Letting the Cats Out of the Bag

Ben made his way back to the office, rapidly concocting a suitable story to cover Gavin’s absence.  The police had asked him not to tell anyone what had happened, just in case someone like Joanna had access to a mobile number for Gavin, and would tip him off about the police being on his tail. In order to keep everyone occupied, he announced that Gavin was unwell, but had passed on a list of instructions for the team to carry out. Joanna was to collate and print out all of the team’s clocking in and off time, since Gavin had started being their manager. This was the kind of job she enjoyed getting her teeth into, and she saw no reason to question why she had to do this.

Cheryl was asked to find supervision and continual professional development records for herself, Fiona, Karen, Mark and Peter for the past three years.  Ben had a feeling that her reports would not be very long, but they would be evidence that Mandy had not been managing and supervising her team for some time.  It would not look good for Mandy, but it could help Karen’s case if it could be proved that timely intervention by a decent manager could have prevented many of Karen’s problems.

Peter and Mark were still wading through Mandy’s records so he left them to it, and went off to have a word with the head of the finance department about the inhabitants of Room 19, and whether this might be a good time to bring their retirement forward, and close up the whole thing.  Ben explained the story that he had told Gavin, and added that as there was a possibility that certain areas of the council were going to come under very close scrutiny, anything untoward needed to be curtailed.

To be fair, the head of finance had never really felt comfortable about the improper use of Room 19, but the income from the calls had gone a long way to making up some of the other deficits, and it had kept the two ladies occupied.  Grateful for Ben’s vivid imagination, he asked his two clerical officers to come up to the office for a chat and Ben put the wheels in motion for a fairly painless and lucrative retirement for them both.

On the way back to his office, Ben bumped into an extremely cheerful Desmond.

“You are Ruby’s boyfriend, aren’t you?”

Ben nodded. There was no harm in carrying on the deception a while longer.

“Can you give her a message to pass on to Sally please?  Can you just say that the right horse came in, and I’ll be in touch once I’m settled?  Oh, and one other thing, if you see my wife, don’t tell her that you’ve seen me?  She’s probably too busy to notice anyway, what with her affair with the CEO to occupy her mind.  You might want to look at the disparities in the CEO recruitment procedure, and changing the councillors on the voting panel. Cheerio!”

Ben knew that his mouth was wide open with surprise, and shut it quickly before anyone else saw.  That meant even more work for his department, and something that needed to be achieved quickly, and very confidentially. Working on the basis that an army works better on a full stomach, Ben phoned the decent sandwich shop and put in an order for enough drinks and cakes to persuade his fellow team members to put in an extra hour or two.  He didn’t tell anyone so when the delivery arrived, his request for overtime was greeted with common agreement and astonishment, as they had never been rewarded in this way before.

Ruby and Karen were also enjoying their coffee and cakes; now that the main reason for their animosity had been demolished, they united in a respect for Ben, and gratitude for Sally. Somewhat shyly, Karen told Ruby about her undercover work, and the disguises she had come up with.  Their conversation was interrupted by a text from Ben passing on Desmond’s rather cryptic message.  Ruby had a feeling that she knew what had happened, and wondered if Sally was still at the hospital, or had gone over to the police station to give her statement of the day’s events. Looking at her watch, Ruby realised that Ed and their son would be back at the house and worrying about where Sally was.

“I’d better go and see them and explain what has happened. Karen?”

“I’ll shoot off now them.”

“No. I was going to ask you to come with me.  After all, you know more about what happened after Sally went to the Post Office, and it would be better if you explained it.  Besides, I’m sure that they would be pleased to meet you, and say thank you in person.  Will you come?”

Karen nodded, feeling a bit choked at this kindness and acknowledgement from someone that she had previously seen in such a negative light.

“I have another reason.  Sally’s son is going to be quite annoyed when he learns that the police have confiscated one of his knives.  I need you to back me up when I tell them that Sally’s life really was at risk from Gavin, and she had a good reason for pinching his knife. Oh, and that we both heard Ben promise that he’d buy a new one.”

Desmond had almost finished packing.  He wasn’t taking much. His win on the horses had been extraordinarily large, and enough to finally send him on the way to happiness.  He’d taken an energised and very happy walk back via the village, and collected his winnings from the betting shop.  He called into the Post Office where he arranged to have his money internationally transferred to an account in San Francisco that he had set up when he first thought of escaping from Margaret. He kept some of his winnings on him so that he could change it into dollars at the airport.  He’d found a suitably outrageously patterned rucksack that one of his daughters had left behind, and managed to fill it with everything he needed.  He’d toyed with the idea of getting a taxi to the airport, but decided to indulge his love of public transport instead, and having well and truly burnt his bridges by locking the front door and putting his keys through the letterbox, he set off whistling in the direction of the nearest bus stop.

A very nice young female police officer brought Sally home after her interview.  Ruby and Karen were still there, and giggled at the sight of Sally wearing a white protective suit that was too large for her.

“Stop laughing you two!  I threw up on myself and the police have kept all my clothes in case Gavin’s DNA is on them.  My DNA is most certainly is all over his shoes anyway.”

“Good shot Mum!” said her son, who had come to terms with the loss of one of his knives, and was actually quite pleased that she had remembered his lengthy lesson on how to get the various implements out on a camping knife.

“Thank you.  As you were. I am going upstairs to get out of this ridiculous noddy suit, have a decent shower, and get into my own clothes.  Unless you have to be somewhere, can you and Karen hang on until I get back down, please Ruby?”

Ed gave her the hug she had been so badly needed, and seeing that she was on the verge of tears, took her arm and led her upstairs.  Ruby, knowing that Sally’s son had been sociable enough for one day, went into the kitchen and put the kettle on, and texted Ben to say that Sally had been returned home safely.

The police had obtained a warrant, and searched through every room of the Slime household, as well as the wheelie bin, and at Mrs Slime’s suggestion the next-door neighbour’s bin too, because ‘that stupid boy often hides things in there.” There was very little of interest until they got to Gavin’s locked room. One of the police was about to go and get the big red persuader from the car boot, when Mrs Slime produced a set of keys from her cardigan pocket.

“Everything you need is on this keyring.  Gavin though he was being clever keeping his room locked, but he’d have to get up very early in the morning to get one over on me! I’ll be downstairs in the front room if you need me.”

The young policeman took the keys from her and wondered how someone staggering around on elbow crutches had managed to get up the stairs so nimbly. The keys opened the heavy fire door, and once they had recovered from the blinding whiteness of the room, the two locked trunks were opened, and Gavin’s laptop and computer were detached from their cables and put into evidence bags for examination by the tech staff at the station.  Although one trunk was disappointingly full of clean laundry, the other contained another laptop, and several paper folders containing details on Sally, her family and friends, as well as pictures of Margaret and a man identified as the council CEO.  There was also a folder with information and deeds on the house, as well as another property in North Wales.  The detective in charge of the investigation remembered Sally saying something about being taken to a remote location where no one would be able to find her again.

It didn’t take long to send the information to the police force covering that particular area, together with pictures of Gavin, his car and the registration.  The white van that he had used had been recovered, and together with the mysterious parcel that Gavin had sent, had gone to be finger printed.  The contents of the parcel turned out to be disappointingly unpleasant; Gavin had filled it with his some of his mother’s most unpleasant sandwiches that he must have been hoarding for some while, judging from the smell.

Ben’s own council detectives were doing very well; fuelled by coffee and cakes, they had managed to track down most of the information Ben had requested.  He thanked them all for their hard work, and promised that if the rest of the reports were finished by the next day, he would treat them to an ‘eat-all-you-can’ at the restaurant downstairs after work.  He also asked Cheryl if she would invite Fiona to join them. His last working task of the day was to book an appointment to see Michael, hoping that the police might have found Gavin by then, and had him locked up safely.

Margaret sat at her desk feeling more than a little puzzled. She had phoned down to Desmond’s office to see if he was ready to come home, only to be told that he had left just before lunch, and they had assumed he had gone out with her, but he hadn’t come back to the office as expected. She wasn’t in the mood for Desmond’s silliness; the CEO had texted her to say that they should cool things for a while, as his wife had received a brown envelope in the post with photographs of him coming in and out of the hotel.  He had told her that he’d been attending the health club there, but she wasn’t convinced.  Obviously, it was the same person who had put the envelope through her front door. She decided to go home and have it out with Desmond, at least that would be some kind of a victory.

The first thing Margaret found when she opened the front door was Desmond’s key ring; a distinctive Rickenbacker Bass replica with his house and office desk keys on it.  She picked it up and listened for any sounds of him, but the house was dark and quiet.  She shut the front door and turned on the lights, calling his name but there was no reply.  Margaret walked into the kitchen and sat down heavily on her customary chair.  There was an envelope on the table with her name on it.  Not brown this time, but a cheerful purple that she recognised as coming from a stationery set that she had bought one of their daughters for Christmas.  She opened the envelope, and took out the single sheet of pink paper with a border of flowers.

“Margaret, I have gone, and I would be grateful if you didn’t bother trying to find me.  I know that you have been unfaithful with the CEO, but it is your bullying and hateful behaviour that has killed the lifeblood of our relationship.  I have put my resignation in the post.  Ben knows about your infidelity, and the way you cooked the books about the CEO job, so I don’t think he or Gavin will make a fuss about my not giving notice. Goodbye, Desmond.”

That was it.  No details of where he had gone or what he would be living on.  As far as she knew the pittance that she gave him for the betting shop had never been fruitful. His wages went into their joint account, and she had the bank cards for both of them.  After the initial shock wore off, Margaret got extremely angry, and ran upstairs to their bedroom to see what Desmond had taken with him.  There wasn’t much there in the way of clothes or personal belongings, and then she remembered that he had been sleeping in the room next door for some months now.  There was even less in her daughter’s room; just a copy of bloody Sally’s book lying on the bed with a piece of paper sticking out of it.

“I really think that you should read this book again my dear, although Sally tells me that she is intending to write a sequel, and that you will play a starring role in this one.  I don’t think she’s intending to bump you off, but given all that she knows about you, I don’t think your place in the local authority will be secure for much longer.  The girls know that I have left you, but they don’t know where I am going. I will communicate with them safely later.  They are both surprised that I have put up with your bullying for so long.”

Margaret picked up the hated book and threw it at the dressing table mirror.  Sally! How dare she threaten to reveal Margaret’s secrets in this way?  When John had made the original financial agreement with Sally, he had asked her to sign a confidentiality form that prevented her from revealing anything about her time of working at the council, and especially her colleagues.  Michael had torn up the agreement when John left however, leaving Sally free to write whatever she wanted, and get her first novel published. Sinking down onto the bed, Margaret grabbed the pillow that Desmond had been sleeping on and bit it.  She cried angrily, not for Desmond, nor for the daughters that had sided with him, but for herself and the fear that her life was falling apart around her.

The scene at Sally’s house couldn’t have been more different.  Ben came round after work, and having received Desmond’s message, Sally explained what must have happened.  Ed disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a bottle of Prosecco and a tray of glasses to celebrate Desmond’s big win and his escape to freedom.  As they were toasting him, Ben revealed that he had followed advice, and done some digging about the CEO and the lack of eligible candidates for his post.  Karen mentioned that she had copies of the date and time stamped photographs that had been delivered to Margaret, and the CEO’s wife, as well as the surveillance pictures she had taken of Gavin at the container unit and the van hire depot.

“You have given me so much material for the next book!” Sally exclaimed happily. “Maybe I won’t need to go through with the employment tribunal after all.”

Ruby took Sally’s hand in both of hers;

“We need to clear your name and to get Karen reinstated if that’s what you want Karen?”

Ben nodded.

“I think it can be done.  It won’t be difficult to persuade Cheryl and Fiona to give statements on your behalf.  I’m afraid that Mandy won’t come out of this well, but if Margaret gets suspended, we might be able to get away with a quiet compromise agreement for her.  She’d only get a couple of month’s salary; and a reference, but that would be better than nothing. I don’t think there will be any holiday pay though!”.

“All we need now is for Slime to be caught,” said Sally pensively.   “I must admit I don’t feel safe while he’s on the loose.”

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