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  The constable who had accompanied DS Hammond yesterday had been replaced by an equally fresh-faced detective constable who appeared to have a better grasp of written English than his colleague.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.”

“Louis.”

“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. 

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