The smell of chloroform is not the sort of thing you want to catch a whiff of in the gents.
Dizzy from the ether-like anaesthetic clinging to his face, Anthony felt bleary. There was a post-it note on the back of the toilet cubicle door with words scrawled in permanent marker: ‘Think about what you’ve done.’
This was the first thing Anthony saw as he awoke with his hands bound with sellotape, his back against the cistern and his mouth sealed shut.
He shuffled his bum on the lid of the toilet seat, struggling to remember exactly how he had got here. Was he an abductee? Had he been raped? Nope. His trousers were still on.
Then it occurred to him. Just twenty minutes earlier, Anthony had been sat fully-clothed on the loo checking his iPhone, taking a prolonged and deliberate rest from the tedium of his Call Centre job.
Suddenly, into the toilet had burst his boss Dave, kicking the cubicle door open and startling Anthony enough to drop his phone on the floor.
‘WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE PLAYING AT?’ Dave barked at him, tapping his watch impatiently. ‘You know the rules, Anthony: you’re only permitted to take a 10 minute comfort break from the phones. You’ve been here for almost half an hour…’
As a boss, Dave was a notoriously hard task-master, but he also had a reputation for playing pranks and japes on Call Centre staff if the need called for it. Mostly, this was to keep up team morale, but it also meant he was a very complicated personality to figure out.
On the one hand, Dave understood the need for levity to keep spirits up. On the other, he expected work should be done and targets be met, no matter what the human cost may be (as evidenced by the countless sackings under his tenure).
This, however, was the worst Anthony had ever seen him. Dave’s face was claret red, pulling Angry Bird eyebrows to the max, his expression stern.
‘S-s-sorry boss,’ said Anthony, reaching down to pick up his iPhone from the floor.
Dave kicked the smartphone away from him, sending it skidding across the tiles.
‘Sorry?!’ his boss remarked. ‘Sorry’s not good enough — this is fucking unacceptable. This is company time you’re eating into, you little shit, I’ve got a good mind to–’
‘–Look, I’m sorry, okay?’ Anthony interjected. ‘If you must know it’s my birthday today, alright? I was just – checking my notifications to thank my friends and family… they’re messaging me to make plans for tonight… That’s all.’
‘Oh,’ his boss said. ‘That’s all, is it? Well, happy fucking birthday to you. You’re getting lazy in your old age, aren’t you? You’re a fucking man-child, shutting yourself away in the loo to thumb your stupid Fisher-Price plaything…’
‘It’s an iPhone.’
‘I know it’s an iPhone, dickhead. Do I look like a fucking moron?’ Dave gave Anthony his usual death stare. ‘That’s it. I didn’t really want to do this, but you leave me no choice…’ With that, Dave reached into his pocket and hurriedly pulled out a damp handkerchief.
Anthony’s eyes darted wide open. Dave speedily smothered the white rag over Anthony’s face. Understandably, there was a struggle.
Trying to fight back, Anthony clawed at Dave’s forearms with his legs flailing.
‘It’s sleepy-byes for you, little man,’ said Dave. Anthony felt his muscles starting to weaken, a tiring impulse swiftly took over. ‘Time to put you into sleep mode…’ he heard Dave say…
And that was all Anthony could remember.
Now fully awake after his semi-comatose slumber, Anthony tried to stretch out his limbs to make his ligaments click into motion again.
He conjured all the strength in his bones to snap the sellotape binding his wrists, but to no avail.
After ten minutes, he had almost given up all hope when he heard the toilet door creak open. He listened keenly to some footprints pacing outside his cubicle.
‘Hmmmmpphhhh,’ he groaned, trying to catch the stranger’s attention with his strained yet indecipherable plea for help.
The door swung open.
It was Dave again.
Only this time, he was holding a pair of scissors.
‘Well? Have you learnt your lesson?’ Dave asked.
Anthony glared at him for a moment.
Dave gave a sickly smile. He snapped the scissors open and shut. ‘Snip snip, my friend. Don’t keep me dangling. Have you thought about what you’ve done, you time-wasting, gadget-loving prick?’
Dave knelt down to meet his eye level.
‘Good. Because I’m gonna be honest with you… I’m not going to sack you. Not today. It is your birthday, after all. Believe it or not, I’m not a total wanker.’ Anthony raised a quizzical eyebrow. ‘You just need to learn that if you waste my time, trust me, I will fucking waste yours, okay?’
Anthony nodded again. Dave patted Anthony’s cheek like chastising a scolded child.
‘Okay. I’m going to untie you now, but if you breathe a word of this to anyone else in the office, I will dock your salary by 25% for slacking off. Understood?’
Dave used the scissors to cut open the sellotape, freeing Anthony’s hands instantly, then he ripped off the masking tape from the captive’s mouth in one fell swoop like a sticking plaster.
Gasping for breath, Anthony got to his feet and swallowed the anxiety bubbling up inside of him, in a woeful attempt to banish it deep down into his oesophagus.
‘Okay. Sorry, boss,’ Anthony mumbled, breathlessly. ‘Can I, uh, wash my hands?’
As far as words go, that was all he could muster. Dave smiled and stepped aside, letting Anthony pass by him.
Anthony walked over to the sink and twisted the tap on, rinsing his shaky hands under the running water. In the mirror, he could see Dave hovering behind him with his arms folded.
‘What you need to understand, Anthony, is there is no excuse for laziness. Even on your birthday.’
Turning around now, Anthony stood face-to-face with Dave and tried to air-dry his hands by waggling his fingers like an impatient manicurist.
‘But, for what it’s worth,’ Dave continued, ‘Many happy returns…’ He stretched out his hand and made an offer of a handshake.
Anthony took one look at Dave’s holier-than-thou visage and simply couldn’t take his smugness any longer.
‘Thanks but no thanks,’ Anthony replied, before head-butting Dave on the nub of his nose.
Blood burst from Dave’s nostrils with a pop and he screamed, dropping the scissors in shock.
Without hesitation, Anthony scooped up the scissors from the floor, grabbed them by the plastic handle, and plunged the metal blades into Dave’s leg.
The pitch of Dave’s scream shifted up a notch, making him sound like Eartha Kitt crooning at Christmas-time.
Dave buckled, but didn’t fall, so Anthony leapt up and rugby-tackled him, shoulder-barging Dave to the ground so both landed with a thud onto the porcelain floor next to the urinals.
Now writhing on the floor together, Anthony gut-punched Dave in his midriff several times over, the scissors still protruding from his boss’s thigh, with blood eeking out onto the tiles.
Dave started to retaliate, futilely attempting to clasp Anthony’s windpipe with both hands in a bid to strangle him, before being met with a donk on the nose by Anthony’s elbow.
What followed next was a flurry of frantic punches. Anthony’s knuckles reddened as he pounded Dave in the face, not once, not twice, but three times over.
His boss’s face was bleeding, dripping down like strawberry syrup onto the collar of his shirt.
‘You’ll fucking pay for this with your life, you bastard,’ muttered Dave, ‘I was only—’
‘Save it for later, shithead,’ said Anthony, looking over at the urinal to his side. ‘Eat some cake…’
Anthony picked up a urinal cake and shoved it into the gaping hole that was Dave’s mouth. He forced Dave’s jaw shut so he bit into it, making him gag almost immediately.
Spluttering, Dave spat out the urinal cake and started to heave, doubling over in pain.
Anthony stood up slowly and ambled over to pick up the iPhone which Dave had kicked across the toilet floor earlier. He put it back in his pocket.
He watched as Dave writhed around like a slug covered in table salt – a helpless, quivering mess.
Resisting a final chance to look back at his bloodied boss, Anthony hurriedly made for a quick exit and nudged open the toilet door.
Outside, dozens of Anthony’s fellow Call Centre workers were waiting for him, all dressed in party hats. They had prepared a chocolate birthday cake for him (his favourite) with candles already lit and party banners held aloft.
Smiling broadly with Cheshire cat grins, everybody let out a cheer and when they saw Anthony re-emerge from the loo like some kind of freed hostage.
‘SURPRISE!’ they all yelled in unison, pulling strings of party poppers and laughing loudly, bursting into applause, whooping and whistling.
Flinching slightly as the confetti from the poppers rained down on him, Anthony blinked as he heard the guffaws of joy erupt in the room. He saw other makeshift signs saying ‘LOL’ and ‘BEST PRANK EVER!’ until a creeping realisation snuck up on him.
Oh shit. Was this all supposed to be one big practical joke? Was the chloroform – however distasteful as it was – just a ploy to spring a surprise birthday party on him?
The cheers gave way to awkward silence as his colleagues noticed Anthony’s bloodied fists and ripped shirt lapel.
Having just stabbed his boss with a pair of scissors and force-fed him a urinal cake, this was going to take some explaining.
Clearly, the joke was now on him. Only now, for obvious reasons, none of this seemed quite so funny anymore…
© 2017 Luke Edley
Poet, humorous fiction writer and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.