The Scanner


1. Jerry went missing at the office party on Friday. No one noticed until the drink ran out. Everyone looked at me: I’d organised the party. I looked at the senior partner. The senior partner sighed.


said the senior partner.

There’s always the sherry. But you’d better replace it!

The sherry was locked in the stationary cupboard. Only Jerry knew the combination, but nobody could find Jerry.

On Monday, Jerry didn’t come to work. No one could get into the stationary cupboard. I searched his cubicle and his desk, but I couldn’t find the combination. Jerry prided himself on being able to remember passwords without writing them down.

The senior partner seemed anxious.

We really do need to find him,

said the senior partner.

We’ve got to have access to all the clients’ documentation.

I phoned Jerry’s home but there was no reply.


junior partner arrived.

Have you seen Jerry since the party?

asked the senior partner.

His car’s in its usual space,

said the junior partner.

Either he’s somewhere close by or he left it there after the party and walked home.

Jerry drove a bright red Italian sports car, which amused all the w

omen and irritated all the men.

I phoned Jerry’s mobile. Jerry’s mobile had a most distinctive ring tone, which irritated everyone. At least no one ever mistook it for their own. I heard Jerry’s mobile ringing faintly from

inside the stationary cupboard.

Perhaps he’s locked himself in,

joked the junior partner.

2. At lunchtime, I called the building superintendent. After much persuasion, the superintendent broke down the stationary cupboard door.

The stationary cupboard was a large windowless room. It had been an office until the health and safety rep asked for ventilation to be installed. Now, one end housed the archive filing cabinets and a stack of plan chests full of the partners’ architectural drawings. The rest of the cupboard was dominated by the vast flatbed scanner which sat against the opposite wall.



been appointed straight from University and was eager to please. Others were equally eager to reduce their workloads: Jerry had quickly acquired all the difficult contracts. At first he saw them as a challenge,

but he began to find it harder and harder to placate increasingly impatient customers. He worked longer and longer hours, often spending the night at his desk. After a while, his wife stopped phoning the office. One evening, he arrived home early to find her in bed with the vicar. Shortly afterwards, she left with the home cinema system and the cat.

After the divorce, Jerry quickly went to pieces. While trying to sell the house and find somewhere else to live, he bungled a major commission, losing the firm a lot of money and a valued client. The senior partner was characteristically stoical. Jerry was taken off all his other portfolios and given his own project. But we all knew that ‘your own project’ was shorthand for ‘blow it and you’re out’.

Jerry’s project was simple if radical. The firm had a substantial legacy of architectural drawings going back to the late 19


century. Demand was increasing from developers for on-line access to precise plans of old industrial and commercial properties. Rather than scanning the old drawings into the server and calibrating them by hand, the partners decided that it would be cheaper in the long term to invest in automatic 3-dimensional modelling technology.

At first the project seemed to give Jerry a second wind. He meticulously researched the latest cartographic techniques, and specified what seemed to be a competitive mix of hardware and software. Then he commandeered the stationary cupboard: I had to re-house most of the stationary in the boardroom.

With the delivery of the equipment, we thought briefly that Jerry might actually turn himself round. But the IT consultants who’d been brought in to set up the system kept revising the completion date, and Jerry became more and more morose, spending longer and longer by himself in the stationary cupboard.

It won’t be long now,

we all said to each other.

The superintendent turned on the stationary cupboard light. Jerry’s clothing was in a neat pile beside the flat bed scanner. There was no sign of Jerry. We secured the cu

pboard and I called the police.

3. Late that afternoon, two plain clothes detectives came to the office. They cursorily interviewed everybody who had been at the party and then spent a while searching Jerry’s cubicle.

Where’s his diary?

asked the older detective.


I said.

Do you want to look at it?


said the older detective.

Could we see this stationary cupboard ever

yone’s been telling us about?

I took them over to the cupboard and opened it up. They began by checking Jerry’s clothes.

Nothing in the pockets,

said the older detective.

I went to the kitchen and made some tea. When I returned with the tray,

they were still slowly inspecting the cupboard, shining their flashlights along the shelves and looking inside all the plan chest drawers.

I poured the tea. It was nearly time to go home so I went back to my cubicle and quickly checked over the pile of portfolios that the senior partner had requested for the next day’s meetings.

I was putting on my coat when the younger detective called me over. She seemed very pleased, as she showed me the door frame. The door h

ad been bolted from the inside.

Locked room puzzle,

said the younger detective.

Absolutely classic!

Like in Sherlock Holmes?

I asked.


she said.

So how was it done?

I asked.

Haven’t a clue,

said the detective.

Is there anything else we should see?

His mobile’s in here somewhere,

I said.

I went back to my desk and rang the mobile. With the stationary cupboard open, the mobile’s ring tone echoed across the office.

Got it

said the older detective, turning off the mobile.

Do you know his PIN?

Of course I don’t!

I said.

How much longer is this all going to take? I’ve got to collect my kids.

Nearly done,

said the younger detective.

We’ll need to take his computer away.

Help yourself,

I said.

But there’s not much point. Everything’s on the server for security.

Maybe we could login?

said the older detective.

Do you know his password?

Of course she doesn’t,

said the younger detective quickly.

Could you let us know when we could come back and get access to his files?’

It’s all out-sourced,

I said.

I’ll need to phone them.


said the younger detective.

We’ll be off then.

So what about Jerry?

asked the senior partner.

It sounds like he went to pieces,

said the older detective.

He’ll turn up eventually. They usually do.

4. On Tuesday morning, the quarterly electricity bill arrived. The bill was excessively large and we’d already paid it by direct debit. I phoned the power company.

It does seem a bit big,

said the telesales assistant.

Have you left the immersion heater or the central heating on?

The heating’s all gas,

I said.

You should know. We get it from you.

I suppose there could be a mistake,

said the assistant.

I’ll get someone to come and take a new reading.

What about a refund?

I asked.

If it’s wrong there’ll be an adjustment

on the next bill,

said the assistant.

I don’t suppose you’ve had any new equipment installed recently?

After lunch the younger detective returned and asked to talk with me.

We’ve got hold of his phone records,

she said.

He made a lot of long overseas calls. Do you have any idea why?

We have a lot of overseas clients,

I said.

But why would he use a mobile?

she asked.

Phoning overseas is really expensive. And it’s his mobile, not one of yours. I checked.

Could I see the records?

I asked.

The detective passed me a sheaf of papers. I quickly scanned the list.

That’s strange,

I said.

I don’t recognise any of the numbers.

Have a look at the last call,

said the detective.

It’s the day he disappeared,

I sai

d, handing her back the papers.

That’s not so surprising.

Have another look,

said the detective, patiently.

I checked the call details again.

That can’t be right!

I said.

It says it lasted nearly two hours! And it’s a text! No one can text for that long.


said the detective.

Do you know anything about the phone?

He said it was the latest technology,

I said.

Internet and Blue Tooth. All that sort of thing. I don’t see the point really. You need a magnifying glass to read your email.

It’s not a model I’ve seen before,

said the detective.

But I think it’s the same brand as that machine in the cupboard. Anyway, I’ll leave it here in case he turns up again


5. When I came in early the next morning, there was a cloying smell of hot electrical wiring. Worried, I checked all the sockets in the kitchen. Then I checked the office.

The smell seemed to be comin

g from the stationary cupboard.

Anxiously, I opened the door. The smell was very strong. Jerry looked up from be

hind the scanner, half clothed.

Good morning,

he said, flustered, undoing his shirt.

Where on earth have you been?

I asked him.

No one’s been able to find you since the party. We’ve all been so worried. And the police are looking for you.

I’m fine,

he said, taking off his trous

ers and carefully folding them.

Have you seen my mobile anywhere?

What are you doing?

I said.

Put your clothes back on!

Please can I have my mobile,

he said, pulling off his vest.

I really need it right now. I can’t leave without it.


I said.

‘But you’ve only just come back.

Please get me my phone,

he said, pleadingly, pulling off his trousers.


He seemed very agitated, so I felt it best to humour him. I’d locked the mobile in my filing cabinet. By the time I returned to the cupboard, Jerry was lying naked on the flatbed scanner, curled into a tight ball.

Have you got it?

he said, reaching across to me.

Speechless, I passed him the mobile. Jerry inserted the phone into a slot on the side of the scanner and curled up again.

Just press ”



he implored me.

Just press it.

A sudden devilment gripped me. I’d seen office party photocopies before.

Why not?

I thought.

What’s the worst that can happen? Why not?

I walked round the scanner and pressed the flashing green button. In the vivid white light, Jerry’s body shone translucent, his pulsating internal

organs framed by his skeleton.

Blinded, I quickly turned away. When I looked back, shading my eyes behind my cupped hands, Jerry was inexorably melting into the scanner. In desperation, I considered turning the machine off. It was t

oo late; I’d probably kill him.

I stood there frozen, watching as Jerry slowly disappeared, slice by slice, a beatific smile on his face.

Then, suddenly overwhelmed by voyeuristic nausea, I left the cupboard and pulled the door to behind me.

6. I sat outside the cupboard, numb, watching the

flickering light shining round the shattered door. When the light went off, I opened the door and checked the scanner. Jerry had completely vanished.

I didn’t particularly like Jerry but the manner of his

passing had disturbed me profoundly. When the senior partner arrived, I was still standing by the scanner, shaking.

Are you all right?

he asked.

And what’s that strange smell?

I pulled myself together.

It’s Jerry’s machine,

I said.

I think there’s something badly wrong with it. Maybe we should unplug it.

His project’s looked hopeless for ages,

said the senior partner.

We might as well junk it and rethink the whole business. I don’t suppose there’s any sign of him?

He was here briefly,

I said.

Somehow, I don’t think he’ll be back.

I’m not surprised,

said the senior partner.

To be honest, I never thought he’d last this long. Ah well, we need to move on. Could you clear his work space please?

I went through to Jerry’s cubicle, and spent a while sorting and filing the mess of papers on his desk. Then I opened the top drawer, which was full of trade gifts and executive toys. I gathered these all together and put them

into an empty A4 paper box lid.

Finally, I turned to the pin board, which was covered with postcards from all over the world. Systematically, I unpinned the cards and stacked them into the


The last card bore a particularly striking view of a gaudy sunset over what looked like a tropical beach. I turned it over to read the legend. Curiously, there was no message. Then I realised that the card had been addressed in Jerry’s handwriting. Disbelieving, I turned over all the other cards. Each just like the first. I carefully checked all the postmarks. The earliest

date was about a month after the scanner had first been installed.

Now I knew why Jerry spent so much time in the stationary cu




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