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Chapter 8 of "The Cleaners - An Adventure in Filth"

'A real question is the most powerful thing in the universe.' The Cleaners

My responsibilities in delivering the Board’s cost-saving measures continued. The shroud over the Cleaners’ TXU contract report seemed to keep the bean counters away— for now.

My concern with safeguarding the Cleaners at the TXU grew. Long term solutions were needed. I couldn’t ask too many questions or delegate specific tasks in case it drew unwanted attention, so I began making quiet investigations.

I’d forgotten how mind-numbing it was to tackle the records of administration. The effects of ‘bureaucratonium’ —as Bob Carter affectionately called it —lead straight to the nut-house if you weren’t careful. The unreality of bureaucracy’s love affair with ‘bits’ and ‘bytes’ —not even pieces of paper anymore—screams insanity. However, I pushed on.

It took a little a while to notice a small anomaly. I didn’t want to engage accounts or legals, so dug further.

Our company sub-leased significant square-footage—an entire floor in fact—of the TXU to a government-owned research and development company called M.O.G., at a premium. This wasn’t strange, except that all the floors of the TXU were already subleased. I triple checked the records. Maybe I missed something?

The next day I went to the TXU and examined each floor, including the basement and underground carpark. Not only could I not find anything, but the information desk and facility manager had never heard of them. My curiosity was into overdrive.

I went back to the office and pulled up the sub-lease again. What I missed the first time was our company’s signatory on the contract, the Chair of the Board, Mr Alan Northwood.

Normally the CEO or CFO would have signed off. Chairmen don’t usually get involved in operational matters.

It was also clear from the records that the CEO, my boss, wasn’t party to the leasing arrangements— at least not officially. I dropped into his office to enquire.

“What’s up?” he said.

“I have a quick question. Do you know anything about the TXU sub-lease to M.O.G?” I asked.

He immediately stopped what he was doing. Got up, closed the door and walked back to his chair. I’d never seen him so nervous. He began to fidget, but tried hard to contain himself.

“The arrangement was executed at Chairman level. There’s no need for us to worry about it. It’s all squared away. We’re safe and sound,” he said confidently. “Now, I’m late for lunch,” and hurriedly made preparations to leave.

I walked out with a curious feeling. He was anxious, yet pretended confident. And his excuse about being late for lunch when I knew he’d already eaten. This was not like him. My curiosity turned to concern. It smelled of cover-up.

I didn’t know how far to push it. Maybe I should leave it alone? The M.O.G sub-lease is probably just a scam to line the pockets of the Chairman and his friends. However, if this was the case, I had a duty of care to investigate and protect the company anyway. Probity and due diligence are a bitch.

That night I attended an ‘exchange’ with the Cleaners. After the meeting I accidentally bumped into Rick and the thought occurred, rather innocently, to ask whether the Cleaners had heard of M.O.G. After all, they knew every inch of the TXU. If M.O.G. was just a paper-front for the Chairman and his cronies, that was one thing. But if M.O.G. did occupy floor space without anyone knowing, that’s another.

I expected a simple yes or no, but Rick quickly pulled me aside and said, “How do you of M.O.G?”

Taken aback by Rick’s uncharacteristic agitation, I explained the situation, and my interest in getting to the bottom of the matter. He listened intently.

“Be careful. It is dangerous what you are doing.”

“Why?,” I asked.

“We know of M.O.G’s existence and some of what they do,” he replied.

“What part of the building do they occupy? I can’t find them anywhere,” I said.

“They are not in the building, they are under it. There is a special service elevator on the lowest level of the underground carpark. It is camouflaged, very difficult to find. The elevator travels quite some distance underground before opening to some kind of facility. The security is advanced.”

“How do you know all this?” I asked impatiently.

“That’s not important. What is important is that if your company is involved, you are involved. Be careful. They maybe watching you,” Rick said warningly.

My heart pounded. Rick wouldn’t have said these words lightly. The way he talked about M.O.G sounded like they were the devil. I was frightened by the implications.

How could there be a hidden facility under the TXU? I’m responsible for it, and I knew nothing.

How is my Chairman involved? And Who is the M.O.G that has the Cleaners spooked?

I had a restless night sleep. My anxiety was at full throttle. I wanted to drop it all like a hot potato, but there was something sinister.

I asked Kel to meet up for coffee the following morning. I needed a friend. She never let me down.

“You look tired,” she said. “What have you been doing all night without me?”

I laughed. “At least that would have taken my mind off things a little!”

“Seriously, What’s up?” asked Kel concerned.

I explained the situation, and the conversation with Rick. The whole time she didn’t flinch.

“I wish I could talk to the Chairman about it. Maybe Mr Northwood has some answers?,” I muttered.

“Mr Northwood. What is his first name?” Kel asked as her ears pricked up.

“Why?” I said.

“What is his first name?” Kel insisted.

“Alan. Mr Alan Northwood. He is the Chairman of the company,” I replied thinking it a trivial matter.

Kel’s jaw dropped. She looked stunned, as if someone had just hit her in the face.

“What’s wrong Kel?” I asked.

She became visibly disturbed and said, “He is my father.”

I was bowled over. What are the chances of the first woman I’d ever had deep affection for being the daughter of the most powerful man of my company? Better yet, what are the chances of that man being connected to the M.O.G who are, in turn, of interest to the Cleaners?

All of it was far more than coincidence—it had to be. Was it fate, destiny, or just a poor sucker being manipulated for some sick game?

Curiosity about the situation had now been overtaken by a determination to solve this puzzle.

“Your father?” I said. “What’s he like?”

“I don’t really know. We were never close. He was always away a lot, working for governments and the military, I think. He could never tell his family anything — always secrets. The intelligence community is like that,” she said. “I hated it.”

“Do you see each other now?,” I asked.

“Sometimes,” she replied. “Though we don’t talk much. It’s difficult to have a conversation when there’s so many secrets.”

I wanted to probe further. I stopped for Kel’s sake. She was innocent. I didn’t want her involved or implicated by association or conversation.

The next day I made an appointment to see Mr Northwood. By hook or by crook, I was going to confront him.

“Mr Northwood will see you now,” said his personal secretary.

She ushered me into his office and suggested I take a seat. I did. I waited for a few moments, and Mr Northwood entered via a secret side door.

His demeanour was different to the Board meetings I’d been privy too. Statesman like was the way he preferred to Chair. Always impressive. But I’d never really known him personally.

Kel’s reference to his military and government experience shone through. The intelligence community part was more difficult to get a handle on. I’d never known anyone working in those circles. But I did get a sense that he was carrying a big bag of secrets.

“How are you? Would you like a coffee or tea?” Mr Northwood asked politely.

“I’m fine. Thank you anyway,” I replied nervously.

“Well, what brings you here? The diary entry wasn’t all that clear regards the purpose of the meeting,” he explained.

“It’s about the TXU building. In working through the implementation of the cost-savings strategies the Board agreed to at its last meeting, I found something amiss. We have a sub-lease with a government-owned company called M.O.G. Your signature is on the contract and was wondering whether you could fill me in?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. It’s just a little arrangement we have with the government. A bit of ‘you-scratch-our-back-and-we’ll-scratch-yours’ sort of thing. It’s all above board. Legitimate,” he said smiling.

Even I could sense he was lying through his teeth.

Without thinking, I asked, “What about the M.O.G facility?”

As soon as the words came out, I cringed. The sub-lease provided no specific detail on anything, and only the Cleaners gave that piece of information.

Mr Northwood changed posture instantly. He looked at me sternly and said, “What facility?”

I tried to recover quickly. “Apologies Mr Northwood. I must have been confused with another sub-lease we had. I won’t waste any more of your valuable time. Thank you and good day.”

I almost ran out of the office. He didn’t follow. I couldn’t tell whether he was concerned that he didn’t know about the facility or that I did. In either case, it was worrying. I finished up for the day and left in the hopes of making myself scarce.

I wasn’t long home when there was a knock at the door. I wasn’t expecting anyone, but thought Kel was dropping in.

I opened the door to greet two men in dark suits. I almost chuckled as they were a cliché of the characters in those ‘Men in Black’ movies. Immediately, the taller of two spoke.

“Are you Ashly Maze?” he enquired politely.

“To whom I am speaking?” I said.

“We are government agents working for the Department of Defence. I’m Agent Smith and this is Agent Wesson,” displaying their badges quickly. “We were wondering whether we could talk to you about a matter of national security?”

I hesitated. Their credentials looked legitimate, so I cautiously invited them in and offered a seat. I didn’t provide tea or coffee. This meeting needed to be over quickly.

“A matter of national security?,” I asked.

“Yes, unfortunately,” said Agent Smith. “It relates to the M.O.G arrangements at the TXU. Sensitivity is needed. I’m sure you understand?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I exclaimed.

“Come now. Let’s not discredit ourselves. We know what you’ve been doing, and who you have been associating with,” he stated.

“Are you threatening me?” I said angrily.

“No need for the agitation. It’s not a threat, just helpful advice. We only ask your discretion, and in turn, you’ll receive ours. We could even be of benefit to each other,” he replied in a seedy undertone.

“And if I don’t cooperate,” I asked.

“That would be unwise,” interjected Agent Wesson.

An awkward atmosphere enveloped the room. The stone silence bludgeoning.

Agent Smith finally broke the frosty stares. “Well, thank you very much for speaking with us. I hope we don’t have to meet again.”

“I agree,” I said abruptly. “I’ll see you gentleman out.”

As we walked toward to the door, I felt a presence. It was like the feeling of being starred at but with no-one there. I couldn’t shake it.

The agents turned around to say goodbye and as they did, Agent Wesson looked at me intently. “It’s here,” he said to Agent Smith. “We need to go.”

When the door closed behind them, I was overcome with sorrow, a deep sadness. I fell to my knees and cried. The tears rained down like waterfalls on sandy cheeks, washing away any glimmer of hope that I wouldn’t be touched to the core.

When everything subsided a little, I heard a faint sound, sensed a faint vibration echoing in my chest. It was calling me.


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