Random Writing 10

We first noticed the auditors walking the corridors late at night. Caroline Bates was the first to report them - shadowy grey figures strolling through the building, silent and ominous as she viewed them through the frosted glass between the general administration office and the corridor outside. She told Louisa and Chaz that "there was something wrong with the way they moved, like they were walking with crutches", although Caroline's fertile imagination and gullible nature was well known throughout the office, and it was put down to a mere excess of nervousness while having to work late to deal with the anomaly in the 1994-1995 accounts. In addition to that, the film "Auditor" had just finished its run in the local arthouse cinema - and although none of us had seen it, we had all seen clips on Film 95 and heard radio interviews with the director, so it was possible that we were even more susceptible to being given the creeps by it, having no real idea of the content of the film.

Chaz herself was working late the following Thursday, and as far as she knew alone on the third floor. She was sitting on the toilet reading Cosmo and scribbling Hitler moustaches on the pictures of models in the fashion review pages when the door to the ladies opened. Thinking it might be the cleaners, who no-one but security have ever in fact seen, she called out "Hello?", but there was no answer. Instead she heard the clack-clack of two women in high-heel shoes walking into the room. Thinking it unlikely to be cleaners, she stopped talking; not wanting to be thought of as some jumpy fool, and hoping that the one simple word hadn't been enough to identify her.

"Correct, but in the wrong place," said a voice somewhere over one of the pairs of shoes. Chaz shivered, and the shiver went down her arms and flipped the pages of the magazine. It was an odd voice, but Chaz could not think why and would be unable (when later reciting the story to Louisa and me) to explain why. The two pairs of high heels clacked and clacked again, and the toilet door swung shut with a clunk.

Chaz cleaned up and emerged carefully from the cubicle. There was no-one there, of course, but she wondered what the voice had meant. In other circumstances, perhaps said in another voice, Chaz (who was notoriously filthy-minded) would have thought that she was unwitting witness to some kind of private anatomical examination. But the tone of voice of the speaker had put all such thoughts out of her head. She walked over to the sink and noticed that there was a big red X of lipstick about the size of her hand drawn on the mirror. It had not been there when she came in, since she had detoured to the mirror to examine her blouse. She carefully scraped at one of the legs of the X. It would not come off. She washed her hands and left, picking up her things and heading home. Although not superstitious or easily spooked (indeed, she struck most of us as preternaturally cool-headed), Chaz had a well-practised policy of leaving anywhere that she didn't feel comfortable as soon as she could.

When she told us the story the following Monday (Louisa was on an accountancy ethics course on the Friday, and without Louisa's intermediacy I did not generally drop in on Chaz), we immediately went to the ladies to check on the mystery mark, Louisa going in while I waited outside.

"Gone," she reported, "nothing there at all."

Chaz shrugged, and accepted the news with equanimity.

"I suppose the cleaners must have had more powerful detergents than your thumb does," I suggested.

Louisa didn't see them herself for another three weeks, although someone from the fourth floor must have, because a grammatically dubious email from human resources warned us that "inappropriate persons have been seen wandering free the upper floors", and exhorting us to report any unauthorised visitors - a job most of us felt was not ours. Since we ourselves could not usually get into the building without our passes, we assumed that anyone else wandering the corridors must have had authorisation, and we just took care of our own offices. The email also contained several confusing or incorrect descriptions of the offices affected (it mentioned unknown people spotted near the router cupboard on the north corridor, when in fact it is on the east corridor), although when I later went through my email to show that to Louisa it had been recalled. I had never seen an email successfully recalled from the system before (not even the one in which the previous CFO referred to someone as a "mong"), and sent a congratulatory email to Brian for managing to finally get the system working. I obviously didn't pack enough flattery into the email, because when I later asked him to give me a copy of the recalled one he refused, saying that it would be an abuse of his position as email administrator - a position I knew he abused frequently for his own benefit, of course, but I decided it wasn't worth making a thing of it. I would save that information in case it came in handy later.

Louisa (so far as I know) was the first person to see them up close. She was returning from delivering a pile of documents to the legal department on sixth when she heard a low hubbub of voices coming around the corner. Although, again, she was slightly spooked to realise she was not alone on the floor, she kept going, buoyed up by the realisation that some of the voices were female, and therefore she was unlikely to be starring in some tragic news story on the morning show.

The noises grew louder and louder as she neared the corner, and when she was about three meters away herself a man in a suit suddenly appeared. She jumped, but although he stared at her, his eyes barely flickered. It was as though I wasn't there, she told Chaz later, or worse - it was as though I didn't matter.

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