No stone unturned… – A short story

Mondays were usually a slow day to start the week, a brief few hours after the storm the was every Friday. Some chose to come in late, others gathered on arrival to have a team debriefing.

Our department chose to have a debriefing, and it was my job to analyze all the data and turn it into a graphical representation that basically said the business was heading in the right direction – up.

But, this Monday morning, the circumstances were slightly different.

The head of the company had personally sent both an email and a memo to every employee, an event that had never happened before.

In fact, for most of us, it was an eye-opening discovery, one where had the company not become engulfed in a scandal of international proportions, his identity might have remained a secret.

Not that it mattered to the 15,000 odd people who worked for the company, because the bottom line was that it would not affect us, or our employment.  Well, that was the message the email and the memo was primarily about.

Was it too little too late?

The problem was that the morning’s paper’s headlines screamed scandal in large letters and then went on to describe how the company was basically a front for laundering money associated with various criminal activities. It stopped short of accusing the company’s upper management of being criminals, but it was clear, reading between the lines, they had to know something was wrong.

I walked into the meeting room where all of the Department’s staff were seated, talking among themselves, that dying down the moment I closed the door behind me. On the desk in front of each was one of the three morning papers, all with basically the same story.

I didn’t bring a paper in with me, nor a copy of the email, or the memo. I was hoping the meeting was not going to be about the scandal.

I was wrong.

It was one of those companies where everyone knew everyone. I knew everyone in the room, and regarded most as friends as well as workmates. The company promoted from within and on merit, and with this, I had the respect of everyone who worked under me.

I could see by the mood, and looks of expectation, that trust was going to be tested.

“I suspect that everyone has seen the news, and hopefully read both missives from management regarding the situation the company finds itself.”

That was met with a murmur of agreement.

“It was also, for some, a surprise.”

For others, it was not. Our department was basically in place to ensure that all transactions were conducted properly and that clients’ accounts were managed within the guidelines set by the company, and the various government institutions responsible for financial affairs.

Several of the senior officers had come to me with what they regarded as anomalies, and I have given them the authority to investigate. It was also within my remit to advise the relevant government authority. Most of the anomalies had simply been oversights by the account manager, except for one, which as far as I was aware, had been cleared.

Or not.

“Can we safely assume that Wally Anderson’s somewhat abrupt was not as described?”

Wally Anderson’s abrupt departure had been described to me in a one-line email, ‘taking some personal time to work through some family issues’. In the week leading up to his departure he had become increasingly agitated, and one call one of the others had taken in his absence was from a reporter.

It was one of his accounts that remained doubtful, until shortly after he left when an external investigator was brought in.

But I had a difficult line to walk, trying to placate both sides of the spectrum and management, and as a leader. Respect could be won or lost in a matter of words.

“That might or might not be the case, but the odds are, given what we’re reading, that there may be room for doubt. However, despite what we may conclude, or deduce, it is better for all of us to keep an open mind. I suspect, at some point, again based on what I read, we might be approached by the police or representatives of a number of regulatory organizations for information.”

It was as far as I got.

The side door swung open, and my superior, the Chief Accountant, strode in, along with the mystery man who was, the papers said, the Owner, followed by the harried personal assistant.

“Mr. Nelson…”

The Chief Accountant stood front and center to the group. I thought it wise to stand off to one side, the opposite, in fact, the Owner, now standing just inside the door, next to his PA who was quietly talking into her cell phone.

“I’ll take over from here, Max.”

He switched his attention back to the group and took a few seconds to run his eye over all over them, almost as if he was looking for someone or something.

“I have spent the last 48 hours in rather tedious discussions with the regulators who insist that they received information about the Ridley investigation. Unfortunately, without consulting the company, he took part of the results of the investigation to them. Was anyone here aware of his actions?”

Another eye cast over the group, and, in the end, a glance at me.

I felt responsible to answer for the group.

“Investigations are conducted by individuals, and as far as I was concerned, the Ridley investigation was his. As equally that after he departed, that investigation was completed and cleared. Are you intimating that it wasn’t?”

I knew as much about it as the others.

“It was, until someone else reopened it, and reported it. We believe it was someone in this room.”

“That’s not possible,” I said. “I have oversight of all the officers in this room, and the ability to monitor everything they do and everything they look at. You know the security protocols in place in the software itself.”

“An investigation into the software has been implemented, and it shows that certain log files were altered so that the user log wouldn’t show who looked at the records. Someone with database experience.”

“We’re basically auditors not database managers.”

“Well, someone apparently is. Everyone is on notice. We will find out who it was, and believe me when I say we will leave no stone unturned in the process.”

An almost imperceptible not from the Owner, the harried PA was still on the cell phone, the Chief Accountant gave the group another steely look, then glared at me, said, “My office, one hour,” then left pulling the other two along in his wake.

I cast an eye over the group, picking out those whom I suspected were capable of performing such a search and destroy operation. Three.

“My door is open for anyone who might have any information, with the promise of anonymity.”

I left them with that and also left.

What should have been a quiet morning’s discussion just became a witch hunt where someone would be burnt at the stake. Whether they were guilty or not.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

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