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The Meeting
by Peter McMillan

It took place every Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 in the 12th floor boardroom. Everyone had meetings, but this one was different. It had been going on for four years.

Sitting in the middle at the long table, her back to the window, was the former director of human resources, an angular face framed by too-red hair, retired after 35 years and now a consultant, still nonplussed that no one showed up for her retirement party.

On her left was the very large and athletic interim project director who had been recruited for his precisely-articulated and methodically-ordered plans, but who routinely failed to secure budget commitments and spent most of his time in an empty project office.

Opposite was the former interim project director, now senior advisor emeritus, a short but distinguished raconteur and pitchman with an overused repertoire of the risqué, whose self-promotion and calculated liaisons had always ensured his place at the table.

To his left was the self-proclaimed American dissident who had evaded an earlier Asian war but whose professed anti-establishment views were embarrassingly incongruous with his corporate outlook as financial comptroller.

Next to the consultant, at the far end of the table, was the balding but still young and very ambitious senior VP for sales and marketing whose only fault seems to have been an overzealous attentiveness that vacillated between the cloying and the random.

At the other end of the table was the chief of technology, the legacy of an ancient merger, whose occasional outbursts, always irrelevant and usually unintelligible, were tolerated, but just barely, by his brother-in-law, the chairman.

Opposite him at the head of the table sat the chairman, a tall impeccably-dressed man of middle age, who had directed the last 199 meetings. His secretary was absent, so there were no refreshments, and there was no one to take the minutes, not that anyone ever did.

Following protocol, the chairman greeted each member, proceeding by rank, and then he stood up, excused himself, and walked to the door.

When he opened the door, a security detail of 12 poured into the room and escorted the other six out to the elevator lobby. In the lobby, the chairman, without word, gesture, or eye contact, handed each one an envelope.

After the elevator had taken the last group down, the chairman walked back into the meeting room, closed the door, sat down, and looked straight ahead. Then came three knocks on the door.