Gavin sat alone in the dark office; his face illuminated only by the computer screen. He had found her! Found her Twitter name, and fully intended to follow her and see what she was up to. The Twitter account could be different, having one hundred and forty characters to express yourself often made people less wary about what they said. Gavin looked up at the clock. He couldn’t look too closely here though. He knew that he had already upset the IT department and didn’t want them to find anything dodgy on his official profile. Half-past five and time to pack up and go home.
He would wait to find out more about her when he got home; wait until he’d been through the pleasantries with his aging parents, had eaten the dried-out dinner his mother had made for him. Taking indigestion tablets before and after the meal kept the very worst reactions at bay, but sometimes it felt like every mouthful was full of sackcloth and ashes.
The evening passed as it always did since they had moved into the house together.
Unable to converse due to his parents’ preoccupation with the oversized television. Unable to read or look at his tablet for fear of offence and the subsequent accusations of neglect. It was the silent reproach that irked him the worst. He could parry the acid comments as they dripped from his mother’s disappointed lips, but the look on her face, the look that told him how ungrateful he was, cut him to the quick and made him even more determined to keep his excesses private.
There was no such reproach from his father however; locked inside the fantasy world that had occupied him long before the official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease had been made, his father smiled through every day in a place where he shovelled in burnt offerings every mealtime as if they were ambrosia from the gods. A place where the TV held new delights every day, and the operation of the remote control was a thing of wonder. Answering the telephone was slightly more problematic; Gavin’s mother wasn’t always quick enough to seize the handset before his father’s querulous voice could begin interrogating whichever hapless PPI salesperson or accident insurance company had called. His mother dealt with all callers with a briskness belying her age; cutting through the call centre scripts, and despatching the recorded messages with expediency. She was a formidable woman.
Distance had lent enchantment as far as Gavin’s parents were concerned. He had been living away from home for some years, and in that time his father had grown more confused and his mother more demanding. When he purchased the house for the three of them to live in, he thought that his mother might actually show some appreciation, but there were constant complaints about the size of the rooms, the proximity to the shops, and the sloppiness of the care assistants and the cleaner that he had hired.
Having satisfied himself that his parents had finally gone to bed, Gavin settled in the kitchen and opened up his laptop to continue his search. He couldn’t get at Sally through Face Book because her page had very tight privacy settings. He’d looked at her blog but again, her caution made it very difficult for him to find any material that he could use to smear her. He had learned a great deal of other information from the blog however; about her family, her past, even her dog, but it was all irrelevant to his needs.
Twenty-past two in the morning.
Time for a snack.
His parents were sound asleep at last, and would not be disturbed by the sound of him whipping up a way-after-midnight snack. He shut the door from the living room to the stairs, then just as quietly closed the kitchen door so that no cooking smells could permeate the upper floor. He had been caught out like that before. Despite the meticulous washing up and putting away of all the cutlery, crockery and kitchen utensils, his mother’s face the next morning over a breakfast of rubbery scrambled egg and burnt toast, had said it all.
Hatches thoroughly battened down, Gavin began assembling the food for his favourite late-night meal; chicken breast, salsa, onions, peppers, a soft tortilla or two, sour cream, grated cheese, and oh, deep joy, guacamole. He was the Fajita King! Ready to rustle up his guilty pleasure before creeping back to the laptop and continuing his hunt. He would savour every mouthful, washed down by an illicit bottle of fizzy drink that he had smuggled home in his briefcase with the fajita ingredients. His mother didn’t approve of fizzy drinks after seeing a programme where they left pennies in a glass of fizz overnight and produced a batch of shiny metal in the morning.
“Just think!” she said. “Just think what that stuff is doing to your stomach! I didn’t go through fifty-three hours of agonising childbirth to have your stomach ruined by fizzy drinks! Are you sure that you aren’t drinking this rubbish at work? I can always ask your secretary!”
Gavin had briefed his secretary well. Joanna was a good girl. Not bright, but bright enough to understand that when Gavin’s mother phoned, she was to use the list he had made for her when replying to questions, and not to deviate from the set topics.
Yes, Gavin was in a meeting.
No, she wouldn’t forget to ask him to call his mother back, she was writing a note for him at the moment and would pop it on his desk for his return.
Yes, she had seen Gavin eat the sandwiches his mother had prepared for him and she had only made him two cups of coffee this morning using the decaffeinated instant brand that his mother used at home.
Gavin had made it quite clear to Joanna what would happen if she revealed his mother’s demanding ways to her colleagues and as a consequence, she gave a tight-lipped smile when asked about him, and would only comment that he was very easy to work for.
Licking the sour cream from around his lips, Gavin searched hungrily through the Twitter profile and tweets. He hadn’t actually followed Sally yet, that would come later. A nice piece of intimidation that would inevitably end up with his being blocked, so he had to work hard to rummage around in her brief and personal musings first. Music; she obviously liked music, and comedians, actors, journalists and writers. He sighed as he chewed on a particularly tasty piece of chicken; this account was not proving as fruitful as he had hoped. She posted links to the rantings of another dissatisfied local authority slave, but nothing that could be considered derogatory against her own ex-employer. Damn! She had been just as careful when she wrote that nasty book; no names or places that could identify the staff or the location, but everyone who read it knew exactly who the characters were based on.
Fajita finished, Gavin left the laptop on whilst he washed and cleaned the surfaces; removing every trace of his transgression then moving silently out of the back door to hide the last pieces of evidence in their next-door neighbour’s bin. He had been doing this ever since his mother, wielding her stick, had gleefully produced the fruits of her wheelie bin detection; a bag containing the remnants of a KFC meal that he had consumed on the way home, and needed to get out of the car because he was taking her out shopping the next day. He’d installed new and very powerful air fresheners in the car to mask the smell of food, that and the lingering scent of sweat, urine and cheap body spray that his mother exuded.
The mileage his mother had made out of this heinous crime haunted him to the extent that his fast-food intake was severely affected, and his digestive system suffered further from the penance of burnt offerings. He had grown wise now and every scrap of evidence was deposited in a bin, far from home whenever possible, where his mother and her stick could never venture.
Putting his briefcase up on the table; Gavin extracted the file that contained everything on Sally that had been his obsession since the Director had given him the task of destroying her reputation, once and for all. How dare she argue with the authority? How dare she question their policies and procedures? She didn’t even work for them anymore but she was still hell-bent on wreaking havoc! He would see her crumble before him; begging for mercy with no sign of the cool and almost amused tone he had heard when he phoned her with his proposition. How dare she laugh at him! He was a very important person and she had no right to mock him as she had. She’d asked him questions about the proposition that confirmed her knowledge of the system, and made him appreciate that she was not going to be as easy to deal with as some of his other victims.
He loved a challenge.
He skim-read the file again. Her qualifications annoyed him. She had far too many for the job that she’d been doing, and this had undoubtedly led to her downfall. She had a long and unblemished service record, and he could see that although some managers had felt threatened by her competence, others had cashed in on it and been promoted as a consequence. Cross-referencing the profiles of her previous managers on his laptop, Gavin could see a pattern emerging, and he experienced a delicious chill down his spine as he observed that several people that she had worked with were described as meeting grisly ends in her book. He had a feeling that she would have loved to see fantasy turn into reality, and that this might be the weak spot in carefully constructed armour.
The profile picture had been changed recently to a selfie she had taken. He stroked the blonde hair with his finger; traced the shape of her large blue eyes under glasses that gave her an eternal student look. He knew her; knew so much about her now that he was sure the means of her downfall lay in his hands. this was his skill, the reason for his meteoric rise from a humble Business Officer to the Assistant Director of Human Resources. He had worked for six different local authorities in order to achieve this however, and whilst he had left damage and resentment in his wake, Gavin Slime was headed for the top of his profession and was a man head-hunted for his ruthlessness and determination.
He looked up at the clock. It was twenty-past three, and time he went to bed. With a sinister smile on his thin lips, he hit the follow button, knowing that an email would be waiting in Sally’s inbox when she got up the next morning. An email announcing that he, the extremely important Assistant Director of Human Resources was following her. His profile picture, in an attempt at humour, showed him eating a giant fajita with only his eyes and horn-rimmed glasses on show as a clue to the man within. He closed down the laptop and put it away, so that the kitchen table would be pristine for his mother when she descended to her kitchen to prepare his sandwiches four hours later.
Following the obsessive routine, he carried out every night, Gavin checked the doors and windows on the ground floor of the house. He checked every inch of the scoured worktops, cooker and table, even peering short-sightedly down the plug hole of the sink in case any fajita detritus remained to betray him to his mother.
He put his laptop bag and briefcase out into the hall and under the table where no one would trip over them, and climbed the stairs, counting them, before he turned the corner and went into his immaculately tidy bedroom.
It was a room that was frightening in its sterility. The predominance of white prevented any undetected sullying of his domain; duvet cover, sheets and pillowslips were pristine, starched and laundered to his specific requirements rather than thrown in the washing machine by June, the cleaner. The sterile white vertical blinds gave the room an additionally medical feel, enhanced by the uncluttered white bedside cabinet, part of a set of white Swedish furniture that included a wardrobe, chest of drawers and two large chests. One of these chests held fresh bed linen, still in its laundry packing and ready for Gavin to put on the bed once the sheets no longer felt clean and fresh. The other chest was closed with an iron hasp and a weighty padlock to which only Gavin had the key. It contained secrets; the sort of secrets people cringe from, the sort of secrets that destroy people’s lives, and that could put Gavin in a position where at least a dozen prominent people would love to be able to pay to have him quietly removed from the earth.
They weren’t just other people’s secrets however. Gavin kept his own secrets in this chest, secrets that made him blush and rush to lock his bedroom door, secrets that lit up his pale grey eyes and made his pulse race. They were secrets that no one must ever know, and the mere thought of anyone else discovering them gave Gavin chills of excitement and fear.
He got changed for bed into his crisp pale blue cotton pyjamas. He never wore the same pair for more than two days, and then they too went off to the laundry. He slipped into the small en-suite bathroom that he had paid to have built onto his room. The main bathroom in the house was filled with the equipment and medication of two people who were dying by degrees, and he wanted no part of it. He tolerated no unnecessary clutter in his life. Not anymore. After brushing his teeth with an electric toothbrush, Gavin Slime went back into his room, placed his glasses neatly on his bedside table and slid between his glacial sheets, a sinister smile on his face as he thought of the woman’s reaction when she looked at the email he had sent her.