Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 7.4

Rory Rogerson is 67; an overweight, unfit, retired ‘protection officer’ (that’s PC for hired muscle). He is also a prolific and, by his own reckoning, successful author of crime fiction.

Penny (60) is his headmistress wife and Charlie Watkiss is the bloke next door.

Together, they make a formidable team!

Rory (ret’d). Chapter seven, part four.

Not unexpectedly, Priya wasn’t there when I got back home. She had, however, left a note with Penny. ‘Charlie told me about his automatic door controls and how he’d set it up. Interested?’

“Did she say anything about this?” I asked Penny.

“Did she? She didn’t talk about anything else. Told me how Charlie had a system whereby we could, with previous permission, go into his house whether he’s there or not. How the system would disarm the alarm, unlock the door and open it, then shut and lock it behind us and how it’s set that when the last person leaves the house, the door will close and lock itself and arm the alarm system. Is that true? Has Charlie done that?”

“Pretty much.”

“But how does his system know anyone’s coming up the drive?”

“Smart cameras. Not only does the system recognise that a human is approaching the door, but facial recognition software tells the system who it is. If it’s an authorised person, the system disarms the alarm and opens the door. Did it for me this morning. Spooky at first, but hellish effective.”

“So, would you like that here?”

“Not sure. I love the technology and it’s awesomely cool.”

“I sense a but coming on.”

“But isn’t it a bit overkill? I mean, alarms, yes. Cameras, yes. Even some of the fancy software, but do we need the door to open for us when we come in and close after us when we leave?”

“Actually, you don’t need to convince me. I’ve thought a lot of the so-called security you’ve already put in is a bit over-the-top. But it’s in and working so I’ll live with it. But, for my money – and bear in mind a good amount of what we have is money that I earn – enough already.”

“At least we agree on that. I have to confess that my pensions and what I get from my writing and all that goes with it don’t come near your salary. Does that make me a kept man?”

“I didn’t say it for that reason. I don’t resent you spending our money – our money, not yours or mine but ours – on what you think is important any more than you resent me spending our money on what I consider important.”

“But—”

“No, Rory. Subject closed, alright?”

“Okay. I’ll tell Priya we’re okay as we are. Neither of us wants to end up with a system that’s more sophisticated than we can handle.”

“I’m glad that’s agreed. Now, how did you and Charlie get on with the mobiles?”

I talked Penny through what Charlie and I had done and what we had found out.

“What I don’t get,” she said stretching out on the sofa, “is how come Alan’s phone was clean, not even… what was the term …ghosted?”

“We talked about that. Charlie reckons—”

“Before you go any further, is this your case or Charlie’s? I thought he came on board to help you with some technical stuff, but from what you’re saying, it sounds like he’s running the thing.”

I moved closer to Penny and placed my hand on hers – for comfort, not condescension before you think anything. “A lot of it is technical and needs to make use of his software, expertise and contacts. Is he running it? No, I don’t think so. If anything, he’s… let me put it this way. If you want to do a detailed, mixed media presentation to the School Board or the PTA or even the pupils, where do you go for help? Or do you do the whole thing from start to finish?”

“No. I’m not an IT expert. I call on IT for the technical parts, and generally run my presentation by the relevant department heads before actually doing it.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why run it by the department heads?”

“Obviously, because they’re the subject experts. Although we all work on the curriculum and syllabus together, we operate at different levels. Same with IT. I don’t want to be an expert in computers. I’m an administrator and a maths teacher – and a bloody good one, too. I have neither the ability nor the will to be omni-expert.”

Et voila, as your French teachers would say. Because of my security background and because of the subjects I’ve researched and written about, I have a set of areas of expertise. Because of his work with technology and the research he’s had to do to write and support specialist software, Charlie has his own areas of expertise. There’s a certain amount of overlap between Charlie’s competences and mine but mostly we complement each other. And precisely because of the areas of overlap we produce a combined effect greater than the sum of our separate effects.”

“Which is the dictionary definition of synergy.”

“Really?”

“Look it up. So it’s fully a joint operation?”

“Yes, I’d say so.”

“And where do I fit in?”

“You work with people at a level that neither Charlie nor I can even aspire to. You have an understanding of people, of their psychology, their motivations.”

“Have you read your books? You get right inside your characters—”

“And I learned it all from you, Penny, but although you’ve taught me all I know, you haven’t taught me all you know. That’s why we need you on board. You are our Deanna Troy, our —”

“Okay, I get the picture. You were saying, Charlie reckons…?”

“Let me see if I can get back to that train of thought. Right. Charlie reckons the reason Alan’s phone was clean is because Mr E didn’t want to get Alan involved. He gave Alan a phone identical, or outwardly so, to the one he gave Billy to distract any attention from Billy’s and to make it easier to support the illusion that the phones were a gift from Meredith.”

“But they weren’t.”

“No, they weren’t, but they had them nearly two years ago and until a couple of days ago the boys believed them to be a gift from their mother.”

“And Charlie came up with that?”

“At the time I was concentrating on the boys’ social media profiles so wasn’t thinking of that.”

“And what’s next?”

“We’re waiting for the voice-matching tech to do its thing. Charlie’ll let me know when it’s finished then we can consider the next step.”

“The one that puts Billy back into the firing-line?”

“I wouldn’t have used that exact term, but yes. Are you at school tomorrow?”

“I can skip off after assembly if you need me. I have commitments after lunch but can be here between nine-thirty and one-thirty.”

“Good. I’ll be meeting up with Charlie early tomorrow morning. I’ll find an excuse to put it off until nine-thirty.”

“Here or next door?”

“I think here unless we need any of Charlie’s tech.”

“If you’re bringing Billy back into play, you should probably involve Chloe. My opinion – and remember, I am the expert here – is that she has great value as a buffer between the Suttons and you pair.”

“Do we need to involve her?”

“They trust her. I know you’re getting on fairly well with Meredith and the boys, but they’ll be more comfortable, and so more open, with one of their own, one they have implicit trust in.”

“Okay. You want me to talk to her?”

“No, I’ll do it,” she said emphatically.

“Because she trusts you more than she trusts me?”

“And who can blame her?”

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