“What if I skipped the party?” Abby hastily spread cream cheese on a bagel. Since the moment she opened her eyes this morning, her mind was racing. How could she avoid the disastrous Christmas party? She finished one half of the bagel and picked up the second half, examining a large air pocket before slathering a layer of cheese on top. Using her knife, she dug out a glob of cheese from the air pocket and spread it around.
Zach sat across the countertop peninsula. He eyed her wearily as he jammed an overflowing spoonful of Fruit Loops into his mouth. This was not what he wanted to talk about first thing in the morning. He glared at her as he chewed. His eyes were red from sleeping in his contacts and his black-rimmed glasses magnified his glare. He didn’t shave this morning, giving him an all around look of ‘rough night.’ Abby smiled as she looked at her fiancé, remembering a time when he looked like this everyday. She always did prefer his glasses to contacts. Meeting his glare, her smile faded and she frowned.
“What?” She pouted and nibbled on her bagel. Zach stuffed another spoonful of cereal into his mouth and shook his head. Abby opened her mouth to say something, but Zach cut her off.
“Nope, not talking about it.” Milk dribbled down his chin and he wiped it off with his sleeve and shook his head again.
“Not talking about what?” her face was a perfected mask of innocence, one he had seen before. “Stop shaking your head at me!”
He rolled his eyes instead and swallowed the cereal down. “Stop freaking out over fake information and I’ll stop shaking my head.”
“Who said anything about the file? I don’t want to go to the party. It’s that simple.” She took a bite of her bagel and stared at the countertop as she chewed.
“I know you, Abby.” He pushed back his bowl and leaned his arms on the counter. “You don’t want to go because you think you’ll get blown up.”
“That’s not true.” She couldn’t meet his eyes.
“The file never said anything about if I died or not, so even if there was a bomb at the party, I think I’ll live. The injuries though…” she sighed as possibilities filled her mind. She swallowed and took a bite of bagel.
“Nope, it sure didn’t.”
“Have you looked at it today? What did it say?” She couldn’t hide her curiosity.
Zach sighed. “No, as a matter of fact I didn’t even look to see if it was back in my work files. I didn’t feel like wasting my time, it being a fake file, as you already know.”
“Yeah,” she said, “fake. Put there by a yet unknown individual for reasons also yet unknown. Any clues yet? It’s been almost a week.”
“No, but I’ll figure it out. I’m going to ask around again today. If I can’t find anything out, I’ll talk to my boss about it. She’ll want to know if someone is getting into my work stuff.” He pushed his hands up between his face and glasses and rubbed his eyes.
“And then your boss can call the police and tell them she thinks you have something to do with the latest threat at the office? That sounds almost as great as my plan to go to the police!” She stuffed the remaining piece into her mouth.
Zach adjusted his glasses. “It’s fake, Abby.”
“Umm hmm,” she nodded as she chewed.
“I’m going to go to the Christmas party.” Abby spoke softly as she twirled spaghetti on her fork, keeping her eyes on her task the whole time.
Zach leaned back in his chair and sighed loudly. He rolled his eyes and wiped his lips with a napkin. “Do we really have to talk about this again?”
She frowned across the table. “You can continue to act like your grumpy self and grumble if you’d like, but yes, I’d like to continue our discussion from this morning.”
Zach groaned into his hands. “Why didn’t I join the seminary after college?” His face was raised to the ceiling, his question directed to any heavenly entity that cared to listen. He tossed the napkin onto the table. “That’s what Mom wanted.”
“Yes, you’re doing great with the grumbling. Keep it up. Meanwhile, I’ve decided this morning that not attending the party would appear like Hughes has succeeded in scaring off another employee. Well, I’m not going to be intimidated so easily! I’m going to go to the party and pretend that nothing illegal, or creepy, or just plain gross, ever happened! He’ll see that I can’t be pushed around!” She grinned proudly as she shook the pasta off her fork and began twirling it again.
“Why are you so stuck on this creep?”
“I’m not stuck on Hughes, I’m stuck on you!” She laughed, but he only stared at her, clearly annoyed and waiting for a real answer. Her smile faded and she stuffed the poorly twirled spaghetti into her mouth. “Look, I worked hard in school, and even though this isn’t my dream job, it’s one that I need right now, and I can’t let some old geezer ruin it for me. If I can survive a few years, I’ll have a great reference on my resume and I can kiss that firm goodbye. It’s my first big girl job, and I need to make the best of it.”
“So, this morning you weren’t going because Hughes is a creepy, old geezer. Now, you’re going because Hughes is a creepy old geezer. Makes perfect sense.”
“I’m sorry, I missed what you said. The sarcasm oozing from your face distorted your words to the point that they made no sense.”
They glared at each other across the table.
“Fine, Abby, don’t go. I’m siding with you. If he bothers you this much, skip the party. It’s not like you’re required to be there. It’s an office Christmas party. I’m sure there’s an atheist or two who won’t be joining in the festivities. Can we talk about something else now?”
“No, if you were siding with me, then you would support me attending, which you did this morning. I think you’ve changed sides just to frustrate me.”
“And I’m positive you’ve changed your mind for the sole purpose of turning me into a raving lunatic long before the wedding. You do know I’m interviewing a psychiatrist tomorrow, right? I’m pretty sure she’ll notice every twitch and sidelong glance I can’t contain. I’ll probably be bouncing off of padded walls by this time tomorrow! And it’ll all be thanks to you!”
“Well, make sure the mental hospital has our current address so I can get the Thank You card.”
He shook his head, exasperated. “Well, big girl, why don’t you pay for lunch so you can go back to your big girl job. This big boy seems to have forgotten his wallet in his desk.”
Abby typed dutifully away at her desk. The afternoon’s meetings, though back-to-back-to-back, had gone off without a hitch. Now she was following up on this morning’s e-mails and sending new clients any information they requested. She hadn’t made it down to the basement today, but luckily Piper had only two files on her list to pull. She would run down to grab them before she left.
She clicked “send” right as her boss appeared in his office doorway. He wore a long, black coat and carried a tall umbrella. Abby hadn’t noticed it had started to rain, and she cursed under her breath as she looked out the window and into a downpour. Piper slung an overstuffed laptop bag over his shoulder then handed her an empty coffee mug. “Don’t be late tomorrow, we’ll start with the O’Toole case first thing.” Abby nodded, but Piper was already headed toward the door. She turned to look out the window again and sighed as she remembered she parked all the way in the back.
Abby closed her laptop and stuffed it into her bag before depositing her coffee cup into the sink. Reaching into her back pocket, she pulled out a yellow post-it with two names on it. She made her way down to the basement and began what she hoped was her last task for the evening.
The basement was especially cool this evening. Outside, the gutters directed the rain from the roof straight to underground drain pipes. She could hear the water rushing down through the pipes in the walls. The sound of water is calming in most circumstances, but right then it made the basement seem cold and unwelcoming. Abby shivered and got to work looking for the first file. Thirty minutes later, she gave up empty handed and moved onto the second name. “Aileen Dunthrop, where are you hiding?” she mumbled to herself as she searched one shelf after another. Whoever had alphabetized the basement files hadn’t done a very good job. Either that, or no one has cared to keep the tried-and-true system of organization in tact. After checking the D’s, she looked through the rest of the files on that shelf, then on other shelves nearby. She had to move to another shelving unit, and then another, and then to a pair of small filing cabinets sitting lonely in a corner.
Her stomach rumbled as she pulled the top drawer open and she checked her watch: 6:26. No doubt Zach would have already eaten and was now watching some useless reality show in his underwear before setting to work on his latest story. She quickened her speed and was pulling open the second drawer only a minute later.
“Gotcha!” She grabbed the file and pulled, but its size was surprising. The folder bulged as the contents shifted and began spilling out the sides. She quickly set it down atop the open drawer to readjust the contents. The folder contained more than just paperwork; there were photos, notes, memory cards, and a couple of cds inside. Abby bent down to retrieve the dropped documents, but paused when she turned them over and saw they were pictures of a woman in a bathroom. She had seen evidence pictures before, even pictures just like this, of women who were photographed without their consent. But this one was different, because the bathroom was the women’s restroom upstairs. Putting those photos back into the file, she picked up some others and glanced at them. They were all the same woman, and all seemed to have been taken without her knowing it. Abby skimmed the notes, but nothing pointed to the pictures as being surveillance. In fact, the last few documents were work related, and showed that this woman, Aileen Dunthrop, used to work at the firm. Abby had a sinking feeling that she had stumbled upon something she was never meant to see. She stuffed the contents back into the folder and closed it as she debated her next move. Should she put it in her desk and hand it to Piper in the morning without saying a word about what’s inside, or should she look deeper into this woman’s file? Abby bit her lip as she made her decision. Grabbing the file carefully, as not to dislodge any of the contents, she closed the drawer and made her way back upstairs. Sliding the file into her bag, Abby gathered her things and made her way out into the rain.
Zach was slouching in his armchair, wearing nothing but an old t-shirt and underwear when Abby burst through the front door. She locked the deadbolt and slid the chain in its place before throwing her heels off and hurrying into the kitchen. She pulled out the file and began spreading its contents around on the counter.
“Hey, how was work?” Zach had turned off the television and made his way into the kitchen carrying a dirty plate and fork.
“It was ok.” He barely heard her mumbling over the clanging of the plate as he put it into the dishwasher. He saw the items on the counter and noted how entranced Abby was with them.
She took a deep breath. “It’s one of the files Piper had me pull today. As I was taking it out of the cabinet, some pictures fell out, and, well, they caught me a bit off guard.” She held up one of the pictures that had fallen out of the file before. In it, a woman was undressing in a restroom.
“Ok? It’s probably evidence in a case. Can’t you get in trouble for taking these files out of the office?”
“But I don’t think it is. This is the women’s restroom at work, Zach, and this lady, Aileen Dunthrop, used to work at the firm. All of the photos from this bathroom are taken from the same position, so I think there was, or still is, a hidden camera in the restroom.” She held up photo after photo of the woman. In them, her clothes were always different, but the position of the camera never changed.
“Hmm…” Zach began sifting through the contents and singled out the memory cards into a pile. “Let’s see what’s on these.” He disappeared into the living room only to reappear a second later with his computer. Popping a memory card into the correct slot, Zach had to wait only a second before his photo program opened, displaying the contents of the memory card. “Ohhhhhh, that’s not good…”
Abby’s jaw dropped as Zach scrolled through photo after photo, each one of the same woman, and each one clearly taken in secret. “Zach, what if the camera is still there? What if someone is still taking pictures of women like this?”
Zach just shook his head as he continued to scroll.
Abby gasped. “Hughes!”
Zach looked at her and shrugged. “Might be. The guy is a creep.”
“I couldn’t get away with not going to work, but I don’t think I’ll be spending any extra time at the office. There’s no way I’m going to that party next week.”
Zach nodded. “I’m finding it hard to disagree. No party.”