Exercising the craft—March 25, 2013

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: Sting operation at the post office: Two men stop you on your way into your local post office. One flashes a badge at you. They tell you about a top secret sting operation they are about to execute and they need your help. They can’t give you any of the details, only that you are to walk into the post office, go up to the counter with the gentleman named Bert working it, and you have to say to him, “My stamps are looking a bit square these days, if you know what I mean.” Write what happens next.


Ellen wanted to look back over her shoulder at the two men who had stopped her, but she’d already crossed the automatic doors and had begun walking toward the counter.  She felt her heart flutter in anxiety.

Only 45 minutes ago she had sat in traffic on this Monday morning, chatting with the kids about inconsequential things.  She’d dropped them off at school, stopped at Starbucks for her usual latte, and then come to the post office to mail a package to her sister.  Ellen liked coming to the post office first thing in the morning; she always beat any crowds, and the small center close to her home never experienced much traffic at all just after opening.  She usually used the Automated Postal Center, but the two men just outside the entrance had steered her towards the clerk at the counter.

“But how do I even know you guys are real federal agents?” she’d asked warily when they’d stopped her as soon as she’d alighted from her car.

One of the suits had flashed a badge and told her in hushed tones what she was supposed to do.  And she’d followed their instructions so far, but she felt her resolve weaken just a little bit when the clerk with the nametag “Bert” gestured for her to step forward.  He smiled in a friendly way, but Ellen wanted to turn tail and run back to the car.

“Can I help you this morning?” he called in her direction, trying to encourage her to come to the counter.  He leaned on one forearm in a relaxed way.

Ellen could practically feel the eyes of the two agents boring into her back, so she finally approached the clerk.

“My, uh—my stamps are looking a bit square these days, if you know what I mean,” she said, giving Bert the code words the agents had provided her.

Bert’s smile faded slowly, and he straightened up slowly.

“Well,” he said after a moment.  “I guess there’s only one thing to do about that.”

He left the counter and disappeared around the half wall separating the back of the post office from the patrons’ section in the front.  Ellen shifted her weight from one foot to the other, wondering whether she should just take her chances and bolt now.  Just as she’d managed to work up the nerve to try to outrun the federal agents, Bert came back holding an oblong box.

“Here,” he said, handing Ellen the box.  “This should fix the problem.”

“Wh—what am I supposed to do with this?” Ellen asked nervously.

“Open it,” Bert said.  “Isn’t that why you’re here?”

Ellen almost dropped the box.  She almost started to explain to Bert that she had nothing to do with any of this, that she had just wanted to mail a package to her sister.  But all of a sudden Ellen realized that Bert had begun to look at her intently.  No, he wasn’t just looking at her.  Bert was outright staring at her, trying to compel her to open the white cardboard package.

Finally she had had enough.  Ellen turned around and almost ran smack into the two agents.

“You heard the man, Ellen,” Suit Number One said.  “Open the box.”

“Oh, but, but, I don’t—I mean, this isn’t even mine, and—I just came to mail—”

Suit Number Two stepped forward, making Ellen move back two paces.  “Ellen.  Just open the box.”

He knows my name.  Oh, dear God, he knows my name!  What else does he know about me?

She felt her stomach flop over, but she couldn’t look away from the suits.  Without looking down she began to fumble with the lid.

“Watch what you’re doing, Ellen,” Suit Number One cautioned.  “You need to keep your eyes on your job.  You wouldn’t want to get—stuck by something.”

Ellen pulled at the lid even harder.  All of a sudden she just wanted to rip open the box and then drop it and run.  And this time she would follow through with her urge.

Next time I see some random guys anywhere near my car, I’m going to keep driving.  There’s no way I’m going to let—

The lid gave way after the strips of tape on the sides popped off, and Ellen saw a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses.  She stared at the flowers for a moment, then looked up at Bert and the suits.

“What is this—”


A huge group of people materialized seemingly out of nowhere, and confetti fluttered around her like paper rain.  Ellen looked up in amazement, wondering where the confetti came from.  She looked around at everyone and saw the beaming faces of her friends and her husband.

“Andy?  What are you doing here?”

Her husband stepped forward and gave her a lingering kiss.  “I know our anniversary is this Friday, but I couldn’t resist starting the celebrations early.  I love you, sweetheart.”

Ellen watched as Andy reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small velvet box, and she felt a huge grin creep across her face.

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