“You’ve got a problem up on the 25th.”
Fred rolled his eyes. As managing partner of a mid-tier expanding accountancy firm, when was there a time when he didn’t have a problem? “Take a number and wait in line.”
“This is, ah, a bit different,” his deputy and senior accountant Ian muttered. “Have a listen.”
A deep bellow sounded in the building. The roof above them temporarily sagged. Heavy footsteps could be heard slowly plodding around. A thin layer of dust floated down from the ceiling. And the air was suddenly full of the smell of a musty, heavy and unfamiliar odour.
Things hadn’t been the same since the firm had decided to embark on a so-called “economise- energise-enthusise” strategy at the command of its partners.
The English language had been only the first of many victims. A new IT system had been installed without prior warning, and – predictably – failed to work predictably.
Then came the hiring of an interior decoration company, charged with “enthusising” the staff by making the office a different place to work in. They’d first decorated the building with a zen-like series of rockeries and cacti, which only lead to a major upsurge in first aid incidents. These were promptly removed when the medical bill grew too large, and the building had instead been fitted out with a veritable rainforest of tropical plants.
And it was here that they were heading to now. Ian lead his boss up, cautiously, via the fire escape stairs. The next floor, usually buzzing with so many staff, was curiously empty. “Stay here and wait,” he said, parking Fred behind a row of rubber trees.
“Now look.” He pulled back the branches.
The office was a mess. Chairs and desks had been knocked over, and cubicle partitions torn in half. Paper floated loosely in the air. Newly-installed motivational posters, their frames now partly broken, stubbornly clung to the walls. Half dead computer terminals flickered uselessly, many of them shattered by what seemed to have been a giant foot through the monitor screens. The floor was full of dirt and mud.
“And look over there now.”
A slow, ponderous figure shuffled into view from amongst a clump of potted plants, only a few metres away. It seemed like a series of canvas hessian bags, overlaid onto the side of a tank. Then it turned and stared in their direction. Fred noted the dry, parched, brown skin, the set of giant lips, and the big horn and smaller one bulging on the end of its nose.
He tensed, getting ready to run, then relaxed. Looking at the weak, watery eyes, he remembered that rhinos were notorious for being short-sighted.
Ian was well known around the office for his obsession with trivia, which had often proved to be an essential skill for the managing partner’s right hand man. “Javan, black, Indian, white?” He snapped his fingers. “And, of course,” he added smugly, “Sumatran. Of course.”
His boss stared blankly at him. “Huh?”
“The family Rhinocerotidae.” That was said whilst also smiling smugly. “Judging from the looks of him – or her – I’d guess that was a Sumatran. The Asian two-horned rhino. Extremely rare.”
“This isn’t a quiz show,” his boss grumbled. “Did you see how much damage it’s done? So much for our new economise program.”
But then, he noted, staring out the window at the staff huddled into their emergency evacuation zones on the ground below, not everyone’s going to want to come back to work after this. That’ll make the redundancy scheme so much easier.
And it had certainly activated the energise program, so many people running screaming out of the building. The partners have got to be happy with that, he reflected.
“So, what do we do now? Could we shoot it?” Fred asked.
“They’re all endangered. Terrible publicity. Could you imagine the social media? Wouldn’t get away with that.”
“Isn’t there something – anything – that can scare it away?”
Ian looked at him doubtfully. “Not here. We’re a long way from Indonesia.” “Can we just herd it down the stairs, then?”
“That’d be a bit awkward, wouldn’t it?”
Fred nodded. The thought of trying to watch such an ungainly animal navigate its way down all those flights of stairs would be daunting, if not excruciatingly long.
“What about shoving it into the lift?”
“Too small. Not designed to take one ton ungulates, are they?”
Fred nodded sagely. More importantly, he didn’t want to be the person who’d also have to jump in and press the down button.
Later, they went back upstairs again, and parked themselves once more behind the rubber trees. Evening drew on, and somewhere across the floor Fred could hear the sound of carpet being ripped up.
“Dawn and dusk eaters,” Ian told him. “Sumatrans are well known for rooting around in ground cover for something to chew on.”
“That’s gonna cost us a fortune.”
“It could get worse,” warned Ian. “They’re quite fond of a good wallow, love knocking wet spaces into shape. And this one hasn’t even found the bathrooms yet.”
“Huh?” Fred roused himself from his nap and looked over. He checked the time: it was 430am. All remained dark inside.
“Have a listen, boss. Can you hear anything?”
There was no sound of any slobbering or shuffling; no more heavy, wheezy breathing. Cautiously at first, but then with increasing confidence, they made their way across the floor. Although the jungle foliage was still too thick to see through in many places, there was clearly nothing on the scale of a rhino visible anymore.
It was gone.
Ian surveyed the interior landscape with a doubtful glance. “Those things are quite territorial. They don’t just leave without a good reason.”
Fred just shrugged wearily. “Who knows where your Indonesian rhino’s gone, or why? Does it matter?”
That’s when they first heard a cat-like roar, somewhere on the other side of the floor.
“I may have forgotten to mention earlier,” noted Ian lightly, “that they’re also quite frightened of Sumatran tigers.”
by Michael Schaper from Australia