A Novel by Mira Steffan
Charlotte flipped back and forth in the file folder, back and forth. Why had the department manager canceled the old maintenance contract for the injection molding machines? Somehow, the costs for the new contract seemed too high to her. Maybe the process had been saved in the computer. She found nothing. Thoughtfully, she rose from her desk and went into her assistant’s office: “Ms. Grüntal, where were the contracts for Department 05 from the last few years saved?”
Charlotte had not only taken over Heinze’s office, she had also inherited his secretary. Bärbel Grüntal was short, no more than 1.58 meters, chubby, officious with a tendency to be garrulous, had very thin lips and drooping corners of the mouth, which gave her a discontented, bitter and sullen expression. Her blond streaked hair, she had cut into a practical short haircut.
Bored, Bärbel Grüntal raised her eyes and shrugged, “I think you’ll find it on drive P under the department name.”
“Mhm,” Charlotte frowned and went back to her computer. She clicked through several files. Finally – three sub-files later, she found the old contract.
“Someone went through a lot of trouble to hide it,” Charlotte muttered, a vague, uneasy feeling spreading inside her.
With a double click, she opened the document. She quickly scanned it. Her eyes searched for the most important numbers. There it was. The previous maintenance contract had been a lot cheaper. Strange, she thought, something is quite wrong.
She reached for the phone and typed in the number of the department manager and arranged to talk to him the day after tomorrow. Charlotte did not reveal anything about the content. She wanted to see how he reacted when she asked him about the new contract and the increasing costs. In the meantime, she would talk to his staff. The more she could talk between now and the appointment, the better she would be able to get an idea. After all, Charlotte had learned throughout her life that different points of view lead to the truth.
“You’ve been asking my co-workers behind my back about the new maintenance contract for our injection molding machine?” said Horst Alt loudly and in an aggressive tone.
Without letting the behavior upset her, Charlotte looked him in the eye and nodded. Interestingly, she really rested within herself. She listened within herself. No nervousness, no uncertainty. She was completely in balance with herself. The mirror therapy, as she called her declarations of love for herself, seemed successful.
After the conversations with his colleagues, Charlotte had expected quite some rowdy reaction. Together with Dorothea, she had worked out a strategy during the lunch break yesterday. And that was to remain calm and only bite when necessary.
Furious, Alt jumped up from his desk chair, propped himself up on the tabletop with flat hands, and leaned forward with a menacing expression on his face. His eyes were under thick black, long, unkempt eyebrows, staring at her. “I reject that.” His tone had changed to roar.
Could you weave little braids out of this, Charlotte wondered, as she shuddered and removed her gaze from Alt’s rampant eyebrows. Looking seriously at the snarling fellow, Charlotte raised her voice, but made sure to keep it in a low register, “I resent that tone, Mr. Alt. I was merely doing my job. Now, will you please tell me why you changed to a more expensive company as far as the maintenance is concerned?”
Alt paused, took a breath and said in a pressed voice, “This company has very well trained technicians, can be reached around the clock and is local. If there were problems on weekends or holidays, the previous company could not be reached. In addition, there was a high mileage fee, because it is based in Düsseldorf. And now I’ll tell you again,” he raised his right index finger: “Bottom line, the old contract is only seemingly cheaper. Charlotte shook her head. So here it was, the schoolmasterly, disparaging tone meant to intimidate. She remained in a matter-of-fact mode: “And that has nothing to do with the fact that the company belongs to your old school friend and your daughter’s godfather?”
Old blushed like a radish and frowned, causing his very long eyebrow hair to fall like a holey curtain over his brown eyes. Charlotte stifled her amusement and concentrated on a neutral expression.
“No,” he said, visibly struggling for composure.
Wordlessly, he turned to his computer, typed something, and the printer next to his desk began to rattle. Alt took the printed papers and handed them to Charlotte: “It’s all here in black and white. You can do the math and check.”
“I will,” Charlotte said, took the stack, stood up, said goodbye to Alt with a nod, and left the office.
On the way back to her office, Charlotte took a deep breath. No, this yelling and screaming was not her thing at all. This scene would keep her busy for a long time. But she didn’t have much time to recover or think about it. For in the anteroom, on the chair opposite Bärbel Grüntal’s desk, Leo Schneider was waiting for her. With a cup of coffee in his hand, he was having a chat. This seemed to please her secretary, because her sullen expression had completely disappeared. Instead, she smiled delightedly at Schneider.
“Ms. Grüntal, would you please bring me a coffee as well,” Charlotte said, beckoning Schneider into her office.
She pointed to the conference table, “Have a seat, Mr. Schneider.”
Charlotte placed the stack of sheets on her desk and then sat down opposite Schneider, who was to present her with the monthly report for the management, a task he had taken over from her, after her promotion. “Where’s the report?” asked Charlotte, irritated because Schneider hadn’t put anything on the desk except the cup of coffee.
“There was so much going on. I didn’t make it in time,” Schneider said coldly. And if she wasn’t mistaken, he was grinning as well.
So it went on, the power game. How exhausting and annoying and superfluous. She would have liked to pack her bag and leave. Or even better: smacked him around the ears. But if she didn’t show boundaries now, she knew, this game would go on forever. She sighed silently inside herself. Looked up, and there she saw it. He was actually grinning. Very smug and very pleased. And all at once an uncontrolled and hot rage rose up in her that she could hardly control. She didn’t know where it came from, but she would have loved to kick Schneider’s stupid looks. Instead, she took a breath and the words tumbled out of her loud, angry and very aggressive. What she said exactly, Charlotte could not remember even later. But it had an effect. Schneider disappeared from her office so quickly that he almost left a contrail. The next morning, the report was on her desk.
The saying goes that someone sees red when they’re angry. But Charlotte always saw white in her mind’s eye when she was angry. „I wonder if that meant something.“
“I don’t know,” said Dorothea, with whom she was spending her lunch break, “the main thing is that you gained respect.”
“So that means that people haven’t had any respect or regard for me so far.”
“I guess certain colleagues haven’t,” Dorothea shrugged her shoulders. “What’s wrong with me that they can’t respect me?”
“There’s nothing wrong with you. You just haven’t been on their wavelength so far. They didn’t understand you, or rather, they interpreted your friendliness as weakness.” “Mhm,” Charlotte said, chewing on her lower lip, “then we’re back to the difference in male and female lingo?“
Dorothea shrugged, “Yes, that’s how I see it. Be happy. You’ve achieved your goal. You’ve won.”
Charlotte nodded thoughtfully. Even though she was getting better at understanding and implementing the invisible rules and behaviors, she didn’t feel comfortable applying them. Always being on guard and having to expect attacks and defend one’s position made her world gray and joyless. But maybe that was just a matter of routine or maybe personality.
“Maybe the world would be better if it were more womanly,” Charlotte said, lost in thought, sipping her coffee.
Dorothea shook her head decisively, “I don’t think so. That would be too lop-sided again. I think the best thing for everyone would be an equal mix. Each gender has its strengths and weaknesses. If we all were open-minded and learned from each other, then, I’m positive, our world would be better off.”