By Lawndale Stalker



"Thanks for covering for me, Tiffany. I owe you one."

"Sandii, you owe me several. Anyway, I donít think Stacy believed me this tiime."

Still breathing heavily, Sandi Griffin sat down at her computer, which Tiffany had turned on for her, and called up the article sheíd been working on yesterday. She looked over to Tiffany in the cubicle across the aisle, and smiled reassuringly. "Donít worry, Tiffany dear. Stacy is our friend. Anyway, I can handle her."

Tiffanyís return look was either dubious or disapproving. It was hard to tell with Tiffany, because she didnít use expressions that she thought might contribute to wrinkles. Saying nothing, Tiffany turned back to her computer and resumed typing. Sandi jumped to the end of her article and read the last two paragraphs to pick up the thread of her thought. Just as she placed her fingers on the keys, her phone rang. Muttering a bad word under her breath, she picked it up. "Sandi Griffin."

"Sandi, come to my office." It was Stacy.

Sandi thought about saying something, but decided against it. Instead, she rose and headed down the aisle in the direction of the editorial offices. Stacyís office was of course elegantly furnished and decorated, with a pair of matching bulbous-trunked potted palms and a set of exotic bromeliads for accents. Stacy looked up and saw Sandi approaching through her glass office wall, and beckoned her to enter.

The background noise nearly vanished as Sandi closed the office door behind her. She wondered how long it would take her to get an office like this. "Stacy, I know that article is late, but Iím almostÖ"

Stacy held up a hand to cut off Sandiís excuse. "Quinn wants to see you, Sandi." She picked up two layout sheets and resumed comparing them.

The walk across the break/lounge/waiting area seemed much longer this time than before. Sandi walked to the end of the short corridor, stopped before the all-glass door, and inhaled deeply. One word, in gold letters, in the magazineís title font, adorned the door. The word was "QUINN." Sandi pushed the door open, exhaled, and entered.

On the other side of the sumptuous outer office, the receptionist looked up. "Quinn will see you now," she said, gesturing to the massive, unadorned mahogany door that led to Quinnís inner office.

Quinn stood at the oversized picture window, taking in the magnificent view of Central Park over the tops of lesser skyscrapers, fashionable hotels and apartment buildings. She turned as Sandi entered. Quinn wore low-rider jeans of an unfamiliar cut and prefade pattern, held up with a rope in place of a belt, a short-sleeved gingham top with poufed shoulders tied to expose her midriff, palomino faux work boots, and no-makeup makeup. Her long red hair hung down her back in a ponytail, with two ringlets framing her face. A darling little gold baby bird with sapphire eyes peeked out of her navel. It was, Sandi knew instantly, the next new look.

"You wanted to see me, Quinn?"

"Not really, not like this," Quinn sighed. "Sandi, all of us here at QUINN magazine arenít just a working group, or even a family. Weíre almost like a single individual, a personification of todayís teen. Smart, savvy, stylish, on the cutting edge of the latest trends. You might say Iím the personification of that personification. Thatís my job. Your job is to keep QUINN ahead of the leading edge of clothing stylesócuts, colors, fabricsófar enough ahead so that, when the magazine hits the stands, the information is still prescient enough to keep our readers one step ahead of current fashion. Youíre not doing that job, Sandi."

"Quinn, if youíre worried about that article, itís almost done. Youíll have it before lunch."

"Page Design was supposed to have it yesterday. Five highly paid professionals sitting around for hours with nothing to do, and the issue deadline canít be postponed. But itís not just that."

"If you mean me being a few minutes late occasionally, Iím sorry about that, but Manhattan commuting is brutal."

"Itís more than a few minutes, and more than occasionally, Sandi. All of us here are faced with essentially the same set of commuting problems, and youíre the only one who canít seem to solve them. But itís not just that, either."

"Well, what, then?"

Quinn picked up some papers from her freeform glass-topped desk and gestured with them. "Take this article of yours on the new colors for summer. What were you doing, crystal ball gazing? Throwing darts at a color wheel? Wishful thinking? Aubergine, for crying out loud! Aubergine isnít due back till Fall of next year."

"That article was a result of extensive research and careful analysis," Sandi replied, looking hurt.

"Sandi, youíre not supposed to be doing any analysis, or any other form of prognostication. Youíre supposed to download the information from the Cartel website, and write your article around it. Same for styles and fabrics. The Cartel decides those things, based on input from the labs of the fabric and dye makers, other science and engineering data, and economic, political, and sociological projections."

"Anyone who can write can do that. What about my fashion savvy and expertise?"

"The previous editorís fashion savvy and expertise, her instinctive grasp of what itís like to be a teenage girl today, and her deep understanding of the evolving youth culture are what drove this magazine into bankruptcy. Morgendorffer Multimedia took it over, changed the name from VAL to QUINN, brought in a younger, more with-it staff, and raised it from the dead. We canít have you using it as a soapbox to promote your personal preferences and wild theories like she did. Everybody has to work together and pull their own weight around here to keep QUINN on top, Sandi, and youíre just not doing that. I have to let you go."

"Quinn, Iíll do better, youíll see. Give me another chance."

"Sandi, weíve had this conversation before. Youíve had several other chances. Youíre just not getting it. Youíre not doing the work."

"Doesnít our friendship mean anything to you?"

"Our friendship is why youíve gotten all those extra chances. But I have a boss I have to answer to. Iíve already kept you on too long. Now I have to do my job, or Iíll be fired myself."

"Huh? What boss? Youíre Quinn!"

"QUINN Magazine is only a part of Morgendorffer Multimedia. A small part."

"But who owns Morgendorffer Multimedia, if not you?"

The receptionistís voice came over the intercom. "Quinn, Ms. Morgendorffer is here."

"Tell her Iíll be with her in a minÖ" Quinn didnít bother to finish the sentence as the door opened. "Hi, Daria."

"Sorry to barge in, but my schedule is really tight today." Daria Morgendorffer, impeccable in a spruce-green silk power suit, crossed the office and laid her alligator hide briefcase on Quinnís desk. "Hello, Sandi."

"SHEís the owner?" Sandi asked incredulously. "What does she know about fashion?"

Quinn frowned slightly. "Sandi, Daria was the fashion editor for a newspaper before you could even spell it, and sheís younger than you. And remember, it wasnít you or me that Val came to Lawndale High to see. It was Daria. Now, if youíll excuse usÖ"

Dumbstruck, feeling sick to her stomach, Sandi turned and headed for the door. Just like that, it was over. But then she stopped. "WaitÖ do you know anyone whoís hiring?"

"I do." Daria pulled a business card from a pocket of her briefcase and handed it to Sandi. "Pan Press is hiring office assistants, and they have good pay and benefits. Once youíre hired, you have first crack at better jobs within the company later on. Talk to Brooke Waters."

Sandi numbly took the card. "Uh, thanks, Daria."

"Sure. Good luck."

"Yeah, good luck, Sandi. Hereís your letter of recommendation." Quinn handed Sandi a piece of paper. "And hereís your severance pay. I hope we can still be friends."

Sandi looked up from the two pieces of paper in her hand and smiled an uncertain smile. "Iíd like that, Quinn."

After the door had closed behind Sandi, Daria turned to her sister. "I know that wasnít fun, Quinn, but you handled it well."

"Thanks, Daria. I know it had to be done, but I didnít know it would hurt this much."

They were silent a moment, leaning against the front of Quinnís desk, Quinn gazing sadly at the carpet, and Daria watching her sister.

"That bellybutton baby bird cracks me up."

Quinn smiled a little. "Junior high girls will love it. You know, this all feels so weird sometimes. I still dress like a teenager. I still feel like a teenager. But Iím in this big corner office in a Manhattan skyscraper, running a magazine. Itís unreal."

Daria nodded. "Believe me, I know the feeling."

"That was nice, what you did for Sandi. Thinking to keep an eye out for job openings for her. Uh, that is a pretty good job, isnít it?"

Daria looked at the door and smiled a peculiar little smile. "Itís the best paying job sheís likely to get without learning to pole dance. Charles Ruttheimer happened to mention in my hearing that another office assistant quit on him. The work is easy, and he wonít fire her even if she screws up, but heíll try to make her his squeeze toy. Heís been wanting to for a long time."

"Upchuck?! Oh, geez! I forgot that heís running Pan Press now. Well, Sandiís known Upchuck for a long time, and she knows his tricks. I donít think sheíll be an easy target."

"I hope not. The more preoccupied Upchuck is with plans for personal conquest, the more deals I can beat him out of."

Quinn smiled. "Geez, Daria, youíve always got all these plots and plans going. What deals?"

"Right now, Iím looking at the Mainland Chinese market. I intend to have at least seven magazines and a book publishing house launched while Chuckles is still trying to get into Sandiís pants."

"Eewww! Now I feel guilty again for firing her!"

"You should have done it sooner. Besides, weíre adults now. We play by adult rules."

"Yeah, I know, but sheís been my best friend for a long time. And she wasnít that much of a drag on the magazine."

"I think youíll be surprised how much your teamís morale and productivity improves, now that they see youíre not playing favorites. Even Stacy and Tiffany. And Sandi will do all right. Iím betting she can manipulate Chuck better than Chuck can manipulate her."

"I guess youíre right, Daria. Thanks."

"Sure. Well, gotta go. Hereís my column, and that article on Geek Chic I promised you." Daria handed Quinn a floppy disk from her briefcase.

"Oh, good. This will give the page design people something to do while I finish Sandiís article. Lunch Friday?"

"You bet."


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