The Christmas Fairy
When Dante Alighieri wrote his Divine Comedy, he and the poet Virgil took a trip through Hell, and saw the seven circles of the Devil’s kingdom where sinners paid the price for their earthly misdeeds.
It was his belief that, with the visit to the seventh circle, he had seen all the torments the Devil could dream of.
He was wrong. The Devil had a secret plan of torment, one that he was saving for when Humanity could most appreciate the horrors it contained.
Some years ago, that plan was realised. We know it as the Office Christmas Party………….
Belle Epoch was one of the more upmarket jewellery merchants in town. Not a jewellery store – that was too downmarket a term for the owner and proprietor, and evoked a vision of high street lower class sales in her mind. No, she was determined that her store would deal with an altogether different class of clientele, and she had set up in business determined to see that plan through. From her first boutique, she had now established a chain of stores across the country, and her head office could be found in the right part of town for a merchant such as herself – Hatton Park.
This determination, however, had made Belle Starr one of the most unpleasant women to deal with in the industry. As always seems to be the case with people like Belle, one of her major faults was that she believed she did not have any. If people didn’t do what she wanted, then it wasn’t a case of her request being unreasonable or even impossible – it was that the person concerned wasn’t up to the task, and therefore needed to be told this in no uncertain terms.
For those who worked in the stores outside her direct control life could be a little bit easier. For those who worked at the flagship store and even more so for those in the head office of Belle Epoch work was not the most conducive of places to be. The phrase for the way Belle managed her staff was even more intensive then micro-managing – it almost bordered on slave driving. Almost but not quite – that would be illegal after all and she did not want to be accused of doing anything illegal. It was with good reason, however that former employees of hers said “The best thing about Belle Epoch is the moment you leave the place.”
For all the bad feeling her staff had for Belle, however, there was one event that they all dreaded above all – the office Christmas Party. Belle would close the main store for the day, then both the store staff and those from the head office were “required” to come to the main meeting room in the office for as Belle put it “a little drink and some chat.” What that really meant was an evening filled with embarrassment, as they tried to both appear happy and simultaneously not blot their copybook with Belle. The only way one of the staff had been able to avoid this event was the year their father died on the day of the party – and that took a triplicate memo and a signed copy of the death certificate to get them out of the building for the funeral.
One particular year, the party went in a way that was totally unexpected by all concerned….
“What time is it Penny?” Janet asked the receptionist. Penny had being working as the temporary receptionist for the last two weeks – the previous job holder had left after a particularly hard day trying to cope with Belle’s tantrums.
Penny looked at her watch. “Three-thirty – why?”
“Oh lord – you don’t know? Today is the day of the Christmas party – did Belle not tell you about it?”
“No, she didn’t – am I not invited?”
Janet glanced at the door. “No – it’s mandatory for everyone. I can’t believe she’s let you off, however – didn’t you get the memo about the dress code?”
“No,” Penny said. “Is there a dress code?”
“Oh yes – party frocks for the ladies and smart dress for the men. I wonder why she didn’t tell you about…..”
The intercom buzzed. “Penelope, would you step in for a minute please?”
Penny stood up and smoothed down her red leather skirt. She hated being called Penelope – in the entire world, there was only one person she allowed to do that, and it grated that she could do nothing about it in her current position. “I’ll come and see you in a little while – I need to go and get changed for the party.” Janet said as she passed.
Penny paused, knocked on the door and entered. Crossing the large room, she stood in front of the desk as Belle finished her telephone call. “Yes, the consignment arrived today. I’ll make sure it’s taken care of – you can collect on Monday as planned.”
Belle replaced the receiver, and looked up at the girl before her. She liked her as an administrator – efficient, and her coffee making skills were passable. But to Belle, she was the lowest of the low in her staff, and therefore she could do anything she wanted.
“Penelope, I have a job I need you to do before you leave tonight.”
“Yes, Ms Starr?”
“I need to start getting ready for our Office Party, but someone has to man the telephones and make sure everything is kept moving in the office. That person will be you.”
“But Ms Starr, does that mean I miss…”
“What made you think you were invited? The party is only for my staff, and you are a temporary worker. Besides, I am offering you an important role to do tonight. I should think you would be grateful, unless you wish to work elsewhere?”
“No, Ms Starr. May I ask when I will finish tonight?”
“I don’t know – you can go when I tell you you can go. Understood?”
“Yes, Ms Starr.”
“Good – on you go then.”
Penny turned and left the office to return to her desk. Over the next hour or so, she watched as the office staff went to and fro from the toilet, returning in party frocks and smart clothing. Janet stopped at the desk as she returned – she had changed from her business suit to a gold lame evening dress with high heels.
“Are you not joining us then Penny?”
“No – Belle wants me to man the phones. Will I be missing much?”
“Not unless embarrassing small talk and drunken people are your idea of fun. I wish we could avoid it, but she insists on attendance. I’ll try and get a drink and some food up to you later.”
“Thanks, Janet. You’re a good friend.”
Janet smiled and left the room. Soon Penny could hear the sound of music coming from the meeting room. Belle walked out and went there without even looking over.
It was Christmas Eve in the drunk tank…..
Penny picked up a magazine and began to flick through the pages. The phone rang and she picked it up.
“Belle Epoch head office, how can I help you?”
“Penelope?” The voice was female, but deep and rich like velvet.
Penny sat up.
“Good evening Madame. How can I help you?”
Penny continued to listen to the woman and answer.
“Yes, it would be possible for you to visit tonight.”
“Yes, I can arrange for that to happen.”
“Of course Madame. I have one request, if I may. There is one thing I wish to take care. May that be allowed for?”
“Thank you Madame. I will see you in one half hour.”
In the room the party was well under way. The shop and office staff were standing around, drinks in hand, trying to look interested in the party and at the same time wondering how long it would take them to get out of there. It wasn’t so much the pitiful cheese squares, or the cheap wine. It was the woman who was the centre of attraction for a cluster of people.
In the centre of the room, with a glass of Champagne in hand, stood Belle. For the party she had decided to come dressed entirely in silver. Although she was about 5 foot and 8 inches tall, she looked taller in her sliver leather thigh length boots. She also wore a silver leather bustier dress, and matching bolero jacket. Around her stood a small group of the staff who wanted to be part of her little circle, hanging on her every word.
“As I was saying, good staff is so hard to find, so I like to have this little get together to thank all of you for your work.”
“Thank you, Ms Starr. This is a great party…..”
Belle smiled and sipped her champagne. Looking across the room, she cast her eyes up and down the young store manager, who was busy chatting up one of her buyers. He was wearing a tight black leather jacket and jeans, and Belle felt this was someone she wanted to get to know better. She was after all human, with basic human needs. Tony, the store manager, did not reciprocate those feelings. For one thing his partner would not approve. For another, he found Belle as repugnant as most other people. If he wanted to keep his job, however, he feared he may have to do something he would regret. Looking nervously at Belle, he wondered if a way out could be found.
So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun.
Penny closed the office door behind her, and went to her desk. Picking up the phone, she placed a call to the post room to page Tony and ask him to collect a package.
Does you granny always tell you, that the old ones are the best
Belle took her glance off Tony for a moment, and saw a group of people gathering around the photocopier. Moving over, she said a few choice words to them about the things they were photocopying, then turned to see that he had gone.
“Janet, did you see Tony leave?”
“Yes – he just slipped out. Shall I find out where he’s gone?”
“No – don’t worry. I have other things to worry about.” With that, Belle moved over to where Penny had entered the room.
“I thought I told you to man the telephones?” she said angrily.
“My apologies, Ms Starr, but I was asked to give you this by Tony”
Belle snatched the note from Penny’s hand and read it.
“I saw you looking at me earlier. Why don’t you come upstairs and we can look at each other in more privacy. Your office?”
It was only a winter’s tale, just another winter’s tale,
And why should the world take notice, over one more love that failed?
Belle handed the note back to Penny. “Thank you, Penelope. Everyone? I need to take an important call in my office. Please carry on, and I’ll be back as soon as I can.” With that, she walked out of the room.
The mood lightened considerably, and the staff began to actually smile.
Belle and Penny returned to the office area. “Penelope, could you make sure we’re not disturbed?”
“Of course, Ms Starr. No one will disturb you until you say so.”
Belle turned and entered her office. Closing the door behind her, she called out “Tony? Are you there?”
“I am afraid Tony is not here, but we are so glad you could join us Belle.” The voice was dark and low, and came from a female sitting at Belle’s desk. This woman, however, was dressed entirely in black, including the gloves and full head mask she wore.
Belle gasped as she was grabbed by her arms by two other women, also dressed in the same way as the woman at the desk. They frogmarched her to a chair next to the table in her room, and forced her to sit down.
The first woman stood up and came over to Belle. “Now, my dear, here is the situation we have. You have taken delivery of an order of gems for use in your stores. We wish to relieve you of the burden of looking after them. The question is, are you going to cooperate or do we have to make you a little more uncomfortable.”
Belle spoke up. “Who are you? How did you get in here? I demand you leave my office right now….”
One of the women beside Belle slapped her across the face. “You will please not use such language in my presence. Like it or not, we are here to take the gems, and there is nothing you can do to stop us. Now, I will ask once more politely. Are you going to cooperate?”
Belle considered her situation. Perhaps if she screamed, someone in the party would hear her. She listened to the muffled sound of the music coming through.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas….
“Believe me, you will not be heard. Once more, will you cooperate?”
Belle nodded, but with a look of anger in her eyes. If she was right, she would be looking for another new secretary tomorrow.
“Good. Now, what is the combination to your safe?”
As Belle gave the combination, she wondered how they knew where her safe was, or that the gems had arrived that day. One of the two assistants took a note, moved to the wall, and revealed the safe behind a mirror. She then proceeded to turn the tumblers.
“Now, we have to make sure you cannot disturb us as we go about our work. Put your arms on the chair rests.”
Belle looked shocked as the implications of what the woman said sank in, but did as she was asked. The other assistant produced a large roll of sliver duct tape, and taped Belle’s arms down to the rests very tightly. She then wound the tape around her chest, securing her to the back of the chair.
The first assistant opened the safe door, and began to clear out the contents into a bag. Belle struggled as more tape was torn off and her arms were secured to her upper chest. “How did you know about the delivery? You can at least tell me that.”
“Not yet, my dear Belle,” the woman replied. “Now, secure her legs.”
The second assistant pushed Belle’s legs together and tightly taped them around the ankles, and then her legs below her knees. She then taped Belle’s lap to the chair seat.
Christmas time, Mistletoe and Wine
Penny re-entered the party room and went other to Janet. “Janet, can I have a quick word please?”
“Sure, Penny, what is it?”
“Janet, I’ve just had a phone call from your partner. Apparently, someone has broken into your house – you need to get back now.”
“Oh my god – I need to go now. What about her upstairs?”
“Belle? Don’t worry – I’ll let her know what’s happened.”
“Thanks Penny – you’re a real pal.”
Janet almost ran from the room to get her coat. Penny stood there for a moment, then turned and went back to the office area.
Oh I wish it could be Christmas every day….
As the woman finished taping Belle’s legs, the other assistant brought the bag, filled with the contents of the safe, over to the leader.
“Now, Belle, we have to make sure you cannot raise the alarm. Are you going to make things difficult for us?”
“How can I – I’m not exactly able to fight you, am I?”
“No – but I hope you understand that up until now, this has been business. Now, please open your mouth.”
“Wh…” Belle started to say, only for a large foam ball to be pushed into her mouth. Several strips of tape were then placed over the ball, effectively gagging her.
“From now on, however, we intend to provide a little pleasure. You asked how we knew about the delivery. My dear Ms Starr, we have planning this for weeks. Let me introduce you to one of my staff – I believe she has something to say to you?”
Belle looked on, eyes filled with anger, as Penny entered the room and came over. “Thank you, Madame – this has not been the most pleasant of tasks.”
“Did you manage to take care of the favour you asked for, Penelope?”
“Yes, Madame, and thank you for that. May I proceed now?”
Penny picked up the roll of tape, and tore a long strip off. As Belle struggled in the chair, Penny came towards her and pushed the strip over her eyes. “This is payback, you bitch – not just for me, but everyone you ever trod down.”
Belle sat in dark silence, unable to move or speak as she felt, or more sensed, that some things were being done around her. More tape was being torn, and she could something being set up near her. Finally, she heard Penny’s voice.
“We’re going now, so I just wanted to say that I quit. Don’t bother trying to find me – my details and my references, as I’m sure you gathered, are false. Also, we’re going to have a word with your staff downstairs, but please apologise to Janet for me for the trouble I’ll cause her. Good luck – and break a leg with your performance!”
Belle struggled in her chair as the door closed behind her. Performance? What did Janet have to do with this? Then her heart sank as she realised her staff were all in trouble now……
In the party, the mood has lightened considerably as the staff realised Belle would be away for some time. There was even some dancing taking place when music started to play over the intercom system – The Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy.
At the same time, the video screen on the wall lit up, and a scene of winter snow appeared. A message also started to appear.
TO ALL STAFF OF BELLE EPOCH – I OFFER YOU A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS PRESENT.
YOUR VERY OWN CHRISTMAS FAIRY.
The staff gathered around the screen, wondering what was happening. Looking on in curiosity, they watched the scene change to Belle’s office – specifically, a figure in a chair there.
The figure was dressed in sliver, and looked like Belle. Much was different, however. A pair of fairy wings was protruding from her shoulders, and a wand stuck in her right hand. More grotesquely, however, she appeared to be covered in duct tape, including some over her mouth and eyes. Over the tape over her mouth was painted a pair of lips, and the tape over her eyes showed two exaggerated, almost cartoonish eyes. She was struggling in the chair, and trying to speak, but she did indeed look like a Christmas fairy that had been tied and gagged.
Some of the female staff held their hand sot their mouths in shock, and the men just stared. Then, quietly, one of the office juniors began to giggle. More staff began to join in, and soon the whole room was laughing. Laughing and collapsing.
As the staff slowly lost consciousness, they dully saw another message appear.
WE APOLOGISE FOR THE BRIEF SLEEP YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE, BUT PLEASE HAVE A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A LESS FEARFUL NEW YEAR.
WITH LOVE, MADAME X AND HER ASSISTANTS.
After a few minutes, Penny walked into the room wearing a gas mask. She went to the windows, and opened them to allow the laughing gas to escape. Once the air had cleared, she went round the room, moving everyone so that they lay on the floor in a row.
Madame X and her assistants entered, and went over to the monitor. Belle was still struggling and trying to cry out in the chair.
“Well, Penelope, I think you can leave now. We will take care of the rest. Come and see me in the morning for your reward.”
“Thank you, Madame” Penny replied, and she walked out.
When the police arrived some time later to investigate why some staff had not returned home, they found the entire party bound by the wrists and ankles, and robbed of their wallets and jewellery. The only ones not to be subjected to this, Tony and Janet, had a real problem convincing them they were not part of the heist, but the fact the store was intact, and the genuine break-in (staged by an associate of Madame X), eventually convinced the authorities.
As for Belle – well, I wish it was possible to say she turned over a new leaf, but that was not the case. Her staff were grateful for one thing, however – she never held a mandatory Christmas party again, and she never attended the ones her staff held in their place.