The Monthly Chapter: February, 2020 – Chapter 1

On the first of the month a new chapter is posted from an as yet to be released book. The current book is Tansy Moves In. It is the first book of the upcoming Oak Hill Series.


Chapter 1

The machine made a whirring clunk and Tansy MacDugal, the newest temporary office assistant at Lowell, Hampton and Carmichael, took a tentative step backwards.  As if sensing her fear, the machine’s rattling intensified and the entire body of it began to shake and vibrate. Gears buried deeply in its inner core ground together sounding like the growling of a moody predator awoken too early from slumber.

An electronic beeping began, squealing in counterpoint to the rumbles and bouncing off of the hard tiles of the floor and ceiling of the small room. Tansy began to wonder if both predator and prey were somehow encased within and enacting a fight to the death inside the copy machine.

“Ms. MacDugal,” The crisp voice of the executive assistant, Ms. Abbott, said from behind her. 

Tansy heard her footsteps approaching, but couldn’t drag her eyes away from the copy machine. She was afraid of what it might do behind her back. Ms. Abbott was the assistant to one of the senior partners in the firm, although Tansy wasn’t sure which partner that was.  She was hesitant to ask in case it was something she was supposed to remember. She was sure such knowledge was part of the orientation.  Tansy made a mental note to go back through the packet and check.

‘If I make it through today,’ she thought.

 In addition to being the senior executive assistant, Ms. Abbott also had the dubious honor of commanding the temporary hires.  This task she did with the efficiency of a well-seasoned general, sending her troops exactly where they were needed and having an uncanny ability to sense when reinforcements were needed.

Tansy found the woman a little frightening.  She was put together flawlessly from head to toe in office chic, her nails coordinating with her sensible pumps, earrings and handbag in a tasteful way that still managed to convey a sense of ruthless efficiency and absolute authority.

Thinking of her own appearance, Tansy tugged her dress shirt straight.  Somehow during her day it managed to twist itself slightly to the side so that instead of running in a straight line from neck to navel, the buttons were now edging in a conga line towards her right hip.  Behind her Tansy heard Ms. Abbott’s steps come to a halt, the staccato of her sensible heels silenced.  Tansy risked a glance over her shoulder to her supervisor, letting the growling machine out of her sight for a brief instant. She hoped it wouldn’t take the opportunity to pounce.

“Have you finished making those copies yet?” Ms. Abbott asked.

“Not… exactly,” Tansy replied. “I did follow the instructions.”  She held up a piece of paper where she made notes on not only the sequence of the buttons needed to be pushed, but the individual codes so that each piece of paper used could be billed to the appropriate account.

Tansy saw the slight stiffening in Ms. Abbott’s jaw and quickly lowered her copy making cheat sheet.  Even after only a short while on the payroll, she knew Ms. Abbott considered such a tool unnecessary, but Tansy saw her swallow back her criticism.  After a week in the office, Ms. Abbott came to recognize it as a necessary element of Tansy’s attempt to be a benefit to the office environment instead of a hindrance. Despite the vast gulf between them, Tansy suspected they were beginning to understand each other. She wasn’t entirely certain how she felt about that.

“And,” Ms. Abbott prompted when she successfully swallowed back her disappointment at the sight of the crib sheet.

“There seems to be some sort of issue,” Tansy told her hesitantly as she folded the sheet and slipped it into the back pocket of her dress pants to get it out of sight.

As if disturbed by their lack of apparent interest, the copier gave out a low moan returning their attention to its presence.  Both Tansy and Ms. Abbott turned as the machine let loose a torrent of beeps, the lights on its screen flashing wildly. There was a heavy clunk and the machine fell silent, the lights on its screen going out.  Both women stared at the ominously quiet machine.

“Well,” Ms. Abbot began. 

A soft popping sound interrupted her and slowly a pool of dark liquid drained from the machine onto the floor tiles as though the machine’s death throws caused it to empty its bladder.  The scent of toner was strong in the small copy room.

Ms. Abbot crossed the room in two swift strides, deftly avoiding the spreading pool of ink and toner. She yanked the electrical cord tethering the machine to the wall from the socket.

“Well,” she repeated stepping away from the machine.  She once again carefully avoided the growing puddle with an ease Tansy envied.  Tansy was certain she would have slipped into the pool and could only admire her supervisor’s dexterity. “That is certainly not the paper jam I was expecting.”

Tansy blushed at the statement, but said nothing.  After all what could she say?  Even though she tried hard, things had a way of going…wrong.  Apparently the efficient Ms. Abbott now expected the disaster as a matter of course. As though realizing she admitted as much, Ms. Abbott patted Tansy’s arm in what Tansy assumed was supposed to be a comforting manner. She felt like a puppy that piddled on the floor while waiting to be let out. 

“We’ll just call it in, as this seems to be beyond actual user error,” she said, her tone more consoling than her actions. 

Ms. Abbott darted a glance to the silent and dark machine and Tansy suspected she would grill the repair man to see if Tansy could in any way be held responsible for its untimely death.  Behind her back Tansy crossed her fingers as she followed Ms. Abbott out of the copy room. Hopefully the final cause would be something other than her and she wouldn’t be fired over it.

The two of them walked back to Tansy’s small cubicle. Doubting her long term employment, the space was just as barren of personal effects as when she arrived.  “We’ll just have you input files into the system for a while,” Ms. Abbott said. “You didn’t have any issues with that before did you?”

“No, Ms. Abbott,” Tansy replied. 

Ms. Abbott looked relieved and she wondered if they were running out of mundane tasks to assign her.  “Good.  We’ll just go over the procedure one more time to make certain.” 

Tansy took her seat as Ms. Abbott left, returning  a moment later with a stack of files.  She stood behind Tansy as she began to input the first file.  When it was completed successfully, she sighed with what was obvious relief, patted her on the shoulder and moved off to call the repair man.

All things considered, Tansy couldn’t blame her. Yesterday, when asked to make coffee, a shower of sparks erupted rather than the expected brew and the day before the soda machine started spitting out cans as though bombarding enemy air craft. Tansy still had a purplish bruise at her hairline from being clipped by one of the missiles.

“At least the mishaps are only once a day,” she muttered to herself. 

Somehow once one thing went awry, the world settled back down again and work could be done. Tansy was convinced it was the universe showing her who was boss. Hoping the pattern held, Tansy focused on inputting the files to the best of her ability, determined to do something of value during her work day.

By the time the work day ended, she managed to work her way through a stack of files large enough that even Ms. Abbott found it impressive. She smiled at Tansy as she placed the completed files on the cart for a return to their cabinets.

“Mice,” she said to Tansy, using a confidential tone.

“Excuse me?” Tansy replied.

“There were mice in the machine.  “Apparently, it was only a matter of time before it broke down as they chewed through several vital bits,” she explained.  “It was just bad luck that you were using it at the time.”

“Oh, that’s good to know,” Tansy replied. “I knew I followed the directions.”

“Yes, well I believe we will keep you on the files for the time being. You seem to have a knack for them and there are a lot in storage that need to be inputted into the system.”

“Yes, Ms. Abbott.”

“Have a nice weekend Ms. MacDugal.  We will see you on Monday.”

“Thank you Ms. Abbott, you have a good weekend as well.”

Tansy moved back to her cubicle and picked up her satchel from the corner where she stashed it. While not enthused by the prospect of endless data entry, her steps were lightened as she left the office with the knowledge that she would be coming back on Monday.  Not all of the places she worked were that understanding and she had rent to pay.

 In the past year, fifteen separate companies deemed it much more productive to send Tansy on her way.  After completing her bachelor’s degree in English, Tansy decided to take a year off to determine her next steps, to decide if a graduate degree was for her or if another path was her preferred option.  She signed up with a temporary agency as she tried to sort her options.  While she was no closer to making a decision, after almost a year Tansy was certain Corporate America wanted to vote her out of their offices. Her year of introspection was not proving beneficial to them.

In fact, she was beginning to suspect the increase in office malfunctions were part of some sort of grand conspiracy to get her to move on. When she started, there was only one major mishap every week or so.  Now, they were more of a daily occurrence.

“You’d think it would get better with experience,” She said to herself as she stepped into the hallway.  She glanced at the elevator, but decided to take the stairs instead. She tried not to notice the flashes of relief on her co-worker’s faces when they saw her decision.

“The exercise is good for me after sitting down all day,” she consoled herself as she walked down the five flights of stairs and exited the building. She tried not to take the relief of the others personally. Tansy crossed the lot and reached her car without further incident.

As she drove, all of the lights were green and her older model hatchback purred as though it thought it was a finely tuned sports car.  Tansy momentarily narrowed her eyes at the dash wondering if it was in on the conspiracy.   It seemed content to function properly all the way home.

“Apparently the world is very happy for me to leave the office,” she said, only half-jokingly as she pulled into the parking lot of the apartment building she called home. As each morning her car coughed and sputtered and every traffic light waited to glow red until she was in sight, the joke fell flat.

Tansy set thoughts of universal conspiracies aside as she parked and left her car, climbing the single flight of steps to her small one bedroom apartment. Tansy rented the place furnished and with the exception of the colorful blanket she used to cover up the generations of cigarette burns on the couch, she did little to personalize the space and the living room felt more generic than a hotel suite.

The bedroom had an equal lack of personality, her bed’s coverlet the only spot of color in the off white box.  Despite nearly a year of occupation, Tansy still felt as though she was camping out in the space, thinking of it as a waystation between where she was and where she planned to go, once she managed to get a plan.

Like her life, the apartment was in a holding pattern.  It knew she was just passing through and was just biding its time until the next occupant arrived.  Tansy tossed her bag to the couch.  The bag contained nothing more than her notebook, identification and empty lunch bag. It didn’t even thump as it hit the ancient couch cushions.

Tansy locked the door behind her and kicked off her shoes, leaving them in a small pile by the door.  Later she would move them to the bedroom closet, but for now she was just pleased to have them off her feet. 

She wiggled her toes against the worn industrial gray carpet. Tansy blinked in surprise as she heard her cell phone ringing.  As personal calls were forbidden in the office and Tansy was trying not to earn any more animosity from Ms. Abbott than her daily accidents brought her way, Tansy left the cell phone in the apartment instead of taking it with her.

As she crossed the room, Tansy wondered who would be calling her.  Her mother and step father number six were currently in Aruba and most of her friends were occupied elsewhere, with new jobs, additional schooling, travel or some combination of the three. Tansy picked her cell phone up off of the counter of her kitchenette and pressed the button, ending the insistent ringing.

“Hello?” she said as she lifted the phone to her ear.

“Ms. Tansy MacDugal?” the voice on the other end of the line asked.

“Yes?”

“This is Patricia with the Weathersby Law office,” the voice, Patricia, said.

Tansy tried to recall if she did any work for them and, if she had, what the cause for her firing entailed.  With so many temp jobs she was losing track of the names. “Uh huh,” she said warily as she tried to place the name.

“I’m calling on behalf of the estate of Ms. Eunice MacDugal,” Patricia continued.

“Aunt Eunice?” Tansy repeated. 

She mentally pictured the elderly woman and smiled.  Eunice was her father’s Aunt, strictly speaking and the last family member left alive on the MacDugal side of the family.  Tansy spent many summers and holidays with her over the years as her mother tended to drop her off anytime she wasn’t in school. Tansy could almost taste the homemade icy cold lemonade and the stale store bought ginger cookies. She smiled, then her smile faltered.

“Estate?” Tansy repeated.

“Yes,” Patricia replied.  “I’m sorry to inform you that Ms. MacDugal passed away.”

“She was fine when I talked to her,” Tansy replied.  She tried to remember when that was. She knew it hadn’t been that long. She remembered her aunt’s sympathy over the fried computer database at Data Solutions and that job was just before she transferred to the one she now held.

“Oh, she wasn’t ill,” Patricia said.  “Miss Eunice fell down the stairwell at the county courthouse.”

“She did?”

“Oh yes, it was horrible, she never made it to the hospital.”

“Do I need to …do anything?” Tansy asked.  Visions of police procedurals floated through her head and she wondered if she needed to identify the body.  ‘Or is that just for murder?’

“Well, Dr. Mason pronounced her dead and contacted us as her lawyers.  As per her will Miss Eunice, I mean Ms. MacDugal was cremated and her ashes placed in an urn she previously chose. You can pick her up at McClellan’s Funeral home when you are ready,” Patricia informed her.

“Okay,” Tansy said.  Dimly she recalled a large funeral home at the edge of town.  She thought it might be McClellan’s. “And that is in Oak Hill?”

“It is,” Patricia said.  “Down on the corner of Eighth and Vine.  You can’t miss it.  Ms. MacDugal left instructions to scatter her ashes in the woods behind the house. You are listed as her sole beneficiary and you inherit the house with its contents and woods along with the ashes and everything else. It was quite simple as far as these things go.”

“I see.” Tansy said.  She was having a hard time thinking of her aunt as gone.  ‘I doubt she had much to leave.’ Tansy thought. ‘Beyond the house.’

“We have the keys and all of the necessary paperwork here at the office,” Patricia said.  “We will need to schedule a time for you to come in and deal with things.”

“Of course,” Tansy replied.  She imputed enough files in the office to know that there were always papers to sign when lawyers were involved.  She thought of the office and how she was finally starting to make a good impression on Ms. Abbott. Asking for time off would almost certainly get her fired.  “You don’t by any chance have Saturday hours?” she asked.

“We sure do,” Patricia assured her.  “So many of our clients work out of town that we keep the office open half a day to accommodate them.” 

Patricia gave her the office address and some brief instructions which Tansy scrawled on the back of her unopened electric bill envelope.  Tansy promised to be there and ended the call. Oak Hill was a little over an hour’s drive away.  As she wasn’t certain how long the paperwork would take, Tansy resolved to get an early start the next morning. “Poor Aunt Eunice,” Tansy said as she untucked her crumpled work shirt. Released from the waistband the buttons finally lay in a straight line.  “What was she even doing in the county courthouse anyway?”

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