“Do you know,” Derek said, hunched over his lasagne, “I've not paid for my lunch since they brought in the self-service tills.”
“That was two years ago,” angry Bob Edwards said.
“Keep your voice down,” Derek put a finger to his lips.
“How the fuck have you got away with that?”
“Well, have you ever noticed that I always talk to you when you check out?”
Angry Bob shrugged.
“One day I was chatting to Maddy while she was paying, and forgot to bleep my card. No one noticed, no one cared. So, the next day, I chatted to you, but this time I forgot on purpose; again no one said anything. From that day on I always chat to someone at the check-out and well, Bob’s your workmate.” Derek smiled his gappy grin. “But listen, I retire tomorrow, so this is my parting gift to you.”
“Thank you,” he said and reached over to give Derek a bear hug, his tie going into Derek’s pasta. “Thank you,” he said again. “thank you, thank you,” He wiped his eye, was he wiping away a tear? In 12 years, Derek had never seen such emotion.
Angry Bob Edwards was gradually getting used to life without Derek. It'd been two weeks now since the old bugger had retired, and today was the day that Bob would try the lunch trick.
“Lasagne please Katrin,” he said. Katrin nodded and gave him a big dollop.
Angry Bob nodded.
Katrin pulled his plate high. Bob liked being served by Katrin; she was as generous as she was gorgeous. He gave her his best non-frown and went across to the self-service queue where Alison was paying.
“Nice Day,” he said.
“Fuck Bob! You scared me.”
“Sorry, I just thought I’d say hello. Can I join you?”
“Sure, missing Derek are you?”
With that, they wandered away from the tills and sat down. It had bloody worked. No one gave him a second glance.
He didn't do it every day; he wasn't as brave as Derek. But once or twice a week, three times in the week before pay day, he slipped through without paying and no one ever said anything. He wanted to tell the world, shout it from the rooftops. He’d beaten the system.
“I know what you’ve been doing?” Angry Bob continued to open his car door, hoping that the person wasn’t talking to him.
“I said, I know what you've been doing”. Bob turned around and saw Katrin standing by his boot. She took a step towards him.
“What are you talking about?”
“I know you don't pay for your lunches.”
They stood staring at each other. A car engine started up on the other side of the car park, a seagull squawked overhead. Bob didn’t know what to do or say. He was caught bang to rights. He dropped his head. The bubble had burst. Katrin was getting closer and closer.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” he said, avoiding eye-contact with his accuser.
Katrin went on tip-toe. Angry Bob thought she was going to whisper something sinister into his ear, but instead, she gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Don't worry,” she said, your secret’s safe with me.” She beamed at him. “Now how about you give me a lift home.” Angry Bob touched his face and did something he hadn't done in twelve years, smiled.