Bob had come into work even earlier than usual, 7.30. He needed to have a bit of peace and quiet before Martin got in. He liked Martin, but Martin was the kind of person who made his presence felt, and it was hard to get on with anything serious while he was there.
The office was still chilly. The heating didn’t come on till eight. Bob got the kettle out of the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. They put it there each night before going home. Personal kettles were no longer allowed in offices. Martin said it was just another erosion of their employment rights, plus it was a way of forcing them to go and buy over-priced drinks from the coffee shop, where there was no privacy from students. The justifications about electrical safety and hygiene were completely spurious.
Bob rehearsed this argument to himself every morning as he made vile instant coffee. He quite liked the coffee from the coffee shop, but it was a bit of a trek, and he had come to agree with Martin that it was important to keep some independence from the system. But he still didn’t like the idea that he was breaking the rules.
He took the kettle and peered out into the corridor – they’d agreed to be careful about letting other people know. The coast was clear, unsurprisingly at this time in the morning. He headed down the corridor towards the gents toilets.
He went in and started filling the kettle from the cold tap. The door opened. Figuring that normal etiquette applied, Bob didn’t turn round. He was also hoping that his body would mask the kettle. “Hur hur! I thought I saw you sneaking in here!”
“Sneaking?” thought Bob, “I wasn’t sneaking. I was walking completely normally”. He balanced the kettle precariously on the basin and turned round.
It was the Deputy Vice Chancellor. Shit. “Er. Deputy Vice Chancellor, Alan!” he started “About the kettle…”
Alan ignored him. He was nonchalantly checking the empty cubicles. “Good” he said, turning back towards Bob. “Had a feeling you came in early, just thought I’d catch you.”
Bob was taken aback. He’d never actually met the Deputy Vice-Chancellor before. They certainly hadn’t been introduced. Obviously, he knew who Alan was, but he wouldn’t have expected the reverse to be true. Also, Alan didn’t have a reputation for this kind of chumminess. He felt very uneasy.
Bob waited. He wondered why the DVC wanted to see him. He tried to suppress thoughts about the kettle. This clearly wasn’t anything to do with the kettle. That was his own anxiety about petty rule-breaking.
“Great,” he said, hoping to encourage Alan to continue. “Um. What can I do for you?”
Alan looked around again conspiratorially, although there was absolutely nobody else in the toilet; there probably wasn’t anyone else in the building. He lowered his voice. “Can you come and see me later on? After two o’clock?”
“Um. I’ve got a lecture at two. I could come up after that?”
“OK, I’ll juggle a few things. And, Bob, this is highly confidential. Mum’s the word. Right, better get going. Remember, not a word to anyone” he briefly lifted his finger to his nose, then turned and opened the door cautiously. He peered out into the corridor, then turned and waved to Bob before striding off towards the lifts.
Bob turned back towards the basin, catching the kettle with his sleeve as he did so. It crashed to the floor, splitting into two cheap plastic pieces. He looked at it blankly, still trying to work out what was going on. What was he missing? There must be something he hadn’t understood. What was confidential? Some initiative which needed his special expertise in forensic accountancy? Cosying up to a new external partner the DVC had met at a function somewhere? Redundancies? It was probably safe to assume that there was no sexual element to the bizarre encounter. Although it was unusual for anybody to acknowledge anybody else in the Gents. He sighed heavily. He had enough to do today without worrying about the DVC.
He bent to pick up the pieces of the kettle. Well, at least they weren’t going to get into trouble now for having an illicit water-heating device in the office. One less thing to worry about. He smiled wryly. What was Martin going to say?