In the Devil's Lair
Enter the morally ambiguous villain. Happy Halloween!Word Count:
2,557 (3 of 10)
"There's a detective and some other woman here to see you," her newest assistant said, standing nervously in her door. Miranda raised an eyebrow. That was all it took.
"Right, I'll tell them you're busy," she said, scurrying away.
Returning to the photos from the previous day's shoot in Central Park, Miranda dismissed the interruption from her mind, ignoring the faint buzz of voices in the outer office.
"They insist on seeing you," the insufferable girl told her, returning a minute later.
"Coffee," Miranda ordered, waving her away.
"Yes, Miranda," she said, disappearing in a blur of movement.
"Miranda?" Friday, her First Assistant, said in the overly respectable tone she used whenever she expected to be fired. She wasn't the best assistant Miranda had ever had, but like only one before her she'd not only earned her place in the pantheon of legendary assistants but had her own nickname bestowed by Nigel before he left for greener pastures.
"Yes?" she asked, looking at her pale assistant for enlightenment, with an inflection that could send rats fleeing from a perfectly seaworthy craft.
"A Ms. Summers and Detective Polniaczek insisted that they see you now," Friday said.
Picking up her glasses from her desk, Miranda slid them onto her face, pausing for that all important second before firmly putting them in place, ready to give the invaders the full force of her displeasure at their presence. As she got older, Miranda found her tolerance for fools and their nonsense reached an all time low by mid afternoon.
Miranda focused on the women visible in her outer office, behind Friday.
"They can make an appointment like anyone else," she said dismissively.
"Sorry ma'am, they won't leave," Friday said. "They want to talk about an Andrea Sachs." She gave Miranda a questioning look, obviously recognizing the forbidden name but not about to admit it.
"Of course," Miranda muttered to herself, grimacing at hearing a name that hadn't been uttered in her office in over half a decade. "Who else."
"Show them in," she said.
Entering first, the badge clipped to her belt in unneeded identification, the detective projected an air of authority, without appearing threatening, Miranda noticed, hiding her mild surprise. She obviously hadn't gone to the same interview school as the FBI agents who had barged into her office several months ago, ready to accuse her of some kind of vendetta against incompetent former assistants she'd fired.
The other woman, a blonde wearing Armani, in navy blue tweed of all things, entered after a brief discussion with a much taller woman who took up a position just outside her door. She wouldn't have looked out of place at a 'Runway' photoshoot if she weren't so much shorter than the average Runway model, Miranda thought, watching her stop next to the detective. Her movements were oddly exotic as she seemed to not so much walk as flow into place. There was something about her, something dangerous, that set off alarms in Miranda's mind. This wasn't someone to trifle with, her subconscious told her.
"Well?" Miranda said, glaring at them over the top of her glasses after nodding to Friday to leave.
Summers raised an eyebrow in apparent amusement. "Andy Sachs used to work for you," she said.
"She performed adequately," Miranda said, unwilling to say more. It had taken her over a year to accept responsibility for scaring away someone who showed so much promise. Someone she'd hoped to groom to follow in her footsteps, a secret shared only with her therapist. Not even Nigel, her partner in crime for so many years, had been aware of those particular plans.
"Must have been more to it than that," Summers said smugly.
Miranda glared at her, her face set in an expression that had sent lesser beings running for the door.
"Not bad," she said, apparently unfazed by the look. Meeting Miranda's eyes calmly, she removed a slim envelope from her jacket and placed it on her desk. "Andy wanted this delivered to you if anything happened to her," she said.
"Who are you?" Miranda demanded, something in her chest starting to ache with an unfamiliar feeling at the implications of that statement.
"Someone who understands her value," Summers said, the raised eyebrow clearly indicating what she thought of Miranda for letting Andrea escape. "Who has complete faith in her abilities."
Miranda looked down at the letter, her eyes following the once familiar elegant handwriting spelling out her name.
"We'll wait outside while you read it," Summers said, motioning to the detective. She closed the door behind them, leaving Miranda alone, with a letter she dreaded opening.
I'm sure this comes as a surprise. If you are reading this, and some unknown woman who wasn't remotely scared off by the scowl I'm sure you gave her, handed it to you, it's very likely that I am dead.
I won't apologize for taking so long to contact you. Especially in this fashion. Even now, I am unable to explain my feelings towards you. There are still long days when I regret abandoning you in Paris that year and others where I know it was the best thing I could have done. I wasn't ready then, or even now, to say this to you, if you even allowed me a chance.
But if you're reading this, I suspect I'll never have that opportunity anyway. So let me have my moment. Please.
I love my job. I'm doing wonderful things here. Helping our people to do their jobs better. It's like having hundreds of little sisters. Full of energy and dreams and power. But there's a hole in it. A place in my heart that only you could ever fill. I have my own dreams of spending the rest of my life with you, however impossible that might be. In any way you would be willing to let me.
I know that my last thoughts will always be of you, glaring at me over the tops of your glasses, in that adorably indomitable way you have, for doing something I thought would please but instead fell far short of your sense of perfection.
If they offer help, for whatever reason, please take it. For me. I don't think you'll regret it.
Your most faithful servant,
Miranda put the letter down and blindly turned her chair towards the windows that made up one wall of her office. She wasn't sure how to feel about the letter. Only Andrea would have the temerity to declare her love and say goodbye at the same time. A love Miranda wasn't sure she could accept. It had never once occurred to her that anyone could feel something like that for her.
But first things first. Her feelings could be examined later. They had not actually said Andrea was dead. Or, in fact, what had happened to her. Turning back to her desk, she pressed a button on her phone. "Send them back in," she told her assistant bluntly. "And clear my schedule for the rest of the day."
"Yes, Miranda," Friday unquestioningly answered.
Turning back around, Miranda gazed out at the city until she heard the door to her office open and then re-close.
"Who are you," she asked the short blonde again.
"Buffy Summers, head troubleshooter for a small NGO, commonly known as 'the Council'," she said. "Andy's our local legal expert."
"Legal expert?" Miranda looked at her, puzzled. She'd known Andrea had left that atrocious little newspaper after only a year but she'd lost track of her after that. Nigel, her only link to Andrea, hadn't said where she'd moved on to after that.
"You really haven't heard from her in a long time," Summers said, nodding to herself. "She started working for us while she was going to Columbia. My people think she can do legal magic and make the impossible merely improbable."
Bracing herself, Miranda asked her next question. "What happened to her? Where is she?"
"She's the most recent victim of the person attacking your former assistants," the detective told her bluntly, joining the conversation. "She was moved to a private hospital by Ms. Summer's organization yesterday."
"Where?" Miranda asked, feeling a small twinge of guilt.
"It's need to know, at the moment," Summers said, interrupting the detective before she could answer the question. "She's safe where she is until we find the person who attacked her."
"I want to see her," Miranda said.
"Why?" Summers asked.
Miranda just stared at her until she agreed.
"There's not much to see," Summers said, sighing. "She's very mummy like. The Doc has her in an induced coma."
"I still want to see her," Miranda insisted.
Shaking her head, Summers took out her phone and called someone. "Hey, it's me. Who else would call you from my phone?" Summers muttered something under her breath that sounded like 'sisters' to Miranda. "Ask the Doc if we can add someone to Andy's visitor list. Who? Miranda Priestly." A shriek that even Miranda could hear caused Summers to quickly pull her phone away from her head.
"My sister. Apparently she's a fan," Summers said to the detective, wincing before putting the phone back to her ear.
"I've got an old friend like that," the detective said sympathetically. "She tried to nominate her for sainthood. The Pope apparently wasn't amused."
Listening to them, Miranda wasn't sure to be amused or horrified. "Well," she said. She hoped she didn't run into these people. Maybe she should see if she could hire additional security to keep away the groupies she hadn't known about until now.
"You're all set," Summers said. "Just let them know who you are at the gate and someone will escort you to her."
"The gate where?" Miranda asked, exasperated.
"The mansion," she said, the 'of course' said silently, as if Miranda already knew that. "We'll make sure you assistant has the directions," she added in response to the frosty glare sent her way.
"Who's in charge of this investigation?" Miranda asked bluntly, now that the Andrea issue was taken care of. The Commissioner still owed her one. If he needed a push she could provide it.
"You're looking at her," Summers said.
"What are the police doing about the attack on Andrea?" Miranda asked, wondering why this 'Council' was involved and not the police if Andrea was one of their employees.
"Assisting," Summers said.
"Assisting?" the detective mumbled, giving Summers an odd look that Miranda couldn't identify.
"Why aren't you out there finding whomever did this!" she demanded.
"The FBI just turned the case over this morning," the detective said, slightly defensive.
Summers tilted her head slightly and gave Miranda a look. "Andy will be fine, eventually," she said. "But you needn't worry about that. What you should be worrying about is why they seem to be headed in your direction."
"My direction?" The thought hadn't occurred to her that this had anything to do with her. And what about her daughters, she wondered, panic making her mind go a mile a minute.
Miranda glared at her and picked up her phone. Hitting the button for her First Assistant, she started rattling off commands. She'd cleared her schedule for the rest of the day, arranged for the new Roy to pick the girls up early from school, and was about to tell her to get the head of the security company Runway used for photo shoots on the phone when a small, dainty hand reached over and firmly took away the handset.
"We'll be handling your personal security," she said, putting down the phone. "That firm you normally use would frighten them away."
"You're using me as bait," Miranda said, aghast at the arrogance.
"Not exactly," she said. "but if it makes you feel better to think of it that way, go ahead. Your bodyguard is currently in transit. She should be here tonight."
"And my daughters?" she asked. "What is their role in this farce?"
"We won't make any promises," Summers told her, "but they will be as safe as we can possibly make them."
"How do you plan to accomplish that?" Miranda asked.
"One of our younger agents attends Dalton. She and another agent will guard them until this is over." She looked her watch. "In fact, they should be being introduced about now. We'll meet up with them at your townhouse."
The rug she was kneeling on barely shielded her from the cold, damp ground along the river. Leaning forward she carefully shoved another sliver of oak into the fiercely burning fire. With the ease of long practice, she ignored the ghostly voices whispering somewhere behind her. All that mattered was the smokey form of her patron taking shape in front of her.
The time for the final sacrifice was rapidly approaching but the previous one had not gone as planned. The sacrifice had unexpectedly fought off the golem and survived. She needed to know what to do. Would the ritual work if one of the sacrifices lived? What was so important about this one? Her patron hadn't explained why this one, instead of one of the others. Was spilling her blood enough?
Could she still seize control of the line from the Heretic and restore the heritage that had been stolen from them centuries ago to its rightful place before it became lost forever?
It was something the women of her family had dreamed of and plotted since the sorcerers stole the power from them, but she was the first willing enough to risk everything. But first she needed to eliminate the one that had turned her back on everything the family represented. The one who'd inherited the power to direct the heritage but refused to do anything with it. Her sacrifice would provide the necessary power for the ritual to succeed in rebinding the line.
Throwing incense onto the fire, she bowed low before the one who'd shown her what to do. Shown her how to prevent her family's heritage from being lost. Given her the avenue to the power she needed.
"Why are you allowing this?" asked the one as they watched from a safe distance as the woman bowed to their enemy. "She is one of your people's descendants. He has fooled her. Told her lies. Twisted her and set her on the path she wished to prevent."
"This is the last test. The First failed to destroy them, giving him this chance to take them as his own. If he fails, they are mine again," said the other. "Never again to be pawns of the so-called Guardians of Balance."
"You expect them to play fair? To let go of one of their most useful tools? They will find another way."
"They can try," the other said.
"You have a plan," said the one.
"A plan that requires her to fail," the other said. "She serves a purpose. Her actions have already begun the gathering of the families." With one last look towards the fire, the other nodded to her companion and disappeared into the night.
"I hope this works out better than your last plan," the one whispered to herself before she too fled from the scene. Their enemy couldn't directly harm them but being too close to his presence generated a feeling she found disturbing.