They Are Liars: A Novella
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A team of office administrators are stuck at work during a flood. By the end of the day, one of them will be dead…
Sue is waiting to retire. She can’t stand her bad-mannered co-workers who take her for granted.
Krish has an explosive secret that would change everything if his colleagues found out.
Penny is the girl no one seems to notice. Today she learns what the others truly think of her.
Helen hasn’t told anyone about her weekly therapy sessions delving into her repressed memories. But something is floating up to the surface, threatening her usual composure.
Martin, the congenial boss, has a dark past.
Stuck in the office with his employees, a more callous side begins to emerge. One is a murderer. One is dead. They are all liars.
THEY ARE LIARS is a quick read packed with twists, turns and deadly secrets. Binge this novella on a bus journey or a long lunch.
Release date: October 19, 2020
Print pages: 110
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They Are Liars: A Novella
Sarah A. Denzil
Sue tapped her identification card against the scanner and waited for the clunk to tell her the door was open. As usual, it took three taps, and she clucked her tongue with each one. Technology only made life more difficult. What was wrong with a proper key? She had to carry this rectangle of plastic around her neck every day at work. It dangled there below her breasts, a constant reminder of her unsatisfying job, her own half-smiling face on show to anyone she might pass. It was a terrible picture. The camera operator had taken the photograph too soon, because of course they had. She was sneering and sallow on her ID, but who cared about taking a flattering picture of an old woman?
The office was empty. She tutted to herself. No one else had her kind of dedication. None of these young ones knew what hard work was. She dumped several plastic bags onto her desk and unwrapped her scarf. It was a cold October morning, and her coat was damp from the rain. She peeled it away and hung it up on the rack in the corner by the bin. She took her lunch—tuna and sweetcorn sandwich, a leftover chocolate éclair, and a scotch egg—out of her bag and carried it through to the kitchen.
The fridge smelled like leftover curry again. Krish, no doubt; always bringing his wife’s cooking into the office. But she couldn’t complain. No, she couldn’t say a word, because then she’d be called racist. Never mind how inconsiderate he was for bringing in such pongy food. She closed the fridge door with a forcible slap and focused her attention on brewing coffee for the office.
Sue did not drink coffee, but she made it anyway. Did she ever receive a thank you?
“Well, I never,” she mumbled. There was another one. A pink Post-it note stuck to the door of the microwave: Clean up your mess! This one was more to the point than the last one: We deserve a clean place to make our lunch. Or the one before: The cleaning fairy is tired. We all need to chip in. Sue screwed it up into her fist and dropped it into the bin. She suspected Helen, and Helen could fuck off.
She made her way back to the open-plan area of the office. It was small and drab. The carpet was grey and laid down in squares that made the place appear tiled. Half the desks were empty now because of lay-offs. It meant they had double the work, and she hadn’t had a pay rise since 2012. At fifty-five, she was counting down the days until retirement. Every now and then she calculated her pension and wondered whether it was time. Derek would have said yes. Let’s go on a cruise together, he’d say. But Derek wasn’t around anymore, and she only had herself to rely on.
When she told people about Derek’s battle—that was always the word, wasn’t it? Battle. Fight. War—with cancer, they always say it took him “too soon”. What a pointless thing to say. Didn’t all people die too soon? What constitutes as an acceptable age to shuffle off this mortal coil?
Sue continued to ponder those questions as she took a small watering can out from underneath her desk and walked to the bathroom to fill it. The strip lights hummed overhead. She checked behind her at the sinks because sexual predators lurked everywhere. You don’t know who they hire as cleaners these days. Then she went back into the office to water the plants. Someone had to.
Once it was done, it was almost eight a.m. and her few moments alone would be over. She flopped into her desk chair, tidied her desk, booted up the computer, and waited impatiently, clicking her mouse over and over again. She slipped off her court shoes, letting the bunions breathe. That bus journey killed her every morning. The dark sky, the unsmiling driver—remember when you could have a natter with them?—the crush of the commute. Sometimes she didn’t even get a seat and had to clutch the metal pole, her knees complaining throughout the journey. No one offered her their seat. Instead, they stared out of the window and tried not to make eye contact.
The computer start-up noise startled her as it rattled through the speakers. She adjusted the volume and clicked on the icon for her email. She took a cereal bar out of her desk drawer and mindlessly began eating it. It tasted of nothing. Her inbox was teeming with pointless CCs. She ignored them and opened the web browser, going straight to her favourite free-e-book site. She’d heard the latest Stephen King had already been uploaded as a PDF. She rubbed her hands together in anticipation and scrolled through the categories. What harm would a bit of reading do? The system took ten minutes to boot up on a bad day.
She hadn’t yet opened the computer database.
Helen smoothed her wet hair as she walked into the department. She was glad to have short hair on a day like today, when it was raining cats and dogs and she’d forgotten her umbrella. Sue’s head popped up from a cluster of computers like a feral meerkat, making Helen clutch her Radley tote with stiff, pale fingers.
“Morning,” Sue said brightly. “There’s fresh coffee in the pot.”
“Thanks, love. You’re a lifesaver. Isn’t the weather awful?”
Sue rolled her eyes. “Terrible. It should brighten up later though.”
“I bloody hope so,” Helen said. “I’ve got a lunch date.”
Sue rolled her chair away from her computer and crossed one leg over the other. “Is it a man?”
Helen laughed awkwardly as she hung up her coat. “Oh no. Nothing like that. Just a mate.”
“I’m sure it is,” Sue replied, but she’d apparently lost interest because she went back to her computer.
Helen took her seat at a desk on the empty side of the room. She’d moved away from the rest of the team after the redundancies, hoping the quiet would help her concentrate. It also meant she didn’t need to smell Krish’s lunch or look at Sue’s feet.
They were part of the university psychology department, but their administration offices were in a converted town house. It was on campus but not connected to a main building. They handled scheduling in their office. Timetables and exams, that kind of thing. There was a reception downstairs and an IT department on the floor above, but the schedulers rarely spent time with either team. Unless they were forced to partake in some sort of social.
Helen felt as though she was behind already. They were scheduling the winter exam period, and there was one huge clash, not enough rooms, and too many students. Ever since the rise in tuition fees, and students had to pay more money for their education, they’d started asking for the moon. They wanted the best. Whether it was lecturers, halls, or equipment, these students demanded their money’s worth, but when budgets were also being slashed, it was impossible to provide it. She booted up the computer and waited, her eyes drifting over to Sue’s desk. Sue was nibbling on a cereal bar and rubbing her bare feet together. Helen turned her head away.
The truth was, Helen had an appointment with her therapist at lunchtime. She peered through the blinds, watching the rain fall relentlessly in sheets that battered the glass. It bounced off umbrellas, reflected off street lights, streamed down the gutter, and splashed into the river that snaked past their office. Her stomach flipped. Something about this weather made her muscles feel tight with anxiety.
It was freezing in the office. She padded over to the thermostat and put the temperature up to twenty-one before heading over to the kitchen. Yes, she was running behind, but she had to eat. As the team leader, she was responsible for making sure work went out on time. She handled the day-to-day issues. Martin, their department head, was the one who liaised between them and the higher-ups. The chancellors, the HR managers, the senior lecturers.
She whipped up some insta-porridge and shoved the bowl in the microwave before pouring herself a coffee. Then she got distracted by scrolling Facebook on her phone, forgetting to check that the milk didn’t boil over. Her uncle was arguing with everyone about Brexit again. The microwave beeped, and she grabbed her porridge. It’d spilled over a bit, but it was just a tiny blob. She was too busy to sort it out. Someone else could do it.
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