I logged off and followed my colleagues out of the office; attending company social events inadvertently influenced our bonuses. The downstairs function room of the nearby pub reeked of beer and despair; like a fallen tree, its scratched tables could be aged by the rings staining their surfaces. The only person happy to be there was Greg, our self-designated quizmaster. Wearing a tie covered in question marks, he resembled a white-collar variant of the Riddler.
‘Don’t forget, the winning team shares a dinner for two at Vue de Monde,’ he beamed, repeating the sales pitch he’d carpet-bombed our inboxes with for the past month. ‘This will be our best quiz night yet.’
Greg’s pledge was immediately broken when I was paired with Darren Jenkins, a lumbering investment banker with ruddy cheeks and cufflinks inscribed with ‘JFDI’.
‘It’s because my approach to making deals is like Nike’s,’ he’d explain to anyone who’d ever asked him about the acronym. ‘Just F’ing do it.’
People submitted their team names, most choosing cringey puns from Google. Darren proudly christened us the Woozy Bankers. I looked wistfully across the room to Hannah, the girl from Accounting with whom I traded witty emails at the end of each financial quarter. Why couldn’t we be teammates?
Round 1 was a disaster, with Darren fog-horning most of our answers to neighbouring tables. At the end of the round, we swapped our sheets with adjacent tables, and Greg read the answers aloud; the crowd whooped and groaned as if watching a Christmas pantomime. When we received our sheet back, Let’s Get Fiscal had penalised us half a mark for forgetting the squiggly line in São Paulo.
‘Details matter, Timothy,’ said Judy, shaking her head with genuine disappointment. I didn’t press the point; nobody ever won an argument against the Audit team.
We fared better in Rounds 2 and 3, mainly because Darren was busy flinging himself at waiters carrying trays of beers or satay skewers, allowing me to focus. The night nearly ground to a halt over Greg’s adjudication that Crowded House was an Australian band, not a Kiwi one. When the final scores were eventually tallied, the Woozy Bankers and the EXCEL-erators were tied in first place. A member of each was invited up to answer a tie-breaker question. With Darren wrestling someone for the final pork slider, I rose to face my opponent, Hannah. We shared an embarrassed smile. The question was the distance between Earth and Saturn. Hannah’s guess was half a galaxy nearer the truth than mine, and Greg proudly awarded her the voucher like a novelty cheque at a golf tournament.
‘Congratulations,’ I said, awkwardly offering her a Covid-Safe elbow bump. ‘The food is supposed to be terrific.’
‘Nigel has already been,’ said Hannah, nodding to her teammate at their table, who was yawning and checking his watch. ‘Perhaps you and I could go together?’
It was the easiest question of the night.
© Matthew S. Wilson, July 2021