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.
“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.
“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?”
“Whose witness were you?”
“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.”
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.”