Getting Even with Gemma and JanebyMrPinkerton©
© Mr Pinkerton 2008
My name's Jack Waters, and I work for the police. Not in some glamorous, lights-and-sirens, armed response vehicle capacity; not even in a more down-to-earth, kicking-down-doors, chasing-kids-through-underpasses, 'you're nicked, matey!' role. More of an I-can-authorise-stationery-invoices-up-to-a-value-of-one-thousand-pounds kind of gig.
I'm not a police officer, you see -- more a bureaucrat who just happens to work for the police. Assistant Deputy Manager, that's me. Of a unit of forty or so staff. Mostly women. Better not say which force -- in part to protect the innocent, but more to protect the guilty. Shouldn't even say what kind of unit, though, as it's relevant for the purposes of this story, it does involve a fair amount of looking up vehicle registrations on the Police National Computer.
Lots of spreadsheets, lots of meetings. It doesn't even pay very well, and it's not the kind of job that pulls the girls.
Pretty dull, as jobs go.
At least it was for a long time. Then, a few weeks ago, everything changed.
It was a crisp February morning, and I was in one of the storage-cupboards of the conference-room, rummaging through a tangle of wires and broken keyboards and printer-driver CDs, looking for a mouse that worked. Cuts to our IT budget were getting beyond a joke. Unable to find anything, I was just going to storm out of the room and back to my office to phone Accounts and tell them just what I thought of them when I heard the outer door to the conference room open. A mobile phone rang a couple of times before it was answered.
The conference room wasn't off-limits, or anything, but there was no real reason for anyone to go in there, so I decided to stay where I was for a minute.
'Hello?' said a voice I recognised. It was Jane, one of the clerical assistants. A strange girl -- slim, and pretty, in a mousy, wouldn't-say-boo-to-a-goose kind of way. Tended to blush for no reason at all, and did small-talk in a stilted, self-conscious kind of way, like it was something she'd learned from a set of audio CDs.
'You shouldn't ring me here, Gemma,' she went on, after a pause. Another pause, and then: 'Yes, I'll get the address for you. I can't do it until tomorrow -- the Police National Computer's down today.' A longer pause, and finally: 'This will have to be the last time. I could lose my job.'
My mind slipped into overdrive. What the hell was Jane up to? Whatever it was, it obviously wasn't legal, and if the Gemma she was talking to was who I thought it was, it probably involved Jane's sister, the Deputy Manager of the Unit, and my line manager. Gemma had started off as a clerical assistant, and had been promoted over my head, something she never let me forgot. She was pretty much the dead opposite of Jane -- big and busty, with a predilection for plunging necklines and mid-thigh length-skirts. Before her promotion I'd asked her out for a date. She hadn't even tried to keep the amusement and contempt out of her voice when she turned me down. Ever since then I'd got the impression she was dangling herself in front of me. Her unfriendly smile said 'you can look, Jack, but you'll never get to touch!' To add insult to injury, she'd given me a bad annual appraisal the last two years running. The latest round of assessments were only a couple of weeks ago, and I was pretty sure she was going to go for the hat-trick.
After a couple more pleasantries, Jane rang off. I heard the door open and close. I gave her a couple of minutes, then slipped back to my office. I closed the door, leaned back in my leather, swivel-chair, and thought things through. Jane was going to look up something she shouldn't on the PNC, and misuse of that was a sackable offence. What I needed was some way to catch her in the act. Fortunately, because of not-uncommon problems with our IT, she couldn't do anything until the next day, which gave me a bit of time.
Suddenly, I had an idea. I picked up my phone and dialled a number.
'Sue? It's Jack.'
Her tone was less than enthusiastic.
'I'm pretty busy, Jack.'
'This won't take long,' I said, keeping my voice bright. 'I need a favour, but there's something in it for you.'
'You only ever ring me when you want something, Jack,' she said.
'It's about your friend Gemma,' I said, knowing that Gemma and Sue were anything but friends. Gemma had pretty much stolen Sue's fiancé away from her, and Sue was the kind of girl who knew how to carry a grudge.
'Please tell me she's been hit by a truck,' said Sue, not bothering to disguise the bitterness in her voice.
'Better than that,' I said. As quickly as I could, I outlined the conversation I'd heard.
'Seems a bit thin to me,' said Sue, but I could tell she was interested. 'So where do I fit in?'
'I need to borrow some of that high-end surveillance gear you look after,' I said. Sue was a PC with ten-years of so experience in one of the Area Surveillance Teams.
'You've got to be kidding,' she said. 'If anyone ever found out, I'd lose my job.'
I smiled to myself at hearing that same phrase twice in one morning. 'Then again,' I said, ' if this works you'll have Gemma at your mercy. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to settle some old scores.'
Sue thought it over for about one and a half-seconds.
'What do you need?'
I gave her a list, most of which she thought she could get her hands on, and we agreed that she'd be over some time after five-thirty, once everyone in the office had gone home.
'You owe me big-time, Jack,' she said.
'I think you might get something out of this,' I said. 'I really do.'
The rest of the afternoon seemed to drag. I messed around rather unproductively with a couple of spreadsheets, drank several cups of coffee, glancing over towards where Jane was sitting as I came back from the coffee-machine in the staff-room. She looked to be hard at work. She had her hair up, which was a look I quite liked, and was wearing one of her usual slightly shapeless jumpers and an ankle-length paisley skirt. Back at my desk, I closed my eyes for a moment and imagined Jane standing in front of me, peeling the jumper up over her head, or lifting the front of her skirt up above her waste. I wondered what kind of underwear she wore, and whether her nipples were large or small.
If I played my cards right, I'd soon find out.
It was almost six o'clock when Sue arrived, and I was starting to wonder whether she'd turn up.
'Don't ask!' she said, her mood obviously not much improved since earlier. 'The traffic was awful.' She was carrying a black pilot's case in one hand and a lap-top case in the other. She put them both down on my desk and sat down in one of the visitors' chairs.
Sue was an attractive woman, though I wouldn't call her beautiful or even pretty. She was slightly overweight, and had a prominent nose, but her eyes were big and brown behind black designer glasses, and her lips were full and inviting. She had a loud voice, and swore a lot and laughed a lot. If she liked you, you were OK, but she wasn't the sort of person you'd want for an enemy. We'd been friends for some years, but somehow it had never got beyond that. Maybe she scared me a little.
'What have you got for me?' I asked, as Sue shucked off her red, woollen coat to reveal a red, roll-neck jumper and black boot-cut trousers. Even without a hint of cleavage, I couldn't resist a glance at her generously proportioned breasts. I glanced away before she caught me looking.
Sue took some items out of the pilot's bag:
'A couple of pinhole cameras and mikes -- one can go above her desk, the other can go in the conference room.' She picked up a USB-stick and held it up. 'On here I've got a key-logger, and some other stuff to load onto her PC.'
'How about one for in here?' I asked.
'OK,' said Sue. 'I've got a spare in the bag.'
I nodded towards the laptop. 'And that?'
'Very hi-tech,' she said. 'Can pull mobile-phone conversations out of the air. I'll set it up in the office. All you need to do is turn it on when you get in tomorrow. Do you know Jane's mobile number?'
I nodded again. 'I got it from Personnel.'
'Good,' said Sue. She turned to leave the office, gear in hand, then stopped and turned back to face me. 'We need to get one thing clear, though, Jack.'
'If this works, you can have your fun with Jane, that's up to you. But I want some time with Gemma. Nobody steals my boyfriend and gets away with it.'
'Sure,' I said. 'But I've got a few scores to settle with her as well, so we'll have to share.'
Sue stared at me for a moment, then nodded, smiled, and left the office.
Like I said, sometimes Sue scared me a little.
I was in early the next morning. I hadn't slept a wink, of course, but I felt energised and raring to go. I turned on the laptop, and keyed in Jane's number, as Sue had instructed me.
Before I could do anything else, the phone rang.
'Jack,' said Gemma. Even her voice set my teeth on edge. Smug, somehow. Tinged with fake empathy. 'Just wanted to make sure you hadn't forgotten the appraisal meeting on Friday.'
I had forgotten, as it happened, but I wasn't going to tell her that.
'Looking forward to it,' I said.
There was a pause. 'Really? You do surprise me, Jack.'
I was going to surprise her, alright, if things went according to plan. I closed my eyes again, and pictured Gemma bent over my knee, her short grey, business-skirt tugged up to reveal what I imagined to be tanned, toned buttocks. I guessed she was the sort of girl who wore the kind of underwear you wouldn't want to get run over in - stockings and suspenders, maybe and a thong. (I'd seen seams running up the back of her legs, but maybe you could get seamed tights, I wasn't sure; as for the thong, well, the skirts were pretty tight, and I'd never seen even a hint of VPL). In my mind, I was running my hand over Gemma's stocking-tops, my slim fingers edging slowly towards the taut satin between her legs. I wondered if she'd beg for mercy.
Gemma's voice brought me back to the real world. I shifted in my seat. I had a hard-on that could punch a hole in a plate-glass window.
' ... I mean, there are some issues, Jack. With your performance. We have discussed this.'
I smiled to myself.
'Then I guess it'll be up to me to change your mind,' I said.
Gemma gave a sharp little laugh on the other end of the phone.
'Always the optimist, Jack,' she said. 'Always the optimist. Anyway, don't forget, my office, nine o'clock Friday.'
She rang off, and I spend thirty seconds or so making V-signs at the phone.
About nine-thirty, the lap-top pinged. By twelve o'clock, I had everything I needed. I thought out what I wanted to do, then dialled Jane's number and asked her to come to my office immediately. I kept my voice neutral, but when Jane came in she was looking nervous.
'Jane,' I said. 'Close the door behind you.'
Jane gave me an anxious look as she did so. I gestured towards a chair and she sat down.
I sat and looked at her for a moment or two, my hands interlaced on the desk in front of me. She met my eye for a moment, then looked away, her fingers brushing a loose lock of hair back behind her ear. Today she was wearing a dark brown, ankle-length skirt and a thick, cream-coloured blouse. For once I could see just a hint of the shape of her breasts, but she wasn't particularly well-endowed. Below the skirt, her ankles were sheathed in dark tights (in her case, I'd put money on them not being stockings). Her shoes were black, nubuck, Mary-Janes. She looked like a novice nun on a day-trip. Hard to believe that she and Gemma were sisters.
'Why did you want to see me, Jack?'
I looked at her a little longer, then said.
'I'm afraid there's a problem, Jane.
She stared at me and blinked a couple of times. 'A problem?'
I sighed, as if I felt awkward somehow. I tried to get a little regret into my voice.
'Before we go on, Jane, I'd like you to examine these document.'
I slid a couple of bits of paper across the desk to her. 'Can you read out the title of each document?'
Jane's face reddened ever so slightly, and she fiddled again with the hair over her ears.
'The Data Protection Act 1998,' she said. 'And the Computer Misuse Act 1990'.
She glanced at me, something like horror dawning in her eyes. She did some more of the heavy-duty blinking, then looked down into her lap.
'And whose signature is that at the bottom of each page?'
For a long time she didn't say anything, just kept on staring into her lap. She looked like her whole body was quivering slightly.
'Jane? Whose signature is that?'
She looked up at me again, her eyes moist.
'Mine,' she said, her voice barely more than a whisper.
I nodded and retrieved the documents and slid them into a manila folder.
'Do you know why you're here?'
Eyes downcast again, Jane didn't move for the longest time. Then she shook her head again, quickly, like a child trying to deny something in the face of all the evidence.
I glanced down at my note-pad. There was nothing relevant written there, but it made the lie easier somehow.
'Then I'll tell you. At 09.03 this morning, you carried out a PNC check on vehicle registration .... ' I read the registration from the screen. 'This was a flagged vehicle, and your search set off an alert at the PNC Bureau. They phoned me at 09.27 this morning to ask the reason for the search.'
When I looked up at me, Jane was huddled down in her chair, staring at me with a caught-in-the-headlights expression to melt the hardest of hearts. Her eyes were moist.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I know ...'
I cut her off.
'That isn't the half of it,' I said. 'At 11.17 this morning three armed, masked men in a stolen transit van pulled into the drive of the address registered to the vehicle and burst into the house.'
'Oh Christ!' whispered Jane, her hand flying to her mouth.
I looked back down at my imaginary notes. 'The occupant of the house was an Iraqi exile, under police protection. Because of the alert from the PNC Bureau, he'd been moved out. A team of armed officers had been left to watch the house. There was a gun-battle between them and the intruders. Two of the intruders were killed, the other surrendered. One of the police officers sustained a serious gun-shot wound to the neck. He's in intensive care.'
I pushed the papers away from me and leaned back in my chair. I studied Jane, worried for a moment that I'd over-egged the pudding with talk of gun-battles and wounded officers, but I needn't have worried. From the look of it, Jane had believed every word.
She was sobbing now, her head buried in her hands, her mousy blond hair falling forward over her face. I just sat there, idly wondering to myself what colour underwear she had on (as you can guess, I've got a bit of a lingerie fetish!), wondering if she'd go for what I was going to propose.
The sobbing continued, at varying levels of intensity, for two or three minutes. Then she wiped her eyes and tried to compose herself. I pushed a box of tissues across the table to her. She blew her nose, loudly.
'I'm so sorry,' she said. 'I didn't think ...'
'Clearly not,' I said, cutting her short again. Keep her on the back-foot, that was the important thing.
'The policeman,' she asked, tears still rolling down her cheeks. 'Is he going to live?'
'He's in the ICU,' I said. 'Apparently it's not looking good.'
Jane leaned back in her chair and put her hand over her eyes and gently shook her head.
'What's going to happen to me?' she asked.
I shrugged and shook my head, going with fifty percent regret, fifty percent disappointment.
'I'll phone Complaints & Discipline. You'll be arrested and charged. Apart from the lesser offences, there's probably a few terrorist-related charges you're in line for ...'
This time she cut me short with a gasp.
'Terrorist? But I don't know anything about terrorists!'
I shrugged again. 'The guys in the ski-masks, they weren't selling encyclopaedias, you know! Anyway, if the cop dies, you're in the frame for accessory to murder.'
Jane started sobbing again, her whole body shaking. I sat and waited for her to cry herself out.
'Will I go to jail?' she asked, when she was able to speak again.
'Without doubt,' I said. 'As will your sister.'
Jane recoiled as if she'd been struck.
'There's no use trying to protect her,' I said. I tapped a key on the laptop, and Jane and I listened to the recent conversation she'd had with Gemma.
'Oh God!' said Jane. 'Oh God!'
'I'm sorry,' I said. 'Really I am. I like you, Jane. I always have.' Laying the ground, giving her a bit of sympathy when she needed it most. 'I hate for this to happen to you.'
'Our mother!' whispered Jane. 'It will kill her!'
'I don't think you really knew what you were doing, did you?' I said, leaning forward towards her.
Jane seized onto my words as if they were a lifeline.
'I didn't,' she said. 'And Gemma didn't either. She just said she needed some money, that she was about to lose her house. She met some bloke down the pub.'
'It's always a bloke down the pub,' I said.
'It's true!' said Jane, leaning forward in her turn. 'Gemma said he said he was a private detective, just needed the addresses for divorce work.'
'Do you have a name for this private detective?'
'Mr Marlowe,' she said.
I gave a harsh laugh. 'Yeah, right!' I said, and reached for the phone.
'What are you doing?' asked Jane, her voice thick with fear.
'Phoning Complaints and Discipline,' I said.
'Please!' said Jane. She stood up, and leaned forwards over for my desk, trying to grab my hands in hers. Her smallish breasts pushed against the material of her blouse as I moved back out of her reach.
'What choice do I have?' I asked.
'I'll give you money!' she said, as I started to dial. My home phone number, as it happened, but she didn't know that.
I covered the mouthpiece of the phone with my hand.
'Don't make things worse than they already are!' I said.
'How can they get any worse?!' She almost screamed the words. I wondered if anyone in the main office could hear her.
'Bribery's a serious offence in itself,' I said. 'And besides, I don't want your money.'
'You can protect me!' she said, staring at me with earnest, pleading eyes. 'You can if you want to.'
My own voice on my home answer-phone clicked in. I listened for a moment, then said, 'Hello, can you put me through to Inspector Chandler? Thank you.'
'Please!' said Jane. 'I'm begging you.'
I listened to my own voice for a moment longer, then said. 'Hello, Inspector. This is Jack Waters. We spoke this morning. Can you call me back when you get a chance?' I replaced the receiver. 'Voicemail,' I said. Jane was staring at me with horror in her eyes.
Jane came round the desk towards me, stumbling slightly, blinking through her tears.
'Please!' she said again.
I stood up, tried to step back. Her hand grabbed for me, caught hold of my upper arm.
'Don't do this to me, Jack,' she said, her voice barely audible.
'I don't have any choice,' I said.
She stared up at me, still clutching my arm. Her face was close to mine, and tears were cascading down her cheeks. She looked young and alone and quite defenceless.
It was pitiful how quickly hope flared behind her eyes.
'Yes,' she said. 'I knew you could do something.'
'I could lose my job,' I said.
'But you could do something. You could protect me?'
I wondered what she thought I could do if she really had been involved, however innocently in a terrorist attack. I wondered how she thought I could expunge the computer record, how I could unsay what I was supposed to have said to the fictitious Inspector Chandler.
'Why should I?' I asked. Now it was my turn to grasp her, gently but firmly, by her upper arms. As I moved her away from me I could feel her whole body shaking.