Dress to Impress

By Daphne

A lone desk lamp cast a small umbrella of light unassumingly amid the sea of darkened cubicles. Everyone had wrapped up their workday, allowing maintenance to come and begin theirs, but by now, even they had called it a day, and gone home. The hum of laser printers, beeps of fax machines, the monotonous melody of muted desk phones were all ceased in the dark of night. The only sound came from the lone computer booted up, the purr of its fan working to keep the unit cool. It was a forgotten sound among the daily activity of the office, but separated from the rest of the pack, in the muted darkness, it hummed with a distinct clarity, that sounded loud.

The pale light of a monitor bathed a woman's face in a blue glow as her attentive green eyes traced back and forth. Something on the screen held her with rapt attention, something so important as to be at work long after everyone had gone home. Something that felt very secret.

"Okay, I'm loading the files onto the thumb drive now," she said in whispered tones to the handset.

"Ensure you drag the 'trace-erase' file to the specified folder before ejecting the thumb drive," instructed the guiding reply.

"I remember, we've been over it a dozen times," she replied voice, edged by irritation, really just nerves.

"Just doing my part on making sure all your tracks are covered so you get out of this operation in one piece, home safe,"

"I know, I'm sorry. It's just nerves. I want you to know how much I appreciate you getting me past their security system and into the hidden file branches. I mean, it's all here. The bank transactions, the contracts, the inventory logs, hell, there's even email correspondence linking some of these guys to multiple crimes. One of them even eluded enough to implication in murder!"

"No need to thank me. Just be glad that I have friends in low places in the hacking community. They're the guys that write the fiendish little worms that fit on your cute little pink thumb drive and opened the doors wide open on Evil Incorporated's dirty laundry room."

"Well, regardless, I wouldn't have gotten this far, gotten this much dirt if it weren't for… hang on a second, I think I hear something!"

-A Week Prior…

"And these here are some more of the formal documents that we'll need your signature on to be done with the human resources bit of things," said the man with a chuckle.

"Of course, the paper work is never done," replied the young woman, politely chuckling at the man's joke, and adding a bit of her own to the levity.

"Well, I can't deny that, but not all of it is as dry and tedious as this," he promised with a good-natured grin.

"Dry and tedious indeed. It says here that I can be terminated for having a run in my hosiery? And that all my personal finances must be linked to the company, upon my unfortunate expiration, the company will assume control of those assets? That sounds serious," asked the young woman with hesitation.

"Yes, Miss Brightfield, well we are a serious company. After all, we are but an independent hosiery company, and though we are viewed as large and successful, we get there by treating ourselves as serious minded with loyal employees. We consider ourselves a community, and in order to function, we require the financial loyalty of our staff. It is an accepted practice and one that is necessary for our survival," explained the man.

"And the unfortunate expiration part?" prodded the young lady.

"Well, we are a hosiery company, are we not? How would it look to the business world if the young ladies of our office traipsed about with hose in disrepair? As for unexpected expiration? Well, let's just say that we find that clumsy young ladies are infinitely more careful with their appearances when they know that their lives are on the line. No girl wants to expire because she couldn't take care of a simple pair of nylons, after all," concluded the man, proud of his simple explanation.

"Have many girls met… an untimely end here?" Brightfield asked nervously.

"Heavens no!" he laughed in reply. "No, most girls know what's good for them, and stay careful. Now, not to rush you, but I must insist, if you are unwilling to sign the contracts, we will not be able to continue with your employment… and I'm a very busy man, Miss Brightfield. There are many girls who would give their top nylon drawer to accept a position here."

"Of course, I didn't mean to indicate that I wouldn't sign. I just had to ask, ya know? You're not going to leave any filing cabinet drawers open to snag me around the office are you?" she winked while signing away.

"Certainly, Miss Brightfield, I understand completely your concerns. And should you accidentally meet with a nasty open filing cabinet as you say, rest assured that your finances will be safe and utilized appropriately within the company."

"Well, I'm ashamed to say, it's not much money," replied Miss Brightfield turning a little red.

"Every little bit contributes to the growth of our private company. Now shall we discuss your security clearance?"

-One Week Later…

"Autumn Brightfield, eh?" said the young man with a snarky grin while inspecting the photo badge. "How's that cover holding up?"

"It's holding up fine, Danny" replied Dawn Meadows, snatching back her work ID, not sharing in his good humor. "Instead of worrying about my cover, why don't you tell me about what you've been able to do about getting me past their security firewalls because, I've been there a week, and I'm getting nowhere."

Dawn's frustrations were not ill conceived. She had been working undercover at the company for a week now under the assumed identity of one Autumn Brightfield, in hopes of gaining access to the inner workings of what Danny had jokingly referred to as "Evil Inc." While her flawless cover identity had landed her the job, and her intuitive detective skills had navigated her safely to all the right places, her current security clearances just did not provide her with the proverbial "dirt" that she needed to expose what she surmised were the company's shady business.

"I'm close, Danny. I can feel it. They trust me, I've got great clearance, but there must be a level above mine where they're keeping the good stuff," pouted Dawn, stirring her coffee. Danny had agreed to meet her at a coffee shop downtown to touch base on the operation and to discuss what he could do to "augment" Dawn's access into the database.

"Which is why you called me," Danny teased.

"Yes, which is why I called you. Now will you tell me if you were able to find any help?" Dawn scolded, not liking the way that Danny was playing this like it was a funny joke.

"Of course I was able to find help. But let me tell you, Dawn, it wasn't cheap. I had to cash in several favors with my buddies in the hacking community to get you in, but they owed me big, so this better be worth it," explained Danny.

"Trust me, it is," assured Dawn.

"I gathered as much. Now listen, on this thumb drive is a decryption that will get you beyond the firewalls and into the mainframe. From there, you should have unrestricted access as though you were an administrator. You'll be able to copy any files that you need. There is also, and this a very big also, a file on this thumb drive, that you must drag into the main directory of the mainframe. It will mask your activity, and hide the record of your copying any files onto the thumb drive. In simple terms, it will render your unauthorized visit, invisible. Nobody will know you were ever there. It's a pretty brilliant little piece of software the way that my buddy was explaining it-"

"Can I have the thumb drive?" interrupted Dawn, impatiently clicking her heels against the tiled floor of the cafe.

Danny sighed, but acquiesced. "Remember to copy the program file into the root directory, Dawn. Otherwise they're going to know that someone was all over the mainframe, and you're going to look suspicious," warned Danny with a wagging finger.

"What would I do without you?" smiled Dawn, dropping the thumb drive into her purse, and backing her chair up. She quickly uncrossed her long nylon clad legs, and smoothed out her skirt. Giving her hair a grooming toss, she dropped some cash on the table to cover the coffee. Her heels clicked and clacked as she quickly made her way back to work.

"You can tell me over dinner on Friday night at Delmonico's!" Danny called after Dawn's retreating slender figure.

"Fair enough!" Dawn in return acquiesced.

-Later that night…

"Hang on a second, I think I hear something!" Dawn's whisper hissed into the phone. At first, nothing, just the fuzzy sound of Danny's breathing on the other end of the line as he waited for news. Then there it was again. She was definitely not alone in the office. There was somebody else there. "Danny, I've got to go! Someone's here!" Dawn hissed curtly, hanging up.

"Wait, Dawn! Be carefu-" but he was cut off.

Backing up her chair, Dawn uncrossed her legs, scraping her thigh against the underside of the desk, with the tearing sound of fabric. For a dreadful moment she paused. There was no way she didn't. Kicking back a little further, the desk chair wheeled back quietly on the carpeted floor, and the canopy of light, bathed her thighs in a bluish wash. Sure enough, just below the hem of her skirt, there was a nasty run in her sheer barely black pantyhose. Of all times! There was no time to worry about it right then. Dawn's immediate threat was being detected by whoever was in the office with her at the time. She would have a difficult time of explaining why she was there so late her first week in the office.

Trying to prioritize her perils, Dawn pushed the run in her stockings to the back burner, and tried to quietly make her way between the cubicles, while attempting to ascertain the location and identity of the other late night worker. As she stalked her way up the aisle, a sliver of light cut across the floor, leading back to an open door. It was coming from Rachel Porter's office. Rachel hated Autumn, the new girl who had started just a week ago, and already had higher security clearance than she did after nearly three years. She blamed the higher ups for being blinded by Autumn's slender figure, impossibly long legs, and flirtatious smiles. Autumn was impossible to compete with, and Rachel resented her for it. Dawn, admitted that she found Rachel to be a vengeful office rat, with nothing better to do than stir up trouble and create gossip fueled fires among the ladies.

The best chance she would have is if she avoided Rachel all together. Unfortunately for Dawn, she would have to pass by Rachel's office door in order to get to the elevators. Mustering her best quiet and casual form, Dawn made her way past the open and lit office of Rachel Porter. Just as the last of her blonde hair and cute little backside was passing from the light and melding back into the darkened rows of cubicles, Rachel called forth.

"Autumn, is that you?" Rachel asked in that nasally voice.

Dawn, halted in her heels, grating her teeth with frustration that she was spotted. "Yep, it's me, Rachel. Just working late, but gotta run, bye!" she tried to sound as busy as possible, already getting back into stride.

"Wait! Autumn, what are you doing working here so late?" inquired Rachel, dangerously.

Dawn paused again, mind working overtime. This delay was becoming dangerous. Better to clip Rachel's wings before she could get started. "Well you know, my higher security clearance has me working on higher priority projects. You'll know all about that when you reach that level," replied Dawn with a haughty tone in her voice, turning to face Rachel with a smug grin as icing on the cake. That should put the nosey witch in her place.

Unfortunately for Dawn, it put her short skirt, generously exposed thighs, and scandalously run pantyhose into the spotlight. She was too busy wondering if her office bitch charade was going to put Rachel on ice to realize her folly.

"Autumn, what happened to your stockings!?" asked Rachel in horror.

The question might as well have been a bucket of ice cubes dumped over Dawn's head. She was suddenly the one frozen in place. Her cheeks ignited, burned red as her posture took on a form of humiliation, while she tried to cover the unsightly run with one of her hands while mumbling some inane excuse.

As if things could not get any worse, the lights in the main office began to flicker on row by row over the sea of cubicles. This was accompanied by the ding of the elevators, the ones that Dawn should have been safely descending on by now with the thumb drive and evidence snugly in her purse. Instead, she was staring gape jawed at Rachel Porter's accusing glare, stuttering stupidly, unable to respond to how it was she came to shred the thigh on her stockings.

The lights finished their wave of activity and the office was now fully aglow. Rachel stood at the threshold of her doorway, pointing accusingly at Dawn's scandalous situation as the mystery folks on the elevator made their appearance. Certainly now things could not get any worse. The mystery guests on the elevator, were the executive suits of the company, including the one who hired Dawn, or Autumn as it were. They appeared somber and serious, and were all to willing to follow the attention of being commanded by Rachel's pointing finger. The dotted line, there might as well have been one, led directly to the humiliating run in the hosiery on Dawn's left thigh. It's entirely possible there was even a little "ding" sound when all eyes met at the end of the dotted line, and the nylon betrayal that Dawn was feeling right about then.

"Miss Brightfield? Care to explain?" asked one of the somber suits.

"I…I…" was all she could muster as she began fumbling through her purse. Certainly she had a spare pair of stockings in her purse. What girl in her right mind goes anywhere formal without a backup plan for her hosiery. They always give out on you at the worst times, and leave you red faced, looking a fool. It was fast apparent, there were many things in her purse, one of them being the precious thumb drive with the evidence, none of them being a fresh clean run free pair of pantyhose.

"Please, Miss Brightfield, spare yourself the humiliation. We're not concerned with whether or not you came prepared. In fact, we're most certain that you did come prepared. Isn't that right, Miss Brightfield? Or should we abandon the Halloween masquerade and call you, Miss Meadows?"

For a second time that night, Dawn felt a cold bucket of ice wash over her, this one draining all the strength out of her long slender legs. Her ankles quivered on her heels, resisted holding her up. "How did you?" she managed to croak, but she couldn't finish. She willed her nervous green eyes to look them in the face, they were still somber but smugly smiling.

"It wasn't that difficult. We have resources at our disposal, and you were not as careful as you had hoped. You might notice the slightest of discomfort at the back of your waist. Might have had the slightest of curiosities when putting on your stockings, might have almost noticed the tiny microchip set in the back of the waistband, but you apparently did not. Were you to change your pantyhose more often, we might not have acquired the fortune of data on you that we did, but shame on you Dawn Meadows, you've worn the same pantyhose all week." he chuckled.

"But dirty laundry is the least of your problems. You've gone and snagged your stockings at your desk. Wearing week old pantyhose might not have been your best decision in avoiding runs, but your poor hygiene, and overly frugal fashion sense proves to be your undoing," he continued more seriously. Dawn gulped, knowing what was coming next.

Dawn saw that she only had one chance in escaping an untimely end at this point. Beg. Jumping maniacally toward the suits, she fell to her stocking clad knees and pursed her hands together, wringing them pleadingly. Admitting her utter failure in the matter, she begged them to spare her little insignificant life. She even fished around in her purse, retrieved the incriminating thumb drive and pressed it into the lead suit's hand, saying that she clearly had a lot to learn about being an investigative reporter and undercover operations. If they would only let her go safely, they could rest assure she would never turn her investigations on them ever again. She had learned her lesson, a very dangerous lesson.

"Your candor is noble, Miss Meadows, if not a bit pathetic. But the fact remains that you are an investigative reporter, and that is a very dangerous thing. To companies like ours, you are a mortal enemy. You have willingly entered our trap, and have tripped it. Unfortunately for you, this is the part in your adventure, where the villain gets the upper hand and brags to you about how you are about to meet your untimely end. Naturally you can hope that you are about to be rescued, but that really rests on your shoulders, and when you decided to wear the same stockings all week, and trust they would keep supporting you, you really brought this upon yourself."

"We would like the opportunity to thank you for leaving us the entire Meadows fortune after your most unfortunate accident. It will be limitless in its instrumentation in our further domination of the world, not the least of which ensuring that every woman is forced to wear pantyhose at all times, or risk an untimely expiration."

"Unfortunate accident?" squeaked Dawn, hearing only that small tidbit that pertained to her in regards to his horrific explanation of appropriating her fortune, dominating the world, and crushing the lives of women everywhere.

"Ah yes, without further ado, your untimely end Dawn, Meadows. Really, you should be more careful. And take our word for it, change into fresh stockings daily. It can really save your life, just not yours." chuckled the suit, stepping away from Dawn and revealing a mysterious and dangerous looking crate behind him. On queue, a couple of gruff looking hired hands, pulled at the crate with crowbars, and the sides dropped down with swift and splintered swoosh.

Dawn was hyperventilating at what her horrific end would be, never imagining in a million years what it was about to be. From the darkened confines of the mysterious crate, a few tiny bugs climbed out onto the shadowy carpet. Dawn recoiled at the sight of the scattering creatures. They crawled, hopped, jumped, flitted, fluttered, flew toward her. There were as many types as they were foreign to her. Her mind could only conjure up the steamy jungles, putrid swamps, dangerous deserts, and darker places still that these monsters hailed from. Some had legs too many to count, others antennae that reached and searched. Others had mandibles terrifying and dripping, all had many moving parts that made up nightmares of horror.

Dawn instinctively edged her kneeling body away from the creepy crawlies, but they critters were so fast, they dispersed and had begun to surround her. She looked at them with her large and terrified green eyes, seeing herself reflected by the thousands of eyes, all intent on her. The horror was too much to bear, the river of insects was flowing so strongly, endlessly out of the crate. So many thousands of bugs, tens of thousands of eyes, hundreds of thousands of legs. Dawn could not control herself, she let out a high-pitched scream. Feeling a sudden sensation between the sole of her shoes and her thinly protected stocking clad feet she lurched so quickly away from the bugs, she literally jumped right out of her heels. Much to her relief, the sensation immediately stopped. Much to her horror, she noticed bugs spilling out of her heels! Gross!!!

Lurching this way and that on her knees did precious little good. Dawn had wasted too much time and the army of insects had surrounded her. She swayed to the best of her ability to inch as far away from them as she could, but they were already crawling up over her knees, inching their ways over calves, the curved soles of her stocking bearing feet. She trembled and tried to shake them off, but their sharp little legs held fast, stabbed through the gossamer nylons, poking the pink of her legs beneath. They scuttled over and under the hem of her skirt. Dawn tried to brush them off, but the more she scattered, the more that climbed onto her forearms, jumped onto her blouse, her shoulders. They wrapped around her trembling fingers and got lost in her long blonde hair. Dawn put her hands down on the floor and tried to shake like a dog attempting to banish its fleas, but this only provided more inroads for the insects to crawl over her well manicured hands, upper her slender arms, lay siege her bare shoulders, and dominate her swanlike neck.

Dawn screamed her lungs out because she knew in a moment they would be all over her face, and she wouldn't have another chance. As she felt the tiny legs scurrying over her quivering chin, she clamped her mouth shut and felt her heart about burst from terror. The ocean of exotic insects had washed from the split crate, and flooded over Dawn's cowering form. She could feel them needling at her pantyhose, under her skirt, covering her blouse, coating her bare, frightened, trembling arms. They nested, infested her long flowing hair. The smooth skin of her face, neck, ears, lips, covered by the buzzing, scuttling, dark, chitin-shells of a sea of bugs. Beyond her bulging, begging, horrified eyes, and golden streaks of her writhing hair alive with insects!

Within moments, the army of exotic insects from around the world's most dangerous environments made short work of the doomed reporter. Her soft pink flesh was a delightful delicacy wrapped beneath the strange fabric of her clothes, chewed all the same by the droning bugs. Before long, they had the poor girl reduced to a cleanly picked skeleton appearing to have fallen prey, trying to crawl away from its unavoidable fate.

Later on, after the well fed bugs were ushered back into their crate to be stored for future use, the office suits hung Dawn's hole filled stockings upside down by a rope next to the skeleton, well signed and utilized in human resources tours for all prospective young ladies seeking employment. The nylons business is a serious business. Don't be caught dead with hosiery in disrepair or you just might end up like Dawn Meadows!

The Rose Tribune tried to follow up on Dawn's failed story but she had signed all the appropriate paperwork, and apparently had foolishly met an untimely end at work after trying to feed a pair of old stockings to a crate of flesh eating bugs. It was implied that she had been intoxicated because apparently she was still wearing the worn out hosiery when she offered her precious long legs up for dinner.

Danny urged Mr. O'Neil to pressure them for the truth, that Dawn Meadows would never be stupid enough to forget to change into fresh hose every day, but summarily the Rose was purchased by Evil Inc. after coming into the Meadows fortune. They immediately shut down the Rose Tribune to ensure no more meddling stories would arise to hinder their domination of the city.

Nice going Dawn, NOW you've done it. If only you changed pantyhose a little more often, you might have saved the city from an awful future and oh yeah, you might not have been skeleton-ized by a river of insects!

Illustrations by MistyTang

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