“I know, I’m sorry. I won’t be as late as last time.” I said. George sighed on the other end of the line.
“Sarah, I’m not complaining about that,” he said. I could picture him as he spoke, pinching the bridge of his nose as he tried to find a way to say what he meant. “I just … you’re going to burn yourself out.”
“I’m fine,” I said. “I’m not even tired, and besides, this needs to go out tomorrow morning at the latest. It’s really important.”
“I’m sure it is, but your health is important as well,” George said.
“The holiday is less than two weeks away,” I reminded him. “Not long till there’s no work, no phones, just you and me and Ben Nevis.”
“Yeah, relaxing holiday,” George said. Only you could think hiking up Scottish mountains is relaxing, to me that sounds like a different kind of work.” George laughed.
“Hey,” I tried to sound offended and failed. “I like hiking, and while it’s hardly physically relaxing, mentally it’s just what I need right now.”
“Alright then,” George said. “What time do you think you’ll be home?”
“In a couple of hours, so about 8:30 maybe 9,” I said gently.
“Ok, I’ll have food waiting for you; call me when you’re in the car.”
“I will, love you,” I smiled.
“I love you too.” The line went dead as George hung up. I stared blankly at my phone for a moment feeling guilty. “I’ll make it up to you,” I muttered and put the phone down before turning to my desk.
I’d been working on this client’s job for the last two days, I’d managed to review eight out of the ten files and had been typing the report as I went. Normally, a couple of days would be plenty of time to have this done, but a sickness bug was doing the rounds, and one of the assistants had left for pastures new, so the office was short staffed. This meant that instead of just getting on with the task at hand I had been picking up calls and jobs for other departments between doing my job intermittently. But now the answering machine was on, the front door was locked, and I was alone.
“No excuses,” I said to myself and stood up. “Right,” I lifted a file and then another and another, separating out the ones I had reviewed from the two remaining. The completed files landed in the courier’s box with a satisfying thud. I leant back and cracked my knuckles. “Ok,” opening the second to last file I pulled out the various papers.
“At least it’s a Stevenson & Co file,” I said to myself. “Nice and organised, with only the odd piece missing. So much better than Slater Partnership.” I shivered at the memory of the last Slater Partnership job I’d been assigned. “Grim,” I muttered and continued through the file. I made steady progress, the peace and quiet allowing me the luxury of being able to focus completely on the task at hand.
I stopped after an hour and stretched. My neck ached from sitting hunched over papers. I glanced at the clock, 7:30pm, and stood up.
“Break time.” Leaving my desk, I went downstairs into the small kitchen and rummaged through the dishwasher for my cup. I pulled out several before one gave me pause. It had belonged to Zuzanna. I turned the cup over in my hands; it looked handmade, probably by her daughter, considering the slogan of ‘words baast mum’ on the side. I flicked the kettle on and pulled my cup out, setting it on the side next to Zuzanna’s.
Zuzanna had left a couple of weeks ago. It was a shame, I had liked her, and she was good at her job. She had been the assistant to my department head, Josh, and on occasion had picked up the odd job for me. Her work had been good; she’d always had a quick turn around and had taken on the most irritating jobs without complaint. I had been sad to see her go. Especially since she didn’t work her notice period or give any warning that she was going. She just stopped coming in.
I tried to keep out of the typical office drama scene, so I wasn’t completely sure as to why Zuzanna had gone, but I had been there when the policeman showed up to talk to Josh. Josh had kept quiet about the whole thing, but the rumour mill had started turning the minute the policeman showed his face. Zuzanna hadn’t been legal, was the most common rumour, there were a few more outlandish ones, she had disappeared, she had stolen things from the company, she had assaulted one of the girls in Marketing, the list was endless. I looked again at her lumpy cup while I finished making tea, Zuzanna must have left in a hurry to leave something like this behind. It might look hideous to me, but if it had been made by her daughter, I’m sure she would have treasured it, misspellings and all.
“HR will have her address,” I muttered lifting the cup. I left my tea waiting and nipped into the HR manager’s office to the left of the kitchen. I put the cup on his desk and left a note explaining that Zuzanna would probably want this back.
Heading into the kitchen, I collected my tea and went back to my desk. I stopped when I walked in and heard the printer going.
“Must be a fax,” I said. I was the only one here; it was a small office I would know if someone else was here. Putting my tea on my desk, I went to the printer. It wasn’t a fax, and it wasn’t anything of mine either. It was a report for a client we had dropped years ago, back when I first joined the company. The name of the case worker was listed at the bottom of the report, Mandy Felcher, I didn’t recognise her. “Ok,” I muttered and put it beside the printer.
I went back to my desk and picked up where I had left off. I didn’t get far before I heard the printer again. I frowned and ignored it. The printer went off twice more before I completed the file, in the silence of the empty office, it was unsettling. Putting the papers away and dropping the completed file into the courier box I pulled the last remaining file over. The printer started up again. I glanced to the small room just off the communal office space where the printer was housed and frowned the light was off; it had been on a moment ago. Then when the printer fell quiet, and the light came back on.
“What the?” I said. We’d had problems with lights in the past. Josh’s father, who owned the company, had hired a friend of a friend to install the lights and he’d not been up to code. The result was that now sometimes the bulbs blew, for now, reason and the lights flickered in the bathroom. But we’d never had a problem in the printing room before.
I stood up and walked to the printer; I peeked inside before stepping into the tiny room. Nothing was out of place. I lifted the papers out of the tray; two of them were more reports from years ago, all with Mandy Felcher as the case worker. The last one was an email. Normally I wouldn’t read anyone else’s email’s, but then normally the printer doesn’t randomly print of its own accord.
I dropped the email when I saw who it was addressed to.
It was addressed to me, and it was from Mandy Felcher. Picking it back up I saw it was only a single sentence long.
“He’s been watching you.”
I jammed the email into the shredder next to the printer and walked back to my desk.
“Calm down,” I hissed to myself. “Calm down.” I minimised the report on my computer and opened up my emails. There was nothing there from a Mandy Felcher. There was nothing new after 4:28pm. I started when I heard the printer warming up again. I sat and listened as it printed out another document, it stopped and fell silent. I debated whether to go and check it; I couldn’t help myself, I went to look. I crumpled the paper as I pulled it out of the printer tray my hands were shaking that badly. It was another email this one only two words long.
“It’s a prank,” I said softly. “Someone’s messing with me.” All the printers were on a network; you could print to any printer from any machine in the building. Maybe I had been wrong when I thought I was here alone. “It’s Marketing,” I muttered. “Those guys are assholes.” I put the email in the shredder and went to the door that would lead to the stairs. I paused before I opened it and went back to my desk, I grabbed my mobile. I felt silly and paranoid but a little calmer as well. First, I went upstairs to the floor above me, the top floor, where the director and the senior case workers were based. The floor was dark; I turned on the lights. Ten empty desks were all that was there. I listened to the silence, hoping to hear muffled sniggering.
“You’re not funny,” I snarled to the silence and swallowing the lump in my throat I walked along the line of desks, peering between them, making sure no one was hiding from me. I tried the door to the Director’s office, but unsurprisingly it was locked.
The top floor was deserted.
I went back to the door and stepped out into the stairwell, I went down, past the first floor where I worked, and onto the ground floor, I walked through the reception area towards the back where the kitchen, marketing, and HR was based. I listened for a moment before I opened the door. There was no sound. I opened the door as quietly as I could and walked into the communal space. I turned on the lights; five empty desks greeted me.
“You guys are assholes,” I snarled at the empty room, listening as hard as I could for sounds of movement or muffled laughter. But there was nothing. I walked through the desks, and no one was there.
I was alone.
My stomach in knots I went back up to my desk. I could hear the printer running again. I shook my head.
“No,” I said to myself. “It’s still just a prank, they got the IT guys involved, and they’re doing it remotely.” My explanation made me feel a bit better, but I couldn’t help going to the printer. I stopped before I lifted the papers. “IT is outsourced,” I said softly. “Would they risk their contract for a joke?” I looked at the papers. They were all emails, all like the last two.
“He’s been watching you for years.”
I went to shove them into the shredder but decided against it. I would keep these as evidence.
“Evidence of what?” I snapped at myself as the printer produced another one.
“You’re too late.”
I couldn’t help the near scream that escaped me when the door to the first floor opened.
“What the … Sarah?” Josh said running into the printing room. I felt myself sag with relief, I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t Josh, and for once I was happy to see him.
“Josh,” I felt myself blush. Already feeling foolish for letting myself get so freaked out. “um … you made me jump, what are you doing here?”
“I was on my way home, dad and I had dinner in the city when I saw your car was still here and the light was on.” He stepped forward and put his hands on my shoulders. “Are you alright?” I could smell alcohol, not surprising if he’d been out to dinner, but it was strong on his breath.
“Um yeah,” I tried to shrug out of his grip, but it was tight.”The Stevenson & Co files needed finishing, so …”
“So you stayed behind,” Josh said still not letting me go. “You’re one of the good ones, Sarah.”
“Thanks,” I pulled back again, and he let me go this time. “Well, I’d better get it finished, otherwise, George will worry.” Josh’s smile disappeared at the mention of George like I knew it would.
“You know, Sarah,” Josh said following me as I went back to my desk. I dropped the emails into my ‘In Tray’. “You ought to let me invite you out with Dad and me next time we go to dinner. It would boost your career, and I know if dad met you properly, he would agree with me that your one of the high fliers,” Josh smiled widely and, I’m sure he thought, charmingly. I tried not to stare at the food stuck in his teeth. “You could move your desk upstairs, top floor.” Josh leant closer to me.
“Thanks, but I can just about manage down here,” I said. I saw his face darken and I forced a smile. “Besides, if I went upstairs you wouldn’t be my boss anymore,” Josh smirked at that.
“I suppose not,” he said backing off. “Well, as I’m here I suppose I’ll keep you company, holler if you want me.” He walked over to a desk at the far end of the communal space. I shook my head a little and went back to my file.
People often laughed at Josh, a lot of them said he only had a job here because his dad owned the company. Most of the other women used words like ‘greasy’, ‘slimy’ and ‘creepy’ when talking about him. I didn’t particularly like him, he could be inappropriate, and he had no respect for personal space, but overall, I thought he was harmless. A little boy with an inflated ego, trying to play a big shot at daddy’s company. It was frustrating to deal with at times, but when he occasionally dropped the act, he could be sweet. He certainly didn’t mind me and flirted more often than not, which at first I found odd as he only ever seemed to date very young blondes, but as time went on I found that Josh was odd in general and I didn’t take his flirting seriously.
I glanced at the emails in my ‘In Tray’ and pulled them out; I read them again then rolled my eyes. I couldn’t believe how freaked out I’d let myself get. I crumpled them up and dropped them into the bin under my desk.
“Sarah,” Josh called. I sighed, my peace and quiet was gone. I looked over at Josh; he waved me over. I looked at the last file; I was so close to finishing, it was 8pm if Josh left me alone I could get this done by 8:30pm. “Sarah,” Josh called again, I stood up and walked over.
“Yes?” I said, trying to keep the frustration out of my voice.
“You know I meant it about dinner,” Josh smiled at me. I couldn’t help my sigh.
“I’m flattered, but I’m happy where I am,” I said turning away. Josh grabbed my wrist.
“Just think about it, Sarah,” he said. His thumb rubbed over my pulse point. “If dinner is too much for you then how about drinks, just you and me. Just think about it.”
“I’m flattered,” I said again. “But right now, I just want to think about getting my work done so I can go home to my fiancé.” I tugged on my wrist, and Josh let go.
“You’re making a mistake,” he muttered. I snorted and turned.
“If I ever get promoted,” I said keeping my tone as level as possible. “I want it to be because I do my job well, not because I went for ‘drinks’ with the boss’s son.” I regretted my words immediately. Josh’s face turned red in a matter of seconds. For a moment, I thought I’d embarrassed him but realised quickly that was not the case.
“You ungrateful bitch,” he snapped.
“Josh!” I said. Josh stood up.
“Here I am trying to be nice to you, trying to help you and you get all up on your high horse at me!”
“Josh, calm down.” I put my hands up and took a step back from him.
“Don’t walk away from me,” he shouted. “You’re just like all the rest of them, all of them.” He stepped out from behind his desk.
“Josh,” I said before he took a swing at me. I was so surprised that I almost didn’t move out of the way in time. “Whore!” Josh snapped when he missed me. I turned and went for the door with every intention of running out of the building. I stopped on the stairs and swore, I wouldn’t get far without my car keys. I could hear Josh shouting from his desk. I didn’t want to go back in there.
“Josh,” I called through the door, holding it closed in case he tried to come out here. “Josh you need to calm down.” I could hear him still yelling but couldn’t make out the words. Then a sudden and loud bang followed by silence. “Josh?” I opened the door when he didn’t respond. He was lying on the floor behind his desk. “Geeze, how drunk were you?” I muttered and turned to go to my desk.
“Not drunk at all,” he grabbed me from behind, one arm around my neck the other around my chest. I hadn’t even heard him move.
“Josh, let me go!” I snapped.
“Why would I do a thing like that?” he squeezed me tighter.
“Because this is assault you moron,” I shouted.
“You’re the one trespassing on private property, or did you forget it’s against company policy for you to be here after hours. That makes you a trespasser.” He laughed. “Oh no officer I had no idea it was Sarah, we don’t let staff work late so when I saw someone in the office I thought it was an intruder and just lashed out.”
“Josh you asshole,” I snarled struggling harder. “They’ll never believe that.”
“They believed it about Zuzanna,” he said. “She’s been in the hospital for two whole weeks. She’s very upset that no one’s visited her.”
“What!” I snapped. Josh shook me hard once; my head snapped back hard against his shoulder. He laughed and let me go, pushing me forwards, I stumbled but kept my footing. Then something hard hit me on the back of the head. I fell to my knees, Josh hit me again, but missed my head this time and got my shoulders. The world spun sickeningly for a second. I tried to get up but a hard blow came at my rib cage, he’d kicked me. My arms went out from under me, and I heard something heavy land next to my head. It was one of the industrial staplers; Josh must have used it to hit me. I heard him walk away.
I tried to get my arms underneath me again, it took a couple of tries, but I managed. Pushing myself up onto my knees made my stomach cramp. I collapsed again and threw up what was left of my lunch.
“Gross bitch,” I heard Josh say somewhere behind me. “Why are they all gross?”
I tried again to get to my knees with more success this time. I had no idea what Josh was doing, but I doubted he would take long. Once on my knees, I tried to stand. I wobbled, and my progress was slow. I could still hear Josh moving but didn’t bother to look for him, instead the moment I managed to get to my feet I threw myself into the print room.
“What?” I heard him snap. I slammed the door shut and pulled the printer as hard as I could, forcing it in front of the door, disconnecting the power and phone lines in the process. “You dumb bitch,” Josh yelled. “You’re in the fucking stationary cupboard, how are you gonna get out?”
“Fuck you, Josh!” I yelled. My face felt numb and my words slurred. I felt in my pocket for my mobile. “Asshole,” I said to myself when he kicked the door.
I called George; it rang twice before falling silent. I looked at the screen and felt my stomach drop. The word “Goodbye” flashed twice before the screen went black. My battery was dead.
“Oh shit,” I said. Josh kicked the door again, the door shook, and the printer moved forward a few inches. I kicked it back against the door. This wasn’t going to hold; he would get in here. “It doesn’t have to hold, George is waiting for me. After 9, he’ll call, and when he can’t get through, he’ll come down here.” I said trying to reassure myself. Josh hit the door again, harder this time, it sounded like he’d hit it with something, the printer moved forward further, and he fought when I tried to push it back. The door closed again, but I was out of breath and exhausted. George was not going to get here on time.
I swallowed, my mouth suddenly dry. I had to think of something else. I could move the printer out of the way myself, and then when Josh hit the door and shot forward, I could run out behind him. But my keys were still on my desk; I would still have to get them and then get to the door before Josh got to me. Not to mention the printing room was tiny, if Josh barrelled in here I wouldn’t be able to get out behind him, he would tackle me without even trying. The door shook again.
The printer rumbled, warming up again. I sniffed and watched it, the sound of a fax dial played. I moved forward, pulling on the power cable until I held the plug. It couldn’t be working, let alone sending a fax. Josh rushed the door again, the printer jolted forwards hitting me in the face. I fell back stunned. I don’t remember Josh coming in, but I remember being dragged out of the cupboard.
“I’ll kill you, bitch,” he snarled, spitting in my face. I tried to speak, but my tongue felt too big for my mouth. I was lifted, and I think thrown over Josh’s shoulder. My vision was fuzzy; I struggled to make out details or hear much over the ringing in my ears. But I felt the cold air when he took me outside. I heard the beep and click when he unlocked his car and winced when he dumped me into the boot. I heard the boot slam closed and was left in darkness.
I tried to concentrate on breathing and staying awake. If I could just pull myself together, I could still get out of this. I’d seen countless movies where people were kidnapped; I knew I could do this. I just had to stop my head from spinning first.
I don’t know how long I was in the boot, but it opened before the car went anywhere. A light blinded me, and a male voice shouted.
“She’s here; I got her.” I fumbled around myself for something to use as a weapon, anything. I grabbed something, one of my own shoes, and swung at the voice. But my wrist was caught easily, and my fingers felt numb, I dropped my weapon. “Hey, it’s alright, you’re ok now.”
Strong hands lifted me out of the boot and put me on something soft. My eyes adjusted now that the flashlight wasn’t being shined at them. I was on a gurney and the night was lit up with flashing blue lights.
“What?” I managed before an EMT shushed me.
“Josh!” I snapped, trying to sit up. “It was Josh!”
“They know, they got him in the office,” the EMT said softly. “Relax, it’s alright now.” I lay back down, and the world turned dark.
I came to in the hospital. Everything hurt, but it had the far away feeling that comes with good pain killers. I took a deep breath and looked around the room. George was sleeping in the chair next to me bed.
“Hey,” I said. My voice sounded terrible like I’d been screaming, I didn’t remember screaming.
“Sarah,” George opened his eyes and leant forwards. He looked exhausted, the bags under his eyes made him look 50 years old. He took my hand and squeezed hard enough that I winced. “Sorry,” he sniffed and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. I tutted at him.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You don’t remember?” George leant back.
“Josh attacked me,” I said.
“They found you in the boot of the bastard’s car,” George said his voice thickening with anger. “Why didn’t you call me!”
“I tried,” I said. “My battery died.”
“I only had one missed call from you, that was at 8:15pm,” he said, he didn’t look angry now just hurt.
“That’s when it happened,” I said and tried to move myself to get more comfortable. My head spun.
“Then why were you sending faxes to the police at 7:30pm? You even sent them an email.” George looked very upset. “You could have called me sooner; I would have been there in a heartbeat, well before he did this to you.” He leant forwards to brush fingertips over my head. My hand followed his and found a lump the size of an egg on my head.
“I didn’t,” I said. “I didn’t send any faxes; hell I didn’t even know you could fax the police.” George snorted.
“Yeah, they were confused about it as well. You didn’t give them any details, just asked for help; they had to trace the number.” He laughed a little. “Apparently they thought it was a hoax but then they received, I think the cop said it was thirty faxes in an hour from you, something like that.”
“What?!” I said.
“Miss Stein?” a nurse said. I looked away from George to her. “There’s a policeman here to see you, do you feel up to talking to them?”
“She’s only just woke up!” George snapped. I squeezed his hand.
“No, I’m fine, just sore,” I said. “I’ll talk to him.” The nurse walked away and came back a few minutes later with a tall man in uniform.
“Miss Stein, I’m Officer Peterson. I was one of the Officers on the scene earlier tonight.” He said opening his pocket and taking out a notebook. “We’ll need a statement from you, but that can wait till they discharge you. Right now I just need to know a few details.”
Officer Peterson stayed with George and I for an hour after that. They made me stay in the hospital until the next afternoon. It wasn’t that bad; I got to visit Zuzanna and tell him that I’d rescued her cup. I listened to her talk about Josh and what he’d done to her and learned that I’d gotten off lightly. She apologised so many times for not telling people who it was who attacked her; she blamed herself for my attack. But threats from Josh towards her daughter had kept her silent.
When I left the hospital, I went to see the police and give a statement. Apparently, Josh’s father had been down before me and spread talk that I was not to be trusted, that I was angry at the company for not promoting me and was attacking Josh as some kind of revenge. Fortunately being found in the trunk of his son’s car meant his attempts to discredit me fell a little short.
I followed the investigation via calls from Officer Peterson and what little the media was allowed to print. The police couldn’t understand my story; my recollection of the time of the attack was very different to the faxes they’d received, and the email, sent by someone called Mandy Felcher.
The Police had recognised the name Mandy Felcher; she was a victim in an unsolved murder case. An unsolved case that might soon be solved. They found pictures of her and apparently some DNA belonging to her when they had searched Josh’s house after my attack.
I’ll be attending Court in a few weeks to give evidence at her murder trial.
Katie Marie is a small noisy creature currently living on the Norfolk coast in the UK. She has been published in several anthologies, and her first novel Grey Wings was published by Dream State Drive in 2013. Her second novel is due to be released in 2017. You can find her at www.katiemariewriter.co.uk