Jasu Shan closed the door to the office, mixed a cocktail of Paracetamol and Quickeze into her coffee, then swilled the whole thing down. Just hold on, Jasu. Darelson promised a position at head office, just as soon as Vickers retired… Old Vickers, who was barely getting by, these days. Just hold on and soon you’ll be out of this dump.
Trouble had started almost as soon as she’d arrived that morning. Jane Nguyen from the Equipment Hire counter was one of that section of the staff that Ms Shen thought of as ‘the normal people’. She had been showing off her new smart phone, and somehow managed to trigger the self-destruct system on Nalda Teheintausand’s internal fission reactor. Axel Platzoff had tried to jerry-rig a carbon-rod dampening system out of charcoal briquettes, but Donna from lighting hacked Nalda’s system and initiated shutdown mode before Axel had made much progress.
Near nuclear meltdown in a hardware store, and it was barely half past nine. About the only thing Ms Shan could do was to get Nalda to shut down her WiFi to prevent similar incidents.
Ms Shan drank down the coffee. Vickers. So old. Frail. Couldn’t last long. Probably wanted to go play with his grandchildren.She looked at her phone, willing it to ring. Retire! Retire, you senile old bastard!
There was a soft knock on the door. Ms Shan looked around her windowless little cubby-hole of an office and sighed. What now? What could it be now?
“Come in,” she said, acid in her stomach rising in anticipation of the latest travesty. But instead of one of her staff members, it was Claudia Lebeau, the manager of the South Hertling Super Centre, with two cups of coffee. Real coffee, not Handy Pavillion coffee.
“Hello Jasu,” Mrs Lebeau said. “Sorry I haven’t come to see you since you’ve been back.”
“Hi, Claudia,” Ms Shan said, pointedly not accepting the apology.
“Yeah, it’s been a nightmare, lately.”
Mrs Lebeau took a seat and gave Ms Shan her coffee. Ms Shan stared at the paper cup for a moment, then sighed and picked it up. The tension in the office faded a little, though not completely.
“Just a heads up,” Ms Lebeau said. “You know the accident outside, a few days back? Guy hit by a ute?”
“He was one of yours,” Ms Lebeau said, checking her tablet. “A Mr Zorbar Ofthechimps?”
“Not one of ours,” Ms Shan said. “Used to be, but sacked a few weeks back.”
“Well, he was kidnapped.”
“Some bystanders said the driver of the ute put him in the back, saying that he was taking him to hospital,” Ms Lebeau said. “But he never arrived. I’m looking into this on a liability level, of course, but if there’s a kidnapper about you should warn your staff. Be careful, park close by, that sort of thing.”
Ms Shan glared at Mrs Lebeau. “Is that all?”
“No,” Mrs Lebeau said. “You know Karl Wintergreen?”
“The weird newsletter guy?”
“He wanted to put something in the newsletter suggesting that one of your people was involved in that armoured car heist.”
“Uh… Fiona… something.”
Ms Shan laughed out loud. Fiona was about as unlikely a robber as could be imagined. Ms Shan hadn’t talked to Fiona since her return, but she remembered the girl as a timid, mousy, semi-competent, who couldn’t be trusted for a coffee-run, let alone a payroll heist.
“Yes, well I told Karl that the centre newsletter shouldn’t be used to for defamatory purposes,” Mrs Lebeau said, rolling her eyes. “Then he started claiming local courts only had maritime authority, or some nonsense. Anyway, like I said, I just wanted to give a heads up.”
There was another knock on the door. This time it was Norman, who was a nice lad in general but always seemed to be under Ms Shan’s feet lately.
“It’s Buck Dusty,” Norman said.
“Filipino woman? Works in the garden centre?”
“Works in power tools,” Norman said. “Don’t reckon he’s Filo. He’s some sort of cowboy, I think. Has one of them hats, anyway. He was showing off, twirling a nail-gun and…”
“Is he injured?”
“No, just nailed himself to a chainsaw by his sleeve.”
“Do we have pliers somewhere?”
Norman looked surprised. “Well, yeah. It’s a hardware centre.”
“Then bloody use them,” Ms Shan said.
“Yes, Miss,” Norman said. He looked downcast as a kicked dog, but Ms Shan was in no mood to soften the blow.
“And tell him that the cost of the chainsaw is coming out of his pay,” she added. Norman’s sad backwards glance was almost heartrending.
Ms Shan composed herself and breathed in deeply. She took a long sip of Mrs Lebeau’s coffee. “Thank you for the heads up. But you could have just emailed me, you know. No need to come in person. You didn’t feel the need to come visit me in hospital. But I guess that’s different to taking a little stroll across from centre management to talk to me.”
Mrs Lebeau grimaced. “I guess I deserve that. But I have been busy lately. A lot of things going on, at work and at home.” She took a deep breath. “And in court. It’s finalised. My husband… my ex-husband… he’s stopped making trouble and just signed the paperwork.”
“Really?” Ms Shan climbed out of her uncomfortable little office chair. “I… I don’t know what to say.”
“Then don’t say anything.”
Fiona stood outside the office door, lost in thought. The heist had seemed so… so fun. But now dear old Wellsey didn’t trust her anymore, and that creep Wintergreen was accusing her of all sorts of things and thugs were assaulting Axel in the carpark… It was too far. It had all gone too far.
She needed to tell. Not the police, not yet. Fiona needed the leader of the Handy Pavilion to know what she had wrought. That way Ms Shan could… could…
Fiona didn’t know what Ms Shan could do, exactly. She barely knew her at all. She just knew that Ms Shen was in charge and that Norman was always talking about how wise and clever she was. Fiona took a deep breath and opened the door.
Her eyes were drawn downwards, to the desk lamp which lay on the floor, casting its glow across two spilled coffee cups. The ground was strewn with papers and desk ornaments. Fiona brought her eyes up to the level of the desk. Lying on the desktop was Ms Shan, and lying on Ms Shan was…
“Don’t you know how to knock?” Ms Shan said.
Fiona closed the door, and scurried away.