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GERM Paperwork Saga: Part the Fourth

Staff Offices and Admin Suite

Johnson stalks in, yawning. "Good morning," to the papery floor, and then into her chair with her legs tucked under, shoulders twisting to get the best of the kinks out. Some couches are hard to sleep on. "The accountant will be here soon, but I'm going to do-"

Johnson sees her notes are gone for the staff. Hmn. A quiet smile plays about her mouth and she shuffles paperwork aside to plonk her elbows on the desk. Looks down. Dave wants power tools.

Johnson looks over. Uncle Bernard wants... burny things. She frowns. "I won't let him burn you," she says. Underneath her chair, the papers rustle affirmatively.Johnson pulls the notepad out of her drawer, gets out her green pen, and gets to work. There's twenty-five metres of forms to get through and people to answer. Might as well start on the first lot.

Johnson writes. And writes. And writes. And slowly, slumps over onto her desk and falls softly asleep. Beside her, the little stack of forms rises two thumbs high.

Ebenezer had quite a time finding his way into this area of the Bingo Hall. In fact, he's still not sure he's in the right place. That is, until he sees a sleeping Johnson. Quiet, he approaches.

Ebenezer frowns down at his black-and-white shoes. He's walkingon- on paperwork! Precious paperwork all over the floors! He turns his frown onto the sleeping Johnson. How dare she!

Ebenezer does his best to avoid crinkling the papers underfoot. Finally, he makes his way to the desk. Without a sound, he leans forward and squints into Johnson's ear. After half-a-pause, he yawps, "WAKE-WAKE UP, JOHNSON! WAKE UP!"

Johnson WAUGHS and flails, one hand on her breadknife and the other one smacking out, sending Ebenezer's spectacles flying across the room. "WHAT?" she bawls, flinging Ebenezer onto the floor as she springs up, chair knocked over.

Johnson stands, panting and glaring with a wicked-edged breadknife out, the sea of paper rustling and whispering around her boots. The grey eyesgleam. "What," she repeats. And then realises. "Oh. You twit."

Ebenezer yelps and curls indistinctly, defensively. At least the papers on the floor broke his fall.

Johnson's breadknife vanishes again, and she straightens her cap, dry-mouthed and suddenly croaky as the remnants of being asleep surge back into her head, alarm gone. Adrenaline under her bones, she says, "What the hell was that for, Nezer." Johnson says, "I need a cup of tea."

Johnson steps carefully over the paperwork and out of the room. Somehow, her deliberate steps are more violent than if she'd stomped out and slammed the door.

Ebenezer aaughs, pulling an awful, squinty-eyed face and hanging onto his nose with both hands. "Ow!" he declares, loud.

Ebenezer sits up and squints in the direction in which the blurry Johnson stomped off. "Oi!" He waits, listening for an answer.

Below Stairs

Johnson steps into the room and then stomps, boots clapping hard and dark across the flagstones towards the kettle. She sets about making a pot of tea, banging mugs down and breaking them and swearing dark and hard under her breath. Eventually, Johnson just pours the red teapot full of steaming water, heaps the tea leaves into a strainer-ball, pours an enormous amount of milk in and empties half a bowl of sugar onto the top. Claps the lid on, claps her hand on the spout and shakes it.

Johnson goes about the careful rituals of tea-making. Johnson finds an unbroken cup and pours from the dove-grey teapot, and tea floods out, scented and steaming. She pushes that over to Ebenezer.

Ebenezer accepts it with a mumbled "Thanks v-very much."

Johnson allows herself a small smile and steps back into the room with all the papers in it, leaving Ebenezer to follow.

Ebenezer trots along after, sipping at his tea.

Staff Offices and Admin Suite

Johnson steps back in, holding a red teapot in both hands, steam rising from the slender spout. She walks carefully over the forms and picks up her chair. Puts it gently down. Sits on it. Puts her mouth to the spout of the red teapot and drinks.

Johnson drinks tea. And ignores Ebenezer.

Ebenezer's head turns, following Johnson's movement across the room. He repeats for her benefit, "Ow."

Johnson tips her teapot back and keeps swallowing. Milk and honey, milk and sugar. Sugar crystals and tea. Tea. Hot and black and deeply warm, amber and brown and white, milk and honey and tea. Tea first. Problems later.

Ebenezer's ahrrm hrrm is more throaty than usual and less nasal. "Exc-cuse me," he says, but stops there.

Johnson swallows. She unplugs her mouth a moment. "You're excused," she says. Clamps her teeth around the spout again and closes her lips. Drinks tea.

Ebenezer growls. After a moment, he says, thick and stuffy-nosed, "Oh, I suppos-pose-pose you don't need an accoun-countant after all, mn?"

Johnson swallows again and then unplugs her mouth. "No," she says. "Not if you're going to be a twit. You can go away. I'll figure it out myself." She keeps her eyes on the high window above, the patch of blue, the sky swirling beyond. Drinks tea.

Ebenezer frowns down at the paper-white floor and then in Johnson's general direction. "Well, erm. Why-why don't you fetch my spectacles and I'll s-see about the files, then?" he tries.

Johnson finally turns to look at him. She takes the teapot out of her mouth and says, deliberately, evenly, "Why don't you fetch your own spectacles? They're right there."

Ebenezer hesitates, then requests (as stodgily as he can manage), "If you please."

Johnson considers him. And then- "Why did you shout in my ear?" she says, and her voice is calm and flatter than the papers beneath her boots.

Ebenezer must be cautious! "Erm. To-to wake you up," he answers. "Look-looked like you were, erm. D-deep sleep."

Johnson says, eyes very grey, "Do you wake Escemfer up like this when she's in a deep sleep?" Johnson asks, "Do you want to be woken up like this when you're in a deep sleep?"

Johnson says, "Shall I try, next time? I know where you live, Ebenezer."

Ebenezer grimaces. "Look! You-y-you-you're the one that-that asked me to come-to come over and sort out the papers. You were s-sleeping on the job!"

Johnson says, "I have been in this office all of yesterday, Ebenezer. I am allowed to sleep on the job because it is my job. I asked you to come and help me because I thought you would help. Now I am uncertain of this fact."

Ebenezer never would've thought in a million years that he might one day chance to meet an overworked Johnson. "Well, erm. I'll-I'll help if you bring me my spec-spectacles," he mumbles, tentatively pinching at his sore nose.

Johnson says, "I'm not sure if I want you to help anymore." Johnson drinks from her teapot. Johnson says, "I don't like people coming in and waking me like that."

Johnson says, "I apologise for hitting you on the nose. I will give you your spectacles back. Please go away." Johnson stands up, goes over to Ebenezer's spectacles, her boots pressing gently on post-its, dog-eared forms, crumpled sheets. Treads back over and drops the spectacles into his lap. Drops back into her chair.

Ebenezer sits straighter, arguing, "B-but-but-but, Johnson! I'm the best, Johnson!" After a pause, he reluctantly adds, "And I'm sorry, Johnson!"

Johnson says, "Now leave, please. I don't want to talk to you."

Ebenezer may have apologized too soon. He might've gotten away without one if he'd been a bit more patient. Frowningly, he rubs the lenses of his spectacles with the end of his necktie, then puts them gently on his aching nose. "Ah." Much better.

Ebenezer scrambles to his feet, papers shuffling. "B-but-but-but, Johnson."

Johnson hesitates, and then turns to look at Ebenezer, teapot between her hands. "Do you mean that?"

Ebenezer's face pulls into a grimace, one eye squinching. "Which bit?" He knows which bit she means, so without waiting for her to say it, he answers, "Yes."

Johnson holds the teapot in her hands a moment longer, weighing up the heat. "Alright." She turns, puts the teapot down on the desk. "Thank you. Youare the best, and it would be very difficult to do without your help."

Johnson stands and steps over, holding out a hand to help him up. "Come on. Let's get you a cup of tea first."

Ebenezer accepts the hand. "I'll n-not object to a cup-cup of tea." He'd certainly object if he'd seen Johnson's mouth on the kettle-spout.

Johnson hauls Ebenezer up and they step into the kitchen. She's not had her mouth on the kettle-spout, only the teapot. Her teapot. He can have the dove-grey one, if he wants.

Ebenezer is very fond of the colour grey. After Johnson he goes!

after a minute or several-

Johnson steps back in and breathes a moment, winding the mad ribbons of her anger back in, spooling them back into tightness. Catches it into her ribcage like a song. She'll spend it again when she has to. For now, she has papers to file, tea to drink. Johnson does neither very well when she's angry. She steps back in, gentle, careful over the quiet surface of the paper sea, and sits herself on the edge of the desk. She leaves the chair for Ebenezer.

Ebenezer seems much recovered after a few sips from his teacup. "Ah!" Glancing about, he asks, "Why d-do-do you keep all your papers on the floor?"

Johnson twists her mouth. "Because there's nowhere else to keep them. These are all the unfiled forms, all the paperwork that hasn't been answered, hasn't been looked at." All twenty-five metres of it. "There's too much. I don't even have a place to put-" Johnson points to the edge of her table, where a small stack rises- "the filed paperwork."

Johnson hesitates. "I mean, the ones I've already done. I've put them into vague files, sorted them into- into categories, but there is no system in place. There are forms for things that don't exist, forms for the same things, forms for forms."

Ebenezer sprays tea and goes into a mild coughing fit. Cough-a-cough-cough-gasp. "Did-did you say twen-twenty-twenty five-twenty five?"

Johnson reaches out for her teapot again, comfort, comfort, and the deep red porcelain soothes her hands. "And GERMans keep coming in asking for things, and I don't even know what our budget is, what our finances look like. Do you know?" Johnson flicks a glance down at the floor, but the paperwork has been too stained by sun and bloodflecks and dust and the creases of GERMan pockets for drops of tea to really make an enormous difference. Did she say twenty five? "Twenty-five metres down,""Johnson affirms. "It's a- a paper sea. It's- a sea, it moves, it has currents and tides, you can swim in it." A pause. "It hurts. You don't want to. Papercuts are awful."

Ebenezer stares seriously at Johnson and murmurs, just above a whisper, "I've b-been looking for-for-for the finances forev-ever."

Johnson blinks at Ebenezer. "Oh," she says. And then- just as quiet- "Do we even have finances."

Ebenezer gawps down at his black-and-white shoes, repeating, "Twen-tw-twenty-five." Glancing up, he assures, "Oh, I know-I know a thing or two about-bout papercuts."

Ebenezer waves a hand at Johnson in a flapping gesture, answering, "Of c-course you've got finan-nances!"

Johnson grins, sudden and sharp and bright in her face. "I bet you do," she says, oddly reassured. Nezer knows paperwork. Nezer knows paperwork. This might not be so terrifying after all.

Johnson looks uncertain. "But where do we even get our funds from?" she says, twisting round so she can thump her boots onto the desk as well, sitting cross-legged on a corner. "Who gives us our money?"

Ebenezer erms, glancing about. His fingers drum nervously on the edge of his cup. "Well, I'll know all-all that when we've gone through the-the records," he answers.

Johnson says, "You're welcome to look." She sweeps a hand out at the sea of paper. Underneath her gaze, the floor swells gently, paper rustling, spilling over itself, whispering.

Johnson scoots back properly onto the desk and holds onto her teapot as the paper sea billows gently, surges quietly round the room, files and folders flapping gently. The desk begins to rock.

Ebenezer squeaks, scrambling for the desk!

Johnson shuffles papers aside. "S'okay, if you stay on the chair you won't sink. The desk and chair float. It happens occasionally. Not so much now I've asked it not to."

Ebenezer puts himself in the chair and claps his teacup onto the desktop. His hands grip down onto the desk's wooden edge. "Engh! You mi-might've warned me!"

Johnson smiles sideways. "Sorry," she says, not sounding very sorry at all. She leans over and says, to the sea itself- "You don't happen to have any financial records in you, do you?"

Ebenezer glances down to the papers and mumbles, "Yes, I'd re-really like the finan-nancial things, actually. Thank you."

Johnson sways gently from side to side as the desk rocks and the sea whispers, swelling, forms and post-its and grubby sheets swirling up to the surface, sheets replacing sheets, scribbly blue ink and terrible penmanship, neat letters, notes, words.

Johnson clutches her teapot and waits. Occasionally she takes a sip. Slowly, the sea rocks, and sings, and sings and rocks and calms into a quiet sussurus, only lapping occasionally at the legs of the desk and the edge of the doorstep. Johnson says, "You safe to walk on now?"

Ebenezer glances from Johnson to the papers and back again. Hushed, he watches, knuckles white from the too-tight grip he's got on the edge of the desk.

Johnson nods affirmatively. "Thank you," she says, and clambers down from the edge of the desk again. She crouches on the floor, inspecting the papers beneath her boots. "Hmn. Tax records. We get tax exemptions. And what's this- mn, people used to give us-" Johnson reaches up for her teapot again- "requisition? Why?"

Ebenezer bolts out of his chair at once and he's on his knees on the floor, peering at all the documents with wide, wandering eyes.

Johnson says, "Top layer on the floor, should be the one we want." She pats the floor gently, and then shuffles through papers, on her knees, reading and frowning. "TD-405, RS 102, 105, 553, PRF- Protection Racket Funds? Grief."

Ebenezer barely resists the urge to scoop up armfuls of papers and hug them to his bosom. "Oh, oh, oh." He shuffles about on his knees, collecting a stack of paperwork. All the while, he's shaking his head and tsking.

Johnson says, crawling about and stacking papers into piles- "Nezer, these are mainly minuses. I'm not that good with reading financial things, but- it seems we have more expenditure than income going on here."

Ebenezer peers darkly at Johnson, gazing at her over the tops of his spectacle-lenses. "Oh," he says, almost cheerful. "This is very ser-erious."

Johnson looks at Ebenezer over the top of her teapot. "It is," she says, and the frown on her face is probably etched into her bones by now. And then- "Why are you smiling."

Ebenezer answers, sing-song, "You're in s-serious-serious debt!" He can resist no-longer; papers are hugged to his bosom.

Johnson says, "Why is that a matter to be smiling. And- and why are you hugging that paper." And why, dear god, why does Ebenezer have a bosom?

Ebenezer answers, "Because!" A finger is pointed towards Johnson's nose. "Be-be-be-because-because now you've got to take your finan-nances seriously! There's n-no-no more ignoring it!" he declares.

Johnson blinks. She says, dryly, "If you point your finger at me like that any further, you'll find the rest of it bitten off." Johnson says, "I've never ignored it. Not while I was clan administrator anyway. What do you think I've been doing in here since." Well, plenty, including swimming about in paper and getting badly slashed by grubby forms, but Nezer don't need to know that.

Ebenezer retracts his hand at once, re-hugging the papers. "S-someone woke up on the wrong s-side of the desk," he says.

Johnson says, "So don't start being patronising or you're losing your spectacles again."

Ebenezer fidgets. "Don't threaten your accoun-countant! You need me now. This is a salv-alvage job!"

Johnson says, patiently, "I woke up on the right side of the desk in a foul mood because someone shouted in my ear. As for salvage job- don't put it like that." She stands, armfuls of paper clutched to her coat.

Johnson dumps it onto the desk and frowns. "Well. We'll do what we can, but I think we're going to need to find a new income source."Johnson looks down at the crumpled and stacked higgeldy-piggeldy rumpus of financial data. "If we even had an income source to begin with that was regular."

Ebenezer gives a very short laugh, pushing to his feet just after Johnson. "You think? You m-most certainly-certainly-ainly will."

Johnson nods, fingers tapping at her pile. "Mmn." she says. "I'm going to send a letter round to the GERMans. We're going to have to-" her mouth twists. "Fundraise."

Ebenezer pipes, "Splend-endid!" He flaps his stack of papers onto the desktop with his cup of tea. "Why, this is turning out to-to-to be a wonderful day after-after all, isn't it?"

Johnson snrks. "It is rather," she murmurs, swinging back onto the desk again. "I'm quite taken by the idea of fundraising. In fact..." she gropes in the drawer, pulls out the much-used pad of paper and fishes her green pen out of a pocket.

Johnson scribbles something, frowns, taps her chin with the pen, scribbles again and then says, "Right. Note to the GERMans will be sent out shortly, and then- forms." She turns to Ebenezer. "How long will it be before I can start getting a system in order?"Johnson says, "I need to know our actual financial situation so I can figure out how much we need to raise, and how we're going to start budgeting."

Ebenezer reaches to clap Johnson on the shoulder, chiming, "That's the-that's the spirit! What? Oh. I can sort all-all that out, erm. Shortly." His gaze skips around, taking into account the sheer volume of documents.

Johnson grins over at Nezer and then picks up the near-empty teapot. "Good," she says. "When do you think you'll have a number to give me?"

Ebenezer mumbles, "Well, when-when it happens, Johnson. This is a lot-a lot of paper t-to go through, you know. It takes time. Erm." Dutifully, he draws himself up. "I'll get started right-right away."

Johnson nods. "Thank you," she says. "I'll go grab another chair. Also- we're going to need filing cabinets. Lots of filing cabinets. Do you know where I can get some?"

Ebenezer scratches at his head. "Well, erm. I know where you-you-you could get some, yes. Lots? Erm. Not as-as such."

Johnson shrugs. "Some will do. I'm going to go post this. You get started." She smiles. "Thank you, Ebenezer." And she pads out the room, teapot in one hand, braid swinging behind her.

Ebenezer eagerly takes his place at the desk, very much at home with the heaps of papers and maddening quantities of numbers. He hunches and gets to work at once, mumbling, "B-be a bit faster with my adding ma-machine."

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