Sally sipped her morning coffee and looked at the letter than had been posted through the door whilst she and Ed had been out with the dog the day before. She felt that she knew a great deal about her from Ben and Ruby’s accounts of her downfall. Having suffered pre-wedding obsession with Joanna, Sally felt that she understood how Karen had become so swept up with organising and arranging such an important life event, that she had alienated her husband to be, a husband who actually was married to her except for the fact that there had been no actual consummation. Reading through the letter, she felt even more sorry for Karen, who finally seemed to have understood the part that her behaviour had played in tearing her life and work apart.
“Poor love.” she said to Ed, who had sat down next to her with his scrambled eggs on toast. “Another one caught up in Bridezilla land. Aren’t you glad that our wedding was so quiet – and cheap?”
Mouth full, he nodded assent, and kissed her cheek once he had swallowed.
“It may have been quiet and cheap, my love, but it was exactly what we both wanted, and that included not having drunken stag and hen nights.”
Sally shuddered at the thought. They had spent the evening before their wedding eating dinner with friends and separating for the night. Sally had been woken up on her best friend’s sofa by three small children bouncing on her, and asking if it was too early to watch cartoons yet? Pushing aside this happy memory, Sally showed Ed the letter from Karen.
“She wants me to help her with an appeal against her dismissal. From what Ben and Ruby have said, it looks cut and dried. They have plenty of evidence of computer misuse from the IT reports but…”
“Mandy was Karen’s manager. She didn’t exactly set a good example to her staff, and by turning a blind eye to such blatant misuse, it could be said that she has caused Karen’s dismissal.”
“Sometimes I think that you should have been a politician rather than a social worker.”
Sally shuddered again.
“Politicians don’t help people; they only help themselves. Will you mind if I ask Karen to come round for a chat?”
“Be a good idea to do it tomorrow while Perro’s at the vets. I don’t think he took to Karen when he found her parked outside in her car.”
“I’d pushed Perro to the back of my mind for now. He will be okay, won’t he?”
“He will. It’s a very minor operation and the only reason he’s staying overnight is because the vet has a long operating list, and isn’t sure when he’ll be ready to come home. In a couple of days’ time, he’ll be back home and wearing a very stylish Elizabethan ruff to stop him licking his stitches.”
“I must write up some of the things Ruby and I were talking about last night. Some very interesting background on Slime and his unwanted sexual advances.”
“Yuk. Slime by name and Slime by nature.”
Sally’s mobile buzzed; a text from Ruby.
Desmond has contacted me. He wants to have a chat about something that may change his life! R xxx
There was no hesitation in answering; Sally had always had a soft spot for Desmond and her interest was definitely piqued.
No problem. I’d love to see him again. Can he come here? Oh, he doesn’t have a car.
There was a short lapse of time and then Ruby replied.
Will bring him over in our lunch hours if that’s okay. Margaret is otherwise engaged!
Don’t bring any food. I’ll whip something up.
Ed was despatched to the supermarket to get some food suitable for snacking and sharing. He had been asked to get double the amount so that Sally could invite Karen for lunch the following day. Perhaps Sally wasn’t such a social pariah as she’d thought she was.
Karen had put her mobile number on the letter. Sally thought about phoning her, but felt that a text might be a better idea. She invited Karen to come over to lunch, and was pleased to receive a thank you text in reply. It meant that her mind was diverted from worrying about Perro and her own tribunal, and more happily resolved to help Desmond and Karen.
On the way into work that morning, Margaret had tersely informed Desmond that she wouldn’t be available for lunch that day as she had an important meeting. He grunted in reply; his mind turning over the fact that this was probably another one of Margaret’s not so secret assignations with the CEO.
“Did you hear what I said Desmond?” she snapped.
“Yes Margaret. I’ll pick up a sandwich or something. What time will you be back in the office?”
“The same as usual; these meetings only last a couple of hours. I’ll be back to give you a lift home.”
“Hmm. Sorry. Did you say something my dear? My mind was elsewhere…”
“Hah! It’s a wonder you can remember anything. Perhaps you should make an appointment to see the doctor if you are so forgetful. It could be early onset dementia you know.”
“You wish!” thought Desmond silently, his mind turning to poisons, and other methods of bumping off his wife. They pulled into the staff car park, and Margaret parked the car in the spot next to the building that had been reserved for her ever since an ex-client had made death threats toward her. Desmond got out of the car and headed indoors without even kissing his wife goodbye. He didn’t want to, and he didn’t think that Margaret even noticed.
Once at his desk he phoned Ruby’s mobile, and was relieved when she answered quickly and sounded pleased to hear his voice. Mindful that all the walls in the office had ears, he was quite cryptic in explaining what he wanted. Ruby asked for his mobile number, and was very quick to offer to take him to lunch at Sally’s later that day. Desmond unlocked his desk drawer and took out the anonymous letter he had received. He tucked it inside his diary so that he wouldn’t forget to take it with him. Was Margaret right about his being forgetful, or was this just another ploy of hers designed to undermine him and zap his confidence?
Ben was at his desk; mulling over the story that he and Ruby had concocted the night before in order to whet Gavin’s appetite for information about Sally. They had decided to tell him that Perro was going to the vets, and that Sally would be unprotected whilst Ed was out at work and her younger son at school. Neither of them thought that Gavin would actually do anything to harm Sally, but it might make him feel happier if he saw her as being vulnerable. Ben sent him an email telling him that he had some information that Gavin might find interesting. He didn’t want to commit anything so contentious to paper, nor link Ruby’s name to it, as Gavin could use an email as an excuse to have Ruby removed as Sally’s supporter.
In just a few moments, Ben know that he had whetted Gavin’s appetite. Joanna came over to Ben’s desk and very quietly told him that Gavin would like to see him in his office. Just as quietly, Joanna added that she hoped everything was alright. Ben smiled and winked at her; Joanna blushed and scuttled back to her desk. Ben had managed to get such personal interactions off to a fine art with Joanna now.
Gavin was indeed interested in what Ben had to say about Sally, and was even more impressed that Ben had persuaded Ruby to confide such personal information. Perhaps Ben could be trusted with more specific tasks in the future? Gavin’s plans for Sally couldn’t be shared with anyone else at the moment; he hadn’t finalised things yet, but this latest snippet pushed him to formulate the last brick in his very devious wall. Dismissing Ben; Gavin got to his feet, and told Joanna that he was just nipping out to post an urgent parcel for his mother. He took the parcel out of his briefcase, tucking it under his arm so that the address was obscured and left the office in a hurry.
Ben went back to his desk; something told him that there was a connection between Perro’s absence and the parcel, but he couldn’t quite tie them up. Using Gavin’s absence, he texted Ruby to tell her that Gavin was now aware of the situation with Sally, and could she let her know? Ruby’s response was a little unexpected; she told him that she and Desmond were visiting Sally for lunch a little later, and she would tell Sally when she had a moment. Ben’s interest was piqued when Ruby mentioned that Desmond’s visit, and his cryptic comment that it might be something that would change his life. Were Margaret’s sturdy castle walls about to tumble down? He was very tempted to join the lunch party, but he didn’t want to jeopardise Ruby’s position.
Karen was over the moon. Sally had replied to her and invited her for lunch! Sally was willing to listen to her side of things and be sympathetic. Ruby was still a thorn in Karen’s side but watching her go back to her flat alone last night had tempered Karen’s feelings of animosity, and persuaded her that it was Gavin who should feel the full force of her ire. She was determined to find out more about Gavin; she knew that he lived with his mother, and that his mother made horrible sandwiches that often made their way into the waste paper bin. Time to don the blonde wig disguise, and stake out Gavin’s home address for a while.
Desmond and Sally were delighted to see each other; it had been a long time since they had spoken, and the thought of having lunch with two women who he liked and respected made Desmond very happy. He had told Ruby about the anonymous letter on the way over, but said that he felt Sally might know more about what Margaret was up to. His main worry was that Sally might still feel some loyalty to his wife after working for her for so many years.
He needn’t have worried. Now that Desmond had the information from another source, Sally had to admit that she had known about Margaret’s secret meetings with the CEO, and apologised to Desmond for all the occasions when she had made up meetings in order to cover Margaret’s tracks.
“She said that it would devastate you if the story got out Desmond, and she also made it quite clear that I’d get the sack if I didn’t back her up. You don’t look devastated though?”
“I’m not. I’ve known that she was up to something for some time, but I pushed it to one side. It’s got worse since John left though. I don’t think Michael likes her very much, especially after the way he spoke to her at your conference, Ruby. I have a secret of my own though…”
“What? Have you got another woman?”
“No, Ruby! Sally may have told you about the arrangement Margaret and I have about my gambling habit?”
“No! Is it very bad, Desmond?”
Desmond patted Ruby’s knee.
“It is a hobby rather than a habit. My wife very kindly allows me £30 a week to go off and lay some bets every Saturday morning. She is convinced that I am not very good at it, and that by giving me some ‘pocket’ money and her blessing, I am under her control.”
“But you aren’t, are you?” said Sally smiling.
“No. Unknown to my darling wife, I am actually very good at placing bets and winning money. I have a savings account that she knows nothing about, and when I finish at the bookies on Saturday mornings, I go and put my winnings into my account at the Post Office. My aim is to leave her, and go off to a place where she would never come after me.”
“Venice Beach!” said Sally gleefully.
“Correct! Just the sort of place that she would loathe. There were two things that I need; one more big win and proof that Margaret has been playing away from home. Thanks to my anonymous friend, I have the latter now. The end may be nigh Sally, and if it is, Margaret will be lashing out in all directions. Is there anything you can tell me about Gavin Slime? I noticed that he found Michael and Margaret’s run in at the conference very amusing.”
Sally and Ruby exchanged glances. Should they tell Desmond what they knew about Slime? A silent but mutual agreement kept the mention of Ben’s name out of the conversation, but Ruby was able to pass on the information about Gavin’s past that her trainee had told her, and that she had dug up from the Internet. Sally added the information that she had about Gavin trying to intimidate her on Twitter. Desmond shook his head.
“Not a very nice chap, really is he? Margaret was singing his praises enough to get him his current appointment. She wasn’t very complimentary when she found out that he was implicating her in Mandy’s gross misconduct suspension though.”
‘It’s just an idea Desmond, and it would involve you playing the part of the wronged husband, but if you were to present Gavin with your anonymous letter and the matching diary dates, you might be able to play your own part in her downfall. Do you dislike her enough to do that?”
“If you’d asked me a year ago, I think that my answer would be different. While our girls lived at home, things were okay but since they went to university, I’ve been kicked out of our bedroom and into theirs. I sleep better because Margaret snores terribly, and is a very restless sleeper. She’s become more aggressive and her mood swings are unpredictable. She can’t find anyone who can write her speeches and reports, as well as you did Sally. Her latest bone of contention is that you didn’t mention her in your book. Coupled with the fact that Susie never invited us to any of her social gatherings.”
“She’ll be in the next one – that’s if you don’t mind Desmond?”
“When I run off, I’ll make sure that you get my forwarding address – how is Donal by the way?”
“How did you know…?”
“Don’t tell Margaret but I read the book. Under the covers in my daughter’s bedroom and by the light of a torch. I nearly choked trying not to laugh in case she found out what I was up to!”
Sally gave him a huge hug, highly amused by his efforts to read her book.
“So, what will you do now?” she asked.
“Keep quiet for the time being. Margaret takes my silence as the signs of early onset dementia. She’s suggested that I see the doctor. Perhaps this is her way of getting me institutionalised. You can see why I need to get away from her.”
“Should you need it, there is a bolt hole here.” said Sally holding his hand.
“Thank you Sally. I know that Adam would put me up if necessary, but if I move out before anything is in place there is a danger that Margaret might use her contacts to ruin me.”
Ruby looked at her watch.
“Lovely lunch Sally, but I need to drop Desmond off, and get back for a meeting.”
“Can I use the loo before I go?”
“Of course, second door on the left.”
Ruby took Desmond’s absence in the bathroom to pass on Ben’s message about Perro’s absence, and that Gavin seemed to get very excited about it. They agreed not to let Desmond know of the link between Ben and Sally – for now.
Margaret had enjoyed her lunch, but the afternoon in the hotel was not a delight. The CEO was never very good at sex anyway, but the fact that his contract was up for renewal shortly made him even less impressive. He had heard rumours about Michael having a very public row with Margaret, and couldn’t help thinking that she might not be the most reliable of allies if she was found to have mismanaged a member of her staff, and that Michael was ganging up on her too. She dressed quickly, and as was their habit, left the CEO to pay the hotel bill after she had driven away in her car. He always took an interminably long time shoehorning himself into suits that hadn’t fitted him properly anyway. Official lunches and hours sat in his office listening to other people talking about things that he had no interest in, had broadened his girth and made his brain even more sluggish. He knew that he was on borrowed time with the local authority. His wife, although she enjoyed the trappings of his title, had very little interest unless there was an opportunity to turn up at a local function dressed to the nines. He had a sneaky feeling that she knew about Margaret; the few times they had met, his wife had done her best to treat his mistress with the contempt she so well deserved.
The silver Toyota had just been another anonymous car in the car park when Margaret had arrived after lunch, and departed again after her unsuccessful assignation. Karen had been busy taking photographs of those arriving and leaving the hotel car park, since she had finished trailing Gavin from the post office and back again. She toyed with the idea of sending Desmond the photos at work, but felt that popping them through Margaret’s home letter box might be more effective. Karen had bought a new phone that took time-stamped photographs, so there could be no denying Margaret’s presence at the hotel when she was supposed to be at a meeting. Perhaps this was another occupation that Karen could consider if Sally was unable to help her with the appeal?
Getting the sympathetic text inviting her to lunch had lifted Karen’s spirits no end. Sally had also suggested that if Karen had any evidence of Mandy’s mismanagement, that would be very useful as well. Finished for the day, Karen drove home and spent some fruitful hours combing through her insurance files, and finding information that was very interesting. The little inkjet printer that she had invested in had turned out some very good photographs as well as pages of emails that would be very incriminating as far as Mandy was concerned.
Karen went downstairs having stuffed the photographs into a plain brown envelope and told her parents that she was just popping out for half an hour. Was it a moment of devilment that made her address the envelope to Desmond and Margaret? She smiled as she wondered who would still be up at this time of night, or who would be first up in the morning?