© Stuart Warner Phelps
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The opening chapters detail abuse on a vulnerable Jane. However, once the police become involved the storyline opens out to become a challenging detective story involving computer fraud, sex, drugs, and murder.
The morning drive to work had always been a stressful event; the slow crawl, the stop start that was a traffic jam, the frustration of trying to find somewhere to park. Now she was on the bus with no control over her journey. The precious car nothing but a memory of money saved. She stared out of the window without seeing, her mind jumping from one dread to another, feeling emotionally charged.
Although only six weeks had passed since she’d last made this journey, it felt like a lifetime. So much had happened, and whilst she knew her work mates would be there for her, she was dreading the reunion. A confusion of emotions churned at her insides.
She could remember a time when she looked forward to the start of a new week and the challenges that awaited her. Like most of the staff at Clarks, predominantly women, she enjoyed the working environment and the comradeship. Of course, there were days she needed to force herself out of bed and rush to get ready. But once she was there, mixing with her work colleagues, spreading the gossip, having a laugh, she was glad she’d made the effort.
Today she approached the staff entrance with a feeling of dread. She was still hurting - would be for many months - but Jane realised it was time to put the past behind her and try to begin building her new life.
Jane worked in the insurance company of Clarks, along with about sixty others. It wasn’t the most inspiring of jobs. You sat at your desk and worked on the computer settling claims. But they were a great bunch of girls, and the pay was good.
She approached the double doors into the main hallway with a feeling of trepidation, only to find the work area exactly as she remembered it. The individual stations, each with its own phone and computer, the sense of order.
So much had happened in those past weeks, yet here it seemed nothing had changed. A gentle buzz of conversation met her. Even though she was early several workers were already milling around, it was five minutes past eight, there was still twenty-five minutes to go before business began.
Most of the work spaces remained empty, the girls standing around talking and catching up on the gossip. But she noticed there was already someone sitting at what she had always considered to be her station. Someone she didn’t know. This threw her for a few seconds, and she wasn’t quite sure what she should do.
One or two of her friends, catching sight of her, rushed over to greet and offer sympathy. Although she was pleased to see a welcoming face, her head was full of the things that needed doing, and she hadn’t time to chat. Her priority was to speak with Marsha White, the Floor Manager. She needed to know which station she would be here’s and she required a password, to key into the computer.
As usual Marsha’s door was wide open, but frustratingly, she had yet to arrive. With the thought this was where she needed to be, she hung around her office, waiting for her to appear.
By the end of the first week she’d begun to have doubts. She could cope with the work. It was straight forward, and the system hadn’t been changed while she had been away. Of course, she’d only had six weeks off, but a lot could occur in six weeks - a new person sitting at her work station for instance.
The problem wasn’t the job, it was her. She wasn’t ready. With grieving still to do it was money, or the lack of it, that took her back so early. She was not a fool, she understood she wasn’t functioning properly, but there was a need to pay the bills.
She occasionally found her attention drifting off to a time shared with John, thinking of the good times - the silly arguments and the making up afterwards. On one occasion, her memories had been so vivid, so real; she had jolted back astonished to find she was still at work, sitting at her desk in Clarks. Fortunately, she hadn’t been dealing with a customer’s queries. But that had been pure chance.
Having John in her head and talking to her was a great comfort. But, even in her disturbed state she understood talking to your husband as though he was in the room was not healthy.
He had been struck by a speeding car whilst crossing the road directly outside the factory gates. The driver hadn’t stopped. The car was discovered later that day; a burnt-out shell. It had been reported stolen three days previously. “Kids,” the police had said. They still hadn't fount the culprit.
They’d had breakfast together, finished their coffee and set off in different directions. It was a short walk for John, a journey into town for Jane. A peck on the cheek and wave as John disappeared around the corner. Out of sight and unknowingly, out of her life forever. She had relived those precious last few minutes a thousand times with so many different permutations – none of them satisfactory.
An enquiring murmur of voices from the girls, that grew louder and rapidly spread, was the first sign. Soon everyone not dealing with an insurance claim was staring with open curiosity at the glass partitions in the entrance hall. Here, the distinct outlines of two police constables, one of them a young woman, could be clearly seen. They milled about for a few minutes as if unsure where they should go then disappeared into Harry Black’s office. He was Clarks Personnel Manager.
There came an instant buzz of conversation that grew louder by the second as the majority of Clarks staff began voicing their opinion as to what the problem could be.
Next thing Harry was having a whispered conversation to Marsha White. They scanned the room seeking the person they were after, then began making their way down the row of stations, with each occupant silently praying, not me, please, not me.
They stopped at Jane’s desk.
Jane was escorted to Harry’s offices in crumbling trepidation, there the woman Constable, gave her the tragic news. It was the end of her life as she had known it.
Now she was back, a mere six weeks later. Bruised, and forever tainted by her tragedy, but determined to carry on.
It had been a joint decision not to have children. Now, with both sets of parents long gone Jane was completely alone. John’s insurance had paid for the funeral, paid off the mortgage. Living in a fog of confusion, she had impossible dreams of creating a new life for herself, starting over. Selling up and living in a caravan by the sea, going for long walks along the shore, collecting sea shells. She saw others laughing and joking, enjoying life and wondered if she would ever feel that way again.
Now there was the problem of Mick. He was the IT guy who serviced the computers. For some unaccountable reason, he seemed to have taken a shine to her. He was a thoroughly unpleasant person, seemingly without morals, or even a conscience, wandered around like God´s gift to women, making sexual innuendos. She’d witnessed him touching some of the other women in an intimate manner. Anything in a skirt seemed to be his motto. Jane had looked on with puzzlement, couldn´t understand why ‘in this day and age’ he hadn’t been reported for his unpleasantness - given the sack.
Thankfully, he had never made advances to her. But, overnight, all that changed.
Jane quickly settled back into Clarks systems and working routines and treasured the comradeship with the other girls. But she was still emotionally bruised - vulnerable.
In life there are always those ready to take advantage of the weak and defenceless.
First week back, Mick had made a grab at her, rubbing himself up the back of her legs. She’d been bending over her desk, straightening her files; at first she didn’t recognise him. She’d jumped back and stared in appalled bemusement, certain it had been done in error; thinking he’d mistaken her for another someone with whom he was much more than simply friends.
He had smiled, full of confidence, threw her a flamboyant air kiss and swaggered off; leaving her staring after him in bewilderment: To her horror, in her confusion she had even returned his smile. She often wondered if that returned smile, so innocently given, had been the beginning of the whole sordid affair.
From that day, with no encouragement from her, he began to make straight for her every time he was in the hall, and with each attempt, his moves became bolder.
She told him to stop. Said she would report him to management if he carried on. But all he did was laugh and say, “Don’t be a prude, it’s only a bit of fun.”
She couldn’t understand why she had become the centre of his unpleasant attention. He’d never bothered her before. His pestering had only started since her husband’s death – it was almost as if he saw her as a challenge.
She couldn’t have made it more obvious she was not interested. Understanding subtlety was wasted on him she pointedly - even rudely snubbed him. Yet despite this his attention grew as he gained confidence. Only this morning, he’d grabbed her from behind, put his arms around her waist, and pulled her onto him three or four times, simulating coitus, pressing his crotch into her back, rubbing up and down her bottom.
Up until that moment the pestering and touching had been very annoying, but fairly innocent. This was his worse offence by far. There could be no misunderstanding his intentions. Jane gave a scream of outrage, fought free from his grasp turned and slapped his face - hard.
However he’d simply rubbed at his reddening hand imprinted cheek, given a lecherous smile, and swaggered off.
Jane seethed for ten or more minutes, to upset to work. Then she understood it was time to report him to her Line Manager, Marsha White.
Marsha was a large woman, ruled by habit, prone to wearing tweed regardless of the fickleness of the weather. She had an aloof old fashioned style of management, a short fuse and a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian. She also had a saying, ‘my door is always open ‘and it literally was, but that was only so she could keep an eye on ‘her girls’.
Jane knocked on the door, walked in and explained exactly what had happened.
“Did you say anything to provoke him?” Marsha asked.
“No, I know what he’s like so I don’t even make eye contact with him.”
“Oh, so he’s done this to you before, has he?”
Jane pulled a face, “Yes, he’s at it all the time.”
“Well what does he do?”
I don’t like to say.” Jane said, biting her lip.
“I’m afraid you must - if you’re making a formal complaint against another member of staff, we need to understand exactly what that complaint is.”
Jane took a deep breath of encouragement, and said, “He rubs his body against me. Even though there is plenty of space he squashes himself against me as he pushes past.”
“I see, and you think this is him being sexual towards you?”
Jane gave Marsha a look of astonishment and said, “Well I can’t imagine how else I could interpret what he’s doing.”
“Does he say anything to you whilst he’s, um – pushing past.”
“No, and he doesn’t look at me either, he just saunters over, all cheeky like, and makes a grab for me.”
“Makes a grab for you? But you said he rubs against you.”
“Marsha, he does a lot of things, I don’t want to get him into trouble. I just want him to stop pestering me.”
“Well I think the simplest thing to do is tell him yourself. Because once you make a complaint it will go straight to the top, and he will
probably get the sack.”
“I have told him to stop, many times, I slapped his face this morning, really hard, you could see the imprint of my hand, but he just smiled and carried on as though nothing had happened.”
“You slapped his face? That’s a dismissible offence, you shouldn’t have done that. You could be the one getting the sack if you go around doing things like that.”
“What.” Jane stared in amazement at Marsha, “I could be getting the sack because I’m standing up for myself. Because I’m not prepared to let dirty Mick press his cock against me, and make a grab at my breasts. It’s not just me you know. He’s a dirty animal, goes around touching all the girls, making coarse comments.”
“Well, no-one else has complained about him, and he certainly hasn’t made a move towards me.”
“He wouldn’t dare,” said Jane without thinking.
“What are you saying Jane?”
Jane was more than aware what Marsha’s question was about, but she chose to misconstrue. “What I’m saying is…I want you to do something about filthy Mick, tell him he can’t go around touching girls, just because he feels like it. I want you to warn him; the next time he could lose his job.”
“So, you’re telling me how to do my job now – is that it?”
Jane stared at Marsha in astonishment, “I’ve come to you, because you’re my Line Manager, and I have a problem. There are laws against this kind of thing you know.”
Jane could see Marsha was upset, just because Jane saw her as an unattractive, old fashioned, unfriendly dictator, didn’t mean she didn’t have men friends, which is what she appeared to be implying by her ‘he wouldn’t dare’ statement. It had slipped out without her thinking, and now Marsha was upset.
“I’ll make a note of your comments for my records. As I say, no-one else has complained about Henderson and until they do it’s your word against his, and as you have already confessed to hitting him - hard enough to mark his face, I feel your own case is perilously set. However, I will have a word with him.”
Next day, in the afternoon, an enraged Mick stormed over to her desk where she was working. Furiously hissing, “What the fuck are you trying to do? Get me the sack; I was only being friendly. Only making it clear I fancy you, telling you I was available.”
This information stopped Jane in her tracks; she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It seemed Mick’s annoying and belittling groping, was his far from subtle way of informing her, he liked her.
“What do you mean, available?”
Of course, Jane knew very well what he was implying. She took umbrage to his crude talk, and his assumption, that since her husband’s passing had deprived her of male company, she must be ‘gagging’ for sex.
She was also indignant at his conviction, she would contemplate going with someone who considered groping breasts, and pressing flaccid penises into a person back, to be the height of a chat up line.
“Well…what do you mean?” Jane pressed. She was determined to embarrass him but it didn’t seem to be working.
“You know,” he said with a leer on his face, “A bit of the unmentionable, a night of passion.”
“What, you with me,” She decided not to laugh in his face. That would have been rude and imply she thought she was better than him, which of course she did, but there were subtler ways of making this known.
“Now let me get this right, you’ve got to understand I was married for a long time, so I’m not up to speed with the modern ways of courtship. But if I understand you correctly, you’re asking me out on a date?”
“What…eh well I suppose so.”This was the last thing Mick was asking for. All he wanted was a quick grope; take it as far as he could, something to make the day pass a bit quicker. He could tell Jane had a lot more class than most of the other women at Clarks, it was this that intrigued him - but he certainly wasn´t asking her out.
“I think it´s more I’m asking you in, if you know what I mean.” He gave an even more obscene leer and a crotch thrust, while running his tongue across his top lip.
Were this happening to someone else, Jane would be able to see the funny side. It would be a hysterical; ‘you won’t believe what happened to me today’ joke to share with others. But it was happening to her and it was far too close to the death of her husband for it to be anything but a cruel intrusion into her delicate state and gradual recovery.
She unplugged her phone headset, removed it, pushed her chair back and stood. It was time to bring this whole, distasteful and upsetting incident to a permanent end. How he had come to latch onto her she couldn’t imagine, she’d certainly not sent out any signals, however vague. The concept of her disrobing and sharing herself with another male filled her with feelings of disloyalty and unfaithfulness. The thought of doing so with the uncouth and offensive Mick, made her feel ill.
She said, loudly and clearly, “I’ve told you to leave me alone; I’m not interested in you, or what you have to offer.”
Mick had been in spots like this before, were he capable of embarrassment he would be mortified. But, in his world there was no such thing as loss of face, only missed opportunities. In his mind, she would be easy. He tried, she wasn’t, and that was the end of it - time to move on.
He folded his arms across his chest, an arrogant, self-satisfied smile played across his face as he stood in front of Jane, defiant to the
Jane let fly a screech of anger and screamed “If you so much as touch me again, I’ll make an official complaint to the management and you’ll get the bloody sack.”
Half of the desks stopped work immediately, thirty or more people all stood, craning their heads, trying to determine who had caused a break in the orderly peace and efficiency of Clarks, the insurance brokers.
Mick suddenly changed, he could see half the workforce checking him out, wondering what he had done this time, speculating what his reaction would be, after all, he had a reputation to think of. His smile dropped off his face, to be replaced by a sneer, he moved closer to Jane and poked her in the chest, hard. So hard she fell backwards onto her desk.
“I won’t forget this,” he snarled, “You’d better watch your fucking back.” He turned to face the crowd of female onlookers, almost all the workers at Clarks. They had left their desks and now formed a ragged circle of inquisitiveness around them.
“I only asked her out. The stupid bitch went fucking berserk, just because I asked her out on a date.”
Of course, over the years he been there, most the women at Clarks had themselves been subjected to Mick’s blundering, vulgar nastiness and if they hadn’t, they knew someone who had. As a group, they were united in their support for Jane, but they never expected what followed.
Jane stared in stunned amazement at Mick’s dishonesty, finding her voice she shrieked, “You lying pig!”
Then with suddenness no-one could have foreseen, she leaped, like a screaming banshee, onto his back with a yell of hate fuelled anger and began pummelling his head. All the pent-up emotion, the hurt and pain in her life spilled out in a dramatic explosion of temper.
No-one tried to stop her; instead the group of women formed a tighter circle and began egging Jane on. Mick finally shrugged Jane off; giving a look of utter contempt he made to force his way out of the crush of women. One of them swung her handbag with force into the side of his head, knocking him sideward. Another followed, and the circle grew tighter.
Jane’s arm was grabbed and she was pulled free of the circle of revenge. Now there was only Mick, trapped and cowering in the
centre of a crowd of angry women.
“Pervert, filthy sod, mucky bastard,” the shouts of obscenity from the women was accompanied by shrill cries of pain from Mick.
The frustration and fury harboured by countless individuals, at the little shit who had swaggered into their lives and caused pain and embarrassment, was being given release, anonymously, in the shelter of the group. The way things were going; Mick stood a good chance of losing far more than simply his dignity.
Jane stood at the back of the room, a mere witness to the chaos and confusion she had instigated. Suddenly rising far above the noise of the women settling old scores, a single, louder voice could be heard the voice of authority.
It was the voice of Marsha White.
“Back to your desk girls, come on - back to work.”
She ploughed into the centre of the fracas, pushing mature women aside as though they were children, until she arrived at the centre and came upon Mick, crawling on his knees with his hands held protectively over his head. He had to be helped to his feet.
He stood, slightly dazed and supported by Marsha. His shirt had almost been ripped off his back, one of his trouser pockets had been torn and now dangled down at his knees, a dozen or more, sharp finger nails had sought their revenge, his chest was covered in marks, blood could be seen seeping down his leg, he also had a badly scratched face and a bloodied nose.
It had been a decisive battle, and there could be no questioning the outcome. Mick knew his days of sexual shenanigans and cowardly groping was well and truly over.
Marsha checked about her, looking for the ringleader of this fracas. She knew who she was looking for and was surprised to see Jane well away from the brawl.
The moment she’d heard the screaming and the shouting she had a good understanding of what was going on. An hour before she had given Mick a warning, spelling out his degrading and demeaning remarks to her girls and his lewd and distasteful behaviour would not be put up with any longer. Informed him, one more incident of a similar nature would result in his immediate dismissal.
She had expected something, Mick was a hard worker but he was also an unpleasant bully, using his masculinity to his own ends.
It was only after Jane’s forceful comments, “He’s nothing but an animal, goes around touching all the girls,” did she decide to make a few enquiries.
It didn’t take long to confirm Jane’s complaints. After speaking to one or two of the older hands Marsha was surprised to discover Jane’s accusations to be mild compared to some of the story’s the women regaled her with.
They would need to get to the bottom of this story, see who did what, but from what little information Marsha already had, it was obvious there was no possible way Mick’s services could be retained.
He was summarily dismissed. Unfortunately, he didn’t go quietly. Screaming wild threats - warning anyone prepared to listen they should watch their backs as he would get his own back. Refusing to leave, he was still making the same wild threats when the police arrived.
He was arrested for threatening behaviour and taken to the local police station.
There was very little work completed that afternoon.
Harry Black sat with Marsha over a coffee and tried to sort out what had gone wrong with their orderly run business. It was easy to see the flaw was Henderson. However, the deeper Harry dug the more disturbing the details. Soon the attention shifted to Marsha herself, it seemed she had been told of Mick and his sexist behaviour, yet her records clearly demonstrated she had done little - nothing on some occasions.
Unexpectedly, Marsha was defending herself.
She snapped, “I record every incident I’m involved with, right down to the smallest pieces of trivia.”
“Are you sure? I don’t recall received anything from you regarding Mick’s appalling sexist behaviour.”
“Well, I’m not surprised. The incident only occurred today, rest assured a full report will be on your desk by tomorrow.”
Marsha lent forward and pointed out an entry in her book, “The comments Jane made are recorded here. I called Mick in and gave him an unofficial warning and recorded that here,” she turned the page and pointed out the entry.
Giving an irritated look she added, “Obviously, in light of recent events, both entries have become far more significant, and I will ensure a full and detailed report of the whole incident is downloaded to you.”
“That’s all well and good, what I can’t understand is why you gave him an unofficial warning. Jane is making a serious complaint of sexual abuse. This not only goes against Clarks polices but also a workers statutory rights.”
Marsha looked angry and snapped, “Well obviously I misjudged the situation.”
Catching the questioning look on Harry’s face she added, “Jane’s husband died recently and she’s been a little weepy - this is the reason I didn’t make her complaint official. I explained to Henderson Jane was vulnerable and told him to keep his humour to himself.”
She threw her hands in the air and said, “How was I to know he would go straight over and start a fight.”
Harry silently flicked through the book, occasionally stopping to read of the misdemeanours by a staff member and the action taken.
Marsha made the point, “This is just a record of events - it’s my diary of trivia if you like. Anything serious is entered into the system, it´s on my files and automatically downloaded to personnel for you to action.”
Marsha wasn’t certain how to broach the next topic, but in light of events realised she had a duty to report her findings. “I made a few enquiries and I uncovered something of a shock horror story.”
Harry gave a start, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well I’ve been told Mick has been ‘persuading’ some of our girls into giving him sexual favours.”
Harry gave a cold laugh and said, “What.”
Marsha quickly added, “Personally I can’t see it, we’re talking mature married women, not randy teenagers. But…I’ve been told he has been having regular sex with more than twenty of them.”
She left the shock of that comment hang in the air, before adding, “Up against the wall in the toilets of all places.”
There was a gasp of indignation from the Harry, he threw himself back in his chair and shouted, “Up against the wall - in the toilets?”
He stared blankly in front of himself, head whirling, once he found his voice he snapped “But we’ve only got fifty-six women working here.”
Marsha made a pointed gesture and said, “Well – it looks as though mucky Mick has had his hands on half of them.”
There was a long pause then Harry spluttered, “I’m sorry I can’t get my head around this - are you sure?”
Before she could reply he added, “How could he have got away with it - why the hell didn’t someone report it?”
Marsha said, “I don’t know yet, blackmail was mentioned. Although what that pervert could possibly have on my girls…as I say, most them are married women - with kids.”
She gave a grim smile as she added, “However – that was yesterday. Today I posed the same questions and everyone denied any knowledge - a couple even laughed when I asked about the sex in the toilets.
Harry slid his chair back so hard it thumped into the wall. Holding his hands wide he shouted, “So, what do we believe?”
“Harry I have no idea, but at the moment we seem to be facing a conspiracy of silence.”
Harry’s face was a picture, “Conspiracy of silence?”
“Well think about it, if Mick was forcing them to have sex, they certainly wouldn’t want others to know. Now Henderson’s been sacked they probably feel safer. It’s a fact, a large group of women working together form strong bonds of loyalty and the question I’ve been posing – well, they’re not the normal questions a person gets asked”
Harry gave a start, “I just hope this doesn’t get into the papers. The press would have a field day. Clarks the insurance company, purveyors of insurance for every walk of life– embroiled in a mucky sex scandal.”
“I can’t see my girls saying anything; they would have too much to lose and if you’re talking Henderson I can’t imagine we’ll see him again, not after what happened; of course, the police will still want a statement.”
“I’m not thinking about him! And I’ve already informed the police Clarks will not be pressing charges.”
Marsha gave a look of surprise, “You’re not pressing charges?”
“What’s the point? Even if we prosecuted nothing would come of it. At the best it would be a fine for threatening behaviour. Far worse would be the bad publicity for Clarkes. “No, we’ve seen the last of him, what I want is the woman who started it.”
Marsha looked at Harry open mouthed, “Tell me you’re joking. Christ Harry, every woman was involved, they were climbing all over him. You couldn’t see Henderson; he was curled up in a ball on the floor. It would be unfair to pick one person out; they were in it together.”
“Someone started it, someone threw the first punch, that’s the person I want. Bloody hell Marsha, this was a full scale riot – on the shop floor. We can’t ignore that.”
“I don’t think the girls will stand for it, if you’re looking for the wrongdoer that must be Mick. The girls were merely defending themselves.”
“Defending themselves,” Harry gave a bark of a laugh, “You described finding him at the bottom of a pile of angry women.”
He gave a snort of derision. “They weren’t defending themselves - they were getting their own back. Did you see the marks on his face and body? Some of them were deep, looked like they needed stitches. That wasn’t defensive action. That was a full bloodied attack.”
Marsha snapped, “Maybe he deserved it.”
Harry gave a shrug, “Maybe he did, all I’m saying is we can’t ignore it.”
Marsh shuffled in her seat, “I know who it is, but if we make a move against her I’m certain we will have a strike on our hands. There’s a huge amount of sympathy for her, what with her husband dying so young - It’s Jane.”
Harry looked incredulously at Marsha and said, “She started it.”
“No! She didn’t start anything. Mick was pestering her, grooming her I suppose you could say. But she wasn’t having any of his nonsense, she reported him to me and that’s what started it.”
Harry mused aloud, “I’ve a good mind to let it drop. Henderson’s been dismissed, that should be the end of it.”
Marsha added to Harry’s ruminations, with her own thoughts, “We should be thanking Jane for bringing this out into the open, not punishing her. I get the feeling a few of the girls were doing things they’re not proud of.”
She then added, “Oh, I’ve just had a thought - if Mick was being sexual with a couple of girls and I questioned one he hadn’t touched. They would tell their friends and the story would spread.”
Harry looked puzzled, and then he said, “Oh I see what you mean, like that game ‘whispers’. It starts with them talking about Mick groping and ends with him forcing twenty or more into sex in the toilets.”
Marsha nodded, “Yes... and if that is the case it’s no wonder they were angry.”
A moment of quiet ensued, Harry and Marsha sat locked in their own thoughts, and then Harry shifted in his seat, sat forward and said, “Oh well, I suppose we’d better get Jane in.”
Marsha looked up in surprise, “I thought you were going to let it drop?”
“I probably will, but we still need to talk to her, she needs to understand fighting is unacceptable behaviour. We need to make it clear to all our staff, no-one can take the law into their own hands, and when I say law, of course I’m talking company policy.”
“You keep saying we - do you want me to sit in, actually be involved?”
“I think you should; you know her better than I. You can jump in and calm things down if Jane starts getting stroppy. You know what some women are like. They get put under a bit of pressure and reason flies out the window.”
Marsha stared at Harry with exasperation, and angrily said, “The same thing can be said for some men as well - maybe it’s a human trait we all share.”
Unfortunately her angry comments flew straight past Harry’s head.
“Well,” said Marsha, folding her arms across her ample bust, “If I’m going to sit in on this discipline, I think you should tell me what your aims and objectives are. Make sure we’re both singing from the same hymn sheet.”
“I’ve jotted a few things down, obviously, we need to see how the meeting progresses, but I was thinking of a lay off, two weeks, obviously with pay, whilst we look at the details of the incident and come to the right decision.”
Marsha nodded knowingly, “I suppose the decision will conclude that Mick was partially in the wrong. But, he has already been dismissed for his threatening behaviour and will not be reinstated, whilst Jane, also in the wrong, will be allowed to start back again after the two weeks. But will be given a formal written warning.”
“Yes, I think so,” He sat back in his chair, decision made.
“But what happens if Henderson starts playing up?”
Harry pulled a face, “I can’t see that happening. If he was pressurising those women to submit to his demands, it’s a criminal offence, he would be arrested. Twenty odd women - he’d be in prison for the rest of his life.”
Marsha’s eyes popped, “If it’s that serious, maybe we should report him?”
“Oh I think the accusations are serious enough. But, we could be opening a can of worms. More importantly, I can’t imagine any of the women being thrilled to have a story like this come out into the open, and they are the ones who have allegedly been molested.”
Harry sat back eyes turned towards the ceiling deep in thought.
“I’m all for letting the whole thing drop. If the women feel sufficiently aggrieved they want to pursue this further, they can go the police independently and Clarkes will offer full support. What we have with Jane is a different situation; I’ve been told she threw the first punch that started the brawl. She broke a fundamental rule of all workplaces anywhere in the country, no fighting.”
Marsha pulled a face, “Well, Jane hasn’t said much. I think we need to hear her side before we reach a decision, she’s waiting in my office.”
Jane looked dreadful, she had obviously been crying. Barely acknowledging Harry Black she dropped into her seat saying, “Am I going to lose my job?”
The bluntness of the question put Harry off his stride, and for a few seconds he was lost. “Erm – well that remains to be seen, what Marsha and I are trying to do is determine what happened.”
“What happened? It’s very simple –I snapped. That man is evil. He kept touching me, going a little bit farther each time. I told him to stop. I even slapped his face; this was when he tried putting his hand up my dress. But he still continued.”
“Why didn’t you report him to your line manager,” said Harry, pointing to Marsha.
“I did, I put up with his filth for about a month, but it was getting worse. When he put his hand up my dress and tried to touch me, well that’s when I knew I had to be more assertive, so I told Marsha. But he went crazy, coming down to my desk, shouting and swearing, threatening. I can’t remember exactly what happened after that. Everything is confused. I remember him pushing me over, his leering face and the sexual comments.”
Harry started, “Oh - so he pushed you over. Was that before or after you hit him?”
Jane stared unseeing in front of her, thinking back, then she said, “Before...the next thing I remember is jumping on his back. I think I may have scratched his face. To be honest by this time everything was becoming a bit of a blur.”
Harry lent forward, determined to get his all important question answered, “So let’s get this right - you’re saying he attacked you first?”
Jane looked blank at that question, “Well there was a lot of shouting and swearing, a lot of noise going on. But, I wasn’t involved with any of that.”
“Yes, but you are saying he hit you first?”
“He pushed me hard in the chest and I fell onto my desk.”
Whilst Harry wrote those all important details down Jane picked up her handbag and said, “Is that all, or will you want me for anything else.”
Harry had been taking notes, he looked up at Jane’s remark and suddenly realised he hadn’t explained to her the reason they were having this meeting. There was a reason for his lapse, it was the shocking way in which Jane had entered his office; she’d walked in and dropped into the chair, her face blotchy from crying. She looked haunted, strangely detached - ill, like someone heading for a breakdown. It was hard, if not impossible to believe she could be the instigator of a mutinous disturbance.
He had expected a defiant, bulky, self-confident person, someone more than capable of looking after themselves. Jane was thin, almost skinny; her whole demeanour lent an air of despair and tragedy.
Bewildered, he had neglected to inform her he was making an official enquiry into a case of gross misconduct - that discipline procedures would be taken, and she was the person being considered.
“You do understand you have broken one of Clarks fundamental rulings,” Harry said, “Fighting is a disciplinary offence, normally resulting in instant dismissal. What happened was unprecedented; the whole workforce involved in a fracas, a huge disturbance that in effect brought our business to a close.”
“I can’t understand what you were doing,” he added, “Picking a fight with Mick, he’s a big strong fellow; he could have really hurt you.”
“I wasn’t really fighting. I wasn’t even thinking. I was just so angry. He seemed to think it was all right for him to fondle and touch me intimately. I warned him I would complain, and then, when I did, he came over and started threatening. Trying to make out it was my fault.”
She dropped her handbag back onto the floor, folded her arms, and said matter of factly, “Of course the big problem is I returned to work too soon. I should have given myself time to fully recover from the death of John, my husband. I think I’m suffering from depression and that horrendous person just isn’t helping.
Harry ears pricked up at this information; if there was a medical problem he could use that. She would need to produce a doctor’s note, he thought. Then as he glanced at her sad countenance, her general demeanour and realised that shouldn’t be a problem.
She would still have to be laid off while investigations took place. But at the end of that, subject to nothing untoward showing up in their checks, which he was certain would be the case, she could be reinstated - job done. He couldn’t foresee a problem.
Officially informed she was being laid off until investigations into the incident were completed, Harry took great pains to ensure she was aware she wasn’t being dismissed. Confirmed that and as long as nothing untoward was uncovered, she could return to work. He also suggested she would be wise to see her doctor.
Jane stopped off at the medical practice on her way home; the harassed doctor barely looked up when she walked in. She explained her husband had died recently, stated she felt stressed, was lonely, couldn’t sleep and had begun talking to herself. The doctor was half way through writing out the prescription before she had finished. She was back out on the street before she realised, she hadn’t even mentioned her problems at work.
‘Diazepam’ was what the prescription said, ‘Valium’ by another name, the answer to our modern Worlds problems.