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Love, Abby (Day 8)

December 11

11:55 p.m.

Zach tipped a bag of chips so that the crumbs tumbled into his mouth. Beside him on the couch, Abby watched as small, orange crumbs slipped through a gap and made a mess on the cushion. She shook her head and took a sip of steaming tea. She chose black tea, even though it was past her bedtime. She had a feeling she was going to need a boost tonight.

On the coffee table in front of them, the laptop sat open. A nudge on the mouse every minute or so kept the screen saver from coming on while the couple waited for midnight. They were still divided on the authenticity of the “Love, Abby” file, but they were determined to catch its update as soon as it appeared. Abby had agreed to attend the firm’s Christmas party next week, but would that be enough to alter the file’s contents once again? Deep down she believed that it would. She gave Zach a sidelong glance and wondered if he would follow through with his end of the bargain. If she was right and the files did change, then she would be a married woman in less than twenty-four hours. The thought stirred butterflies in her stomach. She quickly took a sip of tea to hide any panic that may have broken through her calm façade.

Zach crumpled the bag of chips just as the hall clock began its midnight chime. He paused and looked at Abby, only to find she had stopped mid drink and was looking at him. He shrugged and continued crumpling the bag as she sighed nervously. Zach bounced on the couch as he tossed the crumpled bag into the kitchen, hoping to make it into the trashcan. Abby rolled her eyes when she heard it crinkle as it hit the floor. Zach never was any good at basketball.

Despite their best efforts, the laptop screen went black as the last chime sounded. Seconds later, the fan started back up, and the start up animation appeared on the screen. “Hmph,” Zach apparently didn’t expect his computer to randomly reboot. The few minutes required for his machine to start up ticked by slowly, each second feeling more and more tense. Abby’s butterflies once again tried to take flight and, despite the steam rising from her cup, Abby gulped the rest of the liquid down.

Finally the reboot was complete. Zach navigated through his files quickly. The folder was exactly where he expected and he opened it with a swift double click. The contents loaded slowly, but Zach had already opened the first item. A front page scan bellowed “1 DEAD, 17 INJURED; NO SUSPECTS YET.” Abby knew from just that first article that the contents had changed in her favor. She swallowed as another file opened, this one containing just a still from a security camera. She recognized the pictured parking lot as the very same one she parked in every day. In fact, she could see her car in the picture. The time stamp claimed the picture was taken at 3:45 pm, December 18, 2015.

“That’s taken only fifteen minutes before the party is scheduled to begin,” she said quietly. “I wonder what they’re looking for in this image?”

“A person of interest, probably,” Zach replied without taking his eyes off the picture. “Someone leaving before the big kaboom.” He smiled at his joke, but one look at Abby’s disapproving face wiped his smirk away immediately. She sighed.

“Well, I don’t see anything in this picture except cars in a parking lot. Let’s check the next item.”

He closed the picture and clicked on the third item. A scan of a handwritten note loaded quickly. It had only a name on it. “Rhonda Davis?” Zach shook his head as he glanced at Abby. “Who’s that?”

Abby’s mouth was agape and her eyes narrowed. “It’s Hughes’s new secretary; she started this past Monday. I’ve been showing her the ropes at work while Hughes isn’t in meetings.” Her forehead wrinkled in confusion as she mumbled to herself, “I don’t understand.”

December 12

1:10 a.m.

1:13 a.m.

To: General List at PP&H

From: Abigail Barnes

Subject: You’re All Invited!

Dear fellow employees of Piper, Parker, and Hughes,

As some of you know, I am engaged to be married to Zach Dresden of the local Chronicle. Since our engagement is still relatively new, and we’ve both been very busy in our separate professions, we have not set a date or begun any preparations. Late last night, we received news that my Aunt Margie’s brain cancer has become extremely aggressive; the doctors predict she will die before Christmas. It is her dying wish to see me walk down the aisle. So, Zach and I are eloping and you’re invited! Meet us downtown at the courthouse this afternoon at 3:30pm and follow us to the Riverfront for a nice grill out! BYOB! We hope to see you there!

Sincerely,

Abigail Barnes and Zach Dresden

 

1:39 a.m.

To: Mom

From: Abigail Barnes

Subject: Please Don’t Be Mad…

But Zach and I are eloping this afternoon. We’re meeting at the courthouse at 3:30. Please come?

Abby

PS: Could you ask your crazy neighbor lady to come also? Her name was Margie, right? Tell her I’ll pay her $100 and a few bottles of wine.

PPS: You’re not mad, are you? I know I’m your only child, and you were hoping for a big wedding, but we decided that something small and now worked better for us than large and next year.

PPPS: Do you think Margie would walk me down the aisle if I gave her another $100?

 

7:26 a.m.

To: Abigail Barnes

From: Mom

Subject: Re: Please Don’t Be Mad…

Abby, I’m not mad. Disappointed, yes, but your father predicted this would happen. In fact, I owe him $20 now. I should know better than to bet against him. What on Earth would you want with Margie? Your father reserves the right to walk you down the aisle- he will defend that right to the death. Oh, that just gave me an idea for some pre-wedding entertainment!

XO-Mom

 

8:01 a.m.

To: Mom

From: Abigail Barnes

Subject: I’m glad you’re not mad, but…

Please hold off on the pre-wedding entertainment. Zach’s parents are not happy about this, and I fear that any gladiator-style combat between Dad and his insane neighbor might make things worse. Just ask Margie to act herself, except that she’s my aunt today. Easy money.

Abby

PS: You bet money on my wedding? Do I get a cut?

 

8:15 a.m.

To: Abigail Barnes

From: Mom

Subject: Ask your father

You know how stingy he is with money. I imagine he has already buried his new $20 bill in the backyard somewhere. We’ll behave at the wedding, I promise. Why do we have to pretend Margie is related to us?

XO-Mom

 

8:17 a.m.

To: Mom

From: Abigail Barnes

Subject: It’s ok, just say she is Dad’s sister

I told the people at work that my Aunt Margie is dying from a brain tumor and her last wish is to see me walk down the aisle. Hence, a rushed wedding.

Abby

 

8:20 a.m.

To: Abigail Barnes

From: Mom

Subject: Where did I go wrong in raising you?

XO-Mom

3:20 p.m.

Abby smoothed the front of her dress for the twentieth time. She paced in front of the large mirror over the sinks in the women’s restroom on the first floor of the courthouse. She checked her watch: 3:18 p.m. Everyone would be wandering where she had run off to. She paced across the bathroom and checked her watch again, but it hadn’t changed. She frowned. Watches were not considered formal wear, so should she take it off for her wedding? Shaking her head, she unclasped the wristband and stuffed the timepiece into her purse. Then again, it’s not like this was a glamorous wedding. She was getting married at the courthouse in her favorite sundress even though it was December. She groaned and retrieved the watch from her purse.

Her hands shook nervously as she tried to reattach the clasp. Just as it snapped into place, the door swung open and her mother peeked into the restroom. “There you are!” She entered and, after letting the door close on its own, leaned against it, barring any more intrusions. “I would ask if you’re getting cold feet, but you’re wearing flip-flops in December, so I think I already know the answer.” Her mother smiled and waited patiently for a reply. Abby was slow in giving one.

“I know this isn’t what you and Dad wanted for me,” Abby stared at her feet, refusing to meet her mother’s eyes.

“Is this what you want?”

Abby thought for a moment. “Yes.”

“Then this is exactly what we wanted.”

“I’m wearing flip flops to my own wedding,” Abby groaned to herself.

“I can’t wait to see the look on Zach’s mother’s face when she sees. She is out there discussing with her husband how long she thinks your veil will be!” Abby’s mom chuckled, then laughed outright when she saw Abby roll her eyes. “I could help you stuff long pieces of toilet paper in your hair if it would please the woman any.” She laughed again as Abby gasped. The mental picture was too much, though, and Abby couldn’t help but laugh at her mother’s comment. Her future mother-in-law was a hard person to please, but openly insulting her before the wedding had even taken place would make the next couple decades more difficult.

Abby shook her head as she banished the thought of a toilet paper veil. “Maybe when we renew our vows,” she winked at her mother and the two laughed again, the sounds echoing off the tiled walls.

A light tap on the door interrupted the moment. “It’s your father,” said Abby’s mother after a quick peek, “he says it’s time.” She produced a bouquet of flowers from behind the door and shoved them into Abby’s hands, then pulled her into the hallway.

3:30 p.m.

The room wasn’t particularly small but, much to Abby’s surprise, it was full of people. Some she recognized from work, but most she assumed were Zach’s co-workers. An occasional random friend appeared in the crowd, only to disappear behind someone else. Abby stood in the doorway and waited as the crowd quieted and slowly shuffled to form a path to the front of the room. As she made her way down the aisle, she waved at her friends and coworkers and smiled at everyone else. Just as she reached the front where Zach and the officiant stood, she was thinking this must have been the most attended wedding to ever take place at the courthouse. A quick glance behind her showed that the crowd had filled the makeshift aisle, effectively cutting off her escape should she try to run. Zach waited patiently next to the officiant, a middle aged woman who glanced wide-eyed around the room. She looked just as surprised as Abby did. Zach watched Abby with a smirk plastered firmly on his face. She once said she dreamed of a large wedding, and he called in a few favors in order to give her the biggest wedding possible on such short notice. Next to Zach stood his best friend from high school, Bret. She stared at Bret until she finally understood: he was the best man. Abby gasped; she didn’t have a maid of honor.

“Of all things to forget!” she murmured frantically, spinning around and scanning the crowd. Almost immediately she saw Rhonda Davis squished between two burly sports writers in the front row. “Rhonda!” Abby exclaimed, and gestured to the shy woman to join her up front. “I need a maid of honor,” she said to Rhonda, “would you mind helping me out?” Rhonda smiled excitedly and nodded her head. Abby hugged her in thanks and handed Rhonda her bouquet before spinning around and facing her future husband.

Zach’s smirk was replaced with an enormous grin. “Good save!” He winked and took Abby’s hands in his, letting the officiant begin the ceremony.

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Love, Abby (Day 7)

December 11

9:00 a.m.

Zach tapped lightly on the open doorframe to his boss’s office. “Got a minute, Clarice?”

“Yeah, what’s up?” she said, not looking up from the paper on her desk.

Zack closed the door behind him and sat down on an old, worn couch against the wall. The office was small, leaving only enough room for two chairs or a small couch in front of the desk; Clarice chose the couch. “I think someone is getting into my computer and messing with my documents. I was wondering if you might have any ideas who it might be, because after a week of snooping I’ve come up empty handed.”

Clarice peered at Zach under a perfectly raised eyebrow. “Getting into your computer and messing with your documents?” She repeated his words with an air of disbelief. Zach feared she would roll her eyes next and say he was wasting her time.

“Yeah, well, not really. Look-“ he paused and leaned forward as if he feared someone was listening to their conversation, “someone is putting a file in my work stuff, and they are constantly changing the contents, most of which are targeted at my fiancé. She is beginning to believe the information, which is making my life difficult because it’s insane, so I need to find out who is doing this so I can punch him the face.”

Clarice blinked. “I see.”

“I won’t really punch him. I mean, I want to, but I want to keep my job more, so, yeah.” She watched him silently. “Have you at least heard a rumor about a prank or some elaborate joke or anything?” Clarice shook her head slowly. Zach sighed.

“Have you checked to see when the file was last modified and by who?”
He shook his head. “No, I’ve been trashing it every night. I was confident I would figure out who is doing this, but I was wrong.” Her eyes narrowed in confusion and he nodded. “Yeah, it magically ejects itself from the trash on a daily basis.” He raised his hands. “Don’t ask, because I haven’t figured it out.”

“Alright, I won’t. Check the date it was last modified, you might find a clue. I doubt someone is playing a trick on you, though. Everyone is pretty busy with their own projects. I can’t think of anyone who would have time to pull off something so elaborate.”

Zach nodded and stood to leave, but Clarice stopped him. “What’s in the file?”

“Ahh,” he ran his hand through his hair as he debated telling his boss everything or pretending it was nothing.

“You know what?” she interrupted his inner battle, “I don’t want to know. I’ll just keep myself out of this one. It’s all yours, Zach.”

“Thanks.” He nodded and left Clarice’s office, heading straight for his desk. Once there, he logged into his computer and went straight to the basic info on the file that he was sure was not in the trash even though he had dragged it there last night. Sure enough, “Love, Abby” was on the top of the list of files because it was the most recently modified. In fact, the information claimed it was created today at 12:00 a.m., and its creator was simply “A. D.”

Zach chewed his lip as he pondered. He put the file in the trash last night around 9:00 p.m., and the current file claims to have been created three hours later. Zach closed the information window and double clicked on the “Love, Abby” file icon. Immediately, Zach could see that there were new additions to the file, and he clicked on the first, tapping his fingers impatiently on his mouse as the document loaded. He scanned the article and quickly opened the next file, which turned out to be a picture. “What the-“ He closed it and moved to the third, then on to the fourth, each one giving him an added dose of anxiety. Finally, after scanning close to twenty new documents, he grabbed his phone. “Abby, can you get away for a minute? I have something you may want to see.”

12:30 p.m.

Abby crunched on a bag of chips as she scanned the documents. She wasn’t able to leave the office when Zach called because of a meeting she was preparing for, but she hurried over just as soon as she could, which happened to be lunchtime. The only sounds in the room were the rustling and chewing of chips, and the clicking of the mouse. Finally, after viewing all of the new files, she sat back and took a few gulps of water. “I’m not sure I understand. I thought you didn’t think this was real? Besides, I’m not going, so we can stop worrying about this-“

“Abby, those files weren’t there yesterday when I trashed the file at 9:00 pm. You made the decision not to go last night, and the new files appeared at midnight. It’s as if your decision changed something, and now the research is telling a different story.”

She stared at him. “Yeah, it’s different from what I remember, but it still makes no sense. I decided I wasn’t going to go, and yet the new documents clearly state I was there.” She shook her head.

“They also say you, now the prime suspect, were killed instantly! None of the previous research has pointed the finger at you, neither has any of it ever stated your death. Up until now, your fate was unknown. Something changed, and I think it was your refusal to even attend the party.”

Abby blinked. “I’m still confused.”

Zach sighed. “I talked to Clarice earlier, and she said she doesn’t know of any pranks. She said that everyone is too busy to pull something like this off. After a week of digging, I have found absolutely nothing indicating this is an inside job.”

“Are you starting believe this file is real?”

He paused and ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “I don’t know! But nothing adds up! I think maybe we should consider that this file is trying to tell us something.”

“Yeah, it’s telling me that I’m currently planning to blow up my boss a week from now.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m not sure I want to worry about this today. Perhaps it will tell a different story tomorrow?”

“It very well may, that’s the problem. Should we believe it and make decisions according to the documents it shows us every day? Or should we ignore it and do things unexpectedly and risk this story getting worse? I thought you believed this thing was real already. Why are you arguing the other side now?”

“I believe both sides of a discussion should be properly represented and opinions voiced, and seeing as you switched to the believer’s side and left the non-believer’s side unrepresented, I decided to take up that task and state my case.”

“You’re in denial.”

Abby scoffed. “What could I possibly be in denial over?”

“You don’t want to accept that this might actually be real.”

“Would you like to accept a claim that you are a week away from being a murderer? No? Neither would I!”

“It only claims you are the prime suspect because you decided yesterday not to go. If you change your mind again, I think tomorrow’s version of the file will be different.”

“But I honestly don’t want to go.”

“The file is telling us that you need to go to that party, Abby.”

“I hate that place! I hate my boss! Not enough to blow them all to smithereens, but more than enough to skip a Christmas party!”

“You have to go. Tell me that you’re going.”

“This is absurd, I’m going back to work.” She stood to leave, but Zach quickly blocked the door.

“Abby, this is our chance to find out if this file is real or a prank. If you change your mind and resolve to go to the party and the file contains the same information as it does today, then I’m going to call it a fake. If it changes back to how it was before you decided not to go, then I think we need to consider it as reality and plan accordingly.”

Abby glared at him in silence.

“Please? If it doesn’t change, then re-decide not to attend and we’ll move on. It’s that simple.”

“And if it changes back?” she spoke angrily through clenched teeth.

“I don’t know, we’ll have to figure something out.”

She thought for a moment. “I have one requirement.”

“And that is?”

“If the files does go back to avoiding any mention of my fate and no longer labels me as a suspect, that means there is a chance, albeit a slim one, that I survive this thing. I can’t imagine I’d be in one piece, though. What bride wants to hobble down the aisle crippled when she had a chance to glide down on her own two feet?” Zach narrowed his eyes as he listened. “If the file changes back tomorrow morning, I want to elope tomorrow evening, giving me a guaranteed week of normal newlywed happiness before you get stuck with whatever’s left of me.” She lifted her chin a notch. “Do we have a deal?”

“Elope.” He spoke slowly as her words sunk in. “My parents will want to kill us.”

“I think that would be ok, seeing as I might be dead in a week anyway.” Her face was a mask of calm as she spoke of dying prematurely. Zach frowned.

“Fine. Deal.”

Abby nodded, releasing a breath Zach hadn’t noticed she had been holding. Zach wrapped his arms around her in a firm hug and kissed the top of her head. Finally, after a last nervous glance back at the laptop sitting open atop the desk, Abby took a calming breath and headed back to the office.

Love, Abby (Day 6)

December 10

6:20 a.m.

“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.

“Right.”

“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.

12:15 p.m.

“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.”

5:20 p.m.

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.

6:05 p.m.

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.

“What’s that?”

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.”

Love, Abby (Day 5)

December 9

6:35 a.m.

Zach checked his work files first thing in the morning and was unpleasantly surprised to see mystery file once again among them. Just finding it put him in a sour mood, but when he scanned the contents his mood darkened even further. New articles detailed sexual harassment allegations dating back almost a decade for not only Hughes, but for Parker and Piper as well. It seemed that in addition to the many enemies they had from winning court cases, they had a whole slew of former employees and colleagues that may have wanted to exact revenge on the three. One article in particular stood out, and when he showed it to Abby, the color drained from her face so fast the he feared her breakfast might make a second appearance.

SECRETARY’S MOTIVE DISCOVERED?

Partner’s Secretary May Have Been Sexually Harassed

“This is the first mention of a suspect. Unfortunately that suspect is you.” Abby frowned as he continued. “Fortunately, it’s not real, so no worries!” He plastered an annoyed smile on his face before taking a gulp of coffee and hopefully putting an end to the conversation.

“What if we went to the police?” Abby stared into her cup. She hadn’t drank any since Zach poured it for her an hour before, but she held it tight as if it still warmed her hands.

“Why would we do that?” Zach still hadn’t given in to Abby’s suggestions regarding the source of the file. It was fake, plain and simple.

“Because what if someone is planning on bombing the building? Maybe if we tipped them off, they could find the person before anything happens?”

Zach rolled his eyes and set his mug on the counter next to her hands. “Imagine if I was a cop and you just told me that you think someone is going to bomb your office.” Abby nodded as he continued. “You go into detail about this undeletable file that your fiancé thinks is fake, but you don’t, telling me all about when and where this is going to take place, and even what the wrapping paper on the gift will look like. I’ll ask you how you know this, and you’ll say the information comes from a file containing information about an event that hasn’t happened yet.” She opened her mouth to say something, but Zach didn’t let her cut in. “I decide to humor you for a minute and ask who is the target, and you say Hughes. I’ll ask why, and you’ll say you don’t know. Oh, but don’t forget to tell me all about how Hughes sexually harassed you yesterday and you’re quitting your job because of it.” She snapped her mouth shut and stared into her coffee. “In your attempt to alert the authorities to a potential attack on your office, you end up giving the when, where, who, how, and why this attack may take place. Who do you think I’m going to suspect right off the bat?”

Abby sighed. She knew he was right. How could she convince authorities that something was going to happen when she couldn’t even convince Zach? It didn’t make any sense. She took a gulp of coffee and almost spat the cold liquid back out onto the counter. “Ok, I won’t say anything.”

Zach nodded and looked at his watch. Cursing, he gulped the last of his coffee and dropped the mug into the sink. “I’m already late for my meeting. See you tonight.” After giving Abby a quick kiss on her cheek, Zach grabbed his bags and ran out the door.

Abby sat in silence for a while, her thoughts alternating between telling the police, even though she told Zach she wouldn’t, and how she would avoid being in the same room as Hughes for the next week and a half. The former she didn’t want to admit was a bad idea, and the latter she didn’t want to admit was impossible. Sighing dejectedly, Abby finally dumped her coffee down the drain before grabbing her things and heading to the office.

7:30 a.m.

Abby had only to pull into the parking lot to know something was wrong. Two police cars were parked in front of the main entrance. Inside, the office buzzed with a tense silence. Employees whispered to each other around cubicle walls and into phones. Nervous glances were shared as people passed one another in hallways and aisle ways. Abby gripped her bags tightly as she made her way through the main floor to her desk. She concentrated on the floor as she walked, trying her best to ignore the hum of nervous bodies around her.

Piper was in his office when Abby arrived at her desk. Also in his office were Parker and Hughes, along with one uniformed officer and another man who Abby immediately suspected was an investigator of some sort. She set her bags down quickly as she watched through the open doorway. Only a moment later, Piper saw that she had arrived and motioned for her to join the group in his office. Thinking quickly, Abby mouthed “coffee?” to her boss, but he held up a steaming cup in silent reply. Abby repressed a sigh and entered the office and closed the door behind her.

As Abby seated herself in her usual chair near the door, the conversation continued without interruption. Parker was speaking to the investigator, answering a question that had been asked before she had entered the room.

“-could be anyone, really. You are aware that we represent many high profile individuals, and some of them have found themselves on the wrong side of the law a time or two. My guess is someone wants to hit back at one of our more powerful clients and is unable to. Instead they threaten us, the firm that was victorious in court.” Though he was nearing seventy, Parker was an expressive man. He spoke with feeling and anger, finishing with a hint of offence at being targeted because they were good at their job, nothing more. Abby knew better, and by the look on the investigator’s face, he did too. The officer scribbled furiously on a notepad, completely missing the blank stare the investigator aimed at Parker.

Next to Parker, Hughes reclined in his chair and nodded. “This wasn’t the first time the office has received a threat. Only last year we had a raving lunatic in the lobby screaming for Piper. He shot up the reception desk, grazing the receptionist! No, this wasn’t the first, and we know in our line of work, it won’t be the last.”

Parker nodded his head enthusiastically as he sipped from a glass of water. He didn’t notice when the liquid sloshed around, sending a few drops over the rim and down the front of his navy blue suit jacket.

The investigator narrowed his eyes as he glanced at Piper. “I remember that incident quite a bit differently than you, Mr. Hughes. Yes, there was a gunman in your lobby, and yes he injured your elderly receptionist, but Brandon Goldston was here because this firm defended the murderer of his only daughter. A murderer who confessed and led police to the body which was only ten feet away from another body that he later confessed to killing and transporting there. You got a confessed murderer off scott-free. I wonder,” he said, pacing the room and glaring at each of the three lawyers, “what were you paid for the defense of Mr. Lizzolo?”

“Payment is, and has always been, a private matter, Investigator.” Piper fiddled with a pen in his hands as he leaned back in his desk chair as he spoke. “I remember speaking those exact words to you last year when the event with Brandon Goldston occurred. Mr. Lizzolo is a client of ours, and we guard their privacy against any intrusion. Surely you understand confidentiality agreements?” He raised a challenging eyebrow at the investigator.

“Confidentiality agreements I am well aware of, but what about sexual harassment?” The investigator switched topics without missing a beat. He turned to judge Hughes’s reaction to the claims, but the lawyer’s face remained calm as he silently watched the investigator pacing around the room. “Surely you understand the severity of such claims?” This time the investigator raised his eyebrow as he aimed his question at the lawyers. In her seat by the door, Abby had begun to fidget. Her foot tapped lightly against the wooden chair leg and she clicked her pen relentlessly. She kept her eyes on the floor in an attempt to avoid eye contact with anyone on the room. Speaking up about Hughes’s advance would be a mistake with the three bosses in the room. Perhaps if she caught the detective alone-

“Abigail, more coffee, please.” Piper’s voice startled her from her thoughts. She looked up to find all eyes on her. She swallowed as she stood and left the room on shaking legs. Just outside the door, Abby stood and took several calming breaths before slowly making her way to the kitchen. Once there, she collapsed into a chair while a fresh pot was already brewing.

“Rough day I take it?”

Abby bolted upright and almost screamed. Zach stepped back in surprise, then a look of concern stared back at her from the doorway. “You alright?”

Abby folded her arms on the table and let her head drop onto them. “Nooooooo!”

Zach was silent as he waited for her to go on, and she did after a moment. “There’s an investigator, and he’s asking questions, and they were talking about something that happened last year and confidentiality agreements and then claims of sexual harassment and then Piper needed coffee and-“

“Oh, so the instigator started with the partners? I need to get in there.”

“What?” Abby was confused, but Zach was too busy craning his head around the doorframe to notice.

“The paper got tipped off that Investigator Bines was paying a visit to the law firm. He has been trying to put those three in jail for years, but he just can’t get any charges to stick. My boss sent me to try and listen in to the questioning. Seems I’m a bit late. Think you could get me in there?” he asked her, a look of innocence on his face. She shook her head. The coffee machine puffed and steamed, the last drops of coffee splashing into the carafe. Abby rubbed her temples and sighed.

“Ah, you don’t have to. They’re done!” Zach flashed Abby a quick smile and disappeared around the corner, fresh on the trail of his next story.

4:45 p.m.

The basement was cool and quiet and usually devoid of people. Not for the first time today, Abby imagined herself disappearing between the stacks of records and texts, but the image disappeared when she opened her eyes. Across the small table in the kitchen, the investigator stared at her expectantly.

“I’m-“ she cleared her throat,” I’m sorry, but I missed the question.”

The investigator sighed and repeated himself while the officer standing nearby glanced at her over his notebook. Zach sat a bit behind the investigator, close enough to overhear the discussion and in perfect view to signal Abby if he felt she shouldn’t answer the question. He shook his head slightly as the investigator asked the question.

“Do you think this latest threat against the law firm was a warning for something bigger, or that it was just a hoax?”

Abby’s head spun with the images that flew through it. Pictures, articles, the video, all pointing towards something bad, but Zach’s slight shake of the head kept her from opening her mouth. After a long moment, the investigator began repeating his question for the third time, this time his frustration came through and he almost yelled across the small table.

“No,” Abby interrupted him. “I don’t think much of it really. It wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last.” She couldn’t bring herself to meet the investigator’s eyes as she repeated the phrase of the day. “I’m sure it will happen again.”

“Oh yeah?” The investigator leaned in and stared at her with accusing eyes. “And how do you know that?”

Abby fidgeted in her seat and tried to stay calm. “I don’t! It’s just one of those things that we have to deal with here at the office. Defense lawyers earn themselves enemies with each client they represent. Threats are just part of the territory, I guess.” She glanced at the investigator for a second, then to Zach who watched her with narrowed eyes. He held his pen as if he had stopped writing mid sentence just to stare at her.

“I bet you do,” the investigator replied shortly. The officer flipped the page over in his notebook and continued writing. “So you are not aware of any schemes to carry out a threat of any sort against this office?”

“No.” She tapped her shoes on the linoleum floor nervously.

The investigator sighed. “Do you know anyone who would want to carry out such a threat? Any former clients? Particularly aggressive family members of victims? Past employees?” He leaned forward and stared at her, waiting for an answer. Behind him, Zach was scribbling again into his notepad while exaggeratedly scratching his head with his free hand.

“No.” Her voice was almost inaudible from across the table. Zach leaned forward and held his breath. “No,” she repeated louder so Zach could hear. He exhaled slowly and nodded as he sat back in his chair and began scribbling again.

“Alright,” the investigator shook his head in resignation. “Well, if you do hear anything suspicious, give me a call.” He handed Abby a business card and stood to leave. He paused for a moment as the officer finished scribbling in his notes and together they left the office, taking the tension permeating the office with them.

Zach began packing is notepad and pen away but stopped when she noticed Abby hadn’t moved from the table.

“Abby, what’s wrong?”

“That investigator,” she said, “he suspects me of something, I know it.”

“Judging by his demeanor, he suspects everyone. Don’t let it get to you.”

“I don’t think-“ she shook her head mid thought. “I think that if I told him about the file, about the Christmas party, about the video…” she looked at him. “Zach, he would think I’m involved in the whole thing!”

He watched her quietly as she processed her thoughts.

“It’s just like you said this morning; we can’t go to the police, because we would end up in jail with some charge of conspiracy or something! Zach, what should we do?”

“Find the person putting that junk on my computer, that’s what we should do. It’s not real, Abs. Let’s go home.”

Love, Abby (Day 4)

Posted on

December 8

11:00 a.m.

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.

1:10 p.m.

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.

6:45 p.m.

“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.”

Love, Abby (Day 3)

Posted on

December 7

8:55 a.m.

The coffee maker brewed so slowly that Abby debated skipping the cups altogether. Even though her coffee habit was still relatively new, she had hardly slept a wink last night and needed the extra boost. And her boss? Charles Piper would fire her on the spot if she didn’t have a fresh cup of coffee on his desk when he arrived; he told her as much during her interview. No, she would stand there patiently, shifting the heavy stack of folders until the cursed machine finished.

Finally, the machine puffed a pathetic jet of steam and went silent. Shifting the folders back into her left arm, she grabbed the carafe and sloshed the life-giving liquid into two mugs and jammed it back onto the warming plate. Gripping both mugs in her hand, she walked as quick as her heels and sloshing coffee would allow, making it into Piper’s office only seconds before the man himself darkened the doorway.

“Good timing,” he muttered as he walked to his desk. He hastily grabbed a mug from her hand, almost causing her to drop the second. The folders in her other arm shifted and a couple slid of the stack. Luckily they remained closed as they fell, but even then Abby had to put her mug down before recovering the folders. Standing back up, she replaced the folders on top of the stack and began to heave them back onto her arm but paused to stifle a yawn. Piper watched her from over the rim of his mug, not bothering to lend assistance to his struggling secretary. “Are those the files I asked you to pull out for review?”

“Yes, Mr. Piper, all but one. The file for Roseanne Gonzalez is missing. I’m hoping to search the files nearby in hopes that it had just been misplaced. If your three o’clock meeting runs as planned I should have a few minutes afterward to look.”

He nodded as he took his seat behind his massive wooden desk. Abby waited for his morning instructions, sipping her coffee to check the temperature. Piper didn’t seem to mind that the coffee was still hot; he drank down mouthfuls and handed her the empty mug. Quickly setting her own mug on the desk, she grabbed the empty cup and set it next to hers. Piper reached for the files and Abby awkwardly handed them over the desk. “Another cup, if you please Abigail.” She grabbed the cups and turned to head back to the kitchen, but her boss continued speaking. “Hughes’s new secretary starts today; please see that she learns the ropes as soon as possible.” Abby nodded and exited the office. Once back in the kitchen, she found that her fresh pot of coffee was already gone, the remnants of it bubbling in the uneven heat from the hot plate.

12:40 p.m.

“Perhaps you should have a coffee maker on your desk.” Zach spoke around a mouthful of a BLT sandwich. As he chewed, he dipped a pair of fries into a mound of ketchup. Abby frowned and took a bite of her Caesar salad. Ketchup was on the top of her “Most Hated Foods” list. The BLT she could handle, but with a wedding in her future, she was keeping an eye on her figure. She sipped her ice water and looked away as Zach stuffed another ketchup-covered pair of fries into his mouth.

“Believe me, I’ve thought about it.” She took another bite and shoved it to the side of her mouth before continuing. “I don’t have enough space as it is, though. Maybe Rhonda should. Hughes drinks almost as much coffee as Piper, and it would give me a break from his stares. I swear every time I look in his direction he’s staring at me.” Zach gave her a confused look from across the table as she shivered and took a bite before continuing. “Rhonda is Hughes’s new secretary. She started today.”

Zach shrugged. “Office life. You think empty coffee pots are annoying at a law firm? Try working at a newspaper office. Journalists breathe coffee. We have five coffee pots in just the main kitchen. Next to every copy machine are two more. There’s a rumor going around about the newest ground floor tenant being a coffee shop. If it’s true, they wouldn’t even have to open to the public because the rest of the building would keep them in business.”

Abby smiled as she watched Zach stuff the last quarter of his sandwich in his mouth. She quickly finished up her salad and washed it down with a generous helping of water as Zach paid the bill. A minute later they walked hand in hand down the street towards the law firm.

As the rounded the corner three blocks down from where they started, they froze. The law firm was still a block away, but the road and the parking lot adjacent to the building were jammed with police cars and fire trucks, all with their lights flashing. Abby’s co-workers milled around. Some stood and watched the officials moving about, others sat and talked in shaded doorways of nearby businesses. Abby saw Mr. Parker’s secretary disappearing into a pastry shop. Knowing her, she’d buy one of everything in the display case, and she wouldn’t have anything left to share.

“Abigail!” Piper’s voice rose above the crowd. She did her best to repress a sigh, but it came out anyway.

“I bet he wants some more coffee,” Zach joked, but Abby saw more truth than humor in his words and said nothing. “I won’t keep you. See you when you get home.” Zach kissed her cheek and disappeared around the corner.

Abby picked her way through the crowd. Piper was chatting with a police officer and two firemen when she joined the group. Hughes and Parker were there, but neither was paying attention to the conversation. Hughes watched her approach as he read though an e-mail on his tablet, and Parker was playing Candy Crush on his phone.

“-probably a false alarm, but we need to double check everything before we give the all clear,” one fireman was saying to Piper.

“Well how long is this going to take?” Piper asked.

“We’re working as fast as we can, Mr. Piper, but we can’t get sloppy when the city’s best law firm gets a bomb threat.” The police officer winked at Piper. She’s definitely on his payroll, Abby thought to herself.

“Did you just say bomb threat?” Abby interrupted their conversation. It took her a second to fully register what the officer said, and then panic set in. “When? From who?” she blurted out after the officer nodded her head.

“Just after 12:30, ma’am,” the officer responded. Abby had left to meet Zach only a few minutes before the threat came in. “We don’t know who just yet, but we’ll find ‘em. Let us know if you find out anything.” The officer chatted with the firemen as they walked toward the building. Abby could fell the blood draining away from her face. Piper stared at her as he lit a cigar. “Don’t worry,” he told her, smoke drifting from his mouth as he spoke. “This isn’t our first threat, and it certainly won’t be the last. We’re lawyers, the most hated people around.” He put the cigar back in his mouth and smiled around it. “I sure would love a cup of coffee right about now.”

1:20 p.m.

“Everything ok?” Zach picked up after the first ring.

“Yeah. No. I don’t know.” Abby’s voice was low and shaky. “The office received a bomb threat. A bomb threat, Zach! Why do I feel like this isn’t a coincidence?” She leaned against the wall in the pastry shop, hiding behind a huge potted plant. Through the leaves she could see Parker’s secretary sitting at a small bistro table cramming sweets into her mouth.

There was a pause on the other line before Zach replied, “I’ve already put out some feelers here at the office. I’m sure I’ll know who the culprits are by the end of the week. No worries.”

“But Zach-“

“Abby, don’t worry about it. It has to be a coincidence, there is no other explanation.”

“What if someone is planning something and they are giving us a warning? Maybe we should go to the police?”

“Abigail, your large drip and small mocha are ready at the bar!” The barista’s chipper voice startled Abby from her moment of panic. Zach laughed over the phone. “He really did want coffee, didn’t he?”

Abby rolled her eyes as she retrieved the coffees from the bar and set them down on a nearby table. She grabbed lids and coffee collars and added them to the cups. “Maybe we should give the file another look? Maybe there is a clue in there somewhere.”

“I deleted it last night, Abs.”

“Are you sure this time? You supposedly deleted it the night before and it reappeared.”

Zach sighed loudly into the phone. “Yes Abby, I even watched the progress bar as the trash bin emptied.”

“Did you check back in your work files? Maybe your trash bin is emptying incorrectly and dumping things back where they came from.” Abby knew she was trying Zach’s patience as he sighed loudly into the phone, but she could hear the click of his mouse as he navigated through his computer. “Just humor me, alright?” Zach mumbled a reply and continued his search.

Abby had taken a seat at a table right next to the front window. She sipped her mocha and peered around the lettering on the glass, watching the crowd moving around outside. She could see Piper checking his watch and glancing in her direction. Minutes passed while Zach mumbled as he searched.

“Zach?”

“Yeah?”

“Find it yet?” She was beginning to worry about her absence. Piper would not be happy with the delay as it was.

“Nope, because I deleted it, remember?” He paused before continuing. “Oh wait, that’s weird.”

“What’s weird?”

“It’s back in my work files. This file seems to have a mind of its own.”

Abby shook her head, confused. “Is this normal?”

“Well, it’s never happened to me before, but I really don’t know how random, undeletable files depicting a future, horrific event appear on one’s computer. Alright, I’ve got the file open, what am I looking for exactly?”

“I don’t know, a name? A motive? An inaccuracy that might help prove that the file is fake? Anything!”

“Abby, this file is huge, just scrolling down I can see more items that weren’t there yesterday.”

Abby raised her face to the ceiling and muttered in disbelief while Zach searched through the new items.

“Ok,” he said after a few minutes, “I’m seeing information about Hughes, the Christmas party, and a book Parker wrote. Oh, here’s one mentioning the death toll sitting at one confirmed, with three still missing, but nothing about a bomb threat. Huh, it was written by that fool two cubicles down; knowing him he pulled his information out of thin air.”

“C’mon, Zach. Focus for just a minute, would you? Is there anything notable about the article other than it was written by a co-worker you don’t like?”

“Nope. Nothing in the file mentions a bomb threat.”

Abby sighed.

“It’s just a coincidence, Abby.”

“But what if it’s not?”

Zach groaned in frustration.

“Haven’t you even considered that this info is real?”

“No! And before you ask why, I’ll just say that only a crazy person would take this seriously!”

“So now I’m crazy?”

Zach mumbled into the phone, knowing better than to answer the question.

“Are you really questioning my mental state? Why?”

“Because you were already testing the waters of the River of Insanity and I didn’t want to inspire a swan dive?”

“Zach!” Abby leaned forward and buried her face in her arm atop the table.

“Abby, there is nothing to worry about.” He enunciated each word. “I’ll know who is doing this soon, and I’ll do everything in my power to make sure they don’t have a job at the newspaper anymore.”

Abby shook her head in resignation and sighed. “Ok,” she said, “I better get back to Piper; his coffee is getting cold.”

“Alright then. See you when you get home.”

“Yeah, see you then,” she said as she stood to leave. “You should put that file in the trash again, and make extra sure it gets deleted this time.”

“Already on it, trash is emptying as we speak.”

“Good. See you tonight.”

“Yup.”

“Oh, and Zach?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m not crazy.”

The phone beeped as Abby ended the call. Angrily, Zach tore open the bottom drawer of his desk and dropped his phone into it before slamming it shut and watching as his trash file emptied.

Love, Abby (Day 2)

Posted on

December 6

6:15 p.m.

Zach slammed the car door a bit louder than usual hoping Abby would hear it inside. In his hands he carried the spoils of his solo shopping adventure: a roll of green and yellow polka-dot wrapping paper, a set of wine glasses, a bottle of wine, Chinese take-out, and the gift he was most excited about, a digital camera. He shifted the bags to his left hand as he made his way around the car and up the walk to the front door. Jangling the keys loudly, he shivered as he unlocked the front door and went inside.

The small foyer was dark. Zach slipped his shoes off and tossed them aside onto the mat. Making his way into the house, he noted the curtains were still drawn against the evening light and surmised that Abby was still not feeling well. He entered the kitchen and set the bags on the counter, almost knocking an already open bottle of wine onto the floor. As he moved the bottle to the side, he saw Abby in the corner of his eye. She sat on the floor, her back against the couch, arms resting on the coffee table in front of her. Her face was hidden by Zach’s laptop. The only light in the room came from the bright screen.

Abby rarely used his laptop, but she would flip it open for a quick search if it was nearby. Still, he was curious what held her attention so well that she didn’t notice his loud entrance. Pouring himself a glass of wine, he made his way into the living room and sat down on the couch.

Zach’s face wrinkled in confusion. On the screen, a video played in slow motion. Every few seconds Abby paused the video and skipped backward, her nose inching closer to the screen every time the video continued. Zach had been in the office Abby worked in enough times to know that the video was taken in the main conference room at Parker, Piper, and Hughes. With the slow motion, he could clearly see the windows decorated with garland and lit Christmas lights. The huge conference table was covered with a hodge-podge of different Christmas tablecloths, and those were covered with plates of half eaten cake and cookies. Bottles of champagne and plastic cups dotted the table, most of them were empty, but some still bubbled as the camera rolled. Around the table, employees chatted with each other while waiting to open gifts. As the video slowly continued, the crowd separated just enough to see a huge pile of gifts covering the sideboard and spilling onto the floor.

The crowd continued to clear as their voices hushed. Someone could be heard asking for quiet so the gift exchange could begin. Empty chairs by the table were filled quickly and people lined the walls in order to get a better view. Finally, only Parker, Piper, and Hughes themselves were standing at the head of the table, each with a bubbling drink in hand. Next to the sideboard, Abby began handing out gifts to the employees. After a short while, only three remained on the table. Picking up one wrapped in brown paper, she handed it to her boss, Charles Piper. He unwrapped a plain box, but flashed a rare smile after cracking the lid. He pulled out a carved pipe and held it up for the crowd to see. The room buzzed with “oh’s” and “ah’s” while Piper inspected the pipe before placing it back into the box and setting it aside. Picking the one with green and yellow polka-dot wrapping paper, she turned and handed it to Cal Parker. The man’s hands shook as he accepted the package, and Zach silently wondered if it was due to his age or the amount of alcohol he had no doubt already consumed. The room was silent as the old man unwrapped a large book with a picture from an old mafia murder scene on the cover. He smiled as he showed the book to the crowd who in turn clapped reluctantly. Zach noticed a woman near the camera giving her neighbor a look of disgust. They grew silent once again as Abby turned to retrieve the last gift from the table. When she turned back around, she held a large box wrapped in black paper with large polka dots of different colors on it. A red bow was tied around the box, holding the lid on.

Abby turned and took a step towards where D. L. Hughes should have been, but she ran right into the man as he moved to the front of the line and now stood right next to her. Muttering an inaudible apology, she stepped back and handed the gift to Hughes. He smiled smugly at her as he took the box. Holding the box with one hand, he tugged on the red ribbon and lifted the lid ever so slightly to peek inside.

Instantly, the room was enveloped in a flash of white and yellow. The noise of the explosion was immense, even with the laptop’s volume turned low. Zach gasped and fell back against the couch pillows, stunned. “What are you watching?” he yelled, but Abby didn’t answer. The camera had survived the blast, but it was now on it’s side on the floor. Debris blocked much of its view, and black smoke filled the left side of the screen. Abby turned her head as far as she could to get a better view of the ongoing chaos. The building’s fire alarms were sounding, their shrill beeping occasionally accented by screams and cries for help. Shadows moved across the background, but no faces or bodies materialized on the screen. The camera recorded minutes of this before loud scraping and heavy breathing hinted someone was coming closer. The camera fell over onto its lens and, a second later, the video ended.

Abby grabbed the mouse and began to rewind the video once again, but Zach yanked the mouse from her grasp. “What was that?” he yelled.

“You tell me, it’s on your computer!”

“I have no idea! I’ve never seen that before!”

“Just like you’ve never seen this whole file before, huh?” she punched a shortcut on the keyboard and instantly another window appeared. Zach scanned the contents of the file for a moment before realizing this was the file he put in the trash the night before. “Why did you take that file out of the trash?”

“I didn’t! I grabbed your laptop to look up a word for the crossword and I noticed the trash was empty. I had thought you put it in the trash last night, so I searched in your work files and found it back where you originally found it. So, I have to ask, if this file is just some prank, why did you pull it out of the trash?”

“I didn’t! I trashed it and closed the laptop a few minutes later and cleaned the papers off the floor.” She turned to glare at him. “I swear!” She shook her head and turned back to the screen. “I don’t understand,” he continued, no longer yelling. “You said this was in the prank file, but I scanned every item in that file last night, and there was no video.”

Abby rolled her eyes. “I’m sure it was there, Zach. You just weren’t paying attention.”

He shook his head as she spoke. Scooting off the couch, he kneeled on the floor and repositioned the laptop so it faced him. Abby sighed and leaned back against the couch. Zach clicked and scrolled through item after item, muttering softly to himself. Abby sighed again and pushed herself up from the floor. “Did you get anything good at the store?” she asked as she made her way into the kitchen. She turned the kitchen lights on and immediately spotted the wine on the counter. “Another glass sounds amazing right about now.” As she moved around the island, she caught the scent of food and began rummaging through bags until she found a box of sweet and sour pork. Zach knew that Chinese take-out without sweet and sour pork was a huge mistake. She popped a saucy cube of pork into her mouth and licked her fingers clean. She found the box of fried rice and a fork and began shoveling the food into her mouth. Making a face, she placed the rice into the microwave and began warming it back up. “Food’s getting cold.”

Zach grunted in reply. “Glad to see you’re feeling better.” She said something in answer, but it was muffled buy the large amount of fried rice she had stuffed into her mouth. After a quick wash, Abby filled the new wineglasses and took a sip. The merlot was a bit strong for her tastes, but it paired well with the rice, so she took another sip before taking the rice out of the microwave. As she ate, she saw the roll of wrapping paper and smiled. When Zach bought her something, he usually went for polka dots. She reached into the remaining bag and pulled out the digital camera. She had been wanting one since her last one took a dive into the Pacific on vacation a few months before. Quickly swallowing a mouthful of pork and rice, she brought the camera into the living room where Zach still mumbled in front of the laptop. She turned on the table lamps and opened the curtains, though the only light outside at this hour was from the street lamps. “What’d you get this for?” she asked, pretending to be more curious than excited.

Zach stared at her with wide eyes before finally noticing the box in her hands. “That?” he said, “that’s for you. Surprise!” He spoke halfheartedly, his mind still distracted by the contents of the prank file. He gave her a forced smile before turning back to the screen. “I’ve been trying to get it since Thanksgiving, but they’ve been out of stock. I finally found one last night and bought it before I lost my chance. Got to love in store pick up, huh?” Abby thanked him excitedly as she moved back into the kitchen, tearing open the box as she went.

On the screen, a scanned newspaper article held Zach’s attention. He read it multiple times, pausing after every few paragraphs to study the huge color picture in the center of the page. It appeared to be a picture grabbed from the video he had watched earlier. In it, Abby could be clearly seen handing D.L. Hughes the box that would explode only seconds later. In big, bold letters, the headline said: SECRET SANTA BRINGS DEADLY SURPRISE.

He was reading the article for the fourth time when Abby sat down on the couch and snapped a picture of him. Giggling around a piece of pork, she leaned back and began pushing buttons on the small, gray camera, exploring the features as she snapped picture after picture of the side of his head and the laptop keyboard. Zach shook his head as he closed the article.

“Somebody has gone through a lot of trouble putting this together.” Abby paid little attention to Zach’s words as she took a macro of the buttons on the remote control. “I mean, this is grounds for a lawsuit here, not only from us, but if your bosses saw this?” He shook his head and sighed. “They would destroy us right along side of the idiots who put it all together. This file is not staying on my computer.” He closed the file and swiftly moved it to the trash, this time being sure to empty it before closing the laptop and dropping it into his bag. He pulled himself onto the couch and ran his hands through his hair. Beside him, Abby was turning the camera on herself and taking selfies each one with a different facial expression. Zach shook his head again, this time at the silly antics of his future wife. His rumbling stomach reminded him of the Chinese food he brought home and still hadn’t eaten. Rising, he left Abby to her fun and went to grab a bite to eat.