"Root beer guy." That's what Dale had always called Burt in his internal monologue. He occupied a similar space in Dale's mind with "Too much makeup" lady, "I always go tanning" guy, and "I always talk about horses" lady. Burt was one of the ever-present background characters of the office, his only differentiating trait a bottle of root beer. And even though he was a net-admin and Dale worked helpdesk, their paths had never really crossed.
That all changed one day when groups from the two departments went out together for lunch. This moniker Dale had assigned to Burt was reinforced when the both lined up when they were about to buy their tacos. "Anything to drink?" the taco-hawking seductress asked.
"No thanks," Burt said with a smile, raising his characteristic bottle of root beer and gently shaking it. "I brought my own." He was the type of person that you either found charming or irritating, but never both.
"So, uh," Dale interjected. "What's the story with the root beer?"
Burt chuckled warmly. "My only vice," he said, holding the bottle near his heart. Dale was more of a Yoo-Hoo man himself, but always considered drinks (like politics and religion) a topic best decided on one's own.
The following day, Dale got a visit from his new friend. "Hey Dale, I got a work order to fix this printer right by your cube!"
"Oh, great. Hey, I'd love to talk, but I've gotta get this fil-"
"Yeah, so how've you been?" Burt cut in. It was actually a rhetorical question, as Burt then launched into a monologue about how he had been.
Dale's eyes shifted back and forth from Burt to his monitor. It would've been clear to anyone other than Burt that he was annoyed. After a few minutes, Burt took the last remaining sip of his root beer, held the bottle upside down over his mouth and smacked the bottom some, and with a disappointed "Aw, man," screwed the cap back on the empty bottle. "Mind if I run and grab a refill?"
Dale certainly didn"t mind, and looked forward to five minutes of silence. Forty five minutes later and still seeing the printer in pieces, Dale got a little concerned. He pictured Burt cheerfully pressing the button for his favorite beverage, and the drink machine just collapsing on him. He asked his cubicle neighbor if she had see Burt.
"No, not since you two were talking earlier." Odd. Dale swung by the drink machine just in case, and fortunately there was no flattened Burt in the room. He probably just took a late lunch, Dale reasoned.
Hours later, Dale had all but forgotten about Burt's mysterious disappearance when suddenly- CreeeeeeeeeeeBANG! "Sh–t." Dale jolted out of his seat, spinning around to catch a glimpse of Burt, scrambling to pick up the cubicle wall that he'd just fallen into. Impressively, he was still clutching his root beer. The look in Burt's eyes revealed that gears were turning — he was probably trying to think of whether to play it cool like the wall had fallen on its own or just to apologize for his near-tragic level of klutziness. The wall would no longer stand on its own, so he discreetly used another cubicle wall to prop it up. "I'll just be..." Burt took a sip of root beer. "On my way..." He turned to leave and stumbled again, but this time managed to gracelessly recover his footing.
Did You Hear?
Some weeks later, Dale was out to lunch with Brad — a network administrator that worked with Burt. "So that's pretty crazy about Burt, huh?" Brad said.
Dale raised his left eyebrow and curiously asked, "Wait, what do you mean?"
"You didn't hear? I thought you two were all buddy-buddy!"
Well, Burt seemed to think so, Dale thought, as he shrugged his shoulders and turned his hands over.
"You know the root beer that he was always drinking," Brad continued. Dale was certainly aware and had even pictured that Burt's fridge was stocked with nothing but rows and stacks of root beer. “and, you know how he'd disappear for hours at a time?"
"Yeah..." Dale had always wondered what Burt was up to, but now he was feeling a little uncomfortable. This wasn't going to be good.
"Well, we followed him one day on one of his 'breaks.' It turns out that he was leaving the office, walking to his car, and mixing Vodka in with his root beer. We smelled one of the bottles he'd thrown away — it smelled powerful."
Dale remembered all of their previous encounters, and not once had he seen Burt unaccompanied by his "root beer." Dale asked what happened once they found out.
"Well, I didn't know what to do." Brad's tone lowered and he looked down at the table uncomfortably. "I eventually just reported it to our lead, who reported it to his boss, who then took it to HR."
Dale then realized that he hadn't seen Burt in a while. "So he was fired on the spot?"
"Not exactly," he responded, "they wanted to 'talk to him' about it."
Brad looked over his shoulder to see if anyone else they worked with was within earshot, and continued softly "but, the next morning, I stopped by his cube to say 'hi.' When I got close, I saw his legs sticking out into the aisle. He was laying on his side, the root beer bottle was near his hands and spilled across the floor, and he was completely passed out. I'm pretty sure he had mistaken the floor plant for a urinal, too."
Dale wasn't quite sure how to respond, and muttered "whoa."
"Yeah," Brad said uncomfortably. He cleared his throat and then said, "we never really saw him after that."