In addition to his brief of putting paid to Sally once and for all, Gavin also had a number of job cuts to identify. Most of them were easy pickings; older people who would attract a large redundancy or retirement packages in the normal course of things, but once Gavin had homed in on them and decided that their jobs were no longer needed, he was very good at finding something in the woodshed that could justify their sacking without notice or even holiday pay. It was a skill that he had been developing over time, and the only downside was that it often attracted negative publicity when much-loved members of staff suddenly found themselves being escorted off the premises, with their worldly goods in a cardboard box and no time to say goodbye.
Death threats meant little to Gavin, although they usually signified a handsome golden handshake for him and a move elsewhere. He had garnered a reputation for his hatchet jobs, and had been specifically sought out by other local authorities for the last three posts he had held. The councillors at each local authority had identified areas where they thought they could safely lose staff, and although Gavin would take out a couple of people from these teams, within a month of starting his new post, he had also drawn up his own list of staff that needed to be axed within the next year.
Gavin wondered how the members of his own team would react had they been aware that they were on his new hit list too. Mandy was an immediate candidate; whilst Gavin could turn a blind eye to some indiscretions, Mandy wasn’t just indiscreet, she was totally clueless and had no control over anyone in her team. Her current status of being on sick leave could be successfully overridden by an unescapable assessment by the Occupational Health team. They were very good at spotting ‘frauds and malingerers’, and from what he knew of (and had heard about) Mandy, there was plenty of evidence to prove her incompetence as a manager, and her abuse of the authority systems. Gavin’s false Facebook profile enabled him to snoop the posts of any employee who had been unwary in their choice of privacy settings. Mandy’s posts had been extremely candid, and totally incriminating as far as Gavin was concerned. With the exception of Joanna, who was too dim to take advantage, Ben, who was an unknown quantity and had very secure settings on his social media accounts, and Peter, who had learnt to keep under the radar and do as he was asked, the rest of the team were all at risk. Gavin wasn’t sure about Peter or Ben yet, he had hopes that they might develop cunning consciences in time but failure to do this would definitely result in dismissal as well.
The terrible triad were borderline at the moment; Gavin quite admired their tenacious abilities to break just about every rule in the book, and while Fiona and Cheryl had learned to cover their tracks to some extent, Karen was too blatant for own good and was therefore the first choice for the chop. Gavin had already carried out a very basic IT check of their computer logs; he knew about Cheryl’s little gambling habit, Fiona’s online shopping sprees and Karen’s dating profile. He also had deeper darker secrets gleaned from Karen’s computer that would leave her without any defence if he decided to sack her.
What of Ben? His newest acquisition; something of an enigma, Ben kept his head down, did what was being asked of him, and appeared more than capable of gathering information to further Gavin’s plans. Could he be trusted with the ground work for the total annihilation of Sally though? Gavin felt he needed more time and opportunity to get to know Ben. Picking up the phone he asked Joanna to set up a lunchtime meeting; Gavin liked lunchtime meetings; he would get Joanna to arrange them at short notice, so that the employee hadn’t had the opportunity to go out and get lunch first. Gavin would already have eaten his mother’s margarine-loaded spam sandwiches long before. He hated spam, hated white bread and especially hated margarine, but felt that by eating the sandwiches, he was paying a penance in advance and this gave him licence to do anything he wanted. It also meant that his stomach wasn’t the one that was rumbling uncomfortably throughout the meeting.
One of Gavin’s strengths was his ability to give bad news and make it sound like he was doing the person a favour. His rise to the top of his profession was littered with interviews that started off as chats and ended with sackings. His previous employers were in awe of Gavin’s ability to take on onerous tasks and accomplish them with alacrity, whilst managing to avoid further messiness – in most cases.
Every now and again however, he came across a difficult case. A case such as Sally’s. Technically speaking, she was in the right. John had made the arrangements regarding her severance pay and it had been signed off by the Chief Executive in accordance with procedures. It was Michael however, that felt that Sally was in some part responsible for the scandal that had rocked the offices the previous year. She had written the book about the staff hit list, and even if it was only a piece of harmless fun as far as she was concerned; it caused total chaos throughout the council.
There were some that might say Sally had done everyone a favour as some of those who were ‘murdered’ in the book had been under suspicion for years. Redundancy or retirement packages would have been particularly crippling to a local authority already put in dire straits by national government austerity cuts, so having them ‘resign’ from embarrassment was a stroke of good luck. Sally’s friend Donal had actually drawn up a spreadsheet showing the potential savings, and it was this that led to him fleeing the country with his wife. The police had decided not to go hunting for Donal as his trail went very cold after the couple had crossed the Channel. Michael felt that Sally knew where Donal was however, and although all of the money he embezzled from the council had been returned, Michael was determined to get his pound of flesh from somebody, and Sally was the obvious choice.
Gavin was curious about the previous relationship between Sally and Michael. He knew that they shared an interest in psychology, and that Sally had proved very useful in providing Michael with the specific data he needed when a scandal had been about to break. He had grudgingly mentioned that Sally’s abilities to interrogate their recording systems was unrivalled. Gavin wondered if perhaps this assumed ‘betrayal’ was why Michael was so determined to ruin her reputation and wreck her life?
Putting his briefcase on the desk and checking that everyone out in the office was busy, Gavin decided that he had a few minutes to look at Sally’s folder again before he got Joanna to call Ben in for an interview. He flipped past the recent pages, and went to the very back of the folder where the original data was recorded when Sally was given her first contract with the council. There wasn’t anything that stood out, apart from the fact that she seemed to be very chummy with a previous director of the service, and that she was employed only on a casual basis for over a year. The file listed the names of her husband and sons; he made a note of their names and dates of birth, intending to run a check on their education records to see if there was anything of note buried there. This idea brought a smile to his thin lips as he closed up the folder and locked it back in his briefcase. He picked up the phone. “Joanna?”
“Yes, Mr Slime?”
“Tell Ben I’d like to see him at twelve o’clock. What lunch is he on?”
“He’s on earlies this week. I heard Karen inviting him to go over to the pub for a sandwich.”
“Yes. She’s changed her lunch to earlies too.”
“Hmmm. Invite Ben discreetly please? I don’t want Karen to know he won’t be free to go to lunch with her.”
‘Oh, okay Mr Slime. Whatever you say.”
Joanna put the phone down and thought. She thought really hard for a couple of minutes then looked at the clock. It was ten to twelve already and Karen was rustling in her handbag for some make up to refresh her face before going to lunch. Smiling to herself, Joanna formulated her plan. She would wait till Karen went out to the toilets to do her face, and then she would nip over to Ben’s desk and tell him about Mr Slime’s request.
She didn’t have long to wait.
As soon as Karen had disappeared out of the door, Joanna walked quickly over to Ben’s desk and bent down to speak to him in what was quite an intimate fashion for her.
“Mr Slime wants to see you in his office at twelve. He says not to talk to anyone else about it, he has some highly confidential work for you to do.”
Ben’s heart leapt at this reprieve from lunch with Karen. He nodded in agreement and began to close up his folders in preparation, and grab a pen and some paper. Karen returned with another layer of foundation, powder, mascara, and lipstick applied on top of her already heavily camouflaged face. She smiled in Ben’s direction and proceeded to lock her computer, and change from flat shoes into killer heels that made her stagger like a new born foal as she went to fetch her coat from the stand.
The smile on her face turned to a frown as Ben got to his feet, gave what he felt was an apologetic smile, and walked past her to Joanna’s desk. He had told Ruby about Karen’s invitation in the hope that she might be able to join him, but she was running a training session all day. She had promised to meet him in the pub after work however, and he had high hopes that a little bit of handholding there might be enough to start the gossip going.
Joanna looked up and smiled as Ben approached.
She liked Ben.
She didn’t like Karen.
Or even Mandy for that matter. They were very bitchy and spoke to her like she was stupid. Joanna knew that she was never going to win any prizes for brilliance, but she wasn’t as daft as she made herself out to be. She had learned as a teenaged modern apprentice in the local authority, that it didn’t pay to be too clever, and that long blonde hair, big blue eyes, a good figure, and a pleasant smile could overcome most issues if used in the right way.
She got up and knocked on Gavin’s door. This was rather academic as Gavin’s office was glazed on three sides so he could see what was going on. He had blinds to lower for privacy but only rarely did he do this. Gavin looked up and nodded; Joanna opened the door and ushered Ben in, closing the door quietly behind her. Gavin stood up and reached his hand across the table. Ben took his hand and shook it, not feeling comfortable with the cold clammy feel of Gavin’s fingers and the limpness of his handshake.
“Do sit down Ben. How’s it going?”
Ben had come prepared; he handed Gavin the dossier he had compiled regarding the policy and procedure errors, together with the names and dates of everyone involved.
“This is the tip of the iceberg I’m afraid. I’m keeping a very secure file online which is being updated every day as new information is uncovered. I’m afraid that it isn’t just lower level staff involved, there are some quite prominent upper management names listed, although I note that some of them have resigned in the past year.”
Gavin looked up from the dossier, his thin lips leeching into a smile of sorts.
“This is very good work Ben. Very good. I understand that you come from this area originally. Have you noticed many changes in the five years that you’ve been away?”
“To be honest, I wasn’t that interested in local politics before I went off to university. I worked in the local pub during holidays, but once I’d moved to London permanently, this place kind of faded into obscurity – apart from contact with my mother of course.”
“Any other relatives?”
“We lost contact with my Dad’s side of the family when he died, and any other relatives are scattered across the globe. Christmas cards only and the annual newsletter with births marriages and deaths.”
“You were in a relationship in London I understand?”
“Melissa and I were together all through university, but her family lives down South and she didn’t want to move away with me. My mother has been unwell and I felt that by coming here to work and live, I could give her more support.”
“You don’t live with your mother though?”
“No. We get on better if we don’t live in each other’s pockets. I’m sharing a flat with an old friend from college. We live over a gym so it’s very convenient for getting in some exercise away from a computer.”
“Very commendable. Is there anything else that you think I should know Ben?
Ben knew that he was blushing a little but felt that this might give credibility to his next announcement.
“Since I came back, I’ve met up with another old friend. Her name is Ruby, and she works in the training department. I know that personal relationships with other staff are not encouraged, but there do seem to be some quite high-profile instances throughout our own department.”
Gavin did his best to hide his annoyance at this disclosure; his quick and devious mind saw a way of getting more personal information on Sally. Did Ben know about Ruby’s role in Sally’s employment tribunal? Could he be trusted to glean information from her about Sally’s intentions.
Ben observed the small change in expression before Gavin composed himself. There had been sessions on body language and facial expressions on his course that Ben had thought a little melodramatic in the past. He felt very grateful for them now.
“Ruby has told me that she is supporting an ex-member of staff through an employment tribunal. She is aware that it would not be appropriate to discuss this with me, and by the same token, I have made it quite clear that my work here is highly confidential. If our relationship is to continue, it will be on a professional basis at all times during working hours. I said that I would need to take advice and guidance from yourself before we made any decisions.”
“I appreciate that Ben. It’s true that there are other people in the authority, indeed, in this particular department, who are married or in partnerships, so technically, and provided that you maintain a professional stance whilst at work there is no problem. You may be aware however, that I am dealing with this particular employment situation, and if any information was to find its way out of this office, those concerned would be subject to instance dismissal on the grounds of gross misconduct.”
Ben allowed his face to take on a disappointed air. Gavin raised his hand to signify that he handed finished yet.
“Provided that you give me your assurances with regard to confidentiality and your loyalty to me as the head of your department, I will give permission for the relationship to continue. In view of the behaviour of a certain member of staff in this office, having a girlfriend might mean that you are protected from her amorous advances during your working hours.”
Ben took a deep breath and smiled.
“Thank you, Gavin. It was beginning to be a problem, especially in meetings. I’m seeing Ruby after work today; she was going to consult her manager as well. I have to face the fact that this may never develop beyond the friendship we had before I moved to London though. People change quite a lot in five years.”
“Indeed. I am very impressed with your work so far Ben. Just one thing, how do you find Peter in terms of a trustworthy colleague.”
“He is totally trustworthy and not happy about the fact that Mandy had ignored his reports on contract delay and policy errors. He is working very hard on the areas of responsibility that you have given him. Together with the work he assists me with, it’s a mammoth task however. We could do with another colleague really.”
“Peter’s previous colleague Mark. He is very familiar with the systems, but was demoted to the post room by Mandy after he complained about being harassed by female member of staff.”
“Excellent! Get a desk and computer sorted for him, and he should be back in his proper place this afternoon. Thank you, Ben. This has been a very constructive meeting. Can I ask you to get Mark’s work area sorted before you go to lunch please?”
“Of course. Peter is on late lunches and I’ll ask him to pick up a sandwich for me while he is out.”
“You know the decent sandwich shops already then?” Gavin looked a little wistfully at the empty, sad and faded plastic sandwich box on his desk.
“Would you like me to ask Peter to get you anything from the shop? They do very good muffins as well?”
Gavin was tempted but the disapproving vision of his mother reared up in front of him.
“Thank you for the offer, but I ate lunch earlier.”
As Ben rose from his seat, Gavin rose also and extended his hand again. It still felt very clammy and cold. He turned quickly and left the office, smiling at Joanna as he passed. By the time he had reached his desk, the smile had widened to a grin as he sent a silent but jubilant email to Peter about Mark’s reinstatement.
Karen was still out at lunch but Fiona and Cheryl could not ignore the fact that an additional desk and computer was being put back next to Peter and Ben’s desk, nor that both men were making calls and sending confirmation emails to IT.
When Peter went off to collect the sandwiches, he was almost skipping as he left the building.