The EMT Ch. 13byabsoluterotter©
Slow start this one, but I think it is worth reading through. I had to struggle to stop making this a crime mystery and get back to the core of Suzanne's story. For those fans out there, I promise some real humiliation and submission for Suzanne in the next episode.
Worth reading the previous chapters to catch up with the storyline.
By popular demand, I am re-introducing voting, although I notice that the last episode (which excluded voting) didn't attract any flamers.
They met again at 08:30 in a local "Good Egg" breakfast bar, ready to put their plan into action. The plan was to meet the co-owners of the Indian Desert Jewellery Company at their offices in Phoenix for a kick-off meeting before splitting up to find out more about what had gone wrong.
Ian was to visit the warehouse, scene of the break-in, which would take him along Superstition Freeway towards Mesa. Once there, he'd check out the installation and start the forensic examination of digital recordings and computer logs that they hoped would shed some light on the incident. He'd spent much of the night checking out the plans and drawings, but with one ear cocked for any noises from the next door apartment where his wife Suzanne was staying, hoping to get some clue as to what was happening there. However, the linking door had remained implacably closed and locked all evening, and all he'd seen of Suzanne since they had left Graham's apartment the night before had been when he drove into the Good Egg parking lot and found her sitting with Graham, already on their first cup of steaming coffee, when he entered the restaurant to meet them.
The plan for Suzanne, such as it was, was to remain with one of the client owners in Phoenix and to visit and check out, as much as she could, the two company-owned retail outlets in downtown Phoenix, hopefully picking up whatever gossip or grapevine intelligence might be being passed around the salesroom staff about the major event that had transpired at the warehouse. As Ian sipped his first coffee, he looked at his wife across the booth and was pleased to see that she looked rested and composed after the strenuous flight the day before. She was dressed conservatively in smart business-casual blouse and skirt, with her strawberry blonde hair pulled back into a neat pony tail, and with just the right amount of make-up – as if she was about to commute to her office for the day's grind.
Graham himself was planning, after the start-up meeting, the long drive down to Tucson where the local distributor for Ruler Electronics was situated. He wanted to hear at first hand from his own agents, all that had transpired prior to, and since the break-in at the Indian Desert warehouse.
It was all business as they ate a full breakfast, and then climbed into their two cars for the short drive to the clients' offices for their planned meeting at 09:30. On arrival, they were shown into a small conference room, and helped themselves to more coffee as they awaited the arrival of their aggrieved customers.
When the door opened and the clients arrived, Ian for one was somewhat taken aback to see two very large black guys, dressed smartly but casually and aged between 30 and 40. As they shook hands all around, Ian noticed how the large hands of each of the co-owners completely swamped his wife's small and dainty hand. They introduced themselves as Otis and Cordell Stokes, two brothers who had made their money in pro-football, and who were now respected businessmen in the Phoenix area. Graham himself had made the introductions of the Ruler Electronics party, and Ian's heart missed a beat as Graham introduced Suzanne to the two African Americans as "my assistant, here to help in any way she can".
They quickly settled around the small conference table, and Graham asked Otis and Cordell to explain what had happened in their own words. It transpired that their warehouse had been broken into three nights earlier, and only 3 weeks after commissioning the state-of-the-art CCTV and motion sensor defence system that had been supplied by Ruler Electronics. No alarms had sounded immediately, and it was only the diligence of the on-site security officer that had prevented a catastrophic loss of valuable stock. The security officer had happened to be doing his rounds when he saw a light in one of the stock rooms. He had challenged the intruders sufficiently forcefully that he had frightened them off, but not before they had loaded their bags with an estimated $270,000 worth of jewellery.
The security officer had immediately alerted the owner brothers, following the laid down Incident Response Procedures that formed part of his training, and both Otis and Cordell had been on site within 15 minutes to assess the damage. They had found no evidence or clue from the video tapes and system logs as to how the intruders had gained entry or why the alarms hadn't sounded to alert the on-site security guards to the break-in. However, they did find evidence of the entrance and exit route taken by the burglars; a small hole in a perimeter fence and a broken window at the rear of the premises.
At first, and in the absence of the system responding to the break-in, their suspicions had turned to the security guard and an "inside job". However, the guard was a long-term employee that they knew well, and subsequent investigations had all but exonerated him from any involvement. There was clear evidence of a break-in, there was lost stock worth more than a quarter of a million dollars, and yet their sophisticated defence systems could shed no light on what had happened, nor explain why no alarms had been sounded. All subsequent tests on the system had shown it working and functioning as designed, and Otis and Cordell were at a loss for an explanation.
"So Mr Leicester" concluded Otis, the older of the two brothers, "how do you explain this mystery? Is our expensive new system really just a piece of shit, or can you tell us what happened here?"
Graham was apologetic and curious, shying short of becoming defensive about his company's flagship products, but convinced there must be some problem with implementation rather than a fault with the products themselves. He asked some questions, and outlined their plans for commencing the investigation. It was finally agreed that Ian would drive with Cordell, the more technical of the two brothers, to the warehouse in Ian's car. Graham would drive down to Tucson as originally planned in his own car, and Otis would drive Suzanne into downtown Phoenix to tour the retail outlets, using his own car. It was by now a little after 10:30 am and they agreed to meet back here at 5:00 pm and compare notes.
As they left the office to head their separate ways, Ian's last sight of Suzanne was of her lowering herself carefully into the very low passenger seat of Otis' very sleek German sports car as Otis held the door for her. Ian couldn't help but notice the way Otis' eyes lingered on her exposed tanned legs as she backed herself into the seat and swung her legs around, before pulling the seatbelt across her chest as Otis closed her door and walked around to the driver's side. As he walked around the car, Otis nonchalantly adjusted his "package" as if he was already excited by what he had seen.
Ian looked across at the large bulk of Cordell who was adjusting himself into the much smaller passenger seat of Ian's hire car and felt a tang of jealousy that his wife was now to spend the next 5 or 6 hours with Cordell's older brother, with no-one there to look after her.
As Ian pulled away, Cordell let out a sigh and commented "Gee, that Suzanne is a nice piece of ass. No offence mister, but I think my older bro got the best end of this deal. I would give a lot to spend the day with that lady."
Ian's pulse again raced as he heard this large black man comment on his wife, oblivious of Ian's actual relationship with her. He almost made a comment, but remembered just in time that for the duration of this trip, he had to pretend that he wasn't married to Suzanne, that she was just a colleague as far as anyone else was concerned. He remained silent, and the three cars exited from the Indian Valley Jewellers head office car park and headed their separate ways.
Ian and Cordell were the first back at the small conference room at just after 5:00 pm. Their day had been busy, but they had found a quick rapport, recognising and respecting their respective technical skills and knowledge. Whilst Ian's expertise was far more extensive and professional than Cordell's, Ian had quickly learnt that Cordell was no fool, and that he had a quick mind and a curiosity about the technical aspects of the installation that was supposed to be protecting his assets at the warehouse. As Cordell arranged for fresh coffee and donuts to be brought into the room, Ian booted up his laptop and started to make notes on what he had found during their visit to the scene of the crime.
They had started by physically examining the installation, looking for blind spots that might have been exploited by the criminals. By design, Ian knew from his examination of the blueprints the previous evening, no such blind spots existed, so he had been looking for deviations from the design that might have created a weakness. However, it had quickly become apparent that the implementation had been executed perfectly, and he could find no fault with the installed equipment.
Their next step had been to examine the entry and exit routes used by the criminals to look for any remaining clues or information, but the sites had been previously swept clear by Police Scenes of Crime officers, and any remaining evidence would have been obliterated by the subsequent attempts to secure the areas to prevent any repeat of the break-in. There was little left to see except for the obvious evidence of break-in and the route taken, which totally convinced Ian that a real burglary had taken place. There had been a lingering doubt in his mind that the owners themselves may have mocked up the theft as part of some elaborate insurance fraud, but one look at the remaining evidence convinced him that this had been a real incident. The mystery was, why hadn't a well designed and implemented system raised the alarm?
Cordell and Ian had then tested the security system implementation, almost to destruction. First using the route so obviously taken by the robbers, and then using as many alternative intrusion routes as they could think of; they repeatedly armed the system and then recorded how it responded to their mock assaults. In every case, the system had responded exactly as it should have done, deepening the mystery of the silent alarms and lack of video evidence.
Finally, in confusion and frustration, Ian had started to look at the server installation and in particular at the system log file information, and he'd taken copies of the relevant log files and video recordings from the night of the robbery. He had had to work carefully and delicately to take pure copies of the information, in order not to destroy any evidence or alter any of the recorded information, and these forensically accurate copies were now stored on his laptop, ready for him to do some detailed analysis as soon as he could get back to his room and the tools he had brought with him.
Ian had just finished typing up his notes and checking that the log files and recordings were safely where he had stored them when the door opened and Suzanne and Otis entered the room. Ian knew immediately that something had happened between them. There was an intimacy between them that hadn't been there when they had met that morning, and there was a glow about Suzanne that he hadn't seen before. All day long, his thoughts had been interrupted by a concern for Suzanne's welfare and a curiosity as to how her day was going, often prompted by further inappropriate comments from Cordell. Now he knew that she had secrets to tell, but he was totally unable to find out what. He had to play the work colleague role that Graham had assigned to him, and had to keep the curious husband role strictly in check.
For her part, Suzanne played her role perfectly, virtually ignoring Ian, and gratefully accepting from Cordell the offered coffee, but politely declining the donuts on offer. They had barely settled when Graham also arrived, and the party was complete, assembled for a de-brief on the day's events.
Swallowing his private curiosity over how Suzanne's day had gone, and at the request of Graham who quickly took charge, Ian recounted the events of his day with Cordell at the warehouse. The others asked a few questions as he detailed the various steps they had already taken, and they were as confused and frustrated as he was when he explained that the day's investigation had provided no answers – the mystery was as deep as it ever had been. There seemed to be no explanation for why the system had apparently mal-functioned.
Graham asked what was to come next, and Ian launched into an increasingly technical explanation of how he intended to forensically analyse the log files and recordings to look for more clues. Apart from Cordell, whose interest in the technical details was deepening, the explanation was far too technical for the others present, and Graham quickly diverted the group, by explaining that his own day spent travelling down and back from Tucson had been fairly uneventful and fruitless. Nearly 5 hours driving there and back had not been rewarded by any deep and meaningful insights in the two hours he'd been able to spend face-to-face with his distributor partners. They were convinced that their design and implementation had been thorough and professional, a fact that Ian was able to confirm from his own observations, and they had no idea what might have gone wrong.
Finally, Graham turned to Otis and Suzanne to ask if they'd had any more luck. Ian dragged his eyes away from his laptop screen to listen to what they had to say. Otis began.
"We had a pleasant drive down to the stores, and I was able to show Suzanne around our retail operation as requested. She met the managers and sales staff, and I gave her plenty of time to look around, but I'm not sure she discovered anything very relevant. I never did think that we'd get very much from that side of the business – the break-in was at the warehouse after all. Suzanne, what was your impression?"
The tired eyes of the whole assembly were on Suzanne.
"Well, I really enjoyed looking around the jewellery stores and meeting the staff, but as Otis said, we didn't learn very much. The stores are great, really nicely set up and everyone I met was eager to help, but just had nothing much to offer. We'd pretty much finished and drawn a blank by shortly after midday, so Otis kindly took me to lunch, and then we spent the afternoon seeing some of what Phoenix has to offer."
At this point, Ian noticed a look pass between Suzanne and Otis, and he noticed that Graham noticed it too. Suzanne went on.
"I'm really sorry that we can't offer an explanation, but I did learn a lot about jewellery retailing, and Otis was a perfect host." She turned and patted Otis' enormous shoulder and gave him a little smile of thanks before turning back to the others and turning her smile apologetic.
Graham wrapped it up – they had learnt virtually nothing and depended on Ian's coming forensic examination to point the way to any further investigation needed. They agreed that they would return to their accommodation, get cleaned up after an exhausting and fruitless day, and convene for dinner that evening at a restaurant recommended by Otis and Cordell.
"Except for you I'm afraid Ian" Graham turned his attention to his engineer. "You'd better get on looking at the log files and see what you can find out. We'll arrange for some food to be brought to you, but I don't want to waste any time on progressing our investigation – there is too much at stake."
Ian acknowledged the order, and they split up to head off. Unusually, Graham opened the passenger door of Ian's car and ushered Suzanne into the seat for the trip back to the resort, then Graham drove himself, and Otis and Cornell shared the Mercedes they had arrived in, which barely accommodated the two of them.
After Ian had pulled out of the car park and they were safely alone, his curiosity got the better of him, and he turned to Suzanne and asked her what had really happened during her day.
Suzanne started by explaining that the day had started just as she had explained in the meeting that had just finished. Otis had driven her to the downtown location of his two retail outlets (they were within a couple of blocks of each other), and he'd parked at the first store and taken her inside and shown her around, introducing her to his staff. The staff had been mostly female and the store was very nice with high quality stock shown off in well lit display cabinets. Otis had shown her the in-store security arrangements, including the walk-in safe in the rear room where stock was stored overnight or when the store was closed. The stock used at the stores was of a different quality to the warehouse, which mostly served the company's mail-order business. At this first store, Otis had got on with some paperwork in the small office, leaving Suzanne to talk freely with the staff.
When she had about exhausted all that she could do in store number one, Otis had escorted her to the second store. This was larger and inside a fashion mall, with no parking available at the store itself, just the general public parking that existed for the mall public. Suzanne had been surprised to see that this store was divided into two sides, with one side very similar to the first store, and devoted entirely to high quality jewellery. However, the second side of this store stocked some haute couture fashions which really attracted Suzanne's attention – "No woman can resist window shopping" she said with a smile to Ian.
Once again, Otis had left her to look around and to speak to the staff, but it quickly became apparent that although they were vaguely aware of the incident at the warehouse, they had very little to offer by way of enlightenment, so Suzanne had browsed over to the fashion display and had been working her way through the sale racks when Otis had returned and invited her to lunch. They had eaten in a small bistro restaurant in the fashion mall itself, and Otis had been the perfect gentleman until they were nearing the end of their little meal and he was pouring a second glass of the very nice wine that he had chosen to accompany it.
Ian had continued to drive as he listened to Suzanne recount the events of her day, but now looked across to Suzanne with a question in his eyes. "So what happened then?" he asked, "I know something happened. What was it?"
Suzanne smiled back at him.
"Well, when Graham drove me down to the office this morning, he gave me some instructions whilst we were alone in the car. Did he tell you about them?" she asked her impatient husband.
"I haven't had a minute alone with Graham all day" he replied, "when the hell was he going to tell me?"
"Steady soldier, steady" she replied, "you will learn all eventually. OK, as we were driving from breakfast this morning, Graham told me to take any chance I got to try to get 'close' with either of the owners. He said it might prove advantageous later. Actually, just having him tell me that was really exciting – it was like he was giving me a licence to do whatever I wanted, but still acting under his orders. I have to tell you, it kind of set me up on edge, and I was already excited before we met them. Then, when I saw they were black, well that just added to my excitement. Well, later on, there I was enjoying a nice lunch with Otis and the moment seemed right to do as I'd been told. And you know how I like to do as I'm told these days!"