Warning: Murder, suicide, mental health issues.
‘Hi Linda, please take a seat. Let me introduce you to Mike Vogel, he is our counsellor from Populus. Mike will be conducting this meeting.’
‘Thank you, Paul. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Vogel.’
‘Nice to meet you too, Linda. Please, call me Mike. May I call you Linda, or Ms. Johnson?’
‘Linda, of course. So, what is the purpose of this meeting?’
Paul closed his notebook, pushed himself away from the desk and said ‘Thank you, Linda. I will let Mike explain that, you don’t need me here for this.’
As Paul was leaving the glass room, Mike made a tent of his hands and to the sound of a door closing resumed the conversation.
‘Well, Linda, first I’d like to welcome you back. How are you finding it, being back in the office?’
‘Good, thank you. Catching up on the work, you know. Some new faces in the building, so getting to know all of them. All good, yes.’
Mike opened his notebook and took a short note. Linda couldn’t read the handwriting from that distance so her eyes went back to Mike’s. His tilted head revealed a strong jaw line and a bald patch at the top of his neatly combed head. Handsome, for a man in his fifties. Could be a jogger. Definitely looks like one. A wedding ring on his finger, nice suit, ironed shirt… A proper man. Linda wondered what kind of shoes he was wearing, but looking under the desk felt inappropriate. When Mike spoke again in a compassionate, but firm manly voice, Linda discretely pushed her shoulders back, looking to leave a good impression.
‘I know it’s been a few very tough weeks for everyone, especially you. That’s why your boss Paul asked me to come over, talk to people and help them process the recent, uhm, event. What I am saying is, if there is anything you’d like to talk about, like how you feel about coming back to work, or maybe some personal things, or anything at all, I want you to know that I am here to listen and help in any way I can. This room is a safe place and whatever thoughts or feelings you share with me today, they will stay between us. I don’t want you to worry about that, this conversation is one hundred percent confidential.’
Linda didn’t believe Mike. She knew Mike was no counsellor. He was here to assess employees, see what risk to the company they represent and take appropriate measures.
‘I appreciate that, Mike. It was horrible what happened. I still cannot grasp it.’ Linda said. ‘But in general, I am fine. As one can be. I thought going back to work and being busy is better than sitting at home and just… constantly thinking about it.’
‘I am glad to hear that, Linda. I think you’re doing great.’ said Mike. ‘Now, I will ask you a few questions about your work here and I will also have to ask you a few questions about Gary, for my record here. Is that alright? Are you comfortable with that?’
‘Yes, sure.’ Linda replied.
‘You’re in the Technical department, right? A team leader? I heard you invented a new type of valve that saves water?’
Linda’s face turned bright.
‘Yes, it’s a smart valve, and it’s compatible with any irrigation system we distribute. The old valves had significantly shorter lifespan, so they would rust and leak long before being replaced. My valve sends you a notification when it’s time to replace it.’
‘Sounds very exciting.’ Mike said. ‘And for how long did you work on this valve?’
‘A year. A year and a half in total, if you include all the preparation and certification afterwards.’
Linda enjoyed answering Mike’s questions as he seemed very interested in her work. Time flew for Linda as they approached a more serious topic.
‘And Gary Wilson, did he do any work on your project?’
‘Yes, he did some work at the start of it.’
‘Only at the start?’ Mike asked.
Linda looked at Mike’s notebook again, but still couldn’t recognise any of the words he was scribbling.
‘He got reassigned.’
‘I see.’ Mike said. ‘And you were okay with that?’
‘Resources get reassigned to different projects all the time, so yes.’
Mike pulled out a thick document from his briefcase and placed it on the desk.
‘Here it says that you asked the management to transfer Gary back to your team three times before the incident. That doesn’t look to me like you were okay with it.’
Must be at least a hundred pages there, Linda thought. Mike flipped through the pages slowly, looking for the section he was referring to. When he found it, he turned the document towards Linda and pointed at the screenshots of her requests for Gary’s transfer. She tried to take the case file in her hand and inspect it further, but Mike pulled it away from her.
‘Gary was a great engineer and he understood my project well.’ Linda said. ‘Of course I wanted him back on the team.’
‘Were you aware that Robert was responsible for Gary to be taken off your team?’
‘No, I wasn’t. I thought such decisions were Paul’s to make, not technical leads’.’
‘Yet, you confronted Robert on it on multiple occasions.’ Mike said.
‘I assumed it was him who persuaded Paul, but I didn’t know it for a fact.’
‘So, you got angry and made a scene in front of everyone?’
‘A scene? I only raised my voice a bit. I wouldn’t call that making a scene.’
As Mike was taking another note, Linda turned around and looked through the glass wall behind her. People were busy as usual and no one was looking in her direction.
‘How would you describe your relationship with Gary Wilson?’ Mike asked.
Linda turned back around, towards Mike.
‘My relationship? Strictly professional. Gary and I were colleagues.’
‘Would you say that you were close?’
‘No, I wouldn’t say that. We barely knew each other.’
‘And what was Gary like, as a colleague?’
‘He was nice. Hardworking, easy to work with.’ Linda said. ‘If you are asking me if I noticed anything strange about him, I already told the police, nothing that would indicate he would be capable of doing what he did. Not in a million years.’
Mike's fingers flipped through the thick document.
‘Here it says Gary worked late every day, yet he almost never clocked any overtime. Why would he not clock that time?’ Mike asked.
Linda dropped her pen on the floor and leaned under to pick it up. Mike’s shoes were brown leather, and looked shiny and new. As he was seated, the sleeves of his trousers were high enough to reveal dark blue socks and properly tied laces. As Linda expected.
‘I am sorry, Mike. You were saying?’
Mike's tone of voice didn't change.
Why would Gary not clock his time and forfeit his overtime bonus?’
‘I don’t know.’ Linda said. ‘Maybe it wasn’t work he was doing? Maybe he had something else going on. Why are you asking me?’
Mike paused for a few seconds.
‘Gary worked late because he was working for you, wasn’t he?’
‘What do you mean, he worked for me?’ Linda asked.
‘Gary worked for Robert during hours, and after hours he was helping you. I know that for a fact. Now, here’s a question; why would he do that? Especially for someone, as you said, who barely knew him?’
Linda leaned towards Mike.
‘Gary didn’t work for me. He wasn’t even on my team. Robert pushed him to work hard, constantly. Gary probably couldn’t keep up with Robert’s demands so he stayed late to catch up on the tasks.’
‘I don’t believe that’s the case, Linda. Everyone I spoke with told me that Robert and Gary got along well. On the other hand, here I have copies of fifteen complaints from you on Robert. Interestingly, Robert regularly reported on you too. There was quite the rivalry between the two of you, wouldn’t you say?’
Linda took a second to think.
‘We’ve had our differences and that is all I am saying to you. It wouldn’t be right to slag a deceased person now, would it?’
Mike pointed towards large windows on the opposite side of the open-space office.
‘I understand what you are saying, Linda, but Robert is not just any deceased person. Gary stabbed him in the neck multiple times with a pair of scissors, seconds before he jumped out of that freshly painted window there. And all that happened right in front of you.’
Linda sighed and got up from her chair.
‘Counsellor, I appreciate your time. If I ever feel that I need to talk to someone, you will be the first person I turn to.’
Linda went for the glass door. Mike raised his voice and said ‘You were sleeping with Gary, weren’t you?’
Linda still had her back turned to Mike.
‘That’s not true. Who told you that?’
‘You know how rumours are, they spread quickly.’ Mike said. ‘But I have more than rumours, Linda. I have data, and data never lies. Why don’t you go back to your seat so we can talk some more? As I said, everything you say in this room stays between us.’
‘Yes, yes. One hundred percent confidential, I remember.’ Linda said.
When Linda sat back in the seat, Mike placed a photo of Gary and her on the desk. The photo clearly portrayed the nature of their relationship.
‘Linda, I will be honest with you, and I want you to be honest with me. That is the only way this meeting can go well for both of us. Do you understand? Did you, or did you not sleep with Gary?’
Linda’s shoulders dropped.
‘I did. But only a couple of times.’
‘And did Gary work for you after hours?’
‘And did Gary love you? Did he love you, Linda?’
Mike reached towards a box of tissues at the side of the table and dragged it in front of her at the very moment Linda burst into tears.
‘Gary did love you, didn’t he? And he hated Robert. Not for everything he did to you, but for how he made you feel. He couldn’t bare seeing you helplessly drown day after day. You played the part of damsel in distress well, projecting your hate onto him, which culminated to his point of breaking.’
‘Alright, stop it! That’s enough!’ Linda said.
A few heads across the office briefly turned toward the glass room and then back to their computer monitors.
‘I didn’t know Gary was so angry with Robert.’ Linda said. ‘I swear I didn’t know he was going to kill him. But that day Robert was extremely unpleasant to me. He shouted at me, called me names, openly threatened me. Over nothing. And Gary... I guess he just had it with him and snapped.’
Mike leaned back in his chair and observed a character very different from a woman that entered the glass room just an hour ago. There was something about her face that didn’t feel right. Her make-up. It held on to her face a bit too well. Not a smudge under her crying eyes. He leaned over and placed another document on the table.
‘This is a copy of your text messages to Gary between the day of the murder and a week before it. Is this not your message here, telling Gary that you can’t stand the fact that Robert is getting away with all the abuse towards you and how you wish he was dead? Did you not write to Gary how you wish somebody killed Robert, and if another day passes with Robert being alive, you will kill yourself? Isn’t that what it says here?’
‘How did you get these?’ Linda asked.
‘I told you I have data.’ Mike replied. 'All the evidence needed to put you away for a very long time is right here.’
Linda observed Mike’s finger tap a few times on the correspondence transcript.
‘But that doesn’t matter to me.’ Mike continued. ‘Do you know what matters to me? What matters to me is that this information never leaves this building. And that you never say anything about any this to anyone. Not your friends, your family, your future partners… No one. Do you understand? Never.’
Linda nodded wondering what happens next.
‘Excellent!’ Mike said. ‘Now that we got that sorted, let me give you some good news. Your boss Paul… Ah, here he is.’
Mike got up and opened waved Paul into the glass room.
‘How did you get on?’ Paul asked as he was taking his old seat.
‘Great, just great, Paul.’ Mike said and turned towards Linda. ‘But we haven’t gotten to the best part yet. Linda, I am happy to be the one to let you know about Paul’s promotion! Paul will move from his position of the Head of Technical to the Board of Directors. Isn’t that great news?’
Linda circled from Paul’s face to Mike’s. Both men seemed delighted with themselves.
‘You know what that means, Linda?’ Mike continued. ‘That means the Head of Technical position is now vacant!’
Paul put his arm around Linda and said ‘And I would like to offer it to you, Linda. You would be reporting to me and you would take on a bit more responsibility than what you have had at your old post. I will help you through the transition, of course. You know, mentorship and such. Mike, do you have the contract on you?’
Mike placed the contract in front of Linda and said ‘Take your time to read it before you sign.’
The salary was several times what she was making now. Also, there were benefits. A lot of them. Linda signed.
‘Congratulations!’ Paul said. ‘And, so you know, this company cares about people. I don’t want you to worry about anything. We all make mistakes, it’s only natural. What matters is that we learn from our mistakes, grow and be the best versions of ourselves. Isn’t that right, Mike?’
‘That’s right, Paul.’ Mike said.