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More of a Fair Fight

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The coffee was adequate and she set it back down on the desk. She scooted the chair forward, looking around her office. It wasn’t often she arrived before nine unless due to an emergency or a scheduling issue and the quiet was sometimes a great way to start the day. In a few minutes Vanessa would give a run-down of changes and updates and Miranda’s day would officially begin. The minutes before then, she enjoyed the coffee and peace while clearing her mind. As an afterthought, she opened the bottom drawer of her desk and flipped through several types of folders. Finally locating the red oversized expanding one marked Personal near the bottom, she glanced up at the outer office, then undid the string-button closure and arched a brow upon seeing its contents. Well. Quickly she closed it back up and returned it to its original location and pushed the drawer closed.

When her phone chirped, Miranda read Q’s reply to the text she’d sent from the town car on the way in.

“Vanessa.” she said, opening up her laptop and putting on her glasses.

“Yes, Miranda.” Vanessa answered nearly through the doorway with pen and pad in hand.

Indicating she should take a seat, Miranda scrolled through her calendar.

“Department Head meeting at nine. Reznick has a conflict...”

Miranda looked up and peered at the assistant over her eye glasses.

“...uh, he said he’d catch up with you today and explain.” Vanessa lowered her gaze. “Andrea and Serena are at the Lancer shoot so they won’t be at the meeting either.”

“Tell Reznick to come directly to my office whenever he arrives and I will be very unhappy if he manages to fob you off with yet another vague excuse as to why he can’t do his job.”

“Yes, Miranda.” Vanessa replied.  “Um, ten o’clock to ten-thirty with Layout on the update for our next issue followed by thirty minutes with Features, then brunch at eleven-thirty, off-site.”

“I’ll be out of the office after three-thirty. That’s all.”

“We’ve pushed back on Clinique twice already.”

Miranda sighed as she focused on the printing cost spreadsheet from last year. “Perhaps I should speak French? Vous comprendriez mes instructions?

Vanessa held the air in her lungs, no doubt getting over the snide edge of Miranda’s voice. When the first assistant simply nodded and left, the editor considered Vanessa’s point.

Until the Clinique reps agreed to feature their unreleased facial cream exclusively with Runway, Miranda decided to keep them waiting. Their products took up less than two percent of the magazine’s advertising blocks although other Estee Lauder subsidiaries fell in between the four to five percent range. Runway wasn’t hurting for advert dollars, not for the next fiscal year anyway. There was a bit of negotiable room until then. She had secured a small amount of leverage within the contract in regards to what type of Clinique products could be marketed in her magazine. She really wanted to feature their new facial cream for thirty days before Clinique opened up their marketing campaign for the product. There was still time to make a few moves before Runway went to print. A game of who flinched first in the parley and Miranda always bet on herself.

From the level of noise just outside her office, it was apparent that the Cerulean Girl finally showed up. Glancing at the time, she leaned back in her chair and took off her glasses.

“Vanessa.” she said.

She entered, coffee in hand. Setting it down precisely to Miranda’s right, she said, “Yes, Miranda.”

“Have the...” Miranda pursed her lips. “...girl waste Andrea’s time.”

“I really think I should stay here today.” the Cerulean Girl squeaked over Vanessa’s shoulder.

With both hands, Miranda employed a brief shooing gesture as she returned her gaze to the computer screen.

“But Mir...”

“One more word...” Miranda softly warned, narrowing her eyes. “...and I will conclude you would rather give up your position as my assistant to one of the million girls who would kill for it. That’s all.”

Despite the early hour, getting ahead of the paperwork wasn’t meant to be. Instead, she spent most of the time on the phone, some of which went under the category of networking. Between conversations, she sent Andrea a quick text, informing her of the change regarding the ‘meeting’ with Q. Then it was time for the day’s first meeting.

Emily, already seated at the conference table, nodded at Miranda. The others filed in behind the editor, their nonsensical conversations crumbling into an uneasy silence. Every Monday morning the lot of them dragged themselves to work, their skin creased and eyes dull. If not for Emily, Andrea and a few others, Runway’s personnel turnover would rival that of a gas station’s.

“Where are we with new beachwear line from Swayz?” she asked, twirling a pen between her fingers.

“They’ve agreed to showcase their two-piece and wrap collections for next month’s issue.”

“And their children’s collection?” She raised a brow at Emily.

“It’s pathetic. I’m going with the one-piece collection.”

Emily’s blue eyes held Miranda’s steady. A few people shifted in their seats.

Holding out her hand palm up, Miranda said “Hand them over.”

A glimmer of a smile crossed Emily’s face before she handed over the shots she’d taken of the ‘pathetic’ collection and the one Miranda hadn’t asked for.

Keeping her features disinterested, she viewed the photos then stuffed them back in the folder.

Miranda withheld a grin. “Acceptable.” Then glancing down at her notes, she asked,  “Roger, did you get the licensing agreements taken care of?”

Reznick’s stand-in wasn’t prepared but Andrea’s was if a bit jittery. The Senior Beauty and Living Editor, who stood in for Serena, was adequate although Miranda hadn’t pressed too hard after the second question she couldn’t answer. She scribbled a note to talk to Serena. And so it went, dreary to the core.

The meeting broke up early. While everyone else pushed back their chairs, Miranda remained seated and checked her phone. With nothing pressing, she sent Vanessa on a coffee run and waited for the next group to roll in.

“Good morning.” Reznick said, leaning against the door frame.

Miranda leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs. His demeanor and overexerted smile set her teeth on edge. She remained silent, staring at him. When his face flushed a bit, she tilted her head just so.

“Did your explanation have a scheduling conflict as well?”

Chuckling, he pointed to her then said, “That’s a good one. I was out late last night so I decided to sleep in a little.”

“How fortunate for me.” She smiled slowly. “Your stand-in was quite impressive.”

“Jonas? Really?” He entered the room and stood in front of her in a weak power play to force her to look up to him.

Miranda swiveled in the chair to face the table and picked up her pen. She checked her email on the phone then started jotting down numbers.

“Okay, then.” he said, sounding a tad smug. “I’ll leave you to it.”

Once he left, she stopped with the pretense, took off her glasses and closed them. Reznick had been skating on the edge of insubordination. Uncharacteristic, the bravado he displayed was an obvious indicator that her plan was working. For now, she would allow him as much rope as possible to hang himself several times. Miranda chuckled low in her chest, tapping the glasses against her chin.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Michah Perdue’s penthouse overlooked The Pond at Central Park along West 59th Street. Despite not being among them, Miranda had access to the uber rich the second she took over Runway. The magazine drew many admirers but, then, so did she. Fashion was global, wooing a diverse mixture of admirers, from a television reality star to an Arab billionaire, and Miranda dealt with them all.  

She walked across the small foyer with her natural confidence after exiting the private elevator. A butler approached and unobtrusively removed her coat without a spoken cue. Having never been in the Perdue penthouse, Miranda kept her eyes forward and expression impassive as she followed the man to a door where he punched in a code on a panel beside it. Two clicking sounds and a green light later he escorted her through and immediately Miranda adored the décor, hints of 1920’s opulence softening the modern sparsity.

“Madame will be along in a moment.” He said in a such a manner Miranda nearly leaned closer and asked him to repeat it.

She nodded and settled more comfortably in the armless chair. The rich tapestry matched that of the settee and the chair’s sibling. Similar to Turkish in color and lines, the fabric unsurprisingly also held elements of Persian stitching and overall composition. A marble Roman bust rested on a sturdy mahogany pedestal by a baby grand piano which tempted Miranda’s inner pianist to play. Idly wondering if it was in tune, she didn’t hear the approaching butler carrying a tray with two tall frosted glasses.

“Hello, Miranda. You look beautiful as always.” Michah softly greeted as she stopped a few feet away with her hands clasped in front of her.

Standing, she walked toward the older woman and held out her hands to pull her into a brief kiss on the cheek.

“Dear god, you’re wearing a Halston original. I’ve seen the heavily embellished mini dress version, but...this...” Miranda smiled, her devouring gaze on the details and drape. Suddenly she looked up and met Michah’s amused eyes. “It’s a custom piece he created for you.”

“It is. He and Lionel, my third husband, were rather close. Please, sit.” Michah gestured to a chair as she gracefully perched on the settee. “I hope bourbon iced tea is alright? If not, Leonard will bring you whatever you’d like.”

“This will be fine. You have a gorgeous home.” Miranda sipped her drink, surprised by refreshing flavor.

Once Leonard departed, Michah said, “Thank you. We’ll have brunch in the atrium as soon as it’s ready. Leonard will appear like smoke to summon us.”

“A very useful trait. Perhaps he can teach my daughters how to move about the town house without alerting everyone within a five mile radius.”

The conversation turned to niceties which normally Miranda didn’t abide but Michah charmed her with scandalous tales from decades past. In her seventies, the retired publisher still maintained a surprising vigor, although admitting to minimizing her social interactions more as the years went on.

“Well, as happy as I am to talk about the past, we have business to discuss in the present, yes?”

Inclining her head, Miranda replied, “Yes, we do.”

The second they finished their drinks, Leonard appeared and said, “Brunch is ready, madame.”

Michah frowned. “Call me by my given name, Leonard. There’s no need to stand on ceremony.”

He nodded, picked up the serving tray then put the empty glasses on it. “As you wish.”

“ ‘Michah’. I know you can say it.”

“Of course.” he replied as he held the tray, bowed slightly and left.

Michah’s eyebrows rose as she looked at Miranda. “Fifteen years he’s been in my service. I think he and my driver James have a bet to see who can resist calling me by my first name the longest. Or they’re trying to drive me insane.”

Standing, Miranda smiled. “I wonder what the winner gets.”

“Probably something utterly idiotic. Oh, before I forget, I hope you don’t mind having those mini chicken and waffles that you served at your party? I’m hooked, I’m afraid, and my personal chef is very annoyed with me.”

Miranda murmured an agreeable sound as she noticed the original Frida Kahlo oil painting on the wall and slowed her step.

“I bought it at auction. Do you know the story behind it?” Michah asked, gazing pensively at the painting.

“No, but I find it a bit conflictive. The pose and hand suggest an openness and willingness but the eyes...they’re a bit defiant, aren’t they? I can’t quite make up my mind. It’s certainly draws you in.”

Michah sighed. “She was very young when she got into an accident that left her bedridden with numerous injuries. Her...boyfriend, I suppose you could call him that, at the time left her. While she healed, she wasn’t idle and learned a great many things, perhaps best of all, honing her artistic skills. She did this self-portrait to woo back Alejandro and sent it to him along with many passionate letters. He finally returned to her if only temporarily.”

“How incredible.”

“The doctors didn’t think she would ever recover from her injuries but she did. She showed this painting to Diego Rivera, an artist and her husband twice-over. He was a great influence on her art and life.”

Miranda bit her lower lip. “It’s a shame she killed herself.”

“Freda led a remarkable life.”

“Is she a favorite artist of yours?”

Looking away but not before Miranda witnessed a certain sorrowful glint in her eyes, Michah replied, “One of many.”

Miranda lapsed into a courteous silence as she followed Michah to a small old-fashioned lift.

“The atrium is on the roof. At first I thought my second husband was very pretentious when he had it built. Turns out he just liked spending my money.” Michah pressed a button and they were carried upward. “But I must admit it’s my most treasured space.”

The metal cage-styled elevator smoothly stopped and Leonard pushed back the expandable door.

“The fool wanted to install a birdcage lift along the outside of the building.” Michah said as she sat down on the chair Leonard held out.

Miranda responded, “I think it would have been lovely.”

Leonard then pulled out her chair and she murmured her thanks.

Large by New York standards, the atrium’s smoke paneled glass walls and ceiling offered a wonderous view of Central Park. Miranda strained her eyes but knew it was impossible to see Andrea from such a height and distance. The tree canopy alone was enough of a deterrent.

“This is truly magnificent, Michah. Thank you.”

Leonard served as Michah replied, “I’m pleased you enjoy it. It’s not often I have the opportunity to share a few of my treasures.”

Miranda glanced at the orchids and ferns and greenery she couldn’t name. “It almost feels like spring in here and your orchids are beautiful.”

“Leonard enjoys...” Michah waved a hand while she arranged a linen napkin across her lap. “...plants and flowers. Latasha, my chef, maintains a herb and vegetable garden along the east  wall. I daresay I will be on a strict diet of leafy greens or some such nonsense after this.”

Miranda smiled, enjoying the baby kale and spinach salad. “I thought you used the caterer?”

“Latasha insisted she could do better.” Michah winked then murmured, “She’s frightfully competitive.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Settled in the library with a glass of port, Miranda crossed her legs. Michah, perched a few feet away on the couch, sipped from her drink as she turned to face Miranda.

“Did anyone find a crumb?”

“As you’re aware, I had three photos from Fashion Week parties altered in such a way it appears Andrea and I are more intimate than we truly are.”

Michah’s sly grin put Miranda ill at ease. “Dear, you’re very clever girl but, well, I have been around the block, as it were, much more than you. I’m certainly not judging. However, before we continue, I would like to know the true nature of your association with Andrea Sachs.”

Off kilter, Miranda’s thoughts raced then she clenched her jaw. “She’s the Fashion Director of Runway.”

“Adele is fighting her own battle with Mitchell Langley, if you remember, and her trust in you is very high due to your help in ousting Irv.” Michah sipped her port and looked directly into Miranda’s eyes. “Be that as it may, my role is to handle the details. I had you investigated.”

“Is that so.” she said lowly. never blinking as she narrowed her eyes.

“Oh, dear, please put away the knives. You are in my home, after all, aren’t you?” Michah smiled and the kindness it showed startled Miranda. “Surely you like to know whom you’re doing business with.”

“Are we going to compare private investigators?”

Michah smiled. “I have no doubt you have quite a file on me, Miranda. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had files on the entire Elias Clarke board.”

Miranda chewed a forkful of salad, never breaking eye contact, then she swallowed. “So, what do you want?”

Frowning slightly, Michah dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “Tell me the truth about the nature of your relationship with Andrea Sachs.”

For a second Miranda considered bluffing but Michah spent more money a year than Miranda made. She pursed her lips.

“Miranda, I have pictures as well but they aren’t manufactured. Valentine’s Day, the Florida trip as well as a few steamy ones from the Met this past Friday. I’ll show them to you if you’d like. You both look striking and quite infatuated with one another.”

Pulling back her shoulders and lifting her chin, Miranda answered coolly, “I’m in love with her.”

“Is it mutual?” Michah asked with a clap of her hands. “I do so enjoy a love story.”

Miranda glowered.

“Oh, come now, I have been married four times, you realize. By the way, I think your strategy is brilliant.”

“How do you mean?”

“Once the altered ones are published and shown to be fakes, well, any real photographs to find their way into the news would be dismissed as fakes, too. I find that devilishly funny.”

The vice grip holding Miranda’s lungs hostage finally opened. “That’s the idea, yes.”

“There will be rumors, of course and another flare up once you two go public, but, by then, your new jobs will be secured.” Michah said, leaning back on the settee. “Unfortunately you’ll have to stay in the closet until the end of the year. Simmie and Frank, for their own separate reasons, are quite keen on bringing you into our little club, too. By the end of the year, there won’t be enough dissenters to keep you from joining us.”

“I’m happy to hear that.” Mentally shaking off the fuzziness residing in her head, Miranda redirected the conversation. “Adele told me that Jacqueline Follet contacted Mitchell. I assume he steered her to my Creative Director Robert Reznick. As you know, Jacqueline and Robert showed up at my after-party for Fashion Week. They’ve been spotted together at several Runway functions. He’s the weakest link in my management team so it stands to reason. I don’t know how they knew, however, but given Langley’s ambition for usurping Adele’s position, it’s conceivable he has his loyalists as well.”

“Reznick helps her gather support and spread poison about you as well as search out other discontents.”

Miranda smiled, pleased by the predatory tremor along her spine and shoulders. “This will be her last hoorah.”

“In more ways than one, dear, but I want to surprise you.” Michah said.

Nodding once, she waited a beat before continuing. “Several weeks ago my second assistant suddenly started wearing a few pieces that were only released in the European market. Even her speech improved.” Miranda sighed then finished the port. “Of course her Henry Higgins is Follet.”

“Perhaps, but she does have her own accent.” Michah stared off into space then frowned. “To recap thus far, dear, Jacqueline contacted Langley who then referred her to Reznick. Then...you believe the French tramp enlisted your second assistant to gather dirt on you?”

“Yes. When Jacqueline showed up, I immediately decided on a...strategy.” Miranda smirked. “But it’s twofold, Michah, or it can be.”

“Oh, I do love a two-for-one.”

 “One of the crumbs I planted Friday went missing this morning.”

Michah leaned forward. “The second assistant.”

“Vanessa, the first assistant, has almost finished her year. I’ve already reserved a place for her with Buttons, the new publication. There’s no reason for her to sabotage that by betraying me. Besides which, she’s quite smart and hardworking. I planted the photo late Friday. Coincidently, Andrea stopped by Runway on Saturday morning and ran into the girl.”

“That’s opportunity. What do you think your assistant do with the photo?”

Miranda gently huffed. “Reznick missed the Department Head meeting to sleep in. He was very flippant. I can only assume the spineless twit has it.”

“Now it’s a waiting game.”

“If he gives it to Page Six or TMZ or anyone really, that would be justification not only to fire him but to see if Langley’s involved.”

“Would Reznick talk?”

Miranda felt the corners of her mouth rise. “Oh, it’s quite possible. Especially if Runway decides to sue for breaking the NDA.”

“What about the assistant?”

“Reznick will either give her up or I can simply make her quit or fire her.”

Michah softly chuckled. “I do remember when you took over Runway. You were astonishing. I never witnessed such carnage before or since.”

“Truth is, there is no one that can do what I do.”