ALL THE NEWS THAT FITS
WORK IN PROGRESS
For the first time putting my short stories up here for everyone to read.
By G. L. Rix
Geraldine Hopkins unconsciously screwed her mouth together in the fiercest pucker known to mortal man. An innocent lemon wedge couldn’t have improved on such perfection, but it wasn’t the bitter tang of lemon juice causing the bespectacled, matron-aged office manager to scowl, growl, and choke simultaneously.
Her stash of Fritos had been rifled. Rent asunder. Picked through.
Four of the small, individual bags of chips Geraldine generously left out on her desk for co-workers at lunchtime were missing. And yes, she always kept track. When she left work last night there had been ten bags of corn chips in the orange and black plastic Halloween bowl she’d decided to leave out until next Halloween. Like people did with their Christmas lights. And some people did with their Christmas trees.
She noted with inappropriate avidness that only the corn chips had been pilfered. And she did mean pilfered, not stolen. The afterhours cleaning staff was not suspected. The potato chips and the pretzels had been passed over. Someone stealing would have taken the whole lot.
Don’t make me take steps! she muttered just under her breath while watching the cheerful entrance of her secretary, her office assistant, and three of the phone girls dashing through the front door.
Mouse trap. She needed to put a mouse trap beneath the chips. If you set the apparatus just so, it worked to perfection.
Geraldine’s expression morphed from outraged to shocked in seconds. What a horrible thought. And where had it come from? Surely she wasn’t that cold-blooded. Even if she had done something of the sort before.
“You all right, hon?” her office assistant Jeannie asked in her too-loud voice.
Geraldine found herself staring at the young woman’s fingers, and ashamed at her own suddenly wayward thoughts. One of those super-duper, industrial style mouse traps would snap off three or more of Jeannie’s digits just like that!
“Uh, huh,” Geraldine finally replied. “Do you—”
Too late. Jeannie had taken advantage of the silence and vanished into her own cubbyhole office. Geraldine had only wanted to ask the young woman where everyone was going for lunch today. If Geraldine had to sit at her desk today like she usually did, she’d only obsess over the missing Fritos. And end up eating something stale out of the snack machine.
Geraldine was used to eating alone. It didn’t bother her. Not anymore.
What bothered her was the pilfering going on in her office. Sure, she had them out in the open for anyone to take. But her co-workers were supposed to smile at her, and say Thank you.
They were supposed to realize Geraldine Hopkins was an office manager who cared.
“Oh, cut the crap.”
Geraldine’s heart stopped, sputtered like a worn-out automobile engine, and then speeded up to an impossible rhythm. No one was near enough for her to call out to. She put her hands over her chest in a futile effort to slow her breathing. A croak died in her windpipe.
“Stand up straight,” the voice told her. “Then inhale. And hold it.”
Geraldine desperately followed the first instruction, though it did nothing to slow her racing pulse. But she could no more hold her breath than could a blade of grass. She exhaled with a violent shudder that knocked her Halloween bowl off the table. She trembled, but still she glared at the scattered snacks now littering the floor.
The voice that had told her to stand up straight had come from the familiar yellow bag of Lay’s potato chips. Which wiggled, as if saying yeah, it’s me.
“Jeannie didn’t take the Fritos,” the Lay’s bag informed Geraldine, continuing the conversation as if nothing were out of whack. “I did.”
Right now, Geraldine didn’t give a rat’s ass who pilfered her chips. She was going crazy. Talking plastic bags weren’t normal. Talking paper bags weren’t normal either, but Geraldine didn’t keep any of those on her desk. As if the bags could do her grievous bodily harm, she slowly backed away from her desk. In mere seconds she’d trapped herself between the filing cabinet and the waste basket.
The Lay’s potato chips bag continued to fill her in. “We potato chips don’t like the Fritos. They belong with the leftover chili that’s in the refrigerator, and the dips.”
Geraldine couldn’t stop herself. In an almost normal lecturing tone she told the Lay’s bag, “They go soggy in the refrigerator. No one’s going to store Fritos in the refrigerator.”
The potato chip bag puffed up to twice its width.
Geraldine thought it was going to attack her, but when nothing else happened, she carefully inched her way over to the waste paper basket. When the path to the exit door was finally within her sights, she abruptly stopped. If anyone had caught her talking to a bag of potato chips, they’d call for a doctor.
Geraldine blinked in confusion. She wasn’t crazy. She wasn’t overworked, overwrought, or depressed.
She was just territorial.
Which aggravated her underlings, and amused her superiors.
She’d never understood why. They were her Fritos, her Lay’s potato chips, and her Cheetos. They were freely on her desk for co-workers to eat while at lunch in the building. They were not groceries to take to the kids at home, or to snack on while driving.
And they didn’t talk.
Someone close by must be able to throw their voice.
She’d even bet money on the possibility she was being recorded for America’s Funniest Home Videos or YouTube or whatever else people did to upstanding citizens nowadays when they tried enforcing the rules.
Mouse trap. Or maybe an open razor. Thumb tacks. Needles.
Geraldine let her mind wander into very dark places, then vetoed the truly dangerous deterrents. She wasn’t a monster. And she wasn’t the criminal here. The pilferer was.
Something had to be done to teach this pilferer her place.
So she did.
An ambulance was in the parking lot the next morning, along with the police. No one asked her anything, which was just as well. She could keep a straight face and lie with the best of them. Just like when back in grade school she had . . . Geraldine forced her thoughts back to the present.
Her genuine sorrow and shock at her boss’s accident impressed the police. They told her he was expected to make a full recovery, and that as far as they could reconstruct the scene, he’d jumped backwards for some reason and tripped over a waste paper basket and then hit his head against the window and knocked himself out.
Interesting what a tiny mousetrap could accomplish.
And lucky for her the trap had come off the pilferer and landed under the heavy file cabinet in the corner. She ought to be able to recover it easily after the police left.
In a couple of hours they finished their investigation and things got back to normal.
Except for one thing.
From then on out, Geraldine’s co-workers always came in to work bearing Fritos for Geraldine’s Halloween bowl. And sometimes potato chips.
Copyright 2019 by Gretchen Rix
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