The Acme Manufacturing Company made all kinds of things in metal. Anything,
whether welded, bolted, soldered or cast in bronze. Anything, in fact,
including the kitchen sink. Two of its longest serving employees were Bill, the
watchman and Joe, the fitter's mate. Bill was stationed in the check lodge at
the main gate and nothing went in or out without his approval. Employees were
allowed to buy cheaply items the company made and some things were actually
given away for free provided there was a ticket to that effect. Bill always
checked each item against its ticket before he allowed it through the gate.
Joe usually had something to take through the gate and despite always having a
ticket Bill had a suspicion that Joe was not honest. Joe would arrive at the gate
with his item on a wheelbarrow and the thing was always covered by a bag. Bill
would check Joe's ticket and then roll back the bag to find the very thing there;
a shovel with a cracked blade, or a jammed ball race, or a broken piece of a
casting, or even just a lump of scrap iron. Always the item had something wrong
with it and was valueless and so Joe never paid a cent, not ever. But Bill
remained suspicious, even looking inside the bag at times in case there was a
tiny item of value tucked away in a corner.
The years rolled on, Joe always bringing his free chunk of metal on a wheelbarrow
and Bill always checking underneath the bag and often inside it but never finding
anything illegal. Eventually, both men retired and as luck would have it their
paths crossed once again, in the most obvious place imaginable, where everyone
meets everyone – in an aisle of a supermarket.
After the usual greetings one makes on such occasions, Bill invited Joe to have
a cup of coffee and share a few memories. Bill could not let the opportunity pass
without asking a thing that had bugged him for years.
"Joe, I can tell you now that I always thought that you were stealing something
from the company but I could never find anything out of place. Nothing can
happen now that we are retired and so would you please satisfy my morbid
curiosity and tell me if you were stealing anything?"
"I always knew what you were thinking," replied Joe, "and you were right to be
suspicious. I was stealing something. I was stealing wheelbarrows."
Bill was in shock. "Ye gods! I never gave a thought to that. It always seemed it
was going to be something under the bag. So that's all it was, wheelbarrows."
"Well, that's not it entirely, Bill," said Joe.
"You mean there was something else?"
"Well, isn't it obvious?"
"Not to me, Joe."
"I can't believe you can't see it now when I've virtually told you. I was also
stealing the bags!"