Andy Sachs' cell phone rang just as she was feverishly writing. She was just finishing up the last par on her latest story in her series on mayoral office corruption. All she needed was the perfect ending. She frowned as she considered her options, then brightened, bashing out another sentence. Not bad. She grinned.
"Sachs!" someone shouted across the newsroom. "Answer your phone! And change your damned ring tone. K-pop is over, for Christ's sake."
She blinked and realised it had been ringing for a while. She fished out her cell and growled "City Desk, Sachs", as she typed another sentence then glanced across to the wall clock. She should make the website's afternoon deadline by a minute.
"Andrea," a throaty voice purred down the phone. A voice she hadn't heard for two years. A skitter shot down her spine. "I trust you know who this is?"
Andy froze in shock. Every muscle ceased to function. The pen she'd forgotten she was absentmindedly chewing dropped from her lips to clatter on the desk.
"Yes," the voice cut her off quickly. "Now listen to me closely: You have three minutes to gather your things, everything … sensitive … and go to the rear entrance of your building. Do you understand?"
There was a harsh intake of breath. "Two minutes fifty five sconds."
"No arguments. That's all."
The phone clicked dead.
Andy stared at it for a moment, then sat unmoving as she contemplated her next move. Redial and demand an explanation from the editor of Runway, a woman renowned for never explaining herself. A woman she had deserted in Paris two years ago and who would have as much interest in offering explanations to Andy as approving twerking as a fashion inspiration.
Or she could do as she instructed.
Or she could ignore her. It's not like she still worked for her.
"Sachs!" came a voice from the online team. "How far off are you from filing? We're holding the site's front page for you!"
Miranda's voice came back to her. "Everything sensitive." The Runway editor knew something. She had to. If only for the fact she'd rung out of the blue, it meant something bigger than both of them had to be afoot. And if she'd wanted to hurt her, Miranda had had ample opportunity in the past. Instead she'd given her what amounted to a glowing reference (by the editor's standards at least), and then pretty much ignored her thereafter. It was far more than she'd deserved, given all that had transpired.
"I have to check something first, Steve," she called out, and grabbed her laptop, digital recorder, and any notebooks relating to her scandal series. She crammed them into her laptop bag along with her contact book and a couple of printouts of stories that had yet to run.
"Are you fucking kidding me, Sachs!" Steve bellowed. "We've been holding the main slot for you."
"Then don't," Andy said, looking around for anything else that could be deemed 'sensitive'. "I can't send till I know for sure it's right."
He bought her line and answered with an acknowledging grunt. Andy glanced at the clock again. Two minutes fourteen seconds down. She grabbed her bulging bags and carryall and bolted for the rear entrance. She burst out onto the street with seconds to spare and spotted a familiar town car.
Roy, Miranda's driver, was standing beside it and opened the rear door.
"Hey Andy," he said and nodded politely. "Nice to see you again."
"Roy," she said giving him a warm smile. "It's been too long."
"If you two could forgo the misty-eyed reminiscing," came a cutting voice from inside the car, "we need to be underway immediately."
Roy shot Andy an apologetic look and shut the door after Andy tumbled in, her possessions spraying across the back seat.
"Miranda," she said, and forced herself not to apologize for her chaotic entrance. After all this little catch up wasn't her idea. She began to gather up her things.
Miranda handed her back a tattered notepad between pincer fingers, that had bounced against her thigh. The car accelerated smoothly away.
"OK, I'll bite," Andy said as she corralled everything haphazardly back to her side of the car. "What's with the cloak and dagger routine, and stopping me twice from saying your name over the phone?"
Miranda hit the button raising the security screen and cocked her head to regard her former personal assistant.
"I have it on extremely good authority that in precisely five minutes New York's finest will be raiding your rag of a paper in an effort to find the name of your confidential source. I cannot tell you how I know but I can tell you that this is a fact. Now do you have any sensitive information related to that mayor story stored at home? Because that's going to be raided next."
"I…" Andy screwed up her face, trying to think. She shook her head. "No," she said. "Nothing work related. B-but can they do that? I mean, I should go there and…"
"No," Miranda said sharply. "That's an amateur mistake. The police are under orders to compel you to give up your source if they can't find any documentation, and if that means charging you with contempt or obstruction of justice, they will."
"Fuck!" Andy said. "Oh. Uh, sorry."
"Indeed," Miranda said neutrally and turned to stare out the window.
"Miranda?" Andy asked curiously,"Why are you helping me?"
"It's time that cesspit in the mayor's office got cleaned out," Miranda said with a sniff. "More than a few of us think so. The man's attacks on the publishing and media industry, which in case you've forgotten is also a field I work in, are just the tip of the iceberg. The inside information I have been privy to of what he plans next is alarming. And the fact the mayor thinks a newspaper raid is an acceptable way to run things is further proof he's gone too far. So in the interests of this story continuing to be told, I think it would be better for you not to go anywhere you normally would and file from a safe place."
"Well that's a great idea but I don't know where to go."
"Nigel has offered his spare room," Miranda said. "Or you can stay with me if you wish. The girls, for some unfathomable reason, apparently miss you."
"Miss me?" Andy repeated doubtfully. "It's been two years. They still miss me?"
"Didn't I just say that? Have you grown hard of hearing since you last worked for me?"
Andy smirked, not buying her ex-boss's prickly exterior for a moment. God, she was like no one else, though. "No Miranda. Still have my hearing. I kinda miss the scamps, too. It's very generous of you."
"Well," Miranda snorted. "It's self interest, really. The sooner that mayor falls, the better for all of us. That reminds me - if you need access to a full suite of office services to continue filing your stories, Runway's facilities are at your disposal, too. But you must keep a low profile. And stop using your cell as of this minute. It's traceable and is likely to be tapped after today as they try to find you. In fact take the battery out immediately."
"I have a story to file very soon," Andy said, digesting this and grabbed her cellphone, removing the backing and battery. She reassembled it. "I just need an internet port for my laptop."
Miranda nodded and leaned on a button. "Roy, Runway."
She glanced at her and then paused, cool blue eyes raking over Andy's outfit. "Three-year-old True Religion jeans? Really Andrea. Did you learn nothing?"
"Well you try sticking to the latest designer wear on a lowly reporter's wage and see how you fare," Andy said.
Miranda sniffed - which almost counted for agreement, Andy decided - and opened her phone, selecting a number.
"Nigel, bring me the new Claudia J. that came in yesterday in Andrea's size. Matching shoes." She paused. "Well of course her shoe size is the same, don't be absurd. Meet us at the front. That's all."
She snapped the phone shut. "The key to being under the radar is blending in in plain sight. Which means when you are at Runway you will stay in my outer office at all times, and under no circumstances are you to do that silly quirk of yours." She waved her hand towards Andy's face as if that explained everything.
"Quirk?" Andy asked in confusion.
"That over-the-top beaming smile, as though you're selling beachfront real estate in the Bahamas. Everyone will recognize you at once. Try and think of dying kittens, or Republicans winning office or whatever makes you morally upright liberal journalists whimper in your sleep."
"Oh," Andy said. "Uh. OK. No smiling. Check. You don't think they'll recognize me anyway? Runway's staff?"
"It's been two years," Miranda said dismissively. "You were one assistant among a sea of them. I have had 17 in your absence. And you're not exactly memorable to anyone except my inner circle who already know to keep quiet. So - just keep your head down."
The town car glided to a halt outside the Runway building and Andy saw fashion director Nigel Kipling scurrying to the curb holding a dress bag and navy heels. Miranda cracked the door and accepted them, murmuring "Nigel" the way anyone else would murmur a thank you. She shut the door.
Miranda passed the dress over and dropped the shoes on the floor at the reporter's feet.
"Well?" she asked as Andy stared at it in bafflement.
"Um, Miranda, you want me to change here, now? In … the car?"
Her former boss peered at her as though she was exceptionally stupid.
"Did you fall down and smack your pretty little head? Did we not just go through all the reasons you must look like you fit in at Runway? This outfit you are presently assaulting my eyeballs with is like an emergency klaxon that will draw every eye in the building to you. So get changed now," she ordered, thrumming her fingers against the tinted window's rest.
She stopped and leaned across, quickly unzipped the clothing bag still clutched in Andy's hands and revealed a beautiful dark blue dress.
"Must you take all day?"
"I can't do this now," Andy said, blushing furiously. "Not with you watching."
"Oh for heaven's sake!" Miranda snapped. "I have lost count of how many models I've seen in various states of undress. Trust me, it's nothing I haven't seen before."
"Well good for you but I'm not a model," Andy said, scowling. "I mean it – I'm not stripping with an audience."
Miranda rolled her eyes and glanced at her watch. She pushed a button. "Roy, pipe in the local radio news."
And then she turned and pointedly stared out the window. "Well?" she said to the glass. "Hurry up.
Andy moved quickly, shimmying out of her jeans and blouse as they all listened to the news bulletin.
"And in breaking news to hand, we have several independent reports that the New York Mirror offices are being raided as we speak, as police reportedly hunt for information about the source of stories detailing corruption in Mayor Bruce Cantrill's office. The series, by Mirror reporter Andy Sachs, claimed that campaign funds to the tune of $765,000 cannot be accounted for and that the money's loss coincides with a series of property investments, new cars and a college fund paid for by Cantrill's family members which add up to exactly $765,000."
Andy wiggled into the dress and did her best to pull it down past her hips and thighs while perched on the edge of her seat. She glanced up at the darkened passenger side windows only to see hooded blue eyes now studying her in the reflection. She hissed and snapped her head around.
"Miranda," she scolded and met her eyes.
Miranda didn't seem remotely bothered at being caught and merely pursed her lips. "So prudish," she noted. She leaned over and snapped up the zipper sharply on the side of Andy's dress. "Your mid-western sensibilities are showing."
"… Police sources say they have been unable to locate Sachs or her notes, frustrating their efforts to find the confidential source rumoured to be in the inner sanctum of the mayor's own office. The Mirror's editor, Greg Hart condemned the action and called the raid a grave day for press freedom in the United States."
"Thanks by the way," Andy said, slipping on her heels as the news bulletin ended. "I would have gone to jail rather than name names, but I'd rather have not been put in that position in the first place."
"I was well aware of that," Miranda said. "Your upstanding morality was one of the reasons you fled me, if I recall. So you wouldn't be like me, isn't that right?" Her nostrils flared in disapproval. "I felt that you were unlikely to have changed since then. Nigel agreed with me."
"That's not why I left," Andy said and looked around for somewhere to stuff her clothes and shoes.
"Leave your clothing here," Miranda said. "Roy will take us back to my townhouse tonight anyway."
"What if I choose to stay with Nigel?"
Miranda froze. "You would prefer …" She started, an unidentifiable expression flitting across her face before her expression hardened. "It is your choice. Suit yourself."
"No," Andy said. "I didn't mean I would. It was a hypothetical."
"And I already explained my girls would prefer you at my home. It is not an offer I make lightly."
"I know. OK. Sure, I'll, uh, stay with you."
Miranda nodded tersely and opened her door. "Now that's settled, come along Emily."
"Well, you may as well play the part."
Andy laughed. Miranda never changed.
"No, no, none of that. I've already warned you," Miranda said sternly. "Remember: Dying kittens."