Greg sat at his desk staring at the package that had just arrived. There was no return address and he was not expecting anything from anyone – that he could think of. It wasn’t his birthday and it was too early for Christmas. The neat printing on the plain brown paper was not familiar. Normally, he would have torn it open immediately, surprise packages being one of his favourite things. But this parcel was mysterious. In a strange and foreboding way.
The parcel was small, about six inches square. It was heavy for its demure size and it didn’t rattle. What came to mind when Greg shook it was a rock, for whatever was inside slid back and forth just a little bit, hitting the box it was enclosed in with a dull thud. Who would send me a rock? Greg wondered.
He studied the post mark, but it was blurred and he could not make out the city it was mailed from. The date, though, indicated that it had been sent exactly a week previously. A parcel could travel a long way in a week, he knew. Then again it sometimes took a week for a simple letter to cross town. There were no other clues to the parcel’s origin or who might have sent it.
Greg’s business partner, Edward walked into the office just as Greg was placing the parcel on his blotter for further contemplation. Noticing the paper-wrapped cube, Edward couldn’t help but ask about it. His first instinct was that it was the magnets they had been waiting for, magnets they needed for their latest secret invention. An invention they were under the gun to finish before their closest competition. But Greg pointed to another package on the drafting table next to the door. The one with the metal ruler stuck firmly to its side.
While Edward busied himself removing the ruler and extracting the powerful magnets from their box, Greg sat quietly trying to will the mystery of the package on his desk to reveal itself. He could neither fathom what it could be nor why he felt such dread. It’s just a parcel, he told himself. Just open it.
Edward was nattering over by the drafting table, but Greg didn’t pay any attention. After eighteen years of friendship and six years in business with the man, he knew that Edward was as likely to be thinking out loud as to be directing his current monologue at Greg. If it was important, Edward would repeat himself, so Greg just stared at the package on his desk, rejecting every scenario that sprung up out of his vivid imagination.
“I said I think these will work,” Edward said with an exasperated tone.
Jolted from his reverie, Greg looked up. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I was thinking about something else.”
“Such as?” Edward prompted.
“Nothing important. Why don’t we take those magnets down to the workshop and see what they can do?” Greg stood up and walked over to the drafting table where he picked up a handful of paperclips and sprinkled them over the magnets.
“You’re picking all of those off,” Edward said and pushed the box of magnets into his partner’s hand.
Greg and Edward spent the rest of the day testing the magnets in their secret invention and bickering over technical and design issues. Anyone listening in would have thought the pair was close to murdering each other, but this was how they worked. At the end of the day, they would shake hands, buy each other a beer at the pub just up the street from their little shop and settle their differences just like the best of friends they really were. Ninety percent of what they accomplished was done after hours over a bottle – or two or three – of beer. The next morning they would go back to the shop do what they agreed upon at the pub and then start arguing about the next step in whatever project they were involved with. Somehow it worked.
That day, Greg and Edward argued until after seven o’clock. It was Edward’s rumbling stomach that ended the fight and sent them both back to their offices to chill out for a few minutes before they collected their coats and met in the parking lot to drive together to the pub. An unbreakable rule was that they always drove to and from the shop together, usually in Greg’s car, since Edward’s was so often in the shop for one thing or another. He could afford a better, more reliable vehicle, but he stubbornly hung on to his now vintage Trans Am. Greg called it a relic, but to Edward it was his dream car. Another unbreakable rule was that they didn’t talk about it.
When Greg got back to his office, the enigmatic parcel was sitting exactly where he left it on his desk. Maybe it was a bomb sent from a jealous competitor. Or maybe it was his missing cat’s head sent by his nasty neighbour who Greg was certain had poisoned the poor thing. Or maybe it was that hideous award that he had been nominated for, but did not attend the banquet to find out if he’d won. Or maybe it was some radioactive chuck of... something.
“Or maybe it’s a thousand thousand dollar bills you inherited from a long lost uncle,” Edward, who had just popped in to find out what was keeping Greg, said. “Why don’t you just open it and find out instead of wasting that genius you’re so famous for on such preposterous speculation?”
Greg’s face reddened at the realization that he had been thinking out loud – and been caught!
“It’s something sinister,” Greg said. “I just know it.”
“Sinister? What makes you think it’s sinister?” Edward knew that Greg would not move until he made a decision about the parcel.
“A, there’s no return address. B, it’s not my birthday or any other special occasion. C, I’m not expecting anything. And D, it’s... it’s just sinister.”
“Hmmmm... Sounds like you’ve given this a lot of thought.” Edward approached the desk and gestured toward the package, an unspoken request to inspect it. Greg nodded his acquiescence.
Edward grabbed the parcel and without ceremony, ripped the wrapper open to reveal a blue cardboard gift box. As he pulled the lid off, Greg threw his hands up as if to stop the bomb blast that did not come.
“Your imagination is out of control, Buddy. I think you’re losing it.” Edward placed the opened box back down on the desk. “Or you need a vacation.”
Greg leaned over the box and gasped.
“What? It’s just a paper weight!” Edward was confused and growing increasingly cranky due to low blood sugar.
“It’s not just a paper weight,” Greg said. He reached out and carefully lifted a clear glass globe out of the Styrofoam nest it had been resting in. “It’s the paper weight.”
Edward sighed. “The paper weight?” He looked at the orb of flawless glass that enveloped a seascape of orange coral and a single angel fish. “Oh, you mean The Paper Weight?”
“Well, you know what this means?” said Greg, inching away from the glass orb.
“Yep. Joe and Tyler finished ahead of us and Kor-Tech made an offer.”
“How did this happen, Ed?”
“Well, you challenged them to a race to finish the product and present it to Kor-Tech. I believe you said that the best they could come up with would be no more useful than a paper weight. I think they call it throwing down the gauntlet. I also think that you underestimated them, Buddy.”
Greg slumped into his chair. Disgusted and feeling beaten, he reached down and opened his bottom desk drawer. “You want to know the lousiest part, Ed?”
“What could be lousier than losing a contract with Kor-Tech to Joe and Tyler?”
“The lousiest part, my friend,” he drew a blue gift box out of the drawer and put it on the desk, “is that I bought the exact same paper weight to send to them when we won the contract.” He pulled the lid off the box to reveal an exact replica of the paper weight that had just ruined his professional life.
“And you can’t admit that great minds think alike.”
“It’s only slightly better than having to accept that fools never differ.”