I don’t know what got into me. Without any planning of plot or characters, without any outline of key points chapter by chapter and, quite frankly, without knowing what the hell I was doing, I just started writing. The first chapter was posted 12-6-2016 (the finale on 12-30-2016), and then the fat really was in the fire. Except for our annual holiday letters to friends and family, field reports of our travels, a few blog posts about holiday traditions, and similar, I haven’t written anything in half a century that wasn’t about enterprise technology, especially HR technology, or a required paper for my MBA. And just because you’ve read at least fifty “Golden Age” (in style or actuality) mysteries per year during all of that time, it doesn’t make you qualified to write your own. I’ve never written anything in all those years, except a grocery list or thank you note, which didn’t start with a clear purpose and outline. But this novella literally wrote itself, pouring out of me, chapter after chapter, in a mad dash to the finish line. It’s as though letting go of my career has freed up whole swaths of synapses and storage cells which are determined to find a new purpose. What they do next is going to be a surprise for both of us, hopefully a pleasant one.
In which we meet Zelda, Creepy and Doha Doha
It was a dark and stormy night at Metadata Hall, the restored country manor house which was the UK regional headquarters for Great Software Inc., one of the largest global providers of all the software that anyone should ever need. Most employees had long since left for the long Bank Holiday weekend, but Zelda Kahniefmeyer was hunched over her desk, with just the pool of light from the desk lamp keeping the night creatures at bay.
“What the hell am I going to do,” says our heroine, the development manager for Great Software’s next generation architecture, the skunk works and very stealthy project on which the company was betting its future. Tucked away in this bucolic corner of the UK, out of sight of the prying eyes of industry and financial analysts, Zelda’s mission was clear and urgent. But such was not the case with her HR partner, Creepy Cummins (really Daryl Cummins, but he was truly creepy). Creepy was neither clear as to what was needed people-wise to make this next gen effort, code named Metadata Hall, successful nor did he exhibit the slightest sense of urgency. But most counter-productive was creepy’s insistence on using those tried and true sourcing techniques, not to mention standard operating procedure compensation guidelines, in recruiting the scarce KSAOC members of the Metadata Hall team.
Suddenly Zelda hears a disquieting noise. With no one else there, and no obvious explanation for that noise, she begins to search her office and then the corridor outside, while the noise gets louder and more frightening. Not quite the hoot of the night hawk nor the last gargle of the night hawk’s prey, Zelda was hearing the last desperate call of the highly qualified team member candidate who couldn’t get past Creepy’s “I see from your resume that you’ve had three chief architect jobs in the last eight years, and we’re looking for someone who will stay with us forever.” Caught in the act, Creepy had no choice but to try to hire this highly qualified team member candidate, but he wasn’t done applying his consummate incompetence to Project Metadata Hall.
Meanwhile, Doha Doha Castiglione, Dee Dee to his friends, was watching in shock and disbelief the dramatic interaction between Creepy Cummins, whom he’d begun to loath, and Zelda Kahniefmeyer, who had swooped in like an avenging angel to save his candidacy. So, when Zelda suggested that they grab a cup of coffee so that she could tell him more about Project Metadata Hall while Creepy — Mr. Cummins, the head of professional recruitment for the parent company — prepared a proposed offer letter, Dee Dee jumped, literally at the chance. In doing so, he inadvertently knocked over Creepy’s most prized career momento, a picture of him as a young man taken with no less than that paragon of virtue, that role model of effective leadership, none other than Moneybags Drumpf (a very distant relative of you know who!). Apologizing profusely while trying to stand up the beautifully framed and autographed picture and backing out of Creepy’s office at the same time, Dee Dee practically ran after Zelda who was already en route to the cafeteria.
After collecting their beverages and a sweet roll each (for such discussions do benefit from a sugar high), Dee Dee and Zelda sat down in a quiet corner of the cafeteria to get better acquainted. Some preliminary small talk revealed that they had graduated from the same fantastic computer science program at Carnegie Mellon, albeit a decade apart, that they’d studied under some of the same professors, and that they both longed to make the complicated trip to Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea for the annual August Sing Sing. And while Zelda had to be very circumspect about her next gen architecture project, she did feel comfortable probing (tactfully) Dee Dee’s grasp of object modeling, definitional development and, most important, how to design architectures which could be overhauled completely while in flight. It was a great conversation, with each of them wanting to continue it, and Dee Dee’s antipathy toward Creepy was overtaken by his simpatico with Zelda.
Unfortunately for both Dee Dee and Zelda, not to mention for Great Software, Creepy, left on his own to prepare the proposed offer letter, allowed his essential creepiness to influence his judgment. Thus, he proposed about 80% of the market rate for such a scarce and high demand skill set as a starting salary, thinking that the negotiation that was sure to follow would land them at the market rate rather than his having to deliver above market and/or a signing bonus. Creepy also avoided any mention of incentive pay or equity participation, and added nothing at all to sweeten the deal.
When they returned from their coffee klatch, Dee Dee was shocked and insulted when he read through the draft, and Zelda realized that her whole project, and perhaps career, were being put at risk by Creepy’s creeping. But what can a hiring manager do? And what can a candidate do? Clearly a council of war was needed, but Zelda wanted to collect her thoughts before sitting down to discuss this travesty with Mr. Cummins. So she asked Dee Dee to give them a little time to confer internally on the proposed offer, and Dee Dee agreed to give them forty-eight hours before he needed to respond to another offer that was in hand.
In which we find the first body and meet DCI Fritz
Mr. Cummins and Zelda agreed to meet the next afternoon, just a little after the close of business, because Zelda had to lead a major code review that was going to take all day. That night, in addition to preparing for the code review, she did her homework with Glassdoor, Salary.com, and lots of Google searching to come up with what she thought would be needed in Dee Dee’s offer to attract this highly qualified candidate for a critical position on Zelda’s “bet the farm” next gen architecture project.
Based on her research, she was ready to propose a slightly above market rate salary offer, a substantial signing bonus payable in twenty-four monthly installments, participation in the senior individual contributor incentive compensation plan with goals tied to the success of the next gen architecture project, and a modest but appropriate number of stock options. Zelda also felt that Dee Dee’s work demands would be such that he should have three weeks PTO per year instead of the usual two weeks until his seniority made that the norm.
True to her own nerdy (some would say meticulous) work habits, she prepared a chart of her proposal with the backup included of how she arrived at each line item’s details. Then she rehearsed how she would approach Mr. Cummins and how she would handle each of his likely objections.
The next day’s code review went well, but they were clearly getting behind, not to mention lacking the full brain trust needed to solve specific design challenges, because of the empty position Zelda hoped to fill with Dee Dee. So it was with determination and a real sense of urgency but also the desire to be collegial that she arrived at Mr. Cummins’ office at the appointed time, just after 6:00 PM.
Oddly, Cummins’ office was dark when she arrived. But thinking that Cummins had just stepped away for a moment, Zelda opened the door, turned on the light, and then nearly tripped over Mr. Cummins, lying motionless on the floor, as she walked into the office. Oh no, thought Zelda, he’s had a heart attack.
But, as she looked more closely, she realized that no heart attack could have produced the exotic, beautifully carved paper knife poking out of Cummins’ chest — unless, of course, he had “fallen on his sword” while examining it. “HELPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!” screams Zelda as she uses Cummins’ phone to dial 999. “HELPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!” screams Zelda, when 999 answers, then pulls herself together to give the 999 operator the details of the emergency — who, what, where, when — along with her own name and contact information. Then, following the 999 operator’s instructions, she walks out of the office, closes the door, and prepares to await the police she’s summoned.
Too exhausted emotionally to stand, she slumps down to the floor, sits with her back against the wall, and tries to collect her thoughts.
It certainly felt like several hours had passed, but in fact it was only twenty minutes before DCI Fritz of the Peterborough CID arrived, followed shortly by his forensics, coroner and crime scene crew (collectively referred to as SOC). After asking Zelda if she would bear with him for a while before he interviewed her, if she’d like a cup of tea and perhaps to wait in the cafeteria, and accepting her thanks for the tea but that she’d wait right there, Fritz began the routine investigation that every sudden death and potential crime scene warranted. Always mindful of the SOC experts doing their preliminary examination of the body in situ, their photographic studies and fingerprinting of the surroundings, their retrieval for detailed analysis of all electronic devices, and so much more, DCI Fritz began his own assessment of the scene.
In which DCI Fritz “partners” with Zelda on the preliminary investigation
DCI Fritz was not a digital native, but he knew from his experience and training how much valuable information could be obtained from the digital, including video, records that surround all of us and from our social media exhaust. His team would take care of probing those sources carefully. But he also knew that, even at the end of 2016, most people still left a fair amount of physical detritus in their wake, from sticky notes inside their tablets with critical passwords to receipts — yes, some transactions still produce paper receipts — in their pockets. And the sudden death of someone, in their own office, inside a tight security building (security which had been tightened even further when Great Software housed their “bet the farm” next gen architecture project there), made a quick and then meticulous search of that office a focus for DCI Fritz.
Doing that quick first look, and remembering that DCI Fritz didn’t yet know who Cummins had been, the nature of his work, etc., two things really stood out. First, there were stacks of carefully labeled manila folders on Cummins’ desk, each with what appeared to be a person’s name on the tab. They were filled with printouts of electronic records, many with handwritten notes and multi-colored tick marks, as well as handwritten records. Second, there was a giant chart on the wall-sized whiteboard across from the desk whose rows were unknown names, whose columns had names which, on first glance, seemed to match those the folders, and whose cells were filled with multi-colored marks whose decoding wasn’t obvious. Taking pictures of the chart on his phone and gathering up the folders once the fingerprint folks had done their thing, Fritz decided it was well past time to speak with Ms. Kahneifmeyer.
Zelda had remained where DCI had found her when he arrived on the scene. As he approached her for his preliminary interview, she appeared to have dozed off (it was nearly 9:00 PM), but in fact she was in the early stages of shock. She’d drunk the sugary tea which was the universal British antidote to shock, but it hadn’t helped much, and she was loath to ask for the Mount Gay with tonic and lime for which the occasion seemed to call.
But Zelda became quite alert looking when Fritz introduced himself and asked for her name etc. As the interview proceeded, Zelda told him of her scheduled meeting with Cummins, of finding the body and calling for help. She explained her role as a project manager and, therefore, as a hiring manager. In response to his questions about the nature of her project, she said that he would need to present any such questions to her boss since her project was in stealth mode.
She then explained that Mr. Cummins, as the parent company’s senior most recruiter, had been assigned to source candidates for her project. Then, once she had made hire decisions, Cummins’ job was to secure their employment via a competitive but within guidelines offer, to sort out any remaining candidate questions or concerns, to arrange a start date, and to oversee the onboarding process — with all of this being done as quickly as possible in order to fill the key positions assigned to Cummins because of his presumed expertise. She also described the events of the previous day which almost lost them a great candidate and then, when she had turned things around as much as possible with that candidate, were further compromised by Mr. Cummins’ proposing an almost insultingly low end job offer.
DCI Fritz took all of this in while quietly assessing Ms. Kahniefmeyer’s demeanor, speech patterns, body language, and all the other clues which he’d learned through experience could signal whether or not the “witness” was being entirely truthful, leaving something out or avoiding some aspect of the situation, going to be a keen and accurate or muddled observer, etc. Ms. Kahniefmeyer was making a very good first impression with no obvious signs of lying, obfuscating, or muddying the waters, but Fritz knew better than to let first impressions solidify before their time.
Once Fritz knew that Cummins was a recruiter, the folders began to make much more sense as did the chart on the wall, but something the “witness” said gave him pause. “I really don’t know why Mr. Cummins would have any such folders or that chart. We’ve automated the hell out of all of our HR processes and data over the last couple of years, really automated all of our administrative and recordkeeping processes. Cummins should be relying on and annotating those automated records, to include records on each job or position against which he’s recruiting, records on each hiring manager and how they like to work as well as their KSAOC preferences, records on each candidate and on every step of the candidate’s passage through the recruitment process, along with summary charts and analytics of everything you could ever want to know.” Zelda had added: “And while I understand that he might want a giant chart so that, at a glance he could see where he is with meeting each hiring manager’s needs, I have absolutely no idea, from the pictures you’ve shown me of his chart and from a quick look at these manila folders, what information is contained in those mysterious, color-coded tick marks.
Since it was now getting on toward 11 PM, and he could see that Ms. Kahneifmeyer was at the end of her tether, DCI Fritz suggested that she leave her car in the office parking lot, and let a policewoman take her home and pick her up again in the morning, about 10:00 AM. He knew he would need her help to decipher those tick marks, which instinct told him were likely to be important to solving this case, so he asked her if she could clear time on her schedule the next day to assist him with this. By now Zelda would have agreed to anything just to get out of there, and so she did.
In which the truly lousy HRM begins to reveal itself
Zelda did not sleep well that night, but she was up early to notify her boss of what had happened and that DCI Fritz would be in touch to request information about her project and, perhaps others on the campus, which she hadn’t been authorized to provide. She also notified her team, without giving them any of the details which DCI Fritz had asked her to hold confidential, that she might be unavailable for most of the day due to an urgent matter that needed her personal attention. By the time DCI Fritz’s team member arrived to drive her back to the office, she was feeling much better after a good night’s sleep, a decent breakfast, and time to collect her thoughts on what had happened.
Back in Cummins’ office, with the body removed and a good bit of rapid cleaning up, Zelda and DCI Fritz sat down with those manila folders and the actual whiteboard in front of them to begin deciphering those color-coded tick marks. With many years of taxonomy building, database design, and pattern recognition and abstraction under her belt, Zelda saw this “project” in those terms and began immediately to note what was known, e.g. she recognized almost all of the row names on the whiteboard as hiring managers across the organizations which Cummins represented as their recruiter for key positions, and she recognized several of the column names, also found on manila folders, as candidates whom either she or one of her colleagues had interviewed. Making the leap from there that all the manila folders might represent candidates and that all the rows on the white board might represent hiring managers, she was ready to tackled the color-coded tick marks.
Realizing that Ms. Kahneifmeyer’s deciphering capabilities far exceeded his own, DCI Fritz left her to get on with it. Meanwhile, he went off to work with his team to digest the scene of crime findings, await and then review the autopsy report, get preliminary findings from the cyber team’s review of Cummins’ electronic devices, from his use of Great Software’s applications through those devices, and his online activity and social exhaust. He also needed to speak with Cummins’ immediate boss, the CHRO Ms. Nikki Patel, and with the head of Great Software’s campus and UK GM, Algernon Wrigley, to whom both Cummins (ultimately via Ms. Patel) and Kahneifmeyer (directly because of the importance of her project) reported. Although he had spoken with Ms. Patel immediately after getting word of the death because otherwise entry might have been delayed at the secured premises and again that morning about the events of last night, he wanted to speak with her in greater depth as soon as she returned later that afternoon from a business trip to Paris. Also, although Cummins wasn’t known to be married or to have any children, Fritz still needed to inform and then interview his next of kin, speak with his banker and his lawyer, and initiate a thorough search of his home. With a very full day’s work ahead of him, DCI Fritz gave Ms. Kahneifmeyer his cell phone number and asked her to call him if she had any progress to report.
Left to her own devices, Zelda did get on with it. First, she went through all of the manila folders, looking at the various combinations of color-coded tick marks and creating a list of each different mark and color combination. Then she did the same for the white board chart. Some of the marks were used quite liberally, in the same and different colors, both on the board and in the folders. Others were used very sparingly, with fewer color combinations. Finally, she found that there were a few marks which only appeared in a single color and which were used quite rarely. And of course, as she already knew, there were no such annotational marks and color combinations offered as a feature of their quite fully featured staffing automation software.
Was Cummins trying to describe something about individual candidates and/or about the interaction of candidates and hiring managers for which their advanced software provided no capabilities? Were there important KSAOCs or other points that Cummins wanted to record in a way which only he could interpret? Hmmm…
In Which The Magnitude Of The Lousy HRM Becomes Clear
With her eyes gone dry and her back aching, Zelda knew she needed a break and some time for all the disparate facts and questions to chase each other around her fertile brain until a useful pattern emerged. Since she was reluctant to go to the cafeteria where gossip about Cummins’ murder was by now swarming, not to mention word of her having found the body, she slipped out quietly, got into her own car which had been left at the office overnight, and drove to the local curry take-away. Then, while parked at the edge of the village pond and eating her curry, Zelda listened to an episode of East Enders and put her Cummins deciphering problem right out of her mind — or so she thought.
When she got back to the office, she found herself taking each of the candidates whom she had interviewed personally and looking hard at their manila folder tick marks and those on the wall chart. All three of those candidates had been well-qualified, but in each case Mr. Cummins had either identified HR-related reasons why they would not be an appropriate hire (e.g. that they did not have the requisite certifications or that a background check showed some unexplained gaps between periods of employment) or reported that the candidate had taken themselves out of the running because of another opportunity. A closer look at those folders showed that all three of those candidates had several tick mark and color combinations in common. So what was it about them that Cummins wanted to remember, that was the same or similar for all of them, but which couldn’t or shouldn’t become a part of their automated record?
Suddenly, Zelda let out a gasp. Those three candidates had all been women of color, one of Indian, one of North African, and one of Caribbean descent. They had all been fairly recent immigrants, either coming to the UK as children with their immigrating parents or arriving for university and staying on. And they were all women of considerable presence, accomplishment, strong ideas, and the effective presentation of those ideas. Could it be that the tick marks were Cummins’ way of recording facts about ethnicity, personality, citizenship, gender, etc. which were NOT acceptable as input to hiring decisions and/or hiring offers?
Then looking at all of the hiring managers on the white board chart who had tick marks against these same candidates’ names, she saw that the intersection cell for each of them with her name had some of the same tick marks in either red or mostly green, whereas the color coding of tick marks on the manila folders never used those two colors. Was it possible that Cummins was recording, by hiring manager, which of these facts about ethnicity, personality, citizenship, gender etc. would be acceptable or not to specific hiring managers?
Knowing that she was on to something, Zelda dialed DCI Fritz’s cell phone and waited impatiently for him to pick up.
In response to Zelda’s excitement over the phone, DCI Fritz stopped only long enough to pick up some tea and scones in the cafeteria, rightly assuming that Zelda hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for many hours, and he was with her within the hour. As she showed him what she had discovered before and since she had called him, he quickly saw the implications.
If Zelda were correct, then Cummins was conducting his hiring practices not only outside of the automated systems intended not only for great efficiency and effectiveness but also to ensure compliance with both regulations and company policies. Clearly Zelda knew nothing about this, but who else might have known or discovered what Cummins was doing?
Was Cummins acting on his own or were there others conspiring to bypass the laws on non-discrimination in employment? If he were acting on his own, could someone have found out and murdered him to protect the company so that, when the story broke, as such stories always do, his death could be passed off as a suicide whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed with guilt? Had Zelda’s unexpected arrival after normal business hours prevented the murderer from finishing the stage management needed to persuade the police that this was a suicide? At this point in their ponderings, they both realized at the same moment that Zelda could well have run into the murderer and herself been killed.
In Which The Question Is Suicide Or Murder
So far, the autopsy findings were inconclusive, and it was just possible that Cummins, in a fit of despair or anxiety over being caught and revealed as a racist, operating on his own as rogue recruiter, had taken his own life in a hari kari sort of way (but hitting his chest instead of his stomach). It could still have been suicide, albeit a weird one as to method and a complete lack, at least so far, of a suicide note, even if Cummins had not been working alone.
And then suddenly a whole raft of other questions surfaced. If there were others involved, how far reaching was the conspiracy and whose careers would go up in smoke if they were discovered to have been a knowing co-conspirator? What Cummins’ was doing was not only illegal but could expose Great Software to very expensive litigation, with potentially large fines, awards, and legal fees, and/or to even more expensive out of court settlements, so were there higher ups who, although perhaps not involved in the original “crime” of institutional discrimination, would see their own careers go up in smoke when this was discovered for their negligence and lack of effective oversight? They could see several possible motives for murder here, along with a growing list of murder suspects if murder it was.
And even if this were genuinely a suicide out of remorse, with no co-conspirators nor avenging higher-ups, was Cummins’ despair the result of new pressures on him to improve his recruiting performance? Had someone found out and been threatening exposure as the basis for a little blackmail? Or had this been going on for long enough that someone had found out and been blackmailing Cummins until the poor man was wiped out, both financially and emotionally?
Stepping back from all of this supposing, and putting aside an entirely personal suicide that had nothing to do with what Zelda had deciphered, DCI Fritz felt is was time to meet with the GM, Algenon Wrigley, and the CHRO, Nikki Patel, together with Ms. Kahneifmeyer. He wanted to bring them up-to-date and to rattle their cages just a little in case either Wrigley or Patel had a hand in this affair. Setting the wheels in motion for a meeting early the next morning, DCI Fritz suggested that they call it a day.
In Which We Meet Mr. Algernon Wrigley And Get Reports-To-Date
As agreed, they all convened in Mr. Wrigley’s office at 7:00 AM, hoping to meet while the building was quiet so as not to attract undue attention. Because she was best qualified to explain their research into Cummins’ recruiting records, Fritz had told both Mr. Wrigley and Ms. Patel that he had invited Ms. Kahneifmeyer to their meeting.
Before the meeting, DCI Fritz had gotten an update on his team’s work, and there was a lot of progress to report. He also wanted to report the results of his own meetings with Cummins’ bank, accountant and lawyer before joining Ms. Kahneifmeyer the previous day. Once everyone was settled, Fritz began his report.
Nothing in Cummins’ finances suggested that he was paying or receiving blackmail nor that he was in anything but reasonable financial shape for a man in his circumstances. His finances, at least as far as they could tell from the obsessively neat office in his modest home, consisted of his salary from Great Software, some income from savings and investments, and a small annuity that he appeared to have inherited. Per his banker, there was no obvious pattern of deposits or withdrawals that would suggestion that he was either the perpetrator or victim of blackmail. So no obvious motivation for suicide there or any indication of a motive if in fact he had been murdered.
Nothing in his legal affairs suggested anything out of the ordinary except that his will left everything he had to a number of charities, at least some of which warranted further investigation. On the surface, they looked reasonable, but one of his team members seemed to recall a connection between one or two of those named charities and some rather unpleasant, anti-immigration agitators. Also, per his accountant, Mr. Cummins was in the habit of making small donations annually to a number of charities which appeared to be fronts for various anti-immigrant, neo-Nazi groups, but here too there was no suggestion of coercion or undue influence.
The further results of the autopsy did show that Mr. Cummins was taking garden variety tranquilizers and may have had a bit more in his system than would be recommended, but not so much as to make him either unaware of what he was doing nor an easy victim for a stranger. The autopsy also showed that the angle of the knife and the damage done by it were not very likely to be the result of a self-inflicted wound.
Summing up their investigations-to-date, DCI Fritz used one of his favorite phrases: “Together with the scene of crime evidence, it’s beginning to look a lot like murder!”
Mr. Wrigley was the first to speak after the word murder had hung in the air for a bit, and he was quite agitated. “But we’re a top security facility, and there’s not a chance that some deranged person from the outside wandered in, weapon in hand, and pushed a knife into Mr. Cummins’ chest,” said Wrigley. “So are you saying that someone here at Great Software, someone we all know, is the likely murderer of our lead recruiter? Stabbing in the chest with a beautifully etched oriental-looking curved knife? Doing this during normal business hours in Cummins’ own office? Without being seen or at least not seen by anyone who has yet come forward? With what possible motive?” By then Mr. Wrigley was sputtering, and he stopped doing so to pull himself together.
Ms. Patel, who had listened to the proceedings in her usual quiet way, taking everything in and thinking carefully about what she had heard, began to speak when Mr. Wrigley stopped for breath. “If it’s an “inside job,” as the Americans say, and no one has yet come forward, either as a witness or with any useful intelligence, then I think we must search for a motive in order to find the culprit unless we assume that this was a random murder by a homicidal maniac who just happens to work here.” And then to DCI Fritz she added: “Have your investigations uncovered any possible motive that’s internal to our organization? Do you have any suspects in mind?” Then, hesitating just long enough for DCI Fritz to notice, Ms. Patel continued: “Could there be something about the work he was doing, about how he was doing it, or with whom he was collaborating that bears on the investigation?”
With this wonderful opening, now turning to Ms. Kahneifmeyer, DCI Fritz said: “Perhaps you’d like to explain our findings-to-date in deciphering Cummins’ manual staffing records?” But before Zelda could respond, Ms. Patel jumped in with: “Manual staffing records? Manual staffing records? What manual staffing records? We converted all of our staffing processes more than a year ago to wonderful new technology from Intergalactic ATS, and everyone’s staffing records are now completely automated.”
Even as she acknowledged her own surprise at finding these remnants, these artifacts, of their previously more manual staffing processes, and using some of the manila folders and Cummins’ white board chart as props, Zelda began to explain what they had found in his office and what their deciphering efforts had thus far revealed. When she got to the part about color-coded tick marks on both candidates and at the intersection of candidates and hiring managers, Ms. Patel, already reeling from the apparent murder of one of her top recruiters, slumped in her chair.
Fearful that Ms. Patel had fainted, Zelda stopped mid-way in her explanation of what she had found and moved quickly to Ms. Patel’s side while DCI Fritz asked one of his officers to bring some water and a cool wet cloth. Mr. Wrigley was strangely silent while the others fussed over Ms. Patel, but in a few minutes her color improved and she asked that Zelda go on with her findings-to-date.
When Zelda had finished, Mr. Wrigley’s sputtering began, slowly and softly at first but then rising to a crescendo of alarm. “How could this have been going on right under our very noses? What about will be the legal and financial fall-out of violating our regulatory and contractual commitments for having fair and open recruiting practices? What will be the damage to our employment brand, short and long term, among our increasingly liberal talent pool of new PhDs. The publicity will kill us if this ever gets out. What could Cummins have been thinking? With whom, if anyone, was he collaborating? And why was he or were they doing this.” As before, Mr. Wrigley’s voice got louder, his speech faster, and he really did seem in danger of some kind of fit. Fortunately, DCI Fritz now had an officer standing by with glasses of water and cool clothes, but Zelda thought to herself that something stronger would be needed before they sorted out this case.
By now her usual self, but as before, Ms. Patel spoke more quietly and thoughtfully. She too realized the huge, negative implications of Zelda’s research on many aspects of the business, and she had many more questions. “How long had this been going on? How many hiring decisions have been made within this biased and, potentially, illegal decision-making framework? Have any of the hiring managers been aware of this? Been complicit? And what about those who had been hired via Ms. Cummins’ discriminatory system? Did they have any idea what was going on? Clearly Ms. Kahneifmeyer didn’t know, but then her project was fairly new, and most of her hires-to-date have been transfers from other parts of the organization.”
In Which Further Investigation Is Planned And They Fear More Victims
So many questions, and very little time in which to track down the answers and determine if they would lead to Mr. Cummins’ killer. Unspoken was the concern that, where one murder had occurred, others might follow.
On one thing they all agreed. Much more deciphering was needed to paint a more complete picture of what Mr. Cummins had been doing, for how long he had been doing it, with what impact on the organization, and with what, if any, co-conspirators. In addition to the deciphering of current files found on Cummins’ desk and the current chart on his office’s white board, much deeper data digging and analysis would be needed to review every candidate who had passed through Cummins’ “hands,” their evaluation process and hired or not hired story, and so much more. And, although records over the past year were automated, digging into earlier records would involve a lot of manual work on files which were stored — as you’d expect — in a records management facility.
DCI Fritz suggested that since the murder had just happened, it was far more likely that it was related to current or recent activities rather than to something which had occurred (or should have but had not occurred) more than a year ago. He also realized that taking Zelda away from her pressing responsibilities on the stealth project were already causing challenges for that project, challenges which would become much worse if she wasn’t able to address them. Therefore, he asked if an analyst could be assigned to work under Ms. Kahneifmeyer’s direction to continue the deciphering and compare what they had learned to the automated records for the current activities.
With information from these files and some interviewing guidance from Ms. Patel or someone on her team, Fritz further suggested that his team could interview every one of the candidates on which they had color-coded, tick-marked, manual records to fill in the demographics and obtain any insight they could as to the hiring process and results. Of course, doing that outreach was going to raise a certain amount of scuttlebutt about what was going on at Great Software, about the murder itself and what connections it might have to the company, so discretion and a suitable “cover story” were needed.
Since it would also be necessary to interview all of the hiring managers who appeared, subject to further deciphering of Cummins’ tick marks, to be either (at least) comfortable or not comfortable with the demographic filtering that Cummins appeared to be doing, Ms. Patel suggested that she was in the best position to speak with each of these hiring managers without raising any unnecessary or distracting fuss. That said, it was going to awkward as hell to determine how best to approach a potentially complicit hiring manager, who might in fact be the murderer, and ask questions which might reveal something useful without appearing to accuse them of anything related to the murder.
Knowing that there was no way to keep a lid on the situation, Mr. Wrigley suggested that he and DCI Fritz hold a joint news conference, announcing that there had been a suspicious death and that an investigation was underway which would involve not only interviewing colleagues of the deceased but also members of the community with whom the deceased had had recent contact in the course of his duties. That would handle both internal and external interviews but not alert unduly the potential culprit(s) to their suspicions of murder by someone connected to whatever scheme or because of whatever scheme Cummins had been running.
With this first news conference behind them, and everyone working hard on their assigned inquiries or analyses, and with the analyst assigned to help her making good progress, Zelda finally had a chance to reflect on all that had happened in such a short period of time. And there was much to consider.
As the person who had found the body and then broken the code which pointed to, if not the motive for the murder then at least the context within which that motive might be found, Zelda found herself almost looking over her shoulder as she went about her project duties. Somewhere there was a murdered whom she probably knew and who did know that it was she who had found the body. There’d been no public mention of coded files or deciphering, no public mention of murder for that matter, but in the small town which is any closed society — and Great Software was exactly that — nothing stayed secret for very long. So Zelda took to parking her car closer to the building, leaving before it got dark, and generally being more cautious than she was naturally. And she also found herself mentally measuring each of the referenced hiring managers for the suit of murderer.
In Which Issues Keeping Popping Up And Being Vanquished
The next big issue to surface — raised by Ms. Patel — was that, with so many important open positions to fill, they couldn’t afford to stop making progress with their recruiting. Someone would need to pick up the open positions for which Mr. Cummins had been the recruiter, really pick up his entire workload, and that would mean either leaving them entirely in the dark about the coded candidates and hiring managers or bringing them into the small circle of Great Software people supporting the police investigation of the murder case. Ms. Patel felt that, with a murderer who had not yet been caught, someone jumping into Cummins’ position might inadvertently expose him or herself to danger if they saw any of the manual files Cummins had kept. And because they didn’t know yet if any other recruiters were using similarly illegal or unethical methods, Ms. Patel was loath to assign an existing Great Software recruiter to Mr. Cummins’ workload.
After conferring with DCI Fritz, but with no one else, they agreed that Ms. Patel would take on recruiting for those key open positions personally and would retain an external contract recruiter to work with her on them. They would use only the electronic files and ATS to manage the sourcing, evaluation and hiring for these key position, and Ms. Patel would say to the relevant hiring managers that she was going to handle this recruiting until the questions surrounding Mr. Cummins’ death had reached closure. It was during this conversation with DCI Fritz that Ms. Patel realized that those same hiring manager were suspects and that her interactions with them could put her at risk. With this realization, Ms. Patel, with a similar sense of caution as that which had enveloped Ms. Kahniefmeyer, began figuratively looking over her shoulder. Meanwhile, DCI Fritz added more officers to the security team monitoring the situation at Great Software’s campus.
The next big issue presented itself to DCI Fritz when he got the final autopsy report with toxicology results. The most interesting item was that Mr. Cummins had a great deal of diazepam, prescribed with care as a muscle relaxant and anti-anxiety medication, in his system at the time of his death. With no obvious muscle pulls or tears, and because it clearly wasn’t the cause of his death, the presence of so much diazepam raised a number of interesting new questions.
Could he have been taking this drug in such large quantities as a matter of routine or had it been slipped to him by the murderer so as to make the murder itself go more smoothly? If it were long term use, was it possible that Mr. Cummins was medicating a guilty conscience? That he’d been doing things illegally and unethically not of his own volition but rather under some form of coercion? Was it possible that Mr. Cummins was not the primary guilty party in this apparent discrimination scheme but rather a pawn being manipulated by someone in higher authority or someone who had some other power over the murdered recruiter? Fritz’s office was already in touch with Cummins’ GP, and they’d know soon enough if diazepam were being prescribed and for what? But even if Cummins was taking this medication under his BP’s instructions, there were no allowed uses that would explain such a large quantity being present in the autopsy.
At this point in the investigation, DCI Fritz thought that there were too many questions rolling around in his head. And with new information coming in from his own team’s interviews with the tick-marked candidates, the continued deciphering under Ms. Kahneifmeyer’s watchful eye, and Ms. Patel’s preliminary meeting with each of the hiring managers who had key positions which needed filling urgently, DCI Fritz thought a meeting with the two ladies, informal and quiet, might be a good idea. So he suggested that they meet for lunch at the type of tea shop where their colleagues weren’t likely to turn up.
In Which DCI Fritz Enlists Zelda And Ms. Patel As His “Partners”
When they’d gathered, making small talk until their food had been served, it struck each of the two ladies, without any conversation about it, that they weren’t being treated as suspects but rather as partners — or perhaps just assistants — in the investigation. And while they both wondered about this privately, neither gave voice to their impressions. Meanwhile, once they were settled and enjoying their excellent lunch, the serious discussions began.
DCI Fritz first reported on the autopsy and toxicology results, calling attention to the high levels of diazepam found in the victim’s system. He’d heard back from Cummins’ GP, just before he’d met the ladies for lunch, who was shocked that Cummins was taking this controlled drug. It had certainly not been prescribed by him, and NHS records showed no such prescription over the last five years (as far back as he had looked).
Ms. Patel asked if the quantity in Mr. Cummins’ system would have rendered him incapable of fighting off or running away from his attacker, of screaming for help, or of even recognizing the danger until it was too late? She also asked about the time it would take from ingestion until these effects would be at their peak? And how might the massive dosage have been administered or even taken voluntarily?
As they were talking, Zelda suddenly saw, in her minds eye, the elaborate sherry tray in Mr. Cummins’ office, something she’d seen on each visit, but which she’d always ignored as looking more ceremonial than purposeful. Now she realized, for the first time since she’d found the body, that the sherry tray was no where in evidence when she’d stood looking around the room after calling for help. Almost bursting with this realization, she interrupted the other two to tell them about the missing Sherry tray, which thus far no one else had mentioned.
Grasping immediately the significance of the missing Sherry tray, DCI Fritz made a quick call to his SOC team leader to get a search warrant ASAP, search the offices of everyone involved in the investigation from the CEO, Mr. Wrigley, on down, and then as needed to search the rest of the building and grounds.
While they were still digesting Zelda’s Sherry tray bombshell, and knowing that the thorough search for it would take many hours or even days, DCI Fritz picked up his reporting with the results of his team’s meetings with the candidates whose file folders were on Cummins’ desk when he died. These were the rejected candidates with those color-coded tick marks on their file tabs.
According to his team, all of the candidates who had been rejected were members of one or more of the protected classes whose definitions Ms. Patel had provided before his team began their interviews or members of a demographic group which, while not protected by regulation, was a major focus of Great Software’s diversity and inclusion program. That in itself was very revealing because, although his team were not trained recruiters, the combination of the candidate CVs and how well they handled their interviews suggested that at least some of them should have been offered positions.
And there was one more thing. In each case, where an otherwise qualified looking candidate — at least on paper — was turned down, it was Mr. Cummins, so not the hiring manager as had been the more usual procedure, who spoke with them and apologized, apparently sincerely, that they had not been offered a position. Reasons for their not being given an offer ranged from budgetary considerations and more experience desired to the position having already been filled or that the candidate was not a good cultural fit for the team, all vaguely stated and with no detail offered. Several of the candidates had commented that, in their experience, such feedback made them suspect discriminatory hiring practices, but it wasn’t a point that any of them intended to push lest it cost them other opportunities.
Ms. Patel picked up at this point and reported on her meetings with a number of the tick-marked hiring managers. She had known many of them for years so was not surprised that they were as mystified (or at least appeared to be) as the candidates were about why specific candidates had not been forwarded by Mr. Cummins with a recommendation to hire. Here too a series of vaguely stated reasons were given, e.g. failed background check, candidate decided to accept another offer, and maximum allowed salary range was well below candidate’s expectations. Of particular concern to Ms. Patel was that these hiring managers were losing valuable business results because it was taking so long to fill key positions.
Sitting quietly while Fritz and Patel shared what they had learned, Zelda found herself with a new train of thought. Why would Cummins be rejecting at least superficially well-suited candidates for key positions with vague explanations to both hiring managers and the candidates themselves? Knowing the pressure that the open chief architect position was placing on her project’s chances of success, she understood that her fellow hiring managers would also be feeling that pressure and would be relaying it to Mr. Cummins, as she had been doing, on a regular basis. So why would a recruiter, whose raison d’etre was to satisfy the hiring needs of people like her, appear to be using phony explanations to cover up an apparently discriminatory recruiting process whose results were putting his own success, even his employment, in jeopardy?
At least to Zelda, this looked as though Mr. Cummins was acting against his own self interest, and that led her to another thought. The only explanation Zelda could come up with was that Mr. Cummins’ behavior was in response to pressure from someone with greater negative influence, even power, over Mr. Cummins than the inner-directed pressure she had always seen in him to be responsive, first and foremost, to his customers, so to those hiring managers. But how could someone have that much influence or control over Mr. Cummins? And who could that someone be? When Fritz and Patel had wound down a bit, Zelda shared these thoughts with some trepidation, fearing that the other two would think she’d been reading too many thrillers.
In Which The Analysis Points To A Specific Suspect
As they kicked around these latest ideas, DCI Fritz began to draw up a chart of his own on a napkin. Who could have had the necessary access to Cummins? Whose arrival in his office would not have aroused any concerns? With whom might Cummins have drunk a bit of “end of the workday” Sherry? Who would have a means for exercising enough control over Cummins to get him to do something contrary to Cummin’s own self-interest as well as contrary to Cummins’ professional scruples? And who would have a motive for urging or forcing Cummins to violate all good practice in HRM, to violate Great Software’s anti-discrimination policies and the relevant laws? If he had indeed done these things, who would benefit by such behavior on Cummins’ part and/or by this whole scandal coming to light? With these and many of their other questions forming the rows, Fritz began putting names of potential suspects, including Patel and Kahneifmeyer, to the rows.
Suddenly, perhaps because the very act of making the chart called their attention to it, the most likely suspect was revealed, and all three of them started talking at once. Fritz took charge and asked Ms. Patel to share her thoughts first. Looking at the chart, Ms. Patel said: “While a particular hiring manager might have a reason for pressuring Mr. Cummins to tilt their own candidate selection in a particular direction, why on earth would they be interested in impacting the hiring decisions of the other hiring managers? Was there a plot afoot, led by one or more hiring managers, and with the collusion of Mr. Cummins, to destroy the company’s employment brand? If yes, for what possible purpose? So, even if they had motive, means and opportunity for killing Cummins, that wouldn’t explain why so many of the hiring managers had been coded as either sympathetic with or accepting through ignorance some range of discriminatory hiring behaviors unless they were all in on such a far-fetched plot.”
By then Zelda was bouncing out of her seat, soon to attract the attention of others even in this sparsely populated tea shop if not given an immediate opportunity to add her two pence worth. “But if it doesn’t make sense that a particular hiring manager would have done this — and I agree with Ms. Patel’s assessment on this — then for the moment, I’m in the clear even though I did find the body. And, if it doesn’t make sense for a hiring manager to conspire with or pressure Mr. Cummins to skew the candidate evaluation based on forbidden demographic criteria, it makes even less sense for Ms. Patel to have set this up because her career will be tarnished just by the revelation that this was happening on her watch. Thus, for the moment, I think Ms. Patel is also in the clear.”
There was silence as each of them absorbed the implications of what had just been said against the known backdrop of the case. The murder took place in a closed facility with tight security which tended to rule out a wandering homicidal maniac. There were no signs of a struggle or even of an argument which would have been heard by others. The victim was doped, most likely administered by a doctored Sherry prepared from the Sherry tray that had gone missing. But even a dopey victim would have resisted a total stranger coming at him with a knife, face on, so it was likely that the murderer was known to the victim.
Just as their minds drifted through the possible suspects, all but one of whom had by now been ruled out, at least tentatively, they got to the crux of their problem. What possible motive could the potential murderer have had for first pressuring Cummins to violate company policy, HRM professional practices and the law and then murdering him, either to cover up the matter or in an urgent response to Cummins’ losing his nerve or being overcome with guilt?
In Which The Police’s Investigative Machinery Is Put To Good Use
This is where the police machinery has enormous advantages. With a single, likely suspect in their sights, they could dig into his finances, domestic arrangements, prior work history, affiliations and associations, social exhaust and phone records, comings and goings, Great Software’s financial stability and prospects. The police could dig into everything about Mr. Wrigley until they either proved him free of any motive or found the motive that explained what they think may have happened.
Since warrants would be needed to do the kind of deep background Fritz had in mind, he proposed to get such warrants on all three of them — Wrigley, Patel, Kahneifmeyer — plus a couple of other hiring managers so that Mr. Wrigley wouldn’t appear to be their primary suspect. He also decided to put a 24 hour, very discrete watch on Mr. Wrigley, just in case. After explaining these next steps to Zelda and Ms. Patel, and asking for their patience and continued discretion, they left the tea shop, agreeing to meet back there as soon as DCI Fritz had more to report.
And that didn’t take long. The first solid clue came when they learned that Mr. Wrigley, who had a private income in addition to his very considerable compensation from Great Software, was a major, albeit discrete via his private income, donor to a number of nationalist groups, one of which was pretty racist, at least in its Web site and social exhaust. Next they learned that Mr. Wrigley had had a short-lived first marriage to a woman who was a leader in the LGBTQ community, a marriage whose divorce documents revealed that Wrigley had become violent when his wife presented him with her decision to leave him for another woman.
But the piece de resistance was the discovery that Mr. Wrigley had political aspirations and had begun testing the waters to become an MP on a platform of closing Britain’s borders to only the most highly vetted and economically desirable immigrants, deporting non-British EU citizens in conjunction with the most rapid possible implementation of Brexit, reducing taxes on the job and wealth creators, emphasizing “made/grown/raised/performed in Great Britain” not only in all government contracting but also via a program of tariffs on imported goods and services, providing more support for wives and mothers to focus on home and hearth rather than working outside the home, and ensuring that native Brits felt comfortable in their ancestral homeland.
All of this might have given Wrigley a philosophical as well as a political motive for wanting to limit employment at Great Software to those who passed his “nationalist” as well as gender tests, but they might never know whether Cummins was an enthusiastic, merely willing, or coerced co-conspirator. Furthermore, if the whole matter came to light without proving that Wrigley was in fact the murderer, then Wrigley’s credentials among his target constituency would skyrocket.
And there was more. The knife used in the murder had no fingerprints except Cummins’, and was known to have been bought by Cummins many years previously. The office cleaner could attest that it was usually sitting on his desk where it appeared to have been used as a letter opener. The Sherry service was found in a storage closet not far from Cummins’ office with only his fingerprints on it, but there was some evidence of glove prints overlaying Cummins’ fingerprints on the smooth glass sherry decanter. Cummins, who was single and never married was found to have had quite a colorful private life among the demi-monde, particularly the homosexual demi-monde. This made him a VERY unlikely employment discrimination co-conspirator, but perhaps this is where Wrigley found the leverage point to coerce Cummins?
In Which Justice Is Served, But With A Twist
And there it was! DCI Fritz saw the way forward. Without forensic evidence to prove him the murderer or even an eyewitness who could place Wrigley at the murder scene at the right time, Fritz had no real basis for charging Wrigley. But what he did have, perhaps, was a way to flush the truth out of Wrigley. So he called Mr. Wrigley’s PA and requested a meeting for early the next morning, before the busy day would begin, and he was pleased that she could work him into Mr. Wrigley’s schedule.
We’ll never know exactly what transpired in that meeting between DCI Fritz and Mr. Wrigley. The police report laid out all the inquiries and their results, the autopsy and toxicology reports, the deep background checking that had occurred and those findings. It also laid out the analytical path by which DCI Fritz, with due credit given to Ms. Kahneifmeyer and Ms. Patel, had determined that Mr. Cummins had no apparent motive for imposing a documented by him set of discriminatory hiring practices, going way outside not only professional practice and the company’s written policy but also the laws covering such matters. Au contraire, the nature of his personal life might have suggested that, if anything, he would be an advocate for non-discrimination in HRM policies and practices. Given no motive for such behavior by Cummins, the report went on to discuss the possibility of coercion and, if that were the case, of who might be positioned to exercise not only a coercive power over Mr. Cummins but also to benefit from the implementation of discriminatory hiring practices as long as they didn’t lead to him or her.
It was at this point in the report that the disturbing background details about Mr. Wrigley were presented along with the possible implications of that background. With regard to the discriminatory hiring practices, there was potential benefit to Mr. Wrigley as long as he didn’t get caught directly. With regard to the murder of Mr. Cummins, it was suggested that the impetus for it was either a refusal of Mr. Cummins to continue implementing rampant discrimination or a sense that Mr. Cummins might “spill the beans.” Whatever raised the alarm for Mr. Wrigley, the report suggested that the meeting requested by Ms. Kahneifmeyer to discuss why a candidate she thought well qualified was being treated so shabbily has put the wind up Cummins, which he in turn communicated to Wrigley.
The report that described the meeting between DCI Fritz and Mr. Wrigley, a short meeting whose outcome could not have been predicted. Shortly after the meeting, Mr. Wrigley told his PA to cancel the rest of that day’s meetings as he had some personal matters requiring his immediate attention. And that was the last that anyone at the office saw of Mr. Wrigley. When he did show up at the office the next day and wasn’t responding to IMs, emails or his cell phone, his PA called DCI Fritz in something of a panic. Police were sent to Wrigley’s home where they found him in his study, slumped over his desk, and cold as stone. The suicide note said only that he regretted having been a supporter of and donor to the “nationalist” movement, behaviors which could well be a detriment to Great Software if he didn’t take clear and complete responsibilities for his actions. He wrote that he’d been very depressed for some time about this matter. The investigation that followed found nothing to contradict a finding of death by his own hand when the balance of his mind was disturbed.
The report closed with the evidence (and lack thereof) to support the proposition that Mr. Wrigley had indeed killed Mr. Cummins, but the evidence here was very inconclusive. Mr. Wrigley had means (access to the Sherry and letter opener knife during a routine visit to Mr. Cummins not too long before Zelda had arrived) and opportunity (access to the electronic calendaring system and the super credentials to set up a confidential appointment at a time when no one else was scheduled on either side and without anyone but him able to pull up that appointment. But unless it could be proven that Mr. Wrigley’s “nationalist” sympathies had led him to pressure Mr. Cummins into the discriminatory hiring behavior, there was no motive for him to kill Mr. Cummins. So, with Mr. Wrigley dead, and no other obvious suspects, the investigation into Mr. Cummins’ death concluded with murder by person or persons unknown.
And there it sat until, as he had promised, DCI Fritz invited Ms. Patel and Ms. Kahneifmeyer to meet for lunch a few months later at the same tea room. By then, things at the office had gotten back to whatever passes for normal. A new recruiter had picked up Mr. Cummins’ workload and was using the highly automated ATS quite happily and effectively. Ms. Patel was guiding the executive search to replace Mr. Wrigley, and some good candidates were emerging. And Ms. Kahneifmeyer’s stealth project was showing real progress now that she had hired a chief architect.
When they had their lunches in front of them, Zelda spoke first. She simply had to know what DCI Fritz had said to Wrigley in their brief meeting, and Ms. Patel seconded the motion. DCI Fritz really did want to share his story with these two discrete women who had helped so much with the case, but he knew that he had to be cautious. “Imagine what would lead a man like Wrigley to take his own life? Certainly not a sudden turnabout on long held nationalist, gender equity, or even racist views. Imagine what would cause a man like Cummins to cast aside all of his principles when it came to non-discriminatory hiring practices, let alone illegal ones? But what if Cummins were gay? What if Wrigley knew? And what if it were suggested to Mr. Wrigley by one of the investigators — or even by his own lawyer — that they were lovers and that was the leverage for the conspiracy?”
And, as both women realized at the same moment how Mr. Wrigley’s suicide had been instigated, they agreed without words never to speak of this again.
(Cross-posted @ In Full Bloom)