|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 1|
Rowena looked up from her not-quite-finished-but-nearly-due Gherkin Report. “What's the matter, Sylvia?” she asked.
“I don't know whether you've noticed, but the shredder's broken,” Sylvia said.
Rowena waited. She hardly ever used the shredder. “And?”
Sylvia plopped a catalog onto Rowena's desk. “Take a few minutes today to order us a new one,” she said.
“Me? I don't know anything about shredders.”
“Perhaps not, but it's located in your Area. And you're efficient and thorough, and you can deal with people.”
Rowena looked at her, warily. “Why would I have to deal with people?” she asked.
“I want you to interview all the managers and find out what their needs are so you can select the best model.”
“Wasn't the old one perfectly—”
“Don't be difficult. You also have to find out what sort of budget we have for this; there's nothing in Petty Cash just now, so you'll have to round up some funds. Just ask the managers what they need and how much they're willing to chip in. But we need this done today,” she went on, before Rowena could object. “Mr. Schmed and Eloise are both in conference with a client this morning and can't be disturbed, and so I'm passing this along to you.”
“Ah,” said Rowena; she had thought this should have been an Eloise task. But even if Eloise couldn't do it, why had Sylvia had chosen her? “Sylvia, I've got to get the Gherkin Report in by five, and I still—”
“Today,” Sylvia reminded her, and left. But she was back a moment later to say, “Your handling of this matter will affect your Career. Don't take it lightly.” She turned and marched off.
Rowena watched her go, looked down at her nearly-completed report, then picked up the catalog, which offered what looked to her to be millions of office items. There was an index, though, so she found the shredders without difficulty.
“Man,” Marjorie was saying. “Are you in good with her.”
“An assignment like that.” Marjorie blew a pink gum-bubble; it grew to the size of a ping-pong ball and popped. “Looking at catalogs, walking around talking to managers . . .”
Rowena raised her eyebrows. “Talking to managers?”
“You know. Talking to managers.” And Marjorie gave her a smirk that clearly meant flirting with managers. Rowena rolled her eyes.
“Personally, Marjorie, I'd rather get my promotions by—”
“It worked for Coriander,” Marjorie said.
“On All My Hospitals.” Marjorie couldn't believe Rowena's ignorance. “See, her boss was having a bad time with his wife—ever since she got kidnapped by the aliens and they gave her the brain implant and made her their love slave and taught her to play golf she just hasn't been the same. So Coriander—”
“Coriander?” said Berna, from somewhere behind Rowena.
“Coriander,” Marjorie said. “Jeez. I have to tell you people everything.”
“Gimme a break,” said Berna.
“You have some nerve, coming around here and—”
“Listen,” Rowena began.
“Making fun of poor Coriander and her—”
“Coriander?” asked Sara.
Rowena decided to have a look at the old shredder. Right away.
The shredder was located just around the corner. Rowena studied it from two or three angles and noted the features. Without going back to her desk she thumbed through the shredder section of the catalog and noted features that the old shredder did not have. It seemed to be an obsolete or at any rate uncommon model; she could not find it in the catalog. The units she did find there were of different sizes, and so were the papers they were designed to accommodate. “Shredders of Any Size,” boasted the catalog, and showed a basketball player about to feed into his shredder a large poster of a rival basketball player, while next to him a very small young woman posed with another machine, prepared to shred a miniscule sticky note. Rowena measured her own company's shredder, and then the stand on which it sat.
“It doesn't work,” said Jim.
“I know,” Rowena told him. “I'm supposed to order a new one.”
“You are? You're in charge of the shredder?” He stared at her. “How come?”
Rowena sighed. “To be perfectly frank, I don't know.”
“Did you break it?”
“Well, anyway, if you're in charge of the shredder—could you cut this up for me?” And he held out a small sheaf of papers.
“I need to shred this, and the shredder isn't working, so . . .”
“Jim,” Rowena said. “Go away.” Whoever would give Jim anything that couldn't just be thrown out?
“Come on. I'm in a hurry.”
“So am I. Look, just put it aside for now; you can shred it when the new machine arrives.”
“And how long is that gonna take? Look, just cut it up real small, right down—”
“You gonna finish the Gherkin Report for me? I have to have it in by five.”
“Oh, man.” Jim turned and left, shaking his head and mumbling.
And Rowena went off to talk to managers.
“The shredder?” said Ida.
“Yes, the shredder. If you could tell me your needs and the amount you could contribute.” Rowena had actually tried to start with Greg, who had somehow gone missing. Already a problem.
Ida sighed. “This place,” she said. Rowena smiled noncommittally. “My people probably account for six percent of all shredder use. I suppose I could cover six percent of the cost.”
“Six percent?” asked Rowena. She couldn't tell whether Ida was joking.
“We don't use it much.”
“Six percent,” said Ida firmly, “if it's a cheap one.”
“The shredder?” said Nelson.
“Yes,” Rowena said. “If you'll—”
“I don't need a shredder. My department never uses shredders.”
Rowena looked at him, then made a show of writing something on her notepad. “Right,” she said. “You don't need a shredder. But if you did, what features would you want?”
“Well, I—” He broke off, staring at her. Rowena smiled back innocently.
“My department,” said Nelson firmly,“ does not need a shredder, and I have no reason to contribute to one.”
“The shredder?” said Lyle.
“The shredder,” said Rowena. “Would you—”
“Why don't you just fix this one?”
“Ridiculous to buy a new shredder. Just get this one fixed.”
“So . . . you're satisfied with the features and—”
“Satisfied with everything. Especially if I have to pay for it.”
“You wouldn't be paying the whole—”
“With these cheapskates?” He shook his head. “Just get it fixed,” he said firmly.
“The shredder?” asked Cleve.
“The shredder. If—”
“Exactly like the last one. Nothing fancy; nothing complicated.”
“Well—some of the other managers had a few—”
“The more fancy gizmos it has, the more gizmos it has to fail. Pretty soon it's just a piece of crap.”
“Nothing fancy,” he said firmly.
Marv was willing to pay a reasonable amount—or an amount that would have been reasonable had everybody else been willing to pay—and he actually had at least one feature in mind: He wanted a larger machine than their current model. Unfortunately, Stan wanted a smaller one. Brent didn't care about the size, but he had a huge list of other properties he considered vital to a shredder; unfortunately, most of these were not mentioned in the catalog, and Rowena, writing dutifully, couldn't even be sure he wasn't just making them up.
“Got that?” said Brent, who was (except for the absent Greg) the last manager on her tour.
“I think so.”
“Good.” He leaned back in his chair. “Don't be sticking us with a piece of crap like the last one,” he said firmly.
Rowena sat at her desk, going through the list of managerial requirements. The only thing anybody seemed to agree on was that they didn't want to spend any money; Rowena had, in fact, succeeded in finding a total of not quite half as much money as she needed to buy a mid-to-lower-range shredder. She closed her eyes. The shredder, the Gherkin Report . . . her evaporating workday . . .
“Got us a shredder yet?” Berna asked.
“No,” Rowena said, leaving her eyes shut for just a moment. She didn't waste any effort wondering how Berna knew about the shredder assignment.
“Hup hup hup.” Berna, when Rowena opened her eyes to look, was standing with her arms crossed. “Big important decision-makers can't lollygag.”
“You know what I want? I want a shredder that'll do coworkers. They have one like that in there?” Berna waved at the catalog.
“I don't think that's legal,” Rowena said.
“Pity. I'll have to write my congressman.”
“Good idea. Why don't you go do that?” Rowena picked up her shredder notes and tried to look busy. She didn't really expect Berna to leave.
“Hey, Rowena.” It was Leslie Campbell; now Rowena hoped Berna wouldn't leave.
“Leslie,” Rowena said. “Go away.”
“Perdita had a stalker, too,” said Marjorie helpfully. “On Search for Our Lives.”
“How fast do you think you can get that shredder?” Berna asked.
“The one you were asking about? Not fast enough.”
“And finally he came after her with a knife.”
“How come you get all the good assignments?” Leslie whined.
“Because she does her work?” said Berna.
“I work,” said Leslie, wounded.
“Not as hard as I do,” said Marjorie primly.
“At what?” demanded Berna of Leslie. “Being a pest?”
“I came here to help. Rowena, can I fix the shredder? I got a screwdriver.”
“But then we wouldn't have to buy a new one.”
“Yes, we would,” Rowena said. “And we'd have pieces of the old one all over the floor.”
“What makes you think you can fix anything?” Berna wanted to know.
“Bullworth tried to make a car out of other cars, but it was like a Frankenstein car, and it ran over Myron.”
“I got a screwdriver,” Leslie repeated.
“No,” Rowena said. “Only if Eloise authorizes it.”
“Eloise? But she'd never—”
“My point,” Rowena said. “Excuse me; I have to make an important phone call.” They watched, for once, with due solemnity as she picked up her phone, rang Greg's office, and found he wasn't in.
“Very important,” observed Berna.
“And then it ran over Floyd.”
“Marjorie, I swear—”
Rowena opened her mouth, but her phone rang before she could say anything. She picked it up.
“Anything to report?” Sylvia asked.
“Well, I can't get through to Greg, but I've talked to the other managers and they all want incompatible things. Brent is—”
“Just work something out,” Sylvia said. Rowena took a deep breath; looking up she saw that Berna and Leslie had both left and Marjorie was pretending to work.
“Sylvia. I'm told bigger, I'm told smaller, I'm told fancy, I'm told plain—”
“Just find a compromise.”
“And I'm told not to spend any money.”
“Talk to them again. Get Greg's opinion this time. And get a consensus.”
“Sylvia, I've got diametrically—”
“Work something out!” Sylvia snapped.
“And I don't have enough money. Sylvia, these are managers. I can't force them—”
Sylvia sighed, exasperated. “I'll be there in a few minutes,” she said.
Rowena tried Greg again; again without success. She shuffled through her catalog once more and waited for Sylvia. Just one more hour with the Gherkin Report . . . If she could finish this shredder business in time . . .
“So how's it going?” Berna was back.
“Sylvia's coming to . . . I don't know what, exactly. But she's supposed to help somehow.”
“Bag the shredder,” Berna said. “I say we burn the stuff. Have 'em put a fireplace in the employee lounge.”
“Right between the wet bar and the indoor pool.”
“Berna. You're hallucinating.”
Berna shook her head. “Dreaming. Not hallucinating.”
“You're getting us a new shredder?” asked Sara, approaching.
“I'm trying to.”
“How about a new microwave?”
“Or, you know, one of those little—”
“I need a private place where I can use my breast pump,” Lorraine said.
“Gross!” Marjorie stuck out her tongue.
“If you want anything purchased for or added onto this place,” Rowena said, “put it in the suggestion box.”
“Oh, right, like they ever look in there. Rowena—”
“The only thing I am empowered to buy is a new shredder. The only thing. If you want anything else—”
“Come on, Rowena.”
“Oh, here comes Sylvia. Why don't you tell her what you want?” But, predictably, they all ran away, except for Marjorie, who, being already at her desk, simply pretended to work.
“Hi, Sylvia; thanks,” Rowena began. “I've got—”
“Here.” Sylvia tossed three other office-supplies catalogs onto the one Rowena already had. “Check these.”
“But what about—”
“Have you talked to Greg yet?”
“No; he isn't—”
“Find him.” And Sylvia left.
Armed with the new, freshly-studied catalogs but still Gregless, Rowena went back to the shredder. She had no real hope of learning anything new. It seemed, though, that at least one or two of the obscure and complicated features Brent had wanted actually existed. Rowena doubted they'd had these features on their old machine, but she thought she'd check just once more.
At the shredder she met Kelly, who stood looking distraught. “It doesn't work!” she said.
“I know,” Rowena told her. Kelly waved the papers in her hand.
“I have to shred these things,” Kelly said. “What am I going to do?”
“We'll have a new shredder soon,” Rowena began. And stopped. “Don't you work under Nelson?” she asked.
“What's that got to do with it?”
Nothing, Rowena thought, except that your boss told me his people never shredded anything. Aloud she said, “Do you use the shredder very often?”
“All the time.” Kelly looked at it, mournfully. “I'll just have to tell Nelson it isn't working.”
“Mind if I come with you?” Rowena asked.
Back at her desk, a somewhat-better-funded Rowena tried Greg's number again, then went once more through her catalogs. One of the catalogs contained an ad in which two cartoon men who looked suspiciously like the “Spy vs. Spy” characters burrowed into a wastebasket labeled “Top Secret.” “Don't Throw It All Away!” begged the large red letters above them. Another featured, on the first page of its shredder section, a picture that showed two stealthy-looking men in trenchcoats, alertly flanking a nerdy type with a load of encyclopedias in his arms, under the legend, “When You Have to Safeguard Your Information.” There was a shredder on the page with them that kept arresting Rowena's attention; it seemed comparable to the old shredder, and was not very expensive. More money than she'd been given to spend, but still not very expensive. She pondered a moment, then got up and began a little poll of the various managers' underlings—the people who actually shredded things personally—asking them whether they'd had any problems with the old shredder, while it was still working. She compared the responses to the managers' requests, and then put the managers' requests over onto the corner of her desk.
None of the workers had any serious complaints. Not Marv's, not Cleve's, not even Brent's. None of them.
If she went ahead and bought the similar shredder, would any of the managers even notice?
She considered. She tried Greg's number, and to her amazement got through.
If he'd just give her money . . . Lots of money . . .
“The shredder?” Greg said. “Oh, I don't know. Whatever you like.”
“You don't have any specifications or . . . ?”
“Nope. Whatever you like. As far as I'm concerned, you have carte blanche.”
“Thank you. Thank you, Greg.” If only everyone else had been so agreeable! “Now,” Rowena continued, “there's just one other thing: I'm told there's no money in Petty Cash right now, so I have to ask you to contribute some—”
“Sorry,” said Greg. “No can do.”
“Not even a—”
“Nope. No can do.”
So much for agreeable. Rowena thanked him resignedly, then put down the phone. She considered, eyeing the Gherkin Report as it lay neglected on her desk. She was going to have to finish this shredder thing by about four; she had about thirty-five minutes and she knew what she wanted to buy, but she still didn't have the funds. How could she buy anything without funds? And how could she get the funds in thirty-five minutes?
“Man, you work fast.”
Rowena looked up. “What?”
Marjorie pointed. “The shredder,” she said. Rowena turned. Sure enough, there were two men carrying what looked to be a new shredder, heading towards the old one. She got up and followed them.
And watched as, under Eloise's direction, they removed the old shredder and began installing the new one in its place.
“Um . . . Eloise?”
Eloise turned. “Yes?” She recognized Rowena and did something very like switching mental gears. “Have you finished the Gherkin Report?”
“I—no, I . . .” Rowena held up her catalogs. “I thought . . . Sylvia told me to choose and order a new shredder, and I—”
“Sylvia? Told you to spend the day reading catalogs?”
“Reading the catalogs and interviewing the managers and—She thought you were busy. She—”
“I was busy. Especially since the shredder went out yesterday.” Eloise scowled. Then she looked at Rowena, and her face relaxed a bit. “Had you made a decision?” she asked.
“Yes . . .” Rowena opened the relevant catalog. “I wasn't sure what to do about the money, because the managers wouldn't contribute enough—”
“The managers? Contribute?”
“Sylvia said there wasn't enough in Petty Cash, so I'd have to get—”
Eloise was shaking her head. “Office machines do not come out of Petty Cash,” she said.
“Oh. Well . . .”
“This is the one you were going to buy?” Eloise inclined her head to look. “We don't do business with them.”
“Oh. Well, I—”
“It was a good choice, though.” Eloise looked at her and actually smiled. Rowena put her hand on the edge of the shredder stand.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You say Sylvia had you wasting your time with this—yours and the managers'?”
“And imperiled the Gherkin Report?”
“No, Eloise, I—I can still get it done.”
“Return to work, then,” Eloise said. “I'll take care of Sylvia.”
“Yes, Eloise.” Rowena took her leave. Back to the Gherkin Report—her nearly-done Gherkin Report, for which she had, after all, more than the hour she needed. On the way she encountered Kelly, heading this time for the copier. Rowena went up to her. “They're installing a new shredder,” she said. “Just so you know.”
“Already? Wow,” said Kelly. She shook her head. “That was quick. You know, one thing I like about this place: Everything is so efficient. You never end up wasting your time.”
“It's a wonder,” said Rowena.
Volume II: Rowena Gets Serious.
Book 7: Rowena Gets A Surprise.
About the Stories.
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