Roundabouts who needs them?
In an office, a stocky man was examining paperwork; as he worked the phone rang. "Good morning, Auditor General's office, Raymond Thwaites speaking. How may I help you?"
"I am Jeremy Sykes, mayor of Port Jackson. I have a query for you," Mayor Sykes began, "The ministry has ordered my council to build several roundabouts at intersections. The problem is not the resources; it is just that there is no justification to place them in those locations except to adversely affect the land prices."
"Seems several of your fellow councils have the same problem, I am conducting a low-level investigation," Ray said, "If I find the background data, I will pass it on. In the meantime, if you could e-mail me the details so that I can assemble the whole picture."
"Good to hear that someone is willing to do more than fobbing me off. Everyone else just advises me to go with the flow and not to worry," Mayor Sykes said, "The ratepayers are bombarding me for answers because they have had their lives disrupted with the road closures and traffic diversions. With the timetable I have been set, the chaos is terrific, and the drivers and residents all blame the council."
"That is consistent with the complaints I have received; I am looking into the files, so far there is no rhyme or reason to the programme. Everyone I ask, refers me to someone else, despite my ability to disrupt their departments," Ray commented, "Almost as if some are daring me to do something about it."
"Thank you," Mayor Sykes said, "Looking forward to hearing from you."
"Goodbye, Mayor Sykes," Ray said as he hung up with a thoughtful face.
'This is annoying, I will have to solve it or disconnect the phone,' he mused, 'Brilliant idea but they would send memos which are twice as annoying. I suppose I had better get permission.'
Ray picked up the phone, when his chief answered, asked, "Boss, can I see you?"
"Yes, I have five minutes," Monty Garfield said.
Ray entered the Chief Investigator's office and sat down; Monty asked, "What's the drama?" as Ray rarely bothered him, just carried out his tasks competently getting results without fuss.
"Boss, I am getting a lot of calls complaining about building roundabouts in strange places, I haven't been able to get answers from direct questions. I have a flea in my ear that person or persons unknown are misusing government funds," Raymond said.
"I have several calls from senior sources some asking for information and others demand I stop you," Monty said, "The latter has made me think that 'Something is rotten in Denmark'."
"So?" Ray prompted.
"Unofficially go for it, shove your other tasks onto the slackers and as long as you keep me informed personally, I am happy to cover for you," Monty suggested, "This conversation didn't happen, officially you are on leave."
"Why the secrecy? Not like we don't have teeth," Ray asked.
"I have had some suggestions that extraction of the teeth could happen if I make a fuss. Not in so many words, of course, a review of my budget was hinted," Monty said with a grimace, "So get a nice suntan, you deserve a break." The last louder, after standing and shaking Ray's hand as he ushered him out the door.
On the road to where?
Back in his office, Ray assembled all of this information, after placing the other files in the out tray with a note. 'Kerry, please find these a new home.'
Studying the files he had already spotted a pattern emerging, it seems that the lucky councils had one thing in common; there were defence bases in their district. Another correlation was that the number of roundabouts was higher in the areas surrounding the armed force bases.
"Perhaps if I put this on a map," Ray said to himself.
As his office had a large map of the country, then he became busy with pins; using Red for bases and green for roundabouts. This effort formed a picture; greens were adjacent to reds with a greater number next to the important establishments.
Firing up his computer, locating an aerial map of one of the larger bases, then viewed the roads leading to it. Taking a snapshot, Ray marked the subjects of the inquiry; all the major roads had a new intersection in construction on the access roads to the base.
Picking up the drawings of the road works the next thing in common was the design; each had the central circle diameter of at least fifty metres, and the surface rather than raised was depressed forming a cup below road level.
While he pondered this, Ray extracted the pins so that casual observers wouldn't notice his work. 'Can't be too careful until I know what I am dealing with,' Ray thought.
Ray decide on an action, he left the office and made his way to the cafeteria hoping to catch Robert the resident gossip.
Luck was in; Bob was in his usual chair holding court. People drifted past asking questions or commenting on some trivia; he was a strange case seeming to have no other occupation.
Ray saw a pause in the traffic, grabbed a coffee and sat down next to him.
"Still keeping up with the Jones?" Ray asked.
"Left them in the weeds, I thought you were on holidays?" Bob asked.
"I only just found out myself, I marvel at the speed of the grapevine," Ray said, "Roundabouts, why don't they like to talk about them?"
"You taking a holiday is news, like seeing a leopard change its spots," Bob advised, "The vine is abuzz with those, with the majority being nervous speaking about them."
"That all?" Ray asked.
"Those who asked too often, have gone on holidays like yourself or transferred somewhere remote," Bob said, "I haven't chased it up, I might not find my seat on return."
"I thought it had your name engraved on the back," Ray commented, the veracity of that was unprovable as no-one had ever seen the chair empty.
"Do you have a hint who may know?" Ray asked.
"Treasury and Infrastructure may but they aren't commenting, and they seem to be the source of the angst against idle curiosity," Bob said after glancing around for eavesdroppers. "I won't keep you, enjoy your holiday."
Bob looked a little nervous before hailing a passing secretary, "Carol, congratulations; I hear you are expecting twins?" Laughing as she looked surprised.
"What, even I don't know yet," Carol said, flustered by the public knowledge and hurried off.
Ray took that as a hint that the audience was over. Waving as he left, Ray headed for his other contact.
He hadn't gone far when as he rounded a corner, footsteps were catching up with him from behind, guessing that someone wanted to speak, Ray stopped. He recognised the King's equerry Sir Noel Hampstead.
"Dr Thwaites, may I have a word?" Noel asked.
"Certainly Sir Noel. How may I help you?" Ray said.
"I would like for you to accompany me to my office so we can have a chat," Noel suggested.
"Certainly, lead on," Ray responded.
So following Noel through the corridors, they arrived at the door to Noel's office, they walked in and found someone waiting in the shadows.
"Now no fuss, it is me asking the questions, please direct the answer to me," Noel said.
A familiar voice asked, "What have you found out about these irritating road works?"
"Apart from being associated with Armed Force Bases and making life miserable for drivers, not a great deal," Ray said.
"Ah the bases, no one has noted that as yet. I would like you to pass anything you find directly to my office," The man said.
"If you like to carry on now?" Noel suggested, ushering Ray from the office.
Ray mused over the interview, 'It seems that 'the powers that be' are interested as well.'
Next task was to have a drive to the closest one and get an 'on the ground' view.
So Ray moved out to his car and started the journey to the Airforce base near the Capital.
Back in the Equerries' Office, King Brian ushered Noel to follow as he returned to his chambers.
"Noel, what do you think Dr Thwaites has found?" His Majesty asked.
"Only more questions so far, Sire," Noel said, "He does have a reputation for ferreting out tiny inconsistencies which unravel all the cover-ups."
"I hope so; I do not find the run around farce amusing," His Majesty said, "I depend on my ministers to keep me informed; the worst offender is my brother the Minister for Infrastructure. Why he chose that portfolio, I don't know, but it seems everything he deals with is a state secret, only for his confidants to know."
"Your next appointment is with him perhaps he may give some data to alleviate your puzzle," Noel said.
"We will see," The King said, "I will have morning tea waiting for him at the dining table."
It wasn't long, and Noel announced, "His Royal Highness Prince Harold."
"Sit down Harry, and pour yourself a cup," King Brian said, "What's on your mind?"
Since he had announced the informality by his address, Harold responded with, "Good morning Brian, these inquiries about the roadworks are clogging up my office, is there a way to quieten them down?"
"The full picture would stop it in its' tracks. If you create a mystery, expect people to ask questions," Brian suggested with a raised eyebrow to indicate he was one so engaged.
"I was hoping that you may have a quiet word with the departments involved, I have tried, but it just makes them keener to find out," Harold said.
"Boring them would shut the questions down; otherwise, everyone thinks you are hiding something," Brian said dryly, "Including this office."
"I wish I could, but the companies involved have a 'commercial in confidence' in their contract," Alfred said.
"Even to me?" Brian asked, "As the bill resolves to me as the ultimate representative of the people; I would like to know what I am getting for my money."
"I will have a folder arranged to brief you as soon as possible," Harold said, "It will take a while but should resolve your insomnia concerns."
"If that is the best you can offer, I will be waiting at your earliest convenience," Brian stated.
"I will put my best workers on it to deliver as quickly as possible," Harold conceded aware that a Royal request was NOW if not sooner.
"If there isn't anything else, best you start the process, Prince Harold," King Brian said formally as a dismissal.
After his brother had left, Noel came in, "All I have is a promise but nothing concrete, he knows but won't tell me," Brian said, not pleased.
"Perhaps Dr Thwaites will find something out sooner?" Noel asked rhetorically.
"Perhaps, any others to see?" Brian asked.
"Your Prime Minister with the weekly brief," Noel advised.
"I suppose it would be too much to hope he may tell me something?" Brian said while he moved to the Drawing room.
Kamberra City was a planned city, wide tree-lined boulevards with most of the intersections having well-constructed roundabouts, and traffic build-ups were rare; so it was a surprise when Ray started to find diversions and slow movement of cars. Ray drove towards the Kamberra Airport, soon experiencing the turmoil that the roadworks were causing, with bypasses making the distance much longer than usual. He swung past the Army College, having toured around the new roundabout on dirt roads he eventually arrived at the bypass for the airfield and the bypass diverted onto a dirt road. By the faces of his fellow drivers, they were not impressed.
"I don't blame them when the fault is sheeted home to someone, I wouldn't like to be in his shoes," Ray said to himself.
Working his way around to a vantage point, Ray was able to observe the layout. Yes, the centre was in the form of a cup, and there seemed to be substantial reinforcing of the ground. 'Peculiar design, I am not an engineer, but surely that would retain water,' Ray thought.
Next stop the Uni to visit his friend Keith Jones who was a Civil Engineering Professor. "Perhaps he can shed a little light on the design," Ray mused.
After tracking Keith down with a few phone calls, he caught up with him to ask, "What do you reckon about these plans?"
"Good day to you too. Okay, let's see them," Keith was used to Ray going straight to the chase.
After a few minutes, Keith hummed and said, 'If one of my students handed in an assignment like that it would be an automatic F unless I were generous enough to send it back for another go. The hydraulic design would give them the thumbs down from me.'
"Confirms my amateur guess," Ray said, "There are about a hundred and fifty of them scattered around the country all next to military bases."
"Interesting, some of those are in the high rainfall areas, and I am glad I have nothing to do with those," Keith admitted, "The challenge to fix them would have me burning the 'midnight oil' for months."
"Like to point me at someone who could give me a clue?' Ray asked, " I need to get some answers as very senior figures are involved."
"My opinion is poor design, but if I were to follow up the reason, I would locate a fringe theorist," Keith laughed, "Don't mention my name when you go looking for one of those, I have to maintain my reputation of having my feet firmly on the ground."
"Thanks for the word on design," Ray then asked, "Can you suggest someone?"
"Try Sue Johnson in Theoretical, she may have a few names," Keith suggested, "Good luck you will need it."
Ray made his way over towards the named building to find his next source of information. After several inquiries eventually he found Sue in the cafeteria.
"Excuse me, Sue Johnson?" Ray asked, "I am Ray Thwaites from the Auditor General's office, don't worry I am not chasing your grant or anything."
"In that case. Yes, that's me," Sue admitted then asked, "How can I help you?"
"I am chasing a strange mystery, here is the data," Ray began, "Just first impressions will do."
"Okay let me see," Sue said as she reached for the tablet and started to view the data. "My first impression is if I had a flying saucer that would be a good place to park my ship."
"The strangest comment so far," Ray said, "Applying Occam's Razor to eliminate everything you can prove false, then what you have left, no matter how strange, may be correct."
She pulled a face, "I have heard that said a couple of times. The UFO people are having a meeting tonight," Sue said, "I usually go as I have fun mentally disproving their stories. Occasionally I hear some gem which gives me something to chase further."
"Yes, I went to a few of those when I was on campus," Ray laughed, "I will turn up and pick a couple of brains. Still at the same time and place?"
"Always looking for new ideas but they think it is unlucky to change that," Sue said, "So I will see you there."
In a dark room somewhere in Kamberra, a meeting was forming.
After a little shuffling, several people sat down, the glow of small yellow pins the only illumination.
"Time to open the meeting," The first speaker said, "Minutes of the last meeting read?"
"Aye, we were all there," Two grumbled, "New business?"
"Construction is on schedule, no hold ups, I have informed our distant friends who are happy with the update," Three said, "Questions are increasing."
"I have shut down the worst from the bean counters," One said, "Waved a smaller cheque at him."
"So resolved, we will keep tabs on these nosey parkers?" Two asked.
With an 'Aye' from all, One declared, "Motion carried, I will send the notice out for next meeting as required, I adjourn this meeting."
Each figure stood and made their way to separate exits.