In the morning, Mike is waiting for us when we get to the office.
“I’ve brought some of my stuff,” he says to me as Doug goes to hide in his office. “I thought if we put it in your car, you could take it to your house tonight, while I go back to the flat, then come over with another load.”
“Okay,” I say. As we start transferring Mike’s stuff, I think of something else. “I suppose you will want something to eat tonight?”
I will have to call in at the supermarket for more supplies if Mike and Sam are going to be living with Doug and me.
The MD is also in early again. No doubt he will be for the rest of the week. I see Scott arrive and look at George’s car. It is a little while before he comes marching into my office to ask what is going on.
“What’s he in early again for?” he asks, pointing in the direction of the MD’s office. “I asked Bert and Edith who were talking downstairs but they didn’t know. All I got was another list of debts to chase from Edith.”
“I don’t know either,” I say, trying to sound innocent. “Maybe he is worried about what will happen if Buchanan doesn’t accept an increase.” Close enough to the truth to be believable.
“He’ll not accept an increase.”
Before I have to think of something in reply, we hear the MD shouting for Scott to come into his office. Scott is on the road again in twenty minutes — before the audit and legal teams arrive. It wouldn’t do for him to see them.
The teams have been doing their homework overnight and have verified as much of our information as possible. Doug and I have to answer a few more questions before we are given suggestions as to how we can improve the dossiers and we are given some extra pieces to add. When we have done that, we hand over copies and are told we to expect more questioning during the rest of the time up until the meeting with Buchanan.
It is after lunch when more men in suits arrive. They seem to be in two groups. They join the other suits — our lawyers and auditors — in the conference room. When the interrogations restart, I find out one group are tax evasion investigators from the Revenue and the other are detectives. I have to run through the presentations — including the new bits — with the newcomers and then answer more questions, mostly covering the same ground as yesterday. In fact, my presence is not required as much as I thought it would be, and I am able to get on with some other work.
I don’t see much of Doug all afternoon and when I collect him from his office to go home he looks drained.
As we drive to the supermarket for the additional supplies we will need now that there are three of us in the house, Doug tells me that he has been with the inquiry teams all afternoon. No wonder he looks knackered. I ask him why they wanted him for so long, but he isn’t very forthcoming. All he says is that they were planning. Planning what? I ask myself.
Mike is waiting for us with his car full of stuff from his flat when we get back from the shop. Doug helps him unload the cars and they take everything up to Mike’s room while I get on with making us a meal.
After the meal, Mike goes up to finish putting his clothes away and set up his computer. Doug and I go into the front room, intending to watch the telly. In fact it never gets turned on. We are content to sit together on the couch in silence. Doug snuggles up to me, presumably needing the human contact. I put my arm round him and enjoy the emotion of the moment. There is nothing sexual about it. Is this the parental instinct I have missed by not having children? Is this why Mother wants grandchildren?
When Mike comes down again, we talk for a while about what he intends to do with his flat and his house if he and Sam are going to be living with me and Doug and probably Colin as well. He has some ideas but can’t realistically plan anything until he knows Sam can live with him and what happens to his ex and her boyfriend.
Although it is still early, we are all tired so decide to call it a day. I lock up and we go to our respective beds.
“Only another couple of days, hopefully,” I say to Doug as I give him a hug before he climbs the second flight of stairs to his room.
The next day is more of the same. The inquiry teams are busily conferring in the conference room. The MD is with them a lot of the time. Although I am called in occasionally to answer questions or do some additional research, I am left alone for most of the day. No so for poor Doug. He tells me on the way home that he has had the police with him in his cubby-hole pretty much all day.
We have just finished our meal, when Mike gets a call on his mobile. It is Brenda checking that he has moved in with me and confirming his contact numbers.
The MD wants Doug and me at the office even earlier on Friday morning. The investigating teams have asked for a final briefing before Scott arrives. This time Bert will be there as, being the Finance Director, he will expected to be present at the meeting with Buchanan.
As Doug and I are having breakfast, Mike appears bleary eyed and asks why we are up and crashing around so early.
“I’m worried about the meeting with Buchanan today,” I tell him. “Are you sure about those costs of implementing EDI?” I ask, hoping to stop him asking why Doug is also up early.
“Yes,” he grunts before turning to Doug. “What about you?”
He proves himself to be even quicker off the mark than I had thought.
“The plumbing woke me up; it’s really noisy upstairs when anyone uses the bathroom. I suppose I will get used to it.”
Mike doesn’t look convinced. It is time for a change of subject.
“Don’t forget, today is the day Mother thinks you will get custody of Sam. Have you got everything ready? Any papers you might require readily at hand?”
That gets another grunt, so we leave him and head for the office.
After the briefing, the investigators have some equipment they want to set up in the conference room and a couple of the offices, so I go and talk to Edith. We are to waylay Scott and keep him occupied until they are ready for him. He makes it easy for us. Apart from Buchanan’s business, he has been thorough in chasing other customers with overdue debts this week so Edith has some minor queries to run through and I can genuinely thank him for his efforts. The cash position is looking significantly better.
The MD comes to find us and says he wants a meeting to discuss strategy before the Buchanan meeting. On the way to the conference room we pass my office and through the window I catch a glimpse of Diana sitting in her car.
George opens by saying that it is to be an Extraordinary Meeting of the company with all directors and shareholders present, although Diana, as minority shareholder has yet to arrive. He introduces two others there, who I recognise as the leaders of the legal and audit teams. Pointing to the equipment on the table, he also says he is proposing to record the meeting. Bert helpfully mutters something about it making it easier for him to write up the minutes, but he and I both know it is also relaying the meeting to listeners in George’s office. Scott raises no objection.
“Scott. While we are waiting for Diana, you might want to start reading through the presentations we have prepared.” The MD indicates two folders in front of him. “Diana can catch up. Anyway, I showed them to her last night.”
We all have copies in front of us. One contains the summary that I prepared of Scott’s previous employers and their fate at the hands of Buchanan’s company. The other contains a DVD with an attached transcript. It is a copy of Doug’s last video.
Scott opens my folder first. It is a matter of seconds before he realises what its contents imply and his posture alters slightly. The lawyer picks up on it.
“I’m afraid I have to ask you to give me your mobile phones, please,” he says to Scott. “Both of them — the company one and your private one. You will understand that we cannot have you contacting Buchanan before the meeting later today.”
If Scott was thinking of procrastinating or even trying to leave he is stymied by Diana making her entrance. She is wearing jeans, a well-worn body warmer and a light scent of farmyard.
“Hello everyone. Sorry, I’m late,” she says, loud enough for all to hear. She looks at the MD. “I’ve been out on your cousin’s sheep farm. I had to go and castrate some tup lambs for him. He’s such a wimp.” She pauses just long enough to be sure she has everyone’s attention. “I did get a nice breakfast of fries out of it. Such a waste using those rubber rings.”
Bert nods as if he knows this will be the truth. I suddenly feel cold.
Diana remains standing in the doorway as the MD repeats the lawyer’s request for the phones. Scott reluctantly hands them over.
As she moves to take the vacant seat between Scott and the door, Diana looks over at the open folder in front of him.
“The other one is much more interesting,” she says to Scott.
He picks it up and starts reading. As he turns the page, I am distracted by Diana. She is clearly not comfortable in her seat. She reaches behind and takes something out of the back pocket of her jeans and puts it on the table. It is a large pocket knife.
“That’s better,” she pauses before continuing, “I saw the new boy on my way up and asked him to bring us some tea. He should be here soon.”
Scott meanwhile has finished reading the transcript.
“What has this got to do with me?” he says. “As far as I know, it could be someone’s badly written school play.” He must have decided to try and bluff his way out of it. Although he is trying to look indignant there is the hint of a smirk on his face as if he knows we don’t have enough evidence to link him to the events described. No matter. His comments are the cue for Doug to arrive with the tea.
“Scott,” says Bert, who it was agreed would make the introduction. “This is Doug who is our new recruit. Doug is Warren Buchanan’s son.”
“Hi, Scott,” Doug says as he hands him his tea. “We’ve met before. I’m sure you remember.”
Scott makes no response but the smirk has gone.
“Maybe if you watch the DVD it will refresh your memory. See you around.” Doug picks up the empty tea tray and leaves the room.
For a brief period, the only sound that can be heard is the padding of Diana’s fingers as she drums them on the table next to her knife.
“What we want to know is how you became involved with Buchanan,” says the MD, “and what you know about all his activities.”
“You get your own lawyer and prepare yourself to be thrown to the wolves by Buchanan when you are both in front of a jury trying to decide who did what to Doug after that DVD has been played to them.”
“I should warn you,” added the lawyer, “the police are in the next room waiting to interview you. Is it to be as a witness or as the accused?”
Diana’s fingers can be heard again as Scott weighs up his options. Finally he answers.
I fetch some of the detectives and Revenue officers from George’s office. If Scott is surprised to see the tax men he doesn’t say anything. Another member of the legal team also joins us. They quickly introduce themselves before getting Scott’s formal agreement that he will work with them. After some preliminaries, Scott, one of the lawyers and a selection of police and tax officers go down to the other small office next to Doug’s that has been set up for them to continue their interviews. How they will all fit in that cubby-hole, I don’t know.
There is just time to get the watchers back into the MD’s office and the conference room ready again before Warren Buchanan’s party arrives for the meeting. There are three of them and when the introductions are made the other two are revealed as his Financial Director and his lawyer. At least it looks as though he has come prepared to do business. I am not introduced as I am not to be part of the meeting although I have to be near at hand to act as gopher. However, I am still in the room when Doug brings in the coffees and greets Warren with a cheery “Hi, Dad. Fancy meeting you here,” before he hands out the rest of the drinks.
It clearly has Buchanan rattled because he turns to George and hisses.
“What’s that little shit doing here?”
“Doug? Your son?” George’s tone shows he is surprised at the vehemence in Warren’s comment.
“He is no son of mine!”
“Intelligent young man, your son,” George says, ignoring the denial. “I would have thought you would have found him a place in your company.”
I follow Doug out of the room. He is grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat. He turns and holds up his hand, palm towards me. I realise I am expected to reciprocate in that strange youth custom, the ‘high five’, after which he scuttles downstairs to set the next part of the plan in motion.
Looking out of my window I see Vince arrive in one of the company’s trucks, which he parks so that Buchanan’s car is trapped against the wall. Vince and Doug then get in a car and drive off.
I start drafting emails for sending later, trying hard not to forget to add the attachments we have prepared with the legal and audit people. There is a tap on my door. It is Bert accompanied by Buchanan’s Financial Director who is carrying his laptop.
“Can you give him the code for the Wi-Fi,” Bert says after introducing his opposite number. “And give him a total. They have agreed to make an immediate payment to get back into terms.”
Bert leaves us alone and goes back into the meeting.
While their FD is logging into his on-line banking, I check the total due. I am not surprised when he queries the amount. I was more surprised that they had agreed to pay up to date and not just an extra week that they could let slip again when the next payment is due. I tell him that another week is due today as it is Friday. He still says it is more than he thought was on his ledgers, so I remind him we sent them copy invoices and proofs-of-delivery by recorded mail last week. I don’t say it directly, but I hint that if they have not posted the invoices to their system that is his problem not mine.
Of course he needs our bank details to make the payment. It gives me the excuse I need to watch him keying-in the details of the payment. I want to make sure he checks the ‘pay now’ box and not some date in the future. Satisfied everything is correct he hits the confirm button, saves the acknowledgement screen as a PDF and then emails it to me to print out two copies: one each.
“I am surprised,” I say, “that you didn’t have to get a second person to authorise an amount like that. We would have to on our system.” Even if the bank agreed, our auditors would complain about the lack of adequate financial control if we tried the same thing.
The FD grunts. “The boss likes it like that. There is only him and me with on-line access and if one of us is away for some reason, the other needs to be able to make payments. We still pay most suppliers by cheque.”
No doubt because that way they get a few extra days credit as the cheques work their way through the post and the banking system. They need it as well. When watching the payment being made, I noticed a sidebar on the screen with the account balance. There wasn’t much availability after our payment went out. Down to low thousands.
Their FD seems to be doing some calculations on a piece of scrap paper.
“Hmm. The cheques went out on Wednesday,” he seems to be thinking aloud. “Might need to get him to pay some more of the cash in.”
I don’t think I was meant to hear that. We know a significant proportion of Buchanan’s sales are for cash, it is that kind of business, and we suspect some of it is being kept out of the accounts. This sounds like confirmation. Pretending to be busy, I make a note of what he said before I log in to our on-line banking to see if the payment has arrived.
I have to refresh the screen a couple of times before it shows up. When it does, I escort the FD back into the meeting and give Bert the nod that the funds are in our bank. I duck into George’s office and tell the listeners both that we have had our payment and what I have seen and heard.
Back in my office, I check my mobile and see that I have a text from Doug saying that he and Vince have successfully completed their first objective. I can now send off the emails I had prepared earlier.
The caterers arrive with lunch. With all the investigating teams to feed as well as Buchanan’s party, the MD agreed it would be better to have a buffet done by caterers than expect the local chippy to do a single order for that many portions of fish and chips. They use my office to get things ready before taking the first servings in to the people in George’s office. We want them fed-and watered before they make things get nasty by joining the main meeting as they have lunch.
After ten minutes, I knock on the conference room door and announce that lunch has arrived. The MD tells me to bring it in so I help the caterers carry everything through. When everything is set up, they leave. We have arranged they will collect any equipment they have brought tomorrow. It means I will have to drop by in the morning to meet them, but needs must.
The caterers’ space in the car park is taken by a black Volvo. Two uniformed police officers get out and make their way to my office. One takes up a position by my door so that he can stop anyone trying to go down stairs and the other checks in with the detectives in MD’s office. Now they are here we can spring our trap. I go back into the conference room.
“Your other visitors are here,” I tell George.
“Send them in,” he replies, “and I will introduce them.”
As I usher in some of the group who have been in George’s office, Warren Buchanan looks annoyed at the interruption. I retreat to my office. He will be even more annoyed when George introduces them as detectives and as inspectors from the Revenue.
Bert, George and the rest of our team come out of the room after a couple of minutes and go to Bert’s office, leaving the others to the tender mercies of the investigators.
Although Warren has a lawyer with him, he will be a specialist in commercial law, so I expect he will use his right to ask for a criminal lawyer to be present as he is interviewed. In fact two turn up. One to represent Buchanan and one for his Financial Director, who is also going to be questioned separately.
Mid-afternoon, the party starts to break up. Buchanan and his FD are put in the Volvo and taken away to the police station for further questioning. The detectives pack away their recording equipment and papers. Scott is brought back upstairs by the team that had been interviewing him. Before he can relax George, Bert and Diana, who I thought had gone home before lunch, want to see him about his future with the company. He leaves soon after; interestingly, he doesn’t stop to clear his desk.
Doug and Vince return from their excursion and Vince removes the truck blocking in Buchanan’s car. Not that it is going anywhere with Buchanan at the police station. Doug collects me from my office and we walk down the passage to the MD for a de-briefing session.
The MD says, from what he could glean from talking to the investigating team, that, with the additional information they had from Scott corroborating Doug’s DVD, they would definitely be charging Warren with sexual assault on a minor as Doug was under sixteen at the time. Warren would also be charged with various tax evasion and false accounting offences. He would be held in police cells until he goes before the magistrate on Monday for committal proceedings. Because of the assault charge, the prosecution would press that he be kept in custody while on remand. Buchanan’s Financial Director would be charged with tax and accounting offences but would be released on police bail, although he too would have to appear before the magistrate.
Doug reported that he and Vince had met up with a combined Revenue and police team at Doug’s old home, Warren’s house. The team had a search warrant and Doug was able to let them in using his key. He didn’t even have to climb in through the window with the dodgy catch.
“I couldn’t believe it,” says Doug. “He hadn’t changed the locks after I left. He didn’t even change the code on the security alarm. What arrogance!
“I gave them a quick tour of the house, and then we found his computer, so I booted it up and tried the password I had used to hack in and get the files recording his undeclared cash income that we have been working on. Straight in: he hadn’t bothered to change his password, so he can’t have realised I had been in!
“All the files were there; all updated last night. The computer man from the Revenue couldn’t believe how easy the case was going to be!”
Doug turns towards me.
“That is when I sent you the text.” He turns back to face the MD before continuing. “We left the Revenue’s computer man to pack up Dad’s computer and went into the garden and showed the guys how to turn the summer house round — it does that so it can be moved to follow the sun during the day — and lift a panel out of the floor to get at some plastic soil pipes let into the ground where I knew the old man stashed his cash. We pulled out that much, I had to run back into the house to get a couple of suitcases to carry it away.”
I know what one thousand pounds in used twenties looks like. Two suitcases full could easily represent a sum well into seven figures. Hidden away as it was, it is pretty convincing evidence of something illegal.
Doug starts chuckling. We look at him wondering what the joke is.
“Best part of it is,” he says, “as we were stacking it away, one the men from the Revenue laughs, holds up a bundle of notes and says that they wouldn’t have been much use to Dad. At least three quarters of them are old series notes. If he tried to change them for the new issues in any quantity, the bank would have to report it and he would have been investigated for money laundering.
“When we had packed everything away, we went through the house again and the police removed some video equipment they found. They would take it back to the station to see if there was anything interesting on it.
“Vince and I were locking up when some bailiffs arrived to take possession of the house. They brought a locksmith and changed the locks!”
So my emails brought a quicker reaction than I expected. The banks don’t like it when you try and pull one over them. We had found that Buchanan had taken out a loan on a building and another secured on the land on which the building stood and which would automatically have included the building as part of the asset, but they had been done in such a way that both loans appeared to be first charges on the assets. When the bank had tried to take immediate repayment of the invalid loan from the company’s account there were insufficient funds, which we had guessed would be the case. Since there are no other identifiable assets not already acting as security and his company’s accounts show Buchanan owes it money through a loan account, they looked for his major asset: his house. That has a mortgage on it as well and a forced sale won’t be enough to pay everything off, and with the loss of his stash at the bottom of the garden, Buchanan can expect to be made bankrupt, homeless and penniless as well.
“Will the banks put the Receivers in and try to sell the business?” asks the MD. “Do you still think we should buy it?”
I had thought it might be a good idea. It would have been karma at least, if his business was taken down and sold for next to nothing as he had done to so many others.
“I’m not so sure,” I reply. “The Revenue said they were going to raid the company today as well as the house. If they take all the computers away for investigation that could seriously damage the business, even if they have adequate backups. Even if they appear to recover initially, businesses that suffer serious interruption often fail within a couple of years. With the companies he took over, it was a cash flow problem — that he caused — not business interruption as such.”
I can’t resist the opportunity to get in a dig about our systems.
“That is why Mike is so keen on upgrading our servers to include mirrored drives and a duplicate system, preferably off site. That way, if we do have some disaster, we can carry on trading without interruption to our ability to manage the company.”
There is a knock on the door. George shouts, “Come in.” It’s Colin.
“Found you,” he says looking at me. “Sorry to interrupt but I wanted to catch you before I go home. Mike asked me to tell you your mother has rung and that he has had to leave. He said not to do him any supper.”
As Colin leaves, the MD raises an eyebrow in my direction but doesn’t comment. I won’t either. If he wants to know what is going on with Mike, he can ask.
Colin’s interruption effectively closes the conversation, so Doug and I leave George with his thoughts and go into the conference room to gather up the caterers’ equipment; they can collect it in the morning. Then, since it is that time of day, we go to our own offices to get ready to go home. There is something that we didn’t cover in the de-brief so I bob back into his office ask the MD.
“What is happening with Scott? You didn’t mention it.”
“Diana found out that he had had a gambling problem that he says he has now dealt with. That is how he got caught by Buchanan. Buchanan had covered his debts for him, and Scott was to pay him back by working on deals for him. Except that no matter what Scott did he never managed to work it off. I think Scott was looking for some way out of the arrangement. Diana was discussing what she had discovered with the detectives if you are wondering where she disappeared to today.”
“I was,” I say, “but that isn’t what I was meaning. Is Scott still working for the company? I noticed he didn’t clear his desk before he left.”
“Ah.” George pauses in his reply. “He has agreed to resign as a director. Bert should have sent off the form today. But we haven’t asked him to leave yet.”
I give him an old-fashioned look. Is he serious?
“Don’t look at me like that,” he says. “Apart from this thing with Buchanan, he has done good work for us since he came and, in spite of his protestations, he did get out and get the cash in this week. He also knows enough about Buchanan’s business that we can pick up the pieces with his customers if it goes tits up!”
I have to nod in agreement to that.
“To use an old saying,” he continues, “ ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ On that basis, I said we should both take a little time to reflect on whether he should carry on working here. He is coming back in the morning for a chat.”
I can see a potential problem if he does stay.
“What about Doug?” I ask. “How do you think he will feel, to have to work with Scott and see him every day?”
“Mm. He is living with you, isn’t he? Do you think you could sound him out, please?”
I should have known it would fall to me.
“I’ll try and talk to him tonight,” I grudgingly concede. “What about Scott though?” I add, thinking of the problem between Mike and Doug when Doug first started.
“I’m not too worried about Scott. He’s pretty thick skinned, he’s a salesman after all. A daily bit of embarrassment seeing Doug around should keep him on his toes. Anyway, I am sure it is something that will be part of his decision.”
There is a voice from the passage.
“Patrick, are you there?” It is Doug, come looking for me.
“Go on,” George says. ”Get yourselves home. And thank you both for averting what could have been a disaster for the company. If you need any help with anything — just shout.”
As we get in my car, I decide I don’t feel like cooking tonight, especially as it is just the two of us.
“Take out?” I ask Doug.
“Indian. I feel I need the warm spicy glow.”