The mere presence of Gavin in the coffee shop had made the hairs on Ruby’s neck stand up. She had spent the morning working with a group of newly qualified staff and on a whim, they decided to take a walk into town and have coffee after the morning session. As soon as Slime walked in, Ruby felt uncomfortable and when a covert glance at the counter confirmed his presence, she knew exactly why. For one awful moment she thought he was going to come over and she readied herself to be polite to him for Ben’s sake. Fortunately, he decided to sit by the window; she had no doubt he was watching out for any staff members taking too long over their lunches – or heaven forbid!
Just as Ruby and her merry band were about to leave one of the students nudged her and indicated in Gavin’s direction.
“Do you know him?” she whispered.
Ruby nodded. “That’s Gavin Slime. Assistant Head of Human Resources.”
The woman spluttered.
“How the hell did he get to that position? I used to know him when I worked in Newport. There was a huge scandal about him stalking one of the councillors. She’d been polite and pleasant to him but he took it as a come-on and made a pass at her. She was very married and wouldn’t have been even vaguely interested in him. He got very nasty when she didn’t respond to his advances, and the woman had to be persuaded not to call the police in. Strings were pulled and he left the council with a golden handshake and a glowing reference. He’d been too clever for them to get any real dirt on him, so they just got rid of him as quickly and quietly as possible.”
Trying to be as discreet as possible, Ruby gleaned as much information from her student as she could on Gavin’s little problems, and stored it away to be passed on to Ben later when they met up for a drink. She smiled a polite goodbye to Gavin as she and the group left the coffee shop to go back to the training centre. Ruby felt a chill as he stretched his lips in that cold, rubbery smile.
There was one more session in the afternoon when they returned to conference room. The group did well and Ruby let them go home as soon as the feedback forms had been completed. She checked her phone, and found the text from Ben telling her what had happened about Karen. Whilst she was shocked at the immediacy of the action; having witnessed first-hand the cavalier attitude towards work etiquette displayed by Karen and her friends, as well as the frighteningly aggressive and predatory way she had harassed Ben, Ruby found it hard to be sympathetic. Ben’s text had only explained the incident in the briefest of terms so she was looking forward to finding out the rest of the details when they met up in the pub later.
Using her own mobile phone rather than the networked computer or the council mobile, Ruby did a bit of digging around on Gavin Slime and was able to trace his career in various local authorities round the country, but mostly in his native Wales. He didn’t appear to stay anywhere for more than eighteen months to two years, and each time he moved it was to a higher position. He was either very good or, as she expected, was particularly adept at finding out where the bodies were buried, and using the information to his own advantage.
Sighing, Ruby looked up at the clock and was cheered by the fact that it was time to leave. Time to go and meet Ben and let him know what she had found out, and what had been the final incident that led to Karen’s dismissal. She closed down her computer, picked up her bag and said goodbye to colleagues who were still sorting through their own feedback forms. It wasn’t difficult from their responses to work out who had had a good training session and who hadn’t.
The traffic was a little lighter than usual and Ruby got to the pub before Ben did. The news about Karen had spread round the building like wildfire, and within a few minutes of sitting down, Ruby was given the whole story according to the gossip network. Paranoia about misuse of the Internet had gripped the office building; staff who routinely did their online shopping first thing in the morning were now terrified that they would be caught out as well. There were several others who had used the online dating sites, and still more who had booked recent holidays, and had been less than discreet about their colleagues on social media sites.
Ruby took it all with a pinch of salt, knowing that she would get the full story from Ben later on. It was interesting however, to hear how the original story had got distorted via peoples’ perceptions regarding what was a perk of the job, and what constituted misuse. Ruby was just listening to a colleague justifying her need to order the weekly shopping during working hours, when Ben, Peter and Mark turned up. Ben sat down next to Ruby, while Peter and Mark went off to get in a round of celebratory drinks. There was no sign of Karen, nor Fiona and Cheryl.
Ruby took the opportunity to elicit more reliable information.
“Okay! Spill the beans Ben! I need to know everything and I mean absolutely everything!”
Grimacing, Ben told Ruby everything; from the IT audits to the immediate expulsion of Karen from the building.
“What about the others on the team? Cheryl and Fiona – and Mandy! Mandy is even worse than Karen, especially when you consider that she is a team manager and should be setting a good example.”
“Cheryl is in the clear – for now. She and Fiona did all the online dating on Karen’s computer. Joanna had a few little issues, but they’re sorted and as a consequence she sees me as her knight in shining armour, which may come in very useful. Mandy will have a few more problems than sunburn and a jippy tummy to worry about if she is allowed to enter the building when she comes back off sick leave. Or rather, if she returns from sick leave!”
Ruby looked concerned. “How bad is it for Mandy? She’s a pain I know, but her home life is a disaster. When she and her husband split up, the children decided to go and live with their father. She is desperate to be liked, and that’s why she lets people get away with things. Rumour has it that Karen had something nasty on her as well. I suppose that’s academic now that Karen’s been sacked.”
Shaking his head, Ben explained that it wasn’t just the Internet misuse, nor the poor timekeeping, but the long-term expenses fraud that would really mean the end of Mandy’s career. He added that that there were further implications regarding Margaret, and the fact that she hadn’t exactly been managing Mandy and the members of her team very well.
Ruby snorted and nearly choked on her drink.
“Margaret too! The three of you are extremely efficient at digging up the dirt!”
“That’s not all! said Mark happily. “Gavin asked Ben to run a report on the post room computers. It turns out that my extremely horrible ex-colleague has been buying, selling and swapping local authority goods on eBay, and a few other neighbourhood sites. She’s also been falsifying stock orders from different teams in order to build up her own supplies. Gavin’s axe is about to fall again, and guess who is destined for the post room now?”
“Fiona! Gavin feels that he would get more work out of the two of them if he splits Fiona and Cheryl up. Fiona is not happy about it but was told in no uncertain terms that it was the post room or nothing. Cheryl is too frightened to say anything because the post room is about as low as you can go.”
“Apart from Room 19.” said Ruby with a wink.
“Okay.” said Ben. “What does go on in Room 19 and why is everyone so mysterious about it?”
“Nobody knows what goes in in there. There are rumours of course, but nothing has ever been confirmed. Peter and I will leave you two lovebirds in peace.” said Mark as he drained his glass. “I promised my wife a takeaway to celebrate, and Peter is joining us. I did ask Ben if the two of you were free to join us Ruby, but he said that you had something arranged already. See you tomorrow Ben, and thank you for rescuing me from the hell that was the post room.”
Ruby waved them good bye before turning back to Ben.
He shrugged. “Not really but I didn’t fancy sharing a meal with two screaming toddlers. Technically I am line managing Peter and Mark, and we all know Gavin’s opinion of fraternising out of work.”
“Have I got you into trouble Ben?” Ruby asked, looking rather downcast. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all?”
“We have to continue with the charade I’m afraid.” Said Ben, taking her hand and squeezing it gently. “I’ve given Gavin all kinds of assurances that we never discuss work issues with each other. He’s about to involve me in Operation Sally’s Downfall, and feels that I may be able to extract some useful information from you.”
“Quite. Are you busy this evening?”
“I did a pile of ironing last night. Are you hungry? It’s my turn to pay.”
“We could do with relocating to somewhere more private. There are too many listeners in here and there are a couple of things we need to talk about.”
“Pizza? I know a very nice Italian restaurant.”
“Sounds good to me. Is it far?”
“Walking distance. We could leave our cars here for now. I’ve acquired some very useful information about your boss.”
Ben offered Ruby his arm as they left the pub, she took it and was about to disengage once they were outside when he squeezed her arm closer.
“Keep up the pretence a bit longer, I’ve just seen a couple of the IT guys parking up their cars.”
Ruby nodded and they continued up the narrow alleyway that led into a small courtyard and three restaurants. It was till early enough to get a table, and Ruby felt slightly embarrassed when one of the waiters greeted her enthusiastically.
In a mock gruff voice Ben looked at her and said, “Either you get taken out for meals on a regular basis, or we are paying you far too much money.”
Ruby laughed and shook her head. “This is another of the places we use for end-of-course dinners. Between ten and twenty students, and two trainers can generate a great deal of pizza, pasta and red wine. Guaranteed to be a place where you can have a laugh and make plenty of celebratory noise. No wine for me tonight though, the big conference is tomorrow and I know that the news of Gavin’s cuts will have spread like wildfire.”
“What kind of reaction are you expecting?”
“No one will be losing sleep over Karen, Fiona or the mad woman in the post room. The rumours about Mandy are a different matter though. Margaret may be busy trying to cover her tracks, or she may decide to brazen it out, given her relationship with the CEO. Bob will be annoyingly brash; Desmond will be an absolute love and very helpful, Adam will be so wrapped up in singing his song – which is very good by the way – that he will be oblivious to anything else. My other colleagues are making sure that that they keep off social media and the Internet until the furore dies down. Rumour has it that Gavin is intending to put in an appearance at some stage, but has been vague about just when. An age-old management ploy to keep everyone on their toes.”
“He does it very well. What is it that you need to tell me about him?”
In between bites of pizza and swigs of Pellegrino to wash it down, Ruby told Ben about the information given to her by one of her trainees. She followed it up with some further details that she had found on the Internet about Gavin’s habit of moving from one local authority to another without any reasons being given.
Ben took it all in, as he calculated which of his challenges was going to be the most imminent.
“Two questions Ruby. What did you mean by Margaret’s relationship with the CEO and what can you tell me about Room 19?”
“According to Sally, Margaret and the CEO having been having a not very discreet affair for some years. One of the reasons his contract keeps being renewed is because Margaret is chair of the committee that looks at new candidates. She has the councillors eating out of her hand, and they are more than happy to believe her when she tells them that none of the applications received are suitable in terms of experience and qualifications. Michael’s predecessor, John, applied but when he didn’t even get an interview, he took up a much better position in another local authority. As a consequence, any information on Margaret has to be watertight. Poor Desmond.”
“Another one that Sally can give you more information about. I know that the room is occupied by at least one or two females who work for the Finance department. If you look closely at payroll details, and I mean very closely, you may find a couple of people with very non-specific job titles.”
“How come Sally knows so much about it?”
“Room 19 has been in operation for several years; I believe that it may have been set up by Donal long before he departed. Sally has been sworn to secrecy as a consequence but you may be able to charm the information out of her. No dessert for me. I’m not being cheap Ben; I just don’t want to take on the world feeling bloated tomorrow.”
Ben called for the bill and despite Ruby’s protestations, he paid and helped her on with her coat, giving her shoulders a gentle squeeze as he did so.
“Are we being watched Ben? I didn’t see anyone that I know?”
“No. It was a friendly hug for being such a loyal and extremely helpful person. If keeping up the pretence is difficult for you, we may have to stage a gentle break up, but to be honest, having someone else I can confide in makes the whole thing less stressful for me.”
“I never turn down a friendly hug, and yes I will take your arm for the journey back to the cars. These cobbled courtyards are very pretty and have historical value, but they are hell on high heels!”
They laughed together and the situation seemed to be resolved for now. It was a good job that they were arm in arm when they returned to the car park as they were greeted by the sight of a very drunken and emotional Fiona being put into a taxi by Cheryl. It did not appear to have been a good day for either of the remaining dyad.