Michael was not happy.
Following a worrying call from the head of IT asking why Ben was being allowed unlimited access to the systems, Michael had made some enquiries and had heard about the errors that had been made in regard to Sally’s employment, and the issues that had arisen over policies and procedures that had not been checked before being passed. Although this had been glossed over in the appeal, an ACAS employment tribunal was a whole different ball game. Elderly councillors could be fobbed off and told that such things were irrelevant, but experienced ACAS assessors were trained to pick up such errors in the process. Although they were impartial, it had been Michael’s experience that any flaws would be uncovered and throw the local authority in a very bad light. He blamed Margaret and was very quick to tell her so in an extremely terse phone conversation.
Margaret was not happy.
She was aware that the errors had occurred within her department; that by allowing Mandy and her triad free rein in HR, there was a real chance that Sally might win the employment tribunal and cost the local authority a great deal of money in compensation for her unfair dismissal. She couldn’t exactly blame Gavin for the errors as he was appointed long after Sally had been suspended, but she hadn’t been impressed by his attempts to intimidate Sally on the phone or by trolling her on Twitter. She would have liked to tell Mandy exactly what she thought of her management skills, but Mandy had sense enough to develop a stress-related illness and get herself medically signed off for the next two months.
Unlike Michael, who thought that he knew the disadvantages of putting anything negative in writing; Margaret phoned Gavin and made her disapproval well and truly known. The only bright spot as far as she could see was her employment of young Ben, his ability to analyse what had been going wrong in the HR department, and the impact on the rest of the local authority.
Gavin was not happy.
His happiness began to decline on the day before Sally’s appeal hearing when she failed to fall into his trap and agree to cancel the meeting. He had thought that following her on Twitter might intimidate her into cancelling the meeting that morning but she turned up nevertheless. She was wearing a bright red jacket. She looked far better than she should have done under the circumstances. If she’d attended the meeting with unwashed hair, no makeup and in an old outfit that had seen better days, she would probably have been received with more sympathy by the councillors.
That was not the way Sally operated obviously. He understood that now and realised that he had underestimated her. The realisation hit him when right at the start of the meeting she informed everyone present that he had tried to get her to cancel the meeting the day before, that he had failed to advise her that she could be penalised by ACAS for doing this, and then, like pulling a rabbit out of a top hat, she had produced his email and asked why it was that a person in his position should be trawling around on Twitter in the early hours of the morning trying to find out information on her.
Luckily the elderly councillors were confused; most of them were too ignorant of social media to understand what she was talking about, but there were a few other people in the room who did. This included the legal representative and Michael, in his role as presiding officer. Gavin managed not to meet Michael and Margaret’s eyes when Sally was spouting her revelations to the floor, but he knew he was going to cop for it later.
At the end of the meeting Sally finally lost her cool and as she was leaving the room, she had moved close to him and uttered
“Don’t even think about stalking me Slime or you will be very, very sorry.” He heard her kick the wall as she left, and allowed himself a thin smile of satisfaction which disappeared very quickly when he looked up and saw Michael glaring down at him before he stalked out of the room.
Gavin had waited all of the next day for the summons to Michael’s office in the Town Hall. It wasn’t until late afternoon of the next day that Gavin had the bright idea of checking Michael’s online calendar and found to his disgust that he had been out at a conference all day. He felt angry with Michael, angry with himself for not checking earlier but most of all he was angry with Sally for not being intimidated by him.
Margaret’s very public telephone call to Gavin set the wheels in motion to get Peter and Ben identifying the system errors, and completely demoralised Karen, Fiona and Cheryl. Gavin was well aware that one of them had sent a warning text to Mandy, and wasn’t surprised therefore when she was signed off by her doctor. This suited him as it left the three witches unprotected and vulnerable. He loved it when people were scared of him. He would get his own back on Margaret in time, Sally was his first priority.
He got her file out of his briefcase and went through it again; looking for any weak areas that he might have missed. Against all HR protocols he took the file home and read it over and over all weekend. In between running errands for his mother, and sitting patiently in a garden centre tea room whilst she and two of her friends worked their way through salvers of dainty sandwiches and a selection of not so-very dainty cakes with their pots of tea, he read the file again and pondered.
He had to admit that he was fascinated by the way the serial killer in Sally’s book had bumped off or humiliated eleven key council staff – no one counted Dopey Shirley as a key member of anything. The only impact her death would have made would be that her team ran more smoothly, and there would be no more mysterious incidents where people’s belongings disappeared from the office. Gavin had to admire the modes of murder utilised; he was especially impressed by the salted sardine and the Armenian clog dancers, but also felt that those who escaped death in the book had been dealt with in a rather spectacular fashion too.
Louis, the office burglar had made an actual and rather meteoric rise through the ranks before the book had been published, but had taken on more than he was capable of dealing with and the cracks were beginning to show. His old team had been quite fond of him and covered up most of his shortcomings but his new team, resentful at the demotion of their old boss, had proved reluctant to provide any kind of support, tolerate his frequent unofficial trips outside for cigarettes, and flatly refused to make him cups of tea and coffee, or allow him access to their closely guarded biscuit tins. Perhaps this was why he had taken to standing out in the corridor and glaring down at people like Ruby as they came in and out of the building.
Fate hadn’t been any kinder to Linda; another manager who failed to manage. She picked the laziest and most unhelpful of her two part-time secretaries to offload work onto merely because the woman wore more fashionable clothes. The other secretary, dowdy and studious, did much of the work anyway but was proving just a little bit stubborn about working extra hours to cover for her colleague. Linda had also come slightly unstuck with her expenses. The excitement of owning a Rigby and Peller bra had gone to her head, and she insisted on going down to London for a fitting and to have four more bras made. Trying to pass the trip to London off as a necessary work-related expense was bad enough, but claiming for the bras on the grounds that she needed to wear them for conferences and public relations exercises, was just too much.
Her husband was not particularly impressed by the fact that, newly unemployed, he now had to pay a huge lingerie bill as well. He didn’t even like the bras; they were all white and upholstered, nowhere near as sexy as the wisps of black lace and satin that Linda used to spill out of. Unknown to Linda, he had applied for some work in Slovenia which entailed his family moving out there with him for at least a year. The money was good, he knew that his children could benefit from the move, there was only Linda to deal with. He had a feeling that making a new start away from Sally’s book might be the answer. The new bras could always get lost in the packing.
Susie continued to languish in her office; most of the time she sat idly pleating one of her old designer dresses between her fingers, but every now and then she would stalk through the corridors looking for someone to screech at. The loss of her palatial house and lifestyle seemed to affect her far more than the loss of her husband and children.
Gavin was particularly curious about the whereabouts of Sally’s friend. From the accounts office. The section of the book regarding the disappearance of Donal and his wife had actually come true before the book was published. Some said that this was where Donal got the idea in the first place. The money that he had removed from the project team accounts was returned within six months via a number of cleverly manipulated offshore accounts. Gavin had heard a rumour that Donal and his wife were living somewhere in Russia and had made a great deal of money through the building and maintenance of websites. The police had given up trying to trace Donal; after all the money had paid back the money, and relations with Russia didn’t permit an expenses-paid investigation. The weather in England was cold enough.
Michael summoned Gavin to his office on Monday morning. It was not a pleasant interview. He drew himself up to his full six foot three, and towered over the diminutive Slime. He thundered and roared; his regional accent coming to the fore as he became increasingly angry with the deliberately passive Gavin.
“You made a fool of all of us!” he yelled as he paced the room. “Have you any idea how bad this will look when it gets into the public domain? She already has the local press on her side, and now we find out that she has friends and relatives working in social media who are very defensive about her.”
“She hasn’t said anything, though has she?” Gavin clutched at straws. “I remember reading some meeting notes where she stated that she wouldn’t go to the press because she didn’t want her face all over the front page.”
Gavin relaxed a little and leaned back in his chair. This was not a wise move. Michael leaned over him; his face was so close that Gavin could smell the minty chewing gum barely masking his bad breath.
“Listen Slime! We brought you in specifically to sort this mess out. You came recommended by Margaret as someone who could get rid of people without any fuss. I’m not particularly impressed with your methods so far. Sally is running rings round us, and if she gets as far as an employment tribunal, we’ll be a laughing stock. I can deal with a bunch of aging councillors, but it won’t just be a matter of the local rag ripping us to shreds as usual, this will undoubtedly get picked up by the nationals.”
“I’m trying to get to know her; trying to work out what makes her tick.”
Michael sat heavily on the edge of his desk and sighed.
“Sally and I used to get on very well when she worked in the project team. I found her to be very intelligent, and she ran circles round the managers – most of whom couldn’t manage their way out of a wet paper bag. She knows our systems, and she is enough of a geek to work out when we are trying to pull a fast one. Don’t underestimate her. John thought a great deal of Sally and didn’t want to sack her at all, which is why he gave the compromise agreement. I had further cuts to make when he left however, and I’d always felt that her settlement was far too generous. In retrospect I wish I’d shut down a library or a youth club instead, but it’s far too late to go back now.”
“Do you want me to carry on or are you going to get someone else to do the job?” Gavin asked, trying to keep his voice level so that it didn’t betray his nervousness.
Shrugging his shoulders and walking slowly round the desk and back to his huge leather chair, Michael slumped down, temporarily defeated. Looking up, he nodded toward the door.
“Off you go Slime. You’re still on the job but make a better job of reading those files in future. Looking at Ben’s resume, Margaret has finally done something right in taking him on. I’ve told IT to lift any restrictions on his access. I just hope that he can be trusted.”
“Yes … Sir.”
Gavin muttered under his breath, and walked quickly out of the room with his briefcase clutched tightly in his hands. Eschewing the lift, he ran down the stairs, permitting a brief respite chuckle as he reached the bottom. He almost skipped all the way to his car and even the parking ticket he received for not having booked a space, failed to quell his high spirits.