Mr Cooper’s coarse features, never far from a scowl or grimace, took on an angry expression.
‘Where’s Jean this morning?’ he said to his team who were busy setting up their workstations.
Worried glances were exchanged. Iain broke the tense silence:
‘Probably held up at school or something. It must be difficult getting the children to school in this weather. I’m sure she’ll be here soon.’
‘Nice of you to have her interests at heart Iain. Fancy her do you?’ You should know by now we don’t do discrimination here, positive or otherwise. Let me know the moment she arrives. Oh, and incidentally, how’s the Kramer project going?’
‘It’s on schedule, a bit more to do. The draft will be with you Friday.’
‘No it won’t,’ said Mr Cooper with a smug smile to his team. ‘The schedule’s been brought forward. I want that draft by tomorrow morning.’
Iain rose from his desk and moved slowly and deliberately towards Mr Cooper until his face was inches from his.
‘You’ll have the fucking draft on Friday as we agreed Mr Cooper. If you have any problem with that then I’m sure we can find a way to settle our differences.’
Mr Cooper turned on his heels and left the office hurriedly without a word.
Iain went outside for a cigarette to calm himself. He feared his days in this job were numbered. That bastard Cooper would stab him in the back at the first opportunity. He cursed his impulsiveness. Jean would suffer for what he had done. She was Cooper’s whipping boy, a single mother who really needed her job. Rumour had it she had refused his sexual advances only to be relentlessly bullied ever since. She got no support from her workmates who were afraid of Cooper and his bullying.
As he was stubbing out his cigarette he saw Jean hurrying towards the building. She looked flustered and worried. At least Cooper was right about one thing he thought. I do fancy her, quite a lot.
He called out to her as she passed. She paused and said, ‘Can’t stop Iain, I’m late. I hope Mr Cooper hasn’t noticed.’
‘I’m sorry, I think you’re in trouble, and it’s partly my fault. Come with me for a coffee and I’ll explain. You won’t be in any greater trouble for being a bit more late.’
Iain calmed her protestations and guided her to the coffee shop across the road. He told her what had happened earlier and noticed her hands were shaking as she took a sip of her coffee.
‘Don’t worry Jean,’ he said. ‘Mr Cooper won’t be bullying you for much longer.’
A short walk from Aldgate East Station is the Hoop and Grapes, a traditional English pub that escaped the great fire of London. It was not busy and Iain sat alone at one of the dark oak tables appreciating a very good real ale. A tall slim man arrived and upon seeing Iain joined him.
Iain smiled and shook hands. ‘Hi Jim. What’ll it be?’
‘That stuff you’re drinking looks good.’
Iain ordered two more pints and after a few pleasantries Jim handed over a small package wrapped in brown paper.
‘This is a great formula,’ he explained. ‘Spider’s venom, odourless, colourless and tasteless. A few drops of this in a cup of water, one sip, wait five minutes and poof. It attacks the respiratory system and dissolves the liver. It’s not a pretty death.’
‘Just what the doctor ordered,’ said Iain handing Jim an envelope stuffed with notes.
Friday morning, and Iain met with Mr Cooper in his office. Cooper had just met with Jean. He was pleased with himself having just threatened her with the sack unless her performance improved.
‘I’d like to apologise for my behaviour the other day Mr Cooper,’ Iain said humbly. ‘It was totally uncalled for.’
Cooper looked surprised. ‘Well, thanks for the apology. Perhaps we will be able to get along after all. Let’s have a look at the report.’
Iain was not convinced in the least by Cooper’s attitude. He knew his type well and knew for sure that Cooper would not forgive and forget. He walked over to the water dispenser.
‘Can I get you a cup, Mr Cooper?’
‘Yes, thanks Iain.’
It was an easy matter for Iain to add several drops of the venom to Cooper’s water. He handed him the deadly mixture and Cooper drank deeply. A few minutes later he started to sweat profusely. He tried to move from his seat but he was too weak.
‘Help me Iain,’ he croaked.
Iain smiled at Mr Cooper:
‘But nobody can help you Cooper. You’re going to die very painfully and there’s nothing you or anybody can do about it.’
Iain rushed out of Mr Cooper’s office shouting to the team:
‘Call an ambulance and security. Mr Cooper’s had a stroke or something.’
In the ensuing confusion Iain moved unseen over to Jean’s desk and with a tinge of regret placed the phial containing the remaining venom into her handbag.