<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> "You're enjoying this, aren't you?" <p> Gwen tasted Tarbell's bitterness from across her desk. She'd made a mistake. She'd feared Tarbell's performance review would turn adversarial, or to be more exact, that Tarbell would turn adversarial. Now she'd incited him. She knew it wouldn't take much to set him off and she blamed herself for this downward turn of events. She thought if she catalogued his positive traits before his shortcomings, it wouldn't sound so bad. A spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down and all that. Now she saw the glaring error of her approach. It looked to him as if she'd built him up only to slap him down. She should have given it to him straight. No doubt the direct approach would still have drawn his ire, but it also would have gotten the issue out in the open earlier. <p> "Steve, it's not like that." <p> "Stephen. Only my friends call me Steve." <p> Gwen trod carefully. She couldn't be seen kowtowing to Tarbell on this point. If she began calling him Stephen and it got around the watercooler that he had insisted on it, it would make her look weak. She'd never had Tarbell's respect, but she couldn't afford to lose the respect of her other subordinates. At the same time, she had to respect his wishes. For now, she wouldn't call him anything. <p> "This isn't personal." <p> He leaned back in his seat, crossed his arms and legs, and twisted his mouth into a sneer. "Isn't it?" <p> "No, it's not. I have to follow strict criteria for performance evaluations. I couldn't make it personal even if I wanted to." <p> "Bullshit." <p> The expletive split the air like a gunshot. Gwen glanced outside her office. The outburst hadn't caught anyone's ear. <p> "Steve, that's enough." <p> "Stephen," he corrected. <p> It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him to grow up, but she bit the remark back. She'd only be perpetuating his juvenile behavior. This review was on the verge of getting away from her. If she followed Tarbell down this road, it would speak more to her poor management skills than to his shortcomings. She paused to give them both a moment to cool off. <p> Tarbell uncurled his long-limbed body, leaned forward and pressed a fist down on the edge of the desk. Gwen fought the urge to back away. <p> "Why don't we cut the crap and be honest for a second? We both know why you're doing this. You want me out because you know I should have gotten the promotion instead of you. I have more experience and seniority. What do you have? Nothing, but they still gave you the job. Call it affirmative action or sexual equality or equal opportunity employment, but you only got the job because you're a woman. I should be sitting in that seat, not you. I should be telling you you've failed to meet the standards expected of this company. Christ. What a joke." <p> There it was. One of them had finally said it. Tarbell's attitude had never been great, but Gwen could pretty much track his performance deterioration from the day she'd gotten the promotion to Manager of Quality Assurance six months ago. They'd both gone for the position along with four outside candidates. Despite Tarbell's experience and years with the company, they'd chosen Gwen. It wasn't just because of Tarbell's reputation. Gwen had made an instant impact at Pace Pharmaceuticals since her arrival eighteen months earlier. She'd grasped the firm's concepts quickly and patched holes in the systems that management knew existed, but had been unable to fix. Tarbell relished interdepartmental battles, whereas she was a team player. These elements won her the promotion. <p> "What's it like to be sitting where you are based solely on possessing a vagina?" <p> Christ, this guy was a first-class asshole. She deserved her promotion. She squashed the knee-jerk need to defend herself and bottled her disgust. <p> "I think this evaluation is at an end." <p> Tarbell leaned back in his chair with a smug expression plastered across his face. The son of a bitch felt he'd won a round in some prizefight that didn't exist. Gwen saw no value in pointing this out to him. It would have no effect. As much as it would be a big managerial feather in her cap if she turned Tarbell around, succeeding where others had failed, it wasn't worth it. The guy would keep acting out until he gave Pace cause enough to fire him. <p> Gwen slid a copy of Tarbell's evaluation across the desk. "You've received a failure to meet expectations, resulting in a number of items which you must complete to remove the substandard rating. You're welcome to challenge the rating, but you have to file your complaint with Human Resources by next Wednesday." <p> Tarbell made no effort to take the evaluation. He seemed content to bask in his own glory. <p> "Is there anything else you'd like to say?" <p> Tarbell shrugged and grabbed the evaluation. "You're a class act, Gwen," he said on his way out. <p> Gwen remained stoic until he passed out of view of her office window, then released a breath. <i>Damn that man</i>, she thought. She shouldn't have let him get to her, but he was so damn infuriating. At least it was over. Done. It was his problem to solve, not hers, and she let the stress of the encounter bleed out of her. She was breathing hard and felt sweat cooling against her skin under her arms and down her back. She needed to freshen up. She still had two more evaluations this afternoon. <p> She made a beeline to the restroom. Thankfully, no one occupied it. She could do without any chitchat. She slipped off her suit jacket and frowned at the sweat rings that had turned her white blouse transparent. <p> "Shit," she murmured. <p> She locked herself into a stall and dabbed under her arms with a wad of toilet paper. She'd have to keep her jacket on for the rest of the afternoon, a small penalty under the circumstances. She gave her makeup the once-over before returning to her office. <p> The remainder of the afternoon passed swiftly and without incident. Her two remaining evaluations helped settle her. Lauren and David received excellent reviews and were in and out of her office in less than an hour. Swift and efficient. A little too swift and efficient. She finished up David's evaluation just after three thirty, leaving Tarbell ninety minutes to retaliate against her for his perceived injustice. <p> But the retaliation didn't come. Tarbell passed her office twice, never making eye contact, and it didn't look as if he had shared his evaluation results with anyone either. No one gave her any sideways looks. For all his slurs and insults, maybe she'd gotten through to him. Acting like an ass in the workplace wasn't acceptable, and if he expected to keep his job, he had to change his ways. Score one to the Gwenster. <p> The evaluations had screwed with her day, putting her behind. Even if she worked without interruption, she wasn't going to get caught up. She could either pull a late one or come in early. She was leaning toward coming in early the next day, just to put this shitty day behind her, but she found her rhythm reviewing deviation reports and decided to finish them. She left a message on the machine at home for Paul to expect her home late. <p> Five o'clock came and the usual exodus made its way to the parking lot. As the roar of engines died down from outside and the whine from the HVAC overtook the chatter in the cube farm, she realized her mistake. Tarbell worked late every night. They'd end up alone with each other, which would give him the perfect opportunity to ring the bell for round two. But when she went to the copy room to collect a report, she found that he'd already left. No doubt he was eager to draw a line under today too. His car was gone from the parking lot, which confirmed his oddly early departure. She was somewhat pleased with herself. She'd survived her first major managerial test and confirmed as much when Deborah Langan from Human Resources looked in on her way out. <p> "How was Steve?" <p> "True to form." <p> Deborah laughed. "That good, huh?" <p> Gwen smiled. <p> "At least you don't have to do this for another year. See you in the morning." <p> Gwen stayed until seven before calling it a day. Besides the security guard at reception, she was last to leave. As she pushed the door open, the rain rushed to meet her. It had been coming down hard for the last hour and had taken the heat out of the fall day. Of course, she'd left her umbrella on the backseat of her car. <p> She sprinted as hard as she could in her heels across the parking lot. She'd landed a near-perfect parking spot behind the trash enclosure, which kept her sprint short. She had her keys out of her purse and deactivated the alarm the moment her Subaru came into view. She grabbed the door handle and tugged it open, but it slammed shut again with the force of her body being driven against the car. <p> Confusion intervened, but the knife blade jammed up against her throat brought events into sharp focus. Someone had leapt out from the trash enclosure and slammed her into the side of her car. He'd sandwiched her between his body and the Subaru. The impact, besides driving the air from her lungs, had forced her onto her toes, making it impossible to push back. He snaked an arm around her chest and grabbed the Subaru's roof rack to keep her pinned in place. It was an unnecessary move. The blade's tip pressing hard into the soft underside of her chin kept her in check. She could kick and scream, but unless someone put a gun to this asshole's head, she couldn't beat an upward stab. She let the tension out of her body to let him know she wouldn't be giving him any trouble. He was welcome to the car and the contents of her purse. <p> "It's okay," she said. "I'm not resisting. I'm not resisting." She hoped her words would come out strong and calm, but fear inserted a tremor. <p> Just to show who was boss, he shoved against her car to reestablish his hold on her. The rain coating the car soaked through her blouse. Its chill forced an involuntary shiver. <p> Her assailant read something into the shiver and chuckled. She recognized the voice. She examined the white-knuckled hand grasping the roof rack. <p> "Steve?" <p> "I told you, only my friends call me Steve." <p> Anger boiled up inside Gwen, but the knife at her throat kept it from spilling over. This was no longer a workplace war of words. She felt Tarbell's intent in every one of his taut muscles. <p> "What do you want, Stephen?" <p> "Respect at last. Who knew it took a knife to get it?" <p> He'd snapped. She'd pushed him over the edge. She dreaded reasking her question, but it couldn't go unanswered. <p> "What do you want, Stephen?" <p> He said nothing. Raindrops splashed down on her face. The puddle at her feet seeped into her open-toed sandals and the tips of her toes ground against the asphalt. <p> "Is this all it takes to get some satisfaction-a knife?" He jerked the knife just enough to draw blood. Nothing extreme, just a pinprick. <p> "Stephen, please take the knife away." <p> He constricted her with his body, crushing her against her car. She felt her ribs flex against the door pillar. <p> "Giving the orders again. You can't resist, can you?" There was a singsong quality to his voice. The son of bitch was enjoying this. <p> "Okay, you're in charge," Gwen said, trying to sound calm. <p> "Have you submitted my evaluation to Human Resources?" <p> "No." <p> "Good, I want you to change it. You're going to say I'm an exemplary employee and all that managerial bullshit. Make me sound great. Deal?" <p> He was crazy. Had to be. He was assaulting her with a deadly weapon and for what-a positive evaluation? He had to know he couldn't get away with it. <p> He jabbed her with the knife again. "Deal?" he insisted. <p> She didn't answer. <p> "Just know that if you don't do what I tell you, you're going have an intimate encounter with Mr. Sharpie here, you got that?" <p> "Yes." <p> "So you'll do it?" <p> The reply he wanted wouldn't come. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair. This was twenty-first-century America. People didn't succeed under the power of a weapon. But Stephen Tarbell had tonight. It disgusted her to comply. <p> "Yes, I'll do it." <p> "Good, Gwen, good," he cooed. "You've got until Friday." <p> He released his hold on her. Without the pressure of his body holding her, she staggered back, lost her balance, and dropped to the ground, landing roughly in a puddle. Her skirt had ridden up, exposing more leg than she wanted the world to see. She pulled herself into the fetal position and sobbed hard with the rain beating down on her. When she finally looked up, Stephen Tarbell was gone. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Terminated</b> by <b>Simon Wood</b> Copyright © 2010 by Simon Wood. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.