Corporate Killer – the Town Hall Cuts

A Change of Plan

Linda was sent home with a police escort, and this aided her recovery tremendously.  The bra, complete with wrapping, was still in the incident room but once the financial significance of a genuine Rigby and Peller bra was explained to her, Linda began making noises about when it would be returned to her.  Ruby and Sally wondered if this might signal a new era in Linda’s state of uplift, then discounted the idea – one posh bra does not an uplift make.

Back in the incident room DS Hammond was stalking up and down like a woman possessed; this change of pattern puzzled her and whilst she enjoyed puzzles normally, this was beginning to become irksome.  Saving Linda from the jaws of death was a distinct success but not one that she could repeat.  After moving from desk-to-desk chivvying along people who didn’t really need the aggravation, she went back to her office and settled there, fingertips steepled as she pondered the killer’s next move. 

Sally found her there after knocking very tentatively at the door.  Relief that Linda was not going to meet an unpleasant end had been replaced by concerns about the others who were still on the hit list. Louis was still foraging around the building, Hester and Graham were busy irritating everyone they came in contact with, Tracey had departed for her narrow boat jaunt with her friend Angela as planned, and Susie was continuing with her elaborate and completely over the top garden party.  The cream of local society had been invited according to Susie and it would undoubtedly be the event of the year.  Sally, overhearing Susie boast about the food and decorations she had ordered thought that it sounded more like a pretentious church fete rather than the scaled down Buckingham Palace garden party that Susie was describing.

DS Hammond looked up as Sally carefully opened the door.  Eyebrow cocked she waited for Sally to speak like some imperious head mistress at a genteel boarding school.

“I was wondering about – well – the others on the list – only …”

“…They’re still on the list.  Yes, I’m fully aware of that and they are all under close observation.  Your friend Louis is exceptionally adept at pilfering from other people’s offices but you all seem to tolerate his larceny so he’s just providing amusement to the officers watching him on the CCTV that he doesn’t know has been installed throughout the building.  I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that Hester has some kind of learning difficulty; she eventually told me that she may – or may not – be going to a club in Liverpool this evening to see a troop of Armenian clog dancers.  That building attendant is bone idle when he isn’t trying to creep his way into my incident room.  Tracey and Angela are being very closely watched by members of the Welsh Constabulary – or so I’m told.  Having dealt with them previously that probably means a solitary bobby sitting on a fold up garden chair behind a bush.  Unfortunately, my inspector doesn’t feel that we can afford to put our own people down there whilst there is such a high presence here.  Making arrangements to cover this ridiculous garden party is going to eat into our resources enough as it is.  Is there no way anyone can persuade this ridiculous woman to cancel? It can’t be that important surely?”

DS Hammond’s intolerance was etching itself into her normally glacial complexion and Sally was sure that she could see a tiny muscle twitching uncontrollably at the corner of one eye.  

“Susie is very much a part of local society.  These events are like life blood to her.  I often feel that she only comes into work to show off her latest fashion acquisitions, and that we’re just a proving ground before she unleashes her outfit on the next cocktail party or dinner dance.  This garden party is the high point on her social calendar.  It would kill her to cancel it.  Oh!”  Sally stopped abruptly as she realised what she had said.

“Would it?  Would it indeed?  I suppose that in that case we will have to let her carry on with this ridiculous event.  Does she have nothing better to do?”

It was Sally’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Are we referring to her working life or personal life?  If it’s the former, then she has plenty of things she should be doing but she prefers to swan around the building like Lady Bountiful.  I’ve noticed that her leisurely lunches are a bit shorter now that Tracey has gone off on her boat, but otherwise her productivity is pretty non-existent.  As far as her home life is concerned – well you probably know more about it than I do – I think she has a timid husband, a couple of kids who’ve left home and rumour has it she’s been knocking off one of the councillors for years.”

“I can better you on that one.  She has one son who is married with children.”

“Susie!  A grandma!  I’d never have guessed.”

“I don’t think she’s exactly hands-on.  Her son and his family immigrated to New Zealand shortly after their second child was born.  They would appear to be estranged although her husband keeps in contact.”

“I won’t ask where you got all that information from.  I’d better get back to my office; I’ve a couple of e-mails and meetings that need sorting out first and then I’ll go home.  I know Linda irritates me but I’m hugely relieved that she’s off the hook now.”

DS Hammond looked sceptically at Sally and the moment of entente cordiale was broken.  “Let’s not forget who this whole thing started.  You and your hit list.”

Sally felt a cold chill sweep over her body and at the same time a flush of embarrassment coloured her face.  “Yes.  I hadn’t exactly forgotten my part in all this either.  It’s something that I will always regret but I’m doing my best to prevent anything else happening aren’t I?”  Sally tried not to let the emotion break through but her voice sounded strange and strangled.

“Go and sort out your e-mails.  I’m hoping that this change of plan might signify a change of heart in our killer.  He or she has seemed so determined to work through the list until now that nothing anyone did would deter them.  The bra delivery and Linda’s obvious uplift issues might indicate that whoever did this has a sense of humour – albeit warped – but the concordance with your wishes may mean we’re not dealing with a psychopath – I hope.”

“Thanks.  Do you want me down here tomorrow?”

“I’ll let you know.”  DS Hammond turned to her computer screen in an obvious sign of dismissal.  Sally let herself out of the office and walked back up stairs to her office with a heavy heart.  There was a note from Ruby, who had gone home earlier but it was nothing urgent.  Sitting at her desk, Sally unlocked the computer. There was only one outstanding report to be completed, and turning on some music she settled down to type. 

The door to her office was open and though it was in a fairly quiet part of the building, there seemed to be quite a lot of human traffic this afternoon.  One of Donal’s colleagues caught her eye and waved as she walked past.  Sally returned the wave and pulled herself back to the rather boring but complex report, trying to focus on the contents rather than on Linda’s narrow escape and the still present danger to the others.

The sound of the follow-you printer outside the door embarking on a lengthy print job provided a soothing background and an accompaniment to the non-demanding music Sally was playing.  She couldn’t see who was at the printer as they were standing to the left of her doorway, but whoever it was, Sally was grateful that they weren’t distracting her.  The peace was broken when another colleague came out to use the printer and instead of coming back later, decided to stay and launch into a loud and particularly tiresome discourse on what she was going to have for dinner that night, what a pig her boyfriend was and how she was really fed up with that fact that a mutual colleague was being promoted whilst she had been passed over.

The volume and content of the conversation would have been enough but the woman then decided to prance about in the doorway; the voice and back view were unfamiliar and Sally concluded that she must be new because most people had the courtesy to keep the noise down in the corridor when her office door was open.   She tried to block it out but the next peel of high-pitched cackling was too much.  To shut the door on people was rude and Sally had no desire to cause offence but couldn’t work with this amount of noise.

Wearily she got to her feet and walked slowly to the doorway.  “I’m sorry but would you mind keeping the noise down please?  Or perhaps having a chat somewhere else?  I find the noise and the jumping about rather distracting.”

The animated conversationalist turned around to her with a look of extreme dislike. “What are you talking about?  We’ve only been here a few seconds.  We’re allowed to talk.  If you don’t like it you should shut your door and not interfere.”  Her body language and the tone of her voice were both defensive and aggressive, taking Sally completely by surprise.

“Look, I’m sorry if you’re upset about this,” she replied, “But this corridor is not an extension of your office and we’ve asked before that you try not to stand right outside our door and talk.  There are confidentiality issues if you’re talking about work and if you’re not talking about work, this is really not an appropriate place to chat.”

“Oh, stop making such a fuss about nothing.  You don’t own the place. Just because you’ve got cosy with the police doesn’t make you important.  You’re just a glorified secretary who’s running around doing their donkey work.”  She flounced back into the office, followed by her colleague, who had finished her copying and looked apologetically at Sally as she left.

“Are you okay Sally?”  Donal appeared in the doorway of his office.

Sally’s first instinct was to burst into tears and confide all to her very dear friend, but the possibility that Donal might be involved in the murders in some way made her hold back and try to put a brave face on it.  She smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

“It’s nothing Donal, I think she’s new or agency.  People don’t realise how much noise they make out here or how distracting it can be.  I like having the door open though.”

“Why don’t you say something to her manager?”

“Oh, we have.   Trouble is, they’re a big team and their office is a very noisy place.  I don’t blame them for needing to get outside the office to talk but I’d rather they didn’t do it right outside my door.   Most of them are fine but a couple are of the opinion that if they have to work in the middle of chaos then so should we.”

He smiled, looking less strained than he had earlier on.  “I tend to hear them more than any of the others in our room, but our door is kept shut and as it’s a fire door it tends to dampen the noise down.  It was the beeping of the printer that drove me mad.”

“I know.  It’s particularly bad when they press the wrong buttons, which is why we asked the printer technician to turn the noise off.  Would you believe there were people in that office who actually complained because the machine had stopped beeping?” 

Sally was doing her best to keep the conversation as light as possible so that Donal wouldn’t see how much the girl had upset her, and felt she’d managed to carry it off as Donal went back into his office and she went returned to her own.

The unexpected reaction had left her feeling shaky and quite tearful; she put it down to the stress of the last week and tried to lose herself in the report again.

There was an authoritative knock on the door and Sally looked up to see the deputy manager from the office next door.  Forcing a smile on her face, she had a sinking feeling that there was going to be more conflict now.

“What’s the problem?  I’ve got a member of staff who is very upset because you’ve just had a go at her for making too much noise.”

Sally’s mouth dropped open in astonishment.   “She’s upset!  Excuse me, but all I did was ask her to keep the noise down and not to stand right in the doorway of the office. I’m not even sure why she was out there because she wasn’t using the printer.”

“She came out to discuss something for a few seconds and you interrupted her and told her to shut up and go away.”

“She wasn’t discussing work.  She was talking about her dinner, her boyfriend and how jealous she was of someone else’s promotion.  It takes me more than a few seconds to get up off my chair and cross the room.  I’d already put up with it for several minutes before I said anything.  I certainly did not tell her to shut up and go away; I would never be so rude.  Did I upset the person who was out there with her too?”

The deputy looked a little nonplussed.  “Well, she said she didn’t really hear much because she was trying to sort out the printing and wasn’t paying much attention.  You’ve just got to learn to be more accommodating though.  You can’t stop people talking to each other. I don’t think you appreciate how upset people are about all these dreadful murders.”

“I would never be so presumptuous,” said Sally, trying very hard to keep her rising temper under control.  “Would you be as accommodating if Ruby and I walked into your office and had a loud conversation about our families in front of you?”

“Well, no but that’s not the same thing …”

“It is.  This is a small office and it can get quite claustrophobic.  Our remit is to have an open-door policy as much as possible so that people can feel free to come and talk to us.  If people come up the stairs and see the door shut, they often go away again with out knocking.”

“Our door is shut all the time, so is Donal’s, people still come in our office.”

“Both your door and Donal’s have a window so that people can see if you are in or not.  You both have larger teams than us so there’s more chance that there will be someone in the office. Most people stand on the other side of the printer and keep their voices down.  I’ve never had anyone stand right in the doorway, jumping around and giggling before.”

“I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about that.” The deputy shot back into her office, Sally looked at her computer screen and sighed at the irony of it all.  She knew that the murders had made people feel nervous and stressed, no one knew that better than her, but now it was being used as another excuse to gossip in the corridor.    Three more e-mails had arrived in the meantime and two of them needed urgent action.  Sally wanted to get out of the building more than anything but squaring her shoulders; she got down to drafting responses before returning to the sadly neglected report.

The light outside the window was fading when Sally was finally satisfied with her work.  She texted her husband and arranged for him to collect her in twenty minutes time.  Someone had turned the lights out in the corridor and most people had left to go home some time ago.  Looking to her left she saw that Donal was still sitting at his computer, which was unusual considering his habit was to leave at four o’clock for a long journey home by bus and train.  She was about to knock on the door to say goodbye but decided not to disturb him after all.

The building was very quiet as she walked along the corridor to the time clock; only one or two workers were still at their desks and the office cleaners were busy emptying bins and cleaning the toilets.  She passed the young girl who was reputed to be having an affair with Derek; she looked pale and her eyes red-rimmed, giving Sally yet another reminder of the havoc her hit list had caused. 

There was a small gap in the curtains of the conference room letting out the bright lights that indicated the police were still very busy.  The police officer outside the door nodded at her as she passed and she felt a small sense of reassurance. 

The familiar sight of her husband, waiting patiently in the car with the radio turned up loud, was the best part of what had been a truly horrendous day, and she heaved a great sigh of relief as she got in the car and sat down.

Poisoned Biscuits and Clog Dancers

The look on the faces of the policemen sat outside her house next morning was enough to warn Sally that something else had gone amiss.  There was a knock on the door within minutes of her pulling up the kitchen blinds. “Sorry Sally, no time for bacon butties today.  The boss wants you in as soon as possible.  We aren’t allowed to say any more than that.”

Sally nodded mutely and went back upstairs to throw on some clothes and kiss her husband and children goodbye.  The trip into work in the company of two hungry and strangely silent policemen was unnerving and Sally was glad that it was such a short journey. She went straight to the incident room where DC Long was waiting for her.  He took her across the corridor to DS Hammond’s seconded office and tapped gently on the closed door.

“Come!” was the stentorian response.  He grimaced at Sally and opened the door for her.  DS Hammond indicated the chair opposite with a nod of her head and Sally, too dispirited to argue, sat down and waited for her to speak.

“Last night was a disappointment.  I thought we were getting somewhere in overturning the devastation that your incredibly stupid list has wrought but no!  We now have one member of your staff in hospital and another in the morgue.  So, do you have anything to say?”

Sally felt her hackles rising but the desire to know what had happened was paramount. She took a deep breath and tried to keep the anger and anxiety out of her voice.” I’m sorry DS Hammond but I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Louis the petty thief is in hospital.  Apparently, he ate some biscuits that he took from one of the offices last night before going home.  Luckily, he only had a couple of bites and spat most of it out because he didn’t like the taste.  Even that small amount was enough to put him in hospital.  He’s expected to survive with no lasting effects although it’s hoped that it may put him off pinching food from other people in future.”

“Where did the biscuits come from?”

With raised eyebrows, DS Hammond handed Sally a report.  “From your office of course.  An open box of Garibaldi biscuits was found on one of the desks when we did a search of all the offices.”

“Garibaldi’s!  I hate Garibaldi biscuits.  They look like they’re full of dead flies and taste of nothing.  I would never buy anything like that – even for my worst enemy!”

“Or someone you wanted to kill off perhaps?”  DS Hammond raised an elegant eyebrow.

“Oh please!” Sally threw the report back on the desk in exasperation.  “Do you really think I’m so arrogant – and stupid?”

“No, I don’t.  Especially as the biscuits were put in your office after you left for home last night.”

“Who by?  Not – not Donal?”

“No.  That half-witted building attendant Graham.  He says he found them in the print room with a post-it note on them asking for them to be delivered to your office – specifically to Ruby.”

“Who also hates Garibaldi biscuits?  We were having a discussion about it just the other day. Oh.”

“And where did this conversation take place?”

“In the canteen at lunchtime.  It was really packed.  Steak and kidney puddings that day.”

“You can remember the food; can you also remember who else was at the table?”

“Well, Ruby and me obviously, Louis – I remember Ruby got cross because he pinched some of her chips.”  Sally frowned, trying very hard to recall the faces in the room that day.  “Tom and Megan were sat on the next table; I think they had some other Apprentices over because there were quite a few people I didn’t recognise.”

“When was this?”

“Couple of weeks ago – steak and kidney pudding is every other week and usually on a Thursday.  We were talking about what kind of biscuits to buy for a meeting.  I think it was Louis that suggested Garibaldi’s but no one else liked them.”

“If he wandered into your office and found some on a desk, he might possibly feel that they’d been left there for him perhaps?”

“They may as well have been gift-wrapped with an invitation card on for him.  You said he’s going to be okay though?”

“According to the medics yes, I’ve got forensics running tests on the biscuits but they think it will be something colourless and tasteless.”

Sally felt relieved until she remembered that DS Hammond had mentioned another member of staff in the morgue.

“Is it, was it Hester?  The body in the morgue?”

“Unfortunately, yes.  She told one of my officers that she wasn’t going out after all last night so we stepped down the surveillance.  It appears that the lure of Armenian clog dancers proved too seductive and she sneaked out through her garden door and got a friend to pick her up a few streets away.”

“I never said anything about clog dancers.  I know Hester’s into some weird ethnic stuff but that’s not the sort of thing she’d confide in me about.  She’s usually too busy going off at a tangent.  Hang on though.  I remember seeing a poster on the notice board for some cultural evening in Liverpool.  Would that be it?”

DS Hammond pulled the poster out of a cardboard folder marked ‘Hester’ and pushed it across the table to Sally.   “Not just Armenian clog dancers but an Uzbek knife thrower, a Peruvian pipe group and a radical poet from – oh yes – Ipswich.  It appears that Hester is – or rather was – something of a patron of the arts. This poster has been up in most of the public areas in council buildings for the past couple of weeks.”

“What happened to her?  How did she die?”

Leaning back in her chair, DS Hammond picked out another report from the file but opened it up herself rather than handing it to Sally.

“It appears that the evening was a great success; held in a nightclub in the basement of an old tobacco warehouse that has been recently renovated.  I use the word ‘renovated’ loosely.  There was only one exit and no fire doors, the place was hugely overcrowded.  The Armenian clog dancers were headlining apparently and by ten o’clock last night the whole place was rocking.  Then somebody shouted ‘fire’ and everyone headed for the exit at the same time.  Hester tried to appeal for calm, seems to have been knocked down near the door and got trampled by several pairs of feet, at least twenty of them wearing very heavy, steel studded clogs.  There was no fire.  A couple of other people sustained minor injuries and there is an eye witness who thinks she saw Hester arguing with a young man during the stampede.  Of course, there is no CCTV; no signing-in book and most of those who attended disappeared without a trace.  The clog dancers aren’t just traumatised by the knowledge that they trampled Hester to death in their haste to get out, they are also rather annoyed that they haven’t been paid and the UK Border Agency are very interested in that fact that they may have entered the country in the back of a lorry.”

“Poor Hester.  It must have been terrifying for her.”

“The eye witness is the friend who gave her a lift.  She reports that Hester seemed quite sleepy towards the end of the evening, almost dopey she says here.  There’s a possibility that like Sharon, she was drugged beforehand.  It doesn’t take much imagination to see how easy it would be to slip something into Hester’s drink.  If it wasn’t for the fact that Hester is a member of staff here, this might have been considered an unfortunate accident and if we were lucky, we would have got a prosecution against the people who set up the club.  As it is, we won’t know for definite until the post mortem results are in.”

Sally rested her elbow on the desk, her head in her hand trying to massage the impending headache away.  There were photographs of Hester’s body; like a broken mannequin lying on the floor of the nightclub.  Sally looked away; her usually strong stomach sickened by yet another waste of human life.

“After what happened with Linda, I thought – I hoped that it would all stop, that the message had gone out that these weren’t really bad people, just annoying.  Hester dead and Louis in hospital.  What can we do to stop it?  What can I do?”  Sally fought back the tears that had been building up for days; she no longer cared about incurring DS Hammond’s scorn or that she didn’t have seem to have a tissue in her pockets.  In a rare moment of empathy DS Hammond handed the tissue box to Sally and waited patiently whilst she blew her nose and wiped away the tears.

“Take the day off Sally.  I’ll clear it with your boss.  Long will take you home.  Please don’t go out anywhere without checking with one of my staff first.  I don’t consider you a suspect at the moment but there is undoubtedly a link between you and the killer – even if you don’t realise it yet.  We may need you to come in here tomorrow though, I take it that will be okay?”

Sally nodded numbly; she would have said yes to anything at that moment, just to get out of the building.

DC Long appeared at the door and smiled sympathetically at Sally, who picked up her bag and nodded a mute farewell to DS Hammond.  People were just coming into work as she was leaving and from the questioning looks, she received as she walked out to the car, word had already got out about Louis and Hester.  Sally cried all the way home.

Corporate Killer – the Town Hall Cuts


The elected members were definitely not happy and wanted to know what the police were doing about the series of murders.  Sally felt somewhat aggrieved that the outcry only really started once Athena had become the killer’s fifth victim.

With her usual cool disdain, DS Hammond was unmoved by the angst emanating from the Town Hall.  Returning from the scene of the crime in a particularly bad mood, Sally watched as DS Hammond tongue-lashed everyone in sight and several people that weren’t even in the building.  Sally kept her head down and hoped that she wasn’t going to be next in line.

“Could you bear to spare me a few moments of your precious time please?”

Sally looked up from her laptop to see DS Hammond, arms folded and her ever present sneer in place, and the full force of her frustrations roared out. 

“DS Hammond, I’ve been sitting here listening to you tear everyone to shreds for the past half an hour.  If you’ve decided that you’re going to have a pop at me then fire away.  Make my day because I’m quite ready to give as good as I get!” 

DS Hammond clapped very slowly, the icy smile on her face but very little feeling in her eyes.  Everyone in the room was watching her and she knew it.  She stopped clapping and the room fell silent as the occupants waited for her to explode.  

She turned away from Sally and began to walk toward the door. “With me please.” Her words were like ice splinters and though it galled her to be so subservient, Sally got to her feet and followed DS Hammond back to Colin’s office going as slowly as she dared.

Once inside the office, DS Hammond closed the door and indicated that Sally should sit down, whilst she remained standing.  Sally had read enough psychology books to see this as a deliberate ploy to show dominance over her but decided now that she didn’t care.   She hadn’t actually done anything wrong, at least nothing she could be arrested for, and as far as she was concerned, DS Hammond had no right to speak to her in the same way she spoke to the police officers.  So, Sally remained standing too.

Sally met DS Hammond’s cool blue stare.  “What?” she said, inwardly cursing for breaking the silence first.

“You don’t speak to me like that in front of my officers.  I insist on more respect.”

“And you don’t speak to me like that in front of your officers either.  I’m surprised no one else has complained about your attitude Detective Sergeant Hammond.  Respect has to be earned and though you can insist as much as you like, I respect people for their abilities – not for their position or rank.  I’m truly sorry about Athena and I’m worried about the fact that the killer is determined to kill everyone off this week and we don’t seem to be able to stop him – or her.  I’m not saying her because it’s me in case you thought it was a Freudian slip – just because I work in a cultural atmosphere where we aren’t allowed to use sexual stereotyping.  I’m blathering now.  Sorry.”

“You think the killer is trying to kill everyone this week?”

“Of course. First was Colin last week, but we didn’t hear about it till Monday, Sharon on Thursday, Shirley on Monday, Derek on Tuesday and now Athena.  Have you checked to see where Linda is or drippy bloody Hester?  Tracey’s gone off to Llangollen with Angela, I’ve seen Graham, Linda and Louis around the building today and Susie’s frightfully posh garden party is on Sunday.  Don’t look at me like that – you don’t have to be brain of Britain to work out that what the strategy is and it seems to be escalating.”

DS Hammond sat down behind the desk and opened up a buff folder.  Silently she turned it around so that Sally could see it and pushed it across the desk to her.  Inside the folder was an extremely neat chart with the days and dates of all the murders mapped out together with the rest of the names on the list pencilled in against Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“Knowing that they are at risk doesn’t necessarily help us to prevent them being murdered.  The only way I can guarantee their safety is to lock them up in a safe house and they were all strongly advised against that by Athena who felt that my theories were far-fetched.   I have officers watching the remaining staff – even Tracey and her damned narrow boat – but we don’t know who we’re looking for.  At this point I don’t know if the murders have been committed by one person or by a number of different people.”  DS Hammond sat down at the desk and Sally joined her; for the first time she thought she saw some signs of weariness on the glacial brow.

“I’m sorry,” Sally said, closing the folder.  “I guess we both took our frustration out on other people, though I suppose my troubles are rather trivial compared with what you have to deal with.  In fact, I can probably clear a lot of my problems up by giving Megan a ring.  It’s very convenient having her working in business support.  That’s the thing about our Modern Apprentices, they get in everywhere….”

            “…what did you just say?” said DS Hammond abruptly.

            “I said that the Modern Apprentices get in everywhere.  Oh my God!  The lad in the England football shirt on the beach …”

            “There was a young lad making deliveries at the hairdressing salon….”

            “We’ve always got school leavers in the libraries and at …”

            “… golf courses and leisure centres.  We thought the Modern Apprentices were a red herring but perhaps they weren’t.” DS Hammond picked up the phone to call DC Long but thought better of it and slamming the phone down again, jumped to her feet.  “Come on,” she said as she strode out of the room. Sally followed close behind her.

As soon as they were in the conference room DS Hammond began barking out the orders again and although the atmosphere had been sullen and resentful before, it suddenly became charged with energy and new purpose as the police officers began calling round to get more information on those present at the murder scenes.

Within an hour they had found names of all the young people who had a reason to be present at the times and places of the murders, and were busy cross referencing them with names from the web site and the education database.  Some judicious hunting on the part of a very perceptive young police constable had managed to find a lad from the area who had been in on holiday in Portugal at the time of the Colin’s murder. 

The list of names grew and the notice boards filled up with pictures of the young people who were potential suspects.  They all looked so young, thought Sally, and couldn’t help thinking of her own two boys and whether they would have had the cunning, determination and sheer evil to carry out a plan of this enormity.  She shuddered and shook her head.  It just didn’t seem possible for all this to have been masterminded by a group of kids, some of who had only just left school.

There was something about it that didn’t seem to fit in properly.  Was there someone in charge?  Someone co-ordinating everything from behind the scenes perhaps?  Then there was Derek’s murder, its brutal cruelty carried out such in a different manner. 


“What?”  said DC Long, who had been on his way over to Sally’s table.

“Not what.  Who?  Fagin, from Oliver Twist.  He groomed young street kids to pick pockets and rob houses. He didn’t do his own dirty work, he got someone else to do it.”

“That’s a possible theory” said DS Hammond, who had strolled over to join them.  “Do you have anybody in mind for the role?”

“I thought you were the trained profiler?”

“I am.  Okay – I’m thinking someone who can relate to these kids – through their web site, their computer and iPhone games.  Either someone who scares them into carrying out these murders …”

“… or is charismatic enough to persuade them.”

“True; and we know that it’s easy enough to be charismatic when you’re hiding behind an online personality or you have a great deal to offer in terms of your skills and IT knowledge.  We’re looking at someone from school – a teacher maybe or a technician.  Could be a youth worker – may be even a social worker?  Someone else in this building who gets on well with the Modern Apprentices perhaps?”  DS Hammond shot a meaningful look at Sally.

The first person that came to mind was Donal; he had been great friends with the Modern Apprentices.  He shared their IT and technology interests and was the only other person privy to her hit list right from the start.  She didn’t want to think that someone she liked and thought that she knew so well could possibly be doing all this.  A wave of weariness swept over Sally as the enormity of what was going on suddenly hit her.  “In the meantime, what are you doing to protect Linda?  She’s next on the list.”

“Not exactly your buddy, though is she?  said DS Hammond.

“Oh, she isn’t that bad.  Rather full of herself and just as full of jargon. I find her workshy and I wish she’d invest in some decent bras.”

DC Long snorted and turned away to hide his laughter. 

“Sorry.  I know I shouldn’t make those kinds of comments about a colleague but if Gok Wan set eyes on Linda, the first thing he’d do would be to get her in a decent bra.   Those bangers are hanging round her waist for goodness sake.”

DC Long was beyond saving now; his face turning bright red as he tried to compose himself and failed miserably.

“That’ll do Sally.” said DS Hammond. “You don’t kill someone just because they fail to invest in some decent uplift.”

“No.  You’re right.  I should never have put her on the list really.  She still annoys me but not as much as she did.”

“From your mouth to the killer’s ear.  I wonder though, perhaps it isn’t too late.  Get Tom down here.”  DC Long scuttled from the room, welcoming the opportunity to escape and have a good belly laugh in the corridor.

He was back within a few moments with a bewildered Tom in tow. And DS Hammond beckoned him over.

“Can you log off the laptop Sally please, and Tom, you log on then go through to your hit list website?”

Tom shrugged and nodded, standing patiently till Sally was finished.  He sat down at the table and his fingers flew across the keyboard until the hit list website was up on the screen.

“What do you want me to do now?”  he asked sullenly.

Sally looked at DS Hammond, who nodded almost imperceptibly.

“I made a bit of a mistake about Linda when I put her on the hit list Tom.  I didn’t really know her that well and, I kind of misjudged her.  She’s not a bad person, she’s got two boys like mine, only a bit younger and well, is there any chance you can take her off the list please?”  Sally did her best to sound as if she meant it, and perhaps she really did.  Tom nodded and began to type on the forum, explaining that Linda’s name had been put on the list by mistake and was now being removed.  Some of the others were online and queried his decision but seemed to accept it eventually.  DS Hammond told Tom he could log off and go back to his office now provided he agreed not to go back on line for the rest of the day.  Grumbling about the fact he’d lost his iPhone and laptop anyway while the police were checking them, Tom shambled out of the room.

“I don’t think I could sound that earnest about Hester, Tracey or Susie but shouldn’t we have got their names removed?” said Sally.

“I don’t want to scare the killer off and send them underground.  I think we can get away with removing Linda but anyone else and you give the game away.  I’ve got officers monitoring the web site.  Changing the list may bring the killer out in to the open.  He or she may want to find out why you’ve had a change of heart about Linda.  I want you to work back in your own office tomorrow and if anyone asks you anything about Linda, let me know.  In the meantime, you may as well go home for the day.”

“This police work is playing hell with my flexitime, not to mention my food bill.”

“Food bill?” said S Hammond curiously.  Sally could see DC Long pulling faces over his boss’s shoulder and rapidly came to the conclusion that she might not approve of Sally making tea and bacon sandwiches for her surveillance men.

“Anxiety increases my appetite.  I’ve never eaten so many chips as I have over the past week.”  She turned quickly back to the laptop, shutting it down and hoping that DS Hammond hadn’t spotted the lie.  When she turned back DS Hammond had already left the room.

” Oh,” said Sally.  “She didn’t even say goodbye.”

Badly Fitting Bra

Sally was becoming adept at the art of bacon butty making although she was caught out by one of the police officers who turned out to be a vegetarian.  It appeared that a fried egg sandwich would be just as acceptable – especially when done in a different frying pan from the bacon.  Sally’s husband was on a morning shift again and she needed a lift in to work, so providing her protectors with a fry up was a reasonable trade off as far as she was concerned.  Her sons were slightly confused about why Mum was cooking breakfast for policemen every morning but as they reaped the benefits as well, they weren’t complaining. 

It wasn’t until she was locking up the house prior to leaving that Sally remembered about the web site and wondered whether their actions would be enough to save Linda.  This concern made her uncharacteristically quiet on the journey in to work and after waving goodbye to the police officers who were heading home to bed, Sally walked slowly up the stairs to her office.

The phone rang and it was Linda; Sally tried to keep her voice even as Linda started in on her usual tale of being far too busy to do trivial things like setting up meetings and printing out handouts.   It would be much simpler if Linda just asked Sally to help, but she had to go through the whole martyr bit in an attempt to make people appreciate how much harder she worked than anyone else.  Sally knew that part of the reason Linda struggled to manage her time was her total lack of organisation, the rest was due to her inability to master anything but the most basic of computer systems. Nevertheless, it was such a relief to hear that Linda was very much alive that Sally was in a mind to agree to anything.

The phone rang constantly for the rest of the morning; either people wanting to speak to Ruby, wanting Sally to find various documents for them or fishing for information about the murders.  Diving in and out of various folders, she found everything she needed with an ease that made her feel grateful for her own organisational skills.  She was just sending off the last e-mail when Donal appeared in the doorway, a look of surprise on his face. Sally was equally surprised to see Donal clad in bright red slacks and a rather garish emerald green sweatshirt instead of his usual grey jeans and black jumper.

“Wow – who’s been shopping then Donal?”

“Ah, yes.  The wife’s been out doing retail therapy and decided to treat me.  I’ll wear them for a couple of days to keep her happy and then quietly retire them.  Enough of me – what’s been going on in here? Is Linda still on your list?”

Sally’s stomach flipped a little and she fought hard to keep her voice light and inconsequential.  “Oh, Linda’s not so bad.  I think I may have misjudged her actually.  My life is a lot easier if I just get on and do the technical stuff for her the first time she asks – I end up doing it in the long run anyway and it keeps her sweet.  She’s just been on the phone actually and offered to fetch some milk for us when she went out at lunchtime.”

“Oh well, you have to work with her, not me.”

“Yes, I do and I think it’s me that needs to make more of an effort from now on.  She’s a part of my team after all, and I really think that most of it is just nervousness and insecurity.”

Donal shrugged his shoulders and gave a snappy salute as he went back next door.

Sally inhaled deeply and took stock of what had just happened.  Could Donal really be behind all this violence and destruction?  DS Hammond had asked her to spend the whole day in the office and it was only lunchtime.  It could still turn out to be someone else that was responsible for the murders, and she fervently hoped that was the case.

Ruby came back and collapsed at her desk after making suitably approving noises that Sally was back behind her desk in the office.

“Next time someone comes in that I don’t like I can duck down behind my in-trays and pretend I’m not here.”

Ruby snorted.  “You wish!  Anyone in particular you would like to hide from?  Has Linda been on the phone at all today?”

Not Ruby!  Sally knew that there was no love lost between Ruby and Linda but.  she banished the thought from her head.  However angry Linda made her, she really didn’t think Ruby could be responsible, and it worried her that she was beginning to see suspects in the most unlikely places

Sally needed to stretch her legs and buy a bit of thinking time so she decided to go downstairs and do the washing up.  It might also give more of an opportunity for the killer – whoever it was – to make contact with her.  Several people passed as she stood at the sink; some stopped to chat, others just smiled or waved as they walked past but no one else mentioned Linda and it was with a heavy heart that Sally trudged back up the stairs to the office. 

Donal was stood over the printer; not exactly cursing but not very happy either.  He looked up as she came through the door.  “I hate this machine and it hates me.  It flatly refuses to print on A3 paper but I know it has a tray full of A3 because I’ve just filled the tray up.”

“Have you tried ….”

“…turning it on and off again.  Of course.  It lost all my work when I did that so I won’t be doing it again thank you.  Sorry Sally, I’m just in a really bad mood this afternoon.”

“Not a problem, I think everyone feels out of sorts at the moment.  I forgot to ask this morning, are you feeling any better?  We missed you yesterday.”

“I feel a bit better.  I’d feel much better if I could get back into my own clothes and my day would really improve if that dozy idiot who pretends to be a building attendant could pull his finger out and do what he’s asked when he’s asked to do something.”

Sally grimaced.  “What’s Graham done now?”

“We asked him to move some shelves last week and every time we remind him that they still need moving he comes up with some pathetic excuse or tells us that he has something far more important to do over in directorate.  I wouldn’t mind but I have it on good authority that he’s been sat with his feet up watching the portable telly since he came in at one o’clock.”

“Not exactly top of your pops then.  I was going to suggest that you try sending your document down to the print room because it always works for me but you’d be likely to bump into Graham again then and by the look on your face, I wouldn’t rate his chances of survival much!”

Donal stepped back quickly.  “What do you mean?”

“Chill,” she said laying a comforting hand on his arm.  “I know how infuriating Graham can be, especially if he thinks that there’s an opportunity to suck up to the bigwigs.  I’d better get these mugs back anyway.  See you later.”

Ruby was tapping furiously away at her laptop with one hand and deep in conversation on her mobile.  Sally dried up the mugs and put them away, then went back to her desk to check her e-mails and finish off some minutes she’d been writing up earlier on.  The phone on her desk rang; it was Linda.

“Is this your idea of a joke Sally?  Or is it Ruby that’s behind this?”  Linda sounded furious.

“I’m sorry Linda, I have no idea of what you’re talking about.  What’s the problem?”

“I’ve been out of the office since I spoke to you this morning and I’ve just come back in and found a gift-wrapped present on my desk.”

“What’s wrong with that?  I’d love to come into my office and find a present on my desk.”

“It’s what was in the box.  It was a bra!”

Sally stifled a giggle.  “A bra?  What colour?”

“Colour!  Why would anyone send me a bra?  If it isn’t one of you playing a practical joke then it might be a pervert or something.”

“Are there any labels on the packaging?  Did it come through the post or by courier?”

“I have no idea.  I’m not impressed by this at all!  I have so much work to do and I don’t need this kind of silliness.”

Sally was suddenly struck by the thought that DS Hammond might need to know about Linda’s package.

“Linda.  Look, I don’t want to worry you or anything but there’s a possibility that your parcel might be linked to – well – you know – the murders.”

“Oh my God, Oh my God.”  Linda shrieked. “It might be a bomb!”

“Stay calm.  Don’t touch it.  I’ll get one of the police officers to come up and check it out.  Pick up your bag and come straight over here.”

“Yes.  Yes.  I will.” she whimpered as she put down the phone.

Sally rang down to the incident room and was fortunate enough to get DC Long.  She quickly told him what had happened and gave him directions to Linda’s office.  Ruby, who had overheard much of the conversation got the mugs out and put the kettle on. Whilst they both saw the humour in what was in Linda’s parcel, they also appreciated how upset she was.  Sally waited until a visibly shaken Linda was settled in a comfy chair with a mug of sweet tea in her hands, then she hurried downstairs to the incident room.

The parcel had been checked thoroughly and found only to contain a very stylish white lacy bra from Rigby and Peller.  DC Long held it up on the end of a pencil.  “According to the building attendant, a courier brought the parcel in just after lunch.  He couldn’t get hold of Linda on the phone so someone else signed for it and he left it on her desk.  We’re following up the courier’s details now.  I really think that someone needs to talk to your staff about signing for unknown packages though.  It could easily have been a bomb.”

DS Hammond perched on the edge of the desk, tapping her fingers against a mug of cooling tea and looked directly at Sally.  “So, do you think this is the murderer’s way of telling us that Linda is off the hook?”

“I hope so.”  Sally sighed with some relief that they had managed to save Linda at least.  She told DS Hammond of her conversation with Ruby, quickly discounting her as a suspect.  She hesitated though when she came to Donal, then realising that it might be the only way to save some of the others on the list, recounted every word of his earlier comments about Linda.

“It can’t be him though.  Not Donal.”

DS Hammond’s face was inscrutable as she started issuing orders again.  Sally looked at the bra and she had to admit that whoever the killer was, he or she had good taste in bras and that it would undoubtedly have worked wonders for Linda’s sagging bosoms.

Corporate Killer – the Town Hall Cuts

Golf Clubbed

Those attending the first aid course were not initially impressed with having to move out of the conference hall and into the larger of the two portakabins until they realised that they could get to smoker’s corner without having to go through a security door.  The portakabins were either too hot or too cold and had a lingering smell of armpit odour and Sharon’s scent, but it was better than having to abandon the course and start it all over again. The secretaries in directorate were even less impressed by having to phone round everyone who had booked the hall for the next week and cancel their bookings.  A stream of uniformed and plain clothes police personnel came in and out of the building and spent the afternoon turning the conference hall into an incident room.  DS Hammond annexed Colin’s old office across the corridor for her own use and the complaints officer was moved out of her room so that it could be used for interviews.

It was uncomfortable being seen as the architect of all this chaos and Sally spent most of the afternoon apologising to her colleagues as she carried out DS Hammond’s dirty work.  Sitting in John’s office and trying to explain what was going on had been especially awkward.  DS Hammond had told her categorically not to say anything about the list or the web site, merely to tell John that the police felt the three murders were linked to the local authority and the main reason for Sally’s involvement was because she was the person who informed the police of the link and had a considerable knowledge of the building and personnel.  John accepted this explanation but wasn’t particularly impressed by the upheaval it was causing and he knew that there was something Sally wasn’t telling him:  DS Hammond’s request that he call an emergency meeting of all the senior management team that afternoon had caused a flurry of both excitement and annoyance and it was while Sally was talking with John that the first attendees began to trickle in.  She made her apologies and was about to leave the office when DS Hammond arrived and motioned her to stay.  Sally felt nauseous again and found herself a seat at the back of the room in case she needed to make a swift exit.

Once John had assured her that everyone was present, DS Hammond stalked to the front of the room, her icy presence quelling the mutterings of the group as she fixed them all with that penetrating glare that Sally had come to know so well.

 “Thank you all for attending this afternoon, I will keep this as brief as possible but you have to understand that following some recent developments, we have reason to believe that not only are the three murders of local authority staff linked but that there may be people in this room who are also at risk.  As a consequence, we may have to ask you to keep us notified of your whereabouts and possibly to make some changes in your arrangements.”

This drew the expected gasp and anguished glances; Sally had to hand it to DS Hammond, she knew how to get a reaction.  Tracey was the first with her hand up in the air.  “I’m going on leave tomorrow. I can’t change my arrangements at such short notice.”

DS Hammond looked down her long, elegant nose and raised one eyebrow very slowly.        “And you are?” she said as she looked at the list of names on her clipboard.

“Tracey, I am a senior manager of course.”  Tracey replied, evidently affronted at DS Hammond’s ignorance and imperious gaze.

“Ah yes, are you intending to leave the country?  Portugal isn’t advisable at the moment, I’m afraid” said DS Hammond with the closest thing to a smirk that Sally had seen so far.

Tracey pulled back her over-padded shoulders in an attempted gesture of superiority that forced Sally to stifle a giggle.  “I’m going on a short break.  I have a narrow boat berthed in Llangollen. A friend and I are going.”

“How…charming.” said DS Hammond, making a note on her list.   “I suppose that will be alright.  Give all the details to Long before you leave today and we’ll make sure that the local police force keeps an eye on you.  We’ll need a mobile number for you, assuming you can get a signal out in the sticks.  Your friend – does he or she work here too?”

“Umm – yes.”

“Okay – see Long – he’s very discreet – whoever it is. Anyone else got any exciting plans for the next week or so?  Any hazardous pursuits?  Special events? Parachuting, hang gliding, cupcake making?”

This time it was Susie’s turn to wave her hand in the air in a gesture reminiscent of the Queen.   “I’m holding a garden party on Sunday.  It’s something that I do every year and as I have an important role to play in the community it is not something that I can just abandon because of some nebulous murder theory or other.  It is for charity after all.” She beamed patronisingly around her and pushed her designer sunglasses higher up on her lacquered and heavily bleached coiffure.

“Garden party eh?  Well, I’m sure we can scrub up a few plain clothes bobbies to swell your attendance.  Give the details to Long please.  Anyone else?  Or can the rest of you put your hectic social lives on hold for a few days?”

There was a gentle chuckle from some of the less uptight staff and Sally was pleased to see that John was particularly amused.  DS Hammond walked over to the door and motioned for Sally to follow her.  Susie and Tracey, pushing their way through to speak to DC Long gave her some very dirty looks.  Sally smiled in brightly in response and followed DS Hammond down the corridor to her newly commandeered office.  The door to the inner courtyard car park was propped open as desks, chairs and computers were brought in to the conference hall.  DS Hammond indicated that Sally should sit down in the chair opposite.

Sally had always hated Colin’s office because it was so dark and dreary.  It hadn’t improved now that his place had been taken by DS Hammond who’d made no personal impact on the room except for a neat pile of folders and her designer handbag on the desk. “You will note Sally, that I did not mention your list at the meeting, nor did I indicate exactly who might be at risk.”

Sally nodded. “Yes, I had noticed, I’m very grateful about the list but I wasn’t sure why you weren’t more specific.  I mean, you have confirmation of who is on the list now don’t you?”

“We do, but what we don’t have is confirmation of who the killer is.  It could have been someone in that room this afternoon and by keeping things non-specific, the killer may feel that we are looking in a different direction.  I’m beginning to think that we may have more than one killer involved however.”

As well as being surprised by DS Hammond’s uncustomary candour, Sally felt intrigued by this new hypothesis and leaned forward in her chair.  “Is it something to do with the manner of their deaths?  I can’t see how one person could possibly be in all three places within a matter of days, and don’t you have theories about the – modus operandi – is it?”

“You watch too many detective shows on television.  The geography is something of a puzzle I’ll admit but from what Tom told me yesterday, you are responsible for the modus operandi.”

“Me! I wrote the list but …I thought you said I wasn’t responsible!”

DS Hammond got to her feet and positioned a flip chart and stand in the remaining corner of the very small room.  She turned over the first page and Sally could see an elaborate chart with Colin, Sharon and Shirley’s names at the top. She pointed at Colin’s name first. “Cast your mind back to the cosy chats you used to have with the Modern Apprentices before they were split up and were sent off to new teams.  Tom tells me that you all discussed various people in the building, some of whom ended up on your list, and the web site rules were based on killing someone in a manner related to their characteristics. Colin gets choked by his favourite salted sardine whilst in Portugal, and to make it even more ironic, the killer appears to have been wearing an England football shirt, and colin was a big football fan.  Sharon is very proud of her hair and it proves to be her undoing, Shirley has a reputation for being over-inquisitive which leads to her being squashed by heavy book shelves.  Didn’t the two of you have an altercation involving shelves once?”

“We did, yes.  Now I’m racking my brains to think of what I said about the others.  I’m so sorry.  We were just chatting, just silly stories about people who annoyed us.  It’s hardly a new premise; I’ve seen countless films and television shows around similar themes, not to mention the number of times it crops up in detective novels – and yes, I do read far too many of them.  The kids had games about bumping people off on their iPhones.  This is a part of the society we live in now.”

“Don’t be so defensive Sally.  I took my masters in psychology and I agree with all that you’re saying in principle about this kind of retributional assassination being instigated and fuelled by the media.  We know that whoever is carrying out these killings is going for specific methods of death rather a personal choice of killing like stabbing or poisoning.  Everything is planned meticulously and I’ve no doubt that the killer is taking great pride in the manner of execution, but that makes them all the more dangerous by comparison with someone who kills in the heat of the moment.”

“What about the other names on the web site?  Has anyone else died?”

“Not as far as we know but the enquiry is still at a very early stage and the amount of technical and liaison work that needs to be carried out is monumental.   We may need your help in establishing whether there are any other people on the list who are related to this particular local authority – if you’re prepared to help that is?”

Sally nodded vigorously.  “Anything I can do to be helpful.  I may not like the people on my list particularly but I’ve never wished them dead and if I can do something to prevent that …”

“You aren’t completely in the clear, I have to emphasise that, but at the moment I feel that there is more to be gained by keeping you involved than locking you out.  Long will tell you that I don’t normally involve members of the public in my enquiries in this way. You’re also very lucky to have Steve as a friend.  He spoke very highly of you and he’s not the kind of person to be taken in easily.” 

Again, there was just the hint of a smile that intimated that DS Hammond was well aware of what DC Long had said to Sally during their tour of the building that morning.

“Thank you.  Do you – do you think that my family are at risk at all?  I have to ask.  They mean so much to me.”

“Probably not, but we’ll keep an eye on you all anyway.  I don’t suppose you have any unusual plans for the next few days that you might have forgotten about?” 

“The boys will be at college and school.  My husband is off today but back on an early shift tomorrow, so I’ll be on the bus – will that be a problem?”

“Sort it out with Long, he’ll be in charge of the local intelligence for the time being.  Try not to talk about any of this with anyone from now on.  I really don’t want anyone else added to that list.”

The tension in the room was broken by an urgent tapping at the door, and DC Long burst in. “We’ve found him!”


“No.  Dead.  At the golf club.  He hasn’t been seen since this morning and the body’s quite cool.”

DS Hammond picked up her handbag and covered up the flip chart.  Sally got up too, her legs were shaking and she put out a hand to steady herself against the filing cabinet.  “How did he … I’m sorry?  I shouldn’t be asking this” she said.

Looking to DS Hammond for affirmation first, DC Long took out his notebook.

“First on scene says that the body of an adult male was found concealed in undergrowth surrounding the golf course.  It appears that the male had been struck on the head from behind several times with a blunt instrument.  The victim’s golf clubs and bag were nearby and it is believed that one of the clubs may be the murder weapon.” He snapped the book shut and placed it back in his pocket, holding the door open for DS Hammond with his other hand.  She raised her expressive eyebrows once again.

“I suggest you call your husband and go home Sally.  I need to go out and look at the scene.  Say nothing to anyone about this.  We don’t have a formal identification yet and I don’t want the killer to know that we’ve found Derek – assuming it is Derek.  Can you speak to the building attendant before you go and make sure that he understands that we will be in the building twenty-four-seven from now on?  That should worry him a bit.  There’ll be no more sleeping on the job in this place from now on.”

Sally nodded numbly and did her best to pull herself together before heading up the corridor to Derek’s office where she knew Graham would be drinking his tea oblivious to the fate of his manager.

Big Hair

Getting a lift into work was worth the extra bother of having to make tea and bacon sandwiches for the two weary policemen who had been sitting in a car outside her house all night.  Sally’s husband had already offered them tea and the use of the lavatory when he left for work at a quarter past six, but having used the facilities they were quite happy to wait for Sally to get up and do their breakfast.  Her own two boys cashed in on the bacon too, and she had to admit to a feeling of accomplishment as she stacked the dirty plates and mugs in the dishwasher.  There was something deeply rewarding about feeding hungry people.  DC Long had suggested that, after his own experiences of the night before, the offer of food would go down very well with Sally’s minders.  She left a note for her husband asking him to get in more stocks of bread, butter and bacon

She went straight up to her office hoping to enjoy having her personal space returned to her, and found Ruby already there; DS Hammond had left a message with her a message for Sally to go straight to the conference room for the morning briefing.  Ruby looked vaguely impressed but only until Sally admitted regretfully that she had been sworn to secrecy and couldn’t tell her any insider gossip. 

Glancing into the office next door, Sally noticed that Donal’s chair was still empty and hoped that he was feeling better today.  She missed his comforting presence; it was so nice to have a friend that you could talk to and laugh with, although they didn’t seem to have done much of this since Colin had died.

There was a uniformed policeman outside the door to the conference room to prevent anyone walking in and expecting a first aid course or a planning meeting.  He checked Sally’s ID against his list and opened the door for her.  All the windows had been blacked out and the area of the room that normally served as a speaking platform had photograph-covered notice boards spread across it now.   DS Hammond was deep in conversation with a group of serious looking men so Sally made a beeline for DC Long, who greeted her with a winning smile as he looked up from his computer screen.

“I’ve brought my laptop down so that I can get on with my own work if possible.  I know there’s a network point over by the fire escape.  Can I plug it in there?” Sally asked.

“Sure, we have our own network set up now and it would be very useful if we had someone with access to your systems in the room.  Have you got everything you need – cables – access to printers?”

“Oh yes, we have this ‘follow-you’ printer system so you can print anywhere in the building provided you have the drivers set up. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work but at the moment it crashes on a daily basis.”

Sally took her things over to the table by the fire escape, conscious that there were many pairs of eyes looking at her and probably wondering who she was.  That opinion changed rapidly once she looked round at one of the display boards and saw her own picture and name emblazoned on it together with a copy of the list.  No wonder everyone was looking at her.  Blushing, she ducked her head down and carried on with setting up the laptop.  She’d just managed to log on to the system and start checking her e-mails when she heard DC Long calling for quiet so that DS Hammond could begin the briefing.

The body at the golf course was definitely Derek; Sally glanced at the scenes of crime photos but looked away again when she saw the look of surprise on Derek’s face.  Though bloody, it seemed relatively unscathed as, according to the forensic medical examiner the assailant had definitely attacked Derek from behind.  Sally felt the tears prickling at her eyes and tried not to look at the pictures of the other victims, her thoughts were not so much for her colleagues but for those they had left behind and in particular for Derek’s poor dim wife and his two small children. 

Rummaging in her bag for a tissue, she gratefully accepted one handed to her by a policewoman sitting nearby, and tried not to draw too much attention to herself.  The forensic medical examiner had almost finished giving her graphic description of the injuries to the body when she said something that made Sally think back to the conversation, she and DS Hammond had been having the afternoon before.  It wasn’t just the head injury that killed him.  The piece of information that DC Long hadn’t passed on the night before was that whoever killed Derek had also attacked his genitals with a metal dibber used for making holes in the golf course.  The blows to the back of Derek’s head had been very violent, as if the person that carried them out had been very angry with him for some reason and this further mutilation looked like an act of very personal revenge.  It all seemed to contrast sharply with the other murders, carried out so calmly and with such precision.  Lots of people disliked Derek but Sally wondered who actually hated him so much that they’d want to bash his head in with a golf club and mutilate his body?

DS Hammond was busy allocating jobs, so Sally went back to her e-mails and managed to sort out the outstanding issues and pay a few bills on line before she sensed rather than saw DS Hammond standing beside her.

“How’s Derek’s wife?”  Sally asked.

DS Hammond shrugged.  “Initially hysterical, then calm to the point of denial – she passed out on the sofa quite attractively and was put to bed by her doctor.  He’s given her a sedative and her mother has come to stay and look after the children.   Is she – all there?”

Sally grimaced.  “Technically speaking she has the intelligence to work in our finance department but those who work with her would confirm that she rarely does anything more than open the incoming post and take the outgoing post to the courier.  She sometimes gets things mixed up.  I don’t think Derek married her for her brains, but she has a kind of naive intelligence.”

“Bright enough to follow her husband to the golf course, lie in wait for him and bash his head in do you think?  The children were at school and nursery yesterday morning, no one seems to know where Derek’s wife was until she picked the children up in the afternoon.  The staff at the nursery said she seemed rather distant, but then she often is.”

“I suppose she could do it if her motivation was strong enough.  If someone told her about Derek knocking off the teenage cleaner for instance?”  said Sally, pensively sucking the top of her pen.  “This thing with the cleaner has been going on for months apparently.  Why would someone tell her now – unless of course that someone wanted a simple soul to carry out their dirty work for them?  Whoever killed him seems to have been very angry with Derek – and that hole-making tool – it’s the sort of thing a betrayed wife or girlfriend would do.  Isn’t it?”

“We’re interviewing the cleaner – or at least we will when she’s stopped being even more grief-stricken than the wife.”  The expression on DS Hammond’s face spoke volumes about her attitude to those unable to control their emotions.  Sally tucked her tissue out of sight surreptitiously and made another mental note about future behaviour in front of DS Hammond.

“Athena – what more can you tell me about her?”

“I don’t really know her.” said Sally.  “Our acquaintance is limited to public occasions and bumping into her in the corridor or lavatories.  I can’t say that I warm to her as a person.  She’s a fake.  Professionally speaking I don’t think she’s worth the money we pay her and I don’t like the fact that she’s filled the Town Hall with her cronies.  Undoubtedly, she will move on as soon as a larger council head hunts her and when she does, unlike the rest of us when we hand our notice in, she’ll get a huge golden handshake in addition to the bonus she’ll get from her next employer.  If we genuinely want to save money, we should be looking to cutting down the wages of our executive staff and stopping the payouts – and she should be first in line for the cuts instead of people who get paid a pittance for a lot of hard work.  Sorry.  I’ll get down off my soapbox now.”

“I didn’t have you marked down as that much of an anarchist, but given your background it shouldn’t surprise me really.”  DS Hammond glanced down at the clipboard in front of her.   “Both parents union activists and there are at least three instances of you being involved in trade union events.  I hear your oldest son is something of a radical too?”

“Leave my kids out of this; and my husband too! They are nothing to do with any of this and you know it.”  Sally could feel the blood rising to her face and the red mist gathering at the corner of her eyes.  “If you’ve checked my history that thoroughly you’ll also know that I no longer participate in strikes and I resigned from the union several years ago because they refused to let us provide an emergency service for urgent issues during a strike.”

“Calm down Sally, “drawled DS Hammond.  “If I thought that you or your family presented any kind of a risk you wouldn’t be sitting here in this room with access to highly confidential material.  You need to appreciate that contrary to popular belief, police officers are not stupid thugs.  For every thought you’ve had about this case, I’ve been several steps ahead of you because this is what I do for a living whereas you just dabble in it.”

She produced a type-written list and handed it to Sally.  “Can you check these names now and see if any of them are familiar – current staff or ex-employees – I can get one of the officers to do it but I’m sure that you want to help.”

Sally took the list and turned back to the laptop, seething but knowing that DS Hammond had hit the mark.  Her previous acquaintance with the police had led to her believe that many of them were a waste of space but DS Hammond, like her or not, was in a totally different league. 

The list wasn’t that long and although a couple of the names were familiar to her as ex-employees, none of them were on the internal directory.  Sally made notes on the list, trying hard to neaten her scrawl whilst being cross with herself at this attempt to stay in DS Hammond’s good books.  She was just looking around for someone to hand the list to when DC Long appeared at her elbow.

“Your friend Ruby is outside.  Wants to know if we’ll let you out to play – or at least to get some lunch.  I said I’d check and make sure you’d done enough work for the morning.” 

He grinned amiably and Sally felt relieved that he at least had a human streak in him.  She handed him the list and locked her laptop whilst he read it.

“Excellent.  You’ve definitely earned your lunch.  I don’t suppose you would know where Athena might be.  She seems to have dropped off the radar.”

Sally looked at her watch.” It’s twelve-ten exactly and Athena will be having her lunch time swim in the Fastnedge Hotel health club. It is shut every day from twelve till twelve thirty so that Athena can get in her twenty lengths.  I only know this because I overheard one of the secretaries grumbling about it when I was waiting to go into a meeting at the Town Hall.  Apparently, the staff at the hotel get annoyed because Athena refuses to wear a swimming cap and her hair clogs up their filters.  Have I earned my lunch now?”

“Definitely!  Is the food any good in your canteen?  Some of the lads were asking – it would be okay for them to buy food from there wouldn’t it?”

“Of course.  It would make Derek’s day to think we’d make so much money out of the police …”  Sally’s voice tailed away as she remembered that Derek was no longer in a position to be pleased about the canteen’s profits.  DC Long patted her hand.      “Go and get your lunch – and perhaps you could warn the canteen staff that they’ll be some extra people coming in.  The lads are especially partial to chips”

“There are always plenty of those on offer.   The food is on the plain side but definitely filling.  The canteen ladies will be over the moon to think that they’re cooking for the police too.  I’ll see you later then.”  Sally smiled and picked up her bag.

Ruby was outside the door chatting up the policeman on duty.  She smiled broadly when Sally appeared, then a more serious expression settled over her face.

“They told us about Derek this morning.  How awful.  That policeman says you have pictures and everything in there. How can you bear looking at them?”

“I only looked the once, after that you stop seeing them.  More embarrassing is the fact that they have my picture up there. You know how much I hate having my photo on display – and they used my last year’s ID photo so it doesn’t even look like me any more.  How’s everyone taking it?”

” Oh, you know.  The people who hated Derek the most are wailing the loudest in an effort to get attention whereas those who actually got on with him are devastated and very quiet.  Donal’s boss has phoned him at home but there’s no reply.  He’s sent an e-mail but it’s the kind of news you’d rather tell someone in person isn’t it?”

The canteen was fairly empty so the cook and his staff were extremely pleased to hear that they were about to be invaded by police officers.  The chip fryer was fired up and one of the girls nipped up to local supermarket for more burgers and buns.  Sally and Ruby were enjoying their lunch in the peace and quiet when the first customers came through and in the half an hour that they spent in the canteen the stream of staff from the incident room was constant enough to make the cook a very happy man indeed.

Just as Sally was putting her plate back on the trolley for washing up, a police officer dashed into the room and summoned everyone back into the incident room, herself included.  She waved a hasty farewell to Ruby and joined the queue to get back through the door.

DS Hammond was in the process of putting her obviously expensive coat on as the word went round the room that Athena had been found dead in the hotel swimming pool, her long wavy hair entangled in the water filter, the cover of which had mysteriously disappeared.  Sally sat down at her desk with a heavy heart.  The murders were speeding up and it seemed that however clever DS Hammond was, she couldn’t get that step ahead of the murderer.

Corporate Killer – the Town Hall Cuts

Red Herrings

DS Hammond’s well-laid plans were stymied by the fact that Derek had gone missing.  The occupants of Mostyn Hall were used to Derek doing this but his timing on this occasion was rather unfortunate.  Due to his imaginative use of holidays, the flexi-time system and sick leave, his colleagues rarely knew when he was supposed to be in or where he was supposed to be.  His rather dippy wife was well-schooled in covering his back but there were still parts of Derek’s life that were unknown to her too, so even DS Hammond’s most intense interrogation techniques were wasted on her.  Sally tried to explain the manner in which Derek ran his department but everything she said just sounded negative and bordering on the vindictive. 

Further acquaintance with DS Hammond hadn’t improved their working relationship.  Sally found her cold and very difficult to interpret, undoubtedly this was exactly the impression she wanted to give but it didn’t make her a very comfortable companion.  The constable who had accompanied DS Hammond yesterday had been replaced by an equally fresh-faced detective constable who appeared to have a better grasp of written English than his colleague.  Sally wasn’t sure but he looked suspiciously like one of the men who had been sitting in a car outside her house when she’d pulled up the kitchen blinds that morning.  He was a bit bleary-eyed, and blushed when Sally greeted him as she picked up some work from her office.

There was a spare desk in Donal’s office next door so Sally did much of her work from there; this seemed to suit DS Hammond who had stated that Sally needed to be nearby in case more information was needed about staff at Mostyn Hall.  Donal in front of his computer screen was a different creature from the quirky music lover Sally was used to.  She wasn’t sure whether this was due to the presence in the room of his boss, or whether he was still suffering from the fall-out from the murders. Whatever it was, being summoned in to see DS Hammond was almost a relief from Donal’s polite and introverted silence.

Adopting her customary questioning position, DS Hammond was sitting in the most comfortable chair playing steeple with her fingers again. “I need to know more about this Derek.  Information rather than opinion this time” she said. 

Sally shrugged.  “I’ve known Derek for about twelve years; he’s worked his way up to manage the team, is married with two small children, enjoys computer games and playing golf, has been known to help out in the kitchen when the cook is off and his wife has a part-time job in one of the finance offices.  Is that objective enough for you?”

DS Hammond raised her eyebrows at the edge of irritation in Sally’s voice.  She got to her feet slowly and walked slowly to the door, then turned abruptly on her elegant tan-booted heels.

“Thank you.  Let’s have the subjective gossip now please?”

“According to me or according to Mostyn Hall?”

“Are they not one and the same?  I’ll have both.”

“Okay.  I used to quite like Derek when he was younger; he was very keen and helpful.  As he’s got older, I think he’s become calculating and manipulative.  He does favours for his mates, and for those who are sycophantic but is deliberately obstructive to anyone who stands up to him.  He treats the other members of his team very badly, particularly the women, and he tells lies.  His wife has a job here that she’s not qualified to do and was never interviewed for. He originally tried to have her working on his team but had to get her moved to finance when somebody complained.   There’s a policy preventing partners working together in the same team and Derek conveniently forgot about it.  He’s been trying to find out who made the complaint but there’s a conspiracy of silence about it.  Derek plays golf, sometimes with senior managers, sometimes with the building attendants.  When he plays golf he’s often officially working from home or off sick.  Rumours abound that he is having an affair with a member of the cleaning staff and she is only seventeen years old. “ 

Sally stopped abruptly, took a deep breath and leaning back in her chair gave DS Hammond what she hoped was an intimidating glare.

The detective constable looked up from his notebook shyly.  “Have you any idea where he plays golf exactly?”

“What?  Oh, golf, I think he plays out at the Forest View club but either of the building attendants would be able to tell you” said Sally unable to hold the glare any longer and peeved that DS Hammond had won the staring competition yet again.

“We have a slight problem with your building attendants too.  One of them has gone sick and can’t come to the phone.  The other is due in at noon but his wife says he left early this morning and she hasn’t seen him since.” 

DS Hammond sat back down in her chair and picked up some notes.  “I’m sending some officers out to Forest View but in the meantime, I want to talk to these kids – what are they called – the Modern Apprentices?”

“Tom and Mark still work in the building; Megan works in town.  I saw Tom when I came in this morning, he works downstairs just under this office, and Mark works over on the other side of the building near the canteen.”

DS Hammond looked down at the sheaf of papers in her hand.  “I’d like you to show DC Long round the building, give him some idea of the layout and where the two murder victims worked.  When you’ve done that you can find this Tom and bring him back here.  How old is he?”

“Tom?  Seventeen and a half, I think.  Why?”

“He won’t need an appropriate adult with him for interview purposes, then will he?  How old are the other two?”

 “I’m sure Mark is seventeen but I think Megan is still sixteen.  She was definitely the youngest of the three of them.”

DC Long got to his feet, stuffing his notebook into his jacket pocket.  Deciding that she had been dismissed, Sally followed him out into the corridor and down the stairs.  He paused before they went out into the main corridor and turned to her, a little apologetically, “You may find Claire a bit – well abrupt at times.  She really is very good at what she does.”

Sally found it hard to be angry with this kind young man and smiled, “I sorry if I’m a bit tetchy.  This business has got everyone on edge anyway but I feel so responsible for it all and I’m not quite sure if your boss is of the same opinion.”

“She’ll solve this.  She has a one hundred per cent clear up rate.  I think it’s because she’s so logical and analytical.  I’ve certainly learned a great deal from her.  Obviously, I can’t say this officially but I’m sure that if she really thought you were responsible, you’d be locked up by now.”

“Having to be at her beck and call is not what I call freedom” Sally grinned, “and having people camping outside my house all night isn’t freedom either.  You must be shattered.”

DC Long blushed again.  “Were we that obvious?  Don’t tell Claire, she told us to be discreet.”

“I’m hardly likely to confide anything to her.  It wasn’t that you were obvious but ours is a small community. We’ve lived there for thirteen years and strange cars are a subject of interest. My next-door neighbour was on Facebook last night asking me about the two strange men parked up the road from my house.”

DC Long got out his notebook.  “Would that be the guy with the pipe and spaniel or the very old shuffling guy with the two yappy dogs?”

“The spaniel.  I told him that the police were keeping an eye on me in case I was next on the list.  He doesn’t know that I wrote the list.”

Sally led the way down the staircases and through the dark corridors to the office where Tom worked.

“Would it be alright if I went in and got him?”  she asked “He might be less worried if he saw me.  I won’t say anything indiscreet; I promise.”

DC Long nodded and Sally walked into the office.  Tom looked up as she explained to his manager that DS Hammond had asked for Tom to attend for interview. 

He got up very slowly and looked scared.  “Am I in trouble Sally?”

“I hope not.  She’s a bit scary but just tell the truth from the start.  I’m reliably informed that she’ll find out very quickly if you’re lying.  You’ll be okay.  If it’s any consolation, I’m helping police with their enquiries too.”

They walked back upstairs to the office in silence and Sally carried on into Donal’s office.  His chair was empty and she looked at her watch, it was still a good half an hour before lunch.  Donal’s boss looked up from his computer screen.  “I’ve sent him home.  He looked dreadful and couldn’t really concentrate on his work.  He took a call from someone and it seemed to upset him a great deal.  Will your detective friend be cross?”

Sally shrugged.  “I don’t care if she is.  She spoke to Donal yesterday anyway so she shouldn’t need him again today.  I hope he’s alright.  I’ve just taken another lamb in to the slaughter.   Has she asked to see you yet?”

“No, I don’t think there’s much I can tell her anyway.  We’ve been so busy sorting out the quarterly stats that someone could be bludgeoned to death in front of me and I doubt if I’d notice.” For a senior member of staff with a great deal of financial responsibility, Donal’s boss had a very warped sense of humour

When Sally went down for her lunch the door to her office was still closed.  Unlike most of the other office doors that had a pane of safety glass in them, this one was a solid fire door, heavy and very thick.

The canteen was almost empty when she arrived, Susie and Tracey’s table was vacant now and only a few stragglers who were attending a first aid course in the conference hall had gathered round the coffee machine.  Sally’s appetite had deserted her but she knew that the canteen ladies would be offended if she went away empty handed so she picked up a plate of chips and a cheese roll before wandering slowly back.

DC Long came into Donal’s office just as Sally was finishing off the last of the cold chips.     “Can we borrow you?  Something interesting has cropped up.”

She followed him and found Tom sitting in front of one of the computers with a website page open.

DS Hammond was stood next to him watching avidly as he scrolled through a number of messages on the page.  She turned to Sally.  “It appears that your Modern Apprentices have a little game going on the Internet.  The main aim is to see how many ways you can think of to eliminate your colleagues.  Some of them are very inventive.  Did you know about this Sally?”

Sally peered at the screen and recognised some of the victim’s names.  Those posting the messages were using false names of course but there were some that could be fairly easily worked out.  The twelve names from her list were amongst the messages and for the three already deceased, the method of elimination was astonishingly accurate.

Tom turned to Sally, his face white and scared.  “It was only a game Sally, like the games we used to play when we were all up here last year.  Meg found your list amongst some invoices and we thought we’d carry it a bit further online.  There are loads of people posting, from all over the country but I swear, none of us has actually done anything to anybody.  We just put stuff up on the page.”

Sally looked over at DS Hammond.  “Have they done anything wrong?  At least we know what happened to my list now but loads of people have access to this website.  That means that it isn’t necessarily someone from Mostyn Hall or the council that’s behind this.” She put a hand on Tom’s shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly.

“That’s partly true.” said DS Hammond as she made another note on the pad in front of her “but when Tom and his little friends posted your list on the page, they only used the first names of the intended victims. Subsequently other people have added potential victims’ names to the list and we’ll have to get our IT section to check on them all to see if anyone else has died.  I still think that there is a local connection however, otherwise how would the killer – or killers – know which Colin and Sharon to target?  Or that Shirley would be in the library yesterday?”

Sally leaned against the desk for support.  “What happens now?”

“We’re still trying to find Derek – the killer seems to want to stick to the sequential order so the others may be safe for now.  We’re going to have to confiscate all the computers that your Modern Apprentices have been using and that includes iPhones, Androids and anything else of that ilk.  Let John know that we’ll want the conference room from this afternoon too.  I’ll be bringing in specialists and I need somewhere a damn sight bigger than this to work in.”

“Tom and the others, how much trouble are they in?” said Sally, who could feel Tom shivering under her hand.

“Difficult to say until the IT bods have looked at their computers and such but they may be the red herrings that the real killer is hiding behind.   Right now, I need that room setting up.”

Deciding that the removal of the First Aiders and the commandeering of the conference room would be better done in person than by phone, Sally set off for the directorate office to break the news to John.

Just outside the office Sally literally bumped into Louis, tanned and newly returned from his recent Italian holiday. “Alright kidda?  What’s going on in this building then?  The rumours are flying around like nobody’s business.  Who’s this ice maiden police woman that everyone’s so scared of?”

DS Hammond moved silently out of the doorway and stood behind Louis.  Sally did not like the look on her face and almost felt sorry for Louis at that moment.

“I believe it’s me that you are referring to.  Perhaps you would introduce us Sally?”

“Uh – oh sure.  DS Hammond – this is Louis.  He’s just come back from holiday.  Today’s his first day back.”

“Holiday?  Really?  You haven’t been to Portugal, have you?”

Louis drew himself up to his full height, which still left him a good foot shorter than DS Hammond.  “Italy actually kidda, I’ve got family there.”

She looked down at him with disdain, “Families are notorious for giving false alibis.  Portugal isn’t that far from Italy either.  Modern air travel is a wonderful thing, it should be fairly easy to track your movements.  Give your name to Long and don’t hold Sally up any longer, she’s got an urgent job to do for me.”

Trying hard not to laugh, Sally almost ran down the stairs leaving Louis and DS Hammond in the kind of Mexican stand-off usually seen between rival tomcats in a back garden.

Resource Investigator or Scavenger

John’s secretary was not overly pleased to find that Mostyn Hall was about to be over run by police, or that the very lucrative first aid course was going to have to be moved out of the main conference room at such short notice.  She was a resilient lady however and started making the necessary arrangements while Sally perched on her desk and delivered a list of DS Hammond’s demands.

“What John will have to say about this, I don’t know!” said one of the other directorate secretaries who was known for her snobbishness and elitism, “He won’t like having the police take over the place you know.”

Sally shrugged, “I don’t suppose he likes having members of his staff being bumped off either but he doesn’t seem to have much choice about that.  DS Hammond says she’ll send one of her officers to liaise with you when the rest of the team arrive.”

“Rest of the team! How many more of them are there?” asked another of the secretaries, putting down her copy of ‘Hello’ magazine for a moment.

“Have you never watched ‘Morse’ or ‘Midsomer Murders’?  When they decide to set up an incident room the police kind of totally invade the place.  The conference room is ideal; plenty of computer points, display screen, next door to the lavatories and the canteen.  Could have been custom made.” Sally grinned, enjoying the woman’s very obvious displeasure.

“How long are they going to be there?  I’ve got meetings arranged in that room” said the first secretary, her face the very essence of outrage.

Trying very hard not to show her glee at finally getting one over on someone who had narrowly escaped being put on the hit list – she would have been number thirteen and that was even more unlucky, Sally shrugged again, catching just the hint of a smile on the lips of John’s usually inscrutable secretary.

“Don’t worry Sally.” she said. “John will take it in his stride.  I’ve sent him an e-mail, he’s down at the Town Hall but he’s very good at picking mail up on his mobile. Thanks for giving us some warning anyway.  I’d rather have it from you than some plod barging his way in.  Do you have any idea when they’ll be here?”

“On their way as far as I know.  I’ll ring as soon as I get more news.”

“Thanks.  Well ladies,” she said as she picked up her phone, “better start rescheduling those meetings for the next week or so.”

Sally left the room quickly, before she could bear the brunt of any more disapproval.  On her way back along the corridor she bumped into Louis who looked as if he hadn’t exactly been the victor in his tussle with DS Hammond. 

“Alright kidda?  Have you got any biscuits tucked away anywhere?  Talking to that snotty detective has made me famished.  I could murder a cup of tea too.”

“Don’t your own team ever feed you?”

“Nah.  I reckon they hide the biscuits when they see me coming.  I’ve been all over the place after they’ve gone home but I can’t find them.  The others always seem to be eating when I come into the room though.   It’s no way to treat their manager.”

“Perhaps you could try contributing to their tea and coffee swindle occasionally.  You drink enough tea to merit a couple of quid a week.”

Louis frowned.  “I can’t be bothered with all that stuff.  There are always plenty of biscuits knocking around in other offices anyway.”

“I know,” said Sally, “I’ve seen you creeping around after everyone has gone home; hunting for something to satisfy your munchies.  You’ll have to be a bit more careful when the police move in.  I don’t suppose they’ll want you mooching around the building much.”

He grinned.  “Police have to be fed, don’t they?  I’ll have to get in with them and see if they have better biscuits than us.  Gotta dash now, see you later kidda.”

Sally watched his slight but jaunty figure stroll back up the corridor towards his office.  Maybe she shouldn’t have put him on the list after all.  His laziness annoyed her and his ability to scrounge off other people didn’t earn him any friends.  He set himself up as a resource investigator and boasted that he could acquire anything for anyone by using his charm alone, but his behaviour was more reminiscent of a black-market spiv and she was sure that one of these days he would become seriously unstuck.

Her office biscuits were tucked away in a box in the room that DS Hammond was now occupying, so Sally supposed they would be safe enough for the time being.  She assumed that when the incident room was set up downstairs, DS Hammond would take over one of the small offices along the same corridor and she would be able to have her humble attic back again.  It wasn’t that she minded working in Donal’s office, but now that he had gone off sick there was no one to have a laugh with, the chair was uncomfortable and she missed being surrounded by her familiar pictures and objects.

Sighing, she climbed back up the stairs and tried to sneak past the open door to Donal’s office without DS Hammond spotting her.  It was an epic failure.  She hadn’t even managed two steps past the doorway before she was summoned to return. 

“Is it all sorted then?  I need those first aiders out of the conference room immediately.  What are they doing in there anyway?”

Deciding that stating the obvious would not be a sensible choice; Sally opted for an explanation instead.  “They’re mostly studying CPR and basic first aid techniques. Putting slings on and bandaging each other.  It’s one of the few courses that brings in any revenue because we teach people from the private sector and charge them a fair whack for the privilege of having one of our first aid certificates.  They’re a pretty rowdy lot usually.  Talking all through the lectures, messing with the kit and popping out for fags every few minutes, they aren’t exactly well-behaved but we have to put up with them I’m afraid.”

“Not if I have my way and as you are probably aware by now.  I inevitably do get my way.  That chap who was here earlier on.  Little tanned guy who fancies himself.”


“Yes, that one.  Isn’t he on your list?”

“Ah, yes.  He’d annoyed me the day before I made the list.”

“By doing what exactly?”

Sally hung her head.  “I’m very fond of Louis really, in many ways he’s a nice bloke, but like Colin, he’s extremely adept at getting other people to do his work. He gets away with things that other people would be on a disciplinary for.  He also pinches food and drink from other people’s offices, won’t pay money into the tea fund and is a notorious scavenger.”

“If he tries pinching anything from my incident room, he’ll get more than he’s bargained for.  When’s this John coming back?”

“Soon.  They said they’ll phone once he’s back.  He’s calling in all the senior officers. Some of them are not very happy about it.”

“Tough. How many of them are on your hit list?”

“Three.  Four if you count Colin – which you probably aren’t because he’s already dead.”

“Where do they sit in your hierarchy then?”

“In terms of management structure, you have Athena at the top, John and three others under her, then John’s deputies, senior managers under them, operational managers on the next tier down and then a host of team managers. The majority of workers here are care managers and administrative staff, and at the bottom in terms of management importance there the canteen staff, the cleaners and the building attendants.”

DS Hammond picked up Sally’s list and scrutinised it.  Sally knew that she was just doing this for effect because the names were undoubtedly already filed in DS Hammond’s meticulously ordered brain.

“You’ve been fairly democratic in your hit list then, although I notice that you miss out John and his deputies you don’t have many care managers and the canteen staff get off scot free.” 

She put the list down on top of a pile of papers.  Sally looked wistfully at her own cluttered and familiar desk and experienced another feeling of deep regret at ever having read that stupid article about hit lists.  She sighed and sat down unbidden on her own very comfortable chair.  “The whole idea of the hit list, was to write down the names of people who make your life difficult, acknowledge that there isn’t much you can do about it, destroy the list and move on. I missed out on the last two steps because I went off to the canteen with Donal, the list got sent off with the scanning by mistake, the Modern Apprentices put it on the Internet and now some serial killer’s got his or hands on it.  John is a nice guy, busy but nice, so are his deputies.  Most of the care managers and some of the team managers are okay.  The staff in the canteen are wonderful – as you will soon find out once you set up your incident room.  I was taught that respect has to be earned so no, I don’t respect people because they get paid more than me, I respect them for who they are, not what they are.”

“Do we have an issue then?  I expect to be treated with respect.”

“If you earn it – you’ll get it but I won’t tug my forelock to you just because you’re a detective.  I find you rather arrogant and high-handed with people but Steve says you’re good at what you do so I’m prepared to take his word for it.  I’ll help you in anyway I can but I didn’t ask anyone to kill the people on that list and I didn’t kill them myself.”

Sally leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes.  She felt drained by the whole thing and frightened by the fact that Derek was missing.  She was having second thoughts about at least half the people on her hit list now but there seemed to be no way of stopping the process.  DS Hammond was her only hope.

“Okay Sally, I have a few calls to make.  Let me know when this John comes back, and can you shut the door on the way out.  There’s a mad woman out there who keeps swearing at the photocopier.  Is your mate Donal around?

“No, he’s gone home – I think he’s taken it all quite hard.”

“Three murders in as many days, not surprising really.  I’ll talk to you later.”

Donal’s office was deserted when she walked back in and there was a message on her desk to ring Ruby with an update.  She decided that, though she would have loved to pour her heart out to Ruby right then, she’d pretend that she hadn’t seen the message.  Sally knew from experience that even with the door shut the partition wall between her office and Donal’s was pretty thin and she couldn’t take the risk of DS Hammond overhearing anything she said.  As it was, she could hear that the recipient of DS Hammond’s phone call was getting the sharp edge of her tongue.  She decided to check her e-mails to see if there was anything she could distract herself with but most of them were out of office messages from people who had decided that Mostyn Hall was not a safe place to be.  Sally found that odd because nobody had actually been killed on the premises – yet.  The phone rang and Sally got the news that John had returned from the Town Hall. 

Corporate Killer – the Town Hall Cuts

The Body in the Library

After a miserable weekend, Sally was relieved to hear the sound of her radio alarm on Monday morning.  She got up feeling like one of the walking dead and woke her eldest son for a shower.  There was still another twenty minutes before she had to wake her husband and younger son up, so she switched on the television and sat down to eat breakfast.

Sharon’s face assaulted her from the screen, shortly followed by that of Colin and a shot of the exterior of Mostyn Hall.  According to the local news there had been further developments over the weekend and detectives were liaising with the Portuguese authorities because Colin’s death was now officially a murder.  A witness had come forward to say that they had seen a young man near the sun bed half an hour or so before Colin’s wife came to wake him up.  The witness did not believe that the young man was a local because he was very pale-skinned and wore an England football shirt.

The whole thing made Sally feel nauseous; and the knowledge that Mostyn Hall was liable to be under siege from reporters by the time she got in to work made the prospect of going in even worse.  Sally went upstairs to wake her husband and they watched the news together in silence.

“None of this can possibly be your fault.” he said, squeezing her hand.

“I know.  I also know that I am being totally arrogant in thinking that my evil thoughts can have brought about what’s happened to Colin and Sharon.  I feel guilty though.”

“Don’t.  Someone else hated them enough to kill them – leave the guilt to them.  Do you really need to go in today?  Stay home and have a duvet day with me?”

She smiled, the prospect of staying home and going back to sleep was far more appealing, except that the news would inevitably intrude at some point, and she had at least two meetings to arrange as well as the usual pile of work that have been generated for her. 

“No, I’m going in.  There’s far too much work to do and people know I wasn’t that fond of Colin and Sharon.   I don’t want anyone thinking that I’m jumping on the bandwagon in order to get time off.”

“Okay, but call me if it gets too much and I’ll come and rescue you.”

They gave the boys a lift to school and college, Sally asked to be dropped off at Mostyn Hall’s side gate where all the smokers usually congregated.  The area was busy but she couldn’t see any familiar faces in the crowd; two satellite vans and several private cars blocked the gateway and it was fairly obvious that that press had been told they couldn’t actually go on the premises.  Sally’s husband turned the car around and drove to the main entrance where the building attendants, wearing high visibility jackets and looking excitedly officious, were preventing staff from being accosted by the press.  There were also a couple of policemen wearing flak jackets and checking ID tags.  Sally got out of the car, showed her ID and gratefully accepted an escort through to reception.

Ruby was already in the office; she looked as weary as Sally felt.  She put her bag on the desk and sat down heavily on her chair.  “I’m guessing that you didn’t sleep well either?”

Ruby nodded.  “Are the press still out there?

“Oh yes, two vans and several cars.  Not a single smoker in sight.” said Sally.

“John’s given special permission for people to smoke on site.  There’s a designated area out by the portakabins.  You can just see them from here, it’s been very busy so far and I’m sure there are some new smokers out there as well.”  Ruby leaned over the desk to look out of the window. “How do you fancy getting out of the building for a couple of hours?”

“Yes please.  I’ll do anything.”

“Thought you would.  John wants a couple of people to attend an event down at the Town Hall.  There’s been a three-line whip gone out from Athena and every team has to send at least two members of staff.  I’ll drive.”

“Phew.” said Sally.  “I thought you were going to send me off with Linda for a moment there.”  She looked over at Ruby and smiled gratefully.

“Linda’s far too busy to attend such a trivial event.  Unfortunately, we forgot to tell her that Athena’s doing the opening speech or that it was likely to become a bit high-profile.  As far as she’s concerned it will be just a group of old people drinking tea and talking about watercolour painting and jazz.” 

Ruby had a decidedly naughty twinkle in her eye as she made this pronouncement. “We can drop off some leaflets while you’re there, and pick up some freebies.”

“Great.  What time are we going?”

“In half an hour or so.  It opens at ten o’clock and we’re supposed to be there so we can cheer Athena on as she performs her opening speech.”

“We’ll be the only ones who do then.  She’s not exactly popular with the older people at the moment.”

“That’s why we have to deliver a show of force and make a lot of noise.  I have a feeling that something else is going to steal the limelight.  John’s also sent out an e-mail stating that under no circumstances is anyone to make any kind of statement to the press about Colin or Sharon – on or off the record.”

Sally set up meetings for the next couple of weeks and called down to book rooms for them.  It took some time to get through though; between the phone calls from local and national press, together with the usual personal callers and neighbours popping in to complain about all the strange cars parked in the road, the directorate was very busy.

The press pack had doubled by the time Ruby and Sally drove out of the car park.  The police cleared the way for them; holding back a number of over enthusiastic photographers who were snapping anyone and everyone who came in and out of the building.  Those service users who routinely hung around the building had quickly ceased to be of media interest once the newshounds realised that they had no idea who Colin and Sharon were.  It was a relief therefore to get away and Ruby flatly refused to turn the radio on in the car in case there was yet another news bulletin to depress them. 

They parked in the multi-storey car park and walked the short distance to the Town Hall.  Situated in the middle of a public park, it was hard for the police to keep the press back from the main doors.  Judging by the numbers of elderly people in the queue for reception however, the media attention was not acting as a deterrent.  Ruby and Sally joined the queue, ID badges at the ready and secure in the knowledge that Athena, with her need for maximum exposure would not start her speech until everyone was assembled in the conference hall.

By the time they got through reception, the hall was full of staff, exhibitors and elderly people clutching carrier bags of free low energy light bulbs, information leaflets and cheap pedometers courtesy of the local health authority.  Sally and Ruby leaned against the back wall and watched, as Athena, her long frizzy hair floating out behind her, ascended the steps to the dais and smiled patronisingly at the assembled crowd.    Whenever she saw Athena make a public appearance Sally always hoped that she’d shock everyone by wearing lime green or shocking pink, even a more subtle maroon or brown but no, Athena was wearing her customary navy sheath dress.  Short sleeved and ending just above her bony knees, the dress probably cost a fortune but did Athena no favours at all.  American tan tights and prissy black t-bar shoes completed her outfit with no attempt at accessorising.  Even the Queen has a handbag; but Athena was always escorted by a number of minions who undoubtedly carried everything for her.

From the moment Athena opened her mouth, Sally switched off.  She found Athena’s public voice affected and false; when faced with a large group of people she lost the ability to pronounce her ‘r’s properly.  Sally wasn’t sure if Athena put the voice on to impress people, but she knew that once, when she had been in the posh lavatory in the entrance area at Mostyn Hall, she’d heard someone talking on a mobile phone and when she came out to wash her hands; Athena was the only person present.  There had been no trace of a speech impediment then, just a rather rough local accent. 

Mercifully, on this occasion Athena kept it short if not sweet. In terms of being a celebration of older people, it was very successful.  The expected jazz band was playing at one end of the hall, cups of tea and coffee were being brought round and a number of ladies and gentlemen were painting watercolours, knitting and icing cupcakes.    There were free blood pressure checks and chair-based exercise classes taking place in a side room, and a delightful old gentleman doing magic tricks.   Moving from stall to stall, the main topic of conversation was the newly-christened ‘Town Hall Murders’ however.  Sally took exception to this title since neither of the victims worked or were murdered at the Town Hall.  It could deflect the attention away from their workplace though and as most of the communications and publicity staff worked from the town centre, they were best placed to fend off the press.

Sally spotted a friend from the libraries and leisure section and made her way over to him.  They were deep in conversation when the air was pierced by a particularly strident ringtone.  A lady from the central library apologetically dug around for her phone in her capacious handbag; answering in hushed tones so as not to disturb anyone further.  She got up quickly and almost ran out of the hall, leaving her handbag behind her.  Returning briefly to collect her things she explained that there had been some kind of incident down at the main library and she’d have to go and sort things out immediately. 

It was approaching lunchtime and both Ruby and Sally felt that they ought to be leaving; it was time to run the gauntlet again.  The crowd outside the front gates had thinned considerably but Sally assumed that this was due to it being lunchtime.  She and Ruby bought some food from the local pie shop and returned to the car park.  Road works in the town centre meant that a one-way system had been imposed and it was while they were navigating their way back out again that they passed the three police cars, two fire tenders, an ambulance and the rest of the reporters now stationed outside the library.

Sally had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach but mentally reprimanded herself for being paranoid.  What would anyone from Mostyn Hall be doing at the library at lunchtime anyway?  

“Shall we risk the news Sally?”  Ruby’s hand hovered over the dial.

“Go on then.  We’ll hear it all sooner or later anyway.”

There didn’t appear to have been any new developments since they’d left and Ruby was about to tune the radio into something more diverting when they were distracted by breaking news about the library.  The information was limited but there had been an accident with some shelving that was being moved from one part of the library to another. 

It had been thought that there were no casualties but now that the emergency services had managed to move the shelves a woman’s body had been found.  She had been crushed by the weight of the heavy wooden fitments. 

It was then that Sally remembered the next name on the hit list. Shirley.  Dopey Shirley who had wrecked the stationery cupboard shelves, and who worked in an office in the town centre. 

“Are you okay Sally?”  said Ruby, obvious concern showing on her face as Sally sat beside her in the car, ashen and shaking.

“Ruby, can you keep a secret?  It’s the most horrendous secret I’ve ever had.”

“Hell, yes honey, you know I can.  What on earth is it?”

“There are only two other people who know about this, my husband and Donal.  It’s about these murders.”

Ruby looked quizzically at Sally.  “No.  I refuse to believe that you are a mass murderer.”

Sally smiled weakly.  “You know how people annoy me sometimes?”

“I do.  The people who annoy you usually annoy me too.”

“I was reading this article about coping mechanisms and they recommended that you should write down a list of the people who really wound you up and then put it away in a drawer and forget about it.”

“Reasonable method.  I’ve used it myself, tends to have a lot of my family members on it though.”

“Well, this didn’t.  It was a list of twelve people I’ve met through work and who have left an indelible mark on me.  Donal came in just after I’d written it, we had a good laugh and I shoved it in my desk drawer and forgot about it.  When I went to find it later it had disappeared.”

“Oh, it’s bound to be around somewhere.  You probably chucked it in the confidential shredding with a pile of old agendas. “

“No, I’ve looked.  I turned everything out and the only thing I could think of was that I’d taken it out when I was looking for paper clips; it got mixed up with some invoices and sent off to scanning by mistake.  I’ve checked the archives and it hasn’t been scanned into the system.  It’s not been sent back to me either.”

“Who’s on the list Sally?”

“Colin, Sharon.”

“Oh God!  Who else?”


“What Dopey Shirley?”

“Yes, Dopey Shirley who wrecked the stationery cupboard shelves.”

“Are you thinking that she might be the body in the library?”

Sally took a deep breath, “One of the things that annoyed me about Colin was his constantly prattling on about Portugal and how much he loved salted sardines.  Sharon was forever tossing her smelly highlighted hair around by way of a distraction in meetings.  What am I supposed to think?  I feel like someone’s got inside my head and is carrying out these murders to order.  Thank goodness I have an ironclad alibi for both incidents, but suppose the police think that I’m an evil mastermind and I’ve arranged for a hit man – or woman – to do my dirty work for me?” 

Ruby took a slight detour and pulled into a supermarket car park.  She turned to look Sally square in the face and took hold of both her hands.

“Just calm down now.  Thinking bad things about other people doesn’t kill them.  Colin died in Portugal, Sharon in a hairdresser over thirty miles away.  You don’t drive, you’ve been in the country the whole time and you definitely have alibis.  What does Donal think about this?”

“He seems spooked.  Totally spooked.  I’ve never seen him so worried.  He’s usually so laid back – except for when he has to do Hester’s accounts with her.  It’s almost as if he knows something that he’s not telling me.  My husband is logical and sensible about it but he doesn’t really understand how things are at Mostyn Hall; how incestuous it all is.”

 “If – and only if – this latest accident does turn out to be Dopey Shirley then I think you might need to speak to someone about it.  How many more people are on the list?”

“Nine.  Derek, Athena, Linda, Louis, Hester, Graham, Angela, Susie and Tracey.”

Ruby snorted with laughter, then stopped abruptly at the sight of Sally’s face.

“Sorry sweetheart.  I shouldn’t have laughed but if I had to draw up a hit list, I’d have had them all on mine as well.  You can certainly pick the bad ones.”

“Oh, don’t Ruby.  I’ll never forgive myself if anything happens to them.  However much they annoy me they don’t deserve to be wiped out.  It’s bad enough that they’re dying – it’s the manner of their death that worries me too.”

“Come on, we need get these pies back before they go cold.  I don’t want to be accused of starving anyone to death.  Sorry, hideously bad taste.”

“You won’t tell anyone, will you Ruby?  Promise me?”

“On one condition.”


“Well two conditions really.  Number one – stop worrying so much, you’ll make yourself ill.  Number two – just give me your word that you will never make any wax effigies of me and stick pins in them?”

Sally looked horrified at the thought and Ruby regretted her words immediately.  “Sorry, sorry! I didn’t mean that – it was just a joke, just my sick sense of humour.  Do you still know any tame policemen?”

“A couple of guys from the police protection unit.  Why?”

“You might need a friend in the force – if what you say about the list is true then there’s nothing to tie it to you other than the fact that like many other people at Mostyn Hall, this group of people have annoyed you at some point, but you don’t know where the list is or whether someone is likely to produce it.  You might need some insurance.  Think about it anyway.”

DS Hammond

The body in the library turned out to be Dopey Shirley.  The news wasn’t confirmed until later that evening, but it was definitely her.  According to the local news that particular section of the library had been sectioned off because the massive shelving units were being cleared, cleaned and moved to a new position.  Someone had put a ‘Clearance – 50p per book’ sign over the crates of books which is what must have enticed Shirley into the room.  It still wasn’t clear whether the book shelves had fallen on her by accident or whether someone pushed them.  Sally had her own theory about that. 

Before leaving work that afternoon she had sent an e-mail to Steve, an old friend of hers in the police protection unit asking him to contact her and leaving her home, mobile and work numbers.  She didn’t expect him to reply immediately but as the afternoon and evening wore on, Sally was getting more anxious about her situation.  Even her husband was beginning to express some concerns, although he was more worried about the effect the stress was having on Sally.  The press hadn’t actually made a connection between Shirley and the Town Hall murders yet but Sally felt it was only a matter of time before they did, and the only other real link, apart from the local authority, would be the fact that she had worked with all three victims at one time or another. 

The house phone rang at ten forty-five that night and Sally picked it up quickly.  It was Steve.             “Hello my love, your e-mail sounded a bit mysterious.  It isn’t too late to call is it? I’m on nights this week.”

“Oh Steve, what a relief to hear your voice. How are you?  What are you doing now?”

“Officially child protection still but I’m covering for a colleague for the next couple of weeks.  Never mind the pleasantries.  What’s the problem?  Your lad in trouble for shooting people with his BB gun?”

“No thank goodness.  He seems to prefer killing people on his computer at the moment.  I’m afraid it’s me. I have a big problem and it’s getting bigger by the minute. I need your advice.”

“Off the record?”

“At the moment – you can tell me what I need to do after I’ve explained.  You’ll have heard that two of the staff up at Mostyn Hall have died in mysterious circumstances?”

“We aren’t talking about much else here at the station.  Why?  It isn’t you that’s bumping people off is it?”

“Steve!  Please be serious!  No, I’m not bumping them off as you so delicately put it, but I might be responsible.  I might know who’s going to be next.”

“I don’t believe I’m hearing this.  Can I make notes?”

“If you must.  I’ll give you the potted version.  I made a list of twelve members of staff that …well my life would improve if they weren’t around any more. A friend and I had a laugh about it and I meant to destroy the list but didn’t.   I put it away in a drawer but left it out on my desk when I was looking for something else and now the list has disappeared and the first three people on it have died.”

“Three?  I only know about the one in Portugal and the woman at the hairdresser.”

“The body in the library this afternoon, we used to work together a couple of years ago.”

“Oh my God!  You say there are another nine people on the list?”

“Ye-es.  Sorry. Twelve didn’t seem so bad at the time; we employ nine thousand staff after all”

“I can think of more than twelve people I’d like to get rid of.  Have you done anything about this?”

“Contacted you for advice.  That’s a start isn’t it?”

“These other people on your list.  Have you warned them?”

“Get real Steve.  What am I going to say – ‘I dislike you so much that I’ve put your names on a hit list and somebody is bumping you all off?’  I know it may seem trivial compared to losing your life but I could lose my job over this.  There are some very high-profile people on that list.”

“This other person who knows all the names…?”

“No, Donal would never do anything as violent as kill anyone.  He was as shocked as I was when Colin died, and he began to look at me very strangely when we heard about Sharon.  He had the misfortune to come into the office just after I’d written the list.  The only other people who know about the list are my husband, and Ruby that I share an office with.  I only told her about it today.”

“Are you sure no one else knows about these particular people?”

“Individually maybe.  Mostyn Hall is a small place and everyone knows who’s fallen out with whom.  I’ve never had stand up rows with any of these people.  They just …annoyed me.   That’s all.”

“Remind me never to get on your bad side.  This has to be a coincidence Sally.  Why would anyone be going around killing off local authority staff unless it’s to save money?”

“Donal made that joke too.  I don’t know Steve.  I don’t know who has the list and I don’t know if I have a secret admirer who is hell bent on eliminating my adversaries.  I do know that however much people have annoyed me I don’t wish them dead.”

“Okay, just calm down a bit and I’ll tell you what we’ll do.  Claire Hammond has been put in charge of this case.  She’s pretty reasonable; one of the fast-track detective sergeants, psychology masters, good line in interrogative patter and rising through the ranks with astonishing speed but she’s okay.  I’ll have a chat with her.  Don’t do anything or tell anyone else what you have told me.  Are you in work tomorrow?”

“Yes, if I can get past the reporters outside the gate.”

“Good.  I think once Claire hears that the library incident is tied in with this, she’s going to be very interested in what you have to say.”

“I’ll write it up tonight.”

“No.  She’ll probably want you to give a statement anyway and if you write anything down and it falls into the wrong hands …”

“Thank you for that.  I’ll do as you suggest.”

“Okay my love.  Get some sleep and we’ll sort this out – one way or another.”

Sally put the phone back on the cradle and after relating Steve’s advice to her husband, decided to get an early night.  Her mind kept coming back to the Modern Apprentices and the numerous fantasy conversations they’d had in the past about bumping off people they didn’t like.  One of them had an app on his phone and you could paste the face of a person that you disliked onto a crash test dummy, and mangle the body in various nasty accidents.  Athena’s face had featured quite prominently.

These were young people of in their teens though; they wouldn’t have the means or the inclination to carry out these murders, would they?   Sally tried to think logically; she was sure that she’d seen or spoken to each of the Modern Apprentices during the past week and none of them had recently returned from a holiday in Portugal.  At the same time, she recalled how easy it had been for her own sons to find information about hydrogen peroxide from the Internet when she asked them.  Suppose the Modern Apprentices were in league with someone who had considerably more means and power; some kind of Fagin-like manipulator?  That didn’t make any sense though.  Who else would want to pick on this particular group of people?

Steve obviously managed to get in touch with DS Hammond because she attended Mostyn Hall shortly after nine o’clock the next morning.  Cool and efficient; she appropriated Sally’s office for her own. Ruby took her work over to another office after casting a sympathetic glance in Sally’s direction.  A young uniformed police constable sat at a desk and painstakingly wrote down every word of Sally’s statement, sighing whenever Sally found a spelling or grammatical error and it had to be amended before she would sign and date the page. DS Hammond leaned back in her chair, a study in manufactured boredom, blonde hair cut in an immaculate razored bob, icy blue eyes and cheek bones to die for, her expensive, well-cut grey linen trouser suit a stark contrast to Sally’s utilitarian red blouse and black skirt.

DS Hammond noted down the names and positions of the remaining nine staff but said that she wouldn’t be bothering them just yet as she felt that Sally’s over-active imagination had jumped to too many conclusions.  There were other people at Mostyn Hall that DS Hammond wanted to interview and with Sally’s assistance she drew up another list of names and times of when she expected them to attend.  Sally spent the rest of the day in Donal’s office phoning them all and was just packing away her papers in preparation to go home when the police constable popped his head round the door. “DS Hammond would like another word please.”

Sally gathered up her coat and bag and went back into her own office.  DS Hammond had evidently taken over and looked as if she were intending to be around for a while to come.

“I just thought I’d update you on the current situation.  The chap in Portugal, Colin?  He was definitely murdered but it was almost certainly very quick and whoever smothered him was pretty strong.  They are still running tests on the lady at the hairdressers but it looks as if she had been drugged before she went into the side room to sit under the infra-red lights, so she was probably out of it before the explosion occurred.  The hydrogen peroxide they found on her clothes and hair was industrial strength though, about five times that used in hairdressing salons.  There were bottles nearby with the lids left off and the fire brigade think the ignition came from a book of matches thrown in through the window.”

Sally gulped.   “What about Shirley, the lady in the library yesterday?”

“The weight of the bookcases smashed her skull instantly; she wouldn’t have known what hit her.  They can’t find a reason for the book cases to have fallen by accident though, so as of this afternoon we are talking three murders – and all of them linked to you.” 

DS Hammond leaned back in the chair, her fingertips pressed together, one eyebrow raised quizzically.  Waves of hot and cold swept over Sally and she sat down quickly on the nearest chair.  She felt nauseous and grabbed a tissue from the box on her desk. “You don’t think that I …all I did was write a stupid list!”

“Yes, but someone somewhere is taking your stupid list seriously.  I’m intending to speak to the other people on the list tomorrow so I’ll need this office again and I’ll need you to help me organise some more interviews.  At this stage I don’t intend to tell them about the list, just that I’m interviewing most people in senior and management positions.  I’ve spoken to your boss, John is it? He’s okay about using the facilities here.  If, and only if we lose any more of your staff, I may well set up an incident room in your main conference hall.  I take it I can count on your co-operation in acquiring that space?”

“Of course.” said Sally.  “I’ll do anything I can to assist.  Derek would be the best person to talk to – he’s in charge of all the facilities.”

DS Hammond ran an elegantly manicured fingernail down the page in front of her.

“Derek – oh another one on your list!   I’ve spoken to his manager and unfortunately Derek appears to be on leave for the rest of this week but I suppose someone else in his department can make arrangements for us?”

Sally nodded her head and assumed that Derek was doing his usual trick of disappearing whenever there was any work to be done.

“Is it okay if I go now then?” she asked.  “I’ll be in about half-eight tomorrow.”

“Good.”  DS Hammond waved her hand in dismissal and picked up the phone, Sally’s phone. 

Donal was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. “This is a mess isn’t it?  I’m sorry Sally.”

“Whatever for?  One of this is your fault.”

Donal looked away; a guilty expression on his face and Sally wondered what it was that she was missing. 

She put a hand on his arm reassuringly. “It’s okay.  I have the feeling that DS Hammond has decided to keep me close by so that I don’t get the opportunity organise any more hits.  I’m only surprised that she didn’t put me in protective custody.  I strongly suspect that there will be plain clothes policemen stationed outside our house all night.  Shame, I’ve always been partial to a man in uniform myself.”

“At least you still have your sense of humour.”


Sally and Donal clocked out and walked across the car park in silence.  The police presence was still in evidence and Sally was escorted to her husband’s car.  She got in, and fastened her seat belt.

“Take me home please?”

Corporate Killer – the Town Hall Cuts

Peroxide Poisoning

The fallout from Colin’s premature demise reverberated around the walls of Mostyn Hall for the rest of the week; with reactions ranging from a few red-eyed and deluded secretaries who genuinely believed that Colin had been a gentleman, to the sycophants who were casting out their nets to see if they could get a better job in the resultant reshuffle, then there was the inner core of staff who wouldn’t miss Colin in the slightest because he’d been making their lives a misery for years.  Sally knew that she sat squarely within that category but did her best not to make any negative comments within managerial hearing.   She would have been happier if Colin had been sacked or taken early retirement; for all her retributional desires Sally was not an unkind person, she just wanted the world to be fairer, especially the world according to Mostyn Hall. 

Their new boss, John had brought in an ex-colleague as one of his two deputies, and with Michael in post, John was able to make permanent staff appointments and there were very few surprises.  John was evidently a director who kept his friends close and his enemies even closer. Sally had hoped that the likes of Susie and Tracey might be busted down to manager level but it wasn’t to be. They took the confirmation of their positions as an affirmation of the high esteem with which they were obviously held in the department; Tracey’s bulky frame was further enhanced by the increasingly padded shoulders of her mannish suit jackets whilst Susie came into work every day looking like she she’d just returned from a cruise or a garden party. 

Colin had kept his post as well and this had come as an even bigger shock to those who knew his methods of management.  When the news got out about Colin’s murder, the directorate corridor became the scene of managerial jostling as interested staff put their case for the opportunity to step into Colin’s vacant espadrilles.  The vacuous Sharon was one of the jostlers; but when faced with difficult questions in her interview her best response was to toss her excessively bleached blonde hair over her shoulders and give what she thought was a winning smile but actually made her look quite demented.  It wasn’t surprising therefore that a very nice man called Andy got the job, having been quietly and conscientiously working hard in the background for some years.  Sharon was given a few extra responsibilities but as it was kudos rather than responsibility that she wanted, she became even more bitter and disruptive than she had been before.  She also discovered a new body spray that clung to her clothes and every room she entered with all the charm of a sweaty lap dancer, and left people gasping and choking in her wake.

Unfortunately, some of Sharon’s new responsibilities meant that she became a more frequent visitor to the office.  Unless she was needed to take notes, Sally tried to find a reason to get some work done elsewhere when such meetings were going on.   Knowing Sharon and Andy were coming to a meeting in the office at eleven on this particular wet Thursday morning; Sally decided to change the notice board in the entrance hall; an activity requiring printing, laminating and some judicious juggling in order to fit everything on the board. The meeting should have been held at nine-thirty but Sharon had a hair appointment that she couldn’t possibly cancel and wouldn’t be in until eleven so it was rescheduled.

Taking her time over the printing, and stopping anyone coming out of the lavatories to get their opinion on both content and artistic arrangement once the notice board was finished, took Sally over an hour.  She walked slowly up the stairs in order to give them more time to finish their meeting.  If she’d remembered she would have taken her purse with and eaten in the canteen but she’d been in a bit of a rush to escape before Sharon arrived to contaminate the atmosphere.   Andy was still in the office with Ruby and some of their other colleagues but there was no sign of Sharon. 

“We’ve heard some rather bad news.  You’d better sit down.  It’s not any of your family but …” said Andy.

“What?  What’s happened?”

“It’s Sharon.  There’s been some kind of an accident at the hairdressers this morning.  She’s been rushed to hospital but they don’t hold out much hope.”

Sally felt the coldness down her spine again.  “What kind of an accident?”

“We don’t really know the details yet.  Something to do with peroxide and an explosion.  It’s awful.”

They left the office eventually and Sally was alone and able to mull things over.  It was while she was eating a very late lunch that she received a visit from Donal.  She held up her hand to silence him before he’d even take a step inside the room.

“I know what you’re going to say and, in my defence, I have either been in the office or in public view in the entrance hall all morning.”

Donal sat down opposite her.  “Sally, I don’t think for one moment that you are personally responsible for what happened to Colin and Sharon, but you have to admit, this is beginning to get very scary.  Have you found that list yet?”

“No.  I have an awful feeling that I took it out when I was looking for some paperclips and it may have been put into a pile with some other papers.  I promise to look for it properly tomorrow.”

“I’d feel safer if you did, and Sally?”


“When you find it, take it home and burn it.  Whatever you do, don’t put it in the confidential waste.”


An urgent meeting in the directorate offices next day prevented Sally from hunting through her paperwork until late morning.  Although the meeting was supposed to be about some changes in protocol laid down by national government, the news about Sharon, coming so closely after Colin’s alleged murder, made everyone subdued.  Everyone that is, except Susie and Tracey, who were wearing their usual false smiles and even more outrageous outfits like a pair of Ugly Sisters. 

Sally returned to the office; the news from the hospital was not good.  It seemed that there had been some kind of an explosion which took place in a side room at the hairdressers.  Sharon had been sitting in there with her highlighted hair wrapped in tinfoil and peroxide.  She never regained consciousness and died later that afternoon.   Most of the lesser meetings scheduled for the next day had been cancelled as a token of respect but Ruby had to go off-site to a lunch conference organised by a group of local charities.  Sally packed up Ruby’s notes and walked out to the car with her, carrying her laptop and stowing it in the boot.

“I know you and Sharon didn’t really get on Sally, but it’s a dreadful thing to have happened.”

“I know, and believe me; however much Sharon annoyed me I wouldn’t have wished this on her – or on anyone for that matter.  If this had happened to someone I knew well and liked it would be bad enough, but I feel almost as if my disliking Colin and Sharon has put a hex on them.”

Ruby squeezed Sally’s arm, “Don’t do this to yourself.  These are just horrible coincidences.  You work in a building filled with people and the odds of someone dying at some point during your working life here are fairly high.  Stop worrying and take an early go tonight?”

“Will do – you take it easy too?”

Sally waved goodbye as Ruby drove off; reluctant to go back into the building immediately, she took the longer route through the car park and back in through a side door she rarely used.  There was a lad standing by the smokers’ corner who seemed vaguely familiar but when she looked again, he had gone.  Once she got back to the office she began systematically sifting through the pile of papers on her desk and trying to remember when she had last tidied up the drawers.  With Ruby out of the office for the rest of the day, Sally took the opportunity to spread her piles of paperwork over the other two desks as well as her own. She had a vague recollection of looking for the paper clips last time she had seen the list but couldn’t remember exactly why she was looking for them.  She leaned back in her chair, eyes closed and doing her best to visualise what she had been doing just before she’d filed the hit list away.

“Scanning!”  The memory catapulted her to her feet.

She’d been sorting out invoices to send to the scanning department and needed some paper clips to attach her compliment slip to the batch of invoices.  The staff in the scanning section were very strict about people not using staples or poly wallets; so strict that they had been known to send invoices back just because the correct protocol hadn’t been used.  Sally dug out the folder where she had filed copies of all the invoices she had sent off last week.  She was desperately hoping that her hit list had been put amongst them by mistake but although she went through the file twice, there was no sign of the list.

“I can’t guess what you’re looking for.”

“You know damn well what I’m looking for Donal – and you know that I haven’t found it yet.  I have an awful feeling that it got sent to scanning together with a batch of invoices.”

“Just remind me, what was written on the paper – exactly what did you write?”

“You saw it.  It was just a list of names.”

“Anything else?  Was your name on the list?  Did you actually write ‘Sally’s hit list’ on it?

“Don’t be daft.  I just wrote the list of names, nothing else.”

“So, if you have sent it to scanning, it will just look like the sort of list you might make if you were inviting people to a meeting.”

“I suppose so, trouble is, it will have been paper clipped to a pile of invoices and a compliment slip, so it would be fairly obvious where it came from.”

“Yes, but it means nothing if there’s no connection to the deaths.  Nearly all the names are of people who you would invite to meetings anyway.  Apart from Athena.” He pulled a face.

“Oh don’t.  Are you going down to the canteen?”

“Yes, you coming down?”

“No, if I give you some money can you get me a ham roll please?”

“Is that all?”

“And a diet coke.”

“Nothing else?”

“And a bar of chocolate.”

“Sure that’s all?”

“And a plate of chips. Please?”

Sally handed over the money and went back to sorting through the papers, most of which should have been recycled weeks ago.  She checked both sides of every single piece and by the time Donal returned with her lunch she’d cleared almost everything leaving only three piles of miscellaneous paperwork sitting on Ruby’s desk.  Donal sat down to join her and they ate lunch silently; both thinking about Colin and Sharon, but neither of them wanting to say anything.

After Donal had gone back to his office to get his teeth into some juicy spreadsheets, Sally tidied up Ruby’s desk, satisfied now that the list was definitely not in her office.  She logged onto the council’s state of the art finance system and prayed that it would only crash once or twice whilst she was rummaging around in it.  She’d decided to check if the invoices had been received, then if they had, cross reference them to the archive files in order to see if someone in the scanning department had put her list in one of the files.  There were five invoices to check; they’d all been scanned and the system only crashed four times whilst she was checking.  Usually, she would have been swearing volubly with frustration but on this occasion, she kept her cool.

A trip down the stairs to the posh coffee machine was needed before Sally braved the mysteries of the archive system; unusually for this time of the afternoon, the corridors were almost deserted with only the odd straggler swearing at a follow-me photocopier that decided not to.  Back in the office with café mocha to sustain her, Sally sent up a silent prayer that she would use the right password to get into the archive.  It wasn’t a system that she accessed very often and she was convinced that the systems team changed the process every month without telling anyone.  This was one time when she really didn’t want to phone up and get them to reset her password, in case they started asking awkward questions about why she was looking in the archive anyway.

She got in on the first try but it was still a further half an hour before she found the invoices; the system wasn’t exactly what she would term as ‘intuitive’.  Two of the invoices had been scanned in upside-down, and they’d scanned her compliment slip as well – which wasn’t strictly necessary – but there was no sign of the list. Sally hoped that whoever opened the post in the scanning room had decided that the list had been put in by mistake and thrown it away. Either the list was still in the office or someone had taken it by accident.  She didn’t want to think that the action had been deliberate.

Too weary to do any more work, Sally called her husband to see if he’d collect her, and closed down the office, making sure to lock her desk drawers although this seemed a tad too late.  Driving home and telling her husband all that had happened, Sally had an awful feeling that there was some other link between Colin and Sharon that she hadn’t yet worked out, she hoped that Ruby was right and that it was all just an awful coincidence.  Her husband was inclined to agree with Ruby too; all the males in Sally’s household had strong logical and scientific principles in stark contrast to her interest in more ephemeral phenomenon.  Whilst this provided frequent and colourful discussions, Sally was quite happy today to be told that she was talking nonsense.

Once indoors, in front of the television for the evening news, with her feet up and a large medicinal sherry in her hand, Sally felt the stress of the day begin to ebb away.  Watching the news was not the best choice she could have made however.  Sharon’s death made the headlines, and not just because of the sensational manner in which she died.  The police were now considering the circumstances to be suspicious; further tests were to be carried out on the chemicals used in the hairdressers but preliminary investigations had revealed that the concentration of peroxide found was far higher than was normally used in hairdressing.  The only consolation for Sally was that the news programme didn’t make a link between Sharon and her former colleague Colin.

Having two sons who were interested in science could sometimes be useful but when Sally asked them what they knew about hydrogen peroxide and combustion, she found them both frighteningly knowledgeable.  Her oldest son trotted out a list of potential chemicals that could be found in most households or hairdressing salons, whilst her younger son found a number of extremely graphic and horrifying YouTube clips that portrayed the results of combining said chemicals.  As she listened to them talking so fluently about how to blow things up, she found herself wondering if this level of information was common to all young people of their age or if it was just a sign of the times and the accessibility of the Internet. 

Unable to put it to the back of her mind, Sally was glued to the late news for any updates; there was a crumb of consolation to be found when a senior detective revealed that there were traces of a very strong sedative found in the remains of a coffee cup believed to have been used by Sharon before she went off to the hair dryer.  Unfortunately, the local news had now realised that Colin and Sharon had worked together in the same building and died in mysterious circumstances within a few days of each other.  Sally’s husband reassured her that she hadn’t suddenly become endowed with the Medusa Touch, and that given the way Colin and Sharon treated people in their professional lives, they would inevitably have made a few enemies, and possibly even more in their private lives.

Sally felt blessed by his common sense and understanding. As she lay in bed that night, she was desperately trying to remember whose name it was that came next on the list.

Corporate Killer – the Town Hall Cuts

The Modern Apprentices

A source of amusement for Sally could always be found in the company of the Modern Apprentices; a group of teenaged school-leavers who were usually kept hidden away in one of the furthest flung offices.  No one was quite sure what they did all day but it was something to do with records and filing.  Whenever Sally had a burning question about Mostyn Hall etiquette, she could guarantee that one of the Modern Apprentices would come up with the answer without making her feel like an idiot.  They were also a tremendous source of gossip, scurrilous rumour and apart from Donal, they were the only other people that Sally had ever grumbled to about those colleagues who were destined to become items on her hit list.

Just before Christmas Sally was advised that a small office might be available that could accommodate the small but hand-picked project team.  It appeared that that the Modern Apprentices had come to the end of their tenure and would now be absorbed into the general workforce.   Sally was sad to see them go but quite relieved at the prospect of moving to a new office, even if it was up in the eaves of the building and almost the furthest away from where the important issues were debated, allegedly. 

She made a pilgrimage to the new office the day after she got the news.  The Modern Apprentices were packing up their things; sad to be moving out of this funny little room with sash windows that blew open in the wind and an ominous–looking trap door in the ceiling, but they were pleased that it was Sally moving in, so they promised to leave the fridge and kettle, the metal cupboard that contained more post-it notes than Sally had ever seen, at least a dozen staplers, pen and pencil holders, hole punches, a baseball and a huge ball of elastic bands.

Sally and her colleague Conrad moved as much of their own belongings in as they could, with help from one of the building attendants and hindrance from Derek, his manager.  Sally had known Derek since he was a callow eighteen-year-old, fresh from college and very anxious about sticking to health and safety rules.  He’d been quite sweet then, but age and marriage had made him arrogant and pompous, someone who used his position to dole out favours to his friends and make life awkward for those who crossed him.                

Conrad and Sally liked to play music when it was just the two of them in the office.  He was an engaging companion; the younger brother that Sally never had, known throughout the building for his flamboyant paisley shirts and a love of soul music.

Sally felt comfortable with her new colleagues and Mostyn Hall, for all its quirks, was an interesting place to work in.

Salted Sardines

The worst thing about Monday mornings was attending a business meeting at nine-thirty.  Sally sent out the actions for the week as soon after the Monday meeting as she could.  This was supposed to prevent people saying that they didn’t have time or had forgotten but they still used those excuses anyway.

The business meeting that morning had been particularly trying; they’d worked through the actions and unsurprisingly, when asked if she’d completed the three actions she’d been given, Linda came out with her usual excuse of ‘it’s so hard to get things done when you only work part-time’.  It wasn’t even as if the actions had been that taxing, but they were jobs that Linda felt were beneath her and should be done by Sally or someone else in the administration department.  The fact that Sally was too busy doing work that Linda couldn’t even begin to comprehend was irrelevant.

Sally and the training officer Ruby fumed silently whilst Linda waffled on about how busy she’d been and how many important connections she’d made whilst at a conference.  Ruby had also been at the conference and told Sally that Linda had arrived late, made excuses about the train, and then left early making more excuses about childcare.  The time between was spent flirting with some minor national government official and shovelling down as much as she could from the free buffet. 

Finally escaping from the meeting with only half an hour to spare before lunch, Sally and Ruby ambled back to their office.  Conrad had moved on to bigger and better things in a quango that investigated naughty councillors. He was kept very busy. In the meantime, Ruby had arrived and brought with her energy, enthusiasm, a wicked sense of humour and a breath of fresh air for Sally.

They had barely been back in the office five minutes when Donal appeared looking rather pale. “Have you heard the news?” he gasped and slumped down on the nearest chair.

“What news?” Sally replied, “We’ve been in a meeting all morning.  What’s happened?”

“It’s Colin. He’s dead.”

“Dead?  Are you sure?  How did you find out?  I thought he was on one of his frequent flyer holidays.”  Sally put her hand on Donal’s shoulder; he really did look unwell and kept shooting nervous glances at her.

“I don’t know much about it, just that he was on holiday in Portugal and died unexpectedly.”

“Why are you all looking at me?” said Sally.  “I’ve been here all the time and the rumours about me trying to kill him off aren’t true at all. I suppose it was a heart attack or something?”

Donal shook his head.  “We don’t have a lot of information; one of his daughters told his secretary and asked her to inform the directorate.”

“Oh well,” said Sally, “he always liked Portugal and I suppose if you have to go, then lying on a sandy beach in the sun isn’t a bad way.  Better not leave him out there too long though.  Bodies go off quickly in hot climates, don’t they?”

Ruby chuckled and picked up her bag to go down to the canteen, Sally was about to do the same when Donal placed his hand on her arm to stop her.

“What about the list?” he hissed conspiratorially.

“List?  What list?” she looked puzzled for a moment and then remembered their conversation of the previous week. “Oh that.  Colin was just another name on it, besides; it’s been in my drawer for ages.”

“Show me?”

Sally raised her eyes heavenwards and opened the drawer.  After a considerable moving around of objects then removing them from the drawer entirely and piling them on top of the desk, she concluded that it was gone and threw everything back in.

“I must have chucked it out by mistake. Let’s go and get some lunch.”

“Hang on Sally, suppose someone took it.  They might think you were involved in some way – you know – with Colin’s death.”

Sally sat back down on her chair.  She stared at Donal in disbelief.  “It’s no secret that I wasn’t exactly Colin’s biggest fan but writing his name on a list and actually bumping him off are two completely different things.  Besides, you’re the only other person who knows about that list.”

“Oh well, “Donal wasn’t convinced, “You’re probably right.  Let’s see what they’re saying in the canteen.”

They wandered downstairs slowly, bumping into Ruby who was on her way back.  Ruby shook her head.

“It wasn’t his heart – far worse than that.”

“What? Tell me?” said Sally.

“And steal Derek’s thunder?  I wouldn’t dare.  He’s telling the whole tale to anyone who’ll listen.  Don’t rush; it looks as if he’ll be there all afternoon.”

Despite this, Donal and Sally put on a little turn of speed and sure enough, Derek was holding court in the middle of the canteen, surrounded by several colleagues.  He looked up as Sally and Donal came in and beckoned them over.

“You won’t have heard the latest about Colin, then will you?”

“No, but I guess you’re dying to tell us.” said Sally.

Derek looked prim-faced for a moment.  “I know you two never got on Sally, but there’s no need to mock the dead.”

“Oh, stop milking it Derek, we know it wasn’t his heart – so what was it?”

“According to his daughter, they found him on a sunbed by the beach and he’d choked to death on a salted sardine.  He had a plate of them by his side and a glass of beer.”

“Choking isn’t that unusual, and Colin could certainly woof it away.” said Donal.”

“Ah!” said Derek, “but the police are treating it as a suspicious death.  They said that the sardine had been rammed down his throat with some force and that he was held down.”

Sally felt a cold shiver round her shoulders.  Others began to drift away, and having lost their appetites, she and Donal wandered back upstairs in silence.

“Donal”, she said as they reached the upper landing, “there is one tiny little thing that’s worrying me about the list, I don’t suppose it means anything but … no, forget it.  I’ll see you later.”

Watching as she went back into her office and propped open the door Donal began to wonder if it was just a coincidence.  He had a couple of phone calls to make.

Corporate Killer – the Town Hall Cuts

Sally’s List

Sally stabbed her pen viciously on the paper, as she finished the last name with a flourish, leaned back in her chair and examined the list on her desk.  She’d been reading a tabloid article by some celebrity pseudo-psychologist who recommended making a list of the twelve most annoying people you knew.  The list should be ritually destroyed or put it away in a drawer, in order to minimise the effect that these people had on you and your life.  Seeing the names of the twelve people she disliked the most actually written down in capital letters should have given her a huge sense of satisfaction according to the article.    It didn’t.  In fact, the more she looked at the names on the list, the more their faces and voices took root in her brain and irritated her even more.  She was not a vindictive person by nature; she tried hard to accept people for what they were and not to be too judgemental but after twenty-four years in local government there were some things that just made you feel positively homicidal.


She was about to screw the paper up and throw it in the bin in disgust when she heard a gentle tapping noise.  Donal peered round the edge of the door. “Are you busy?”

 Sally shook her head.  “No – just plotting a homicide or twelve.”

“Really?  Anyone that I loathe?” 

Sally handed Donal the sheet of paper, grinning as he sat down and peered at the names. “Only twelve?  I could think of a lot more people to add to it.”

“Make your own list darling” said Sally, “these are not just people who have mildly annoyed me, they are people who are destined for horrible and painful deaths – but only in my deepest darkest fantasies of course.”

“Okay then,” Donal sat down at the desk next to Sally’s.  “I have five minutes to kill before lunch so I may as well talk about grisly murder.  Why are so many of our dear colleagues on your hit list?”

“Come on Donal.  You know most of them; you check their quarterly accounts and I’ve heard you through the wall groaning and grinding your teeth in frustration. It doesn’t take much imagination to work out what they’ve done to get up my nose does it?”

Donal raised his eyes heavenwards and drummed his fingers impatiently on the desktop.  “I’m waiting.”

Pushing her glasses up onto the top of her head Sally peered at the list again.  The acquisition of vari-focals had done little to improve her chronic myopia and though she hated to admit it, middle age was gradually taking its toll.  A good decade older than Donal, her colleague from the accountancy office next door, Sally refused to accept the limitations of age; tinted her hair to hide the grey and built up an extensive stock of brightly coloured scarves and earrings to camouflage a crêpe neck and crow’s feet.  Corporate rules dictated a dress code that, though loosely interpreted by some, demanded smart casual for those who had contact with the public and other professional staff.  For Sally this was usually black skirts or trousers, matching jacket and coloured blouses or tops that toned with her accessories.  Accessorising was very important to her.

She took a deep breath.  “Okay.  Top of the list is Colin.  He’s a total slacker; he’s pompous and completely unsupportive to his staff.  The only person I know who’s proud of the fact that he never completes any of his actions after a meeting. He tried to get me sacked once because I failed to show appreciation of his sparkling wit.”

“Fair enough.  How about Sharon?  I don’t really have much to do with her – but you can’t work in this building and not know who she is.”

“Count yourself lucky.  Remember that extremely expensive publicity event we organised in August?”

“I do.  I was looking at the spreadsheet only yesterday and thinking how much your team was spending on frivolities.”

“Cheers Donal.  Anyway, I had to give a presentation because no one else in the team was available. One went sick, another had a prior engagement and Louis disappeared mysteriously only to turn up when it was all over.  He was last seen lurking behind the portakabins with a fag hanging out of his mouth.  Anyway, I was doing really well until we came to the ‘any questions’ bit at the end.  Sharon piped up and completely contradicted everything I’d said.”

“For any particular reason?”

“As far as I could see it was just to try and make me look stupid.  She does that.  Nice as pie when she’s on the phone or talking to me alone, but introduce any kind of third party into the conversation and she seems hell bent on humiliation.  I let her ramble on a bit then told her that what she was saying wasn’t really relevant to my part of the presentation but that Colin might be able to give her an answer.  He jumped like a scalded cat when he heard his name mentioned, but I was back in my seat by then and he had to get up and waffle on for another five minutes to cover.”

“Is that the only reason you want a slow and painful death for her?”

“Isn’t that enough?  She’s also contentious in meetings, never uses her electronic diary, her highlights look like someone splatted an egg on her head and she has a loud voice and a very annoying laugh.”

Donal nodded his head.  It was true that the sound of Sharon guffawing in the corridor had disturbed his mid-afternoon iPod session on more than one occasion.

“Do I really need to explain why Linda is on the list?” asked Sally.

“Could it have something to do with her being two-faced, boastful, patronising and wearing extremely ill-fitting bras that cause a distraction in meetings?”

“Very good.  It’s nice to see that you’ve been paying attention when I’ve been grumbling at you.  I’ve had suspicions that you’d nodded off when I was mid-rant.  Linda can’t spell either, sends out atrociously unprofessional e-mails with no capitals or punctuation and is forever telling everyone else that they’re wrong and she’s right. Oh, and she has no taste whatsoever – just look at her clothes – mutton dressed as hooker.”

“Meow!”  Donal ran his finger down the list and paused. “Okay, Derek is next.  I might have a bit of a problem with his life being brought to a premature end.”

“I know.  He’s one of your buddies but he’s also lazy, dumps all his work on the ladies in his office, abuses his position by taking off to the golf course without notice and then maintains that he was working from home all the time.  Don’t even get me started on the fact that he got his wife a cushy job here without her ever applying for it, or that rumour has it he’s been knocking off one of the teenage cleaners when everyone else has gone home.  If people knew what went on in that therapy room, they’d never lie down on the couch again.  There’s a lot more I could say but I won’t.”

Donal gulped at this crushing summation of his friend. “That’s probably more criticism than most people warrant in a lifetime.  Your points are all valid and unfortunately true but personally, there are several advantages to being his buddy.”

Sally patted Donal’s hand.  “Not a problem, everyone is allowed the odd lapse in judgement – yours just happens to be Derek.  I take it that we are in agreement over Athena?”

“Oh yes.  Hideously overpaid, sends us patronising e-mails, has a really affected voice, always wears the same boring navy shift dresses and needs a damn good haircut!  How anyone can say that she’s good value at one hundred and fifty grand a year I don’t know!”

When it came to Tracey or Susie no discussion was needed either as Donal and Sally had both suffered from their cunning machinations in the past.  Two senior officers; they shared an office, always took an hour for lunch together in the canteen and needed every section of a report explained to them in the most minute detail.

“Who is this Shirley?  Does she work here at Mostyn Hall?” asked Donal.

“No, thank goodness.  She’s the single most irritating person I’ve ever worked with.  She came to us on a secondment in my last job and I was asked to organise her training and induction.  I spent a week working with her but got so exasperated with her lack of progress that I had to arrange for other team members to take her on for a couple of days as well.  Each person recorded the work they’d covered with her and then I got Shirley to draw up a list of what she thought she’d learned.”

“Was there a slight discrepancy in the lists perhaps?”

“A huge discrepancy.    She also wrecked our stationery cupboard and blamed me for it whilst I was on leave and couldn’t defend myself.  When my old boss Barry told her that he wouldn’t be offering her a permanent job, she burst into tears and said she couldn’t learn the job because I was bullying her.  He asked for some evidence and offered to initiate a harassment process on her behalf, but she backed down and went back to her old job the following week.  He told me about the allegation but only once she’d gone. “

“So why isn’t Barry on the list then?”

“He should be, I know but when all’s said and done, he’s just a pathetic wimp really.”

“Okay – only four more to go – I don’t think I need to ask about Graham.  Brown-nose, sly and bone idle.”

“Correct, not exactly the qualities you require in a building attendant.  He’s also a hypocrite.”


“Everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs but people who bang on about not needing artificial stimulants because of their religion and subsequently stink the room out with stale whisky breath …”


“Yes!  Who else have we got?   Tracey’s best friend Angela.  She’s a supergrass and a moaner.  She’s always running to Tracey with little manufactured stories that get other people in trouble and as for Hester….”

“Having spent this morning with her trying to sort out her quarterly accounts I fully support her assassination and would even volunteer to carry it out myself.”

“Yes, the Queen of Vague.  My idea of hell is to be trapped in a room with Hester while she makes a fully informed decision.  I’d be there for ever.  Besides, she hates me.”

“Oh, kill her off then. Last but by no means least – Louis.  I thought he was a friend of yours?”

“He was – is – oh I don’t know – I put him on the list but I keep having second thoughts.  I can’t leave cans of drink in the fridge anymore because he comes in and helps himself.   He pinches our mugs and leaves them all over the building, never pays his tea money and gets away with so much that I’m seriously beginning to think he’s made of Teflon.  He upset one of his staff in supervision the other day, came banging on the window for a tissue, took the box and never brought them back.  He is a mate though.” she said pensively.

“So, when are you going to start bumping them all off?”  Donal looked slightly worried as he handed back the list.

Sally smiled “I was about to throw this in the confidential waste.  I feel slightly cleansed just for having committed their names to paper but on second thoughts maybe I’ll just hide them away for a while and give them another chance.” 

 “You know that the combined wages and potential retirement packages of these people would go a long way to making up our shortfall don’t you.”  said Donal, his accountant’s brain totting up the figures at an alarming rate as he ran a finger down the list again.  “I would guess that your solution to the spending cuts might be a little too radical to put in the helpful suggestion box though.” 

Sally took the list back from him and opening the middle drawer of her desk, she tucked the list away under a packet of headache tablets and a stapler. She shuddered as she thought of the reaction her hit list would generate if the chief executive’s department ever heard of it.  Especially as the Athena was already on the hit list. All the suggestion boxes were made of see-through plastic and a popular pastime when waiting for printing to emerge from the temperamental follow-me copier system was to try and decipher the supposedly confidential suggestions inside the box without anyone else seeing you.

“Coming down for lunch then?  Or are you plotting world domination this afternoon as well?”  Donal got up, pausing in the doorway whilst Sally picked up her mobile phone and purse.  Pulling the office door behind her, she followed him down the stairs and out into one of the narrow corridors that formed the perimeters of Mostyn Hall.  Getting around the building was often a lengthy process due to the number of people loitering near the printers or at the washing up sink, who wanted to gossip, ask technical questions or merely pass the time of day.

Mostyn Hall was the local authority’s main outlying office and was based in what used to be an old high school.  It retained many of the quirks and complications of what had once been a holding pen for the town’s disenfranchised youth.  The room now used as for meetings and conferences had once been the assembly hall; Sally’s office had been a store room and Donal’s office the classroom next door.  The directorate staff worked in relative luxury in the suite of rooms where the head teacher and secretarial support had been, with easy access to the most tastefully decorated of the three sets of lavatories in the building. 

Periodic efforts were made to tart up the décor of the tired old building, especially in those areas frequented by other professionals and members of the public, but the original ill-fitting windows, harsh lighting and shabby but definitely not chic furnishings were very prominent.

The canteen that Donal and Sally were heading for was on the other side of the building and already filling up with those who had the leisure to sit and eat their lunch away from the demands of the phone and computer.  Donal and Sally rarely fell into this category however, piling their food on paper plates and rushing back to their offices for a half an hour browse on the Internet before work demanded their attention again. Sally noticed that Tracey and Susie were at their usual table, deep in some dark and meaningless conversation like a pair of malevolent crows 

Sally’s colleagues from the project team were out at meetings all day, so once lunch was over, she plugged in her Walkman and finished off the pile of work that had been left in her in-tray.  Stacking the papers in neat piles ready for her next meeting, Sally smiled when she thought of how much her life had changed in the past six months.  Despite the irritating people on her list, making the move to Mostyn Hall had definitely opened up a new world for her.

The hit list was forgotten for the time being and over the next week it was buried even deeper under the miscellany of objects that found their way into Sally’s middle drawer.