Sometimes it takes an Old Broom.


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As everything goes pear shaped

 Mary Webster was on top of the world as she sat in her car as it cruised toward the docks. Little did she know what the day had in store. Neatly dressed in a pants suit suitable for a sea voyage, she was of average height, with a slim build from regular exercising. With her business running fine, she was indulging herself with a holiday.  Her husband Bob said that everything with his investment company was running according to plan. There were a few paths for expansion in her emporium, though with the possibility that these may distance her from the hands-on managing. For now, there was little to worry about, with a happy thought, she started a conversation with her driver Thomas.

'What a beautiful day Thomas, I am looking forward to this holiday cruise. Silver anniversary and celebrating our fiftieth birthdays,' She said, 'I didn’t think that I would enjoy them, when I was young it marked the beginning of decrepitude.'

'Yes, Ma'am,' Thomas replied.

Puzzled Mary asked, 'Ma'am since when, Tom. What happened to the girl you called Contrary Mary with the grease spot on the nose?'

'I have to leave and look for other employment. I should raise the standard to ensure a good reference,' Tom replied.

'That’s news, what brought that on?' Mary asked, then added, 'There’s the wharf, could we talk about this when I return from the cruise?'

'As you wish, Ma'am,' Thomas said as he opened the door and saluted.

'Thank you, Thomas,' Mary said as she alighted, 'I will see you in two weeks.'

Determined not to allow this to dampen her mood, she climbed the gangway with Robert greeting with a kiss, and a salute from Captain Smyth.

'Welcome aboard Mrs Webster,' Captain Smyth greeted, 'The weather should be perfect for the next two weeks.'

'Thank you, Captain, I am confident you will ensure that it is,' Mary said in a teasing note.

 Bob took her by the arm and guided to their stateroom before she could carry the conversation further. He strode out and left her to unpack. There was little to do, as Cathy, the steward had done most of it already, and all that was left to arrange a few articles in their preferred locations. After this, Mary went looking for Bob and found him in conversation with Captain Smyth and Chief Engineer Zimbalist.

'That’s not my problem, I think it is outrageous,' Bob was saying. Then spotting Mary said, 'We will discuss this later.'

'Sir' From both men as they knew a dismissal when they heard one, saluted and went about their business.

'Problems, Dear?' Mary asked.

'Nothing for you to worry about,' He replied absently, 'I’ll explain later. I have to talk to Chef.' Bob scurried off and headed towards the galley.

Curious Mary followed and arrived to miss Bob leaving and then finding Chef Alphonse in a sombre mood. 'Good morning, Alphonse,' Mary said brightly asking, 'All is well in the galley?'

'Good morning Ma'am,' He replied, 'For now it seems.'

Mary then advised in a teasing note, 'I am off the diet for the cruise; I am looking forward to something exquisite to tempt me.'

'As you wish, Ma'am,' Chef acknowledged.

Leaving the kitchen, Mary pondered on the morning’s turn of events, 'Now where did it go wrong?'

   Puzzled Mary went over the morning’s events;

   Good night’s sleep- check,

Lovely breakfast- check,

Bob in the usual morning’s "grumpy before coffee" mood-check,

Dropping off at FitzGerald's- check.

Staff happy and eager to please customers-check.

And lastly, pleasant drive to ship-check, 

 Yes, the drive from the emporium was the turning point. Thomas had taken Bob to the ship while she was encouraging the staff and ensuring that each department was ready to handle her absence. Thomas had then gone from Mary to Ma'am, as had nearly every one since. Bob seemed to be the centre, after morning coffee, he was usually all charm, Bon Vivant and raring to get on with the day. It seems now he wants to be the cruise ‘Grinch’ intent on throwing a spanner in the works. Deciding that it had gone on long enough, Mary went looking for Robert Evan Webster to settle this before the storm clouds gathered and spoiled everything. Passing Cathy, she asked, 'Have you seen Bob?'

Cathy sobbed and said, 'He is in with the Doctor.'

'He was fine a minute ago,' Mary asked, concerned.

'I have received the bad news, Ma'am,' Cathy said as she hurried off.

'Any more Ma'ams and I’ll explode,' Mary thought, now thoroughly irritated as she headed to the sickbay; arriving there in time to see Bob lying on the bed looking grey and Dr Jones on the phone giving directions to the operator.

'What has happened, Doctor?' Mary asked when he had ended the call.

'Good morning Mary, the situation is under control; I suspect coronary occlusion, the ambulance is on the way, and he will be in the hospital within minutes,' Dr Jones said.

'What have you done to yourself now? I thought you had been taking your pills?' She asked Bob.

'Perhaps I have been getting too excited about things and overloaded my schedule, and it caught up with me,' Bob whispered.

'He should rest for now. You will be coming in the ambulance with us?' The Doctor asked.

'Of course, no point in staying on the ship as the cruise is obviously on hold,' Mary responded.

 The Captain was waiting at the gangway; he had been informed of the drama and was standing by to offer assistance.

  First the siren then two ambulance men were escorted in, to transfer Bob onto the stretcher. He was then transported out to the ambulance and whisked off to the hospital where he was processed through Emergency Room then operating theatre until he was settled in Intensive Care all wired up. After several hours and Bob resting peacefully, Mary called it a day and left him in capable hands. After calling Thomas to take her home; Mary rang the department heads to let them know that the cruise was off for the near future and organised a morning meeting to get to the bottom of this mystery. 

  Arriving early at FitzGerald’s, Mary unlocked the door into Bob’s office and walked in to see if there were any files on his desk. There were, and the safe was ajar; both items were unusual. Bob was meticulous with a tidy desk and especially security. The file was about a recent stock purchase; Mary tucked it into the safe for now as she didn’t usually deal with Robert’s business. Walking into the boardroom, Mary found everyone waiting with worried looks on their faces. 

'Morning everyone, Bob’s fine should be up and about in no time at all,' Mary said. 'Having his turn in front of the doctor limited any harm.' When this news didn’t cheer them up,  Mary asked, 'Anything else a problem that no-one has told me about?' As no-one volunteered, she asked, 'Captain Smyth, any dramas with the refit next month?'

 'Mr. Webster told me that the Princess was on the market, and the new owner would have that responsibility,' The Captain reluctantly admitted.

  'Thomas, the service for the Rolls is on schedule?' Mary asked.

 'Sir told me that he was trading it in for a new car, which he is going to drive himself,' Thomas advised.

 'Albert, the house renovations are ready to go?' Mary asked.

 'Sir told me that it was on the market as is,' Albert supplied.

 'Gentlemen this all news to me, I thought I had organised everything before going to Europe, and there were plenty of funds to cover any eventuality,' Mary declared vehemently, 'Would someone like to volunteer as to why no one has told me?'

 'Mr Webster said not to bother you,' Thomas reluctantly admitted, and the others nodded.

 'I’ll do some checking and get to the bottom of this,' Mary declared annoyed, then announced a little calmer, 'Thank you for your time, and I will let you know the outcome, this is all FitzGerald Trust business, and therefore, my decision is final.'

 After entering her office, she sat down and did some thinking. Mary then called the Chief Clerk of Webster Enterprises into her office, 'Mr. Webster is ill, as  the Vice-chairman, I wish to know the state of finances.'

 'I am sorry Ma'am; Mr Webster left strict instructions ...' Mr Wallace began only to cut off by Mary.

 'EEEEE,' Mary screamed. Then took a deep breath and apologised, 'I am sorry, being called ma'am has been irritating me lately.' 

  Then assuming a calm tone, 'Mr Wallace, I am the Acting Chair, you will provide the information or your replacement will; am I understood?' Mary stated emphatically.

'Perfectly, the information will be on your desk within the hour. Mrs Webster,' Mr Wallace said, beating a hasty retreat as the storm clouds gathered on Mary’s face with the formality.

  Still mystified, Mary went over to Bob’s office to have another look at the safe and files. Taking the stock file out again, she spotted a jewellery emporium bag tucked into the back.  'Ah, the silly man forgot to bring my present onto the ship.''  Opening the bag, she extracted a ring box, and when flipping it open, found a large diamond ring.  'A bit over the top, I would prefer a more discrete emerald.’' Trying it on it was a size too small. 'You would think by now he knew my size.'  Fishing in the bag for the receipt, 'My, fifty thousand? He has never spent that much; should be able to exchange it for a more suitable drawer full.'

 Placing the bag and contents back in the safe and swinging it shut, Mary went to wait in her office for the report.

  Starting her computer, Mary accessed the FitzGerald Trust bank account holding the maintenance funds; which the last time she had done so it had funds to carry out all the service, refit, and renovations that she had planned for the coming months. 'Damn,' Mary exploded, '15 million short.' Looking up the transactions, this had happened while she had been away ordering the autumn collection. She read the file, noting that a 14 million deposit and a 100 million loan purchased these stocks. Then accessing the current stock listings, the stock now had a value of 110 million and was in a trading halt. Mr Wallace brought the required files in and when asked, provided the information that the bottom line was assets exceeded liabilities by only ten million.

  'Thank you; I’ll go through them, I suspect it will be as you say.' Mary said. Reading the documents confirmed the assessment and slowly the penny dropped, Bob perhaps had planned to cut his cruise short citing emergency business reasons and insisted that she stay on the ship. Then by the time that she returned, the discrepancies would then be rectified his favour. 

'Bob would then be lying on a beach in Acapulco entertaining a new "Mrs Webster",'  Mary thought, 'Unless a midnight swim was planned to tidy up the paperwork; no, that wouldn’t work as then my interest goes to Dianne and Toby, who are bound to ask questions.'

  Still irritated, Mary rang the company legal manager, Brian Matthews. 'Good morning, Brian, Mary here.'

 'Good morning, Mary. How may I help you?' Brian asked.

 'Good to hear someone treat me like I am a real person. I have a few curly ones; Has Bob inquired after another solicitor or the status of FitzGerald’s trust accounts?' Mary asked.

 'He did inquire into your will, and I informed him there had been no changes,' Brian advised, 'Is there a problem I thought that the two of you were off on a cruise?'

 'I cut short the trip because Bob had a heart attack, he has undergone angioplasty to remedy the cause. As everyone was still disturbed, I did some digging and found a few stray skeletons in the cupboard,'  Mary informed him, 'I was looking forward to a break, but now it seems that’s off.'

'Is there anything I can do?' Brian asked.

 'I know I sound paranoid, could you please send someone over to the St Joseph’s Hospital room 51 Intensive Care ward. See if a woman with a ring finger size M turns up to hold his hand. He should be coming out of sedation about now,' Mary suggested.

 'Yes, I can do that as soon as I hang up. If you are coming over, I will have all the documents available for you to view,' Brian said, 'I certainly hope you are wrong, but forewarned is forearmed.'

 'If so, he won’t know a thing and can blissfully carry on none the wiser. I will be over in about ten minutes,' Mary advised.

 'I will see you then, Mary,' Brian answered.

 Brian’s office was in Mary’s building; it was a little up and down escalators, which soon brought her to outside the reception. Mary walked in and found Brian waiting in the reception area to usher her into his office.

  'My man just rang, a young lady inquiring after Mr Webster; she is dark-haired and 170 cm,' Brian informed her. 'Fred knows Dianne, and it is not her.'

 'Right sharpen up the hatchet, I want all my assets protected then see about tracking down and retrieving 15 million dollars, which has walked from the FitzGerald’s trust accounts.     Here are the account and stock files you will need,' Mary grimly ordered, 'I have a lot of upset employees who think they have lost their jobs. I can keep everything together for the time being as long as no more funds evaporate.'

 'I can quarantine all of the trust accounts within a couple of minutes and restrict them to your signature only. Perhaps if I countersign as a double-check for sums over a thousand if there is a card or two floating around,' Brian suggested, 'Bob has an account, it shouldn't affect him.'

 'He should still have plenty; one million is unaccounted for,' Mary grimaced, 'Perhaps if Fred checks the car the lady arrived in and records the registration.'

 'I’ll get straight onto that,' Brian said, picking up the phone and dialling, 'Fred, when she comes out, follow her down and get registration details.' After listening for a few seconds, added, 'He’s onto it,'

 'Good, I have a large ring to return to the jewellery store and claim a refund; it’s a bit ostentatious for me besides it is a size too small,' Mary said with a grin. Mary made her way back to Bob’s office and checked the safe. Extracting the jewellery bag, she noticed a car-dealers pack. Opening this folder, she found documents for a Ferrari. 'That’s the problem, mid-life crisis,' Mary said aloud, 'Well two can play that game.'

 Mary reset the combination, then closed the safe commenting to herself. 'I’ll make sure unauthorised personnel can’t touch anything.'

  Both stores were within walking distance; Mary set off to visit them. Walking into Cartier’s jewellery store and being recognised as a regular customer, Terrence Cartier, the shop manager swept up to serve her. 'How may I help you today, Mary?' Terry asked.

 'Good morning Terry, apparently Bob made a mistake and ordered the wrong size and style,' Mary suggested.

 'Would you like it swapped or re-sized?' Terry asked, 'I don’t remember selling that one or I would have made sure of the sizing.'

 'No thank you, not at the moment, a refund at this time would be appreciated; I may come in later and make a more suitable selection. Mr Webster is in the hospital, recovering from cardiac problems,' Mary said.

 'Certainly, anything for a valued customer; do you have your card?' Terry asked and made the transaction, 'Sorry to hear about Bob’s illness, please pass on the stores’ best wishes.'

 'Thank you. I will see you before too long,' Mary said, 'Goodbye for now.'

 'Goodbye, Mary,' Terry said with a smile.

 Then off to the Ferrari franchise, recognised by the staff because the workshop serviced the Rolls. 'Good morning Mrs Webster; how may I help you?' The manager asked as he wasn’t familiar as Terry.

 'Mr Webster is in the hospital for a week or so, and unfortunately, has misplaced the keys to my new car. Would you have a spare set?' She asked.

 'Certainly, Mr Webster left the spare keys with us,' The manager replied and went to the safe extracted the keys and passed them to Mary, 'Enjoy the drive.'

 ‘'Thank you, I certainly will. Goodbye,' Mary said, heading back to the solicitors’ office.

 When Mary arrived there, she said, 'Ask Fred to try these keys. Here is an authorisation for him to drive it to a secure location,' handing the keys and paperwork to Brian, 'Well I have regained about fifty thousand back. I don’t suppose that the Ferrari man will be as co-operative. May keep it yet as I have always wanted to drive one, but one must maintain their dignity.'

  Then she added with a grin, 'Dad never did find out who was driving the Jaguar.'

  'He knew, but didn’t tell your mother or make a fuss,' Brian said, 'The car is on a lease, and is due to be returned in June without further expense.'

 'I suppose I can live with that; I may even let Thomas have a drive,' Mary grinned.

 The phone rang, and Brian answered. After listening for a few seconds announced, 'It is Fred; he has found that the car is registered to Mrs Robert Webster. It is now parked in the car park of this building,' Then to Fred, 'Come in here and collect the keys then move it to a secure garage.'

 'Perhaps if I were to return to Bob’s office I may find a visitor?' Mary suggested. Mary arrived in the vestibule in time to witness a confrontation with the secretary outside of Bob’s office. Talking to Sue was a younger woman about Mary’s size and colouring dressed neatly in a business suit. 'Ah rewind the clock about 20 years, and that could be me,' Mary mused. As she approached, Mary signalled not to acknowledge that she was there. 'May I help you, Madam? I am the manager.'

  'I am Sandra Webster; I need to get into my husband’s office to take something to him. This girl won’t let me past,' The stranger said, showing irritation.

'Perhaps you have some identification?' Mary asked with a raised eyebrow.

 'Here, Miss?' Sandra said with an implied question.

 'Mrs, I am Mary Webster; what a coincidence,' Mary said, looking at the licence produced, 'Well then, step this way, have you been here before?'

 'Yes a few times after office hours,' Sandra replied.

  Mary followed Sandra into Bob’s office, where the girl walked straight up to the safe and ran the combination without success. Mary offered to help and entered the new combination resulting in the safe opening.

 'How do you know the combination?' Sandra asked suspiciously.

 'I suppose since I own the building,' Mary supplied.

'Robert said he owned it, left to him by his wife,' Sandra tentatively corrected.

‘That is a bit premature, I am still here,' Mary supplied with a raised eyebrow.

'What? But he married me weeks ago; please tell me that you’re divorced?' Sandra looked devastated.

 'Sorry, still married for now,' Mary said then added, 'A divorce may be on the cards, perhaps you can remarry later. I am afraid he has been a naughty boy.'

 'The ring is gone and the car paperwork as well,' Sandra said dismayed.

 'In safe hands as is the car itself, sorry to disappoint you. It was trust money used without my knowledge or permission,' Mary advised, 'Perhaps you may like a lift back to the hospital. I’ll call Thomas to bring my car around, and we will both have a little chat to Robert Evan Webster.”'

 'Yes indeed we will,' Sandra said grimly, 'If you don’t mind.'

 'I will even let you have the first bite; it would be a shame if he didn’t survive,' Mary suggested as they walked out to deliver the news to Bob. 

  On the way in the car Mary received a call from Brian, 'I have done some digging; both Webster and FitzGerald are entangled too much at the moment, please hold off on any dramas.'

  'Thanks for the warning. I will have to put off saying what I think of Bob's behaviour,' Mary replied then hung up. 'Well Sandra, it seems I can’t do a ‘Samson’ and pull everything down on all our heads. Several hundred people depend on FitzGerald; I have to be circumspect,' Mary explained 'If you can hold off publicly denouncing Bob it would be appreciated. While it's hard to be sympathetic, I accept that you are an innocent victim.'

  'I can rev it into him now, Okay?' Sandra asked, 'The doctor told me that he is going to be in the hospital for at least the next two weeks.'

 'Wonder how he explains that there are two Mrs Websters?' Mary asked.

 'Perhaps you’re his sister-in-law,' Sandra suggested pursing her lips.

 Thinking a minute, Mary said, 'I will drop you off at the Hospital, then give you Thomas’ phone number. I will have to go back to the office and start untangling the mess, fix the business first then I can lay the boot in. Are you alright financially and have somewhere to stay?'

 'Yes I am fine, I have employment and a house,' Sandra provided, 'I will resume my name of Hollingsworth.'

 'I’ll talk with Brian, my lawyer who may suggest the remedy for your marriage; perhaps a quiet annulment will clear things up?' Mary suggested.

 'I will let you know; I will make life difficult for Bob at the moment to exact the max revenge but otherwise keep it on the QT,' Sandra responded thoughtfully.

  Mary returned to follow up the investigation so far, first informing Thomas on the way, 'Thomas, just to let you know what is happening, Sandra Hollingsworth will be ringing, and it is okay to give her a lift. Up to a short time ago she thought she was married to Mr Webster. The job is still yours for the foreseeable future, please no formality.'

 'Too right, Mary. How serious is the situation?' Tom asked, sounding relieved.

 'Very, perhaps the security should be tightened in the meantime; if you organise the house staff to be on alert and also pass on the good news, I would appreciate it,' Mary advised. 'I might be a handicap to his plans; in that case, we should break out the artillery, and get a little practice in.'

  'Mm, I suppose that a little excess precaution is warranted though I hate to think that Mr Webster would be involved,' Tom considered, 'Okay Mary, I will advise Albert and the rest of the staff.'

  Mary then rang the ship, 'Captain Smyth, the cruise is on hold indefinitely; if you canvas the market and arrange charters for the next six months that should keep you busy while I sort this mess out. Please pass onto the crew that the ship is not for sale, and I am happy to guarantee their future employment.'

 'Sorry to hear about your cruise, Mary. I will spread the news, then organise charters. I should be contacting you with good news soon as we have had several inquiries recently,' Captain Smyth acknowledged.

 The phone rang, and it was Albert, the butler, 'Good morning Mary, Tom has passed on the information, and I have instituted Security state A with all our police and security officers. We have changed all security codes as of now, and people are in a position to back them up. Extra staff has been rostered to cover potential vulnerabilities, and the store security has been alerted to vet entry into the office complex,' Albert said.

 'Thank you, Albert; I hope that it is unnecessary and only a training exercise,' Mary said. After she had hung up, Mary revised that she knew that State A meant that even the gardener and his assistant would now conduct armed patrols of the house and garden areas with the closure of the entry gate, the security doubled, with an overlap in the handover procedure. Mary then went to her safe and took out her business shoulder bag, which, looked like her regular bag, containing a pistol, extra ammunition, and her police officer’s badge.

  The village that surrounded her gated enclave was FitzGerald’s staff housing having the status of a town complete with its police force. While jurisdiction was limited to the village surrounds, and FitzGerald store precincts; being a police officer permitted the carrying of concealed firearms. Her father and grandfather, both with survivalist ideas, had set-up the village to be self-sufficient and able to protect the personnel in case the ‘Cold War’ heated up.

  The fancy entry walls to the village were on rails and could be slid across to restrict or block the only vehicle access to the community. The most expensive facility was a bunker large enough to house over two thousand people beneath Mary’s house with the access ramp located behind the entry gate. Never used,  but seeing it was there, it provided mushrooms and hydroponic vegetables to the village.

  Mary then went to visit Brian and be brought up to date on the situation. 'Good morning Brian, how are things travelling, have you come up with a plan?' Mary asked, seeing that his office was a hive of industry.

 'Morning, Mary, we have stopped the rot. We are now making headway with the extent of the problem,' Brian advised, 'It seems that the reason for the trading halt was due to Bob buying up big in both the companies involved in a takeover. The securities commission called the halt while they investigated Mr Webster for insider trading. They caught a couple of small traders but have cleared Mr Webster of any involvement. I expect that the Commission will shortly lift the trading halt; at which time we can sell discretely and settle the loans.'

  'Bob’s astute buy nearly brought him undone, and then he panicked,' Mary surmised.

 'It would seem that he had been servicing the loans and margin calls with Webster Investment funds until those dried up. With the takeover likely to proceed shortly the share prices will return to normal, and the sale should realise a nice profit,' Brian agreed then advised, 'The problem is that the shares in FitzGerald were the security for the loan. If they had caught him 'insider trading', it might have dragged down both companies.'

 'Thanks, Bob, what a wonderful birthday present. We could be plain sailing in about a month,' Mary surmised.

 'That’s the best outcome unless something unforeseen turns up,' Brian agreed.

 'Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. In the meantime, steady as you go for both companies,' Mary said.

  Back at the office as Mary prepared to leave for home, she received a phone call from Chief Holmes of the police force, 'There are suspicious cars in the area. We are limited in jurisdiction to intercept them, would it be okay that I send the helicopter to bring you home?' He asked.

  'While Tom may be disappointed, perhaps I could indulge myself in a bit of excitement. So yes if you think it is necessary,' Mary agreed, 'I need to inform Tom who is driving a client at the moment. He should be made aware that having a woman in the car may make him a target.'

 'The helicopter will be arriving at the heliport, in 30 minutes,' Chief Holmes said, 'I will be waiting at the village Heliport when you arrive.'

'Thanks, I will give Tom a bell,' Mary agreed.

 Then she rang Tom, 'Heads up Tom, deliver your passenger ASAP, there are suspicious people, who could mistake your passenger for me.'

 'Got ya, nearly to her home, I have a tail, and there is a patrol car cruising near us. I am sure he won’t try anything at the moment. I will contact the local police and see if they can query my shadow,' Tom said.

'Do that. I am going by helicopter, see you at home, and take care,' Mary signed off.

Thoughtfully Mary contemplated her next move. She then rang the store security, 'Clive, could you send a couple of your people to check the route from the office to the heliport and make sure no loiterers are making the place look untidy then if you could send another couple to me. Hopefully unnecessary and there are only just a couple of journos sniffing around chasing rumours.'

  'A stitch in time Mary, I will arrange it, you already have company. Jill and Walter are keeping a weather eye on the office,' Clive advised.

  A short time later Jill came in and said, 'Mary, the way is clear up to the top, and the helicopter is in sight; if you are ready we can move up there.'

 'Thanks, Jill, let’s go,' Mary acknowledged, Picking up her gear she followed Jill out and entered the lift up to the roof.

 No further dramas and Mary was soon winging her way to home.

 On the way, a message was relayed from Tom saying the tail was just a Rolls fan and of no concern. The aircraft lined up with the windsock on the pad and descended smoothly and came to rest without drama where Chief Holmes, the head of the town police, was waiting with a car. 'Well that was an anticlimax, the best type,' Mary said to Chief Holmes.

 'Indeed, still haven’t identified the blowflies that are hovering around,' Holmes said then added, 'Have a couple of unmarked cars giving them the once over and a licence check may provide a clue.'

 'I received the message that Tom’s shadow was harmless. While he is a capable man I would not be happy if anything happened to him,' Mary relayed, 'Albert has the house and garden on alert, now it is a case of wait till something happens.'

 'Yes, the force is carrying out all practical security activities. All the specials have been activated to standby and can be available within minutes,' Holmes advised. Then his radio squawked which he relayed, 'The data for those cars are in, we have tracked one to a detective firm in the city and the other couple to car rental companies. We are investigating who has the rental cars though I expect them to have provided false identities.'

 'Rodger, out,' Holmes said then to Mary, 'We will ask the city police to help us query the private eyes and see if we can get IDs for the others.'

  Leaving Chief Holmes to carry out his task, Mary retired home to freshen up. Then she rang Robert to see how he was faring. 'Hi Bob, feeling better?' She asked.

 'On the mend, I need to get out of here as soon as possible to keep the home fires burning' He replied.

 A little mendaciously, Mary asked, 'Had any visitors. The kids called yet?'

 'Both Dianne and Toby have phoned and promised to call in later,' Bob replied.

 'Okay, sleep tight, I will look after business, there will be no surprises waiting for you,' Mary said.

  Bob replied quickly, 'No need for that I am sure that Wallace can handle anything ordinary and call me if something urgent comes up.'

  'No trouble at all, I need to keep a check on what is happening, and Terry sends his best wishes, I will see you in the morning, bye,' Mary said cheerily then hung up before Bob could say anything further.

'You can stew in your juices while I gather more ammo,' Mary added to the mirror.

  Settling into the evening’s routine though somewhat different because of the absence of Bob and the day’s excitement; Mary reviewed the day’s business at the store and the village. While the security alert had set both organisations on their respective ears, this soon settled into a routine as they already rehearsed these procedures, at a supervisor level. Mary then used her computer to access Webster Enterprises and the stock holdings to view the status. It seems that Bob had divested several holdings to help fund the two big purchases. 

‘No wonder he was stressed, putting all his eggs in one basket, then counting the chickens before they hatched and on top having a mid-life crisis,’ Mary mused, ‘I was complaining the other day about being bored.’

  When the phone rang, Chief Holmes commenced by saying, 'Evening Mary. I have an update, those inquiries into those two rental cars ran into a dead end; while we are following up on the men’s descriptions, this may take longer than is useful. In the meantime, what can be done to enhance security is in place and running smoothly.'

'Thanks, Chief, all calm here and by the net traffic everyone is aware of the status and duties involved,' Mary said.

 'I will be calling all senior officers to my office to update and review the situation,' Chief Holmes ended with, 'Expect a notice shortly.'

  As he was talking a chime went off on her computer, so Mary advised, 'Yes it has just come up on my screen, I will see you in about 40 minutes.'

 'Right I will see you then,' Holmes said.

  At the appointed time Mary arrived at the chief’s office, and while waiting for the rest of the senior people to come, she viewed the task map mounted on the wall outside of his office. Flags indicated those residents and positions of patrol cars. Together with the main village, there were two smaller settlements, one at the dam facilities and another halfway which catered to surrounding farms. Three roads ran east to west; the centre road connected Elysium to the Dam with the others forming two sides of the ring road with several roads running north to south joining them and arranged in a grid to service the farms.

  The river formed the northern boundary following the steep riverbank to the main road bridge; the main valley containing the bulk of the estate was flat until hills to the south, becoming forest-covered and mountainous to the east. The average width is approximately 30 miles starting 10 miles wide at the main road spreading out 60 miles before tapering to the head of the valley where the lake for the dam formed the western boundary some 80 miles from Elysium. The establishment of the estate happened when the local farmers were facing foreclosure and eviction due to the Great Depression; Grandfather Arthur FitzGerald then paid a bargain price for the mortgages and then leased the farms back to the original owners at ‘peppercorn’ rates. Her grandfather organised the resultant estate as a cooperative with leaseholders holding voting powers to run the commercial affairs. The County Constitution was framed to prevent exploitation by speculators; it also promoted education and medical care. After nearly seventy-five years since the scheme started, the valley had prospered beyond the residents wildest dreams with above-average income and most children attending university. The setup was laughed at by Grandfather’s peers as being soft-headed as he practically gave the farmers back their land with only retaining a veto to protect his investment.


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Digging Deeper

  The phone rang from Brian, and he said, 'I have been checking the loans that Mr Webster has taken out. The first loan is from FitzGerald Bank at a sound investment rate, but the other is somewhat obscure and proving difficult to track down the vendor or any other details.'

 'Perhaps the unidentified men may belong to the party in question,' Mary advised.

 'Interesting, we may arrive at the same door from opposite directions,' Brian commented, 'Genuine businesses rarely hide a great deal because it is the best type of advertising.'

 'Bob may have climbed on the wrong bandwagon. Perhaps that is why he became all desperate about the trading halt,' Mary considered, 'I will advise Chief Holmes as to the possibility of shady business. I won’t go as far as to think the worst just yet. If you brief the Chief as to where your tracking has led you, he may find that useful.'

 'I send it over immediately; he may be able to check deeper with his contacts than I have been able to do,' Brian signed off.

  Mary entered the Chief’s office and informed Chief Holmes, 'Brian from McKinley Law rang; he is suspicious about the source of one of Bob’s loans; can’t get details on anything; unusual for a legitimate business. What he does have, he will send shortly.'

  'Fine, that information would help, I’ll ask my Federal contact if I can get some hints,' Holmes suggested, then picked up the phone, dialled then greeted the recipient, 'Tony, Hi it’s Frank Holmes, how are you and the family?'

  Holmes listened for a while before continuing, 'Good, good; now the reason I am phoning is that Webster Investments has a loan from a source which we haven’t been able to track down; perhaps there is a connection that I should know about?' A pause while he listened, 'OK, I will telex the data as soon as it comes to hand, thanks, see you around,' Holmes finished.

'Right, worst case would be Mafia connections. How would we handle that?' Mary asked.

 'Optimistic aren’t you?' Frank said, 'I believe we could make life very uncomfortable, making it unprofitable to pursue excess interest on the bank loans. Once Brian tracks the vendors of the loan, then dissects the contract and challenges every condition; they may find it too hot to handle and cut their losses.'

  'I have no objection to a fair return for the loan, but if they think they can get their grubby hands on FitzGerald, I will scorch their fingers,' Mary said.

  'Once the Feds start sniffing around; it should make them nervous. Let us cross the bridge when we come to it,' Holmes said, 'We have shut down the area as much as practical, then we placed visible tails on the strangers and had a word with the private detectives. While their agency is not keen on letting too much out, is not aimed towards you. They hinted that Miss Hollingsworth’s family are checking on Bob’s bona fides.'

  'Pity they didn’t check before the marriage first,' Mary said, 'The last thing I expected, but he had been acting a little strange, working later than normal but otherwise he has been more attentive than the past year. He has never been one to talk about business, so I am not surprised that he hadn’t discussed the loans or share purchases. Not that I am talkative about my business dealings,' Mary then continued, 'Still as he stirred up a hornet’s nest and left it for us to handle we had better find out the details of what we are facing.'

  'Perhaps a guard should be set at the hospital in case they decide that he is the soft target?' Holmes suggested, 'The arrangements we have here may make them think the games up.'

  'If you believe that it is necessary, please arrange it. Also, Dianne and Toby should be moved to safe houses and covertly guarded as well,' Mary replied, 'Any sign that something is brewing here?'

  'Not at the moment, preparations aren’t too visible. I am only aware because I know what to look for,' Holmes provided, 'I have asked an FBI profiler to make a list of possible scenarios. I expect a preliminary answer first thing in the morning to see if we have to modify our arrangements. I have set the worst case that a large party invades to kidnap you. One reason that you are here in the HQ instead of lounging around your home.'

 'I hope I haven’t precipitate anything that dramatic,' Mary apologised, 'I am used to being the centre of the action, this is perhaps over the top.'

'Well you are crucial; practically speaking your two children have been educated to grab the reins and run the show,' Holmes said.

 'I was their age when Dad started planning to retire,' Mary agreed.

 'We have an RBT set-up at the entry as an excuse to examine identities; it is well lit to deter nervous entrants. Trucks and buses are being diverted and inspected before allowing entry into the village proper,' Holmes said, 'I have sequestered the airport with National Guard. The other squads are monitoring likely roads from the interior together with every farmer being made aware of the situation.'

 'Very good,' Mary said.

 'For now, we wait for more information or something starts moving.'

  'It’s a good thing that I have organised for the next two weeks to be away. It would be difficult to drop out without warning while regular business was running. I believe in training up new leaders by dropping them into the deep end. Perhaps this may be a little deeper than I intended,' Mary considered.

 'Well if nothing else, this is exercising the security arrangements to the full extent, and we were due for an exercise,' Holmes commented, 'Of course it typically only entails a paper exercise for the senior people involved. That has the benefit of leaving the juniors carrying the load until the seniors are back at work.'

  The phone rang, and Holmes picked up to find his Federal friend on the other end, 'Hi Tony any news?' Listened intently for a while then thanked him and hung up.

  'It seems like it is the worst case. The firm is Mafia by the time you peel several layers off. We can justify the programme followed so far,' Holmes advised, 'We have narrowed the focus to one ‘family’.'

 'Now that we know what we are dealing with, we can take steps to minimise exposure,' Mary said.

 'I will ring the city police to suggest they alert the airport police and bus security for known Mafia soldiers and associates,' Holmes suggested, 'Usually most have parole conditions or outstanding warrants hanging over their heads. They should be in the system, which provides a good excuse to gather them up.'

 'If you have a set sent to the shop, and Fitzgerald’s security will be aware of these people. Perhaps the 'Family' may think that harassing patrons will achieve what they want,' Mary suggested, 'Though if they do too much damage, it wouldn’t be worth having.'

  'Shining the light of publicity makes cockroaches hide. It will become difficult to run a loan business if their customers are aware of who they are dealing with,' Holmes commented, 'Bob should have checked the bona fides of the firm before receiving a loan from them.'

  The phone rang, after noting the number; Holmes handed it to Mary, 'Brian here, I have a copy of the contract from Wallace. After an initial perusal, it is fairly standard, and the documents seem legitimate. A background check indicates they are on the state register and are complying with all statutes,' Brian advised, 'I wouldn’t be surprised if the insider tip originated from there. That would apply pressure on Bob to turn over the businesses as a partnership on the promise to forgive the debts.'

  'Logical I have heard that is one way they are legitimising themselves. The removal of Bob or me would make life easy for them,' Mary commented, 'Thanks, I will add that to the pile. Chief Holmes received the advice that it was a Mafia shell company trying to take a piece of Webster and FitzGerald. Perhaps a couple of your friends would be interested in knowing this.'

  'Good idea, I will start steps to make life hot for them: covertly, of course, a quiet word at the club should get the message circulating,' Brian finished, 'I will commence the whisper campaign.'

  After she placed the phone down, Mary turned to Holmes and relayed, 'While the loan mob is paper legitimate, they may have alerted the Securities Commission about a possible insider trade so that Bob couldn't pay. This situation would allow them to put forward a claim against our companies. Brian is going to start a covert publicity campaign to alert local business as to the ownership of these loan sharks. This move may take some time to have any effect. We wait until someone pokes their head up.'

 'We will hold the brief and advise them who we may be facing,' Holmes said, ushering Mary to the conference room.

  After the officers were seated Chief Holmes stepped up to the rostrum and addressed them, 'Ladies, gentlemen, we are today dealing with a complicated scenario; allegedly a criminal gang is trying to infiltrate Elysium and FitzGerald to gain control. At the moment, we have at least two groups scouting the areas. To this end, we have instituted security state A; this mobilises all security on alert.'

  'The tactics may include nuisance attacks to shops within FitzGerald and Elysium and possible kidnapping of Mrs Webster,' Holmes continued, 'Currently, there are parties guarding gates, airfields, bus terminals and at the store entrances. We have alerted the city police to watch for identified associates of crime syndicates entering the city. At this stage, apart from surveillance, there is no public activity.' 

   Stepping to the map indicated several points of interest and naming parties responsible for each position and likely threats. 'Understand that nothing is sure; there is the possibility that they will cut their losses and seek softer targets elsewhere.'

  'Are there any questions?' Holmes asked and with none forthcoming, ‘Dismissed, I will let you know if there are any developments.' The audience dispersed to their allotted duties leaving Mary and Holmes to return to the chief’s office where Holmes said, 'Well now we wait.'

 'Indeed, any ideas that could bring this to a swift conclusion?' Mary asked.

  'Unfortunately no, any resolution that I could imagine would be a slow process, I think the worst case would be them going undercover and then try later,' Holmes considered.

 'I suppose you are correct, what would suggest for now?' Mary asked.

  'Carry on as we are doing and hope they stick their head up, then we have something to thump,' Holmes said.

'Good idea,' Mary agreed.

  Mary returned to the conference room and settled down to watch for any developments feeling like a fifth wheel.

 While she was waiting, the news that Thomas had arrived back without further dramas much to Mary’s relief.


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Head Thumping Time

 After a few hours, messages arrived indicating that the city airport security had detained three suspects. They are holding these for interview using outstanding warrants to stop them from entering the city; the police intercepted another two at the bus station and treated these the same. Parolees found carrying weapons or being out of state are ripe for picking. 

'It seems we were right, as they say twice is just a coincidence and three times is enemy action, I will tell our airport to be on their toes,' Holmes said satisfied, 'Of course the boss may initially put it down to bad luck as they were nowhere near our area.'

 'Best give the gate crew a warning as well. Any strategist would run a two-prong attack to try and catch us flat-footed,' Mary suggested.

  'We have infrared scanners available at the gat to check the contents of trucks and buses.'

  What seemed a long time as evening approached, the airport reported a request for an emergency landing from a medium transport plane citing engine trouble. Warning bells went off as the aircraft was the maximum size that was able to land safely there. There was a radio operator in the tower, and he alerted the ambulance and fire crews. Soldiers were loaded to protect them, and mobile squads stood by at each end of the strip. The message came through to HQ, and Holmes announced that he was going up there to view the activity.

 'If I stay in the car with someone for company, will it be alright to come as well?' Mary asked.

 'Should be safe, I understand your feelings, I am getting stir crazy as well,' Holmes said amused.

  The aircraft was still on approach as Holmes and Mary arrived at the airfield, the ambulance and fire truck were lit up with their lights together with several darkened vehicles parked on either side to wait for the aircraft to stop. The aeroplane landed smoothly with both engines running and came to a stop at the far end of the strip. The vehicles followed and parked with high beams lighting the plane on both sides with foam guns trained on engines and exits. As it taxied around to face down the strip, it found several of the vehicles across the engines and the other vehicles had maneuvered to keep the exits lit. As there was no fire or emergency, all went quiet as Elysium forces waited for the next move.

  Nothing happened for some time, Holmes picked up the radio and asked over the assigned frequency, 'Welcome to Elysium, please state nature of the emergency so that we can assist.'

 'All under control now, we need to overstay to inspect systems. You may stand down your emergency personnel, thank you,' The aircrew advised.

 'Identify your aircraft and crew, Commander Holmes, Elysium County police,' Holmes ordered.

 'Captain Forsyth, co-pilot Ford and loadmaster Smith, N21573 out of New York,' Forsyth reported.

  'Shut-down engines, we have boarding steps on the way with external lights and power cart,' The engines continued running. 'They are dropping the cargo ramp have the guards stand by for intruders,' Holmes announced over the local radio, 'Light all headlights and spotlights, deploy troops.'

  At this command, another dozen vehicles indicated their presence by flooding the area brilliantly. 'Firemen douse their engines,' Holmes ordered, and the fire trucks roared as they poured foam flat out at the intakes and shut them down. 'Emergency crews back off and extinguish hazard lights.'

  As a dozen dark figures started down the ramp carrying rifles, Holmes ordered, 'For effect, one burst of tracer into the air.' A rattle of tracers from an M60 lit the air, making everyone jump. The figures hit the deck, trying to locate an escape route.

 'Hold fast, push your weapons away and surrender by kneeling empty-handed; there is sufficient firepower to handle three times the force that you have,' Holmes announced over the bullhorn.

 'Okay, Okay, they don’t pay me enough to become hamburger,' then as one they pushed weapons away and kneeled with hands behind their heads.

 'First squad forward to restrain prisoners, second squad secure aircraft,' Holmes ordered.

  A party accompanied by two police with their dogs walked cautiously out from behind the men and handcuffed them. Others moved forward to maintain coverage. As one squad escorted the invaders away, another half dozen soldiers with pistols boarded the aircraft and arrested the flight crew. The guard commander declared, 'Area secured, stand down to surveillance positions.'

  The captives were loaded into the waiting trucks after full body search had been carried out, then transported back to the police station for interrogation. Holmes radioed the city entrance squads to prepare for a raiding party which may be imminent.

  Leaving the guard commander to secure the airfield in case there was another visitor, Holmes returned to supervise locking up of this party at HQ. By the time they arrived back, the desk serjeant had the task well in hand, so Mary and Holmes adjourned to the ready room to await developments. Processing continued with the intruders. They were read their rights, which they acknowledged and requested legal representation. They were experienced with the process, having decided there was nothing to be gained by arguing the point. After fingerprinting and identifying each, they were then placed in cells to await further action. Going armed with intent and criminal trespass were the least of the charges to be answered. The flight crew were slightly different as they weren't armed and claimed that they were flying the plane under a charter. However, they had made a false emergency broadcast and ignored a police direction.

  After this had settled down the message came through that they had directed a couple of suspicious trucks into the holding zone with six prominent hot spots detected among the cargo. The constables evacuated the drivers while the guards awaited backup to arrive. Four light armoured vehicles were moved into position to cover all sides of the two trucks and then it was a waiting game until all backups were in position. Mary and Holmes visited the new site to control action transferring to the command vehicle on arrival. After a team had examined the area and trailers, it was evident that these trailers had substantial ramps.

 'Perhaps we should have some heavier stuff standing by this time,' Mary suggested.

 'Yes, standby RPG crews,' Holmes agreed and radioed the guard, adding an aside, 'I certainly hope they are not needed.'

  Then using the bullhorn, 'Armed police, Occupants of vehicles, you are in an enclosed zone, armoured vehicles and ground troops surround you, surrender and evacuate one at a time. You are under arrest for armed trespass.'

  Furtive hands opened a couple of peep-holes, a period of silence happened, and then as Holmes repeated his demand, the ramps dropped combined by a roar of engines starting up.

 'Here comes one,' Holmes announced as an SUV with a machine gun mounted on a frame appeared, slamming to the ground with tyres spinning.

  It didn’t get far, as the man on the gun swivelled trying to aim, a hail of heavy fire spun him from the back of the truck. Then a streak ending in an explosion threw the SUV onto its side. That stopped any further vehicles as the message got through this time. Another period of silence ensued as the occupants revised their tactics, 'Hold your fire we are coming out, don’t shoot.'

 'Exit one at a time, hands empty. The first man, come out now,' Holmes called, and as each came and was separated, called for the next. Until there were no more evident then came the tricky part, 'Now sit down with hands in sight,' Then on the radio, 'Clearance team forward, check vehicles.'

  A heavily armed squad ran forward; covering each stage before progressing to the next cover. Then ran up the ramp shining lights then examining each nook and cranny until they declared all vehicles clear. Another squad dealt with each suspect, searching each one handcuffing them and removing them from the area. The destroyed vehicle was first extinguished then examined, and the squad evacuated the driver and offsider; the gunner was deceasedHolmes and Mary entered the trailers after the all-clear. They found that the first Jeep had been the lightest, 'That one would have been bad news for a couple of patrol cars in a small town. Good thing we came loaded for a bear instead of a rabbit,' Holmes commented.

 'If this lot had got loose in our town, nothing would have prevented a disaster. Without the guard, no way we could have stopped them,' Mary agreed, 'Grandfather’s 'over the top' preparations have seemed absurd for the last fifty years. I have had a hard time to justify keeping most of the equipment, without which would have left us vulnerable to this attack.'

 'Even the party at the airport could have wiped the floor with a typical town’s police force. Even having a platoon of National Guard nearby couldn't have been activated quick enough to help,' Holmes agreed, 'I was one of the sceptics regarding the level of arms we hold. These were far beyond the budget of any city I have heard of, let alone a town of this size.'

 'If you consider that they were trying to make good on a hundred million dollar investment. We are protecting closer to a billion,' Mary calculated, 'Their main expense is going to be those aircraft engines we doused and the wrecked vehicle. Ours the RPG, perhaps a couple of dozen rounds with some overtime for those rostered off.'

 'True enough we have budgeted most of the rest for exercises,' Holmes agreed, 'Though I wasn’t aware just how big the stakes were for you.'

 'Shall we adjourn to the HQ and see what is happening?' Mary suggested.

 'Yes this is slightly exposed for you to stay, I believe the boys can handle it without us, the excitement should subside here,' Holmes agreed, 'By the time we get back, our staff will have processed the latest batch. I don’t expect them to volunteer any information.'

 As the two drove back, they discussed the steps to be taken to handle the haul of something like forty odd incarcerated with two severely injured men under guard in hospital. 'I suppose they will try to get bail in the morning? Judge Matthews is away until next week. If I weren’t on the cruise, I would fill in for him,' Mary said, 'I don’t have to make any final rulings I can do the job. I could accept guilty pleas from identified suspects and refer to someone else for sentencing.'

 'Far be it for me to influence the judiciary, it should remain in-house. We can’t farm it out to Jacksonville, as just ferrying them over would be a security nightmare,' Holmes advised, 'It will be a real poke in the eye to see their target on the bench.'

 'I will burn some midnight oil to make sure it is legal. I will ask Judge Calhoun for advice and if he thinks it could be challenged to ask him to come over and preside,' Mary decided. After reading the law book, and legal opinion had determined that it was correct as nothing was final. Mary chose to conduct the remand hearing, after which she settled into one of the duty rooms for restless sleep.



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The Old Broom Sweeps just as clean.

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Time To Wrap this Up

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Life goes on

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