Enter The Realm of the Pendragon

Duplicity

Genre: Drama
Rating: 15
Word Count: 3,843
Author's Notes: Written for NaNoWriMo 2005
Claire is a lowly administration assistant in a local government office where she keeps very much to herself.
Dante is a young perky gay blond who does something important in marketing but seems to spend most of his time hanging out in a coffee shop with a select group of friends.
They live entirely seperate lives until one day; Dante disappears and only Claire knows where he is. She soon realises that he owes his life to her in more than one way. The question is, which one of them will survive?

Chapter Four

"Claire, what are you wearing?"

Claire looked down at herself, at the pale blue shirt and black trousers she had selected the night before. "Clothes, Rhea."

Rhea dumped her bag on her desk with a loud thump, rather amazing considering how small it was. "I thought I said yesterday about how you needed to change your image a bit, wearing something more revealing than the kind of thing you normally do." Claire looked over at her with a slightly hard expression. "Not that there's anything wrong with what you normally wear, but you want to keep Blake's interest don't you? I mean, now you've got him hooked, you don't want him to slip away just because you don't show a little leg or something."

She shrugged off her coat and hung it up on the peg before turning back to Claire who had so far not spoken a word. "I mean, he could go off with someone like Liz who has absolutely no qualms about letting it all hang out!"

Claire sighed. "Rhea, if all he's interested in is what I wear, then I don't want to know."

Rhea blinked, startled into silence at this. "But, Claire, you are what you wear."

"I know, Rhea, that's why I'm not going to change. This is me. If Blake doesn't like it, then that's tough. It was good enough for him yesterday, it should be good enough for him again today."

Rhea looked at Claire thoughtfully. Deep inside she admired Claire's restraint and refusal to change anything about herself whether or not it resulted in pushing men away, or at least one man in particular. It was not something she had ever considered personally. She wouldn't say that she was fickle or that she would do whatever it took to attract a man, it was just that sometimes it was a matter of having to do something you didn't like in order to get the result you wanted. Wasn't it?

Rhea switched on her computer, thoughts swirling round her head. She shook her head slightly. No, she was right. You really did have to alter things if you wanted to get a man. Look at all the films that showed that, things like My Fair Lady, they were all about how an ugly duckling could get the man of her dreams but only after she'd been turned into a swan. Claire was going to be sadly disappointed. She tossed her hair decisively. Well, it was too late, Rhea had offered to help her with her style and she had been turned down. She wasn't going to help again, not that her assistance in that department was going to be needed. All Claire would be after next was a shoulder to cry on when she realised that Rhea was right and Blake was no longer interested. Rhea wasn't usually so bitchy but Claire had got her doubting herself and Rhea didn't take too kindly to any form of introspection. She preferred to think that she knew herself perfectly well thank you, faults and all.

"Oh!" Claire gave a little gasp of surprise and stared at her monitor.

"What's up?"

"I just got an e-mail."

"You didn't get a virus, did you? Those things are so annoying. Call Sam, he'll come up and fix it."

"No," Claire interrupted. "It's not a virus. It's - from Blake."

"Blake?" Rhea repeated curiously. Claire nodded. "What does it say?"

"I don't know, I've not read it yet, it just came through."

"So what are you waiting for?"

Claire quickly opened it up and scanned the few lines it contained:

To: Freeman, Claire
From: O'Connell, Blake
Date: November 8, 2005 10.06am
Subject: FYI

Claire,

I thought it was my duty to inform you of something quite serious that was brought to my attention yesterday. I happened to go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, whereupon I made the acquaintance of a young girl I had not seen before. I enquired as to her name and she informed me that it was Claire and she was Julia's PA. I was a little stunned by this as I was sure she did not resemble in the slightest Julia's PA but she assured me this was the case. I met her several times throughout the day with the intention of seeing if she would admit that she was not who she claimed to be but unfortunately this did not happen. I wish to reassure you that I am not deterred by this and I remain determined to find out who this impostor is. I will pass any of my findings onto you.

Blake O'Connell

Claire put a hand up to her mouth to stifle a giggle. Rhea waited impatiently.

"Well? What does he have to say?"

Claire glanced over at her friend. She was loathe to reveal the content of the e-mail for several reasons, one being that she would have to explain the background behind it in order for it to be understood and there was every chance that it would not be in the slightest bit funny once she'd done that anyway. Besides, telling Rhea about it seemed to make it less personal, as if it would somehow be tainted or spoilt and she didn't want to do that.

"Oh, just some comment about how we kept meeting up in the kitchen yesterday, that's all," she replied nonchalantly.

Rhea raised an eyebrow at her but didn't say anything further. Claire turned her attention back to her computer, willing her heart to stop thumping so loudly because she was sure that if Rhea couldn't hear it, then she would certainly be able to tell. She was highly amused, not only by the e-mail but by the fact that it seemed Blake was only too happy to carry on where they had left off, despite her attire. Of course, as he had only contacted her so far via e-mail, there was no way he was going to be able to see what she was wearing that way!

With great glee, she hit Reply and rapidly typed out a response:

To: O'Connell, Blake
From: Freeman, Claire
Date: November 8, 2005 10.11am
Subject: Re: FYI

Blake,

I must say that I am most disconcerted by this news and cannot express how glad I am that you have passed this onto me. It is truly horrifying to think that someone is walking around this very building - nay, this very office - pretending to be me. I am aware of such things as identify theft, after all it is in the news such a lot these days, however I never thought such a thing would happen to me and certainly not in this manner. I am unnerved that this brazen hussy has the audacity to not only assume my identity but to parade herself around at my very place of work. I can only thank whatever deity necessary that it was your good self that happened to come across her in the kitchen and that you were able to realise that she was not who she claimed to be. I am grateful to you for looking out for my wellbeing in this way and I would be most obliged if you could keep me updated with your findings.

Claire Freeman

She read it through once more, satisfied that it had hit the same tone of officiality as Blake's had although she was unsure about the phrase "nay, this very office" as she thought it sounded a bit too much like a damsel in distress. However, she couldn't think of any better way of putting it and ended up leaving it in. Hiding a smile, she hit send with a determined finger and wondered what the response would be.

She didn't have to wait too long. The response came less than fifteen minutes later:

To: Freeman, Claire
From: O'Connell, Blake
Date: November 8, 2005 10.23am
Subject: Re: FYI

Claire,

I am startled as you are to think that this impostor is confident enough to strut around your office, it is quite uncalled for and definitely not cricket. I have not yet seen her this morning but I feel sure that she is here somewhere. Perhaps I should go to the kitchen and see if she is there. I usually partake of a refreshing cup of tea about half past ten anyway, so it would be no trouble I assure you. I will report my findings to you as soon as I return.

Blake O'Connell

Claire read the e-mail twice. So he would be in the kitchen at around 10:30 and it sounded like he was expecting to see her there too. Well, that could soon be arranged, she thought. She looked next to her monitor where her mug stood and picked it up, knowing that Rhea would notice the movement and ask for a coffee immediately. With the two mugs in hand, Claire set off to the kitchen with a jaunty step.

As she pushed open the kitchen door, she was disappointed to see that it was empty. She checked her watch and realised that she had been a little eager and it was only twenty-five past. She put the mugs down on the counter and wondered whether Blake had seen her walk past or not. She had no idea where his desk was in relation to the kitchen anyway and whether he would be likely to have seen her. Gazing down at the cups, she realised that neither of them had been washed since the day before. Grimacing in distaste, she quickly ran the hot tap and looked in the cupboard under the sink for the washing-up liquid. At least this would waste a couple of minutes, especially seeing as she couldn't find a dishcloth anywhere.

She was rinsing off the mugs under the cold tap when the door opened. She attempted to glance over in a casual sort of manner and therefore wasn't disappointed when a tall man with a bushy ginger beard walked in. He simply nodded at her, dumped his cup in the sink and walked out again.

"Charming," Claire said to the closed door. "Do you think the washing up fairies will clean your cup for you? Can't you read?" She waved her hand at the sign on the wall that said very clearly 'Wash your mug!'

She pulled several paper towels from the dispenser on the wall and turned round to find that she was not alone.

"Hello, Blake."

"Hello, Claire."

She could almost hear the continuation 'if that is your real name...' and had to fight back a smile.

"How's it going today?" she asked casually, wiping out the mugs and switching on the kettle.

"Oh, fine really. How about you?"

"Same. Well, it's too early to tell really. Julia isn't in yet though I imagine she'll be along shortly."

"Ah yes, Julia." Blake rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Claire stifled a giggle, thankful that she knew he was only playing around otherwise she probably would be rather freaked out. "How long have you worked for Julia?"

"Almost a year now," Claire replied, mentally counting the months in her head. "I still can't read her writing though, I swear it gets worse every day."

Blake grinned. "I know what you mean, I used to work for someone who would leave me lists of things to do but the only problem was, I could never read them. She had to type them out in the end."

"Maybe I should ask Julia to start e-mailing me things, that would solve that problem," she said thoughtfully. "It's like a doctor's scrawl sometimes. Maybe I should consider it training to be a medical secretary."

"Is that what you'd like to do?" Blake asked, pouring boiling water into his mug and prodding at the teabag with a spoon.

"As my dream job, you mean?" Claire asked, taking her turn with the kettle. Blake nodded. "Not really. I went to university with the intention of going into journalism but somehow it didn't work out. I didn't get on the post-grad journalism course and so I kind of drifted into doing admin work - for something to do, I suppose. I'm not even sure I really want to go into journalism anymore."

Blake sighed. "That sounds similar to the experience I had. I was going to go into teaching but once I was doing my degree, I began to doubt whether it was actually something that I really wanted to do. In the end, I decided that it wasn't but I finished the course anyway. After that, I wasn't sure what to do for a job and then seemed to end up here doing something vaguely Finance related. I have no idea how that happened." He noticed Claire's grin. "No, really, I don't. I'm terrible at maths, I have to take my socks off to add up and I have no control over my own spending, never mind anyone else's."

"Aw, poor Blake. Still, it could be worse."

"How? What could be worse than being an accountant?"

"For you? Being a teacher."

"Ooh, good point, well played."

Claire bowed her head. "And now I must return to my desk before Rhea sends out a search party for her coffee."

Blake held the kitchen door open for her. "See you later then."

"I'm sure you will," she replied enigmatically and left the room. Blake smiled as he watched her walk away.

"Well, someone has a big grin on her face," Rhea observed as Claire returned to her desk. "What did you get up to in the kitchen?"

"Nothing."

"Whenever I get up to nothing in the kitchen, I do not come out looking like the cat that got the cream," she retorted. A thought suddenly struck her. "Were you talking to Blake again? Is that why you're smiling and looking sickeningly smug?"

"Maybe."

"Oh, you crafty thing! I know what you've done!"

Claire took her seat with a frown. "What have I done?"

"Oh, it's so simple and yet so devious! I don't know why I didn't think of it! You've whetted his appetite, that's what you've done. You've given him a glimpse of what he wants but you're not letting him have the rest and in doing so, you're making him chase you and want you even more!"

"I really don't know what to say."

It was Rhea's turn to look smug. "I have to take my hat off to you, Claire, that is a very clever plan."

Claire leant forward on her desk to peer at Rhea. "I've not planned anything. I'm not doing anything. I'm just being me."

Her colleague looked baffled. "You're really not doing this purposely to catch Blake and reel him in?"

Claire shook her head. "I don't do that, Rhea. That's more your style, not mine. I don't do anything and whatever happens, happens."

Rhea scratched her head. "I suppose so. But whatever you're doing - or not doing - it seems to be working. Strange, but there you go."

Claire sighed and was about to make one last ditch attempt at getting Rhea to understand when the phone rang. "Oh, hello Julia, how are you today?"

It was quite some time later when Claire managed to get off the phone from Julia. She wriggled her cramped fingers and looked at the notes she had taken which was the list of things both she and Rhea were required to do that day. She flipped to a clean page on her notepad and began to copy out the items for Rhea in somewhat more legible writing. As she did so, she caught a sudden movement out of the corner of her eye and glanced over to her monitor. On the computer screen was a little message telling her that she had new mail. She knew it probably wouldn't be anything important, probably just another missive from the office manager on the Finance side reminding people that the cleaners were not there to tidy up the kitchen and wash people's dirty plates and mugs. These things got sent out at least once a month and people actually took notice of them for about a week before things going back the way they were.

Giving her fingers one final stretch, she clicked on the message which automatically opened up her e-mail inbox. There at the very top in bold letters, signifying that it had not yet been read was something entitled "More information" and the sender was O'Connell, Blake. She eagerly opened it up.

To: Freeman, Claire
From: O'Connell, Blake
Date: November 9, 2005 10.36am
Subject: More information

Claire,

I regret to have to inform you that the impostor is once again on the premises. I have spoken to her in our very kitchen once again in the last ten minutes. I tried to obtain some more information from her which proved to be remarkably easy to do but then I realised that I had nothing to compare these facts with and therefore no way of verifying whether or not they were true. I wonder if I might be so bold as to ask for some background knowledge on yourself so that should I come into contact with the impostor again, I will have some ammunition to hand.

Blake O'Connell

Claire sat back in her chair and read the e-mail over again. He wanted to know a little more about her. All right, so he'd dressed it up with the continued pretence of using it to try and catch out the impostor but it very definitely said that he was interested and wanted to know more about her. She was incredibly flattered and rather stuck for words. She noticed her notebook next to her waiting for Rhea's instructions to be copied into it and decided that she really needed to do that first before responding to Blake's e-mail. Besides, she reasoned, it would give her chance to think about what she was going to say!

To: O'Connell, Blake
From: Freeman, Claire
Date: November 8, 2005 11.46am
Subject: Re: More information

Blake,

I am most willing to assist you in any way I can to help you apprehend this impostor. Please find below some information that I hope be of some use to you.

My name is Claire Freeman, I'm 24 and I was born right here in Baxter. I've lived here pretty much all my life, I even went to university here! I have a younger sister who drives me mad but she is applying to universities out of town so I'm looking forward to having her out of my hair pretty soon. I've been employed by Baxter City Council for nearly a year now, and all of that time I've been Julia's PA. Before this I was working in the general office of Seabrook's department store so it's quite a bit of a difference.

I like pretty much the usual sorts of things: listening to music, watching films, reading books. I also like to dance, Rhea got me involved in a salsa dancing class in the summer which she didn't keep up but I enjoyed it so I still go. That's every Wednesday night, it's a lot of fun. My musical tastes are fairly widespread, I think. I like pop and rock, but I also enjoy classical a lot as well. As far as books and films go, I tend to enjoy comedies and romances, though I don't mind some action films. If they have a nice looking male lead then so much the better!

I hope that this is satisfactory and meets your requirements. I am not sure what other information I can give you that would be helpful, so if there is anything else you think you might need then please do not hesitate to ask.

Claire Freeman

She bit her lip as she hit the send button and wondered what Blake would make of it. She tried not to spend the next few minutes sitting staring at the screen waiting for his response. For all she knew he could be reading her mail over and over in order to formulate the perfect response just as she had done. He might not even be at his desk! After all, it was nearly dinnertime. She resolved to actually get her head down and attempt to do some work instead of watching her inbox. That would probably be a good idea anyway, she didn't want him to think she was so desperate that she would respond to all his e-mails immediately. She mentally rolled her eyes at herself in disgust. Good grief, now she was starting to think like Rhea!

When she went into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee for lunch, she wondered if she would see Blake there and was slightly disappointed when he didn't show up. She berated herself back at her desk for allowing herself to slip into the same frame of mind when it came to men that Rhea had. She concentrated hard on fulfilling the tasks which Julia had left for her, working through her lunch in order to stop her eyes continuously drifting over to her monitor.

It was some time after lunch when Blake responded. He apologised for not replying sooner but explained that he had gone to get something to eat with a friend and had been unable to reply. He made some general enquires about the sorts of books and films she liked, asking if she'd seen this film or read that book. He returned the favour and offered her some details about his own life, making Claire feel incredibly privileged. She responded quite happily and the e-mails flew backwards and forwards across the office. The latter ones were starting to get a tiny bit flirty, making Claire blush as much as she enjoyed it. Then about half past four, she got a message that made her gasp a little.

To: Freeman, Claire
From: O'Connell, Blake
Date: November 9, 2005 4.32pm
Subject: Re: More information

Claire,

I must thank you for all the information you have given me today in order to help me determine whether or not the girl in the kitchen that claims to be you is an impostor or not. I feel that there is really only one way to determine this now. I am wary to discuss it here though, I have a feeling that the impostor is able to read the e-mails we have been sending each other and therefore I suggest that perhaps we should discuss this matter somewhere a little more private. What do you think? I have heard that Café Mañana is a nice quiet place for those wishing to talk privately and - more importantly - not too expensive. How about if I meet you there at 6.30pm tonight?

Blake

Chapter Five.

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