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The Illusion Of Control
About the Author: Josh Pachter is a regular contributor to Mystery Weekly Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and many other crime-fiction publications. He also translates fiction from Dutch and other languages and is the editor of a dozen anthologies, most recently ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG: CRIME FICTION INSPIRED BY THE SONGS OF BILLY JOEL (Untreed Reads) and THE GREAT FILLING STATION HOLDUP: CRIME FICTION INSPIRED BY THE SONGS OF JIMMY BUFFETT (Down and Out Books).

We step into the elevator, me and Mr. Rosetti, and he pushes the “Close Door” button like he does five days a week after leaving his office on the seventeenth floor of 44 Wall in the Financial District. Mondays through Thursdays, we head out on the dot of 5 PM, businessman’s hours, but on Fridays we pick up the weekly payoffs from the dry cleaners and pizza joints and one-man shoe-repair shops and mom-and-pop groceries under our protection, and Mr. Rosetti likes to be home in Brooklyn in time to catch the six o’clock news, so on Fridays we head out at 3:30.

Today is Friday.

Usually, I keep my mouth shut when the boss hits that stupid button. This time, though, I’m pissed because of what he said about Pauline, my ex—who, yeah, she is a tramp, it’s okay for me to say it but not nobody else, not even him. Even though we broke up, me and Pauline—which is to say she took up with another guy and kicked me out of the apartment we shared for the last four years—he’s still got no right to go dissing her, I don’t care who he is or how much muscle he’s got behind him.

Comes to that, I am the muscle behind him, so this time I speak my mind for once. “You know that button don’t do nothing,” I say. “It’s what you call a placebo.”

“What are you talking about?” he frowns. “It closes the goddamn door, Gabe. Look at it. ‘Close Door,’ it says.”

“Is the door closing?” I ask.

He makes a disgusted noise and jabs the button three more times, fast, one-two-three.

The door slides closed, and the elevator begins its descent.

“You see?” Mr. Rosetti says triumphantly. “Placebo, my ass.”

I watch the illuminated numbers above the door blink from 15 to 14 to 12—more stupidstition, the idea that if you don’t call the thirteenth floor the thirteenth floor, then the building ain’t got no thirteenth floor—and I’m getting more bent out of shape by the second.

“The button don’t make the door close no faster,” I finally insist. “I read about it in a magazine the other day, while you were gettin’ your teeth cleaned at Doc Mosher’s. It’s because of what you call the Americans With Disabilities Act, see? Elevator doors got to stay open long enough so people in wheelchairs can roll on in. You can push that button a hundred times, it won’t—”

“I ask you for information, Alex Trebek?” he growls. “What are you, on Jeopardy?”

I grit my teeth. “It’s like the crosswalk buttons,” I say. “Ninety percent of them ain’t even hooked up to nothin’. It’s what you call the ‘illusion of control,’ you see what I mean? They want you to think you’re in charge of stuff, even though the fact is you ain’t. It’s what you call psychology, is what it—”

“Shut the fuck up, Gabe,” Mr. Rosetti spits. “I pay you to guard my body, not for psychology lessons. I want psychology, I’ll call that Fraud guy.”

I take a breath. “It’s Freud,” I tell him. “Sigmund Freud. And he died like a hundred—”

“Shut. The fuck. Up. Gabriel.” His eyes are flaming now. “I don’t want to hear one more word out of your fuckin’ mouth.”

Well, Mr. Rosetti’s the guy pays me, right, so I shut my fuckin’ mouth—but it ain’t so easy to shut off my brain, you know? Listen, he don’t always treat me like dirt. He even give me a sharp pair of cufflinks my last birthday. They were his, I seen him wear them lots of times, I figure he must of just got tired of them, but still, he didn’t have to give me nothing. That was a nice what you call gesture.

But still. He thinks because he’s high up on the food chain he can say whatever he wants. Me, I’m just a foot soldier, it don’t matter if I got feelings or whatever. I’m a pair of biceps and a gun to him, that’s all. And tell you the truth, I’m getting pretty fuckin’ tired of it.

The elevator settles to a stop on L, and the door slides open. I lean out and look both ways to make sure the coast is clear. At Mr. Rosetti’s level in the Organization, he has enemies who would love to take over his share of the rackets, and my job is to take care of him.

This story appears in our JUN 2021 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Been there done that. Sometimes I press and believe, sometimes I wait and hope.
By Susan Rickard

Loved it, Josh. You nailed it right on the button!
By Craig Faustus Buck

Great stuff, Josh. Loved it. I don't think I can stop pushing buttons at crosswalks, though. Some habits die hard.
By John Bosworth

You really pushed my buttons on this one, Josh! Brilliant little piece of fiction here. Now I have to push another button (so to speak) and check off that I'm not a robot. Why does everyone think I am, I wonder?
By David Dean

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