Reba scrolled through the job postings, twitching her right foot in frustration at the lack of opportunities for a recluse like her. Waiter. No. Construction foreman. No. Insurance sales… Heck no!
She slammed her laptop shut in frustration. She had been so comfy in her last job shelving books at her local book store, disappearing between the shelves and acting as a magical elf that knew just which books should go in displays. Then, Francine, the owner, had come to her with the bad news that they just couldn’t stay profitable anymore with the big, online bookseller taking the lion’s share of the sales. She was closing shop and retiring to Florida, home of alligators and mutant mosquitoes. Reba had two weeks to help move merchandise around while they sold down inventory, and then she was done.
Now, Reba was jobless and had to find something soon. She had been fine with the near minimum wage job because she was happy in her little apartment, but now she was left with little savings and no opportunities that appealed to her.
Her phone dinged with an incoming email, and she rolled her eyes at the possibility of another spam email trying to get her to sell cosmetics or candles or maybe even vitamins. She fished her phone out of her pocket and unlocked her screen, crossing her fingers for luck but preparing herself for the inevitable junk. She opened the email, a promising subject of “CAREER OPPORTUNITY” blared out at her. Not just a job, career.
“Dear Reba,” she read. At least this person actually bothered to use her name, unlike a lot of anonymous mailers she got that just got straight to the punch with promises of quick money and a lot of it. “I found your resume on a job board and think you would be a great fit for a position we have available. We have been in business for almost thirty years and offer competitive pay and benefits. We are looking for someone who is self-motivated and can work by themselves. You need to be organized to handle the filing and paperwork necessary. If this sounds like something you can do, please reach out so that we can set up an interview.”
Reba closed her eyes and pictured herself in an office, sitting at a desk with a row of file cabinets behind her. She could do that, especially if the pay was competitive and there were benefits. The bookstore didn’t have benefits, so she had skipped going to the doctor for the last couple of years. There had been that time she cut her finger and probably should have gone to the doctor. Her finger had swollen and turned bright red in the days after the incident, but when it kept oozing, she just rinsed it, applied some Neosporin, and slapped on a Band-aid. It had healed eventually, even though she lost some feeling in that fingertip.
She looked back at the email signature and tapped to dial the contact number.
“Second Look, this is Patty,” answered a voice gruffer than what Reba anticipated.
“Hi, Patty. This is Reba Collins, and I just got an email from you about a career opportunity,”
“You want to set up a time to come in for an interview?” Patty asked. “I’ve got an opening this afternoon at two.”
Reba looked at her clock over her oven. It was only ten, so she had time to freshen up and dress professionally with a bit of makeup. “Two would be fine.”
“I’ll see you then,” Patty said and disconnected the call.
Reba looked down at her phone which had returned to the email screen. She hadn’t had a chance to ask any questions, but she guessed she would have plenty of opportunities when she got there.
When Reba arrived at the address in the email, she hesitated. Instead of the office building she had envisioned, she stood in a strip mall parking lot. The plate-glass window was painted with black and gold capital letters that read SECOND LOOK in a script font.
She pushed open the glass door, and a bell jingled. A pair of gray chairs sat with their backs against the window creating a little waiting area, and the backside of some filing cabinets created a wall separating the front of the space from the work area.
“I’ll be right with you,” the disembodied voice of Patty floated over the filing cabinets, and Reba took a seat on one of the small, metal-legged, thinly padded chairs, holding the manila folder containing copies of her resume on her lap.
A moment later, an iron haired woman with wrinkles from too much time in the sun appeared from behind the cabinets. “Can I help you?” she asked with her smoker’s gravelly voice.
“I’m Reba; I’m here for the interview,” Reba said, standing and holding her hand out to shake.
“Come on back,” Patty said, turning back around and returning to the area beyond the file cabinets.
Reba returned her raised hand to the folder she was holding and obediently followed Patty.
The office area was a little cramped with a kitchen counter covered with a coffee pot and sink at the back of the room and two office desks consuming the floor space.
Patty sat behind one of the desks and motioned for Reba to sit across from her.
“I brought some copies of my resume,” Reba said, opening the folder.
“Don’t worry about it,” Patty said, waving it away. “I already read what you had online, and I can learn more from talking to you.”
“Okay,” Reba said with a little confusion as she shut the folder and straightened it on her lap.
“So tell me a little about yourself,” Patty said bluntly.
Reba cleared her throat to give herself a moment to think. What was this woman looking to hear? “Well, I have lived in the area for my whole adult life, although I grew up in Montana. When I first moved here, I worked in a magic shop until I caught the owner’s nephew making money disappear from the till.”
“Why did you leave after that?” Patty asked.
“It was his word against mine, and he was family,” Reba explained. “Since then, I’ve worked for a little bookstore, but it unfortunately just went out of business.”
Patty nodded. “Did you ever get any shoplifters there?”
“Oh, sure! Kids looking at books and magazines they were too embarrassed to buy, the occasional adult that should have had enough money for their purchase but were looking for the thrill. The ones that looked like they couldn’t afford something were usually the most honest. They would browse until they made the perfect selection, reading a couple pages here and there, and when they were ready, they would bring their book to the counter to check out.”
“So you kind of got a feel for people,” Patty said.
“Yeah, it was a bookstore, not a fancy jewelry store, so there were different types of people that would come in and browse different sections.”
“And what would you do if you saw someone stealing?”
“Well, I was usually shelving books, and people wouldn’t pay attention to me. If I saw something, like I saw a lady shove a cookbook in her shopping bag once, I would signal to my manager. We would let the shopper finish checking out and get to the door, and I would intercept her and call her back into the store. Ask if she dropped something, and when she came back in, we would mention the missing cookbook. The woman was so flustered, like they usually are at getting caught, that they just return whatever they tried to steal. I had a guy once try to deny it, but when we pointed out the pocket dictionary sticking out of his pocket, he tried to say it was already his. I showed him our personalized price tag, and he finally confessed.”
Patty was nodding as she listened to the stories. “I think you would be a great fit. When would you be able to start?”
“That’s great,” Reba said, her heart giving a flutter, “but what exactly is the position?”
“I’m sorry; I didn’t say already? We’re a private investigation firm.”
Reba looked at her in confusion.
“We mainly handle things like medical disability investigations and occasionally a suspected cheating spouse. You just have to watch from a distance, snap some pictures for evidence, and file all of the paperwork. You don’t have to confront anyone.”
“I don’t know about this.” Reba was confused and surprised by the turn of events. The position went from office work to being a private eye.
“You’ll start in the office filing and answering the phones and do some ride-alongs until you are trained and licensed. You’ll get $17 per hour and bonuses as you start taking on cases.”
Reba nodded at the possibilities. $17 was more than she had ever made. Not a lot more, but enough that she could start putting money in savings and maybe upgrade from her twenty-year-old tube television. She pictured herself sitting in her car on stake-outs, eating unhealthy snacks and watching a guy with a disability claim carry something heavy up some stairs or hanging Christmas lights. She could do that. She might even like it.
“You said something about benefits in your email?” she asked.
Patty gave a nicotine-stained smile.