“You don’t have enough points, sir.”

Derek stared at the smug man sitting behind the desk and did his best to suppress his growing sense of frustration. Five times he’d been here. Five times he’d attempted to use his loyalty card. And five times he’d been denied. Not because he didn’t have enough points, but because the definition of what was ‘enough’ kept changing on him.

Taking a deep breath, Derek spoke. “That is what you said three weeks ago, and my points have doubled since then.”

“The number of points have also doubled since then.” The man’s grin was wide enough to spread butter on. “As has the–ah–fee.”

The fee. It had been the bane of Derek’s troubles since he’d first walked through the doors, primarily because the fee didn’t exist. Not on paper at least. And the amount kept on changing every time Derek walked in. He was beginning to see the plan. Lure in the gullible customer with the promise of stellar bargains and fantastic rewards, entrap them in a financial web that would make a credit card company proud, and then allow your employees to line their pockets with cash from the ‘fees’. Brilliant! Simply brilliant.

Except that Derek wasn’t going to fall for it.

Derek placed his hands on the desk and leaned forward. “There’s no fee and we both know it. Even if there was, I wouldn’t give it to you unless you upheld your end of the deal.”

“And what would that be,” the man asked mildly.

“Redeeming the points that I earned by spending money with the company,” Derek said quietly.

The two men stared at each other from across the desk which felt as wide as the Atlantic. A clock which had seemed to be hanging from the wall in silence suddenly filled the air with its ticking. Each click of each second sounded like the toll of a bell and Derek focused on it, trying to keep his heart from pounding.

After several long seconds, the man leaned back in his chair.

“I understand your frustration,” the man said. “But I’m afraid that I can’t help you, not unless I ran your card through the system, which is costly. But-” he added hastily as Derek’s expression darkened–“we are all about customer service, so I may have a way around that.”

“And what way would that be,” Derek asked.

“Customers aren’t the only ones eligible for the points,” the man replied. “Employees are to, but it costs us significantly less than that which would be charged to a customer.”

“And would I have to pay this fee,” Derek asked.

The man shrugged. “Money doesn’t grow on trees. Besides, it would be less than what you yourself would pay–especially if you pay me directly.”

Derek narrowed his eyes. He wasn’t stupid. Even without the man’s words to guide him, it was obvious that no fee existed, especially for the employees. ANd he doubted that any cash he handed over would ever make its way into a bank account–he doubted there was one. No, this was a bribe. A bribe by a corrupt man who’d been well fed at the trough of his corrupt job. The very idea of paying this man just to get him to do what he was supposed to galled Derek to his very core. Still, what choice did he have? He needed to redeem his points.

“Very well,” he said wearily. He pulled out his wallet. “How much?”

At the sight of Derek’s burgeoning wallet, the man’s eyes lit up. He named a ridiculous number.

“That’s robbery,” Derek protested. “Can’t you go lower?”

“Afraid not.” The man grinned. “In fact, I think it’ll only go higher.”

Derek straightened his shoulder. ” I don’t think so.”

“And how dod you know that?”

“Because of this.” From his pocket Derek pulled out a device and turned it on, allowing the man’s recorded words to spill into the sudden silence. After a minute Derek turned it off. “You know, you’re bosses’ probably don’t care that you take bribes and are more than willing to overlook them–provided that they get there share. But if this was revealed to the public–well–they would quickly look for the source of their embarrassment.”

The smug look on the man’s face shifted rapidly to one of alarm and a sweat broke out on his brow. Derek said nothing, he simply waited.

“Perhaps I was to hasty,” the man slowly replied. “Let me see what I can do.”

“Of course.” Derek slipped the device back into his pocket and patted it. “But I’d hurry.”

He did. In the rapid clicking of keys that followed Derek permitted himself to relax. While the device had been expensive, it had been worth it in the end. He would finally get what he was due. And if any other greedy desk-huggers tried to drain him then he’d–

A door crashing open caused Derek to spin around. A dozen heavily armed men marched into the room and famed out. Their guns were trained on him.

“I’m sorry,” the man at the desk said. “But you don’t have enough points, sir.”

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