Herman had sensed trouble when he walked into the conference room, but, by the time the urge to retreat had grabbed hold of his viscera, the door swung shut with an ominous click.
The conference table and chairs had all been cleared out of the room, the floor of which was now covered with plastic sheeting. Most of the fluorescent lights were off, and those that were still glowing flickered intermittently. There was newsprint taped to the windows. A stale smell of copper and sweat hung in the air.
He stood next to Philip from asset management, a man he’d hired a year before. His junior PM bore the same bewildered, slightly fearful expression—a kind of wide-eyed, slack-mouthed timidity, the kind of a guilty dog awaiting the toe of it’s master’s boot.
The company’s vice president of finance, Jeffrey Dilmore, a man-shaped ball of underutilized flesh stuffed into an expensive shirt and tie, stood with Ms. Graham-Newton from HR. She peered over her glasses and jotted on a clipboard as Benton read from a packet of papers clenched in his stubby fingers.
“Ah,” he started, with a throat-clearing sound. “Gentlemen … as you may recall from last week’s interoffice memo, we’ve decided to dispense with the usual annual review format and, how should I put it? Mix things up a little?”
Herman glanced warily at Philip, who seemed to be trying to located enough saliva under his tongue to swallow.
“The sad truth, gentlemen,” continued Dilmore, “is with the current state of the discount retrofit air conditioner parts market, we’re facing a situation of shrinking revenues. Consequently, there are, unfortunately, redundancies we need to eliminate.”
He paced to the center of the room, his tasseled wingtips scrunching the plastic with each step. “I think you know where I’m going with this.”
Herman felt the invisible hand gripping his guts tighten and begin to twist.
“In short, we have one project manager position left and the two of you. I suppose we could simply go with the senior PM,” he said, waving a hand at Herman. “But I thought it would be interesting to offer a more … competitive method of filling the position.”
Dilmore dropped two metal bars in the middle of the floor, then walked back to the corner of the room where Ms. Graham-Newton was still scribbling intently. She stopped, clicked her ballpoint pen twice, and gazed intently at the two men.
“Shirts and shoes off,” she barked. “In the middle. You have five minutes.”
Good thing I decided to skip breakfast, Herman mused as he undid his tie.