Abby yawned as she climbed down from the stepladder, stepping onto a pile of folders she had pulled out for her boss. She never did manage to find the missing contents from one of yesterday’s files, but she would look for that in a bit, once she finished pulling this list. She worked slowly this morning, avoiding any mistakes that might attract unwanted attention from co-workers. In fact, she avoided her co-workers altogether, choosing instead to stay in the basement record room unless her boss needed a cup of coffee or notes taken during a meeting. So far, she has refilled his coffee cup four times, and it was only eleven in the morning.
She dreaded heading up to eat her lunch. Zach was doing an interview today and wouldn’t be able to meet her. Normally Abby would chat with one or two acquaintances between errand runs, but she knew today would be a struggle. She could hardly look people in the eye when she had seen them blown to bits on the prank video. She hardly slept a wink the past two nights, finally crawling out of bed at three am and arriving at work unusually early at seven this morning. Her nerves were shot, and she was in need of a cup of coffee herself, but she kept putting it off, refusing to go above ground unless required to. Her phone buzzed against her leg, and she sighed as she read the text. Piper needed another cup and wanted an eta on the files she was currently gathering. She picked up the pile from the floor and made her way upstairs.
As usual, the carafe was empty. She quickly cleaned out the used filter and grounds and refilled it. As she waited, she neatened the files, making sure they were right side up, opened on the same side, and were in alphabetical order. She finished just as the last drips of coffee fell into the steaming carafe. She filled two clean mugs, grabbed the stack of files, and weaved her way through the maze of desks and coworkers until she reached Piper’s office.
“Yes, the book is scheduled for release next week!” As Abby entered, Piper was listening to the conversation between the other partners, Hughes and Parker. “It’d make a great gift for the Christmas party,” Parker said, smiling. He had been dropping these subtle hints all day in hopes that someone would gift him his own book in front of the whole company. He never passed on an opportunity to gloat, and the release of his new book was no exception. Abby wasn’t sorry she missed the beginning of the conversation. One of the first things she had learned about her boss’s partner, Cal Parker, was that he had a morbid obsession with the mafia, specifically the murders associated with them. She knew that the firm represented multiple members of the most powerful mafia family in the city; off the books, of course.
Seeing Hughes up close caused a rushing torrent of images from the video to invade her current thoughts. Startled, Abby stepped back and jerked her hand, causing the hot coffee to splash down her pink blouse. She gasped as the hot liquid burned her through the fabric. Not surprisingly, Piper didn’t even flinch, nor did he move to help her after the coffee soaked her blouse. Parker moved away, avoiding both the hot coffee and helping the clumsy secretary. Only Hughes came to her aid, quickly grabbing the stack of files from her arm and then the cups from her other hand. He yanked a handful of tissues from the box on Piper’s desk and tried to soak up some of the coffee, but to his surprise, Abby was trying to push his hands away. He retreated a couple of steps and watched as she hunched forward and pulled her wet shirt away from her skin. She stared at in horror, not entirely sure what happened, only that all of a sudden her blouse was drenched in coffee.
Piper rolled his eyes. “Hughes, don’t you think it’s time to prepare for our lunch meeting? Or would you like to fondle my secretary some more?”
Hughes chuckled and threw the coffee soaked wad of tissues in the trash. “Well, if you’re giving me a choice, I’ll choose-“
“Hughes!” Parker interrupted, throwing a look at his friend.
“I was going to say meeting!” Hughes laughed loudly as Abby slowly backed out of the room. Her eyes focused on the ground the whole way to the women’s restroom. Once inside, she faced the full-length mirror on the back of the door and gasped. Her favorite pink blouse was ruined. The suit jacket she brought with her to work wouldn’t cover up the mess. Shakily, Abby opened the door and made her way back to her desk to grab her purse and jacket for a quick trip home to change. Just as she slung her purse handles over her arm, her phone buzzed. It was from Piper. Where’s my coffee? Abby fell back into her chair and let her purse fall to the floor. Breathing slowly, she calmed her rising anger before slowly making her way back to the kitchen.
Abby took her heels off and ran from the parking lot and through the office until she reached the kitchen. She was beginning to hate this room; it seemed like she spent more time here than anywhere else in the building. The basement record room came in a close second. She frowned, remembering she still needed to go back down and finish pulling files for Piper. Hastily she started a new pot of coffee and cleaned her feet with a wet paper towel. The shoes were brand new, a gift from her mother, and unlike the other pairs in her closet, these were actually comfortable. She would prolong their life any way she could. She dried her feet off with another towel and slipped her shoes on before washing her hands and adjusting the rest of her clothing.
The black blouse she wore now was an old favorite. She had managed a quick run home over lunch, giving her an opportunity to clean herself up from her earlier coffee incident and also saving her from a lonely lunch. She was jamming the last of the large box of french fries into her mouth as she turned into the parking lot. Now, as she adjusted her shirt, she spied an errant fry stuck between her breasts. She quickly grabbed the fry and shoved it into her mouth.
“Do you always hide food under your shirt?”
Abby spun and came face to face with D. L. Hughes. He chuckled at her horrified expression. “I like my women to have secrets; I like uncovering them one at a time.” He moved closer to Abby, causing her to step backwards until she felt the heat from the coffee maker on her back. “Makes me wonder what else you’ve got hidden in there.” He stopped only inches from her and peered down her blouse, not bothering to be discreet. He raised his hand to the top button, but Abby side stepped away from him. She moved across the small room and quickly put a table between herself and Hughes. He turned towards her and chuckled again as he took a step towards the table.
“Mr. Piper is expecting me to take notes at his meeting in two minutes.” Abby stammered, trying to convince Hughes that now was not a good time to sexually harass the secretary. He took another step forward. Abby was nearing a panic attack. “You’re supposed to be there, too, right? A new client with a big bank account usually requires all three partners to attend?” Her voice was almost a squeak, but Hughes stopped and frowned. Abby’s heart raced as she watched Hughes. He sighed. Smiling, he winked at Abby and left the kitchen, leaving her to collapse into a chair until her racing heart slowed down and her shaky legs could carry her and a cup of coffee to Piper’s office.
When she arrived, Hughes was already there, as was Parker. Their secretaries sat in chairs against the wall near the door. After placing the coffee on Piper’s desk and receiving a glare from her boss, Abby retrieved her tablet from her desk just outside Piper’s office and took a seat next to Parker’s secretary.
The meeting lasted almost three hours. Abby had typed notes the entire time, refusing to look up and meet Hughes’s smirk. He glanced at her every few minutes, and after the first half hour, Abby had had enough. Once the new client was out of the office and being escorted to the doors by the partners, Abby practically fled to the confines of the basement record room and threw herself into the job of locating the remaining missing files Piper had requested that morning.
“Should have taken me up on my offer to make you a burger.” Zach spoke around a mouthful of cheeseburger. Abby, who wasn’t in much of a talkative mood after the incident with Hughes earlier, shrugged her shoulders and nibbled on a green bean. Zach had been absorbed in the prank file all evening after discovering it mingling once again in his work files. He had only just now noticed Abby’s sour mood.
She shook her head. “Too fattening.”
Zach rolled his eyes and took another bite. “You’ve got a few months, Abs, I’m sure one burger wouldn’t hurt. Besides, eating something that tastes good for a change might cheer you up. Just looking at that pile of green beans is making me depressed.”
“I guess you already forgot I had some chicken also?” She stabbed her fork straight into the pile of beans as she spoke, then jammed the fork into her mouth.
“That was not chicken,” Zach replied. “More like a pathetic example of food. If I hadn’t watched you make that plate from start to finish, I’d think it had come from a T.V. dinner, and nothing you could say would convince me otherwise. This, on the other hand,” he held his burger up with one hand, letting a pickle slide off and fall back to the plate. “This is food.”
Abby wrinkled her nose as she chewed another forkful of beans. Truthfully, she had grown tired of eating healthy long ago, but she kept it up believing that sacrifices now would mean less work at the gym in the coming months. She wanted to reach across the table and snatch the burger right out of Zach’s hands and inhale the cheesy, meaty goodness, but she refused to give him the satisfaction. She swallowed the beans and changed the subject. “Find anything interesting in the file today?”
“Not really. There are a couple of new articles, but only one that mentioned you, and it was just a sentence.”
“Oh? What did it say?”
“Only that you were not considered a suspect yet.”
“Hmph,” Abby stared at her plate thoughtfully. “But I’m the one that hands him the bomb, so wouldn’t it make sense for me to be a suspect?”
“It says that you have no motive to want Hughes dead.”
“The hell I don’t,” Abby mumbled under her breath, but Zach narrowed his eyes at her as if he had heard what she said.
“What did I miss?”
Abby rubbed her forehead and debated if she should tell him what happened with Hughes or let Zach turn dinner into an interrogation. She opted for the former. “Hughes made a move at me today.”
“What?” He dropped his burger and it exploded into a lettucey heap on his plate.
“He, uh,” she struggled to find words, but Zach spoke right over her.
“What did he do?”
“Nothing, at least not physically. Zach, sit down, I’m trying to explain what I’m thinking-“
“Not physically? What does that mean?” He was yelling across the small table even though she was only a couple of feet away.
“Sit down and listen!” she yelled back and glared at him until he sunk back down to the floor. “I mean that he didn’t touch me. He’d been watching me a lot lately, yes, but he’s never cornered me before.” She paused to look at the anger plastered on Zach’s face. “I can’t report it because nothing will come of it, and I can’t stay there. All I can do is hold out until the holidays are over and I have a better chance of finding another job.”
“So that’s it, you just let him get away with this?” Zach was shoving lettuce back under the bun and licking ketchup off his fingers.
“I don’t see much of a choice. Judging by his demeanor, I have a feeling he’s done this before, and he knows I can’t do anything about it. The best thing to do is quit and move on.” She sighed. “I suppose I should update my resume.”