Eric slammed the fridge door in disgust. It had definitely gone. He’d been looking forward to that can of cherry cola all morning and somebody had taken it. It was the audacity of it that really got to him; who would be so brazen?
Clutching his plastic clip-top box of ham sandwiches closer to him, he slunk back to his desk, eyeing up his co-workers with suspicion as he went.
There was Graham, staring vacantly at his computer screen whilst slowly chewing on his quinoa salad like a ruminant animal. It couldn’t possibly be him, Eric decided quickly. Graham would never touch a fizzy drink unless they created a version packed full of wholegrain and chia seeds or whatever the latest superfood fad was that month.
Ruth certainly liked her food but she didn’t strike Eric as the thieving type. Her large breasts were bulging from her too-tight purple sweater as she struggled to open an enormous bag of popcorn. Rather than offer his assistance, Eric decided to give her a wide berth; he found it difficult to talk to her without becoming flustered and letting his eyes wander south. She smiled as he passed but he avoided making eye contact, intent as he was on scanning the room for the culprit and catching them red-handed.
As he rounded the corner by the water cooler he saw her: Gillian. Now she was definitely the type. She never asked Eric if she could borrow his pink highlighter or red biro, but whenever they went missing, he could be sure they would turn up on her desk. She was reclining in her swivel chair, her ridiculous beehive hairdo wobbling like a jelly on a plate, clearly making a personal call on her work phone. It sounded like some sort of appointment; probably for her nails, which were false and entirely innapropriate for an office environment in Eric’s opinion. Eric often wished he had the authority to pull her up on her sloppiness but that promotion had so far eluded him. The particular type of attitude required for petty thievery, Gillian possessed in bucketfuls. However, the fact that she was almost always on some sort of diet, made her potentially less guilty on this occasion Eric thought, disappointed. Gillian set down the telephone receiver and seemed to become aware of the looming presence behind her.
“Can I help you?” Her Essex twang cut into Eric’s consciousness like a rusty blade as he noticed she was chewing gum. Yet another inapproriate choice for the office, Gillian.
“No. I was just looking for something,” he said quickly assessing Gillian’s desk for contraband and finding nothing, before making his exit under her watchful gaze.
Eric sat down at his desk, surveyed the room slowly and then slid open his top drawer a fraction. He stole a quick glance down at the contents. At least his Kit-Kat was safe. It was nestled quietly between a stack of multicoloured Post-it notes (different colours denoting the type or tone of the message required) and a pile of manila envelopes. Last week his Kit-Kat had disappeared from the fridge- he’d let that one slide; one Kit-Kat looks much like any other after all and he didn’t want to appear uptight, but nobody else drank cherry cola! It was too much.
Howard from Revenues section sat to his left eating a jacket potato from a polystyrene container whilst scrolling through his emails. He was stuffing small forkfuls into his mouth with one of those flimsy and ineffective plastic forks and appeared to be getting increasingly frustrated with the effort involved. His dark blue shirt was stained an even darker shade around his armpits as he perspired in the heat of the sun streaming through the ceiling-high office windows. Eric turned back to his sandwich and loosened the top button of his own shirt. A rare concession, but necessary on a day like today he told himself. He was one of the few men in the office who always wore a tie to work. He firmly believed in the mantra: ‘dress for the job you want to have, not the job you have’ and he had plans for the day when he became the manager of the fifth floor of Redshires House and all the staff within it.
There was a muffled “pardon me,” accompanied by a slightly louder noise which made Eric turn abruptly back to his neighbour. He realised that Howard had stifled a burp. He tapped his pen on the desk, contemplating his next move.
“Hey, Howard! Enjoying your lunch?” Eric stared at Howard. He was licking his lips with his thick, blubbery tongue, the potato now consumed.
“Err, yeah, just a potato. Nothing special. You?”
“Got anything to wash that down with?”
“Well no, are you making tea?” Howard licked his lips again then wiped them with a paper napkin.
“Tea? No I’m not making tea! You must know I don’t drink tea at work?” Eric refused to take part in the communal milk rota and hence the office tea-making activities. He resented the thought of wasting valuable work time making cups of tea for other people, not to mention the obligatory chit-chat whilst drinking it. It was easier to opt out altogether.
“Oh yeah, sorry I forgot.”
“So you haven’t had a drink at all? Maybe on your way to the potato shop?” He’s not going to get away with it that easily.
“No. What are you getting at exactly? I’ve cut down on my alcohol a lot this year you know. Has somebody said something to you?”
Woah. That’s not how I was expecting this conversation to go. “No, nothing. I just thought you’d be thirsty that’s all. I’m going to get some water. Want some?”
“Yeah ok, thanks mate.”
Maybe I was barking up the wrong tree with that one after all. Eric made his way across the office. Ruth was at the cooler, filling a litre bottle with water. Why on earth does she need so much water?
“Oh, hi Eric. I’m just trying to make sure I get my fluids in. The air-con in here really dries you out doesn’t it?” She smiled at Eric. Her breasts were jiggling about in quite an appealing manner as she fumbled with the water cooler and the bottle lid. Eric couldn’t think of a suitable reply to this question so he stood and waited for her to finish. “How are you getting on with that presentation for Celia? I could send you some slides if you like? I did something similar a couple of years back.”
“Oh fine, nearly done. I want to make it my own. But thanks.” Ruth smiled and tottered back to her desk lugging the large bottle.
After lunch, Eric decided that the only way to reslove the issue once and for all was to send a group email to the whole department.
Dear all, I am sad to report that today, yet again, somebody has removed an item of my lunch from the communal fridge. On this occasion, one can of cherry cola. I am sure that this must have been in error and would be grateful if the person (or persons) responsible could please replace said item ASAP. Regards, Eric.
Three hours later, having received no response and after checking the fridge three times, he followed this up with a further message.
Dear all, my missing lunch item has not been returned and so I am forced to assume that it has been consumed by persons unknown. I am sure that we would all prefer that incidents of this nature did not take place here at Redshires House, and I would remind you all of the importance of respecting the possessions, food-related or otherwise, of our fellow colleagues in the interests of workplace harmony. I will expect to see my drink replaced tomorrow and say no more on the matter. Regards, Eric.
The next morning Eric arrived a little later than ususal, reasoning that this would give whoever was at fault time to replace his cola without fear of being seen. He made a mental note to record his different arrival time on his timesheet as he pressed the button to call the lift. As the lift doors began to close, Ruth burst in breathless and heaving, stopping the doors from closing with her oversized handbag. Today she wore a too-tight bottle-green sweater that revealed a large expanse of cleavage. She really ought to dress more appropriately for work.
“Phew! Thanks Eric. Traffic was terrible this morning wasn’t it?”
“Hmmm?” Eric’s eyes were travelling south again. He made a determined attempt to look elsewhere and his eyes alighted on the oversized bag. Inside, he could just make out the silver rim and purple paintwork of a can of cherry cola. “Well!” he exclaimed. “Of all the people, I would never have suspected you of theft Miss Crowther!” he said wagging his finger in the direction of the bag.
“What? Oh, this?” she said removing the can and handing it to Eric. He frowned, waiting for her to explain.
“I bought it for you.” She paused, waiting for him to respond. “In the interests of workplace harmony?”
“The office would be a lot more harmonious if people would keep their impulses under control and respect the property of others!” He snatched the can from her grasp and put it into his leather satchel, firmly clicking the catch into place. He turned away from her, disappointed.
“But Eric, surely you know, it’s those workmen refurbishing the 6th floor? They keep coming down to our floor to use the toilets and I’ve seen them poking around in the fridge. I’m sure it must be them, things never went missing before they were around did they?”
“Hmmmpf. I suppose you could be right about that.” Eric conceded after a considerable a pause. “I hadn’t thought about them. Seems obvious now that you mention it. I wonder why I didn’t notice myself.” The indignation that he could have been proved wrong about something was not a feeling that Eric was comfortable or familiar with.
“Maybe you were too busy jumping to conclusions to look at what was right under your nose? Howard told me you pretty much accused him too.” She was facing him now, the lift had come to a stop. The doors opened and then closed again. He was staring at her cleavage again. She could lose things in there; keys, items of stationary, small dogs…
“Eric are you listening to me?”
“Yes, yes Ruth. I’m sorry. You’re right. Thank you.”
“No problem. Now maybe in the interests of office harmony, you could come out for a drink later? It’s my fortieth this weekend, a few of us are going. Maybe you saw the email? I’d like it if you came along. I think you could do with letting your hair down a bit, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“Yes. I think I can make it. I owe you a drink, maybe something a bit stronger than cherry coke?” He smiled.
“Yes you do. See you later then.” She walked off leaving him standing in the vestibule, looking down at his shoes. Harmony was restored.
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