14 comments

Mystery

     Somebody has been stealing my lunch. Not the whole thing, mind you, but there have been definite and distinct bites taken daily from my meals. A tell-tale hole in the pasta, a mysterious inch missing from my soup container. You think I’m imagining it, don’t you? 

     At first I thought I was imagining it, too. I mean, who would go around taking sample portions from somebody else’s lunch box every day? Who is that strange and unhinged to do so? But no, it’s definitely been happening, and I plan to get to the bottom of it. 

     The same thing was happening with the quart of milk I’d bring in to use with my coffee. Every day, more and more would disappear and nobody else would offer to replenish. I left a note on the fridge saying “who wants to take turns bringing in milk or creamer for coffee?” with no response. I side-eyed the other known coffee aficionados in the place, looking for a “tell”. It could have been any of them. It could have been ALL of them! 

     So, I kept supplying the milk, my coworkers kept using it, til eventually I had enough. I had an idea! I went to the local Dollar Tree, and bought a few baby bottles. I filled them with regular milk, brought them to work, and placed them in the fridge. All of a sudden, the milk stopped disappearing. Problem solved. 

     But now my lunch! This would require more creative thinking to get to the bottom of it. I needed to outsmart The Lunch Box Bandit. I got to work brainstorming ideas on Post-It notes at my desk. 

Should I set up a camera in the break room? Should I leave a note simply asking the Bandit to stop? Should I do something more…drastic? 

Ideas spun through my mind, and I realized it was quitting time. I gathered my things, and began to leave my office. 

     “Hey, Frederick! Another day, another dollar, right?” my coworker shouted from behind me. I turned and slowed down for Patty to catch up. Patty talked to everybody, and there would be no outrunning her. She’s known to wear sneakers with every outfit, presumably for the sole purpose of chasing people down to chat them up. 

     “Yep. Time to go home and get ready to do it all again tomorrow! Say, Patty, have you noticed anything…unusual about your lunch lately?” I decided to probe. Maybe mine isn’t the only lunch being invaded daily. 

     “No, can’t say I have. Plain old PB&J everyday for me. And a bag of carrots that go along for the ride. I pretend I’ll eat them every day, and then they just travel back home again. Why do you ask?”

     “Oh, it’s nothing I’m sure. Anyway, enjoy your night and I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow!” I said as I headed toward my car. That didn’t help. I guess nobody is interested in Patty’s plain old PB&J. 

     I started my drive home, and decided I’d ask around again in the morning. Maybe someone else is having the same problem after all. But then again, maybe my lunches are just that good that The Lunch Box Bandit can’t help it? 

     Maybe I need to consider some equally genius tactics as my baby bottles to keep the Bandit at bay. I had put a fence around my lettuce to keep the rabbits out of the garden this summer. Maybe something like that could work! 

     When I got home, I made my dinner of Swedish meatballs over egg noodles, and put aside a portion to bring to work as usual. Now for the defense measures! 

     I went to my pantry, and found my box of toothpicks. I counted twelve, and returned to my lunch portion of meatballs. Carefully, I placed all twelve toothpicks into the meatballs. I replaced the lid, and set it in the fridge, happy with my plan. The Bandit will need to move around a veritable fence of toothpicks to get at my lunch now! I’d just have to be sure I removed all twelve toothpicks before I began to eat it myself. Yes. This plan was genius!

I slept soundly, knowing my lunch would be safe the following day. Thursday was usually a light day for me, and I looked forward to some “me time” at my desk before lunch. As I read the latest installment in Gardener’s Daily about proper spacing of cherry tomatoes, my stomach told me it was just about time to eat. I glanced at the clock on my computer, and to my delight, it was 12:23pm. I stood and stretched, rubbed my eyes, and was about to make my way to the break room, when I heard a great commotion in the hallway. 

     Quickly, I went to see what all the noise was about. 

     “Hurry! Call 911! Get an ambulance!” Jeff yelled.

     “They’re on their way!” Barb assured the crowd that had gathered outside the break room, peering in the window. 

     “What’s going on?” I eagerly asked to the crowd in general.

     “Dave’s gasping for air and bleeding from his mouth! Oh it’s terrible! I’ve never seen so much blood!” Gloria shouted dramatically from the doorway of the breakroom. 

     Dave was my boss, and rarely made an appearance unless he had to. Why was he in the breakroom before lunchtime? He generally eats alone in his office anyway. Then it dawned on me! He was trying to catch The Lunch Box Bandit too! And, in his heroic pursuit, was met with resistance from the Bandit! Dave undoubtedly caught him in the act, and a fight ensued. The Bandit let fly punches, landing one right in his mouth. His teeth may have gone right through his lips, as he tried to apprehend the thief! 

     Now wait, what if I’m all wrong? What if…Dave IS the thief! My boss? A lunch thief? No. It couldn’t be. But if he’s bleeding from the mouth, did he eat my meatballs and cut up his mouth with the toothpicks? Oh, dear! This is awful! 

     I heard the sound of sirens, and soon, two EMTs were wheeling Dave away on a stretcher. A victim of his own gluttonous sins?

As they wheeled Dave into the elevator, he looked my way and we locked eyes. 

     “Tooth…picks…” he muttered as the doors closed, and he was taken away. 

     I may have just accidentally killed my boss. Or, at the very least, severely injured! Would the others know I had set a trap? Did they know about my murderous meatballs?

     I began to sweat thinking about a life behind bars. I wasn’t cut out for jailtime. I needed to destroy the evidence, and fast! 

     I raced to the break room where the others were consoling each other and eating quietly. Stealthy as a fox, I grabbed my lunch box and crept unnoticed from the room. 

     Back in the sanctity of my office, I opened my lunch box and saw a scoop of noodles and murder balls were missing. Dave! You fool! You weren’t supposed to swallow them!

     I decided to leave work early, and noticed the cop cars pulling in the parking lot as I made my way towards home. This was all very bad. Would they come after me? Had anyone else seen Dave eat from my lunch right before his bloody departure? 

     The next day, I arrived early. I needed to get the dirt from Patty, and plan my next move. 

     “So, what were the cops doing here yesterday?” I tried to casually ask. 

     “Questions about what happened to Dave. You know, did we see anything, suspect anything, that kind of thing.”

     “And did you? You know, see or suspect anything?”

     “Well, you had just brought up strange things happening at lunch, so I told them you may know something.” 

     “Oh, right. Yes. But, nothing unusual really has happened. Probably just my imagination.” 

     “They want to cover all their bases. Can’t blame them. I mean, it IS a murder investigation now.”

     “A murder? You mean…Dave is dead?” I gasped. 

     “Murder, attempted homicide, accident, all the same really.”

     I gulped. 

     “Don’t worry. I’m sure he got what was coming to him. Did you know he was planning to let me go this week? Downsizing. His secretary let it slip one day while we were in the restroom. But now, he won’t be downsizing anything. And all thanks to your meatballs.” Patty said with a sinister smile. 

Wait. How did she know about my meatballs? Unless she was the one sneaking my lunches, knew I’d do something like this eventually, and…

I sat looking at Patty, and she returned my look. 

     “Well. I think we’re both on the same page here, Patty. I’ll see you at quitting time,” I said and showed myself out. 

     So, maybe a happy ending for everyone except Dave. Months passed, and nobody ever knew just what happened to the Lunch Box Bandit. 

     Nobody, except Patty and I. 

December 16, 2023 04:52

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

14 comments

AnneMarie Miles
13:31 Dec 16, 2023

I love the office politics Frederick initially starts with. We've all had our own coworker qualms in the break room and we've all either thought about leaving a note in the break room or we've actually done it! I had suspicion about Patty from her first appearance. The sneakers with every outfit made me curious - she's got a big mouth and probably even bigger ears. Frederick inadvertently tipped her off about the meatballs by asking her about suspicious lunch activity. She must have led Dave into the trap to save herself! Ugh, such good dr...

Reply

Nina H
15:17 Dec 17, 2023

A few years ago, I took a random abandoned pole and turned it into a Festivus Pole in my break room for all to air their grievances. 😂 Even better than note leaving! Yes, she’s a shady character, that sneaker sporting Patty!! Moral of the story: don’t trust anyone! lol!! Thanks for reading AnneMarie!!!! 😁

Reply

AnneMarie Miles
16:34 Dec 17, 2023

I love that idea! People were probably so grateful to you for doing that! I'd love to be a fly on the wall reading what people posted!

Reply

Nina H
17:50 Dec 17, 2023

“While most that work here are intolerable at best, Nina is the only shining light that makes it worth it to clock in each day. She deserves a raise.” - signed, definitely not Nina 😝

Reply

AnneMarie Miles
17:51 Dec 17, 2023

😂😂😂😂 I love it! I would do that, too

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
10:58 Dec 16, 2023

Nina! Have been away for a while but yours is first story I find when I come back and it's a ripper. Compelling from the start, innocuous subject but brilliantly explored. Baby bottle is genius. And murder balls! 😅 But....who was the real thief . What really happened??? Nobody will ever know for sure lol

Reply

Nina H
14:19 Dec 17, 2023

Derrick!!! 🙌🏻 Yes, the murder balls got him!! I had a different story started this week, then jumped to this. Workplace lunch thievery can be real - it’s a serious matter!!! Kind of 😂

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
16:17 Mar 20, 2024

I loved it... It made me laugh and then surprised me. I just loved it :)

Reply

Nina H
15:31 Apr 12, 2024

Thanks so much, Laura! 😄

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Lexy Cano
22:48 Mar 17, 2024

I really liked this short story! I loved the suspense and the drama of the meatballs!

Reply

Nina H
15:32 Apr 12, 2024

Thanks so much for reading it, Lexy! Dramatic meatballs, indeed!! lol!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
21:47 Dec 21, 2023

What a nice, dark office story :) And not like classically dark, but the everyday kind, where we just pretend unpleasant things away. The toothpicks escalated quickly, and I didn't expect this to actually go to death - but it was always a possibility, as soon as he was trying to find ways to protect his lunch. No heroes here. Just another weird cold case, and a dangerous coworker in Patty :) Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Danielle LeBlanc
02:04 Dec 20, 2023

Great story! The lengths he went to to find out who was eating some of his lunch is relatable lol don't mess with someone's food!!!! Thanks for sharing this!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Marty B
05:58 Dec 18, 2023

He deserved it! Stealing offices lunches is grounds for capital punishment ;) I appreciated your descriptions of the office politics. I thought it was Patty at first- Thanks!

Reply

Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.