Tompkins felt confident. He knew his qualifications: A school with a great name, grades that showed he was smart and worked hard, experience with a respected company through his internship, and on top of that his charm and charisma. He would not have a problem with the interview. The job was practically his. Only the formality of their offer remained.
“We’re very impressed, Jim,” they had told him at the end of his first interview, “You’ll be hearing from us in the next week or so.” It was no surprise to him when they called him eight days later for a second interview. “Just a formality really, part of the process to make it official,” they had told him over the phone. He knew he was in.
His confidence showed in his walk as he approached the building where he would soon be the newest associate. As he opened the door to enter he saw Martin Pintell round the building’s corner. Martin was a former classmate that had also applied for the job. He was a little old fashioned and rough at the edges. He didn’t fit the image of associate, not at a firm that was all about image. Jim didn’t give a second thought to Martin as he passed through the large decorative glass door. The job is mine, he thought as he smiled.
“Hello Jan,” he said to the receptionist with a professional nod as he headed for the elevator. He had made it a point to remember her name and say hello. It was one of the things that set him apart from the competition. It wasn’t a big thing to do, especially since he would be seeing her so frequently from now on.
After pushing the button for the elevator he stood patiently waiting. He examined his reflection in the polished metal doors he was facing. His confident figure looked back at him. Tall, he stood at just over six feet. His golden yellow hair had the look of careless perfection—professional bordering on casual that hinted that he would be equally comfortable in a board room or on horseback. His navy blue suit and “power tie” complimented his eyes, giving them a look of cunning. He liked the look, the sharpness of it.
In the reflection appeared the blur of an approaching figure. Instead of turning to appease his curiosity he remained as he was. He was in control of the environment, not the other way around. As the figure grew larger it also became more clear. It was Martin.
“Hey, Marty,” he said using the old nickname that sounded childish in the starkly business setting.
“Hello Jim,” Martin said not reacting to the tone. “How have you been?”
“Quite well actually. What brings you here today?”
“A second interview. You?” he said simply. Jim was a little surprised. But as a token of his savvy he didn’t show it.
“I have a meeting,” he said trying to give an air of importance that excluded Martin. There had to be a mix up or some other confusion. They couldn’t both he there for the same reason.
The chime of the elevator’s arrival took Jim’s mind from his thoughts to the more comforting realm of action. He stepped in and pushed the button for his floor. Martin also entered. Jim looked at him expectantly, as if asking which other button he should push. Martin picked up on the cue and simply said that he was headed to the same floor.
Not a good sign, but not a problem. But the feeling that there was problem mounted as Martin followed the same course as Jim and they arrived together at the conference room where his interview was to take place. Jim opened the door and let Martin enter first. If Martin’s presence was a bad sign, it was little compared to what he saw when he entered.
The configuration of the room was different than it had been when he last saw it at his first interview. There were two tables facing each other, one long, the other short. At the long table sat what Jim assumed were other applicants for his job. Some he recognized, others he didn’t, about 10 in all. At the small table sat three men. One was the managing partner, the other was the director of H.R., the third seemed out of place. The third man’s presence was enough to unnerve Jim. Nervousness was starting to show through his façade of confidence.
Jim found that one of the two open seats was reserved for him, his name written on a slip of paper. His seat was one space in from the end of the table. He sat and waited. The meeting started almost immediately now that all of the seats were full. Jim noticed that Martin was at the far end of the table.
“Thank you all for coming for a second interview. Only one question remains before we announce our decision. As we discussed in all of your interviews, moral character is very important to us,” The Managing partner paused, his gaze passing from one end of the table to the other. “The last question is—what is your price?”
The question hung in the air. No one answered, all sensing that something out of the usual was happening. Finally one of the interviewees asked tentatively,
“Do you mean our salary requirements?”
“No, that’s not what I’m asking. Salary is what you cost us for your time and ability. I am asking what your price is. How much you charge for your integrity.”
Silence returned. Jim had the distinct feeling that this was less of an interview and more of an interrogation. It was the presence of the third man that made him feel that way. The H.R. Director spoke next.
“None of you seem to be able to answer, something we anticipated. For that reason, we took it upon ourselves to find out by our own means. I’m sure you all recognize Mr. Tisdale, though you may have gotten to know him by a different name over the past few days or weeks. He has made it his task to compromise you, to buy your integrity as it were.”
Jim could feel his heart rate increasing, the sweat starting to form on his temples. He had met Mr. Tisdale the day after his first interview. They had made a deal that was profitable to them both. It had been shady, but seemed safe enough even though it cost prior employer some few thousand dollars. He had justified that it would make no difference to a business that had so much wealth in assets. The loss that resulted from his deal would be unnoticed, like the blood a mosquito sucks from its victim. But now, sitting there, he knew that it had been a set up. He had been had.
“We will tell you each your price,” the H.R. Director said. “Welch, a pathetic $1,785.” He looked up and pointed to the man to Jim’s left. His finger moved over to Jim. “Tompkins, only slightly better. $2,350. Wixom, $3,570.” The pointing finger went down the row of suited men sitting at the long table. The amount went up incrementally. $5,488; $6,000; $8,450. The telling of prices stopped. All the eyes were on the man at the end of the table. “Mr. Pintell. Will you please stand up?” He stood slowly.
“Take a good look, even though it’s what you don’t see that really matters.” The managing partner had taken over again. “Anyone want to guess his price?” There were no answers. “Well tell us yourself Mr. Pintell. What’s your price?”
“My integrity isn’t for sale.” His answer was simple and direct. He wasn’t bragging, only stating a fact.
“There he is, a rare creature in the world. The man without a price. Whatever the rest of you thought you could offer this company was not as important as the one thing you couldn’t give us, the thing you didn’t have.”
Martin sat down.
“Thank you all for coming, but we regret to tell you that we are not interested in extending any offers for employment at this time, with the one exception of Mr. Pintell. You may all go. Mr. Pintell, will you please remain to take tare of the details of your new job?”
Suits holding limp men shuffled out of the room. Jim glanced absent mindedly over his shoulder as he left. The last thing he saw before the door closed was a man who didn’t look the part for the position he was now being offered. He thought to himself, vaguely, from now on I’ll have to be more careful when I make deals.