“Ah, Mandy, come in, yes, good of you to join us” She didn’t pick up on the hint of sarcasm there. The other two did, they had arrived more promptly. Mike sat at his desk, typing on a computer. He was pretending to be engrossed in a spreadsheet, but really he was trying not to show how nervous he was. Forty-one, still with a good head of hair; fit, not in a gym and weights kind of way, more in a 10 mile run at the weekend way. He wasn’t into personnel management functions. He wished he’d opted for a Personnel Manager now. Still, not his style to duck things.
“Hi, Mike. Oh, I didn’t realise it wasn’t just me, sorry.” Well, at least she apologised. Though it was true that the voice said sorry but the big, round, blue eyes, with the silvery eyelid makeup and the long eyelash extensions said ‘couldn’t give a fuck’.
“Well, you’re here now. That’s the main thing. Yes, now ... oh, no, no need to sit” His voice was slightly stern as she made to sit down. She hadn’t really registered that the other two were standing. It dawned on her why they were there. Oh, well. Easy come, easy go. He looked up from his desk at them, standing at what passed for civilian females standing to attention. They were on their way out. Two of them were used to this, Julia wasn’t though, she’d worked there since she was seventeen. Taken on as a trainee from school, she’d stayed and now had been there eight years. She hadn’t the experience of hire and fire the other two had. “Yes, now, we have a problem don’t we?” It was a rhetorical question. “Normally I’d say you have the problem, but this affects me too”
It had started a few weeks ago, one of those lucky or unlucky (depending on your point of view) breaks. He had been in the factory instead of his office on that particular afternoon and noticed the three leaving by the factory workers’ side entrance. It wasn’t the convenient exit for office workers, it was a longer walk from the office; the car park, if you had a car, or the bus stop, was best reached from the front, from the office. So why leave from round the back – it wasn’t even the main factory exit? Unless, of course, you didn’t want to be seen.
In some ways they should be commended for their initiative. They had realised that at any time half the office was out somewhere, checking an order, checking a purchase, dealing with the complexities of running this business. That was one of the unusual features of this business; there was a lot of ‘hands on’ work involved. The office was trusted to do what was necessary; to get on with it. Twenty-one females in a big office, dealing with the ins and outs of personalised manufacture on a big scale. So, anyway, these three realised that nobody would miss them on a Friday afternoon and so they skivved off, then on a Thursday, then Wednesday. They worked only 75% of the week and got paid for 100%. They would slide off, round the corner, get the bus into town, go to the pub or a cafe, or shopping. All very nice.
Mike had caught sight of them and, that day, had done nothing, he was busy with getting the order out for Grand Mack and Tight (GMT Inc as they now liked to be known). He was proud of how he ran his factory and office, it was highly profitable; his policy of trusting people to get on with their work without timesheets, micromanagement, scorecards, and compulsory blogs from stupid management seemed to work. Still, there was ‘laid back’ and there was being taken advantage of; so he started to watch the three young women. He saw them leave one Wednesday and followed. That was the start of a few weeks of evidence collection.
He didn’t want to sack them. He’d had to sack Jennifer deLawrence two years ago and the subsequent race relations case and the sexual harassment case had caused him sleepless nights. Eventually he was vindicated and it was established that it was perfectly possible to be black, female and still be a lazy, useless worker. But still, his style of management objected to sacking people; but if he was going to, he’d get plenty of evidence. He would have a water tight case. Harriet and Mandy had a work record that included plenty of ‘notes’. They had, individually, been disciplined a few times for tardiness, and sacked once or twice each for the same. Julia had been a model worker. Perhaps she was led astray, or perhaps she had had enough of the job. He couldn’t sack Harrier and Mandy without sacking Julia as well, even though her history was better, none of them had been in trouble with him before and he couldn’t use their past history as a justification.
“Yes, so, you’ve been leaving at lunchtime.”
“Not every day” chipped in Harriet
“No, not every day. Three times a week for the last four weeks at least. Yes! I have documented it. You want to see the photos? No I thought not” If they had just come clean! But to try and deny it as Harriet had begun to, no, that started to get him cross. He made it plain he had plenty of evidence.
Mandy and Harriet wished he would just get to the point, say ‘clear your desks’ and let them go. They got bored with holier-than-thou managers saying how disappointed they were, blah, blah, blah. It wasn’t like this job was a career. It was just an f-ing job. Julia was still hoping, she chimed in “We could work extra hours to make it back up?”
“Tempting, but it is a lot of extra hours, and I’d have to keep the office open longer for you and the factory wouldn’t be there to check on deliveries. No, it wouldn’t really work would it?” He’d thought of that himself, and thought of the arguments against. One of the reasons for their profitability was, paradoxically, that the factory worked, fully engaged, from 8 until 5; no overtime, or very little, no shift work. They had a fully occupied day shift, which could work with the office staff too. By six, the site was empty, even he was gone. No, working late would need extra heating, extra lighting, extra security. Wouldn’t work. And since they were clearly not trustworthy, they would need supervision. Mike didn’t want to work later either. Not that he had a wee wifey and family to return to.
Cheryl, his wife, had left with her Yorkshire Terriers two years ago. Just at the time he was being coached by a pretty female lawyer on how to respond to the charge of sex discrimination, unfair dismissal etc, and that was all she was doing, coaching him (but Cheryl used it as an excuse anyway - “you’re having an affair, fucking the little bitch” - so unfair since, he had to admit, he’d have loved to but knew she was faithful to her civil partner, a Ms Smethwick); just at that time Cheryl had gone off with a younger man. It was a bad year all round. He hadn’t contested the divorce. He had contested her claim for alimony since she had deserted him. She tried to make it seem to be his fault, at least the judge had been realistic. Mrs Justice Johnon had suggested that his (ex) wife was a lying piece of trash. Okay, she hadn’t quite put it in such non-judicial language, but it had helped restore his faith in women.
“Look, it isn’t up to me. It’s Mr Berotov” They hadn’t heard of him, why would they? “He owns the company that owns the company that owns us. You’d think he’d be too far up the ladder to care, but you’d be wrong. He has a psychotic hatred of people stealing from him.” Harriet was about to say it wasn’t stealing “Yes, stealing! You have been given money for work you didn’t do” That was another reason to wait, they had been paid for the month; so they had been paid for time they hadn’t supplied, he’d got the evidence and the payslips to show it. “I don’t even know how he came to hear about it. But he called me in and ... well, he isn’t a nice man. In fact,” Mike lowered his voice “He’s an absolute bastard.
He, umm, well, he’s in the Moscow ... The Moscow Mafia.” The three looked none the wiser. “Lets just say that not all his enterprises are legitimate. This one is, that’s why they like it. The money feeds in and is entirely legit. It makes it harder to track the less kosher money you see?” He wasn’t sure they did “No matter, the point is, he wants me to make an example of you.
He was in a bad mood when he spoke to me. Look” He threw three files of papers at them. One landed on the floor; Julia bent and picked it up, handed it to Mandy. They each looked at the one with their pictures on the front. Their pictures of them leaving early, sitting in the pub, in H&M looking at clothes. The pictures were all dated and timed. On subsequent pages were some personal details.
Julia, it told her, had an elder sister with a young baby, it had her address ‘Flat 5F, Fifth Floor, Mandela House’. She was wondering why when Mike commented. “His examples usually involve other people, oh, he might hurt you, but Susan might find herself trapped in the lift all night with the baby; how would she react to that?” She looked at him wide-eyed, her sister had mild claustrophobia, that would be hell for her. But surely... ? “Or she might fall down a flight of stairs” Julia suddenly went cold “And Harriet, your younger brother is already known to the police? I know, just a minor fracas; but if he was stopped with a knife on his person? And your younger sister Mandy? Fifteen is she?
I know of a girl that age that he got addicted to heroin, then put on the game. Like I say, not a nice person.” Now all three had shivers running down their spines. “You three might just get a scar on your pretty faces. You could all run of course, but your families can’t all run can they?”
.... There is more of this story ...