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.