A friendly warning

Short story from the near future

Johnson glances nervously at his watch. Seventeen twenty-six. The lift reaches the seventh floor, and the doors slide quietly open with a hiss of hydraulics. He steps out into the thickly-carpeted corridor, and pauses to adjust his tie.

Glancing around, he feels a momentary sting of resentment at the lavish decor, before his fear swamps all other emotions. Turning, he walks purposefully down the corridor towards the Company President’s office. It wouldn’t do to be late.

The memo had been no surprise; if anything, he would have expected it sooner. However, the invitation to a “friendly chat” with the boss had been unexpected.

Johnson reaches the elegant oak-panelled door, and runs his fingers nervously through his thinning grey hair. The gleaming brass nameplate in front of him almost seems intimidating in itself. He knocks at the door; the voice of a secretary beckons him in, and he cautiously opens the door and steps inside.

“Go right in,” smiles the young girl. “He’s expecting you.”

She continues putting on her coat, in preparation for leaving the building and stepping out into the cold November air.

Johnson smiles back. He finds that he can empathise with the girl; her job has to be even more soul-destroying than his. Stepping over to the inner door, he endeavours to affect an air of confidence; he taps on the door, opens it, and strides into the inner office.

“Ah, good afternoon, Johnson,” the Company President greets him. “Take a seat. I’ll only keep you for a few minutes.”

Johnson sits down, placing his briefcase on the floor beside the chair. He gazes levelly at his boss, across the polished desk.

“Thank you, Sir,” he murmurs.

“Well, Johnson, you’ve doubtless guessed why I’ve called you in here. In recent weeks I’ve become somewhat worried by your attitude. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you resented your position.”

The deep voice carries a hint of a suppressed chuckle. Smug bastard, Johnson thinks to himself.

“I realise that it must be hard to come to terms with the fact that you can rise no higher in the corporation,” continues the President. “I can sympathise with you, really I can, but the fact is that in a large corporation like ours, the more privileged jobs require the more able workers.”

Johnson clears his throat. “I realise that, Sir. Naturally the best job must go to the best man.”

“Your sarcasm is unnecessary, and yet another example of your unhealthy attitude. Consider this to be a friendly warning; there is no place for cynicism or individualism in this corporation. There are plenty of other men who would be more than happy to take over your position.”

“Yes, Sir,” Johnson nods.

“I really wouldn’t want to lose you. Without people like you to keep the bureaucratic machinery ticking over, where would the decision-makers be, eh?” A deep, cold feeling of hatred grips Johnson. He tries to smile affably at his superior, but cannot bring himself to meet the calculating gaze.

“Now, go home. Get some rest. Enjoy your weekend, and hopefully you’ll be mentally fit for work on Monday. As I said, this was just a friendly warning.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Johnson rises, and turns towards the door.

“Good night, Johnson.”

“Good night, Sir.”

“Oh, and Johnson?”

Pausing in mid-stride, Johnson hears the dull pounding of his heartbeat. He looks back over his shoulder. “Yes, sir?”

“Switch me off as you go out, there’s a good chap.”