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Next morning Alice was fighting a losing battle with Excel, trying to merge spreadsheets that had other ideas. Her phone made a whip crack noise. Pip had messaged:
Teeth marks in my mini roll !!! ☹☹☹ Lunch today?
It was raining, so they met in the lounge bar next to the refectory, buying the cheapest drink and furtively eating their homemade lunches.
“I’d even hidden it.”
“Behind a tub of soya spread in the fridge door.”
Alice inspected the teeth marks in the half-eaten chocolate roll. “I’d joke about sending it off for a DNA sample, but its not funny anymore is it?”
“I’m angry now. And I feel sick,” said Pip. “Put it in the garbage — I don’t even want to look at it. I’m the only person targeted twice.”
She munched aggressively on her ham wrap. An escalation of proceedings was in order. “I don’t know how, but I’m going catch them. The time for notes on the fridge has passed.”
Pip decided to set a trap.
Perhaps she shouldn’t be taking matters into her own hands, but then people shouldn’t take what didn’t belong to them. The culprit should get their just desserts! Ha! She’d have to remember that line for Alice. But what product would entice the thief? The following Sunday evening she made some Rocky Road — with a difference. Instead of marshmallows, salt-dusted balls of toothpaste. And she used half a jar of wasabi powder in the chocolate mix for a touch of horseradish heat. Nothing too crazy, she thought.
With guilty anticipation she placed the plastic box of neatly cut Rocky Road squares in the fridge early next morning. Her adrenaline-charged limbs were restless, focus on work was difficult. Her right leg jiggled uncontrollably. She managed to check the box three or four times during the day. Nothing. She left for home a bundle of nerves.
The following day, on her third trip to the kitchen for coffee, she opened the fridge for some milk and immediately noticed that a portion of the Rocky Road had gone. She hurriedly replaced the milk carton, wanting to get back to her desk, alert Rob, and start scanning the office.
With the hot drink in hand she carefully opened the weighty fire-safety kitchen door and was still holding it, set to continue, when John, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Enterprise and Community Engagement, came running around the corner towards her, shouting. His tummy was lurching from side to side, such was his velocity, and Pip was briefly aware of his curly hair poking out of his stripy shirt, and that his tongue was trying to escape from his mouth. His eyes were streaming, his nostrils were flaring.
“Wor-da,” he shouted, “WOR-DA! WOR-DA!”
Water, he needed water. John was a freight train. Pip was a rabbit in headlights. At the last second she tried to sway out of the doorway back into the kitchen, but it was too late. John with his considerable girth knocked into her, slamming her backwards into the door. She rebounded, tumbling forwards over John’s trailing leg. Her coffee spilled over her right hand, she dropped the mug to rid herself of the scalding liquid. Time became elastic. The heavy door began its self-closing procedure and unceremoniously tapped her behind just enough to complete her fall. In grotesque slow-motion the coffee mug smashed on the floor. A split second later her knees connected forcefully with the broken crockery on the floor.
Pip stumbled towards the sink — her singed hand needed water, it hurt even more than her cut knee. John meanwhile had dropped to the floor by the water cooler in the corner, his head thrust under the tap. He was alternately gulping water or letting it cascade over his tongue whilst he panted like a dog.
Pip surveyed the desolation. John was hugging the water cooler for dear life, both hands grasping the tap, indifferent to the water splashing over him and puddling on the floor. His face was bright red. Snot hung from both nostrils and his tongue was unmistakably swollen. Pip’s own right hand was lobster pink and beginning to feel numb under the cold tap. Coffee was still dribbling down her lower legs. Her right knee was bleeding. She needed medical attention. A scrum of bewildered colleagues was growing by the door.
She’d thought that after all that investigatory work and careful trap-setting, exposing the culprit would be a euphoric moment. But it had all gone horribly wrong. Her vengeance had boomeranged. What was wrong with her? She never used to be malicious. Shame and guilt was painting her cheeks red. Would she be fired? One thing for sure was that she couldn’t carry on working in this office. In her next job she’d buy coffee and lunch every day, and give the communal fridge a wide berth.