The Ringer

Her reception was entirely predictable. Stacy and Anna were the queens of the office, usually at odds, but at times like this, fearsome allies. Megan, the new stenographer had three things that were sure to stoke their fury: Stephan had hired her, she dressed in an odd way, and worst of all, she was pretty.

To be fair, her sense of professional attire would have raised eyebrows almost anywhere in mid-century America. Short red hair, some sort of voodoo looking earrings, pants, and make up that funneled your vision right into the middle of her bright green eyes.

But what infuriated the queen bees most of all, was that while the men joked with them and made snide remarks behind her back, none of them could take their eyes off her. In fact, before the first week was over, several had made approaches, only to have their wings clipped before spiraling into the ground.

It didn’t take long before the “slut” and “prick tease” labels came out, with Stacy and Anna being the main instigators. Of course, they would never say any of that in front of Stephan. But they did say it in front of Ellen, his assistant. Ellen had Stephan’s ear, was close to him, and being tight with her was a status symbol in the office and presumably a good career move. What they didn’t know, was that Stephan and Ellen sometimes shared a bed, which also meant they shared a lot of other secrets; including what was being said around the office.

Stephan liked to tell Ellen that she had his back, which she certainly did. And in that spirit she had been warning him to get rid of those two before they caused real trouble. Stephan resisted for a long time. It just didn’t seem right to try and unload someone because your girlfriend didn’t like them. He had to admit though, she was probably right.

The office had high turnover, and surprise surprise, whenever someone quit, Stacy and Anna always came up in the exit interviews. Stephan, hating conflict, let it go until he couldn’t any longer. The two had run off a stenographer that had the potential to move onto the creative team. She had been placed in the steno pool so she could learn about the business and wait until a position opened up. Ellen considered her a pet project. Perhaps sensing that she was a “golden child”, the toxic twins went after her hard.

Ellen came out of the bathroom wearing Stephan’s robe, loosely tied at the waist, her wet hair wrapped in a towel. “Are you finally going to listen to me and get rid of those two?”

He sighed. “More easily said than done.” He wasn’t wrong. It’s all too true that in Corporate America, the bigger the pain in the ass you were, the harder you were to get rid of.

Ellen stared at him for a moment, then cinched the robe tighter around her waist and walked back into the bathroom. “Okay fine.”

“Are you bribing me or blackmailing me?”

She answered from the bathroom, pulling on her slip. “Call it what you want. I’m just not feeling very turned on at the moment. How many times do I have to tell you how to take care of them?”

“Seriously? You still want me to hire that little pixie oddball?”

“You had no problem flirting with her. Oh yeah, don’t think I didn’t notice.”

Stephan went quiet.

“Oh for God’s sake. You couldn’t help yourself. She has a way with people. That’s why I’m telling you to hire her. Are you going to trust me?” She slipped back into her shoes and grabbed her tote bag.

“Okay, okay. Of course I trust you. I’ll give it a shot. Have her come in for an ‘interview’ on Monday.”

“Good boy.” Ellen put down her bag and stepped back out of her shoes.

And that is how Megan, who couldn’t (and wouldn’t) do stenography to save her life, landed in the steno pool.

“One of the kids from the mailroom stopped by my office.” Stephan was talking with Ellen in front of the coffee urn. “He said there are terrible rumors going around about Megan. Are you sure you want to subject her to this?”

Ellen patted his shoulder. “Relax. It will be over soon enough.”

“She is showing no signs of getting them to quit.”

“And,” Ellen pointed out, “she is showing no signs of giving a fig about what either of them have to say.”

“Fair enough. To be honest, she seems to actually LIKE them. It has to be an act.”

“If thine enemy be hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they be thirsty, give them water to drink. For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon their heads, and the LORD shall reward thee.”

“Whoa! Where the hell did that come from?”

“Proverbs. Sunday School wasn’t a complete waste of time. You just wait. Meanwhile I have work to do.” She looked around to make sure the coast was clear before giving him a peck on the cheek and heading back to her desk.

A few weeks went by, with nothing really changing other than the toxic twins blood pressure. Megan’s serene indifference to their bullying frustrated them and a subtle change was taking place in the office. Even Stephan noticed it. First, one of the other stenos started eating lunch with Megan. Attracted by the two pretty, lively women sitting together a couple of the mailroom gang began to join in. This in turn attracted more young women which attracted more men and before long there was a lively, boisterous clique that changed the whole atmosphere during coffee breaks and lunches.

The final straw came when a couple of the senior creatives started hanging out. Seeing their status slip and people acting like the office was a place to have fun just could not be tolerated. But then Stacy found a weak spot.

Megan’s mother had been into witchcraft, and though witches are no longer burned, they can still be ostracized, slandered, and bullied. Eventually it got to be too much and her mom ended it. All Megan had left of her mother were memories, a gravestone, and a book.

“If the mother was like that, surely the daughter…”

It didn’t change anything in the office. Except for one thing: it finally got under Megan’s skin. And as the pair were about to discover, it was not a skin you wanted to be under.

Maintaining her outwardly friendly disposition, Meg (everyone now called her that) organized a solar eclipse viewing party for the office. It was going to be a fun break from work, complete with refreshments and the special viewing glasses.

The event was a big hit. Well not with everybody. Planning something like this was naturally right in the wheelhouse of the two queens. Not only were they not running the show, they didn’t even think about having a show. But they attended for the same reason you attend a frenemie’s wedding.

As the dragon slowly devoured the sun, the biggest part of the crowd gathered around Megan. And as the darkness deepened, they began singing something that sounded like a remix of a Gregorian chant and Bon Jovi. There may have been some NSFW refreshments circulating, which only added fuel to the raucous atmosphere.

The queens and their much diminished courts looked on. Brooding. Sullen. Plotting. Clueless.

During the police interviews, there were a few people who recalled Megan going over to stand with Stacy and Anna at the height of the eclipse. But most people were too focused on the ring of fire in the sky or just too wasted to notice anything. At any rate, Megan had not scanned out of the campus and security cameras did not reveal her, or anyone else for that matter leaving the party; including Stacy and Anna.

“Megan resigned today.”

“Oh?” Ellen rolled over and looked Stephan in the eye.

“You’re still saying she had nothing to do with any of this?” As many times as they had covered this ground, Stephan was still skeptical. “It sure seems like she did her job and now she’s leaving.”

“It’s been six months. It’s not like she lit out for Rio or anything.” She poked him in the chest “oh come on. You’ve been around her for months. Does she even seem capable?”

Stephan had to admit, Megan was like a saint. She was much loved around the office for helping other colleagues and just being a fucking ray of sunshine. And that was what gnawed at him. She was a little too saintly, like she gave so much that there was nothing left of her. It was like that friend that would do anything for you but never reveals anything about themselves.

It makes you wonder.

“Are you sad that Stacy and Anna are gone?”

“No, of course not. I…well, I didn’t want anything like this to happen to them.”

Ellen moved closer, hanging her arm over his shoulder. “Sometimes shit just happens.”

“Yes. I suppose it does.” He tugged on her forearm, pulling her closer and was content to leave it at that.

Friday morning, Megan said goodbye to her colleagues. There was a cake and a little celebration with promises of reunions and drinks. When she left the building, she carried her few possessions in a box: a brush and mirror set, a coffee mug, and an old thick black book that her mother left her.

© Glenn R Keller 2023, All Rights Reserved

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