This week’s story is a sort-of sequel to last week’s story – If, Never. You might want to read that first…

Francesca arrives at the office at half past seven. She is, if anything, slightly later than usual; as if she needed a traffic jam, today of all days. She opens the door to the office block using her card. Dolores, the cleaner, was still using the buffer on the faux marble floor of the lobby.

Come on Dolores, she thinks. Get on with it, please!.

“Morning,” she says, breezing past towards the lift. Dolores murmurs something unintelligible. She can feel the tension creeping up her, apprehension starting to bubble up into her consciousness.

What if she looks at my shopping bag, she thinks. What if she sees the bag, and wonders what’s in it?.

She presses the button to call the lift, trying not to fidget during the eternity before the doors open. She keeps hoping for her phone to beep, or for Dolores to say something, or really anything to happen to distract her, even just for a split second. Kevin wouldn’t text, of course. They have a “don’t text” policy, ever since that close call when his wife heard her text come in on his phone. He’d passed it off as work related, but still…

The ride to the fourth floor is short, but feels like an eternity. The door finally opens, and she realises she has been holding her breath the entire journey. She gets out, letting out a breath, and uses her ID card to open the door to the office suite. She tucks the shopping bag discreetly under the reception desk, and heads into the kitchen.

The number of times she has stood there, watching the world while waiting for the kettle for her morning coffee. She doesn’t need the coffee this morning; she’s already hyped.

Taking a deep breath, she checks her watch: still twenty minutes before the bus arrives. All she can do right now is wait.

At fifteen minutes to eight, Kevin walks up the road from the mutli-storey car park. That was cutting it fine, Francesca thinks. Two minutes later, he is standing in the kitchen with her.

“That’s cutting it fine!” she whispers.

“Good morning to you too,” he replies. “Traffic, of course. Where’s the stuff?”

“Under my desk.” A figure emerges from the front door, walking towards the bus stop, and Francesca points. “There she goes, look.”

Kevin looks out of the window to see Dolores leaving: nearly twenty minutes late.

“Just about enough time,” he says. “I’m off.”

She doesn’t wish him luck. They stopped doing that after the first time, when it ended in disaster.

Less than a minute later, Kevin emerges, carrying the bag, and hides in the bushes. They practised this yesterday, and last Thursday. If he’s got the right place again, he can see both the front door and the kitchen window. She hasn’t tried it herself, doesn’t know whether it’s easy or hard to see both. She hopes it’s easier than it looks from here.

Francesca raises her head, looks into the distance. This next part requires timing. If anyone else comes along, the plan is blown, completely.

As happened before, the bus stops around the corner, and the end peeks out between two buildings. She waves to Kevin, who doesn’t wait to acknowledge her, but walks directly towards the main entrance.

She holds her breath. This is the key moment. Carson appears. He isn’t running, but walking fast. Very fast. Faster than usual. Faster than yesterday.

Come on Kevin, she thinks. Faster, please!

The planning that had taken place. Avoiding a paper trail. Avoiding the internet. Working out the recipe for the fake blood.

And then he appears, just before Carson comes round the last corner, and hides in the bushes again. Just like yesterday, just like Thursday, Carson doesn’t see him.

The kettle has boiled, maybe ten minutes ago already. Without thinking, she pours the tepid water onto the instant coffee granules. Looking up again, she sees Kevin hide behind the bush, just a few seconds before Carson comes round the corner of the park and into sight of the building.

Francesca stands there, listening, waiting for the noise of the lift opening. She waves to Kevin and then turns to see Carson turning right.

He’s heading for the kitchen, she thinks, in horror. Maybe he’s seen me.

But then he stops. Closes his eyes. Starts to think. Francesca swallows hard, and decides to brave it out.

“Morning James,” she says, walking out of the kitchen. “Everything OK?”

He looks at her, his face pained. “Thought for a moment something had happened,” he says, his voice empty. “But it never does.”

His pain is sweet music to her. It means freedom. “Nope,” she replies, smiling. “Still the same old place. Nothing to see here.”

She sits down at the desk and tries to look busy, typing nonsense, trying hard to repress a smile. The plan has worked. He’s thinking about blood, about murder, about evil. It’s beautiful.

Carson heads off to the kitchen, makes himself a coffee. Suddenly it occurs to Francesca that the kettle should be warmer, and she panics. But a few minutes later he emerges, blissfully unaware. Still safe.

Fifteen minutes later, at approximately his normal time, Kevin comes in, without the shopping bag.

“Where’s the bag?” she asks.

“Boot of my car,” he replies. “As planned.”

“Is he here yet?”

She shakes her head. “Still waiting for Jenkins.”

“Message me when he gets in.”

She nods, and he heads off to his office.

It’s ten minutes before Jenkins arrives. She hates Jenkins. Hates his fat face, his ginger beard. Hates that he knows. Hates those phone calls.

She types in the messenger, smiles, and looks busy. Jenkins goes to his desk.

Ten minutes later, messenger pings. Francesca stands up and heads for Kevin’s office. She walks past Carson, obliviously working away with his headphones on. Jenkins is nowhere to be seen.

“Come in,” he says, still conspiratorially whispering.

She sits, as she normally does, at his meeting table, next to him but facing out so that she can watch the office, with a notepad in front of her. Just like she was taking notes.

He plugs a headset into his mobile phone, they take an earphone each, and wait. They don’t have to wait long.

“Hello?” he says, answering the phone. “Who is this?”

The same voice comes on – the same mechanically disguised voice that’s been haunting her dreams for weeks now.

“I want my money,” the voice rasps, ignoring the question. “I want ten thousand, and I want it at four this afternoon.”

Kevin and Francesca exchange glances. She nods.

“Where?”

“Come to the park behind the office building. Leave it under the fountain in a black plastic bag. Come alone. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Kevin replies. “Four. Fountain. Black plastic bag.”

“Ten thousand. Cash”

“Ten thousand,” Kevin says. “In cash.”

Francesca stares at him, and nods. Ask it, she thinks. Ask him.

“What if I haven’t got it?” he asks.

“You’ve had long enough to get it by now,” the voice says. “Do not disappoint me.”

The line goes dead.

Kevin sighs. “That’s it then.”

They pretend to be meeting for a few moments. Both of them watch as Jenkins, with a smile on his face, walks past the glass fronted office and goes to sit down.

Francesca looks at him, raises her eyebrows. Kevin looks at his watch, and nods.

She stands up, walks out of the office and over to Jenkins’ desk. He’s not expecting her, but the request to go to the boss’s office is nothing out of the ordinary.

“Ah, Jenkins,” Kevin says, standing up. “I was just meeting with Francesca, to get her to build me some PowerPoints about the next year’s budgets, and I just wanted to pick your brains on a couple of accounting matters.”

“OK,” he says. “Be happy to.”

Jenkins sits down at the table, facing away from the glass. This isn’t perfect, but it will have to do.

“What it is,” Francesca says, walking across to the other side of the table, “is that according to head office we’ve got to try and justify the three percent increase in the budget by reference to the expected uptick in the GAAP profit margin, and we’re a bit stuck with doing that.”

Jenkins smiles. This is his demesne. He begins explaining, while Francesca starts taking notes. She nods, while Kevin walks behind him, and draws a wire from his pocket.

Quickly, Kevin wraps the wire around Jenkins’ neck. Before he can do anything, Kevin begins twisting the wire. Francesca moves over the desk and grabs Jenkins’ hands, to stop him flailing and making noise.

He falls to the floor, eyes and tongue bulging. If this were in a film, Francesca would find this horrifying, hiding behind a cushion or grabbing for the remote to move past a bit. But right now, it’s fascinating. It’s exciting. Is she even a little bit.. but that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

Jenkins appears to be out cold now. The wire is locked, it can’t be removed by Jenkins any more. Without saying a word, Kevin grabs at the shoulders and pulls, while she takes the feet and pushes. They get him behind the wooden desk and out of sight.

“I’ll wait a bit,” Kevin says. “Go back to the desk.”

She nods. They kiss, briefly, and she leaves the office.

Kevin leans down, gets hold of the wrist. The company first aid training taught him how to take a pulse. He feels for it, and it’s there, still beating, but faint.

“Come on,” he whispers to himself. “Come on.”

He waits.

One minute. Two. Three.

The heartbeat fades completely.

He sits back at the desk.

Nearly done. Now for the last part of the plan.

Kevin smiles, thinking. Carson was a gift to them, really. He was the key to the whole plan. A self-confessed Walter Mitty who had a bit of trouble telling reality from fiction. The perfect patsy. The blood in the lobby was his idea: a master stroke. The next part is her idea.

Ten minutes now.

He stands up, walks over to Carson’s desk.

He’s dutifully working away, not realising, placing orders for the last time. He looks so young. Such a pity to waste a young life like this.

Kevin almost chokes back the temptation to laugh, and coughs instead.

“Carson?”

He looks up. Poor sap.

“Yes?”

“Er… come to my office for a few moments, would you?”

And just for a moment, Kevin thinks he’s going to refuse. That he’ll say he’s busy and ask if they can talk there, blowing the whole plan. But he gets up, as he always has, and dutifully follows Kevin into his office, like a lamb into the slaughterhouse.

“Carson, I need your help.”

“OK”, Carson nods enthusiastically. “What is it?”

“It’s Jenkins.” Kevin pauses, for dramatic effect. He’s enjoying this, he realises. “From accounting.”

“What about Jenkins?”

“He’s behind my desk.”

Kevin waves and to his surprises, Carson goes to look.

“What happened?” he asks.

“I strangled him.”

He looks back at Kevin, then at Jenkins, and Kevin panics a little bit. Maybe he’s going to scream for help. Carson walks round the desk, bends down, and actually touches him. Then he stands up and looks at him.

This is it, Kevin thinks. Time for the setup.

“There’s money missing from the company,” he says, trying to keep an even tone. Not too loud, not too enthusiastic, just be persuasive.

“Quite a lot, as it happens.” he continues. “Actually, I’ve been planning this for a long time.”

Carson nods.

It’s working, he thinks. The idiot’s falling for it.

“Two, maybe three millions.”

“OK.”

OK? That’s all he can say? OK?

“It’s a bit earlier than I planned, but I’ll give you half if you help me.”

Here come the questions, he thinks. And I’m ready for you. We rehearsed these. Why? Because he found out I was stealing. Why him? Because I know I can trust him. Why do I know that? Because of the Greatwood incident of course…

But there are no questions.

“All right,” Carson nods. “I agree. What next?”

Kevin nods. Simple management training: mirror someone’s body movements if you want to keep them onside.

“We’ll have to wing it from here.” This is more carefully written and rehearsed script. “First thing to do it to get rid of the body, and then we’ll need to get out of the country. You’d be an accomplice, of course.”

And there’s another set of questions we’ve written the answers for, if you want to ask them, you sap.

“I see.”

Inside, Kevin’s dancing a jig. This is just too east.

He explains about the fictional carpet in the stock room. The skip down the road that he probably hasn’t noticed was removed on Friday. And then suggests they can be in Rio by sunset. Why Rio? Well, that’s where everyone goes to avoid justice, isn’t it? There or Costa Rica.

“All right,” Carson says. “I’m in. You want me to go and get it?”

Kevin shakes his head, explains that away. Mirroring body language again, he leaves the office.

Kevin walks over to Francesca, and they watch Carson from the reception desk while Francesca calls the police. It’s all going so sweetly, so smoothly, he can’t believe it.

It feels like it takes the police hours to turn up. But maybe it’s not even that much.

Before the next person comes to work, Carson’s under arrest for murder and being dragged out. Kevin and Francesca get taken to the station as witnesses. They haven’t rehearsed this as carefully – deliberately. Too many detective stories where they say “your statements were fishy, they matched… word for word…”

An day of calling head office, police statements, and three calls from journalists follows. The day passes in a blur. It’s past six when Kevin finally emerges from the police interview room for the final time.

“How did it go?”

“About as we expected,” he smiles.

She smiles back, gingerly.

“Not fun, I know,” he said. “But we’ve done it.”

She closes her eyes, and nods.

“Are you all right?”

“Of course,” she says. “It’s stress, that’s all.”

“Let’s go eat something. I don’t know about you, but -”

Kevin’s phone rings, cutting them off.

“You too?” she asks.

He nods. “Had to tell three journalists to go away today.” He picks the phone out of the pocket. “Probably another one.”

He presses the answer button.

A familiar voice answers.

“Where’s my money? You’re late.”

The post “Jenkins Is The Problem (If, Never part 2)” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.