary, what’s the matter, you look like you have seen a ghost?” “ Good morning, Sam. I have just been suspended from duty with immediate effect”. “God heavens, why?” Hilary explained what had just transpired and Sam was aghast but tried to put a positive gloss on it. “Well, you did the best you could, I suppose the MI5 guys will handle things and I am sure Sir Derek will calm down over the weekend and the whole thing will blow over by Monday morning”. “Sam, you don’t know Sir Derek; he is ruthless and does not tolerate insubordination, he would want to make an example of me, I am sure of it. Anyway, the hell with him, we continue our investigation”. Sam could not believe what Hilary had just said; “you are not serious, are you?”

*****

Inspector Evans turned up at 8:00 that morning, 30 minutes before he was due to meet with Inspector Rigsby. He had arranged to see the hotel duty manager Nigel Morffin before he went off duty. Nigel led Inspector Evans through a “Staff Only” door and down a few steps to the cellar of the old building. He took out a bunch of keys and opened a door marked “Storage Room”. Nigel turned on the light and pointed at a coffee table, which had been noticeably damaged. “That was the table in David Conway’s room Inspector”. “So, you heard a gunshot coming from the first floor, why did you go straight to David Conway’s room? Inspector Evans asked. “Well, he was the only one on that floor and as luck would have it, I was on that floor just doing my evening walk about when the shot went off”. “What did you do then?” Nigel explained: “I ran over to room 114 and knocked, I was afraid he topped himself or something. But he quickly opened the door and apologised for the accident. He explained he was cleaning the gun and it went off by accident. I asked if he had a licence for it and he gave me a line about being fully licenced and it was only for sports purposes as he was an amateur shooter. He clearly damaged the table, his phone and a book where his phone must have been placed on top. He offered to pay for the damage and gave me 5 £20 notes. I was afraid I would get into trouble for allowing a guest to bring firearms to the hotel so, I replaced the table without reporting the incident. You are not going to say anything, Inspector, are you? I stand to lose my job”. “No, you are alright son. Did you take the £100 he offered you?” Nigel went red and mumbled something about his willingness to hand over the money as soon as he got paid at the end of the month but Inspector Evans was pleased with the progress he made, he smiled and said he didn’t have to do that and thanked him for telling the truth.

*****

Jo Appleby collected Sebastian and drove him straight home. On the way, he clarified a few more things for her and they agreed to work together from her home to get to the bottom of the case. They entered her apartment and she showed him the spare room, which he was more than delighted with as it had a full bed, instead of the uncomfortable sofa he had been using for the previous two nights. She also encouraged him to have a shower but she was too considerate to say he smelled bad after two or three days of not washing. Sebastian took the hint and went straight to the bathroom.

Jones: Constable Appleby, are you free to talk?

Jo: Yes, Ma’am. I have made some progress but I need another day or two before I can give you a proper report

Jones: That’s not what I meant. Listen Constable, I am not giving you orders, I am just asking you if you would come to my apartment today.

Jo: What do you mean, Ma’am?

Jones: I am asking you privately if you could come and see me. You have absolutely no pressure on you to do so, only if you are happy to do so

Jo: You mean you want me to visit you socially, Ma’am?

Jones: Constable Appleby, please wake up and understand what I am saying to you. I am not asking you to come for a coffee and a chat about the weather. I have been suspended from duty and therefore, I cannot issue any orders to any of my staff. So, the only thing I can do, is to ask you nicely to come and see me so we can review the case but not in an official capacity, do you now understand?

Jo: Yes, Ma’am. Are you able to tell me why you have been suspended?

Jones: Not on the phone, Constable

Jo: When would you like me to come over, Ma’am?

Jones: As soon as you can I guess eh, please

Jo: Can I ask something, Ma’am?

Jones: Yes of course, Constable

Jo: I would like to bring a friend with me; you will be very interested in hearing what he has to say

To be continued…

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