Amy rushed into the factory and found the foreman in the stock room, tallying the different bales of cotton materials that the machinists would be working on that week.
‘Sorry I’m late, Mr Pilling, but there’s been a burglary over the road. There’s a detective at the staff entrance who would like a word with you.’
The foreman checked his pocket watch.
‘Ten minutes late, you know the rules, you’ll be docked fifteen and if it happens again this month, you’ll lose a full hour.’
‘No buts, no excuses. Get to your machine now or you’ll be docked thirty minutes and receive a verbal warning. You can make up for this morning’s tardiness in your lunch break.’
Amy walked quickly to the staff changing area, took off her big coat and hung it on a peg along with her hat. Then she took a pinafore from her locker and wrapped it around her body, tying it off at the back. She hurried through to the factory floor and slumped down on her seat, before letting out a deep sigh and reaching down to her side to pick out her first garment of the day.
‘It’s not like you to be so slack,’ said Dora, who worked the machine next to Amy.
‘I was assisting the police with their inquiries,’ replied Amy, knowing that it would be the talk of the workshop before morning break. She smiled to herself and slid the part-finished cotton dress onto the plate of the overlocking machine and pressed her foot onto the pedal.
Amy was a diligent, hard working machinist and soon made up the time lost. When the bin on her left was almost empty, she called for the runner to bring her a new supply of dresses from the cutting room. By lunchtime her finished bin had been emptied twice and she was in front of her daily target.
To keep on the right side of Mr Pilling, Amy stayed at her machine for an extra fifteen minutes before heading off for lunch. By the time she reached the canteen, the other workers had eaten their sandwiches and were mostly sipping hot tea while they gossiped and lit cigarettes.
Amy bought a cup of tea and a buttered scone at the counter and not liking the smoky atmosphere of the canteen, she took her tray into the changing room, pulled a twice-read magazine from her locker and sat down to peruse the stills from the latest Hollywood movies.
After eating her scone, she stood up to shake the crumbs from her pinafore. There were a couple of stubborn ones stuck to her bosom, so she rubbed at them to shake them loose.
‘Let me give you a hand with that,’ said a voice she recognised instantly.
‘I’ll manage, thanks, Mr Handley.’ Amy forced a laugh and brushed down her clothes again. Before she could turn to face him, his hands came around her sides and he squeezed hard on her breasts.
‘You can call me Edward when there’s no one around. Ooh, you do have a nice pair, Amy.’ His breath felt hot on the back of her neck.
Amy struggled to move away but his grip was too strong. The next thing she knew, one of his hands had found its way up her dress.
‘GET OFF ME!’ Amy shouted and twisted in his loosened grip.
‘Come on, Amy, you know you like it.’ He pulled one leg back and kicked the door shut. His hand reached the bare area at the top of her stockings. She shoved her hips forwards before his groping fingers found their intended target.
‘Don’t struggle. You tried to defend your honour, so you can relax now. I won’t hurt you.’ His fingers pushed inside the elastic at the leg of her knickers.
Amy bent over and pushed her backside into him as hard as she could. Her movement caused him to lurch forwards, and as he straightened, her sharp elbow caught him in the throat. He fell back clutching at it, struggling to breath.
Amy left the cup and plate on the bench and hurried past the gasping factory owner’s son.
‘Never try anything like that again, or I’ll kill you,’ she spat.
Amy tore open the door, marched back to the canteen and dragged out a seat next to Carole, one of her closest friends at work.
Carole took one look at the furious Amy. It took her seconds to work out what had happened.
Amy stuck out her chin, bit her bottom lip and nodded quickly. ‘He caught me in the locker room.’
‘The filthy bastard needs teaching a lesson,’ said Carole with a frown. ‘It’s not right, he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it just because he’s the boss’s son.’
‘He grabbed my chest, then shoved his hand up my skirt. I was lucky to get away this time,’ Amy wiped away an angry tear. ‘He’s picked on me once too often.’ She thought for a moment. ‘I met a police detective this morning. He seemed a nice man, I wonder what he’d make of Edward sodding Handley? Surely there’s something the law can do to stop him.’
Carole patted her hand.
‘They won’t do anything, love. Don’t get your hopes up. Men, especially rich men, can do what they want with the likes of us.’
Amy sniffed and turned her hand over to squeeze Carole’s.
‘I know. But it’s wrong. Why do they allow them to get away with it?’
‘Men looking after other men,’ said Carole, sadly. ‘It’s always been the same.’
‘I’d report him but it would probably end up with me being sacked,’ said Amy. ‘I don’t really fancy working at Goodman’s, they’re slave drivers.’
‘Do your best to forget about it and don’t get caught alone again,’ advised Carole. ‘He tends to pick on a different girl every week. He’s left me alone since I kicked his shins.’
‘I elbowed him in the throat,’ said Amy. ‘I left him in a heap, choking.’
‘Good!’ replied Carole. ‘It’s the least he deserves.’
Ten minutes later, Amy nudged Carole and flicked her head in the direction of the canteen door.
‘Here he is, Wandering Handley himself,’ said Carole, loud enough for half the employees in the room to hear.
If he heard the remark himself, Edward Handley didn’t seem to be bothered by it. He shot a look of anger at Amy, then made a beeline to the table where the trainee machinists, most of them fifteen or sixteen years old, were sitting. He pulled out a chair, put a foot on it, smoothed back his creamed, black hair, and leaned over the table to make a comment to a girl called Ronnie, who laughed aloud and looked around to see if her friends had got the joke. The other girls, already wary of Edward, got to their feet and made their way out of the canteen.
‘Come on, Ronnie,’ called a tall girl named, Jennifer. ‘We’re on cutting duties this afternoon. Frigid Freda will be after you.’
Freda Brownlow was the factory’s skills instructor and was the owner of a sharp tongue and a fiery temper. She was nicknamed Frigid Freda because she was still single, at forty.
Ronnie stood up as Edward whispered something into her ear. She giggled, then pushed a soft hand into his chest. ‘Oh, you,’ she chuckled.
Edward turned around to see if the older girls on Amy’s table had noticed, to a woman they ignored his look and chatting between themselves, made their way out of the canteen.
Amy checked the clock and realising she had time to visit the lavatory before resuming her shift, hurried to the toilet block and let herself into a cubicle. When she came out, Edward was standing with his back to her, an arm around Ronnie’s shoulder and he was again whispering something in her ear. Amy was tempted to cough, or make some sort of noise to distract him, but after her run-in with him in the locker room, she decided not to play with fire and walked quietly back to her machine.
When Ronnie hurried across the shop floor a few minutes later, she was blushing, but had a huge grin on her face. Ignoring the caustic remarks aimed in her direction, she weaved a path through the machines to the cutting room where she knew Frigid Freda would be waiting.
The next morning, Amy stomped, slipped, slithered and skated her way along the mostly frozen pavement and walked through the factory gates. The maintenance team, who usually spent their time repairing broken machines, or setting up new ones, had spread half a ton of salt over the frozen yard in an attempt to avoid the three broken arms that had occurred during the previous winter. At the staff entrance, Amy noticed a huddle of male figures, who were speaking to each employee as they entered the building. Among them were three uniformed policemen and Detective Sergeant Bodkin.
Mr Pilling, the foreman, stood, like Lord Muck, snapping out instructions and directing the workers with a long arm.
‘Go straight to the locker room, then onto your machine. Do not linger, and keep away from the maintenance room.
‘Go straight to the secretary’s office. Keep away from the maintenance room.
‘Go directly to the cutting room, stay away from maintenance.’
As Amy reached the big, double door, Bodkin took her arm and pulled her to one side.
‘So, Miss Marple, we meet again.’
‘What’s going on?’ asked Amy.
‘We’re keeping an open mind at the moment, but a serious incident has occurred inside the factory.’
‘A serious incident…Oh, my goodness… Something’s happened in the maintenance room, hasn’t it? Is that why we aren’t allowed in there?’ Amy put her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide.
‘I’m not at liberty to—’
‘Divulge that information,’ Amy interrupted the detective. ‘Come on, Bodkin, I’ll find out the moment I get into the changing room anyway. You may as well tell me now.’
Bodkin took her arm again and led her away from the group of people at the door.
‘Fair enough, Miss… Amy. It’s the owner’s son. Edward Handley, he’s lying on the floor of the repair shop, and he’s stone dead.’