The Labyrinth of Charlotte Reimann – Episode 15

A Novel by Mira Steffan

Something was wrong with the calculation of the costs. Charlotte did the math again, then with the desk calculator. It was clear. Someone in accounting had not only added up the numbers wrong, but had also overlooked an invoice. She picked up the stack of papers and walked over to her boss’s outer office, knocked and entered. His secretary was on the phone and waved her through. The door to Heinze’s office was open. Günter Heinze was sitting at his desk. At least she thought so, because she could only see the back of his chair. He was obviously enjoying the view from his office window. Charlotte cleared her throat. He still didn’t turn around.

“Mr. Heinze?”

No movement, no sound. Surely he couldn’t have fallen asleep. “Hello Mr. Heinze?!”

Still nothing. Oh. My. God. Charlotte slapped her hand in front of her mouth. He’d had a stroke and was dead. As dead as Norman Bate’s mother in the Hitchcock thriller “Psycho.” She felt hot, then cold. But there – slowly his chair turned in her direction. Heinze’s blue eyes looked at her expressionlessly. She was so glad he was alive and kicking that she didn’t pay attention to what he was saying at first. When she saw his questioning look, she shook off her daze and waved the papers, “I found a mistake. May I show it to you?”

“If you must,” he said in a voice that sounded like an old door opening on rusted hinges.

She stepped up beside him and began her explanations as he turned to his desk lamp, ran his index finger over the lampshade and said, “Quite a bit of dust. Sloppy work, the new cleaning lady.”

Irritated, she paused and blinked in puzzlement. What was she supposed to answer? Should she answer at all? What did he expect her to say? Was this a provocation? Did she have to be friendly? She squirmed inwardly. And because she was so uncomfortable with everything, she became chatty. She actually heard herself chattering seriously about the dust and bad cleaners. After they had considered the subject enough, she was allowed to proceed with her request. She showed him the bugs.

He nodded in agreement, “You’re right. Talk to Meier. And then have them redo the calculation.”

As Charlotte walked down the hall to her office, uncertainty and confusion overtook her. What had just happened? What was with the cleaning lady theme? The flame of anger shot through her body. She placed the papers on her office desk and headed for the restroom. She desperately needed to rest for a few minutes. She pulled the stall door closed, locked it, and sat on the toilet lid. Nervously, she rubbed her forehead. It had begun to throb painfully. What had she done to Heinze? What was he trying to tell her with this behavior? Maybe that she wasn’t good enough for this job?

“Men act and talk differently than women do. They are playing power games and showing off,” Susanne looked at Charlotte with amusement.

It was their Saturday coffee chat. Charlotte gleefully pushed the spoonful of latte macchiato foam and the extra portion of sugar she had just generously spread on it into her mouth.

“Mhm,” Charlotte rolled her eyes with relish.

“A piece of advice from me: throw your need for harmony overboard and eliminate your love-girl syndrome. It’s not going to get you anywhere. You can’t be liked by everyone.”

“It makes me uncomfortable, though.”

“That’s just the way it works in our man’s world. Everyone can talk all they want about emancipation. Our society is a patriarchal one.”

“I don’t like these games.”

Susanne shrugged, “You don’t have to. But accepting that and finding a way to deal with it would be easier for you.”

Vehemently, Charlotte shook her head, “For me, a good social climate, collegial interaction and networking are much more important.”

“You don’t have to do without that. But you should remember that companies are still dominated by the male hierarchical order,” Susanne said.

Sweat crept down her spine, her head felt like she had stuck it in the oven, her knees were about to buckle, and her heart was on a roller coaster. Never, never, never again would she participate in a half marathon. Her colleague Dorothea Groß, 34, tall, blond, a doctor of law, had persuaded her to take part in the race for her company. Stupid idea. Of the 300 employees, only 20 took part, five of them women. One of them was Charlotte. What comforted her was that Dorothea was just as lame as she was and looked just as worn out. As they ran through the finish line with the last group, a few male colleagues stood by the side of the road, celebrating. Behind the finish line, they came to a halt, huffing and puffing, gasping for breath.

“The doctor looks pretty beat up. A marathon like this is just not for blonde lawyers,” the gleeful voice belonged to a guy with a beer belly and a bald head.

Charlotte took a breath to inform him that his attitude was outrageous and chauvinistic when she felt Dorothea’s hand on her left forearm. She paused and watched as Dorothea rose to her full height, 1.79 meters, looked boredly in the direction of the aggressor, calmly raised her right hand, gave him the middle “finger,” calmly turned back to her and said, “I’m thirsty. Let’s go get a drink.” And with long strides, Dorothea walked slowly toward the drink stand.  The bald beer-bellied guy laughed appreciatively. Hurriedly, Charlotte plodded along behind her, quite impressed with her reaction.

“Who was that?” asked Charlotte curiously.

Dorothea waved it off, “An idiot. He works for the rival company.”

“I wouldn’t have dared to give him the stink finger.”

She shrugged, “I have three brothers. That’s where you learn to gain their respect.”

“We really need to spend an evening together sometime. And then you’ll tell me in detail how to deal with men,” Charlotte said.

“Will do.” Grinning conspiratorially, Dorothea raised her right hand and high-fived Charlotte.

“You see, it’s added up wrong here, and this calculation has been overlooked.” Charlotte sat across from Kevin Meier, the head of the finance department. She had purposely not mentioned a name so as not to corner him. Because, even if one of his employees had made the mistake, he should have noticed it during the review. With a cold, impenetrable, serious expression, he examined the sheets with their listings. Restlessly, Charlotte slid back and forth on my chair. With difficulty she suppressed the impulse to run out of the room. After a while, he looked up.

“I’ll sort it out and get back to you,” he said in a sharp tone that brooked no argument and made her feel she had done something bad. With a brief nod, he bade her farewell.

With great discomfort, she left his office, passing his secretary Heidi Lah, who was whispering importantly into the telephone receiver with thin lips. “No, I can’t understand that either….Yes, we’re completely on the same wavelength there….You see that as difficult too?…That’s a rule of thumb in marketing….Here, everyone does what they want, but I have the focus on me.”

Charlotte couldn’t help herself. Tension made itself felt and, against her will, an amused expression rose to her face and lifted the corners of her mouth. Meier’s secretary acknowledged this with a very nasty look. Quickly Charlotte turned aside, ran out into the hallway and gave free rein to the laughter that bubbled up in her throat.

Still giggling, she entered her office. No sooner had she taken a seat at her desk than the door flew open. Heinze rumbled in, flattened himself on the chair opposite her, and her mirth took flight.

“How did it go?” he asked, leaning forward and propping his forearm on her desk top.

Involuntarily, she pressed against the back of the chair and rolled her chair a few inches away from the desk.

“He wants to check it out.”

“Well, well,” Heinze stroked his chin thoughtfully, “let’s see then.”

Abruptly, he stood up and pulled up his pants. With his hand on the doorknob, he turned to her again, “I’ll be gone in a minute, by the way. My wife and I have an invitation to an exhibition opening.” There followed a monologue about the artist, whose works were a must-see. Charlotte’s attention flagged. Indeterminately, she nodded now and then, hoping she was doing so in the right places. But Heinze didn’t seem to notice anything. After a while, he paused, looked at his wristwatch, “So late already! Sorry to interrupt our conversation. My wife is waiting.”

And before Charlotte had a chance to answer, he left her office in a hurry.

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