Pagett gazed sadly into the mirror on the back wall. On the store dummy the pink suit had looked bright and trendy. On her, after a long day, creases and bulges had appeared. Combined with her naturally shiny skin and the hot, metallic-scented air of the lift she felt uncomfortably like partly-cooked sausage.
She turned as the doors opened. A woman stalked in, dressed a dark suit so sharp you could use it to perform surgery. She smiled, glossy red lips peeling back from white teeth.
“Pagett! Just the person I was hoping to run into,” said the newcomer as the doors closed.
Pagett took a deep breath and smiled weakly. “Am I, Wilfreda?”
“Absolutely, darling.” She examined a perfectly-manicured nail. “I was chatting to that friend of yours earlier. What’s his name. Oh yes, Shay.”
“I was. And, you know, I was saying I need something good this month. Something to really blow through my targets. And, funny thing, I happened to remember hearing something, oh, I’m not sure where from now, about Shay’s previous experience.”
Pagett nodded slowly, looking at the blue numbers above the door. It took a while to get down from the seventieth floor.
“And, I can’t think what came over me, but I just happened to suggest that it would be a terrible shame if Anderson were to find out that Shay’s last job was less executive assistant more, shall we say, shop assistant.”
“It was?” said Pagett, eyes widening.
“It seems so,” murmured Wilfreda, “because when I said that, he immediately told me that interest rates are going up. I thought he might just be clutching at straws, you know, but no – apparently he’s seen the paperwork.”
“Gosh, he shouldn’t…“ Pagett tailed off as the lift slowed.
Both women looked out as the doors slid open. The corridor was empty. Wilfreda casually tapped the toe of her glossy, black stiletto shoe. “Anyway,” she continued, as the doors closed again, “after that, would you believe it, I just happened to run into Rick. You know Rick as well, don’t you?”
“Er,” said Pagett, brushing some imaginary dust off her jacket, “a bit… we’ve chatted a few times.”
“Yes, I thought so. I happened to mention in passing a few bits and pieces I’d heard about last year’s Christmas party, and would you believe it, little Ricky immediately up and told me that Birch and Billet are about to announce a loss.”
Pagett chewed on a nail and said nothing. The lift stopped again but, once more, there was no one there.
“Here’s the thing, Paggy,” said Wilfreda, turning to fix her gaze on the other woman. Her eyes were a brilliant shade of grey that reminded Pagett of the sun behind clouds. “None of that is very juicy, is it? Interests rates, huh. And everyone already knew B&B were up the swanny. I need something else. Something really good.”
Pagett’s eyes widened again. “But… Wilfreda, you know I can’t.”
“Pish. Of course you can. Who will know?”
“That’s not the point.” Pagett looked at the descending numbers over the lift door.
Wilfreda narrowed her eyes. “I may have nothing on you, little goody-two-shoes Paggy, always working hard, never partying, never speaking out of turn,” she growled, “but you know what? It doesn’t matter. I’ll make something up. Something suitably… illegal. No smoke without fire, everyone will say. She had the means, they’ll say. Poor Paggy, I expect she wanted some extra cash to buy a decent suit, they’ll say.”
Pagett chewed her lip.
Wilfreda continued to stare at her. It felt as though she was trying to suck all the air out of the small space.
“All right,” said Pagett eventually, “but if I tell you this, you have to promise to leave Shay and Ricky alone from now on, okay?”
Wilfreda looked away and waved a hand. “Whatever.”
“Okay,” said Pagett, staring intently at the numbers which were finally ticking down into single digits. “Terracube Limited. They’re about to announce the result of their oil exploration.” She lowered her voice, even though they were alone. “They found a huge field.”
“Really?” Wilfreda’s eyes glinted.
Pagett nodded, and stared as the display finally flicked from 1 to G.
Wilfreda stepped out without looking back, high-heels clicking on the marble floor of the foyer. Pagett didn’t leave. Instead, she leant against the lift wall, letting her heartbeat return to normal. Then she pressed a button. The doors slid shut and the lift started to move upwards.
She straightened up, took a deep breath, and smiled. At school she’d always been the one with her head in a book, reading, learning, writing notes. But, funnily enough, she’d always liked drama lessons. It was fun, pretending.
After Ricky and Shay had been to see her this morning she’d spent her entire lunchtime staring into the mirror, practising her nervy, anxious look. And it looked like the hard work had paid off – Wilfreda had believed every word.
In fact, Terracube were about to announce that the oil field was a bare as a wheat field after harvest. With a bit of luck, thought Pagett as the lift doors opened again, Wilfie will blow so much money on the deal that she ends up fired.
The first version of this story was written for a competition which specified the lift (elevator, for my American friends) setting. I tried a few things, but they all seemed very predictable or boringly bleak (hospital lift, sigh, someone leaving an office party, yawn) so I decided to have mess about with it instead and threw together a spin on the classic fairy tale: The Three Little Pigs. I wasn’t completely happy with my effort, but the deadline was looming so I entered it anyway. It didn’t win, but it did get highly-commended, which just goes to show that you can’t always predict how things will be received. Still, I’ve since re-written it fairly substantially to make more of the ‘hard work pays off in the end’ theme of the original fairy tale. I hope you enjoyed it!