I rode the lift down to the floor below my office. All of the administration and IT support staff worked on this floor, and I needed the help of one person who could find the information proving the geo report had been modified.
Simon Fielding was the company’s system administrator. As usual, he wasn’t sitting at his desk, so I walked across to the server room where he seemed to spend most of his time. The sound of humming computers was audible through the closed door.
My swipe card had no access to the server room; only Simon and the company directors were authorized, so I rapped on the door sharply. There was no answer. It was common for him to not hear over the servers, so I waited a few moments and knocked again.
I was about to knock a third time when the door handle twisted and the door opened. The muffled hum from the room suddenly became a cacophony of servers, fans, and air conditioners. Simon slipped out of the room, quickly closing the door behind him.
If it were possible for Simon Fielding to be more the stereotypical computer nerd, it wouldn’t take much. He was in his early twenties and wore a black Space Invaders T-shirt and jeans, his thin, pale face behind large glasses and messy, greasy hair.
“Hey, Nat,” he said as he walked back to his desk. Simon was far more comfortable around computers, but we shared a love of science fiction so he was usually chatty with me. Today, however, he seemed stressed and sullen, unwilling to make eye contact.
“Is everything okay?” I asked, concerned.
He waved away the question. “Yes, just stressed,” he replied. “One of the… one of the servers has issues, trying to find it.” Simon had days where social interaction was difficult, so I didn’t press further.
“Look, I can see you’re busy and I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t urgent,” I said, “but can I please get you to check something for me?”
Simon finally looked at me, pausing before answering. “I suppose so, as long as it doesn’t take too long.”
“Thanks, Simon,” I said, relieved. “It shouldn’t take long.” I reached into my pocket and took out a post-it note with the file name and the modified date on it. “I need a backup copy of this file,” handing him the note, “from before this date.”
Simon stared at the note for a moment, his expression uncertain. “Look,” he said, “Let me take a look, but there are no guarantees I’ll have it.”
“I thought we had to keep all of this information for at least a year after the project ends,” I replied.
“Oh yeah,” he said, his face unreadable. He paused for a moment. “That’s just for the, umm, latest versions of the info. It might be there. Give me an hour and I’ll check for you.”
I opened my mouth to challenge his assertion but decided to let it go.
“Thank you,” I smiled as I turned to leave. “Look forward to hearing from you soon.”
Simon was already engrossed in whatever was on his screen and didn’t respond. I hoped that he could find that backup, it could be the key piece of evidence I needed.
I returned to my desk, starting to feel more optimistic. Even without the backup copy, the fact it had been modified during the course of the project would at least raise questions. However, I really did need to see what it had contained beforehand.
It had been a rather eventful morning. Most of the day, I corrected myself, checking the time on my computer. 2 pm. I started to idly check through my emails, both in an attempt to do something productive and to distract myself while waiting for Simon.
The time passed slowly. I considered phoning Dave to let him know what I had found but decided it was better to wait until I had had a chance to examine the earlier geological survey report. Assuming it still existed, I thought to myself.
The existence of the earlier file didn’t give any real evidence as to who changed it. But knowing how much money Olsen had riding on this project, there had to be a significant amount of motive for ensuring that it went ahead without delay.
Of course, that blasted Detective Symonds could assert that I changed it to hide a mistake when I was drawing up the plans, that I informed the police to throw suspicion from myself. From his perspective, I realized, it was a plausible chain of events.
I shook my head. I was getting ahead of myself. The first thing was to find out what was on that geological report. Once I had that and could see what was different, then I could show the motive for changing it and how Olsen benefitted from hiding it.
It was nearly 4 pm, and I began to steel myself against the likelihood that Simon couldn’t locate the old backup of the report. But finally, an email flashed on my computer. It was from Simon. It read, “Found your thing, come down and pick it up. S.”
I blew a sigh of relief. “At last,” I whispered to myself. I sent a short “Be there in a tick,” in reply, then grabbed my swipe card and a memory stick and headed to the lift. Finally, I could see what Olsen was so eager to hide and even kill for.
Two minutes later, I approached Simon’s desk. He looked up, seeming ill at ease. “Sorry it took longer than expected,” he said.
“I’m just glad you found it,” I said as I handed him my memory stick. He grabbed it and plugged it into his computer.
“I hope it has what you’re after,” he replied. He copied the file onto my USB stick, then unplugged it and handed it to me. “Don’t tell anyone I gave you that, I’m not supposed to extract backups without an RFB,” referring to a Request From Backup form.
“Don’t worry, nobody will hear it from me,” I smiled. “And thank you for doing this, I appreciate it more than you probably know.”
“No problem,” he answered as he turned toward his keyboard. “I’d better get back to diagnosing this server fault.”
“Sorry for bothering you with this,” I said. “And thank you again.” I returned to my desk, inserted the memory stick into my computer and opened the file Simon had given me.
I expanded the area where the water was seeping through the concrete. Leaning close the screen, I examined it carefully, comparing it to the plans I had submitted prior to construction. There was a clear discrepancy. The clay layer that showed as fifty meters clear of the site was barely a meter or so from the footings.
This explained the water in the lower basement. The footing was too close to the clay deposit. It didn’t show up because the excavation had been just inside the bedrock and the clay remained hidden a mere meter away in the untouched ground.
That meter wasn’t enough, and due to either the excavation itself or the weight of the heavy clay, the bedrock had cracked, allowing the moisture to seep through and into the footing. It couldn’t be easily fixed now the building was constructed.
I traced a line along where the building’s foundations skirted the clay deposit, the clay was barely three meters away along the whole length of the building. There was more than just the one corner affected and at risk of being structurally unsound.
It could have been avoided had the plans taken into account the location of the clay deposit, but that meant the completed shopping mall would have been considerably smaller than it was now. Smaller also meant less impressive, and with fewer shops.
And fewer shops means less money. The whole project would not be as profitable, and that can’t have made Samuel Olsen happy. Money was as good a motive for murder as any. This must be what Walthers had discovered. What he had been killed to conceal.
It looked like I had my answer. Was it enough to take it to Symonds? I wasn’t sure. I needed to take another look at that basement to confirm what I’d found. If I was right, there should be indications of moisture or even cracks further along the wall.
There was no way I was going on my own this time. I picked up my phone and rang Dave. He answered after the first ring.
“Nat! Is everything okay?” He sounded anxious.
“Yes, I’m fine, Dave,” I replied. “Look, I think I uncovered what Walthers found.” I quickly explained about the clay and the modified geological reports.
“My God,” he said. “That would have reduced the value of the project by millions.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “Dave, I need to go take another look at the basement to verify all of this.”
“I’m coming with you.”
I smiled into my phone. “That’s why I called you, I was going to ask you to come.”
“No way I was going to say no, babe.”
“I know. It shouldn’t take long, and once I’ve checked that wall, I will take everything to Symonds.”
“Why not take it to him now?”
“He thinks I’m the one who murdered Walthers, so I need to give him Olsen’s motive behind it all.”
“Wait, what? He thinks YOU are a suspect?”
“Apparently. I need to show him proof that I didn’t just cover up a mistake.”
“My God,” he replied, the disgust obvious in his voice. “That man’s head is so far up his a…”
“I know, but let’s sort this out and make sure I’m no longer a suspect,” I said quickly, cutting him off mid-sentence.
“All right,” Dave answered simply. “I’ll pick you up from outside your office building in twenty minutes, okay?”
“Okay,” I said. “The site will be closed by the time we get there, but the police are leaving the gate open so they can access the basement where Walthers’ body was found.”
“I know, I just want this to be over. I can’t stop thinking about Elliot Walthers. His job could be dangerous, but nobody deserves to die under these circumstances.”
“If we find the killer, his wife will have closure.”
“That’s not much of a consolation for her.”
“No, it’s not, but it’s all we can do. Let’s find who DID do it for her and prove that you aren’t involved in any of this.”
“Okay, I will see you in twenty. Let’s try to catch ourselves a killer.”