Lunch Hour is available from:
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Noah’s hands were sweating, slipping on the keyboard, making typos entirely outside of his control. Every few seconds his gaze slid from the words of his email down to the clock in the bottom corner of the screen, and then back. In the interim his interpretation of spelling and gram-mar took further diversions, but he was no longer reading the text he was typing, or caring about what it said.
He was waiting, counting down, waiting for twelve o’clock and for his lunch hour to start.
He ran through his plan one last time.
12.00 – stop working, lock the computer, switch off the screen,
12.01 – take the box out of the top desk-drawer on the right.
12.03 – walk out of the building and turn right towards Covent Garden.
12.14 – arrive at the Garden and wait.
12.15 – Annie arrives.
12.20 – sit down on their bench.
12.30 – finish eating the sandwiches which Annie will bring. It’s her turn and there’s no way to stop her without giving the game away.
12.35 – remove box from pocket.
12.35:30 – get down on one knee.
12.36 – finish asking the question.
Once more he tried to move the plan forward in his mind, to see what might come after the question, but he couldn’t make it work. He could see everything up until that moment, but not beyond.
He felt a fresh slick of sweat seep from the pores on his hands. A separate trickle ran down between his shoulder blades.
He stopped typing and looked up over the heads of all his friends and colleagues to the clock on the wall, the clock which dictated everything, the clock which held his life in its hands.
The seconds ticked away: slowly, so slowly.
And then, at last, it was time.
You Are What You Eat
Typical. The lift’s out. Nineteen floors by stairs, plus the office to office. It’s not what I signed up for.
Still, this isn’t the job I wanted. It isn’t a job anyone would want. But at the moment, any job is worth having. Or jobs. When I finish here, it’s the afternoon shift in the shop, then off to the Hounds for the evening – late licence tonight – then up early for the morning shift behind the desk at the vet’s. Altogether it’s just about enough to pay for the flat.
It helps to be young, and it helps to be blonde. Getting the only kind of job that’s available at the moment is much easier when you can flash a smile, maybe a bit of leg or a bit of boob. Does that make me a bad feminist? Well, so be it. I reckon it makes me a realist.
It also helps with the tips. You don’t get many at the vet’s – the customers feel they’re paying enough as it is – but the saucer fills up well at the shop, and I get a lot behind the bar, especially if I choose my top carefully.
Funny, though, the best tips I get are on the office run, here in particular.
Prawn Mayo And Tuna Sweetcorn barges past me as I start up the first flight. I don’t mind, it’s not his day anyway. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he has his double order. He tips well, but not as well as some of the others. Don’t think he notices my charms – mind on other things.
Still, his floor usually does me well. There’s Plain Ham on White – a quid or two most days and a fiver on a Friday. I put up with the pat on the bottom and the patronising attitude because that’s what I’m being paid for.
Beef and Horseradish on Brown is a regular one-fifty every day – and no pat. Which is a bit of shame, he’s quite a good-looking bloke. I wouldn’t have to plaster a fake smile like I do for Plain Ham.
The four Chicken Salads share a bank of desks. They always have a laugh about their shared order. They share a laugh about everything. It’s only a couple of quid on a Friday from all of them, but that doesn’t matter, as their boss is a fiver-a-day man.
I know why he does that, of course. He reckons he’s buying my silence, but I wouldn’t say anything anyway. I mean, who cares about a bit of porn? I could have told you by looking at him that he was the kind of man who wants to wear nappies and be spanked, I didn’t need to see his screen to know that.
I save Turkey on Wholemeal for last. She’s the highlight of my day, and the only woman in this whole block who orders from us.
I don’t know why we have so few women. Maybe they bring their own. I see some of them eating pasta or salad from Tupperware. Maybe they order from somewhere else where the delivery comes from a hunky, ‘Diet Coke’ kinda guy rather than me. Who knows, or cares? All I’m bothered about is keeping Turkey on Wholemeal happy.
She doesn’t tip, except at Christmas, but I don’t care about that either.
It’s not that I fancy her. There wouldn’t be a problem if I did. I’ve tried that, and it was nice, but I prefer blokes if I’m honest. And she’s too old for me, anyway.
No, I like her because turkey on wholemeal was what my mum used to eat. And she looks a bit like my mum. And on the corner of her desk is a photo of her when she was younger, with a man, and two kids, and she’s wearing a waitress’s uniform.
She’s the boss of this whole place now, and I look at her and I know that she had to put up with the pats on the bum and the constant call of ‘darling’ and I know that if she can do it, so can I.
Mark chewed on his beef sandwich without really tasting it, not even the zing of the horseradish penetrating his concentration.
The morning had dragged as he entered figures into spreadsheets, sorted them, applied formulae and generally did whatever it was he got paid for. His mind had not been on the job, how-ever, and everything had taken him a lot longer than it should. He had been waiting for lunch time – the one time of day they were allowed to use the computers for personal activities.
And now, with the clock having ticked past the meridian, and half of his colleagues having left to run their various errands, he was able to chew his unnoticed mouthfuls and try to break his girlfriend’s passwords.
He knew some of them. She had told him the ones for Netflix and the Sky account. They were both based on the name of her first pet: ‘Hercules12’ and ‘hercuLes9’, so he had some inkling of what others were likely to be, the trick was to get them right without triggering any security lockouts.
He’d been through her desk at home, so he knew the account numbers for her bank accounts, and her online login codes. He’d been through her phone so he knew that she also used ‘HerCuLes666’ and ‘astrid7’, but he didn’t know what for.
His first job, as he saw it, was to break into her email. If he could get that, then he would have access to the email reminders for passwords and usernames and then his job would be easier.
Luckily the email didn’t seem to care how many times you got the password wrong, so he was able to open it on his ninth try with, of all things, ‘hercules’.
After that, he got onto a winning streak. The bank accounts used the second of the two pass-words from her phone. Once in, he quickly transferred most of her savings into his account. He left the money in her current account. Clearing her out completely might look suspicious.
While he was there, he checked to see if her pay had gone in yet. When he saw that it hadn’t he logged into her work system (using the wonders of ‘Forgotten Password?’) and exchanged her bank details for his. The money would go in tonight, and then he could change it back.
He read through her emails, oddly wondering if there was anything else he ought to do, but he seemed to have caught it all. So he gave a sigh of relief and logged off from her systems. He shut down the windows, wiped his browsing history and cookies, and sat back in his chair.
He looked up at the clock on the wall. It wasn’t even half past. He’d managed it all in less than thirty minutes.
He popped the last corner of his sandwich into his mouth, savouring the flavour that he had so far ignored. Perhaps it would be a good idea to get out into the sunshine for a little walk before he started back. After all, he would probably be spending the afternoon working up another worry as he waited for home time, and the fresh air would calm him.
He thought ahead to what awaited him. He would leave, get home, eat tea, and then phone his girlfriend. When she didn’t answer, he would get worried and go round. When she didn’t come to the door he would go in and find her dead on the floor – in the same pose he had found her the previous night: spread-eagled at the bottom of the stairs, a loose slipper hanging from one foot – and then he would finally ring the police and tell them the terrible news.
Yes, definitely time for a little walk.