RAPL’s receptionist looked up with her eyebrows raised expectantly.
“Um. I’m Claire. The Intern?”
“I know,” the receptionist said coldly.
Claire nodded. “Just wondering where I need to be today.”
“Floor two. Take the lift. Ask for Leslie.”
Claire shook her head as she walked away from the desk and headed to the lift. The nerves of the two previous days were nothing compared to the nausea swirling in her gut on day three. She wanted nothing less than to come back to RAPL, but felt too tangled up with confusion to throw in the towel yet. What she saw on the confidential invoice yesterday filled her with intrigue and dread. Strange things occurred in this organisation, and she wanted to unearth them despite her unease.
The lift took her up to an open office much like that of the first floor. Desks were lined up carefully and employees were already diligently at work. She scanned the room looking for someone who looked like a Leslie. It could have been any of them. She should have asked the receptionist whether the name was spelt with an IE or an EY so that she could at least know if it was a man or woman she was looking for. But the question would have inevitably been met with a steely gaze and a sigh.
“I’m looking for Leslie?” she announced to the room.
A hand went up at a desk at the back, and Claire headed towards it.
Leslie was a man. He rose from his desk to greet her and proved himself to be imposingly tall. His svelte frame made him more sinister, somehow. He reminded her of a Disney villain, although the smile on his face suggested she had nothing to fear.
“Claire, right?” Leslie stuck out his bony hand and offered a firm handshake. “We’ve been hearing a lot about you.”
“Oh? Oh dear,” Claire responded, her face flushing.
“We are the Purchasing department, but don’t get too comfortable because we’re about to head downstairs to accept deliveries. Good to see you’ve wrapped up warm.”
Claire nodded and watched as Leslie pulled together a pile of documents from his desk and formed them into a neat stack. He took a clipboard from a draw and secured the documents onto it with a satisfying click.
“Let’s get going, shall we?”
Leslie guided Claire down a narrow stairwell, where he hopped down the steps two at a time. Claire had to jog to keep up with him. Two flights later, he pushed open a fire door and they were outside in the autumn chill. Leslie propped the door open with a brick which had been stashed beside it, then he joined Claire in staring out into a wide courtyard.
“First truck should be here anytime,” he said.
“What kind of deliveries are we expecting?” Claire asked.
“Food mainly. For the animals.”
“Ah. Are the animals kept here?”
“Oh, no. No, we haven’t the space for them here. Well, except one. But most are at care facilities across the country. We’re the main storage facility for the food supplies.”
This was the most information anyone had bothered to give Claire about RAPL’s work. She decided to probe further.
“What type of animals are they?”
“Oh, a huge range, really. Big. Small. In between.”
“Where do they all come from?”
“All over the place, I think. I must admit I’m not an expert myself. I just do the buying and take the deliveries.” He flashed her a smile. “You are thin, aren’t you?”
Claire forgot all the other questions she planned to ask and widened her eyes.
“I’ll get you a goody bag lined up for the end of the day,” Leslie offered.
The growl of an engine interrupted them and was quickly followed by the site of a huge lorry which pulled into the courtyard. Leslie raised his hand up to the driver, who then manoeuvred the vehicle in a large circle before reversing up to them. The driver hopped out of his cabin and greeted them with a cheery hello as he began to unlock his trailer and unload his delivery.
“So, here we have invoices,” Leslie said as he showed her his clipboard. “I’ve arranged them in chronological order of when we’re expecting the deliveries. Look for a label on each box – they should list the SKU and the quantity. Check them off against the items on the invoice as the driver unloads. Once everything has been dropped off, you can start carrying everything upstairs to us. That’s all there is to it, really. You’ll have to carry everything by hand upstairs, I’m afraid. The lift on this side of the building only goes downstairs, and there’s no need for you to venture down there yet. Happy?”
“Right, I’ll leave you to it, then.” He handed her the clipboard and a pen which he had produced from his trouser pocket. “Any problems, come and get me.” With that, Leslie disappeared back into the building and loped up the stairs.
Claire approached the boxes the lorry driver had stacked up, and noted that many of them were labelled with food and confectionary brands – Cadbury’s, Nestle, McVitie’s, Walkers – all the big names were there. This certainly wasn’t food for animals, but perhaps reams of chocolates and snacks was what it took to keep RAPL employees committed to their work.
She was sweating by the time she finished hauling the packages up to the second floor. The boxes weren’t unbearably heavy, but too big for her to be able to handle more than one at a time. Her legs were destined to ache the next day courtesy of all those wretched stairs. She wondered why the deliveries weren’t dropped off at the front of the building so that they could be transported upstairs via the lift in reception. She considered asking the next driver to do just that, but after yesterday’s events she wasn’t prepared to bend the rules.
It was a Hovis lorry which pulled up just a few minutes after she returned from ferrying the final box upstairs. The driver unloaded several pallets stacked up with loaves and bread, which only added to Claire’s confusion. As far as she could tell, RAPL didn’t provide lunch for their staff so it seemed unlikely the loaves would be used for sandwiches. Even if they were, 120 loaves seemed a little excessive. Perhaps there was simply some rare species of duck under the care of RAPL, she mused.
After bread, came meat. Initially, a delivery of fresh meat didn’t seem at all curious; there could have been many carnivores under RAPL’s care. However, she became puzzled when she ticked off Aberdeen Angus beef burgers, satay chicken sticks, Peking style spare ribs and chicken wings covered in barbecue sauce. Human food. Most of this stuff was human food.
By 3pm, Claire was flagging. She hadn’t had time to eat lunch, despite being tantalised by the hordes of food she had dragged into the building. Each time she dropped off a box in the Purchasing office, Leslie gave a quick “thank you” and simply carried the goods away into a separate room, without offering her a break or a cup of tea. He may have been polite, but hospitality didn’t seem to be Leslie’s strong point.
The next truck which pulled up at RAPL’s fire door was plain white and without a brand name or even a haulage company’s logo. As the driver climbed out of his cab, he gave Claire a subtle nod and got to work opening the trailer.
As the trailer doors swung open, Claire was appalled to see it packed full of enormous wooden crates. She had no idea what she was expected to do with them. Perhaps he had some smaller packages stashed at the back, she hoped. He climbed into the trailer and disappeared behind some of the crates.
Her hopes were shattered as the driver remerged brandishing a pallet jack. He began to manoeuvre the first crate onto the tail lift.
Claire consulted her clipboard and flicked through the stack of invoices. Many of the items didn’t have a description and it was impossible to tell what they might be based on SKU alone.
“What’s inside?” Claire called to the driver.
His eyes widened. “I just drive.”
“You don’t know what the goods are?”
He glanced at the crate and then back at Claire. “I just drive.”
“What company are you delivering from?”
“I. Just. Drive.”
The tail lift reached the floor and the driver positioned the crate in front of Claire before returning to the lorry for the next. The thing was enormous – 7ft tall and at least 4ft wide. She wandered around its perimeter, looking out for a label. When she found it, she realised it didn’t list an SKU or quantity as expected. Instead, it was a long list of letters and numbers which looked like it could be an invoice number.
She consulted her clipboard once again. None of the invoices featured the same number. She’d have to admit defeat and ask for help.
Claire looked up from her paperwork, but the driver was still up in the bed of the truck.
She looked around her.
“In the crate.”
She eyed the crate warily. Its wooden panels were laid so tightly together that it would have been impossible to peer between them and see what was inside. Round holes had been punched in the wood towards the top, but they were too high up for her to look through.
She told herself she was hearing things.
“Claire!” This voice came from the fire door. It was Leslie, brandishing a carrier bag. “You don’t need to worry about this one, you’ll never get these big boxes up the stairs, haha!” His laugh was harsh and forced. He held the bag out towards her with one hand and grabbed hold of her clipboard with the other. “Some treats from us for being such a trooper today.”
Claire’s smile was as forced as Leslie’s laughter as she accepted the gift. “What on earth is in here?” she asked. Her curious tone required no faking.
“Oh, confidential I’m afraid. Some things we can’t let our interns in on! You’re free to clock off now. You’ve done great work for us today, I’ll be sure to let the third floor know about it.” He placed his hand gently on her back and guided her through the fire exit.
Claire returned to the Purchasing office to collect her bag, then took the lift back down to the reception. As the doors closed her in, she felt a familiar rumbling under her feet – the floor was shaking again. The lift’s lights flickered briefly and then the quake was over almost as soon as it had started. The lift safely delivered her to the ground floor and she hurried out of the building.
Tomorrow would be the day she got answers.