At Work the Whole Time

Submitted into Contest #121 in response to: Write about someone in a thankless job.... view prompt



This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

TW*** Gun Violence

They wanted more than just getting by. It wasn’t supposed to become a career. They wanted to be able to afford a trip to New Zealand or to see the Parthenon. These jobs weren’t supposed to be their future.

Acrylic nails that would have paid for a tub of ice cream several times clicked on the counter. Cassie kept a neutral, polite face while thinking a pair of pliers would take care of that obnoxious clicking and send a clear message. Nobody wants to deal with this kind of shit.

She glanced down the line of people with fifteen items or less and paged the manager again. Stan’s hair had appeared in the window up in the office the first time she paged and moved closer this time. The prick passed a hearing exam but had tested negative for spine for confronting someone he couldn’t fire. She was there as a favor. All he needed to do was tell the customer she was wrong, but that wasn’t what he did. It was his job to enforce store policy, but not what he did. Cassie was doing someone else’s job and this shouldn’t be her life right now.  

When Stan called her because they were short checkers, she showed up. When he told her neither the shift she was picking up nor her scheduled evening shift had a lunch break, she nodded and held her tongue like a devoted employee. She kept any bitter comments to herself while he talked up a third fifteen-minute break over fourteen hours like it was a reward for busting her ass beyond a busted ass.  

Cassie picked up one of the coupons and showed Coupon Claws the near illegibly fine print. She explained she could get her two more tubs of ice cream and then two would be free, but she had to have four tubs. She offered to give her back one coupon and charge her for one ice cream and she could go home with one for free. Coupon Claws was unmoved by the concept that coupons didn’t stack or Sunday papers would be porch pirated like they were full of cash. She cocked her head at Cassie with a condescending smirk.

“I have two buy-one-get-one-free coupons and two tubs of ice cream. That means there’s no charge. The ice cream is free. Can you get a manager with common sense?”

Cassie picked up the receiver again. Stan’s common sense existed. Cassie’s ability to ‘get’ him was doubtful since his hair was sitting in his perch enjoying the entertainment. Genie was swamped at the service desk and couldn’t offer the appearance of higher authority no matter how hard Cassie’s perplexed face pleaded. If she didn’t need to behave like this was an average day, she could stick her middle finger in Coupon Claws’ face and say her shit was gratis with the purchase of two tubs of ice cream at fifty percent off.  Cassie anticipated getting fired today but she still needed a few hours of her service desk shift first. Then, this would no longer be her life.

She made damn sure she had both coupons and hit the cancel sale button. She scanned the ice cream and bagged it with a receipt for nothing. She went back to double bag it because Coupon Claws wasn’t satisfied with only being allowed to shoplift.

 She needed to be at the customer service desk today. Being at work was a solid alibi. She would be thin wall away from the count room. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving had people flowing in for cans of cranberry sauce and other forgotten essentials they could send their kid with a $20 bill to get. All lanes were open. Registers were filling with cash and needed to be swapped before checkers could go on break. Today, Cassie’s job at the service desk included listening for when Genie was in the count room preparing the vault bags for the armored truck.  

She kept a bottle of water close to ease her dry throat, silently reminding herself to act normal. Kyle signaled when Stan’s wife was taking the kids to dance class. Cassie signaled that the deposit was ready.  Cassie kept a straight face when Stan came down from the office after a call from his wife about a broken pipe at the house. She gave him a lax smile to mask grin when he gave her his count room key. She sent a quick text to David to signal Stan was gone. Josh sent her a thumbs up emoji to signal they were ready. Cassie’s brain fizzed with anticipation.

The idea born over Friday night bong hits.

Josh’s boss at the convenience store wrote him up for stealing cigarettes. He told her surveillance video might show Shane was the one stuffing Pall Malls in his pockets. She refused to even look because she couldn’t be wrong. He wanted to go in wearing a ski mask and brandishing an airsoft pistol. The clerks were trained to hand over the till and not get shot.

Kyle adopted Josh’s indignance. His boss always understaffed the restaurant and rode the staff about beating the order clock, keeping the drive-thru moving and the lobby clear. They could rush him in the parking lot and take his deposit disguised in a to-go bag.

The owner of the second-run movie theater was nice as a person. He started believing the cash-only policy was more than a refusal to pay transaction fees in the age of debit cards. He spied Steve emptying a gym bag of cash into the safe more than once and was convinced he worked for a drug front. Robbing the place would be an experiment in how much money was stolen versus how much was reported stolen.

Cassie suggested they take turns robbing each other so being at work would cross them off a suspect list and nobody would get killed. The grocery store would have to be skipped. There were always at least twenty employees around. The computer system alerted the count room to swap drawers before registers reached dangerous levels of cash. The service desk had a silent alarm. Josh’s brother had an airsoft tournament and needed his guns back. The grocery store required a more subtle, non-threatening approach that took a few weeks to prepare.  

Cassie’s arms felt like they’d been shoved in an electric socket when she saw David come in. His fake mustache and goatee looked realistic, but she had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.  The uniform shirt Kyle stole from his uncle’s roommate fit loose, but still looked legit. His floppy hair was stuffed inside the cap that completed the costume of an armored car guard.

Kyle’s part was to watch when Stan’s wife left to take the kids to rec basketball practice. He must have been successful in sneaking into their crawlspace and hammering a pipe until it sprayed. Stan was gone and delegated signing over the deposit to Cassie. Genie was far too busy to pay much attention to the fit of the stolen uniform.

David approached the counter at the camera’s blind spot Cassie had marked by moving the lottery display. He flashed an ID someone at the community college left behind in one of his classes. Cassie unlocked the count room and stilled her trembling hands before Genie handed her the logbook and two vault bags. The act of turning around to the counter was enough to cause vertigo. Cassie let out a stuttering exhale and managed a steady walk to David. She dug her fingernails into her palm to quell her shakes when she pointed to the line for David to sign out the seventeen-thousand-dollars in cash. She kept a straight face when he signed under her signature, making sure his hand never touched the logbook. Cassie returned the logbook to the count room and went back to customers hoping they were hiding turkeys smaller than the $60 monsters they had left.

She had seen David get to the door but people wouldn’t be dumb to think Josh picking up an armored car guard in a sedan was normal. Not knowing if they’d cleared the parking lot was leading to wrong buttons being pushed. Distracted mistakes now would be too obvious. She could blame her long day, but wanted no one to say she was acting fidgety. She didn’t want someone getting pissed and reporting that she was constantly checking her phone while they waited for help. She told people to have a nice day and remembered at the last second to say Happy Thanksgiving.

Cassie’s shoulders throbbed with tension as the true test of her casual façade showed up. She glanced at the real armored truck guard like she was too busy to be bothered. She tried her best impression of Coupon Claws, cocking her head to the side and repeated that the deposit had been picked up already. She acted like he was an idiot for thinking that was a problem.  

She had to step away from her customer and pretend that it was sinking in that something was wrong. She gave a vague description that didn’t quite match how David looked and focused on the uniform matching what he had on. Genie came out of the count room when the guard radioed that there was a problem. Cassie pulled at her shirt as sweat beaded on her forehead. She was reasonably sure enough time had passed that David and Kyle would safely away. She couldn’t check her phone with the guard questioning her and Genie noticing the name in the logbook was Mike Hunt. Cassie grew concerned about the people waiting for service though none of them had been there when David was. She was glad that Genie was the first one to say out loud that they had been robbed. Cassie offered to call Stan so she wouldn’t be the one a 911 operator was recording. Her fingers shook trying to dial on a land line. She didn’t dare touch her phone like anything else could be a priority in this moment. She genuinely broke down and cried real tears when Stan didn’t pick up on the first try. The customers were starting to murmur about a robbery and the registers ground to a standstill one by one. The chaos was terrifying. She sobbed with guilt when Stan’s first question was if anyone was hurt.  

David and Josh said two cops were sent to their robbery calls and they were gone in fifteen minutes. Cassie wasn’t prepared for five cops, two guys from the armored car company, Stan, and a guy on speakerphone from the regional office. They made her pick out noses and eye shapes for the computerized composite sketch. David had worn the cap low enough to hide his fake goatee from the cameras. The car was too grainy to get a plate. She and Genie were the only witnesses.  

Her dad was passed out on the couch with beer cans all over the coffee table. Cassie could have passed out in her plastic lawn chair as they torched the vault bags, uniform shirt and hat in the fire pit in her back yard. David took the pen he signed the logbook with and watched it melt to goop.  The deposit slips were still legible as ash and had to be broken up with a stick. Cassie’s exhilaration was numbed by a massive adrenalin crash. They’d pulled off three robberies without seeing the back of a cop car. The grocery store heist was too surreal to have worked. Getting a bag of money from a guy in a dark parking lot would be simple after this.

Cassie had watched a couple nights to find parking with good cover and a short distance from where Cole parked. He would slog out to his car around nine with a to-go bag under his arm and no drink. It was weak subterfuge. Who puts their food in their armpit? He liked to air out his nasty car before starting it. That would work in their favor.

Kyle didn’t know what night would get them the most money, but they made a unanimous vote to get it over with and pick a night at least two of them weren’t working. Cassie and David waited in the empty parking lot of the strip mall behind the Ambassador Burger in his grandma’s Buick with the plate off a random car at the movie theater. They left their phones in his grandma’s cabinet so their alibi of cleaning her house would check out if the cops happened to investigate a fourth robbery in six weeks.

She and David left their car doors open to give as little warning as possible. David jogged to the passenger side and busted out the window with a center punch. Cole didn’t seem to notice him and focused on Cassie holding his door open, demanding the bag, and pointing her dad’s snub nose revolver in his face. Cole was creepy. She didn’t feel good going without any weapon at all.

Cole grabbed her wrist. She held onto the gun with her right hand and pulled to get her arm free. Cole dropped the bag on the glass in the passenger seat and reached into his console. Cassie saw a black barrel swinging towards her. The world muted as the gun kicked into her hand and she felt a frigid explosion through her body and glass from the window behind her bouncing off her sleeve.  Cole’s hand dropped off her wrist and her hand flew to her stomach to hold in the blood. Cole slumped over and dangled from is shoulder strap. What was left of his head laid against his shoulder. His mouth flapped like a suffocating fish.

Her arm was grabbed again as David dragged her back to the Buick. Cassie yanked up her shirt and was shocked that no blood was gushing from her gut. She had been so frightened she was incapacitated b the mere idea she was shot. She bashed into the dashboard when David smashed the brake before completely blowing a stop sign. He yelled at get her seatbelt on before she gave some random cop an excuse to stop them.

The new story was that they had fallen asleep at David’s grandma’s after they cleaned. Cassie showered and ran their clothes through the washer. She cleaned the car while David worked on making the house noticeably cleaner. They had no alibies except each other. She soaked more peroxide into a paper towel and held her breath as a car rumbled by. Every car could be a police car. The ringing in her ears seemed like a constant siren.  She wanted to get her phone and check the news. She was evil for being relieved she was alive and didn’t get caught before being concerned she’d shot a man with a family. She wiped tears on David’s grandmother’s tee shirt and wondered how she could go to class or work or home and pretend she was okay. She could still get a few hours of sleep if they hurried. She shined a flashlight and tears overwhelmed her again when she found another mark that had rubbed off her clothes.

She took another shower to make sure Cole’s DNA hadn’t rubbed off the car onto her. She heard pounding and shut off the water. The train whistle in her ears was still louder than anything else. She tiptoed to the other side of the hall to make sure the extra sleeping pill they gave Yiayia hadn’t worn off. Josh and Kyle glared at her from the living room. Cassie froze at the bottom of the stairs. Kyle started bellowing she was the stupidest thing that walked and Josh demanded she get her clothes now, without bitching.

Cassie didn’t move. Josh hadn’t said to get her clothes on, only to get them. She carried them to the car. Their airbrushed senior pictures were on tv. The cops had connected them, the robberies, and a murder before the ten o’clock news was over. The news said that Steve had reported what was stolen from the registers, but not the six grand out of the safe. They needed to get the money and get out of town.

Her dad’s truck wasn’t in the driveway and the lights were off. Cassie still had David park in the field behind the house. Josh wouldn’t stop grilling her and David about what was said when they gave their statements about the store and theater. Cassie was doing the math over and over in her mind. They had nine grand each if they split the money now. They needed more to get enough highway dashes between them and what they’d done. It wasn’t enough to start a new life for long. It would take three times that just to retain the kind of lawyer she needed. They needed leaving the country money. Steve wouldn’t need proof beyond a reasonable doubt to come for his. They had to get far and fast.

Cassie ran back to Josh’s grandma’s boyfriend’s car with the duffle bag. She didn’t think about a change of clothes or a toothbrush, but she packed three of her dad’s guns. They needed to protect themselves and score some more money.

There would be no class. There would be no work. There would be no Christmas. This was no longer their life.

November 27, 2021 03:44

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06:12 Dec 02, 2021

Hi Lin, I like the idea and the over all story line, customer service really is a thankless job. A few notes to help you improve. There are a few sentences that I had to re read to make sure I understood them. "He flashed an ID someone at the community college left behind in one of his classes" is a good example of a sentence that could have been rewritten. "He flashed an ID card at her. He said he got it from the community college, someone left it at a desk or something. It would never pass for anything remotely real, but it only needed to...


Lin Macredie
22:33 Dec 02, 2021

Thank you so much for reading. I would love to have more than 3k words for the story. I noticed a few things I should have done better and mistakes after it was already posted. I do like your suggestion on the ID thing. It's always clear to me when I'm writing it. ;) Thanks for your suggestions!


02:19 Dec 03, 2021

It's funny, I'm the same in my stories too. They always make sense to me, and someone else will point something out. I always see what they mean after, but it's hard in the moment.


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Michael Harrison
14:38 Dec 01, 2021

Hi Lin, As someone who once was a retail manager, let me just say Coupon Claws is so well realized, I was nodding my head along while reading it. I do have a few notes though that I hope you find helpful. One thing I noticed is that your story tended to use a lot of passive verbs (i.e. was, were, etc). I would recommend changing up some of that sentence structure to more active verbs, this gives the story a little more punch for the reader. For example, instead of "Her arm was grabbed again as David dragged her back to the Buick." make ...


Lin Macredie
22:46 Dec 02, 2021

Thank you for taking a look at it! I do need to work on narrowing my focus and going with what works. It's a buzz you found the Coupon Claws villain as bad as Cassie did. Thanks again for your suggestions. I might expand the idea and give it the detail it should have with more time and a higher word limit.


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