It was Margie’s fortieth birthday. The girls at work presented her with a cake in the shape of a mobile phone because they said, ‘she was never off hers’. Margie laughed. It was so funny. If only they knew why her mobile rang so often. Then Mr Winterman, the section manager, said ‘Right, let’s celebrate, teas and coffees all round to go with that fantastic cake. They’re on me’.
One of the office girls, Rose, said ‘I’ll pop down to the coffee shop. Give us your drinks’ orders girls’.
Margie went to the little kitchenette and got plates and a knife. She cut through the middle of the cake and then began to divide it into equal portions. There was plenty to go around the twelve of them. Kayleigh helped her serve the cake.
‘That’s nice of her’ thought Margie, ‘she’s usually so shy. Nice to see her join in’.
Rose was soon back with the drinks and they settled down for a welcome break. As Margie bit into her cake, she felt a bit of something in her mouth. She fished it out. Curiously she looked. It seemed to be a small piece of folded paper. Nobody had noticed. Too busy eating, drinking and chatting. Margie smoothed out the paper. Must be a joke birthday message.
She read ‘I’m watching you’.
Margie felt her stomach lurch. Furtively she looked round. How could anyone know? She had been so careful. Never taking too many. Just enough to be able to sell for quite a nice profit. Margie had been stealing boxes of drugs for ages. Just two or three at first but then moving up to whole cartons. She had sold them in the pubs. Easy money. The company she worked for supplied prescription drugs to pharmacies.
She knew the girls in the office wondered how she could afford the great hair cuts with the expensive highlights, the beautiful manicured nails and the designer bags and shoes. But she told them she bought in out of town discount retailers, and she had a friend with a hair and beauty salon, so she got discounts there too. All lies of course.
‘Margie,’ Rose said ‘wake up, you were miles away. We’re just saying where shall we go tonight?’
Margie mentally pulled herself together although her heart was thumping, and she felt slightly sick.
‘Oh, don’t worry about tonight. Just having this cake is lovely’, Margie murmured.
‘Don’t be daft. You can’t not celebrate your fortieth’.
Margie’s brain was racing. How could that piece of paper have got into her specific piece of cake, and how was it that she got that very piece?
Hang on. It was Kayleigh who had handed the plates round. She didn’t dare look at her.
In her handbag, she heard her mobile beep. She hooked it out. All the girls laughed. ‘There you are. How appropriate is that cake? On her phone again’.
Margie smiled but it felt more like a grimace. She checked the new message
‘Still watching you’.
She went cold. The number was an unknown one. But whoever it was had her number and they knew.
Somehow the day crawled to an end. At 5pm the staff closed their computers and started to get their coats and bags. Mr Winterman popped out of his side office and said
‘Happy Birthday Margie. Have a good night tonight. Don’t drink too much. Lots of orders to go out tomorrow’.
Margie smiled at him. ‘Don’t worry boss. I’ll have a clear head. Is it the Ritalin order tomorrow?’
Mr Winterman nodded. ‘Yep, all the GPs Surgeries are clamouring for them’.
Wearily Margie travelled home. It was only 30 minutes on the bus but it gave her a little time to think. When she got home, she checked the home phone and saw there was a new message. She pressed the button and a robotic voice said
‘Don’t think I don’t know how you do it’
Margie sat down on the stairs and burst into tears. How could she have been so stupid? Who did she think she was? She was just a petty thief preying on the stupidity of kids in their hunt for the next big thrill. She saw all too clearly what she had become. The feeling of shame was painful.
But who was it that knew?
The last thing she wanted to do was to go out tonight. But she knew it would look odd if she didn’t.
She ran a bath, washed her hair, put on the little black dress that she had bought with the proceeds of 8 packets of drugs sold in the local pub. The kids couldn’t get enough of them.
She treated herself to a cab from her drug money and arrived in the busy Chequers pub to a rousing cheer from the girls. Margie looked around. Kayleigh wasn’t there.
‘Damage limitation’ she thought as she reflected on what had brought her to this, ‘that’s what I ‘ve got to do now’.
She’d started working for a giant pharmaceutical company straight from leaving school, and quickly learnt that Ritalin was quite a good substitute for cocaine. Amphetamines, prescribed for anxiety, were also much in demand with the kids. A packet here, a packet there. Couldn’t believe what people would pay for them. The money was great, and she really didn’t feel bad about it. It wasn’t really stealing. They were such a big company. Her office, where supplies came in, was such a tiny part of a giant machine. She had read about women shop lifting when they were stressed. At least she wasn’t stealing like that.
It was her boyfriend Darren who had first suggested how easy it would be to steal a few packets and make some money. God knows, they had needed the money then. He told her about the demand for certain prescription drugs.
He’d said ‘You work in the perfect place. A few packets. Nobody would miss them. Just make yourself an extra bit of bunce’.
Darren and Margie married after a couple of years of dating. She had only been 19 years old. After he’d left her, she found it was a thrill to sneak a couple of packets of drugs home. Made life a bit more exciting and helped her to not feel so bad about her dead marriage.
Suddenly it came to Margie. Kayleigh had a small side line making novelty cakes. That’s it. It had to be her. She would have the skill to put the paper in the cake, and make sure she got that slice, and she knew her mobile number.
Margie’s phone beeped again. Another message.
‘Darren told me. What’s it worth to shut me up?’
This time the message registered as coming from Kayleigh’s phone.
Margie looked around at her co-workers. Were they friends? Not really. Just women she sometimes socialised with through work and because she was lonely after the divorce.
For some reason she found herself remembering a conversation she once had with the girls at work about how they attracted men. She recalled Kayleigh saying, ‘I’m like a fox with men’. She had gone on to describe her method as ‘stalking and then pouncing’.
Margie looked around. Across the bar she saw Kayleigh sitting with another group of people from work. Mockingly she raised her glass to Margie and mouthed across the room