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.
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.