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Six Boxes

By P.J. Lowry All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Thriller

Six Boxes

They gathered in the boardroom around nine in the morning, as instructed. The first arrived at exactly eight-thirty, dressed in one of his best suits and ready to impress. He got the notice from his team leader the day before, being summoned to the board room the next morning. Part of him was worried that he might be in trouble, but he had applied for a promotion less than a month before that, so part of him was hoping this might be an interview for the position, which was why he was wearing his best suit. The next person didn’t walk in until fifteen minutes later. “Janice.” he called out as she entered the room.

“Darren.” she called back as she looked around. “There are designated seats?”

“It appears so.” Darren replied as he held up a card in front of the seat he was sitting in. “There are five of them.”

“Five?” Janice repeated. “Then this can’t be an interview.”

“That’s what I was thinking on my way here.” Darren said as he gestured to his suit.

“Lovely.” Janice said as she finally noticed. “We can’t be in trouble either. Some of these people work in other divisions.”

“Morning ladies.” A voice called as the third person invited made his entrance.

“Good morning, Vance.” Darren called back. “You’re chipper today.”

“Well, it’s not everyday the boss man calls you up to the board room.” Vance said as he strolled up to the window to admire the view looking forty stories up from downtown Manhattan. “When you’re in trouble, you get called to HR.”

“Is that coming from theory or experience?” Janice asked.

“Ha ha.” Vance said as he walked back to the table. “Do any of you know what this is about?”

“No clue.” Janice answered.

”Ditto.” Darren concurred. He then waved as someone else walked into the room. “Hey Jim.”

“Gentlemen.” Jim called back out. “And lady.” He said with a nod as he noticed Janice was there. He held up a small box. “Anyone want a donut?”

”Not in this suit.” Darren replied.

”No thanks.” Janice replied.

“Dude, you are such a brownnoser!” Vance said as he laughed out loud. Then he stole a honey curler from his co-worker. “Thanks.”

“Not a problem.” Jim replied as he found his seat. “So what’s the skinny on why we’ve been summoned by the man on the hill. Anybody?”

“No one has a clue.” Vance said with a mouth full of donut.

“Great.” Jim said as he tossed the box onto the table after taking a Boston Cream for himself. “At least we’re not being fired.”

“What makes you say that?” Janice asked.

“Look around.” Jim answered. “We are near if not the best out of our respective divisions. If I was a betting man, I’d say we all applied for the same position a month ago.”

Darren sat up when he heard that. “I applied for head of division a month ago. Did you all apply for it as well?”

Their silence seemed to confirm the obvious. All five of them were each other’s competition for a higher position in the company.

“If that’s true...” Vance started after finishing his donut. “Then why are we all here in the same room?”

“Maybe the boss wants to see us before he makes the final decision?” Janice asked.

“Maybe he expects us to fight for it?” Darren suggested.

“I don’t see any duelling pistols.” Jim added with a hint of sarcasm.

“Maybe we’ll settle this through Mortal Kombat!” Vance said with a chuckle as he started to do some kung fu poses.

“Not likely, geek boy.”

Everyone turned to see that the final person had arrived for the meeting. Her name was Annette and she was a fierce competitor. If the boss man brought in a game console and asked her to play for a promotion, she would mop the floors with everyone to get ahead. She doubted that would be the case, but the gathering of everyone in the room intrigued her.

“Now that we’re all here... let the battle begin!” Vance said as he did his best movie voice.

“Settle down.” Darren said as Vance’s immaturity was getting on his last nerve. The guy was a hard worker but his inability to control his verbal diarrhoea made him a terrible choice for the head of the new division that they were going open very soon. Darren wanted this job badly, but he had been passed over before. He was hopefully, but didn’t set himself up like he had done the last time he tried to advance the corporate ladder. He had learned from previous experience.

Just then, another man walked into the room. Everyone stopped talking when he walked in, for this man was the last person they expected to see stroll in: the CEO of the company. It was his name on the door and every product they produced, so to say they five of them in the room were surprised was a complete understatement. Devon McGregor was a self made man, one of the richest blokes in the world and a man who preferred a more hands on approach with everything, even when it came to handling the people under him. “Thank you all for being on time.” Mr. McGregor said with a smile. “Please be seated.”

All five of them found their seats quickly.

Mr. McGregor took a seat opposite of all five of them. He paused for a moment and the noticed the box in the middle of the table. “Who brought donuts?”

“I did.” Jim answered.

”May I?” Mr. McGregor asked as he gestured to the small box.

“Of course.” Jim answered.

“How very thoughtful.” Mr. McGregor said as he grabbed a walnut crunch, which was his personal favourite. Jim was aware of that, which was why he made sure three of them were in the box. “I’m on a diet myself, but since I didn’t buy it... it doesn’t count. At least that’s what I’ll be telling the wife.” He took a bite of the donut and treasured it as it was the first sweet thing he had in over two weeks. A moment after that blissful scene, he put the donut down and got to business. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why you’re here.”

“We suspect it might have something to do with the position we applied for.” Darren quickly spoke up. “Head of the new division.”

“Wow.” Mr. McGregor admitted with a grin. “You guys really are the brightest we have. Nothing gets by you.”

“So this is about the position?” Janice asked.

“It is.” Mr. McGregor confirmed.

“Is this a group interview?” Vance asked as he finally spoke up.

“Not really.” Mr. McGregor answered as he took another bite from his donut. “We made the necessary inquires and did a thorough background check on you all.”

“So you’re going to tell us who got the position?” Darren inquired.

“Well that’s the problem.” Mr. McGregor said as he put the donut down. “We haven’t been able to come to a consensus. We're deadlocked.”

“I don’t understand.” Jim said as it wasn’t the answer any of them wanted to hear.

“The truth is, all five of you are perfect for the job.” Mr. McGregor admitted. “I have no doubt that all five of you would do an amazing job. That’s the problem; we haven’t been able to make a decision. That's why I’ve called you all up here this morning.”Before anyone could say anything else, Mr. McGregor snapped his fingers and six men walked into the room, each of them carrying a small box. The boxes they were carrying were about a square foot. The six men carrying the boxes all stood behind Mr. McGregor and stayed there, holding their boxes like statues.

“What’s with the boxes?” Annette asked.

“We’re going to play a game.” Mr. McGregor answered. “The winner of this game is going to be promoted to head of the new division.”

Darren was uneasy, but he didn’t get this close to chicken out. “What kind of game?”

“Each of you has to pick a box. In one of them is the promotion you all applied for. In the other five are something completely different. Some of these things are good, but they’re not your promotion. Two of them are very bad.” Mr. McGregor stood up from his chair and started to pace around the room. “No one will be forced to play the game. If you want out, there’s the door.”

“What happens if we refuse?” Janice asked.

“Nothing.” Mr. McGregor replied. “You’ll go back to work, and nothing will change. But if you walk out that door, you are guaranteed not to get the promotion. Nothing else will happen but you will be eliminating yourself from contention for the position.”

The five of them sat at the table, thinking about what they should do. They were so close to getting promoted, they could taste it.

“You have two minutes.” Mr. McGregor then called out. “If you leave before then: no harm, no foul. If you choose to stay, you have to pick a box.”

A few seconds later Jim was the first to stand. “I’m afraid I don’t want to play this game, Mr. McGregor.”

Mr. McGregor’s face never flinched, which gave Jim the impression he must be a very good poker player. “Are you sure about this, Jim?”

The fact that the CEO knew his name was flattering, but Jim was sure. “I’ve been working here for five years, Sir. During that time I have enjoyed being your employee but I honestly don’t think I’m the best person for this position. I applied to show initiative and how serious I am about working for you.”

”If that was your goal,” Mr. McGregor replied, “You have succeeded.”

Jim reached out to shake his boss’ hand. “As much as I want this promotion, I want to keep working here even more. I don’t want to risk the relationship I have with you and your company just for a chance to win. The gamble is too great.”

Mr. McGregor didn’t hesitate to shake Jim’s hand. “It takes a great deal of courage to walk away from the table. I respect that. Thank you for coming and take the rest of the day off, with pay.”

“Thank you, Mr. McGregor.” Jim said as he turned to the rest of the people still seated. “Good luck, everyone.”

Everyone watched as Jim left the room and eliminated himself from contention for the promotion.

“And then there were four.” Mr. McGregor said as he couldn’t help but smile. “Anyone else want to bail? This is your last chance.”

No one moved from their seats. With one less person in the room, they all now had a twenty-five percent chance of landing a new job. One that offered a private office, a much higher salary and a chance for further promotion in the future if you succeeded.

“Excellent!” Mr. McGregor said as he then closed the door to the board room. “Like I said before, there are six boxes. Three of them have really amazing things in them, one of them being the previously mentioned position everyone has applied for. There has to be an element of risk so the last two are very, very bad. So who wants to go first?”

Everyone looked at each other and then back at the CEO who was patiently waiting to see who wanted to run over the others for the first crack at the prize.

“I can see you’re all nervous.” Mr. McGregor said as he continued to pace the room. “That’s perfectly understandable. I can be a little intimidating sometimes.”

“Why not ladies first?” Janice then asked.

“Not a bad idea.” Mr. McGregor answered. “But I’m sure you’re aware that McGregor Industries believes in gender equality. So I’ve put all your names into a jar and we’re going to draw your names out randomly. That way everyone has an equal chance to go first.”

Everyone held their breath as McGregor took out a jar and then drew the very first name. He opened the small piece of paper and then showed it to the people who were still sitting: Annette.

“All right.” Annette said as she was a little excited. She had a one in six chance to pick the right box first. She stood up. “Would you like me to select right now?”

“Please.” Mr. McGregor said as he stepped aside. “I’d like you to open the box immediately and then show everyone else what’s inside.”

Annette stepped away from her desk and approached the five men who were standing there, holding their boxes. She paused for a moment and then b-lined for the man standing in the middle, selected box number three. “I choose this one.”

“Very good.” Mr. McGregor called out as he was very proud she didn’t drag things out. “Please open the box and show us what’s inside.”

Annette opened the box and reached inside. She pulled out a envelope and quickly opened that as well. Inside it was a card with a single word written on it: Hawaii.

“What does that mean?” Annette asked.

“Well, good news and bad news.” Mr. McGregor said as he took the card from her. “The bad news is you’re not going to get the job. The good news is you picked one of the good boxes. This card means you and your husband as well as your two children will be going to Hawaii, all expenses paid. You’ll be taking my private jet down there and spending two weeks at a five star resort.”

Annette didn’t know what to say. Part of her was excited to take a vacation with her family, but another part of her wanted to get that job. She had no idea how to respond.

Mr. McGregor could tell and stepped in. “Thank you for playing, Annette. Like Jim, you have the day off. Go surprise your husband at work and let him know you’re all going on vacation next week.”

“Thank you.” Annette finally said as she shook her boss’ hand and then left the board room.

After Annette left the room, Mr. McGregor turned his attention to the three who remained. “All right, who’s going next?”

Without hesitation, Mr. McGregor McGregor fished his hand back into the jar and pulled out another name: Jim.

Everyone couldn’t believe what they saw. Brownnoser Jim would have gone second had he not bailed out on the game when given a final chance. Mr. McGregor looked at the name, shrugged and then drew another. He held up the new card and showed it to everyone: Vance.

Vance took a deep breath and then stood up. He had been thinking about which of the six boxes to pick since they walked into the room and he was had decided what one he would pick a while back. He strolled up to the fifth man in the line and took his box. He took the envelope out of the box and opened it. Like the previous card, it had a single word on it: Gone.

Mr. McGregor walked up and took the card from him. He looked at it and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Vance. You’ve picked a bad box.”

“Damn.” Vance cussed. “What does this one mean?”

Mr. McGregor’s face had zero emotion. “You’re fired.”

The colour suddenly flushed from Vance’s face. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me.” Mr. McGregor said as he opened the door. “Security will take you to your desk and you have twenty minutes to pack up your stuff. Leave the building without a fuss and I will personally write you a glowing reference. Resist and I’ll make sure you never work in this city again.”

Vance wanted to say something but he could tell by the look on the CEO’s face that this decision was final. “Yes, Sir.”

Darren and Janice watched in shock as Vance accepted his fate and left the office to head back to his desk to clean it out. Two armed security guards walked with him to make sure it was done promptly.

“Wow!” Mr. McGregor called out as he closed the door. “This shit just got real!”

Darren was the first to speak. “Is Vance really fired?”

“Yes, he is.” Mr. McGregor answered. “And you could be too if you don’t pick the right box.”

“What if we don’t want to pick a box anymore?” Janice asked.

”If you refuse to pick, you’ll join Vance in the land of the unemployed.” Mr. McGregor quickly answered. “And unlike Vance, you won’t have a reference to help you find a new job.”

“Yes, Sir.” Janice took a deep breath and did her best to calm down. Both she and Darren had no choice; they had to pick out a box from the four that remained or their career with McGregor industries was over.

“All right, let’s keep this moving!” Mr. McGregor said as he put his hand back into the jar to pull out a new name. He opened the card and revealed it to the two people who were left: Janice.

Janice took a deep breath and took of his jacket as he got up. She walked over to think about the boxes and looked back at Mr. McGregor. It was obvious to both of them he was dying to see which box she would select. There must have been a million thoughts going through her head, but after a few seconds she made a choice. She reached over and grabbed Box #2 and then opened it. She took out the envelope inside and then showed it to Mr. McGregor. This time the card had two words written on it: Second Chance.

“This is so exciting!” Mr. McGregor said as he could barely contain himself. “Don’t worry, Janice. This is actually one of the good boxes.”

“What does ‘second chance’ mean?” Janice asked. She had some idea of what she thought it might mean, but preferred to ask just to be sure considering how unpredictable the morning had been so far.

“There’s two parts to it actually.” Mr. McGregor answered. “You have two choices. You have a second chance to walk out the door, free and clear like Jim did earlier... or... you can pick another box!”

Janice was clearly blown away. It was a very difficult decision. It’s evident that a second chance to pick another box is tempting, but there was still a bad box out there. For a brief moment she considered walking out the door and quitting while she was still ahead. If she picked the wrong box, she could be fired like Vance was just moments ago. As much as the idea scared her, one thought ran through her mind: she’d rather be fired than to quit at anything. “I’m going to pick another box.” she confidently declared.

Mr. McGregor’s eyes lit up as she made her choice. “I am seriously impressed, Janice! You've got some gusto!” He made a motion to the boxes and smiled. “Please pick another box.”

Janice walked back over to look over the three remaining boxes. Inside one of them was the job she had been working years to get. She took a deep breath and finally chose another box, grabbing box number four. She quickly opened it, removed the envelope and took a look at the card. She paused for a few moments and then showed it to Mr. McGregor. The CEO took the card looked at it and then showed it to Darren.

Whatever it was, Darren had no clue. It was written in another language. “Is that Chinese?” he quickly asked.

“As a matter of fact, it is.” Mr. McGregor answered, slightly impressed.

“What does it say?” Janice asked.

“Two words.” Mr. McGregor said as he handed the card back to her. “Hong Kong.”

“Did I win a vacation to Hong Kong?” she asked.

“Not quite.” Her boss answered. “You’re being transferred to our Asian headquarters over there. Your new job starts next week.”

“Is it a promotion?” Janice asked.

”It’s the same job you have right now, with the exact same salary.” Mr. McGregor answered. “It just happens to be in Hong Kong.”

“I don’t want to live in Hong Kong.” Janice answered.

“Too bad.” Mr. McGregor answered. “I suggest you head home and start packing. You will be leaving for China in four days.”

Janice was on the verge of tears but the alternative was to join Vance with the ranks of the unemployed. “Yes, Mr. McGregor.”

Darren watched as Janice left the office, visibly upset but with no choice. He paused for a moment and then stood up. “I guess it’s my turn.”

“It sure is, sport.” Mr. McGregor replied. “There are two boxes left. Would you like a moment to think about it?”

“That won’t be necessary.” Darren answered.

”Really?” Mr. McGregor replied.

“Yes.” Darren confirmed.

“Your choice?” the CEO asked.

Darren smiled. “I’ll take box number one.” He gestured over to the fellow who was holding box number one. “Pass it over.”

The man walked over and handed him the box. Darren never hesitated and opened it. He pulled out the envelope and opened it and then handed the card over to his boss. Mr. McGregor looked at the card and smiled when he read it. The card contained only a single word: Winner.

“I win.” Darren said with a cocky smile on his face.

“Well done!” Mr. McGregor said as he held out his hand.

“Thank you for this opportunity, Sir.” Darren said as he shook it.

“You figured it out, didn’t you?” McGregor inquired.

“I believe so.” Darren said as he sat back down. “The boxes are organized by value, aren’t they?”

“That is correct.” Mr. McGreggor acknowledged.

“So if someone had volunteered to go first, they were increasing their chances of losing since there was a pattern to where everything was.”

“Exactly.” his boss said, impressed to no end.

“The promotion we all wanted was in the first box, because it’s the one thing we all wanted. The second chance was in box number two because a second crack at the job was more important than a two week vacation. The vacation was in box number three because it’s just a short trip and we get to come home afterwards, which is why a transfer to Hong Kong is ranked lower. I can only assume that both box five and six are both the same, that being dismissal of the unfortunate saps that happened to select them.”

“Brilliant.” Mr. McGregor said as he clapped. “As you can see, you are the right person for this job. Congratulations!”

“May I ask a question, Mr. McGregor?” Darren then asked.

“Sure, anything.” His boss replied.

“Who would have gotten the job if I picked box #6?” Darren asked. He was curious to who would have gotten the promotion if no one had selected the right box.

“If no one picked the right box.” Mr. McGregor started. “We would have picked five more people and tried again.”

“So what now?” Darren asked.

“Now we go out for lunch!” McGregor answered. “Do you like Sushi?”

“Love it.” Darren lied.

“Fantastic!” Mr. McGregor said as he put an arm around Darren’s shoulders. “We’re going to eat, drink and talk about your new position as the head of our new division!”

“I don’t mean to offend you.” Darren said, “But would you be upset if I hired Vance to be a part of my new division?”

“Of course not.” Mr. McGregor answered. “I hear the kid’s got a killer reference.”

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