Wednesday’s Word and Flash Fiction: The Rat

Every Wednesday, on Writing Under Pressure, you’ll find a post based on Today’s Word (from Wordsmith.org). Check Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar for past essays, poems, or flash fiction pieces.

Today’s word:

cashier. verb tr.: To dismiss from service, especially with disgrace. noun: An employee who handles payments and receipts in a store, bank, or business.

This week’s theme on Wordsmith.org is about words that have multiple and unrelated meanings. When I read the word of the day this morning – which is simple enough, I decided to write a story that incorporated both meanings.

*****

The Rat

Derek had been scamming McGregor’s Hardware Store since the first day he started working there three weeks ago.

Karen noticed it right away. His first day was a Tuesday, and Tuesdays were always slow. Karen took customers at checkout number 7, while Derek worked number 6. Karen was supposed to show Derek the ropes, Mr. McGregor said, but Derek seemed to know exactly what he was doing.

He had a way with words — a smooth talker Karen’s mother might say. He chatted up his customers as he rang up their orders. He rattled off the total while probing them with questions about whatever home project their purchase revealed. When an older gentleman said he was building a dollhouse for his granddaughter, Karen looked over Derek’s shoulder.

What a sweet old man, she thought.

Then, she saw on Derek’s computer screen that he read the customer’s total wrong, he upped it ten dollars exactly. He took the man’s money, put it all in his drawer, then gave the man his change and receipt. After the old man left, Karen spoke up.

“You took ten dollars too much,” Karen said. “You read the total wrong. Your drawer will be over, you know.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Derek smiled and said he was going on break.

She watched him through his whole shift. He didn’t charge every customer extra, just a few here and there. And, sure enough, when she and Derek counted out their drawers in the back room after their shift, he “discovered” that he was over.

“Hmmm. Look at that,” he said. Then, he counted out the extra amount and put it in his pocket.

“What are you doing?” Karen shrieked. “You can’t take that!”

“I can’t let my drawer be over $50. My paycheck will get docked.” He signed his tally sheet and picked up his drawer to leave.

“That’s only if you’re drawer is short,” said Karen.

“Well, best to keep it balanced, anyway. I don’t want to upset McGregor,” he said. “See ya.” Then, Derek left, just like that. And, $50 richer.

Derek pulled that stunt several times a week. At the same time he was robbing Mr. McGregor, Derek sweet talked his way onto McGregor’s good side. Even if Karen tried to say something, no one would believe her. Still, she thought if she could see, as clear as day, what Derek was doing, he’d eventually get caught.

But, a few weeks later, Derek drove up in a new Mustang. He walked in wearing a new pair of jeans with his standard issue McGregor’s shirt. And, Karen got pissed.

She’s the one who needed the money — a measly $500 by the end of August, which her parents said they would match. Then, Karen could spend the fall semester studying in Europe. When Mr. McGregor hired her, the trip had seemed possible.

But, she’d been working all summer at McGregor’s, and she’d only saved $300. With each paycheck, something came up. The brakes on her Cavalier failed. She chipped a front tooth biting into a stale Payday candy bar during one of her breaks. Then, there was the visit to the ER after she ate a bad piece of Yellowfin tuna. She knew she should have declined dinner at the sushi bar.  But, Derek was the one who set up the employee outing after the store closed one Friday night, so Karen went to keep an eye on him.

Derek threw money around the bar that night like he’d just won the lottery. Karen’s insides turned, even before she bit into the tuna roll.

With two weeks of summer left, she went to work the next Tuesday with every intention of running her own drawer over by $50. At the end of four shifts, she figured she’d reach her five hundred easy.

Derek’s style seemed easy enough to follow. But, the first customer she tried it on, a stuffy older woman buying a curtain rod and a cordless screwdriver, questioned Karen’s total right away. Karen lost her nerve to go through with her plan, until the old man with a basket full of light bulbs, two cans of paint, and a friendly face walked up to her counter. She tried one more time.

“Brightening up the place?” she asked, putting on her best smile.

The man didn’t hesitate for a second to tell her all about his plan to surprise his wife with a new color on the bathroom wall, how he was finally getting rid of that Pepto Bismol pink she insisted on when they first bought the house. He was sure she would like this Daffodil yellow.

“Brightening up, that’s exactly what I’m doing!” He gave Karen the amount of his inflated total, down to the penny, and waved goodbye. “Have a good one, young lady,” he said as he walked out the door.

That evening, Karen’s drawer was over alright, by $51.22. She wasn’t sure how the extra dollar and change got figured in, but she took it anyway. Just as she was putting the money into her pocket, Derek walked into the back room.

“What’s that you’re doing, Karen?” he said, as if he didn’t know.

Her insides turned again, and her throat dried up.

“It’s better to be balanced, right? Just following your lead, Derek.” She grabbed her drawer and left.

Karen felt sick all the way home. Not because Derek caught her, but because Mr. McGregor was a really nice man. She needed the money, but she didn’t like cheating him. She put the cash in her jewelry box and told herself, never again.

The next morning, she pulled her car into the lot and parked next to Derek’s Mustang. Derek nodded as he got out, and he followed her into the store.

As soon as they crossed the threshold, Mr. McGregor and two Police officers stood in their way.

They finally figured out Derek’s scam, Karen thought. It’s about time. She stopped to let Derek pass her by. But, when she stopped, Mr. McGregor moved forward.

The officers were swift and had her hands behind her back before she ever heard Mr. McGregor say “stealing.” He said other words, too, but the blood rushing to Karen’s head muted the noise. The officers turned her around and escorted her to a squad car waiting outside, which she hadn’t noticed before.

She looked over her shoulder at Derek. He was smiling, she was sure.

“A thief and a rat,” she mumbled.

Just before the squad car door closed, she heard Derek console Mr. McGregor.

“You never know who to trust, I guess. You just never know.”

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4 responses to “Wednesday’s Word and Flash Fiction: The Rat

  1. I love this! Small, daily betrayals against those to whom allegiance is due are, in my view, where one learns another’s character. You nailed it, m’girl fren. Very well done.

  2. Good story! I felt her angst all the way through and hated seeing her succumb to cheating.

  3. That is the way it would work! 🙂 Great story!

  4. Thanks for reading and for leaving your comments!

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