The news about Pam, when it arrived, was not good.
“The elves got her,” Doug said, leaning forward and placing his palms on the table in the boardroom.
“Damn, what’s their problem?” Mark asked.
“It’s cheese production. Humans won’t work for them willingly, and the elves need them if the cheese is going to sell at the top of the elf market.”
Mark slid his keychain from a suit pocket and scratched at his ear with a house key. “But why do they need the humans anyway? Can’t they just make their own cheese?”
“Think about it this way. What would you say if I told you I had a Cuban cigar that was rolled on the inner thigh of a twelve-year-old virgin?”
Mark’s eyes glazed over, and Doug could tell he was going off to his special place. Doug smacked Mark’s shoulder.
“What?” Mark asked, rubbing his shoulder and wincing.
“Pam. Missing. Presentation to client in ten minutes. Remember?” Doug took his stance again, leaning on the boardroom table.
“Well, what can we do about it? Besides, I didn’t think that elf-kidnapping thing really happened. I though it was all an urban legend—like those women that are brought into the country by sex slave rings.”
“Uh, that’s real, too.”
“Really? Damn. Maybe that girl really did need help.” Mark shook his head and slipped his keys back into his pocket. “Oh well. So what are we going to do about Pamela? It’s not like we can just tell the client that our lead programmer’s been kidnapped by the elves for her cheese-making ability.” He paused. “Can we?”
“No. We can’t.”
“Ah,” Mark said.
The only sound in the room was the air conditioning system. It turned off.
“I don’t even know why they let those elves join the UN. I mean, you can’t even find their country on a map, what with all their magic cloaking shit. How did they let them in? There should be a rule or something,” Mark said.
“What are you talking about?” Doug asked.
“Nothing. Just, you know, thinking about the elves.”
Doug stared at him. “Not helpful, Mark.”
The intercom buzzed twice. “Mr. Rogers? Mr. Beech? The client is here.”
They exchanged glances. Doug shrugged. “Send them in, please, Ms. Noble,” he said, pressing the button.
The oak double-doors opened, and five corporate drones entered, the women dressed almost identically to the men. The only difference was that their suits had skirts instead of pants. Grey pinstripe was the dominant theme in the room.
“Please, be seated,” Doug said, gesturing to the waiting leather chairs.
The group sat as one.
“Well,” Doug began, rubbing his hands together nervously, “as you can see, we’re one person short for this presentation…”
The door on the right opened and Pam came in. Her face, framed by curly, mousy brown hair, was flushed, and there was a slight sheen of perspiration on her forehead.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said, moving to stand between Doug and Mark, “and I do hope you’ll excuse me, but I don’t have my paperwork with me. I just escaped from some elves.”
The hush in the room became even more pronounced. Doug’s breathing sounded loudly in his own ear.
“You-you escaped?” The woman on the far left of Doug asked. Her eyes were wide, and her voice was squeaky. “How?”
“Oh,” Pam said, flashing her brilliant pearl-white power smile, “I used to go to an all-girls Catholic boarding school. Elves don’t have anything on a group of celibate, determined nuns.”
The rest of the meeting went well, if Doug ignored the slightly disconcerting silence that tended to envelop the room whenever none of the presenters were speaking. When Mark had finished his part—the last part—of the proposal, the woman who had questioned Pam’s escape thanked the three of them, then motioned to her associates. They rose, bowed slightly, and left the room without a sound.
“Creepy,” Mark said. Pam smacked his shoulder.
“Wait until they’re out of earshot, idiot.”
Two weeks later, word filtered down to Doug. The job wasn’t theirs.
“What happened?” he questioned Pam, the bearer of the bad news.
“I apparently made a bit of a social faux pas in there.”
“You?” Doug was shocked. Sure, Mark might have done something horrible, but what could perfect Pam have done?
“Well, if we’d done our homework, we would have known better.” Her face was serious, but a smile kept turning up the sides of her mouth.
Doug stayed silent, waiting to find out what was so funny.
“Their firm—it’s owned by elves.”