Lawrence from IT had always seemed so quiet. We tried hard not to stare when he arrived one morning with two black eyes, a bandaged ear, and his hair dyed green. He avoided eye contact with us and sat at his desk, turning on his computer and staring at the display as if it were showing the latest Oscar winner.
My phone rang. I answered. “Hello, Julie Dawson, accounts.”
“Jules, where are the sales figures? They were supposed to be on my desk by nine!”
I suddenly remembered there was a big sales meeting at twelve. My mouth went dry and my stomach felt hollow. Due to problems with my family and trying to find the rent, I’d totally forgotten the urgency of this week’s figures. “Sorry Janet, I … I’d forgotten you needed them earlier. I … I haven’t quite finished.”
“Well, I need them by eleven at the latest!”
“I’ll have them finished by then, they’re … they’re almost done.” Not exactly true but hopefully it’d keep her sweet.
“Another thing, Julie. The printer here’s playing up. Print them out and bring them to my office. Before eleven!” She hung up.
I kept my head down, working solidly on the figures, vaguely aware of the green head opposite peering around from time to time. Once, I looked up and found myself in eye contact with Lawrence. I blushed furiously and returned to my task.
I looked at the clock. Ten fifteen. Then at the spreadsheet I was working on. I felt a hot flush sweeping over me. Sweating profusely, I became aware of someone standing before me. I looked up at Lawrence.
“Julie, don’t ask. But you look stressed. Can I help?”
“Jan wants the sales figures by eleven or I’m in the shit. I’m only up to week two.”
“E-mail me the raw data for week four. I’ll compile the figures for you. That help?”
“That’d be fantastic, Lawrence. I owe you one.”
“It’s fine, Julie, don’t worry about it” He smiled, exuding friendliness and camaraderie, such that I quite forgot his appearance. I admitted to myself that I’d always rather fancied him, but he was engaged – to Maureen in shipping.
The clock showed ten thirty and I was ready to print out my three weeks’ worth of figures. Hopefully, Lawrence had done his one week. Then my heart sank. Two police officers had entered the office, down at the far end and appeared to be making a beeline for him. Without me being able to check on his progress, they escorted him to a side office and he was now locked into an interview with them.
I went over to his computer and found the file he’d been working on. Bless him, there was only one column of data left to be analysed. It’d take me no more than five minutes. The phone rang on my desk. I deliberated, then walked across and answered.
“Jules, I know I said eleven but I’ve had old man Kowalski on the blower, chewing my ear off. He wants to look those figures over pronto, before the big guns get together. Where are you with them?”
“Ten minutes max, Janet, I’ve just got a couple of columns left, then all ready to print.”
“OK, don’t be late!” She hung up.
Trying to stall a rising panic, I went over to Lawrence’s desk to find a blank screen. I hit a button and, to my horror, a log-in screen came up. Oh, my God. What was his bloody password? I tried a few likely ones, then started to ransack his desk, looking everywhere in vain for a list of password hints. The clock showed ten thirty-five. Nothing for it. I ran to the office where he was being interviewed, knocked on the door and entered without waiting for a reply. “I’m sorry to interrupt but I need Lawrence – Mr. Marsh’s – password. It’s urgent.”
The officers looked nonplussed. “Er, sorry, madam, this is an official interview ….”
Lawrence interrupted, red-faced. It’s ‘paper lace,’ all one word, but ‘fours’ instead of ‘a’s. Paper is uppercase, lace is lowercase.”
“Paper lace. That was a crummy pop group in the seventies!”
He looked sheepish. “Well, my mum liked them ….”–
A few minutes later, back at my desk, I hit the print button, wiped the sweat off my face with a tissue and took three deep breaths. I’d made it! With my hands still shaking, I went into a side room where the printer lived and, instead of the sizeable pile of sheets I’d expected, was dismayed to see a flashing ‘out of paper’ light. Shit!
I went to a nearby stationery cupboard. There were normally two or three boxes of paper, ten reams per box. But today there were none. I raced out of the door to the next office and crashed into Janet.
“For God’s sake, Julie, look where you’re going!” She glared at me. “Where’s that report?”
“The machine’s out of paper, I just need to get some more.”
A phone went in Janet’s hand. “Hello … yes, Greg … yes, I’m getting it now … I know you did … yes, I know, sorry … yes, five minutes, Greg, sorry.” She turned to me. “I don’t want excuses, Julie, you’re on a warning. One more and you’ll be picking up your papers. Understand?”
I’d been sent to help out in the copy room till lunchtime, photocopying mind-bogglingly boring reports with Freda, the company gasbag, a lady with nothing good to say about anyone. I was so glad to get out of there at lunchtime I headed into the high street, giving the canteen a miss. I eyed O’Neill’s bar longingly. But I daren’t go back intoxicated, even slightly, unless I wanted to pick up my papers at five o’clock!
“Hello, Julie.” It was Lawrence.
“Oh, hi. Thanks for your help. Got there in the end, but that old cow, Janet, gave me a sodding warning!”
“What d’you mean?”
“After the police left, she called me in and said I’d been seen fighting and bringing the company into disrepute!”
“No! Well, yes, in a way. Two young black guys on bikes were trying to steal a girl’s mobile. I tried to stop them.” He smiled wryly. “I came off worse. But they didn’t get her phone.”
“Sounds like you should be getting a medal, not a warning!”
“That’s life, I suppose. Fancy a drink?” He gestured towards O’Neill’s.
“Aren’t you having lunch with Maureen?”
“Haven’t you heard? She’s ditched me for Roy.”
“Oh.” Roy was the shipping manager, a portly bachelor and arrogant man-about-town sort. But wealthy. My heart skipped a beat. “Oh, all right, why not?” What the hell, I’d just have a small pink gin, I could sober up in an hour. “You can tell me how you got your green hair!”
Lawrence laughed. “OK, but you won’t believe me!”
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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