Brian and Belinda arrived the Continental restaurant promptly at 9:30 and found David Braithwaite and the maître d’ waiting for them in reception. Braithwaite invited them all to his office for coffee and biscuits before they got down to business. Remembering how awful last night’s coffee had been, Brian made the excuse that they had only just had breakfast at their hotel and thought it better to get straight down to work.
While Belinda started using a pocket laser device to measure up in reception and add dimensions to her sketches of the restaurant’s layout, Brian was led off to what Braithwaite called his accountant’s office. Brian was surprised to find that the accountants were half on paper and half computerised, he hadn’t seen paper books for years. Still, whoever kept the accountants was obviously meticulous and they were bang up to date with last night’s sales already entered. Brian guessed the bookkeeper worked in the evening when the restaurant was open and if he wanted to talk to them, he would have to come back much later.
Familiar with restaurant accounts Brian quickly skimmed through them and speedily concluded that Braithwaite was making a comfortable living out of the restaurant. Brian had checked what the average wage was in a good Barbados restaurant by comparing what the 5-star hotels were paying and the Continental appeared to be paying lower. There was an exception, the owner was paying himself handsomely. The deeper he dug Brian found that the restaurant was making a decent profit after VAT and tax and was declaring both an annual dividend and an interim dividend. The share register showed only two shareholders, Braithwaite (90%) and Mrs Braithwaite (10%), so the Braithwaites were, at Brian’s first rough calculation, clearing a very good annual income out of the restaurant.
Brian realised that the reason for the partially computerised accounts was that the Barbados Revenue Authority liked to collect VAT electronically. But that left a question in his mind, why hadn’t they moved all the accounts to electronic? Brian was happy that what he was seeing was adding up and had been signed off by the company’s chartered accountants, but something just wasn’t right. The more he dug the more sure he became that something was wrong.
Belinda popped her head around the accounts office door and said she had finished measuring up and things looked no better in daylight. Suddenly a light went on in Brian’s head. “How many covers are there?” he asked Belinda. “Two hundred and fifty-four,” came the reply. “And would you say the restaurant was full last night?” “Yes,” replied Belinda, “In fact some tables were used more than once.” “So why do the accounts say there were only 230 covers sold?” said Brian. “Someone’s on the fiddle,” replied Belinda. “But whom?” asked Brian.
The team in B2 were going through all the reports they had received for a second time, just in case they had missed something, when Paolo’s mobile rang. Jinnie listened to him talking in Italian to whomever the caller was. He kept saying, “Yes,” “Yes,” “Really,” and finally, “Have you told the BPS yet?” And after a pause where he was listening, he said, “OK, I’ll do it as soon as the paperwork is emailed to me.” Putting his phone back on his desk, he addressed the room saying, “That was my contact at AISE in Rome, he tells me they have got a match for the fingerprints on the surgical glove. Apparently, someone remembered we routinely recorded the fingerprints of every overseas employee we have at our embassies, consulates and trade missions and they started checking them. They have come up with a hit and I know the guy.” Turning to Jinnie he said, “Do you remember the man, Dwayne Holding, I sacked at the consulate? Well, the prints are his. I thought he was just a useless troublemaker, but it now appears he is a German agent.”
Jinnie said, “And you have to tell the BPS, do you have an address?” “That is what I am waiting for,” replied Paolo. “They are emailing it over and I have to pass the information on to the BPS.” “Right,” said Penny, “let’s get in our cars. Jinnie, I suggest that you get the pistol out of your car and come with me. Lenny, you take Paolo, as soon as you get the address tell us before you tell the BPS. They will want to brief their team first and I’m not sure they are not leaky; I want to be at that address first to ensure no one gets away.”
The two cars, engines running, waited in the embassy compound for Paolo’s message. Jinnie watched him pick up his phone, read a message say something and Lenny started to move. Penny put her car into gear and followed Lenny out of the compound, past the gate guard. They had nearly gone a hundred metres before Jinnie’s phone pinged with a text message that read, ‘Dwayne Holding, 14, Golden Rock, Bridgetown.’ Jinnie tapped the address into the car’s Sat Nav, just in case they lost touch with Lenny, who appeared to know where he was going.
Lenny pulled into a side turning off Golden Rock and parked. Penny parked behind him and the four congregated by Lenny’s car. “I suggest Paolo stay with his car in case Dwayne has a car and makes a run for it. Paolo can follow and we can follow in the second car,” said Penny. “We three are trained field agents, so Jinnie takes the rear in case he slips out the back door while Lenny and I cover the front, Lenny up the street and me down. We don’t approach. We have no jurisdiction here, unless attacked, we just wait for the BPS heavy squad to turn up and observe. Before we go let’s have our phones on a conference call and earpieces in so that we can communicate. I know it’s not a secure network, but we don’t have field radios and we have to adapt.”
Jinnie picked her way up an alley between two houses which she hoped would give her a decent view of the rear of number 14. Passing a rusty bicycle frame and an old mattress the view opened up to reveal the rear of number 14, where folding patio doors led onto a shaded patio with three rattan garden chairs and a low table. A large ginger cat was sleeping peacefully on one of the chairs. The patio doors were closed, and nothing was moving, including the cat. Jinnie settled into some cover and pulled a baseball cap out of her jacket pocket to protect her head from the hot sun.
Penny had fallen lucky with a small bar, a few buildings down from no.14 on the opposite side of the road. She quickly sat down at a table, under an umbrella, which offered a good view of the house’s closed front door. She had only just ordered a seven up with no ice when Penny’s voice came into her ear saying, “In place, good view of the house, all quiet.” Looking up the street she could see Lenny leaning on a tree in the shade. In case she needed to move fast, Penny put the cost of the drink and a generous tip in the saucer the waitress had left the bill in.
Ten minutes passed, then twenty and nothing moved at number fourteen. Penny’s Seven Up was getting warm and so was she, but she needed to keep her jacket on so she could have her pistol on hand in its right-hand pocket. As she contemplated getting a fresh cold drink there was a sudden roar of engines, a convoy of police vehicles rushed into the street and stopped outside the house and disgorged a couple of dozen officers wearing military-style helmets and flak jackets. They were armed with automatic rifles and ran to take up positions either side of the front door and to the rear of the house. As Penny watched them hit the door lock with a battering ram, Jinnie slid into the seat beside her saying, “There are so many armed BPS at the rear of the house I was surplus to requirements so I thought I would have a cold Pepsi Max.” “Sorry,” said Penny, “It’s a Coke cafe, so you’ll have to settle for Coke Zero.”
With much yelling, the police squad charged into the house, but most emerged a few minutes later empty-handed, it seemed Dwayne was not there, and the house was empty. The SWAT squad was replaced by a forensic team in their white paper overalls and the squad began to board their vehicles while ordinary unarmed officers began to put up blue and white ‘Police – Do Not Cross’ tape around the house. The girls were joined by Lenny, and they casually walked back to their cars before explaining to Paolo the raid had come up empty.
Brian and Belinda decided that obviously David Braithwaite was running the scam but who else was in on it? “Probably the accountant,” suggested Belinda. “Yes,” replied Brian, “Looking at the wages they would appear to be earning more than the maître ‘d”. “Which would indicate that the maître ‘d is not part of the scam,” said Belinda. “Why don’t we have a quiet word and see if he was suspicious?”
Belinda found the maître ‘d in the kitchen chatting to a recently arrived man who was dressed in chefs’ whites. Belinda asked him if it was possible for her and her husband to have a cold drink and he said, “Of course, what would you like water, beer, soda?” Belinda asked, “Do you have Zero Fanta Orange?” And the maître ‘d said, “I’m sure there are some cans in the fridge in the bar, I’ll get a couple and bring them through to the accounts office.” Which is exactly what they wanted, to get him on his own with the office door shut.
It didn’t take long for Brian to discover that the maître ‘d, whose name was Michael, suspected a scam was going on and had discussed it with his good friend the head chef, Keith, but they couldn’t work out what was happening. However, they thought that from their experience a restaurant so busy and successful, charging the prices they did, had to be making a good enough profit to redecorate and pay better wages. He confided that they thought either the boss was pocketing all the profit, or it was being skimmed and to do that Mrs Braithwaite had to be in on it. Brian asked why and Michael said, “Because she is the accountant.”
Suddenly everything was clear to Brian, the Braithwaites were in it together and had seen the approach to buy the business as a good way out, to be able to live in luxury for the rest of rest of their lives and no longer worry about getting caught skimming the business. No wonder he didn’t want to stay on and manage the restaurant. It suddenly crossed Brian’s mind to check if Braithwaite’s house was on the market, was he ready to skip to another island with his ill-gotten gains? Brian was now in a bit of a dilemma; did he report Braithwaite to the police and the Revenue or take advantage of the situation and try to buy the business on the cheap and then convert the books to show the true turnover? The sudden jump in the number of covers could be put down to the refurbishment and the business would suddenly be making more money from increased sales but the overheads would be the same for food, drink and wages.
A plan began to emerge in Brian’s mind, which he would have to discuss with Jinnie. He was happy with the staff, they didn’t seem to be in on the scam, they appeared to work well together, the service was good, the food was good, all that was needed was an honest manager and bookkeeper, which he was sure they could be recruited locally. There were any number of four and five-star hotel restaurants on the island where a good under-manager, or even manager, would jump at the chance of working for a high-class business with ambitions to establish a chain of high-class restaurants across the Caribbean. The same must apply to a bookkeeper. Of course, he would need to keep the staff together, they were a brigade and that was what made the restaurant tick. If he upped the wages to match those on offer at the island’s good hotel restaurants his instincts told him the business would still be making a handsome profit without having to put up prices and the staff would be more than happy.
Smiling happily Brain set to work on his iPad creating a spreadsheet in Barbados Dollars, working out how much the business was worth based on the books he was looking at. And how much it was worth if he adjusted the turnover by a minimum of the average take per cover, multiplied by the 24 unreported covers a night. How much he could knock off the price of the business by hinting he knew what was happening with the books and the implied threat of a word to the Revenue Service. He then did a rough calculation of what the new wage bill would be. Following that he looked at all the other outgoings, food and wine he had a good idea should remain unchanged, as should gas, electricity, water, and local taxes. Even when he added in a line for refurbishment which Belinda had guesstimated at around B$500,000 the spreadsheet revealed a substantial first year profit.
Brain sat and scratched his head before deciding to add in a two-week closure for the refurbishment, but paying everyone their full wage while the work was being done. Of course, he could also reduce food and drink costs for those two weeks. He thought about gas, electricity and water during the closedown, but decided the building contractor would need them and although they would almost certainly not need the full amount the kitchen consumed on a normal day he couldn’t hazard a guess what the difference would be, so he decided to leave that alone. Finally, for good measure, he added in a profit-sharing scheme and was delighted to see that the first year was still making a good profit and year two where refurbishment was replaced by a much lower maintenance sum was excellent. Brian picked up his phone and messaged Jinnie, “I need to talk urgently, can we come up to the villa around 6 this evening?”
The B2 meeting room was quiet as the team searched the internet for information on Dwayne. His Facebook page revealed pictures of him and friends, and his friend’s pages were being searched. Other sites he visited and posted on were found. Slowly his online life was being exposed. Suddenly Jinnie’s phone pinged to notify a text message had been received. Jinnie’s first thought on getting Brian’s text was, ‘Oh no, there is a problem with the books,’ but she texted back, ‘OK I’ll book a table for dinner at a beach restaurant, I hope you like fish.’
Quickly Jinnie fired off a text to Lucia to ask if she and Vincenzo would like to join the family for an early dinner at a fish restaurant. Instantly she got a, “Yes, please,” back. Next, she texted Izzy to say, “Please don’t make dinner tonight, I am booking the beach restaurant again and will be bringing guests. Please have the twins ready for six o’clock.” Finally, she stepped into the corridor and phoned Anderson to book a table for seven people and an adjacent table for four. She intended her and Paolo sitting with Brian and Belinda, so that the others wouldn’t have to listen to Trattoria Trevi business. Once again Anderson said as they were wanting an early booking, he could accommodate them but he needed the tables for an 8:30 booking, and did they want lobster? This time Jinnie said, “Yes, please. Get four and if any of my group don’t eat you add to my bill, and I’ll take them home and we can have homemade lobster-filled ravioli tomorrow.” “Now that sounds good,” replied Anderson. “I might pinch that and add it to my menu. It would make a great dish for a delivery kitchen.” Jinnie thought, ‘I’d buy that, I must talk to Alberto to get his thoughts on adding it to our U.K. delivery menu.’
When Jinnie and Paolo left for home, the team still hadn’t located Dwayne, but they knew a lot more about him and were certain he would post on the internet sooner rather than later and give his location away. Washed and smartly dressed twins greeted their parents as soon they arrived home. Willie said, “Izzy says we are going to the beach restaurant again tonight, please can we have fish fingers, chips and peas again? It was ace last night.” Jinnie laughed, said, “I expect so,” and wondered where ‘ace’ had come from. Her babies were growing up so fast it was scary.
Brian and Belinda arrived a couple of minutes after six. The twins were delighted to see their godparents, accepting their being in Barbados as being perfectly normal. When minutes later Lucia and Vincenzo arrived, the party set off on the short walk to the beach restaurant, Willie holding hands with Belinda on one side and Lucia on the other while Millie was hand in hand with Brian and Dan. Izzy whispered to Jinnie, “It looks like we are redundant this evening.”
Jinnie and Paolo sat with Brian and Belinda on the table for four and ordered their food. Jinnie decided to have the lobster and Brian joined her, while Belinda went for crab and Paolo decided that he would have red snapper as Jinnie’s had looked so good the previous evening. As they waited for their prawn cocktail starters, Brian told Jinnie and Paolo of his review of the restaurant books. By the time he finished his tale they had nearly finished their main courses and Jinnie was expecting him to recommend not to proceed with the purchase.
Brain picked up his iPad and said, “I think we have a rare opportunity here, to buy a thriving business on the cheap and make it even better. If from day one we link it into our accounting system we can ensure that it will be operating fully within the law. If the authorities investigate the business we are as clean as the driven snow, any wrongdoing will be totally down to the previous owners.” With that he fired up his spreadsheet and handed the iPad over to Jinnie who shared it with Paolo. Jinnie immediately looked at the bottom line before going back and reading through the workings. Over coffee she questioned some of the assumptions, but Brian defended his corner and in the end both she and Paolo recognised the spreadsheet was realistic.
However, Paolo pointed out that they couldn’t afford to allow anyone to think that they knew anything was iffy with the accounts and had used it to drive the restaurant purchase price down by as much as Brian was suggesting. He also pointed out that Brian hadn’t included the use of a table more than once in an evening. Brian quickly made a copy of the spreadsheet and amended the copy to reflect Paolo’s suggestions paying more for the restaurant but adding another 20 covers a night. Surprisingly the bottom line hardly changed.
Jinnie loved it, her initial assessment was looking to be right, was she developing a restauranteur’s eye? She said to Brian, “Well I think I can recommend that to the board and I presume you will be doing so too, but I want to show this to Alberto tomorrow. He arrived this afternoon, but I have left him alone to recover from the flight. He isn’t as young as he used to be, and he was in Economy. Now to other business, what do you think of the food here?” “Really good,” replied Brian. “I agree,” added Belinda. “I must admit that when you said we would be eating at a beach restaurant I did rather worry but this is quite beautiful, and the fish is really good.”
“I am glad you like it because Anderson the owner loves the delivery kitchen idea and would like to lease one if we go ahead and expand here. If we don’t, I think he would go ahead and set up a kitchen here with local businesses. I have been thinking about the structure of a Caribbean business and I can see a Barbadian subsidiary where DKL owns 90% and we have a local 10% owner. The advantage is we have someone out here permanently keeping an eye on things and I think Anderson could be the man.” “Obviously I haven’t met him,” said Brian, “But I like the idea in principle. Our man in Barbados appeals. I think I might pop back during the day tomorrow and have a chat over a beer or three.”
Turning to Belinda, Jinnie asked how she was getting on with her refurbishment ideas. Belinda replied, “Very well, I have done dimensioned sketches of the restaurant which I have sent back to Andrew. He will have the team turn them into a 3D model and produce 2D drawings and a specification for refurbishment. I have appointments with three local refurbishment companies here in Bridgetown tomorrow. If I like them, I will have them quote for the work against the Drawings and Specifications.”
“I want someone who can handle the whole job, not just the redecorations,” continued Belinda, “they need to be able to look after all the different trades including the electrics and the air conditioning. I don’t care if they do it in-house or sub it out, I just want to send them an electronic bidder’s package, so we can have competitive tenders, I don’t want to have someone out here overseeing the work – that probably wouldn’t be economic. I just want to fly in, snag the project, hand it over to you and fly straight home. There are loads of refurbishment companies in Barbados so we can easily expand the search if I don’t like what I see tomorrow. Mind if you go for a chain of Auntie JoJo’s and dark kitchens there could be a lot of work for the right company, maybe I’ll be looking for a purchase like you.”
In Chapter 7 – Brooke likes what she sees
© WorthingGooner 2023