“Jones, you need to report to the Finance Director – pronto!”
Evans was positively out of breath and – remarkably – appeared to have been running. Regarding his breathless colleague with a raised eyebrow, Jones responded with a lazy wave of his hand, before straightening the papers on his desk. Calmly finishing his tea, he reached into the top drawer and pulled out a tie which he slung casually across his shoulder. Evans regarded him with growing alarm, probably totally unaware that he was hopping nervously from foot to foot. When Jones finally made for the corridor, Evans followed with some relief. Then, just as all appeared to be going to plan, he was horrified to see Jones taking a sharp left into the gents.
“No, no, noooooo…”
Wringing his hands in the corridor as he regarded the door, visibly unable to make up his mind what to do, Evans finally pushed the door open, only to find Jones whistling as he adjusted his flies.
“Jones, you must come now…” his voice now almost a squeak, beads of sweat appearing on his forehead.
“Just a mo old son, got to wash my hands you know.”
Jones indicated the sign on the wall with a wink and proceeded to wash his hands in a most deliberate manner. Visibly breathing hard, Evans had resumed hopping from foot to foot. Anyone watching would have had serious concerns for his health when Jones started to fiddle with his tie – tying it and re-tying it multiple times. Finally, with a rueful smile, he turned back to Evans.
“Right you are, let’s get on with this then” and giving a little bow, he ostentatiously waved Evans ahead of him.
By now, Evans was so nervous, he walked down the corridor backwards, determined not to lose sight of Jones. Jones, of course, gave no warning of oncoming traffic – be that with person or… so the collision with the stationery trolley was particularly calamitous, spreading small items far and wide across the corridor. Jones, naturally, insisted they must stop to help, which caused Evans to return to hopping while also wringing his hands. Even though Jones was clearly enjoying himself enormously, they were waved on their way with a firm “I’ve got this, thanks.”
They managed the remainder of the walk to the Finance Director’s office without incident, mostly because all oncoming traffic were at considerable pains to avoid Evans. Some gave Jones an amused glance, yet others looked at him pityingly, but by far the greater number regarded him with what could only be described as contempt.
Now worrying that his joke may have backfired and wishing he’d put on his jacket, Jones stood back as Evans rapped nervously at the Finance Director’s door. Sticking his head round the door and announcing “Jones for you sir”, Evans fled without a backward glance. With no option but to face the music, Jones entered. He heard the barely repressed anger in the barked instruction “and shut the bloody door behind you!”
Shutting the door, Jones pulled up a chair and sat down, crossing his legs in an attempt to appear calm. But before he had a chance to speak, that anger was repressed no more and everyone within a wide radius heard the blast “no-one invited you to sit down Jones!”
Recoiling visibly, Jones jumped back to his feet and wondered what to do with his hands. Rejecting the option of putting them in his pockets, he wisely assumed the “at ease” stance with his hands clasped nervously behind his bank.
It would be misleading to call what Jones experienced that day a dressing down, for he was systematically torn apart with the only weapons the Finance Director had at his disposal – his famously sharp tongue. When he exited the office, Jones looked visibly shell-shocked. He’d not spoken a word, not a single one. It was abundantly clear to him that his point of view – let alone any excuses – were of no interest to the Finance Director. From his pallor, it was clear to all he knew he was lucky to still be employed.
Evans found him in the gents, and handed him a mug of hot sweet tea at the behest of one of the kinder first aiders. No more fooling around this time, Jones accepted the mug with a gratitude he couldn’t quite express. Evans waited as he drank it and shooed away anyone trying to use the gents, directing them to the next floor. Unusually, no-one complained, but then the word had probably spread far and wide.
Jones finally spoke “I really need a drink” which caused Evans to smile “I’ll get your coat shall I?” Returning with both coats, Evans slipped Jones quietly off the premises and sought out a pub. Not their local mind, for this conversation needed to be had where their colleagues wouldn’t find them.
Waiting till Jones had drained the first pint and had the second one in front of him, Evans finally asked the big question “so, what did you do?” The noise Jones made was somewhere between a strangled laugh and a sob.
“It was a joke you know – I heard he had a sense of humour.”
Now it was Evans’ turn to laugh – and he did so heartily and loudly. Finally composing himself, he asked “who told you that?” Jones named a mutual colleague, only to have Evans laugh again “you’ve been had lad, totally had. Come on then, give me the gory details…”
“My old car – the BM – was acting up and I was complaining about it one evening in the pub. He sympathised and asked me what I was thinking of replacing it with. I was chucking about the usual candidates, when he told me he saw me as someone who drove something with a bit more pzazz – something like a Porsche 911?”
Evans was giving him a quizzical look, so Jones replied “Naturally I said I didn’t think the company would pay the petrol, but admitted I’d love one – I mean, who wouldn’t? That’s when he suggested I both try it on a bit and play a little joke. Told me a mate of his had one and he could get me a month’s worth of petrol receipts. So I submitted those for my last month’s claim as he said it would give the old man a good laugh.”
“He didn’t tell you the friend of his with those petrol receipts was the FD then?”
Jones looked aghast.
“Or that the MD gave him a dressing down during a full Board meeting for even thinking he’d get away with claiming it as his company car?”
That second pint went down without even touching the sides.
Evans headed to the bar “You’ll be needing a whisky with that.”
Jones offered no argument.
© Debra Carey, 2021
Lt Goode sighed.
“What’s the matter Lois?” Lt Harris asked from the door.
“The matter is that.” Goode indicated a pile of paperwork with a belligerent chin, and somehow managed to look daggers at the stack at the same time. The laws of physics precluded spontaneous combustion or, failing that, the stack toppling from the pressure of disapproval, but it was a close-run thing. “I’d barely caught up with everything from the last incident and now there’s three times as much!”
Harris laughed in as sympathetic a manner as possible. “Isn’t that your job though? You must admit that you’ve had it pretty quiet until now.”
“Laugh it up fly-girl. Pretty much everything every one on this bucket o’ bolts does on a daily basis racks up a cost that has to be accounted for not to mention your salary – you’d be singing a different tune if you didn’t get paid on time. And you might not if I can’t get this lot sorted out.”
“Is it that serious?”
“Yes. The Chief Engineer may be the hero of the hour, but he and the skipper have turned the whole ship upside down with this emergency refit. Everyone is coming forward with claims for broken equipment or bits and pieces that have been requisitioned. This one’ the irate accountant flapped a piece of paper ‘is for knicker elastic! Knicker elastic! I have no idea what it was used for yet, so now I have to work out whether to just give them the two credits, or waste my time reading the nonsense and trying to work out if it’s true or not!” Lois Goode broke off with an hysterical squeak.
“Errm…this probably isn’t the best time to give you this then?”
“What. Is, It.?” Goode asked with icily murderous intensity.
“Well you know that I flew the marines to the first Roc-55?”
“I don’t think there’s a person on this ship that doesn’t.”
“No need to be catty. I…well…erm…I had to used some duct tape to hold somethings in place.”
“So? We carry that in stores.”
“Yeah…it was a bit last minute, and I had to use my own.”
Goode shot out a hand and snatched the piece of paper from her friend’s hand.
“Not just any duct tape then. You are a grown woman! Why do you even have Mr Men duct tape? Wait, I just remembered – I don’t care.” Goode carefully placed the expense claim at the bottom of the teetering stack of forms.
“Is there anything I can do to help, Lois?”
“Yes, you can get out of here!”
“I meant is there anything that we can do to help get the paper work sorted?”
“Yes, you can get out of here!”
Lt Harris, pilot, navigator, scourge of terrorists, fled.
“Petty officer!” The accountant yelled. “What are we going to do about this fleet of Roc-55s the skipper seems to have acquired?” Goode was on a short service commission. She’d thought she lucked out with a boring scientific survey to pay back the Navy for getting her off her back water planet and through one of the better universities available. She seemed to have found herself in a war-zone anyway though.
The petty officer scratched what little of his hair was left. “Well ma’am, time was they’d be counted as prizes and every man-jack on the ship would have got a bonus. Weighted by seniority o’course. Still, we’re talking hun’erds of years ago. Certainly never in the space navy.”
“Thank you for the history lesson” the accountant said caustically, “but what are we supposed to do now? How do we sort out the expenses we’re racking up, like all the fuel they’re using?”
“Yes ma’am, thank you ma’am, very good question ma’am.” He snapped his fingers and started rummaging in the filing cabinets for different forms. “We’ll shift the problem over to Fleet HQ ma’am, and this is how we’ll do it…”
“Well done, petty officer, I knew you’d have a plan.” Goode smiled for the first time in a week.
©David Jesson, 2021
Author’s Note – Things have been a bit hectic of late, so I’ve taken a rather loose interpretation of the prompt. The spirit is observed if not the letter that I’d imagined when I first suggested this prompt! This little story is also linked to a story that I’ve been delivering tweet by tweet all this year. I’ve been telling the story of Captain Alleyn and her spaceship since just before the New Year, with each daily installment inspired by the #vss365 prompt. Lt Goode is named in homage to one of my favourite sci-fi authors, with a riff on one of her (tertiary) characters.