Breaking the Code
“Oh drat! Not again!” whimpered Dawn. Pouting her ruby lips, she inspected the damage with squinted, scrutinizing, green eyes, and the careful intervention of delicate finger tips. There was no denying the silky bloodless wound. It was fatal. “I've ruined my pantyhose,” she groaned, leaning back in her office chair.
“Again?” asked Danny from beneath her desk where he had spent the last 30 minutes repairing the computer she had fried. Apparently the idea of a surge protector was of no importance to the intrepid reporter, though her editor Mr. O'Neil would beg to differ after he glanced at the ledgers for this months budget blunders. Danny's job description did not necessarily include fixing Dawn's computer, but she purred like a nice kitty, had fabulous legs, and knew how lead Danny after them. The truth was, he had a crush on her ever since she had been an intern at the Rose Tribune, and had only recently decided it was nearing the time where he would call upon the courage to ask her out on a date. It's not like she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, or a heiress worth millions, living in a plush mansion outside the scum of the city, driving a mean forest green jaguar, with her long blond hair whipping in the wind, luminous eyes mysteriously hidden behind sexy shades. Okay, maybe she was all that, but he wasn't going to let that get in the way of his heroic courage. It was getting here any day now. After all, he and Dawn had been friends for years now. It was the next logical step, right?
“Are you listening to me Danny?” chirped Dawn in her playfully musical voice.
“Huh? Oh, I'm sorry,” he confessed mutedly from beneath the desk. The tangled mess of wires that was her computer was a cinch in his methodical mind. But dealing with it in the presence of two impossibly long slender legs, bearing a dark smoky pair of silky sheer pantyhose, with the shoes off, and cutely painted toes stretching playfully against the seams that encased them? That was near maddening to the young man. She'd crossed and uncrossed her gossamer coated candy canes again and again to suit her comfort, each time followed by a banging, Danny's head, under her desk. She kept telling him to be careful down there, to which he would simply mumble a reply to the effect that he was simply dying the painful death that only beauty can seemingly inflict in its doe eyed innocence. This, of course, was spoken so softly, Dawn could hardly make out a word. She merely continued what work she could at her desk sans computer, allowing her legs to playfully wreak havoc on Danny's well being.
“I said that if I keep ruining nylons at this rate, I'm going to run the family fortune into bankruptcy!” repeated Dawn, in her lamentation of the unfairness of women in the workplace and the amount of money a girl had to budget for her hosiery each month! I swear there's some shadowy council of men just laughing it up while they smoke their cigars over the horrors they have inflicted upon women in offices all across the country!”
“I think you've worked on too many cases that involve uncovering dark plots and secret organizations,” replied Danny poking his head out from beneath the desk. “Besides. I'm sure they can't be THAT bad,” he chuckled to his pretty coworker.
“Not that bad?” Dawn's face gave way to a shocked expression that blended her beauty with humor. “Why don't YOU try wearing pantyhose!?”
“Um,” replied Danny red faced, unsure of how to even answer the awkwardness of the question. Deciding the question was too embarrassing to imagine, he deflected it. “Your computer is done.”
Dawn's tirade about feminine workplace woes, and evil male clubs that devised to horrors of pantyhose to inflict upon women seemed to vaporize in the radiance of her lovely smile, that lit up her emerald eyes like night lights, her hair a set of golden curtains that framed her porcelain face. “Oh! Thanks, Danny!” she chirped.
Wiping his brow that he had said the magic words, Danny nodded and took the opportunity to excuse himself from Dawn's office, letting her know that if she needed anything further, just to call his desk. Just as Danny left, Dawn's desk phone gave a ring, a specific ring. Mr O'Neil was paging her from his office. Pursing her lips, Dawn pressed a button on the base unit, putting her editor on speaker. He hated when she did that, and perhaps that is why she did it. There was, however, no denying that Mr. O'Neil was a gruff and difficult man. “Fire in his belly.” Dawn's mother would have said if she were still here. He had taken the Rose Tribune to great success but he seemed to forget to bring any people skills along with him in that journey.
“Meadows? Am I on speaker phone?” his bark came from the echoing speaker.
“No sir,” she replied, stifling a giggle to herself.
“Good. I hate speaker phone,” he added. “Meadows, I've got the Mayor in my office. I need you in here five minutes ago with updates on the latest,” he added in his “editor tone.” The “thank you” was always silent in his “requests.” With that, he clicked his phone down, assuming Dawn's reply was “yes sir” which it was, only she was saying it to herself, because he had already hung up. Uncrossing her nylon clad legs, she stood up and played the game of fishing around under her desk with her toes, searching for her mischievously lost heels. The girlishness in her often enjoyed the innocent little game, but Mr O'Neil rarely tolerated “girlish games” as an excuse for tardiness. Sighing, and denying her toes the time they needed to find her shoes, Dawn peeked under the desk for a clue as to their where abouts when she noticed the run in her stockings.
“Oh drat! I had forgotten about you!” she pouted. Scrunching up her brow in thought, she realized she did not have time to go change into a fresh pair of nylons, nor could she march into the editor's office in the presence of the city mayor in torn stockings, the likes of some street walker. It would be scandalous! Dawn's quick thinking mind gave her the next best solution. She pulled the blinds in her office quickly, and before slipping into her heels, she hiked her skirt, and reached up the waistband of her smoky dark pantyhose. Through some grunting and wiggling, she shed the ruined stockings down her smooth milky legs, like some kind of animal in the wild, she giggled to herself. After successfully removing them from one foot, and leaving them dangling from just the painted toes of the other, she stylishly kicked them through the air to lazily float across the office and land in a wrinkly mass in the corner wastebasket. Hopping quickly into her heels, Dawn grabbed a manila folder that held documents she would need to make her report to Mr. O'Neil and zipped out of her office in a flash of blond hair, and rapid clicking of heels against the Tribune's tiled floor.
Mr. O'Neil's office resided on the opposite side of floor as Dawn's, she always noted with a huff and a puff. Usually because he always called upon her in a hurry, and she was forced to shimmy uncomfortably quickly in her high heeled shoes. Realizing that today's company would be even more formal than usual, she stopped at the door and used her slight reflection in the door glass to ensure her hair looked okay, and to give her black skirt suit a good once over smoothing. Taking a motivational sigh, she knocked on the close blinded door, and entered in one motion. No surprises, it was Mr. O'Neil and the city Mayor seated opposite his desk enjoying a glass of scotch. Dawn noted that there was not a third glass poured, nor did she expect there would be. She made no mistake that she had staked her claim in the world of investigative reporting and crime solving, but there was still the clear ringing fact that she was a woman in this game, and no matter the flavor that left on her tongue, she kept quiet.
“Dawn! Thank you for your timely arrival,” smiled Mr. O'Neil in rare form. Dawn noted the smile, the politeness, and the introductory use of her first name immediately, understanding the presence of a guest, the city Mayor none the less certainly had something to do with it. She smiled politely and decided she would relish in this rare, well mannered editor for the time he was visiting, as the bark would certainly be back soon enough.
“No, problem sir. Hello Mr. Mayor, it's a pleasure to see you,” smiled Dawn, extended her slender hand toward the Mayor, who stood in the presence of such a lovely young woman, taking her dainty handshake. She offered nothing stronger as not to intimidate the Mayor's masculinity. She often found this the best way to present herself in the presence of “higher ups.” Let them think whatever they want, just keep them at ease, and things will run smoother.
“Miss Meadows, always a pleasure. Mr. O'Neil here has been telling me all about the fine work that you've been doing since you started at the Tribune. A very impressive resume by the sounds of things,” said the Mayor with great jubilation, taking another sip of his scotch.
“Well, I'm certain he has embellished things, but I certainly do my best to uncover the truth,” smiled Dawn, hoping like hell that nobody had noticed her bare legs yet.
Coughing, Mr. O'Neil interrupted. “The Mayor has to be at the air port for a conference shortly, but I told him that you could appraise him of our most recent efforts in the Fritelli investigation?” he added, getting right to the point.
“Yes, of course, I have some documents and photographs right here,” replied Dawn quickly taking the hint and taking the folder out from under her arm and placing it on the table. Opening it up, she began to outline and discuss the contents to both Mr. O'Neil and the Mayor. So far, it appeared nobody had taken notice of her stocking-less legs. Dawn sighed in relief inwardly while continuing with her presentation, mind too preoccupied with thoughts of pantyhose to ever notice the dark expression that crept across the Mayor's face as she chirped away about the photos, the who, what, when, where, and why they were important.
“...And that's what we have so far. I think we're really close to zipping this one up tight. Just a few more clues to find, and I think it's mystery solved,” concluded Dawn with a proud smile.
“Yes I should say so,” replied a decidedly distracted Mayor, furrowing his brows. “Well, I suppose I should be getting on to my appointment at the air port. O'Neil, may we speak before I head out?” he asked. “Privately?” he added with a glance at Dawn.
“Oh! Goodness, I'm sorry! Of course, I'll just... I'll be in my office if you have any questions!” stammered Dawn, feeling her face glow crimson as she got the hint after a tilting head signal from a decidedly annoyed looking Mr. O'Neil over the “blondness” of his star reporter. Pursing her lips, so nervous, she didn't even pack up the photos into the folder she brought in. Leaving the mess on Mr. O'Neil's desk, Dawn excused herself, telling the Mayor once again how nice it was to see him again. With her face hot with embarrassment, she click clacked to the Tribune ladies room to splash some cool water on her rosy cheeks, to gain back a little of her composure. She also took this moment to correct the pantyhose peril that she suffered shortly prior, by unraveling an emergency pair that she had in her purse. The long legged wrinkly pantyhose were the same smoky sheer shade she had on before, and looked just as aghast as any other pair of pantyhose before they are treated with a pair of shapely legs. They look like a pair of skinny wrinkled snakes, joined by a gauzy fabric at the top. Cogniscent of her well manicured finger and toe nails, Dawn carefully worked the gossamer garment over her arched feet, up her well formed calves, over her knees, up her long slender thighs, and finally with some twisting and grunting, got them over her hips, and snug over her tummy. Prisoner again, she sighed in pity of her lower half. Stretching them taught so they didn't scandalously sag near her ankles and knees, Dawn gave them a gently smoothing, then adjusted her skirt hem, made double certain that she had not tucked the back of her skirt into her pantyhose (she had done that more than once, how humiliating!), and finally slipped her newly stocking clad feet back into her heels. An official woman again, she returned to her office and her ringing desk phone, the ring from Mr. O'Neil's office. Jogging daintily in her heels, she rushed to catch the phone in time.
While Dawn had been in the bathroom, fighting the good feminine fight, a conversation had indeed been taking place in Mr. O'Neil's office...
“You see how this can be a problem, O'Neil?” said a very agitated sounding Mayor while jabbing his finger into one of the prints that Dawn had left sprawled out on the desk.
“Well, yes, I see that... yes, I mean, right,” stammered a clearly uncomfortable Mr. O'Neil.
“I'll spell it out. This case or whatever you call it in the journalism field cannot see the light of day. These men, these... these men, right here,” the Mayor emphasized emphatically by jabbing at several different people in several of the photos, “they cannot be brought to justice, or whatever it is this do-gooder girl of yours is after.”
“It's the crime, she's trying to solve,” replied Mr. O'Neil trying to justify.
“I don't care if she's trying to get on the cover of Cosmopolitan! These guys, what they're involved in, comes right back to me when you put the broken dog biscuit back together!” yelled the Mayor. Mr. O'Neil wrinkled his eyebrow, not quite understanding the strange metaphor, but chalked it up to the Mayor's overactive temper at recent discoveries.
“I'm sure that,” Mr. O'Neil began before being cut off.
“I'm sure that you're going to handle this, quickly!” said the Mayor, sounding very much like an order. “I don't think you need me bringing you into all of this exposure,” he added venomously. Mr. O'neil's expression darkened, but he got the hint, and wrinkled his brow in thought.
“Well I can't just make her disappear! For what? I mean, she blew off our hosiery dress code for female staff. You want me to kill Dawn Meadows over a pantyhose infraction?” thought Mr. O'Neil allowed, cracking a chuckle at the ridiculous sound of his absurd idea.
“You can, and you will. I don't care what your excuse is. Yeah. Make her realize just what a mistake it is to break the code at the Rose Tribune!” replied the Mayor, jumping on the distraught editor's idea. Mr. O'Neil looked at him like he had lost his mind, but he also understood his own consequences at failing to take action, and this too showed on his face. The Mayor pressed on this weakness. “Make the call,” he ordered. Mr. O'Neil sighed, and grabbed the receiver of his desk phone, punching in the digits.
“Sir?” gasped Dawn in her phone, having run from the doorway to catch the call before she missed it. “What's going on?”
“Dawn, I need you to retrieve some files for me,” replied a distracted Mr. O'Neil.
“Files? You mean from records?” inquired Dawn, noting Mr. O'Neil's distraction, and the odd request, since there were several clerks that worked the Tribune records department who would find anything a whole lot quicker than the dainty reporter.
“Yes, files, but no, not records department. I need you to get me something from the stacks, the catacombs. I've got a file number for you,” he continued, trying ignore her curiosity.
“The catacombs? You need me to retrieve something from the basement files? Where we keep the really really old stuff? None of that has even been put onto Cd-ROM,” Dawn trailed off on the inefficiency of the original records department of the Rose Tribune that was mostly abandoned for newer filing systems and technology. Virtually nobody currently staffed at the Rose Tribune ever went down to the catacombs as they had been dubbed in recent years, not even the current records staffers. The basement had virtually been forgotten.
“Are you ready for the file number, Meadows?” repeated Mr. O'Neil back to using her last name, the politeness becoming a memory, the bark edging back into his voice.
“Yes... of course... I'm sorry, sir,” stammered a confused Dawn, trying to compose herself at such an odd request. Grabbing a pen from her desk, she scribbled the information down on a scrap piece of paper. “I'll grab that right away, and get it to you as soon as possible,” she concluded, hanging up the phone. Furrowing her eyebrows, she shrugged and decided that analyzing the strangeness of this task would not get it done any faster, she's already tried her luck with bare legs this afternoon. No sense in pushing her luck. With scrap paper in hand, Dawn exited her office, ready to tell Danny that she would be down in the catacombs if anybody was looking for her, but gloomily she noticed he was not at his desk. More than anything else, she wanted to tell him as a way of venting and moping over her unsavory task. With him unavailable, however, it appeared she would have to keep it to herself. So without notifying a soul, Dawn made her way down the winding steps of the building, down floor after floor after floor until she finally reached the basement doors. With a creak, they gave way from lack of use, and grabbing a flashlight off the wall, she headed in. So old and unused, the catacombs were not even properly maintained, so when powerful storms hit, and the lights went out down there, maintainence didn't even bother to fix the problems. Thus, the only light that Dawn had to guide her way through the treacherous basement was the thin beam from a flashlight whose batteries were clearly not in their prime, and the thought of them giving out with her so far from the door, made her skin shiver.
The air was chill in the basement, and even clad in her pantyhose, Dawn felt her legs tremble from the cold. She hoped that she would be able to find the requested file and be done with her task quickly. Based on the boxes that she had come across so far, and the file number she had written down not even remotely matching, her hopes of this were dimming even as the beam of her lackluster flashlight. The monotony of her task gave way to idle thought and the all too awareness of her aloneness down there. While logically that should more comforting than not being alone in the dark, the idea was very unnerving to the timid reporter, and more than once she flashed her light this way and that, casting more dancing shadows that further personified her fears, growing them exponentially so that when she finally did swear that she heard something, and dared to stammer, “Is... is... somebody there?” She was immobilized with horror when she got a response.
“Just us,” came a creepy voice!
Dawn flicked her fading minority light beam through the overwhelming majority darkness. “Who's there?” she cried, voice cracking.
“It's me, Dawn, Mr. O'Neil,” replied a voice, but not the first one. This one, it was Mr. O'Neil. But what was he doing down here? And who was with him? And why didn't they have flashlights? Even though she knew it was her editor, the fact that she couldn't see him, didn't know where he was, only that he was near her, seemed to know where she was, frightened her to a slender trembling body.
“Mr. O'Neil? Where are you? What... what are you doing down here? Who's with you?” Dawn tried to flood the darkness with all her questions at once, as if they alone could illuminate the darkness clouding her confused mind as well as her eyes.
Mr. O'Neil paused and let the sound of heart beats reign a few moments before replying. “Dawn, it appears that you decided to break dress code earlier today,” he stated. “In front of the Mayor, none the less,” he added for gravity.
He DID notice I wasn't in stockings! Thought Dawn. “Oh goodness! I was hoping you didn't notice, but I can... I mean, I can explain!” stammered Dawn. “You see, I had just gotten a run in my nylons and then you paged me, and I was going to change into a fresh pair, which I have I might add, but I didn't think I had enough time before reporting to your office, without making the Mayor and yourself wait,” her explanation trailed off on the woes and time consumptions details on putting on a pair of pantyhose.
At the end of her explanation, unseen hands grabbed her by the arms and legs, and Dawn's body instinctively bucked in horror and surprise, she squealed. “I'm sorry sir! I promise I have a fresh pair on right now. I went straight to the ladies room and put a pair on, I made sure to be careful and not snag them on my nails,” Dawn painstakingly detailed the process of the ritual, not realizing how pathetic she sounded.
“I'm afraid that's doesn't erase your error.” replied Mr. O'Neil gravely, while at the same time, the person holding Dawn's twisting and struggling legs, attached a chill iron band around her slender ankle, sealing it with a dull click. The unknown binding device caused Dawn's body to buck with renewed terror and survival instinct. As quickly as the metal anklet clicked and locked tightly around her smooth stocking clad foot, the strong hands removed themselves from her arms and legs, receding back into the darkness. Reaching the the rough metal feeling anklet with her curious searching hands, Dawn traced a thick and binding chain leading from her ankle to a firm source on the floor nearby. With dread surfacing her panic, she realized that she was trapped.
“P-p-pl-please... s-sir... I... they were only... it was only five minutes... I swear!” begged Dawn, trying to plead and promise that she had only gone five minutes with bare legs on company time.
“And this will give you the time to reflect upon your infraction,” replied Mr. O'Neil, chill in his words.
“People will... People will notice... They'll... people will look for me!” Dawn tried to sound defiant, mustering fake courage she knew she did not have.
“No they will not. Nobody comes down here Dawn, and I am aware that you told no one that you were coming down here,” The words made Dawn tremble, not from the cold that permeated the stone floor through her thin stockings, but the cold in the truth. Nobody ever did come down here, and she foolishly had not told anyone that she would be down here.
“Sir! Please! You can't leave me down here over a run I got in a pair of stockings!” Dawn tried to fight the ridiculousness of her plight.
“Next time, be more careful, Dawn!” advised Mr. O'Neil, followed by the sound of his retreating footsteps along with those of his cohorts.
“Please, sir! I promise. I'll never get another run in my stockings again! I'll wear them everyday, even in the summer, especially in the summer! I'll buy the kind with the reinforced toe! I'll be really really careful. I'll budget more money in for hosiery! I mean... I mean... you can pay me! You can pay in stockings! I won't ever make a problem like this again! I've learned my lesson! I promise I have!” Dawn threw every possible plea she possibly could out spitting mouth, even as the tears flowed freely from her emerald eyes, blind in the darkness. She shredded her dignity into pieces and offered in every demeaning form, anything to be given another chance. She swore to make femininity proud and would not make trouble in the workplace, and understood why a woman had to dress a certain way. The pathetic pleas were spat until they were mere whimpers, and wained with Dawn's will.
The begging was heard by nobody, because Mr. O'Neil had left Dawn to contemplate her fashion woes, and contemplate she did. As the minutes, hours, and days passed, she admitted, that she, Dawn Meadows, intrepid reporter had been bested by a run in her cheap hosiery. If only she had not been teasing Danny under her desk with her legs. Next time she would have to be more careful in her stockings. But there was no more next time. There was only hunger and thirst, and as they grew with the passing minutes, hours, and days, Dawn pathetically slumped over and as more time passed, her once sexy pantyhose stretched taught over long smooth legs, hung loose and wrinkly over the bony legs of her skeleton.
The Mayor's corruption continued uninterrupted by the nosy reporting of Dawn Meadows who mysteriously disappeared. In other news was the humorous chuckles from the female trainees at the Rose Tribune, over the handbook section detailing dress code. There was a picture of a skeleton wearing nothing but a pair of sheer barely black pantyhose. The caption of the photo read: Don't be caught dead without your pantyhose!