It’s the middle of August in Chicago and Scott’s furiously staring at the car in front of him, but his anger isn't directed at the sweltering heat and traffic congestion, though they certainly aren’t helping to improve matters. He's angry at that damned brat at the office who started no more than a year ago and has stolen the lead role for a big audit in D.C. Scott works for an IT audit firm and their biggest client recently acquired a new company. They are due for their first audit to ensure they are properly aligning to the client’s policies and best practices. Scott deserved that lead role, not Miguel. He’s approaching his 14th year with the company and has worked too damn hard to let some insufferable frat boy overtake him.
Sweaty and still angry, Scott arrives at his flat. Fumbling with his keys, he remembers that Laura told him she’d be late getting home since she and the other teachers were going out for drinks. Being alone suits him just fine right now.
Later, a faint knock on the door alerts Scott. It's still too early for Laura to be back. In any case, she wouldn't knock. It could be the property owner from the first floor, but Phil never comes up unannounced. Scott opens the door. He is surprised to find a box on his doorstep. The stairs go straight down, but Scott doesn’t see or hear anyone. Puzzled, he turns his attention to the box. There isn't a shipping label or anything identifying where it came from. Suspicious but curious, he carefully brings it in and notices his name written neatly on one of the corners. What he found inside nearly gave him a heart attack. Beneath handfuls of crinkly strips of packing paper were bundles of cash.
When the blood returned to his face, Scott pulled out a bundle. Speechless, he dumps the box and counts it (twice) before falling into his chair muttering, “Twenty thousand fucking dollars.” He called Phil.
“Hello ~” Phil’s uncharacteristically jolly voice sounds on the line. He's a big guy who works in construction.
“Hey – did you bring up a package for me?” Scott asks.
“Well, no, I don’t believe I did. Want me to check outside real quick? You expecting something?” Phil offers.
“No, that’s alright. I’ll go out myself. Thanks.” Scott hangs up.
'What the hell is going on?!' Scott thinks to himself. It’s as if the box manifested itself onto his doorstep. Impossible.. right?
His phone chimes, startling him. Laura is heading back earlier than expected after all. Scott cleans up the mess of crinkle paper and hides the cash. After all, it was addressed to him.. and he needed more time to process all of this.
Scott had mostly overcome his shock by the next day at work. He laid awake well into the night thinking about it. He entertained the idea of turning it over to the police, but one does not simply relinquish mystery money to the Chicago PD saying, “I don’t know where it came from.” Anyways, a powerful urge to keep it compels him. His internal battle was interrupted.
“It’s decided then!” exclaims Howard, the firm’s Director. “We’ll meet at Roanoke at 8:00 to celebrate and kick off the weekend! Val, can you make sure the team gets the word?” he asks before rushing off.
Valerie, the team manager, stops by Miguel’s cube first to tell him where to rendezvous. Like always, Miguel happily accepts.
“Great!” Valerie says. Scott ducks around the corner by the filing cabinets. He listens as Valerie asks, “Where is everyone? I have to meet one of our clients in a bit and I don't want to forget to tell them.” She glances towards Katherine and Scott’s cubes.
Miguel cheerfully responds, “Don’t worry about it! I’ll let them know. Go ahead and get ready for the meeting, Val.” Valerie thanks him and returns to her desk.
Scott pretends to search through files. Not that he attended often before, but he stopped going to these kinds of functions months ago. He was tired of watching Miguel suck up to Howard and the other team members. The kid buys rounds of drinks as if they’re at some kind of frat party. Miguel suddenly appears next to him. 'Shit' he thinks to himself as he plucks a random file from the drawer. He was going to retreat to a vacant meeting room before he was discovered.
Turning around to face the kid was almost painful. Seeing his flashy green suit jacket WAS painful. Miguel tentatively begins, “Hey Scott, how’s it going?”
“Good. Can I help you with something?” Scott replies.
Miguel shifts his weight but continues, “I know you don’t normally go to these things but, uh.. the team is planning to go out to Roanoke to celebrate this big job coming up. You know, the D.C. one? Anyways, since it’s my debut as a team lead this time, I want to get to know you better, you know? We don’t get many opportunities to talk at work, so how about it?” Miguel meets his eyes again and asks, “Are you able to join later?”
The reason they don’t talk much is that Scott avoids him. Work is more important to Scott than socializing, plus it helps to hide his contempt for the younger man, although given his body language lately, Scott is sure he’d picked up on that by now. Scott pauses. It suddenly dawned on him what a perfect opportunity this is. Sitting in his closet was a stupid amount of money and standing in front of him now is a stupid amount of annoying. This could be his chance to outshine the new kid and win back Howard’s attention. It’s shameful, but if all it takes is some free drinks, then Scott could easily play this game with this extra cash he came into. He accepts, and much to everyone’s surprise, shows up later that evening in a better mood than he’s felt in months. The first round was on him.
This continued for several months, well after the D.C. audit wrapped up. Scott acknowledged to himself that it was successful, but that it would have been smoother under his own lead. His spending eventually led to a couple new three-piece suits, new shoes, and a new Omega wristwatch. Overdue for a well-deserved raise, Scott wanted to ensure he looked the part. Then the perfect opportunity fell into his lap: Valerie requested to transfer to their sister branch in Tallahassee after her husband landed a new job down there. Scott knew he was the obvious choice to backfill her as the new IT Audit manager. A week later, Howard called Scott to his office for a private discussion.
Scott sauntered into Howard’s office and shook hands with him as they greeted. It was a sunny Friday morning. Howard gestured to a small table and set of chairs in the corner of his office. “Please sit,” he says. Howard prefers to meet away from his computer so he isn't distracted by emails. Scott tries to gauge the man's mood, but nothing is given away by his steely blue eyes.
“Scott, you’ve been with the company for about 13 years now, right?” Howard asks.
“Yes, it will be 14 next February. It’s been great, too! I enjoy my work and support this company wholeheartedly,” Scott replies.
“You’re an exemplary employee, Scott. I am glad to have such a capable member on our team. If I recall correctly, you've expressed interest in management. Is that still your goal?” asks Howard.
“Very much so. I feel ready for that next step in my career. I focused on business management for my MBA program, after all,” Scott suggests. “This has always been my goal,” he finishes.
“I see. How would you describe your relationship with the members of your team right now?” Howard leans onto the table slightly, loosely intertwining his fingers together.
Scott is taken aback. He must admit that he’s a little distant from people in general, but this was because he prioritizes his performance to ensure the best results. He’s not like the party boy Miguel who’s only in it for a good time. Scott takes his work seriously. He explains this to Howard, leaving out the parts about Miguel.
“I do like that about you, Scott. It’s great to have members on the team who buckle down and get things done. I know I can rely on you for that. However, I don’t believe you are ready for a managerial role just yet. I’d like to see you build stronger relationships with your current team first. I’ve also arranged for you to attend relevant training..” Howard continues, but Scott wasn't listening anymore.
'Not ready? I'm NOT READY?? What the fuck is this asshole saying?!'
Scott interrupts Howard, raising his voice. “I’ve been joining our little get-togethers. I’ve paid for our drinks and food and even laughed at Sam’s lame attempts at stand-up! What do you mean I don’t get along with the team?” Scott demands.
Howard lifts his hands in an attempt to calm Scott down. "I didn't say you don't get along with them, Scott" Howard defends. Tensions quickly rise as Scott fails to hear him out. This ensues for a few more minutes until Scott is standing, red in the face. There's no question in his mind that he ought to get Valerie’s job. He stops, feeling his stomach drop.
“Howard, then who is getting Valerie’s position?” he chokes out. Howard looks away briefly. Scott follows his look to see the silhouette of someone through the privacy glass next to the door. A figure in a green jacket walks away, presumably realizing Howard's current meeting was running over. Something in Scott snaps.
The next half hour rushes by in a blur. Scott is now sitting in his car with a box of his belongings in the back seat. He replays the scene. A chair smashed against the wall, knocking down several frames and startling Howard half to death. Yelling. There was so much yelling. Scott remembers storming out of the office and seeing literally every eye staring at him in horror. Disheveled, he dumped a file box from Miguel’s desk onto the floor and filled it with his belongings. His footsteps were the only sounds in the office as he left.
A woman in a stark white jacket appears on the other end of the parking lot. Her red hair gently moves in the breeze and her glasses gleam in the sun. She lifts a small black leather notebook from her pocket.
Opening to a page with Scott's name, she writes, Subject 148 has proven to be unfit and will no longer be considered. Envy and pride were his downfall. Proceed with the next subject.
Flipping to the next page, she sees the name Mai Inoue, followed by a few other pieces of information. The woman snaps the book shut, pulls out her phone, and is immediately connected to a man with a gruff voice.
“Subject 148 has failed. We’ll be proceeding with the next subject,” she quips.
“Hello to you too, my darling Finder! My day is going well, thank you for asking! How are you on this lovely day?”
The woman rolls her eyes and says, “Hello, Director. I hope you’ve had a favorable day. Are we approved to move on to subject 149?”
“Yes, of course! By the way, are you doing anything later? Would you like to-” his voice is cut off as she ends the call. “The fool never learns,” she mutters.
She turns around and begins to fade into thin air while dropping the notebook back into her pocket.
Meanwhile, in San Diego, California, a young girl named Mai retrieves a box from her doorstep. On it, her name is written neatly on one corner.