The Women He Broke
Looking around the office with the wires torn from the walls and the carpets ripped by the intrusion of bailiffs, it was hard to imagine just how much people had feared the name Peter Meldech.
Her memory was strained with the image of a young woman, blonde, early twenties, staring out from the balcony on the fourth floor.
“If I jumped,” the woman had whispered, to herself as much as Margie, “He would still have had my last thoughts and the reason I died.”
“This is ridiculous,” Margie had replied. “We work in marketing. He’s not in the Stasi.” The woman had said nothing, white with sleepless nights, and looked down to the toy-like traffic below. “I’m so tired. I’m so, so tired.” The words had sounded finite, as if they were carved into a headstone, the jump already taken.
“It’ll be okay,” Margie had lied, putting her arm around her and shuddering at the grip on her bones. Each rib protruded like the sharps of piano keys, the scent of bulimia rich on the woman’s breath.
“He did this to me,” said the woman. “I want you to know, if I die, he did this to me.”
At a glance, it was hard to believe in the monster that the survivors said had stalked those offices. He was a plain man, short, who walked with a pronounced waddle that reminded everyone of a duck. It was when you looked closer, as one might look at a clown after the face paint had been scrubbed away in the green room and he had lit his cigarette across the gloom, that you felt the illusion crumble and unease set in.
His eyes had an ugly, beastial blackness to them that revealed no emotion beyond flickers of greed. He was sexless, void of empathy and empty. Watching him in a meeting, one colleague had remarked, was like watching an alligator. Bored unless he planned on devouring every inch of you as you choked on fear.
And he devoured the flesh, minds and souls of his victims with a stalking indifference that would stun lawyers, psychiatrists and legislators for decades to come. He feasted on youth, on beauty, on intelligence, on wit. He sucked them dry, hanging on their limp bodies as they decayed under his abuse and slave driving until they became yellow, bony carcasses, something from a Goya nightmare.
Margie had watched him choose his victims, young, slim brunettes with wide smiles and small waists, and watched him break them. He had watched him twist their lives around his grip on greed, watching their faces sallow behind eighteen hour days and fear infested nights.
She’d watch them run and lock the stall doors and cry until their thinning faces were grey with fear, until they started skipping lunch in terror and decaying into their seats, muttering silently and flinching at the announcement of meetings.
“You’re fucking useless,” he would snarl down the phone, a shadow down a line, cornering his victim after the smallest of errors. “You’re costing me money. Do you know what I do to girls who cost me money?” He’d listen to them beg and apologise and plead over a spelling mistake, a misunderstood email, or the annoyances of his plump, dead eyed henchmen. “I could get rid of you.” He’d say, relishing his own power. “I could get rid of you whenever I wanted. No one wants you here. No one. You should hear what they say about you. It disgusts me.”
He fired at least one person a month. Everyone waited for their own bullet.
“Don’t you think it’s odd,” one girl whispered to her, as another woman cleared her desk, “that everyone who leaves Peter is insane, crazy and has had a breakdown?”
Margie had said nothing, unsure if she was being filmed or recorded. She wouldn’t put it past him. He had spyware on everything, informants everywhere.
But now, the office was bare, the crime exposed, the villain locked away and the story over. “What I don’t get,” the inspector had said as he stared at the names of the dead and the torture of others. “Is why anyone stayed if it was so bad.”
Margie had laughed, used to the denial. “All of us had been victims of abusive men, insecurity or just the sheer dream of being wanted and successful long before we met him. He sensed that.
And he took it and abused it and wrung us dry.”
The inspector paused, looking down to where the women had leapt to nothing. The blood was long gone, washed away by the rain, the only reminder of the crime the spider like cracks across the concrete, splintering the earth below.
“But still,” he replied, mystified. “Surely they knew they could just leave?”