Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
“This is the Stop Fraud hotline of the Department of Employment Assistance. My name is Flynn. How can I help?”
“I want to report the woman across the road. She’s ripping you off.”
“I can certainly assist with that, madam. Do you know her name?”
“Louisa Templehoff. That’s with two effs.”
“Do you know her address?”
“19 Maidendrove Way, Barnet Wood, West Sussex, RH22 6KW.”
“Thank you. Can I take your evidence?”
“She’s stealing! Money that could help real poor people. It’s my taxes! I have a right to demand she get sorted out!”
“I do understand, madam, but I will need more details. After all, what would this country come to if all you had to do was point a finger and shout loudly to get people ostracised?”
“Miss Templehoff gave herself away, and you spotted it. How?”
“Well, since you ask, it’s her fancy man. He turns up once a month, always near dark, in a swish car. It’s a long, low one that’s really quiet. Wears a nice suit, unloads big bags, only stays a night. Can’t be for her looks, handsome bloke that he is. Anyway, he always leaves early, and never with more than one bag. If you ask me, she’s selling drugs for him.
“When she always goes out with her brat on tow, he’s got one of them new watches with a holo-wotsit display. How can she afford that working at the farm shop? Maisie tells me she’s never brought her kid to work, either. How does she pay for day-care? And you should see her phone. Oh my God, I can’t afford a basic Z-Phone, let alone the big one in the etched chrome case like she has! Then there’s her home. No old stuff at all. It all looks new, and her main screen is huge! Maisie’s hubby Jeff works at the Entertainment Hub store outside Chi. He said it costs over two grand! How can she claim to be poor if she can afford that sort of-”
“Let me stop you there, madam. That’s a lot of information, and I need to clarify some things.”
“Who is Maisie?”
“My best friend.”
“The swish car: did you notice the number plate?”
“648X701. Maisie’s Jeff thinks it’s a private plate. What’s someone who can afford those doing visiting a shop assistant in Barnet Wood?”
“A good question, madam. Now, I see you’ve called about this before. What made you call again?”
“She hasn’t been arrested!”
“You did receive the results of our last investigation, didn’t you?”
“Yes. But I’m sure her fancy man has friends in high places. Got the investigation shut down.”
“Madam, the investigation was not interfered with. It found no fraud.”
“That’s a lie. I’m not wrong. Maisie said it’s like those infovids you see online. You think they’re raving, until it happens to you. So you make sure your people do their jobs this time. Get her sent back home.”
Removing the headset, Flynn looks at the information laid out across his displays. ‘Louisa Templehoff’ has never claimed benefits. The diplomatic number plate gave him a clue. Routine queries and media archives provided enough to fill the gaps.
A princess from one of the asteroid belt monarchies had a fling while holidaying on Mars. Got pregnant. Refused to ‘do the right thing’. Disowned by her family, she quickly slipped from the news. Ten years later, it seems she’s settled, quietly raising her son in a little village on Earth.
It’s an unexpectedly happy ending – apart from the bigot who lives across the road.