Note: Fair warning, this is the first of two parts, and as such is altogether mess-free. A heads-up to anyone unconcerned with context, you’re best off just waiting for part two. For those who do like a little method to their mess, enjoy.
It had been raining all morning. Brigid Oster watched rivulets run down the smudged diner window. For some reason, the constant rain made her feel claustrophobic, and that feeling was gnawing on her nerves. Although, to be fair, her jitters had a lot to do with the conspiracy…
Prying her eyes from the window, she glanced over at the prim-looking blonde woman seated across the Formica table.
“They’re late. Do you think they’re still coming?”
Cora Huff didn’t look up from the newspaper she held spread between them.
Brigid nodded rapidly, feigning confidence. She briefly inspected her perfect nails. Then repositioned her empty coffee mug. Then she went back to staring out the window at the forest of wet concrete.
“How will we recognize them?”
“We won’t. They’ll recognize us.”
Nodding again, this time Brigid saw her point. A cabdriver coming off a night-shift kept drifting off over eggs at the counter, two elderly regulars played silent chess near the door, and the teenage waitress was sweeping up by the kitchen. It would be hard to miss the pair of remarkably attractive women tucked into the middle booth alongside the big window.
She sat quietly for a spell, but within five minutes, Brigid was checking her small silver watch.
“Are you sure they’re coming? With the rain… They might…”
Cora folded down the top of her paper, gazing flatly at Brigid through her glasses. Thick, stylish black frames with subtle flaring at the corners.
“They’re coming. For what we’re offering, they’ll deal with the weather.”
As if on cue, the lone bell on the door rattled. A small, slightly waifish figure slouched in off the street. She wore tight, torn black jeans and a dark olive-colored army-style jacket zipped up high. Her hands were jammed in her pockets and her feet, hidden in heavy, wet boots, squeaked softly on the diner floor. She had rings in her nose and one through an eyebrow, and mid-length hair dyed pale purple. Her hair was pulled up haphazardly and, like her jacket, damp from the downpour. She shambled over to them and stopped at the end of their booth, cocking a dark brow over a blue eye at the seated women.
“Slumming it, eh?”
Indeed, between their appearance and general demeanor, it certainly looked that way.
Each of the pair was tall, and though Brigid was a shade taller, Cora cut the more imposing figure. Her blonde hair was tied in a pristine bun and sharp green eyes watched carefully from behind her glasses. She wore an expensive, but frill-less, tailored grey power suit over a gleaming white blouse. Her high-end wool pea coat was folded over the back of her seat. Attractive though it was her face remained professionally impassive.
Brigid on the other hand, while less immediately formidable, was easily the more beautiful of the two. Slender, but in a way that made her seem long rather than skinny, she was porcelain pale, but never crossed over to pallid. Poise defined Brigid, from her casually folded hands to the precise tilt of her head. Her face was rich with delicate features and perched upon an elegant neck. Strawberry red hair hung loose to her shoulders, framing hazel eyes that twinkled despite her nervousness. She wore her beauty comfortably, like a favorite hat; this morning, it accompanied mustard-colored slacks and a short fawn trench coat, which she had not so much as unbuttoned since entering the diner.
Cora laid her paper on the table.
The new arrival pulled up a chair and placed it at the end of the booth. She sat down backwards, straddling the seat and planting her elbows on the table, resting her chin in her palms.
“So. You have something for me?”
Wrinkling her nose, Brigid shot a look at Cora.
“How do we know she’s who we’re here to meet?”
The young woman smirked at Brigid, waving a hand at the sleepy diner.
“This isn’t exactly my scene either, duchess. How about we get down to business?”
“She doesn’t… look right. Are we sure she can even do it?” Again, Brigid addressed her concerns to Cora.
The lavender-haired girl shrugged, unfurling a surprisingly winning smile.
“Hey, you want to find somebody else, go right ahead. Take this little job to the Shriners, see how far that gets you.”
Cora held up a finger.
“Your organization comes highly recommended. I’m sure you’ll be adequate to our needs.”
She turned away, taking some things from an attaché case beside her on the vinyl bench.
The girl stuck her tongue out at Brigid, who scoffed.
Cora placed a black and white 8×10 photograph on the table and slid it over. It depicted a short, pretty woman, who looked like she could anywhere from twenty-nine to forty-five.
The girl picked up the photo, recognition flashing across her face. For the first time, there was no hint of attitude in her tone.
Next, Cora slid over a plain white envelope. The girl picked it up, feeling the heft. She didn’t open it.
“Half now, half when the job’s done.” Cora waited for the girl to nod.
“The time and location are written on the inside of the envelope. Burn it when you’re finished.”
The girl nodded again, sliding the envelope into her jacket.
Brigid spoke up.
“What should we call you?”
“I’d prefer you didn’t,” the girl said with a sneer, “But my workname is Minx.”
She handed the photo back to Cora and stood up.
“I won’t be needing that.”
Noting Brigid’s skeptical expression, she rolled her eyes.
“Don’t look so shocked, even I’m allowed to pick up a little culture here and there.”
The girl calling herself Minx stuffed her hands back into her pockets and turned to leave, speaking to Cora and Brigid over her shoulder.
“Well ladies, it’s been lovely chatting. Next time we meet, I’ll be famous.”
She headed out back out into the rain, leaving Brigid to flash Cora a queasy grin. The girl was being sarcastic of course, but there was something of a ring of truth to her parting words. Their plan was coming together, and if it worked, they were going to make quite a splash indeed…
The next day, at the office, Brigid was sent on a coffee run. Nothing out of the ordinary about that, however, it was a very specific order, one which she recognized immediately. It meant they were having a meeting.
Brigid rushed through the posh lobby of the building where she worked, perfectly stable despite heels and the fruits of her errand balanced in a cardboard carrier. She tossed a perfunctory nod at the security desk, whose inhabitants knew her by sight, and made for the nearest elevator. The building had sixty floors. Her finger hovered momentarily over the button for the top floor, before pressing fifty-nine.
There were only three office suites on the fifty-ninth floor, and Brigid went directly to the middle and largest of them. She passed through the outer-office and past the empty reception desk; in the interest of discretion, the girl had been sent to lunch. Knocking carefully, three times exactly, she entered the main office. The glossy black plaque on the door read, Samantha Bogey – Director of Operations, Executive Editor, Vice President of Publication.
Brigid nodded to her boss, the Number Two for the entire magazine. Samantha Bogey was seated at her enormous desk. The lights were off, and the room was lit by the sun filtered through the large windows. The blinds were down, but tilted open, striping everything with shadows. Cora Huff stood at the window, watching the phenomenal view through the slanted slats.
Wordlessly, Brigid began distributing the coffee. She served her boss first; iced dark-roast, two sugars. Samantha accepted it with an easy smile.
Though she was nearer to forty than she liked to admit, Samantha Bogey was an attractive woman, and remarkably successful for her age. She’d entered the fashion industry as a young model, and despite never quite hitting it big, she’d fought her way tooth and nail though an accomplished career on the editorial side. Her aggressive, steel-trap mind was outwardly softened by supple curves and an angelic face. Today her long black hair was braided and draped over a red cashmere sweater, which brought out the warmth in her brown eyes. However, despite her efforts and unthreatening appearance, Samantha was infamous at the magazine, and in the fashion industry at large, as a brutal tactician and an inspired strategist. In addition to her official corporate roles, she served as enforcer and war-chief for the magazine’s current regime. And her last name was pronounced “Bow-jay;” any other pronunciation was uttered at one’s own peril.
Turning from the window Cora received her own coffee, tall and black, with a curt nod.
Excluding the small herbal tea she’d gotten herself, Brigid’s coffee-carrier had two cups left, steam curling from the lids. Samantha glanced at her computer screen between sips, probably checking the time. A hint of impatience played at her lips.
A moment later, there were three quick raps at the door. Not the main door, from reception, but one of the side doors, from the small corridor that connected to the office next door. The man to whom that office belonged was in Fiji this week at a shoot, but Samantha gestured at Brigid to open the door anyway. The woman who slipped inside wore a blazer over a brightly-colored paisley dress, sported a swooping light-brown pixie-cut, and spoke a mile-a-minute.
“Sorry I’m late. Had to duck out of a surprise lunch. Came in the backdoor just to be safe. All present and accounted for? Is that for me?” The woman took her drink, cappuccino with a double-shot of espresso, from Brigid with a grateful shoulder-touch.
Marlowe Philips ran the advertising department for the magazine, and was also their best-kept-secret weapon when it came to backdoor PR. Though not exactly noteworthy in her usual environment, surrounded by models past and present, and positively stunted at a mere five-foot-seven, Marlowe was still undeniably beautiful, with big sapphire eyes and a perfect nose. In addition, her figure was quite well-endowed, which, given her advertiser’s eye for visual impact, made it certain she always managed to make an impression. She was also considerably shrewder than her bubbly and stylish exterior suggested.
“So. I see I’m not last. Have we heard from her highness yet?”
“No, we have not. She may decide to grace us with her presence later, but we should get started now. We don’t have a lot of time as it is.”
Marlowe nodded, perching herself on a corner of the desk, Cora sat in one of the chairs on the other side, and Brigid took her place behind her boss. Samantha, ranking member of the magazine staff, as well as the instigator of their little cabal, began.
“Alright, where do we stand? The big day is this weekend, so we need to decide here and now if we proceed as planned, or call it off. Cora?”
The VP of Finance adjusted her glasses before speaking.
“It’s taken some time, due to the necessity for back-channels, but I’ve heard from all the right people. The money is in place. If we proceed, and are successful, the magazine will remain fiscally stable. Assuming any sign of overt orchestration is avoided, of course.”
“Excellent. And our contractor? Brigid filled me in on your meeting, but I’d like your take.”
“A bit on the scrubby side, but I think she’ll get the job done. I was prepared for the price to go up when she found out who the target was, but it didn’t. I think she views the high-profile as more of a shot at fame, or infamy, than a chance to cash in.”
Samantha smiled wolfishly. The predatory expression should’ve appeared foreign on so outwardly innocent a face, but it fit her features like a custom-made evening gown.
“Perfection. That’s just the sort of ambition we can work with. Miss Marlowe? Tell me your news is just as good.”
“I would love to… Because it is. I’ve done my homework too. Some of the relevant voices out there think it’s time for a change, and most are ambivalent. As long as we avoid a power-vacuum, the magazine will retain all of its influence and considerable social cache. Heck, with a fresh-enough face, we’ll even get a bit of a bump among the youth crowd. One teensy caveat though. And believe me, I was discreet as hell, but a few of my contacts brought you up specifically… They believe you’re too, ah, aggressive to take the reins, publicly at least…”
Marlowe shrugged sympathetically, but Samantha waved her off.
“We’ve known that from the beginning. No harm in hearing it now. That’s why we’ve got Charlie; she’s always been the plan. And I would hate to think we’ve been putting up with her for nothing…”
Marlowe laughed and Brigid had to cover a snicker, even Cora grinned.
Just then, all four women heard the muffled click from the door to the outer-office. They froze. Momentarily, panic fell over the room. If the wrong person saw them all together now, the jig was up. Months of plotting, down the drain. Eight eyes were fixed on the door to reception.
The door flew open and a phenomenally gorgeous woman sashayed in like oiled silk. She wore big, bug-eyed sunglasses and was focused entirely on the smartphone in her hand. When she noticed the others in the room, she held up a finger, and turning, rapped three times on the door behind her.
“Oops. Almost forgot the secret knock.”
Brigid practically felt the ripple of sighs that ran around the office.
Charlie Dash put hand on hip and pushed her sunglasses up into her chocolate brown hair, which fell to her neck in a perfect shimmering curtain. Her eyes were pale blue and utterly disarming, set in a face practically torn from the pages of a textbook on art theory. Optimally tanned and toned, her body left her clothes, staggeringly high-end and several steps ahead of cutting edge fashion, completely outshined. Charlie offered them a luminescent smile which had graced more magazine covers than the sitting US president.
“Did someone get coffee?”
Dutifully, Brigid handed the last cup from her coffee run to the new arrival. It was an obscenely complicated concoction of soy, vanilla, and chai so difficult to remember that Brigid literally had it written on a card that she could give to baristas.
“Have I missed anything?”
Marlowe chambered a blistering reply, but Samantha stayed her fire with a small shake of the head.
“No dear, we were just waiting for you to get here. Do you have any questions about the plan? Any questions about your role in it?”
“Ah, well… Yes, ok, now what plan is this specifically?”
More than one jaw clenched in frustration. Samantha remained calm, her tone still soft.
“For the Spring Picnic, on Saturday. For our little surprise. The one which is the reason we’ve been having these little get-togethers. The one that will make you the new editor in chief of this magazine and ensure your social relevance for the next decade… That plan.”
“Oh, oh, of course. The plan for the coop. Naturally. I just have to /not/ go to the picnic, right?”
Samantha’s smile was only slightly pained.
“Precisely. It is very important that most of you are not at the picnic. It’s unavoidable for Brigid and me, but the less any of us are connected with the actual incident, the better chance we have of avoiding troublesome questions.”
Charlie cocked her head, finally sliding her phone into her back pocket.
“That’s really all I have to do? I just want to make sure. This is my first ever coop.”
“Coup…” Cora hissed.
“Coup. The word is coup. A ‘coop’ is a wooden house for chickens…” But before she could mutter anything about bird-brains or block-heads, Samantha interjected.
“What’s important to remember, ladies, is that we are very nearly finished with all of this dirty business.
“In the middle of the annual Spring Picnic, in front of the media, celebrity guests, and half of the magazine’s senior staff, our new associate will make a delivery. Two cream pies, quick and clean. Well, not clean per se… But you know what I mean. Then we just have to pick up the pieces.”
Charlie spoke up again, a flash of insight showing through her general glamour.
“And we’re sure that’ll be enough? Like, this is a pretty risky game, I just want to be sure we’ve got the cards to match the stakes. A pie-in-the-face is really going to knock /her/ off the throne?”
Brigid leapt at the chance to contribute something beyond caffeine.
“Actually, there is precedence. Back in 1982, while in Milan for a Fall line, the sitting editor in chief tripped into a fountain. Of course, there were plenty of photographers around, even a video camera or two. The coverage got into the papers and on TV back here; the comedy factor alone made it a huge fluff-news piece. The board decided the magazine needed to get past the incident, and she was unable to save face… She stepped down within six months.”
Marlowe tapped her nose deviously.
“And can you imagine how much faster things would have moved if the internet been around back then? Between social media and the national appetite for celebrity embarrassment, heck, she’ll be out by the end of the week.”
Samantha grinned grimly.
“My estimate is closer to ninety days.” She raised her coffee in a toast, and the others followed suit.
“So get ready ladies, because in less than forty-eight hours, our little caper will go down. And then Vague Magazine will be ours for the taking.”