“Oh my God.”
“It’s… it’s just so much taller than I ever thought it would be.”
“Yeah, it sure is a heck of a lot bigger than it looks in the magazines.”
The trio cranes their necks upward and they have to squint against the sunlight that reflects sharply off the windows. It really is gigantic, but it’s worlds more impressive compared to the place they came from. This building has character. This building has immaculate white concrete and clear, shining glass. This isn’t just any building: it’s their pillar of hope.
Maybe that’s why their knees are shaking a little bit.
Judy and Doralee each grab one of Violet’s hands. They squeeze so hard that Violet cringes against the pain.
“Hey, hey, I’m gonna need these for typing! What’s with you two?”
“Oh, Violet,” Judy says, biting her lip in between words, “it’s just… do you really think we can do this?”
Violet returns her attention to the building and smiles.
“We had the brains to get out of Consolidated. At this point, I’d say we can do anything.”
“I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it! How could they run off together?!”
“How could who run off together?” Miles asks.
“Both of our secretaries!” Frank and Jim exclaim. To say that they look distraught would be an understatement. Frank paces, and Jim’s eyes are wide, like he’s seen things in his mind’s eye that can never be unseen.
“Our secretaries were happy,” Jim says. “They were happy, weren’t they?”
“Oh, they were happy, all right,” Frank replies as he puts a hand on his forehead. “And I’m sure they’ll be even happier in Aruba or wherever it is they’ve gone to make their little love affair official!”
“Wait a minute.” Corky pauses, her eyes narrowed with deep thought. “I thought your secretaries were both women?”
Frank stops pacing. He and Jim and Miles all stare at Corky, silently waiting for the moment where it’ll all sink in.
After a few moments, Corky’s eyes finally widen. “Ohhhhhhhh.”
The elevator dings and the doors slide open. When Murphy steps out, Frank and Jim bolt over to her and bounce around her like jumping beans.
“Murph, Murph, you gotta help us! Our secretaries quit!”
“Yes, you’ve certainly been through this plenty of times before; you have to tell us what to do!”
Murphy looks positively baffled. She glances at her own secretary’s desk, which, of course, is empty once again. She looks at Frank, looks at Jim, and then grins broadly. She’s only too happy to welcome them both to hell.
The elevator’s arrival goes unnoticed amidst the hustle and bustle of the workday. When the doors slide open, no one notices the three women standing there, heads bowed as they study the slips of paper they each hold in their hands. They, too, aren’t very attentive to the world around them, and only when they hear the elevator doors closing do they make a mad dash to stop them so they can exit. They breathe a sigh of relief when they step out unscathed.
Since no one’s noticed them yet, they’re able to take a moment to observe their surroundings. In a lot of ways, it’s exactly like Consolidated: there’s an island with a water cooler, a coffee maker, and oodles of coffee cups. There are clocks on the walls. There’s the sound of phones ringing and fingers typing. There’s even a dreaded Xerox machine lurking off to the side.
But there’s a big difference between this place and Consolidated: the people milling around with piles of papers in their hands and sitting at their desks taking notes look happy. Their eyes have the sparkle of purpose instead of the hollowed deadness of mediocrity.
The three of them don’t realize it, but they smile in unison.
Violet looks down at her slip of paper and then up at the only empty desk in the room.
“This must be my stop,” she says.
“Guess I’m headed this way, then.” Doralee gives her paper one last glance before grinning and heading off to her right.
Judy looks from one side of the room to the other, and then down at her paper. “I, uh… well, I guess I’ll go this way.” She shuffles off to her left and disappears around the corner.
Violet smiles again and heads toward her desk. She touches it as soon as her hand’s within reach. She lets her fingers run across the smooth, gray surface before she slowly pulls out the chair and sits.
There’s already a tidy, but tall pile of papers in the right-hand corner of the desk, so she plucks the top piece off and gets to work. Or, she would do that if she didn’t catch movement out of the corner of her eye.
She looks up and spies Judy entering from the right side of the room. Judy stops when she realizes that she’s right in front of the elevator again and turns around, looking every which way in an attempt to decipher where things went wrong. Eventually she sighs, and the hand holding her little paper of directions drops to her side.
“Judy,” Violet calls, and she whirls around like some kind of nervous puppy dog, staring at her friend with huge, fearful eyes.
Violet just grins. “You’re gonna be fine.”
The fear dissipates almost instantly. She stands up a little straighter, and the corners of her mouth pull themselves into a smile. Judy takes a deep breath, nods, and returns her focus to the paper. She takes another deep breath before heading off to the left again, but this time the smile stays on her face.
Doralee takes a deep breath as she knocks on the door. Here’s the grand moment of truth.
“Hi, there!” she cheerfully exclaims as soon as the door opens. “I’m Doralee Rhodes, and it looks like I’m gonna be your new secretary!”
The man standing in front of her smiles warmly, almost like a father welcoming his daughter back home. She’s a little surprised by how tall he is, and her neck is already unhappy with how much effort she has to put into gazing upward at him.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Doralee,” the man says as he extends his hand. “I’m Jim Dial.”
She feels a surge of joy as she reaches out and shakes Jim’s hand. His eyes don’t ever venture toward her chest, not even once.
“Well, this doesn’t look right… did I make a wrong turn again?”
Judy gazes around the hallway. Where are all the offices? They should be right around here… shouldn’t they? She sighs and keeps her eyes focused on her “directions”. Too bad they’re not exactly doing their job of, you know, directing her to where she’s supposed to be.
She’s so enthralled in trying to study the little diagram that the woman in personnel had scribbled on the paper that she doesn’t notice the person walking toward her. Lucky for her, he doesn’t notice her, either. When they plow right into each other and tumble to the floor, however, it’s not really all that lucky anymore.
“Oh, man,” she hears someone say, “are you all right? I’m so sorry, I wasn’t-”
A few blinks rid Judy of her sudden onslaught of double-vision, and she finds herself looking into the eyes of a man. A man with a very receded hairline, but a man nevertheless. He stares at her for a few more moments before he shakes his head, laughs, and says, “Hi.”
“Hello,” Judy replies. Her voice has a hint of nervousness in it, but it seems to go unnoticed by the man in front of her. In fact, everything seems to go unnoticed by him. He’s still staring at her. “Is…” She puts a hand to her cheek and feels around a little. “Is there something on my face?” Her eyes widen. “Am I bleeding?!”
“Oh! Oh, God, no,” the man says, snapping out of his trance. “Here, let me help you up.”
“Oh, that’s all right, I’m fine,” Judy tells him as they both stand up together and brush themselves off.
“I, uh, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you around here before,” the man says. He’s still staring at her a little bit, but he has a sweet smile. It’s kind of nice.
“Well, it’s my first day,” Judy replies. “Although I can’t seem to find out where I’m supposed to be… I got these directions, but…” She holds out the little paper, which is now awfully worn and crumpled, and the man gently takes it from her.
“Let’s see here… looks like you’re-” He stops abruptly and gasps, and then smiles like a kid who’s just been told that he can buy whatever he wants at the toy store. “You’re my new secretary!” he gleefully exclaims. “Oh, God, this is great! You have no idea how happy I am that you’re here; I didn’t know what I was gonna do if I didn’t get another secretary. And I-” He stops again and laughs as he extends his hand. “Geez, what am I doing, not even introducing myself? I’m Frank Fontana.” There’s a strange, almost macho-looking glint in his eye as he pauses. “Investigative reporter.”
Judy can’t help but giggle. “Well, I’m Judy Bernly... brand new secretary!” She takes his hand and shakes it, and they both laugh.
However, she repeats his words in her mind and then she stops abruptly.
“What… what did you say your name was again?” she asks.
“Frank,” he responds. “Frank Fontana.”
Frank. The name echoes like a bad cymbal clash in her mind. Of course this would happen, of course she would come all the way across the country with her friends to escape the perils of their old boss, and of course her new boss would have a name that was just three letters short of being “Franklin”. Oh, what irony! Oh, what cruelty! Oh-
“Judy?” Frank asks. “What’s wrong?”
Her eyes immediately narrow with suspicion. “Am I really your new secretary?” she asks. Frank’s mouth drops a little bit. “Don’t think I don’t know these tactics!” Judy takes a large step back. “You’re probably just saying that I’m your new secretary, and then you’ll lure me away to some kind of… some kind of den of iniquity!”
“Some kind of what?!” Frank exclaims. Now he’s the one taking a step back. “Look, do you want me to show you some ID?!”
They stand across from each other with guarded stances for at least half a minute. Slowly but surely, Judy’s muscles begin to relax. She takes a small step forward.
“I’m sorry, I guess that was a little silly of me. You see, my old boss, his name was-”
No, Judy, she thinks. You stop right there. We talked about this. We said we weren’t going to let anything negative about Consolidated follow us here to Washington. This is our fresh new start! Nothing’s going to get in the way of that.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” Judy finishes. “We should probably go get to work! That’s the important thing here!”
Frank still hasn’t quite recovered from being completely stunned. Somehow he manages to close his mouth and take a few very cautious steps forward.
“Right, uh… sure. If we, uh… if we just walk this way, we’ll be right at my office…”
Man, Frank thinks. How the hell do you put up with this all the time, Murph?!
Violet knocks three times on the door before turning the knob and poking her head inside.
Murphy only looks up about halfway. Her pencil hovers above the paper in mid-sentence.
“I’ve finished that paperwork,” Violet tells her. “Should I bring it in here or just leave it out there for now?”
“Uh-huh, just leave it out there,” Murphy responds as she returns to writing. Violet blinks a few times, then clears her throat.
“Uh, I’m sorry, when I say I’ve finished that paperwork, I mean I’ve finished all of that paperwork. All of it. Everything that was stacked up in that gigantic pile on the desk? It’s all done.”
“Uh-huh, I’m sure you have,” Murphy says. She doesn’t look up.
What the hell is her problem? Violet thinks. I mean, I’d always heard rumors, but I didn’t think she’d be this bad.
“I’m sorry,” Violet says, leaning a hand on her hip, “is there something I’ve missed here?”
“What do you mean?” Murphy mumbles. She still isn’t looking up.
“Well, I’ve already finished a huge chunk of my work, and I’d… They told me about your track record with secretaries down in personnel. I thought you’d at least be a little… I don’t know. I thought at the very least you’d look up at me and acknowledge my existence.”
That certainly does something. Murphy stops writing and slowly, very slowly raises her head. Violet sighs to herself. Great, well, at least if I get canned, it should be an interesting experience.
To Violet’s surprise, Murphy merely chuckles, removes her glasses and tosses them onto her desk. She sits back in her chair and smirks. For someone who’d just been attacking a notepad with amazing vigor, she looks quite tired.
“If they told you all about my track record with secretaries, then you’ll understand my skepticism. No matter how good or bad they were, no matter how whacked-out some of them may have been, they’ve all had one thing in common: they’ve all let me down. I consider myself very lucky if I get a secretary that lasts me 24 hours.” Murphy picks up her glasses and her pencil and leans forward again. “I can just see it now: you’ll get a call around the end of lunch, somebody’ll tell you that they’ve struck gold and found oil in your backyard. I’m sure that’ll be very nice for you, but the fact of the matter is, you’ll be out of here by the end of the day.”
Murphy resumes writing. She doesn’t hear Violet when she says, “Well, we’ll just have to see about that, won’t we?”
At first Corky thinks she’s hallucinating. As far as she knows, she’s the only person on the 17th floor with anything remotely resembling a Southern accent. So were her ears deceiving her, or was she really hearing a Southerner in this place?
She looks around and tries to figure out the source of this voice. As she continues listening, she becomes more and more convinced that she’s not dreaming. Her mind can’t possibly be playing tricks on her; it sounds so real! And she’s determined to find it if it’s the last thing she ever does.
She’s so determined to find it that she actually misses it as it walks right by her. Her mouth drops and she immediately dashes after the source of the sound.
“Hi!” she excitedly exclaims when she finally catches up with her. She extends a hand and says, “I’m Corky Sherwood.”
“Well, hi there, Corky!” Doralee happily shakes her hand. “I’m Doralee Rhodes!”
“I knew it!” Corky grins. “I knew I heard a Southern accent in here!”
Doralee throws her head back and laughs. “Well, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’ve got a bit of a twang there yourself!”
“Well, that’s ‘cause I’m from Louisiana! Where are you from?”
“How about that?! I’m from Texas!”
Corky gasps gleefully. “Oh my God, we’re state neighbors!”
Neither of them can hear anything else over their sound of their laughter as they walk away from the bullpen.
Where oh where do the hours in the day go? This is the question weighing on Murphy’s mind as she yawns and leans back in her chair. Last time she checked, it was only 2 PM, and now it was going on 8. Rather than try to determine where o’clocks 3 through 7 went, she figures now’s as good a time as any to call it a night. Nobody else will be around anyway, save for Ernie the janitor.
Or at least, she assumes that nobody else will be around. She almost jumps in surprise when she sees that her secretary’s desk is still occupied.
“What are you still doing here?” Murphy asks as she exits her office. “You could’ve gone home hours ago.”
Violet quickly glances up from the file she’s rummaging through. “Mmm, I could’ve, yeah. But with this backload of work you’ve got, I doubt I could’ve relaxed knowing it was going to be waiting for me tomorrow morning.”
Well, these were certainly words that had never been uttered by any of Murphy’s secretaries before. She can already feel her jaw dropping.
“Where did you even get all the rest of these things from?” Murphy asks as she stares at a pile of folders neatly stacked in the corner of the desk.
“Oh, you never saw me every time I went into your office?” Violet smirks. “If I had known that you had no idea I was there, I might’ve tried to swipe one of those Emmys of yours.”
Murphy actually chuckles. Her gaze is still locked on the folders.
“You were really going in and out of my office all day?” she asks. Violet nods in response as she starts a new stack of papers.
“Wow,” Murphy muses, shaking her head. “I never noticed. I can’t believe I never noticed.” She pauses and notices that she’s still looking at all the folders. “You really did all of this today?”
“Yep,” Violet replies, tossing a final folder onto the stack. She sits back in her chair, folds her arms, and admires her handiwork. “It was no picnic, either. With the way everything had been organized, I don’t know how anybody was ever expected to find anything. You must’ve had some real space cases for secretaries.”
“Oh, God,” Murphy says, “you don’t know the half of it!” She and Violet both laugh. It’s not nervous laughter; it’s just real, honest-to-God chuckling. Murphy never thought she’d see this day, where she and a secretary actually seemed to be on the same wavelength about something.
This must mean something, she thinks. God, I hope I don’t jinx it, but this must be… well, I won’t make the mistake of saying that she’s ‘the one’, but this must be kind of special just the same.
“Well, I think I’ve done everything I can do for you today,” Violet says, grabbing her coat from the back of her chair. “I guess I’m out of here. Although I sure wish I knew where I could get something good for dinner.”
Murphy smiles. “I know a perfect place.”
Violet smiles back. “Lead the way, then, boss.”
This must be some kind of amazing cosmic phenomenon. I’m not dreaming right now, am I? Murphy looks at her watch and confirms her suspicions: she and Violet have indeed been at Phil’s for a grand total of two hours, and they didn’t do anything but talk. Well, talk and eat, but mostly talk.
She tries to retrace the steps of their conversation. Normally she’d be stunned to realize that she’d revealed almost all of her deep, dark secrets to a woman she’d met about eight hours ago, but Violet was amazingly easy to talk to. There’s something about her, something kind of motherly, that just knows a lot of the right things to say at the right time. She figures that it probably helps that Violet is a mother, and of course, so is Murphy, and that’s just one of the many things they discovered they have in common.
She’s still determined not to jinx this, but damned if she isn’t almost completely convinced that Violet is “the one”.
Violet returns from her excursion to the back and reclaims her seat. “Sorry about that,” she says. “I figured I should at least call my husband and tell him that I hadn’t gotten run over by the Metro.”
They laugh again. Violet’s ring glints in the glow of the lights. “How long have you been married?” Murphy asks.
“Oh, only a couple of months,” Violet replies. She smiles and looks down at her ring. “The one good thing about Consolidated was that it led me to Joe. Thank God he was able to get out of there with Doralee, Judy and me. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
Murphy smiles, too, and she’s not even faking it like she usually does when people brag about their happy, perfect marriages. If anything, she won’t want anything to jeopardize Violet’s chances of staying here. But mostly, she’s actually kind of happy for her.
“Why’d you all leave?” Murphy asks.
Violet snorts. “Our boss. Our boss was enough.”
“Yeah. We reached that certain point where we realized it wasn’t worth it to keep selling our souls to a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.”
They collapse into laughter again.
Murphy’s the first to recover, and she wipes a few happy tears away from her eyes as she looks at Violet. Her expression grows a little more somber as the seconds pass. Finally, Violet notices she’s being stared at and stares back.
“What is it?” Violet asks.
Murphy almost looks a little sad now.
“You’re too good for this job,” she says.
Violet snickers, leans back in her chair, and smirks. “I know.”
Another morning, another dawn of another day at the grindstone. Such a thing should be an automatic pathway to monotony. But there are those who believe that it doesn’t have to be all horrible and terrible. There are those who believe that everyone deserves to have a nice day at the office. There are those who try their best to do whatever they can to make sure that everyone knows that they’re appreciated for the work they do.
Corky and Doralee each finish securing their final Post-It notes. They sigh contentedly and take a look around the bullpen. They see little pink squares everywhere, pink squares that all contain the same message:
Have a wonderful day, and thanks in advance for all the great work you’re going to do today!
Corky & Doralee
(PS: don’t worry, we’ll make sure we bring cookies for everyone tomorrow!)
They make one last visual sweep of their handiwork before they grin and high-five each other.
“Oh, hi, Frank.”
“Hey, Judy.” Frank edges into the elevator with her. “I wanted to ask you something.”
“Oh? What is it?”
“Well,” Frank says, looking at the floor and grinning demurely, “I was wondering if, you know… you’d maybe like to go and get a bite to eat tonight.”
Judy isn’t quite sure what to make of Frank’s hopeful grin. Her eyes narrow suspiciously. His smile immediately disappears and his face grows pale.
“This isn’t going to end up involving M&Ms, is it?” Judy asks. Her tone is incredibly serious.
Frank’s jaw drops. “M&Ms? Unless we’re going to Chuck E. Cheese, I don’t see how M&Ms would be a factor here.”
Judy grins. “Then I’d love to have dinner with you tonight, Frank.”
Frank’s stunned and confused face is the only thing visible as the elevator doors slide shut.
Miles opens the door to his office and immediately wishes he hadn’t. A waterfall of icy coldness slams onto his head, and before he knows it, he’s soaked from head to toe. Gazing upward, he sees a tipped bucket and a string, cleverly placed on top of the door. A few heavy drops of water fall out of the bucket and right onto his nose.
The snickering behind him is a dead giveaway, as if he didn’t already know the source of this little morning greeting already. The thing that throws him off, however, is the fact that there seem to be two sets of snickers.
He turns around very slowly.
“Wow, you were right,” a voice says. “That was easy.”
“Told ya,” another voice says. That one he recognizes, though. When he finally turns to face his prankster, his heart plummets into his stomach. There’s a tall woman snickering along with Murphy, therefore his worst nightmare is now a reality: she has a third partner in crime.
“Miles, I don’t think you and Violet have met,” Murphy says. “Violet, this is Miles, Miles, Violet.” She pauses and grins. “Violet’s my new secretary. And she doesn’t appear to be leaving anytime soon.”
“Oh,” Miles says as Murphy and Violet grin at each other. “I see. Well, Violet, I’m glad to know that you’re… already showing signs of being a real team player.”
“Oh, you bet,” Violet says, patting Miles’ soggy shoulder.
“See you later, Miles,” Murphy calls over her shoulder, “and be careful where you sit today. You might want to do some whoopee cushion checks!”
He can hear them laughing all the way to the elevator. They wave at him as the doors close.
Miles turns back to gaze inside his office. It looks normal enough, but his eyes fixate with fear on his chair.
He’s the executive producer of one of America’s most trusted news shows. He gets a sizeable chunk of change to show for it. He gets a kitchen in his office. And yet, he still suffers beneath the whim of intolerable pranksters.
What a way to make a living.