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“Hey, Monica.”

Rotten breath.  Nametag intimacy.  She pushed the People magazine under the cash register.  Slowly raising her eyes, the outline of an outie belly button showed like a pointer through the black tee shirt.  Specks of yellow, maybe mustard, dotted it.

Rule: ask if they found everything.

'He'll have dirty teeth and rotten gums,' Monica thought.  Aloud, she said, "Find everything?"

He looked mangy with a meth mouth.

"Found everything fine."  Store open five minutes.  First customer of the day.  Whatever.  A dolly creaked to a stop.  Two boxes holding monster-sized new TVs, and ten boxes with the most expensive home theatre system in the store sat on it.

Rule: If it's more than you make in a week, call the manager.

This was like six months of paychecks. The fish-eye mirror showed only customers on the floor.  A chubby woman with haystack hair leaving the gadget section, two skanky guys leaving music, plus two at the register: all wearing black.  Wrong.  "Price check ten."  Monica gave the Manager Help call.

'Means nothing, I'm wearing some black,' she thought. 'Means nothing.'

Belly Button pushed the dolly close for her to scan the barcodes and tossed a handful of candy on the counter.

Monica always worked slowly but twelve slower cans stretched her bounds. Nobody answered her call.

Rule: always be polite.

"Your card, please."

Belly Button pushed a credit card at her.  Scuffed in the middle down to the white, the name read Patric then a white space.

Rule: repeat the customer's name.

"Patric ley," she said.

She waited for him to respond. He was looking at a van backing towards the doors.

Rule: swipe the card.

Monica looked at the fisheye mirror. Haystack hair in the camera section.  Skanky guys out of sight.

Rule: always have multiple people on the floor.

No sign of Manager Wally or Customer Service Rep. Chet. She pushed the panic button.

Rule: look at the signature.

The little signature strip was mostly rubbed off, only a loopy "P" and "ley" no guy ever wrote, remained.

The card reader screen showed “Patricia Dooley” and credit card code.  She hadn't thought about Pat Dooley in weeks.  Buys music and games.  Always quotes her own rules.  Kick ass woman.

Wally and Chet both didn’t answer.  Rule: manager at the register within a minute.

Let it go.  The credit card company wouldn't charge her.  This crappy chain wouldn't notice.

Rule: if something is wrong with a credit card, call the card company.

Belly Button looked her like she was lunch.  The guy behind him stared at her.  Skanky guys were gone.  Haystack hair walked towards the front door.

"You got a problem?" Belly Button bullied.  He would do her.

"Says to call."

She picked up the phone and pressed the speed dial button for card security.  "How may we help you?"

Code.  They had given her a code.  The number wouldn't come.  She punted. "Verification said code eleven."

"We don't have a, never mind, hold please."

Why am I doing this?  Just hit complete transaction, they go away.  Wally threatened to fire her after scammers hit them before.  Cunt he’d called her.  Wally'd said stupid cunt.  Wally'd then said "You cunt get a job anywhere else."

Chet said, "If you got tats on your tits I'd hire you to show them to me."

Pat Dooley’s voice popped into her head saying "that's sexual harassment."

Mom’s voice said, 'Got a job? Hang on to it.'

Monica called again, "Price check ten."

"Card Security," a girlish voice said, "Answer yes or no."


"Are they there now?"


"More than one?"


"Do you have the card?"


"Something wrong with it?"


"Scan the card again, press resend."


"Do you fear they'll hurt you?"


"See a weapon?"

"No." Then she saw the knife in Belly Button's right jeans pocket. "Sorry, yes."

Why work here?  Minimum wage plus two-bits didn't cover a guy with a knife. In her mind, Pat Dooley said ‘leave, go to the cable company where I work.’

"Is someone else there? Other employees? Customers?"


"Tell them we are verifying the transaction."


"Really, tell them."

Rule: smile at the customers.

Monica smiled. "Verifying transaction."

"Press print receipt. Have them sign. Let them leave.  Stay on the phone."

Haystack hair stood by the open doors of the van.

"Sign here."

Belly Button scribbled on the receipt. They pushed the dolly out the door.  The skanky guys left.

"They're gone."

"Don't hang up.  The police are there.  If they come back, hide."

Forty years at minimum wage, that was her future.  Cool things would always be six-month's take home.

The reflection on the register screen showed Wally and Chet walking up behind her.

Haystack hair carried a shotgun through the front door.  Monica plastered herself to the pad on the floor.  A single blast.  Bits of plastic, torn paper and money fell around her.  The People magazine dropped on her head.

"You OK?" gasped the girlish voice.



There was groaning behind her. Monica waited a very long time.

A uniformed policeman helped Monica to her feet.

"Are the police there?" Asked the girlish voice of credit card security.


"Here's my supervisor. Give the phone to an officer."

"Yes." Monica handed him the phone.  Across the store, Haystack hair wore handcuffs.  Another officer held her shotgun.  Four candy racks away, blue uniformed EMTs bent over Wally and Chet.

Monica waited and thought it through.  When the Officer got back to her, Monica knew she'd solved it.  "The store was barely open five minutes, so that stuff was already on the dolly.  Wally and Chet,” she pointed at the two gurneys being wheeled out, “they didn't answer my panic call.  They were in on it.  That woman came back to kill them.  She was cleaning up the loose ends."

Her mind’s Pat Dooley said, ‘You’re done here, Monica.’

Monica’s first Rule came into sharp focus.

The End

  • Escaped farm, life passed, now farming. I also write, teach, and consult. I have many publications, but none of them seem relevant. My experience feels best expressed in this Found Tanka:

Past performance does

not guarantee future results.

Current performance

may be lower or higher than

the performance data quoted.



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