It never boded well when Ted called everyone into work early. The sudden change in the schedule had Sam entertaining thoughts of skipping work all together, but he'd figured that it'd only give Ted license to be a bigger pain in the ass. It was easier just to go with it, and so Sam found himself slouching in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs dragged out for staff meetings. To his left sat Sock, who was apparently regretting last night's drinking games. Sam was feeling just a little smug about it- Sam: 1, Vodka: 0. But he tried not to rub it in. Much.
"Hey Sock," he said.
"hrumph." Sock was still unintelligible. Sam was undeterred.
"What happened to Ben?"
Sock slumped forward in his chair and scrubbed hard at his face with his hands, "gnurrrrughph," he said, pulling hard at his hair and then sitting up and slouching back in one uninterrupted movement.
" Nina's. Think." He peeked up at Sam with one bleary eye before shutting it again.
"Dude, you can't be that hungover."
"'s not right, Sam. 's Much too early. For Ted and his blahblahblah. I need my coffee, Sammy. Like a normal person. Coffee." He attempted to give Sam the puppy-eyes, but ended up resembling a bug-eyed gargoyle. Sam snorted and shook his head.
"There isn't any. Why didn't you make some at home?"
Sock mumbled something, closed his eyes and slumped down in defeat.
Ben sat down on the other side of Sock and said pointedly, "Because someone used up the last of it and didn't buy more." He reached down into his backpack and pulled out a shining silver thermos. He opened it and breathed in the decidedly coffee-scented steam rising lazily from within. Sam looked at him curiously, so he explained: "Nina made it for me. It's some sort of special demon coffee grown in Hell. It never gets cold and it's supposed to be as delicious as sin." Ben gazed off into nothing for a second, a smile on his face.
"How delicious would sin be, exactly?" Sock interjected, not even opening his eyes. Ben ignored him.
"Uh....Is that a good idea, Ben? Hell coffee?" Sam looked at the thermos with trepidation.
"Nina says that undiluted, it'll eat through the soft, fleshy tissues of a human's digestive system like acid, but for me she added some cream, sugar, and holy water. She said that should make it safe, as long as it's not mixed with alcohol." Sam gave him a worried look. Ben added, "Also, the thermos looks cool."
Sock cracked open an eye. "Gimme some coffee, Benji," he said, sitting up. Ben clutched the thermos to his chest protectively. "Nina gave me this. It's my special coffee."
"Ben, come on, Ben. You know we're out at the house. And it's Ted, man. It is too early to deal with Ted."
"You should have bought more coffee, then."
"Don't be like that. You know me. When have I ever been the buy-it guy? And you totally owe me, after I helped you clean the rabbit cage."
"You put the cage- with King Charlie still inside- in the trash! On garbage day! That is not helping!"
"The rabbit had it coming! Tell him, Sammy!"
"I am so not getting involved with this," Sam said, raising his hands, but looking amused.
Sock rubbed his face with his hands again, and gazed longingly at the thermos through his fingers. He suddenly flailed an arm towards it, hoping to catch Ben unawares.. Ben jumped back, toppling half way out of his chair, and squirmed around, trying to keep the thermos as far out of Sock's grip as possible.
"Cut it out! You can't have my coffee, Sock!"
Sock, with a desperation only known to the coffee-deprived, grabbed Ben's legs and tried to pull him forward enough that he could reach the coffee. Ben kicked out at him, catching him in the stomach. Sock made a sound suspiciously like, "oof!" and let go. Ben, no longer anchored in place, suddenly toppled sideways on to the floor. Ben clutched at his thermos protectively.
He looked up to find that Ted was standing over him, smirking.
"Mr. Gonzales. Horseplay is not appropriate here at the Bench." He snatched the thermos out of Ben's grasp before he could even think to protest. He opened it up, gave it a delicate sniff and added, "Where did you get this? This is heaven in a cup, my friend." But he didn't wait for a reply before swaggering off.
Ben was dumbstruck at his sudden misfortune. He gazed longingly at his lost coffee, something akin to a pout starting to crawl across his face.
Sock leaned over and offered him a hand up.
"Tough break, Benji, tough break." Sock looked sympathetic for a moment before an evil grin surfaced. "Hey, look on the bright side, maybe it wasn't diluted enough and Ted will choke on it and die." The idea was obviously appealing enough to pull Sock out of his hangover-and-early-morning induced bad mood.
Ben scowled and pushed himself off the floor. "I'm not talking to you, Sock," he said, straightening out his seat and sitting down again. He attempted a manly scowl.
"If you want to be a little girl and wahwhahwah about it, fine. Whatever." Sock crossed his arms and turned to face the front of the room.
Sam rolled his eyes but said nothing.
A sudden CRACK sent the assembled employees jumping, jolted out of their usual stupor. Sock and Ben were startled out of their respective pouting sessions. Russell, who had been gazing off in a glazed-eyed way was looking around, wide-eyed and paranoid. Sam's shock was delayed; his first assumption had been that the Devil was screwing with him. He was more surprised to discover that it was merely a steel-yardstick-wielding Ted. He relaxed, though he was the only one to do so. Andi shot him an inquiring look, as if to ask if he knew what this was about. Sam shrugged. Whatever Ted was planning, it was almost certainly going to be short on mortal peril and long on boredom. Sam was OK with that.
Ted smacked the yardstick against the white erase board again, and satisfied that he finally had everyone's attention, set it down. He folded his hands behind his back, and leaned forward. All in all, he resembled nothing more than a very camp general surveying his troops.
"People," he said, "it has recently come to my attention...and Corporate's.... that the Bench has of late become unacceptably accident-prone. There have been some concerns about....pending lawsuits, and of course, the general health and safety of all our employees. As is incidentally mandated by OSHA." He spun on his heels, and wrote "SAFETY" on the whiteboard. Turning back, he clapped his hands together. Sock winced.
He continued. "Many incidents have obvious- and moronic- causes. There isn't time today to go into detail about the past, but let's review, people. There is to be absolutely no smoking in prohibited areas." Ted glared at Mary Pat, who merely gave him a space-y smile and a little wave. "Restocking never involves throwing merchandise." He gave the entire group a hard look, took a deep breath, and went on. "All machinery is to be operated according to the procedures outlined in the manuals. That means no paint-shaking rodeos or any other unapproved uses of the equipment."
The last comment was directed at Sock, who made a face and pantomined blahblahblah with his hand.
Ted ignored him. "Large items, especially those stored on the upper racks, must be properly secured. We've had several incidents along those lines – that washing machine being the most memorable- and I will not have them continue under my watch. Violations will result in immediate suspension- and pending review, unemployment. I know that many of you have either ignored or misused the accident-report forms – that includes you, Mr. Wysocki- and that will stop now." His voice had been rising in volume and pitch as he went on. "We are going to document! Each! And Every! incident as accurately as possible." He twitched. "And we will review them at our new weekly safety meetings, to discuss, analyze, and resolve." He wrote "discuss, analyze, resolve" on the board, and then underlined them twice, before turning around and glaring at the assembled masses for a minute. "Now get to work, people. Try to avoid rampant acts of stupidity. I will be watching."
With that, the ragtag group reluctantly and unevenly shambled out of the break room. Sock and Ben stayed in their seats, haggling over the price of forgiveness. Sam lingered just outside the door, discretely watching Ted take a sip of Ben's coffee. Andi came up from behind him and peaked around his shoulder and into the room.
"Ted still sneaks Bailey's into his coffee, doesn't he?" he asked her, not moving, his eyes still on Ted.
Sam watched as Ted looked furtively around, and the opened a tiny bottle and dumped the contents into Ben's thermos.
Sam ran back into the room.
Ted startled and then glared at Sam. "What is it now, Mr. Oliver?"
"Uhhm," Sam stammered. "It's Andi! Uhm. She just uh tripped on some loose cables. I think she may have broken something."
"What?" Ted said, stricken. He set the coffee down and began a panicked search for the proper forms and the first aid kit, in that order. Andi winked at Sam through the door and then scampered off to go find a convenient place to have an "accident". and hurried out.
"Huh," Sock remarked, shamelessly eavesdropping. "Ted looks like he's got a stick up his ass even when he's running."
Ben got up and reached past Sam to reclaim his coffee. Sam snatched it out of his reach.
"Hey, it's my coffee."
"I don't think you want to drink this, Ben," Sam said nervously. He tipped it forward so that Ben could see inside. The coffee was bubbling ominously.
"Ah," said Sock, wandering over, "a little of the..." as he pantomimed a little drink spiking.
"Nina did say it shouldn't be mixed with alcohol. Although I thought she was just looking out for me."
"What do we do with it?" Sam asked.
"Pour it down the sink," Sock suggested.
"But what if it's toxic? That does not look environmentally friendly."
Sam shrugged. "We can't let Ted drink it."
"Or maybe we can. Come on. Let's see what happens when Ted drinks it."
The faint sounds of barely audible but inventive cursing drifted through the door.
"He's coming back, Sam," Ben interjected, his tone just a little frantic.
Sam stumbled over to the sink and dumped the coffee down the drain. He dropped the thermos on the counter, and ran back over to Sock and Ben, who were doing their best to look innocent.
Ted stormed into the break room like a very small and vengeful thunder cloud. He did not so even as much as draw breath before launching into angry lecture about gross incompetence, juvenile pranks, and the seriousness of health and safety regulations. Ben and Sock moved to sidle out of the room and leave Sam to his fate. As quick as a striking snake, Ted turned on Sock and demanded, "Just where do you think you're going, Bert?"
"Out, Ted. You know, to work."
"After that little stunt? You're lucky I don't just fire you!"
Ted looked smug.
"Your little friend Andi ratted you out."
Sock looked thunderstruck.
Ted continued on his rant, this time clearly directing it at Sock, and evidentially feeling very satisfied with himself.
Ben looked at Sam inquiringly, and Sam just quirked a small grin. It looked liked Andi had found a way to get her revenge on Sock. His good humor did not last long, however. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of the floor...sizzling. He clutched Ben and gestured frantically at the sink. They could only look on in horrified fascination as the coffee dripped down from the remainder of the sink's drain pipe and on to the floor, where it was melting the linoleum.
Ted had resumed his pacing in front of the door, oblivious to everything but the sound of his own voice. Sock looked over at Ben and Sam, and made a "WTF" face at Sam and Ben's obvious horror. While Ted's back was turned, Sam and Ben pointed frantically at the remains of the coffee. Sock shrugged at them. Sam threw his arms up, clearly meaning to say, What are we going to do? He dropped his arms in a hurry as Ted turned back around.
Their silent conversation continued in that fashion, all furious gestures and exaggerated expressions while Ted was facing the other way, dropping down just as quickly to inexpressive feigned attention when Ted could see them.
When Ted was once again facing Sock, Ben mouthed, distraction? Sock waved an arm around vaguely to indicate that he had nothing, and then pointed at Sam before lifting his hand up to his face and wriggling his fingers at his temple. Sam rolled his eyes.
Sam turned to Ben, who just shrugged helplessly, shaking his head. He didn't have any ideas. Sam made a face at Sock.
It was stupid. The only times he'd ever tried anything with the stupid devil powers, either nothing happened or backfired spectacularly. Sometimes both. Either way, it was a bad idea. This must have been clear on his face, as when Ted turned back around again, Sock shrugged and gestured again in a way that Sam interpreted as it's not like we've anything to lose. Sam waited until Ted was facing away again before sighing and making a show of his acquiescence.
Sock gave Sam an impatient look and gestured again. Get on with it.
The truth was that Sam had no idea how it worked. If it hadn't been for things Tony had said and of course, the whole "almost-buried-alive" thing, Sam would have happily continued assuming that it was just another practical joke on the Devil's part. Actually, he wasn't too sure that it wasn't still just the devil fucking with him. But he'd give it a try, and then after it failed, they could try and think of something else. Maybe Andi could mount a rescue. Sam looked around for ideas, and then caught sight of the security system. Go off, go off, go off he thought at it. As expected, nothing happened. He looked over at Sock, who clearly wasn't buying it. Ben caught his eye and mimed taking a deep breath and concentrating. Sam looked back over at the security system. He looked at it until he went cross eyed and tried again. Nothing happened. He shrugged again. Sock began to wave his arms around enthusiastically, but was interrupted by the clearing of a throat.
Ted's throat, to be precise. He'd apparently left off his ranting and pacing a full minute before, and none of them had noticed.
SHIT! Sam thought.
"Gentlemen," Ted said, preparing to launch back into a truly epic lecture. But he got no further, because at that very moment, the sprinklers went off, sending down torrents of dirty, rust-red water.
After a second of blank, staring, shock, all four of them ran out of the break room and into the wet, wet chaos outside. Customers and staff alike were stampeding for the exit. A few of the more lazy staff members had simply appropriated umbrellas (on special that week for $9.99) and milled around like normal. Sam, Sock, and Ben joined the crowd making for the exits. Ted ran around in desperate little circles, calling for someone to find the shut-off valve.
Outside it was sunny and unusually warm. Sam stood, dripping, just outside the Bench and watched dumbly as both people and water continued to flood out the doors.
Sock came up to him and slapped him hard on the back. He was grinning so hard his face looked like it was about to split in two. "Well done, man! That was AWESOME! I gotta go find a camera." And he ran off.
Sam turned to Ben, who was staring at the Bench bemusedly.
"I wonder if I could get Nina to make me more of that coffee," he said.