Malan Mothers on Rehome
Chapter 5

"Miss Proctor, may I call you Ruth? I was under the apprehension that your talent lay in undercover situations. Your attire does not give that impression to me. Have you any explanation?"

Ruth looked surprised. "Sorry, Madam. I was given to believe that this was a business meeting, to discuss a new task. I dressed accordingly. When it comes to my work, I will dress appropriately for that environment."

"Ah. That is all right, then. I unfortunately assumed that this was your normal mode of dress."

"I bought this suit specially for business meetings, Mrs Kempe. It means that when certain people later encounter me in my undercover attire, they do not readily recognise me, so their reactions do not give warning signals to the "bad guys" that may be around in another context."

"Aha. That makes sense now, Ruth. Excellent thinking. I approve."

"What task do you have for me, Mrs Kempe?"

"There is a man, of the name Brian Brown, who is believed to be a thief at the stationers' shop where he works alone as the part-time storeman. We want to know what he does with the rest of his time, as his part-time job would be insufficient to give him a decent living wage on its own. He must have another job.

Can you explore that, and also uncover how he disposes of his stolen goods. I will authorise your examination of his data file at our admin offices, to give you a start.

What I am unsure about is, do you investigate in an official capacity as a member of my department, albeit on a contract, or do you do the task as a security consultant to Trevor Defreitas' company – or rather the group of companies which Pam and Mary own?

Having considered, can I suggest that you do the job and report to me, and at that point we decide which organisation you are working for. To begin with, let people think of you as an employee of Rehome Deliveries – which is true.

You will be paid by the Colony while on this task, and anything you earn from Rehome Deliveries is yours also."

Ruth gestured with a brief waver if her hand an unconcern over the matter, but asked, "How long do I have to make my report, Mrs Kempe?"

"Whatever it takes, my dear, but try to keep it to a few days. I probably have to have the man arrested when he reappears at the shop, and there is only a short period we can hold him without bringing formal charges."

"Right, madam. I shall get to the Admin department and collect that information. I shall also look at what data is held on the shop itself."

Ruth visited the admin offices, and made the enquiry. The official was by now aware of the permission, and said, "Certainly, madam. I shall look up this name in our database for you. Do you want a printout of the file?"

"That would be helpful, sir. Thank you. And the file on the stationery premises as well."

She left with the two printouts, and took them back to her shared office at Rehome Deliveries. They interested her greatly.

Brian Brown was entered as a part-time employee of the rail network, as a storeman; a part-time employee at the Education Department as a storeman, as well as his post with the shop, and also with the rail company. Ruth thought about this for a while, with her past work on Earth as a guide to how criminals operated.

If the man was stealing from one storeman job, he was probably stealing from his other storeman jobs as well, for he was unlikely to be dishonest once only. Ruth wondered whether these organisations did stock checks. That might be an avenue to get into the enquiry, she mused.

Phoning the Education Department, she found someone who had responsibility for supplies, a Jean Purvis. "What can I do for you, Miss Proctor?"

"Jean, I am employed by Rehome Deliveries and one of my tasks is to look at how we control our stock. I thought a large organisation such as yours might have something to tell me on the subject."

"That is a gratifying thought, Miss Proctor. What exactly do you want to know?"

"Well, for example, someone said we should do a regular stocktaking exercise. Is that what you do?"

"Oh, no. That is unnecessary, my dear. With digital control of everything that arrives from suppliers, and what is issued to schools and so on, stocktaking is a thing of the past. It is not needed in today's modern world."

"Jean, that is exactly what I said to the man who suggested a stocktake. However, he pointed out to me that this depended on every item going out of the warehouse being correctly issued electronically."

"I'm sorry, dear, but what was he getting at?"

"He told me that the simplest way to steal from a stock that is controlled in that fashion is to remove goods and not scan their ID out. You then can have theft without the system knowing anything about it, UNLESS you do a physical stock check at some time or other."

There was a long silent pause at the other end of the phone, so Ruth went on, "Jean? Has your department EVER done a stock check?"

A quiet voice responded, "Miss Proctor, I have to say that, to my knowledge, such a stock check has never been done. Perhaps we have been remiss. I shall suggest to my line manager, Mrs Bedford, that such a check might be worthwhile. Many, many thanks for that suggestion."

"Oh, I was just asking because of what I was asked. I really intended to ask whether you still used bar codes, or some other electronic system."

"Oh, I see. No, we have a technique that "paints" a code of tiny dots all over the packaging and also the product, so that the code can be scanned from any direction. It makes recognition of the package so much simpler for the automatic scanners. Bar codes were awkward if the package or item was not lined up with the reader. Was there anything else you needed to learn about?"

"Oh, yes, lots more! However, I have to speak to some more organisations, so I am going to stick to just a few things with each, so that I don't overstay my welcome with each of you!"

"How thoughtful of you, Miss Proctor. I wish you well in your task. Farewell."

By now, Ruth was of the opinion that the storeman was pilfering at each of his part-time jobs. The Education Department had clearly no idea that some stock was missing, and would not have unless they ran out of a particular stock item. Brown was careful not to remove more than a proportion of each category of stock, so that his depredations would not be obvious. The guy was clever, despite his nominally low-level posts. He probably planned his operation to fine degree, so he must have an outlet for his thefts. She would probably have to catch one of his thefts in action, to discover where the goods went.

In the meantime, she had his third employer to check out.

She went through a similar enquiry routine with the rail network's supply officer, and once again discovered that they depended on their digital stock controls to keep them aware of stock numbers. As with the Education Department, stock control was primarily used to know when to order more stock, and not for any form of control over the stock's security.

Her next task was to establish Brian Brown's timetable. She phoned the personnel department at each of the two organisations and asked when each of their stores personnel worked. She explained that she had to devise a pattern for organisation of stores, and wished to consult their own staff on the matter. This sounded innocuous, so the storemen's names and times of work were passed on to her.

It turned out that the few storemen were all part-time, and that Brian Brown was the senior storeman at each site. This meant that he controlled the accounting: the deliveries and despatches of stock. No-one else knew what should or should not be there. The man was in the right position to line his pockets, Ruth recognised.

Now, his fence, the person who bought the goods off him; who was he, she wondered? Ruth pondered if she could work it out as a thought experiment. She could look at all the businesses in the colony, though most likely in Metropolis; then consider whether one business would be able to take on stock from any and all of the three warehouses.

She used her phone to get a list of all the businesses. They would all be interested in stationery supplies, so strike that. Educational department stock would on the whole be similar, but the rail warehouse would be somewhat different.

Then Ruth realised that the style of the organisation need not reflect what was pilfered. There would be no market for engine and carriage parts among other businesses, so the storeman would ignore such items. There would be a large stock of light bulbs, batteries, protective gear, signalling and radio equipment, some of which would be of general use. The range was turning out to be less diverse than Ruth first expected. It had to be goods for which there was a high turnover: paper, pens, light bulbs, batteries, and so on.

Then she thought, "How is he going to make a profit? He has to sell the items at a low price, for his fence to make a profit in turn. Most of the material will be branded goods purchased in bulk at a cheap price, so best sold retail at a higher price, but still undercutting most of the normal retail suppliers. How then?"

At last, an idea came to her, and she re-examined her list of businesses for discounters; shops that concentrated on selling goods at well below the normal market prices. She came up with three, all in Metropolis, so scheduled herself to visit all three, next day. She would examine each as a possible outlet for the storeman's predations, and possibly an outlet for other stolen property.

When she arrived at the office in the morning, the place was buzzing with rumours. The secretarial staff were saying that someone had been pretending to be from the company. There had been a complaint and no-one knew what was going on.

Ruth asked who had been complaining, and was told that it was a high-up in the Education Department. With a feeling of dread, Ruth sought a meeting with Trevor Defreitas, her ultimate boss in the company. She was told he was on the phone to the investors, but would see her when he finished.

Inside, Trevor was talking with Mary Kempe. She was saying to him, "Calm down, Trevor. This is business, and in business you establish all the facts before you make a decision. The official told you someone had claimed to be from the company, asking about what, exactly?"

"Um, that wasn't made clear, Mary. The claim was that someone from our company was trying to tell them how to run their own affairs. They were not happy at what they called 'interference', and so that's why I phoned you to make you aware of this, in case it went further, perhaps to the Governor!"

"I see. The name of this supposed member of your staff?"

"They didn't say. They were going on so, about a private company interfering in the running of a public body!"

"Right. So, a vague claim, unsupported by any known facts. You have grounds for complaint against that official, Trevor. I suggest that you get back to the department, and ask for some FACTS, rather than accusations. O.K.?"

"Very well. I shall let myself calm down before I phone, though."

"Fine. Let me know how it ends up, Trevor. You are our manager of the company, so please manage!"

Trevor put the phone down, and tried to relax, but almost immediately, his phone rang again. He grabbed it and demanded, "What?"

His secretary said quietly, "Sir, your Security Consultant wants a word. Can I send her in?"

He sighed. "I suppose so. No doubt another problem..."

Ruth Proctor entered his office and looked at him as if unsure what to say. He demanded, "Well?"

"Mr Defreitas, there appears to be some confusion at the Education Department."

"What? You? Were you the one the department were complaining about?"

"I expect so, sir, but I have no idea why."

"I'll tell you why, Miss Proctor. It appears you were telling them how to run their department!"

Ruth frowned, looking pensive. "No, sir. That accusation is completely untrue."

"What, then, is going on?"

"Sir, I suspect it was a pre-emptive strike, in advance of the revelation of a complete balls-up in the education Department."

Trevor was completely bemused by this statement. "Miss Proctor, you are going to have to explain yourself. I am flummoxed at what has been happening, and our investors want me to sort it out. Give me something to work on, girl."

"If I may move back a little, sir; I was approached by Diane Kempe to investigate a storeman who is strongly suspected of stealing from the warehouse of a shop your group has just taken over. I was asked to operate in my persona as Security Consultant of this company, rather than my other position vis-à-vis the Security Department.

Thus, my investigation into this part-time storeman revealed that he also had similar jobs with the Education Department and with Rehome Railways. I contacted the person in charge of supplies for the Education Department, claiming I was simply finding out how other organisations ran their warehouses, for the benefit of our company's control of supplies.

One of my questions was whether they operated a stocktaking exercise at any time, or depended entirely on the digital stocktaking software. It turned out they had never conducted a physical stock check, and I implied that I had been asked how a warehouse knew what was actually held, as opposed to what the software claimed.

I pointed out that if a storeman removed an item but did not record its departure, he could steal supplies from the warehouse. I suggested – nothing more strongly – that a stocktaking exercise might be worthwhile for the Education Department. The person I talked with said she liked the suggestion and would take it up with her superior.

What I think is happening is that the superior strongly suspects that stock is going to be missing if such an operation takes place, and is attacking this company rather than implementing what might be a dangerous – to her – stock check."

Trevor had his eyes wide open at this information, and asked Ruth,

"What, then, is your recommendation?"

"Very simple, sir. Demand to know the full facts as to what had been said by me, and what suggestion I had made that she thought was unwise? You can point out that as a security expert, I was making a wise security suggestion in passing, and it was up to the Department to either ignore the advice and accept what might be revealed later – after their storeman is arrested for a similar offence in another organisation – or implement the advice and take the credit for discovering any discrepancies. I suspect I know what will happen."

By now Trevor had a smile on his face.

"Miss Proctor, I am now at last realising why you did such a good job at Army C.I.D. I shall take your advice and make such a call, and we can see what the results are. As I know who is the Director of Education, Mrs Jennifer Prentice, and HER boss is Mrs Ruth Kempe, I can get Mary Kempe to speak to Ruth and brief her on this episode. Yes, this may come out all right for us.

Now, who was the woman you spoke to, Ruth?"

"Ah, let me think ... yes. Jean Purvis. She said her line manager was a Mrs Bedford. I would be inclined to think that it was Mrs Bedford who complained to you, sir."

"Thank you, Ruth. That is most helpful."

Checking that the time was still fine for catching the woman at her work, Trevor phoned the Education Department and asked to speak to "Mrs Bedford – I think she has something to do with supplies?"

That was enough the get him through. She answered, "Bedford."

"Mrs Bedford? Are you the lady who phoned me earlier – Trevor Defreitas?"

"Oh. Yes, I was. Have you phoned to apologise?"

"Not quite, my dear. I have investigated at my end, and now am investigating your end. Can you tell me who interfered, and exactly in what way did they interfere?"

"I don't know the woman's name, I didn't ask my staff that, but she said she was from Rehome Deliveries, and she demanded that we do a stocktaking. The cheek of it!"

"I think you have not got your facts quite correct Mrs Bedford. May I explain? My Security Consultant, a former C.I.D. crime investigator, and so professionally quite reliable, enquired on behalf of our business as to whether your department ever did a stocktaking, and when informed that you did not, she ADVISED that it would be a good idea for you to do so.

It was not her place to offer additional information, but I shall do so.

One of your part-time storemen is strongly suspected of stealing from another warehouse, and will shortly be arrested. As a result, Rehome Security will very probably be asking you to establish what, if anything, is missing from your inventory.

Now, should you have ALREADY done a stock check, you will be in possession of all the relevant facts, and come out of it well, but if you ignore my consultant's advice, I hate to think what will happen to you if major losses are discovered on your watch, without you having known anything about it."

He could almost hear the hiss of indrawn breath, as the woman suddenly became aware of the morass she had almost stepped into. The gears whirred in her head as she reassessed her position.

"Mr Defreitas, I apologise if my initial reaction to your Security Consultant's ... advice ... was unfortunate. I shall immediately initiate a stock check of our supplies, to discover how accurate our digital records actually are. Thank you for your phone call, and the additional information. Goodbye sir, and thank you again."

Ruth's similar advice to the Rail network's warehouse staff had been better received, and the staff in charge more accommodating. They had at once embarked on a stock check, and when Ruth phoned today, they had news for her.

"Miss Proctor, as a result of your suggestions, we have uncovered a series of discrepancies between what our digital records say and what is actually present. We are still cumulating our losses, and working out how these occurred and who was responsible. All our storemen have been suspended, but our storeman in charge, Brian Brown, is being treated as the primary suspect, as either he was incredibly stupid or negligent; or was complicit at the very least. Falsification of the records must have gone through his hands."

Ruth responded, "I would recommend that you physically hold on to Brian Brown until the security service can take him into custody. The odds are great that he is your culprit, based on other information I have access to. Thank you for keeping me up to date with your operation."

Ruth closed her phone and set out on her exploration of discount stores. The first one she visited was a grocery outlet, selling fast and cheap. She noted that the 'use by' dates were not far in the future, thus explaining the need to sell in this way. This was not a shop she would suspect as being an outlet for Brian Brown.

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