2 mysteries in 1 workplace. Who killed the planner & what did the letters W o h y h w t a h w o h w on the client’s back mean?
“What is this place?” asked DCI Stafford as DS Ringer walked him across the reception of Bartleby Zimmer and Rumsfeld. Ringer had been there for an hour already and had the lay of the land.
Stafford glanced uneasily at the strange shelving along the back wall, rows of identical cubes, each containing a single orange flower in a jam jar, and each one lit from behind with an individual spot. An old mini had been sawn in half and appeared to be bursting out of the floor. Oversized beanbags were scattered about, in between jelly bean dispensers. There was a tub filled with retro toys, dinky cars and dolls. Another tub contained what looked like the bits and pieces of a variety of crafts, knitting needles, wool, bobbins, raffia, scissors… The sign over the first tub urged “PLAY!”. Whilst the directive over the second tub was: “CREATE!”
The handful of people waiting seemed torn between embarrassment and admiration. Some risked the beanbags and sank deep into them. The ones who didn’t laughed.
“It’s a social marketing agency,” said Ringer.
Stafford screwed up his face in distaste.
“In fact,” continued Ringer, “BZR – or Buzzer, as it’s known – is one of the most successful of the new wave of social marketing agencies.”
Stafford nodded. And then the doubt pursed his lips and his face took on a slightly panicked expression.
“You’ve got no idea what I’m talking about, have you?”
Stafford eyes narrowed. It could have been pain or hatred.
“You know what an advertising agency is?” said Ringer.
“Well, it’s like an advertising agency. Only it uses social marketing networks such as facebook and twitter to get its message across.”
Stafford took in the surroundings sceptically. He noticed the iPads littered about for casual use, the big screen on one wall showing pop videos. “You can make money at that, can you?”
“Oh yeah. My cousin’s into it. Set up a company five years ago and sold it on last summer for ten million.”
“Ten million what?”
“Just checking. Thought you might be talking about jelly beans.” Stafford stopped at one of the dispensers and helped himself. “Right, let’s have a look at this crime scene.”
The meeting room was as self-consciously wacky as the rest of the agency. There were American diner-style banquettes around the edge. Smart boards and white boards on every surface. A soft play area in one corner. The conference table was modular – jigsaw pieces of table that could be arranged into any shape. At the moment it was looped round like a question mark.
The body was on the floor near a smudged whiteboard. There were signs of a struggle. Toppled chairs. A large pad and easel strewn about, as if a small hurricane had passed through.
“Who is she?” said Stafford.
“Sienna Hargreaves. A planner.”
“What’s that when it’s at home?”
“As far as I can tell, she’s one of the brains behind the company. She works out what clients should be doing, how they should be spending their money.”
“Who found her?”
“One of the secretaries who came in to get the room ready for a meeting. Sienna had been in a brainstorming all morning.”
“A brainstorming. A meeting where everyone engages in blue-sky thinking.”
“What’s happened to you? You’ve only been here five minutes and you’re talking like some…” Stafford shook his head, more in contempt than sadness. He looked down. The sight of the dead woman seemed to have a chastening effect on him.
He placed her somewhere in her thirties. He found it hard to make the same superficial physical judgements about the dead as he did the living. To place her on a scale of attractiveness, to register her possible weight issues, to think about her in the same terms he was used to assessing every woman – he couldn’t help doing it, but it saddened him more than he could say.
Apart from anything it was hard to get past the trail of blood from her nostrils. The blood covered her chin and pooled into her blouse.
She had the look of one of the brainy ones. And not too bad-looking for all that. As he studied her face, it struck him as somehow incomplete, as if it was the face of someone whose potential had not yet been fulfilled. He didn’t think she had children. He hoped not.
He noticed a pair of broken spectacles nearby, brightly coloured, chunky, forlorn.
“Cause of death?”
“We’ll have to wait for the full medical examiner’s report. But…”
“We found a bloody knitting needle on one of the banquettes. Seems likely that it was plunged up her nostril into her brain.”
“Bloody hell. That’s what I call a brainstorming. So who else was in this meeting?”
Stafford took out a notebook and read off the names of five people. Four BZR personnel: Sophie Rossiter, Tim Ford, Sally Murdoch and Rashida Abadi; and one client, Clifford McKenzie. “They broke for lunch. Rossiter, Ford, Murdoch and Abadi went to the cafeteria here. It’s very good, by the way. Coffee is excellent. I recommend the vanilla latte. Victim stayed in the meeting room to write up her notes.”
“What about the other one? The client?”
“Clifford McKenzie? He left to go back to his own office.”
“Was he seen leaving?”
“He signed out. At one o’clock. When the meeting ended. With much air kissing and ciao-ing.”
“He signed himself out. Could have put any time he wanted. Could have left at one ten, but written one o’clock – provided there were no later times already in the book. Let’s talk to the receptionist, see if she remembers anything.” Stafford frowned and studied the smudges on the whiteboard near the dead woman. “What do you make of this?”
“Oh, I asked one of the other planners about that. Those are the headings they use to get the brainstorming session going. Shorthand for four key questions.” Ringer consulted his notebook again. “Who are we talking to? What are we saying to them? Why should they be interested? How are we going to reach them?”
The receptionist showed them the desk book and confirmed that McKenzie had indeed signed out at one o’clock, because she remembered him asking her the time.
“Did he not have a watch?” wondered Stafford. “Or did he want to make sure someone else would back up his alibi.”
“But if he signed out at one, he signed out at one.”
Stafford asked for a pen and wrote his name in the book. He looked at his watch and wrote 15.03.
“Where are you going?” asked Ringer.
“I’m not going anywhere. Just because I’ve signed out, doesn’t mean I’ve left.”
At that moment a group of visitors arrived. The receptionist turned from Stafford and Ringer to welcome them.
“See. She gets distracted, he slips back in, grabbing a knitting needle on the way. Easiest thing in the world. And if she sees him when he does leave later, he can always say he forgot something, or had to go to the loo.”
“That’s a question we’ll have to ask Mr McKenzie.”
They tracked McKenzie to his office on the other side of town. He didn’t look good. His hands were shaking. Sweat was pouring off him, even though he’d taken his jacket off.
“Come on, son,” said Stafford. “Confess. You’ll feel better. What happened? She wouldn’t put out, so you taught her a lesson? Gave it to her good and proper?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But as he turned and led them into the office they saw that wasn’t true.
“You’ve got something on your shirt, mate,” said Stafford.
“Who wrote that on you?” said Ringer.
“No one… I don’t remember.” McKenzie craned his head back to try to read what was on his shirt.
“You must remember someone writing on your shirt.” Ringer read out the letters. “W-o-h-y-h-w-t-a-h-w-o-h-w. What does it mean?”
“It means he’s got his guilt written all over him. It means she pushed him into the whiteboard in the struggle and he got the headings imprinted on his shirt. Remember, WHO WHAT WHY and HOW.”
“But that’s not what it says.”
“Yes it does. It just says it backwards. By a strange quirk, all those letters are symmetrical, so it doesn’t actually look like a mirror imprint. It looks instead like someone’s written a random group of letters on his shirt.” Stafford put his hand on McKenzie, with a snarl of revulsion. “Come on, you nasty man. Let’s get you locked up.”