The ‘Deen is known as a city of fine architecture. So I found it rather odd that I was approaching yet another example of brutal 60’s town planning. This one was low and flat rather than tall and looming but it still looked like it had taken a few hits from the ugly stick. This was the office that our deceased had worked from. It perched on top of a hill in the middle of the kind of sink-hole estate that, in spite of being part of one of the most prosperous cities in Europe, looks like that bit of Dundee that looks like that bit of Glasgow that looks like that bit of Edinburgh that looks like this.
The inside of the building had been recently refurbished. It hadn’t taken. The carpet was new and there was a lot of beech effect ‘wood’ but everything was beginning to peel and fade and scratch. The receptionist spent at least two minutes pretending she hadn’t seen me while she finished her cup of coffee. When she finally made her way over to the window I was irked enough to flash my Department ID and say, “Home Office investigator to see [REDACTED]. Just buzz me through.” She took on that slightly glazed look, I heard the buzz of the door entry button and went through.
I admit to a slight pang of guilt that the buzzing sound didn’t stop when I passed through the door and I realised that the receptionist was still staring into space with her finger on the button. Obviously the Psychotropic effect of the ID was stronger than I had realised.
I should point out that I’m nothing to do with the Home Office. The Department has links to all the branches of the British Government but we’re not officially attached to anything. Even if we were attached to the Home Office I have no idea if that would give me any authority to just barge into a Social Work building.
I didn’t go straight to see the victim’s boss. Partly because I was having a look round and partly because I was lost. The atmosphere of the place was beige. I don’t just mean the decor, though the decor was just as guilty, I mean the very air itself seemed to be bland and flat and beige.
This was a place that idealistic people came to make a difference only to discover that there wasn’t enough money, or time, or staff to make a positive difference to anyone. The people who worked here were faced with two kinds of people. People who wanted help but weren’t going get any and people who wanted nothing to do with them who were getting help they didn’t want. In this building lives were broken. Parents, children, and staff might enter with hope but they left with none.
Someone should have put a warning on the door.”Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’entrate” possibly (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here) or maybe “Terribilis est locus iste “ (This place is terrible)*.
Eventually I found a door marked [REDACTED], the name of our vicitm’s boss. It was slightly ajar so I knocked and waited.
“Yes.” He said. He sounded irritated but in that slightly weary way that suggests that irritated might be his default setting.
I pushed the door wider. “I’m Cutty Darke. I’m here following up the investigation into the death of [REDACTED]. You should have been contacted about this.” I said.
The man behind the desk looked less like a man an more like a large piece of furniture. He was an elderly red leather chesterfield sofa that has faded to pink with too much sun and wear made flesh. He made the real furniture in the room seem shoddy and under sized by comparison.
“This again.” He said.
“I’m investigating the suspicious death of one of your colleagues. So yes. This again.” I said. Then I thought of the glamour and I regretted the tone. This guy has a job that sucks enough without me having a go.
“Yes of course. Please come in. What can I do for you.” He said. He’d added flustered to his repertoire of irritated and tired.
“I just want to talk to you about [REDACTED]. What was she like? Did she have any particular problems with co-workers? Had she picked up any threats from clients?” I said. Actually I knew she’d had threats. In fact one of the few things that Detective Jayne had been able to find in the council files was that she was the current record holder for Death Threats and in the top ten for letters of complaint. We haven’t been able to track down the details so we can’t tell if that means she was good at her job or really bad at it.
“She was a competent and popular worker with a passion for protecting children and she will be missed by all of us but most of all by her clients.” He said. He fired the words out quickly and without emotional loading. This was clearly his stock response and I doubted he’d even come up with it himself.
“Ok. I’m going to need to talk to her co-workers.”
“That’s going to take some time to sort out.” He said.
“Don’t mind me. I’ll be taking a look at her desk.”
*Ok, I know that one actually means ‘this is a place of awe’ but I’m recording how I felt at the time.