Fail­ure to Co­op­er­ate

Broken Pencil - - Table Of Contents - by Su­san Read


FOR my sec­ond last sched­uled day of work at, well, let’s call it Tar­sucks. This is only based on a true story, af­ter all. I don my green apron, punch in my seven-digit code, and get called to the back of­fice be­fore I can make my­self an Amer­i­cano.

In the crowded back room, four fold­ing chairs are ar­ranged in a semi-cir­cle, three of them oc­cu­pied by well-dressed, smil­ing peo­ple — a man, and two women. A plas­tic cup of water and a pile of nap­kins sit on a desk be­side my empty chair. “Should I take my apron off?” I ask. “What­ever makes you com­fort­able. We’re

sorry it’s a lit­tle warm back here. We hope this won’t take long.”

The man does all the talk­ing. He be­gins ask­ing me ques­tions. I know why he’s here. He’s here be­cause there is money miss­ing. A lot of money, I’d as­sumed when I com­pleted a seven page ques­tion­naire about it a week ago. He wants in­for­ma­tion. He wants me to rat some­one out, or fess up. I’m not sure yet be­cause he isn’t ask­ing me about money.

When did you be­gin work­ing for Tar­sucks? How did you find your train­ing? Do you like work­ing here? Do you like the peo­ple you work with?

It’s a bar­rage of bland ques­tions that ought to make me sus­pi­cious, per­haps, but I pre­fer to err on the side of kind­ness.

Then the man, who has been fid­get­ing since he sat down, be­gins to tell me about his job. Some­thing about as­sets and in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Ev­ery­thing from free cof­fee to grand lar­ceny. I nod po­litely and watch his left thumb cir­cle his right in­dex fin­ger ner­vously. I feel calm, cool, col­lected. I won­der if that both­ers him.

He tells me sto­ries of past thefts. Who did what, and why, and how it all worked out for ev­ery­one in the end. He says, “We want to know why peo­ple do this.” He says that a lot. And, “We don’t blame peo­ple here, we are prob­lem solvers.” “We pre­fer to keep our prob­lems in the fam­ily.” “This in­ter­view is your chance to be hon­est.”

I nod and smile, watch­ing him shift un­com­fort­ably in his me­tal fold­ing chair. He clears his throat and wipes a trail of sweat from his fore­head.

“Su­san, when did you de­cide to take the money?”

I start. I glance from him to the two si­lent, stoic women at his side who I now know are only here to judge. I feel my face go red (it is hot in here), and my heart starts to race, just a lit­tle. I say, “What?” “What’s the most you’ve ever taken from Tar­sucks?”

But that’s not what he said. He changed his ques­tion. Didn’t he? It’s fas­ci­nat­ing what a lit­tle heat can do. I have be­come the one sweat­ing and fid­get­ing. I feel a sud­den weight on my chest. It’s their eyes on me ex­pec­tantly. It’s shock and dis­com­fort. It’s guilt. I de­cide it’s time to con­fess. “I give out free cof­fees to my friends. No. Not just cof­fees. What­ever they want. Lat­tes. Straw­berry blended lemon­ades. Even Frap­puc­ci­nos.” “Okay,” he says, “let’s start there.” But he has no in­ten­tion of stop­ping there. I reach for my water and shift un­com­fort­ably in my me­tal fold­ing chair. (One Week Ear­lier) “There is money miss­ing from the store,” Me­gan, my su­per­vi­sor, tells me. “How much?” She says she’ll tell me when I don’t work there any­more. That is, a week from now, when I start school. I shrug, know­ing the real story will come out over beers, not un­der the twenty-two watch­ful eyes of the Tar­sucks sur­veil­lance sys­tem. She hands me a form. “You don’t have to fill it out,” she re­cites, “but the in­for­ma­tion you do or do not pro­vide will be con­sid­ered very care­fully.”

I flip through the pages. There are a few es­say ques­tions at the front, short an­swer at the back.

Money has gone miss­ing from Store #97051. Please ex­plain in de­tail how you think this might have hap­pened.

I con­sider walk­ing out. I didn’t take the money, and this test looks tough. I turn the page. How would you con­duct this in­ves­ti­ga­tion? “I’m not filling this out,” I say. It’s up to me, Me­gan re­peats, but it is a se­ri­ous mat­ter. I frown, won­der­ing if re­fusal to fill out the form is like re­fus­ing a breath­a­lyzer: guilt as­sumed upon fail­ure to co­op­er­ate. Fuck. Fine. Page 1. Please ex­plain in de­tail how you think this might have hap­pened.

Af­ter a mo­ment’s con­sid­er­a­tion I write, I don’t know. I guess some­one could have dropped twen­ties into their apron. Ex­cept this is prob­a­bly a lot of money, so, prob­a­bly not, right? Maybe it was left unat­tended in the back room and some­one grabbed it.

But this is all wild con­jec­ture. I have no idea what hap­pened.

Page 2. How would you con­duct this in­ves­ti­ga­tion?

I’d make ev­ery­one fill out this stupid fuck­ing form and hope for a con­fes­sion be­cause oth­er­wise I have no le­gal re­course in the mat­ter. Shouldn’t say that. I’d check the cam­eras, and in­ter­view a few sus­pects. Noth­ing else you can really do, is there?

I guess I’m be­ing kind of a jack­ass. But I have been hav­ing a bad night, a bad week, and a bad month at work. With the end in sight,

this seems like a lot of bull­shit to go through when ei­ther they know who took the money or they don’t.

Page 3. List five (5) rea­sons why some­one might take this money.

I am hav­ing that dream where you show up to an exam that you haven’t stud­ied for, and sud­denly can’t re­mem­ber hav­ing ever at­tended a sin­gle class. Let’s see, five rea­sons. Ter­ri­ble wages. Poor treat­ment. Low self-es­teem. Bad day. Good day. Fam­ily prob­lems. Men­tal prob­lems. Cor­po­rate rage. Ser­vice in­dus­try burnout. Stick­ing it to the man. Just for a laugh. Drugs. Debts. De­pres­sion. Des­per­a­tion.

I quickly get to the short an­swer ques­tions and read an­other dis­claimer say­ing my an­swers will be taken very se­ri­ously and to an­swer hon­estly.

Doy. If this is such a big deal, why don’t they just talk to us about it? Do you know who took the money? I have a few ideas. I write, No. Did you take the money? I wish. They did say to an­swer hon­estly. Did you have any part in tak­ing the money? Je­sus. No. Should we be­lieve that the an­swers you’ve pro­vided us with are true?

What? Fuck off. Who an­swers ‘no’ to that? I refuse to write yes. Baf­fled, I write, You gotta do what you gotta do.

If you an­swered yes to the above ques­tion, give one rea­son why.

I am a good Chris­tian soul. I pay my taxes. You can’t prove nothin’! I won­der if I should speak to a lawyer. What would you say if we found out that you had lied on this ques­tion­naire?

Ob­jec­tion, Your Hon­our. This piece of pa­per is bad­ger­ing the wit­ness.

What emo­tions did you ex­pe­ri­ence while com­plet­ing this form? Shock. Rage. Con­tempt. Ha­tred. And fi­nally, How much of the stolen money would you be will­ing to pay back to the Tar­sucks cor­po­ra­tion? …What? I mean... Really? Frankly, I con­clude, I am of­fended to be asked most of these ques­tions, par­tic­u­larly by a ques­tion­naire. I find this form ab­surd and ac­cusatory, and I am not con­vinced that it is en­tirely le­gal. Al­though I as­sume you know your loop­holes. Feel free to talk to me like a hu­man any time — you know, in per­son — if you have any fur­ther ques­tions. I hope you get your man. (Present Day) “So, Su­san, how were you able to or­ches­trate this giv­ing of free cof­fees to friends?”

“Well.. I’d make them a drink, and I’d hand it off to them. And I wouldn’t ring it in.” “And the peo­ple you work with?” “I think we all do it. I’m — sorry.” “Su­san, you filled out a form for us last week.”

“Yes. I’m sorry about that. I was a lit­tle… flip­pant.” “We take these forms very se­ri­ously.” “I know.” “We use top of the line, state of the art an­a­lytic tech­niques em­ployed by the po­lice, CSIS, the CIA, the FBI,” Each acro­nym spo­ken as if more im­pres­sive than the last. “We not only read what you tell us, we read what you don’t tell us.” Is that so. “Su­san, did you know that you did not once deny tak­ing this money on the ques­tion­naire?” Huh. “We asked you di­rectly if you took it and you wrote, I wish.”

“Well, I was an­gry and I do wish I took the money. I mean, I wish I had it. ‘Cause then at least I’d have a thou­sand dol­lars. I don’t have any­thing close to that.”

“How did you know it was a thou­sand dol­lars?” Oh, shit. I’m not sup­posed to know that. “Me­gan told me.” Sorry Me­gan. “I made her, really. I’m sure she didn’t mean to — ”

“That’s fine. We’ll deal with Me­gan later. Now, Su­san, we asked you if we should be­lieve your an­swers and you wrote, You gotta do what you gotta do.”

“Yyeaaahh. Sorry. I just though these forms were, well, ridicu­lous, but also kind of ir­rel­e­vant. I mean, you have so many cam­eras in here! You must know who did it.”

“What we see on cam­era is not as im­por­tant as what you tell us, Su­san.” “Really?” “Video ev­i­dence would never hold up against what you tell us.” “Well, I don’t know about that.” “It’s true, Su­san. This is why we’re giv­ing you the chance to be hon­est with us.”

“I have noth­ing to be hon­est about. I mean—” Damn it. “I am be­ing hon­est.”

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