For what seemed the first time in ages, Sally actually had a good night’s sleep. She wasn’t sure if was the mixture of fresh air and slurry, the hard work of wandering around collecting glasses, or the fact that the killer was behind bars at last. There was no sign of a police car outside her house when she got up and after initially telling her to shut up; her husband and sons were cheered by the sound of her singing along to eighties rock songs on the radio whilst she made her breakfast.
After spending the previous day in formal black Sally opted for smart casual but comfortable; unsure what the day would bring but determined to put the recent horrors behind her if possible. She had stayed at Susie’s house for some time after DS Hammond and DC Long had left. There was no doubt that Susie had lost it big time. The paramedics were all for carting her off to hospital to be sectioned but the kind elderly doctor who had been a guest at her garden party had arranged to have her taken to his extremely expensive private clinic It was the kind of place that Susie’s friends went to when they needed their septums repaired, time to recover after a botched Botox treatment or a prolonged detox session when the endless round of parties and dinners proved too much.
Sally had a feeling that Susie would recover far more quickly there than in some mental health facility where the horrors of the past week would just keep coming back to haunt her. Susie’s husband was very grateful for Sally’s help and support; apologising profusely for the fact that right up until the ambulance took her away, Susie was still maintaining that Sally was behind the whole thing and that she had done it solely because she was jealous of Susie’s lifestyle and looks.
DC Long’s kitchen bobbies gave Sally a lift home and told her how they’d learned to chop an onion properly and to turn tomatoes into flower decorations. Not necessarily things that would transfer easily to modern policing, but Sally felt sure that their respective families would appreciate their new culinary skills.
Although she couldn’t tell her husband and sons the whole story of what had happened, she was able to explain that the killer had been captured and that the policemen wouldn’t be outside the house anymore, except for the car that was coming to collect her in the morning.
She was still singing along to the radio as she packed her handbag with it’s usual essentials. The sharp rap at the front door broke into her temporary reverie and she opened the door to the tired but smiling face of DC Long.
“Madam, your chariot awaits, as does the lovely DS Hammond and a bit of a surprise.” He ushered her out to the car, ignoring her pleas for information throughout the journey into Mostyn Hall. The car park was half filled with police cars and large white vans coming to collect the contents of the incident room. Sally averted her eyes as the crime scene photographs were taken down and filed into boxes. The mood in the room was of elation coupled with extreme fatigue and some disappointment that the killer had managed to take nine lives out of the twelve on the list.
Sally perched on a desk watching the dismantling process in action; she was so distracted by the sight of the two kitchen bobbies trying to work out how to disconnect a computer that she didn’t notice DS Hammond until she was right next to her.
“Good morning. Taking it easy again I see.”
“Good morning! Just taking the weight off my feet after yesterday. How’s your killer?”
“I’d have thought he was more your killer than mine. He is a very quiet killer. He’s lawyered up and trying to pretend that the worst thing he’s done is spray your friend Susie with slurry.”
“I thought you had his photo and prints at the crime scenes.”
“Circumstantial evidence. We need something more concrete. A confession would be nice but highly improbable under the circumstances. According to him, he doesn’t know you or Donal, or anyone at Mostyn Hall for that matter – except for Susie who he claims ordered some soft furnishings from him and refused to pay because she said they weren’t of merchantable quality. He just happened to be at all the crime scenes and has a legitimate reason for being at each one – allegedly.”
“Oh dear. Can’t any of the Modern Apprentices identify him? I’m sure now that I’ve seen him hanging about in the canteen.”
“How sure are you? I’ve shown Mark the photos and though, like you, he says he’s seen the guy hanging around the building, he hadn’t made the connection between the web site and the killer.”
“Derek’s wife? “
“Under sedation still and in a worse state than Susie. We have however recovered some clothing from the garden shed.” DS Hammond picked up a list of items from the desk. “A pair of grey trousers, white shirt, green cardigan and some trainers. All blood stained but not heavily. We are assuming but waiting for confirmation, that whoever wore them assisted in moving Derek’s body and had some kind of physical contact with the person who killed Derek. Care to hazard a guess who they belong to?”
Sally shook her head and looked crestfallen. “You’re describing Donal’s clothes to a T. That doesn’t make him the killer though.”
“No, but he’s a very valuable material witness and may also have been an accomplice to Derek’s murder and that of Graham if we can prove that he let the l killer into the building. I don’t suppose you’ve heard from him, have you? Would you tell me if you had?”
Stopping to think about this only for a second or two, Sally shook her head. “I would tell you if he made contact. I don’t think he’s the one behind it all, he’d be looking at it from a cost-cutting point of view, and as a method of cheering me up, but if it were left to Donal, I think it would all have stopped at the website and no harm would have been done. The only part of it that doesn’t seem to fit in is Derek’s death and the way in which he was mutilated.”
DS Hammond turned on her heel and strode from the room.
Picking up her bag and waving goodbye, Sally walked down an unusually quiet corridor and up the stairs into her office. It was deserted as was Donal’s office next door. Even the photocopier was silent. She sat down at her desk and switched on the computer before checking the voice mail. Her e-mail inbox was full of other people’s out-of-office messages again and she felt a lump in her throat when she saw that two of them belonged to Hester and Tracey. Sally rummaged around in her pockets for a tissue but found nothing more than an old bus ticket. Remembering that she’d secreted a spare box of tissues in one of the drawers she opened it up and was surprised to find a bulky brown envelope tucked underneath the tissues.
As she pulled out the envelope and recognised the writing, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She desperately wanted to open it but all those years of watching police programmes seemed to have paid off. She grabbed a tissue and picking the envelope up gingerly, walked out of the office, closing the door firmly behind her.
DS Hammond wasn’t in the incident room, so Sally went across the corridor and tapped politely on the door.
“Come in.” DS Hammond’s voice sounded both weary and angry at the same time.
Sally walked in and waved the envelope at her. “I found this in my drawer upstairs. I don’t know how long it’s been there but the last time I looked in there was when I was hunting for the hit list. I remember noticing that there was a box of tissues in there and I went looking for them today because, because – well it doesn’t really matter why. The thing is – I know whose writing that is on the envelope. It’s from Donal!”
DS Hammond was on her feet and snapping on a pair of surgical gloves that she seemed to have pulled from thin air. “You haven’t opened it?”
“No, and I only touched it the once, after that I used a tissue. It’s not thick enough for a bomb and I don’t think Donal would want to blow me up anyway.”
“Nip across and fetch Long please Sally?” DS Hammond sat back down at the desk and began to open the envelope very slowly. Sally did as she was asked unquestioningly and returned seconds later with a very puzzled DC Long in tow. The contents of the envelope had been laid out on the desk. Sally recognised one of Donal’s famous spreadsheets, and what appeared to be a letter printed on several sheets of A4 paper and apparently addressed to her.
Although she felt desperate to read it, Sally realised that she would have to bide her time; DS Hammond would let her look at it eventually. She sat down, tucking her hands beneath her legs in an effort to keep them from grabbing at the letter. The silence in the room was almost unbearable while they waited for DS Hammond to make a comment; any comment.
She put the sheets of paper down on the desk; her face a mask of impassiveness. Sally waited for her reaction, barely breathing and desperate for a positive sign. A slow smile began to form on her usually stern lips and both Sally and DC Long heaved individual sighs of relief.
“It would appear that we have a confession of sorts that implicates Donal at an accessorial level but confirms our evidence regarding the real killer and shows Sally where to find some video footage that provides the proof that we need. Your friend Donal has also done a very comprehensive spreadsheet showing exactly how the council will save over a million pounds as a consequence of the – uh – ‘culling’ of some of the senior staff and the departure of others.”
Sally couldn’t help smiling at this. Always the analyst, Donal had utilised his skills right up to the very last moment. “Can I read my – the letter – from Donal please?”
“Yes, I’ll just put them in evidence bags first though. I’m sure they are from Donal but I’d like to have them checked by forensics as soon as possible.”
She handed the bags over to Sally and got up from her chair, pushing her hair back from her face in what was almost a gesture of relief, and stretching out her arms. Looking up, Sally thought she saw a glance pass between DC Long and his boss that looked far too intimate for what she had perceived their relationship to be. She looked back down at the letter before her and did her best to give it her full attention.
“Dear Sally, by the time you get to read this I will be long gone and somewhere that your clever new detective friends won’t be able to find me. My wife and I have been planning this for some time; I’m afraid we’ve had to dip into the council funds to finance our trip but once we’ve settled, I’ll try to pay it back. I hope you haven’t been too upset by all that’s happened; the people who died are no real loss and the money the council saves on their salaries, pensions and golden handshakes will go some way to paying off some of the overspend. I’ve done a spreadsheet that explains where the savings can be made. If you look in the top drawer of my desk, you’ll find a memory stick which has an electronic copy of the spreadsheet and some video footage that I’d rather you didn’t look at because it’s really not very pleasant.”
Looking up, Sally noted that DC Long had left the room, undoubtedly to retrieve the memory stick from Donal’s drawer. DS Hammond had also gone; Sally hoped that this was a gesture of empathy, allowing Sally to read her friend’s letter in peace, but she had a sneaky feeling that she was more likely to have gone out to stop the dismantling of the computer equipment. She resumed reading Donal’s letter.
“Please don’t blame Tom, Mark and Megan for any of this. The hit list was only ever meant to be a game and if the website hadn’t been taken over by someone who wanted to use it to satisfy his own desires; it would have stayed that way. We were all taken in by him; his name is Ryan Davies and if you check the archives, you’ll find that he has a long and acrimonious involvement with the council. It was quite a while before I met him in person and like everyone else, I was well and truly sucked in by his deceit. He’s something of a computer genius, as well as being a chameleon in his ability to blend into the background wherever he goes. I made the mistake of trusting him and told him things that I shouldn’t have. He got himself invited to our poker evenings and became best friends with Derek. As a consequence, he knew things about me that could have put me in jail and left my wife without a roof over her head. He can be so charming and complimentary that you can’t help telling him things and trusting him.
Believe me Sally, I didn’t kill anyone; I admit to being there when Derek was murdered and I let Ryan into the building to put the poison into Graham’s bottle of whisky but the only blood on my hands got there when I pulled Derek’s wife away from his body. Ryan told her about the cleaner; got her so wound up that she took a taxi to the golf course determined to confront him. I’m not sure exactly what went on between the two of them – you know what Derek was like, so arrogant at times – and I think he goaded her into hitting him. As soon as I found out what Ryan had done, I got him to drive me up to the golf course but we were too late. Derek’s wife was in a terrible state when we found her, that’s when I got covered in blood. We went back to Derek’s house and Ryan bought some clothes for me. If you haven’t found them yet, the clothes and the dibber are in Derek’s garage; in the box where the lawnmower is stored. It was Ryan who suggested using the dibber; he handed it to her and his fingerprints are all over it. You’ll find the poison in the garage too; in a bottle marked Elderflower Cordial’. That was Ryan’s idea of a joke.”
It was an awful lot to take in and as Sally read further, she realised that the incident at the golf course was what had made up Donal’s mind about leaving the country for good. As well as the spreadsheet he had also included a table that showed names, dates and modus operandi for each of the murders. Sally hoped that this would finally be enough evidence for DS Hammond to catch her murderer. She also hoped that Donal’s confession would be some kind of mitigation and that he and his wife would prove too difficult and too expensive to find.
The spreadsheet was fascinating; the monies saved by the premature removal of several key executives went a long way to clawing back some of the council overspend. When you added together Athena’s salary, the payments made to her for attending council meetings, for being an electoral officer, her travel allowance, her clothing allowance, personal expenses and the golden handshake she would have been received if she’d resigned and gone to another council, a quarter of a million pounds was saved already. The wages of people like Dopey Shirley, found crushed in the library, were minimal by comparison.
She was still poring over the spreadsheet when DC Long and DS Hammond returned, both looking much happier.
“Your friend Donal has done us a big favour, although if he hadn’t messed around on the web site in the first place ……”
Sally pulled her glasses off the top of her head and put them back on her nose as she looked up from the spreadsheet. “Will I ever be able to say sorry enough for what happened? I’ve lost my friend and when the news comes out it will be me that’s to blame for writing that stupid list in the first place.”
Another of those significant looks passed between the two police officers and if Sally hadn’t been so upset, she would have realised that something was going on. As it was, she was too busy fumbling in her pocket for a tissue to notice. DS Hammond sat down at the desk and inclined her head towards her colleague. He nodded and handed Sally the box of tissues.
“Not everything will be for public consumption. I don’t think any of the Modern Apprentices will want to admit that they used your list; Donal has disappeared and Ryan didn’t really get involved until the information was in the public domain. How many people have you told about the list?”
“Donal, Ruby, Steve and my husband.”
“No. It’s not the sort of thing you boast about really. What happens now?”
“I need to speak to your boss – John?” said DS Hammond, restless as ever and back on her feet. “Can we get him here?”
“I’ll ring his mobile; he’s never separated from it.” Sally picked up the phone and called John, who had just had just come out of an emergency meeting with the Leader of the Council; Athena’s demise had left them with more than a few dilemmas. Masking his surprise that it was Sally making the call, he said he’d be there within ten minutes.
Sally spent the time looking at the video footage on Donal’s pen drive. He was right; it didn’t make comfortably viewing and but she began to see how Ryan Davies had worked his way into their organisation.
DS Hammond came into the incident room and beckoned to Sally to follow her to John’s office where he was already waiting for them. She sat down at the far end of the table and listened whilst DS Hammond gave a concise summary of all that had happened over the past week. John frowned as the story unfolded, his face running a gamut of emotions. Sally kept her head down; too embarrassed to meet John’s penetrating eyes. He frowned and got to his feet, pacing around the table to look out of the window.
“Was I on the list Sally?”
“Good grief no! You’re that last person I’d put on the list.” Sally was horrified that John would even think such a thing.
He shook his head and walked back round the table to her, sitting in the chair opposite and taking both her hands. She was shaking and fully expected him to tell her that she would be escorted from the building without even getting a chance to collect her belongings and say goodbye.
“What you did was not very professional, but you don’t need me to tell you that. You know that I am disappointed in you, particularly because you involved those very impressionable young people in what you did, a good man like Donal got too involved and nine members of my staff are now dead and their families and friends are bereft. DS Hammond says that without your help three more people might have died and the case would have taken a lot longer to solve. I can’t say that you’ve redeemed yourself but any fool can see that you understand the impact of your actions and that you are full of remorse. I’m going to suggest that you take some compassionate leave; two weeks should do it. By that time the gossip will be focused in another area and people are less likely to be asking you why you had to spend so much time helping the police with their enquiries. You are not to discuss this with anyone in the council and I will trust you to be very discreet in what you say to your husband. There are going to be some changes while you are away but they will make the situation easier for you and for everyone else concerned.”
Sally cried, denuding John’s box of tissues with her tears. His disappointment in her was almost as painful as the knowledge that it was her self-indulgence that caused it all. DC Long took her back upstairs to her office; the corridors still mercifully deserted. DS Hammond remained with John, who had many questions about the case, earning a good deal of respect from her for his thoroughness. Sally packed up her things and closed down the computer, the actions taking on elements of automatic pilot. When everything was done, she sat back down at her desk and sighed. DC Long perched on the edge of the desk and smiled at her. “It will pass. In a fortnight’s time this will be old news – for you and for us.”
“What about you? What about DS Hammond? Is she really as cold as she makes out?”
Sally was surprised to see that DC Long was blushing and all the little signs and looks that she’d wondered about suddenly began to add up.
“Are you – I mean do you – are you two having a thing or is it wishful thinking on your part?”
DC Long laughed and recovered his composure. “We’ve been in a relationship for about eighteen months now. Claire is completely professional at work, far better at it than I am but don’t be fooled by the ice-maiden act. She is a genuinely lovely and extremely bright person. She likes you.”
“No, she does. She said you’d make a good detective if it wasn’t for your psychopathic tendencies. That’s a joke by the way. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say anything though. We aren’t supposed to fraternise out of work. Anyway, if you’re ready to go I’ll take you home now.”
Sally took a last look around the little room that had seen so much action in the past week, then closed the door behind her and followed DC Long out of the building. Out of Mostyn Hall.
The Town Hall Cuts – a Small Apology
The international recession hit everybody – except of course the very rich who carried on making money out of the misfortunes of other people. Across Great Britain local authorities made cuts in services that caused ordinary people to lose out on vital support services, valued workers were made redundant and local charities had to close their doors on those they had spent years trying to help.
Everyone all blamed the bankers and the capitalists. Some people blamed the previous government for the recession, some blamed the present government. The private sector blamed the public sector for having better pensions and the public sector blamed the private sector for paying their executive staff too much money. Everyone blamed the Greeks and they weren’t even bearing gifts at the time.
In a time of austerity, all businesses have to make sacrifices and local government is no exception. The method of downsizing employed in this small local authority was subsequently considered bizarre, horrifying but diabolically efficient. The protagonist(s) were analytically neat in identifying areas of natural wastage, eliminating sources of potential overspend and getting rid of a group of people who nobody really liked much anyway.
When the dust had settled and the staffing gaps were filled again, a considerable proportion of the council’s overspend had been clawed back by these drastic human resource cuts, but those responsible were never really given the credit for the savings they made, or for the fact that some sense of harmony was restored in a crumbling and energy-inefficient establishment.
Whilst acknowledging that the actions were morally reprehensible, it has to be admitted that although the concept wasn’t necessarily original, as making the punishment fit the crime has been in operation for as long as mankind can hold a grudge, a great many people thought it was a pretty cool idea and wished they’d had the means and the evil genius to manufacture their own hit list.
Considering it only had thirty days, November seemed to be a very long month and it was still just two thirds gone. Mostyn Hall had undergone massive changes. Sally’s team had been disbanded; the canteen had closed and the reception area was no longer staffed. Huge plastic crates lined the corridors and there was no way of knowing from one week to the next if people were still going to be in the same office that you’d last seen them in. To add insult to injury, at a time of huge political and economic unrest, the unions had announced a day of action for the last day of November and plans were being made for picket lines and emergency cover.
One of the first changes had been the packing up of Sally’s little office; with Ruby spending more time over at the training centre, it made sense for Sally to move elsewhere whilst decisions were made regarding her future. Ruby had found happiness with an old sweetheart and Sally was pleased for them both; her own family life was ticking over quite nicely at the moment too. It was just the uncertainty of the future that bothered her. She wasn’t the only one involved in upheaval however; the inspirationally titled ‘clerical review’ had instilled fear and confusion into the hearts of over a hundred permanent staff, some of whom had already jumped ship and gone to work in jobs that paid less but had permanent prospects.
Sally hoped that the work she’d done in the past would count towards getting her a permanent job. She was basically filling in for other people who were on leave or off sick with stress. The large office she had moved into was more practical than her little garret had been; closer to the lavatory and washing up sink, no more stairs to climb and her new office mates were entertaining and good company. She missed the solitude and the opportunity to play her music whenever she was alone, but realised that everything changes and there were still huge savings to be made. The loss of the canteen had been the hardest blow, and although the butty lady bought sandwiches, rolls and cakes when she visited every day at eleven thirty in her little white van, it wasn’t the same as bacon butties for breakfast and chips with everything for lunch.
The councillors had been talking about shutting Mostyn Hall down for years; it was too old, not fit for purpose, the windows were draughty and the central heating was constantly breaking down. Not seeing familiar faces was perhaps the worst; so many people were moving out and no one seemed to know exactly when the building would be empty or who would be the last to go.
Still, Sally had something to keep her occupied; not when she was at work because she had plenty to do even if it was bitty and disjointed. Since November 1st Sally had been very busy during the evenings and weekends. She sat at the laptop downstairs during the early part of the evening so that she could be sociable and watch TV with her husband but it was a rare night that she left her computer upstairs before one am. It was nearly done now though and ahead of schedule too. Donal would be so proud.
He wasn’t just proud; he was extremely pleased. Sally bumped into him by the microwave on November 24th whilst he was cooking his porridge.
“Good morning! How’s it going?”
“Almost done, I have to go through it and do some tweaking but yes. I’ve gone past the target.”
“When do I get to see it?”
“At the end of the month. You can be the guinea pig before I send it off. I’ll save it on a memory stick and you can give me your brutally honest opinion.”
“Okay, I’d better get back. I’m only here for the morning and I’ve to go through accounts with Hester, Tracey and Susie before I go.”
Sally grimaced. “You’d have been spared all this.”
“I’d be in Alaska living off council funds and being blissfully cool. Don’t forget to let me know when it’s finished.”
“I won’t.” Sally waved goodbye as they headed down separate corridors to their respective offices. November; also known as National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short. An undertaking to write 50,000 words in thirty days and hopefully produce a novel by the end of November. She done that and gone over the word count already and there was still a week to go.
When she walked into her office, she nearly walked back out again. Derek and Graham were standing in the middle of the room, clipboards in hands and talking about how to rearrange the room to get more people crammed into an already overcrowded office. She brushed past Derek with a muttered ‘excuse me’ and sat down at her desk wishing that fiction could become reality. For some people the only solution was instant death but as her fingers itched to pick up a piece of paper and start writing a list, she thought better of it and got on with some real work instead.