Malan Mothers on Rehome
"I don't remember ever doing a stock check, Brenda. It has always been controlled by software, I am sure. Perhaps a physical stock check ought to be a priority for now?"
Ruth gestured at her phone.
"I have a list of all the items found in Metro Discounts which we suspect came from your business. In addition, I have a list of these same identifiers which we have traced to manufacturers on Earth. That data says they were all purchased by Lownie Stores, which is why we are so sure about theft. I can pass this data to you, so you can look for the equipment in your warehouse."
Brenda was grateful for the gesture. "That would be helpful, Ruth. Thank you. I can compare this list to our own records, to see if the numbers are part of a set we have got listed for our equipment stock."
Gail added, "Brenda, do we have time to do our own stock check, or do we have to ask our managers to do it?"
Ruth interjected, "That assumes your managers are not involved."
"It is a possibility," mused Gail. "All they have to do is ignore certain signs of predation, and get a kick-back for their trouble. Damn!"
Brenda accepted responsibility. "We don't know for sure. One of us had better be present at the stock-take, Gail, to be on the safe side. Do you think Sye should be there? He is better at kicking ass, if it is required."
Brenda said in an aside to their visitor, "Sye is our husband, Ruth. He started out as a geeky scientist, but he is now an effective businessman; and a damn good lover. We each have three kids, to prove it!"
Ruth concluded her visit.
"Can I leave you to deal with the stocktake, and you can let me know how it turns out?"
"Sure, sure," said Brenda. "Have you any idea at all, who was behind all this?"
"We don't know who is your local thief, but the big man behind it all seems to be Desmond Duchesney."
Gail gasped, "Desmond? But he is a member of the Metropolis Business Circle! You don't expect our members to be criminals."
Ruth was quick to demand, "Steer clear of him. Don't let him know he is suspect. We don't want him to have a chance to cover up any evidence."
Gail accepted this stricture. "We can follow that, Ruth. We won't do anything stupid."
"One thing you can do for me. Work out who was in a position to allow stock to be removed from the warehouse without it being recorded by your software. Presumably nothing is supposed to leave without the records being amended in the database?"
"Yes, that is the procedure. Right. We will sort that out and identify the thief. Do you want him held?"
"If there is any chance of him knowing that he has been identified as the thief, then by all means grab him and call the police to officially arrest him and incarcerate him, so he can't pass on his knowledge to his boss. Sergeant Roger Crouch is in charge of the investigation for the Security Service."
"Sergeant Crouch? I have met him once before, when we had a minor outbreak of shoplifting. Turned out to be a ten-year-old! The Sergeant was a perfect gentleman, I thought, and dealt with the child by a bit of gentle threatening that he would tell his parents about what he was up to, and then tell his school that he was a criminal!" It stopped from that point."
"The Sergeant is a kind man, then?" said Ruth.
"Yes. I would have thought you knew?" declared Gail, surprised at her lack of knowledge of the man.
"Al our communications have been by phone, so far. I have yet to meet him in person, Gail."
"Oh, you should. When our single girls found he was unmarried, there was a bit of a competition to see who could get him to take her out. The girl that won the unofficial competition reported that he was a great escort, and she had a wonderful time, but nothing clicked between them, and that is as far as it went. The others are hoping he will come back here again; some are watching for him in the shops!"
Ruth laughed at the antics portrayed. "Oh, I am not looking for a man, Gail. I have my five-year-old daughter to bring up, and that is enough for me to cope with."
"Oh? The child's father didn't stay with you, Ruth? Pity. A child does better if it has both parents in the family."
"The never was a father, Gail. My daughter, Amech, is a Malan girl."
"A Malan? My goodness, you are one of the Malan mothers, then?"
"Yes. Amech is a lovely girl, and a delight to me as her mother. I have started learning Malan for her benefit; as she already speaks perfect English. All of us mothers are learning Malan. Diane Kempe is toying with using Malan for secure messages in the future, as a code that Earth security personnel would not be able to crack, as they never studied the language."
Gail giggled delightedly. "I like the concept!"
There came a knock at the door, then a man poked his head in.
"Just about, darling," declared Brenda. "Ruth, here, is not married, we have found."
"Don't look at me, Brenda. I am happy with our triple!"
"Silly! I wasn't meaning you. You remember Sergeant Crouch?"
"Oh, the tall policeman? Yes. He isn't married, either. You aren't setting up a marriage bureau next, are you?"
"The idea never crossed my mind until now, Sye. It may be worth exploring, though." She turned towards Ruth, saying, "Ruth, how do you fancy a date with the Sergeant, if we can fix it up? You get our services for free, as it is an experiment for the present, to see if it works."
Gail jumped in, "Brenda, it has to be more organised that two random people. You need to establish each person's interests, preferences in height, weight, general looks, education, social level, and so on."
"I am aware of that, Gail. I just want a trial pair, so we can get feedback on how things went – what worked, what didn't work, and suggestions for future improvements. The Sergeant and Ruth could be quite helpful. If it worked for them, we could use them in our advertising."
Ruth blanched, and burst out, "NO! I can't appear in advertising!"
"What? Why ever not?"
"My work on Earth. I was an undercover agent for Army C.I.D. I can't allow my face to show in any publicity that might get back to the bad guys."
Sye was impressed. "By God! We have a heroic crime fighter in our midst, girls."
Brenda added, "She is a Malan mother too, Sye!"
"Good grief! A woman of many talents. But, wait a minute. We could do the publicity without showing faces, and make that a selling point. We can say: "Everything we do for you is confidential. No-one will know how you got together, unless you want to reveal it yourselves. That is our guarantee."
How does that sound, girls?"
"Great, Sye. That solves both problems at a stroke. Let's have a go at setting up such a service. These single girls of ours that I mentioned to Ruth: they can get free entry, as an employee benefit."
"All we have to do is find some men, Brenda. They tend to be backward about coming forward."
Sye had thought of another point. "Ladies, have you forgotten that many of our settlers are single men, setting up farms? They are far from the city and so far from potential mates. Your suggested service might appeal to them. They can have one date in town, and another at their farm, so that the girl can see what he is like as a home-maker."
Ruth decided it was time she left.
"Mr and Mrs Lownie? It is time I left you to your deliberations. It looks like you will be starting up a new business, from what I hear. If I can help, without being identified, feel free to ask my assistance. Please remember what I said about your warehouse supplies. Farewell for now."
She accepted their thanks and goodbyes, and managed to exit without getting in the way of the business discussion that was developing in the room.
She was outside before it occurred to her: she had accepted a date with the Sergeant without ever having met him, and even he didn't know about it yet. Damn!
She shrugged. What was done was done. She would just have to live with it, if it happened. She hoped she could let him down lightly, when she explained that her daughter came first, before any man she might meet.
Sergeant Crouch answered his insistent phone. "Yes?"
"Sergeant Crouch? This is Sye Lownie."
"Oh, yes, sir. I remember you. What can I do for you?"
"Are you private at the moment, Sergeant?"
"I am. Why?"
"Two points. One, we may have a thief for you to arrest shortly, if Ruth Proctor is correct in her deductions. Two, we are thinking of setting up a marriage bureau, and we thought that you might appreciate us setting up a date between you and Miss Proctor. As you are both criminal investigators, you clearly have things in common, and we would like you to try out our matchmaking service."
"Really, Mr Lownie, I don't..."
"Hear me out, Sergeant, please. You would be doing US a favour. What I want is for you two to go this date and afterwards tell us what went right, what went wrong, and in what ways we could make dates more successful. So, you see, you would be trying out some of the basics of our proposed service. It would indeed be a great help to us, so we are prepared to underwrite your evening out. Would it be an evening, or do you think a daytime meeting would be preferable?"
"That is a point I have never considered before, Mr Lownie. An evening, with dinner as the focal point, is my preference, but with the hours we work in the Security Service, occasionally an afternoon would be more manageable. That would probably mean just a meeting in a coffee shop, with cakes and such, followed by a walk in nice surroundings."
"Sounds like you find the idea acceptable, Sergeant?"
"Interesting, certainly. I have only seen this woman on the phone, but she is not ugly, I will grant that."
"You should be aware, Sergeant Crouch, that she is a Malan mother with a five-year-old Malan daughter."
"Intriguing. You make her seem more interesting all the time. What age is she?"
"I am not certain, but mid-twenties, I would say, and still single, according to her. How old are you, sir, if I may ask?"
"Twenty-eight, Mr Lownie. I am not ashamed of my age."
"And your reason for still being single?"
"Not that it is any of your business, Mr Lownie, but I just haven't met the right woman for me. Being what is in effect a policeman can make family life difficult."
"She is in the same situation, sir. She says she was an undercover agent for her Army C.I.D., so I reckon she is a tough girl, and able to take on a policeman."
"Hmmm. Even more interesting. O.K., put me down for that date. I am willing to try, at least. Now, what about your thief?"
"Ah, yes. Miss Proctor thinks we have had stuff pilfered from our warehouse, and has given us evidence to pursue the matter. If we can identify our thief, I'd like you to apprehend the miscreant, or have a constable deal with it."
"Ah. I know what she is talking about. We have a storeman in custody from another connected case. That led us to your problem, Mr Lownie."
"Sergeant, how's about we use first names now? I am Sye (short for Alexander), and you are?"
"Right. From now on, we are Sye and Roger."
"Very well, sir ... uh ... Sye."
"Right. We will speak to Miss Proctor, Roger. Any particular evening suit you best?"
"No. Any will do. I don't have any plans at present."
Fine. Bye for now, Roger."
"Yes. That sounds like Mr Lownie."
"It is. I thought you would be pleased to hear that Sergeant Crouch is agreeable to an evening out, with dinner. We have decided to pay for your evening out, as we would like you both to report back on what went well, and what didn't, and what advice you would give for other couples meeting for the first time. So it can be viewed as a paid experiment at a date organised by the Lownie Marriage Bureau. We are calling it that, as we want that to be the end target for our couples, successful or not. Would you agree with this approach?"
"Sounds fine to me, as long as the participants realise it can end up as something in between. Have you thought of the complications arising from Rehome's marriage law?"
"How do you mean, Miss Proctor?"
"If a girl is being considered as a second spouse, the date may between the woman and the couple, so that the wife gets to know the woman. She is important in making any decision in that situation."
"You are quite correct, now that you mention it. We must consider any such complications in our interviews. We should find if a single girl just wants a monogamous marriage, or is prepared to be a second wife to a couple. That is a question we must include in quizzing applicants. I must discuss this with Gail, and Brenda. I must admit the idea never came into my mind, as I am extremely happy with Gail, and Brenda. We have been together for years now, since they seduced me one night, back on Earth, and I have never looked back in regret."
"That sounds so terribly romantic, Sye. I hope that some time I meet a man that stirs me in the same way."
"Well, before long we hope to have a bevvy of lovely girls and eager gentlemen to meet each other. Perhaps there is a young man looking for you, Miss Proctor."
"Perhaps. One can dream."
"Oh, I forgot to mention. We have spoken to Roger about our probable thief, and he says he knows what you were talking about, so that is just to bring you up to date." He gave a laugh, "Up to date! I should have said "up to speed. You already have a date. You only have to say the day you want it to be. We will pass it on."
"Let's not waste everyone's time, just get it over with. Make it tomorrow evening. Get him to call me about where we meet, and the time."
"Got that. See, we at Lownie Marriage Bureau are getting into matchmaking mode already. Bye for now, Ruth."
The Lownie equipment and stationery warehouse was taking in a new delivery when Sye and Gail turned up at the door. They were recognised by the staff who were busy organising the incoming boxes, marking them off as arrived, and parking them in the appropriate places inside the warehouse. All the staff seemed happy with their work, so Sye found the guy in charge of the warehouse and waited until the man had time to speak to him.
"Sorry, sir. Busy time today. This is the second delivery, and there is not much going out at present. Tomorrow is scheduled for items going out to replenish the stores."
"That's fine. You are Bruce; do I have that right?"
"Yes, sir. Bruce Ahmed. You appointed me two years ago, sir. I remember that day."
"Better than I do, Bruce. I see so many prospective staff, the names and faces are just a blur unless I am seeing them regularly. I apologise for that."
"No problem sir. What can we do for you today?"
"I was wondering: when do we do a stocktaking? You know, physically check the stock against the records?"
"Dunno, sir. I haven't seen one done since I started. Perhaps Terry can tell you."
"Terence Telford, sir. He is my alternate, but has been here longer, so he more or less runs the operation. This place is a complicated organisation to get your head around. I thank God for the software. It tells us everything."
"You would have no objection to a stock check?"
Of course not, sir. If the boss wants a stock check, the boss gets a stock check. It might mean a bit of overtime, sir, by the time we check everything in this warehouse."
"I wouldn't worry about that, Bruce, as long as we get all the data correct."
"You think that there might be something wrong, sir? I can't see how? The software tells us everything we need to know."
"I was wondering, Bruce: if some item went out without the software being told it had left? How would we know?"
"Oh. I see what you mean. It would show up eventually, wouldn't it, if we had an order for ten but only five were there?"
"That is so, Bruce, but if you were in charge, and knew that the usual maximum was five for delivery to the stores, you could ensure that the input was more than the five? You would always make sure we were never short of that item, wouldn't you?"
Bruce had his brow furrowed. "But only Terry is in position to be able to do that. He does all the ordering, to make sure we have enough on hand for all our expected demand."
"So if we do a stock check and we are short, only Terry could be responsible for that happening?"
"Yes, I suppose so, but why would be short of anything?"
"Let me change the subject slightly, Bruce. Are there times when Terry is alone in the warehouse for a few hours?"
"Naturally, Mr Lownie. Terry has to work late some nights to sort out what needs to be ordered to bring stock levels up to the required level. It is his responsibility. I wouldn't fancy the job."
"You might have to, Bruce, if there are deficiencies in the stock. How about you and I doing a comparison between what the stock record says is here, and what we can actually find?"
"Sure, sir." He leaned across his counter to shout, "Jimmy? Will you take over the counter for a while, if anything is required to move? I'll be busy for the next hour or so."
"Right, Mr Ahmed. Is there anything to be entered just now?"
"Just the stuff coming in. Make sure it all gets entered in the database. You know where the reader is, don't you?"
"Fine. I'll be in the warehouse with Mr Lownie – the big boss."
Jimmy looked at Sye with big eyes. "Right, sir. I am on the job."
Sye and Bruce went inside the main store. Bruce said, "Right, Mr Lownie, where do you want to start? Can I suggest we start at this door and work round the wall? That way, we know exactly where we are at any point. We can do the middle bays afterwards."
They checked the first pile, with Sye reading the data file of the inventory, and Bruce counting the items. They finished the count, and were two short, puzzling Bruce Ahmed. "Sorry, sir. I may have miscounted. I am two short, I think."
"Yes, Bruce. Let's move on. This next pile is a more unusual bit of kit, so not so many. The inventory says seven."
"Hmm. There are six here, sir. No doubt about it."
"Right. I have made a note. Next pile?"
They went on. Almost every pile of machines or equipment was one or two short of what it should have been. Bruce was becoming embarrassed.
"Mr Lownie, sir. I can't understand this. We seem to have a lot of items missing. I am terrible sorry that I was not aware of this discrepancy."
"Let's leave Terry to worry about it, Bruce. We can get through this faster if we just deal with the facts, and leave the why's for after."
"Very well, sir. If that's what you want. Next pile is a big one, sir."
And so it went on, with the missing items becoming a longer and longer list. Eventually Sye said to Bruce, "When is Terry due to be on duty, Bruce?"
"He normally takes the late shift, sir, so that if he needs to work late, it is not a split shift for him. I never thought nothing about it, sir."
"Well, I think we shall have a policeman here to meet him, Bruce. That is just a couple of hours from now?"
"Yes, sir. Policeman, sir?"
"Yes, Bruce. It looks like Terry has been a naughty boy, and has been stealing from the company. We can't have that, can we?"
"No, sir. Does he have to be arrested in front of the other staff?"
"I am afraid so, Bruce. They have to see justice being done. If the accusation is proved, and the evidence is pointing that way, I may want you to take over this warehouse, and institute an annual stock check as part of the routine."
"Very well, sir. As I may be late in leaving for home because of this, can I phone my wife to tell her?"