Copyright Disclaimer: Not this time. This is Über, and they're mine (feels good to say). Though if you have heard of the TV Show "Voyager", belonging to Paramount, you might have even more fun reading this and may meet some strangely familiar people.
Language Warning: I'm not a native English. Hopefully you won't notice.
Credits: Thanks go to my beta, Sybil, who would deserve an opera on her own, to Paul and Paula for feedback and encouragement, to hanibal for not just technical advice, cool banners, caffeine and endless patience and to Greta, my diva computer. Love you girls, you are fantastic.
The plane circled for the second time above the airport. She would be late. Heavy rain clouds hung in front of the thick, small window, reflected back the image of the woman glaring impatiently out at the March weather. An elegant face, blue-gray eyes over shapely cheekbones, framed by auburn hair at chin length, at the moment bearing an expression of growing annoyance. Prof. Eliane Darhayne didn’t like to be late. And she didn’t like the these rainy days that March in Germany so generously offered.
The new semester was about to start, and she was already late returning to town, having held a series of lectures in the States during the break, back in Indiana. But her actual occupation was this, being professor for literature at the International Institute of Cultural Studies at Leipzig University. The institute was small, and only going into its third year, Eliane being one of the professors in charge.
She hadn’t initially liked the job, having taken it as a opportunity to escape her hometown, her established life plans and the scandal of her quite publicly broken engagement with Thomas P. Harding. How much more public could it have been, having your fiancé sleeping with your own secretary, all three being employed at the same University? And University gossip traveled fast.
She had given up on her plans of a comfortable, quiet career and instead had taken this more adventurous assignment, building up an interdisciplinary institute in Leipzig, Germany. A sometimes maddening endeavor, but she had to admit she had grown to like her work.
Work. Yes. It was a lot of work. With all her guest lecturing she needed a new assistant, an assistant she was supposed to meet in half an hour. And she would be late.
The campus was empty, as were the arcades around it, except for the lonely figure of a tall, slender woman crossing the expanse under the protection of an umbrella with large strides. She made her way around the main building, a rather depressing concrete construction from the socialist sixties, which was pragmatic rather than pretty, then pushed the double doors open and stepped into the shelter of the entrance hall, nodding at the doorman in his little cubicle. The light inside was almost as poor as the daylight outside, the rain clouds hanging heavily over the city. She only hoped that she had managed to survive the rain without ruining her outfit or looking too drenched. The appointment she was about to attend was important. And she was nervous. Damn nervous. Hopefully the professor wouldn’t ask too many questions. She had signed the contract and had already begun to work as soon as she had moved into town a few weeks ago. But she still hadn’t met her employer, who had been lecturing in the States.
"Can I help you, Miss...?" the doorman broke into her musings, as she showed no intention to hand him her University ID card.
"Craig. Joanna Craig." she answered automatically. The name almost felt like her own by now. Almost. "I have an appointment with Professor Darhayne from Cultural Studies." With fingers stiff from the cold rain she handed over her card. There, even her card said it. And it hadn’t been that difficult to trick the main administration office to do it.
"Thank you, Miss Craig." The doorman handed her back the tiny piece of plastic which meant the chance of a whole new start to her. "It’s on the fourth floor, left section..."
"I know. Thank you." Closing her umbrella, Joanna walked over to the paternoster and stepped into the next cabin on its way up.
She needed the job. She wanted it. Her old friend Olga had told her that Darhayne needed a new assistant. And Joanna admired Darhayne’s work deeply, having read both "Construction of Truths" and "Literature Ego". An excellent literature academic to whom she had applied enthusiastically, sending in some of her essay work. And Joanna had gotten the job. Just at the right moment. Time had been running out in Kent, after the second rejection, and she didn’t want to go back to the Netherlands.
The written ‘OK’ in her pocket, Joanna had packed her belongings and had once more moved back to the continent, this time to Germany. She had been here before, years ago, although not in this part of former GDR. But she liked it. The house fronts and the parks, the heavy dialect and the people reminded her of Amsterdam and a time long gone by.
Fourth floor. Joanna stepped out of the paternoster, crossed another hall and walked into a long corridor, the ground covered with old, red linoleum, the prints on the walls bleached out after decades of fluorescent light.
This was the section for mathematics. Passing the second corner, she saw the sign ‘International Institute of Cultural Studies’ and walked into the much better lit corridor of her new working place. She had been here once before, picking up her assignments from the institute’s secretary. The posters on the wall were new, announcing interdisciplinary events, the semester schedule, and more personal interests of the people working here. The soft sounds of voices, a coffee machine and typing were audible – the institute was already busy. Each door had a neatly printed sign beside it, announcing the occupants of the room, some with little sketches on it.
The first door was decorated with a poster of a desperate woman between huge stacks of paper and various ringing phones, saying ‘Annemarie Schwarz, Main Office’. That was the secretary she had already met. Joanna walked down the floor. ...Prof. Bertha Daniels... Prof. Jeremy Crowe... Dr. Brett Garland... Dr. Philippe Riquet... an office bearing no name... and there: ‘Prof. Eliane Darhayne & Eleonora Lamberti, Department of Literature.’
Joanna looked at her watch. She still had ten minutes. Time to find a mirror and some place for her wet umbrella.
When Eliane finally stepped off the airport shuttle-bus at the main station it was still raining heavily. Although the walk over to the University wasn’t more than five minutes, down Ritter Street and up the corner of Augustus Place, she took a cab. There wasn’t much use in it though, because her coat and her hair were soaked by the time she reached the cab stand. She glanced at her watch. Twenty minutes late. "University, main administration, please."
The ridiculously short two minute ride didn’t give her much time to sort either her thoughts or her appearance. The exhaustion from the overnight flight caught up with her; the drenched coat stuck to her body; the raindrops ran from her hair down her neck – everything served to darken her mood considerably. Storming through the door, not bothering to notice the doorman, she entered the paternoster. Great first day to pick up work again, just great. Having a business appointment, a staff meeting and an empty fridge at home. Not to mention the state she was in. Just great.
Eliane drew a deep breath. First things first. Ask Annemarie to make me a double coffee and have a talk with Miss Craig. She tried to remember the facts from the application – born in Amsterdam, education in private schools and private colleges. Various stays abroad, including Germany, Britain, Italy, America, France and Switzerland. Double Master degree from PESC, Netherlands/Switzerland, in Theatre Theory and Literature, both with excellent grades.
After that she had worked with a theatre company in Parma and Bologna, Italy, and then at the Comparative Literature Institute in Kent. The texts she had enclosed, essays on various issues, had been extremely well written: intelligent, pointed, clear. Intriguing.
Eliane had hired Miss Craig out of the blue, expecting the department to benefit from the added knowledge in theatre and gender studies, areas still white on the institute map. Eliane could name at least four disciplines, including various suited candidates, which in her opinion were necessary to add to the institute. But the university had little money, and the director, as well as the new faculty chief had little interest in the ambitious project. According to Eliane, the whole institute would be better suited to the faculty of history and arts instead of philology, anyway, but as soon as something contained a literature department it got summoned under philology. Better not to think about this now, she stopped herself. No use in getting furious.
Reaching the corridor she stopped at the Main Office. "Annemarie?" She knocked.
Annemarie Schwarz, anima of the institute, an elderly woman with permed, graying hair in her fifties, was sitting at a desk five times her size, looking up from a pile of forms. "Professor…" She paused. "Did you walk up here?"
Eliane sighed. "No, I took a cab. Otherwise I would have stopped to get me a swimsuit on the way."
"Nice to see you too, Prof. Darhayne." Annemarie smiled, looking over the rim of her huge glasses. "It was getting way too comfortable here."
Eliane couldn‘t help but smile back. "Are you grateful enough to get me a coffee?"
"I’ll bring it over," Annemarie replied, returning to her work. "And, Professor? The young lady you are supposed to meet is waiting in your office."
Eliane walked up to her own office. In the antechamber she shrugged out of her wet coat and took a quick glance into the mirror, glaring indignantly at the wet auburn strands across her forehead and the wet shoulders of her jacket. With three quick strokes of her hands she efficiently put some order into her hair, and straightened her outfit. That had to do. It wasn‘t the condition in which she liked to meet a new employee, though. Not at all. She took another look at the mirror, being alone in the room. Eleonora Lamberti, her secretary, was probably out for lunch, while Eliane herself had hardly had breakfast. As much as she would have liked to grab a bite herself and get her clothes dried before doing anything else, there was no time. First things first, she reminded herself, squaring her shoulders as she took up her case and entered her office. And froze on the doorstep.
A woman in an impeccably elegant brown suit - wide pants, long narrow jacket – sat in her visitor’s chair with the pure and lazy grace of someone who couldn’t care less. Her light blond hair was done up in a French roll, every hair in place, and accentuated a proportionate face which had some air of an antique statue, a collection of classic features done in an overly detailed way: huge ice-blue eyes, even cheeks, high forehead, full lips, perfectly carved curve of jaw. At the sound of the door the woman rose from the chair, the fine material of her suit moving gently about her slender, but feminine body, that was surrounded by a subtle, cool fragrance. As she stood, her legs and arms seemed to be even longer, the pants falling loosely on the fine boots she wore below.
Eliane felt over towered and much too bourgeois in her beige business attire, on the pumps she didn’t like anyway. Drenched, cold, unattractive and old, confronted with the assembly of ideal beauty across the room looking back at her uncertainly.
To hell with it. She wasn‘t a model agency, she was an intellectual. "Miss Craig?" she asked, maybe sounding a bit more harsh than she had intended.
"Professor Darhayne?" The voice was cool and sober, with a little accent Eliane couldn’t locate.
"I apologize for being late. I missed my flight due to the weather and the second plane got caught up in it a little."
They shook hands. A cool, self-assured pressure. Somehow Eliane didn’t like the icy grace this Miss Craig was spreading all over her office. Claiming her chair, she decided to skip the preliminaries. "I understand that Mrs. Schwarz has given you the assignments?"
Joanna nodded. "Yes. I am supposed to do one seminar on the Shakespeare sonnets and one on gender in literature. Further I am supposed to help you with your research work and hold your seminars according to your orders in your absence." At this point, she opened the briefcase set at her feet and pulled out a stack of papers. "These are the literature references you requested and my conception of the seminars."
Eliane was mildly surprised. She quickly looked the sheets over, discovering that Joanna had added remarks to her list. Intelligent remarks, and good suggestions. But she needed an assistant, not someone able to replace her.
"Miss Craig," she said coolly. "If I remember rightly, you have been hired primarily as my assistant, not as my temporal replacement. The seminar plans are set and will be handed to you by my secretary. I am of course interested in reasonable suggestions, but I would ask you to do this apart from the official work for me." Her tone was more than chilled. Well, that started off amiably, she thought sarcastically.
Joanna repositioned herself in the chair, causing her suit to shift over her body with the motion. With it, another hint of the subtle perfume she wore reached Eliane. Joanna didn’t avert her eyes. "How can I be a good assistant to you if I don’t tell you my opinion on matters? And how can I work at all if I am only supposed to recite your research?"
She was right, Eliane had to admit. And courageous. And arrogant. Challenging her after about three minutes of first having seen her. "It was meant more as advice, as you haven’t done any practical teaching before, according to your application.", she answered. That comment seemed to sink in. "I trust you will be able to adapt yourself to my suggestions." It was an order, not a question.
Annemarie chose this moment to bring the promised coffee into the office. Sensing the tense atmosphere, she retreated quickly. Prof. Darhayne wasn’t having a good day. And her new assistant was obviously not lightening the mood.
Eliane closed her hands around the coffee mug, feeling the heat the beverage radiated warm her palms. Leaning back, she tried to relax a little, took the first sip and savored the flavor on her tongue. That was already much better. She opened her eyes to find Joanna watching her with an iceberg gaze; interested, distanced, but not unfriendly. She remained composed, which Eliane found unnerving because she herself hadn’t managed that quite so nicely. "Why do you want to work for me?" She hadn’t planned on asking that question and surprised herself with it, after having already employed this woman. Which might not have been the brightest idea.
Joanna probably hadn’t expected the question either. She didn’t answer right away. This appointment was not going as she had hoped. She hadn’t anticipated any of it. Not the elegant, attractive and rather young woman, probably somewhere in her late thirties, who had entered the room and swept her off her feet in an instant. Joanna felt so shy and unsure, that her usual cool demeanor kicked in, taking care of the conversation, while she herself tried to correct her picture of Prof. Darhayne – not some woman about fifty, with thick glasses and a clement air about her. Instead Eliane Darhayne was radiating power and control and even in her state of being drenched she looked perfectly dignified. Energetic, cool, straight-to-the-matter. Demanding, arrogant, to the point of unfriendliness. An alpha bitch, an impeccable version. And really impressive. Not a woman she would warm to, but a person that intrigued her. The woman and her work. A person she would like to work for. Hopefully.
"I am interested in your research. Your work is inspiring." Joanna answered simply. "And I will find a way to combine your plans with my ideas." she added after a moment, her expression honest, betraying both the offer of peace and the quiet challenge.
"I hope so." Eliane said, her tone somewhat reserved, but less hostile. "There are three things I don’t allow in my office," she continued. "Gossip, scandals and affairs. Are we clear on that?" Joanna nodded. Although the whole institute will probably drool about Miss Craig, Eliane mused. Especially in outfits of this kind. "And you might like to inform yourself about the dress etiquette. Mrs. Schwarz will show you your office."
And people kept telling her she could be a cold, arrogant bitch, Joanna pondered idly. Professor Darhayne certainly outdid her in several points on that matter.
The conversation went on a little longer than Eliane, who desperately wanted to shrug out of her jacket and get something into her stomach, had planned, covering research projects and institute structures. In these few minutes, Eliane twice suppressed the urge to throw the woman out of her office for her demeanor and twice barely avoided gaping in awe at the brilliant reasoning her new assistant was showing.
When Joanna finally left the room to go over some details with Annemarie, Eliane slumped forward in her chair, letting her head solidly connect with her desk. "Oh my God," she groaned, placing the empty coffee mug somewhere out of reach. Never hire an assistant out of the blue again. An assistant arrogant enough for two professor titles, running around in some Armani-styled outfit that made everyone else feel like Cinderella. Cinderella before the Fairy Godmother and all the bippitty boppitty boop. Well, she had wanted someone intelligent. And someone intelligent she had definitely gotten. She simply hadn’t expected Joanna to be so direct, so... stunning. Something about her was unsettling Eliane, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. The arrogance? The obvious beauty? The impressive knowledge combined with youth?
And while admitting to herself that she didn’t like Joanna, she also had to concede that Joanna was obviously brilliant. Get a grip on it, Lil, she told herself. You don’t need to like her. Right. I handled Thomas Harding, I handled Director Freytag, I can handle Miss Craig.
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. "Lil?"
"Come," Eliane called back.
The door opened to reveal Bertha Daniels, professor of Sociology, trying to push her voluminous frame through the not so voluminous doorframe. Bertha won, as she did most quarrels. Everything about her was huge – the feet, the nose, the ears, the lengthy oval face, the rather beautiful hands, everything except for her forehead, which was rather short and covered with a carefully cut fringe for as long as Eliane had known Bertha. You couldn’t actually call Bertha fat because her imposing height managed to somehow balance her mass into something close to majestic that now enveloped Eliane in a heartfelt hug
"Nice to have you back, Lil!" Her warm and loud voice resonated through the office.
"Good to see you too, Daniels," Eliane smiled back. Bertha was probably the closest friend she had, ever since the institute had opened two and a half years ago. They had spent nights talking, days butting heads, surviving main board conferences, fighting for institute money and joking around. Eliane, who was not known to be the most sociable person, was always put at ease by Bertha’s startling sense of humor and her way to handle things. Bertha was British, Jewish, divorced and mother of two teenage children. Eliane didn’t know how she managed all of this, but she did.
"How are Jonah and Beccy?" she asked. "And how have things been going here?"
Bertha sank into Eliane’s visitor’s chair and gave her an update on things, while Eliane shrugged out of her suit jacket and removed her pumps. There, that felt a lot better. She remembered Joanna sitting in the chair a few minutes ago and sighed. It would be an interesting semester to say the least.
"So, how’s your new ass?" Bertha asked in her typical fashion.
"Arrogant," Eliane replied stiffly. "But unfortunately with a certain right to it."
Bertha grinned. "Found a challenge, Lil?"
Lil glared back at her. "I don’t need a challenge, I need an assistant. Not a super-brain or a supermodel."
"That was her? The Armani woman who is sitting in Annemarie‘s office?" Bertha was impressed. "Well, if she became assistant to you and your lousy social skills instead of having a modeling career she must be pretty good, Coffee." That was another joke between them, Bertha calling her Coffee, a beverage she detested, going more for tea, while Lil was a coffee addict.
"Don’t push it, Daniels..." Eliane was interrupted by a rumbling in her stomach. Not very surprising, as she hadn‘t had a proper meal since the airline dinner last night, which hadn’t been exactly proper, either. "What about lunch?" she sighed. "I won’t make it home before the meeting anyway."
"Always," Bertha replied. "Staff meeting is not before 15.00 h and if it doesn’t breach your personal etiquette to let your jacket dry here and leave the ‘house’ in a blouse, we could make it over to the Italian place."
"Bertha, that’s a student place." Eliane tended to avoid students outside of her lectures and consultations, being known to always keep up appearances.
"There’s not a single student in town yet, come on," Bertha coaxed. Eliane shook her head in slight amusement and reached for her shoes.
"You will share an office with the doctoral candidates we currently have." Annemarie explained, leading Joanna around the offices after they had finished the bureaucratic tasks. Because Annemarie knew everyone and everything and enjoyed a talk, Joanna was getting a good impression of the people she would work with.
"We have three full-time professors: Ms. Darhayne, then the professor for anthropology, Jeremy Crowe...he has long hair and the softest eyes. A beautiful man. And Prof. Bertha Daniels, who is my boss, for the sociology department. Best boss I have ever had." She motioned for Joanna to follow her. "Then there is Prof. Jochen Hoffmann for philosophy, he is only working halftime here, halftime at the Institute for philosophy... " She paused momentarily to adjust her huge glasses. "We have only two doctors – Philippe Riquet from France for musicology and Dr. Brett Garland from Berlin for psychology." She shot a quick glance over Joanna and added. "I would advise you to stay alert." Joanna didn’t get the meaning of the warning, but Annemarie didn’t pursue the topic. "We are supposed to get a new doctor this semester, though, for History... some Hungarian, I can’t spell her name... she should be here in several weeks."
They had reached a door at the end of the corridor which Annemarie opened. "And this is the doctoral candidate office – you will reside here, with Viola from the department of medical history and with Bjarne from sociology. I’d also advise you to watch out for Bjarne." The last sentence was added as an afterthought.
The room was separated into four little sections, each with a large desk, bookshelves in between and along the walls. The windows were looking out onto the campus four floors below. One windowsill held a little coffeemaker, and in one corner stood a surprisingly futuristic looking photocopier.
"Make yourself at home," Annemarie advised. "If you have any more questions, you know where you’ll find me or the secretary of Professor Darhayne, Mrs. Lamberti." Again she adjusted her glasses and added, unnecessarily, "She is Italian."
With that, she left Joanna in front of an empty desk. Joanna looked after the woman in the modest gray skirt suit, and decided that she was nice. She had given her information about almost everyone working in the office, without actually telling gossip. It was probably a good idea to stay on Annemarie’s good side, as she seemed to know everything that was going on and was obviously also willing to share her knowledge. Joanna tried to recall what she had said about Professor Darhayne, only to notice that she hadn’t made any comment on her, just mentioned her name. Slowly she began unpacking her briefcase. The first encounter with her employer had not at all been what she had imagined. She felt awkward and unsure, overdressed and helpless. Maybe it was just her usual talent to screw up everything, or this Darhayne woman had simply decided not to like her. If she didn’t want her suggestions, OK. But she would prove to her how good she could be. A steely, determined expression settled on Joanna’s face. You want me to just be your Girl-Friday? I’ll give you some Friday. I’ve been through bosses worse than you could ever be. And I never stopped saying what I thought. Yes, it got me into a lot of trouble. And a lot of truth. Just like in that book I can‘t believe you wrote. Maybe she had an older sister.
Well, if she was going to show this woman what she was capable of, she might as well get started. Taking out the file containing Darhayne’s seminar plans, Joanna decided to have a look at them to be prepared for any questions in the staff meeting she was supposed to attend later today. She was just working herself through the professor’s opinion on Shakespeare - not identical with her own, but very interesting and demonstrating great knowledge - when the door opened and Bjarne Lindqvist decided that gods existed after all, for one of them was currently sitting at the desk to his left. Now she turned her perfect head, baring the most exquisite throat he had ever seen, and shaped her gorgeous lips into a half smile.
"Hi," the goddess said.
The silliest expression of bliss spread over Bjarne’s boyish face, which he was completely unaware of, of it or anything, for that matter, except for the goddess-woman sitting in his office.
"I am Joanna Craig." She stood up, an elegant rise of endless legs and curves divine. Only the sax music in the background was missing.
All that Bjarne could manage, his blood leaving his brain rapidly because it was obviously needed elsewhere, was a weak "Oh.. my... God..."
The woman waited patiently. "And you are...?"
"Bjarne... Bjarne Lindqvist, Dep...Department of Sociology." he managed, almost without stuttering. "Can...can I help you with anything?"
Except for taking your eyes off my body, probably not, Joanna mused, but she didn’t say it aloud. It always happened and she wasn’t comfortable with it. The staring, the whistling, the remarks. After three semesters in Italy as a blond there probably weren’t many comments she hadn’t heard yet. Joanna always tried to not accentuate her body, preferring dark and loose garments and wearing little or no make-up, but it was a goal difficult to achieve, with her height and with all the voluptuous curves nature had bestowed upon her. Today she had felt obliged to look as impeccable and businesslike as possible, and had donned her one and only cherished Armani suit, a University graduation gift from her father. Not that it had helped to improve their relationship much, mind you. And it obviously hadn’t helped anything today either, remembering the rather reserved look over Darhayne had given her.
Bjarne still stood in the door, lost in the view of the woman before him. Probably he even had forgotten his own offer to help her with anything, because he needed a moment to recollect something close to a composure when Joanna asked him whether he could show her around the institute a little, this being her first day. Bjarne was only too glad to comply, giving her quite a different report than Annemarie had. After another half hour Joanna knew that Prof. Hoffmann was smoking in his office against the orders of the faculty and the security, but that he was a genius, somewhere up on his personal cloud. She knew that Jeremy Crowe had some ancestors from Barbados and played saxophone, that Bertha, Bjarne’s supervisor, was "one cool woman," that the new faculty Chief, a guy by the name of Gustav Freytag, was a complete idiot, and that Dr. Philippe Riquet was living with a choreographer from Dresden. He didn’t bother to ask her what she was doing in the office or what her job would be, too happy to have her present.
"I am the new assistant to Prof. Darhayne," Joanna mentioned carefully after a while. Maybe she could get a view on her new boss from him. "What kind of advice would you give me to get along with her?" she asked, rather delicately. No gossip, no scandals, no affairs, she remembered Darhayne’s rules. No good in getting caught trying to get information about her behind her back on the first day.
"You are Darhayne’s new ass?" Bjarne exclaimed, thus proving himself a loyal employee to both Bertha and her unique style of putting things.
"Assistant." Joanna corrected mildly annoyed, but Bjarne didn’t pay attention to it.
"You’re the one who challenged Darhayne flat out after knowing her for half a minute, asking her what good an assistant without a head could be?"
"Something like that." Joanna answered, wondering how Bjarne knew about this.
"It’s all over the floor! First thing I heard when I came in. No one would dare – it seems you did though --- I mean it‘s Darhayne. She is the control lady on campus. - Sure, she’s great at her stuff, and everything...." he corrected himself nervously, obviously afraid to get on Darhayne’s bad side if Joanna decided to forward the information to her employer. "She was the one who got this institute running in the first place. It’s just – no one would question anything she does. She is Miss Perfect Poise. No mistakes, no mess."
"Well, when I met her she had just come out of the rain and was certainly not Miss Perfect Poise." Joanna replied, slightly amused by the very respectful tone Bjarne was suddenly displaying.
"Oh," Bjarne breathed, paling a little. "I bet she was a real bitch with you then, hmmm?" Joanna didn’t answer and he went on. "She is composure personified. And to see her without it, is probably not the best start you could have with her."
"Oh, she was perfectly composed." Joanna assured him, recalling the cool and direct way Darhayne had handled their conversation. "Very impressive."
Bjarne merely nodded. "Yeah, that’s her." Then he shook his head. "There is probably no advice that I could give that you didn’t already blow – seeing her when she was less than perfect; challenging her flat out; looking way too good for your job…" He trailed off.
"What do you mean by that?" Joanna asked sharply. She hated to have her intelligence questioned because of her looks. Or to have her looks mentioned in any way, especially in relation to her work. She could probably outwit this Swedish sunnyboy in less than two minutes. Although she doubted that this would remove the particularly annoying look he had on his face.
"Never look more elegant than your supervisor," he commented dryly. "And always look more elegant than your students. Especially when your boss is Darhayne."
Joanna looked both embarrassed and at loss, an expression Bjarne liked because it made her look more human and less like some marble goddess statue.
He tried to explain. "Look, Darhayne is very much one for keeping up appearances. She says it keeps the institute running in the first place. You know, institutes run on one of three different sources – it’s money, it’s sex or it’s brains. This one is running on brains. Well, actually brains, idealism and coffee. If it wasn’t for Darhayne keeping that straight, along with the little money we have had the last two years, we might already have been closed down as a failed experiment."
Joanna remembered Annemarie mentioning that the director of the institute changed biennially. This was Prof. Daniels’ first year, so before it had been Darhayne? Oh yes. She could see that composed, energetic woman rule the whole department. Appearances? Joanna now winced at the memory of the woman with drenched hair and crumpled skirt suit. Bet she didn’t like that. No wonder she had been so harsh at their first meeting.
"Do you have something like a dress code?" she asked Bjarne. She had felt too awkward to bring the question up in her conversation with Annemarie, so she had skipped it.
"Actually... no." Bjarne leaned against the corner of Joanna’s desk, where she had taken her seat again. "It’s just some sort of unwritten law that you dress according to your position – suits for the profs, a little less formal for the docs... I think it says ‘no jeans’ somewhere, but it always depends…"
"Depends on what?" Joanna wanted to get this clear.
"Daniels doesn’t care much about it. Only made me take off my cap. And Crowe has been seen in jeans himself, so I think it depends on your position – whether the students respect you, you know?"
Joanna couldn’t imagine some student not respecting Eliane Darhayne. She couldn’t imagine her wearing jeans, either. "So what would you recommend?"
"As in... clothes?" Bjarne asked, seriously debating whether it would be inappropriate to suggest nothing but a smile. He looked down at his faded jeans. "In Darhayne’s department, more formal things than I wear, probably." He grinned. "But less...perfect...than you are looking now." Secretly, he doubted it that was possible that this woman wouldn’t look good under any kind of circumstances. "I mean you look great... really great!" he emphasized hastily. "But you usually are supposed to keep it...a level under your supervisor."
"I think I get the picture, thanks." Great. So she didn’t have to worry about getting herself stupid outfits and uncomfortable shoes.
Bjarne glanced at his watch. Still lunch time. It would be tempting the gods. But it would definitely be worth a try. She might say yes. He cleared his throat. "Listen, did you have..."
The sound of the door opening interrupted him and he looked up just in time to recognize Dr. Brett Garland. "Hello, Bjarne." And then she noticed Joanna and he had to witness the startled, appreciative look she gave her. Oh no. Oh no no no no no.
Joanna, too, had turned at the sound of the door. The woman in the doorway looking at her with smiling, bright green eyes was tall, about her height, and a little older than she was; brown, smooth hair in a ‘Prince Ironheart’ cut, framed a very sculpted face – eyes deep in the skull, bones of chin and cheeks standing out clearly, contrasting with the very defined and generous lips. She wore a loose linen pantsuit, a shawl in bright, earthy colors hanging from her shoulders. Her whole figure, though not as slender as Joanna’s, showed off bones and a little muscle, with a hint of curve in all the right places. Joanna noted no make-up, no jewelry, and extraordinarily beautiful big hands, holding a brown paper bag.
She now shifted the bag into one arm and extended a hand towards Joanna. "Brett Garland. Hi." She gave Joanna a look over, not as bluntly as Bjarne had, but definitely more delighted than Darhayne. "I suppose you are that Armani woman the whole floor is talking about?" Her voice was light and melodic, with a clear German accent.
"Joanna Craig," Joanna introduced herself.
"I know," Brett replied with another smile that reached her green eyes and made them twinkle. Her presence had a dazzling charm that she seemed to be aware of. "So...what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" she asked, only half joking.
"Getting chatted up by girls like you who don’t know yet that I’m not nice?" Joanna suggested coolly, but couldn’t keep the smile fully out of her voice.
Brett smiled on. "Touché."
Bjarne sat between the two women, awkwardly wondering where this flirtatious banter had come from, in mere seconds, and why Brett was so good at it while he wasn’t at all.
"Did they put you in this office?" Brett asked. "Did they tell you that it is part of the library? – Ah, I see, they didn’t."
Right. Nobody had. But it explained the bookshelves and the modern photocopier.
"I was looking for a book... but your conaissance might beat that." She gave Joanna a look from under half-closed eyelashes, flirting shamelessly. "I can’t offer you riches, but...what about an apple and a coffee, before the meeting is up?"
For the second time within an hour, Joanna was swept off her feet. She was used to all sorts of chat up lines by all sorts of men, but not by women like this definitely charming and attractive Dr. Garland. Not that she minded.
"I am sorry, Doctor – but I heard something about ‘no office affairs’ earlier today." she replied mildly.
"Damn! I hoped you hadn’t picked that up yet." Brett answered a trifle sheepishly. "And don’t ‘doctor’ me, please. I’m not that old yet." With that, she took an apple out of her paper bag, polished it shortly on her linen jacket and handed it to Joanna. "I think it will be a pleasure to have you with us. And don’t believe anything they tell you about me, I’m not that bad." She walked around the nearest bookshelf, looking for what she had come for in the first place.
Bjarne retreated to his own desk in silent defeat. It was just not fair. He was used to Brett being quicker than him and having the better chat up lines, but he was not used to women who shot back that easily, and enjoyed it. Still, that had only been the first round. He would get her out for lunch. After all, he had seen Joanna first.
After several minutes, Joanna had just finished the paper on Shakespeare and Brett had found what she had been looking for. Joanna watched her smiling as she reached for the door handle.
"Brett?" The psychologist turned around. "Is that offer of coffee still valid?"
The startled expression on both Brett’s and Bjarne’s faces was definitely worth it. But the doctor recovered quickly. "It would be my pleasure to show you to our infamous kitchen personally."
"So where are you from?" Brett asked, as they waited for the coffee to run through the filter.
The kitchen was not more than a small niche next to the bathrooms, but it had a sink and a little fridge. Various coffeemakers and several open coffee and tea packages were standing around, two shelves above displaying a variety of cups and mugs.
So - here’s the first question I really don’t like, Joanna noted. "Actually, from all over Europe," she replied lightly. "But I was born in Amsterdam." she added and then asked "I heard you were from Berlin? Where’d you get that name?"
"From my mother." Brett replied, not going into the topic.
She reached for two cups from the upper shelf. One was a simple lavender blue saying ‘good morning’ the other one spotted a caricature of what seemed to be an armed Bond girl, the inscription saying ‘Lady-killer’ in bold letters. Brett caught Joanna’s curious gaze and actually had the grace to blush.
"When we first started the institute, we always forgot our cups all over the place, and when the people from the cafeteria finally wouldn’t give us any more, we all got each other personal mugs. It was a kind of office sport," she explained, motioning at the mugs on the shelves.
"I assume that this is your personal mug." Joanna remarked dryly, pointing at the scantily clad Bond Girl.
"Of course." Brett smiled impishly. "There are worse mugs to have." She sorted through the lower shelf and pulled one out, showing it to Joanna. It displayed a little, stupidly grinning man surrounded by high-heeled legs, saying ‘Wannabe Lady-killer’. "Like this one poor Bjarne tends to hide from the others." Joanna had to laugh at this. "Believe me, I had more embarrassing ones myself." Brett added, while she poured coffee into both mugs. "There was this one that had Pamela Anderson in relief on it. Unfortunately I broke it." She didn’t seem to be sorry at all. "Milk and Sugar?" she asked, pulling the items out of the fridge.
"Milk, please – And why do you have the sugar in the fridge?"
"It tends to get lost otherwise." Brett looked for a spoon, adding considerable amounts of both sugar and milk to her coffee.
Joanna found her previous unease and helplessness ebb away at Brett’s amiable small talk. However, it reasserted itself when they entered the conference room later.
Prof. Darhayne was sitting next to the head of the table, various folders in front of her, hair and outfit impeccable, and looking only marginally less cold than she had during her meeting with Joanna, at whom she nodded briefly. She seemed a bit more relaxed, which served to make the energy she radiated more palpable. It also made her look younger. Brett had told her that Darhayne was thirty-four. Well, she certainly had a few wrinkles more than that, adding a little to her age, though the arrogant air about her was ageless. Seeing her now Joanna had to admit that with all her unnerving attitude Eliane Darhayne was indeed quite formidable.
Joanna looked at her other colleagues. The head of the table was occupied by a huge, dyed-blond woman, dressed in a shirt and tight pants, whose face was heavily covered in make-up. Her expression was determined and dignified, but much gentler and more at ease than Darhayne’s. She reminded Joanna of a whale who was just too big to consider anything worth getting annoyed about.
On her other side sat a tall, elderly man in a suit whose patterns were probably from the seventies, with white, disheveled hair that reached his collar. A gentle obliviousness to what was going on emanated from him. That had to be Prof. Hoffmann. Then there were Brett and Bjarne, and a young, sober looking brunette next to him - probably Viola. The man with a black ponytail, almond skin and incredibly soft brown eyes, across from Joanna, had to be Prof. Crowe. He was about forty, and looked a little like an out- grown fairy tale prince. Then there was Annemarie, and another woman, who had to be described as utterly attractive and feminine, managing to be the most elegant looking person in the room in a simple blouse and skirt. She was wearing several pieces of gold jewelry, adding to the bounty of heavy, rich, black curls falling onto her shoulders. Definitely Italian. They simply could do that. Joanna had spent enough time in Italy to feel absolutely clumsy and inept in the presence of an Italian woman. So that is Darhayne’s secretary? She wondered idly how this woman fitted into the dress code, but came to the conclusion that Signora Lamberti probably was an exception.
The last person to enter the room was a small man, about thirty, his outfit simple yet elegant, smelling of some exquisite perfume. His looks were average, the head already balding above his forehead, but he had an amiable, cultivated air about him that rendered Dr. Riquet quite attractive.
The staff meeting itself was not very long, but it was enough to give Joanna a view on how the institute structures worked, how the different people interacted with each other and how the work was organized interdisciplinarily. She was surprised to find herself looking forward to being a part of this. I thought I was really tired of this kind of job. But maybe it is what I’m supposed to do after all. I still like it.
"Miss Craig?" Eliane Darhayne stayed behind after the meeting, addressing her new assistant.
"Yes, Professor?" Joanna replied evenly. What was that what Bjarne had said? No mistakes, no mess? Darhayne would get none from her.
As she stood in front of her, she noticed how small her boss actually was. She looked delicate and almost fragile from such close proximity, an impression that was of course quickly negated by her whole demeanor.
"Miss Craig, I expect you to check in with me every morning. In the first weeks we should probably concentrate more on the tasks at hand, so that you will be properly prepared for my absences. After that...when we have arranged our work...situation...we will go into research and I will inform you where I could use your assistance."
Oh, what a subtle way to put it. Joanna thought sarcastically. So if you don’t like my work I get no chance to do research? Mind you, my dear Prof. Darhayne, I’ve done enough research in the past four years. I don’t need it, and if I want to, I will do it anyway. With or without your input. Although I’d really like to know how you wrote ‘Construction of Truths’. I still can’t believe that was you.
"Mrs. Lamberti made you copies of the semester schedule as well as of my own schedule," she handed Joanna a folder. Then, almost as an afterthought, she pulled a piece of paper out of the pocket of her jacket and scribbled something on it. "If you have any more problems, call me. I want no unnecessary misunderstandings."
More problems? What does she mean with that? She’s trouble enough all right.
"Well, then... welcome to the team. I will see you on Monday." Eliane nodded briskly and strode out of the conference room.
"Nice weekend to you, too." Joanna murmured. This was going to be hard. She raised her chin. But she would make it. One way or the other, as she had done with so many things.
She stowed the folder in her briefcase and turned to leave. At the last moment she remembered her umbrella. Walking back to her office, she came past Darhayne’s door, hearing the throaty voice of the professor, discussing something with her secretary. Joanna sighed. Then she straightened her shoulders and walked out of the institute, crossed the hall and met Bertha in front of the paternoster.
"Did you cope today?" she asked in a friendly manner. "When I started here three years ago I wanted to run screaming. Lil and I fought for weeks on end." She looked at Joanna sympathetically. "Brilliant, but tough," she said. With that, she stepped into the next empty cabin, a difficult, but obviously well-rehearsed maneuver. "Have a nice weekend."
"Likewise." Joanna answered, not quite sure whether this had been about Darhayne. Lil? I wonder if she really calls her that.
Eliane stepped off Tram 6 at Feuerbach Street. At least it had stopped raining. She walked up Wald Street and turned right at the second crossing into Christian Street, where she lived.
A shower, something to drink, and a bed. She repeated these words like a silent mantra in her head as she unlocked the door, stepped into the elevator and pressed the button ‘4’ to the top floor, which was her apartment. Her neighbors had already carried her luggage up there, which she had sent here directly. She decided to thank them tomorrow. Right now, she just wanted a shower, a drink and a bed.
The cool and dusty silence of an apartment not entered for almost six weeks greeted her. Actually it was too big for her – the entire fourth floor, four rooms, a balcony and a little roof-garden - but with her salary she could afford this luxury, and Eliane loved to have lots of space and rooms with little furniture. With a sigh she closed the door and leaned against it, kicking off her pumps. No luggage unpacking today. She felt the jetlag tug on her nerves and ambled over into the bathroom to turn on the heating. A bath did actually sound a lot more appealing than a mere shower. A few minutes later she was resting within warm water, delicately enriched with bathing oils, a brandy on the shelf and a book in her hand. Perfect end to a stressful day. The tension and the stiffness ebbed away and things seemed to be less bad. Even the arrogant Miss Craig was merely a task to be accomplished.
"Hey, Olga." Joanna padded into the kitchen with the phone.
"Yes, it’s me." she answered, easily switching to Dutch.
"Well, this is a surprise!" Olga seemed to be delighted. "We have guests over, but wait, I’ll just walk out for a minute..." Joanna heard voices and footsteps. "So – what’s going on?"
"I just thought I’d tell you that I met Darhayne today."
"So you got the job?"
"Yes, I moved into Leipzig several weeks ago. It’s pretty, actually. I have a park right across the street and guess what? I have a whole apartment to myself. Even with a little balcony."
"Well, I don’t think I could do without two terraces and a personal yard anymore..." Olga answered nonchalantly. "But I’m sure it’s great for you. I never understood why you got stuck with those idiots in the first place. Especially after they didn’t accept your work. And the student houses, with all those roommates they offer, were a big reason for me to get out of the system as soon as possible."
"I know, Olga." Joanna replied mildly. "Not everyone can become Mrs. Ambassador though, and have two terraces."
"You’ve always been into the brain work, Johanna. – Did you..."
Joanna knew what Olga meant. "They left my name English. I told them it would be my publishing name, so they put it on my university ID. It was pretty easy."
"Just be careful, OK? You could really get into a big mess this time."
"How much bigger could it be, hmmm?"
They were both silent for a moment. Joanna used the opportunity to take a yogurt out of the fridge.
"So tell me, how’s Darhayne? Is she as you imagined?"
"She’s ...no, not at all. She’s much younger, only thirty-four. Very controlling, very composed. Sort of bitchy. But impressive."
"Well, yes or no?" Olga wouldn’t let it go.
"Actually..." Joanna considered the image of the woman entering her office and stopped in her search for a spoon. "…she’s rather attractive, I’d say. Quite small, but with a definite air of command around her. And really arrogant."
"Talking about arrogance..." It was Olga’s turn to sound mildly annoyed.
"How’s Richard?" Joanna changed the topic. "And whom do you host tonight?"
"Richard’s fine. And they’re Algerian. Very modest dress. Strange food. And I think Richard could kill them every time they look at me."
Joanna laughed. Olga had never been one for modest clothing and it had gotten her into a lot of trouble back at school.
"Listen, I have to get back in. I’ll call you, OK? Bye, Johanna."
Olga didn’t have much time anymore, being married to a Dutch Ambassador, currently living in France. Funny. Olga had always been the unconventional one. Organizing forbidden parties, playing strip poker, smoking on the convent toilet, never backing up – a trouble magnet. At university, she had left in a big scandal, involving several professors. After that, she had traveled around pretty much all of the world, spent a lot of time in India, and had then ironically done what her upper-class parents always had wanted: Fallen in love with an ambassador twenty years older than she was, gotten married, and was leading a diplomatic life. And Olga was happy.
Happier than Joanna, after two rejected doctorates; fired from the State Scholarship she had had for so many years which made university work back in the Netherlands impossible; about to work in a strange country with a name that was not even her own for what seemed to be a pretty unfriendly professor.
Let’s not get into that subject, Joanna warned herself. No parents, no professor, no thesis. At least not tonight. She walked back into her bedroom.