culprit

…one who is accused of some kind of transgression and so is assumed to be guilty     

The accusation was in the deep brown coffee stain spreading like blood across the taupe carpet in the conference room. The guilt was ingrained into every fibre of her being. It was a latent feeling – this feeling of guilt; normally dormant, rarely active, only momentarily in any period of six to eight weeks did it even touch the surface, and even then it was easily suppressed with a slight shrug of the shoulders, the action, this action of ever so slightly shrugging the shoulders, upon which Helen built her empire, this feeling of guilt was one which she was unaccustomed to dealing with when it all too rarely managed to breach her defences and rear its surprisingly alluring head.

So Helen panicked. This was perhaps uncharacteristic of Helen – to panic. But much of what Helen did proved to be uncharacteristic in one way or another, which of course raised the question – what is characteristic of Helen Anderson?

Could a definition of her character be built upon an appreciation of the manner in which she ran like a startled wildebeest down the corridor outside her office, pushed past a junior colleague, pointedly ignored the calling of her name by her red faced manager, whose name escaped her at that moment and so sharpened her feeling of guilt which was growing out of control and subsumed every other feeling, jabbed repeatedly at the button for the lift (Helen, rather than the feeling of guilt), wiped the non-existent sweat from her brow, her fingers constantly touching something, her glasses, her hair, her cheek, her glasses, her hair, throwing herself against the opposite wall of the lift once the doors opened, trying to grab hold of it with either hand, her fingernails scraping the brushed aluminium, her inability to turn around and face what the opening doors might next reveal, her falling to the floor when a judder ran through the lift as it ground to a halt and all the lights went out? Is this Helen Anderson?

This is Helen Anderson, guilty as charged, who on the tenth day of this month lied through her teeth, presented forged documents by way of references, one a sealed letter from a fictional Monsignor Thomas O’Mahony who couldn’t speak highly enough of Helen’s moral character and her determination to make the world a better place, took up a position of great responsibility in the company of Kelly, Kelly and Kelly Advertising, proceeded to undermine the scheme to ensure that Bananahol was the drink of choice for the lower-income-teen-to-thirty mass market through gross ineptitude and complete lack of judgement, who took up a much desired corner office unit without due regard to the natural hierarchy of the office political landscape, who grossly abused her secretary with inane questions, an imperious manner and the imposition of a series of pointless directives, and who, less than ten minutes before hand, purged the overflowing coffee machine in the conference room without due regard for the immaculate taupe carpet, forgetting to put a receptacle beneath the output valve, and then proceeded to stand idly by with a look of… confusion? joy? fulfilment? release? On her face as the dark brown liquid spread like a pool of blood beneath the feet of such an unnatural and savage criminal? malcontent? fiend?

But in Helen’s defence, there were no witnesses to her most recent crime, and no one in the office with the audacity to question the myriad of lies she had used to build herself up as the Helen she wished to project. And though this may seem to be a rather insubstantial defence, perhaps even no defence at all, it was at the same time a strong defence.

And what was the evidence against her? Purely circumstantial, Helen told herself when she had regained her wits in the darkness of the broken down lift. The non-existence of a certain Monsignor Thomas O’Mahony was a circumstance which pointed towards her guilt, as was the fact that she never had worked for a prestigious firm in Canada, as was the fact that she would have been seen leaving the conference room by several people just after the dark brown of the coffee reached its furthest extent.

Helen thought for a moment about the lack of legitimacy given to such evidence of circumstance in a court of law, and wondered what evidence could there be which couldn’t, in one way or another, be termed  circumstantial? Isn’t it a circumstance that a Mrs Jones sinks the blade of a kitchen knife into the chest of her tedious husband? Another that she pulls it out again and wipes it clean on one of his brown suits? All merely circumstantial and so Mrs Jones walks free.

As the lights came back on in the lift and its descent downwards suddenly recommenced, Helen dwelt upon the circumstances of her crimes. She even managed a smile when she considered them. How awful, how truly awful she was. What an utterly bad person she was. She was duplicitous, a word she liked the sound of. She was deceitful, a word she liked to use at any opportunity. She committed crimes which were head and shoulders above the kind of crimes one expects to be committed. She was a criminal beyond the realm of the run of the mill and the everyday and the petty crime which one comes to expect, be on the look out for, lock your doors against and tell your children about.

She was truly awful. And when the doors opened at the ground floor, revealing to Helen the marble stretches of the home straight, Helen simply pressed the button for the top floor and smiled her awful smile and revelled in how awful she truly was.

“Something is amiss,” Helen asserted to an audience of disgusted colleagues assembled at the scene of her most recent and most daring crime.

“That’ll never wash out,” a secretary cried out, as though voicing the horror felt by the whole company of Kelly, Kelly and Kelly Advertising which was by now filling the conference room with whispers and footsteps and gasps.

“Lock the doors!” Helen took the initiative, which had to be taken lest the whispers and gasps accumulated into articulated words which would pronounce the judgement which Helen was fearing less and less. Raising her voice to a level commensurate with someone taking charge of the situation, Helen called out “Who is drinking coffee?”

All eyes turned to cups and saucers.

“The hottest coffee will reveal to us the perpetrator of this heinous crime.”

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