"I don't think it can be done, Top."
Nick Sullivan whirled around at the sound of the familiar voice, now strained and tight with fatigue. Aidan Blake rose stiffly and emptied an entire bottle of spring water over his flushed face.
"What did you say, Sergeant?"
The menace in Sullivan's voice filled the room. Erik Johansson looked up from his crouched position on the floor, his slightly raised eyebrows the only sign of concern on his blandly handsome Scandinavian face. Kneeling beside him, Alex O'Neill sat back on her haunches and floofed the hair out of her eyes with an exasperated breath. Everyone's attention was on Sullivan, who held the key to their entire problem in his hands.
The Allen Key.
The all-but-ineffectual piece of bent metal that was - according to the information they'd received and the diagrams they'd been provided - all they would need to complete this particular job. Sullivan gripped it tightly, refusing to surrender it to his next-in-command until he'd sorted out this particular clusterfuck for himself.
He ran his palm over his face and tried to clear his head. Fuck this was a mess. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes against the rage that swirled through his mind and made his heart thunder against his ribs in futile fury.
Get a grip, Sullivan he corralled himself, desperate not to let the others see how rattled he was. He looked up and took a deep breath, and then met the eyes of each of his team members.
"This is what's going to happen." he said quietly, which was somehow more frightening than if he had yelled it. "According to the intel," he gestured at the diagram of two jaunty - if slightly overweight - line drawings happily hoisting an armoire over their heads, "this can be done by two people using only this…" he held up the Allan Key and twisted it between his fingers, the sun glinting off the metal. "And as God as my witness, it's going to be."
"But Nick," Alex's high, feminine voice cut through the testosterone-cloud hazing the room. "Be reasonable. We've been at this for two days. I think Aidan's right, I think-"
"When I want your engineering advice, doctor," Nick cut her off sharply. "I'll ask for it."
"Inte prata med henne så". Erik said, his voice a low, ominous rumble. Don't talk to her like that.
"It's okay, honey." Alex put a cautioning hand on her lover's arm. "He's just frustrated. We all are."
"We can do this!" Nick said, his voice catapulting upwards in frustration. "We're fucking Army Rangers and a medical doctor, we won't be defeated by this. Blake, hand me that diagram." He snapped his fingers at Aidan, who dutifully grabbed the now wrinkled and coffee-stained piece of paper and thrust it at his former Master Sergeant.
"Alright," Nick said, casting his bleary eyes over the diagram for the upteenth time in the vain hope that this time it would start to make sense. "Okay, men, we have before us a simple challenge : assemble this Jävla Rövhål armoire…."
Erik snorted, and turned his face away. Jävla Rövhål roughtly translated to “fucking asshole” in Swedish.
"Johansson, what the fuck is so funny?"
"Nothing, Top," he replied, speaking into his hand to hide his laughter. Which didn't work.
"This is from your fucking country, you know." Nick narrowed his eyes at him. "I hold you personally responsible for this. What does Ikea even mean anyway? And for the love of all that’s holy why do you people need to name your goddamn furniture?"
Erik's eyes began to water as he struggled to hold his laughter in.
"I know this Roov-Hall guy is some big fucking designer guy in your country - that's what the girl at Ikea told me - but at this point I couldn’t give less of shit about him or his bedroom storage solutions.’
"I think she was comparing him to you," Erik offered helpfully, his face beginning to turn a shade of pink no one at PGI had ever seen before.
"Erik," Alex admonished. "Don't."
"Well, whoever he is," Nick said irritably. "He's a fucking asshole."
Erik squeezed his eyes shut as tears began to roll down his chiseled cheeks. Alex frowned at him crossly and gave him a disapproving shove, but he merely wiped his eyes and tried to sober himself.
"Okay, look." Nick crouched down and surveyed the landscape of beech particle board planks that littered the break room floor like broken teeth. "There, hand me that long one, the one I put my fist through earlier."
Blake handed over the bruised and battered board as Nick swept away screws and little wood dowels and made a space for it on the floor. Nick slammed it down on the carpet with a defiant thud.
"Okay, now…Alex, I need you to find the shorter one."
"Which shorter one?" she asked. "The short shorter one or the long shorter one."
"The…." Nick frowned and turned the diagram upside down. "The medium shorter one."
"This one?" she tried, handing over a plank.
"No, I said the medium shorter one. That's clearly the shorter shorter one."
"Sorry," she said, and handed over the smaller size.
"Now, Blake, gimme two of those little dowel fuckers. And the glue."
"You got it, Top." Blake began patting the carpet with splayed fingers, groping for the little wooden pieces. He found one and handed it over triumphantly.
Nick closed his eyes patiently. "I said I need two."
"You chewed up the rest, remember?" Blake prompted gently. He gestured to the broken and soggy bits of wood littered around Nick's feet.
"Fuck 'em," Nick announced grandly. "We don't need 'em. Erik, find me a screw."
Erik glanced at Alex for permission, but she scowled at him and restrained himself. He found a long tapered screw and tossed it at Nick.
"Alright, here we go," said Nick, as if tucking into a Thanksgiving turkey. "This is going to be a piece of cake. A piece of Daim cake, with a little Swedish fucking flag in it."
He fit the screw into the pre-drilled hole and tried to fit the Allan Key into the little square on the top.
It wouldn't go.
He tried again, forcing the tiny piece of metal into the square. It bounced off and the screw went flying.
"Fucking Jesus Goddamn Christ!" Nick burst out. "Why doesn't the fucking Allen Key fit? Can anyone tell me why the mother fucking key doesn’t fit in the mother fucking screw?”
"Maybe it's metric," Blake offered quietly.
"Maybe it's what?" Nick rounded on him.
"Well…" Blake blanched. "Well, I mean…I was just thinking….this thing didn't come with an Allen Key so we used Erik's, and maybe since he got it in Sweden and we bought this armoire here…maybe the key is metric and the screw is-"
“You’ve got to be fucking shitting me!” Nick bellowed. “I gotta deal with two different measurements too? I can’t take it, man,” he began to sob. “I can’t take it, I just take it.”
"Nick, Nick, it's okay," said Alex soothingly, walking towards him on her knees. "You want a Xanax?"
Nick Sullivan crouched, and buried his face in his hands. Emotions surged through him, the bitter taste of failure souring his mouth, the utter despair of the vanquished hollowing him out like a 50 calibre slug. He felt the tears stinging his face, felt the splinters of dowel stuck between his teeth, wanted to sink to his knees and throw his hands up in the air like that guy in Full Metal Jacket (or maybe it was Tropic Thunder) and curse the gods. He was defeated. There was no retreat, no surrender, he was simply lost, alone among the chip board planks and the stubby little screws, having failed his men (and one woman).
His men…his heart lurched…he’d led them into this goatfuck and it was his fault…HIS FAULT they wouldn’t be going home tonight.
His fault there’d be no armoire in the break room come morning.
He slumped to the ground, a broken man, and wept.
You must be logged in with a commenting account to post comments. Log in with a commenting account or register a commenting account if you don't have one. This is not the same as a Membership account.