This story was submitted to The LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2019
When the Director-General was found dead, five heads of departments rang in to claim responsibility. They hadn’t killed him of course, they just wished they had. So did everyone in the company. He was a tyrant who bullied, swindled, and exploited whoever and whenever he could. He was hateful; he was hated.
I don't know which office wag began whistling the tune of "Who Killed Cock Robin?" But soon we were all joining in. Bad taste, yes, but irresistible. The old monster's initials were in fact CR, it was what we all called him, and curiosity about his end was at fever pitch.
He'd fallen from the window of his 40th storey office at 7.22 a.m. cctv time. He'd made quite a mess in the executive car park, but luckily avoided damaging any cars. The question was: did he jump or was he pushed?
The police found no evidence that anyone had been with him when he fell. The office was tidy, and there were no signs of a struggle and no fingerprints except his own. He'd locked his door from the inside; he often did that, when he wanted to be undisturbed.
So he jumped. But why?
It was the day of the company's Annual General Meeting. Was something dreadful about to come to light there? Some scandal, some disgrace?
It seemed highly unlikely. CR had the reputation of a brilliant businessman, which is how he'd got to be Director-General, and why the board didn't throw him out, however much they disliked him or suspected some of his shadier deals. The fat-cat investors just counted the dividends and turned blind eyes.
As his personal assistant I got my full share of his tantrums, and a large daily dose of criticism about everything. My work, the coffee, my personal appearance, you name it, he complained about it. He never said “please” or "thank you”, let alone “Well done”. There was nothing physical, nothing sexual, and he paid well, so I put up with him. I needed the money to care for my old father. When Dad lost his final battle with cancer I was free.
The police interviewed me in detail. I was an obvious suspect, having been a prime target for CR's bullying, and having worked late alone the previous evening, preparing papers for the AGM. They were bound to wonder.
I didn't try to disguise how I felt about him. There was no point. They questioned me about my movements. Cctv coverage showed me driving out of the office car park at 9.37, and not returning till 7.58 next morning. I reached home just after ten, borrowed some milk from the flat next door, then phoned my cousin Sam. All easily checked.
Next they took me into CR's office and asked if I noticed anything out of the ordinary.
I saw the big hairy spider crouching on top of the filing cabinet. I turned tail and fled. "I'm terrified of spiders!" I yelled. "Arachnophobia, you know? I can't stay in there with it. Excuse me, I think I'm going to be sick."
I emerged from the loo to find a policewoman waiting with a calming cup of tea. "Don't distress yourself, Miss Wade," she soothed. "I'm sorry you've been so upset. We'd no idea. I take it there weren't usually spiders in your boss's office?"
"Certainly not. Was that big brute there when you found him?"
She nodded. "There were two of them. One on the filing cabinet and another near the door. The room otherwise was spotless. Was it cleaned last night?"
"Oh yes. Our office cleaners did their usual efficient job about 8.30. I saw them, I was working late."
"And there were no spiders there when you left?"
I shivered. "Absolutely not."
She asked, "Would it surprise you to know your boss suffered from arachnophobia too?"
"We've checked his medical records. Spiders completely terrified him. Seeing them in his office could easily have thrown him into a blind panic and made him dash for the nearest way of escape. Just as you did."
"How extraordinary. Yes, I suppose it could."
"You really didn't know about his phobia?"
"No. To be honest, I never discussed spiders with him. If he'd realised how much they frighten me, he'd have used the information against me somehow, to make my life even more of a misery. And he'd keep his own problem a secret. He was too vain to admit to being afraid of anything. Yes, that explanation makes sense to me."
In due course it made sense to everyone. CR had committed suicide. Less pleasingly dramatic than a heroic murder, but the man was dead, that was the important thing. The case was closed.
In truth I'd known about CR's phobia for some time. I found out quite by chance, from overhearing a snatch of phone conversation between him and his brother. I didn't let on of course. He'd probably have fired me, just for knowing.
Instead I started dropping occasional hints to friends about being petrified of spiders myself. Once when one appeared in my own little office, I called Security in to remove it, saying I couldn't cope. Everybody sympathised with my problem, and kept it secret from CR.
My real secret was that I rather like spiders. My father used to keep some as pets, and he taught me what fascinating creatures they are: smart, cunning, and not hostile as long as I handle them gently. Which I always do. I'm only sorry I haven't time to learn more about them.
But my doctors predict that my life has only about three months more to run. Cancer, like Dad. My office leaving party was today, just an informal gathering for friends. No speeches, but I did sing them a song, which brought the house down.
Who killed Cock Robin?
"I," said Miss Wade,
"By making him afraid.
I killed Cock Robin."