"Right Sandy," said Ron, "I've called you in for this review because there's been some doubt expressed at higher levels that you're not really pulling your weight."
I gaped at him, clueless as to what he might mean.
"You see, it's been noted that you went home every night last week at 7:30," continued Ron, who was busy not looking at me. He was corpulent, florid and bald, sat behind a flatpack desk on a chair a little too small for his bulk. His pin-striped suit, stretched across his gut, made him look like an executive beach-ball. "There's concern expressed that you're not committed enough."
"Er, but our working day is 9 till 5:30," I said. "I haven't exactly been leaving early."
"But you're not staying all that late either, are you?" said Ron, wheezing slightly. "You should take a leaf out of Alex's book, he's got real commitment to the company."
"He's dead!" I said. "We found him dead at his desk in his cubicle, and only because the cleaners complained that he was starting to smell."
"For which we're all deeply grateful," said Ron, then paused, looking puzzled. "Deeply regretful," he corrected himself. "But he showed commitment, Sandy, even in death. It turns out that his life insurance policy named the company as his benefactor. Thanks to his death we have a once-off profit to add to the balance sheet this year; we're thinking that the return to the shareholders will be up a whole half-percent on last year. He had no dependents, so there's no-one to contest it.
"Is that the problem, Sandy? Is family getting in the way? At the last board meeting the directors approved us hiring a divorce lawyer full-time so as to be able to provide staff with the most competitive prices. We can get you out of any awkward marriage commitments."
"Well, I have a girlfriend--" I started, but Ron cut me off.
"That's fine Sandy, we'll have the corporate lawyers send her a cease-and-desist letter. We'll have you footloose and fancy-free in no time! A young buck like you should be proving your commitment to the company now, and earning the salary that'll allow you to buy the woman of your dreams when you retire!"
"Umm, I think I'd quite like--"
"We all would, Sandy, but we have to think about what's best for the company here. Look at the CEO for example. His racing yacht was written off last month when it ran over that sunken coral reef off the coast of Australia, and because it was secured against his wife and children he's all on his own until the insurance comes through and frees them up."
"What?" I said, feeling that I'd missed something Ron had said.
"They're collateral," said Ron patiently, shifting in his seat and making the chair groan. "They've been indentured so that if the insurance doesn't come through the bank gets its money back anyway. His wife is working as an exotic hostess in Swindon, and his children are being used for testing genetically modified crops by one of the big agrifirms."
"That's inhuman!" I said.
"Not at all," said Ron happily, grinning from ear to ear. "He spoke to them only last week, and said that they're as happy as pigs in genetically engineered mud up there."
"Mud doesn't have genes," I said.
"Their's does!" said Ron, and again he looked slightly puzzled for a moment, then his face brightened again. "But the point is, Sandy, that you need to show a little more commitment. The firm wants to get more from you in return for what we're giving you. We're going to put you on the incentive program."
"I've not heard of that," I said, wondering what they could offer me that they thought would encourage me to work myself to death.
"It's not something we talk about a lot," said Ron, "and only selected employees are eligible for it. Fortunately both of your parents were still alive, so you are."
"Were?" I said. My blood was suddenly roaring in my ears, my heart was pounding in my chest, and little black dots were eating away at my vision.
"Well," said Ron, sounding embarrassed for the first time, "like I said, it's an incentive program, so you have to know what the consequences of failing to take the incentive are..."