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Magic Fun, Pt. 6

Spencer stifled a yawn, his fourth one in almost as many minutes. He usually slept like a rock, but last night none of the Eagles slept well due to Alexia’s outbursts, which continued through the night. Even Dexter had bags under his eyes and sighed more often than usual. Sam had arrived back during the morning’s early hours, but spent another four hours pacing across his floor, his boots adding a constant thudding that filled the quiet time between Alexia’s episodes. Finally, the man burst into the bedrooms and summoned the Eagles for their first training session. As he pulled on his leather jacket, Dexter saw that the clock next to his bed read 5 a.m.

That was hours ago. Spencer glanced at the large grandfather clock in the storage room. 10 a.m. He tried to hold back another yawn, but failed, drawing Sam’s attention. “Let’s take a break, we’ve been at this for a while. Be back here in ten minutes.”

“Could we perhaps eat something?” Lilly sat in an old armchair, her head resting in her hand and her eyes closed. Her and Elania received the brunt of Alexia’s screams, but instead of showing her tired state, Elania spent the last five hours glaring at Alexia.

“Eat?” Sam asked, confused.

“Yes, you know,” Spencer said, “food? Breakfast? Bacon? Eggs?”

“Biscuits,” said Jonathan dreamily.

“What are biscuits?” Spencer asked, curious. Both Jonathan and Lilly looked at Spencer in disbelief.

“Food. Right.” Sam stood and stretched his back. “Back in fifteen minutes then.”

More than one teenager rolled their eyes as they began to file out of the cramped room and down the hallway into the storefront. Vince sat behind the glass counter shoving an egg and cheese bagel into his mouth, washing it down with a huge cup of orange juice. In moments he was face-to-face with six pairs of eyes staring hungrily at his food. He slowly pulled the sandwich towards him as he chewed, not willing to lose even a bite to the hungry crowd before him. He swallowed. “Hey guys.”

The group watched his sandwich hover in the air until Vince jammed the rest into his mouth. All six empty mouths let out a long sigh once the food disappeared. Vince watched, puzzled and slightly distrusting. Sam pushed his way between Dexter and Elania. Handing Vince a few bills, Sam asked him to make a run to the nearest fast food joint down the street. He took the bills and pulled a cap on over his ears. He left the store quickly, not looking back to see if the starving group would wait patiently for him to return with food, or resort to cannibalism. He didn’t know where those kids came from, but he knew they weren’t what he considered “normal.” Who knows what they’re capable of? He shrugged his shoulders and hurried towards the restaurant.

 

“Ok, let’s get back to it,” said Sam as he closed the storage room door. Already tired before they filled their bellies, the teens were nearing comatose now. Sam frowned as he scanned the sleepy faces staring back at him. “Right,” he said, “why don’t we start with-“

“If you start going on about the histories of some one or something, or why someone did something and what someone else did about it and what they were wearing and what their last meal was, I think I’ll just lie down on the floor and take a nap,” Dexter was rubbing his eyes as he spoke. The rest of the teens nodded their heads in agreement, except for Lilly, who seemed to enjoy Sam’s historical ramblings all morning. She opened her mouth to object, but a quick glare from Elania stalled the words in her throat.

Sam cleared his throat. “I was going to say we should start with the basics of magic. But if you’re too tired,” he let his words trail off as he watched each pair of eyes widen with a new found excitement. “That’s what I thought.” He leaned against the closed door and crossed his arms. “Before we start this, you need to understand some rules. Number one: no magic in front of the common population. So that means no magic outside of these walls. Unless you have no choice, which brings me to number two: you are not to leave this building. Now-“

“Isn’t the entire reason we’re here is to learn about and use our abilities?” Elania had smuggled a hash brown into the room and was nibbling it as she spoke.

“Not necessarily,” answered Sam. “You are here to learn, yes, but hopefully not use outside of your worlds. My hope is that any help we need from you outside of your worlds will not require your abilities.” He watched as multiple pairs of eyes rolled, but noticed that both Elania and Dexter’s eyes narrowed in confusion. Sam continued before they had a chance to ask what help outside of their worlds meant. “The survival of Sunrise and Sunset have always been directly linked to the magic abilities of those living there, but the last couple generations have not produced many with the ability. Your homes are dying, and you are the only chance they have, and that possibility is only available if you can effectively use your abilities and reset the balance.”

“So, right now, we are useless, is that what you’re saying?” Jonathan asked.

Sam nodded.

“Ok,” said Dexter as he sat up straight in his chair and ceased rubbing his eyes. “You seem to know a few things about situations like ours, so tell us, how much longer do you think our worlds have?”

“Before we cross the point of no return?” Sam thought for a moment. “Two years, three at most.” Dexter frowned.

“How long will it take for us to become useful?” Jonathan asked.

“I think I can get you guys to a working state in a few months. A few others and myself will be training you, individually and as groups. But you must put your whole hearts into this, or it will be for nothing, understand?” He was met with glassy eyed stares and a few slight nods. “Right,” he clicked through his teeth. “Ok, so, before we jump into it, does anyone know anything?”

Silence. Sam nodded to himself and repressed a sigh.

“Alright, we’ll start from the beginning.”

 

They had been shuttered in the small room for hours yet again, but this time they didn’t mind a bit. After a brief overview about basic magic knowledge (Sunseters practiced Black Magic while Sunrisers practiced White, a fact that only Spencer seemed surprised at), Sam began instructing the group on the most basic, and yet most important, element of magic: focus.

The first step was to picture something calming, something repetitive: a sun, perhaps, for the Risers, and a flame for the Setters. Next, they were to clear their minds of everything but that calming item. The first hour after breakfast was spent in a frustrating silence, that finally began to relax once the students began successfully achieving their goal. Spencer was the last one to cease his mumbling and groaning in frustration. Once he was quiet for a five-minute span, Sam interrupted their meditations and instructed them on the next step.

Step two was more difficult, and took up the better part of the next two hours. The goal was to hold their focus, and then to direct their energy into that focus. Sam explained that sometimes it helped to picture waves of light moving into the sun or flame. To a common person, this could be seen as a routine step of meditation, but to those with magical abilities, this could be disastrous. To focus your energy was to focus your power. Any well-trained magician would never focus their magic to this degree, but for novices, this exercise was vital in understanding their abilities. It was with this exercise that Sam finally began to feel the strengths and weaknesses of each person. He could feel that Alexia was the strongest White and Dexter the strongest Black. Jonathan was the weakest White, and Spencer was the weakest Black. This wasn’t surprising to Sam; he knew that the teenage years were a stage where abilities mature alongside bodies and personalities. Spencer might be weak now, but that was only because he was young. Give him a year or two and he just might equal his counterparts. Alexia, on the other hand, was troubling. She, too, was still young, and her strength would continue to grow for a few years. Sam imagined that she had the potential to become extremely powerful. Given her shy and skittish personality, he’d have to tread carefully with her.

As the students concentrated, Sam inspected each with his own powers. As time progressed, he noticed the lights flickering occasionally and the portal stones nearby began humming quietly. Clearing his throat, Sam interrupted everyone’s deep concentrations and suggested the group take another break before they move onto the next lesson. Once the Eagles had filed out of the room, Sam pulled out a small notepad and began jotting down his observations and any other relevant thoughts. Then, he jotted down a quick shopping list and sent Vincent off to the grocery store. After locking the door behind Vincent’s retreating back, Sam headed upstairs to begin gathering a few items to help with the next lesson. As he was turning to go back downstairs, a small wad of paper flew out of the small fire and bounced on the wood floor. Sam hastily set the items down on a dresser before swooping the paper off the floor.

Tutors, tomorrow, 10 a.m. Use them wisely.

~Agatha

 Sam frowned, then wadded the note back up and stuffed it into his pocket before heading downstairs.

 

“Both Magics are rooted in the Four Elements: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Black and White Magic can often do the same things, especially basic abilities, but they do them differently. Whites have better control over Air and Water, which means they are more skilled in the healing arts, while Black Magic tends to have more control over Fire and Earth. It’s not uncommon for them to be referred to as soldiers.” Spencer grinned widely and looked at Dexter, but his excitement was met with a furrowed brow as the older Setter listened to Sam.

Everyone sat in a circle, now, and a small circular table had been placed in the center. It the room felt crowded before, now it was completely stuffed. Each chair was pushed against a wall or shelf, while Sam’s sat halfway between the portal stones. The occupants had at least one knee resting against the table before them. Atop one of the shelves, Sam had placed a small fan that hummed in the quiet between his words. On the table sat the items he had gathered from his room moments before.

“You’ve already learned the basics of reaching your abilities. Usually, you would have been trained from a very young age, and slowly, but you don’t have that kind of time. The next lesson isn’t taught until students have proved a mastery of the previous lesson, and even then, they are taught under strict supervision.” Sam sighed, scratching the stubble on his cheek. “But, I’m all you’ve got. Until tomorrow that is, and I don’t know how long the others will help.”

“So, let’s get to it, shall we? Now that you know you can draw your abilities inward, you must understand the divisions and abilities of each of the Four Elements. We’ll use these items here,” he gestured to the table, “to help distinguish between the Four, and then to help harness and direct the different powers to be found in each Element. The candle represents Fire, the crystals Earth, and, well, the bowl of water is self explanatory.”

“What about Air?” Spencer asked.

Sam pointed to the empty space next to the bowl of water. “Air is the easiest Element to work with because it is everywhere, but it is the last Element studied. Young students are typically not trusted with the knowledge because they haven’t developed the discipline needed to work with an Element that is so easily accessible.” The Eagles stared blankly back at Sam. “Ok, say you haven’t eaten for days, and you come downstairs to find a giant plate of donuts on the counter. You’d eat the entire thing in one sitting, wouldn’t you? Without any thought to how it might make you feel after, or perhaps to how it would affect others. It’s the same with Magic. You spend years knowing about this power that can be harnessed, but you just don’t know how. Until one day, you begin to learn, and once that door is opened, there is no closing it. Fire is usually the first Element studied, because out of the Four, Fire is the hardest to harness, and the hardest to study in secret.” Understanding showed on only Elania and Dexter’s face at first, with the others slowly realizing the facts. Only Spencer didn’t catch on.

“What are donuts?” he asked. Next to him, Elania rolled her eyes. Sam blinked.

“Right,” said Sam, shaking his head to clear his thoughts, “step one, go back to the previous exercise. Envision your focus, then feed it again. Only this time, I want you to pay close attention to how each wave reacts to the items on the table. You won’t notice any visible reaction to Air because it is reacting from the start. Ready?” They nodded and closed their eyes. After a few minutes, Sam could feel the energy begin to concentrate around certain kids, the strongest being around Alexia. It came as no surprise when a slow grin spread over her face. Strong indeed, thought Sam.

A few minutes later, Elania and Lilly also smiled, and Sam knew his students were not average magicians. He felt Dexter relax a moment later as he was able to see the differences of Elemental Effects. Jonathan took a little while longer, and Sam could feel his frustrations begin to mount, but eventually he found what he was looking for. Instead of pulling back, he picked one anomaly and directed his energy into it, and the flame atop the candle winked out. Instantly, the Eagles opened their eyes and looked at Sam, confused.

“Jonathan blew out the candle, which caused the Fire effects to disappear,” he explained. All eyes shifted to stare at Jonathan who slouched down in his chair. “No worries,” continued Sam, “just don’t do that yet.” Jonathan nodded sheepishly.

Sam pulled out a lighter and relit the candle. “Again,” he said, and the teens closed their eyes once more.

Sam was mid bite when his ears popped. Chewing slowly, he waited for a moment until everyone in the room was either busy chatting or eating, or, in Spencer’s case, both, then snuck away to the portal room to greet his guests. A tall, elderly woman stood beneath the stones and smiled at Sam as he entered the room. She stepped forward and extended her hand, introducing herself as Bernice. Sam could feel her strength in Black Magic and was immediately confident in her abilities to help train the Setters. Frowning at his lack of a White Magic instructor, Sam led Bernice into the storefront was making introductions when his ears popped again. Excusing himself, Sam returned to the portal room to meet what he hoped was a White Magic trainer.

Sam froze when he saw who stood under the portal stones. “Kellen.”

“The one and only,” Kellen smiled smugly and adjusted his diamond cuff links.

Damn it, Agatha, Sam thought. He gave a slight nod at the White trainer and stepped aside, inviting Kellen into the store front and into the Eagle’s nest.

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Love, Abby (Day 14)

December 18

2:45 a.m.

Abby stared at the ceiling. The moonlight streaming through the window gave off just enough light to make out the popcorn texture she once loathed. Now she couldn’t care less; she had discovered something more worthy of the emotion. The house was quiet enough she could hear the clock ticking in the downstairs hall. Beside her, Zach breathed deeply, but he wasn’t sleeping either. The pair stared above them in silence, their thoughts far away from where they lay, and yet in the same place. For the past two weeks, dread has grown within the pit of Abby’s stomach, finally consuming her every move, thought, and fiber. After the discovery in Hughes’s basement, however, that dread had to move over for a newcomer: hatred. Both burned bright in her core, keeping her awake in what very well may be her last night alive.

She breathed deep, holding the air in her lungs, embracing life more than she ever had before. She felt her heart beating, imagined blood flowing throughout her body, transporting oxygen to her extremities before cycling back. She exhaled slowly, completely emptying her lungs. The downstairs clock began striking four a.m. Only after the fourth strike had died down did Abby breath in again. Beside her Zach exhaled slowly. Last week he doubted the truth in the Love, Abby file and believed that skipping the Christmas party would be a mistake. Now she knew he felt differently. He wanted her to stay home, to pretend nothing was wrong. But she couldn’t. She had to go.

Abby wasn’t suicidal, and she had to admit to herself that the thought of dying terrified her. But as the fear crept up through her body, the blackness filling her vision morphed into a wall of black filing cabinets, each one filled with disgusting scenes of crimes far too often swept under the rug. While she knew she isn’t the one to plant the bomb, she is the one who hands it to Hughes, and the thought ignited a thirst within her that she could not quench.

There was a time when she believed in the justice system. She praised law enforcement for their unyielding commitment to the community and those within it. She applauded the lawyers and judges who fought for people’s rights while condemning those who would take the law into their own hands. Her naive ways changed forever after taking the job at the law firm. She realized how selfish people were, how superior they felt towards others. The biggest lesson, however, was that everyone has a price, and everyone can be bought or represented, and even bullied, by the same entity, in this case Piper, Parker, and Hughes, Attorneys at Law.

She had to go. She had to hand that gift to Hughes. Not only was it her destiny, it was her justice, and the justice for the hundreds of other women whose lives have been shattered upon the ground only for corrupt law enforcement to tread on. She was going to be the voice those victims deserve, and she was going to do it with steady hands and her head held high. She very well may die, but not before seeing the look on Hughes’s face the split second before her own world goes dark.

1:55 p.m.

For the seventh time today, Abby dialed Rhonda’s number, and for the seventh time, she went straight to voicemail. Hughes’s secretary had not shown up to work yet, and it was almost 2:00 p.m. A last check of the file before she left this morning still showed Rhonda standing by her side as she handed out the gifts to the bosses. Rhonda would come, Abby had no doubts about that.

Where the bomb came from, however, Abby still had no clue. The first thing she looked at when she entered the conference room was the gift table. Only a few gifts sat in a small pile, but it was still early, and not everyone had arrived for their last Friday of work before Christmas. She placed her Secret Santa gift on the edge of the table and made her way back to her desk. As she walked, she thought about who might bring a box with a bomb already inside. I wonder if the bomb ticks, she thought to herself. Of course not, she answered her own question, this is the 21st century, it is probably remote detonated. That would mean someone in the room would have to be the culprit, because how else will they know who is holding the box? She checked her emotions, the hundredth time she’s done so this morning, and still found no guilt to take note of. The anger she felt early this morning still burned brightly. She would not back down.

Zach had tried to dissuade her, saying he thought she was letting her anger take control. She said that’s exactly what was happening. She told her husband that she wore her anger like a suit of armor; without it, she would not be brave enough to walk into that conference room and do the only thing that would give the victims justice. Without the armor, she was defenseless and weak, and easy prey to those who would take advantage of their higher stations. Deep down she knew it was wrong, but she couldn’t help but feel justified.

At her desk, Abby typed away dutifully, copying notes and sending out quick e-mails to clients regarding upcoming appointments and court dates. She ignored the flurry of jovial activity that passed in front of her desk knowing that seeing everyone else’s holiday happiness would cause cracks in her stone-faced facade. Behind her, Piper’s door opened and a crowd of people made their way out of his office. A trio of men laughed at an unheard joke as they passed Abby’s desk close enough that their suit jackets caught on a stack of papers she had sitting on one corner. The group didn’t notice the mess they made as they dragged the papers across the whole front of her desk. Abby gritted her teeth and said nothing as they passed. Behind them, Parker chuckled as he made his way to his office. Parker’s secretary followed him, but not before placing a new stack of notes atop the mess of papers on Abby’s desk. She muttered a quick apology and dashed away. Abby took a slow, calming breath before grabbing her phone and dialing Rhonda’s number for the eighth time.

3:50 p.m.

“Hello, young lady. I seem to have forgotten my camera at home, and my husband says you may have one I could borrow to film the gift exchange with?”

Abby stared at the woman hovering over her desk. Young lady? Abby thought. She could pass for my sister! “Your husband, ma’am?” Abby asked.

“My husband is D.L. Hughes.”

Abby resisted the urge to glare at the woman. “Yes, I believe my camera is in my purse. Let me check for you.” Abby pulled her purse from the large bottom drawer of her desk and began rifling through its contents, finally pulling out the small camera Zach gifted her almost two weeks ago. She hadn’t had a chance to take even one good picture, and now she was handing it off to her harasser’s wife. She gritted her teeth. “Here you go.”

“Thank you, dear.” Mrs. Hughes turned and made her way towards the conference room while fiddling with the buttons on the small camera. Abby glared at the woman’s back until she disappeared around a corner.

She checked the clock- it was 3:50. The party was scheduled to begin at 4:00. Rhonda still hadn’t appeared and Abby struggled to keep her worry hidden. Rhonda still had ten minutes; she’d be there.

Piper exited his office and stopped beside her desk as he adjusted diamond cuff links. “Let’s get this thing over with.” Abby followed her boss into the conference room where a crowd had gathered. Just outside the room, along the hallway walls, tables had been set up to hold trays upon trays of holiday snacks and sweets and bowls of punch and eggnog. Piper walked through the crowd, having no trouble finding his seat at the front of the conference room while behind him Abby struggled to keep up. A voice could be heard calling for people to find a seat so the gift exchange could begin. As people began taking seats and moving to open wall space to stand, Abby was able to move easier and finally made it to the gift table.

The amount of gifts piled on the small table had quadrupled. Small boxes cascaded off larger ones, creating a mountain of gifts that started at the floor and swallowed the table whole. Abby could not see a speck of the wrapping paper concealing Hughes’s gift through the mass of brightly colored paper and swirly bows, but she assumed it was there based on the size of the pile. The crowd quieted down enough that Parker stood and began addressing the employees. He thanked them for another great year and their tireless work at keeping the innocent out of jail. His speech touched on the joy of the holiday season, America’s founding fathers, the Civil War, Ghandi, and even Hitler. By the time he sat back down, a few people seated at the large conference table were nodding their heads as they struggled to stay awake. Beside him, Piper rubbed his forehead impatiently before gesturing to Abby to begin the gift exchange. Just as she reached for the first gift, a figure hurried into the crowded room and brushed up against her side. Abby turned to see that Rhonda had finally arrived.

The employee gift exchange only took about twenty minutes. Abby grabbed a random gift from the pile and read the recipient’s name before handing the gift to Rhonda, who handed it off to the person in question. The sounds of ripping paper and laughter filled the room, making Abby yell to be heard over the din. Finally, Abby read the last name and handed the small box to Rhonda. Abby could clearly see Hughes’s gift sitting innocently on the table and her breath caught in her throat. She steadied her breathing as she waited for the noise to die down a bit before moving on to the boss’s gifts. She first handed Piper a small gift that turned out to be an intricately hand carved smoking pipe. He nodded his thanks to Parker who had been his Secret Santa. Next, Abby handed Parker his gift. Piper had pulled Parker’s name out of the hat when the Secret Santas were being chosen. Piper, who had no interest in such things, quickly delegated the task to Abby. Thankfully, she knew the perfect gift for one such as Parker.

As Parker unwrapped his gift, his smile turned into a face splitting grin. He held up his gift for all to see. It was a book entitled Murder in the Mob. Abby knew the book detailed the most gruesome murders in the whole history of the American Mafia. She chose the book as Parker’s gift because he was obsessed with Mafia murder cases and was looked upon as an expert on the topic. He was also narcissistic and an attention grabber. Abby knew that Parker Price, the author of the book, was Parker’s pseudonym. Parker loved to gloat, so Abby gave him something to gloat about. Of course no one else knew Parker had written the book, but maybe someone would see it and go buy a copy for themselves. Parker could only hope.

Finally, only one gift remained on the table. As Parker finally took his seat, Hughes stood and worked his way around his two business partners to stand next to Abby and receive his gift. Abby raised her hands to pick up the box, but hesitated at the last second. Her hands hovered over the gift as she fought her fear. Finally, after a moment of pause, Abby took a deep breath and grabbed the box off of the table and turned to face Hughes. He winked at her, his mouth pulled to the side in a smirk. As she held the box, she remembered the pictures from his basement and her armor grew strong again. With a slight smirk of her own, Abby reached out and handed Hughes his gift.

Love, Abby (Day 13)

December 17

7:30 p.m.

The sweat pants Abby chose were old and baggy, but they were black, and she figured black was a good color to wear when you’re doing something illegal. She didn’t have any black shirts, so she chose a blue long sleeve t-shirt and wore Zach’s old, brown leather jacket over it. She wore her brand new running shoes that were mostly gray, and on her hands and head she wore a matching knitted cap and gloves Zach had gotten for Christmas the year before. They were black with lime green zig-zags for accents. Abby looked at herself in the mirror and groaned. She looked ridiculous.

Zach rinsed his toothbrush as he stared at her. He was clothed in all black, complete with a black balaclava rolled up above his eyes. He certainly looked like he was preparing for a night of crime. Unfortunately for him, his accomplice looked like a color-blind bimbo who couldn’t decide if she wanted to attend a biker rally or go for a jog. He opened his mouth to comment, but Abby spoke first. “Did you check the file today?”

He nodded and dropped the toothbrush into the holder. “Yeah, but there weren’t a whole lot of new documents. It’s weird, too,” he kept talking while he dried his face off with the hand towel, “you’d think that our plans would have impacted the outcome somehow, but I saw no difference.” He dropped the towel on the counter and crossed his arms, perplexed.

“Maybe it was part of the plan the whole time, we just didn’t know it?” Abby’s suggestion held more possibility than Zach wanted to admit. He nodded slowly as he pondered. It made sense.

He checked his watch. “It’s 7:30. We should get going.”

Abby took a deep breath and released it slowly. For the hundredth time today, she mentally ran through the list of reasons why she was breaking into Hughes’s house, searching for any last minute jitters. She found none. “Well then, let’s go.”

8:00 p.m.

Zach jiggled the illegal key ring idly, the sound filling the silent car. Hughes’s house sat a few driveways from where they watched. A streetlight shone directly on their driveway and illuminated the entire face of the large brick house. Hughes and his wife were pulling out of their garage just as Zach and Abby arrived. They decided follow their plan and wait until 8:00. Better to sit and do nothing for fifteen minutes than to jump the gun and discover a housekeeper inside, or better yet, come face-to-face with Hughes himself if he returned home to get something he’d forgotten. So, they waited in silence as the minutes passed.

Zach checked his watch. “8:01. Ready?”

Abby narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re very calm. Have you done this before?”

“I’m a journalist and my job is to get answers. That is my answer.” He flashed an innocent grin and Abby laughed.

“No use getting upset, I suppose. I’m stuck with you.”

“Till death do we part, baby.”

“Pretty restraining, don’t you think?”

He raised an eyebrow questioningly.

Abby sighed, “Let’s get this over with.”

They glanced around to make sure no one was visible and quietly got out of the car. They crossed the street and kept to the shadows cast by trees and bushes, sometimes crawling on all fours to sneak across a front yard. Zach led Abby through yards and over driveways until they finally got to Hughes’s house, where he turned and made his way to the back of the house.

“Front door was too visible in the street light,” he explained as they met at the back door. Abby nodded, but Zach didn’t see it in the darkness. She heard jingling as he pulled the keys from his pocket and began testing each one in the back door. The third key was a match, and after a quick turn, Zach slowly slid the glass door to the side and disappeared inside. Abby took another deep breath, released it slowly, and followed her husband inside, sliding the door closed behind her.

It was dark inside, but because of the open design of the house, they could see the light from the streetlight pouring in through the glass front door. A small lamp near the door gave off a faint glow that did not reach their position in the back of the house. Zach produced a small flashlight that illuminated their way just enough that they avoided collisions with furniture. The pair crept through the downstairs, searching behind every door in their hunt for the entrance to the basement. The only sound Abby could hear was her own heart pounding.

The room they initially entered into was the dining room. From there, they made their way into a formal sitting area, and behind glass French doors was a less formal living room. They backtracked through the dining room, then to the foyer, into an office that Abby assumed was used by Mrs. Hughes, and then into the huge kitchen. Next to the hall leading to Mrs. Hughes’s office was a closed door. Zach tried to turn the knob, but it was locked; they had found the basement. Zach pulled out the key ring and began trying the keys until the fourth one unlocked the door. He swung the door open, revealing a portal leading to absolute darkness. Pocketing the keys, Zach used his little flashlight to descend the stairs, shining it behind him after every step so as to illuminate Abby’s path down as well.

The metal handrail felt cold through Abby’s gloves. Once they reached the bottom, Zach held his hand out for Abby to hold so they would stay together while exploring the pitch-black basement.

Where the stairs ended, a hallway began. Each side had two doors, and they were all closed. Zach pulled out the key ring once again as they approached the first pair of doors. The first door they tried was locked. The seventh key unlocked the door, letting Zach peek his head and flashlight into the space. “That’s the biggest storage room I’ve ever seen,” he said, pulling is head back into the hallway. The door across the hallway was unlocked, revealing what looked like a craft room. They moved down the hallway to the second pair of doors. Zach tried the knobs- they were both locked. “Why do they have so many locks?” he sighed as he began trying the keys in the door to their left. The fifth key proved a match, and Zach pushed the door open. “Bingo.”

Hughes’s office wasn’t as big as the storage room, but the whole back wall behind a large desk was lined with black filing cabinets, each one five drawers high. “How much you want to bet each one is locked?” Zach pulled Abby into the room and began pulling on the drawer handles. None of them budged. “It’s as if the man values his privacy or something,” he said sarcastically as he tried a key in the lock. It was a match. Handing Abby the keys and a second small flashlight he had hidden in his back pocket, he yanked the top-drawer open and began rifling through its contents. Abby chose the next cabinet and, once unlocked, yanked the second drawer open.

The drawer was packed full of thick files, each one labeled with a name. They appeared to be organized alphabetically; the drawer Abby dug through was mostly B last names, except for a couple A names in the very front. “Anderson, Molly,” Abby murmured to herself. “I don’t recognize that name. Must be a past client.” She replaced the file and ran her gloved finger along the side rail holding the file hangers. “Bailey, Starla? Baller, Lilly-Anne? Betters, Zoe? Briggs, Josephine? Buchanan, Beth? I don’t know any of you.” As she went, a frown formed, pulling her features further down with every name she read. She closed the drawer and pulled the top one open. All A’s. She shut it and moved to the next cabinet.

After unlocking it, she tossed the keys to Zach, who had moved around Abby to the fourth cabinet. Abby went through the top drawer, reading every name, and finally noticing a connection. “They’re all female!” Zach paused as he scanned the open drawer in front of him. Sure enough, every file was labeled with a woman’s name. “Well, let’s see what Mr. Hughes wants with Eva Greensburg.” He pulled the file and used the drawer as a table and opened the file.

“Anything good?” Abby didn’t look up from her drawer.

“Top page looks like a time sheet of some sort. I can’t make any sense of it.” He flipped it to the side and froze. “Oh my God.” Zach stared at a grainy picture. It appeared to have been taken from a surveillance device and blown up to an 8 by 10. It also appeared to have been taken in a woman’s restroom. The woman in the picture leaned over the counter as she applied mascara. Her shirt and slacks hung off to the side, leaving her clad only in a towel. Zach flipped the picture over to the side and found another picture of the same woman, this time she sat alone at a small table inside what looked like a Chinese restaurant. The picture was taken from the street, evidenced by the blur of a moving car on one side. The next picture was taken the same night, but was zoomed in. The next five pictures were of her eating, another seven of her shopping, and twelve of her inside what Zach assumed to be her home. But the stack of photos that followed were the most disturbing. The woman, Eva Greensburg, lay sprawled out on a bed, one arm hanging limply off the side. She wore no clothing, and she looked to be asleep. However, the photos show her in different positions, still seemingly asleep. Zach’s gut told him she was drugged. Picture after picture, pose after pose, until finally, another figure entered the frame. It was none other than Hughes, and he was devoid of clothing as well. Zach’s jaw hung open as he flipped through the pictures, each one showing Hughes sexually assaulting Eva Greensburg as she lay unconscious on the bed. He flipped the last photo over and uncovered a DVD, knowing instantly that it contained the assault. Abby had grabbed a file from her own cabinet and was quickly flipping more photos over, her face a mask of horror. Zach’s mind raced.

Stepping back, Zach pondered the files in front of him and realized that the alphabet was only partially represented in those five cabinets. Spinning around, he ran to the last door in the hallway and unlocked it. Once open, he could see filing cabinets lining every wall, leaving just enough space in the center for a small table. Abby appeared behind him and groaned. “There must be hundreds of files here. This can’t just be his doing.” She shook her head in disbelief.

“Do you remember any files Piper had you pull? Specifically ones that you couldn’t find?”

Abby rubbed her forehead as she racked her brain for the requested information. “Uhhhmmm, Katrina Monroe was one.” Zach immediately picked a cabinet and unlocked it, yanking open drawers containing M names. He found the file in the second drawer near the back and pulled it out. The file was heavy and the folder strained under the bulk of pictures. Abby and Zach flipped through the pictures, gasping in unison when Parker appeared in the picture instead of Hughes. While Zach shoved the file back into its place, Abby was pulling out a new one and ripping it open. Zach moved down a few cabinets and looked through files chosen at random, each one showing the same despicable behavior enacted not only by Hughes and Parker, but Piper also. Abby’s bosses were sexual predators.

Zach stared wide-eyed at his wife. “You didn’t find your name in there, did you?”

“No, I looked in the B’s.

“But your last name is Dresden now.” They stared at each other before turning to stare at the cabinet they knew contained the D’s. Taking a deep breath, Zach returned to the office and opened the drawers, one by one, until he spotted it. “Oh my God.” Abby’s voice had left her.

Zach pulled it out and opened it, revealing a small stack of pictures taken of Abby while in the women’s restroom at the law firm. The next two photos were of Abby, her mother, and Zach eating brunch this past Sunday. The next fifteen photos were of Abby in her own home. In one, she and Zach sat on the couch. In another, they lay in bed, the covers thrown aside, revealing their bare bodies. Still another of just Abby as she showered. “How did he get a camera in our shower?” she squeaked. Zach’s hands trembled in anger. Handling damning evidence that hundreds of women had been sexually assaulted made his blood boil. He knew none of these women had come forward, because they weren’t stupid enough to rat on the mafia’s best lawyers. And in his hand he held proof that his wife was a target for their disgusting schemes. He shoved Abby’s file back down and slammed the drawer.

Silence resumed in the office. Both Abby and Zach were too stunned to move or to speak. Instead they stood with their feet planted on the carpet and mentally replayed the images they had just seen. With every second that ticked by, they became less shocked and more livid. Zach inhaled slowly in an effort to calm himself, but it was in vain. “I think we’ve seen what we came here to see. We need to get out of here.”

Abby nodded. Together they pushed in the locks on the filing cabinets in the office and in the room across the hall. Back in the hallway, Zack relocked the doors before leading Abby back upstairs to the kitchen and, after locking the basement door, through the house and out through the sliding glass door.

As he locked the back door, Abby made her way back to the car, keeping to the shadows just like before.

Love, Abby (Day 12)

December 16

8:40 a.m.

The country club was empty this morning. Most people aren’t interested in tennis when it’s thirty degrees outside, but Hughes and Piper aren’t most people. They had only been on the court for five minutes, but to Abby, it may as well have been five hours. She sat inside the restaurant, next to a window overlooking the tennis courts. In the distance, an elderly couple drove up to the third hole on the gold course. Even from a distance, Abby could see them huddling in their jackets and readjusting their knit caps. Even further in the distance, the pond in the middle of hole five was frozen over. Even though there was no snow, the frosty grass and skeletal trees lent the already cold landscape an icy and depressing air. Abby warmed her hands on her tea cup, her second in the five minutes she’d been there, and readjusted her jacket over her legs. If she had known she would be out of the office today, she would have worn something warmer than stockings.

Outside, Piper had become more animated in his tennis moves. He flailed as he lunged for a stray ball, missing it entirely and crashing into the padded fence separating courts. Hughes couldn’t contain his laughter as he watched Piper push himself off the pad and grab another ball. In a swift motion, Piper served the ball, but Hughes was still laughing and didn’t notice until the ball bounced forcefully off his shoulder. Now Piper’s roaring laughter filled the courts and the two began gathering the tennis balls together to start another game.

Abby idly stirred her tea as she watched the two grown men play a horribly immature game of tennis. She wanted to bang her head against the table in frustration, but she only stirred faster. Sighing, she gulped what was left in the cup and poured another cup from a steaming kettle on the table. Rhonda was planning on accompanying the two bosses to the country club, but she called early this morning to say she wouldn’t be able to make it due to a suspected case of food poisoning. Abby ground her teeth as she hung up the phone after Rhonda’s call; she knew she would be expected to go in Rhonda’s place, and dreaded the hours spent sitting alone in the restaurant while the bosses played tennis or golf. She was only there to take notes and help with any unexpected meetings or client issues. Both of the boss’s cell phones sat in the center of the pristine white tablecloth. She prayed that they didn’t ring.

Just as he took a sip of her steaming tea, a phone did begin to ring, but after a quick look at the boss’s phones, she saw that it was her phone. Time to change my ringtone, she thought. Zach’s picture appeared on her screen and she snatched the phone up, suddenly interested in talking to the person on the other end.

“Hey, what’s up?” She took another sip and glanced down at the court. The bosses were in a heated battle, both watching the ball intently.

“Oh, not much, just sitting down with a cup of coffee. How’s the office today?”

“I wouldn’t know; I’m at the country club. Rhonda called in sick this morning and the exciting responsibility of watching two grown men sweat bullets while smacking a little green ball around fell to me. I’m on my third cup of tea and we’ve been here for ten minutes.” She sighed and took another sip.

“Hmm,” Zach sounded deep in thought.

“What is ‘hmm’?’”

There was a pause on the other end. Abby could hear the door to his office closing before he spoke again. “When I got to work there was a note on my desk. I don’t know who wrote it, but it says: The key is in the basement; the basement is the key. Happy hunting.”

“What does it mean?” Abby rolled her eyes as Hughes missed a ball as it sailed over his head. Across the court, Piper did a celebratory dance.

“I really don’t know. I think it’s related to the file, though, so I thought maybe you could help.”

“I never was any good at riddles,” Abby frowned into her teacup.

“Well, let’s see if we can figure some of this out. You said you’ve been in the basement a lot at work, right? What’s down there?”

“It’s our main file storage area. Lots of cabinets and shelves, all packed with client and employee information. There are restrooms down there, but I don’t think I’ve ever used them. Oh, and there is a meeting room, but it hasn’t been used in years. We use the table when we’re looking through a stack of files.”

“Hmm. Ok, well what are you doing with the files you’ve been pulling for Piper lately?”

“I don’t know. Piper gives me a post-it note with a few names on it and I go downstairs and pull the files. Once I’m done, I bring them to him and that’s it.”

“Have you ever looked in any of the files or recognized any names? Or have you noticed anything weird?”

“Besides the one I brought home, no, I haven’t looked in them, but there may be something of note in the missing or incomplete ones. I just don’t know where they are.”

“He’s having you pull nonexistent files?”

“No, they’re just missing. Some are there, but not where they should be.”

“Huh.” Abby could hear Zach tapping a pen on the desktop as he thought. “Maybe we’re on the wrong track here. Last night you said he mentioned something about his home office?”

“Yeah, he said something about how no one can bother him down there. I guess we can assume it’s in his basement, but I don’t see how his basement has any thing to do with this Friday.” Abby lowered her voice as a waitress passed, switching out her empty kettle for a full one.

“Well, maybe it’s more than just a home office. I’m thinking maybe I should take a look.”

“Zach,” Abby said in alarm, “I’m pretty sure that’s illegal, even for a journalist.”

“So, if the key is in the basement, meaning his basement,” Zach continued, completely ignoring his wife’s tone, “then what does it mean the basement is the key? Ohhhh, wait a minute!”

“Sounds a bit redundant to me. Zach, you can’t just break into his house because you have a hunch brought on by an anonymous note!”

“Where are the locker rooms at the country club?” Zach’s excitement was apparent through the phone.

“They’re downstairs, why?”

“In the basement, you mean.”

“Yes, but-“

“So Hughes’s keys are in the basement?”

“Yes?” Abby drew out the word as she began to understand Zach’s thoughts.

“And he gave you his locker key to hold, didn’t he?”

Abby’s eyes darted to her purse where both Piper and Hughes’s keys were. “Yes he did. But I’m not doing this, Zach. No way. He’s my boss!”

“No he’s not, Piper is your boss. Besides, Hughes sexually harassed you at work yesterday, so I know you aren’t interested in protecting him.”

“Zach-“

“Look, you’ve only been there a little while, right? I’ll leave now while you go down and swipe his keys. I’ll meet you at the club and grab them, go make copies, and I’ll have them back to you before they’re even thinking about calling it a day.”

“Zach! No, I’m not doing this!” She yelled as quietly as she could into her phone, but he ignored her.

“I’m leaving now. I’ll meet you in the restaurant in a few minutes.”

“No!” But he had already hung up. “Argh!” Abby dropped her phone onto the table. She gulped what was left in her cup and refilled it. As she let the tea steep, she thought about Zach’s words and realized that he was right. Hughes was hiding something, she was certain. The only way to find out was to follow through with Zach’s plan. Sighing loudly, Abby snatched up the boss’s phones and her purse and walked as calmly as she could out of the restaurant, down the stairs, and to the men’s locker room.

She knocked on the door and peeked inside, but it was vacant. Slipping inside, she retrieved the keys from her purse. She didn’t know whose was whose, so she had to pick one and give it a try. She searched for the first one, number 174, finding it in the middle row. Glancing behind her, she saw the second locker, number 89. She took a deep breath and unlocked the first locker. Inside, she saw Piper’s jacket hanging from a hook, his dress shoes on the floor underneath. Wrong locker, she thought. Locking it, she turned and inserted the key into Hughes’s locker. She yanked it open and immediately began searching for his keys. She found them in his shoes, likely thrown there at the last minute as they were leaving the locker room. She snatched them up, secured the locker, and left the locker room, peeking around doorways and corners as she went.

Back upstairs, Abby settled herself back into her seat and took a sip of tea as she calmly waited for Zach.

7:50 p.m.

“You have no idea how close we were to getting caught,” Abby leaned over the counter, hear head almost touching Zach’s as he leaned over from the other side. Between them, a set of fresh keys shone in the kitchen light. “I wasn’t sitting at my table more than five minutes before Hughes and Piper walked off the court.” Abby shivered. “I can’t believe we did that.”

“Yeah. It doesn’t feel wrong, though. I expected this to feel more-“ he paused as he found the right word, “ominous.”

Abby nodded in agreement. “When should we go?”

“Tomorrow while he’s at work?”

Abby shook her head. “His wife works from home. I’d like to keep my charges limited to breaking and entering, if you don’t mind. Adding assault would probably add more jail time.” She looked up as he nodded. Abby’s eyes widened as she remembered something. “The mayor’s holiday dinner is tomorrow! All the bosses are going, and they’re taking their wives. The house should be empty then.”

Zach took a deep breath. “Alright, tomorrow night it is. What time?”

“The dinner starts at 7:30; we should have three or four hours, maybe more.”

“We should probably plan on them arriving to the party late, just in case. Let’s be there at 8:00 and stake it out for a bit, just to make sure they’re gone.”

“Sounds good.”

Zach chuckled. “Look at us, planning our first burglary together.” He winked, drawing a smile from Abby and breaking the tension hovering over the set of keys.

 

 

 

Love, Abby (Day 11)

December 15

11:40 a.m.

The pair of roses adorning the restroom sinks made Abby’s blood boil. With the addition of four sitting on her desk earlier this morning, she counted a full dozen roses that had appeared, all meant for her. But from who? She was beginning to believe the roses were meant to drive her insane and that perhaps she really is the perpetrator of the horrible event.

The thought didn’t help her feel any better. She shook her head and left the restroom. Whoever was gifting the roses was obviously at the office and possibly watching her every move. Abby headed toward the kitchen with her chin held high in defiance. She wasn’t going to be seen holding one of those damned roses.

The kitchen was occupied with a small group of people finishing up their lunches at the table. As Abby walked to the coffee makers, they stood and began gathering up their trash and repacking their lunch containers. One of the trio, a woman, laughed abruptly at some unheard word from one of the men she had been sitting with. The sound made Abby jump, causing her to lose her balance in her heels. She barely managed to catch herself on the counter as she fell, her knee slamming into the bottom cabinets. The laugh cut off just as abruptly as it had began; the silence that replaced it lasted while Abby pulled herself up. She glanced over her shoulder to see the trio staring at her, and she plastered the best smile she could manage on her face. “New shoes,” she said with a shrug. The woman returned Abby’s smile and nodded in understanding while the men raised dubious eyebrows. They resumed their cleaning and a moment later left the kitchen, leaving Abby alone to nurse a twisted ankle.

Abby groaned. The coffee maker was no match for her frustrations as she yanked the basket out and carelessly flipped it into the trashcan, spilling used coffee grounds down the outside of the can and onto the floor. Grabbing a new filter and stuffing it in, she yanked open the Folgers tin and tossed a few haphazardly measured scoops into the filter. She pushed the basket back into place angrily and grabbed the carafe to rinse and refill at the sink. As she waited for the faucet to fill the carafe, Abby tapped her foot impatiently on the linoleum floor. Once it finally reached the desired fill line, Abby dumped the water into the machine and slammed the carafe into the warming plate and pushed start. Feeling like she had taken out a sufficient amount of anger on the coffee machine, Abby spun around to walk back to her desk, but the looming figure of D.L. Hughes filled the only exit. Abby stopped short, almost stumbling again in the process.

Hughes watched smugly, his left shoulder casually leaning against the doorway, his body entirely blocking her way out. His left arm was crossed over his chest, and his right hand rubbed his lower lip as he watched her. Abby recovered her composure and stood in the middle of the kitchen as an awkward silence filled the small room.

“Smells good in here,” he said, his eyes boring into Abby as she fidgeted a few feet away.

“Yeah, I just started a fresh pot,” she gestured behind her as the sound of coffee began filling the carafe.

“I wasn’t talking about the coffee,” he licked his lips.

Abby’s eyes narrowed as she took a small step back. Hughes stepped into the room.

“Heard you got married this past weekend.” She nodded in reply.

“So how was it? Your first night as a married woman?” He stepped toward Abby and pushed aside a chair that held the door open, letting it swing closed. Abby retreated until her back hit the counter. The warmth from the brewing coffee machine warmed her back as Hughes moved further into the room.

Abby swallowed her rising fear. She tried convincing herself that he wouldn’t do anything to her, seeing as they were standing in the only kitchen in a law firm with over thirty employees, but she could not quiet the small voice that said he just might. He inched closer.

“Mr. Hughes, not only is it illegal for you to ask, it is also none of your business.” Her teeth ground together as she clenched her jaw in an effort to keep from screaming. She hoped her glare reflected the anger she felt and not her rising panic.

Hughes chuckled. He continued forward until he pressed against Abby, effective pining her against the counter. Placing an arm on either side, he blocked any possible escape. He leaned forward until is face was only inches from Abby’s. “Want to know what being with a real man is like, Abigail?” He snickered as he leaned forward and inhaled her perfume.

Abby gasped. Planting her palms solidly on his chest, she pushed, but he didn’t budge. He laughed and pushed his weight against her smaller form. The counter dug into her back painfully, but she kept pushing against him, trying desperately to gain even an inch of space. “I could do things to you that you’ve never dreamed of,” he continued, completely ignoring her desperate attempts to escape his grasp. “My home office is soundproof and the locks are solid; no one will hear your cries of ecstasy or interrupt the experience of your lifetime. What d’ya say?” His smirk covered his face as he leaned in for a kiss.

Abby tried to scream, but it sounded more like a high-pitched growl. The machine behind her sighed its dying breath, reminding her why she had made the coffee in the first place.

“You have a meeting in two minutes,” she blurted the words out with the last bit of air in her lungs. Hughes paused, a quick frown distorted his smirk but disappeared a second later. “With one of your most important clients. You remember, the head of the local mafia?” She gasped for breath and glared. His smirk disappeared again, but the frown that replaced it stayed for longer this time. He knew skipping the meeting would be seen as an insult. Who knew better about consequences of insulting the mafia than their lawyer? He sighed and turned to leave, but paused.

Abby still leaned against the counter, but she breathed much easier now that the edge wasn’t digging into her back. She glared at him as he turned back to her, the smirk once again on his face. “Rain check then, huh?” He winked and sauntered out of the kitchen. Abby sunk onto the floor, breathing heavily and rubbing her bruised back as she glared at the door swinging freely behind him.

12:25 p.m.

“Thanks for coming to lunch with me. I was dreading eating alone again.” Rhonda smiled at Abby as she unwrapped her Burger King chicken sandwich. Abby nodded and stuffed a fry into her mouth; ketchup-less, of course. Seeing as she was already married, she decided she could throw healthy eating out the window.

“We probably should have done this sooner, since we’ll be working together a lot. Not to mention I should get to know my maid of honor a bit better.” They laughed and took of bite of their sandwiches. “Besides,” Abby continued, “I needed to get out of that office.” Rhonda nodded in agreement as she picked a piece of lettuce off her sandwich.

“So how did you get into Parker, Piper, and Hughes? I didn’t hear about them until a college professor recommended I apply for a job opening. I had been job hunting for months by that point.”

“Oh, I’ve been pestering them for a few years now. I guess they finally got tired of my inquiries about open positions and finally offered me one. Hughes was not happy when I walked through the door my first day, that’s for sure.”

Abby paused halfway through a fry. “Why not?”

“I’m not exactly what those three look for in office personnel.” Rhonda raised her eyebrows at Abby as she took a sip of lemonade. Abby responded with a confused look, so Rhonda explained. “First off, I’m too old. Twenty-nine is a few years past their preferred age range, and second, I’m not what you’d consider attractive.”

“You know Parker’s secretary is like, forty, right?”

“Yes. Parker prefers his secretary to be more stable, therefore he goes for the older women, knowing they are less likely to be targets for office,” she paused in order to choose the right word, “shenanigans.”

Abby blinked as she processed Rhonda’s statement. Could she be talking about Hughes? she thought to herself. She took a small bite of her burger. “You seem to know more about the office than I do, and I’ve been there for almost a year now.”

“I’ve followed Parker, Piper, and Hughes for quite a few years now. I’m pretty familiar with how they work.” Rhonda’s eyes seemed to bore holes straight though her. Abby swallowed her bite and took a sip while feigning interest in the activities at the front counter. Rhonda sighed. “If you think you’re the only one to be cornered by one of the big three, then think again.” Abby’s head snapped back to focus on Rhonda, her face a mask of surprise. Rhonda just nodded as she took a drink.

“You too?”

“Oh no, I’m not their type, remember? I’ve known about their behavior for a few years, though.”

Abby narrowed her eyes. “Then why did you want to work here? It’s not like the money makes the harassment worthwhile.”

“No, it certainly doesn’t,” Rhonda smiled slightly. “I’m just interested in the inner workings of the most prestigious defense lawyers around.” It was Rhonda’s turn to look around the restaurant and avoid Abby’s stare.

“How exactly did you learn about them?”

Rhonda took a deep breath and picked at her sandwich. “They represented the defendant in a case I was a witness in. Gosh, that must have been, “ Rhonda paused and twisted her face as she remembered, “about eight years ago now.”

“What kind of case was it?”

“Murder, first degree.”

“Let me guess, they argued their client’s way to freedom?”

“Yep.”

“Whose witness were you?”

“Prosecution’s.”

“Oh. What was your relation to the victim, if I may ask?”

Rhonda stared out the window for a moment before answering. “The victim was my girlfriend. Her name was Angelina Scarpelli. I had just moved here to be close to her when she was killed. My testimony was practically useless in court because of the nature of our relationship.”

“The jury didn’t believe you because you are gay?” Abby sat back in the booth, bringing her cup with her, and stared at Rhonda though narrowed eyes.

“No, it’s not that. It’s-“ Rhonda rubbed her forehead. “Ok, I’ll start from the beginning. I met Angelina at a high school football game about ten years ago. We started seeing each other secretly because her family would not accept such a relationship. After she graduated, she was a year behind me, her father announced she would marry a man named Joseph Alfonso. Yeah, you recognize the name,” she said after seeing Abby’s reaction. “The Alfonsos are a favorite client of Parker, Piper, and Hughes. Anyway, Angelina and I had just decided to move in together when her father made this announcement. Naturally, she was furious. She told her father that under no circumstances would she marry into the Alfonso family, but he persisted, and set a date and made all the preparations, even purchasing Angelina’s wedding dress for her.” Rhonda paused to take a drink. “It took a few weeks, but Angelina finally accepted the fact that she was getting married to a man she hated, so she took matters into her own hands and married the son of the Irish mafia leader, who just happens to be the sworn enemy of the Alfonsos. A week later, they found Angelina’s body dumped in a cornfield just outside town. I knew she was missing, but I learned of her death from the evening news.”

Abby watched Rhonda nibble on a fry in silence. “I’m sorry-“

Rhonda waved her hand and shook her head. “No. The time for condolences was ten years ago, and there were none then. I’ve moved on.” She snatched up her sandwich and took a bite. “The reason the jury didn’t buy my testimony,” she continued, pushing her food into her cheek, “is because the defendant’s lawyers painted me as a confused, diabolical heathen, wanting nothing more than to taint the victim with my disease of homosexuality. They went as far as to ask the judge to declare a mistrial, which he granted, and to have me committed, a request he denied, fortunately.”

“Committed for being gay?” Abby spoke loud enough that the couple sitting at the booth across from them stopped their conversation and looked at the two women. She lowered her voice. “So they called you insane and got the killer off the hook. What else happened at the trial?”

“They named the mole: Angelina’s Irish brother-in-law, Jimmy. He called the Alfonsos and told them where she was. I didn’t have a conviction, but I did have a name.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes while Rhonda ate her chicken sandwich and Abby’s mind raced.

“Who did Angelina marry?”

“His name was Rory McCoy.”

McCoy? “What happened to Jimmy?”

“They found him splattered to the front of the late night cargo train a few months later. We should be getting back,” Rhonda said, checking her watch with one hand and crumpling her sandwich wrapper with the other.

“Yeah,” replied Abby, crumpling up her own wrapper, “let’s get out of here.”

6:15 p.m.

Zach arrived home at his usual time. He much preferred the quiet of his house to the loud hum of the newspaper office. He hung his keys onto the usual hook, and dropped his messenger bag in its usual place on one of the bar stools sitting against the kitchen peninsula. What wasn’t usual was his wife sitting in his spot on the floor, her fingers pounding the keys on her laptop. One glance around the laptop screen told Zach that Abby was not her usual self. He debated leaving her alone in her own furious world, but decided to stay and heat up an early dinner of leftovers. He pulled the chicken out of the freezer and began assembling a plate of raw veggies as the chicken reheated in the microwave. Abby hadn’t noticed Zach was even home until he appeared next to her on the couch holding out a plate of steaming food.

She mumbled her thanks as he placed the food next to the laptop. Zach studied the screen while Abby stuffed a broccoli floret into her mouth. Multiple windows filled the screen, each one displaying a news article or picture of some sort. Zach leaned forward to get a better look. “You’ve been working for that creep for a year,” he said, sitting back on the couch and putting a carrot into his mouth. “Why are you researching D.L. Hughes now?”

“Because he’s a scumbag.” She slammed her fingers down on the mouse as she clicked through search results.

“Well, I could have told you that-“

Abby spun around to face Zach. “Could you have told me that he was going to make another pass at me today?”

Zach’s fork stopped mid way between his plate and his mouth, the chicken on the end threatening to drip sauce onto the couch. “Again?”

“He cornered me in the kitchen and me pinned against the counter, saying something about his home office and how I should experience a “real man.” And he was so smug about it! He wouldn’t be so cocky unless he had done something like this before.” Abby spun back around and clicked on another link. “I’m researching Hughes because I have a hunch, and I’m looking for proof.”

“And when you find this proof, who will you present it to? The various mafia families influence every single cop in this town. Maybe you could talk to Piper about it? I’m sure he’ll be interested in bringing his partner down with sexual harassment claims that he no doubt knows nothing about.” Zach pushed the veggies around on his plate as he spoke, the sarcasm dripping off of his words like the sauce dripped off his chicken.

Abby slammed her laptop shut. “Point taken.” She stabbed at a carrot, but it shot off her plate and landed on the carpet a few feet away. Abby stared at it dejectedly.

“Just quit, Abs.”

“I can’t. I wouldn’t be able to find another job until after the holidays are over, and that’s if I’m lucky. There’s not exactly a huge market for secretaries right now.”

“Maybe you’ll get lucky and they’ll fire you for skipping the all important Christmas party.” Zach smiled, but Abby just rolled her eyes.

“I don’t want to get fired, no matter how horrible my bosses are. Oh, speaking of the party,” she grabbed a carrot, with her fingers this time, and popped it into her mouth, “have you checked the file today?”

Zach shook his head as he chewed. Abby pulled herself up and grabbed his computer out of his bag. She pushed her laptop out of the way and set Zach’s down in front of her before she resumed her place on the floor. A few minutes and carrots later, Abby navigated to the file and opened it. Clicking on the first file, Abby leaned closer to read the article that popped up, but immediately drew back in surprise. “Bomb kills twelve; suspect sought?” Abby squeaked as she read the headline out loud.

Zach leaned forward over her shoulder and began reading the article. “A bomb went off early yesterday morning at the offices of Piper, Parker, and Hughes, killing at least twelve and injuring twenty three more. Three employees are still unaccounted for. Officials are searching for Abigail Dresden whom they say is their prime suspect. Abigail Dresden is suspected of planting the bomb late Thursday evening with the help of her husband, Zach Dresden, a journalist with the local chronicle. Zach Dresden is also missing. Cal Parker, Charles Piper, and D.L. Hughes have all expressed their condolences to the victims and their families. They are cooperating fully in hopes that the Dresdens are quickly apprehended.”

“Why is this so different?” The panic in Abby’s voice was clear, but Zach didn’t respond. He took control of the mouse and closed the article before opening the next item, which turned out to be photos of the both of them taking up half of the front page of the chronicle. Abby gasped as he closed the window and opened another. He began reading the article out loud again.

“The bodies of Zach and Abigail Dresden were found in a field thirty miles outside of city limits. The cause of death is not immediately known, but the officer in charge of the scene claims that the Dresdens’ bodies bore signs of torture.”

“What?” Abby’s voice was hardly audible.

Zach stopped reading and closed the article, clicking item after item until he found an article printed on December 24. Abby read the headline and groaned. “Dresdens were beaten, tortured before death; Mafia suspected.”

“In a twist of events, an anonymous letter was delivered to the police claiming the mafia was responsible for the Thursday evening kidnapping of Zach and Abigail Dresden. The letter went into detail, saying Abigail Dresden was tortured first because she was suspected of planting the bomb at Parker, Piper, and Hughes. The bomb killed fifteen employees. After she was killed, Zach Dresden was tortured because of his rumored article detailing new leads in the cold McCoy murder. The article was never printed because there are many objections to the most recent evidence. The partners Parker, Piper, and Hughes have gone on the record to say they are happy they and the victims can begin to put this event in the past and move on with their lives without the need of a trial.”

“Thursday night? As in forty-eight hours from now?”

Zach nodded as he scanned a different article.

“Did the outcome change because I’m not going again?”

“I don’t think so. Remember before when you decided you weren’t going? The new outcome was nothing like this. I think this is different because-“

“Because you decided I wasn’t going.” Abby pondered, her eyes wide in panic. “You said I’m not allowed to go. Before, even though I said I wasn’t going, I still ended up at the party. But now you are keeping me from going, and everything changes for the worse!”

“Abby, slow down, we need to step back for a minute and try to understand what we’re seeing here.” Zach placed his plate next to the laptop and began pacing across the room, running his hands through his hair in exasperation. “Ok, let’s try and get this straight. If you go, then there is a chance, albeit a small one, that you will survive the blast, only Hughes is confirmed dead, and my story prints.” Abby nodded as she followed Zach’s pacing form with her eyes. “If you don’t go, because I don’t let you, then we are both kidnapped forty-eight hours from now and tortured and murdered. The bomb goes off prematurely, killing fifteen, and my story doesn’t print. Does that sound right?”

“Yes, I think so.”

Zach sighed. “I think maybe we should take your advice from last week and go to the police with this. I don’t know what else to do.”

Abby was silent for a moment. “Someone once told me that every cop in this town is influenced by the various mafia families. I think it’s safe to say that going to the police is not an option. We’re on our own. And I’m going to that party.”

Love, Abby (Day 10)

December 14

7:30 a.m.

Abby entered the quiet office at her normal Monday morning time. Only she and the other secretaries arrived this early, and even though it was 7:30 a.m., the other two were already there. She smiled at Parker’s secretary who was heading towards the kitchen, no doubt to make the morning’s first of many pots of coffee. The other woman gave a quick wave in reply. Rhonda came out of the restroom just as Abby reached her desk. Giving Abby a timid smile, Rhonda headed toward Hughes’s office, turning on the lights as she went.

Abby sat down in her chair and absently reached for the stack of papers she left in the center of her desk the night before. Instead of paper, she felt cool glass. She pulled her hand back and spun in surprise. On her desk where her papers should have been, sat a single red rose in a small vase. She scanned her desk looking for a note, but she found nothing. Abby sighed, “Zach, no doubt.” Flowers never were his style, but he probably just wanted to surprise her on her first day of work as Mrs. Abby Dresden. Her eyes found her nameplate on the front of her desk and mused that she should get a new one made with her married name. Then she remembered she might not live to see the new nameplate. She sighed again and resolved to get a cup of coffee before diving into the abyss of heavy thoughts.

Parker’s secretary was nowhere to be seen as Abby crossed the small kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee. She leaned against the counter as she sipped the hot liquid and pondered what may be her last week alive. It’s not too late to quit and leave everyone to their own devices, she thought. The file didn’t have good news last time she wanted to ditch the party, and she didn’t think things would be any different now. Not much better than what it said last night. Refilling her cup, Abby made her way into Piper’s office to make sure everything was ready for a busy morning.

12:20 p.m.

The sound of dishes falling to the tile floor startled Abby out of her thoughts. Across the table, Zach picked at his fries as he talked of everything and nothing at the same time. Abby wondered if he was trying to take her mind off of the current situation by engaging her in idle talk. Except that she wasn’t paying attention, and he hadn’t noticed. He popped a fry into his mouth and talked around it, hardly pausing in his story about the latest break in the cold case he’s been looking into. “So this anonymous tip I was telling you about, they may have completely broken the case wide open. I don’t know why they didn’t run the DNA under the girl’s nails, in fact, I don’t remember seeing anything about DNA on the victim, but now that they’ve gone back and tested it, they found it’s from a man. They’re supposed to be testing the DNA some more in hopes to get a better idea of who they’re looking for. The Sherriff is optimistic that they’ll get this case solved soon.”

He finally looked up from his fries to meet Abby’s blank stare. He cleared his throat. “So, how was your morning?”

Abby blinked. She shivered as the restaurant doors swung open. An old couple entered and shut the doors quickly against the cold, but Abby huddled deeper into her sweater. “It was busy. We had a few short meetings, mostly with staff, but it was ok.” She forked a carrot from her salad and put it in her mouth. She stared at the table as she chewed, once again letting her thoughts wander. Zach crammed the rest of his cheeseburger into his mouth. “Oh,” she said, sitting up and leaning across the table. “Thank you for the roses. I thought you weren’t into giving flowers.” She smiled.

Zach blinked in confusion. “I’m not.” He swallowed his mouthful as Abby’s smile slid slowly off her face.

“But, where did they-“ she mumbled as her thoughts raced. “Who then?”

Zach shook his head slowly. “How many?”

“One on my desk this morning, then two in the kitchen after the first meeting. And then three sitting at the reception desk. I know they were meant for me because they were the same color and in the same vases as the others.” The color had drained from Abby’s face as she remembered finding the flowers.

“Did you ask the receptionists who put them there?”

She shook her head. “I thought they were from you.”

“Maybe you’re stealing someone else’s flowers thinking they’re yours?” Zach stuffed a fry into his mouth.

“No, they’re for me,” she tossed an annoyed glance at her husband, but he was pushing another group of fries through the remains of a mound of ketchup and didn’t see it. He shrugged.

“Rhonda was with me the last two times I found the flowers, perhaps you should interview her,” she said dryly.

“Rhonda, huh?” He chewed the ketchup-covered fries before continuing. “Have you figured out what part she plays in this whole thing?”

Abby shook her head. “No, but I’m beginning to think she doesn’t survive simply because she refuses to leave my side. She has been my shadow since our first meeting this morning. Every time I turn around, she’s there, coffee in one hand, stack of papers in the other.” She rubbed her temples in annoyance. “I actually hid from her before lunch. I needed a lunch break, not a three wheel excursion to the diner.”

“Maybe she figures following you around would be a good learning experience. Isn’t she new to the position?”

Abby nodded. “And I have no issue with that. She’s a great person to be around, just not all the time.” She enunciated the last few words and stabbed at her salad.

Zach chuckled to himself. Checking his watch, he stood and grabbed his wallet to toss a few bills onto the table. “I need to go, Abs, I’ve got a meeting with the Sheriff in a bit, and I’m not ready.”

Abby nodded. “Alright. I’ll see you tonight then.” She accepted a kiss on the cheek. “Oh, have you checked the file today?”

He shook his head. “I haven’t had time. I was going to look after my meeting this afternoon.” He kissed her again and pulled the door open, disappearing into the cold afternoon and letting another wave of chilled air make Abby shiver and huddle into her sweater once again.

6:10 p.m.

Zach was already home when Abby arrived. He sat in his customary place on the floor as he navigated through his laptop files, too engrossed with the contents open on the screen to notice Abby’s entrance.

“Did you lose a contact again?” Abby’s question startled him out of his task. His rarely worn glasses had a tendency to slide down his nose, forcing him to constantly push them back up, which he did now as he watched Abby deposit her purse and laptop case onto the counter. “I got your text about dinner just as I was grabbing the phone to order Chinese. Good timing.” She smiled as she moved toward the large pot simmering on the stove. Zach rarely cooked, but when he did, it was magnificent, and it was always for a reason. She lifted the lid and stirred the contents. Pepper steak; one of his favorite comfort foods. Replacing the lid, she glanced into the living room and wondered what was bothering her husband enough that he would pass on Chinese to make pepper steak.

Grabbing a beer from the refrigerator, Abby sat on the couch behind Zach, allowing her to see what he was so enamored with on the screen. Immediately she could see footage from a security camera playing and knew he was looking at the “Love, Abby” file. She contemplated getting back up and ignoring the file for the night, but Zach’s fascination piqued her curiosity.

“Anything new today?” She sipped her beer as he shook his head.

“Same old, same old. A few more pictures, a handful of video taken from different cameras in and around the firm, but I haven’t found anything new. Yet.” He pushed his glasses up again and replayed the video on the screen.

“Are you looking for something in particular?”

He nodded, but said nothing. She took another sip before continuing. “Like what?”

He cleared his throat. “I want to know who put that gift on the table.”

“Ah. Any leads?”

“Not yet. None of these angles show the table, so I’m looking for anyone entering the building holding a big box or even walking through the parking lot with one.” He closed the video and opened another, this one footage from the parking lot security camera. “It’s got to be here, I just can’t find it.” Zach’s tone was slightly agitated and his forehead was covered in a thin layer of sweat.

“Are you ok?”

“No, I’m not ok,” Zach scoffed and rubbed his eyes behind his glasses and stood up. “If I’m to believe this stuff,” he gestured to the laptop, “then I believe some deranged idiot is going to set off a bomb in a crowded room, possibly killing my wife and an undetermined amount of other people, and I can’t do anything about it.”

Abby stared at her husband.

“Why doesn’t this bother you? Do you know something I don’t? Why don’t you care that you may be dead in a few days?” His voice rose as he spoke until he yelled the last words.

She stared at the bottle in her hands as she pondered his questions. “I guess I haven’t really thought about it. I mean, I understand what going to work on Friday entails, but it hasn’t sunk in that I’m not walking back to my car afterwards.” She frowned, “I don’t think I’ll be walking ever again if we’re to believe last night’s research.”

“So why do it? This isn’t your problem, why put yourself in the middle of it?”

“I don’t know, Zach,” her beer sloshed as she shrugged, “the file just says that I’m there. Even when I had decided that I wasn’t going, it still showed me there, only with worse results. It’s almost as if I’m supposed to be there. I just,” she pulled her knees up onto the couch and wrapped her arms around them, the cold bottle bumping against her shins. “I can’t explain it. I just feel like I’m supposed to be there.”

Zach stared at her, but she didn’t meet his eyes. “I’m a journalist, Abby, my job is to share information, not to ignore it. I can’t do this.” He angrily rested his hands on his hips before running a hand through his already disheveled hair. “No, I’m not doing this. We’re not doing this. You can’t go.” He shook his head as the objection became clear on Abby’s face. “No,” he continued, “you’re not going to that damn party. End of conversation.”

“Zach, let’s be reasonable here,” Abby let her feet fall back to the floor and she leaned forward as she spoke.

“I’m the only reasonable one in this room, Abby! Are you seriously going to argue about going to an event where you will more than likely get blown to bits? Why would I be ok with that? Why would I be ok with losing the love of my life when I could have avoided it by not letting you go in the first place?” His face was red as he yelled, but his voice faltered and tears rimmed his eyes. “Abby,” he lowered his voice as he knelt before her on the couch and placed his hands on either side of her face, forcing her to look at him, “I can’t lose you. And if I have to turn into a control freak for a few days to keep you with me, then that’s what I’ll do.”

Abby opened her mouth to protest again, but Zach shook his head. “No. You’re not going. Period.”

Abby sighed. “Ok.”

Zach nodded and rubbed his face with his sleeves before standing and making his way to the kitchen to get dinner ready.

 

Love, Abby (Day 9)

December 13

6:15 a.m.

Abby ran her hand through Zach’s hair as he rested his head on her stomach. Outside, the sky was beginning to lighten, bringing with it their first full day of married life. How many days they had, they didn’t know, but they knew they had at least until Friday. After that, only time would tell. Time and the mysterious file, of course. “I still can’t believe they kicked us off the riverfront at sunset, even if it was beginning to rain,” Zach muttered, staring out the window.

Abby chuckled, “Yeah, but the bowling alley was more than willing to take in a rowdy crowd of half drunk idiots. We should send them a Thank You note.”

“Indeed. Thank you for saving my impromptu wedding reception! I’m sure the mess on lane seven will buff right out. The best man apologizes for that, by the way.” Zach squeezed her hand as they both laughed.

They watched the sun rise in peaceful silence, neither moving until it had risen well above the horizon. Across the room, their cell phones buzzed at the same time. Zach pushed himself off the bed to retrieve the phones, taking the warm blankets with him, causing Abby to erupt in a startled squeal as the cold air hit her skin. Zach laughed and sauntered slowly across the room, a mischievous smile splitting his face in two. Abby glared at him as he took his time getting back into bed. The second he was within reach, she snatched the covers and retreated back into their warmth. Zach chuckled and dropped onto the bed before he tossed her phone onto the blankets she snuggled under.

Rearranging their pillows, they sat back against the headboard and read their messages. “Dad says congratulations, my boss says I’m a sucker for a pretty face, and Bret wants to know why he woke up in the back seat of the midtown bus.” Zach’s laugh shook the bed.

“His party didn’t end when ours did, it seems,” Abby rolled her eyes as she remembered helping Bret into the taxi as they were leaving the bowling alley. Zach and his father practically carried him to the car and shoved him inside. Just as Abby pushed the door shut, Bret’s foot fell off the seat and got smashed between the car and door. “Tell him I’m sorry-not-sorry about his foot,” she mumbled. Zach smiled as he typed his reply.

“Well, Mom says she’s happy for us and that they already wrote a check to the alley so we shouldn’t worry,” Abby laughed as she typed a quick reply, thanking her parents and asking they wanted to do lunch later. “Oh, and Rhonda says thank you for including her in our big day.” Her forehead wrinkled in a frown. “I still don’t know what she has to do with all this stuff.”

“We could always see what the file has in store for us today,” Zach was already pushing blankets away and pulling on a pair of jeans, but Abby grabbed his arm.

“Not right now,” she said, “We have until midnight to check it. Today is getting off to a great start, so let’s not ruin it.” She smiled innocently.

Zach blinked. “Well, what would you like to do then? He gave her an equally innocent look.

“Well,” she said fidgeting with her hair, “you could always make me some breakfast? I’m starving. Oh! How about some French toast?”

Zach’s face fell into a glare. Throwing his jeans back to the floor, he grabbed the blankets and pulled them completely off the bed. The blankets quickly muffled Abby’s shrieks as Zach jumped onto the bed and pulled the covers over their heads.

11:15 a.m.

Abby’s mother took a sip from her lemon water, her eyes moving from Abby to Zach, then back to Abby. While she supported their decision to suddenly elope, she was curious as to why. The newlyweds scanned their menus, talking quietly and pointing at various appetizers and entrees. They acted as if nothing out of the ordinary occurred less than twenty-four hours ago. “Since you skipped the planning stage and jumped straight to the wedding, are you going to put more time and thought into your honeymoon?”

Zach glanced at Abby, fully expecting her to answer her mother’s question, but Abby’s face resembled a deer in headlights. “Honeymoon? We, uh, haven’t really thought about that, Mom,” Abby stammered, her face reddening slightly.

“No honeymoon?” her mother shook her head, “what is it with couples skipping the honeymoon now days? Back in my day, it was a big deal! It was our opportunity to get to know our spouse better and, of course, to-“

“Yeah, Mom, we know what a honeymoon is for,” Abby buried her face in her menu. Across the table, her mother laughed mischievously. Her daughter always was very shy when it came to talking about the more intimate aspects of life. It was pure entertainment to see Abby squirm in embarrassment whenever such topics were breached.

“We’re thinking about maybe taking a trip to the Virgin Islands in the spring,” Zach tried to placate his mother-in-law’s ferocious curiosity, but he only gave her more material in which to pester Abby with.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, her eyes wide over a face splitting grin. “The Caribbean! Such a beautiful place! I went there once with my second husband, before we were married actually. We joked about visiting the Virgin Islands when we were obviously not virgins anymore.” She glanced at the ceiling wistfully. “Those were the days.” She looked at Abby who was now glaring at her mother. “I imagine you’ll be making the same jokes we did, seeing as you have been living together for months now.” She smiled innocently. Abby’s jaw dropped in shock. Yes, my mother really did just say that out loud in a busy restaurant, she thought angrily.

“Mother,” Abby spoke slowly, forcing a smile on her face. Beside her, Zach put down his menu and downed half a glass of beer while hoping to avoid being dragged into the mother-daughter discussion. Abby continued, “Not only are your comments inappropriate and unwarranted, they are also blatant lies, told only to get a rise out of me in front of Zach and everyone else wanting lunch today. I know for a fact you have never been married before Dad, and I know you haven’t been to the Virgin Islands. I didn’t invite you to lunch to discuss my business, so why don’t we change the subject to something more appropriate, ok?”

He mother laughed, “Of course! We could always talk about why you decided to elope yesterday?” The innocent smile appeared again.

“And there it is,” Abby said, taking a sip of water, “the real reason you accepted my invitation instead of going to your church picnic with Dad.”

“Oh, no,” her mother shook her head, “I would have agreed to a double hip replacement if it got me out of that picnic.” She shuddered, and Abby knew her mother was telling the truth. “Besides, I really am curious about the honeymoon.” She took another sip of water.

Abby sighed and closed her menu. “I don’t know, we’ll have to see what happens-“ Zach coughed, interrupting her train of thought before she dug herself into a hole.

“Happens with what?” Her mother watched the two as they shared knowing glances.

Abby’s mouth worked as she tried to form a reply.

“With work, she means.” Zach answered his mother-in-law’s question. “We’re both busy, and with the holidays coming up, we just aren’t able to think about a honeymoon right now.” Abby squeezed his hand in thanks.

“Oh, that makes sense,” her mother said. “What does Piper have you doing lately?”

Abby relaxed, thankful in the change in subject. “Taking notes, grabbing coffee, pulling random files, nothing new really.”

“Random files? What for?”

“I don’t know,” she frowned as she remembered some of the names on the files she pulled. “Some of the files were past-employees, but most I don’t recognize. I just pull them and hand him a stack of the ones I could find. I haven’t seen any of them since.”

“That’s kind of odd, don’t you think?”

Zach nodded, informing Abby’s mother that even he thinks something is going on at the law firm.

Just then, their waitress approached the table and began taking their order, putting an end to their discussion.

10:00 p.m.

Zach lifted the laptop screen. “Ready?”

Abby shook her head. She really didn’t want to know how much her spur-of-the-moment wedding changed things. She had a feeling she wouldn’t like what she was about to see.

The clock in the hall was striking 10:00 p.m. Zach put off checking the file as long as possible, but he wasn’t willing to miss a day. He still wasn’t convinced that it was real. He wasn’t convinced it was a prank, either.

The starting screen illuminated the living room. They had been watching a movie only minutes before, and the credits still rolled on the TV screen across the room. Zach idly tapped a rhythm on his knees as he waited. The background image finally appeared, and after another moment it was once again covered in icons.

“Let’s see what the mysterious A.D. has prepared for us today.” Zach moved the curser over the appropriate files and clicked his way to his intended target. After a quick double click, the contents exploded onto the screen. Zach scrolled down through row after row of new items. It looked as if the file size had doubled overnight. Abby repressed a groan.

Zack chose an item and double clicked. A small image appeared, clearly taken from a security camera, showing both Abby and Rhonda Davis standing side by side near a water fountain. “That’s at work, next to the restrooms by the kitchen.” Abby leaned in closer and shook her head. She pointed at lights and garland hanging over the water fountain. “Those Christmas decorations weren’t up when I left the office Friday.”

“I wonder what day this week they’ll show up at work?” Zach shot her a curious glance before closing the image and opening another item. This time it was a small newspaper article titled “Bombed Law Firm Death Toll Holding at 3.”

“Three?” Abby gasped. “Does it identify anyone?”

Zach shook his head slowly as he scanned the short article. “No. It says no names are being released at this time because of the ongoing investigation.” He closed the article and moved to another.

After thirty minutes of exploring the new file contents, Abby sat back and sighed. “So many new items, and they all say the same thing: three dead. Who-“

Just then a new image opened. The scan was of a front-page article:

Identities Released; D.L. Hughes, Abigail Dresden, Rhonda Davis Confirmed Dead; 2 Still Critical

“Oh.” Abby’s shoulders slumped forward. “I guess getting married wasn’t such a great idea after all.”

Zach leaned forward as he read the article. “I don’t understand how our wedding changes things to this degree,” he said after a few minutes. “Something else has to be at work here. I mean, why is Rhonda all of a sudden dead? She would have to be right there in the middle of the action, and she wasn’t there before, so what changed?” He shook his head as Abby stared absently at a commercial on the TV while deep in thought.

“It makes sense, really. She is Hughes’s secretary, so why wouldn’t she be there?”

Zach’s eyes widened. “Do you think the gift was from her?” Abby’s face contorted into a frown as she looked at Zach. “We already know the gift was intended for Hughes, right?” He had turned slightly in order to face Abby while explaining his theory. “Who else at the firm would have a better motive?”

“She just started. I doubt she hasn’t even spent more than five minutes alone with him in the same room yet because he’s been keeping her busy elsewhere. It doesn’t make sense.”

Zach frowned. “Ok, so as of now, we know that the bomb is intended for Hughes. He is killed, and takes both you and Rhonda with him to the morgue. What we still don’t know is who and especially why. Maybe if we can find some clues that point to either of those we can stop this whole thing from happening.”

Abby stared wide-eyed are her husband. “You speak of my impending death as if you’re just hashing out your current article. Must I remind you that we’re talking about real people dying? About me dying? Could you please put a damper on your inner journalist’s excitement for a few more days, please?”

Zach opened his mouth to reply, but snapped it shut a second later and nodded. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to-“

Abby cut his apology short with a wave of her hand. “You’re just doing your job, I get it. You still don’t even believe this is really happening, so how about I look for clues to the why and who and you keep looking for your prankster. Perhaps one of us will find something.” She rubbed her eyes in frustration.

Zach nodded. He moved the curser to close the whole file, but stopped when a new item caught his eye. He clicked on it and regretted his decision the second the image appeared.

In Memory of Abigail Dresden

Abigail Dresden departed this world on Friday December 18. She was twenty five years old. She is survived by her mother and father, and her husband, journalist Zach Dresden. There will be a gathering of loved ones on Tuesday, January 29 to remember the young woman so violently taken from this world.

Zach moved to close the image but was too late. Beside him, Abby sighed. “I’m going to bed.”