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About the Author: Antony Mann has been published many times in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Crimewave (UK). He is a winner of the Crime Writers Association UK Short Story Dagger, and also appeared twice in Ed Gorman's The World's Finest Mystery And Crime Stories.

It didn’t take me long to realise that Polly Pagnall didn’t feel the same way about me as I did about her. Frankly, it was no more than a minor setback. Polly started at Weston Matheson nine months after I did, not long after the New Year. She was in Accounts. I was in Legal, which meant for one thing that I earned a lot more money than she did. She was blonde—and according to her personnel file, twenty-seven years old. She was no great beauty, but she had a spark about her, an engaging brightness that made her attractive despite her less-than-perfect looks.

I had not long ended things with Moira when I first noticed Polly. She was learning the ropes sitting in on an inter-departmental meeting, which was basically just another opportunity for Stevens to blow his own trumpet about his latest marketing campaign. It always amuses me to watch the ‘creatives’ when they take the stage. They have such an overblown sense of their own value. The real work goes on behind those gaudy scenes, unglamorous and unsung.

Polly had been only a week or two with the company. I had seen her once or twice in the corridors on the 8th floor, but I hadn’t spoken to her. A smile and nod was as far as it had gone. But looking at her now as she sat quietly getting her bearings, I was quite taken with her. At one point I caught her eye and gave her a reassuring grin, and she smiled back.

I was interested to see how she would respond to Stevens’ puffed-up presentation antics. To me, it seemed a good indicator of character. Jen Wellings from down the hall in Legal, for instance, always hung dewy-eyed on his every word and gesture, and that told me all I needed to know about Jen Wellings. Pete Richardson, however, was a solid company man, and I knew that he thought Stevens was little more than an idiot.

Stevens had been strutting and preening for a few minutes, describing in some detail the undeniable genius of his new ad campaign for City Cat Clothing, when he paused dramatically and turned his gaze directly on Polly.

“Frankly,” he said, “we see the target audience for a campaign like this as a young woman in her mid-twenties, attractive, self-assured and intelligent. By the way, welcome to the company, Ms Preston. We haven’t been formally introduced, but I’d like to wish you all the best in your daily swimming among the sharks.”

At that, he turned to the rest of us and gave a wink. A few people smirked or snickered, and Jen Wellings shot Polly Preston a withering look. Pete Richardson just scoffed.

“Well thank you, Mr Stevens,” said Polly coolly. “Can I ask a question?”

“Of course,” said Stevens with an encouraging smile.

“You said that the City Cat Clothing campaign is aimed at attractive young women in their mid twenties.”

“That’s right.”

“Are you suggesting that I might be a target for your campaign?”

There were loud guffaws then, and Stevens turned bright red. For a moment he floundered, but then, at the head of the table, Mr Weston actually woke up for once and rescued him.

“All right,” the old man drawled. “That’s enough. Stevens, get on with it, and a bit less of the leering, please. I’m sure Ms Pagnall is as sick of it as I am. The rest of you, shut up and listen! Stevens may act the fool, but occasionally he has something worthwhile to say.”

Chastened, Stevens turned away and busied himself with his PowerPoint slides. I glanced over at Polly and gave her a nod. She nodded back.

It seemed promising.

I saw Polly at the coffee machine a week later. I had been playing it cool. Now was the time to take it to the next level.

“Hi,” I said as I came and stood beside her. I was wearing my best charcoal grey suit and had only that week had my hair cut, so I was looking more than presentable.

“Oh, hi,” she said with a quick smile.

“Milk no sugar, is it?” I said, watching as she pressed the buttons on the machine. Scalding water churned in her mug.

“That’s right. Nobody has sugar any more, do they?”

“Nobody has sugar,” I agreed. “I’m Allan Bester, by the way. From Legal. Polly, isn’t it? We sort of half met at the meeting where Rob Stevens made such a fool of himself.”

“We did?”

“Sort of, yeah.”

“Right, yeah!” she said. “Allan. And what department are you in?”

“Legal,” I said.

This story appears in our JUN 2017 Issue
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Reader Discussion

A fun story.
By Robert Petyo

An enjoyable story, Anthony. Right from the get go I thought that Bester would try and do harm to Stevens but never anticipated the clever way he carried it out. I liked the dual plot line of romancing Polly as well and how you 'killed two birds with one stone' - so to speak! That said, I think Allan may have his hands full with Polly who I anticipate will soon have him figured out and perhaps come up with an even more clever way to have him 'disappear'. An good read. Thx.
By Don Herald

Had me hooked from the beginning. Engaging all the way to the end... Congrats on a story well told!
By Nina Ritter

I really enjoyed this! I did notice though, that at the beginning, Polly's last name is written twice as 'Preston' instead of 'Pagnall' which threw me for a second.
By Jennifer Kunz

I am wondering what happened to Moira. Entertaining story!
By Catherine Dilts

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