Ben had to admit that he was feeling rather nervous about meeting with Michael; he still hadn’t heard from the police, so details of Gavin’s attempted kidnap and escape had to be kept a secret for now. He did have a package of photographs from Karen however, together with reports on Mandy, Margaret and the CEO, who never seemed to be where he appeared to be. Ben had also tracked down the applications for the CEO’s post that had been set aside on Margaret’s instructions. Amongst those applications were some from Michael’s friend and ex-boss John.
Clutching the fruits of his team’s labours, Ben sat on the edge of his chair in the corridor outside Michael’s office in the Town Hall. His secretary sent Ben sympathetic smiles every now and then, which made him feel that he had been naughty and was waiting to see the headmaster. Her phone buzzed, and she got to her feet, beckoning Ben to follow her.
“Michael will see you now Ben.”
It was a nice-looking office; much better than any of the managers’ offices in the main office building. Michael got to his feet, extended his hand to shake Ben’s and sat down again, motioning Ben to sit in the chair opposite.
“By the look of the paperwork you are carrying, this looks rather serious. Can I ask why it is you that is here, and not your manager Gavin?”
“I don’t mean to be rude Sir, but I’m under strict instructions no to discuss anything about Gavin at the moment.”
“Instructions from the police I’m afraid.” said Ben. “I’m hoping to update you sometime today but for the moment that’s all I can say.”
“Just tell me, has anyone died, or been injured?”
“Fortunately, no, although that may change later today as well.”
“I understand that you are in a relationship with young Ruby?”
“Yes. I spoke to Gavin about it, and he was okay providing we maintained a discreet and professional attitude to the relationship.”
“Commendable. Given Ruby’s friendship with Sally, would you be able to confirm that no harm has come to either of them?”
“Yes, they are both safe, and Ruby is staying with Sally for the time being.”
“Okay, what have you managed to dig up and how many of our staff are implicated?”
Knowing that Michael already knew about Mandy’s suspension, Ben passed over the folder with a neatly typed summary attached to the front of it. Michael skim read the summary and looked up.
“This looks fairly cut and dried, but it does indicate a poor level of senior management.”
Ben handed over the folder regarding Margaret, and a separate folder regarding her relationship with the CEO. The final folder of the threesome contained details of the CEO’s appointments, ‘lost’ application forms, and details of the councillors who had consistently sat on the voting panel for some years, and fairly obviously followed Margaret’s instructions about the appointment of a very senior council post. It was at this point that Michael’s usual well-spoken reserve broke down and he leaned back in his chair.
“Friggin’ hell mate! Have you any idea what you’ve uncovered? Johns applied for this post twice now, and I had to apologise for the fact that our councillors didn’t think he was fit for the job. Not surprising, if they never even saw the other application forms. Margaret has really blown it this time!”
“Ah, there’s something else I need to tell you about Margaret’s situation. It’s about Desmond.”
“He’s okay, isn’t he? The man must have the patience of a saint to put up with the woman.”
“As far as we know he won’t be putting up with her any longer. We believe that he has left Margaret and the country. Whereabouts unknown.”
“Not another Donal!”
“No. Any money he has comes of his betting habit. He has sent his apologies for not giving notice, but once he had confirmation that his wife was being unfaithful with the CEO, he just wanted to get away from her as quickly as possible. I have a signed statement together with photographs that he sent to me via the internal post.”
“We need to suspend Margaret and the CEO today. Do you feel up to it?”
“On my own?”
“No. With me and few security Guards. I’ll block any calls from the CEO’s office first, and get one of the senior managers over in the main office to keep Margaret busy. Any ideas?”
“Head of Finance. He’s a reliable bloke, and if he brings along some spreadsheets, he can keep her occupied for ages.”
“Good man. Give him a ring on my behalf while I rustle up some heavies.”
As Ben suspected, not only had Desmond’s disappearance hit the rumour mill, but the head of Finance was very anxious to comply in case the truth about Room 19 leaked out.
Michael returned with two large security guards wearing stab vests, and ominously dark glasses. Removing his tie, Michael indicated that Ben do the same.
“Leave the reports on my desk. My secretary may look friendly, but she’ll guard them with her life.”
“There’s an additional report regarding Karen, and possibly Mandy that may be damage limitation for the authority when the police get back to me.”
“And I thought today was going to be quiet. Come on then, lads!”
For all his pomposity, the CEO proved to be an easy target. He packed some of his belongings into the proffered box, and his weeping secretary was given further boxes to pack away anything else that was considered personal. Michael demanded the keys to the CEO’s official car, and asked the secretary to order a taxi, and not to put it on the tab. The four of them escorted him to the Town Hall gates where one of the security guards, who had never liked the CEO, gave him the V-sign as the taxi drove away. Michael frowned, then laughed and clapped the man on the shoulder.
“The next one is not going to be so easy, especially if she’s wearing that horrible jacket with the dead cat collar. We’ll go in the official van. Is your car here Ben?”
“No. I walked. I needed the fresh air.”
“I have a feeling that Margaret has a lease car as well. We’ll have to rustle up another taxi for her once she’s packed up. It may take us a while to get her out, so no need to order it yet.”
Ben squeezed into the back of the van with the other security guard, who was grinning and cracking his knuckles at the prospect of taking on Margaret, who was renowned for her rudeness to what she considered the ‘lower orders’.
The young man on reception stared open mouthed as Michael and his newly acquired henchmen shot through the security doors, with instructions not to tell ANYONE that they were in the building. It was just as cramped in the lift, but Ben felt grateful to be in the company of three such imposing figures, especially if Margaret was wearing her dead cat jacket.
They stalked out of the lift, and Michael put a warning finger to his lips as they reached the outer office. The other occupants, none of who were supporters of Margaret and her moods, stifled giggles, and one of them gave Ben a sly wink. He had a feeling that some of the older clerical staff had been waiting for this moment for years, and would retire happily now it had been achieved.
Michael didn’t bother to knock on the door, and as Margaret rose to expel her wrath at this intrusion, he told her to sit down and shut up. The Head of Finance picked up his spreadsheets and made a swift and very grateful exit. Michael didn’t mince his words. He informed Margaret that she suspended on several charges, of which gross misconduct was the minor charge, but fraud was also liable to play a part, now that the evidence about the CEO and his appointment had come to light. He told her to get packing her things up and to hand over the lease car keys, as well as any keys that belonged to the council offices. Although she looked as if she was going to put up a fight, the shoulders in the dead cat jacket began to sag, as she put her world into the boxes kindly provided by one of her staff.
The word had spread throughout the building of Margaret’s suspension. The head of Finance had obviously been very busy, but if she had been expecting tears and pleas as she left the building, Margaret was sorely disappointed. Ben looked up at the building from the car park as they saw her into the taxi, and was sure that he could hear cheering. He could definitely see people grinning and waving.
It was as Margaret’s taxi left the car park that Ben’s phone began to ring. He picked it up quickly and was relieved to hear Ruby’s voice on the other end.
“They’ve got him! Sally’s just had a call from the police, and says to tell you that you can explain to Michael but we still need to keep quiet about it. It’s need-to-know at the moment. How are things there?”
Ben, aware that Michael and the security guards were in earshot, explained very briefly that Margaret and the CEO had left their respective buildings – and under escort. He held the phone away from his ear, as Ruby’s information was greeted with cheers from everyone ese in the room. Michael, getting impatient to be updated, was looking a bit stern, so Ben cut the call short. Leaving the security guards to go back to the Town Hall, Michael and Ben went back to the HR office where everyone immediately bent over their computers in an effort to look very busy.
Michael nodded at a wide-eyed Joanna as he and Ben went into Gavin’s office, and shut the door behind them. Taking a deep breath, Ben explained the level of police involvement; that Gavin had apparently been found and arrested by the police, and was being brought back to face charges of attempted kidnap, assault, and some other very unpleasant issues in the past that were linked to the dark web, and had been found on the laptop and computer in his room. Michael agreed to keep a lid on things for the moment; there was going to be enough scandal in the media when the situation with the CEO got out, but having a newly appointed assist head of department arrested on serious charges, would make things look even worse.
“Does this have anything to do with those two members of staff you were referring to earlier?” he asked.
“According to other members of staff, and ex-staff, Mandy appears to have had a nervous breakdown since her husband and children left her. This wasn’t picked up by her line manager, Margaret. As a consequence, the HR team were not adequately supervised, which also led to Karen, who was suffering from reactive depression after her calamitous wedding, misusing council time and equipment. I have to add at this point that if it wasn’t for Karen, Sally might not be here to tell the tale. In view of all that, I was hoping that perhaps we could come to a compromise agreement regarding Mandy, who needs time and space to recover, and to reinstate Karen, who would never have gone off the rails, if she had had the support and supervision she needed.”
“And Sally? I’m very pleased that she managed to get away from Slime, but it worries me that we gave him the excuse, and the facilities to persecute her.”
“That’s something else I have to tell you, and I’m prepared to write a letter of resignation at this point. I am Sally’s nephew; I took up the job offer in order to give her some support, but it’s actually Ruby and Karen who have done that.”
If Ben expected Michael to be angry, he was disappointed. Michael laughed; long and loud.
“In a way, I wish we could have Sally back and sorting us all out, but that isn’t to be. I don’t want your resignation Ben; I think I’d like to keep you where you can help stamp out some of the bad practices that have been ignored for so long. We’ve received notice that this office block is destined for demolition, and rehoming the staff and equipment is going to be a very big job. Will you stay?”
“I’d like to, but only if I can stay loyal to my aunt as well.”
“I doubt very much if I could stop you – or Ruby. I need to get back to the Town Hall and set up some council meetings. I won’t mention the reason for Gavin’s absence at the moment. Officially he is on sick leave, and you are in charge. I’ll get my secretary to send out an email to everyone concerned. No need to keep quiet about Margaret and the CEO, the whole of the town will know by now. I’ll have a look at the reports on Mandy and Karen, but I think you are correct, we need to put things right.”
“Do you want me to get you a lift back to your office?”
“No. I need to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. Can you let my secretary know that I’m on the way back, and keep me posted on any updates on Slime?”
Ben opened the office door, smiled at Joanna and went back to his desk after Michael had left. It was very quiet. He stood up and sat on the end of his desk.
“Officially Gavin is off sick, and I will be in charge of the team for now. The hard work that you have all put in has paid off, and some senior members of staff have been suspended as a result. Michael is very grateful to you all, and so am I. If you are free to join me, tonight’s dinner downstairs at the restaurant is my treat.”
Whilst the team were cheering, Ben realised that Gavin’s office might need to be searched by the police, and that included his computer and any access he’d had during office hours. He got Joanna to lock the office up, and put in a few discreet calls to his new friends in IT, who were more than happy to assist. Satisfied that he had done as much as he could for now, Ben phoned Sally to get an update, and to give one.