Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life. Rowena Moves Closer, Part 2

Rowena Hears A Rumor

Fiction by S. D. Youngren



Rowena picked up a sheaf of papers and was just headed for the copy machine when Berna scooted up and grabbed her arm. “See that?” Berna whispered fiercely.

“See what?” asked Rowena. She looked in the direction Berna was looking, and saw only a small group of dark-suited men waiting for the elevator.

That,” Berna hissed. “Them.” One of the men turned casually in their direction and Berna's head whipped around to face elsewhere. “Don't look at them,” she said.

“Berna, what is going on?”

“They're selling the company. I mean, Mr. Rorschach and Mr. Schmed are selling the company and they're buying it.”

“What? Where'd you hear that?”

“Just look at them! Oh, God, I bet they'll fire us all.”

“Berna, calm down.” The elevator doors opened and Rowena watched the men get in. Two or three of them were laughing. “I doubt it's that bad,” Rowena said.

“Famous last words. They're here to ruin us. Did you hear how they were laughing? Sinister.”

“Berna, you're getting hysterical.” Rowena pried Berna's fingers from her arm. “Berna, look—”

“Did you see them?” Sara's eyes were round. “Who are they?”

“No idea,” Rowena said. “It's not as if you need a license to wear a suit.”

“They're buying the company,” Berna said.

“We don't know that!”

“Maybe we're buying them,” Sara said.

“Maybe.”

“We'll still get laid off,” Sara said.

“Kaput,” said Berna.

“That's just a rumor,” Rowena said. “Actually, it isn't even that yet; it's still just your own—”

“Mike!” yelled Sara. “Guess what?”

Now it was a rumor. Rowena tried again. “Listen, people—”

“Oh, my God,” groaned Mike, newly enlightened. Rowena picked up her papers and escaped.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“They're going to fire me,” said Leslie Campbell.

“Well . . .” Rowena hunted for something to say. Had she been Mr. Schmed, she'd have fired him long ago.

“They heard about the Nutzlos Project,” Leslie said. “I'm doomed.”

“The Nutzlos—”

“Out,” said Leslie. “Finis. Kaput.”

Rowena looked at him. “Have you been talking to Berna?”

“I don't need Berna to tell me what's going on,” Leslie said. He dropped to his haunches, his elbows on her desk. “You know what I do need?”

“Leslie,” said Rowena, “get out of here.”

“To cheer me up!” Leslie said. “C'mon, Rowena. In my hour of need.”

“Leslie, get up. Get your elbows off my desk. Remind yourself that I have a boyfriend. And get out of here.”

“Rowena—”

“What's going on here?” Berna asked.

“Leslie was just telling me he's getting fired,” Rowena said. “And now he's going to leave. Right, Leslie?”

“What's the big deal?” Berna asked. “We're all getting fired.”

“Oh, for Pete's sake.”

“I'm going first,” Leslie said. “They found out about the Nutzlos Project and now they're—”

“Leslie,” Berna said, “what makes you think it requires that many people just to fire you?

“I'll have you know I fill a very responsible position here. I—”

What position? Groveling in front of Rowena?”

Leslie scrambled to his feet. “I know when I'm not wanted,” he said, and stalked off. They stared after him.

“He's got to be kidding,” Rowena said.

“He will go first,” Berna said, “but only by about two minutes.”

“They wouldn't be my worst two minutes,” Rowena said. “Berna, we don't know the company has been sold; we don't know anything bad has happened.”

“Yeah? What do you think it is? Think somebody won the lottery?”

“Lottery?” squealed Marjorie. “Who?”

Rowena put her head down. Before she could collect herself to reply Berna said, “This is your fault.”

My fault! You and your—”

“Who won?” Marjorie demanded.

“Marjorie, listen. There are some men in suits here but we don't know—”

“We don't? Oh, God. I bet it's that Leslie Campbell. I bet it is. Just my luck.”

“Marjorie—”

“Why does this always happen to me?” Marjorie wailed. She dropped her papers onto her desk and left. Rowena didn't ask where she was going.

God,” said Berna. “What a case.”

“She reminds me of my sister.” Rowena said it without thinking.

“Yeah, right,” said Berna, who had never met Maralynne. “And Eloise reminds you of your parakeet.”

“He's a dog, not a parakeet; and no, Eloise does not remind me of him.”

“Hey,” Lorraine interrupted. “Leslie Campbell did not win the lottery, did he?”

“I sincerely doubt it,” Rowena said. “There were some guys in suits here, and Marjorie being Marjorie, she immediately assumed—”

“In suits? Official-looking?”

“Official enough.”

Lorraine clasped her hands. “I bet they're here for the childcare center.”

“The what?”

“It's about time we had a childcare center here. Would you believe—”

“Lorraine,” Berna said. “What are the chances they're gonna do that? Face it; we're gonna get canned.”

“What? What for?”

“'Cause the place is being sold. Dummy.”

“Why would they need to sell it just to get childcare?”

Rowena's phone rang. She answered it gratefully.

“Hello; Rorschach & Schmed.”

“Hello, Rowena; this is your mother.”

“Hi,” said Rowena. She looked up to see Berna staring at her.

“I told you,” Berna said to Lorraine. “Bad news. Just look at her.”

“We're not getting childcare,” Lorraine agreed.

“You're not gonna need childcare,” Berna said. “You'll be lookin' after the kid yourself.”

Rowena pressed the phone more closely to her ear, and covered the other ear with her free hand. “What, Mom?” she asked. She shot Berna and Lorraine a pointed look.

“You haven't heard?” Rowena's mother asked.

“Heard what?” Rowena realized, too late, that this was the wrong thing to allow Berna and Lorraine to overhear. She took her hand from her ear and waved at them to be quiet.

“Your sister,” her mother said.

“What about my sister?”

“Oh, dear.” She gave one of her deep maternal sighs. “I should let her tell you. I shouldn't say a thing.”

“Mother—”

“It's not my place. I know it isn't.”

“Mom—”

“I'm not one of those mothers who doesn't understand her children's needs; you know the type, just completely—”

“Why don't you tell me anyway?”

Her mother sighed again. “Your sister is getting a big raise and a promotion.”

“Is she really?”

“She just called to tell me. She hasn't called you?”

“No, she hasn't.” Rowena thought of telling her mother that Maralynne's raise was not such an emergency that it couldn't wait until after work, but realized that Maralynne would not be impressed by this distinction either.

“Well, I can't understand it. Unless she had an accident or something.”

“She's probably just busy.” Rowena looked at her pile of papers, then at Lorraine and Berna, still talking by her desk and watching her out of the corners of their eyes.

“She was so excited,” Rowena's mother moaned. “Oh, something's happened; I know it has.”

“If you're so worried, why don't you call her and find out?” Rowena hoped this would get rid of her for at least a couple of minutes.

“I'm sorry,” said her mother, “but I have to go now. She needs me; I know she does.” There was a click, and she was gone.

Rowena looked a moment at the phone. Then she hung up.

“I told her, ‘If those suits came here for Leslie Campbell, it wasn't to give him a prize; it was to arrest him for sexual harassment,’” Carla was saying. Where had she come from? “Besides, they don't award the lottery that way anyhow.”

“Sexual harassment! You hear that, Rowena? Your lucky day!”

Rowena took a breath. “I'll celebrate later. Listen, I've got lots of work to do, so if you don't mind—”

Her phone rang. Rowena picked it up, not without misgivings. “Rorschach & Schmed.”

“I'm getting a raise!” Maralynne squealed.

“Wonderful,” Rowena said. She glanced up to see Carla slap Berna lightly on the arm.

“Told you so,” Carla said.

Rowena ignored them. “So, your boss is pleased with your work?” There was a slight, very slight pause. “Maralynne,” she said, “did you hear this wonderful news of yours from your boss, or from Madame Zelda?”

“Oh, don't worry,” Maralynne said. “It's all set. Madame Zelda says—”

“You're doing it again!”

“What? No; I haven't had a raise for—”

Rowena covered her eyes. “Maralynne, listen. Take some responsibility for yourself.”

“You're supposed to be happy for me! Here I've got this raise and—”

“Maralynne, have you completely lost touch with reality? Maybe you—maybe that stuff makes you feel better or something, but you're ruining your life. You're—”

“Do me a favor,” Maralynne said. “Butt out.”

“You want me to do you a favor? You want—” Rowena realized her sister was no longer on the line. She hung up.

“What was that all about?” Somehow Sara had joined the group. Rowena shut her eyes.

“Don't even ask,” she said. She opened her eyes again and looked at her clock. Ten minutes to lunchtime.

“Oh, God,” Berna said. “More of them.”

They all watched the group—there were a couple of women this time—wait just a minute until the elevator arrived and took them away.

Carla broke the silence. “So, what'd she say?”

“If you don't mind,” Rowena said, “I'd rather not talk about it.”

“C'mon,” Berna said. “Everybody'll find out about it anyway.”

“I hope not.”

“You know what this place is like. It's only a matter of time.”

“We have a right to know,” Lorraine objected.

“So how come she called you and not me?” Sara asked.

“What?”

“You're not at your desk, silly.” Berna shot Sara one of her looks. “She probably tried.

“What are we talking about?” Rowena demanded. “She's my—”

“You called her ‘Marilyn.’ As in, Marilyn from Accounting.”

“I—no, wait—”

She's getting busted, isn't she? For drugs?”

“What? No. That was just—”

“Wonder what she took,” Berna mused. “I figure—I guess an accountant would take either a mood enhancer or a hallucinogen. Am I right?”

No. If you must know, my—”

“Uh-oh. Eloise.” They scattered.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Rowena returned from lunch with an eye out for Berna, but the first person to pounce on her was Jim.

“Hey,” he said. “What's this about the entire Accounting Department getting busted?”

“What? She's up to the whole department now?”

He looked at her quizzically. “Yeah. The whole Accounting Department is in jail for using LSD. And for some reason Marilyn called you for bail but you wouldn't help.”

“Oh, no.

“You said, ‘I won't do you any favors,’ or something like that.” Rowena covered her face. “Hey,” Jim said. “I don't blame you. She's a pain in the ass.”

“Jim—”

“Why would she call you, anyway? I mean, she gets one phone call, wouldn't she call Mr. Rorschach's lawyers, or her husband, or something? Actually, you'd think that if they were all arrested here like Lorraine said, Mr. Rorschach's lawyers would already know.

“Jim—Jim, it's all a mistake.”

“What mistake? Like I said, she's a pain in the ass. I wouldn't do her any favors either.”

Sean approached from around the corner. “Hey,” he said. “You see Eloise's spies?”

“Her what?”

“Spies. You know. The guys in suits who were here. Real sneaky.”

“Are they spying for her or on her?”

Sean laughed. “Hey, that would be something, wouldn't it—get our own spies and check her out.”

“You're nuts,” said a new voice. “They're from the EPA. We got violations up the gazoo.”

“Violations? What violations?”

Rowena took advantage of the commotion and fled. She was almost to her desk before somebody else stopped her.

“Rowena?” It was Molly. “What's all this nonsense I'm hearing about you and the Accounting Department?”

“My sister called. And her name is Maralynne. And she's not in jail; she's just lost her mind. Like everyone else around here.”

Molly put her hand over her mouth. “You were talking to your sister,” she said, her voice only slightly muffled, “and those gossips . . .”

“They got all excited about some men in suits who turned up, and they've spent the whole day coming up with wild explanations. I just hope they haven't called the newspaper yet.” Rowena looked at the ceiling. “You know, you'd think eventually somebody would actually go to Accounting and—”

She stopped. Sylvia from upstairs was approaching, and she looked purposeful. Rowena waited. But as Sylvia drew nearer, she smiled.

“There's some leftover food in the break room,” she said. “Help yourselves—just don't stay long.”

“Leftovers? From what?”

“From Mr. Schmed's birthday party upstairs.”

They looked at each other. “What birthday party would that be?” Molly asked carefully.

“A surprise party upstairs. Attended by members of Mr. Schmed's service organization, the party—”

Rowena didn't want to hear the entire press release. “So those, um, people in suits who were here . . .”

“Yes; that was them.” Sylvia gave her an odd look. “Well—enjoy.” And she left.

Rowena looked at Molly. “Suppose anyone from Accounting will be there? And maybe a gossip or two?”

“Wouldn't be surprised,” Molly said.

“Come on,” Rowena said. “Let's go get some food.”



_____________________________/


Next Story:
Rowena Plays Nurse

Rowena Moves Closer, Part 3

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