The others were coming.
Maggie put her book facedown in her lap and slid a little closer to her desk so they wouldn’t see. The others moved past her desk, a faceless stream of men in suits, white shirts, and wide ties. Maggie watched them go. No one spoke, which was odd. Usually one or two of them stopped by the desk and flirted. Instead, they dispersed to their offices or desks in the bullpen. There was too much silence. Something was up. Maggie closed her book and slipped it down into her purse before Don stuck his head out of his office.
“Hey Mags, can I see you for a minute?”
Now alarm bells were going off in Maggie’s brain. Don Adams wasn’t the kind of guy who used nicknames for anyone, least of all his administrative assistant. Maggie stepped around the table that doubled as her workspace, running her fingers along its Formica surface, just to touch something familiar.
Don Adams offered her a seat in front of his desk, but didn’t go back to his own leather-backed throne behind the wide cherrywood desk. Instead, he sat next to her in one of the guest chairs and crossed his legs. Maggie smoothed her skirt over her thighs and tried not to look nervous.
“I don’t really know how to handle this,” Don said. “I need to ask you something. Have you been—I can’t think of the word I’m looking for—moonlighting? Working on the side?”
Maggie’s hand went to her throat, touched the small silver locket that hung near her clavicle.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m trying to make enough to buy a new car. Why? Is that a problem?”
Don sat back in his chair a little and blew air through his pursed lips.
“Can you tell me what you’ve been doing?” He asked.
Maggie shook her head. “I don’t see where that’s really any of your business.”
Don leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. Maggie had seen this posture before. This was Don’s I’m being serious and caring look. It was as put-on as the rest of him. Don was so carefully thought out, from his Brooks Brothers suits to his razor-cut hair, that he’d never had a moment of spontaneity. Maggie thought Don probably practiced his sympathetic look in the mirror when he was home alone.
“Listen,” he said, “I know what you’ve been doing. I just wish you’d come to me first. Maybe I could have helped you, so you wouldn’t have to—“ and here Don trailed off, finally running down like a clock spring that’s come unwound.
Maggie raised her eyebrows. She couldn’t figure out what Don was trying to say, and Don seemed to have lost all ability to communicate. Finally, he reached over his desk and turned the laptop computer around. There, on the screen, was a high-res picture of Maggie. She was naked, and three men were penetrating her.
“Oh my god,” Maggie said. She slapped the laptop closed so hard that it caught the Don’s fingers. He cried out, more in surprise than pain.
“Why did you show me that?” She said. Don held his fingertips to his lips and blew on them.
“I told you I knew,” he said.
“What are you talking about? That’s not me.”
Don cocked his head to the side, his studied I’m not believing this look. He crossed his arms over his chest and said, “That is you, Mags. Pendleton sent me the link, and by now, all the sales guys have seen it. And you know if the sales guys have seen it, distribution is all over it.”
Again Maggie said, “It’s not me. It’s really not.”
Don shook his head.
“Don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s raining,” he said.
Maggie drew a deep breath and opened the laptop again. The screen was blank for a moment, but then the offending photo popped back up.
“Look,” she said. “That girl has a tattoo on her shoulder. I don’t. You wanna see?” Maggie unbuttoned her blouse just enough to bare her shoulders, first on the left and then on the right. She was aware of the intimacy of the bold move, knew that it was provocative. She didn’t care.
“And look here. She’s got her nose pierced. I don’t have any holes in my nose. Well, besides the two that are supposed to be there.”
And now Maggie saw the first real reaction from her boss in the seven months since she’d begun working for Don Adams. His eyes widened as he searched hers, a quick slash of a frown on his face.
“You—you’re sure? That there’s nothing you want to tell me, I mean.”
Maggie kept her face composed, unafraid to meet his piercing gaze.
“I’m sure,” she said. She tilted her head toward the screen. “That’s not me.”
“All right,” Don said. He pushed the closed laptop away from them, hesitated. “You’re fitting in well here. I just—I just don’t want to have any misunderstandings.”
Maggie stood up and smoothed her skirt over her thighs, and started to walk away. When she got to the door, she turned. “Is that all?” she asked. Don nodded. He wouldn’t look her in the eye.
“Even if that had been me, there’s nothing wrong with it,” she said. “You’re lucky I don’t go to HR, showing me something like that.”
She shut Don’s office door behind her, then circled back to her desk. She took her time, tried not to let on how much she was shaking inside. It wasn’t just fear. It was anger. She’d known it was a bad idea even before the cameras got rolling, but the money was too good. She’d done everything she could to disguise herself. Temporary tattoos, nose ring crimped into place and making it hard to breathe all the time. Still, someone had recognized her.
She couldn’t imagine Don Adams scouring the Internet for porn. He preached at some little church on the weekends, had pictures of Jesus hanging on his office walls. Of course, that was the type, wasn’t it? Preach on Sunday, freak on Monday. Probably got off showing me the video still, regardless of whether it was me or not.
Don spent the rest of the day with his door closed. His work emails were more terse than usual. Maggie took care of some work orders, set up a couple of meetings for the next week, and tried to get back into her book, the latest Jodi Picoult. It wasn’t working, though. She burned through three cups of coffee that afternoon, even though she knew she’d pay for it in lost sleep.
Maggie left before Don, not even sticking her head in his office to say good night. She was creeped out enough already, and she didn’t trust her shaky body not to betray her. The ride home was uneventful, and she opened a bottle of wine to counteract the effects of the coffee. She kicked her shoes off in the kitchen, unsnapped her bra and slid it free through the sleeves of her blouse and tossed the damned uncomfortable contraption toward the laundry room.
In the apartment, things were better. Quiet and still. It was the same old apartment, with its same sprung couch and thrift-store coffee table. Maggie put her feet up on the table and sipped some wine, feeling the dark red liquid seep into her body, lightening her mood ever so slightly.
Maggie went and dug the Jodi Picoult novel out of her purse, returned to the couch. It was easier to read here, and soon she lost herself—at least for a little while—in the lives of people who didn’t even exist in the real world. When her wine was gone, she went for another glass, and then another. By the time Maggie realized that she hadn’t eaten dinner, she was well and truly buzzed.
A quick call to Pizza-Licious fixed that, and around nine-fifteen, a young man with wispy blonde facial hair and the distinct aroma of pot was standing at Maggie’s apartment door, waiting for a tip. She gave him a five, made sure the door was locked, then tossed the pizza back onto the coffee table and went for the last of the wine.
The kitchen was dark, but that didn’t bother Maggie. She knew where everything was. She emptied the wine into her glass and tossed the bottle into the garbage. Then she went to the window and looked down at the street from her third-floor window.
Boylston Street looked pretty much like it always did, this time of night. Cars were parked and dark. There was barely any foot traffic, except for one man hustling away toward Fifth Avenue. His back was turned to her, but there was something familiar about the set of his shoulders. Maggie stiffened, leaned forward to peer through the blinds. When he turned the corner, she caught a glimpse of a streetlight against wire-framed glasses.
Don. There was no reason to think it, other than that awkward, awful conversation in his office earlier. But the height was right, the build was right, and Maggie knew she was right. What was Don Adams doing on her street, walking away from her apartment? The thought sent a shiver through Maggie.
Maybe it wasn’t him. It was, though. She knew it down deep in her bones with a certainty that frightened her. She sat on the impulse that wanted to argue with her, that wanted her to wait before she made any rash conclusions. She knew it was Don, and to deny it would mean lying to herself. Maggie was good at lying—she’d done it to others for years—but long ago she’d promised to never lie to herself.
All right, so it was Don. So what?
So make sure the doors are locked. Throw the bolt, put the chain on. Arm the security system. Make sure the windows—especially the one that opened onto the fire escape—were locked. Once Maggie had done that, she re-checked everything, just in case. Then she went back through the apartment and turned on every light in each room.
She ate her now lukewarm pizza on the couch, watching the door. She chewed each slice without tasting it, swallowing automatically. The wine buzz wasn’t gone, exactly, but it had been replaced by a feeling of dread, a lead ball in the pit of her stomach that rolled continually.
When she finished her pizza, Maggie went to the bathroom. She took off her makeup and put on yoga pants and a tee shirt. When she went to the bedroom, she dropped to her knees and fished around for the baseball bat she kept under the bed. She slept uneasy, with the bat next to her, until her alarm clock went off on Wednesday morning.
No skirt for Maggie this morning. She wore a man’s white Tattersall shirt, open at the throat, with the cuffs rolled neatly to the elbows and dark blue slacks. She dug around in her closet and found her old steel-toed Doc Martens and laced them up tight over her feet. When she left the apartment, she took the baseball bat along with her.
She listened to a podcast on the way to work, an earbud in her left ear and her iPhone in the cup holder next to the gear shift. But the words just flowed past her with no effect. The bat—a Louisville Slugger—lay on the passenger seat. It felt good to be able to look at it, to see the grain of the wood and the solid weight of the thing when everything else in her life seemed like it was spiraling out of control.
Never should have done that movie. Maggie checked her makeup in the rear-view mirror. The money was too good. Ten thousand dollars for four hours. A one, followed by four zeroes, in cash. It was like the answer to a prayer, only the answer came with a catch. The video went online, and she’d begun to get calls almost immediately.
First, it was ex-boyfriends. She could lie to some of them, but not all. These were men who had seen her naked, who had closely observed the contours of her face while she was in the throes of passion. They knew her. No amount of fake tattoos and piercings would hide Maggie from those who had been with her in bed.
“I don’t mind,” one of her exes said. “It brings back some good memories. You know, if you’re ever free—” And that was where Maggie hung up. She didn’t mind her exes knowing. She didn’t even care if they got off to it. Some of them offered her money, but she shut those offers down in no uncertain terms. She wasn’t a whore, and she wasn’t going to let anyone treat her like one, no matter what they thought.
More calls came. Her brother, a couple of friends from college. A professor who might have been more, once upon a time, emailed her. These inquiries were always tentative, and she always responded decisively. No, she always said, she was not the woman in the video.
But sitting in Don Adams’ office the day before had put her near the brink, and seeing him on the street had sent her over it. His car was in the lot when she pulled in, and she marched through the lobby to the elevator, but changed her mind. The elevator would only slow her down, stop the progress of her steady stride. She took the stairs, four floors up, feeling the steady burn in her quads and butt as she neared the landing. Through the door and down the hall, past her workstation and into Don’s office, where he was reading reports from the previous day.
“What the hell are you doing?” she asked when he looked up. His face was blank, a mask made up of the absence of emotion.
“I’m sorry, what?” Don peered over his glasses at her.
“Don’t play with me,” Maggie said. “I saw you last night.”
Now Don leaned back in his chair. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I saw you outside my apartment last night, Don. Don’t get cute. What the hell were you doing?”
Don grinned, a wolfish little crescent smile that blinked on and off again like a light.
“That wasn’t me,” he said. “You must have been mistaken.”
Maggie ran her fingers through her hair, let her arms fall to her sides. She’d come in here to kick some ass, but it wasn’t working out that way. She didn’t know what to say next, so she back away from Don’s desk.
“If that’s all,” he said, “you can go back to your desk now.”
So Maggie did. She sat at her desk and fumed for the rest of the day, handling emails with blunt, ruthless efficiency. Don never called her on the intercom. He only stepped out of his office for lunch, and he ignored her when he left and on his return. At five p.m., Maggie whipped her jacket over her shoulders and set out. Her steel-toed boots boomed hollow in the stairwell as she marched down to her car.
Roses awaited her, a dozen long-stemmed white beauties sprayed with baby’s breath. They were tucked beneath the windshield wiper of her twelve-year-old Honda. Maggie wrenched the wiper up and grabbed the roses, pawing through them. No card, no nothing.
But it was Don. She knew it had to be him. She called security, who sent a car around, a pair of old cantankerous men, ex-cops, maybe. From the first, they didn’t take her seriously.
“You wanna report a bouquet with intent to romance?” The older one asked. The patch on his uniform said his name was Zabriskie, and his face was just as wrinkled as his uniform was starched.
The other one stifled a laugh, picked up the roses from where Maggie had thrown them.
“Hey, you don’t want these, can I take ‘em home to my wife?”
Maggie just stared at him. Her hands curled into fists at her side. “Shouldn’t that be, I don’t know, evidence or something?” she asked.
The two guards looked at each other.
“Evidence of what?” Zabriskie asked. “You got an admirer? That’s a nice thing for a girl your age.”
“He’s not an admirer,” she spat through gritted teeth. “He’s my boss, and this is sexual harassment. You’re not going to do anything, why don’t you call the real cops, for fuck’s sake.”
Now Zabriskie drew his withered frame up to its full height and stared down his nose at Maggie.
“I was a cop a long time,” he said. “Seen a lot of bad shit. This ain’t it. You and your boyfriend have a spat, you leave us the fuck out of it.” Zabriskie and his partner moved back toward their car. The other one still held the roses.
“You sure you don’t want these?” He said. Maggie shook her head. She got in her own car and resisted the urge to flip the security guards off. Instead, she rolled down her window and called to Zabriskie.
“Hey, can you guys look on the video and at least confirm who put them there?”
Zabriskie gave her a long look, but finally reached for the radio console. He keyed the mic, spoke for a few seconds, then listened. Eventually, he turned back to Maggie.
“About two o’clock, a van from Tri-Corner Florist come in. Driver looped around twice, found your car. Put the flowers on, then left. You good now?”
Maggie nodded. “Thank you.”
Zabriskie tipped his hat to her and put his car in gear. By the time he circled back around out of sight, Maggie was Googling Tri-Corner Florist.
She got lucky. The guy who answered the phone was the same one who made deliveries.
“Can you tell me who bought the flowers you delivered to MultiCorp., Inc. today?” she asked.
“You the lady that owns the Veloster?” the driver asked. “Those were some really nice flowers. I hated to leave them out there like that. You know, people will steal just about anything that’s not nailed down—”
Maggie cut him off.
“I’m sure they will,” she said. “But what I really want to know is who bought the flowers.” She let her voice hesitate for a moment, made it a little softer. “I’m single, and I guess I just wanted to know whose eye I had caught, you know?”
“Sure,” the driver said, though he sounded doubtful. “But I really couldn’t tell you who bought them. It’s against company policy. And, well, even if I could tell you, I took that order. It came online from a prepaid Visa card.”
“Oh,” Maggie said. “I see.”
“I wish I could be more help, but I gotta go. Good luck with your secret admirer.”
“Thanks,” Maggie said, but the florist had already hung up.
She drove home with the accelerator to the floor, zooming past slower traffic, repeating “son of a bitch, son of a bitch” every time she passed another vehicle. She made herself slow down when she sonofabitched by an out-of-county cop cruiser, who blinked his lights to warn her.
At home, Maggie wasn’t surprised to find more roses outside her door. These were yellow, set in a heavy crystal vase. Maggie kicked the vase—she’d been dying to kick something ever since lacing those boots up—and listened to the satisfying sound of glass breaking. She tromped the roses and the glass into the hallway carpet, grinding the stems and the petals down into unrecognizable pulp, pulverizing the crystal. She stomped and stomped until she realized she was leaping high into the air and bringing her feet down hard again and again.
A couple of her neighbors opened their doors to peek from the cracks left by their security chains. Maggie shot them the bird. Then she dusted off her boots, unlocked her door, and went inside. She made sure to bring the baseball bat in with her.
Maggie bypassed the wine this time, reaching into the back of the pantry for a dusty old half-drunk bottle of Macallan single-malt scotch. She poured several fingers and drank it down in one gulp, feeling the slow bloom of fire spread pleasurably in her belly. Then she stuck the remnants of the previous night’s pizza in the oven to let it warm and took the scotch bottle with her to the kitchen window. She kept her boots on, kept the bat near to hand. It made her feel safer. So did the scotch. She poured herself another drink and waited, peering through the blinds at the street below.
It wasn’t quite dark yet. Traffic was light on the block, and Maggie didn’t see anyone she knew. When the pizza was warm, she ate it standing up at the window. She had another scotch, and another. When it was nine p.m., she went to bed.
Sleep wouldn’t come, though Maggie waited for it like a maiden waiting for a wayward lover. When she heard the mail slot in her apartment door click open, she sat bolt upright, pulling the covers to her chin. There was no further sound. Maggie waited in bed, straining her ears to hear, but there was nothing. She slithered out of bed and groped for the Louisville Slugger, found its solid round heft, and moved into the living room with the bat cocked back by her ear, ready for a home-run swing.
Maggie flicked on the light, gripped the bat tighter. On the floor in front of the apartment door was a light blue envelope, about the size of a thank-you card. Maggie approached the door cautiously, squatted, and snagged the note by one corner. She stood again and moved away from the door before tearing the envelope open and reading it.
I know it was you.
And then the mail slot clicked open again and Maggie saw a finger slide along the wooden door. She didn’t give herself time to think—she rushed forward and swung the bat, as hard as she could at that questing, grasping finger. The Louisville Slugger swung home with a satisfying crunch, and a scream erupted from the other side of the door.
Maggie leapt forward to stare out the peephole, but the man—and it was a man—was already trucking down the hallway, his back to her. She couldn’t get a good look.
Maggie took the bat to bed with her, and this time she slept easy. The ride to work was a breeze. This time, she wore a black skirt that came just above her knees, a shell-pink top, and black sling-back heels. Her makeup was understated, as it always was for work. The Louisville Slugger made the trip, too, sitting right next to her on the passenger seat. In the building, Maggie took the elevator. She didn’t feel the need to march in this time. Don was already in his office. Of course he was. Maggie didn’t care. She banged the door open without knocking and smiled at him.
“Can you sign Truman’s reports?” she asked. “I need to get them into the system this morning.” Don didn’t say anything. He just glared up at her. His arms were hidden underneath his desk. When Maggie saw that, her smile widened into a grin.
“What’s the matter, Don? Cat got your tongue?”
“Get out,” he said. “Get out of my office, right now.”
Instead, Maggie dropped into the same chair she’d sat in when Don called her into his office earlier in the week. She crossed her arms over her chest and leveled her gaze at him.
“I said get out. Right now, if you still want to have a job here tomorrow.”
Maggie shook her head.
“I don’t think so, Don. I’m not gonna leave until you show me your hands. You wanna do that now, or do you want to wait until I have someone from HR make you show me?”
“What the hell are you talking about? Show you my hands? Why?”
Maggie didn’t say anything, and eventually Don wound down like an old music box. The silence between them was charged like the space between thunderclouds, each waiting for the other to make a move before the storm began.
Finally, Maggie stood up.
“Don’t worry about it, Don,” she said. “I’ll have HR check it out. Your smashed finger left a little blood at my place last night. But I thought you’d want to have this back.”
Maggie reached behind her waist and pulled out the folded piece of blue notepaper. She tossed it on Don’s desk, and then turned on one heel and walked to the door.
“You can think whatever you want about me, you can believe that girl in the video was me, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” Maggie said. “But Don, I know you’re stalking me. Listen to me: I know it was you.”
Maggie flipped her hair as she walked toward the phone on her desk. “The difference between us is that I can prove it.”