The Notes

(Card 1— Hearts: Relationships, friendships, emotions/ Ace: Beginnings, independence)

I sat at my desk eating beef flavored cup of noodles while I copyedited pages for the next day’s paper. I dipped a fork into the cup and the broth splashed out onto the sheets and all over my hand.

“Dammit,” I said and tossed the soggy pages into the waste bin under my desk. I walked up the hallway to the women’s restroom. We were in one of those buildings from the 1960s and the bathroom had these ugly pink tiles with white grout that had faded to gray through the decades. There was one toilet behind a tan metal stall and a pedestal sink below a warped mirror.

Underneath the stall, I saw a pair of white orthopedic shoes. I washed my hands with the industrial soap, dried them with the non-absorbent recycled paper towels, and got back to work at my desk.

The next day when I stepped into the bathroom, I saw the note taped to stall door right away. It bore letters in highlighter pink three shades brighter than the pale pink of the tiled walls around the room.

Let your colleagues finish their business, before you step to the sink to wash your digits.

I knew it must have been Barb. Her passive-aggressive signs dotted the copy room and the break room with that same harsh highlighter pink. It irritated me that the note almost rhymed, but not quite. I tore it down and tossed it in the trash.

(Card 2 — Diamonds: Money, material things, practicality/ Queen: A woman, honesty)

Barb didn’t seem to like me, but she didn’t seem to like many people. The rumor was that she had been fired from her last job when someone filed a discrimination suit against her for refusing to hire a pregnant woman. She herself was single and childless. I guessed she was in her 60s, with her gray hair cropped short and permed, and the wide frames she wore to read the small print on the ad contracts she sold. She lived alone in a large house on the west side of town that had once belonged to her parents.

Barb working in a bank made sense to me. She seemed like the type of person who would relish turning someone down for a loan or controlling someone else’s money. But her switch to ad sales didn’t make sense. 

All the other ad reps had these bubbly personalities. They were friendly and cheerful, and always optimistic. They would come back to the newsroom from their sales calls with free samples from the bakery or tickets to the movie theater down the block or vouchers for a free beer during happy hour at a bar around the corner.

Barb never brought anything back to the newsroom except her signed contracts. But when it came to sales, Barb always came in on top each month, thousands of dollars over the next best sales rep. I didn’t know how she did it.

(Card 3 — Spades: Problems, solutions, logic/ Three: Change, creativity)

I counted myself lucky I didn’t have to work with her much given our separation of editorial and advertising.

I complained to my boyfriend about the note and he told me to let it go. After a few days, I did.

My boyfriend and I had just settled in bed one night, when the police scanner I kept on an end table started chirping. “Report of 513 at the corner of Main and Seventh Street. Officers responding.”

I sat up. “I think that’s grand theft auto at the auto mall.”

“Huh?” my boyfriend said, engrossed in a video game on his phone.

I texted my boss to let him know about the police report. He called back right away.

“Go down to the office and look up the number for the owner of the car dealership. Barb should have a cell number in her rolodex. I want a story up within the hour.”

I thought for sure he was joking about the rolodex because there was nothing on Barb’s desk except a pile of manila files next to her old monitor. I checked around the front desk where the receptionist sat before I opened the metal drawer at Barb’s desk. There I found a round rolodex with yellowed cards. I flipped through to the Ms for Marino’s Autos and found the phone number I needed. On the bottom it had a note in pink highlighter. File 42. I pulled on the file drawer, but it was locked. I flipped through a few other of the rolodex cards and they all had a file number listed.

I called and talked to the dealership owner and wrote a quick story that borrowed from a video game for its headline. But I was still curious about the file numbers. They didn’t seem to relate to the ad accounts. I went back to Barb’s desk and looked around. She didn’t have photos or personal effects around her desk. I checked around in the drawer for a key to the file cabinet, but nothing. I lifted her keyboard and ran my fingers underneath the edge of the desk. As I turned to leave, I bumped into the fake Ficus plant that sat at the edge of the cubicle wall that divided Barb’s space from the new ad rep.

I lifted the tree up by its rubber trunk, and there underneath the faux dirt sat a small copper key. It fit in the lock. The drawer was filled to capacity with hanging file folders in rainbow colors. Each one was labeled with a tab that had a number on it. I lifted the file 42, a green folder, onto the desk. Inside, I found a grainy photograph of Manny Marino, the owner of the car dealership. It showed him leaving the sketch motel down the block from the dealership with someone who wasn’t his wife.

I closed the file quickly and dropped it back into the drawer. I pulled out another one, a blue one, file 17. This one showed a photo of a local restaurant owner backing up into another car. I didn’t look through more files, but I suddenly understood how Barb maintained the most robust sales every month.

I locked the drawer, but didn’t put the key back. I pulled a piece of paper out of a reporter’s notebook and with a pink highlighter I wrote:

The person with the record sale is entrenched in deep black mail.

Check her bottom metal drawer to see where she keeps every score.

I just hoped she didn’t have a file on the editor.

Melissa Flores Anderson (she/her) is a Latinx Californian and an award-winning journalist, who lives in her hometown with her young son and husband. Her creative work has been published in more than two dozen journals or anthologies, and she received a 2023 Best of the Net nomination for CNF. She is a reader/editor with Roi Fainéant Press. She has a co-authored novelette, “Roadkill,” forthcoming with Emerge Literary Journal. Follow her on Twitter @melissacuisine or IG @theirishmonths. Read her work at