Monday, December 8, 2003



Monday mornings were always quiet and sleepy, people too busy guzzling coffee and dealing with leftover paperwork from the Friday before to be very talkative. Everyone stayed in their departments until it was time for the regular daily meetings, stumbling through the halls and trying not to appear half-asleep in front of their employees. Stress was higher than usual due to a weekend spent present-shopping, and even the cookies Lorne had stashed everywhere weren't really helping.

Harmony, however, was as cheerful as ever, handing out drinks as people arrived in Angel's office with a syrupy greeting and a commercial-bright smile probably practiced the same time Cordelia discovered her mega-watt grin.

"It's the weirdest thing," Gunn was saying to Fred, holding the door for her as they entered. "I mean, usually I show up, and there's my coffee on my desk and my cases all laid out. Today? Nothing. No coffee, no papers, just my desk, the same way it was last week."

"Um, Charles, you do realize that could be taken as kinda chauvinistic, don't you?" Fred offered an apologetic little half-smile to soften the criticism, waving hello to Wes as he entered behind them. "Wanting your secretary to do all those things for you?"

"Could be, 'cept my secretary's a guy—at least, I think he is. Some kind of Frolox demon. Not sure if they have genders, actually. And he—it?—didn't call in either, and that's never happened, before. He hates when he misses a day, always goes on and on about it when he comes back."

"Really? How odd. Ah, yes, Harmony, thank you." Wesley absently sipped his tea. "I had a meeting scheduled with someone from Accounting today, and he didn't show either. I checked with the secretary down there, and no one's seen him since Friday around lunch time."

Fred looked suitably concerned, and then confused. "Hey, actually, have any of you guys seen Knox? He's usually so punctual."

"I'm sure he'll show. He's never far from you, is he."

Fred looked faintly hurt, but when Wesley didn't say anything further, her face smoothed. "It's just weird," she continued, ignoring the interruption, "since I know he wanted to get here early so he could finish up working on the broken katana—the one that wouldn't let itself hurt innocents, remember? We're making a lot of progress," she told Angel, the king reclining behind his desk.

"You told me that the last time, Fred, and I still believe you." The response was automatic, Angel too busy piecing together conversations that had started before he was within hearing range. "So that's, what, three people who didn't show? Is that a problem, Wes?"

"Well, ordinarily I'd say no. This is a large organization and our benefits include a rather generous set of both sick and vacation days. However, since two of the three missing are known to be quite punctual and would call were they sick or in some other emergency. . .perhaps. It could be that wires were simply crossed."

"Knox wouldn't take off without telling me," Fred defended.

"And this one's for you, Spikey," came from the corner. "It's a special blend—I even added burba, just for you." When Spike reached for the cup without looking, Harmony pulled it away. "Thank you, Harmony," she said primly.

That got Spike's attention—and the rest of the room's. "Huh?"

"I go out of my way to get you burba weed, the least you could do is say thank you, Spike." she told him, handing over the mug. "I'm not your secretary."

While Spike processed that, Angel cleared his throat. "Thanks, Harm. Keep the door partly open."

"Sure, boss," she chirped, flashing Spike an unreadable expression as she left.

"So. Wes. You were saying?"

"Quite." Watching Harmony chase Spike had become an entire-office diversion. The bets flew fast and frequent, particularly among the secretaries—Wesley's own was wonderful for keeping him up to date on gossip. Not bothering to hide his amused smile, Wes turned his attention to the more pertinent matter of the case of the missing employees "I suppose the simplest thing to do is contact all the supervisors, have them report any employees who are missing and haven't yet called in."

"We've got everyone's home number on file," Lorne contributed. His entrance was remarkably inconspicuous, although his outfit was not. He was a walking, talking gold lamé Christmas ornament. "And I've got all my notes on who's been naughty or nice to use as a reference."

"Very well. Harmony?"

Angel winced. "You don't have to shout, Wes, I told her to leave the door open for a reason."

Harmony sashayed back into the office, waving her palm-pilot. "I've already got the list, boss! There are forty-three employees absent today, but only nine aren't using their vacation days or didn't call in this morning. I've got names, if you want them."

"That low?" Spike  swirled the remaining dregs of his blood thoughtfully. "In a company this large? Must be that ‘eviscerate tardy employees' policy. Say, didn't you get rid of that?"

"Shut up, Spike. Harmony, go make the calls. Lorne, double check your list and then get on the line with Harmony—if they're at home, tell the suspect ones you want to find people for carolling and you heard they have good voices or something. It doesn't matter what."

Fred stood up as well. "I know Knox's home phone, and his cell, so I can do that, Lorne. I'll let you know what I find out." Hurrying down the hall, she missed the looks the remaining members of the office gave her.

"I think I'll do the same, actually," Gunn said, without the overly anxious tones Fred had used. "Something could be wrong, you know, and well, it's pretty cool having a secretary. I should take care of him. Uh. It?" Waving his goodbyes, he followed the others out of the office.

"Well, well," Spike said. "Alone at last. Should leave you two to do that whispering thing, then, shouldn't I?"

Angel mimed hurling his stapler at Spike's head. "Yes. Leave. Now."

"Bah, humbug to you, too," Spike muttered, closing the door behind him.

"He seems to take particular delight in tormenting you," Wesley noted.

"And the rest of you enjoy it too damned much," was the grumpy reply. "But—he's actually right. Nine people out of a company that numbers in the thousands? That's pretty low."

Wes smiled, but allowed the change in subject. "There was a fairly severe punishment for unexcused tardiness before we were here, as Spike also mentioned. Perhaps the fear of its enforcement is slowly wearing off?"

Not that either of them believed that. "So what happens when they aren't at home? You don't think they're at home, either, right? Fred's going to be upset about Knox."

"No, I don't think that's likely, and yes, she is. This could be the beginnings of some new kind of attack, though, which concerns me more than Fred's distress over a specific employee."

Angel's grin wasn't friendly. "That's a roundabout way of saying you don't like Knox either, isn't it?"

"I have no idea what you're accusing me of," Wesley replied innocently. "This could, however, be quite serious, Angel. It could be the work of some random demon, but at least three of the nine missing persons are in very high positions." Wes stood as he thought, pacing back and forth in front of Angel's desk, tossing out an idea with each direction-change. "They could be working together on something and were abducted because of it—or because someone wanted information about the five of us. It could even be something the Senior Partners are engineering."

"Oh, come on. Do you really think the Senior Partners are going to kill their own staff?"

"I don't see why not, if it furthers their goals. You know as well as I the kind of ruthlessness we're dealing with here."

Angel waved his hand, stopping Wes from getting into a familiar discussion. "Okay. We'll talk about it after we've established they aren't home or had some kind of emergency. In the meantime," he checked his stack of papers, "I have to the call the zoo. Lorne, apparently, thinks it'd be a good idea for the CEO to make sure the reindeer are settling in to their new homes."

"Ah yes, the. . ." Wesley's voice trailed off, his eyes meeting Angel's in sudden understanding. "The nine reindeer."

Tuesday, December 9, 2003