3 day novel contest: Going Postal

Going Postal

We suggest that modern man’s obsession with longevity,
and with maintaining physical vigor and sexual attractiveness to an advanced age,
is a symptom of unfulfillment resulting from deprivation with respect to the power process.

The Unabomer Manifesto
Ted Kaczynski (1942 –     )
American, mathematician, Unabomer

A
larm clock ringing, Clare Garrick swung her feet over the edge of the bed, and reached for the buzzing alarm clock on the bedside table. Her finger gently pushed the switch to off, hesitating just a moment on the snooze setting. She rubbed her eyes and then exhaled slowly.

Was it really worth it to keep going on like this? I could just call in sick, it’s not like they need or want me. It’s not like I don’t have eight months worth of sick leave accumulated after all these years.

Her body, more from physical need and force of habit than any conscious will or desire, stood and moved into the bathroom. Clare herself continued to toy with the idea of blowing off work and tending her garden.

The flowers were just so much more at peace with their place in the world than my incessantly sniveling co-workers. No, that’s too harsh, some of them have overcome tragedy and misfortune, it’s the ones that haven’t that whine and whinge on about it. It’s the backstabbing and fighting that upset me. I don’t understand making people miserable just because you can. Why can’t we just all get along? Put the work first. Clare sighed. Because it’s boring work, and who wants to come second to date stamping letters and forms. But still, no need to make it worse than it already is by bickering.

Clare was halfway finished applying her make-up when she realized that she was going to work after all.

Flowers don’t expect make-up. They don’t need you to look pretty, they already do that and don’t want the competition. Besides, David said that there was a staff meeting today, and a new staff person still to be trained. Once again, I get roped into looking after the kids. Good old Clare, just leave it on her desk, she’ll do it, what a trouper, Clare Garrick, 53 and a public servant for 30 of those years, the go to girl. Go to it, girl.

Finishing in the bathroom, Clare headed for the kitchen.

Her cat, Snowball, a white Persian, roused itself from it’s perch on the windowsill and insinuated her body through Clare’s legs.  Clare braced herself against the wall to keep from tripping.

“Snowball,” Clare scolded lightly, “You will be the death of me yet.”

“Mmmrrreow.” The cat stopped to groom, indignantly.

Clare stepped over Snowball and opened the cat drawer. Picking up a resealable plastic bag, she  shook out five tar-tar crunchies. She dropped them near Snowball to distract her, then Clare prepared the rest of the cat’s breakfast.

Snowball delicately licked the gravy from the chicken and beef chunks while Clare crunched the last of her toast. Clare reached across the table and gently petted the cat. They’d lived together long enough that Snowball knew Clare wasn’t after her food, so she allowed her human to pet her as she continued eating.

Clare eyeballed the bowl of dry cat cereal, “Looks like you’ve got enough until I get home, Snowball.” Giving her an extra stritch behind the ears, Clare left the feline on the table and headed to work.

L

ooking longingly down the hallway to the doors that led to other offices, Beth Hartley pushed the lever on the mail shoot and watched the envelopes and packages drop into the mail trolley. Grimly, she pulled the lever and the flow of paper and twine stopped. She gripped the handle bar and pulled the trolley down the short hallway. Pausing only to wave her magnetic pass card at the sensor, she thrust the trolley through the doors to the mail centre.

“Incoming!” she called out cheerily in a tuneless voice. No one stopped what they were doing to even look up. “Well,” her voice dripping acid, “Don’t all rush forward at once to sort this mess out. I guess I’ll do it. It’s not like I have any other work to do.”

Clare watched as Beth arthritically moved the trolley toward the sorting counter.

Funny, Clare thought, here we are the closest in age and the longest running employees in the mail centre, and yet Beth is as strange to me as these young kids that HR keeps sending here. And then promoting away.

It was the same every morning. Clare didn’t understand why Beth had to make such a big production over being the one to bring in the mail, only to turn around and complain about being the one to sort it. If she really hated it, she’d let someone else do it. It was as if what she really wanted to do was complain. If someone else took over getting and sorting the mail, she’d complain about that, or find something else.  Five supervisors in just under a year. Better to not be the something else.

Clare shrugged and then turned her attention back to the pay-stubs. She flipped through the stacks of brown envelopes with the computer printed names gleaming against the white paper in the envelope window. Very occasionally, maybe one in five hundred, there was a real cheque showing through the window. The colour squiggly lines crisp and counterfeit proof behind the crisp black printed name. Clare knew the face that belonged to each name on the cheques, all long time employees, not willing to trust the electronic transfer of their pay to their bank accounts directly.

There was just something more tangible about getting a pay cheque and depositing it to the bank, talking to the teller and paying bills and getting money orders for rent and magazine subscriptions. It felt complete, the cycle ending and beginning anew. Seeing the fruits of the two week work cycle being deposited into your bank account. Not just appearing on your bank statement. It was disturbing to Clare to see that the majority of employees opted for the direct deposit and just received a paper slip showing the pay amount and the deductions.

Clare just shook her head.

They probably did all their banking over the phone or on-line. Just gives the banks the excuse to close the branches, lay off the tellers. A scary economy when the banks don’t even have employees.

Behind her, also thinking dark thoughts about people’s motivations, Beth sorted the packages, the large envelopes and the letter sized envelopes into separate piles.

“Beth?”

Beth turned to see the new employee, Kate Thompson standing near the sorting table.

“Yes?”

“I thought you might like to show me the sorting, how to determine what gets opened or not. Where to stuff the non-openables.”

Beth smiled indulgently, “If you’re sure you’re not busy.”

“No,” Kate said, “It’s fine. I actually finished re-designing the registered mail tracking form and it’s better if someone else knew how to do this, as a back up to you, say if you were on vacation or away sick. Especially since sorting and stamping is, as you say, everyone’s job.”

“What was wrong with the mail tacking form? We’ve used it for years. We’re not supposed to make new forms.”

Kate puzzled at the slight tinge of hysteria in Beth’s voice.

“Well, I didn’t see the point of tracking the registered mail by hand on paper forms, so I asked Chris if I could make the form electronic, on the computer, and fill it in there and just print it off when it was full.” Kate smiled. “I have messy handwriting, so that way, everyone can read it. Also, we can get more mail items listed per page and save paper.”

“And how is that supposed to be done when you’re away sick or on vacation? Unless you give people your access log-in, no one can read the files on your drive.” Beth’s day was getting better and better.

“No, well, I mean, I put the file on the C drive, so it’s a local, not a network file, so everyone can access it, and I’ve written up a little instruction sheet on locating the file and updating it. I added some information columns that we hadn’t tracked before, just a yes no column if the sender had requested the hard copy of the signature indicating receipt. Since Canada Post doesn’t do those return postcard replies anymore, we need to keep track of that. I thought that an officer might have thought they requested the reply and this way, we have some proof that they didn’t if they come back to us later. Or, if they did, and we haven’t received the hardcopy within three weeks, we can follow it up, since there’s a column to enter the date when we get the signature copy.” Kate tried to keep her voice calm.

It wasn’t any of Beth’s damn business. She never performed this particular task, so why was she getting so bent out of shape about it?

“And our supervisor approved this change?” Beth sneered.

“Yeah, we were talking about computers and I explained that I have a lot of computer experience and a design background, Chris asked me to look around at the forms we use and update them all. Most of them are four years old and our procedures have changed quite a bit.”

“Well, he’s a very low level supervisor and not really authorized to let you do another classifications’ job description. We have a forms department that is supposed to design and distribute forms. They are trained professionals.” Beth crossed her arms triumphantly.

“Well,” Kate’s anger flared and she drew the word out in exaggeration of Beth’s own nasal tone, “Chris has requested form updates and keeps getting back the same form. I have worked in the private sector as a desktop publisher before starting to apply for government jobs, and it just happened that this job and not one in forms is what was offered to me first. I took it so that I could get into the closed to the public competitions.”

Clare leaned closer into her desk.

This one isn’t going to last long, unless she learns to bow to Beth.

Clare wondered how many people Beth had driven out of the mail centre. So many faces had been through here in the last five years. People would start working, and then they would enter every job competition that was posted with a frantic energy near desperation just to get out of here. And then they’d get promoted or just quit. No one stayed long enough to know whether they liked the job at all.  Chris Walters was the fifth supervisor in the last year.

“So you’re another one who’s going to leave us. No one ever stays but me and Clare.”

Clare froze at her desk.

Is Beth going to drag me into this, now?

“Is there even a point to train you to do the sorting?” Beth sneered.

L

ava. Molten lava filled Chris’ stomach and bowels every time he heard Beth raise her nasal, screechy voice over normal conversational tones. Her constant harangues and whining to the office co-ordinator had driven four other supervisors out of the mail centre in the last year. Who knew how many staff members had left a solid yet boring job just to be away from her.

Chris had thought it would be a challenge, management knew him to be a fair, even handed person. Still, she found things to complain about. Chris just knew Beth was the kind of kid who would weigh the cake slices before selecting the one she wanted. Chris Walters had had enough. Beth’s voice was like nails down his back. Kate was talented and new. She didn’t know yet to avoid Beth, and with her skills, she wasn’t going to be in the mail centre for long, but he didn’t want her to give up a good future with the public service thinking every office had a Beth. He stood and walked over to the sorting counter.

“Beth, is there a problem? I want you to train Kate on sorting the mail. That way, you can do it every second day and you can focus on your main task of the outgoing mail and packages.” His voice was smooth, like Devonshire double cream.

“No, Chris, no problem,” Beth’s brightened and her body went into automatic flirt mode, as it always did when there was a male body within it’s ten foot proximity sensors. “Kate was just telling me about the forms she’s been working on and I didn’t want to take her away from tasks you assigned to just help me sort out the workload.”

Chris looked from Beth to Kate. The younger woman’s face was slightly flushed, but otherwise her face was blank.

“Why don’t you train Kate on sorting the mail tomorrow, Beth. That way you can show her the mail drop too, start to finish. Kate, I’d like to talk to you about the forms you designed.” Chris walked away back to his desk.

Kate followed without looking back at Beth.

Beth watched them leave, then turned her attention back to the mail sorting.

Clare continued sorting the pay cheques into piles. She glanced around the room at the other workers, seemingly oblivious to the exchange.

Funny how they all had their heads down and it was so quiet. Even the radio was low.

Chris looked around the room. It was too quiet.

“Kate, let’s go for a coffee.”

Kate nodded and followed Chris out of the mail centre.

Beth made a beeline for the far corner of the room, where Bill Curtis worked.

Clare couldn’t hear their whispered words, and she turned her radio slightly up to ensure that she didn’t. Bill was a fairly nice man when Beth wasn’t around. He wasn’t part of the mail centre exactly. He belonged to the investigations division, and he was the investigations liaison with the mail centre. He worked in his corner four days a week and then one day a week at the Investigations division.

He and Beth went to lunch and coffee all the time. Clare thought that Beth said that they even commuted to work together with Bill’s wife on the West Coast Express. Clare wasn’t sure what the wife did, she just knew that she wasn’t a government employee.

I wonder if it’s as obvious to the wife as it is to us that Beth and Bill are having an affair? Bill is at least ten years younger than Beth, his wife younger than him by a few years. What does he see in her? It’s not my business, I just feel bad for the wife, and for Beth’s husband.

Clare snuck a glance over her shoulder at Beth and Bill. She shook her head. She’d read once that a man is more likely to suffer a heart attack during sex with his mistress than by shoveling heavy snow off the sidewalk. Bill had had a heart attack two years ago, six months after he’d started working as the mail centre liaison. It made one wonder.

Clare hated the sight of the small green digoxin gelcaps that Bill took for his heart. Her husband, Frank, had had to take the same pills, but he had died from his second heart attack caused by a congenital heart defect.

Clare stopped sifting the envelopes and looked at the small framed photos of her three children. They all looked so much more like their father than like her. She missed Frank. She couldn’t imagine ever being with another man even now. Her youngest child, Julie had told her if she didn’t want another man, then she should look for a woman companion. Clare just shook her head.

She thought her youngest child, Julie, was a lesbian, and as long as she was happy, it was fine with Clare. It wasn’t like in the old days when just being a lesbian was enough to get you arrested and beaten, raped sometimes, and then let go to be terrorized again. Now the police actually looked for the bashers instead of being them.

No, I’m too old to start over again with someone new. Wouldn’t know what to do with another woman any way. Would I have to share my gardening tools? If my kids are so worried that I’m not alone, one of them should move back in with me. The house is big enough.

But Clare didn’t really want any of her kids to live with her. Her son didn’t even live in Vancouver anymore. He moved across the country to be a teacher in Ontario. Like British Columbia didn’t need good teachers. Her oldest daughter was married with kids of her own. Not enough room for all of them. And Julie needed to live her own life. She was so independent now.

Clare pushed her chair back and stood.

“I’m going for coffee,” she said to no one in particular.

There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject;
the only thing that can exist is an uninteresting person

Heretics (1905)
GK Chesterton (1874-1936 )
English, writer, poet, critic

w

orking didn’t appeal to Detective Ralph Bergman at the moment.  His partner, Detective Mavis Gerrard, had her head down and her fingers flying over the typewriter keys filling in little lines on the non-carbon forms.

Ralph leaned back in his chair. He carefully selected a sheet of unfinished paperwork and crumpled it into a tight ball. He make a few practice moves to limber his arm and then sighted down his sleeve. He glanced at his partner, Mavis Gerrard, industriously filling out reams of forms at her desk.

“Mavis, this is for the gold,” he said as he aimed the crumpled piece of paper at the garbage can.

She glanced up in time to see the paper ball bounce off the rim of the trashcan.

“I hope you don’t expect me to pick all of that up,” she said, as the ball joined others on the floor.

“Naw, I made the mess, I’ll leave it for the evening cleaning staff.”

“Ralph,” Mavis said slowly, “Sometimes you are such a white man.”

“And other times?”

“Kathy says that you’re almost enlightened enough to make you an honorary lesbian.”

Ralph smiled, “Kathy should know. How’s my goddesschild doing?”

“Only 2 more months, assuming it’s on time, which babies generally aren’t. Kathy’s almost ready to do maternity leave from work. It would mean less maternity leave after the baby’s born, but Kathy’s back and ankles have been giving her a lot of problems.”

“Better to take it easy and add vacation time to the end of maternity leave. Cecile had an easy pregnancy with Claire.” Ralph got up and began to pick up all the paper he had thrown.

Mavis knew it wasn’t easy for Ralph to talk about his ex-wife and especially not their daughter. He had never told Mavis what Claire had died from. From the few references he’d made, Mavis knew that Claire had died in the hospital where Kathy worked as a chemotherapist. Ralph’s daughter had died just over seven years ago, Kathy thought from cancer, two before Kathy started working there.  Both of them agreed it would invade their friend’s privacy too much for Kathy to go into the hospital records and look up Claire Bergman’s medical charts. If Ralph wanted them to know, he’d tell them. He still needed time to heal.

He’d been so relieved when they had asked him to be a guardian for their child and not a sperm donor. Mavis thought that Ralph would have considered it cheating on Claire or something. She had been worried about asking him to be involved with their child, but Kathy thought it would be healing for Ralph.
Kathy was usually right about people that way. Ralph had been divorced for just over six years, his ex-wife, Cecile, had re-married and had another child right away. Ralph hadn’t dated anyone in the first five years after the divorce. After Mavis became his working partner, she’d invited him to several parties, and Ralph had started dating, here and there. Still no one serious. No one special. No one more than twice. But he had begun to socialize again, mostly with guys from work or with Mavis and Kathy. They seemed to be the only women in his life, so Kathy was determined to find him just the right one. Someone to be his own, someone to belong to.

Kathy was such a matchmaker. Most of their coupled friends owed their introductions to their partners or spouses to Kathy. The single people they knew joked that if Kathy sat a person next to you at one of her barbecues, you’d better plan on apartment hunting together within the year. So far, a partner for Ralph had eluded her, and not for lack of trying.

It wasn’t another Cecile that Ralph was looking for, Ralph had never mentioned dating anyone after his divorce, but there was a woman holding him back from seriously dating. Mavis knew that there had been a case, a strange case, before Mavis had become Ralph’s partner. Ralph was haunted by the memory of a murder victim, Judith Maitland. A wannabe-actor and a drug importer’s girlfriend. Ralph had identified with her so strongly that he was convinced that he’d spoken with her, that she had helped solve the case.  But she had been dead before Ralph had started his investigation.

Mavis remembered her maternal grandmother telling her stories of people who died, but whose spirits stayed on earth until they had fulfilled a purpose or a quest or had avenged their death. As a child, her mother had tried to give her the native teachings that she herself had learned as a child about spirits and the spirit world, but Mavis was always more interested in going with her white father to the shooting range. He was proud of her when she followed in his footsteps into the RCMP college.

She was her father’s daughter, her younger brother her mother’s son. A carver, an artist, a fisher, one with the land and himself. She hoped that they never met across a road block.

She was aware suddenly of eyes watching her intently. She looked up at Ralph. He smiled.

“Thinking of Kathy or the soon to be baby?”

“Neither, actually, I was thinking about you.”

“Me?” Ralph grinned. “Nothing to nasty I hope. The drowning in a sea of paperwork or being crushed by all the files on my desk?”

Mavis looked over at the stacks of files across the room.

“You mean the files that are your desk.” She wasn’t entirely convinced that there was a desk under of all that. Not so secretly, she suspected that Ralph just piled files in a desk shape.

“Let’s go get some sunshine and lunch. It’s Vancouver, and Monday, so it’ll probably be raining by Friday for the weekend.”

“Okay, but it’s your treat this time.”

“Okay, how about that rotisserie chicken place on Denman? We’ve got to go talk to that B&E witness, and she lives over there anyway.”

“Sure, they do have something vegetarian besides salad and fries fried in the same oil as meat?”

“I thought you were only vegetarian when Kathy wasn’t around.” Ralph smiled mischievously, “Isn’t that why you have a day job? To satisfy your secret meat fetish?”

“I am mostly vegetarian with some slips, and okay, those slips occur when Kathy isn’t around, but that’s no reason to throw in the whole towel. The important thing is that I eat as low on the food chain as much as possible and the important thing for you is that I don’t try to guilt you into it too.”

“Maybe as much as possible for me means I eat the parsley garnish. Ah, what’s the point of being the top of the food chain if you don’t eliminate your competition?”

“Last time I checked, cows didn’t occupy the same niche as people, pigs and bears do, and, if you didn’t have weapons, either one of them could take you right out.”

“All the more reason to eat them now.”

“Iceberg, you are incorrigible.”

“Well, Gerrard, let’s get some lunch. Bunny for me and bunny food for you.”

When a stupid man is doing something his is ashamed of,
He always declares that it is his duty.

Caesar and Cleopatra (1901)
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Irish, Socialist, writer, dramatist and critic

o

nly Beth hadn’t gone for lunch yet. She couldn’t believe that no one else had noticed that it was 2:00 o’clock and that everyone else had gone except her.

How self-absorbed are these people?

She’d have to bring it to Chris’ attention herself, this wasn’t the way she’d planned for it, but even though she always went for lunch with Bill, it would look really phony if Bill was the one to pointed it out. She needed someone else to notice so she could maneuver Chris into letting her leave early. It was getting harder to arrange these clandestine trysts with Bill when her husband insisted in picking her up from the SkyTrain.

Stolen moments. They were exciting, but I’m looking forward to the day Bill and I can just be together, openly and for always.

She walked purposefully over to Chris’ desk.

“Chris,” Beth said hesitantly, “I didn’t have a chance to go for lunch, is it okay if I just leave a half hour early, at 3:00 pm. It’s kind of silly to go now.”

“No, I’d rather you go now. We have a 2:30 staff meeting, and they generally last an hour. Besides, this happened last week and we agreed that it was okay once in a while, but that you weren’t going to make a habit of it.”

“Well, if I go now, I’ll be a few minutes late for the staff meeting.”

“Better that than miss the second half. See you back at 2:35pm.”

Beth hesitated just a moment, and then walked out of the mail centre. Bill waited an indiscrete full 10 seconds, before mumbling about a cigarette break and exited after her.

Chris and Kate shared a look. Bill hardly needed to check in with Chris about his hours.

r

eaching his hand towards Beth’s shoulder, Bill pulled her close and hugged her. He had caught  up with Beth outside the side lobby door, a popular smoking area. No one else but Beth was there. She was upset and unable to work her lighter. Bill stepped back, then pulled out his zippo and lit her cigarette.

“Don’t let that asshole rattle you like that,” his voice was soft.

“It just means that we can’t meet after work. My husband isn’t going to believe that I have overtime again.”

“Let’s go walk in the alley.” Bill held his arm out to her.

Softening, Beth slipped her arm into his. She loved his cologne, it was spicy and very male without overpowering the smell of him. It made her feel drunk.

“Oh, Bill, I just wish…”

“I know, I do too, but right now, at work is the only time, my wife is suspicious, she doesn’t know it’s you.”

“I wasn’t thinking that, I know she’s suspicious, she’s asked me to spy on you. I said I would keep an eye on you, but that I didn’t see she had anyone to worry about.”

“Oh, she did?” Bill was surprised she was that suspicious, he’d have to be more careful at home, a little more attentive. “What were you wishing?”

“That I didn’t have to stay in the mail centre to keep seeing you. It kills me to not apply for job competitions that I just know that I could get, when it would mean losing you.  I don’t want to retire as just a clerk, when I could be a supervisor, or more. I could be an administrator. I ran my own company once, before I worked in the government.”

“You shouldn’t put your career on hold for me.” Bill was genuinely surprised, Beth was getting a little obsessive, it was just sex between them. He’d listen to her whine about her lazy co-workers and then she’d think he was so sensitive and then he’d get to do with her all the things his wife didn’t like to. Beth never said she expected more than that or felt more than that. She was older than him, and Bill hoped that she didn’t think that there was a future for them.

“But if I leave, if I get transferred to a new building, how will I see you, when will I get to do all those things you love me to do to you?” She kissed him, pressing close to him.

“Why don’t you show me what things, and when you get promoted, we’ll find a way.” Bill was fast becoming unable to even think, she was so close, her fingers stroking the fly of his pants. “We can always take different flex days and meet twice a week, tell the spouses we’re not taking compressed to we can get away.”

The trick was to find a secluded enough spot so that you weren’t directly noticeable by others that wasn’t behind a dumpster or near an air intake for a building; but not so secluded that the possibility of getting caught was eliminated. That was part of the fun of public sex. It was too bad they weren’t quite close enough to Stanley Park, there were lots of places for abandoned sex there. You also needed to be able to take off enough clothes to enjoy it, but not so much that it would be difficult to pretend to have been doing something else if you were caught. Beth and Bill had had over two years of practice.

k

issing.  Clare watched Bill and Beth kiss in the alley below. Somehow seeing the signs of the affair and actually seeing proof were different. Deep down Clare realized that she had hoped it was just pettiness from the other staff that made it seem like Bill and Beth were cheating. It was theoretically possible for men and women to be just friends. Her daughter Julie had lots of male friends. Maybe it just wasn’t possible for women like Beth.

Always flirting, dressing twenty years too young for her age. Afraid to grow old. I thought age was supposed to bring you wisdom. It just seems to bring Beth fear.

She’d seen enough of Beth and Bill. It was no wonder to Clare that Beth was so slim, she never ate food at lunch. Clare turned her attention back to her work, and finished sorting the pay stubs and cheques for distribution on Wednesday. She turned her attention to the overtime and expense claim cheques. These she could distribute right away, and they were actual cheques for everyone. It made her happy to know that she gave a small lift to everyone who received an envelope from her in the inter-office mail because it meant money. The best week was when the retro-pay cheques came after the contract was signed. Everyone got eighteen months worth of back pay top up, and everyone all over the building talked about so many plans, vacation, pay off that credit card, RRSPs, education fund for children, new stereos or computers.

Chris had just called everyone to the staff meeting when Beth walked in. She seemed much calmer to Chris. There was no sight of Bill.

Beth took her usual set at the conference/overflow table. Everyone else filed over. Chris asked for a volunteer to take minutes and Beth offered. The meeting was routine, uneventful.

Bill returned to the office fifteen minutes into the meeting. Beth was unable to repress a slight smile, but they didn’t acknowledge each other.

They covered the usual business:

    complaints from other departments about mis-directed mail along with the usual excuses of mis-labeling by the sender, or the sender placing multiple items in a singularly labeled envelope and it’s not our job to check the contents;

    job rotation, no one was wanting to continue doing the main task that they were responsible for, except Clare since cheque distribution was a single person job and exempted you from all other activities. It was the one everyone wanted, but wouldn’t say so directly, so no one’s job was changed;

    Staff complaints about no one in particular taking extra smoke breaks, so again, not honestly addressed, so not resolved;

    Ditto for extra long lunch breaks; and finally,

    New business.

Chris looked at his watch. It was 3:25.

“Last item is an announcement.” Chris looked around at the tired faces at the table. Beth Hartley, her face tense and otherwise unreadable; Vash Moora, impassive and detached; Kam Singh, friendly and open as always; Laiwan Lee, just a little too bubbly, Kate Thompson, too new to rally have formed an impression, but Chris didn’t think she’d be here much longer either through promotion or quitting, and finally, Clare Derrick, reliable old quiet Clare. Chris took a deep breath, “I’m leaving. I placed first in the competition for Lease and Property Analyst. I start next Monday, so this is my last week.”

He waited a moment for the news to sink in, allowed them a moment to wonder how it would impact them individually, then a few faces were worried as the group implications began to hit them. He knew they were wondering who the new supervisor would be.

Before he had accepted the posting, a mail clerk had been temporarily promoted to the supervisor post. It had caused a lot a friction and fighting between her and other staff, particularly Beth, who felt it should have been her promotion permanently. When he arrived, it had been decided that it would be impossible for the women to return to her clerk classification, so she was transferred to a new department. He could see the fear on Laiwan and Kam’s faces and the surreptitious glances that Beth. Chris was surprised to se worry on Vash and Clare’s faces, Beth looked hopeful. It was cruel to keep them longer. He waited until the clock was almost 3:30 so Beth would be able to just leave.

“The new supervisor will starting on Wednesday for training.”

“Starting?” Beth asked incredulous, she could feel the promotion and extra money slipping away. Bill was getting easier to give up on a daily basis. She just couldn’t retire on a clerk salary. It was too humiliating, everyone she’d started with her officers or inspectors, analysts or at least executive assistants by now. She was the only one still just a clerk.

“Yes, the new supervisor is Deborah Khan, she’s been a mail supervisor in Kelowna for three years. She has a priority ranking and has requested a transfer back to Vancouver.”

Chris was surprised to  see Vash’s face turn ashen. He had hoped that Deborah was coming from far enough away that there wouldn’t have been any history. But he just couldn’t care anymore. Just couldn’t. He’d never worked anywhere in his twenty years as a public servant that was as petulant as the mail centre, there were certainly worse jobs, but he’d never worked with a group of people who just pulled together to make the worst of it like the mail centre.

He’d heard stories, but never believed them. He just thought that they’d gone through a lot of supervisors because it was a good place to get supervisory skills on your resume. That it was a promotion stepping stone. He didn’t expect it to be the dumping ground.

The funny part was, the majority of the staff that was here when the bad reputation started were gone, quit, retired, promoted or transferred elsewhere. Only Beth, Clare and Vash were here from that time period, and Vash and Clare had not been part of the problem.

He wondered if Deborah was so desperate to get out of Kelowna that she’s take anything, or did she not know what she was getting into. Beth was her problem now.

“Why didn’t they just promote one of us until they ran a competition?” Beth had a horrible thought, “Or are they just appointing this Khan woman?

“They are appointing her until they determine whether there’s the funds to run a competition.” Chris replied coolly.

Beth sat back and thought. A competition would mean I had a chance to get the supervisor job and still be with Bill. But, a competition favours the person in the position, so if Deborah Kahn applied, she’d get it, and I’d still be here with Bill, but still just a clerk. If I appeal the appointment, I’ve blacklisted myself in the competition. I have to let her come here, and convince her not to apply to the competition to the job, if they run one. Fuck fuck fucked. At least I still have Bill.

“It’s after 3:30, I’ve got to run to catch my bus.” Beth abruptly rose from the table and left.

Bill was in the hallway with her jacket and purse.

“Can I drive you to the SkyTrain Station?”

“The one I catch or the one my husband picks me up at?”

“What do you think? We didn’t have much time at lunch for you to have much fun.”

“Bill, darling, my fun is your fun. Take me out of here now.”

A

lready the acid built up in his stomach was calming down. Chris looked at the rest of the team as they watched Beth leave with similar relief on their faces. The best part about staggering shifts was you didn’t have to spend your whole workday with people you didn’t like.

Funny  how you read about people who just light up a room when they enter it, but you never heard about people who can suck the joy out of a room at ten paces.

Vash had also gotten up to leave.

“I will see you all tomorrow.” She said quietly and left.

There were murmurs of good-bye in reply, and some just nodded their heads. Clare sighed heavily.  No one spoke.

“Congratulations, Chris,” Clare said, “I’m happy for you, it sounds like an exciting opportunity.”

Chris smiled, in the gloom following the announcement and the realization that it meant that Beth was going to become an even bigger bitch, Chris had forgotten that he wasn’t going to be here for it. It meant he escaped and it was someone else’s problem. Deborah’s problem mostly, and the staff’s.

“Thank you Clare. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard that Deborah is tough, I think she’s up to the task of supervising here. I’m really not, I wasn’t prepared.”

Chris and Clare exchanged knowing smiles. Clare knew that Beth frequently sent complaints to senior managers complaining of any thing that went on in the mail centre that wasn’t to her liking. It got to the point that she was now banned from contacting certain individuals and was only allowed to complain in writing to a particular assistant of the department manager.

Clare was sure that the complaints were all being complied into a file for eventual use in firing Beth if a complaint was ever actually filed against her. Many people had cited her as the reason they were quitting the department, to try their luck in the open to the public competitions, hoping for another chance at a government job in another department, or just giving up on the public sector altogether.

But no one was ever willing to file a complaint against Beth. It was too difficult. Management keep handing out e-mails and memos about anti-harassment, but they so slow to respond to the written complaint that it just wasn’t worth the months of dragging out investigations, meetings and union involvement. When, at the end of months of lackadaisical effort, maybe she’d get a censure in her file since it was the first complaint, the person complaining would simply not be renewed in their term and that would be the end of it. Beth would still be here and the person complaining would be just as gone as if they had just left.

It was harder on contracted term employees than the permanent employees. Saying the terms were reluctant paled to how resistant permanent employees who wanted to rise through ranks were to filing complaints. It was an unspoken rule, you could be a bitch and create your own king or queendom, and everyone would fear and cow-tow to you, as long as you were satisfied that where you were was where you wanted to stay. If you had any designs on moving around the divisions, you had to keep your nose away from complaints, either filing them or being the focus of them.

No one wants a trouble maker in their division, it ruffles the feathers of the ones already there.

“Well, I for one am really glad that Beth isn’t being promoted to supervisor,” Laiwan’s rapid fire delivery was barely comprehensible to Clare. “I mean, it would be okay if Clare got promoted, she’s been here just as long as Beth and knows, she knows what all the jobs are, but Beth, Beth wouldn’t be a fair supervisor. She takes to many breaks, smoke, lunch, she must be gone at least 3 hours, how many times did you count her yesterday Kam? Seven? Seven fifteen minute smoke breaks, and lunch, she keeps saying she doesn’t take lunch, but she does, she does take lunch…”

“Kam, Laiwan,” Chris interrupted, “You shouldn’t be counting Beth’s smoke breaks, I’m aware of how much time she spends away from the centre. It all goes in my weekly report. ”

“But do you talk to her? No, you don’t. She just keep pretending like she never takes breaks and complains that the rest of us don’t do our work. Yesterday, Vash was doing the outgoing packages.”

“Are you willing to make a complaint about Beth?”

The room held it’s collective breath. Even Kate, who Clare was sure wasn’t familiar with the implications of the question since she’d only been part of the staff for less than a week, held her breath.

“Nooo, not like a formal written complaint, I’m just telling you that she complains about us not working, when she and Bill are always off on breaks together, all the time.” Laiwan slowed down. “You should do it, you’re the supervisor.”

“The point is that I’m not anymore. You’ll have to bring it up next Monday’s staff meeting when Deborah is the supervisor. Should I put it on the agenda? Will you say in the meeting what you said here?”

“No, I don’t have a problem with Beth like that, I just, I just don’t want her saying that the rest of us aren’t working, when she’s not working any harder than anyone else. Less hard, she’s working less hard than the rest of us.”

Clare was grateful when she saw the clock indicated 4:00pm. It meant she was free to go.

“Goodnight everyone.” Clare got up from the table and returned to her desk. She had already shut down her computer, she knew that the staff meetings were always scheduled for one hour, but always ran for an hour and a half, one hour of meeting and half hour of complaining. Why should she go back to work for the half hour when everyone else sat  and complained. Might as well sit there and just day dream, plan next year’s garden or make up your shopping list.

She put on her sweater and got her purse from her one locking drawer.

“Goodnight, Clare,” came the ragged good byes as she left.

N

othing was moving in the house when Clare got home. It was a strange stillness. Snowball left a hairball in the centre of the livingroom. It looked a bit odd, slightly different than her usual hairballs. Clare looked closer at it after picking it up in a paper towel. There was bits of plant matter in it.

“Snowball! Snowball!” Clare ran around the house, frantically. She found her under the bed, drowsy and clearly not feeling well.

Cradling the cat in a towel, Clare called a cab and waited outside for it, and had the driver take her across town to the 24 hour emergency animal hospital on 4th Street in Vancouver. It didn’t bother her to pay the $65 walk in the door fee on top of the vet bill. That $65 ensured the doors stayed open 24 hours for these kinds of emergencies and to assist in helping abandon animals and wounded wildlife. Clare added a donation to the credit card bill.

Two hours later, back at home with a sedate and medicated Snowball, Clare prepared a large pot of coffee to stay up all night to sit with her cat to ensure there were no aftereffects of Snowball eating a toxic plant. She phoned Julie and asked her to look up poisonous plants on the internet. Julie said you could find anything there.

Julie agreed to do a search and bring over some information.

Clare pulled all of her gardening books off the shelves and searched the indexes. She drank coffee. Snowball slept contently in her towel nest on the couch beside Clare. Every few minutes, Clare would pet her to ensure the cat was breathing comfortably.

By the time the sun rose, Clare had handwritten extensive notes from her books and was dismayed to discover she had several varieties of plants that poisons could be extracted from.

She woke up, stiff and sore, on the couch, an hour late for work with Snowball pawing at her that she was hungry. Clare scooped the cat into her arms and held her tightly.

“Well, I’m a wreck, but you don’t seem the worse for wear.”

Clare got up and slowly stretched. She fed Snowball a little bit less than usual, but gave her two extra tar-tar crunchies.

She phoned Chris at work and apologized for not being there.

“I’ve been up all night, not able to sleep, and I just don’t think I could come in. I had a family emergency.”

“I hope everyone’s okay.”

“Yes, fine, just a little, one of my grandchildren accidentally drank some cleanser, had to get her stomach pumped. Everyone’s fine, I just haven’t slept.” Clare didn’t think he’d understand about it being Snowball.

“Why don’t you stay home, Laiwan can do the cheque distribution today, you’ve trained her as back up. Take care, take it easy, and we’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Chris. ” Clare hung up. She didn’t think he believed her.

What does that matter? He’s leaving. It would have been bad if Beth had been made supervisor, but is it going to be worse since she hasn’t?

Clare shuddered.

The woman was evil. Flirting with every man, cheating on her husband and pretending to everyone that she wasn’t. Making people feel bad just because she could. What did she really gain? Many people fear her, and no one likes or respects her. Better if she were didn’t work in the mail centre…if she were gone…. If she were ….

Clare looked at the plant with the slightly nibbled leaf.

Dead.

A pessimist is a man who looks both ways before crossing a one-way street.
Attributed
Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990)
Canadian, educationalist, writer

D

isgusted, but compelled to watch, Mavis marveled at the way Ralph Bergman could eat a meat sandwich, or anything really,  and look at a body. Not photos, although he had one time wrecked some autopsy pictures with marinara sauce, an actual still oozing corpse. No wonder so many people thought his Iceberg cam from his ability to remain unflappable.

Most people lost their lunch the first time they saw a body, veterans were able to keep their lunches down, but no one but Ralph brought his if the call came in when he was eating.

“It’s much not different than slaughtering farm animals that you eat,” he mumbled between bites. “We’re all animals, just so much meat.”

Mavis knew he was not really so cavalier, dead children bothered him. The very young and any child who was the age his daughter should have been. She was convinced that on the inside, he felt sicker than even raw recruits, but he had a reputation. Every year the stories surrounding his nickname got bigger and bigger. Mavis was sure that she was the only person in the department other than witnesses who knew it stemmed from Ralph’s having backed his commanding officer’s car into a produce truck full of iceberg lettuce. That the nickname fit his last name and personality was just coincidence.

It meant a lot to her that he trusted her with the truth. He told Kathy too one night. It was at one of the first dinner’s at their home that he’d attended. It was late in the evening, and he’s had several glasses of wine. Mavis hadn’t had to convince him too much that he had to sleep on the fold out bed-couch.

Kathy suspected that he’d drunk a half bottle on purpose so he didn’t have to go home, not that he had had designs on them, but that he feared the solitude of his apartment.

Ralph walked away from the body in the bushes.

“Well, Mave, what do you think? Wanna see the body?” Ralph took the last bite of sandwich into his mouth, chewed briefly and swallowed.

“You have another sandwich for me to eat?”

“Didn’t think to bring another one. What did the witnesses say?”

“Witnesses that I talked to said that the pick up driver was driving east, pulled out around a car turning left and struck the pedestrian in the crosswalk. The light had turned yellow, so, by the distance of the body to the crosswalk, I’d say the driver gunned it and was doing probably 80, 85 clicks. She was dead on impact?”

“Yeah, she’s a rag doll in there. Pretty sure her hip is broken, the way the leg is positioned. If the car impact didn’t the landing would have.”

Mavis thought Ralph’s eyes were a little moist.

“Between two witnesses, we got a partial plate and a make and colour.” Mavis said. “They’re pretty shaken up, I gave them a victim services card.”

“Well, it’s not everyday you see someone viciously run over and killed in the prime of health and life.”

“No, that’s not an everyday thing,” Mavis said, soft and small. She hated the helplessness that came with the job. What can you really say to someone who’s lost a loved one so senselessly, so needlessly?

Belinda:   Ay, but you know we must return good for evil.
Lady Brute:   That may be a mistake in the translation.

The Provok’d Wife (1697)
Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726)
English, dramatist, baroque architect

n

o one wanted to miss the goodbye potluck for Chris. Even though Kate had only been in the mail centre for two week, she still switched her flex day to next week. The potluck was in full swing by late afternoon.

Beth had brought, according to her, her famous pasta salad. Bill brought nacho fixings with homemade guacamole. Clare had baked cookies and quiche tarts, Laiwan brought a fried rice dish with tofu, Kam brought bottled pop and paper cups, Vash brought an extravagant fruit and cheese platter, and Kate brought the makings for bunwiches – soft potato buns and deli cold cuts.

As the co-guests of honor Chris and Deborah weren’t expected to bring anything, but Deborah had brought a fabulous smelling pan of pecan sticky buns. There were “Welcome Deborah” banners cris-crossed with “Goodbye Chris” banners.

Clare ate lots of the pasta salad, not because she liked it, she thought it was vile, slimy slug like pale pasta drowned in mayonnaise with frozen carrots and peas missed in. It had a slight freezer burnt taste.  Clare managed to slip most of it into a baggy in her drawer without anyone noticing. But this apparent eating of the salad obligated Beth to eat the quiche tarts.  Clare had served Beth two of them, and was dismayed to see her give one to Bill. She had no way of explaining that those two were special tarts for Beth. Naturally, Clare didn’t eat any herself.

It only made her feel bad that Deborah, Kate and Kam ate them too. Kate and Deborah hadn’t proven themselves to be bad people, and Kam was such a sweet young man. But, she had to be able to blame everyone being sick on Beth’s pasta, so they all had to eat some of the quiches.

She just hoped that no one would get sick until after they left work. She hoped that Snowball’s plant leaves wouldn’t act faster than spoiled mayonnaise poisoning.

Ohimigawd, Bill’s heart condition!

Clare maneuvered her way around the table to Bill, who was just about to bite the tart from Beth. She tripped, crashing into him, knocking the tart and his plate from his hand. Her own food items joined his as she grabbed onto him for leverage.

“Clare!” Bill cried out, catching her from falling. Stabilizing himself and her, he helped her straighten out. “Are you okay?”

“Sure, sorry, I just got dizzy. I guess I just waited too long to eat, oh, dear, your food. Let me get you another plate.”

“No, you sit, I’ll get you and me another plate.” Bill helps Clare into a chair and went to get more food.

Clare watched in relief as he moved away. The two tarts she had selected for Beth had triple the dose of plant leaves as the rest of the mix. She didn’t want Bill to drop dead at the party.

o
nly Kam didn’t arrive at work on the following Monday. Everyone had been violently sick during the weekend, each claiming to have been sicker than the last. Clearly the twenty-four hour tummy bug that was going around had hit the mail centre.

Clare watched anxiously for Kam to phone or show up. Usually he came in five minutes after her, but he hadn’t shown up or phoned in. Clare hoped he was okay, surely his mother would call if anything was serious.

Conversations about the sick building syndrome and people not washing their hands and touching doorknobs were rife throughout the day. Only Kate suggested that maybe it was something at the potluck, perhaps something had gone off. When Clare suggested the pasta salad might have been off from not being refrigerated, the room went silent. Beth was on a smoke break, and the room seemed willing enough to blame her.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Deborah said, “I didn’t eat much of the pasta salad, and I wasn’t able to be away from the bathroom for more than 15 minutes Friday night.  The salad seemed cold enough. It’s probably just the hermetically sealed building we work in, someone sneezes on the 15th floor in the morning and by noon, the germs are in the lobby.”

Still, when people returned, everyone stuck close to their desks. The suspicions were sown.

In the afternoon, Deborah’s phone rang.  Deborah had a short conversation and then promptly left the room. Everyone looked at each other in alarm.

“I hope everything’s okay with her family.” Kate said, “That was weird for her to run out without a word.”

A few moments later, Deborah returned with Peter Nostran, the office co-ordinator, and Lynne Kane, the employee assistant program co-ordinator. They were all pale and shaken looking.

Deborah sat at her desk, gathering her thoughts. She cleared her throat and then stood up. All eyes were on her. Laiwan cast a worried glance at Kam’s empty desk.

“Over the weekend, while the rest of us had a tummy bug, Kam was violently ill and his Mother had to take him to the hospital. There’s no easy way to say this. He went into convulsions and died late Saturday night. ”

Laiwan slumped into her seat, numb with grief and unable to speak. Kate and Vash simply stood there, shocked. Beth moved closer to Bill.

“Poor kid,” Bill said, putting an arm around Beth.

Clare sat quietly, crying.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. Only Beth was supposed to die.

“When’s the funeral?” Laiwan asked, “Will the family allow us to attend?”

“It’s this afternoon, due to religious reasons, it’s an immediate internment,” Deborah said. “And, I’m sorry, but his Mother said it was relatives only.”

Clare’s head snapped up.

That would probably mean no autopsy. No autopsy, no one would know why or how. Do coroners work on Sundays? I’ll have to be more careful. It was too bad about Kam, he had only just turned nineteen, but he had seemed so much younger, he was possibly too sweet to be in the world, such an innocent boy.

Clare said a silent prayer for him, for Frank to take Kam in hand, for forgiveness for herself and for what she must yet do.

Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives all it’s flavour.
The Task (1785)
William Cowper (1731-1800)
English, poet, hymn and letter writer

P

laying, screaming neighbourhood kids ran across the yards in the cul-de-sac as Kathy Gerrard sat in the chair in front of the bay window, watching them. She held the crumpled note in her hand and waited for Mavis to pull into the driveway. She hoped that Ralph wouldn’t be with her.

It’s not that Kathy didn’t like Ralph, she did. Mavis had had a hard time on the force before becoming Ralph’s partner. It wasn’t easy being a woman in the RCMP, or a First Nations woman or a First Nations woman who was also a lesbian.

A lot of the constant crap Mavis went through stopped after Ralph and Mavis cracked that black market organ procuring ring. It still gave Kathy the shivers knowing that she’d worked in the same hospital as the killer-harvesters.

The RCMP and Washington State police had finally been able to close the file after several recent transplant patients developed the same strain of AIDS as Daryl Haebler, one of the Vancouver victims of an international black market organ procuring ring. Harvest Killers was what the papers dubbed the Seattle doctors and their Renfield-group of med students.

Kathy just shook her head, she got into medicine to help people. People with money aren’t more worthy than those who don’t. How do you go from being a health care provider to hiring med students to kill people to harvest their organs to sell to other people? It was frightening to her that the doctors had had small teams working in several cities. How easy it is to go from thinking your god to acting like one, holding the power of life and death even over people who aren’t your patients.

It was ironic that a disease that has killed, and continues to kill, so many people, ending up saving countless people that otherwise would have been murdered for these doctors.

I guess it takes all kinds.

Kathy crinkled the note paper in her hand again. She reconsidered showing it to Mavis.

“Hey, babe,” Mavis was suddenly there, kissing her. “You look a million miles away. Something wrong?”

Kathy was startled, she looked in the driveway and there was the car. She hadn’t heard it pull up. She just extended the note.

Dear Kathy & Mavis;

I just want you to understand that I am not a homophobic person. As far as what the two of you do, that’s between the two of you.

“What the hell is this shit?” Mavis yelled.

“Just finish it.”

Dear Kathy & Mavis;

I just want you to understand that I am not a homophobic person. As far as what the two of you do, that’s between the two of you.

I don’t agree with you having a baby, bringing children into an unnatural relationship such as yours is wrong. A baby needs a Father and a Mother, not two mothers.

I am no longer comfortable with my son playing in your yard, or you babysitting him. Many of the other real mothers in the neighbourhood feel the same, so it’s not just me.

I would like to come over to talk with you about either giving your child up to a real family for adoption or perhaps we can pool some funds and buy your house from you. I think that the adoption would be best for all concerned. Think of the children. You have my number, just let me know when is a good time for you.

In general, we think that you and Mavis are fine people, but it’s just wrong for you to have a child, and we don’t want our children being confused by your actions.
Yours truly,                
Cindy Rawls

“Cindy can shove this letter up her ass.” Mavis paced furiously around the room. “In fact, I think I’ll do it for her. Give our baby up for adoption? Does she have any idea how much AI costs? And, like we’re doing this to confuse the neighbour’s kids and not because we love each other and want to have a family of our own? Fuck her, I can’t believe that anyone would have the nerve to do this! How the hell can you write something like this and actually believe that you’re not being homofuckingphobic?”

“Mavis, please,” Kathy was just as angry, but had had several hours to mull the letter and a response over. “You can’t do anything to risk your job. If you go over there, angry like you are, yelling like you are, swearing like you are, and you don’t think she’ll call the RCMP? She knows you’re a cop.”

Mavis calmed down. She hadn’t worked as hard or taken all the shit as she had just to lose her job and good name over some homophobic housefrau. No, there was a better way to get back at Cindy Rawls.

“So, she wants to buy our house. Linda and Susan like our neighbourhood, the house beside Cindy is for sale. Let’s get Ralph to be their agent and buy it for them.”

“Won’t work, Cindy’s met Ralph. She flirted with him that last barbecue she came to when her husband was out of town for some science fiction convention.”

“Okay, well, we know some straight looking people, let’s help Linda and Susan move into the neighbourhood. Susan just got full custody of Justin, he’s about the same age as Cindy’s son. It’s perfect.”

“Mitchell and Josh are looking for an additional investment property, maybe we can suggest that…”

“They aren’t looking to move in.”

“Let me finish, why don’t we suggest, after Linda, Susan and Justin move in, that Mitchell and Josh buy Cindy’s house. We don’t want our children getting confusing messages that narrow minded prudes who only apply their high moral standards to other people are okay to associate with.”

“Yeah,” Mavis said, smiling evilly. “That two faced bitch comes over here and eats our food, we’ve done I don’t know how much how much free babysitting for her, and now we’re not good enough to live in the same neighbourhood. I can’t wait to see  her face when she realizes that we’ve spread to more houses in the neighbourhood. I wonder how many more of our real friends we could get to move here?”

Mavis wandered off in search of their address book.

“You know what I’d like to know,” Mavis called out, “Is who else on this cul-de-sac is in on this? Is Cindy acting alone and claiming to be representing more people? Her and Ted can’t afford to buy us out. I just want to know who our friends are here, I mean how many houses do we need to sell to our real friends? Hey, do you think we’ll need a temporary real estate license?”

“My day was fine, dear, thanks for asking. How was yours, Ozzie?” Kathy said to the empty room.

“And what the hell is the deal with the gawdam happy face? Bet Ole Cindy doesn’t think she’s a racist either!”

Man’s yearning for liberation from all authority and power will never be soothed
by their cracked song. Man’s quest for freedom from every shackle is eternal.
It must and will go on

The Individual, Society And The State (1940)
Emma Goldman (1869 – 1940)
Russian, Propagandist

L
eaning over carefully, so as not to spill the dehydrated leaves on the floor, Clare barely breathed as she transported the a tray from the oven to the table. She scooped the warm leaves up and poured them into a bowl. She took small amounts at a time and crushed the leaves with a special mortar and pestle she bought for the occasion. She had pulled all the leaves from the plant and had thrown the stem away. She’d been so nervous that somehow someone would know that she stayed by the window, hidden by the curtain, until the garbage truck had come by, the men had taken her trash, and whisked the evidence away.

How Beth loved her herbal tea. Funny that someone who smoked as much as her even cared about trying to be healthy in other ways.

Clare thought about how she was going to get her hands on Beth’s box of herb tea. She knew that Beth bought loose tea, saying that the herbs infused better if they weren’t in a teabag. Beth used a little metal tea ball to portion out the tea.

Clare finally decided to buy a box of the same tea, then mix the leaves in thoroughly at home, and switch the boxes at work. It was perfect, and no one else would be hurt.

A
h, you can finish sorting the cheques out later, Clare,” Laiwan called from across the room, “Come and see the photos from my son’s birthday party!”

Kate and Vash were already  oooing and ahhhing over the three year old’s party pictures. Vash passed the pictures to Beth, who just smiled. Deborah and Bill hovered around the desk.

“I’ll be over in a minute, I forgot my reading glasses in my coat pocket.” Clare hurried past Beth’s desk, surreptitiously removing the box of herbal tea. In the coat closet, she slipped Beth’s box into her hand bag and took the box she had prepared at home, along with her glasses out of the bag. With everyone looking at the photos, it was easy to make the exchange.

It was perfect. The small amounts of the leaves in the herbal tea would make Beth increasingly sick, so she’d drink more tea. The poison would slowly build up in her system and when the police became involved, it would be impossible to  prove who put the leaves in the tea. It could be some disgruntled person at the tea factory.

Beth’s husband certainly has a motive, she’s cheating on him and the death benefits on a public servant, even a low level clerk like Beth is pretty good. She has almost thirty years of benefits accumulated. I should have done this in the first place. I’m sorry, Kam.

Y
es, I’m ready to go, stop pushing me!” Beth snapped at Bill.

“Don’t snap at me, I just think you should go home, you are clearly not well,” Bill said.

Beth, as an answer, ran to the bathroom. When she emerged several minutes later, she couldn’t deny that she was too sick to be at work. She went home quietly.

She’d been violently ill with diarrhea and nausea all day. Deborah had wanted to call the paramedics, in light of Kam’s fatal turn with this illness, but Beth had insisted on going home. She took her box of herbal tea home with her.

Talk turned to news reports of a fatal flu in China, twelve children had died from a new strain of bird flu. Kate said that new flues arise in China first, then travel around the globe, transmitted by tourists and business travelers along air traffic routes. Somehow, virus make the species leap from birds to humans, and then each new person mutates the virus in some way.

It used to take two years for the virus to make their sickly wave around the world, but increased air travel and an increase people traveling for pleasure shortened the length of the trip. It was a scary thought to realize that we are literally only one plane ride away from Ebola.

Kate explained that deforestation brought people in contact with new viruses and bacteria. Forest workers go into the deep forest and come out with new illnesses, their family get them and it spread outward. Clare tried to stop listening, it was too horrible, the rainforest was really that much in danger, there was so much of it. Wasn’t there? She remembered reading about how quickly it grows back in the heat and humidity and the mass of dead leaves rotting to create a rich base for new plants to grow.

Kate was quite the dynamic speaker, her eyes glowed as she explained slashing and burning acres of land for cattle grazing. It was strange to find out that the rainforest soil was actually poor in nutrients because of the heavy rains leeching out minerals, but that the heat and humidity increased the rate of rot of dead plants, and animals Clare supposed, so that other plants grew quickly.

Clare was reminded of Julie. She was also passionate about political causes. Clare would donate just so Julie wouldn’t go on so much. Clare found herself looking at Kate’s shoes. Sensible, no heel, black runners that looked like men’s shoes. Short hair. She wondered if Kate was a lesbian and if she was, did she have a girlfriend.

I wonder if her and Julie would like each other. Maybe Julie would freak out. How many young women really like their mothers to match make for them? But maybe it would make Julie not pressure me to go to a PFLAG meeting. How do you find out if someone is a lesbian without them thinking you’re making a pass?

Kate smiled at Clare. For a chilling moment, Clare wondered if Kate knew what she was thinking.

It struck her as funny that she was more worried that Kate would somehow know she was playing matchmaker than if Kate knew she had poisoned them all. Somehow, Clare felt that Kate, even as a new person, would understand why Beth had to die. Beth was just to miserable a person, too cruel to be allowed to continue living.

It would be an easy case to prove, just look at how much easier everyone breathes when she’s not here. The constant undercurrent of drama is gone, people laugh and talk more freely. Like a sudden reprieve from a war zone. Yes, the mail centre is a war zone, and Kam, Kam just threw his body on a grenade to save the rest of us. Yes, Kam would have made that sacrifice.

Clare excused herself from the group and went back to her desk. For the first time in a long while, she found herself humming along with the radio.

If a man once indulges himself in murder,
very soon he comes to think little of robbing;
and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking,
and from that to incivility and procrastination.

Murder Considered One of the Fine Arts (1839)
Thomas De Quincey (1785-1729)
English, Essayist, Opium Addict

m
edical files spread across his desk, alarm bells ringing in his head, Ralph leaned back in his chair and peeked at Mavis from over the top of the new file he was reading. The family hadn’t wanted an autopsy, Ralph understood it. No one wants to think of their child on that long stainless steel table with the gutters down the sides.

But nineteen year olds don’t usually die of the flu. Ralph had told the boy’s mother that it would be easier if she agreed than if she forced him to obtain a Court Order for the autopsy. It would just delay the burial. He tried to be gentle, but there was no gentle way to suggest to a mother that her child had been murdered.

“What do we have here?” Mavis asked.

Ralph peeked over the file at Mavis.

“How’d you get that split lip?”

“Little disagreement with a neighbour. She hit me, and then she remembered that I’m a cop. She’s thinking of moving to a new neighbourhood.” Mavis smiled painfully, “Frankly, I didn’t think the little cream puff had it in her.”

“Which neighbour?” Ralph sipped his still too hot latte.

“You’ve met her, Cindy Rawls, blonde, husband’s a science fiction geek?”

“Oh yeah, she’s the one who groped me at your last barbecue. Gonna charge her with assault?”

“Between you and me? No, I’m not. But I want her to move, so I’m not telling her that.”

“Sneaky, very sneaky. Witnesses?”

“Just half the neighbourhood.”

“Wanna tell Uncle Ralph over what?”

“No, I’ll sort it out, besides, I’m at work now, and I don’t want to think about it anymore. What’s the file?”

“Nineteen year old, male, East Indian, died Saturday night in hospital, high levels of digitalis on his blood, something he ingested.  His mother said there was a potluck at work the Friday afternoon, and that he came home sick, diarrhea, vomiting.”

“Digitalis? Isn’t that the active ingredient in heart medicine? Did he have a heart condition?”

“No.”

“What did he do for a living?”

“He was a public servant. Federal Government.”

“Well, we better go and talk to the co-workers.”

a
nd here is the Director’s board room for you to conduct interviews, Officers,” Peter Nostran, the office co-ordinator, said, opening the door. “Of course, I’ll bring each staff member up to the board room individually, it will be less upsetting overall that way.”

“Thank you,” Mavis said, putting her badge away.

“So, the family doesn’t think it was an unfortunate flu? The entire mail centre staff was sick over the weekend.”

“It’s just routine,” Ralph said, “It’s not often that a young man dies of the flu. Could you perhaps also arrange for a pitcher of ice water and some glasses? We’d like to interview the staff in a single day.”

“Of course,” Peter left to fetch the water and first staff member.

“The entire staff was sick. They had a potluck. Someone’s a murderer,” Ralph said blankly.

“The question is, was Kam Singh the target, or a mistake?”

“How do you poison one person more than another at a potluck? You have no control over what amounts each person eats.”

“If you served? If you gave someone a special whatever that you made? If you brought an item you knew the victim liked more than everyone else.”

“Hmmm, you sound like you’ve really thought this out. You and Kathy have a lot of barbecues.”

“Yeah, but our guests always come back.”

There was a soft knock at the door and Peter returned with Laiwan and a pitcher of ice water and some paper cups.

“Anything else?”

“No, that’s fine. You’ll be at your desk around the corner when we’re ready to switch?” Mavis asked.

Peter nodded, he hadn’t expected to be sent away.

“Do they need to have a union rep or a lawyer present?”

Laiwan looked at Peter in shock, then at the man and woman at the table. The man was 40ish, soft brown hair, a rumpled look to him. The woman was First Nations, butch looking. Probably a dyke.

“What’s going on? Who are you?”

“Mr. Nostran didn’t explain?” Mavis asked.

“No.”

“I’m Detective Mavis Gerrard,” Mavis handed Laiwan a business card, “And this is Detective Ralph Bergman. If you like to have a seat, we’d like to talk to you about Kam Singh.”

Laiwan sat more from surprise than the invitation. She wanted to be anywhere but here. Her mind raced, jumping to the conclusion that Kam must have been murdered, otherwise, why would they be here.

Mavis poured her a glass of water.

“Thank you, Mr. Nostran,” Ralph got up and closed Peter out of the room, “We’ll let you know when we’re finished so you can bring the next person.”

“So who do you think murdered Kam?” Laiwan blurted.

“Murdered? No one said murder, we’re just trying to establish what happened before he died,” Mavis used her best reassuring voice.

“Were you sick on the weekend?” Ralph asked.

“Yes, I was sick all Friday night, but by Saturday, I was okay. I just thought it was the stress of the week getting to me, I have irritable bowel syndrome, and it’s been very stressful at work. We have this new supervisor, Deborah Khan. She replaced Chris Walters. He’s been our supervisor for almost four months or so. Deborah started last Wednesday, before Chris left so he could train her.”

“Okay, take a breath, and slow down, I have to make notes,” Mavis said.

“Slow down? I’m talking normally. Anyway, we go through a lot of supervisors because Beth Hartley is really hard to work with. She complains about everything and everyone. She wants to be the supervisor and she’s been passed over a bunch of times. She’s a very bitter person. She’s sick today, or she just called in sick today. Bill Curtis, he didn’t come in either. They’re probably together, they’re having an affair and they’re both married.”

Laiwan was returned to the mail centre under strict instructions not to reveal or discuss what had happened.

Ralph and Mavis would alter agree that the half hour with Laiwan seemed like at least two hours. She talked to fast and gave so much information so freely. Was she just scared or was she always like that?

“Imagine working with a motor-mouth like that for eight hours a day. I think I’d hang myself,” Mavis lightly punched Ralph on the arm. “Or do anything I could to get away from her.”

“I’m too tired now to even joke that that is what you were like when we first started working together,” Ralph smiled. “She’d be a pain in the ass, but I really don’t think she’s our suspect. If she was going to kill anyone, it would be this Beth Hartley woman. Ms. Lee seems to really hate her a great deal. Coffee?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

Ralph and Mavis were both exhausted so they had Peter escort them to the cafeteria for coffee before continuing.

They continued with Clare Derrick.

k
am Singh. What do we know?” Ralph asked. “We know he was nineteen. He know he was healthy. He know he’s about the only person in the mail centre that everyone professes to have gotten along with. So why is he dead?”

Ralph tossed a small rubber ban ball against the ceiling, claiming that it helped him to think. Mavis paced and tapped on the furniture with a pencil that she kept chewing the end of.

“Let’s go over the interviews,” Mavis said, ” Laiwan Lee.”

“Young, seemed to be close with Kam. Talkative. Didn’t hold anything back, very exhausting. Very quick to blame Beth Hartley for every problem in the mail centre,” Ralph stopped tossing the ball and sat up. “I have the overall impression that it is not a happy worksite. There is no one person that everyone gets along with. In fact, most of them hate each other, and at most only really like one other person.”

“That, Kate Thompson didn’t give me that impression.”

“Sure, but she’s only worked there two weeks. What is she going to say? Either she hasn’t caught on yet, or is protecting her job. She certainly hasn’t been there long enough to want to kill her co-workers.”  Ralph continued bouncing.

Mavis checked her notes, “She’s what they call ‘term’ employee, employed for a specific time period, five months. The rest of the staff are indeterminate or permanent employees. They can’t be fired unless they do something really drastic, like kill a co-worker. Strong union.”

“So, our killer is likely not Kate, unless she’s a real quick study. Let’s leave her in the B list for now. Who’s next?”

“Clare Derrick. The older lady, the second one we interviewed. Thoughts?”

“Quiet older lady. She said she’d been ill all night Friday and throughout Saturday. Sunday, she was gardening. She lives with her cat, Snowball. She was really reluctant to say anything bad about anyone, including this Beth Hartley that everyone else slammed and we haven’t interviewed yet.”

“Could be a generational thing, y’know, if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything.”

“Or she could be hiding something.”

“Dunno.” Mavis looked at the list of names again. “That other older woman, Vash Moora. She was the quietest. Also sick on the Friday, but okay on the weekend. She seemed to be the least affected. If she was the poisoner, she could have eaten just enough to be convincing.”

“If you were the poisoner, wouldn’t you not eat what you made and just claim to have been sick?”

“Well, that’s the problem. We asked everyone who brought what and what did they eat and what did they see everyone else eat. They all said that they and everyone had some of everything. Vash and Laiwan said that there was talk on Monday before they knew about Kam that the pasta salad that Beth Hartley brought had been tainted, but spoiled salad dressing doesn’t contain digitalis.”

“No, but Clare Derrick mentioned that Bill Curtis had a heart condition, that she remembered after she’s made quiche tarts and that she was worried about the cholesterol for him.  Laiwan said Beth and Bill were having an affair. And they weren’t there today. If all your co-workers hated you, and you were as unbalanced a person as they describe, wouldn’t you maybe steal your boyfriend’s pills and poison them all?”

“Maybe if I was the boyfriend, I would be all protective and poison them for my girlfriend. We both know that the vast majority of serial killers are white males in their 20’s and 30’s.”

“Sure, but they usually go postal and shoot people. Poisoning is less violent.” Ralph smiled mischievously, “Quieter, more a woman’s method.”

“Folks go postal when they can’t take living anymore and decide to take as many people with them, people who they feel have wronged them or total strangers if they are going for the immortality of infamy after death.” Mavis leaned over and caught Ralph’s rubber band ball, “If you want to get rid of people and get away with it, you need something quieter, less traceable.” Mavis chewed on her pencil thoughtfully. “I think we’d better find this Bill and Beth. My guess it that one or both of them are the killers, or at least Beth is the intended target.”

“What about the supervisor who left, Chris Walters? White, male. Could be his parting shot.”

“What, he poisoned them all to make them sick and Kam dying was an accident?”

“Still murder, but what if? Better add him to the interview list.”

“So, how do grown people get to be so dangerously childish?”

“Maybe it’s the air conditioned hermetically seal downtown buildings? The lighting?” Ralph sat up properly in his chair. “The sense of overwhelming powerlessness in a society that is increasingly getting more violent and uncaring for individuals? The false sense that the social power base is shifting away from the white upper class,  and you never got rich enough to get a piece of the oppression pie? And now you never will. There’s a lot of anger out there, simmering, slow rolling boil below the surface, been building like a volcano for years. If young people don’t see a future for themselves, no jobs, no security, no home, no chance to breed, they see instead a means to get even with those they perceive to be their tormentors and most of all a quick and easy road to fame, or at least infamy, in the covers of the magazines, web sites debated and examining, and mostly the news casts extolling all the life details of these killer kids who shoot up their schools.”

“I’ll bet you’re a real hoot at parties.” Mavis crossed  her arms protectively around herself. “Is this something you’ve thought up while you clean your guns instead of sleeping at night or do you just have bedtime reading I should be worried about?”

“I had to get over my computer fear, so I took some classes and now I spend a lot of time on the internet. There’s a lot of hate and fear out there, and it’s not all by stupid people. The web sites are complex designs, you have to have computer skills, besides, most arsonists are intelligent, disaffected young white men. So are these recent school yard killers. It’s easier to get guns than matches. It’s a world  of increasing fear. I won’t put my gun away until you throw yours down, so it’s a standstill. I think a lot about the problem, I just don’t have a solution. There is no easy quick fix to a problem centuries in the making, because it’s not as simple as movies and TV are bad, video games are violent, single mothers raise bad kids. These are too simplistic.”

“I know that this is simplistic, Ralph,” Mavis smiled, “But you would have made one hell of a lesbian.”

Ralph laughed.

“I will accept that as the compliment it was intended as. Let’s go find and all you can eat all night tofu joint, my treat.”
How can I take an interest in my work when I don’t like it?

Attributed
Francis Bacon (1909-1993)
Irish, Painter

e
ven knowing that her husband was gone for the whole day and that she and Bill could play house, and have real unclothed and in a bed sex, Beth was not enjoying her illicit day off. All Beth could keep down was warm water, funny how you fake being sick, and then you end up sick. It had been really hard for her to convince her husband that it was just a flu and that she was fine on her own. It had been agony waiting for him to be gone long enough that Bill could come over safely. Although, in the state that she was in, she wasn’t sure that she wanted him to see her in such bad shape.

Still, if you’re going to live with someone, they are bound to see you at less than your absolute best.

She smiled as she could hear him clattering around in her kitchen making her more tea. She lay back for a moment, then struggled to her feet. If he was seeing her in bed all day, it sure as hell wasn’t going to be in the damn flannel nightgown that her husband has selected for her.

By the time Bill was bringing in the soups, crackers and tea, she was changed and posed herself on the bed in a black and red see though number that she had been saving for a special occasion.

Bill stopped in the doorway and just started.

“I take it that you’re feeling better?”

“Well,” Beth said, drawing the word out breathily, and playing with the shoulder strap, “I just thought that the soup might be too hot and need to cool down. And we’d need to do something in the meantime, until we could eat … the soup.”

Bill put the tray down on the night stand. He gently sat beside her and touched her stomach.

“Are you sure? I mean, your stomach has been pretty unsettled.”

“I’ve been fine for the past two hours. I guess that whatever I had has cleared my system.”

“I think it’s the black tea, caffeine perks your system up. I wouldn’t bother drinking that herbal crap. It’s just flowers and floor sweepings. I chucked it out.”

“Mmmmm,” Beth kissed him lightly, “Maybe you’re right, it sure didn’t make me feel better. Aren’t you worried that all that caffeine will make me anxious?”

“Well, I happen to have the very thing that doctors have historically prescribed anxious women for years, a little cervical workout.” Bill undid the snaps in the crotch of the lingerie.

Beth lay back on the bed as Bill undid his pants, but left them on.

“We are inside were no one can see us. And, we can take our time”

“Oh,” he said, blushing, “I forgot.”

s
o, do you think Kam was murdered?” Laiwan quietly asked Vash. “Those cops wouldn’t say so, but why would they be here if he hadn’t been. Only the very young and the old people die from the flu. That means someone who works here is a killer.”

“I don’t want to think about that,” Vash was extremely uncomfortable with Laiwan sitting so near to her. “Please, let’s just do our work. Of course Kam was not murdered, who would do such a thing. We were all sick, maybe he was not as healthy as everyone thought.”

“But what if Kam wasn’t the one the killer was trying to get?” Laiwan edged closer.

“How was Kam murdered? We all ate all of the food,” Vash could feel herself getting more and more upset. She hated to think that there was such ugliness in the world, never mind within her own workplace. Everyday, she tried to find the good in everything, granted some days and people were harder than others, but the important thing was to try. “If someone had poisoned the food, then they ate it to. You can’t put more poison in one cookie over another. You could not know which cookie was safe for you to eat.”

“Sure you can, let’s say it was the cookies. You put the poison in the sugar, then you can sprinkle some cookies more than others and maybe break and edge off the ones that don’t have poison and then eat those.”

“Clare brought the cookies, you think Clare would have killed Kam?” Vash was tired of the conversation, “Besides, the cookies were not sprinkled with sugar. Go away now, I am trying to work.”

“But Vash,” Laiwan protested.

“Go away.” Vash waved her hand dismissively at Laiwan.

Laiwan got up and walked away from Vash.

Old bitch sure came up with some fast excuses. She was awful quiet and kept to herself, too. They always say, watch out for the quiet ones.

Vash watched Laiwan leave. She could just feel her energy returning.

The child is a psychic vampire. So nosy in other people’s business. She needs to be watched.

Clare had really tried not to overhear the exchange. She was relieved that Vash didn’t think she was capable of what she had done. Perhaps, if Beth was still alive, the police would focus on her. That would make her be gone from the mail centre. It wouldn’t be as satisfying as knowing she would be gone for good and unable to harm people in the future, but at least she wouldn’t torment people here.

And if she wasn’t, she was sure that the police would focus on Bill.

At least the plant was gone. She’d have to burn the information on plants that Julie had bought over for her. It hadn’t been that helpful since the pictures only mostly matched, it was hard to tell after Snowball had nibbled all the tips of the leaves off  and since the text was more of a cautionary warning than a how to poison someone. But I suppose you can’t just give out that information. It would just have to be trial and error, small does at first, just to make people sick, increase the toxin levels gradually. It would be harder to explain someone clutching their chest and dying right after they bite into something you made. No, they had to eat the entire evidence and let it digest so an autopsy wouldn’t show one food item as more suspect than another other. Let the poison slowly seep into their blood.

The police don’t have time to check everything, there’s so many murders and crimes going on. If Beth and Kam died of digitalis poisoning, and Bill takes pills that contain it, well, it stands to reason, he had motive to get rid of Beth. Laiwan already told the police that Beth and Bill were lovers. Maybe suggest that Beth would tell his wife. It’s only one little white lie. And then work will be so peaceful. So peaceful.

F
our hours later and only two emergency runs to the bathroom, Beth feel asleep against Bill’s chest. Bill waited until she was deeply asleep, then he slipped out of bed and headed for the shower.

Nooners were one thing, but no way was he going to be able to go home to his wife after a marathon sex session like this. Beth’s perfume clung to his skin like the desperate lover she was.

Still, she wasn’t bad looking for an old broad. You could see that once upon a time she was quite the looker. She looks so peaceful sleeping, but I guess everyone does.

He closed the bathroom door so the sound of the shower wouldn’t wake her. He’d have to remind her to strip the bed before he left, so he could run them through the washing machine.

She could just say she had a bit of an accident, let hubby dry them later.

Bill laughed. He scrubbed himself roughly, trying to remove all trace. If only the wife wasn’t such a prude, he wouldn’t have to do this. He didn’t like cheating, and it wasn’t like he was emotionally involved. Beth knew the score, he told her up front, he’d never leave his wife and kids. If she need to pretend that he loved her to make it okay for her to cheat, well, that was just her problem.

But blaming me for her lack of career advancement? Clearly she hasn’t looked in the mirror lately. Who’d want her in their office, she whines all the time, and she’s lousy at her job, except blow jobs, she’s fantastic at that. No, she’s getting too clingy. Time to get rotated back to investigations permanently. Let someone else be the liaison.

He got out of the shower. Beth was standing there, in the steam, naked. His heart skipped a beat.

Bill braced himself against the shower door jam and clutched his chest.

“Christ, you scared me!” He slowed his breathing down.

“I’m, sorry, darling,” Beth pawed at him, “I just wanted to surprise you, I thought you might like some company in the shower.”

“No, I’m okay, I just thought you were sleeping.” Bill tried to sound friendlier, he had to get his clothes on, throw the bedsheets in the washing machine and get out of here. If they had a fight now, he’d still be here naked when hubby gets home. That would just not do.

“I just thought you needed some rest.” Bill wrapped the towel around himself.

Insatiable bitch.

“Oh,” Beth pouted.

“I’ve got to get dressed, and we need to wash the sheets, we don’t want to get caught, do we?” Bill wasn’t sure he wanted to hear an answer.

“No, I suppose not. But we do need to talk about it sometime.”

“When your feeling better.” Bill kissed Beth on the forehead and walked around her to the bedroom. He dried off quickly then pulled the sheets.

“I’ll do that, I feel fine.” Beth’s vice was more controlled, businesslike. “You should get on home. Little wifey will be waiting dinner on you.”

Bill was relieved, everything was normal again. He gave her a hug and a kiss and then headed for the back door.

“It was really great, being with you like this. It’s going to make tomorrow lunch seem like nothing in comparison.”

“Well, you say the word and you can have this every day,” Beth smiled.

Bill smiled and left.

Every day a day like this would just about kill me.

No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence
to prevent the commission of crimes.

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963)
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)
German-born American Theorist

O

kay, I say let’s just drive over to the address that Peter Nostran gave us from the personnel files,” Mavis suggested. “The way people talk about Beth, no one is going to have warned her that police are involved. If she’s sick, then her defenses are lowered, if she knows something she’ll talk.”

“Maybe her and loverboy had a fight and he’s trying to off her,” Ralph offered unhelpfully.

“We won’t know until we get out there.” Mavis scooped the keys of the hook on the wall. “I’ll drive.”

“Okay, but only if we can stop for ice cream.” Ralph got his jacket. “How’s your little neighbour problem?”

“Not bad, her husband is worried I’m gonna sue them, more than worried that I’ll arrest her.” Mavis rubbed the sore spot on her lip. “Which is actually true, I think I waited to long if I was gonna do that. Some reasonable, rational part of me says that I provoked her. I mean, I was yelling, I’m a big scary dyke, cop, First Nations, whatever. Cindy’s little white bread sally sunshine. She’s never seen me mad.”

“Reasonable, rational part?” Ralph prodded gently, “You mean Kathy?”

“Yeah, I mean Kathy. Doesn’t mean that I’m not gonna try to get Cindy to move. She seemed to think it was okay to tell us how to run our lives, either she backs down and admits she’s wrong or she’s the one who can move. Hell, me and Kathy were living on that cul-de-sac first.”

“Oooo that’s mature.” Ralph said, closing the office door behind them.

L

ooking on both sides of the block for the house number, Ralph spotted Beth’s house first. Mavis spotted Bill’s car pulling out of the alleyway.

“Do we let loverboy go?” Mavis asked. It just burned her to the core.

Creeps like Cindy condone this sort of behavior, anything goes as long as it’s het, but just let two women or two men have a kid and call themselves a family….

“We’ll get him later, at his own house where the presence of wife and kids will add some pressure.”

“Remind me not to piss you off, ever,” Mavis said. “You are one sneaky bastard.”

Mavis parked the car. She and Ralph approached the house. Mavis knocked on the door, while Ralph stood just off the stoop.

The door opened after just a few minutes. Beth had put a bathrobe on, and had grabbed a handful of tissue.

“Can I help you?”

“Detectives Mavis Gerrard and Ralph Bergman,” Mavis flashed her badge. “We’d like to speak to you about the death of Kam Singh.”

“What?” Beth was confused, she’d thought they were vacuum cleaner salespeople. “Kam died from the flu, the same flu I’m currently fighting off.”

“Can we come inside, I don’t think you’d like your neighbour’s to eavesdrop. ” Ralph said in a not very quiet voice.

Beth glanced around, the police car was already drawing attention.

“Come in.” Reluctantly, she stepped back and let them into the house.

Ralph followed Mavis into the house. He glanced at the walls as they headed towards the kitchen in the back. He noticed that there were no photographs of children anywhere. Beth was old enough to be a grandmother, but there were no children’s photos. There were several framed photos of herself and only one wedding photo.

On the wall by the stairs, he saw one of those large frames with slots for a number of small pictures. These photos were all taken in the mail centre and were mostly groups pictures, Bill Curtis was the only person in every photo and there was none with just Bill and Beth. Some of the people in the photos weren’t at the mail centre anymore, it looked like the span of about two three years since the hairstyles didn’t change much. Nostran had said that the turn over was quite high.

“Tea? Coffee?” Beth offered.

“No thanks,” Mavis said. “Mrs. Hartley what did you think of Kam Singh?”

“Gee, you people don’t mess around.” Beth poured some water into the kettle. “I’m not quite over the shock of even having police show up at my door. And, please, call me Beth.”

Mavis and Ralph waited for Beth to finish making her tea. Bill had left some regular teabags out, so she popped one of them into her mug. Besides, it’s not like she was going to fish her herbal mix out of the garbage in front of strangers. Didn’t make for a nice first impression. She waited for it to steep a moment, then fished the bag out with a spoon. She deposited the bag into the sink. Plastering a smile on her face, she turned to face the police and join them at her kitchen table.

“Now, what exactly can I do for you?”

“Tell us what it’s like to work in the mail centre.” Mavis prompted, “Do you get along well with your co-workers.”

“Well, I really hate to have to say this, because I was raised not to say bad things about other people,” Beth paused, childishly hoping they would let that stand as her answer. They didn’t. “Well, I think part of the problem is that many people come to work for the Federal Government because they think it’s easy, that they won’t have to work hard and they have a big powerful union to protect them.”

“So, how do you get along with your co-workers?” Mavis said flatly.

She really is an evasive bitch, no wonder everyone hates her. But which one hates her enough to kill her, if she’s not the killer herself?

“Well, Clare and Vash and I are the long timers, so we’ve worked together the longest. Four, five years with Clare, four or three with Vash. Laiwan and Kam about one or two years, and Kate just about a week and half.”

“But how do you get along with them?” Ralph reiterated.

“Oh, about as well as can be expected.”

“Please, feel free to talk out of turn, your co-workers didn’t have a problem with it, and I think your mom would understand that this is a police investigation. Kam Singh did not die of a flu virus.” Mavis dropped her voice into an intimate register, “Anything you can tell us will help.”

Beth sat back and sipping her tea, considering the import of the words.

What had those bastards said? Funny, this afternoon was so wonderful, Bill was just everything I imagined he would be, and it just figures that back at the ranch, I’d be being carved up for slaughter. Ohmigod, what if they think I killed him?

“Okay, you’ve caught me,” Beth put on her best friendly manner. “I’m really sorry to say that I just don’t think very much of any of my co-workers, except Kam. Kam was a very sweet and innocent boy. The mail centre was his first real job, I think he used to have a paper route. There was just something very innocent about him. I can’t imagine anyone trying to hurt him.”

“Laiwan is a chatter box,” Beth continued after a sip of her tea. “She never stops talking, they’ll have to gag her corpse.  Laiwan spends her day flitting from desk to desk like a butterfly with a piece of paper in her hand so it looks like she’s working. Kam covered for her a lot. They were both responsible for processing mail, doing the counter. Laiwan was also in charge of administrative filing, but Kam did that plus all the basement archives. That was his specific task.”

“Vash’s job, when she can be bothered,” another dramatic sip of tea, “Is to prepare and send out outgoing priority and registered mail and packages. It’s supposed to be the same day turn around, but she always ends up sending stuff out the day after it comes in.  Is this the kind of information you want?”

“Yes,” Beth said, “What about Clare Derrick and Chris Walters?”

“Chris,” Beth’s face became slightly flushed with anger, “Chris was incompetent. He should never have been made supervisor. You could put his people skills up a gnat’s ass and still have room left over for an elephant dick.”

“So, I can assume that you didn’t get along much with him,” Ralph said slowly and evenly. He’d have to remember that line.

“No, that would be putting it mildly.” Beth was dying for a cigarette. “Mind if I smoke?”

“It’s your house,” Mavis said. “But we won’t be much longer.”

“Tell us about Bill Curtis,” Ralph said.

Beth’s face paled a little, but her composure didn’t crack.

“He’s not really a co-worker, he’s a close friend. We take our lunch breaks together.”

“We’ve been told you’re much closer than that,” Ralph said.

“Well, that’s the problem with a small office, gossip and jealousy tends to lead to rumours.” Beth really needed a cigarette. “People don’t understand me and Bill, how a man and woman can just be friends. You must understand that, you probably get it all the time.”

“No, we don’t actually,” Mavis said. “Mrs. Hartley, Beth, we’re not trying to judge you or cause trouble in your marriage. But if you withhold any information that is pertinent, you may be facing an obstruction charge.”

“I see.” Beth got up from the table and opened the bread basket. She pulled out her back-up package of cigarettes and light one. She took a deep drag and exhaled very slowly. She took a second one, deep into her lungs and held it for a long minute.

These two fuckers don’t even blink. Creepy.

She blew a large smoke ring and sent a smaller ring through it. It was a cool trick she learned back in high school, before anyone was really saying that cigarettes were dangerous. Before she knew just how deadly they could be.

“Well then, I guess this is where I say I guess I want to speak with a lawyer.”

K
atie, let Daddy answer the phone.” Bill’s voice called out. He walked down the hall to the phone table. The phone stopped mid-ring. For a moment, he thought that the caller had hung up, then he heard Katie’s voice from the kitchen.

“Hello?” Katie said, lifting the receiver.

“Hi Katie, it’s Auntie Beth, is Daddy there?”

“Daddy, Daddy, it’s Auntie Beth, she wants to talk to you!” Katie hollered and hung up the phone.

Bill had picked up the hall phone before Katie had finished hollering, so he didn’t lose the connection.

“Hi, Beth,” Bill tried to keep his tone light and conversational. “What’s up, feeling any better, I didn’t see you at work today.”

“I just had two cops leave my house. The said Kam was murdered and they wanted to know about our relationship.”

“What does one have to do with the other?”

“I don’t know, someone at work has implied something and I don’t know what to do. I said I wanted a lawyer and they left. They just left. I’m so scared. What are we going to do?”

“Do? There’s nothing to do. We had nothing to do with Kam. Why would anyone murder him?”

“They said he didn’t die from the flu. We all got sick, wouldn’t that mean poison? What if one of those freaks I work with is trying to kill us? I got sicker after I drank my herbal tea, where did you throw the box away?”

“I really wouldn’t know that, you’ll have to ask someone at the office, I don’t really pay attention to what goes on in the mail side unless it relates to me. Why don’t you call Vash or Clare?”

“Oh, I see, she’s there.”

“Well, okay then, hope you’re feeling better, and I’ll see you tomorrow.” Bill hung up the phone. “Hi Honey.” He leaned over and kissed his wife.

“What did she want now? Another ride to the store?”

“No, she was just wanting to know what happened at work, she wasn’t in. That flu thing that we all got last weekend just won’t let go of her.”

“Funny, I called you at work today. They said you weren’t in either.”

“I work alone, I don’t answer to the mail clerks. I was in and out of my office all morning. I don’t check in with them.”

“Said they hadn’t seen you all day.”

“Who? Who said?”

“Does is matter?”

“Yeah, there’s a lot of shit going, political backstabbing shit, and a lot of the mail clerks hate Beth, so they are stirring up trouble. You know how petty those people can be.”

“Oh, poor Beth, she’s in trouble again. If they are after her, Bill, tell me, why are they after you? You have nothing to do with the mail clerks, why they after you?”

“Sandra, look, Beth is our friend, sometimes I get involved because Beth is outnumbered. We go for lunch every  now and then, and people who have no lives have to create a little drama for themselves. It’s why those crap programs like Melrose and that number Beverly Hills one is so popular. It’s just small, dirty minds.”

The doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it,” Bill moved to the door. He hoped it wasn’t the police. He’d have a harder time explaining that. He glanced over his shoulder. Sandra wasn’t buying his explanation now. He opened the door.

He opened the door to Mavis and Ralph, both of them holding up their badges.

“Can I help you, Officers?”

“Are you Bill Curtis?” Ralph asked.

“Yes, would you like to come in?” He stepped back so that they could enter.

Sandra came closer.

“What’s going on?”

“I’m Officer Gerrard, this is Officer Bergman,” Mavis said, “We’d just like to talk to your husband about an incident at work.”

“This happened today?” Sandra asked.

“Sandra, please, I’ll take the Officers into my study, would you please make some coffee?” He turned to Mavis and Ralph. “Anything to eat?”

“No,” Mavis said, “We’re fine.”

“Fine. Coffee.” Sandra glared at Bill. “Be sure to ask him about the phone call he just got from Beth. She wanted to know about work, too.”

Bill tried not to pale.

Oh Sandra, drop me in it when you know what the fuck you’re doing.

“The study is this way, I’ll just help with the coffee and be right in.” Bill pointed them in the direction of his study and then took Sandra into the kitchen.

He didn’t see Mavis slip into the hall.

Bill grabbed Sandra roughly by the arm and dragged her into the kitchen.

“What the fuck are you trying to do?” Bill hissed. “These are police officers, someone at my office has been murdered, so don’t fuck around in front of these people.”

“Mur—,” Sandra lowered her voice to a hiss, “Murdered? That kid who died of the flu?”

“Apparently so,” Bill let her arm go. “Beth was phoning to tell me.”

“Why,” Sandra had him now. “If you were at work, and knew she wasn’t why are they here? They would have talked to you today already, and you would have phone to warn your precious Beth. Why do you need to warn each other, anyway? Did you do it, Bill? Did you kill the kid, did he look too hard at Beth? Fuck you, Bill. You save that psycho’s ass one more time and I’ll so help me…”

“What Sandra? Beth is almost fifteen years older than me, why would I be fucking an old used up broad like Beth? We’re been married for twelve years, we have three kids, why would I throw all that away?”

“Why indeed?” Sandra turned and headed out of the kitchen. “Make your own damn coffee.”

Mavis stepped back into the study before Sandra could see her.

“We need to talk to the wife, too,” she said. “He’s definitely having an affair.”

“Tell me something that we don’t already know. We saw his car leave Beth’s house. It’s why I checked the plate in the driveway when we pulled up.”

Mavis sat on the sofa, Ralph sat behind the desk. They both tried to notice everything in the room without actually searching anything.

Bill came in with a tray of coffee and coffee condiments.

“Hope it’s palatable. I tend to make it strong.”

Mavis took a mug saying, “That’s the way we drink it.”

Bill proved to be just as evasive as Beth, but not nearly as convincing. His story followed Beth’s from the not wanting to say anything nasty to a total condemnation of everyone but Beth who ever worked in the mail centre.

Partway through the interview, Katie poked her head through the door and asked her daddy to read her a story. She reminded Ralph a little bit of Claire, except that his daughter would have simply walked in and sat in his lap. His daughter had never been shy.

Mavis went to interview the wife, while Ralph played the “just us good ole boys” role with Bill.

S
andra was quite the font of information,” Mavis said. She hit the indicator, shoulder checked, then changed lanes. “She said that Beth is a real bitch and that everyone hates her, at least that what Bill says to Sandra.  Sandra can’t stand Beth either, says that Beth is really two faced, one of the people who have learned to co-opt the language of the left to hide their own bigotry and racism. She also says that Bill and Beth have been having an affair for almost three years. She thinks it’s what caused his heart attack two years ago. That stress will get you every time.”

“So, why doesn’t she leave him?” Ralph asked.

“Money. They have kids. So she has a reason to bitch,” Mavis shook her head. “I don’t understand these het women. If you know he’s cheating and you say nothing, you are basically giving your consent as far as I’m concerned.”

“Well, maybe she just suspects, and doesn’t know.”

“No, Beth is not that subtle, and has been dropping hints and clues. And Bill isn’t that smart. He has a cell phone, why didn’t Beth call to warn him on that? She called the home line so Sandra would know she called. That’s pretty brazen. It’s like she’s trying to force a divorce. Maybe that’s why Sandra doesn’t kick his ass out, it’s what Bill and Beth want. It’s the perfect revenge and you get to play martyr too.”

“Most men who cheat never leave their wives. Why should you, you get the wife and the mistress as long as she’s willing to put up with it, and when she’s not, you can always find another.”

“I think what’s always confused me is, for the mistress, if you’re sleeping with a married man, let’s say he does leave his wife eventually, or more likely, she kicks him out. What makes these women think that he’s going to be any more faithful to her than he was to the wife?”

“Hope,” Ralph said, “Hope springs eternal. You ever cheat on Kathy?”

“Never. I love her too much, she means too much to me. It’s not a co-dependant thing, I mean, to be truthful, I’ve never even been tempted. Don’t get me wrong, I look. I’m not dead. I’ve even fantasized, but that’s were it stops. I don’t even flirt. You ever cheat on Cecile?”

“Yes, I had a mistress.”

“You?”

Ralph held out his badge.

“Oh.”

They drove in silence for a while. Mavis spoke first.

“So did Bill confess to you about cheating, man to man?”

“No, but he’s scared. He doesn’t know what’s been said and by who and I think that Beth is convinced she’s the target. When you consider how many people there seem to really hate her, I think she is too. Unless we uncover something really awful about Kam, which I just don’t think is likely.”

“The question is, who hates her enough to kill her that they’d risk taking out co-workers?”

“Unless,” Ralph said really quietly, “That is real goal.”

Men are not punished for their sins,
But by them.
A Thousand and One Epigrams (1911)
Elbert Hubbard (1856 – 1915)
American, Printer, Editor, Writer, Businessman

g

alling as it was that Beth still drew breath, with the advent of the police involvement, Clare was relieved to see her walk into work. Strange that Beth would be here and not Bill. They usually took their sick days together.

Peter Nostran had hired a new term employee. It was sad to see someone else sitting in Kam’s desk, but they would be too short staffed if the position wasn’t filled right away. And Life goes on….

For the last several days, every member of the mail centre staff, except Beth, had been receiving crisis counseling from the Employee Assistance Program counselors. It was hard when a co-worker died, but being a suspect in a murder investigation was beyond what the program had been designed for.

Clare wanted to reassure everyone that they weren’t all in danger, that only Beth was the target. But there was no way for her to make everyone feel okay without confessing. She had overhead Peter and Deborah arguing in the supply room. Deborah was scared that she was supervising a murder and Peter was insisting that it was just a flu that hit at a bad time, that Kam had had epilepsy and that it was just coincidence.

Laiwan had told her that Deborah had sent several inter-office envelopes to human resources, and that she had peeked into them. Most of them were just her resume applying for other jobs, but one was a request for assignment to another division, marked urgent.

Deborah may very well end up being the shortest run supervisor they had. It’s no wonder this place is such a mess when the person who is supposed to be in charge of the unit doesn’t know what the unit does, has very few people skills and leaves at the soonest opportunity.

Being a low level clerk isn’t so bad, I’ve been one for thirty years. At the end of the day you don’t have to take your work home with you. You don’t have to worry about filling or cutting staff, so no major decision making power over other people’s lives. You’re not doing anything that will seriously impact another person, it’s the ultimate in stress free working. Why do these people keep rejecting me and my life? Why isn’t “good enough” good enough anymore?

o

nly Clare watched Beth come into the mail centre. The look on Clare’s face nearly stopped  Beth in her tracks. Glancing around, she saw that everyone else was quietly working, actually working, at their desks. There was a new woman at Kam’s desk, and Deborah was showing her the job.

That’s a laugh, Deborah doesn’t know the job. I should be teaching it. There’s not a job in the joint that I can’t do better than anyone else here. Probably why I can’t get promoted or assigned somewhere else, I’m too valuable. Yeah right. As if I could apply for any jobs. Damn Bill.

Beth didn’t return Clare’s stare as she walked to her desk, but she could feel the burning between her shoulder blades.

What did I ever do that that old biddy for her to hate me?

Reflexively, Beth’s face transformed into friendly mode and she smiled at the room, “Good morning everyone.”

“Good morning, Beth,” Laiwan, Kate and Vash said.

Deborah just waved. The new girl didn’t look up.

Clare just tuned back to her desk and the piles of cheques.

She thinks that I did it. Clare thinks I killed Kam. Somehow, they know I didn’t speak to the cops. But which one is setting me up? Who told the police about me and Bill? Who hates me so much that they’d set me up for murdering Kam?

Why, why, why? What did I ever do to any of these slacker bastards?

“Beth,” Deborah called out, “Why not come over and meet Tara?”

“Sure, better sooner than later.” Beth’s voice was more forced friendly than usual.

Beth approached Kam’s desk. She could see that someone had boxed all his personal belongings, his hockey puck and last season’s schedule, his water glass and coffee mug that he kept pens in. A sweater from the closet and a folding umbrella. Precious little, almost nothing personal, no sense of him at all in the box.

Which one of these vultures touched Kam’s things? Hi mother should have done it, was it the killer? Did they cry and put on a good show? Would they have bothered to cry  if it as me who was dead?

Beth resisted the urge to go through the box to see if anything was obviously missing. She read that killers sometimes took trophies.

“Are you okay?” Tara’s voice was small and hesitant.

“Fine, why?” Beth’s voice was flat.

“The look on your face, like you wanted to kill someone.”

Every head in the place snapped to attention.

Beth burst into tears and bolted for the door, it was too much.

Blindly, she crashed into the doors. They didn’t open. She pounding on them for a moment, an in her thrashing, her security pass slipped into the range of the sensor and the doors opened. She ran down the hall and straight into Bill.

P
oor, Darling,” Bill cooed at Beth over the cappuccino. He looked closely at her tear stained face. Her mascara had completely dissolved, she looked like a goth Tammy Faye Baker whatever else last name she has now, with her dyed dark hair, black dress pants, deep blue knit top with the gaudy Victorian looking brooch. But mostly, the wash of mascara and eyeliner down her cheeks.
He felt vaguely ill that he’d been carrying on with her. She looked so old, so frail, so needy.

He was reminded of that Star Trek episode, Mudd’s Women, the one where the women were taking a drug to make them young and glamorous, and then that one was just glamorous because she believed she was. He knew it was a male fantasy, the minors who were buying the beautiful women as brides were all mutts themselves. Like guys who looked like that on a desert planet could get any women to live with them, never mind beautiful ones. Who cares how much money you have if you’ve no where to spend it?

Oh shit, she was talking and I wasn’t listening.

“I just don’t understand it,” Beth sobbed.

Bill just shook his head sympathetically. “I don’t know what to say, babe, I just don’t”

You slick bastard you.

“I have got to get out of there, someone is trying to kill me, and I can’t go to the police because I don’t know who and all they want to talk about is us. What the hell do we have to do with a murder plot?”

“The important thing is that we don’t tell the police anything, we didn’t kill anyone, we didn’t poison anyone, so what we do is no one’s business. We just keep saying that we’re just friends and everything will blow over.”

“Blow over? Bill, haven’t you been listening? Someone is trying to kill me!” Beth lowered her voice, she had to keep it together, keep it together.” I can’t work there anymore, I’m asking for a transfer, and I’m taking my vacation time until it comes through. I love you Bill, but if I say there, I will be dead.”

“Love?” Bill pulled his hands away abruptly, before his mind could override his actions.

Beth look as if he’d just shat on the table and asked her to eat it.

“Don’t you love me?” Beth’s lip trembled from real fear, not for effect. She felt sick, dizzy.

This isn’t real, oh please let this not be real, I’m dreaming dreaming wake up wake up.

“Well, yeah, I love you, as a friend, Beth, we agreed it was just a sex thing, it’s not like either one of us is going to leave our spouses.” Bill reached his hand out but did not take hers, just left his outreached and palm up, open to her to accept. “Nothing that’s happened has ever changed that. It was just a work diversion, not a life plan. Sandra and I are thinking of having another child, trying for a boy, why would I leave that?”

“You mean why would you leave her when her father’s rich?”

Bill retracted his hand.

“Yeah, something like that.”

“Then why did you start with me? Why did you risk it? I could do to Sandra and tell.”

“Go ahead, I already have. I’ve told her everything. I even showed her the photos you gave me, to prove to her that I was serious about making it work this time with her.”

Beth stood. Just stood for a moment. The world had gone horribly, horrible wrong. She walked away, mechanically.

Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turned,
Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d.

The Mourning Bride (1697)
William Congreve (1670-1729)
English, dramatist

O

kay, so you’re saying that you are interested in mediated settlement of this matter and we will never have to worry about you filing charges against Cindy or filing a civil lawsuit?” Ted asked.

“That’s right.” Mavis squeezed Kathy’s hand. “I’m not interested in haggling either, so, this is my bottom line offer, so this is take it or leave it. And if you leave it, I will consider, I am not saying that I definitely will, but I will certainly have to seriously consider filing criminal charges for assault and separate charges for spreading hate literature and a civil suit for physical and emotional.”

“But why? I didn’t hit you that hard! Or can’t your cop-ego take it?” Cindy squealed.

Ted clamped his hand over her mouth, “Cindy, that’s not helpful, or the tone we want to be taking at this juncture.” After satisfying himself that there would be no further outbursts, Ted said, “Sorry.”

“Why? Because you need to understand that you can’t just hit people. You can do a lot of damage with a blow to the head, and I don’t think you really understand that Cindy. You don’t understand that there are consequences to your actions. There is no free lunch.”

“More coffee or lemonade?” Kathy interjected.

“No, we’re fine,” Ted answered.

“Okay, down to brass tact’s.” Mavis picked up her checklist. “First, Cindy needs to attend at least three PFLAG meetings and after that, we want an apology letter that demonstrates that she understands why exhibit A, her letter, is hate propaganda. If Cindy wants to continue going to PFLAG, that is certainly her choice and we encourage and support that.”

Ted glanced down at the coffee table. Mavis had used labeled police evidence bags. “A” was Cindy’s handwritten and signed letter, “B” had an Affidavit by Kathy detailing the encounter during which, Cindy had struck Mavis, “C”, “D” and “E” had Affidavits sworn by other neighbour’s, “F” had photos of Mavis’ split lip.

“Second, Cindy provides the names of the other “real mothers” who agreed with the contents of the letter. Third, you agree to move out of the neighbourhood. I have friends interested in moving here and they will agreed to fair market value for your house after a mutually agreed to appraiser and building inspector views the property. If our friends choose not to buy, then you put your place on the open market.”

“This that last one really necessary?” Ted looked back and forth between Kathy and Mavis. Figuring his best chance was Kathy, he said, “I mean, Cindy will do the PFLAG meetings, can’t we put this behind us?”

“You know, Ted,” Kathy answered, “Mavis suggested that to me, because she’s the level headed reasonable one in this, but I don’t really believe that meetings are going to enlighten Cindy. What she wrote was so hurtful that I think it would be best for all concerned if you two pulled up stakes. I don’t think I could ever trust her not to say horrid things to our child.”

“But, this is too much, I mean, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Mavis is a police officer, she can’t force us out of our home.”

“I’m a cop, but I am a citizen too. I’m trying to be fair, my friends are willing to pay top dollar for your property, you’ll get enough to pay off the mortgage and set up somewhere else. Or, I can sue and you’ll just loose your house and Cindy can be on probation for a few years if it’s her first offense. Is it her first offense?”

“Yes, I don’t make a habit of assaulting people.”

“Well then, your choice. Go home, think it over. Get back to us tomorrow. Want copies of the evidence to think it over?”

“But it was just a small cut on your lip.”

“Sure, on my lip, but you loosened a cap, that means dental work, time away from my job, teasing by my co-workers, there’s a mental anguish component here. Not to mention your little missive, you really upset Kathy, seven months pregnant and telling her to give up the child we spent six months trying to conceive? Cindy seemed to think demanding that we leave the neighbourhood was fair and just and all we did was start our family. Go home, think about your options.”

Ted looked at the table, the determination in Kathy’s eyes, the bruise still faintly visible on Mavis’ lip, and the letter encased in transparent plastic. Ted could only hope that this would be the last time that Cindy caused so many problems in the neighbourhood that they had to leave.

“Okay, if we just leave, sell the house to your friends, will that be enough? Kathy said she’s not going to believe any apology, can we just leave it at selling the house?”

Mavis tried to maintain her blank face. She couldn’t believe it actually worked.

“Yes, I think that that would be fine. I have the card from the building inspector who did this place for us before we moved in, is that okay for you?”

Ted nodded. “I have a friend who’s a realtor, we can get her to do an appraisal, you know what the market’s like, our place is worth basically the same as yours, the only difference in the structures are the colours.”

“Sure, that will be fine.” Kathy agreed, no sense in making it worse or more unfriendly than it had to be.

Cindy and Ted filed out of the house just as Ralph pulled up into the driveway.

Ralph nodded a greeting and then entered the house.

“I take it things went well?”

“Yeah,” Mavis said, “I was surprised at how little a fight they put up.”

“Maybe Cindy has a record. Maybe they realize that they are about to be shunned in the neighbourhood and want to get out before it gets bad. Hi, Kathy, enjoying the maternity leave?.”

“I took vacation now, so I’m still on full salary. Trying to pay off some bills before I drop down to maternity leave. Coffee?”

“No, I just came to steal Mavis away,” Ralph smiled, “We need to find out where that supervisor transferred to, so we need to head downtown. I thought I’d pick you up.”

“You have time for a cup,” Mavis said, heading towards the stairs. “I have to get changed first.”

She bounded up the stairs and disappeared around the landing corner.

Ralph sat on the couch beside Kathy.

“How’s tricks?”

“Well, I used to worry about how as an interracial lesbian couple we’d impact the neighbours, but I never thought we’d be driving them out. Mavis is mad about Cindy hitting her, and I think she’s shown considerable restraint in handling it, but she’s more mad about the letter. I am too. I just don’t want to live on a cul-de-sac with a sea of ‘For Sale’ signs. I just don’t want this to be a mass exodus.”

“Well, do you think running her downtown would have thrown enough of a curve ball to her?”

“No, I’m more worried about the future, would she turn her kid against us? Do we have to worry about our car and windows?” Kathy sighed. “I can remember when I wasn’t so scared of people that I called them on their shit, usually they’d be like, gee, sorry, didn’t realize I was being an asshole. Now, I’m afraid to even ask someone to turn down their stereo for fear of them shooting me. And this is Canada.”

“Too much American news. I stopped watching, it’s amazing how it cut down on my self of being under constant attack. Of course, in our job, we don’t deal with people at their best, so at least for me, I have a jaded view of humanity. Mavis still seems to like people.”

Ralph’s thoughts drifted off for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice was soft, frail.

“Sometimes, I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about Claire anymore, she’s safe and out of harms’ way. But then, then I remember that I don’t get to have her anymore either, and that’s not right. It was easier to lose Cecile, I know that she’s out there somewhere, living, breathing, loving her new husband and children. Claire’s half-siblings. I wonder if she will ever tell them that they had an older sister. Or will I be the only one to remember her?”

“Tell me about Claire too, so I can remember her.”

Mavis bounded down the steps.
“Ready?” She stopped short, something had happened in her absence. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I was just being maudlin again,” Ralph recomposed himself. “I will tell you Kathy, next time I come over for a social call, I’ll bring my photo album. Thank you, it’s been an awful burden being the only one.”

S

o, you think that we need to look closer at this Chris Walters guy,” Mavis asked. She flipped through her notes. “No one really said anything negative about him except Beth Hartley. There wouldn’t be a reason for him to poison his whole staff goodbye.”

“Well,” Ralph signaled and turned the corner, “I didn’t say I thought it was him, I’m saying that I’m a bit at a loss, so I’m just trying to gather all the ducks in a row. Maybe he’d have an idea about who might do it, he worked with these people the longest as supervisor.”

“I’m wondering if Kam was the target, no one’s been sick since him.”

“No, we got involved, I think the person’s just lying low. But I am thinking that it’s the whole staff that the target. I’ve never seen a worksite like it.”

“Beth is the only one who wanted a lawyer, Bill denied knowing anyone enough except Beth of the mail centre staff to have an opinion.”

“Well,” Ralph pulled into the parking lot, flashed the attendant his police id, an rove forward as he was waved in. “Here’s round two, let’s see what we can shake up. But let’s get coffee first.”

This “relationship” business is one big waste of time.
It is just Mother Nature urging you to breed, breed, breed.
Learn from nature. Learn from our friend the spider.
Just mate once and then kill him.

Spectator (1994)
Ruby Wax (1953 –     )
American, Comedienne, Actor

T

o say that Beth was having a bad day would be like saying air was good to breathe. After leaving Bill in the restaurant, she wandered blindly around the downtown core, ending up on the lower east side. With her smeared make -up and mechanical walk, everyone moved out of her way, thinking she was on a really bad trip.

After catching sight of herself in a shop window, she located a public drinking fountain and rinsed the rest of the make up off of her face. Not having another option, she pulled her shirt up and wiped her face dry on the inside of her shirt. She looked down the street and saw a row of pawnshops.

She went to the bank and withdrew six hundred dollars. She went from pawn shop to pawn shop, but none would sell her a gun without a firearms certificate and a seven day waiting period.

Damn these gun control nuts! Can you tell me how to get to Pigeon Park? To the tune of Sesame Street played through her mind.

She turned and headed back to work and ended up right in the middle of the concrete area on Hastings Street known as Pigeon Park. She looked furtively around at the worn out, young men and women.
Just want is the etiquette for buying illegal guns? Well, Mama said, if you want something, ask for it.

“Excuse me,” Beth approached a young man a bit away from the main herd. “I’m not a cop or a reporter or anything, I just need to buy a gun.”

“Oh, do you now?” The man sized her up. “Get away from me, psycho bitch!”

Beth recoiled in fear. She walked away, embarrassed. She moved to the edge of the park, watching the dealers and the marks. This was all so foreign to her, there was a meanness in the people that hadn’t existed when she was their age. Even among the criminal element.

All those greasers and Elvis wanna-be’s seem so harmless now.

She took and deep breath and approached a young girl.

“Hi, um, excuse me, I was wondering, if you knew where I could buy a gun, for self-defense.”

“Hey, gran-ma, ain’t no body gonna rape yoo.” The girl laughed at her. “Wut choo want a gun for, anyways?”

“Nothing, never mind.” Beth walked away.

Stupid news people didn’t know what they were talking about. The next time I see a newscast on how easy it is to buy guns and drugs, I’m putting my foot through the screen.

Beth headed back to the pawn shops. Maybe if she was calmer, offered more money.

That last guy just seemed to need a little extra incentive. He wasn’t that bad looking.

“Hey, lady, wait up!” Footsteps behind her.

Beth turned. One of the boys she had seen at the Park had followed her.

“You need a gun?”

“Yes.”

“You a cop? Or a reporter? Anything undercover at all?”

“No.”

“You ever shoot a gun?”

“A few years ago, in a self defense class, the instructor taught us to disarm someone and what to do if you got their gun. No sense taking it if you can’t shoot it, right?”

“Sure, follow me.” He turned and headed around the corner, off of Hastings Street, and into the alley.

There was an early 1970’s blue convertible Volkswagen bug parked in the alley. He hoped the front end, which was full of a variety of contraband, drugs, cigarettes, ammunition and guns.

“How about a nice Springfield Ultra Compact .45? It’s a good ladies gun, weighing in at only 33.6 ounces, and the clip holds 11 bullets.” He held the weapon up.

“Will it take someone’s head off?”

“At close range, it’ll take it clean off if that’s what you want. It’s only got a 3.5 inch barrel, so you lose some distance there.”

“I need bullets too, lots. Show me how to load it.”

“As the man in the movie said, Show me the money.”

“How much?”

“This baby retails for $600.00 American, but you can have it for oh, let’s say a pretty lady like you, $500 Canadian, cash.”

“How about you give me a good amount of ammo, the gun, show me to load it, and I’ll give you $600 Canadian, cash, and you forget you ever saw me.”

“Deal, baby.”

A

utomatically, Beth waved her pass card at the security sensor. She glanced around the mail centre. Only Clare was missing, she must be at lunch. Bill looked up from across the room and smiled. She didn’t smile back.

Beth, keeping the gun hidden under the sweater that she bought at the second hand store, walked to the centre of the room.

“Hey, everyone, I just want to say a few words,” Beth smiled and sounded like her usual friendly, phony self, it was a voice she’s practiced for years, and some small part of herself knew that it was all for this moment. “Can everyone just come over to the meeting table for a minute?”

Deborah looked uneasily around and then nodded. Everyone came.

“I just wanted to say,” Beth cleared her throat, “That there’s been a lot of tension, with Kam and the police and Bill and I breaking up, that I wanted to let you all know how I feel about everything and everyone.”

Before anyone could react, Beth dropped the sweater and had already shot Bill in the middle of the chest. He staggered backwards, and fell, his white shirt soaking red.

Everyone tried to scatter, to hide, Beth kept pointing and shooting.

Two, back of Vash’s head, three, the new girl’s leg, four, the nape of Laiwan’s neck, five, shit! a cabinet!

“Come out come out wherever you are Kate!” Beth called out, “I want to show you how to sort! Come on Deborah, supervise this!”

In the hall, Ralph and Mavis heard the shots, they drew their guns and the security officer escorting them in the building radioed for police back up.

Waving his pass at the door, the security guard kicked the door open and dropped to the floor. A bullet sailed into the hallway.

“Close that door!” Ralph screamed. There were employees filling the hallway and more people pouring out of the doors. “Get back into your offices, now!”

The security guard let the door close on Deborah, Kate and Tara’s hopes for rescue.

Most people headed back behind the office doors, no one understood what was happening.

“Wasn’t that just a car backfiring? ” “Someone’s shooting” “Here?” “Ohmigod!” “Save them!”

Mavis stood up, “Ladies and gentlemen, please exit the building in a calm fashion. Now.”

The security guard, feeling useless, began to direct traffic.

“What about the people in there?” the security guard screamed back.
“We’re working on it. We need to know who’s shooting. Get us a phone number for inside.”

One of the people in the crowd wrote down a number, “It’s for the cheque distribution desk, Clare Derrick is a friend of mine. Do you know if she’s in there?”

“No, Ma’am, we don’t,” Ralph took the paper. “Thank you. Does your security pass open this door?”

“No, it’s the mail centre, they have different codes, security. Staff only, and the security people.”

“Where is your office phone? Can you show me? And then I need you to leave the building.”

“Certainly, officer.”

“Mavis, can you hold the hallway until back up arrives?”

“Yeah, just hurry.” Mavis stood helplessly in a shooting stance facing the door, ready to shoot any hostile thing that came out of it.

Ralph found the phone and dialed.

“Hello, mail centre,” came Beth Hartley’s voice.

“Hi, Beth, it’s Ralph Bergman, remember me, the police officer that came to your house the other day?”

“Oh, Officer Bergman, I haven’t had time to find a lawyer and I’m just a little busy right now. Can we talk later?”

“Will there be a later?”

“Sure, fifteen minutes in the hallway, I only have to hunt down three more, and one of them is wounded.”

“Wait, you said three left, how many are down now? Who’s in there with you?”
“Bill and Vash are dead. I’m pretty sure Laiwan is too. I winged Tara, she’s new, Kam’s replacement, y’know, I don’t think you met her, pretty little thing. Kate and Deborah are hiding.”

Deborah tried for the door. Beth dropped the phone and sighted her, shooting her in the shoulder.

“Bad supervisor, leaving the staff behind.” Beth stopped and picked up the phone. She hung it up.

Ralph ran back to the hallway and grabbed the pass from the security officer.

“We’re just going to go in, she’s executing people.”

“But Ralph, back up will be here, they can shoot her through a window, it’s safer.”

“Not for the three people still alive in there.”

Mavis nodded. That Teflon vest Kathy wanted to buy her for Christmas didn’t seem so silly now. Ralph swiped the card and kicked the door open.

Inside, Beth was standing near the door, over Deborah, drawing a bead on her head.

“I should have been superv—

The door flew open and Ralph and Mavis both fired at Beth. The bullets caught her in the chest and she staggered backwards.

She made a small exhaling noise and died.

Ralph checked her pulse, then closed her eyes. Walked over to the meeting table and picked up the cheap sweater, took it back and laid it over her face.

Mavis had found Tara and was making an tourniquet for her leg. Kate emerged from behind a stack of empty mail bins, crying, shaken.

Ralph checked Vash and Laiwan. They had been killed instantaneously.

Ralph moved back to Deborah, and checked her wound. He’d need something big to staunch the bleeding. He opened the coat closet and took out a light jacket. He moved back to Deborah, and pressed it against her shoulder.

“Can you hold it there?” he asked gently.

Deborah just nodded, tears slipping down her face. She clutched his hand, squeezing his fingers, then she changed her grip to the jacket, leaving a trail of blood on Ralph’s hand.

“The ambulance will be here soon,” Ralph said soothingly.

Across the room, Ralph heard a whimper. He followed the sound and found Kate hiding inside a large mail bin, huddled under mail and parcels.  He helped Kate out and offered her his jacket. She was clearly in shock, her face was white, and she was shivering.

In a few moments, there were ambulance and police. The police photographer was there. They had to clear the crime scene and let forensics do it’s work.

The ambulance crew looked after Deborah and Tara first, Mavis had done a serviceable first aid job on Tara and was trying working on staunching the bleeding on Deborah’s shoulder. The three survivors were taken to the hospital, Kate needed to be checked for injuries and at the least, she was in deep shock.

Ralph was glad that Clare wasn’t there. She was a sweet old lady. That she shared his daughter’s name was an unprofessional consideration for him, but one all the same.

Ralph walked out into the hallway and sat down. Mavis joined him and handed him a cup of coffee.
“I found a machine in one of the other offices. The doors were left open.”

“I feel like I’m in a commercial.”

“Well, you’d better pull yourself together, it’s your turn to do the paperwork on this.”

“Pull myself together, this is the Iceberg you’re talking to. I never get flustered, ask anyone.”

Clare Derrick came out of the bathroom. She had heard the shots and hid. She had thought it would be safe to come out since it was so quiet in the hallway. She could hear police and ambulance sirens outside.

“Officer Bergman? Officer Gerrard?”

Ralph looked up and smiled.

“Mrs. Derrick, you’re okay.”

“What happened?”

“Beth Hartley, you don’t want to go in there.”

“You can’t actually,” Mavis added. “It’s a crime scene. Beth Hartley just shot everyone, you were lucky you weren’t in there.”

“Oh my god!” Clare leaned against the wall, she was going to be sick. “Did, did anyone…”

“Survive? Yes, Kate didn’t appear to be hurt, Tara had a leg wound and Deborah had a bad shoulder injury,” Mavis said as gently as she could.

“What about Vash and Laiwan? Laiwan has a small son.”

Ralph just shook his head, no.

“I need to sit.” Clare was pale and shaking. Her mind racing.

Ralph stood up and escorted her into an open office.

Funny how it was easy to become Iceberg when you were needed by someone else. Something to discuss with the trauma counselor later. Won’t that just mess everyone up? Iceberg at the trauma counselor’s. She’s been trying to get me on her couch for years.

“Do you think she did this because the poison didn’t work?” Clare asked. “Assuming she was the poisoner, of course.”

Ralph looked hard into Clare’s eyes. It was a strange line of questioning, given the circumstances. Mentally he shrugged.

She probably needs the reassurance that the whole business is over.

“Yeah,” Ralph nodded, “I guess it does wrap up that line of investigation too.”

Clare leaned back in the chair, relieved.

Rem facias, rem si possis recte, si non, quocumque modo rem.
Make money: make it honestly if possible, if not, make it by any means.

Epistles
Horace (65 – 8 BC)
Roman, lyric poet, satirist

L

ook both ways before you cross the street, Katie!” Sandra called out. The young girl turned and waved and followed the parental admonishment. Sandra watched her cross the street and join the other neighbourhood girls in a stuffed animal tea party.

She started to close the door, when she saw those two police officers pull up to the house. The woman cop was driving.

Enlightened. What the hell do they want?

“Hello,” she called out cheerfully.

“Hello, Mrs. Curtis. ” Mavis said.

“Officer, what can I do for you? Come on in, I’ll make some coffee.”

They followed her into the house, and into the kitchen.

“So, did you get proof that Bill is cheating? Are him and Beth behind the plot to kill Beth’s lazy co-workers?” She asked jokingly as she made the coffee.

“I’m sorry, there’s no easy way, but there’s been a shooting at your husband’s work site.” Mavis paused, “Your husband was among the fatalities.”

Sandra stopped moving.

Bill’s dead. Really dead.

“Who?” Sandra cleared her throat, “I mean, who was the shooter?”

“Beth Hartley,” Ralph said.

Sandra processed the information.  She kept her back to them, she wasn’t sure if she could maintain her composure.

“Do you have her in custody?”

“We weren’t able to take her alive.” Ralph was uncomfortable with this line of questioning, but people need different information to process personal tragedy.

“Would you excuse me a moment? I just need to… go to the bathroom.”

“Certainly, take your time.” Ralph stood away from the kitchen door so Sandra could exit. “I’ll finish the coffee, she’ll need some.”

Mavis just nodded. This was the part of the job she hated the most. She was glad another team of police were going to attend at Beth’s home. She just didn’t think she could look at Beth’s husband and tell him that his wife was dead because she and Ralph had shot her.

“So, do you think she just got impatient?” Mavis asked.

“What?” Ralph turn from the counter to face Mavis.

“I’m sorry, conversation leap,” Mavis explained. ” Beth, do you think she just decided that poison was too slow? I can’t imagine that there would have been two totally separate people working in the mail centre who tired to kill everyone. The poisoning must have been her, too.”

“She had access to Bill Curtis’ heat pills,” Ralph turned the thought over in his mind. “Some of the staff we interviewed felt that her pasta salad had made them feel sick, that it tasted off. Maybe she and Bill plotted together, but then why kill him too? Clearly, she was off the deep end.”

“Clearly,” Mavis agreed. “I feel bad for Sandra, finding out for sure that her husband was cheating on her and then losing him in same week.”

“Besides, of the people we have left to possibly investigate, Kate had only been in the mail centre for two weeks, Deborah even less than that, so they wouldn’t have been there long enough to have a motive.”

“And that leaves Clare,” Mavis finished, “And, well, I just don’t see her as a killer.”

“Me either,” Ralph said, “She just seemed content with her life and her job. She had the most believable things to say about her co-workers, nothing too bad or too good, just people.”

“If there was another killer, it would probably have been Bill in conjunction with Beth.”

Upstairs, Sandra braced herself against the sink.

All these months she’d been slowly poisoning him with extra amounts of his own medicine, the guilt over poisoning the food that he took to the potluck, that only he and Beth were supposed to eat.

What had made that stupid idiot share it and kill that poor boy?

All these months of planning to kill him myself and then his own goddamn mistress does it for me!

Opening the medicine cabinet, Sandra opened the bottle of Midol and poured out Bill’s small green digoxin gelcaps into the toilet.

Dying at work, that must increase the death benefit pay out.

She was really glad that, through the bathroom door and from downstairs, her laughter would sound like sobbing.

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