9 years ago today I would come home later this afternoon to my shitty but spacious Greenwich bedsit, moldy carpets in the bathroom, rough carpets that forced me to wear socks and invest in a pumice stone for the first time in my life everywhere else, to a co-worker who lived across the hall and stank up the place, telling me that Cathy was dead. I let him into my room, he told me again “Cathy is dead” like a drunk on repeat, staring at me and repeating it as if somehow it would then make more sense and I just couldn’t believe him. He left for his room, I don’t know why, and I called my manager Thomas, who confirmed “Cathy is dead.”
I wailed. I’m not sure for how long. I spoke to friends, asking me if I was sure it was at my office and not somewhere else, as if this is something I was imagening. I called my team, the ones who’s numbers I had, and explained. Cathy was dead. The office would be closed tomorrow pending investigation. Everyone who wanted to was to gather at a nearby hotel the next day.
Later, antsy and confused, my coworker from across the hall and I scrambled through Greenwich in search of a drink, all shops and pubs closed. We gave up and pretended to sleep.
The next day we gather together in an anonymous hotel conference room by the Thames. Camera crews and police cordon off our office building just up the road. Cathy was found dead in the office showers the evening before. A co-worker found her. There is no further information. Police give you the option to set a time limit for their investigation, it has already been decided that we will give them all the time they need. An emergency office has been arranged. We are free to go there, or go to church, or walk, or get drunk, or do whatever we need to. There is 24 hour access to a helpline and there will be a therapist on site for a while as well.
I go for lunch with Heaven and Steve in China Town. Heaven shows us how to eat chicken feet. I get a call. I’m in the middle of moving into a new place, it’s about my reference check. The lady is angry. “Hello? The number you gave for your reference, no one is answering.” “Well, there’s been an incident at our office in Vauxhall.” Her tone changes, “Oh my, that story in the papers?” “Yes.” “I’m so sorry. Well can you give me the direct number of the finance person?” “Actually no, she … No?” Silence. “I’m sorry, I’ll call the mobile number of your manager instead.” “Thank you.”
On my way home I open one of London’s free papers, I forget which one because I’ll never read one again. Britain loves a bit of lurid detail. “Beaten beyond recognition.” “Found in a pool of her own blood.” The article reads. 9 years later and the words still make me cringe. It reads so differently when it’s about someone you stared in the face just a few days prior. It also reads so differently when the police gives you regular updates and those updates include details of exactly nothing.
I’m not sure how much time passes between her being found and him being found. We work in a cramped dark emergency office. We don’t know how to explain to new hires why we’re in this office and not the one where they interviewed. We give DNA samples and finger prints. Sometimes someone starts to cry. Our CEO does not sleep. We get drunk together a lot. It’s the first time in my life I start throwing up from alcohol. The company stumbles into a crisis as financial deficits are discovered, our story is outed to the world, and we decide never to go back to that office again. We can’t. We keep going anyway.
The man who killed her used to work for the company before I joined. He was fired for lying about what he was doing and headbutting a client in a pub. No one had heard from him since. Not even for a reference. Until now. Some co-workers are relieved. After following along all the media vilifications (it must’ve been one of the guys who found her, it must’ve been the bums from the park across the street) now they have their answer. Cathy was killed over 7 laptops, stolen by a disgruntled former colleague who fell into financial trouble over the year he’d been fired. The street value of 7 laptops is nothing, least of all the life of a 28 year old. Chocked to death on a scarf her mom knitted for her. These are details I don’t want to know. They still ring through my head at random intervals. He was sentenced to 26 years minimum.
I’ve never been able to go back to Vauxhall. Not that there’s any need to. Office showers give me panic attacks, even if I don’t use them.
One girl from my team quit, because she didn’t ‘trust us’ anymore. A lot of people asked me if I was even close to Cathy, as if being upset about someone you weren’t close to being murdered in a building where you spend 8 hours a day with roughly 58 other people was somehow overreacting. Some people said “It could have happened anywhere.” As if office murders are a daily happenstance. As if even if that were the case, that made it better?
I still feel guilty for feeling so much, when I knew her so little. I even feel guilty for writing this. I was rude to her the last time I saw her, worried about that reference. I still feel guilty for being rude. I feel guilty for her death not being the life changer I felt and still feel it should have been, even if in ways it was. I feel guilty for the day off I won when we held a pub quiz and raffle in her name and donated the proceeds to charity. I feel guilty for the years where I almost didn’t realise it was the anniversary of her death. Until somewhere, at some point, it strikes home again what day it is, and I cry.