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.