MAnifest Destiny An Online Adventure by Mystery Max
People Places Plots

New York City: Present Day

Carly sat nervously in the main lobby of the Gotham Gazette. It was her first day on the job. She was to arrive at 8:00 AM sharp for her first day within the new reporter's pool. She wore a blue skirt and a light blue blouse with leather flats and matching purse. She considered herself 'preppy' and was always teased in school as being a 'good girl'. That may have had something to do with her Catholic Education and the rumors within the girl's college dorm that she was still a virgin.

She sat on the edge of her chair with her back straight and her knees together with her hands in her lap.  Exactly how she was taught by her mentor professors at Seton Hall University where she had so recently graduated summa cum laude. Her parents were royally wealthy, and therefore her upbringing extensive, so sitting like a lady was instilled into her from an early age. A lifetime of proper etiquette was nothing new to this girl.

Carly had only had one interview for this position, over Skype, with a very handsome older gentleman. He had seemed to know her name and to have read her work in the college newspaper and some of the blogs she had spun up over the years. He also spoke of an editor who had asked for her by name, and she was excited to have landed a dream job with one of the largest, and oldest newspapers in the country. She had a fresh face and figured she could bring a bit of conservatism to an otherwise very liberal paper.

"Miss Hallinger?" The secretary's voice interrupted her reverie. "You can go in now. Mr. Conroy is ready to see you.” she smiled towards the young reporter while motioning to the office door.

The office beyond the door was large and imposing with antique furniture, a wide Persian rug that probably cost a whole year's tuition at school, and floor to ceiling bookcases along one wall. The opposite wall was mostly glass, a impossibly wide picture window that looked out over downtown Manhattan and the East River beyond. She could even see the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance.

The gentleman she had interviewed sat on the opposite side of the desk, beaming at her. He stood and walked around the desk to greet her, offering his hand and kissing hers lightly when she have it.

“Carly! So glad you could make it. Jackson is on his way up. He's the City Desk editor. He asked for you specifically, and I know he's keen to get you started.”

She couldn't help but wonder at that. A big city editor asking for her? Why? It niggled at her slightly, but Conroy's welcome was so heartfelt that she set the question aside. He was in his sixties, tall and poised with salt and pepper hair carefully coiffed. He was very handsome and must have been a real ladies man in his younger days.

He was full of old world charm and casual flattery. She had wondered at the time of the interview if he might be a bit “handsy” in the workplace, and had asked herself the question as to whether she would actually have sex with him to get the job. It had never come to that, but she rather expected that if he did push for some intimacy, she might not reject the option out of hand. He certainly smelled good and looked very fit.

A quick knock at the door and a tall black man entered, looking at a sheaf of papers in his hands. He glanced up at Conroy and spoke, ignoring her.

“I though Maggie said she was here,” he said. He looked right through Carly and her stomach flipped over in horror.

“Yes. Yes, she is here, Jackson,” Conroy indicated Carly with a wave of his hand, his face also puzzled at the words. “Carly Hallinger meet Scott Jackson. Jackson, I thought you knew Ms. Hallinger. You asked for her by name.”

Jackson looked confused for a second, and then annoyed.

“No, Matthew, this is not Carly Hallinger. Carly Hallinger is a middle aged black woman who weighs about two hundred pounds but can write like Dorothy Parker. I need a world class writer, Matthew, not more eye candy.”

Matthew Conroy looked at Carly as Jackson finished speaking.

“Well, she is pretty, but that's beside the point. I found her stuff online when I Googled her and I was impressed. I thought you had made a good choice in hiring a new, younger voice for the paper. I didn't find any other Carly Hallingers with press credentials.”

Jackson looked blank for a moment and then slapped his leg with the papers he held.

“Right!” he let out an exasperated gasp. “Her byline is under her maiden name. Higgens. Carly Higgens. Damn! I didn't even think about that.”

Conroy raised his eyebrows but lead the young man farther into his office a few steps away from Carley.

“Bit of a mix up, eh? But the young lady is here now. She's on the payroll. Can't just fire her on her first day because you cocked it up can we, Jackson? Give her six months. See if she's worth her salary. And we'll take a look at your Miss Higgens, shall we? But they'll both be coming out of your budget, that's for certain.

“How about that video blog you've been talking about in the planning sessions? You've been wanting to get something online ever since the Times put theirs up. This young lady may be just the person to get it started.

“Would you like that, Carley?” he spoke over Jackson's shoulder. “It may not be what you'd hoped, but you'll have something to put on your resume.”

Carly's heart rate quickly influenced her emotions from excitement, to horror.  This was her dream job, and a part of her wondered why it was so easy to get.  And how they had claimed to know her and want her writing style.  Now she knew why.  It was a mistaken identity.

The young journalist listened to both men discuss the mix-up, as if she was getting dumped by yet another boyfriend.  But this hurt much worse. Her entire career was coming to an end before it could even get started.  Traveling all this way only to be fired before things began.  A part of her wanted to cry and her eyes even welled with tears, an emotional trigger she has struggled with her entire life.  She fought against it to save face in the professional company.

But then things changed, the two men started discussing a video blog.  Inside Carly was screaming YES! PLEASE GOD YES!.  She currently followed so many Vloggers on Youtube, that being one herself, but on a more professional level and with the financial backing of the Gazzette, made her excitement sore.

"Would you like that Carly?"  Mr. Conroy asked looking over Mr. Jackson's shoulder.

Carly sprang to her feet.  "Yes sir... of course sir!"  she beamed.

Mr. Conroy chuckled.  "Matthew is fine Carly.  We're not so formal around here."  he advised.  "Good... done... glad that's settled." he continued patting Mr. Jackson on the back.  Scott forced a smile towards her before leaving.  Carly could tell he wasn't pleased, but hopefully would get the writer he wanted.

"Thank you Mr. Conroy."  she said relieved to have survived the scare.  "I wont let you down."

The man started to correct the girl's formal behavior, but then decided against it.  He rather liked the old school nature.  That formal respect was not seen by the other office staff her age.  A refreshing change to his aging career.

He sat back behind his desk.  "We'll make a few changes to your contract... changing your title and things... but otherwise, all the paperwork you've completed before arriving will process as normal."  he told her.

Carly sat back onto the corner of her chair, mimicking his actions.  She was taught, when your boss stands, you stand.  When he sits, you sit.

"What questions do you have for me then?"  he smiled, glad the situation was resolved and he could keep his girl.

"Um..."  she thought for a moment, processing the change in her responsibilities.  "What will be my first assignment?"

Carly was really uncomfortable leaving Mr. Conroy's office and forced to hang with Mr. Jackson a second longer. He didn't want her, and he didn't try to hide it. She wanted to cry, but the embarrassment would be worse. So she toughed it up and followed him to the other side of the office.

There were several other employees that tended to stare at her as she walked by. The new hire always gets this treatment she thought, but many of them glared instead. Mostly the women. Jealous, Carly expected. But it was the men that elbowed each other and stared the longest. And they were shy about it.

Within minutes, Jackson had taken her to a back room where he flipped the light on revealing more of a storage room than a work station. Boxes littered the floor and desk.

"Here you go. Our blogging department... employees... one." He laughed to himself. "Make yourself at home. I'll be back in a bit to get you started."

Carly slowly walked into the room setting her jacket on the closest desk. Was this a joke? It's a large closet. She thought to herself. She turned around to question him, but he was gone. The door closed and she was standing alone.

After a few seconds of processing the situation. She realized how rude Mr. Jackson was. She cleared the desk and found a chair. The computer was broken and the room smelled of dust. She sat down behind a desk and waited. He said he'd be back...

An hour went by and no one showed. She stood several times wanting to leave to check on him, but felt intimidated so she sat back down. How humiliating. They had forgotten about her.

Eventually the need to visit the restroom drove her out of her cubbyhole. Half the morning had passed and she had made no progress. Watching the other newspaper employees as she walked past them, so busy, so fixed on turning out a serious product, she managed to get a grip on her emotions. Standing in front of the mirror, fixing her face to erase even the faintest traces of tears, she gave herself the talking to she knew her father would dole out.

"Get a grip, Carly! The dork may not want you, but you got the job. Now is the time to make an impression. Even if they let you go in six months, you need to make something of this – create a presence, get someone to notice you."

She breathed deep and stepped back outside into the bullpen somewhat more determined to get something done.

Back at the cupboard she had been assigned she found a young man tinkering with the broken computer she had unearthed.  

"Hey!" he greeted her, "I'm Kevin Strong. I'm with the IT group," He glanced up and did a serious double-take when he caught sight of her. She'd been getting used to this since she turned sixteen, but it still made her smile inside and feel a bit scared. Men usually fell all over themselves to impress her. She was pretty. She knew that, on an intellectual level at least. They didn't seem to see the many flaws and gnarly bits that jumped out at her when she looked in the mirror. They seemed to see the super model she vaguely resembled. It was nice to be admired, but sometimes it scared her too. Men always wanted more than to just look. Those that had the balls wanted to touch and possess. And often not in a kind or loving way.

She smiled encouragingly at the young man and he stuttered a response.

"You're new. Mr. Jackson told me to fix your PC. I think I can have you up in a bit." He was a bit heavy and wearing a ridiculous Albert Einstein T-shirt, but he had a nice smile and he seemed to know what he was doing. Carly smiled encouragingly at him and introduced herself.

"Jackson said you'll be creating a video blog for us," he spoke into the open case of the computer as he fiddle about with the circuit boards inside. "Any help you need in setting it up, just ask. I know my way around Wordpress and some of the video editing suites. I have my own blog. Nothing too creative, of course, just some posts on criminals who wear masks."

He rambled on, much more comfortable fiddling with the machine than he was looking at her and after about ten minutes or so, the screen came to life with a Windows 10 login screen.

"There we go," he announced proudly, glancing up at her with a shy grin. "Your user ID is challinger at gothamcgazette dot com. Your password is Welcome, with a capital W, and you'll be prompted to change it when you log in."

He went through a few more of the procedural details about password security and then stood aside for her to sit.

"It's an older machine," he added from the doorway, "but it has plenty of processing power and it's hard wired to the network so your bandwidth will be through the roof. Just no WiFi for now." He left her then to get familiar with her computer, a bare bones powerhouse from a generation past.

After a good cry in the stall of the lady's room, Carly wiped her tears and took another deep breath.  The voice of her father echoing in her head.  "Get a grip... make yourself noticed..."  But he was not there to take charge for her. She'd have to do this on her own.  Knowing she was a mistake, was almost crippling to her.  She pulled out Mr. Conroy's business card. /He wants me here/. She told herself nodding with with confidence. Turning the card over she saw a phone number handwritten in pen. /Did he give me his private number? /She looked up, thinking about this. /How unusual.  Maybe that's just his 'personal touch', to make new employees feel welcome.

Suddenly, she heard the bathroom sink turn on.  Someone else was in the room!  Carly had no idea.  She begged that they didnt hear her crying.  She held her breath and waited to hear the woman leave before venturing out of the stall.

A fresh splash of water on her face and back to her 'closet'.

Returning, she was pleased to see Kevin working to set up her station.  She may have been too excited to see him, but the fact that Mr. Jackson had not forgotten about her lifted her spirits.

"Hi!  I'm Carly.  Welcome to the blogging department... employees... one." she said exaggerating a smile and extending her arms.  Just her way of making light of what Mr. Jackson had said.

Carly sat in the desk chair a few feet away and was sure to adjust her skirt to her knees.  The two made small talk for the entire time, and became quick friends.  Kevin seemed at ease with her.  Most men are nervous or simply go straight to flirting, hoping to sleep with her.  Carly had the impression that Kevin felt she was 'out of his league', and had no shot.  So being himself was a wonderful surprise.  And she rather enjoyed the company.

"There we go," he announced proudly, glancing up at her with a shy grin. "Your user ID is challinger at gothamcgazette dot com. Your password is Welcome, with a capital W, and you'll be prompted to change it when you log in."

He went through a few more of the procedural details about password security and then stood aside for her.  She rolled her chair under the desk and logged in.  Kevin leaned over her shoulder, to help, but then realized she was entering her new password, so he gathered her things and made his leave.

"It's an older machine," he added from the doorway, "but it has plenty of processing power and it's hard wired to the network so your bandwidth will be through the roof. Just no WiFi for now."

Carly turned to face him.  "It's perfect.  Thank you Kevin.  It's all I need.  And thanks for being so kind to me on my first day."  she grinned warmly to him.

"Was nothing."  he waved before leaving.  "I'll catch you later."  He took two steps before stopping, as if wanting to tell her more, but decided against it and walked away.

The young reporter was excited to be logged in.  She spent a few minutes and set up her desktop and looked around the internal system of the newspaper.  It seemed pretty easy to navigate.

She then pushed away from the desk and began looking through many of the boxes.  Most were filled with outdated computer monitors, cords and keyboards.  But one box she found an old digital video camera and tripod. Setting it up across from her desk, she tested it.

She could use it to vlog and upload the files.  It was a start... at least until she could get an updated webcam.

A small commotion in the lobby made her glance out.  It must have been lunch time, because most were leaving.  That was when she heard her cell chirp a text.  Swiping in, she tapped the message to read.

The text message read:/Carly, please have dinner with me tonight. I owe you an apology for what happened. I'll be in my office on the sixth floor at 8 pm. Matt Conroy/

So, what was it? A real apology, or the opening play in a game of office seduction? She wasn't sure which option she favored. An apology would be nice, but that would be the end of it. She'd have her six months and they'd probably be equally polite as they wished her well in her future endeavors. A seduction, on the other hand, might lead almost anywhere.

She berated herself for being so calculating in a #MeToo world but was saved from any serious introspection on her moral stance by a knock at her door. A door, she realized suddenly. I have a door. None of the other writers she had seen out in the bull pen had doors. They had cubes. They might have put her in a closet, but they had given her a door. The knock came again as she considered this.

"Hi! Anyone at home?" The door opened a crack and a face poked through. A girl. A red-headed girl. A very pretty red-headed girl. Quite tall and impossibly slim in a way that would have meant starvation in previous generations but these days was equated with lithe athleticism.

"Oh, there you are!" The girl opened the door fully and stepped in. Not that there was much room to step into. With both of them inside her space it felt even more like a closet. A broom closet.

"I'm Naomi," she extended a hand. Her skin was pale and flawless. Was she a vampire or did she just practice a really good health regimen? "I'm fairly new too. Everyone else has gone to lunch, but I realized no one has shown you where to go. Would you like to go out to lunch? With me?"

Carly smiled at the new girl who introduced herself as Naomi.  She was simply beautiful.  A hit of jealousy and insecurity ran through Carly's body, seeing another young girl just starting at the paper.  

"Oh... hello... um... I'd love to."  she said not having packed a lunch.  "That's so kind of you to ask me.  I'm more of the 'pack your lunch' kind of gal, but since this was first day, I didn't know how that worked."  Carly rambled nervously.  "So... yeah... I'd like to join you." 

Carly grabbed her purse and the thought of how desperately broke she was ran through her mind next.  Though she came from an extremely wealthy family, her father had kindly cut her off from her monthly stipend.  Having graduated college and landing her first 'real' job, he told her the best gift he could give her was the gift of freedom.  She wished that gift would have included $50,000 to jump start her liberation.  

The two girls left the office and made their way out when Carly's cell chirped again.  It was Mr. Conroy again.  Sound Good? he asked.  

"One second."  Carly told Naomi as she texted him back.  Sounds great.  I'll see you at 8:00.  But you don't have to apologize,   she added in an effort to be polite. 

"Okay... it was my dad."  Carly lied.  She told Naomi.  There was no way she wanted anyone to know about dinner with the boss.  She definitely knew how rumors got started in an office.  

"So... where we headed?" Carly asked. 

"Not far," Naomi laughed, "just out onto the street. They have the most amazing food trucks that show up here. You'd have found them on your own, but now it looks like I have a friend," she confessed. "Most of the folks that work her are pretty stand-offish, it seems to me."

Indeed, as Naomi lead Carly out onto the main avenue a line of food trucks had pulled up on the side street and many of the people she had noticed inside were eating there using the top of a brick wall as an impromptu group table. The trucks varied in what they offered: Salads, ethnic food of every description, plain old hamburgers or pizza slices, big deli sandwiches, anything she could imagine that you could actually pick up and eat.

Naomi selected a bowl of Vietnamese Pho loaded with noodles and a bottle of water. She proved adept with the chopsticks and didn't mind slurping her soup to get it all. Very down to earth. She explained that she was a native New Yorker and worked in the accounting group for the newspaper. She seemed easy to talk to and very lively. It wasn't until late in their shared meal that Carly realized that Naomi was probably flirting with her.

"I could show you around," the redhead offered. "Some of the clubs are hard to find. What kind of music do you like?"