Framed By The Frogs

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 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 all times.

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 any problem.

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 to do.

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 desk.

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 my back.

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 evil twin.

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 of them.

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 ordered.

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 home.

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 froze.

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 cheating.

'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 still ahead.

'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 desk.

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.'
© 2009 Legal Mumbo Jumbo | Site Map