- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Think Arnold Schwarzenegger's
sister, with a very bad attitude
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The contents of Dopplegänger's e-mails confirmed my worst fears - he had set up a
parallel company, christened it with a ridiculously similar name to SteerFast and
was busy operating it as a shadow of the real thing. A duplicate, an evil twin, a
true Dopplegänger in every sense of the word.
Then I twigged to what was happening at Mission Control. The people on the CCTV? Some
were the manufacturers and dealers signed up to sell cars to the evil twin, the rest
customers who were buying the cars.
The manufacturers and dealers were coming to see Dopplegänger because he was buying
lots of cars from them, which made him important enough for them to visit him rather
than vice versa.
And the customers were coming in to reception and then being escorted back out by
Brünhilde because she was doing vehicle handovers in the office car park before the
customers drove off in their shiny new cars.
But I already knew from SteerFast's anaemic bank balance that these cars never went
anywhere near SteerFast's books. And that meant they had to be going through a separate
set of books for SteerFast's evil twin instead.
So if I wanted to find out exactly what was going on I needed to get a look at the
evil twin's books. But that wasn't going to be easy. You see, there was just one small
problem. I say 'small' problem, but that is truly an understatement.
The translation of Brünhilde's nickname approximates to 'Battle armour' or 'Battle
axe', and she wasn't considered a battleaxe for nothing. Brünhilde was a gym addict,
nearly six feet of fearsome Teutonic iron pumping will.
Think Arnold Schwarzenegger's sister with a very bad attitude.
If anyone approached her when she was working on what I suspected were the evil twin's
books she'd close them immediately.
When Brünhilde wasn't working on them the books were kept in a filing cabinet right
behind her, so you couldn't even peek in them without leaning over the top of her,
but no one in their right mind would ever contemplate doing that.
Oh no, no, no, not after Brünhilde demonstrated the ten thousand volt stun gun she
had bought on a shopping trip to the USA and which she now kept in her handbag at
Now I can understand why a woman would keep a rape alarm in her bag to scare off attackers.
But this wasn't good enough for Brünhilde. No, she kept a stun gun in her bag so she
could actually take them on.
Yes, hand-to-hand combat was the preferred method of dealing with anyone stupid enough
to attempt interfering with her honour.
Which meant I wasn't going to get a look at the evil twin's books at any time during
office hours, at least not without the serious prospect of inhaling the fumes of my
own burning body hair.
Each night Brünhilde was usually the last one out of the office, always locking the
filing cabinet before she left and, as the cabinet key was on her car key ring, the
key went home with her.
So, if Plan A had been to sneak a peek at the books whilst Brünhilde wasn't looking
then it wasn't likely to work. Not at all.
OK, on to Plan B. The call centre furniture was all brand new, so we still had simple
things like duplicate keys for all of the desks and filing cabinets.
All I had to do was wait until Brünhilde went home and then use the duplicate key
for her filing cabinet. You see, the simple plans are always the best.
So one night after Brünhilde had finished for the day I raided the cupboard where
the duplicates were kept. Only, when I looked in the box, there were keys for every
desk and filing cabinet in the office, including my own, except for Brünhilde's furniture.
She must have taken her spare keys as a precaution.
Damnation and bollocks. But it was a good 'damnation and bollocks', because it meant
that whatever was locked away in that cabinet was worth the effort of her hiding it.
And therefore worth me seeing it as well.
So I went home, and on the long drive I thought about what to do next.
I had no idea where Brünhilde kept her duplicate keys and I could hardly take the
keys off her key ring and get another set of duplicates cut without her noticing that
they were missing.
I badly needed a Plan C. But what on earth was that going to be?
Now, the reptile in me might well have wised up, but neither he nor I was a Raffles
or a locksmith, so picking the cabinet lock wasn't on.
Jamming the lock was no good - there were plenty of spare cabinets, so if her cabinet
lock was jammed Brünhilde could just move her stuff to another cabinet in a couple
of minutes and then go home with both keys again.
All this meant that whatever I came up with needed to be something so simple that
I could do it without Brünhilde noticing, and it had to be quick, as she never left
her desk for long during the day.
So the next time I was at the office I stayed late again.
When everyone had gone home I went to the spare key box and took out the key for the
lock on a cabinet at a desk that was further along from Brünhilde's, but which was
exactly the same as hers.
A quick look at the locking mechanism and it was obvious that the credit card trick
you see in the movies wasn't going to work. The door closed with a full centimetre
of its leading edge right behind the framework of the cabinet.
Pushing a credit card through the tiny gap between the cabinet door and the frame
would have been pointless, as the card would need to be bent in a 'Z' shape to go
around the framework and reach the lock, and I didn't fancy explaining to Barclaycard
that I needed a replacement card because I had been using the original to pick locks.
In any case, when the lock barrel was turned with the key, it dropped a hook-shaped
catch over a metal plate screwed into the frame of the cabinet and, once the key was
removed, the hook was secured firmly and wasn't going anywhere. And certainly not
for a few wiggles of an alphabet converted Barclaycard.
So for a while I just sat in front of the cabinet turning the key back and forth in
the lock and watching the catch go up and down and willing a solution to pop into
my head. Just like in the movies. And then, knock me down with a feather, just like
in the movies, it did.
Now stay with me on this bit. I was staring at the catchplate on the frame of the
cabinet, which was a thin bar of metal a few centimetres long, with an oblong hole
running from top to bottom.
If I unscrewed the metal bar from the cabinet frame, turned it upside down and re-fixed
it, the metal lock catch would just about go through the hole.
But when Brünhilde closed the cabinet door and turned the key the cabinet door would
only appear to lock; in fact the door wouldn't be locked at all.
I would be able to simply slide the door backwards and reopen it.
So I returned my desk, rummaged around in the bottom draw and took a screwdriver out
of the toolkit I used for maintaining the IT systems, then went back to the cabinet,
unscrewed the plate, turned it upside down and re-fixed it.
I timed myself and it took less than 30 seconds. Then I closed the door and turned
the key in the lock.
There was a slight difference in the feel of the key as it turned, with the normal
momentary stiffness missing at the point where the metal catch would have clicked
over the bottom of the catchplate and locked the door.
Otherwise there was nothing to suggest to anyone that the door wasn't locked as normal.
It looked locked, except that it wasn't. I could slide the door straight back without
I took off the plate again, put it back the way it should have been, locked the cabinet
and put the duplicate key back in the box.
Now I just had to wait until the next night for Brünhilde to perform her evening ritual.
Always the same, Brünhilde would start to clear her papers away, go to the ladies'
cloakroom, then return to rub in some hand cream and finally lock up and leave work
for the night.
So, when Brünhilde was in the cloakroom I would have about 5 minutes, more than enough
time to unscrew the lock, turn round the plate and screw it back on again.
I set off for home, congratulating myself all the way on the ingenuity of my plan,
though still wondering about what I would find on my Sherlock Holmes escapade. The
next day I went to Mission Control feeling quite exhilarated about what I was going
Although the day dragged as I waited for the close of business and everyone to leave
for the night, finally it was just Brünhilde and me and, when I was just about ready
to scream 'Go Home!' at her, she started to perform her nightly ritual and went off
to the cloakroom.
I waited until I could hear Brünhilde's footsteps moving away along the corridor outside
the office and the hiss of the safety dampers as she opened the double swing doors
on her way towards the cloakrooms.
Now safe for a few minute, I fished out the screwdriver I had been carrying around
in my pocket all day, jumped into her seat and began unscrewing the metal plate, then
I flipped the locking plate 180degrees and put the top screw back into place.
Unfortunately though, it was now payback time for being granted a movie style solution
to the problem of how to keep the cabinet unlocked
In went the first screw, but in my fumbling haste to finish the job I then pressed
too hard with the screwdriver, which stabbed into the metal plate and ejected the
second screw onto the floor somewhere.
I looked down but I couldn't see anything, so I frantically shuffled the chair backwards
and forwards as I peered under the desk, trying to spot the screw. It was still nowhere
to be seen.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - .... I wasn't going
to get a look at the evil twin's books without the serious prospect of inhaling the
fumes of my own burning body hair ....
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I couldn't steal a screw from elsewhere, there wasn't enough time to get a key and
open another cabinet, undo a screw, close the cabinet and put the key away then go
back to Brünhilde's desk and replace the missing screw.
And it was just too dodgy to have Brünhilde come back into the room and find me down
on my hands and knees looking for the actual screw I had lost, so I just had to go
back to my seat and wait. Bugger.
After a minute or two Brünhilde returned, sat at her desk and tidied things up, locked
her drawer and then the cabinet. Finally she reached for her coat, told me not too
work too late and left. Phew.
I listened again for the sounds of Brünhilde leaving the corridor then got up and
walked out to the balcony in the atrium above the building reception area to watch
as she slipped into her car and drove out of the car park. Then it was off to the
kitchen to make myself a mug of strong coffee. I was expecting it to be a long night.
The first thing I had to do when I got back into the office was to find that bloody
screw. I got down on my hands and knees and fumbled around on the floor. I finally
found the damned thing between a pair of sandals that Brünhilde kept just under her
I slid back the door of the cabinet, put the screw carefully into the plate, screwed
it in and then sat back and surveyed the treasure trove that Brünhilde's electric
counter-measure had been protecting.
The labels on the boxes looked innocent enough. Supplier invoices, customer invoices,
purchase orders, bank statements. But in them was the story of what was going on behind
All I had to do was rewind the clock and do what I had done for a living 20 years
previously when looking for clues amongst financial transactions whilst working for
Queen and Country.
From this I would use the data to calculate the evil twin's turnover and costs and,
from that, the profit being pocketed by Dopplegänger and Brünhilde on their double-dealing.
So I picked up a customer order to Dopplegänger and searched for the corresponding
purchase order to the car dealer, then the sales invoice from the dealer to Dopplegänger
and the invoice from Dopplegänger to the customer and then, finally, the customer's
payment for the car on the bank statement.
One by one I began building up a profile of the orders being placed through SteerFast's
And as I did so the enormity of what had been happening dawned on me.
There were not just ten or twenty or even fifty cars, there were quite literally hundreds
All of these hundreds of cars were being ordered using SteerFast's name and its clients'
discounts, with the cars registered at SteerFast's address, but not one single one
of them being actually purchased by SteerFast for any of its own customers. Everything
was going through the evil twin.
And from all of this I saw the profits that Dopplegänger and Brünhilde had made. All
using SteerFast's name and my money.
I saw the profit that Dopplegänger and Brünhilde made while using my money, SteerFast's
offices, its furniture, staff and equipment to do their dirty work whilst they let
SteerFast's bank balance and my investment dwindle away to almost nothing.
Maybe it was all this profit that allowed Brünhilde to indulge her penchant for Versace
suits? Presumably it was also paying for the brand new Aston Martin DB9 she had just
Dopplegänger had probably invested his share of their ill-gotten gains in the cosy
country lodge he'd just bought in rural Worcestershire.
But although I now had proof of their double-cross, I still had to preserve the evidence
and turn it to my advantage.
There were far too many documents for me to work through them all in one night, so
what to do? Easy. With my arms full of the document boxes I headed for the high-speed
photocopier along the corridor.
I would pile the documents into the automatic sheet feeder and copy all the invoices
and associated paperwork for each car, then scrutinise them at home where I could
consider what to do next.
I dumped the boxes onto the table by the copier, opened the first box and loaded invoices
into the paper feeder until it was full. Then I pressed the 'Copy' button, feeling
oh so smug. But not for long, because nothing happened.
I looked at the copier. 'Warming up' said the message on the screen. Come on, come
on. I was sure that Brünhilde would not be coming back to the office that night, but
Dopplegänger had been out all afternoon visiting dealers and he might come back to
the office on his way home.
The red light on the 'Copy' button turned green and I pressed 'Copy' again. Still
nothing happened. I looked again, this time staring at the 'Message' screen.
'Insert code' it flashed, on and off, on and off. What? What? Oh, bugger and damnation.
'You stupid, colander brained, baldy-bonced monkey' I cursed to myself. The high-speed
copier was provided by the building management for all the office tenants, so you
had to put in a PIN code before each batch of copying as the costs would be charged
back to your company. And that gave me two major problems.
First of all I needed the PIN; I had this somewhere in the bunch of 'Welcome' documents
given to me by the building management when we first moved in.
Much more difficult to overcome would be the copying bill. Each month building management
invoiced SteerFast for telephone lines, electricity and the copier.
Brünhilde went through the account with the proverbial toothcomb, checking to see
if we had been overcharged for anything. Rather hypocritical, considering that SteerFast's
evil twin was living rent free in the place.
But if I started running up a massive copying bill she would spot it straight away
and want an explanation.
I unloaded the documents, filed them in the box, gathered up the boxes again, trudged
back to the office and slumped down in my chair, still clutching what I had thought
would be the prize exhibits in my case against Dopplegänger and Brünhilde.
After staring at my desk for a few moments trying to remember where I had put the
PIN, I realised that I had probably given the 'Welcome' pack to a new member of staff
who hadn't received one.
Either it was pinned to one of the sound-proof dividers that separated the staff workstations
or it was already locked away in a cabinet for the night. I began circling round the
call centre workstations looking for a sheet of paper with anything that looked remotely
like a PIN.
All I could see was the typical office desktop flotsam of pens, staplers and hole-punches,
with an occasional list of contact numbers or a family photo.
What to do? I could take the boxes home and copy them. A couple of years before I
had bought an automated document scanner with a sheet-feeder which could scan the
papers and save the images to one of the hard drives of Big Bertha, but it still wasn't
as fast as the office copier.
I would be up all night scanning and then have to get back to the office before Brünhilde
so that she didn't open the cupboard and find it bare. All I needed was a traffic
jam on the motorway in the morning and I'd be rumbled.
What's more all the main building CCTV cameras would have me on tape. I intended erasing
the office CCTV recordings, but the building cameras would still record me and my
swag leaving the office.Then I spied the brand new company fax machines. One each
to send and receive all the orders we had been expecting. I could fax the documents
to Big Bertha. No, Brünhilde would see the telephone bill and want to know why I had
phoned my own fax machine for hours on end on one night.
But I could use the fax machine as a photocopier. I dropped an invoice into the first
machine and pressed the 'Copy' button. It took ages to copy, even allowing for the
warming-up period. The machine may have been fast in fax mode, but the printer side
of it only had to keep up with the speed of incoming faxes, not the speed of an increasingly
desperate amateur Sherlock Holmes.
Using both machines at once wasn't much better. What if I lonked the fax machines
to the computers, scanned the documents and e-mailed the scanned images to myself
at home? Nope. Scanning took so long it would have been quicker to tie the documents
to the legs of a flock of carrier pigeons and wait for them to arrive home.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - .... 'You stupid, colander
brained, baldy-bonced monkey' I cursed ....
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I put the documents back in the order I found them, returned the boxes to Brünhilde's
cabinet and closed the door. I just had to hope that the following day Brünhilde wouldn't
notice that her cabinet had been unlocked all night.
Then, tomorrow night, I would have to start all over again with enough sample documents
to prove everything I had discovered, but few enough that the volume of photocopying
wouldn't arouse suspicion when the office services invoice arrived.
There was nothing else I could do. I packed up, thumbed my nose at the CCTV camera
to express my frustration, then erased the recording of my night's antics and went
Most of the one hundred miles home passed without me noticing - my imagination was
working overtime. I kept picturing Brünhilde waiting for me the next day, pointing
to the unlocked cabinet, swearing in German and wearing a face she probably reserved
for Dopplegänger if he forgot her birthday.
When I got home I went straight to bed but, in the halfway world between wake and
sleep I kept seeing that bloody screw from the locking plate in the cabinet. It flew
backwards and forwards though the air, rotating in slow-motion like a spent bullet
cartridge in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Next morning, bleary eyed and still tired, I was up and away before anyone else in
the house had stirred, my departure noticed only by one severely pissed-off dog, wrenched
from her basket at an ungodly hour for a drag around the block.
First to arrive at the office, I checked that the cabinet door had not magically opened
itself overnight thenwaited for Brünhilde to arrive. When she did I kept her talking
with chit-chatto ensure her mind was occupied when she unlocked the cabinet door.
As Brünhilde placed her files on the desk I tried not to look relieved. I put my head
down and made up things to do to keep my mind offthe day's tedium whilst I waited
for that night's adventure to begin.
Six o'clock finally arrived, but about 24 hours late according to the imaginary clock
in my head.
The staff had walked around all day in slow motion and talked as if someone had taped
their voices and was playing them back through a cassette deck with the batteries
about to die.
Every time Brünhilde had left her desk I walked to the filing rack behind it so that
I could look at the locking plate for the small cabinet, just in case by black magic
Brünhilde had reversed the plate back to its original position.
I even daydreamed about her catching me at her desk frantically tugging at the locked
cabinet as she stood over me, dangling the keys and tut-tuting triumphantly.
To get the copier PIN I made up a need to do some photocopying and asked one of the
staff for the number.
'Don't worry, I'll do it, I was about to go that way to make a cup of tea anyway.'
she said, pulling my batch of pretend photocopying papers from my hands.
'Nooooo' my inner voice pleaded with her. 'That's alright' I said, pulling back the
papers, 'I need the exercise and I'll make the tea as well'.
I took the tea orders and made a show of writing them down on a scrap of paper as
if I couldn't be trusted to remember the various permutations of teas and coffees
with and without sugar or milk and, as an apparent last thought, asked again for the
PIN. This time I got it and repeated back the numbers as I wrote them down, then I
collected up the dirty mugs and headed off to the copier with my pseudo-copying to
test the PIN.
I don't know why I wanted to do that. It wasn't as if I would have been given a dud
PIN deliberately, I just wanted to make sure. But it worked of course, and I copied
a couple of pages, just for show when I got back to the office, before moving on to
the kitchen to make the drinks.
So now, armed with the PIN I waited until everyone had gone home and, after I had
walked to the kitchen to make a coffee, I took a detour via the atrium on the way
back so that I could surreptitiously scan the car park for signs of Brünhilde's car,
but by now it was long gone. Then I was off back to my desk.
I sipped the coffee as I planned the order of business for the night. First a quick
check of the lock - the cabinet was, of course, still unlocked. Next, a scan across
the labels on the files - not even a change in the order from the previous night.
Brünhilde was a perfect example of Teutonic efficiency. A place for everything and
everything in its place.
'Who was it said that?' I pondered as I began disordering the order by piling the
files randomly on top of each other on my desk (and it was Benjamin Franklin, in case
you are wondering).
I spread out the files and began creating matching sets of dealer invoices, customer
invoices and vehicle registration forms, the three key links in the chain from Dopplegänger
buying the car from the dealer, selling it to the customer and registering it in SteerFast's
name, a necessity to qualify for the special discounts from the car manufacturers.
Then it was off to the copier with my sets of documents.
I loaded up the sheet-feeder, pressed 'Copy' and this time entered the PIN. Away went
the copier and I just stood there, mesmerised by its efficiency. It dragged in a sheet
from the feeder, there was a flash of light around the edges of the lid and instantly
the incriminating document was spat out with contempt at one end whilst my fresh copy
was added to the neat pile forming in the output tray at the other end. And my selectivity
paid off. After an hour or so the job was done.
I picked up the files and headed back to the office with my prize - bundles of documents
tracing individual vehicle transactions and proof of exactly what had been going on.
But as I barged through the double doors in the corridor just outside the office I
Sounds came to me from behind the office door. I listened again as I wobbled on tip-toes,
security tag in my outstretched hand ready to unlock the door. No, not just sounds,
voices. Plural. More than one. People talking to each other.
There was nothing I could do, I had crashed through the double doors in the corridor
like a rhinocerous, leaving the hinges to creak and the safety dampers to hiss loudly
as the doors returned to their closed position. No one in the office could have missed
the din. I had no choice but to continue into the room.
I hesitated for a moment. The voices weren't ones I recognised. Bugger. Dopplegänger
had probably brought some people back to the office for a late meeting. Well, this
was it. If I was going to challenge him about what had been going on I might as well
do it whilst holding all the evidence.
I took a deep breath, flicked the security tag against the wall plate, elbowed down
the door handle and barged in, ready to rage at Dopplegänger for his duplicity and
'Hello Sir', said a complete stranger. 'I hope you don't mind, but we started a bit
early tonight. I've got couple of lads off sick and we need to crack on with jobs
to make up for it.'
I surveyed the room as a couple of scruffy young lads wiped desks and emptied waste
bins into plastic refuse sacks.'No problem' I said, followed by 'Don't mind me', then
continued through the office as if I always wandered about like an Orang Utan with
an armful of bananas.
I wanted to laugh out loud with relief, but thought better of it and instead concentrated
on putting the files back into Brünhilde's cabinet in the right order.
'I'll be finished in a minute anyway' I said, having decided that I'd had enough of
a scare for one night and thinking that I should quit for the evening while I was
'OK Guv, we shouldn't be much longer ourselves anyways as the Hoovering's already
done.' said Cleaner No 1.
'Fine, yes that's fine.' I replied, closing the cabinet door and moving back to my
I made a show of clearing my desktop so the cleaners could dust it, then I filled
my briefcase with the bundles of newly printed bedtime reading material, picked up
my jacket and headed out.
'Goodnight' I said on the way to the door. 'Yussir, we'll be gone in a minute as well,
the job's finished anyway.' came the reply.
'Oh no it isn't.' I thought, as the door closed behind me 'It's only just started.'