The “Lights Out” nightclub in Birmingham was thriving, but something wasn’t making financial sense.
Thomas Stilton Associates were a large organization of management and corporate accountants. They had been involved in many company liquidations and investigations into financial anomalies of company accounts. A number of high-profile cases in the past had helped to build their reputation as thorough, trustworthy and yet creative with solutions to financial problems.
Over the years they had become synonymous with tackling money laundering and fraud cases. They had forged many high-level contacts in government and various crime agencies in the UK and around the world.
Their main revenue stream remained the medium and less glitzy cases of directors’ malpractice and tax evasion. However, the infrequent larger cases, certainly paid a lot better.
Senior Partner Ross Hall was in charge of a small team of senior accountants. He managed the day to day running of the team as well as representing the company in any legal proceedings relating to client investigations.
Ross had been with Stilton’s for about eighteen years and was a strong personality with leadership qualities that made his team want to do their very best for him.
He left university with a first-class honors degree in financial accounting and served his time at various accounting firms gaining experience before settling in at Stilton’s.
He lived in the countryside. A small two street village with no local shop, just a few large houses, very quiet and isolated.
He drove to work most days and worked from home when needed. As with all senior partners he worked long hours and sometimes the odd weekend.
His family of two boys had grown up and left the family home many years ago. This left Ross and his wife Julia to rattle around in their large five-bedroom detached home.
It was an imposing house set in large grounds. Two gated entrances at the front, a drive in and drive out design.
Not a mansion, but the house reflected how successful and financially well-off Ross and Julia were.
He wasn’t a workaholic, but enjoyed what he did. He involved himself in most projects assigned to his team.
Ross thought he had mastered his work life balance.
He and Julia took two or three holidays a year relaxing in far off sunshine or skiing in places like the Dolomites in Italy or the Swiss Alpine slopes.
At the age of fifty-seven though, he was starting to notice his physical limitations a lot more.
Julia had retired from her successful career as an IT consultant. She now worked part time in a local farm shop. This wasn’t for the money, but for the companionship and getting out of the house.
She also liked to work-out at the local gym several days a week.
Julia and Ross were content and happy, if a little stuck in their regular day to day, week after week life.
The “Lights Out” nightclub was located in the city center of Birmingham in the heart of the entertainment district. It was owned and run by two brothers.
They started as barmen and worked their way up. They progressed, buying their own pub and then moving on to buy and run the hugely popular nightclub.
The two brothers had a colorful past and were known to the police as ‘persons of interest’.
Both had served short term prison sentences and had criminal records for assault and possession of drugs.
It was fair to say that they too had developed their own contacts over the years. Contacts more of the criminal nature, yet they were doing very well and staying out of trouble, too well.
For a nightclub with a capacity of two hundred people, excluding staff, the turnover and profit from the club didn’t add up. It was raising concerns at the Inland Revenue.
The club employed a small local accountancy firm to produce their tax returns and annual financial accounts.
Stilton associates were engaged on behalf of the Inland Revenue to investigate the club’s affairs. Ross had been given the challenge to start the investigation with one of his team.
He also received confidential information regarding aspects of the assignment.
This would narrow the choice of team member down to only one person that he could possibly choose.
He also started to realize that this was not just a simple case of fiddling the books. He was nervous about taking on the assignment due to the potential consequences he had been warned about.
Ross had to choose the right person and the decision had to be based on two factors.
Number one. They needed to have the investigation experience in corporate accounting and fraud.
Number Two. Bizarrely, was based on the number of children they had. If they did not have children, Ross figured they had no leverage.
In the event of the investigation taking a turn for the worse, he wanted someone who could see it through to the end. Such was the threat of unspeakable acts.
Sarah Fredericks was that person.
She was thorough in her work. She had run many corporate account investigations. And as an added bonus, she also knew quite a lot of international accounting practices.
But the most important criteria, she had no children.
This was a conscious decision. She was not married, but in a long-term relationship with Mark.
Mark was an ex-serviceman his military training background may prove useful if things heated up during the subsequent investigation.
The assignment would be dangerous.
It could develop into a complex maze of company hierarchies, with parent companies, holding companies, off-shore and investment companies. Ross needed someone who had the experience and capability to follow the paper trail.
Sarah was the only choice.
Ross scheduled a meeting in order to bring her up to speed on the assignment and give her the option to decline or accept.
The meeting was scheduled for Tuesday at ten in the morning.
The agenda was to discuss the assignment and if Sarah agreed to take it on, Ross would hand it over.
Sarah had worked for Ross for nine years and was extremely competent at what she did.
Annual appraisals each year showed a keen interest to accept new and diverse assignments.
Sarah put in the hours. Senior partners were extremely happy with the work she produced. They valued her as a huge asset to the company.
Promotion was on the horizon within twelve months.
She was just short of six feet tall. Taller than Mark her partner by a good four inches.
She towered over him if she ever wore high heels when they went out.
Sarah often teased him about his height. And he would always remind her, he was younger than she was, to counteract the height comments.
She loved running. Half marathons mostly. And trained three of four times a week.
She usually had some form of organized running event nearly every month.
She was much fitter than Mark as well.
He preferred more leisurely activities.
Sarah had no idea about the assignment. This was normal with new work.
Client confidentiality and security were not just taken seriously at Stilton’s, they were a legal requirement.
New assignments were often discussed between team members. Only confidential ones were discussed with an individual. They would be handpicked for the job.
A few minutes early, Sarah opened the door of the meeting room to find Ross sitting at the table with laptop and a folder of papers.
“Morning” said Sarah and straight to the point as always,
“I hope this is a new case. I’ve almost finished the accounts for the Brewery”.
Ross replied “That’s good news about the Brewery”
and after a slight pause,
“Good guess. Yep it’s a new case. But this is not an ordinary case.”
“Sounds interesting.” replied Sarah as she sat down opposite Ross.
“I want to discuss some aspects of it with you before you make a decision.”
“This sounds ominous.”
“This case is not being handed out as we do other cases and because of its nature, I want you to have a read of the preliminaries. Really take some time to come a decision whether you want to take this on or not.”
“Well this is a first.” She replied, not even more intrigued.
“I’ll be honest. I have no-one else I can give it to. So, if you decide you don’t want it, we’ll turn it down. It’s that simple.”
“I don’t understand. There’s no-one else available?”
“Forgive me. There are people available Sarah, but they all have families, children. If this gets nasty, I don’t want any worries regarding kids.”
“Oh, I see. Do you think it might get nasty?”
“It won’t be easy. And yes, it could get dangerous. We will have to bring in outside security at some point. Yes, will get nasty.”
She thought for a moment. Only she could take it.
“Ok. I’m still interested. I’m not saying yes, but I’ll have a look.”
“Thank you. And please don’t feel under pressure to take it. If we don’t take the assignment, that will be fine by me. This could involve some high-profile people” Ross spoke firmly.
Sarah was taken aback by Ross’ last statement. Her attitude changed from slightly upbeat to more serious before asking
“Who’s the client?”
“Ever heard of the ‘Lights Out’ nightclub in Birmingham?”
“Yes, I’ve seen it. I drive past it on the way into the center sometimes. I’m too old for clubbing these days. Never been inside.”
“Aren’t we all? Though I doubt even in our younger days we would have wanted to go to this place.”
“Rough?” she asked
“Oh yes. Very rough. I guess you’d call it a dive. Police are there every weekend and most nights when it’s open.”
Ross tried to identify any uncomfortable body language, but Sarah didn’t move.
“Anyways, the Inland Revenue have passed us some information. The accounts don’t seem to make sense. It’s only a small place, but turnover is very high.”
“We’ve seen similar accounts in the past.” Sarah remarked.
“They own the building, yet pay rent. They’ve spent millions in renovation. The entrance prices and drinks don’t cover anywhere near their figures. There’s extras coming in from somewhere and this is where it could get nasty.” Ross paused waiting for any questions.
“Shall I continue?”
Sarah’s mind was already running through possibilities from her experiences in previous cases. She didn’t jump to conclusions anymore. An inexperienced mistake she’d made many times in her early career.
“Please. I’ve got some ideas of where the extras might come from, but I’ll keep those to myself for now.”
Ross continued “I’ve also received information from a senior source in the chain of command at West Midlands Police. She says that drugs are involved and it’s not just the owners and public. She suspects that there are some senior police officers are in on this.”
“Ah, now I see how it could get nasty.” Sarah spoke with authority.
She had been on a similar investigation as a junior many years ago.
“Obviously, the Inland don’t know any of this. And they don’t need to know who’s involved. However, if we’ve got criminals and senior police working together on drugs and money, they’re going to have the operation pretty tightly locked down. They won’t be best pleased with any financial nosey-ing around.”
“Have you any idea how high the police involvement goes?” enquired Sarah.
“No, sorry. I don’t know how many are involved or how high it goes. This is reason I’m asking you to take some time to digest what I’ve put together.”
“Ok” said Sarah “I’ll get back to you at the end of the week if that’s alright?”
Ross replied with a sense of cautious relief
“Great. Just take your time. As I said, this one could get nasty so if it’s not for you that’s fine.”
Ross gathered the papers together and placed them in the folder. He handed it to Sarah.
“I’ve a conference call on another assignment in five minutes. When do you think you’ll be able to let me know?” ask Ross.
“I’d say by the end of the week. I need to close off my current stuff, then I’m clear.”
Sarah left the meeting room and walked back to her desk. She had a lot of reading to do.
Little did she know, she was about to make a decision that would change the lives of all of them.