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.
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.
“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.