One Loose End
Ross Hall had worked at Thomas Stilton Associates for about eighteen years. He was a Senior Partner for most of that time and had worked with Sarah Fredericks for many years. Sarah’s last assignment uncovered a highly organized and well-connected criminal operation.
After threats, intimidation and attempts on her partners’ life, Sarah and her partner Mark were entered into witness protection. Ross was now on his own with the mammoth task of taking the evidence Sarah had collected and presenting this to the National Crime Agency (NCA). He had one area to investigate further.
He understood that his assistance would be required in the NCA investigation and he would need to attend any court proceedings. This wasn’t going to be an easy assignment.
Ross had worked alongside the NCA on previous cases and developed contacts that he trusted. It wasn’t easy to build trust when faced with corrupt police officers and government officials. Over the years he earned the respect of his contacts at the NCA as a man of integrity and honesty.
His main contact was a woman called Bridget Webb. A career police officer. She left school and joined the force, working her way up through the ranks. She joined the NCA some nine years ago and was now in charge of a handpicked team of highly proficient officers.
A team that was loyal and trust worthy. During her time in charge, she had transferred many officers off her team. They weren’t suitable in her eyes, but now she had exactly the team she wanted.
Due to budget restrictions on resources she could not afford to be as selective anymore. The current team had been operating together for nearly two years now.
She was tactful, tenacious and a very strong personality with a desire to succeed. A difficult person to say no to.
Ross had gone through all the documentation Sarah had produced. He worked from home permanently now and had a body guard for protection. Gary, his assigned body guard, was an old family friend. He worked for Decker security and was assigned to protect Ross and his wife Julia. Ross worked in his study to investigate one loose end and plan his presentation to Bridget.
His study had been previously bugged, but the guys from Decker security found the device. They used it to trap the people who were listening and help identify the people who were tracking Sarah.
The sting revealed two men from the UK Border Force. They were apprehended and forced to reveal their identity. The bug had long since been destroyed. The criminal organization knew it was useless after the sting.
It was safe for Ross to use his study now.
He picked up his mobile phone to call Bridget and arrange an online meeting to discuss the findings of the Lights Out nightclub investigation.
“Hello Ross.” Bridget answered, “I’ve not heard from you in a few months.” The last time they spoke it was to arrange witness protection for Mark and Sarah. “How are you?”
“Hello Bridget. Yes, I’m fine thanks.” He replied.
“That’s good.” She concluded, trying to dispense with the small talk. She was a busy woman running a large team, her time was always in demand.
“Nothing changes, busy as hell,” Continued Ross “but it makes the time fly. How’s life at the agency? Are you still running the A team?”
“Of course I’m still running the best team in the agency. I put it together after all.” She laughed “We’ve lost two guys but only been allowed to recruit one replacement. Cut backs.” She felt proud of her team and her achievements. It had taken a long time and hard work to produce a team with these skills and abilities.
“Yes, I know what you mean.” He replied.
“I thought you private sector boys had unlimited resources.” She joked.
“That’s right. People sat here with their feet on the desks!” he laughed. “I work from home now. Full time on the assignment Sarah was working on.” He didn’t want to go into details why he worked from home, now was not the time. He may need to call on her department with these reasons in the near future. But for now, he focused on delivering the assignment to Bridget.
“The Lights Out nightclub I take it?” She asked.
“That’s the one, and that’s why I’m calling really.” Urgency in his voice told Bridget that work was coming her way.
“Go on.” Finally, down to business she thought, now paying full attention.
“When would be a good time to schedule a video call to go through the finer details?” He asked.
“Err, we’re a bit stacked for the next ten days or so, but email it over.” Bridget knew this assignment would be coming, but her team were busy on other investigations. She needed to buy time so she could plan it properly and allocate the right people. This wasn’t an easy or simple assignment. She had a very high-level view already. People entering witness protection needed a lot of justification.
“I thought you’d be busy, but the details make a good read.” Ross wanted Bridget to raise the priority if he could. The sooner these bastards are locked away the better he thought.
“I’ll get one of my intelligence officers to go through it as soon as they’re free. They can summarize it for me and I’ll have a read. I’ll email you a meeting request afterwards. How does that sound?” She needed to find the right team members for this assignment. The criminal organization was large. Any investigation would need more than just a couple of her officers. This could involve half her team, maybe more. She needed time to estimate the resources and work out the priorities.
Ross thought she would be leading the investigation. He thought she might have been the one to read all the details first, but he knew better than to challenge an NCA officer, especially Bridget Webb.
“Sounds good. Any ideas on timescales?” He relented on pushing the priority, hoping that she would see the urgency after reading the summary.
“I’d say about four weeks possibly five, it depends on how much documentation Sarah produced.” She replied.
“There’s quite a lot, as you’d expect, Sarah was very thorough in what she did.” Sarah had indeed produced an almost water-tight investigation. Inter-company electronic transactions and payments to individuals were all documented.
“Okay I’ll put Ben on it, he gets through work very quickly and he’s very thorough.” Ben was just closing an investigation. Bridget had another investigation for him, but the nightclub case sounded more appropriate for his skills.
“I’ve a loose end I need to work on, but the majority of the evidence is black and white, you can’t argue with it.” Ross was missing one piece of the paper trail.
“If it’s concrete evidence, that will make Ben’s job easier.” She replied. The remaining tasks for the NCA were to identify where the drugs came from, who was running the operation and how they were being delivered and distributed through the nightclub.
“My diary’s clear that far ahead, I’ll keep the mornings free for a week. If we could do morning rather than afternoon?” He replied.
“Morning will be fine. I’ll send you a meeting request in a few days. Stay safe and we’ll catch up in a few weeks.” Bridget replied wanting to close the call.
Ross ended the call and opened his online calendar to block out two weeks of mornings. He did this as a precaution in case anyone tried to book his time. He admired Bridget. Ross had worked his way up to Senior Partner through hard work and determination.
Bridget had achieved her senior position exactly the same way, through hard work, but he knew she’d had a much rougher ride.
There was knock at the open door to his study. Gary stood there with a mug of coffee in his hand.
“I’ve made you one if I’m not interrupting?” he said, offering the mug forward.
“Thanks Gary, perfect timing.” Said Ross with a nod of gratitude.
He set the coffee down on a coaster on Ross’s beautiful solid mahogany desk and then left the study. Ross and Julia had a wonderful home. They could afford beautiful and expensive objects. Ross had the layout of his study such that he looked out of a front bay window. He could see whole of the front garden. The gravel driveways, the lawn, trees and shrubs that surrounded the perimeter of their property. A stunning view for an office he thought and he enjoyed working here.
Gary knew Ross was a busy man and only interrupted him to either discuss matters of security or a provide a mug of coffee. Meal times were different, they shared stories and helped out with the food preparation and cooking.
In the kitchen, Julia was in charge. She took full advantage of the two sous chefs and worked them most evenings. Ross would sometimes work late, but he always found time to provide a helping hand and of course eating.
Gary was a ‘Decker’, as they referred to the employees of Decker Security. He was a close family friend to Ross and his wife Julia. Ex-military, Gary knew how to handle himself and was employed solely for protection duties on Ross and Julia.
He stood six feet three inches tall, and worked out four to five times a week. He had a toned and muscular body. Blonde hair and crystal-clear green eyes. He had been employed for just over six years by Decker security. There were two other ‘Deckers’ assigned to surveillance and protection duties outside the house. They were instructed to discreetly tail Ross or Julia if they went out.
This morning it was Julia who occupied the other two. She worked part time at a farm shop a few miles away. She didn’t need the money, but she needed to socialize. She enjoyed the few hours out of the house a couple of times a week and finished around four in the afternoon.
Ross clicked ‘Send’ on the email to Bridget. All the information Sarah had gathered, copied into a single compressed file attachment. He included a summary stating he had one area left to investigate and an overview of the entire documentation pack.
The summary contained some gaps in evidence, something that the NCA intelligence officers would need to identify and complete. Ross’s suspicions focused on the UK Border Force. Somehow, they would seize drug shipments coming into the country. The shipment would make its way through to the nightclub and onwards to a wider supply network.
He had similar theories around the police officers who were involved. They would encounter drugs during raids. Again, it was his suspicion that these drugs were being split from the haul somehow and taken to the club.
Video surveillance by the Deckers had captured two officers, called Jonathan Greaves and Dave Lumley. They were seen frequenting the club, delivering and retrieving items from the back of a van and leaving shortly afterwards.
The financial document trail was much easier to work through. During the process of linking these activities to individuals, three ministers had been identified.
Only two had definitive evidence against them.
Ross had to try and complete the links between financial transactions at the club, its operations and the benefits received by the third minister; Henry Latimer, secretary of state for rural affairs.
The documentation trail involved companies in other countries, parent companies, group companies and holding companies. Requesting this information from foreign government agencies would take quite a while. There was no guarantee the information would ever be sent.
This line of investigation had eluded Sarah. She had been under immense pressure, time restrictions, intimidation and attempts to kill her husband. These events understandably reduced the time she had left on her last assignment.
Nevertheless, Ross had his work cut-out and undoubtedly, these enquiries would cause a stir in government. To complicate matters, he had to be careful not to disrupt or damage the NCA investigation.
Ross decided to contact the HMRC to see if there were any quicker routes to obtaining the information he needed regarding the overseas companies. The HMRC had initially asked Stiltons to investigate the nightclub and he thought they would be willing to provide a little assistance.
Ross had dealt with many people at the HMRC over the years and knew who to contact regarding overseas documentation. After a short email exchange, the contact had all they needed to proceed. They would request the information on a government-to-government basis.
Both felt confident that the information would be forthcoming within days. It should provide the missing links between the share-holders, non-executive directors and directors along with company accounts.
Ross had provided a list of eight companies. They were located in five different countries and his contact would need additional internal help to work through the list.
Ross thought that the third minister was a little shrewder than the others. He seemed to have built such an entangled financial web for himself on purpose. The structure for the other two ministers was much easier to follow.
Ross wanted to bring all three down. Like Sarah he was a determined individual and tenacious.
The contact at the HMRC sent an internal email asking for help, listing the companies.
Spain was of particular interest to a young woman in the department. She had a particular interest in a company on the list. Carga Rapida Internacional (CIR) - in English it translated to ‘Freight Fast International’. CIR looked a simple company booking cargo containers onto ships for delivery to various destinations.
She knew that a certain minister had a financial interest within this company and went outside to phone him.
“Henry Latimer.” came the reply. A well-educated man who spoke slowly and very eloquently.
“Hello Henry this is Jane Samuels from the HMRC. We met a few months back at a conference.” Her voice was tentative. She didn’t know whether he would remember her or what response she would receive for contacting him. He was a busy and powerful man.
“Hello Jane. I think we met at the Hyde Park Hotel if I remember correctly. I go to that many conferences and meet that many people. Please forgive me if I miss a detail or two.” He didn’t recall her name immediately but remembered the conference and talking to quite a few people.
“Yes, that’s right the Hyde Park in London.” She replied, grateful that he remembered her.
“That is quite a while ago now. How can I help you?”
“When we talked, you mentioned a company called CIR in Spain.” She needed to be forthright. This was her moment to impress him. She couldn’t permit herself to fail.
“Yes, that’s correct.” He replied.
“You mentioned you had an interest in that company and if the Tax rules changed between the UK and Spain regarding freight shipments, then I should contact you.” She had to remind Henry of the conversation. It was the foundation of why she was calling.
She had Henry’s full and undivided attention. CIR was a very important company to him.
“Yes, I remember now. I am a non-executive director of CIR, but I am unaware of any tax changes.” He replied, sounding more inquisitive. “Do you know of an impending change?”
“Actually, there aren’t any Tax changes.” She had now confused him. Henry thought for a moment. He needed to find out more.
“Oh, forgive me, but why have you called again?” He asked.
“I just thought you should know that the financial accounts and company structures have been requested by a Ross Hall from Thomas Stilton Associates.” She delivered the reason and waited for questions. She had a motive for the call and it wasn’t just to notify Henry of an email. She wanted something in return.
“Have they? When did this happen?”
“I’ve just been asked this morning to obtain some documentation to help speed up their enquiries. We’ve used Stiltons in the past for financial audit and fraud investigations. I presume they are following up on an investigation that involves CIR.” She knew his involvement would be part of this investigation. She didn’t care what he was involved in. She had her own agenda.
“That is very kind of you to notify me. Yes, I have a financial interest in that company and I am very pleased that you have brought this to my attention.” Henry didn’t sound alarmed, but then he was a government minister, he was used to tricky questions and situations.
“Did they request any other companies from overseas?” He asked.
She read out the list provided on the email.
Henry took a moment to digest and remember the entire list, an impossible task, but he recognized all the names. “Well that is quite a long list. Do you know exactly why this Ross chap is investigating these companies?”
“Something to do with the accounts of a nightclub in Birmingham, that’s all I’ve heard.” She had now exhausted all the information she possessed on the matter. She waited for his reply.
“Well, thank you for the phone call Jane, I am very grateful. People like myself, in office, can get dragged through the tabloids and accused of all sorts of nasty things without any prior warning. Being a little prepared is always beneficial. And may I say that if the information never arrived or it simply encountered a delay in being received, then this would be very much appreciated. It would allow myself and my office to prepare for any potential media onslaught. Would you mind staying in touch on any further developments?”
“Of course, it’s actually not a problem, I’m just glad to help.” She said.
Jane felt she had done the right thing; she had a plan. She had just made a new ally in a high place. It was one of the main reasons for the call. She didn’t see her whole career at the HMRC. She wanted more. More rewards, more power. A career in government, Westminster would be a start. Having contacts at senior levels wouldn’t harm my career one bit she thought.
Henry was very intelligent. He knew why Jane had phoned. He generally found that people had their own agendas and the sooner they revealed them, the sooner they could help each other.
He always liked a swift conclusion to business. His time was precious. Even more so now CIR had become part of the investigation. He needed to make plans.
“I want to be forthcoming here Jane. I am assuming you have contacted myself because there might be something I can help you with in return?” He asked.
Jane thought for a while. She was caught off guard by the blunt approach, but she thought, go for it, no harm in asking.
“Well I have always wanted to work in Westminster.” Came her tentative reply, a sort of half question half request.
“That would be an ideal place of work for someone of your talents, Jane. I am sure I can find a post that will suit you.” He paused for a second or two, a brilliant plan forming in his mind.
“I will consider the CIR documentation a sort of probation test prior to any offer. How does that sound?” Henry was devious. He wasn’t going to simply provide her with a position without something in return. Jane would have to prove herself worthy.
Jane knew she had to commit or lose her dream. “That’s fine Henry. I’ll ensure the documentation is delayed and adjusted accordingly.”
Relieved, yet somewhat concerned about the whole list of companies being investigated, he concluded the call. “I am so glad with have such an integrated understanding. Thank you once again Jane. Please keep me informed of your progress or should I say, lack of it. Goodbye.”
Henry Latimer was grateful for the impromptu tip-off about the investigation. With the exception of two companies his name appeared with board level involvement on all the others.
On the other two companies, Henry was used as an external consultant. He was paid handsomely on a day rate with a very large expense account and a substantial annual retainer.
His entire overseas earnings were through all these companies. Henry was a very clever man. Educated at Oxford, a first-class honors degree in Law and over twenty years experience in government. He knew why an investigation had started and what was coming.
Years ago, he produced plans for just such an event. It was time to action these plans.
Money would need to be transferred around the world. Divided into different amounts, transferred into accounts in different countries and tax havens. Shares and bonds needed to be purchased and sold. Every account needed to be difficult to trace. If they identified an account, they would freeze it.
Actioning the plan became priority number one. He may lose some money if they traced the transactions and froze the accounts, but he wasn’t going to make it easy.
By the time they would have identified an account, the money would be long gone. It would be distributed between three or four different accounts. An ever increasing and time-consuming trail.
Henry contacted his accountant. He asked him to begin the process of the money transfers and the selling of his assets. He had documented the financial plan in great detail exactly for this situation. ’Disaster Recovery’.
The second task, was to contact the people who could put a stop to Ross’s investigation. He knew nothing of the parallel investigation by the NCA yet.
If his financial plans were correct, the other two ministers would be identified before him. After all, he had advised them on overseas companies and ensured that any investigation into these two ministers would not produce a complex paper trail.
Henry knew it was all about buying time. He reasoned that if the trail was lengthy but easy to follow, then whoever was investigating would spend time chasing these two ministers. This would give him the precious time to move money, close companies, leave the country, do whatever he needed to elude the investigation.
It was a warm day in London, overcast and a little humid, but pleasant.
Henry decided that he would phone his contact from Grosvenor Square. It was a small park some distance from Westminster.
It would be nice to feel the warm sunshine, in-between the shade of the passing clouds.
The square was a lovely place. Office workers would have their picnic lunches sitting on the grass. Runners would get their lunch time calorie burn.
It was a small place, lined with trees and lush green grass. Tree branches and leaves rustled gently in the breeze, trying to drown out the traffic and building noise.
It was world away from Westminster. A world away from listening ears he thought.
He sat on a bench looking towards the Millennium Hotel and made the call. The phone rang but disconnected after two rings.
Henry was a busy man, if you didn’t take his call the first time you would rarely get a second opportunity. He didn’t leave voicemails.
He decided to call another contact and after a few rings the voice answered.
“Good afternoon David. This is Henry Latimer. How are you today?” Henry spoke, perfect English as always.
Dave’s voice changed. Henry never called except when there were problems needing urgent attention.
“Fine thanks Henry. You?” A hesitation in his voice. Dave always tried to hide his Birmingham accent when talking to Henry, but it never really worked.
“Today started off rather well in fact. But I have just received word of an investigation by Thomas Stilton Associates into several overseas companies of interest to our business. That put a rather negative spin on my day and I can see dark clouds looming.” Stated Henry.
Dave knew better than to interrupt Henry. He’d done it only once and was firmly educated in the art of politeness and conversation. It was similar to a scolding from an old-school headmaster; never to be endured more than once.
“Yes, we know about the investigation. Sarah Fredericks was running it. She led a team into MacArthurs accountants and seized all the material on the Lights Out operation.” Dave replied.
“Does a Mr. Ross Hall work for Sarah?” Henry didn’t know the organizational structure of Stiltons. He wanted to find out more.
“No. He was Sarah’s boss.” Dave said.
“Was?” Henry quizzed.
“Sarah took an overdose of anti-depressants a few weeks ago, she’s dead. Apparently, she couldn’t cope with the loss of her husband. He committed suicide a few months ago, after being unable to recover from a cycling accident. She worked for Ross.” Answered Dave.
“Well, it looks like Mr. Hall has taken up the mantle and re-started the investigation.” Henry’s mind was processing the double suicide events and finding that suspicious, but plausible.
“We tried to warn him. We visited his home and thought we’d made our intentions perfectly clear, but looks like he won’t drop it.” Dave said.
“If I understand you correctly. Mr. Hall was and still is, in-charge of the investigation and it is still on-going?” Henry had a full grasp of the situation. He wasn’t pleased.
“Correct. It’s not stopped by the looks of things, we thought that with Sarah’s suicide and our visit, any investigation would be now on the back burner.” Confirmed Dave. He felt pleased that he had helped clear up any confusion and annoyed that the investigation was still running.
“Clearly not.” Replied Henry in a sterner tone. Incompetence. The man has not even verified if his actions were successful. He is an Idiot, he thought.
“Well we could make another visit and.. ” Dave replied, but was cut-off mid-sentence.
“Let me make this perfectly clear David. You will get Mr. Hall to cease his investigation. Do what you need to persuade him to bury it.” Henry was in charge. He was a powerful speaker and when his tone changed, Dave knew he was angry.
“I understand Henry, we’ll sort it.” Dave wanted to end the telephone reprimand as soon as possible.
“David, there is no ‘we’. If I may indulge for just a moment.”
Here comes the bollocking Dave thought.
“This is your responsibility. In a machine each cog has a function and purpose. If a spanner is thrown into the machine, then the larger cogs may suffer a little damage. They will survive. The smaller cogs will probably be violently destroyed. The smaller cogs are much easier and cheaper to replace than the larger ones. I am sure you understand.”
Dave was about to answer, but Henry hadn’t finished yet.
“Take care of things at your end and I will ensure the business remains healthy. Little cogs and large cogs David.” Henry chose his words very carefully. His message was loud and clear.
Dave was now clambering for words and a response. This was a direct order. The sinister analogy; he must put a stop to the investigation at any cost.
Dave acknowledged the task. “I fully understand Henry. Do you want me to keep you updated?”
“Yes please. I need to know your progress. A simple phone call will suffice.” Henry was much higher in the criminal organization. That sense of power came through when he was talking to the lower ranks.
“Ok, will do.” And before Dave had time to say goodbye, the call went dead.
Dave phoned his partner, Jonathan Greaves, they had work to do.
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