The Elves of Madison Ave.

When another light went out down the long corridor which was the nerve center of Pyotr, Patrick, Tolefson and Anderson Inc., Millie raised her eyes off the hand-scribbled document she was typing and let them wander after the departing Account Executive. It was almost 6:30 and she had at least two more pages of indecipherable unintelligibility to interpret and place into flawless prose on clean white sheets of paper before she could go home for the evening.

She looked back at the monitor and the screen full of words began to blur. In their place were the words of her father, the words she'd been rehearsing in her head all evening:

"If you'd only stuck to one subject in college," his words were saying to her, "instead of wasting all my hard-earned cash taking courses you liked, you might now be an account executive like Michael Norton" (he was the person who had just left and the one who originated the copy she was typing) "instead of just a secretary." "Oh no," her father's voice continued. "You had to change majors a dozen times" (only five times, she corrected him in her mind), "and fritter away a good education. You're just like your mother — headstrong and foolhardy and —"

Millie shook her head and mentally wiped the words off the screen in front of her. In their place were the words, "— a soft drink filled with the magic of the little people —" Had she typed that? It was terrible. "But," she reminded herself, "I'm not the account exec. Michael is."

Though her father had never actually said the words that kept buzzing through her head, Millie had a feeling somewhere inside her that he was thinking them back home in Norfolk. And they were all true.

Millie went to the same university as Norton. She took the full four years (plus a couple summers) to get her degree. Michael graduated in three. She changed her major so many times she ended up with more minors than many schools even offered. Michael majored in Marketing, with a minor in Persuasive Communication. She ended up with a major in English Literature, with minors in Art, Education, Journalism, Drama and Philosophy.

He landed the Account Executive position right out of college, with a salary in the "middle six figures." Millie was turned down by everyone, until she agreed to a position in the secretarial pool to (in her father's words) get her foot in the door.

She started typing again. "The magical taste of Kalo-Kola!" "Christ," she thought, "the man couldn't sell Christianity to the Pope."

Mrs. Mulhaney mopped by the hallway outside, humming to herself. "Working late?" she asked. Millie brushed away her resentment at the obviousness of the question. For Millie, Mrs. Mulhaney was a plus in the office, and the question was meant, after all, only as a way of opening a conversation.

"Yes," Millie answered, "Norton needed this proposal typed for Wednesday morning's meeting with some prospective clients." "Pottie" (that would be George Pyotr himself) would want to review it tomorrow morning.

"He don't know how to use a computer himself, huh?" Mrs. Mulhaney could never fathom the class structure around the office. To her, everyone who wasn't a cleaning lady was an "executive." Millie smiled. "Not really," she said.

As Mrs. Mulhaney mopped on down the corridor, Millie tackled the typing with renewed determination. She was uncertain about some of the words so she put in the most logical substitutions. In the end, it probably was better than Michael had intended.

Millie collected the completed draft from the laser printer down the hall and put it in on Norton's desk. She gathered her purse and jacket and was just turning out the light in her own cubicle when she saw Mrs. Mulhaney pouring something in a small bowl.

"Do we have a cat?" she asked, when it dawned on her it was milk from a thermos bottle.

"Oh no, missy. This is for the Little People!"

Millie said nothing. It seemed so improbable a statement. This is, after all, Madison Avenue.

"Oh, they're real, all right," Mrs. Mulhaney said. "Every morning, when I come back, every drop of milk is gone. Just like it used to be back in Ireland."

"Have you ever —" Millie felt uncomfortable asking the question. "Have you ever actually seen these, uh, Little People?"

"No. You never see them, you know. But you know they're there. By the sounds in the wall late at night when most everyone's gone. And by the milk bein' gone every mornin'."

Millie wanted to say it could be rats drinking the milk. She stopped herself.

"But if you don't put out some milk," Mrs. Mulhaney continued, "they might get upset. Then my work would be made worse. They might spill the ash trays all over the floor, you know."

"And what happens when you do feed them?"

"They help me out, they do! Most mornin's when I come in, the floor's been given an extra mopping. Their way of thanking me, you know."

Millie murmured something noncommittal and, she hoped, polite as she hurried out the office. As she passed Norton's office, however, she thought she saw a movement out of the corner of her eye. She stopped and looked in. Nothing. The desk looked just the way it had when she put the copy on his desk.

"The Little People," she thought. And laughed out loud.

The next day was worse than ever.

First, she looked into her mirror at home and suddenly realized she wasn't going anywhere professionally.

Perhaps there would be an opening in Copy-writing, she had dreamed. But that was a dead-end job down at the opposite end of the floor, in dingy offices with tired old men who still didn't trust computers and secretly prepared their copy on ancient typewriters. It would always be a dead-end job, in an office where the account executive was expected to provide most of the copy for his (they were all men) own campaigns.

And now, looking in the mirror, she realized she had no future on the clerical staff either. The only place up was to become secretary to one of the senior execs. They, like Ann Treague, Pyotr's secretary, were all small, "sexy," picture-perfect.

Her image in the mirror was anything but that. While she realized she was attractive, and had no shortage of men in her life, she was large-boned and definitely not the model type. PPT&A was a dead-end street for her.

Then, when she got her desk, it was to hear Norton loudly proclaim to everyone in the office that she had "butchered" his copy. He had her re-do it completely. Most of the changes he made were the words of his she had failed to change the night before.

She said nothing. By noon the copy was reviewed, approved and sent off to Graphics for roughs. Norton had Millie call the client — it made it seem as if he had a private secretary. When she made the connection, he got on the phone and made an appointment for the next day. Preliminary approval. 9 a.m.

Pottie was available the next morning, of course. Millie was sent to straighten up the Conference Room.

Norton spent the next two hours dictating into his tape machine and, when he went home at 2:30 he dropped off two crammed tapes of a muddled monologue. The actual proposal for the next day's meeting.

"Don't screw up this one," he said (loud enough for everyone in the office to hear), "there's $80 million riding on this account. My biggest yet!"

Another late night for Millie.

It was well after 7, and two hours after the rough art came back from Graphics, when she finished the proposal draft. She printed it and carried it to Norton's room for the morning. A quick editing first thing the next day, a final printing and a rush to bind it in plastic before the client meeting.

Mrs. Mulhaney was mopping the hall when she passed by.

"Was the milk all gone this morning?" Milled asked.

"Of course it was, missy. It always is, like I told you."

Millie laughed and walked into Norton's office with her stack of completed pages. The overhead light was off but there was enough light from the hallway for everything in the room to be easily visible.

She started to place the report on the desk when a quick movement startled her. She stepped back quickly and her eyes focused on the middle of Norton's desk.

There, standing on top of the newly delivered artwork from Graphics, was a little man — or what looked like a little man, not much more than six inches tall. He was holding a large fountain pen in both hands and drawing on the artwork.

He quickly lay down the pen and signaled for silence by putting one tiny finger to his lips, with a mischievous grin.

Millie blinked her eyes to make sure she wasn't dreaming. When she opened them again she was relieved to see nothing but an empty desk with artwork scattered over it.

"Only my imagination," she thought. "I've been working too many long hours. It must have been the sight of that fountain pen lying there that —"

Why was the fountain pen lying on the artwork? And why was the artwork spread out over the desk? No one had been in Norton's room since the artwork was delivered.

"I'm much too tired. I really need to get home to bed."

She placed the report on the desk, being careful not to touch anything else.

On her way out the door she saw Mrs. Mulhaney pouring milk in her little bowl on the floor. "That's what did it," she thought. "Mrs. Mulhaney's "Little People" have got my tired imagination working overtime."

The next morning, Millie was in the office early to prepare for the big meeting, though her dreams throughout the night had been disturbed by an image of a little man dressed in green. When she passed Norton's office on the way in, she noticed the artwork all bundled neatly in its package, just the way it had been delivered.

She was certain Norton had not been in yet — 8:30 was his earliest appearance, even for a 9 a.m. appointment — so she knew now the entire incident had been her imagination. No messed-up desk. No little man. No large fountain pen.

Fountain pen? She looked into Norton's office and scanned his desk. There was a gold ball-point pen on a stand. No fountain pen. Where in her subconscious had that image arisen?

The morning was a busy one. Pottie's secretary, Ann Porter, retrieved the copy from Norton's desk and edited it again, knowing the way old man Pyotr liked things to be worded, and "cleared" it by making the company president read it over quickly.

Millie made the requisite ten copies — for a maximum of six participants, but the client might bring extra staff along. She bound them neatly in plastic and placed them in the conference room. The artwork she left alone. Norton liked to bring that to the room separately — to "build up suspense."

At 8:30 Norton arrived. He had Millie put up an easel in the conference room and he set the stack of artwork on it. "Wait 'til you see this stuff," he told Pottie when the old man came in for the conference. "I stopped by Graphics yesterday afternoon and approved the entire set."

All Millie heard that morning was the screaming and yelling. It wasn't until nearly noon that Ann came into her office looking like she was about to explode. As the President's secretary, she had been the only female in the room when the presentation took place.

She looked over her shoulder carefully and then closed Millie's door.

"You won't believe what happened this morning!"

"Around this place," Millie said, "I'd believe anything."

"We were all in the conference room, Mr. Pyotr, Johnny — " (that would be John Tolefson, vice president, but everyone called him Johnny, even to his face.) " — three heavies from the client corp., Norton and me.

"The written proposal really looked nice and they seemed quite impressed."

Millie took that as a compliment, which it was. Ann knew who was responsible for Norton's copy.

"The shit really hit the fan when Norton unveiled the artwork!" She wheezed a little as she tried to suppress the laughter. "You wouldn't believe what it was!"

"Tell me!" Millie urged.

"They chased me out of the room as soon as they saw it! There were these funny little pixies — doing all sorts of X-rated things! It was terrible!" She broke down again in suppressed laughter.

"As I was leaving I could see Mr. Pyotr blush so red you couldn't tell his nose from the rest of his face! Norton was screaming something about "Who did this to me!' The clients didn't say a word; just walked out the door, leaving the proposal behind. The rest of the argument I couldn't hear. They closed the door on me!"

The fun lasted only a few minutes, however. Soon, Ann called Millie in for a meeting with Mr. Pyotr. He seemed apologetic. Uncomfortable.

"You have been accused of sabotaging Mr. Norton's artwork," he said, after inviting her to sit down. He waved her to be silent when she began to protest.

"I must admit I can't believe you did it, but Mr. Norton claims to have conclusive evidence of your guilt."

He looked down at his hands almost as if he were embarrassed. "Tomorrow morning, we will have a meeting here to determine what actually happened. I would like you to be present to answer any charges Norton might make against you."

"I'd certainly be happy to do so! I can't believe —"

Pyotr waved her to be quiet again. "I don't want to hear any more tonight from anyone. Please have a formal statement ready by morning." He began reading some notes on his desk. She had been dismissed.

That night, when everyone was leaving and Millie was still trying to get her statement written, her hands trembling with subdued rage, Norton made a noisy show of locking his office door. He had spent the afternoon at his desk, behind a closed door, furiously preparing "evidence" against Millie.

"I have the only key," he announced to the office as he was leaving. "No one," He turned to look toward Millie's office. "will be able to mess with the evidence tonight!"

The rest of the office came by quietly to wish Millie good luck. There seemed to be almost unanimous support for her, except in top management. When Ann dropped by she had some bad news. "Norton's 'evidence' against you is his own diary! He claims you threatened to ruin him several times and that he kept dated notes about every threat you made."

"I didn't —" Millie said.

"I know you didn't," Ann told her, "but Mr. Pyotr will always believe an executive over a clerical. Write up the best defense you possibly can."

Millie sat at her console and looked at the screen. How do you defend yourself against someone's diary? He could write anything he wanted in there. He could have spent the afternoon "editing" his diary to make it seem more damaging to her.

She was still looking sadly at her computer screen when Mrs. Mulhaney left. She was the last. Alone in an empty office.

"Ahem!"

The clearing of a throat seemed to come from right beside her. She looked toward the door. Nothing.

"Ahem!"

This time she looked at the top of her desk. A little man — the same little man she'd seen the night before — was sitting cross- legged in the middle of her desk blotter. He was quite small but a perfect duplicate of a grown human being. Dressed sensibly in a tiny dress suit, without tie, he looked not at all like the classical image of a sprite.

She blinked her eyes to clear them of cobwebs. When she opened them again, to her consternation he was still sitting there. Her mouth opened wide but she found herself unable to say a word.

"Now, now, Missy," a tiny little voice said. "I'm not goin' to bite you, you know!"

"Who are you?" she asked somewhat lamely.

"My name is not pronounceable in your language," he said simply. "I'm here to give you my deepest apologies. I've gotten you in a mess of trouble, I have."

"You're the one who altered Norton's artwork!"

"Aye, 'twas me. You should have seen the way they had us pictured. Long pointy ears and big bulbous noses and stupid little grins. I just couldn't take it any longer and I felt I had to stop it. I didn't realize you would have to take the blame for what I did. That's why I'm here. To apologize."

"Apologies won't do a lot of good, I'm afraid. Looks like I'll lose my job tomorrow." She thought a moment. "But what are you? And how do you come to speak my language?"

"In answer to your first question, I'm an elf, I suppose you'd say, or a leprechaun. And as for your second question, I've been around your kind for more than 400 years so I ought to be able to speak your language by now!"

"Four hundred years? You mean you've been here in New York for that long?"

"Oh no, Missy. I'm 400 years old. I only came to your country in, let's see, Red-Grey-Green. That would be the red century, the gray decade and the green year. In your reckoning, 1847. Ah, 'twas terrible in those years. The famine. Ireland was no fit place for elf nor human."

"I moved in here," he continued, "when the building was first constructed, in 1952. A lot better it was in the old brownstone, however."

"I must be dreaming," Millie muttered.

"And that might very well be true," the little man said softly. "You'll forgive me for showing meself to you, but I had no choice. I've done a terrible wrong to you and now I must ask your help so I can correct it — or at least try."

"My help?" she asked.

"Yes, Missy. I need your help to get into that Mr. Norton's office."

"But, why didn't you ask Mrs. Mulhaney?"

"I wouldn't do that to her!" he said indignantly. "Just seeing me might be too much of a shock to the poor woman. I've never shown meself to her. Ever."

"But I don't even have a key to Norton's office."

"I know that, don't you know. He has the only one. But there's a transom over the door, and you can open that, can't you?"

"I suppose."

They went out into the hall, the little man jumping agilely off the desk. He pointed out the place down the hall where a hooked pole was kept. She took it off the wall and carried it back to Norton's door.

"Just hook it on that little handle," he said, "and pull it toward you."

She did as he instructed, and the transom opened, but only to a width of three or four inches.

"Wonderful!" the little man said. He climbed up the side of the wall like a cat up a tree and disappeared through the transom. Soon he popped his head back out and looked down at her with a grin. "Go on home, Missy. You'll need to be fresh in the morning. Trust me. With Norton's handwriting, anyone could duplicate it!"

She did as he suggested.

The next morning, she was ushered directly into Mr. Pyotr's office and seated directly opposite him. The only other person at the table was John Tolefson, who looked even more uncomfortable than Pyotr. They sat in silence for what seemed a long time.

Finally, Norton walked, or rather swaggered, in and placed several sheets of paper triumphantly in front of Pyotr.

"My diary," he said. "It proves conclusively that Miss Verd," He looked at Millie evilly. "was trying to destroy me. I marked all the pertinent places with a yellow marker. My diary is locked in my desk drawer at all times. There's no way it could have been altered."

"Except by you," Millie thought. She kept quiet.

Pyotr took the pages form Norton. "Shall I read them?" he asked. Everyone nodded.

He picked up the first one. "October 23," he read. "'Miss Verd tried to get me to pay her extra money on the side for editing my copy. I refused. She seemed angry.'"

Millie's mouth opened wide. "I didn't —" she began. Pyotr hushed her up.

"We'll hear what you have to say later," he said as he handed the sheet of paper over to Tolefson.

"The second entry is November 11. 'Miss Verd again asked me for money. She says she'll tell everyone that she's writing all my copy unless I pay blackmail. I refused, of course. No one would believe her anyway.'"

Millie glared at Norton. He sat defiantly, keeping his eyes on Pyotr, who passed that sheet over to Tolefson as well.

"The third is last week," Pyotr said. "It reads: 'Millie said this is my last chance. I still refused. She said she would find a way — any way — to get me fired. Boy, was she angry!'"

Pyotr turned the third sheet over to Tolefson. Millie was itching to get her hands on them, but she did nothing. "Your report?" Pyotr asked Norton.

Norton pulled out a thick sheaf of papers. "This is my full statement," he began. "Miss Verd has been jealous of me ever since she joined the firm. As only a —"

"Wait a minute!" Tolefson was staring at the diary pages in front of him.

"Pottie! Did you read these?"

"Of course I did!" Pyotr didn't liked being called "Pottie," especially in front of junior staff. "You just heard me read them out loud."

"No, I mean the entire page. The handwriting circled in yellow seems to be more cramped and slightly different from the other handwriting."

"Maybe he was just more nervous when he wrote that," Pyotr said.

"Yes," Norton said quickly. "I was more nervous."

"But," Tolefson continued. "Did you read the rest of the page?"

Pyotr reached for the pages. "The rest didn't seem pertinent."

"Read this." Tolefson handed the first sheet back, his finger on a paragraph near the bottom.

"'I asked Millie to go out with me tonight,'" Pyotr began reading. "'She said no. Why won't she ever agree to go out with me?"

"I didn't write that!" Norton yelled. "That's fake!"

"You just assured us, Norton," Tolefson reminded him, "that you always kept your diary locked up. It couldn't have been altered."

"Not last night I didn't," Norton said. "I left it on top of my desk. She could have gone in and — "

"Come now, Michael," Pyotr interrupted. "I saw you lock your door last night, and put the only key in your coat pocket. Was the door open this morning when you came in?"

"No —"

"And look at this one!" Tolefson handed another page to Pyotr.

"Asked Millie out again. The bitch said no." Pyotr's face twitched when he had to read the word "bitch." In his circles, gentlemen never used that word. He continued reading: "Can you believe that? A secretary won't go out with an account executive. A lot of nerve! If I didn't need her editing abilities I'd get her fired tomorrow.'"

"And this one."

Pyotr took the page from Tolefson. "'Asked Millie out again last night. She said she would never go out with me and I might as well forget it. I've decided I'm going to get the bitch fired even if I have to lose an account to do so."

"I didn't write that! I swear it!" Norton was practically in tears.

Pyotr and Tolefson looked at each other and 25 years of partnership allowed them to communicate without a word.

"Mr. Norton," Pyotr said quietly. "Your attempt to destroy Miss Verd's job was not only cruel it was stupid! You should have faked different pages of your own diary. Your own words have proved you a liar."

"That's not true! I didn't write that. Any of it!"

"Then who did? A mischievous sprite?"

"I don't know." Norton looked desperate. "I just know I didn't."

"Our decision is final," Pyotr said calmly. "You have one hour to clean out your desk. In light of your attempt at fraud, I will have Security accompany you to your office and out to the street." He pressed his intercom. "Ann, have someone from Security come up right away. Mr. Norton has decided to leave the firm."

Pyotr turned to Millie. "And for you, I'm terribly sorry you've been subjected to all this. Please accept my deepest apologies."

Tolefson leaned over and whispered something in Pyotr's ear. "You're probably right," the President said when he'd finished. He turned back toward Millie.

"I understand the copy we've been getting from Mr. Norton was mainly your work anyway. Is that true?"

"I—I've had to do a lot of editing some times." She really didn't want to make it any worse for Norton than it was.

"Good. I'd like you to move into his office in the morning. We'll talk salary later."

And that was that.

Millie never did get the same salary Norton had been receiving, of course, not in that office anyway. She was, after all, not a male. But from then on she earned a lot more than she'd made in the steno pool.

She never saw the little man again, though she looked for him often late at night. Sometimes she'd see a movement out of the corner of her eyes and she'd turn hopefully — to see nothing but a normal chair or waste basket or water fountain.

From that time until she left to start her own ad agency, however, there were always two bowls of milk left on the floor of the office.

And every morning, both bowls were always empty.

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