It was a mystery and there were 4 of us under suspicion. I was the main suspect due to the managers overwhelming dislike of me. The other 3 suspects sat with me in the office behind the shop surrounded by beer and wine while the mid-twenties manager stared us all down. I was twenty-two and working two jobs so as to fund pay my Cornish Pastie habit.
“Ten pounds is missing from the safe.”
She had the accounts book open showing the last 3 days. Each day tallied with the till roll but the money, which had been due to be banked today thanks to ridiculously poor practice in the store, was ten pounds short.
“Would anyone care to come clean?” She looked from one to other of us and held her gaze on me for the longest time.
Her dislike for me started the week before on her first day.
I arrived, wheeled my bike through the shop and parked it in the back. She was sat at the desk and introduced herself and I shook her hand. As I slipped my bag off I knocked a bottle of Rolling Rock from the shelf and it shattered on the floor. I apologised and grabbed a cloth to clean up as my co-worker, Becca arrived and looked curious.
“I tawtted a bottle by accident” I said to Becca and the manager suddenly screamed.
“You will not use language like that in this shop.”
I replayed things quickly and tried to work out what I’d said. “Twatted?” I asked and she scowled. “I meant as in I hit a bottle of beer. Sorry.”
She stood, hands balled into fists at her side. “That word” she hissed “means VAGINA as well you know.”
I stepped back, as most Englishmen will when presented with the word vagina (especially in upper case).
“I didn’t mean it that way. I hit the bottle by accident. I didn’t mean to imply I had…well…vagina’d the bottle?”
The door chime sounded and I retreated to the shop and sold some beer, coming back through to find the manager closing her bag and Becca sat at the desk.
“We’ll speak more on this later” she said and left. I sat down, blasphemed and exhaled as my co-worker pulled a joint out of her bag.
“She really doesn’t like you.” She lit and inhaled before offering it to me.
“Is this entrapment?” I asked and she shook her head. I didn’t know her well but she liked The Prodigy so I figured she was ok.
“She told me I was to tell her if you sexually threatened me”
I coughed out smoke as the door chimed and she went to serve the customer. She came back and I passed her the joint.
“Because I twatted a bottle of beer?”
She exhaled and passed it back. “No, because you vagina’d a bottle of beer. You sexually harassed a bottle and it suicided.”
We both started giggling and she turned up the stereo. We sold beer to dance music and did the takings at the end of the night. I said goodbye after checking I hadn’t sexually threatened her.
“As if” she said.
I was on shift again the next night. I was good at selling beer so I was rostered on most evenings and was working with a girl I’d known since I started called Sue. Sue always had her passport and £200 in cash in her bag “just in case” though I never found what just in case might be.
“So” she said.
“So you didn’t start well with the new manageress?”
I slumped in my chair. “Have you been warned about my sexual harassment?”
“She called last night and told me she was concerned about you. I told her I thought that sounded ridiculous.”
I explained what had happened and she nodded.
“Well twat can mean vagina.”
“I’ve never used it that way. And surely past tense – twatted – cannot mean vagina’d?”
Sue looked thoughtful as she ran through the past tense possibilities of vagina.
“And how the hell could I vagina a bottle of beer off the shelf? Twatted means hit, or it means to be in no fit state to function. Twat can maybe mean vagina but I did not say twat. I said twatted.”
Sue nodded. “He rests his case your honour. Judgement, he may be a bit of a twat.”
We went and sold beer, sold wine, talked about movies and cashed up at the end of the night.
The following night I was rostered on with Angela, the youngest of the team. She was the deputy managers’ daughter and was only just old enough to buy beer. Her large car mechanic boyfriend was sat in the office as I rolled my bike in. The manager scowled at me.
“I’ve given Angela permission to have Lee in the office tonight” she said as I said hi to Lee.
“Mate” he replied and went back to his magazine, flipping from a picture of a bike with a girl in the bikini on it to a picture of a car with two girls in smaller swimwear. The manager left, giving me a toxic stare as she did so.
I sat down and sighed.
“What did you do?” asked Angela and I ran through it again, Lee laughing as I explained about vagina’ing a bottle off the shelf.
“So that’s it? You just twatted the bottle” he said comfortably.
“And she thought you were talking about vagina’s?” he closed the magazine and Angela swiped at his leg. “’The fuck is her problem?”
“Lee, don’t say vagina” Evidently fuck was fine.
I nodded. “And now she thinks I am a predator, which I’m guessing is why she has given you permission to be here.”
He frowned at me in a smoke there’s fire way. “I asked Angela about you being sexually threatening and she laughed so I guess there’s no worry. I guess.”
I blushed as Lee stood up and kissed Angela goodbye. He nodded at me and said “Later mate.”
Angela and I chatted as normal that night but there was an awkward feeling in the air. I sold beer, clearing out all of the on special Stella in one evening and wondering why I was bothering. End of the night we cashed up and I cycled home.
“Would anyone like to offer an explanation?” She looked from one to other of us, holding her gaze on me for the longest time. None of us said a word and she stood up to leave. “I think some of us need to seriously consider their future with this company. Theft will not be tolerated.”
Sue shook her head. “I don’t believe any of us have stolen any money.”
The manager scowled. “Well I’m afraid I do believe someone has stolen the money” adding with Agatha Christie panache “Someone in this room.”
Angela gasped and held her hand to her mouth. Becca, brilliantly, was touching up her lip gloss. Sue looked simply livid and I guess I looked guilty. The manager stormed out and we sat in awkward silence.
Angela left with Lee shortly after, Lee slapping me on the back and saying “Mate.” Sue stayed and shook her head while Becca rolled up.
“Man she hates you” Becca said, passing me the joint.
“Well he did vagina a bottle to death.” Sue took the joint from me.
“I will never use the word twat again. I’m done with the word.” I thought for a moment and added “But I may blog about it in 2014.” They looked at me confused as this was 1998 and blogging wasn’t really a thing.
After Sue left Becca and I got happily stoned. I sold a stack of Guinness and, after a challenge by Becca, I convinced a customer to buy a bottle of Advocaat. The guy left with his bottle of lurid yellow goop and a smile on his face and Becca shook her head.
“Can you sell anything?” she asked and I said no, I could only sell alcohol. I believed at the time that everyone, deep down, wanted to be drunk. Now I realise it is more likely just me.
As we cashed up I noticed something sticking out from under the wine racks. “Is that what I think it is?” I asked and she looked down.
“Yeah mon” she said in an awful imitation of a Caribbean accent, pulling out a crumpled £10 note.
“Fuck” I said, suddenly furious. “She dropped it?” Becca nodded and collapsed into more giggles as I put the note on the desk.
“Take it” she said and I shook my head.
“I’m not a theif.”
“If you hand it in, she’ll think you did it. If I hand it in, she’ll think you did it. If she finds it on the floor, she’ll think you put it there for her to find. So fuck it, take it.”
“Is this entrapment?” I asked and she stubbed out her joint. “Nah mon” she said, sweeping the butts into a plastic bag she had with her. She pulled her purse from her bag and yanked out a £5 and handed it to me, putting the £10 in her purse.
“Partners” she said and we locked up for the night £5 richer.
This was 1998. £5 could buy a Cornish Pastie and a bag of Nic Nacs (with change) from the 24 hour service station.
And it did.
Epilogue - The manager left soon after as was replaced by a new lady who on her first day told me she knew Farley Jack Master Funk and modelled for him. She showed me a photo of herself wearing a fox fur scarf from a shoot for the cover of a single that Mr Jack Master Funk had coming out soon.
“Don’t look at my eyes” she said. “I was twatted that day.”
Epilogue II - for the first time ever I have realised I have lied in this story. I am frequently accused of lying in these but can honestly say I never have. This time I have, but I didn’t mean to. I’m too amused by the slip up to correct it though.