XEROX, MY A**!
© Clare London
Reuben stared in astonishment at the sight that greeted him in the restroom: two of his staff in a state of distress and no sign of the third member of his team.
Sam, Reuben’s deputy manager, leant against the sink, nursing his fist. “You’re looking for Chas? He’s in the end cubicle and he won’t come out,” he sighed. “I’ve hammered on the door for ages; do you think I’ve broken a bone in my hand?”
“Quit moaning,” came another voice from the far end of the room. Kent, the office manager, was sitting back on his heels in front of the farthest cubicle door, peering with keen interest at a half broken file in his hand. The other half was lodged in the lock of the cubicle which – incidentally – remained tightly shut. “I’m impressed by the robustness of these locks,” he mused, with professional admiration.
“For God’s sake,” Reuben growled, looking between the pair of them. “What’s going on? I’ve had to reschedule the conference call, with half the department missing.” He turned his glare towards the closed cubicle door. “Chas, can you hear me in there? Don’t be childish! Come out at once!”
Kent shook his head, ruefully. “He won’t talk to you. I just put my foot through the gap under the door and he stabbed me with the broken handle of a toilet brush. He’s a man on the edge, it seems. I say we leave him there and get the hell out to safety.”
Reuben shook his head. There was concern in his eyes as well as impatience. “What’s the problem? Does anyone know?”
The other guys exchanged nervous glances. Sam shrugged. “He’s locked himself in the men’s room in some kind of ridiculous hysteria. What more’s to know?”
Kent frowned at him. “I heard Chas was locked in, but because there’d been some kind of trouble in the copy room.”
“Well yes, of course, I heard about -” began Sam and the two other pairs of eyes swivelled around to glare at him. “Nothing,” he said, rather weakly.
“Tell me,” said Reuben.
“No, seriously, I don’t know anything really -”
“Tell me,” repeated Reuben, his tone deceptively calm but with the kind of edge to it that implied any further repeats would be accompanied by a swift return to the unemployment office, and probably bloodshed, not necessarily in that order.
Sam paled and swallowed convulsively. “It was just a joke gone wrong, or so I understand. It was for your birthday, Reuben.”
“My…?” Reuben looked nonplussed.
Sam looked around wildly for some saviour to rescue him, but Reuben had barricaded the men’s room from the rest of the office staff while this issue was resolved. “He was just taking a picture for you, Reuben. Copying something to give to you. Something for fun.” His voice was getting progressively higher.
Over in the cubicle there was a strangled groan.
“A picture? What of?”
Sam tried unsuccessfully to blend himself into the tile work. “Of him. You know… since you started dating. He thought you could have a picture of him… keep it with you as a keepsake. A souvenir… a…”
“I understand the concept,” said Reuben, coldly. “Why are you making those faces? Are you constipated?”
Kent had got to his feet and was watching the exchange with amusement. “Yes, come on, Sam, tell him why you’re making those faces.”
Sam glared at his colleague. He looked back at Reuben, very flushed by now. “It was… sort of intimate,” he babbled.
“Intimate.” Reuben made it sound like a criminal sentence.
There was a gargle from the cubicle.
“Loosen up, Reuben,” Kent said. “It was just a bit of fun.”
Reuben ignored him, still peering at Sam. “In what way intimate?”
Sam squirmed. He felt like a bug caught on a pin. Kent was meant to have been helping him out, helping to get Chas out, but there didn’t seem to be much support coming from that direction now, and, by God, if he ever escaped from this with his limbs and his career intact, he’d make someone pay…
“Chas took a picture of his butt,” he sighed.
There was a sudden silence in the restroom that would have been worthy of a cathedral.
Reuben’s voice broke into it with perfect, chilling clarity. “And how did he achieve this?”
Kent coughed rather too loudly into his sleeve. He appeared to have a sudden interest in the ceiling, examining the poor quality of the fluorescent light fittings.
Sam wanted to weep but thought it inappropriate. It wasn’t like he expected any corporate mercy. “He sat up on the Xerox machine. Pressed the copy button.”
“Without his pants on?”
“Pretty obvious, that,” muttered Kent, rolling his eyes.
“To take a picture for me?”
“I know, I know,” Sam was babbling now. “Absolutely mad, I know, he said it was a reminder of his student days, or something like that, he was grinning at the time, even though he had to wriggle to get on, and then half his left buttock was on the copy tray, but -” He paused, his mouth clamping shut. Reuben was laughing. Loudly; without restraint. So hard that he was doubled up, tears in his eyes, hands pressed on his knees. “Reuben? Are you OK?”
“The Xerox copier…” Reuben was hiccupping through his laughter. He started again. “The Xerox isn’t working properly, didn’t he know?”
Sam gaped at him. Kent snickered behind them. “Well, he does now.”
“There’s an electrical fault,” Reuben continued. “We’re waiting for the engineer to call. When you take a copy, the ancillary services come on as well, without warning; without request.”
“Print; copy; scan,” murmured Kent, as if he were reading from the brochure. As office manager, he probably had in the past. “Sort; Collate -”
“And staple,” Reuben finished.
“And staple!” came an anguished cry from inside the cubicle. “So why the hell didn’t anyone tell me?”
There was an abrupt click as the cubicle door was unlocked. A young man’s face appeared out of the gloom, hair tousled and the eyes wide and wild. There was a gentle tinkling sound as a few loose staples fell on to the linoleum.
“I’m thrilled to be the topic of everyone’s amusement,” came Chas’s furious, humiliated, pain-fuelled cry. “But who the fuck’s going to go and fetch me a cushion?”