One day about thirty years ago a janitor employed by the Stuttgart City Council secreted some office supplies out of the building he cleaned. He carried them into his home — fresh paper, pens and markers — and stacked them all with meticulous care in a corner, so that the labels on the boxes, visible and right-side-up, reported their contents to him.
Then he stood and surveyed them and reflected, just what they represented to him. They were a little like bullets — munitions in the close-combat of trade. They had belonged to the city. But now they were his.
Somehow and for some reason, they made him feel good. They represented some form of victory. Perhaps at first it was nothing more than a simple defiance of authority. Perhaps, too, it was a measure of security against some future scarcity or hardship. Whatever it was, it was probably the only thing in his life that was truly his because it was his secret. He, a faceless city employee, was unique in all the world because he alone owned this secret.
The next day he spirited home more office supplies. He stacked them on top of the boxes from the day before. He experimented with different arrangements — upright, flat, alphabetically, by size, by weight — and reflected upon the space they occupied and the space he had available. He decided to separate them; pens in this corner, paper and markers over there. He would need to leave some open space for himself, so he could inspect and inventory them all. They would only be fully his, after all, as long as he was in control of them. There had to be order.
Over the next few weeks he filled the room. He moved the furniture out but this was quite temporary. He reckoned that the objects with the greatest bulk, which were reams of fresh new paper, would soon occupy the entire room, leaving space for nothing else. So he moved everything else out. This would be the paper room.
He could see where this was heading; he cleared his attic and his basement. They would be ready when he needed them.
He began to bring home cleaning supplies as well as office equipment: toilet brushes, mops, buckets and brooms. With time he became more confident and he brought home larger objects like ladders and trash cans. He pondered the implications, storing liquid detergents and disinfectants. Some of these were flammable. He decided to build a shed behind the house to store volatile liquids.
And so it went for about thirty years. You’re thinking, this is fiction, but you are mistaken because it all actually happened.
As reported in the Stuttgarter Zeitung, suspicious neighbours finally notified the police, who upon entering were astonished at the enormity of the find. The janitor, who retired in 2007, has been taken into custody, where he remains. The police have not released his name.
“We have no explanation of how it happened,” a spokesperson for the City Council said, “or why. He did not seem interested in selling any of it”.
Police filled three trucks with twenty-five tonnes of stolen supplies, which are estimated to be worth up to a quarter of a million Euros. The City Council are still conducting an inventory. “Most of it,” said a spokesperson, “is as good as new and can still be used.”
The janitor, aged sixty-nine, has made a full confession to the theft but declines to say what his motive was.