THE MAKING OF A MYSTERIOUS MASTERMIND

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By Clive Mutiso

THE MAKING OF A MYSTERIOUS MASTERMIND T he managing director had dined well. Truth to tell, he had dined a little too well. As the expatriate head of a listed manufacturing company, he was provided with a generous salary and benefits, including a furnished house in Karen, a sleek car, and membership of an exclusive members’ club in a prime area at the northern edge of the city. He was also entitled to a driver, but chose always to drive himself, and therein lay the cause of the challenge that now confronted him. After a splendid four-course meal accompanied by the appropriate wines, he had repaired to the mens’ bar of the club and there, in the company of his small circle of convivial friends, he had been persuaded to have one for the road. One became two, then more than a few, and after several hours, and way past midnight, the MD now sat in his car, the engine running, but so confused that he could not remember the route from where he was to Karen and his bed. But you don’t get to be a captain of industry without acquiring deductive skills to get yourself out of a quandary. He had driven to the club from the factory in the Industrial Area only a few hours earlier, and he was sure that he could remember how to retrace his route back to the factory. He was confident that he could navigate the familiar route from the factory to the house. So he set off, driving slowly and deliberately. The journey seemed to take forever, but the further he progressed, the more he recognised familiar landmarks, and the more sure he was that he was on the right route. But as he made the final turn onto the factory road, he slowed to a halt and sat, open-mouthed, in amazement. Instead of a silent and darkened factory, with just perimeter security lights, he was confronted with the whole complex completely illuminated, and the sound of many machines in full operation. It was 2 am, the factory had finished its single shift the evening before, and no maintenance was scheduled. Something was seriously amiss. The security guard seemed nervous as he swung open the gate, almost as though he was reluctant to let the MD into his own factory, and as soon as he stepped out of his car, the MD knew why. The machine noise was overwhelming. The whole factory was in full production. An unbranded truck stood at the dispatch door being loaded with product and three more vehicles awaited their turn to load. From befuddlement, the MD suddenly found himself stone cold sober. As he strode into the production area, he found the whole factory staff hard at work, every well-oiled machine running like a well-oiled machine, and production being churned out at full speed under the watchful eye of the Production Director. The investigation began at once, on the spot. Extra security personnel were called in, senior managers were summoned from their beds, the external auditors were asked to put together a task force, and a full stock check and audit got under way. The results produced an astonishing outcome. Not a carton of product was missing. All the factory’s raw material and packaging stocks were intact. Utility bills were no higher than normal.

But you don’t get to be a captain of industry without acquiring deductive skills to get yourself out of a quandary. He had driven to the club from the factory in the Industrial Area only a few hours earlier, and he was sure that he could remember how to retrace his route back to the factory.

Everything balanced. But when a corner store was opened, all became clear. Inside was a vast stock of raw material that had been purchased for cash, and delivered at night after normal working hours, along with packaging materials, machine spare parts and lubricants, and everything else that was needed to run a surreptitious night shift seven days a week. The whole operation, which had been going on for years, even had a code name. One For The Boys. Staff in the utility companies had received bundles of cash to deal with excessive power and water consumption, and the factory workers had received extra payments in cash for all the secret shifts they had worked. Everything had been planned and executed with engineering precision. Which was hardly surprising, since the Production Director was an engineer. It was not a victimless crime, and the fallout was massive. The company’s production was subject to tax and excise duty, and profits paid dividends to shareholders and corporation and taxes to government. Payroll taxes were due on money paid to the people who had worked the secret shifts. No tax had been paid at any stage of the operation. The night deliveries had been made to ready cash buyers. The shareholders had lost, the government had lost, and the company’s regular customers had been placed at a disadvantage by shadowy black market competitors. Inevitably, heads rolled. Security contracts were cancelled and more diligent companies were engaged. Suppliers were penalised. Workers were retired, or sacked, or steadily replaced. Managers who had been asleep on watch were asked to seek employment elsewhere. The buck stopped with the managing director, who was ignominiously sent home. It fell to another senior board member to confront the Production Director and inform him of his fate, as if he did not already know what the outcome would be. Nevertheless, it was not an easy interview for either party. The executioner had known the Production Director for years and had mentored him at key stages of his career. He had come to regard him as a friend and protege. The close relationship made the betrayal all the more painful, especially since so many others had suffered and would be suffering. The Production Director had no intention of making things easy for his counterpart, and argued his case vigorously. Although it was suspected that he had spirited away millions of dollars over the years, nobody had been able to trace the money, and there was no paper trail. As a director of a highly profitable listed company, he was on the sort of remuneration package that did not make his visible lifestyle in any way out of the ordinary. But the money had to be somewhere, and he must have had a plan for it to have risked a career that had promised only further advancement. The discussion started calmly enough, with the senior director laying out in excruciating detail all that had been discovered. However things became increasingly heated as the Production Director flatly refused to resign, or even show any remorse for what he was suspected to have done. He infuriated the senior man by steadfastly sticking to one stubborn line of argument: “There is not one piece of paper that links me to any of this. You do not have a single shred of evidence.” Finally, in exasperation and rage, the senior director leapt to his feet and pointed down to the culprit: “You can argue as much as you like, but you are fired, and that’s the end of it. Pack your personal belongings and leave the premises. You can deny all you want but we all know, even you, that you were the mastermind.” It took the Production Director only a few minutes to pack, and as he did he mused to himself: “Mastermind? Now that gives me an idea.” He packed his things into his personal car, drove out of the factory gate, and headed in the direction of Nakuru. clivemutiso@gmail.com

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