“You know the drill, ladies,” bellowed Ronald from back atop the pipette tip box, “arseholes and elbows! Just because the institute is on lock-down, it doesn’t mean we can be a bunch of slackers. We’re Murines! Not a bunch of monkeys from the primate lab.”
The declaration was greeted with a mixture of groaning, muttering and eye-rolling among the assembled mice. The exception was Mel, who snapped to a smart attention.
“Sir, yes, Sir!” he squeaked.
“Nim,” Ronald pointed with his match. “You, Disco, Mel and Luke are on tech duty.” He paused. “Where’s Luke?” he demanded.
“Coming!” peeped a small mouse from beside the water bottle in the corner of the cage. “I was just taking my pill.”
Nim watched him scurry up and squeeze into line beside her. Luke was so-named by the lab technicians because he had been a leukaemia animal model in Bristol University. They had supplied the pills he was taking when the trial had been cut short and he continued to take one a day. One day, Nim was going to ask him what was in them but somehow the time never quite seemed right.
Ronald leant forward and stared at Luke sternly. “Quite ready?”
Luke nodded mutely. Like Mel, he was terrified of “The Gouti”, who was twice his size.
“Good.” Ronald pointed at Nim. “You’re with Nim, Mel and Disco on tech duty. Wierzbowski reported one of the wheels was a bit sticky yesterday.”
“Number two,” Wierzbowski confirmed.
“No one likes a sticky number two!” sniggered Hutch, beside him.
Hutch was still sniggering as Ronald scampered over with surprising speed and jabbed him hard in the chest with his safety match baton.
“You think there’s something funny about a sticky number two wheel?” Ronald asked, leaning in close until their whiskers were almost touching.
Hutch pursed his lips tight, trying to think of an appropriate response. He was saved by Wierzbowski blurting out a repressed giggle of his own. Ronald left his stick pressing against Hutch’s chest but stepped one pace to the left, snapping his head round at the last minute to fix his gaze on the new transgressor.
“Looks like we have today’s cleaning duty,” he announced, looking from one mouse to the other. He took another step to his left. “You too Tyree.”
“Yes, boss,” Tyree muttered sullenly.
Ronald took a step back and surveyed the line.
“Now, does anyone else have anything to say?” he asked.
The question was greeted by a general shuffling of feet and, with the exception of Nim, refusal to meet his stare.
“Good. There’ll be no sticky number twos on my watch.” he told them. “Dismissed.”