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Fiction Crime Drama

I promised myself I would change, but it's happening again—at my third job this year at a New York based charity, my coworkers have started calling me ‘controlling’. At first, I heard it just out of earshot; then yesterday, Ashley told me straight to my face. All of I have ever done is try to help people and offer them suggestions to improve themselves.


And about the job, even though the weekly salary is low, I enjoy working for charities, at least that's the story I tell myself. Maybe I'm just not good at anything else. 


I see Sharon from Linden wearing the same green blouse that reaches up to her neckline. With her short neck, it's not the best look. It hurts my eyes to see her present herself like that when she could do so much better.


Even if Sharon doesn't react well, I think I need to let her know she should change her outfit.


“Sharon, you have a date tonight?”


“Why are you asking, aren’t you married?” She raises an eyebrow at me.


“Happily,” I reply, “I don’t want to give too much advice, but I think you would look much better in a V-Neck blouse.”


“And why’s that, Jake?”


“Just something I saw on TV yesterday.” I’m not an idiot, I know not to bring up people’s flaws.


Sharon glares at me with eyes filled with anger. 


I feel hurt. It's public knowledge that Sharon is looking for a boyfriend. She's never going to find the right guy dressing like that. She fills in the whole office every Monday about her weekend Tinder dates. Everyone except me.


Sharon skulks off, shaking her head.


Ashley, who sits in the marketing area with us, says, “I know what you’re up to, Jake.”


“And what’s that?” I ask her. 


From behind a defensive line of perfect grooming, manicured nails and a nasally NPR accent, Ashley has taken up sniping at me lately.


She stares at me silently with a knowing look.


As for me, I know how to dress properly, for my large frame. Get my hair cut every Thursday, teeth cleaned, and keep my nails trimmed. It makes me feel optimistic. It's not just me. BuzzFeed had an article that said taking care of oneself is the first step to keeping a positive outlook. 


I like to see the people around me take care of themselves.


I’m filled with a warm glow when I see Ethan come in with his teeth scaled and whitened, just like I told him to. 


To cool the tension in the office, I get back to cold calling charity donors.


“Hello. I am calling from the New Jersey Fireman Charity. If you have 30 seconds, I will tell you about the hardworking men and women serving our state.” 


I'm ready to keep talking if he doesn't say anything, 


On the line I hear, “Ok.” 


Great.


I remind him of the sacrifice of firefighter Stephen Siller. Steve was on his way to play golf when he heard the twin towers had been struck on 9/11. He grabbed his gear and ran to the towers.


“I think those guys knew there was a possibility they weren't coming home. They still went into those buildings. Can you imagine that?” I say, “Now, if you let me know your email address, I will send you a link for PayPal, Visa, or MasterCard.” 


For unknown reasons, most people prefer to make charity donations with PayPal.


When I hang up, Alice, the charity’s receptionist, is tapping my shoulder.


“The HR department wants to see you, now.”


Everything is so formal here even though there's only 20 of us.


I see Vince looking sullen through the door of his office.


“Sit down and close the door,” Vince says when he sees me. He is the only one in the office, outside of Ashley, who doesn’t back off because of my size and be extra polite to me. Probably because he’s even larger than I am.


“ Vince, how are things today?” I ask.


He ignores my attempt at small talk and pauses before saying, “Your coworker Sharon came in here, said you body-shamed her.”


“Sharon turned me in?”


“Bro. I don’t even know what body-shamed means, But you need to cut that shit out, Jim. You comment on another woman’s looks and I’ll bang your head against that wall.”


I look at his large, thick hands connected to wrestler sized shoulders.


“Message received,” I say reluctantly.


“Good, now we have an understanding.” His hostile frown softens into a stone faced glare.


I notice how dimly lit the office is. Maybe that’s affecting his mood. 


“You should open the blinds. You’d get some good morning sun from 35th street.” I point toward the opening rod.


“What are you talking about…you didn’t hear what I just told you?” 


“Just a suggestion.”


Vince stands up, picks up the phone receiver on his desk, and waves it at me. “You work here to talk into the phone. Into the fucking phone.”


His bulk fills the room, and he’s inching closer to me. 


“Got it,” I say and back away.


**


“I’m calling from the New Jersey Fireman Charity. If you have 30 seconds, I will tell you about the —”   


“How do I know this isn't a scam?”


I hear a click and the line goes dead. Having had six successful closes this morning, it doesn’t phase me. I’m ahead of the sales team average.


Turning behind me, I smile at Ashley. I’m still trying to break the ice with her.


“Anything new today, Ash?” 


“The new sales targets from Henry.”


“Any good gossip?”


“Nothing that I’ve heard of.”


She waves her hand as if dispersing a cloud of fruit flies.


Henry, the Executive Director, shows up late this morning as usual. Oddly, the boss is the only one here now who will give me the time of day. Maybe because he’s loud, like me. Who knows? Anyway, he gets where I’m coming from.


“Hey my man, our new top producer,” he says and gives me a fist bump:


“Brioni, nice,” I say, pointing out his suit choice today.


“Thank you.” He poses, massaging his lapel. “Lunch Liberty Grilll?”


“Of course.” 


He always pays for everyone who joins.


That afternoon, after a long lunch, Henry calls an all hands meeting in the conference room.


“Someone…” He scans the room. “Has been posting shit about this company on Glassdoor. Most of you have probably seen it already. I want each one of you to point at who you think it is.” 


Everyone points at each other, almost randomly. Ethan, with his white teeth, is pointing at me.


But I’m not a snitch.


Henry looks at me, “What about you, Jake. You don’t have a suspect?”


“I’m not a snitch.”


“Then I’ll talk to you privately,” he says, looking vaguely disappointed.


In the meeting with Henry, I hem and haw, I’m in enough shit here with my coworkers, I don’t want to face the consequences if I point out the wrong person.


The next morning, Ethan doesn’t arrive at the office. Vince walks past and points at Ethan’s empty desk, “I’ve taken care of that traitor.”


The way he says that worries me. Ethan seems like a good kid. I give him a call, but he doesn’t answer his phone. I’ve been trained to know what these types of organizations are capable of.


I call my wife, “Honey, I think I’ll be late for dinner tonight. I’ll be on the 9pm train.”


That's our code word.


A half hour later, a half dozen IRS agents pour in. Guns show on their waist holsters. “IRS investigation for tax fraud. Put the telephones down.”


The agents arrest the top management, Henry and Vince, and let everyone else including me go, after checking our IDs.


On the way out, Agent Johnson mumbles to me, “You are like a bull in a china shop, Jake. No one ever suspects you could be the one undercover.”


Ashley turns around and studies us. I shrug my shoulders.


I tell Agent Johnson, “We are not supposed to break cover until we are 500 feet away.”


“This isn't the Italian mob, Jake,” he says chuckling, “We sure missed having you around the office for three months.”


I noticed something before that I should tell him before we get busy filling out reports. “The second button on your jacket is about to fall off.” It's hanging on by a few threads.


He is right about one thing, this isn’t the mob. The missing Ethan calls me and says he went on a bender after being fired by Vince via text message. Apparently, Vince apologized for not doing it in person, because the doctor told him he needs to keep his blood pressure down.


The prosecutor says we have enough incriminating evidence from my recordings of Henry at the boozy lunches to put him away for at least 3 years. Even though, on paper, the charity was legit, all the money raised was spent on Henry’s lifestyle. Not a penny was sent to a firefighter.


A surprise comes, when in Henry’s plea deal, the defense argue that if a government agent knowingly committed the same crime as the defendant—defrauding citizens of New Jersey—the agent would also need to be indicted. 


Not my idea of a good time, but my supervisor talks me into agreeing to serve a 3-month sentence so our case doesn’t fall apart. My wife is more understanding to the sacrifice and solemn duty of government service than I thought she would be.


To make it more worthwhile, the NJDOC will place me in the same cell as Henry so I can continue my background investigation into non-profit tax fraud in the North-Eastern states. I'm looking forward to spending time with Henry. There are a lot of things I’d like to teach him in order to live as a proper person. I think I can change him. It’s just a matter of time.


January 05, 2023 06:45

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28 comments

Delbert Griffith
11:54 Jan 05, 2023

This was savagely hilarious because we all know someone like this. You should have trigger warned me that I would be laughing my ass off at this one. You delivered some subtle but devastating passages. My favorites: 1) “This isn't the Italian mob, Jake,” he says chuckling, “We sure missed having you around the office for three months.” 2) Not my idea of a good time but my supervisor talks me into agreeing to serve a 3-month sentence so our case doesn’t fall apart. My wife is more understanding to the sacrifice and solemn duty of government...

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14:03 Jan 05, 2023

Thanks Delbert, those edits are immensely useful. I'm always open to any type of critiques as I'm mainly working on trying to improve. And really pleased you found it humorous! I have visions of story ideas that popup and really don't know if they work or not until someone lets me know. Thx again for your nice comment.

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Autumn Dixon
04:34 Jan 25, 2023

The people in this story are awesome and I feel like I understand Jake. Sometimes at school, I'm called a jerk for being brutally honest or giving big suggestions! Jake was awesome!

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07:45 Jan 25, 2023

Thanks, yeah giving suggestions is a good thing most of the time.

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Autumn Dixon
01:57 Jan 26, 2023

For real!

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Autumn Dixon
02:00 Jan 26, 2023

And thanks for reading my story!

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06:32 Jan 26, 2023

Thanks, I think you have a lot of potential, good dialogue and action. I'd recommended having a look through some of the Reedsy youtube videos if you haven't yet. Its where I learned most of my writing from: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLeNEAJ6hQSSi_WFzJelm-el5j2J4JOcYg

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Autumn Dixon
12:46 Jan 26, 2023

That you! I wrote a sequel to Geography Watcher, its called Not A Normal Day if you would like to check it out.

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Michał Przywara
21:45 Jan 09, 2023

Ha, hilarious :) The character is already great, but that undercover twist was awesome! Didn't see it coming, and it added a lot to a quirky office piece. "My wife is more understanding to the sacrifice and solemn duty of government service than I thought she would be." Somehow I'm not surprised :)

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02:31 Jan 10, 2023

Glad to hear I surprised you with that twist! yeah, the un self-aware character flaw can make for great comedy. I remember getting that from reading the Confederacy of Dunces.

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Wally Schmidt
05:40 Jan 09, 2023

The Elephant in the Room is a great title, and would even make a really good writing prompt. I'm not any good with titles myself, not giving them their just due, but merely slapping on something before I click submit. The MC was written so well that reading this sentence "All of I have ever done is try to help people and offer them suggestions to improve themselves" triggered me, reminding me of all the control freaks I know. I love the humor interspersed throughout and the surprise ending. Really well done.

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Wally Schmidt
06:40 Jan 09, 2023

Sorry Scott don't mean to be daft, but I am fairly new to Reedsy, what is the 'rec list'? and how do you get on it? More importantly, why do you want to be on it? Whatever the reason, know you should be happy with your writing and that others are enjoying reading your work.

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03:06 Jan 10, 2023

Thanks, I think that's the best way to keep going, to enjoy doing something, and be happy even if one person reads it. That rec list...If you click on a topic tag like "drama" or "romance" and scroll down you will see 3 "Recommended" stories. These are the ones that have a chance to make it in the competition.

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Wally Schmidt
04:37 Jan 10, 2023

Thanks for elucidating me on the topic of the Rec list. It doesn't make a ton of sense to me because why not just pick a less popular category to put your stories under?That way you'd get on the rec list every week. 😂 In the East Asia category, none of the three stories on the rec list are from this week. In another category a story on the rec list has no likes and no comments, is that story really in the running? I bet it is just a goofy algorithm that spits the stories on the rec list up there. There are a few things about Reedsy that ar...

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04:45 Jan 10, 2023

Yeah Michal is awesome at reading deeply into stories, and pointing out the meaningful themes. I'm so bad at reviewing, either I like it, or want to say this is this reason the story doesn't work. anyways, I do not all the mechanic, but it seems the amateur judges send about 50 stories to reedsy hq every week. So in a weekly contest, maybe just writing something/anything every week is a good idea, got to hit the right mood of whoever is reading it right? I advise new writers not to overinvest in one story and be disappointed.

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06:17 Jan 09, 2023

Thanks Wally. Happy to hear this was fun to read, as I'm a bit bummed not to not be on the rec list this week after putting a lot of effort on into this story. I'm the opposite of controlling like many of us artistically minded people, and have asked people like that what they are thinking, and I guess there's two sides of the story;)

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07:12 Jan 08, 2023

This guy is a hoot.! I liked Jake. This is the guy the rest of the office doesn't quite know what to do with. Your writing was fast paced and to the point. The undercover IRS agent was a nice twistIRSgent twist coming. Nice. Great Job!

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14:30 Jan 08, 2023

thanks for reading and commenting! yeah I'm still learning how to slow things down to eventually write longer fiction;) nice to hear you liked the twists at the end.

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Lily Finch
23:32 Jan 06, 2023

Scott, this story was riveting, funny and delivered a punch at the end. Nicely done. Everyone can probably relate to having a Jake at work at some point in their life. My favourite line "Not my idea of a good time, but my supervisor talks me into agreeing to serve a 3-month sentence, so our case doesn’t fall apart. My wife is more understanding to the sacrifice and solemn duty of government service than I thought she would be." - Absurd - but so damn funny! LF6

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01:56 Jan 07, 2023

Thanks for reading LIly. Sometimes I'm not sure why readers see so much humor in my stories, but I think you might have pointed it out, some of the absurd plotlines even in the more serious stories. Saturday.. need to turn the radar back on to look for story themes

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AnneMarie Miles
17:52 Jan 05, 2023

This is a funny one :) I love stories that are heavy on dialogue, and this one had some good lines. Man, he's a bold one trying to tell Sharon what to wear! I've had a co-worker like this before, going out of his way to be in other people's business and offering unsolicited comments. There's a sense of narcissism and a lack of social awareness. I see why he was picked as an UC for this... no one would suspect him! The ending is perfect. These people cannot be changed, LOL. Great story, Scott.

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02:33 Jan 06, 2023

Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, I had just read the first chapter of 'A Visit From The Goon Squad', and was inspired by that to have an MC with a slightly self-destructive compulsion that he is aware of, but just can't help but unleash at times. Can't imagine the advice he will give his cellmate 24/7 in prison. Happy to hear you liked the ending

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Mike Panasitti
14:31 Jan 05, 2023

The storyline here had cinematic qualities to it. It reminded me of "The Big Short" and I could envision the main character being played by Christian Bale. Although the IRS agent says "This isn't the Italian mob," the menacing Vince does make it seem that the charity scam operation has some gangster qualities to it. Subtle writing and great characterization of the undercover MC.

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15:16 Jan 05, 2023

Thanks, cinematic...interesting, as I was picturing it visually when I was writing this with a louder version of Salvatore/Pussy from the Sopranos. Yeah I wanted to give some hints that the place was a bit off with the overly aggressive HR manager, something you don't see everyday, wasn't sure if overplayed it a bit but it is possible.

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Daniel Allen
15:22 Jan 11, 2023

Love this one, Scott. That guy is not going to make it out of prison in one piece...

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Rama Shaar
21:22 Jan 08, 2023

Ah this was awesome! Funny and dynamic. You somehow made all of these characters charming! Some skill that is!

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Wendy Kaminski
20:15 Jan 07, 2023

Echoing the lotta love that's been shown for the dark humor in this piece! Also, my own favorite line that set me howling: "I’ve been trained to know what these types of organizations are capable of." lol :) This whole thing was fantastic - thank you for sharing it!

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A.R. Eakle
16:59 Jan 07, 2023

This was a really good one! I would like to see more of Jake’s personality outside of his need to criticize people. I like how you drop bits of information throughout it though, like how he has a wife but it’s really a hint at his code word. I think this would make a really interesting novella or novel haha.

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